- 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.
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.”
ABC News Defends Its Epstein Coverage After Anchor Blasts the Network in Leaked Video
- In video leaked by Project Veritas, ABC anchor Amy Robach is seen criticizing the network for not airing a 2015 interview with one of Jeffrey Epstein’s most prominent accusers, Virginia Roberts Giuffre.
- “She told me everything,” Robach said in the video. “She had pictures, she had everything. She was in hiding for 12 years. We convinced her to come out. We convinced her to talk to us. It was unbelievable what we had.”
- Both ABC and Robach now say the network, at the time, could not corroborate the evidence presented in the interview but continued to investigate and report on Epstein.
Project Veritas Leak
ABC News is defending its decision to not air a 2015 interview with a prominent accuser of Jeffrey Epstein after a leaked video showed anchor Amy Robach blasting the network for the decision.
In the video leaked Tuesday by the right-wing activist group Project Veritas, Robach — caught on a hot mic — told an off-camera employee about how she had worked for three years to convince ABC to air the interview with Virginia Giuffre, then Virginia Roberts.
“She told me everything,” Robach said. “She had pictures, she had everything. She was in hiding for 12 years. We convinced her to come out. We convinced her to talk to us. It was unbelievable what we had: Clinton, we had everything. I tried for three years to get it on to no avail and now it’s all coming out and its like these new revelations and I freaking had all of it. I’m so pissed right now. Like, every day I get more and more pissed, ’cause I’m just like, ‘Oh my God! It was — what we had, was unreal.’”
The same year as her interview with ABC, Giuffre filed a civil lawsuit against Epstein claiming that he had held her as a teenage sex slave. She also claimed that, among other people, Epstein trafficked her to the United Kingdom’s Prince Andrew.
Following the accusation, both Prince Andrew and Buckingham Palace denied the claim, calling it “false” and “without foundation;” however, the two are known to have met at some point, with a photo showing Prince Andrew and a then-17-year-old Giuffre side-by-side. In the photo, the prince holds her midriff while she wears a crop top.
In fact, in her castigation of ABC’s handling of the interview, Robach references the situation with Prince Andrew.
“First of all, I was told, ‘Who was Jeffrey Epstein? No one knows who that is. This is a stupid story,’” she said. “Then the palace found out that we had her whole allegations about Prince Andrew and threatened us a million different ways. We were so afraid we wouldn’t be able to interview Kate and Will that we, that also quashed the story.”
The video was reportedly recorded in August, two days after NPR published a story where Giuffre told the outlet that she had spoken with ABC in 2015 but had never been told why the story didn’t air. She said, at the time, she had viewed the ABC interview as a “potential game-changer.”
“Appearing on ABC with its wide viewership would have been the first time for me to speak out against the government for basically looking the other way and to describe the anger and betrayal victims felt,” she told NPR.
Robach and ABC Exec Responds
By Tuesday evening, both ABC and Robach confirmed the footage to be real and explained why the interview never aired. According to Executive Vice President John Rouse, the network had been unable to corroborate the details of Giuffre’s claims, so it chose not to air the piece.
Notably, Rouse also said ABC never stopped investigating Epstein, which is true. The network has repeatedly published or aired stories regarding Epstein since Giuffree filed her lawsuit against him in 2015. Despite never broadcasting her interview, in July, Nightline aired an interview with two other alleged Epstein victims.
In another statement sent out by ABC, Robach backtracked from the comments she made in the leaked video.
“I was caught in a private moment of frustration,” she said. “I was upset that an important interview I had conducted with Virginia Roberts didn’t air.”
Like Rouse, she then said the interview did not meet ABC’s editorial standards.
“My comments about Prince Andrew and her allegation that she had seen Bill Clinton on Epstein’s private island were in reference to what Virginia Roberts said in that interview in 2015,” she adds. “I was referencing her allegations — not what ABC News had verified through our reporting.”
“In the years since, no one ever told me or the team to stop reporting on Jeffrey Epstein, and we have continued to aggressively pursue this important story,” she ends the statement.
Epstein’s Lawyer Calls ABC About the Interview
NPR’s August interview with Giuffe, however, also reveals another incident involving that 2015 interview.
After receiving word that ABC had flown Giuffre to New York to interview her, one of Epstein’s top lawyers, Alan Dershowitz, reportedly called ABC to keep the network from going through with the story. Dershowitz said he believed he spoke with two producers and a lawyer.
“I did not want to see [Giuffre’s] credibility enhanced by ABC,” he told NPR.
Along with Prince Andrew, Giuffre has alleged that Epstein trafficked her to Dershowitz, but he’s denied those claims.
Also in that article, unlike ABC, Julie Brown of the Miami Herald said she found Giuffre’s claims credible and went on to say there were other pieces of evidence that supported Giuffre’s story. Because of her reporting, Brown has been credited with helping to reopen and bring national attention to the Epstein case.
See what others are saying: (Axios) (Washington Post) (Page Six)
Kim Kardashian, Rihanna, and Other Celebs Urge Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to Stop Rodney Reed’s Execution
- Celebrities, criminal justice reform advocates, lawmakers, and internet users are asking Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to stop the execution of Rodney Reed, who is scheduled to be executed on Nov. 20 for a crime he says he did not commit.
- Several people have come forward with new testimony pointing to another suspect in the murder case, throwing Reed’s conviction into doubt.
- Some believe it is unlikely that Abbott will grant a stay of execution, which he has done only once while in office, while others say the wave of social media support may work in Reed’s favor.
Rodney Reed’s Conviction
Celebrities and social media users have been spreading awareness about the case of Rodney Reed, a 51-year-old man who is scheduled to be executed later this month for a crime he says he did not commit.
Reed has been on death row for about two decades for the murder of 19-year-old Stacey Stites. But now, a person named Arthur Snow has come forward claiming that it was the victim’s fiancé, a former police officer, who committed the crime – not Reed.
In 1996, Stites was found dead in a wooded area in Bastrop, Texas after having been assaulted, raped, and strangled. Police initially questioned her then-fiancé Jimmy Fennel after suspecting that he may have been responsible for the crime. Fennell failed two lie detector tests administered by police, but the DNA on Stites’s body did not match his.
That’s when the investigation shifted towards Rodney Reed, whose DNA was found to be a match. Reed admitted having a sexual relationship with Stites behind Fennell’s back but maintained his innocence in relation to her death.
Reed was eventually tried and sentenced to death after he was found guilty of murder. He is scheduled to die by lethal injection on Nov. 20.
New Testimony Casts Doubts About Conviction
Reed’s case has received a new wave of attention from internet users who are pleading for his execution to be stopped.
On October 30, Reed’s lawyers and the criminal justice reform nonprofit the Innocence Project filed an application for clemency with the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles following the sworn affidavit of Arthur Snow a day prior. Snow says that in 2010, Fennell confessed to the murder when the two were serving time behind bars together at a DeWitt County, Texas, prison.
According to the affidavit, Fennell was in the facility on a rape conviction after assaulting a woman while on duty in 2007. He was seeking protection from the Aryan Brotherhood and went to Snow, a brotherhood member, for help. Snow says he confessed to the crime as a way to build trust.
“Toward the end of the conversation, Jimmy said confidently, ‘I had to kill my n*-loving fiancé,’” Snow wrote in the affidavit. Snow said he decided to come forward when he realized that Reed was serving time for Stites’s murder after reading an article about him.
However, Snow isn’t the only person who has pointed the finger at Fennell. Aside from Snow’s testimony, the Innocence Project lawyers say others have come forward with similar stories around Fennell and his anger towards his fiance, who he suspected was having an affair with a black man.
A former insurance sales representative said he had heard Fennell say he would kill Stites if he caught her “messing around.” Charles W. Fletcher, a former friend of the couple, said Fennell had complained that Stites was cheating on him. Jim Clampit, a former sheriff’s deputy, said that at Stites’ funeral, Fennell looked at her body and said, “You got what you deserved.”
At the time of Reed’s trial, no witnesses could corroborate his affair with Stites, which would have explained his DNA’s presence. Now, the victim’s cousin and coworker have both said the two were involved, according to the Innocence Project.
One of Stites’s co-workers, Alicia Slater, said Stites told her she “was sleeping with a black guy named Rodney and that she didn’t know what her fiancé would do if he found out.”
Stites’ cousin, Heather Stobbs, says she now feels Reed was wrongly convicted and possibly even framed. She told a Fox affiliate in Austin that she has no doubt in her mind that Fennell committed the murder.
The Innocence Project also claims that there were forensic issues with the investigation regarding the timeline of events. They also point to the fact that Reed was convicted by an all-white jury as an issue and have pushed for the murder weapon, Stites’ belt, to be tested for DNA evidence.
Reed’s lawyers say he is only asking for a commutation of his life sentence, not a pardon, “because he wishes to have his conviction overturned in court and to be vindicated at a fair trial in which a jury of his peers considers all of the evidence he now presents to this Board.”
Meanwhile, Fennell’s attorneys responded to Snow’s claims by calling him a career criminal. They also noted that after Fennell’s release from prison, he converted to Christianity and has been helping people battling drug addictions.
His attorney, Robert Phillips, said the allegations that his client is the true killer is “laughably untrue.” He said the evidence against Reed is strong and pointed to testimony from other women who said they had been victimized by him in other sexual assaults that were never tried in court.
However, Reed has repeatedly denied being involved in the other sexual assaults. His lawyers say Phillips and the state are focusing on those incidents “because there’s no evidence actually supporting Rodney’s guilt.”
Celebs and Social Media Users Call for Action
The calls for his case to be relooked at have picked up heavily over the past few weeks. A Change.org petition had nearly 300,000 signatures as of Wednesday morning, asking for a new trial and a stop of his execution.
On Saturday, nearly 100 supporters gathered outside the capitol building in Austin, Texas to urge Gov. Greg Abbott to grant Reed clemency.
Before Snow came forward last week, Kardashian-West called on people to put pressure on Abbott
“PLEASE @GovAbbott How can you execute a man when since his trial, substantial evidence that would exonerate Rodney Reed has come forward and even implicates the other person of interest,” she wrote.
TV host Dr.Phil McGraw, who has also posted frequently about the case and covered it on his show, said, “I don’t think it’s a question of whether he’s guilty or not guilty. I think the question is whether he had a full trial, with a full airing of all the evidence. I think the answer to that question, in my opinion, is not just no, but hell, no.”
Over the weekend, celebrities like Rihanna and Meek Mill tweeted a link to a petition to free Reed which currently has over 1.5 million signatures.
Similar support was shared by LL Cool J, T.I. Questlove, Eric Andre, Pusha T, Gigi Hadid, Yara Shahidi, Janelle Monáe, and others.
Then, in a letter sent to Abbott on Tuesday, 26 Texas lawmakers wrote that “the case that put Mr. Reed on death row has been called into serious question by compelling new witness statements and forensic evidence along with evidentiary gaps that could be filled with additional investigation and testing.”
Can the Governor Stop Reed’s Execution?
The urgency around Reed’s case has continued to grow, but it remains to be seen if advocates and celebs have actually had any influence on Abbott. The Texas governor has the power to stay the execution for 30 days and order the state’s Board of Pardons and Paroles to investigate the possibility of commuting his sentence.
But some call the move unlikely since people are rarely granted clemency in Texas if they’ve been convicted of a felony or violent crime. According to the Texas Tribune, the governor has stopped just one execution in nearly five years in office.
Still, others say that the social media support might work in Reed’s favor, since similar calls for action lead to the release of Alice Johnson, a great-grandmother who was serving a life sentence for a first-time nonviolent drug offense, and Cyntoia Brown, an alleged victim of sex trafficking who was given a life sentence killing a man when she was 16.
“Whether you agree with the death penalty or not, I think everybody agrees that at least we ought to be executing people who actually committed the crime,” said Bryce Benjet, a senior attorney at the Innocence Project who has represented Reed for 12 years. “And I think that everybody recognizes the kind of damage that an execution in a case like this would do to the integrity of our system.”
As of now, the offices of the governor and the attorney general have not issued formal statements about the case.
U.S. Begins Formal Withdrawal From Paris Climate Accord. Here’s What You Need to Know
- The Trump administration officially announced it is withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris Agreement on climate change. The removal will fully take effect on Nov. 4, 2020.
- President Donald Trump has long said he would pull the U.S. out of the deal, which he argued hurts the country’s competitiveness.
- Critics have argued that the move will hurt the overall effectiveness of the deal because other countries will see the U.S., formerly a global climate leader, backing out of its commitments.
Trump Administration Announces Official Withdrawal
The Trump administration announced Monday that it has officially started the process of fully withdrawing the United States from the landmark Paris Agreement on climate change.
The international accord, first announced in 2015, was eventually signed by 195 countries that pledged to mitigate climate change and cut their greenhouse gas emissions, among other things.
The U.S. signed on in 2016 under the Obama administration. It was also considered a key leader in crafting the agreement and getting others to sign on. But President Donald Trump has long been critical of the Paris Agreement, arguing that it hurts U.S. competitiveness and the economy.
In June 2017, Trump officially announced that he was going to take the U.S. out of the agreement. However, the U.S. did not immediately leave the accord following that announcement.
That was because all signatories had agreed to rules set by the UN that said no country could leave for three years after signing. If a signatory country did decide to leave the agreement, they would then be subject to a one-year waiting period before the withdrawal took effect.
The Paris Agreement officially went into force on Nov. 4, 2016, and so on November 4, 2019— exactly three years to the day after the agreement was finalized— the Trump administration began to formally pull the U.S. out of the deal.
The move was announced by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Twitter.
“Today we begin the formal process of withdrawing from the Paris Agreement,” Pompeo wrote. “The U.S. is proud of our record as a world leader in reducing all emissions, fostering resilience, growing our economy, and ensuring energy for our citizens. Ours is a realistic and pragmatic model.”
Now the U.S. has one year before it is fully out of the climate agreement, which somewhat coincidentally puts the day that the U.S. would entirely be withdrawn from the agreement one day after the 2020 election.
Most of the Democratic presidential candidates have said if elected they would reenter the deal, but even if Trump were to lose to the election, he would still not leave office until January 2021.
Unless Trump has a sudden change of heart, it seems like the U.S. is set to leave the Paris Agreement on climate change, making it the first and only country to do so.
With the U.S. officially taking the leap to leave the Paris Agreement, many are wondering what this means moving forward for both the accord and the climate crisis as a whole.
General Impact on Climate Change
The most top-level implication of the U.S. withdrawing from the agreement is the potential impact on climate change and global climate change policies.
One of the main overarching goals of the Paris agreement was to keep global warming “well below” a rise of two degrees Celsius, with the general aim of not letting it go above 1.5 degrees Celsius if possible.
The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) backed by an overwhelming scientific consensus has said that in order to reach that ambitious goal, we as a global community need to slash carbon emissions in half by 2030, and net-zero in 2050.
If we fail to do so, scientists and experts have warned that we could face irreversible impacts of climate change. So when signing the Paris Agreement, each country set its own goals to reduce emissions.
Many wealthier and more developed countries, which at the time included the U.S., also agreed to help poorer and developing countries cope with the effects of climate change.
Critics of Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the agreement have said that this is a massive step backward in the fight against climate change, especially because the U.S. is the second-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world after China.
Effectiveness of Deal Without U.S.
Which brings us to the second implication: the impact of the U.S. withdrawing from the Paris Agreement on the effectiveness of the deal itself.
As noted before, the U.S. led by the Obama administration was central in crafting this deal in the first place. Now, the other signatory countries have to make the agreement work without the U.S.
Specifically, that means other major polluters like China and India have to step up and fill the vacuum left by the U.S. In 2017, the U.S., China, and India accounted for almost 50% of total global emissions.
As the number one polluter, China has made big promises to cut their emissions, but they have done little to deliver on those promises.
India, which has many of the most polluted cities in the world, is currently dealing with a massive, growing pollution crisis, which indicates it also has a long way to go.
However, the biggest difference between the U.S. and the other two nations is that under UN rules, China and India are still considered developing countries, and thus are not obligated to curb emissions.
In fact, under the Paris Agreement, China actually said it would peak emissions in 2030, while the U.S. had said it would cut them drastically.
But as many have pointed out, both India and China still agreed to cut emissions as part of the deal largely because of the actions the U.S. was taking and the commitments it had made.
With the U.S. no longer in the agreement, some have argued that China and India will now be even less likely to reduce their emissions.
Here’s the thing with the Paris Agreement: none of the commitments countries make are binding.
In this way, the accord is a double-edged sword. It is beneficial because it got countries that would otherwise not agree to be held to legally-binding commitments to sign on, but it also means none of the countries are held to their commitments.
So if a big power-player and climate change leader like the U.S. reneges on its commitments, it could signal to other countries that they can do the same.
Another major effect of the U.S. pulling out of the deal is the economic impact.
In addition to the scientific warnings about rising sea levels, extreme weather, and the disastrous effects climate change will have on agriculture and wildlife, many have also said that withdrawing from the agreement is a bad economic decision.
This is largely because the Trump administration has not wanted to invest in clean energy and renewable technologies that are becoming a huge market.
As Andrew Steer, the president of the World Resources Institute, said in a statement, Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement “fails people in the United States, who will lose out on clean energy jobs, as other nations grab the competitive and technological advantages that the low-carbon future offers.”
However, long before Monday’s announcement, Trump and his administration have acted like the U.S.’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement is a foregone conclusion.
The administration has pushed ahead with plans and actions that entirely go against the country’s pledge under the agreement to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by nearly a quarter of 2005 levels by 2025.
Among other things, the Trump administration has continually rolled back Obama-era environmental rules that attempted to reduce carbon emissions, such as regulations on coal-fired power plants and other regulations aimed at increasing fuel efficiency standards.
Already, this has made an impact on the U.S.’s carbon output.
In 2018, U.S. carbon emissions increased significantly. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Andrew Wheeler specifically said that the rise was caused by “an uptick in manufacturing and industrial output.”
Trump for his part has made it abundantly clear that he views increasing fossil fuel and coal production as a more important priority than addressing climate change, even if those plans go against the findings of the administration’s own scientists.
Trump’s argument here is that fossil fuel and coal production are better for the U.S. economy, and that is more important than addressing the impending climate crisis.
“I feel that the United States has tremendous wealth. The wealth is under its feet. I’ve made that wealth come alive,” the president said speaking in France this summer. “I’m not going to lose that wealth — I’m not going to lose it on dreams, on windmills.”
But many economists and other experts have said that putting resources toward the clean and renewable energy sector would actually be a huge investment in the future of the economy.
As David Roberts of Vox explains: “Many climate policies pay off in the near term in jobs, economic growth, or reductions in local air and water pollutants, even putting aside their climate-specific benefits. In short, many carbon-reducing policies are things it makes sense for countries to do anyway, for reasons beyond saving the world from climate change.”
Counter-Efforts in the U.S.
Even if the U.S. federal government fully withdraws from the deal, there are still efforts to keep the goals the U.S. originally committed to in the Paris Agreement intact.
As the Los Angeles Times reported, over 400 city leaders have joined the Climate Mayors association while 17 states and territories have joined the U.S. Climate Alliance— both of which are organizations that have promised to continue working towards the U.S.’s climate pledge under the Paris Agreement.
Additionally, 2,200 businesses and investors, 350 universities, 200 faith groups, and many more local and tribal governments have also signed onto the “We’re Still In” declaration, which also supports the goals of the accord.
According to the Times, all combined, these groups “account for nearly 60% of the U.S. economy, half the country’s population, and 37% of its greenhouse gas emissions.”
Others have also noted that there is significant public support to address climate change.
According to a poll conducted by The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation in September, two-thirds of Americans say Trump is not doing enough to deal with climate change
The poll also found that about eight in 10 Americans “say that human activity is fueling climate change, and roughly half believe action is urgently needed within the next decade if humanity is to avert its worst effects.”