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Fake Polls Are A Real Problem

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Is Kid Rock leading the U.S. Senate race in Michigan? A story like that is essentially designed to go viral, and that’s exactly what happened when Delphi Analytica released a poll fielded from July 14 to July 18. Republican Kid Rock earned 30 percent to Sen. Debbie Stabenow’s 26 percent. A sitting U.S. senator was losing to a man who sang the lyric, “If I was president of the good ol’ USA, you know I’d turn our churches into strip clubs and watch the whole world pray.”

The result was so amazing that the poll was quickly spread around the political sections of the internet. Websites like Daily Caller, Political Wire and Twitchy all wrote about it. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted it out. And finally, Kid Rock himself shared an article from Gateway Pundit about the poll.

There was just one problem: Nobody knew if the poll was real. Delphi Analytica’s website came online July 6, mere weeks before the Kid Rock poll was supposedly conducted. The pollster had basically no fingerprint on the web.

Indeed, Delphi Analytica isn’t a polling firm in any traditional sense, and it’s not entirely clear they even conducted the poll as advertised.

The story of Delphi Analytica, its mysterious origins and its Kid Rock poll show that the line between legitimate and illegitimate pollsters is blurring. Much of the polling industry is moving online, where conducting a survey is far less expensive than making thousands of phone calls. But that lower price has also opened up polling to all sorts of new people: Some are seasoned professionals trying an old craft with a new tool or well-informed, well-meaning amateurs trying to break into the industry, but other characters have less noble goals — they’re pranksters seeking attention and scam artists trying to make a quick buck.

If you’re a political observer interested in polls or a journalist who writes about them, you need to be more careful than ever.

Who runs Delphi Analytica?

Whenever a new poll comes out, the first question anyone should ask about it is: Who conducted this survey? Do the people behind it have experience conducting polls? At a minimum, can you find reliable information about their backgrounds?

On Delphi Analytica’s website, it merely says that “Delphi Analytica was founded in 2017 by a group of individuals from diverse political backgrounds, united by their affinity for politics, who wanted to create a grassroots public polling organization.”

This should set off immediate alarm bells. Transparency is one of the central tenets of the polling industry. But no individuals are listed as employees on the Delphi Analytica website. Additionally, the site is registered to Domains By Proxy, LLC, a service that keeps the names of a website’s registrant or registrants hidden.

When I wrote to the contact email address listed on Delphi Analytica’s site, initially a person using the name Jessica Lee responded. (A Google search for “Jessica Lee” and “Delphi Analytica” revealed no hits.) She wouldn’t provide the name of Delphi Analytica’s owner, the names of any of the other people working there, or even her own title. She claimed the owner lived in Ohio and the rest of the team worked in the New York metropolitan area. Since FiveThirtyEight is based in New York City, I asked twice if I could meet with someone located in or near the city. Lee refused the first request and ignored the second.

Over the weekend of Aug. 19, I contacted the Delphi Analytica email account one last time, asking again who worked for the group. I got a response that refused again to provide names and was once again signed Jessica Lee, but this email was sent from a Hotmail account that had the name Stephen Lewis in the handle. Lewis would not provide his title at Delphi Analytica — he claimed that people who work for the site don’t have titles — and said the statement was from Lee, who “usually handles our phone and email inquiries.” Lewis said he helps analyze the polling data. My last email to the Delphi Analytica email account, sent the morning of Aug. 20, was returned to me with a “host unknown” message.

So what’s going on here? In short, I don’t know. We do have some hints, however.

After Delphi Analytica released its Michigan survey (it has released eight polls in all), I received a direct message on Twitter from Michael McDonald, a source I had spoken to before. McDonald follows political betting markets and had previously contacted me about another survey firm, CSP Polling, that he believed was a shell organization started by some people who use PredictIt, a betting market for political propositions. McDonald said that CSP stood for “Cuck Shed Polling.” Like Delphi Analytica, CSP Polling doesn’t list anyone who works there on its website.

McDonald, who most recently worked as the social media manager for The Moving Picture Institute’s “We The Internet” YouTube series and has no official connection to any polling organizations or betting markets, told me that after the 2016 election, some PredictIt users started gathering in a chat room on Discord, a voice and text application often used by gamers, to talk politics and betting. McDonald shared screenshots from that chat room, where a person going by the screen name “Autismo Jones,” who claimed to have started Delphi Analytica, bragged about the publicity the Kid Rock poll was receiving. Jones, apparently reacting to an email I had sent to Delphi, wrote, “we dont need Harry Enten. we got governors tweeting out our polls. we are already famous.” Jones even claimed to have closed the comment section on Delphi Analytica’s post sharing the Kid Rock poll because people were saying the poll wasn’t real. The comment section did, in fact, close, but it has since reopened.

McDonald believes that “Jones” and whoever may have helped him or her did so for two reasons. The first: to gain notoriety and troll the press and political observers. (The message above seems to support that theory.) The second: to move the betting markets. That is, a person can put out a poll and get people to place bets in response to it — in this case, some people may have bet on a Kid Rock win — and the poll’s creators can short that position (bet that the value of the position will go down). In a statement, Lee said Delphi Analytica was not created to move the markets. Still, shares of the stock for Michigan’s 2018 Senate race saw their biggest action of the year by far the day after Delphi Analytica published its survey.

The price for one share — which is equivalent to a bet that Stabenow will be re-elected — fell from 78 cents to as low as 63 cents before finishing the day at 70 cents. (The value of a share on PredictIt is capped at $1.) McDonald argued that the market motivations were likely secondary to the trolling factor, but the mere fact that the markets can be so easily manipulated is worrisome.

I wasn’t able to corroborate McDonald’s story with any sources willing to talk on the record. I can’t be sure if Delphi Analytica was, in fact, set up for laughs or for money. That said, many of the details of McDonald’s story line up with other evidence. For instance, many of the most recent images appearing on the Delphi Analytica website are hosted on the Discord server, which is consistent with McDonald’s story that the people behind Delphi Analytica use the Discord app. Additionally, Stephen Lewis invited me to “join our [D]iscord” if I was “really interested in speaking with” the Delphi Analytica team.

Furthermore, McDonald said that the person going by Autismo Jones on Discord also used the handle @James_st1 on Twitter. In direct messages on Twitter, @James_st1 would not provide his real name and claimed he was not the primary person behind Delphi Analytica, but also said that he helped secure funding for the organization. @James_st1 is the only account following the Delphi Analytica page on Medium.

Whoever is behind Delphi Analytica, the group’s lack of transparency about who they are is its own indictment; it’s hard to trust information when you don’t know who’s providing it, or what their motives or incentives are.

Was the poll real?

It remains unclear whether the person or persons behind Delphi Analytica conducted a poll. McDonald claims that the people behind the agency merely put a poll from Google Surveys into the field and may not have adjusted the data to ensure a representative sample. When I asked Delphi Analytica directly about their polling process, an email signed by Jessica Lee said that the group used both Google Surveys and SurveyMonkey and adjusted the data, though that was not noted in the original writeup. When asked for specifics about the Michigan poll, Lee did not respond. Neither Google Surveys nor SurveyMonkey could confirm whether this survey was done on their platforms.

Still, Delphi Analytica’s polls and the data on its site are somewhat consistent with what you would expect to see if the polling was done on the Google Surveys platform. Google Surveys includes details of each respondent’s age bracket, gender, and city and state in any given poll. (You can see an example of the kind of output these polls produce if you download the data for this poll that asked about the Montana special election for its at-large House district earlier this year.) The raw data for the Delphi Analytica poll of the Michigan Senate race includes age brackets, gender, and city and state information for its respondents. The age brackets match Google Surveys’ age brackets. The way the geographic data is formatted is also similar.

Also telling is the relatively frequent appearance in both polls of the answer “unknown” for both age and gender, and the number of respondents whose location is just listed as a state, with no city information. Google Surveys infers a user’s age, gender and region (with fairly accurate results) “based on the websites users visit and … [their] IP addresses.” Sometimes, though, these demographics cannot be inferred, which leads to some fields being marked as “unknown” or containing incomplete information. (Most pollsters ask survey-takers for their age and gender rather than inferring that information through other means.)

But some of the raw data in Delphi Analytica’s Kid Rock poll is, at the very least, strange. Kid Rock leads Stabenow 26 percent to 18 percent among the 72 respondents in Detroit, for instance. While the margin of error on this subsample is large and it’s certainly possible that Kid Rock’s unique candidacy would upset the normal electoral map, there just aren’t very many Republicans in Detroit — Hillary Clinton beat President Trump there 95 percent to 3 percent.

A look at the raw data released by Delphi Analytica also reveals a formatting inconsistency among those answering “I prefer not to answer.” With the way the data is sorted when it’s downloaded from the Delphi Analytica site, the responses appearing in the first half of the spreadsheet capitalize the “I”; for responses in the second half, the “I” is lowercase (“i prefer not to answer”). That shouldn’t happen if the results of one poll are automatically imported into a spreadsheet, as they typically are when a poll is conducted using Google Surveys. This suggests that either the results were changed or multiple surveys were combined. Either way, it’s the type of artifact you tend to see in polls that aren’t on the level.

On the other hand, CSP Polling, which appears to have ties to the same Discord group that McDonald identified as hosting members of Delphi Analytica, may not even have done a Google Survey. McDonald claims CSP Polling was just an outright fake. CSP Polling did not respond to an email request for comment. Like Delphi Analytica, CSP Polling seemingly popped up overnight. Its Twitter account was created on the evening of May 25 — just before the polls closed for the Montana special election, which the group claimed to have surveyed. (The first post on the website wasn’t published until a week later.) CSP also supposedly conducted polls in June on the Paris Accords, the Virginia gubernatorial Democratic primary and the special congressional election in Georgia’s 6th district. Unlike Delphi Analytica, CSP Polling did not release raw data for any of these polls. The methodology information for all three polls says they were conducted online, but these writeups don’t give any details as to how this online sample was obtained.

As with Delphi Analytica, we found some Twitter accounts that appear to be associated with CSP Polling, but very little other evidence of who is running the site. McDonald said that CSP Polling was run by “Lance Stewart” (@topsznregime91) and “Kdawg” (@Kennnnnny). In a Twitter direct message, Stewart — who said that wasn’t his real name — claimed to have run CSP Polling’s social media for just “2-3 days and had no part in conducting the polling.” He said Kdawg wrote the press releases; that user posted at least two tweets regarding CSP Polling, but they have since been deleted.

Trusting polls is about more than real vs. fake

It’s fairly easy to dismiss both CSP Polling and Delphi Analytica. Maybe they conducted some polling and maybe they didn’t, but their lack of transparency and shady behavior make it easy to disqualify their work. But let’s say they were more transparent, and their data looked more legitimate. Even then it’s not clear whether news outlets should take their results seriously.

FiveThirtyEight has traditionally accepted any poll from any firm so long as we don’t have evidence the poll or pollster is an outright fake. But that’s in large part because, as of a few years ago, the logistics of fielding a poll were daunting enough that not just anybody could do it. It costs thousands of dollars to put a phone survey in the field, and until recently, phone surveys were pretty much the only game in town. To conduct them, you either needed to use call centers or somewhat cheaper automatic voice polling (aka “robopolls”).

Now putting out a “poll” is easy and relatively cheap. It costs just $60, for example, to ask one question to 400 respondents in New York state via Google Surveys. That opens the door for many people to field surveys who wouldn’t have been able to afford it in years past. This can certainly be a good thing: More pollsters means more data and more innovation. But that also means that we now have to ask ourselves not just whether a survey is real or fake, but also whether the person designing the survey knows what they are doing. You can think of it as a two-dimensional plane.

If a pollster is fake and unknown, then we should certainly ignore it. If a pollster isn’t actually fielding polls, we should ignore the results even if the pollster is professional (e.g. Research 2000, which settled a lawsuit accusing the firm of fabricating polling data). On the other hand, if the pollster is real and respected (e.g. Marist College or Monmouth University), then we obviously want to take its results seriously.

But it’s less clear how we should treat amateurs who are using platforms such as Google Surveys or SurveyMonkey Audience to field their political polls. These platforms provide users with the tools they need to conduct accurate political polls, but accuracy is not guaranteed if they don’t know what they’re doing.

Accurate political polling mainly comes down to ensuring that the voting population is properly represented in the poll. To get the right representation, pollsters typically weight survey respondents according to key variables such as age, education, gender, race, region within a state (for state polls ) and registered or likely voter status. So, for example, if the sample of respondents your poll reaches has too few women relative to the electorate you’re trying to measure, you would count the answers of each woman you did reach a little extra. It’s extremely tricky to accurately weight a polling sample — even the pros disagree about how best to do it, and they sometimes get it wrong. Improper weighting was at least partially responsible for the polls underestimating President Trump’s strength in states with large populations of white voters without a college degree.

But the default for both the Google Surveys and SurveyMonkey Audience platforms is to provide data only on age and gender (along with city, for Google Surveys), which are weighted to match the general population, not the voting population. If you’re conducting a poll, you can ask respondents about their race and education, but even when you have those variables, they must be weighted correctly to match the voting population or they won’t give an accurate picture of the electorate. And for that, the pollster is on their own.

Google Surveys and SurveyMonkey ultimately have no real control over how people who use their platforms report or weight the results. People can conduct polls on these platforms, reweight the results any way they want, fail to give credit to Google Surveys or SurveyMonkey, and still rightfully claim that a real poll was conducted.

To be clear, I’m not saying that political surveys conducted on Google Surveys or SurveyMonkey Audience are inherently flawed. Far from it. Both companies have published professional, legitimate polls of their own, and third parties have conducted high-quality polls on both platforms. Red Oak Strategies did very good work in the 2016 presidential election using the Google Surveys platform. NBC News has used SurveyMonkey Audience for some of its political surveys. Moreover, traditional surveys are far from perfect and can wind up with an unrepresentative sample as a result of problems like non-response bias, which no amount of weighting can correct.

Indeed, the answer to pollsters like Delphi Analytica isn’t for the media to just unthinkingly winnow down the number of pollsters they report on. If they do that, they’ll miss pollsters who correctly gauge the electorate even when many traditional pollsters don’t — pollsters like Robert Calahy, who runs the Trafalgar Group and who was one of the most accurate pollsters in 2016; he was one of the few who correctly anticipated Trump’s victory. He says he’s had some difficulty getting accepted by some members of the media because he isn’t as well-known as more traditional pollsters. He told me that he completely agreed that the existence of fake firms makes it easier for skeptical members of the media to dismiss all pollsters they are unfamiliar with. Ignoring unknown pollsters like Calahy could deprive readers of information that big-name pollsters are missing. Instead, what the media needs to do is examine each poll and pollster individually and make a judgment call.

A fake poll can have real influence

For most people, no individual poll will have much of an impact. Most voters go about their lives not paying attention to every single poll that is or isn’t reported by the press. But make no mistake: A rogue poll or pollster can influence an election.

As Adam Geller, a Republican pollster who worked on the Trump campaign, told me, public polls can create news because “they are easy stories to write.” But, he said, “there is far too little scrutiny on the methodology of the poll. To most journalists, a poll is a poll is a poll.”

Public polls can also influence donors, Geller says. Donors don’t want to back a likely loser. Voters themselves can be influenced as well. For example, in a primary campaign where voters are trying to decide between ideologically similar candidates in a large field, voters may take into account who they think has the best chance of winning. A fake poll could affect that calculus.

That influence, of course, is predicated on the poll getting attention. But it’s not difficult to attract press coverage. As Steve Berman, a writer at the conservative website The Resurgent who wrote a skeptical take on the poll, told me, “Anyone in the entire political blogosphere is maybe 1 or 2 degrees of separation from anyone else. The trust network is fairly strong.” In other words, once a story appears in one place, it’s likely to appear in many others because people believe a reputable website wouldn’t get fooled by a fake poll. The good news is that some of the initial reports on the Delphi Analytica poll were taken down or amended once word spread that something didn’t smell right about it. The bad news, as Berman mentioned to me, is that there’s no real way to stop the initial spread of these shoddy polls — we can only try to limit their impact.

In this case, Delphi Analytica’s claims may have made Kid Rock more seriously consider entering the Michigan Senate race. He retweeted the results, after all. And while the singer has not made any official moves toward running for Senate, such as filing a statement of candidacy, it wasn’t too long after Delphi Analytica published its poll that Kid Rock said he’d take a “hard look” at a Senate bid and that former New York Gov. George Pataki endorsed him.

Think about that for a second. A poll that may not even have been conducted could wind up being at least partially responsible for the election of a musician to the U.S. Senate. It’s pretty amazing.

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New Jersey Is Front Line in a National Battle Over Bail


Concern about the changes has reached such a pitch among the country’s bail bondsmen that the president of the Professional Bail Agents of the United States, an industry trade group, issued what she called “A Declaration of War” in the group’s August newsletter.

“We have the responsibility to stand against the forces of tumult and division,” wrote the president, Beth Chapman, who is married to the former star of the TV show “Dog the Bounty Hunter,” Duane Chapman. “We must stand united and strong, willing to fight back and wage war against the special interests who would destroy law and order in this country to advance their radical agenda.”

In the middle of the fight, the two suits in New Jersey have attracted attention not only because they are especially aggressive, but also because they may become a bellwether for other states that are trying to fend off attacks on bail reform.

“I think the reason you’re seeing such intensity by the bail industry to undermine reform in New Jersey is that it will have an effect on the national landscape,” said Alexander Shalom, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union who is helping state officials defend themselves in one of the cases. “The industry is upset about losing business in New Jersey. But the bigger problem is: If there’s successful reform in New Jersey, it can be replicated elsewhere.”

The first New Jersey suit was submitted by Mr. Clement in June on behalf of the Lexington National Insurance Corporation, a bail underwriter in Maryland, which, like others in the field, assumes the ultimate financial risk from local bail bondsmen if defendants do not appear in court. Filed as a class action, its named local plaintiff is Brittan B. Holland, a New Jersey man who was charged in April with assault after being accused of beating up two patrons of a tavern in Winslow Township during a fight over a football game.

According to the suit, Mr. Holland wanted, and had the means, to post cash bail with the help of a bondsman, but under the new state law he was released from jail after being fitted with an electronic ankle bracelet — or what the suit referred to as “a modern-day scarlet letter.” This led to “severe deprivations of liberty,” the suit claimed, including home detention, the fact that the government could track Mr. Holland 24 hours a day and a requirement that he report to court officials every two weeks. Oral arguments in the case will be heard in Federal District Court in Camden on Tuesday.

The second suit was filed on July 31 by June Rodgers, whose son Christian Rodgers died in April after being shot 22 times in Vineland by a felon who had been released on bail for a weapons violation. In the suit, Ms. Rodgers claimed that the state’s new bail law “created a system where African-Americans in New Jersey,” like her son, received “disparate treatment.” The suit also blamed Governor Christie and the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, a social-justice organization that created a tool for assigning bail that was incorporated into the law, for violating her 14th Amendment due process rights, including “the right to companionship with her son.”

The day the suit was filed, the Chapmans appeared at a news conference in Trenton announcing the litigation. Mr. Chapman stood in front of the cameras attacking New Jersey’s “dangerous, fake reform” of bail, which, he said, had been in effect for 200 years. Ms. Chapman added that “people are not in jail because they’re poor — they’re in jail because they broke the law.” In pursuing her case against the state, Ms. Rodgers is being represented by Nexus Caridades, a pro bono law firm that is funded by a company called Nexus that offers services to immigrants who need bail.

Jeff Clayton, the executive director of the American Bail Coalition, a national organization of bail underwriters, questioned the premise of the changes by saying that the various laws and rules across the country were damaging public safety — a notion that officials in New Jersey and elsewhere have disputed. Mr. Clayton also said that there were constitutional problems with the overhaul efforts not only under the 14th Amendment, but also under the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures, and the Eighth Amendment, which guards against “excessive bail.”

But Alec Karakatsanis, a lawyer for Civil Rights Corps, a nonprofit organization that has been involved in several of the bail cases, called the cash-bail system “a catastrophe,” adding, “It’s enormously unjust and enormously costly.”

“And now that’s it being scrutinized by people and the government,” Mr. Karakatsanis said, “I don’t think the industry’s efforts to fight this movement will succeed.”

Correction: August 21, 2017

An earlier version of this article misstated the New Jersey lawsuit for which oral arguments were beginning on Tuesday in Federal District Court. Those arguments are for a suit brought on behalf of Brittan B. Holland, who was charged with assault in a bar fight in Winslow Township.

Correction: August 21, 2017

An earlier version of this article mischaracterized a social-justice group’s role in the creation of the law overhauling New Jersey’s bail system. The Laura and John Arnold Foundation created a tool for assigning bail that was adopted by state lawmakers in writing the law. The foundation did not help draft the legislation.

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Joss Whedon Is a ‘Hypocrite Preaching Feminist Ideals,’ Ex-Wife Kai Cole Says (Guest Blog)

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I’ve been asked some questions by the press recently about my divorce from Joss Whedon, to whom I was married for 16 years. There is misinformation out there and I feel the best way to clear up the situation is to tell my truth. Let me begin by saying I am a very private person and the act of writing this is antithetical to who I am and everything I stand for. Yet, at the same time, I feel compelled to go on the record and clear up some misperceptions. I don’t think it is fair to me or other women to remain silent any longer.

I met Joss in 1991. I was driving across the country from Massachusetts on a whim, and met him when I was passing through Los Angeles. We fell in love and I moved to L.A. so we could be together.

I was with him when his “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” script was adapted, and the resulting movie released. It was painful to see how his vision was interpreted by the production team and on our honeymoon to England in 1995, I urged him to figure out how to turn it into a TV show. He didn’t want to work in television anymore, following in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps, but I convinced him it was the fastest way to get the experience he needed, so he could direct his own films someday. I had no idea, in that lovely garden in Bath, that it would change everything.

There were times in our relationship that I was uncomfortable with the attention Joss paid other women. He always had a lot of female friends, but he told me it was because his mother raised him as a feminist, so he just liked women better. He said he admired and respected females, he didn’t lust after them. I believed him and trusted him. On the set of “Buffy,” Joss decided to have his first secret affair.

Fifteen years later, when he was done with our marriage and finally ready to tell the truth, he wrote me, “When I was running ‘Buffy,’ I was surrounded by beautiful, needy, aggressive young women. It felt like I had a disease, like something from a Greek myth. Suddenly I am a powerful producer and the world is laid out at my feet and I can’t touch it.” But he did touch it. He said he understood, “I would have to lie — or conceal some part of the truth — for the rest of my life,” but he did it anyway, hoping that first affair, “would be ENOUGH, that THEN we could move on and outlast it.”

Joss admitted that for the next decade and a half, he hid multiple affairs and a number of inappropriate emotional ones that he had with his actresses, co-workers, fans and friends, while he stayed married to me. He wrote me a letter when our marriage was falling apart, but I still didn’t know the whole truth, and said, “I’ve never loved anyone or wanted to be with anyone in any real or long-term way except for you ever. And I love our life. I love how you are, how we are, who you are and what we’ve done both separately and together, how much fun we have…” He wanted it all; he didn’t want to choose, so he accepted the duality as a part of his life.

kai cole joss whedon

Kai Cole and Joss Whedon at a 2010 L.A. premiere event (Getty Images)

Then later, after he confessed everything, he told me, “I let myself love you. I stopped worrying about the contradiction. As a guilty man I knew the only way to hide was to act as though I were righteous. And as a husband, I wanted to be with you like we had been. I lived two lives.” When he walked out of our marriage, and was trying to make “things seem less bewildering” to help me understand how he could have lied to me for so long, he said, “In many ways I was the HEIGHT of normal, in this culture. We’re taught to be providers and companions and at the same time, to conquer and acquire — specifically sexually — and I was pulling off both!”

Despite understanding, on some level, that what he was doing was wrong, he never conceded the hypocrisy of being out in the world preaching feminist ideals, while at the same time, taking away my right to make choices for my life and my body based on the truth. He deceived me for 15 years, so he could have everything he wanted. I believed, everyone believed, that he was one of the good guys, committed to fighting for women’s rights, committed to our marriage, and to the women he worked with. But I now see how he used his relationship with me as a shield, both during and after our marriage, so no one would question his relationships with other women or scrutinize his writing as anything other than feminist.

I thought we were a couple, a team. I was a powerful influence on the career choices Joss made during the 20 years we were together (we lived together for four years before marrying). I kept him grounded, and helped him find the quickest way to the success he so deeply craved. I loved him. And in return, he lied to me. A lot. He said, after he left, he understood: “It’s not just like I killed you, but that I’d done it subtly, over years. That I’d been poisoning you. Chipping away at you.” He made me doubt my own instincts and watched me move further away from my personal values and social mores, trying to connect with him, never telling me it was impossible. By the time he finally confessed the truth, 15 years after his first affair on the set of “Buffy,” I was broken. My brain could not fit my experience of our life together, through the new lens of his deceit.

My entire reality changed overnight, and I went from being a strong, confident woman, to a confused, frightened mess. I was eventually diagnosed with Complex PTSD and for the last five years, I have worked hard to make sense of everything that happened and find my balance again. It has not been easy, because even though in my personal life I have been completely open about what happened, publicly people only know his superficial presentation of us: him as the lovable geek-feminist and me in the background, as his wife and supporter.

We’re finally divorced; I’m doing architecture again, and slowly getting my life and self-esteem back.

Until recently, Joss was still letting the illusion of our marriage stay intact. Now that it is finally public, I want to let women know that he is not who he pretends to be. I want the people who worship him to know he is human, and the organizations giving him awards for his feminist work, to think twice in the future about honoring a man who does not practice what he preaches. But no matter what happens, or how people interpret this statement, I no longer have to carry the burden of Joss’ long-term deceit and confessions. I am free.

Editor’s Note: A spokesperson for Joss Whedon provided the following response, “While this account includes inaccuracies and misrepresentations which can be harmful to their family, Joss is not commenting, out of concern for his children and out of respect for his ex-wife.”

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I hope she recovers.
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Supreme Court asked to nullify the Google trademark

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Is the term "google" too generic and therefore unworthy of its trademark protection? That's the question before the US Supreme Court.

Words like teleprompter, thermos, hoover, aspirin, and videotape were once trademarked. They lost the status after their names became too generic and fell victim to what is known as "genericide."

What's before the Supreme Court is a trademark lawsuit that Google already defeated in a lower court. The lawsuit claims that Google should no longer be trademarked because the word "google" is synonymous to the public with the term "search the Internet."

"There is no single word other than google that conveys the action of searching the Internet using any search engine," according to the petition to the Supreme Court.

It's perhaps one of the most consequential trademark case before the justices since they ruled in June that offensive trademarks must be allowed.

The Google trademark dispute dates to 2012 when a man named Chris Gillespie registered 763 domain names that combined "google" with other words and phrase, including "" Google filed a cybersquatting complaint under the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy and claimed trademark infringement. Google won, and an arbitration panel ordered the forfeiture of the domains.

Gillespie then sued in a bid to invalidate the trademark. The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that the search giant gets to keep its trademark even if the term "google" has become known for searching the Internet. One reason is because Google isn't just a search engine.

"Even if we assume that the public uses the verb 'google' in a generic and indiscriminate sense, this tells us nothing about how the public primarily understands the word itself, irrespective of its grammatical function, with regard to Internet search engines," the San Francisco-based appeals court ruled.

The appeals panel said trademark loss to genericide occurs when the name has become an "exclusive descriptor" that makes it difficult for competitors to compete unless they use that name.

Why does any of this matter? The American Bar Association says a trademark "grants the right to use the registered trademark symbol: ®," allows a rights holder to sue for trademark infringement, and "acts as a bar to the registration of another confusingly similar mark."

Gillespie has now appealed his appellate court loss to the US high court. The petition for the Supreme Court to review the lower court's ruling was filed days ago. It may take months before the justices decide whether to take up the dispute.

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2 days ago
Just ridiculous. When I say "Google it" I don't mean look it up on Bing.
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New York Police Officers Rally in Support of Colin Kaepernick

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Dozens of current and retired officers from the New York Police Department rallied on Saturday morning in support of Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers player lionized and reviled for refusing to stand during the national anthem.

The gathering in Brooklyn Bridge Park was organized by Sgt. Edwin Raymond and attended by about 80 officers who wore black T-shirts emblazoned with “#IMWITHKAP.” Frank Serpico, a former officer who exposed corruption in the New York Police Department in the 1970s, attended.

Speakers, including City Councilman Jumaane D. Williams, Democrat of Brooklyn, linked the backlash against Kaepernick’s gesture — no team has signed the quarterback for this season — to the violence last weekend during a white nationalist march in Charlottesville, Va., and more generally to issues of police accountability.

Kaepernick, 29, stopped standing for the anthem last season, saying he was protesting violence against minorities, particularly by the police.

“As members of law enforcement, we can confirm that the issues he is saying exist in policing, and throughout the criminal justice system, indeed exist,” Sergeant Raymond said of Kaepernick. In 2015, he joined 11 other officers in filing a class-action lawsuit against the Police Department for policing practices they said discriminated against minority communities.

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Right-wing commentator says he has been admitted to Auburn, will transfer in the spring

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A Boston University student who attended last week's white nationalist "Unite The Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, said he has been accepted to Auburn and will be transferring in the spring after receiving what he said were death threats in Boston.

Nicholas Fuentes — a 19-year-old freshman at Boston University who hosted a right-wing show "America First" on the Auburn-based Right Side Broadcasting Network — told The Plainsman he received numerous death threats on social media after attending the rally, which was dominated by white nationalists, and Neo-Nazi sympathizers.

The Plainsman hasn't been able to independently verify that Fuentes has been accepted to the University. A University spokesperson said thus far he hasn't enrolled.

In the interview, Fuentes said he would be taking the fall semester off but in January will be transferring to Auburn, where he plans to press forward with his far right-wing views.

"I want to rally the troops in terms of this new right-wing movement," Fuentes said.

The Charlottesville rally — which was originally billed as a protest against the removal of a Confederate monument in Charlottesville — morphed into a white power rally that ended in violence and the death of a 32-year-old , Heather Heyer.

Heyer died and 19 more anti-white-nationalist protesters were injured after being hit by a car allegedly driven by a Neo-Nazi sympathizer, James Alex Fields, in an attack Attorney General Jeff Sessions labeled as a domestic terror incident.

In an interview with The Boston Globe, Fuentes called Heyer's death a "tragedy." But in an obstinate Facebook post just hours after the attacks, he called the white nationalist gathering an "incredible rally."

Read the full transcript of The Plainsman's interview with Nicholas Fuentes: Click here.

"You can call us racists, white supremacists, Nazis, & bigots," he wrote. "You can disavow us on social media from your cushy Campus Reform job. But you will not replace us. The rootless transnational elite knows that a tidal wave of white identity is coming. And they know that once the word gets out, they will not be able to stop us. The fire rises!"

Two Virginia State Police pilots also died in a helicopter crash after providing aerial assistance to other officers on the ground. Fuentes said he wasn't happy with the violence and tragedies that last weekend, but stood by his characterization that the rally was "incredible."

He said it was incredible "in the same way that someone would say that World War II was a great victory or winning the Cold War was a victory."

"I think it was a victory in a sense that we brought light to an issue that would have gone unnoticed, would have continued silently," Fuentes said of the push to remove Confederate monuments from places of prominence across the country.

Fuentes, who grew up in Illinois, has said he thought the event was a demonstration against "immigration, , and " and that it was a "about not replacing white people."

"I see this, and I think a lot of people in the South see this as a cultural genocide," Fuentes said. "I think if it was any other people and any other country in the world, the United Nations, the United States, the liberal press would call this cultural genocide. But because it's a certain group of people, the removal of our monuments and our history has gone unnoticed without media attention."

The right-wing media provocateur, who denies being a white supremacist or Neo-Nazi, became a well-known figure on Boston University's campus after being featured in a video from a university news source in which he spoke about why he would be voting for then-candidate Donald Trump. He endorsed plans for what he called Trump's "cultural transformation."

After facing  on social media, Fuentes doubled down and wrote in a profane Twitter post that "multiculturalism is cancer" and that men who supported Hillary Clinton should "cut off your b---- immediately because you've lost your right to them."

"Multiculturalism destroys nations," Fuentes told The Plainsman. "Every country where it has ever been tried, it has been a failure. It has caused violence. It has caused conflict along all different lines."

Fuentes has repeatedly espoused racist, violent and Islamaphobic views on his Right Side Broadcast Network show. In one segment, he said the First Amendment wasn't written for "barbaric" Muslims. Later, in the same show, he said it was "time to kill the globalists" who he believes run the media.

"I don't want CNN to be more honest," he said in his on-air tirade. "I want people that run CNN to be arrested and deported or hanged because this is deliberate."

"Globalists" is a term that has often been used with anti-Semitic overtones. Jewish groups consider it offensive and say it alludes to an attack that is commonly labeled against Jewish people — that they somehow secretly control the world.

When we asked about those comments directed at CNN, Fuentes said he "regrets nothing."

"That means people in the press who are supposedly supposed to be protecting the country face some consequences for their actions. While that didn't constitute a direct threat to CNN, perhaps that was rhetoric, I will say the sentiment remains."

Fuentes, for the last year, has been one of the main hosts on RSBN, which is run by a man who lives in Auburn, Joe Seales. The network gained a large YouTube and internet following after being one of the first outlets to every Trump event.

Their YouTube channel now has more than 257,000 subscribers, which rivals MSNBC's 573,000 and CBS News' 409,000. Even with the large following, Fuentes' show — like the others on the channel — typically got less than 2,000 views.

Fuentes announced on his Twitter feed Saturday that he would be leaving RSBN to launch his own platform. In the interview, he said RSBN being based in Auburn didn't play a role in his decision to transfer here.

"[I]t was one of my original choices to go to school when I graduated high school," Fuentes said. "Auburn University is a more wholesome campus. It has better weather and better people. And ultimately I think it will be friendlier territory."

Fuentes is just one of many who have been labeled as leaders of a rising tide of somewhat stratified alt-right and far-right extremist groups in the U.S. that have been using college campuses as breeding grounds for new recruits.

In April, white nationalist leader Richard Spencer came to Auburn and delivered a hate-filled speech on white supremacy. His visit followed a rise in white nationalism on Auburn's campus. An anonymous group launched a "White Student Union" and put out dozens of fliers promoting anti-Semitic and racist views. The same group later claimed responsibility for vandalizing a sign in front of Foy Hall, altering it to read "Goy Hall" — an offensive term adopted by white supremacist groups to refer to non-Jewish people.

By altering the sign, the group was echoing wider attempts to "reclaim" lost white superiority.

Fuentes said he disavows Spencer's "optics" including his use of Nazi imagery — including a torch-lit rally Spencer led in Charlottesville that beckoned back to the golden age of the Klu Klux Klan — but said he doesn't necessarily disagree with his message.

"What we're trying to say is pretty common sense in terms of being a traditionalist," Fuentes said. "The new right and some parts of the alt-right, what we're trying to bring to the table is a common sense, pretty palatable message."

Fuentes identifies as a "paleoconservative" and said he is not a white supremacist or Neo-Nazi "by any stretch of the imagination." He said he likely wouldn't be welcomed in those groups because of his Mexican ancestry and his membership in the Catholic church.

The KKK not only propagated attacks against black people but also attempted to block immigrants and alienate Catholics.

Either way, Fuentes advocates for a level of white "identitarianism" — a movement that espouses "white pride" and aims to preserve white culture and tradition — that most would agree verges on, if not crosses, the line into white supremacy.

Identitarianism, a term that originates in France, rejects multiculturalism and pluralism. They often claim to be traditionalists who say they want to preserve Christian values and principles, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

Many also claim there to be a "white genocide" and seek to transform the immigration system in a way to prevent white people from losing their majority status, a sentiment Fuentes also espouses. "Paleoconservatism" has always been associated with neo-Confederate, white nationalist and anti-Semitic ideologies, according to Rutgers professor David Greenberg.

Most often, that view is at least implicitly from a white supremacist viewpoint, if not explicity.

"I think the racial aspect of it is completely semantic," he said. "If you were to take out 'white' and insert any other name of any other people and apply it to their country, it would be a universal movement that we're talking about."

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