What It’s Like Living in a Country Where Coronavirus Isn’t a Worry

[Note: This item comes from friend David Rosenthal.  DLH]

What It’s Like Living in a Country Where Coronavirus Isn’t a Worry
There hasn’t been a locally transmitted case of coronavirus in Taiwan since April. Here’s what a post-COVID world might look like.
By Adam Hopkins
Oct 22 2020
https://www.vice.com/en/article/v7mggb/coronavirus-taiwan-response-success

Taiwan announced its first confirmed case of COVID-19 on January 21 – a day after the United States confirmed theirs. Since then, the island nation has reported fewer than 600 cases and just seven deaths. Shops, cinemas, bars and clubs are open and the level of worry among the public is at a minimum. Daily life in Taiwan is a glimpse into the future: a “post-COVID” world in which precautions are still taken, but the fear of catching the virus, for many, is non-existent.

Here’s what it’s like to live there.

On the 8th of August, Taiwanese singer-songwriter Eric Chou held a concert at Taipei Arena with more than 10,000 people in attendance. Indoors and with no social distancing enforced, at first reading, it sounds like a breeding ground for virus transmission. However, more than two months on from the show, zero coronavirus infections have been reported in Taiwan as a result of the concert. In fact, at the time of writing, there hasn’t been a confirmed case of the virus spread domestically in Taiwan since the 12th of April. But how can this be? With almost 24 million residents and a population density of 671 people per square kilometre (far greater than the density of the UK or US), and not to mention its proximity to China, you’d expect Taiwan to have been hit far more severely by the pandemic.

To sum up the success of Taiwan’s COVID-19 response as simply as possible, it’s down to preparation, proactive leadership and the willingness of the public to comply with all enforced virus prevention regulations. In 2003, Taiwan lost 73 lives to SARS – the highest mortality rate in the world from the virus. Since then, the country has been prepared for the next big outbreak and rolled out its response as soon as the first cases of COVID-19 were discovered in Wuhan last December.

Enforcing the wearing of masks on public transport, limiting the size of public gatherings, closing the borders to non-nationals and residents, and introducing mandatory 14-day quarantines for everyone entering the country, Taiwan managed to quickly curb the spread of the virus without the need for lockdowns or great change to everyday life. So, what’s it been like living here?

I first wore a mask due to virus concerns on the 29th of January. It was that week, during Chinese New Year, that people in Taiwan began to worry. During the fortnight that followed, I spoke to friends in China, from where I’d moved the previous May, where the majority of cities had gone into total lockdown. A friend in Shandong showed me the permit he had to present to security guards in order to leave his residential compound to buy provisions, another told me how she was stuck in Guangdong, unable to return to Shanghai due to bans on inter-provincial travel. Before the lockdown, an American friend fell ill upon returning to Shanghai from Beijing. At a time when COVID-19 testing was unavailable, he was diagnosed with pneumonia and given medication that had no effect. Surely lockdowns, travel restrictions and those I care about getting sick would be a reality in Taiwan in the not too distant future?

The Diamond Princess cruise ship docking in Keelung on the 31st of January demonstrated how prepared Taiwan was for this outbreak. A week or so later, once cases had been confirmed aboard the ship, everyone in Taipei received a mobile message with a link to a special Google Map showing all the places the potentially infected passengers had visited and when. This was as scary as it was impressive, but gave me faith that those in charge knew what they were doing. Since then, anyone thought to have come into contact with an infected person is immediately contacted and tested or instructed to self-isolate, depending on their risk level.

[snip]

Kamala Harris, Mass Incarceration and Me

Kamala Harris, Mass Incarceration and Me
Many progressives mistrust her for her past as a prosecutor. As an ex-convict — and also the son of a crime victim — I can tell you it’s not that simple.
By Reginald Dwayne Betts
Oct 20 2020
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/20/magazine/kamala-harris-crime-prison.html

Because senator Kamala Harris is a prosecutor and I am a felon, I have been following her political rise, with the same focus that my younger son tracks Steph Curry threes. Before it was in vogue to criticize prosecutors, my friends and I were exchanging tales of being railroaded by them. Shackled in oversized green jail scrubs, I listened to a prosecutor in a Fairfax County, Va., courtroom tell a judge that in one night I’d single-handedly changed suburban shopping forever. Everything the prosecutor said I did was true — I carried a pistol, carjacked a man, tried to rob two women. “He needs a long penitentiary sentence,” the prosecutor told the judge. I faced life in prison for carjacking the man. I pleaded guilty to that, to having a gun, to an attempted robbery. I was 16 years old. The old heads in prison would call me lucky for walking away with only a nine-year sentence.

I’d been locked up for about 15 months when I entered Virginia’s Southampton Correctional Center in 1998, the year I should have graduated from high school. In that prison, there were probably about a dozen other teenagers. Most of us had lengthy sentences — 30, 40, 50 years — all for violent felonies. Public talk of mass incarceration has centered on the war on drugs, wrongful convictions and Kafkaesque sentences for nonviolent charges, while circumventing the robberies, home invasions, murders and rape cases that brought us to prison.

The most difficult discussion to have about criminal-justice reform has always been about violence and accountability. You could release everyone from prison who currently has a drug offense and the United States would still outpace nearly every other country when it comes to incarceration. According to the Prison Policy Institute, of the nearly 1.3 million people incarcerated in state prisons, 183,000 are incarcerated for murder; 17,000 for manslaughter; 165,000 for sexual assault; 169,000 for robbery; and 136,000 for assault. That’s more than half of the state prison population.

When Harris decided to run for president, I thought the country might take the opportunity to grapple with the injustice of mass incarceration in a way that didn’t lose sight of what violence, and the sorrow it creates, does to families and communities. Instead, many progressives tried to turn the basic fact of Harris’s profession into an indictment against her. Shorthand for her career became: “She’s a cop,” meaning, her allegiance was with a system that conspires, through prison and policing, to harm Black people in America.

In the past decade or so, we have certainly seen ample evidence of how corrupt the system can be: Michelle Alexander’s best-selling book, “The New Jim Crow,” which argues that the war on drugs marked the return of America’s racist system of segregation and legal discrimination; Ava DuVernay’s “When They See Us,” a series about the wrongful convictions of the Central Park Five, and her documentary “13th,” which delves into mass incarceration more broadly; and “Just Mercy,” a book by Bryan Stevenson, a public interest lawyer, that has also been made into a film, chronicling his pursuit of justice for a man on death row, who is eventually exonerated. All of these describe the destructive force of prosecutors, giving a lot of run to the belief that anyone who works within a system responsible for such carnage warrants public shame.

My mother had an experience that gave her a different perspective on prosecutors — though I didn’t know about it until I came home from prison on March 4, 2005, when I was 24. That day, she sat me down and said, “I need to tell you something.” We were in her bedroom in the townhouse in Suitland, Md., that had been my childhood home, where as a kid she’d call me to bring her a glass of water. I expected her to tell me that despite my years in prison, everything was good now. But instead she told me about something that happened nearly a decade earlier, just weeks after my arrest. She left for work before the sun rose, as she always did, heading to the federal agency that had employed her my entire life. She stood at a bus stop 100 feet from my high school, awaiting the bus that would take her to the train that would take her to a stop near her job in the nation’s capital. But on that morning, a man yanked her into a secluded space, placed a gun to her head and raped her. When she could escape, she ran wildly into the 6 a.m. traffic.

My mother’s words turned me into a mumbling and incoherent mess, unable to grasp how this could have happened to her. I knew she kept this secret to protect me. I turned to Google and searched the word “rape” along with my hometown and was wrecked by the violence against women that I found. My mother told me her rapist was a Black man. And I thought he should spend the rest of his years staring at the pockmarked walls of prison cells that I knew so well.

The prosecutor’s job, unlike the defense attorney’s or judge’s, is to do justice. What does that mean when you are asked by some to dole out retribution measured in years served, but blamed by others for the damage incarceration can do? The outrage at this country’s criminal-justice system is loud today, but it hasn’t led us to develop better ways of confronting my mother’s world from nearly a quarter-century ago: weekends visiting her son in a prison in Virginia; weekdays attending the trial of the man who sexually assaulted her.

We said goodbye to my grandmother in the same Baptist church that, in June 2019, Senator Kamala Harris, still pursuing the Democratic nomination for president, went to give a major speech about why she became a prosecutor. I hadn’t been inside Brookland Baptist Church for a decade, and returning reminded me of Grandma Mary and the eight years of letters she mailed to me in prison. The occasion for Harris’s speech was the annual Freedom Fund dinner of the South Carolina State Conference of the N.A.A.C.P. The evening began with the Black national anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” and at the opening chord nearly everyone in the room stood. There to write about the senator, I had been standing already and mouthed the words of the first verse before realizing I’d never sung any further.

Each table in the banquet hall was filled with folks dressed in their Sunday best. Servers brought plates of food and pitchers of iced tea to the tables. Nearly everyone was Black. The room was too loud for me to do more than crouch beside guests at their tables and scribble notes about why they attended. Speakers talked about the chapter’s long history in the civil rights movement. One called for the current generation of young rappers to tell a different story about sacrifice. The youngest speaker of the night said he just wanted to be safe. I didn’t hear anyone mention mass incarceration. And I knew in a different decade, my grandmother might have been in that audience, taking in the same arguments about personal agency and responsibility, all the while wondering why her grandbaby was still locked away. If Harris couldn’t persuade that audience that her experiences as a Black woman in America justified her decision to become a prosecutor, I knew there were few people in this country who could be moved.

Describing her upbringing in a family of civil rights activists, Harris argued that the ongoing struggle for equality needed to include both prosecuting criminal defendants who had victimized Black people and protecting the rights of Black criminal defendants. “I was cleareyed that prosecutors were largely not people who looked like me,” she said. This mattered for Harris because of the “prosecutors that refused to seat Black jurors, refused to prosecute lynchings, disproportionately condemned young Black men to death row and looked the other way in the face of police brutality.” When she became a prosecutor in 1990, she was one of only a handful of Black people in her office. When she was elected district attorney of San Francisco in 2003, she recalled, she was one of just three Black D.A.s nationwide. And when she was elected California attorney general in 2010, there were no other Black attorneys general in the country. At these words, the crowd around me clapped. “I knew the unilateral power that prosecutors had with the stroke of a pen to make a decision about someone else’s life or death,” she said.

Harris offered a pair of stories as evidence of the importance of a Black woman’s doing this work. Once, ear hustling, she listened to colleagues discussing ways to prove criminal defendants were gang-affiliated. If a racial-profiling manual existed, their signals would certainly be included: baggy pants, the place of arrest and the rap music blaring from vehicles. She said that she’d told her colleagues: “So, you know that neighborhood you were talking about? Well, I got family members and friends who live in that neighborhood. You know the way you were talking about how folks were dressed? Well, that’s actually stylish in my community.” She continued: “You know that music you were talking about? Well, I got a tape of that music in my car right now.”

The second example was about the mothers of murdered children. She told the audience about the women who had come to her office when she was San Francisco’s D.A. — women who wanted to speak with her, and her alone, about their sons. “The mothers came, I believe, because they knew I would see them,” Harris said. “And I mean literally see them. See their grief. See their anguish.” They complained to Harris that the police were not investigating. “My son is being treated like a statistic,” they would say. Everyone in that Southern Baptist church knew that the mothers and their dead sons were Black. Harris outlined the classic dilemma of Black people in this country: being simultaneously overpoliced and underprotected. Harris told the audience that all communities deserved to be safe.

Among the guests in the room that night whom I talked to, no one had an issue with her work as a prosecutor. A lot of them seemed to believe that only people doing dirt had issues with prosecutors. I thought of myself and my friends who have served long terms, knowing that in a way, Harris was talking about Black people’s needing protection from us — from the violence we perpetrated to earn those years in a series of cells.

[snip]

Alarm as Arctic sea ice not yet freezing at latest date on record

Alarm as Arctic sea ice not yet freezing at latest date on record
Delayed freeze in Laptev Sea could have knock-on effects across polar region, scientists say
By Jonathan Watts
Oct 22 2020
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/oct/22/alarm-as-arctic-sea-ice-not-yet-freezing-at-latest-date-on-record

For the first time since records began, the main nursery of Arctic sea ice in Siberia has yet to start freezing in late October.

The delayed annual freeze in the Laptev Sea has been caused by freakishly protracted warmth in northern Russia and the intrusion of Atlantic waters, say climate scientists who warn of possible knock-on effects across the polar region.

Ocean temperatures in the area recently climbed to more than 5C above average, following a record breaking heatwave and the unusually early decline of last winter’s sea ice.

The trapped heat takes a long time to dissipate into the atmosphere, even at this time of the year when the sun creeps above the horizon for little more than an hour or two each day.

Graphs of sea-ice extent in the Laptev Sea, which usually show a healthy seasonal pulse, appear to have flat-lined. As a result, there is a record amount of open sea in the Arctic.

“The lack of freeze-up so far this fall is unprecedented in the Siberian Arctic region,” said Zachary Labe, a postdoctoral researcher at Colorado State University. He says this is in line with the expected impact of human-driven climate change.

“2020 is another year that is consistent with a rapidly changing Arctic. Without a systematic reduction in greenhouse gases, the likelihood of our first ‘ice-free’ summer will continue to increase by the mid-21st century,’ he wrote in an email to the Guardian.

This year’s Siberian heatwave was made at least 600 times more likely by industrial and agricultural emissions, according to an earlier study.

The warmer air temperature is not the only factor slowing the formation of ice. Climate change is also pushing more balmy Atlantic currents into the Arctic and breaking up the usual stratification between warm deep waters and the cool surface. This also makes it difficult for ice to form.

“This continues a streak of very low extents. The last 14 years, 2007 to 2020, are the lowest 14 years in the satellite record starting in 1979,” said Walt Meier, senior research scientist at the US National Snow and Ice Data Center. He said much of the old ice in the Arctic is now disappearing, leaving thinner seasonal ice. Overall the average thickness is half what it was in the 1980s.

The downward trend is likely to continue until the Arctic has its first ice-free summer, said Meier. The data and models suggest this will occur between 2030 and 2050. “It’s a matter of when, not if,” he added.

Scientists are concerned the delayed freeze could amplify feedbacks that accelerate the decline of the ice cap. It is already well known that a smaller ice sheet means less of a white area to reflect the sun’s heat back into space. But this is not the only reason the Arctic is warming more than twice as fast as the global average.

[snip]

Charities in a bind after cybercriminals donate $10,000 in bitcoin

Charities in a bind after cybercriminals donate $10,000 in bitcoin
Children International and The Water Project have no way of refunding Darkside group
By Alex Hern
Oct 20 2020
https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2020/oct/20/charities-in-a-bind-after-cybercriminals-donate-10000-in-bitcoin

No charity wants to turn down donations, particularly in the middle of a funding crunch. But what if donations come from a surprising source – hackers?

While it may sound like a modern-day version of Robin Hood – electronically stealing money from companies and corporations, and giving it back digitally via bitcoin to charities – when the money comes from the proceeds of crime, the law is clear: it must be rejected.

And what is the charity to do when it doesn’t know who donated the money, who it was stolen from, or how to return it in the first place.

Cybercrime group Darkside placed two US charities in that unfortunate position last week, when it revealed that it had donated 0.88 bitcoin – worth $10,000 – to Children International and The Water Project.

The donations came, the group wrote on in a “press release” on its darknet website, because “no matter how bad you think our work is, we are pleased to know that we helped change someone’s life”.

Brian Higgins, a security specialist at Comparitech.com, said the move was just attention-seeking from Darkside. “Firstly, $10,000 is a paltry sum in comparison to the vast amounts of money they’ve extorted from their victims over the years so it’s hardly a grand philanthropic gesture and, secondly, no credible charity is ever going to accept donations which are demonstrably the proceeds of crime.

“There’s a small possibility this is some kind of test to see if they could launder their criminal proceeds somehow but it’s more probable that Darkside clearly have too much time on their hands and too much stolen money knocking about in their bitcoin wallets. If they were really serious about ‘making the world a better place’ they’d all sell their laptops and stay off the internet.”

Darkside makes ransomware, software that encrypts computers, rendering them inoperable unless the encryption key is bought – often for huge sums of money.

Brokered by The Giving Block, which helps charities receive donations in cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, ether and zcash, the donations were received by the charities involved before Darkside publicised its gifting.

That leaves them in an awkward place. In its guidance to charities, the Institute of Fundraisers says: “Donations to charities should only be rejected in exceptional circumstances, when it would be unlawful to accept it (eg, the organisation knows that the gift comprises the proceeds of crime) or accepting the donation would be detrimental to the achievement of the purposes of the organisation, as set out in its constitution.”

Children International said: “We are aware of the situation and are researching it internally; it is a first for us. If the donation is linked to a hacker, we have no intention of keeping it.”

After initial media coverage of the group’s donation, Darkside updated its post with another pair of warnings. Giving Block was told that the money was sent “through a mixer”, a form of automatic money laundering that obscures the true sender of bitcoin from the recipient, “so don’t try to get it back anywhere”.

Darkside also warned that coverage of its donations was “only harming the company that processes the donations, as well as the companies who received them”.

“Do not publish company names,” the group threatened. “The next donations will be made anonymously.”

The charity donations are part of a bizarre branding effort on the part of the group to portray itself as different from common-or-garden criminals. In a statement of intent posted in August, as it began operations, it said: “We created DarkSide because we didn’t find the perfect product for us. Now we have it.”

“Based on our principles,” the group said, it would not attack hospitals, schools, governments or charities. “We only attack companies that can pay the requested amount, we do not want to kill your business. Before any attack, we carefully analyze your accountancy and determine how much you can pay based on your net income.”No charity wants to turn down donations, particularly in the middle of a funding crunch. But what if donations come from a surprising source – hackers?

While it may sound like a modern-day version of Robin Hood – electronically stealing money from companies and corporations, and giving it back digitally via bitcoin to charities – when the money comes from the proceeds of crime, the law is clear: it must be rejected.

And what is the charity to do when it doesn’t know who donated the money, who it was stolen from, or how to return it in the first place.

Cybercrime group Darkside placed two US charities in that unfortunate position last week, when it revealed that it had donated 0.88 bitcoin – worth $10,000 – to Children International and The Water Project.

The donations came, the group wrote on in a “press release” on its darknet website, because “no matter how bad you think our work is, we are pleased to know that we helped change someone’s life”.

Brian Higgins, a security specialist at Comparitech.com, said the move was just attention-seeking from Darkside. “Firstly, $10,000 is a paltry sum in comparison to the vast amounts of money they’ve extorted from their victims over the years so it’s hardly a grand philanthropic gesture and, secondly, no credible charity is ever going to accept donations which are demonstrably the proceeds of crime.

“There’s a small possibility this is some kind of test to see if they could launder their criminal proceeds somehow but it’s more probable that Darkside clearly have too much time on their hands and too much stolen money knocking about in their bitcoin wallets. If they were really serious about ‘making the world a better place’ they’d all sell their laptops and stay off the internet.”

Darkside makes ransomware, software that encrypts computers, rendering them inoperable unless the encryption key is bought – often for huge sums of money.

Brokered by The Giving Block, which helps charities receive donations in cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, ether and zcash, the donations were received by the charities involved before Darkside publicised its gifting.

That leaves them in an awkward place. In its guidance to charities, the Institute of Fundraisers says: “Donations to charities should only be rejected in exceptional circumstances, when it would be unlawful to accept it (eg, the organisation knows that the gift comprises the proceeds of crime) or accepting the donation would be detrimental to the achievement of the purposes of the organisation, as set out in its constitution.”

Children International said: “We are aware of the situation and are researching it internally; it is a first for us. If the donation is linked to a hacker, we have no intention of keeping it.”

After initial media coverage of the group’s donation, Darkside updated its post with another pair of warnings. Giving Block was told that the money was sent “through a mixer”, a form of automatic money laundering that obscures the true sender of bitcoin from the recipient, “so don’t try to get it back anywhere”.

Darkside also warned that coverage of its donations was “only harming the company that processes the donations, as well as the companies who received them”.

“Do not publish company names,” the group threatened. “The next donations will be made anonymously.”

The charity donations are part of a bizarre branding effort on the part of the group to portray itself as different from common-or-garden criminals. In a statement of intent posted in August, as it began operations, it said: “We created DarkSide because we didn’t find the perfect product for us. Now we have it.”

“Based on our principles,” the group said, it would not attack hospitals, schools, governments or charities. “We only attack companies that can pay the requested amount, we do not want to kill your business. Before any attack, we carefully analyze your accountancy and determine how much you can pay based on your net income.”

[snip]

Charities in a bind after cybercriminals donate $10,000 in bitcoin
Children International and The Water Project have no way of refunding Darkside group
By Alex Hern
Oct 20 2020
<https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2020/oct/20/charities-in-a-bind-after-cybercriminals-donate-10000-in-bitcoin>

No charity wants to turn down donations, particularly in the middle of a funding crunch. But what if donations come from a surprising source – hackers?

While it may sound like a modern-day version of Robin Hood – electronically stealing money from companies and corporations, and giving it back digitally via bitcoin to charities – when the money comes from the proceeds of crime, the law is clear: it must be rejected.

And what is the charity to do when it doesn’t know who donated the money, who it was stolen from, or how to return it in the first place.

Cybercrime group Darkside placed two US charities in that unfortunate position last week, when it revealed that it had donated 0.88 bitcoin – worth $10,000 – to Children International and The Water Project.

The donations came, the group wrote on in a “press release” on its darknet website, because “no matter how bad you think our work is, we are pleased to know that we helped change someone’s life”.

Brian Higgins, a security specialist at Comparitech.com, said the move was just attention-seeking from Darkside. “Firstly, $10,000 is a paltry sum in comparison to the vast amounts of money they’ve extorted from their victims over the years so it’s hardly a grand philanthropic gesture and, secondly, no credible charity is ever going to accept donations which are demonstrably the proceeds of crime.

“There’s a small possibility this is some kind of test to see if they could launder their criminal proceeds somehow but it’s more probable that Darkside clearly have too much time on their hands and too much stolen money knocking about in their bitcoin wallets. If they were really serious about ‘making the world a better place’ they’d all sell their laptops and stay off the internet.”

Darkside makes ransomware, software that encrypts computers, rendering them inoperable unless the encryption key is bought – often for huge sums of money.

Brokered by The Giving Block, which helps charities receive donations in cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, ether and zcash, the donations were received by the charities involved before Darkside publicised its gifting.

That leaves them in an awkward place. In its guidance to charities, the Institute of Fundraisers says: “Donations to charities should only be rejected in exceptional circumstances, when it would be unlawful to accept it (eg, the organisation knows that the gift comprises the proceeds of crime) or accepting the donation would be detrimental to the achievement of the purposes of the organisation, as set out in its constitution.”

Children International said: “We are aware of the situation and are researching it internally; it is a first for us. If the donation is linked to a hacker, we have no intention of keeping it.”

After initial media coverage of the group’s donation, Darkside updated its post with another pair of warnings. Giving Block was told that the money was sent “through a mixer”, a form of automatic money laundering that obscures the true sender of bitcoin from the recipient, “so don’t try to get it back anywhere”.

Darkside also warned that coverage of its donations was “only harming the company that processes the donations, as well as the companies who received them”.

“Do not publish company names,” the group threatened. “The next donations will be made anonymously.”

The charity donations are part of a bizarre branding effort on the part of the group to portray itself as different from common-or-garden criminals. In a statement of intent posted in August, as it began operations, it said: “We created DarkSide because we didn’t find the perfect product for us. Now we have it.”

“Based on our principles,” the group said, it would not attack hospitals, schools, governments or charities. “We only attack companies that can pay the requested amount, we do not want to kill your business. Before any attack, we carefully analyze your accountancy and determine how much you can pay based on your net income.”No charity wants to turn down donations, particularly in the middle of a funding crunch. But what if donations come from a surprising source – hackers?

While it may sound like a modern-day version of Robin Hood – electronically stealing money from companies and corporations, and giving it back digitally via bitcoin to charities – when the money comes from the proceeds of crime, the law is clear: it must be rejected.

And what is the charity to do when it doesn’t know who donated the money, who it was stolen from, or how to return it in the first place.

Cybercrime group Darkside placed two US charities in that unfortunate position last week, when it revealed that it had donated 0.88 bitcoin – worth $10,000 – to Children International and The Water Project.

The donations came, the group wrote on in a “press release” on its darknet website, because “no matter how bad you think our work is, we are pleased to know that we helped change someone’s life”.

Brian Higgins, a security specialist at Comparitech.com, said the move was just attention-seeking from Darkside. “Firstly, $10,000 is a paltry sum in comparison to the vast amounts of money they’ve extorted from their victims over the years so it’s hardly a grand philanthropic gesture and, secondly, no credible charity is ever going to accept donations which are demonstrably the proceeds of crime.

“There’s a small possibility this is some kind of test to see if they could launder their criminal proceeds somehow but it’s more probable that Darkside clearly have too much time on their hands and too much stolen money knocking about in their bitcoin wallets. If they were really serious about ‘making the world a better place’ they’d all sell their laptops and stay off the internet.”

Darkside makes ransomware, software that encrypts computers, rendering them inoperable unless the encryption key is bought – often for huge sums of money.

Brokered by The Giving Block, which helps charities receive donations in cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, ether and zcash, the donations were received by the charities involved before Darkside publicised its gifting.

That leaves them in an awkward place. In its guidance to charities, the Institute of Fundraisers says: “Donations to charities should only be rejected in exceptional circumstances, when it would be unlawful to accept it (eg, the organisation knows that the gift comprises the proceeds of crime) or accepting the donation would be detrimental to the achievement of the purposes of the organisation, as set out in its constitution.”

Children International said: “We are aware of the situation and are researching it internally; it is a first for us. If the donation is linked to a hacker, we have no intention of keeping it.”

After initial media coverage of the group’s donation, Darkside updated its post with another pair of warnings. Giving Block was told that the money was sent “through a mixer”, a form of automatic money laundering that obscures the true sender of bitcoin from the recipient, “so don’t try to get it back anywhere”.

Darkside also warned that coverage of its donations was “only harming the company that processes the donations, as well as the companies who received them”.

“Do not publish company names,” the group threatened. “The next donations will be made anonymously.”

The charity donations are part of a bizarre branding effort on the part of the group to portray itself as different from common-or-garden criminals. In a statement of intent posted in August, as it began operations, it said: “We created DarkSide because we didn’t find the perfect product for us. Now we have it.”

“Based on our principles,” the group said, it would not attack hospitals, schools, governments or charities. “We only attack companies that can pay the requested amount, we do not want to kill your business. Before any attack, we carefully analyze your accountancy and determine how much you can pay based on your net income.”

[snip]

Public Infrastructure/Private Service: A Shared-Risk Partnership Model for 21st Century Broadband Infrastructure

[Note:  This item comes from friend David Isenberg.  DLH]

Public Infrastructure/Private Service: A Shared-Risk Partnership Model for 21st Century Broadband Infrastructure
By Joanne Hovis, Jim Baller, David Talbot, and Cat Blake
Oct 14 2020
https://www.benton.org/publications/public-infrastructureprivate-service

How can America’s communities secure the benefits of fiber-optic infrastructure?

One answer is that local governments need not accept a binary option of waiting for the private sector to solve the problem—which the private sector already would have done if it made business sense—or taking on the challenge entirely as a public enterprise. Rather, public-private collaboration can disrupt this binary and give communities options. Indeed, in recent months and years, a range of collaborative public-private models—involving various levels of risk-sharing—have emerged and proved worthy of emulation.

In some of the most promising of these partnerships, the public entity funds, builds, and owns the underlying communications infrastructure and the private entity does the rest: It provides the electronics and service over that infrastructure and deals with the complexities of running a broadband business. This Public Infrastructure/Private Service model puts the locality in the business of building infrastructure, a business cities and counties know well after a century of building roads, bridges, and utilities. The model leaves to the private sector most aspects of network operations, equipment provisioning, and service delivery.

The Public Infrastructure/Private Service model leverages the best capabilities of the public and private sectors. In this model, cities and counties do what they’ve always done: finance and build basic infrastructure, manage rights-of-way, and maintain that infrastructure over long periods of time—ensuring that the entire community benefits from the infrastructure and that government functions can happen over fiber that connects municipal offices, libraries, public safety agencies, and schools.

This emerging model presents a scalable option for communities that lack the expertise or interest to operate communications networks or act as internet service providers themselves but want to own and control the core communications assets in their community as a means of securing the benefits of the broadband internet.

PDF of report: <https://www.benton.org/sites/default/files/PPP3_final.pdf>

[Note:  This item comes from friend David Isenberg.  DLH]

Public Infrastructure/Private Service: A Shared-Risk Partnership Model for 21st Century Broadband Infrastructure
By Joanne Hovis, Jim Baller, David Talbot, and Cat Blake
Oct 14 2020
<https://www.benton.org/publications/public-infrastructureprivate-service>

How can America’s communities secure the benefits of fiber-optic infrastructure?

One answer is that local governments need not accept a binary option of waiting for the private sector to solve the problem—which the private sector already would have done if it made business sense—or taking on the challenge entirely as a public enterprise. Rather, public-private collaboration can disrupt this binary and give communities options. Indeed, in recent months and years, a range of collaborative public-private models—involving various levels of risk-sharing—have emerged and proved worthy of emulation.

In some of the most promising of these partnerships, the public entity funds, builds, and owns the underlying communications infrastructure and the private entity does the rest: It provides the electronics and service over that infrastructure and deals with the complexities of running a broadband business. This Public Infrastructure/Private Service model puts the locality in the business of building infrastructure, a business cities and counties know well after a century of building roads, bridges, and utilities. The model leaves to the private sector most aspects of network operations, equipment provisioning, and service delivery.

The Public Infrastructure/Private Service model leverages the best capabilities of the public and private sectors. In this model, cities and counties do what they’ve always done: finance and build basic infrastructure, manage rights-of-way, and maintain that infrastructure over long periods of time—ensuring that the entire community benefits from the infrastructure and that government functions can happen over fiber that connects municipal offices, libraries, public safety agencies, and schools.

This emerging model presents a scalable option for communities that lack the expertise or interest to operate communications networks or act as internet service providers themselves but want to own and control the core communications assets in their community as a means of securing the benefits of the broadband internet.

PDF of report: https://www.benton.org/sites/default/files/PPP3_final.pdf

CDC expands definition of who is a ‘close contact’ of an individual with covid-19

CDC expands definition of who is a ‘close contact’ of an individual with covid-19 
The new guidance is likely to have the biggest impact on schools, workplaces and other group settings since more people are likely to be considered at risk.
By Lena H. Sun
Oct 22 2020
https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2020/10/21/coronavirus-close-contact-cdc/

The change by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is likely to have its biggest impact in schools, workplaces and other group settings where people are in contact with others for long periods of time. It also underscores the importance of mask-wearing to prevent spread of the virus, even as President Trump and his top coronavirus adviser continue to raise doubts about such guidance.

The CDC had previously defined a “close contact” as someone who spent at least 15 consecutive minutes within six feet of a confirmed coronavirus case. The updated guidance, which health departments rely on to conduct contact tracing, now defines a close contact as someone who was within six feet of an infected individual for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period, according to a CDC statement Wednesday.

The update comes as the United States is “unfortunately seeing a distressing trend, with cases increasing in nearly 75 percent of the country,” Jay Butler, the CDC’s deputy director for infectious diseases, said Wednesday at CDC headquarters in Atlanta, in the first news conference administration officials permitted in more than eight weeks. People may be tired of the advice, Butler said, but mask-wearing is more important than ever this fall and winter as Americans head indoors, where transmission risks are greater.

The guidance about transmission of the coronavirus, which causes covid-19, had been discussed by CDC scientists for several weeks, according to a CDC official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share policy discussions. Then came unsettling new evidence in a report published Wednesday. CDC and Vermont health officials discovered the virus was contracted by a 20-year-old prison employee who in an eight-hour shift had 22 interactions — for a total of over 17 minutes — with individuals who later tested positive for the virus.

“Available data suggests that at least one of the asymptomatic [infectious detainees] transmitted” the virus during these brief encounters, the report said.

“This article adds to the scientific knowledge of the risk to contacts of those with covid-19 and highlights again the importance of wearing face masks to prevent transmission,” the CDC said.

As many as half of all people who have the virus don’t show symptoms, “so it’s critical to wear a mask because you could be carrying the virus and not know it,” the CDC said. “While a mask provides some limited protection to the wearer, each additional person who wears a mask increases the individual protection for everyone. When more people wear masks, more people are protected.”

Caitlin Rivers, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, called the updated guidance an important change.

“It’s easy to accumulate 15 minutes in small increments when you spend all day together — a few minutes at the water cooler, a few minutes in the elevator, and so on,” Rivers said. “I expect this will result in many more people being identified as close contacts.”

She added: “This change underscores the importance of vigilant social distancing — even multiple brief interactions can pose a risk.”

At the same time, Rivers said, it’s not clear whether the multiple brief encounters were the only explanation for how the prison employee became infected. Other potential pathways might have been airborne or surface transmission of the virus. She also noted that the new guidance “will be difficult for contact tracing programs to implement, and schools and businesses will have a difficult time operating under this guidance.”

Tom Frieden, who was CDC director during the Obama administration, called the guidance “a sensible change.” But he also said that “whether someone is a contact depends on the exposure, environment and infectivity of the source patient.”

Both presidential campaigns have relied on the CDC’s previous definitions of “close contact” to determine when candidates and staff members need to be quarantined. A spokesman for Vice President Pence, who was in a room with Trump two days before his positive diagnosis, said the vice president did not meet the new definition of “close contact” either.

In the last week, both Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala D. Harris have been near charter airline workers who have tested positive for the virus. Harris also had a staff member test positive. Biden campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon said previously that none of those interactions qualified as “close contacts” under the old guidelines.

At the Vermont prison, the correctional worker had multiple brief encounters on July 28 with six prisoners while their coronavirus test results were pending. The next day, all six individuals tested positive. The Vermont health and correction authorities conducted a contact tracing investigation and determined the officer did not meet the definition of a close contact, and he continued to work.

[snip]

If the poorest Americans are selling their blood, the US is in serious trouble

If the poorest Americans are selling their blood, the US is in serious trouble
There is something fundamentally sickening about the US blood plasma industry. A meaningful welfare state could put a stop to such desperate measures
By Arwa Mahdawi
Oct 21 2020
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/oct/21/if-the-poorest-americans-are-selling-their-blood-the-us-is-in-serious-trouble

Looking to make extra cash? Don’t want to retrain in “cyber” but need a new gig? Good news! All you need to do is contract Covid-19, try not to die, then sell your antibody-rich blood plasma. Blood centres in the US are currently paying Covid-19 survivors a premium for their plasma, the yellowish liquid that makes up about 55% of blood. Apparently, you can get $100-$200 (£75-£155) a pop.

It would seem some enterprising students have cottoned on to this money-making scheme. Administrators at Brigham Young University’s campus in Idaho recently announced that they are “deeply troubled” by accounts of students who have “intentionally” exposed themselves to coronavirus in order to get that sweet, sweet blood money. “There is never a need to resort to behaviour that endangers health or safety in order to make ends meet,” the school said.

A noble sentiment. However, the US would not have a booming blood plasma industry in the first place if it weren’t for the fact that so many people have to resort to potentially endangering their own health in order to make ends meet. Even before the coronavirus hit, low-income Americans were selling blood plasma to get by.

“Selling plasma is so common among America’s extremely poor that it can be thought of as their lifeblood,” a 2015 Atlantic article noted. The US is an outlier in this regard: you’re not allowed to sell your blood plasma in the UK or in many other developed countries. In the US, however, you can donate up to twice a week; the procedure typically takes about 90 minutes, and you will get somewhere between $30 (£23) and $50 (£38) a time. Which is more than the $7.25 (£5.50) per hour federal minimum wage. The companies bleeding you dry, of course, will be earning a whole lot more: blood plasma is a multibillion dollar business in the US. Indeed, blood products are the US’s 12th most valuable export; in 2016, they made up a greater percentage of all American exports than soya beans or computers. Industry people joke that the US, which produces 70% of all plasma worldwide, is “the Opec of plasma collections.”

Giving blood plasma now and again won’t hurt you. Indeed, it is something we should all do if we can: plasma is desperately needed for life-saving therapies. In Britain, the NHS is urging Covid-19 survivors to donate plasma to treat those who fall ill during a second wave. But selling your blood plasma 104 times a year, as some desperate Americans do, may be another matter. Some expertsand research have queried whether it is healthy, and even in the US if you donate plasma rather than sell, there are limits on how many times you can do it. Some people who sell their plasma frequently have also complained aboutthings like migraines, numbness, and fainting.

[snip]

Trump’s den of dissent: Inside the White House task force as coronavirus surges

Trump’s den of dissent: Inside the White House task force as coronavirus surges
By Yasmeen Abutaleb, Philip Rucker, Josh Dawsey and Robert Costa
Oct 19 2020
https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trumps-den-of-dissent-inside-the-white-house-task-force-as-coronavirus-surges/2020/10/19/7ff8ee6a-0a6e-11eb-859b-f9c27abe638d_story.html

As summer faded into autumn and the novel coronavirus continued to ravage the nation unabated, Scott Atlas, a neuroradiologist whose commentary on Fox News led President Trump to recruit him to the White House, consolidated his power over the government’s pandemic response.

Atlas shot down attempts to expand testing. He openly feuded with other doctors on the coronavirus task force and succeeded in largely sidelining them. He advanced fringe theories, such as that social distancing and mask-wearing were meaningless and would not have changed the course of the virus in several hard-hit areas. And he advocated allowing infections to spread naturally among most of the population while protecting the most vulnerable and those in nursing homes until the United States reaches herd immunity, which experts say would cause excess deaths, according to three current and former senior administration officials.

Atlas also cultivated Trump’s affection with his public assertions that the pandemic is nearly over, despite death and infection counts showing otherwise, and his willingness to tell the public that a vaccine could be developed before the Nov. 3 election, despite clear indications of a slower timetable.

Atlas’s ascendancy was apparent during a recent Oval Office meeting. After Trump left the room, Atlas startled other aides by walking behind the Resolute Desk and occupying the president’s personal space to keep the meeting going, according to one senior administration official. Atlas called this account “false and laughable.”

Discord on the coronavirus task force has worsened since the arrival in late summer of Atlas, whom colleagues said they regard as ill-informed, manipulative and at times dishonest. As the White House coronavirus response coordinator, Deborah Birx is tasked with collecting and analyzing infection data and compiling charts detailing upticks and other trends. But Atlas routinely has challenged Birx’s analysis and those of other doctors, including Anthony S. Fauci, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield, and Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn, with what the other doctors considered junk science, according to three senior administration officials.

Birx recently confronted the office of Vice President Pence, who chairs the task force, about the acrimony, according to two people familiar with the meeting. Birx, whose profile and influence have eroded considerably since Atlas’s arrival, told Pence’s office that she does not trust Atlas, does not believe he is giving Trump sound advice and wants him removed from the task force, the two people said.

In one recent encounter, Pence did not take sides between Atlas and Birx, but rather told them to bring data bolstering their perspectives to the task force and to work out their disagreements themselves, according to two senior administration officials.

The result has been a U.S. response increasingly plagued by distrust, infighting and lethargy, just as experts predict coronavirus cases could surge this winter and deaths could reach 400,000 by year’s end.

This assessment is based on interviews with 41 administration officials, advisers to the president, public health leaders and other people with knowledge of internal government deliberations, some of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to provide candid assessments or confidential information.

Atlas defended his views and conduct in a series of statements sent through a spokesperson and condemned The Washington Post’s reporting as “another story filled with overt lies and distortions to undermine the President and the expert advice he is being given.”

Atlas said he has always stressed “all appropriate mitigation measures to save lives,” and he responded to accounts of dissent on the task force by saying, “Any policy discussion where data isn’t being challenged isn’t a policy discussion.”

On the issue of herd immunity, Atlas said, “We emphatically deny that the White House, the President, the Administration, or anyone advising the President has pursued or advocated for a wide-open strategy of achieving herd immunity by letting the infection proceed through the community.”

The doctor’s denial conflicts with his previous public and private statements, including his recent endorsement of the “Great Barrington Declaration,” which effectively promotes a herd immunity strategy.

On Saturday, Atlas wrote on Twitter that masks do not work, prompting the social media site to remove the tweet for violating its safety rules for spreading misinformation. Several medical and public health experts flagged the tweet as dangerous misinformation coming from a primary adviser to the president.

“Masks work? NO,” Atlas wrote in the tweet, followed by other misrepresentations about the science behind masks. He linked to an article from the American Institute for Economic Research — a libertarian think tank behind the Barrington effort — that argued against masks and dismissed the threat of the virus as overblown.

Trump and many of his advisers have come to believe that the key to a revived economy and a return to normalcy is a vaccine.

“They’ve given up on everything else,” said a senior administration official involved in the pandemic response. “It’s too hard of a slog.”

Infectious-disease and other public health experts said the friction inside the White House has impaired the government’s response.

“It seems to me this is policy-based evidence-making rather than evidence-based policymaking,” said Marc Lipsitch, director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “In other words, if your goal is to do nothing, then you create a situation in which it looks okay to do nothing [and] you find some experts to make it complicated.”

These days, the task force is dormant relative to its robust activity earlier in the pandemic. Fauci, Birx, Surgeon General Jerome Adams and other members have confided in others that they are dispirited.

Birx and Fauci have advocated dramatically increasing the nation’s testing capacity, especially as experts anticipate a devastating increase in cases this winter. They have urged the government to use unspent money Congress allocated for testing — which amounts to $9 billion, according to a Democratic Senate Appropriations Committee aide — so that anyone who needs to can get a test with results returned quickly.

But Atlas, who is opposed to surveillance testing, has repeatedly quashed these proposals. He has argued that young and healthy people do not need to get tested and that testing resources should be allocated to nursing homes and other vulnerable places, such as prisons and meatpacking plants.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Matthews defended Trump and the administration’s management of the crisis.

“President Trump has always listened to the advice of his top public health experts, who have diverse areas of expertise,” Matthews said in a statement. “The President always puts the well-being of the American people first as evidenced by the many bold, data-driven decisions he has made to save millions of lives. Because of his strong leadership, our country can safely reopen with adequate PPE, treatments, and vaccines developed in record time.”

Yet amid a public health crisis that has claimed the lives of more than 219,000 people in the United States — a far higher death toll than any other nation has reported — a consensus has formed within the administration that some measures to mitigate the spread of the virus may not be worth the trouble.

The president gave voice to this mind-set during an NBC News town hall Thursday night, when he declined to answer whether he supported herd immunity. “The cure cannot be worse than the problem itself,” Trump told host Savannah Guthrie.

But medical experts disagreed, saying it is dangerous for government leaders to advocate herd immunity or oppose interventions.

“We’d be foolish to reenter a situation where we know what to do and we’re not doing it,” said Rochelle Walensky, chief of the division of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. “This thing can take off. All you need to do is look at what’s happened at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue over the last two weeks to see that this thing is way faster than we’re giving it credit for.”

‘The cure’

After Trump came home from the hospital this month, he all but promised Americans that they could soon be cured from the coronavirus just as he claimed to have been. In a video taped at the White House on Oct. 5, he vowed, “The vaccines are coming momentarily.”

Then, at a rally last Tuesday night in Johnstown, Pa., Trump told supporters, “The vaccines are coming soon, the therapeutics and, frankly, the cure. All I know is I took something, whatever the hell it was. I felt good very quickly . . . I felt like Superman.”

Trump’s miraculous timeline has run headlong into reality, however. On the same day that he declared “the cure” was near, Johnson & Johnson became the second pharmaceutical giant, after AstraZeneca, to halt its vaccine trial. A third trial, a government-run test of a monoclonal antibody manufactured by Eli Lilly & Co., was also paused. Each move was prompted by safety concerns.

And on Friday, Pfizer said it will not be able to seek an emergency use authorization from the FDA until the third week of November, at the earliest, seemingly making a vaccine before Election Day all but impossible.

Trump’s notion of a vaccine as a cure-all for the pandemic is similarly miraculous, according to medical experts.

“The vaccines, although they’re wonderful, are not going to make the virus magically disappear,” said Tom Frieden, a former CDC director who is president of Resolve to Save Lives. “There’s no fairy-tale ending to this pandemic. We’re going to be dealing with it at least through 2021, and it’s likely to have implications for how we do everything from work to school, even with vaccines.”

Frieden added: “Remember, we have vaccines against the flu, and we still have flu.”

Still, Trump has ratcheted up his push for vaccines over the past several months, intensifying the pressure on government scientists, federal regulators and pharmaceutical executives. He has had one end date in mind: Nov. 3, which is Election Day.

Trump has envisioned a greenlit vaccine as the kind of breakthrough that could persuade voters to see his management of the pandemic as successful and thus upend a race in which virtually all public polls show him trailing Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

Earlier this fall, Trump called Albert Bourla, the chief executive of Pfizer, and asked whether a vaccine could be ready for distribution by late October, before the election. Pfizer spokeswoman Sharon Castillo said executives have regular communications with administration officials on a wide range of health policy issues but that she could not comment on private conversations.

On a call in August with Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, Trump accused the agency of moving too slowly to approve a vaccine or other treatments, including convalescent plasma, according to two officials familiar with the conversation. The NIH, which declined to comment, is a biomedical research agency and does not approve treatments or vaccines.

[snip]

Funny, that.

[Note:  This item comes from friend David Rosenthal.  DLH]

Funny, that.
By Tom Sullivan
Oct 12 2020
https://digbysblog.net/2020/10/funny-that/

The great thing about having an online progressive network is not having to remember the history behind every single issue yourself. We can’t all be Marcy Wheeler.

Josh Holland reminds us that this whole modifying the size of Supreme Courts kerfuffle has recent, less-noticed precedent among Republican governors.

[snip]

As Local News Dies, a Pay-for-Play Network Rises in Its Place

[Note:  This item comes from reader Randall Head.  DHL]

As Local News Dies, a Pay-for-Play Network Rises in Its Place
A nationwide operation of 1,300 local sites publishes coverage that is ordered up by Republican groups and corporate P.R. firms.
By Davey Alba and Jack Nicas
Oct 18 2020
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/18/technology/timpone-local-news-metric-media.html

Brian Timpone’s network of local news outlets is mostly online, but it also prints newspapers in some towns.September Dawn Bottoms/The New York Times

The instructions were clear: Write an article calling out Sara Gideon, a Democrat running for a hotly contested U.S. Senate seat in Maine, as a hypocrite.

Angela Underwood, a freelance reporter in upstate New York, took the $22 assignment over email. She contacted the spokesman for Senator Susan Collins, the Republican opponent, and wrote an article on his accusations that Ms. Gideon was two-faced for criticizing shadowy political groups and then accepting their help.

The short article was published on Maine Business Daily, a seemingly run-of-the-mill news website, under the headline “Sen. Collins camp says House Speaker Gideon’s actions are hypocritical.” It extensively quoted Ms. Collins’s spokesman but had no comment from Ms. Gideon’s campaign.

Then Ms. Underwood received another email: The “client” who had ordered up the article, her editor said, wanted it to add more detail.

The client, according to emails and the editing history reviewed by The New York Times, was a Republican operative.

Maine Business Daily is part of a fast-growing network of nearly 1,300 websites that aim to fill a void left by vanishing local newspapers across the country. Yet the network, now in all 50 states, is built not on traditional journalism but on propaganda ordered up by dozens of conservative think tanks, political operatives, corporate executives and public-relations professionals, a Times investigation found.

The sites appear as ordinary local-news outlets, with names like Des Moines Sun, Ann Arbor Times and Empire State Today. They employ simple layouts and articles about local politics, community happenings and sometimes national issues, much like any local newspaper.

But behind the scenes, many of the stories are directed by political groups and corporate P.R. firms to promote a Republican candidate or a company, or to smear their rivals.

The network is largely overseen by Brian Timpone, a TV reporter turned internet entrepreneur who has sought to capitalize on the decline of local news organizations for nearly two decades. He has built the network with the help of several others, including a Texas brand-management consultant and a conservative Chicago radio personality.

The Times uncovered details about the operation through interviews with more than 30 current and former employees and clients, as well as thousands of internal emails between reporters and editors spanning several years. Employees of the network shared emails and the editing history in the site’s publishing software that revealed who requested dozens of articles and how.

Mr. Timpone did not respond to repeated attempts to contact him by email and phone, or through a note left at his home in the Chicago suburbs. Many of his executives did not respond to or declined requests for comment.

The network is one of a proliferation of partisan local-news sites funded by political groups associated with both parties. Liberal donors have poured millions of dollars into operations like Courier, a network of eight sites that began covering local news in swing states last year. Conservative activists are running similar sites, like the Star News group in Tennessee, Virginia and Minnesota.

But those operations run just several sites each, while Mr. Timpone’s network has more than twice as many sites as the nation’s largest newspaper chain, Gannett. And while political groups have helped finance networks like Courier, investors in news operations typically don’t weigh in on specific articles.

While Mr. Timpone’s sites generally do not post information that is outright false, the operation is rooted in deception, eschewing hallmarks of news reporting like fairness and transparency. Only a few dozen of the sites disclose funding from advocacy groups. Traditional news organizations do not accept payment for articles; the Federal Trade Commission requires that advertising that looks like articles be clearly labeled as ads.

Most of the sites declare in their “About” pages that they to aim “to provide objective, data-driven information without political bias.” But in April, an editor for the network reminded freelancers that “clients want a politically conservative focus on their stories, so avoid writing stories that only focus on a Democrat lawmaker, bill, etc.,” according to an email viewed by The Times.

Other news organizations have raised concerns about the political bent of someof the sites. But the extent of the deceit has been concealed for years with confidentiality contracts for writers and a confusing web of companies that run the papers. Those companies have received at least $1.7 million from Republican political campaigns and conservative groups, according to tax records and campaign-finance reports, the only payments that could be traced in public records.

Editors for Mr. Timpone’s network assign work to freelancers dotted around the United States and abroad, often paying $3 to $36 per job. The assignments typically come with precise instructions on whom to interview and what to write, according to the internal correspondence. In some cases, those instructions are written by the network’s clients, who are sometimes the subjects of the articles.

The emails showed a salesman for Mr. Timpone’s sites offering a potential client a $2,000 package that included running five articles and unlimited news releases. The salesman stressed that reporters would call the shots on some articles, while the client would have a say on others.

Ian Prior, a Republican operative, was behind the articles about Ms. Gideon, the Senate candidate in Maine, as well as articles promoting Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Roy Blunt of Missouri, according to the internal records. Mr. Prior previously worked for the Senate Leadership Fund, a political action committee that has spent $9.7 million against Ms. Gideon.

Juan David Leal, who has worked in the Mexico office of the Berkeley Research Group, a consulting firm, ordered up articles criticizing the Mexican government’s response to the coronavirus.

And employees at the Illinois Opportunity Project, a conservative advocacy group, requested dozens of articles about specific Republican politicians in Illinois. The group has paid $441,000 to Mr. Timpone’s companies, according to the nonprofit’s tax records.

A spokeswoman for Ms. Collins, the Maine senator, said the campaign answers questions “from media outlets of all stripes and persuasions,” including the Maine Beacon, a local-news outlet funded by a liberal group.

Mr. Prior leads a P.R. firm that markets its ability to get coverage in local-news outlets. He said in an email that he pitches stories to a variety of outlets, including Mr. Timpone’s network because it “actually covers local issues.” He did not respond to questions about whether he had paid for the coverage.

The Illinois Opportunity Project did not respond to requests for comment. Mr. Leal did not comment for this article.Brian Timpone’s network of local news outlets is mostly online, but it also prints newspapers in some towns.September Dawn Bottoms/The New York Times

The instructions were clear: Write an article calling out Sara Gideon, a Democrat running for a hotly contested U.S. Senate seat in Maine, as a hypocrite.

Angela Underwood, a freelance reporter in upstate New York, took the $22 assignment over email. She contacted the spokesman for Senator Susan Collins, the Republican opponent, and wrote an article on his accusations that Ms. Gideon was two-faced for criticizing shadowy political groups and then accepting their help.

The short article was published on Maine Business Daily, a seemingly run-of-the-mill news website, under the headline “Sen. Collins camp says House Speaker Gideon’s actions are hypocritical.” It extensively quoted Ms. Collins’s spokesman but had no comment from Ms. Gideon’s campaign.

Then Ms. Underwood received another email: The “client” who had ordered up the article, her editor said, wanted it to add more detail.

The client, according to emails and the editing history reviewed by The New York Times, was a Republican operative.

Maine Business Daily is part of a fast-growing network of nearly 1,300 websites that aim to fill a void left by vanishing local newspapers across the country. Yet the network, now in all 50 states, is built not on traditional journalism but on propaganda ordered up by dozens of conservative think tanks, political operatives, corporate executives and public-relations professionals, a Times investigation found.

The sites appear as ordinary local-news outlets, with names like Des Moines Sun, Ann Arbor Times and Empire State Today. They employ simple layouts and articles about local politics, community happenings and sometimes national issues, much like any local newspaper.

But behind the scenes, many of the stories are directed by political groups and corporate P.R. firms to promote a Republican candidate or a company, or to smear their rivals.

The network is largely overseen by Brian Timpone, a TV reporter turned internet entrepreneur who has sought to capitalize on the decline of local news organizations for nearly two decades. He has built the network with the help of several others, including a Texas brand-management consultant and a conservative Chicago radio personality.

The Times uncovered details about the operation through interviews with more than 30 current and former employees and clients, as well as thousands of internal emails between reporters and editors spanning several years. Employees of the network shared emails and the editing history in the site’s publishing software that revealed who requested dozens of articles and how.

Mr. Timpone did not respond to repeated attempts to contact him by email and phone, or through a note left at his home in the Chicago suburbs. Many of his executives did not respond to or declined requests for comment.

The network is one of a proliferation of partisan local-news sites funded by political groups associated with both parties. Liberal donors have poured millions of dollars into operations like Courier, a network of eight sites that began covering local news in swing states last year. Conservative activists are running similar sites, like the Star News group in Tennessee, Virginia and Minnesota.

But those operations run just several sites each, while Mr. Timpone’s network has more than twice as many sites as the nation’s largest newspaper chain, Gannett. And while political groups have helped finance networks like Courier, investors in news operations typically don’t weigh in on specific articles.

While Mr. Timpone’s sites generally do not post information that is outright false, the operation is rooted in deception, eschewing hallmarks of news reporting like fairness and transparency. Only a few dozen of the sites disclose funding from advocacy groups. Traditional news organizations do not accept payment for articles; the Federal Trade Commission requires that advertising that looks like articles be clearly labeled as ads.

Most of the sites declare in their “About” pages that they to aim “to provide objective, data-driven information without political bias.” But in April, an editor for the network reminded freelancers that “clients want a politically conservative focus on their stories, so avoid writing stories that only focus on a Democrat lawmaker, bill, etc.,” according to an email viewed by The Times.

Other news organizations have raised concerns about the political bent of someof the sites. But the extent of the deceit has been concealed for years with confidentiality contracts for writers and a confusing web of companies that run the papers. Those companies have received at least $1.7 million from Republican political campaigns and conservative groups, according to tax records and campaign-finance reports, the only payments that could be traced in public records.

Editors for Mr. Timpone’s network assign work to freelancers dotted around the United States and abroad, often paying $3 to $36 per job. The assignments typically come with precise instructions on whom to interview and what to write, according to the internal correspondence. In some cases, those instructions are written by the network’s clients, who are sometimes the subjects of the articles.

The emails showed a salesman for Mr. Timpone’s sites offering a potential client a $2,000 package that included running five articles and unlimited news releases. The salesman stressed that reporters would call the shots on some articles, while the client would have a say on others.

Ian Prior, a Republican operative, was behind the articles about Ms. Gideon, the Senate candidate in Maine, as well as articles promoting Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Roy Blunt of Missouri, according to the internal records. Mr. Prior previously worked for the Senate Leadership Fund, a political action committee that has spent $9.7 million against Ms. Gideon.

Juan David Leal, who has worked in the Mexico office of the Berkeley Research Group, a consulting firm, ordered up articles criticizing the Mexican government’s response to the coronavirus.

And employees at the Illinois Opportunity Project, a conservative advocacy group, requested dozens of articles about specific Republican politicians in Illinois. The group has paid $441,000 to Mr. Timpone’s companies, according to the nonprofit’s tax records.

A spokeswoman for Ms. Collins, the Maine senator, said the campaign answers questions “from media outlets of all stripes and persuasions,” including the Maine Beacon, a local-news outlet funded by a liberal group.

Mr. Prior leads a P.R. firm that markets its ability to get coverage in local-news outlets. He said in an email that he pitches stories to a variety of outlets, including Mr. Timpone’s network because it “actually covers local issues.” He did not respond to questions about whether he had paid for the coverage.

The Illinois Opportunity Project did not respond to requests for comment. Mr. Leal did not comment for this article.

[snip]