Connect with us

U.S.

Republican Senator Josh Hawley Pushes For Anti-Loot Box Bill

Published

on

  • Senator Josh Hawley has drafted a bill that would ban the sale of loot boxes and pay-to-win microtransactions in games that target or are played by children.
  • Two of his Democratic colleagues have signed on in support of the legislation, arguing that the features prey on minors and essentially serve as casinos for kids.
  • Meanwhile, industry leaders argue that the features do not constitute gambling and say parents already have the ability to prohibit in-game purchases with parental controls.

The BIll

Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) formally introduced a bill on Thursday that would ban the sale of loot boxes to children.

Hawley’s bill is called “The Protecting Children from Abusive Games Act,” and if approved it will restrict video game companies from including loot boxes or pay-to-win microtransaction in games that target children or are “played by minors.”

The bill calls for financial penalties should a gaming company violate these rules. “Only the addiction economy could produce a business model that relies on placing a casino in the hands of every child in America with the goal of getting them desperately hooked,” Hawley said of the features.

He has teamed up with two Democratic lawmakers, Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) on this legislation, saying “I’m proud to introduce this landmark, bipartisan legislation to end these exploitative practices.”

“Today’s digital entertainment ecosystem is an online gauntlet for children,” Senator Markey said. ”Inherently manipulative game features that take advantage of kids and turn play time into pay time should be out of bounds.”

“I’m proud to sponsor this bipartisan legislation to protect kids from predatory gaming apps and hold bad actors accountable for their reprehensible practices,” Senator Blumenthal said.

“Congress must send a clear warning to app developers and tech companies: Children are not cash cows to exploit for profit.”

Loot Boxes and Microtransactions

The bill will specifically focus on loot boxes and pay-to-win mechanics. Loot boxes are often incorporated in both free and paid games. They offer players randomized rewards for spending money. Meanwhile, play-to-win microtransactions typically take two forms.

In some instances, game designers create games with difficult paths to entice players into spending money on upgrades to progress further in the game. Many times, these games are free to download, which initially draws players in and allows them to become invested in the game before it becomes more challenging.

In other cases, game engineers create multiplayer games that offer players the chance to purchase upgrades or competitive advantages over other players.

Are Industry Leaders Concerned?

Calls for regulation of loot boxes and pay-to-win mechanics have increased over the last several years. Especially as loot boxes have become increasingly popular features in mobile games and larger games produced by companies like Blizzard and Electronic Arts.

Last fall, the Federal Trade Commission said it would investigate loot boxes following a letter from Senator Maggie Hassan. That letter was written after a string of games in 2017 featured heavy usage of microtransactions. This was seen in games like Middle-earth: Shadow of War and Star Wars Battlefront II.

While some companies have pulled back on the practice, popular games like Overwatch, FIFA, and Apex Legends continue to make huge profits off of randomized microtransactions. However, some countries have taken a stand against these features. Earlier this week, Nintendo was forced removed two games in Belgium for violating the country’s loot box regulations that treat loot boxes as an illegal form of gambling.

In a recent interview with Kotaku, Hawley admitted he is not a gamer, but said that the idea for the bill came from “being a parent of two little boys,” and from “talking to a lot of parents” who were suddenly seeing several charges on their cards after purchasing games for their kids.

Kotaku’s Jason Schreier asked if Hawley had spoken to industry leaders about the bill. Here’s how that conversation went:

  • Schreier: Have you been in conversations with the ESA, the video games lobbyist group, or any other video game companies about how this might impact them?
  • Hawley: Yes, yes we have.
  • Schreier: Can you describe the nature of those conversations?
  • Senior policy advisor Jacob Reses: This is Jacob here. I think it’s fair to say the industry has concerns about this… We’ve been trying to be very transparent with them, but there may be some difference of opinion.
  • Hawley: Jacob’s being very diplomatic.
  • Schreier: Yes, any elaboration you can make here? I ask because I pay a lot of attention to these financial calls that these companies have, and EA for example is very reliant on the loot box income that comes in from FIFA games. A lot of these companies are very reliant on this stuff.
  • Hawley: And FIFA would indeed be covered by this legislation, to be clear. They’ve certainly expressed their, shall we say, concern over this legislation. But I think that’s probably a good indication that we’re getting somewhere.

The bill will likely face pushback from industry leaders who have stood by their use of microtransactions. Earlier this month after Hawley announced his plans for the bill, The Entertainment Software Association, the video game industry lobbyist group, sent over a statement to Kotaku saying:

“Numerous countries, including Ireland, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, determined that loot boxes do not constitute gambling. We look forward to sharing with the senator the tools and information the industry already provides that keeps the control of in-game spending in parents’ hands. Parents already have the ability to limit or prohibit in-game purchases with easy to use parental controls.”

See what others are saying: (Kotaku) ( (The Verge) (The Gamer)

U.S.

Purdue Pharma’s $12B Tentative Settlement Faces Push Back from State AG’s

Published

on

  • Purdue Pharma reached a potential $12 billion settlement with 23 states and more than 2,000 individual cases accusing the company of driving the country’s opioid crisis.
  • Under the details of the agreement, the company’s owners — the Sacklers —would need to pay $3 billion of the total, apply Purdue for bankruptcy, and dissolve the company.
  • A new company would then form, continuing to sell the painkiller OxyContin while also donating addiction treatment and overdose reversal drugs.

Tentative $12B Settlement

Purdue Pharma tentatively reached a massive settlement with more than 2,000 local governments after being sued for propagating by the United States’ opioid crisis, a move that will reportedly cost the company $12 billion dollars.

The settlement, agreed upon by 23 states, also stipulates that the owners of Purdue — the Sackler family — must relinquish their ownership and pay $3 billion of the grand total over a seven-year period. 

Forbes estimates the Sacklers net worth at $13 billion, but the family’s penalty might actually end up coming from the sale of their overseas pharmaceutical company Mundipharma. If, however, the Sacklers make more than $3 billion from the sale of Mundipharma, they could end up paying up to another $1.5 billion.

Purdue manufactures OxyContin, an opioid painkiller that many have claimed drove the opioid crisis the country currently faces. The conglomeration of lawsuits against Purdue seeks to hold the company accountable for hundreds of thousands of overdoses beginning in the mid-1990s.

Purdue would also be expected to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, effectively dissolving the company. That, in turn, would allow the formation of a new company that would continue to sell OxyContin and other medicine. Money made from those sales would then help pay alleged victims from the lawsuits.

Additionally, Purdue would donate addiction treatment and overdose reversal drugs.

“Purdue Pharma continues to work with all plaintiffs on reaching a comprehensive resolution to its opioid litigation that will deliver billions of dollars and vital opioid overdose rescue medicines to communities across the country impacted by the opioid crisis,” the company said in a statement.

Notably, the settlement allows Purdue to avoid publishing an admission of wrongdoing. 

The agreement, however, is not finalized. The company’s board must still agree to the settlement, and a bankruptcy court judge must also approve it.

If the settlement goes through, Purdue will avoid an upcoming October trial in Cleveland, which would be the first federal trial involving a company potentially being held accountable for the opioid epidemic. Attorneys who support the agreement said it is a better solution than a long trial that might not yield better results. 

In August, Johnson & Johnson became the first pharmaceutical company to lose a lawsuit concerning the opioid crisis when it was forced to pay $572 million to the state of Oklahoma. Purdue was also implicated in the same lawsuit, but it settled with Oklahoma to pay $270 million. 

In 2007, the company and three executives were forced to shell out $635 million after pleading guilty to lying to doctors and the public about OxyContin’s safety. 

Response From States

While the settlement would push a large sum across the country, more than half of the states’ attorneys general criticized the tentative settlement, arguing the amount to be paid does not offset the amount governments have spent and will need to spend to fight the opioid crisis. 

It comes in spite of the executive committee of lawyers representing all of the cases recommended states accept the deal. 

Because of their response, that has led some commentators to question whether or not a bankruptcy judge will accept the proposal. Now, some of those state attorneys general — including those for Virginia, North Carolina, and Delaware — said they will go after the Sacklers directly.

“These people are among the most responsible for the trail of death and destruction the opioid epidemic has left in its wake,” North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein said of the Sackler family. 

Several Democratic presidential hopefuls have suggested taking criminal action against either the company or potentially the Sacklers through proposed legislation.

“If no Sacklers end up behind bars, an entire class of people will continue to feel that writing a check is the worst thing that will happen to them ever no [matter] what they do,” Keith Humphreys, a drug policy expert at Stanford, said.

In a statement, the family said it “supports working toward a global resolution that directs resources to the patients, families and communities across the country who are suffering and need assistance. This is the most effective way to address the urgency of the current public health crisis and to fund real solutions, not endless litigation.”

Other attorneys representing various states called the agreement a win and “historic.” 

“Sadly, this agreement cannot bring back those who have lost their lives to opioid abuse,” Ashley Moody, the state attorney general for Florida, said, “but it will help Florida gain access to more life-saving resources and bolster our efforts to end this deadly epidemic.”

See what others are saying: (New York Times) (CNN) (Washington Post)

Continue Reading

U.S.

Supreme Court Allows for Broad Enforcement of Trump’s Asylum Rule

Published

on

  • The Supreme Court will allow the Trump administration to enforce a rule that functionally prevents most migrants at the southern border from seeking asylum in the U.S.
  • A federal district judge in California had previously blocked the rule, but the Supreme Court’s new decision means that it can stay in effect while legal challenges to mandate play out.
  • Under the rule, migrants who have crossed through other countries to get to the southern border cannot apply for asylum in the U.S. unless they have been denied asylum in another country or have been the subject of “severe” human trafficking.
  • The rule will mostly affect Hondurans, Salvadorans, and Guatemalans seeking asylum in the U.S. from gang violence and high levels of crime in their home countries. 

Supreme Court Decision

The Supreme Court issued an unsigned order Wednesday allowing the Trump administration to enforce a rule that effectively prevents most Central American migrants at the southern border from seeking asylum in the U.S. while legal challenges to the rule play out.

The rule was first issued by the Trump administration in July. It mandates that any migrant who has crossed through another country to get the southern border can not apply for asylum in the U.S.

The only exceptions are for migrants who have been denied asylum in another country or who have been victims of “severe” human trafficking.

However, that does not mean people with those qualifiers will be granted asylum; it just means that they are the only ones who can even try to apply.

The Supreme Court’s order reverses a decision by a lower court to block the rule. Right after the Trump administration announced the mandate, it was challenged by immigrants rights groups in court.

Then, towards the end of July, California Federal District Judge Jon Tigar blocked the rule. In his ruling, Tigar said that the decision to bar a group of people from asylum was a decision that had to be made by Congress

As a result, he decided that the administration’s rule “is likely invalid because it is inconsistent with the existing asylum laws.” He also said that it violated the Administrative Procedure Act, or APA, which requires that there is a period of public comment before a rule is enacted.

In his decision, Tigar issued a nationwide injunction ordering the administration to continue to allow all asylum applications. However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit said that Tigar did not have the power to make that ruling nationwide.

While they agreed that the rule did go against the APA, they decided that the injunction could only apply to the geographic areas in the 9th District, which includes parts of California and Arizona. Meaning the other border states could still enforce the administration’s new rule.

Last month, Solicitor General Noel Francisco filed an emergency application to the Supreme Court, asking them to put a stop on the block and to allow the rule to be implemented nationwide while the legal battle continued.

Francisco argued that Congress gives the departments of Justice and Homeland Security power to place restrictions on asylum seekers that go beyond the scope of the existing federal asylum law.

On Monday, Tigar reinstated his nationwide injunction. Again, it was blocked by the 9th Circuit, and again the Trump administration asked the Supreme Court to lift the injunction. 

Implications for U.S. Asylum Policy & Asylum Seekers

At the very top level, the rule is a massive change to the way the federal government has treated people seeking asylum under laws that have been in place for four decades.

The current federal law says that any foreign national who “who is physically present in the United States or who arrives in the United States” can seek asylum in the country, as long as they can prove they face persecution in their home country.

A rule that allows the U.S. to deny most people showing up at the southern border the ability to even apply for asylum is a big shift.

According to the legal brief given to the Supreme Court by the ACLU, which represents the immigration rights groups challenging the rule in court, the asylum ban “would upend a forty-year unbroken status quo established when Congress first enacted the asylum laws in 1980.”

“The current ban would eliminate virtually all asylum at the southern border, even at ports of entry, for everyone except Mexicans (who do not need to transit through a third country to reach the United States),” the ACLU continued. “The Court should not permit such a tectonic change to U.S. asylum law, especially at the stay stage.”

The change in asylum policy most heavily impacts Hondurans, Salvadorans, and Guatemalans, many of whom seek asylum in the U.S. from gang violence and high levels of crime in their home countries. 

Migrants from those countries by far compose the majority of people seeking asylum in the U.S. in record numbers this year. 

According to the New York Times, so far this fiscal year, Border Patrol has arrested 419,831 migrant family members from those countries at the U.S. border. By contrast, just 4,312 Mexican family members have been apprehended.

Most of those families who have tried to enter the U.S. to get asylum have been released to await court hearings, according to the Justice Department, which said that more than 436,000 pending cases also include an asylum application.

Notably, the Trump administration’s new rule also could hurt refugees fleeing the humanitarian and economic crisis under the Maduro regime in Venezuela, where more than four million people have already left the country, according to the UN.

That leaves many wondering where all these people will go.

Under the rule, Hondurans and Salvadorans are required to seek asylum in Guatemala or Mexico, and then be denied asylum in those places, before they can apply in the U.S. Guatemalans have to seek and be denied asylum in Mexico.

Both Guatemala and Mexico initially expressed dislike of that plan, because it would basically take the asylum problems the U.S. has and kick the can to those two countries, thus overburdening their asylum systems.

Although both countries eventually tentatively agreed, it was only after President Donald Trump had threatened them with tariffs. 

While the U.S. struck a deal with Guatemala to take in more migrants, the country’s Constitutional Court has ruled that it needs further approval.

The Mexican government has also recently pushed back against the agreement that would force them to take in asylum seekers from Guatemala, which is known as the safe-third-country agreement.

The Rule Moving Forward

The Supreme Court’s Wednesday ruling was an unsigned order, and so it did not include any reason or explanation for why they blocked the lower court’s decision.

That does not mean that the highest court agrees one way or the other with the rule; it just means that they decided it can stay while the legal battles progress through court.

That, however, could take months, and until then, the rule will stay in place.

Regardless, this is a huge win on immigration for the Trump administration. Trump noted this on Twitter, writing in a tweet Wednesday, “BIG United States Supreme Court WIN for the Border on Asylum!”

The president also appeared to express his support for the matter again on Thursday, writing on Twitter “Some really big Court wins on the Border lately!” 

Trump is not wrong. This most recent decision follows another from the Supreme Court in July to allow the administration to use $2.5 billion in Pentagon funds for the construction of a wall along the Mexican border.

If and when the case does go to the Supreme Court, the main issue will be whether or not the administration can change asylum policy in this way without going through Congress.

The Trump administration argues that a provision in the federal law allows the attorney general to “establish additional limitations and conditions, consistent with this section, under which an alien shall be ineligible for asylum.

However, the asylum law only has a few, narrow exceptions to the rule that any foreign national can apply for asylum.

On the other side, the ACLU argued in their Supreme Court brief that “Congress went out of its way to underscore that only bars ‘consistent with’ the entirety of the asylum laws […] were permitted.” 

They also added that giving the executive branch so much authority “flouts bedrock principles of separation of powers and administrative law.”

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (Fox News)

Continue Reading

U.S.

145 CEOs Sign Letter Demanding Gun Control Legislation

Published

on

  • 145 CEOs signed a letter urging the Senate to take legislative action to prevent gun violence in the United States.
  • Major companies whose leaders signed the letter include Twitter, Reddit, Uber, Lyft, Conde Nast, Levi Strauss and more. 
  • They specifically asked to pass legislation on background checks and red flag laws, and added that doing nothing is “simply unacceptable.”

CEOs Sign Letter

The CEOs of 145 companies signed a letter to the Senate urging them to pass gun control legislation, saying that inaction on the matter would be “simply unacceptable.”

Leaders from companies like Levi Strauss, Uber, Lyft, Conde Nast, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Twitter, Reddit, and dozens of other signed the letter, which was first published by The New York Times Thursday.

The joint message opened by addressing the recent shootings in Dayton, Ohio, as well as El Paso and West Texas. The leaders stressed the necessity of gun laws by noting that over 100 people die as a result of gun violence in the United States every day.

“As leaders of some of America’s most respected companies and those with significant business interests in the United States, we are writing to you because we have a responsibility and obligation to stand up for the safety of our employees, customers and all Americans in the communities we serve across the country,” the letter said. “Doing nothing about America’s gun violence crisis is simply unacceptable and it is time to stand with the American public on gun safety.”

“Gun violence in America is not inevitable; it’s preventable,” the group added.

The letter urges the Senate to “stand with the American public and take action on gun safety” and pass gun control-related legislation. Specifically, the CEOs demands a bill requiring background checks on all gun sales and extreme risk laws, also known as red flag laws. 

The business heads cite that 3.5 million gun sales have been blocked since the background check system was established 25 years ago, but that it has not been updated to meet the ways people purchase guns today. The group also claims that states with red flag laws have been able to prevent potential tragedies. 

“Perpetrators of mass shootings, school shootings, and hate crimes often display warning signs before committing violent acts,” the letter explains. “Additionally, people who end their life with a gun also often show signs that they are in crisis before they act. Interventions in states with Extreme Risk laws have already prevented potential tragedies. Expanding Extreme Risk laws to enable families and law enforcement nationwide to intervene when someone is at serious risk of hurting themselves or others is critical to preventing future tragedies.”

Who Signed the Letter?

Notable companies who signed the joint statement include Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, and Arianna Huffington, who founded the Huffington Post and signed on behalf of her company Thrive Global. Joshua Kushner also signed for his company Thrive Capital. Joshua Kushner is the brother of Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and Senior Advisor.

One of the more vocal leaders who signed the document was Chip Bergh, the CEO of Levi Strauss. According to the Times, he was a major player in getting others to grab their pens. 

“To a certain extent, these C.E.O.s are putting their businesses on the line here, given how politically charged this is,” Bergh told the outlet. “Business leaders are not afraid to get engaged now. C.E.O.s are wired to take action on things that are going to impact their business and gun violence is impacting everybody’s business now.”

He also addressed anticipated criticism of the letter.

“This has been spun by the N.R.A. as we’re trying to repeal the Second Amendment,” he said. “Nothing is further from the truth.”

Reactions to Letter

The letter was met with a variety of reactions. John Feinblatt, the president of Everytown for Gun Safety released a statement praising the companies and their executives.

“This diverse coalition of leading companies knows what consumers want and, for the first time, is using its combined clout and knowledge to push for common-sense gun safety legislation,” he said. “This unified corporate action represents a sea change in American culture. The experts on America’s consumers are speaking, and our elected officials should listen.”

NPR reported that the letter had made its way into the hands of senators already. According to their report, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who is a prominent figure that gun control activists seek to sway, acknowledged the letter when speaking to reporters.

“What I’ve said consistently is, ‘Let’s see if we can actually make a law here.’ And making a law when you have divided government is challenging. We all have different points of view,” McConnell said. 

Notable names missing from the signature spot include tech giants like Apple, Facebook, and Google. Other companies that have taken recent measures of their own also did not sign, including Walmart and Kroger, who both asked customers to not openly carry weapons in their stores. This prompted retailers like CVS and Walgreens to follow suit. 

Walmart also penned a letter announcing that it would be limiting the types of ammunition they sell, and called on Congress to act. 

“We encourage our nation’s leaders to move forward and strengthen background checks and to remove weapons from those who have been determined to pose an imminent danger,” the company’s CEO, Doug McMillon, wrote. “We do not sell military-style rifles, and we believe the reauthorization of the Assault Weapons ban should be debated to determine its effectiveness.”

See what others are saying: (New York Times) (NPR) (Axios)

Continue Reading