‘We Negroes’ robocall is an attempt to ‘weaponize race’ in Florida campaign, Gillum warns

By Cleve R. Wootson Jr.

September 2 at 12:21 PM                 The Washigton Post

An assertion by a white gubernatorial candidate that Florida voters can’t afford to “monkey this up” by voting for his black opponent was widely viewed as a “dog whistle” to rally racists.

If it were a dog whistle — and GOP candidate Ron DeSantis denies any racial intent against Democrat Andrew Gillum — then a jungle music-scored robo-call that has circulated in Florida is more akin to a bullhorn.

If nothing else, the minute-long audio clip is a clear sign of how quickly racism — subtle in some cases, overt in others — has entered the contest to determine who will lead Florida.

“Well, hello there,” the call begins as the sounds of drums and monkeys can be heard in the background, according to the New York Times. “I is Andrew Gillum.”

“We Negroes . . . done made mud huts while white folk waste a bunch of time making their home out of wood an’ stone.”

The speaker goes on to say he’ll pass a law letting African Americans evade arrest “if the Negro know fo’ sho’ he didn’t do nothin’.”

It is unclear how many people heard the call.

In a statement emailed to The Washington Post, Gillum’s spokesman, Geoff Burgan said: “This is reprehensible — and could only have come from someone with intentions to fuel hatred and seek publicity. Please don’t give it undeserved attention.”

People on the other side of the aisle also spoke out against the telephone campaign, which was first reported by the Tallahassee Democrat.

In a tweet, Gov. Rick Scott (R), the current occupant of 700 N. Adams St. in Tallahassee and a candidate for the U.S. Senate, blasted whoever was behind the robo-call.

“There is no room for any racial politics here in Florida — none,” the tweet said. “Florida is a melting pot of people from all over the globe, and we are proud of it. No attempts to divide people by race or ethnicity will be tolerated, from anyone. THIS. STOPS. NOW.”

And a spokesman for DeSantis — a U.S. congressman who has been criticized for his racially tinged comment about Gillum a day after Tuesday’s primary — called the robo-calls “disgusting.”

“This is absolutely appalling and disgusting — and hopefully whoever is behind this has to answer for this despicable action,” Stephen Lawson, a spokesman for the DeSantis campaign, said, according to the Tampa Bay Times. “Our campaign has and will continue to focus solely on the issues that Floridians care about and uniting our state as we continue to build on our success.”

Gillum said Sunday that he didn’t want the governor’s race to become one of name-calling.

“I want to make sure that we don’t racialize and, frankly, weaponize race as a part of this process,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” He added: “People are taking their cues from [DeSantis], from his campaign and from Donald Trump.”

And on Meet the Press Sunday, host Chuck Todd asked Gillum if he thinks DeSantis is racist. Gillum replied: “I have not called him a racist, but his rhetoric in my opinion has to be toned down. I won’t get into the gutter and name call.”

The DeSantis campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comments on Gillum’s remarks on CNN.

If elected, Gillum would be Florida’s first black governor.

“I have been really slow to try to think on it because it’s too big,” Gillum told the Associated Press. “There will absolutely be a part of this that I can’t even put words to, around what it might mean for my children and other people’s kids. Especially growing up, for them, in the age of Donald Trump.”

A disclaimer at the end of the robo-call says it was produced by the Road to Power, a white-supremacist and anti-Semitic group based in Idaho. The Southern Poverty Law Center has noted a recent rise in robo-calls across the country, describing them as a “new, high-tech, computer-delivered brand of hate,” according to the Tampa Bay Times.

The Road to Power is also the group behind the most unsubtle attempt to turn the killing of Mollie Tibbetts in Iowa into anti-immigration policy and a 2018 campaign talking point.

Tibbetts, a 20-year-old University of Iowa student, disappeared in July while on a jog around her hometown. Authorities found her body in a cornfield a month later, after being led there by a man they said confessed to chasing Tibbetts after seeing her jogging, then dragging her body into a field just outside the town of Brooklyn, Iowa.

The suspect, Cristhian Rivera, is an undocumented immigrant who worked on a dairy farm, and conservatives said Tibbetts’s death highlights the need for stronger immigration laws and even a wall on the southern border. Tibbetts’s family has pushed back against that argument, with her father speaking favorably of the local Hispanic community.

“If, after her life has now been brutally stolen from her, she could be brought back to life for just one moment and asked, ‘What do you think now?’ Mollie Tibbetts would say, ‘Kill them all,’ ” an Iowa robo-call says. “Well, we don’t have to kill them all, but we do have to deport them all. The Aztec hybrids known as mestizos are low-IQ, bottom-feeding savages and is why the country they infest are crime-ridden failures.”

According to the Des Moines Register, the man producing the robo-calls is named Scott Rhodes, of Sandpoint, Idaho. He has been linked to similar campaigns in California; Alexandria, Va.; and Charlottesville. Rhodes could not immediately be reached for comment.

Colby Itkowitz contributed reporting.


India’s Biometric Database Is Creating A Perfect Surveillance State — And U.S. Tech Companies Are On Board

08/25/2018 08:01 am ET

NEW DELHI, INDIA APRIL 12: The picture featuring Camp for Aadhar Card on April 12, 2013 in New Delhi, India. (Photo by Priyanka Parashar/Mint via Getty Images)

The Aadhaar program offers a glimpse of the tech world’s latest quest to control our lives, where dystopias are created in the name of helping the impoverished.

By Paul Blumenthal and Gopal Sathehuffingtonpost

Big U.S. technology companies are involved in the construction of one of the most intrusive citizen surveillance programs in history.

For the past nine years, India has been building the world’s biggest biometric database by collecting the fingerprints, iris scans and photos of nearly 1.3 billion people. For U.S. tech companies like Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook, the project, called Aadhaar (which means “proof” or “basis” in Hindi), could be a gold mine.

The CEO of Microsoft has repeatedly praised the project, and local media have carried frequent reports on consultations between the Indian government and senior executives from companies like Apple and Google (in addition to South Korean-based Samsung) on how to make tech products Aadhaar-enabled. But when reporters of HuffPost and HuffPost India asked these companies in the past weeks to confirm they were integrating Aadhaar into their products, only one company ― Google ― gave a definitive response.

That’s because Aadhaar has become deeply controversial, and the subject of a major Supreme Court of India case that will decide the future of the program as early as this month. Launched nine years ago as a simple and revolutionary way to streamline access to welfare programs for India’s poor, the database has become Indians’ gateway to nearly any type of service ― from food stamps to a passport or a cell phone connection. Practical errors in the system have caused millions of poor Indians to lose out on aid. And the exponential growth of the project has sparked concerns among security researchers and academics that India is the first step toward setting up a surveillance society to rival China.

A Scheme Born In The U.S.

Tapping into Aadhaar would help big tech companies access the data and transactions of millions of users in the second most populous country on earth, explained Usha Ramanathan, a Delhi-based lawyer, legal researcher and one of Aadhaar’s most vocal critics.

The idea for India’s national biometric identification team wasn’t unprecedented, and in fact, it has strong parallels with a system proposed for the United States. Following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the CEO of Oracle, Larry Ellison, offered to build the U.S. government software for a national identification system that would include a centralized computer database of all U.S. citizens. The program never got off the ground amid objections from privacy and civil liberties advocates, but India’s own Ellison figure, Nandan Nilekani, had a similar idea. The billionaire founder of IT consulting giant Infosys, Nilekani conceptualized Aadhaar as a way to eliminate waste and corruption in India’s social welfare programs. He lobbied the government to bring in Aadhaar, and went on to run the project under the administration of Manmohan Singh. Nilekani gained even more influence under current Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who moved to make Aadhaar necessary for almost any kind of business in India.

The first 12-digit Aadhaar ID was issued in 2010. Today, over a billion people (around 89 percent of India’s population) have been included in the system ― from India’s unimaginably wealthy billionaires to the homeless, from residents of the country’s sprawling cities to remote inaccessible villages. While initially a voluntary program, the database is now linked to just about all government programs. You need an Aadhaar ID to get a passport issued or renewed. Aadhaar was made mandatory for operating a bank account, using a cell phone or investing in mutual funds, only for the proposals to be rolled back pending the Supreme Court verdict on the constitutionality of the project.

As Aadhaar identification became integrated into other systems like banking, cell phones and government programs, tech companies can use the program to cross-reference their datasets against other databases and assemble a far more detailed and intrusive picture of Indians’ lives. That would allow them, for example, to better target products or advertising to the vast Indian population. “You can take a unique identifying number and use it to find data in different sectors,” explained Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum, an American public interest research group. “That number can be cross-walked across all the different parts of their life.”

Microsoft, which uses Aadhaar in a new version of Skype to verify users, declined to talk about its work integrating products with the Aadhaar database. But Bill Gates, Microsoft’s founder, has publicly endorsed Aadhaar and his foundation is funding a World Bank program to bring Aadhaar-like ID programs to other countries. Gates has also argued that ID verification schemes like Aadhaar in itself don’t pose privacy issues. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has repeatedly praised Aadhaar in both his recent book and a tour across India.

Amazon did not respond to a request for comment, but according to a BuzzFeed report, the company told Indian customers not uploading a copy of Aadhaar “might result in a delay in the resolution or no resolution” of cases where packages were missing.

Facebook, too, failed to respond to repeated requests for comment, though the platform’s prompts for users to log in with the same name as their Aadhaar card prompted suspicions from users that it wanted everyone to use their Aadhaar-verified names and spellings so they could later build in Aadhaar functionality with minimal problems.

A spokesman for Google, which has its own payments platform in India called Tez, told HuffPost that the company has not integrated any of its products with Aadhaar. But there was outrage earlier in August when the Aadhaar helpline was added to Android phones without informing users. Google claimed in a statement to the Economic Times this happened “inadvertently”

Privacy Jeopardized For Millions

But the same features that are set to make tech companies millions are are also the ones that threaten the privacy and security of millions of Indians.

“As long as [the data] is being shared with so many people and services and companies, without knowing who has what data, it will always be an issue,” said Srinivas Kodali, an independent security researcher. “They can’t protect it until they encrypt it and stop sharing data.”

One government website allowed users to search and geolocate homes on the basis of caste and religion ― sparking fears of ethnic and religious violence in a country where lynchings, beatings and mob violence are commonplace. Another website broadcast the names, phone numbers and medical purchases — like generic Viagra and HIV medication — of anyone who buys medicines from government stores. In another leak, a Google search for phone numbers of farmers in Andhra Pradesh would reveal their Aadhaar numbers, address, fathers’ names and bank account numbers.

The leaks are aggravated by “a Star Trek-type obsession” with data dashboards, said Sunil Abraham, executive director of the Center for Internet and Society. Many government departments each created an online data dashboard with detailed personal records on individuals, he explained. The massive centralization of personal data, he said, created a huge security risk as these dashboards were accessible to any government official and in many cases, were even left open to the public.

Authentication failures have led to deaths among the poorest sections of Indian society when people were denied government food rations.

And much like the tech companies, some local governments are using the system to connect data sets and build expansive surveillance. In the state of Andhra Pradesh in India, there’s a war room next to the state chief minister’s office, where a wall of screens shows details from databases that collect information from every department. There are security cameras and dashboards that track every mention of the chief minister on the news. There’s a separate team watching what’s being said about him on social media and there are also dashboards that collect information from IoT [Internet of Things] sensors across the state.

Court Ruling Could Halt Rollout

Those issues around privacy are why the dreams of government bureaucrats and large tech companies to build a perfect surveillance apparatus around Aadhaar may ultimately fall apart. The Supreme Court of India is set to decide on a case that could decide the future of the program.  

The court is set to review 27 petitions, including whether requiring an Aadhaar for government subsidies and benefits makes access to these programs conditional, even though the state is constitutionally bound to deliver them. The petitioners include lawyers, academics and a 92-year-old retired judge whose petition also secured the right to privacy as a fundamental right in August 2017. Petitioners also argue that the ability for Aadhaar to be used to track and profile people is unconstitutional.

In its judgment, due any day now, the court will rule on all 27 petitions together. It will decide not only the fate of the Aadhaar Act of 2016, but likely the future involvement of some of tech’s biggest companies in one of the world’s most ambitious and divisive IT projects.


She had a loud, nonstop crunching noise in her head that doctors couldn’t quiet

She had a loud, nonstop crunching noise in her head that doctors couldn’t quiet

By Sandra G. Boodman , Reporter

August 18 ,2018                                     The Washingto Post

Maryjane Behforouz’s attempts to ignore the disturbing noise in her head always ended in failure, leaving her feeling increasingly desperate. No one seemed to know what was causing the nearly constant clicking — or sometimes crunching — sound that was so loud it would wake her in the middle of the night.

Behforouz, 48, who lives outside Indianapolis, had tried everything she could think of to make it stop.

She had seen three ear, nose and throat specialists, undergone painful steroid injections in her ear, tried acupuncture and changed her diet, all in a vain attempt to drown out the persistent auditory intrusion. When her doctors seemed unable to help, she scoured the Web, intensely focused on finding an expert who could.

Her husband, an ophthalmologist, was sympathetic, but at a loss to explain what sounded to Behforouz “like someone clicking their fingernails together, amplified by a megaphone.”

It was only after the cause had been identified and eliminated more than a year later by an expert Behforouz had found that she realized “how much energy it took every day just to deal with it.”

‘Driving me crazy’

Behforouz remembers very clearly when her problem started.

In July 2015, while driving near her home, she felt an itch deep in her left ear, as though something was tickling her eardrum. She suspected the problem was residual water in her ear from swimming, or the remnant of a recent cold. Behforouz covered the opening of her ear with a fingertip then forcefully pressed several times in quick succession to create pressure that would expel the water and eliminate the itch. Almost immediately, she realized that her hearing in that ear seemed diminished.

Ten days later, Behforouz consulted an ENT. He diagnosed mild hearing loss and prescribed a nasal spray and antibiotics. It was possible, he told her, that a cold had caused a bacterial infection that was muffling her hearing.

When the drugs didn’t help, he sent Behforouz to a colleague with a more specialized practice. This ENT asked whether she had a family history of hearing loss — she didn’t — and told Behforouz that she had sensorineural hearing loss, the result of damage to nerve cells in the inner ear.

Causes in adults include aging or exposure to loud noise; such hearing loss is permanent, but can be alleviated by wearing a hearing aid. In Behforouz’s case, the cause was deemed to be idiopathic — medical jargon meaning unknown. Possible explanations, the doctor told her, were an unspecified autoimmune problem or Meniere’s disease, a disorder of the inner ear, although Behforouz lacked the vertigo typical of Meniere’s.

The ENT recommended a series of intratympanic steroid injections, which involves injecting the drug into the middle ear; the goal in her case was to reduce inflammation and diminish her hearing loss. The treatment is typically performed on patients with severe Meniere’s disease or sometimes sensorineural hearing loss. Behforouz agreed.

She had developed two additional problems: a high-pitched ringing sound known as tinnitus and the loud clicking noise. Behforouz found the tinnitus was manageable — she could drown it out while she slept by using the white noise of a fan.

But the clicking, she recalled, was “literally driving me crazy.” It interfered with her ability to have a simple conversation or to listen to music, and was constantly distracting.

Behforouz consulted a third ENT at a teaching hospital. He concurred with the first two doctors and told her there wasn’t much more he could do.

On her own

At this point, Behforouz said, she realized she was more or less on her own. She turned to the Internet, which had proved to be an invaluable source of help nearly a decade earlier when she confronted a frightening finding.

In 2007, Behforouz learned that she had inherited the BRCA1 gene, which greatly increases the lifetime risk of both breast and ovarian cancer. An estimated 72 percent of women with the mutation will develop breast cancer by age 80 (compared with 12 percent of average-risk women) and 44 percent will develop ovarian cancer (compared with 1 percent.)

Behforouz immersed herself in research about the gene and looked for experts who specialize in treating women who inherit such mutations. That led her to Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute,where Behforouz underwent a total hysterectomy and the removal of her ovaries in her 30s — a radical but, doctors say, effective way to prevent cancer. Behforouz also underwent a prophylactic double mastectomy and reconstruction at a New York hospital whose experts she had carefully vetted. Actress Angelina Jolie, who inherited the same gene, underwent similar surgeries several years ago.

Once again, Behforouz’s search led her to Boston, this time to another specialty hospital: Massachusetts Eye and Ear. “I kept feeling that there had to be a satisfactory explanation for the clicking and cause of my hearing loss,” she said. She pored over the hospital’s website, checking out the profiles of specialists. “I was looking to see what they’d published,” she said, paying particular attention to doctors who had focused on sudden sensorineural hearing loss.

She zeroed in on one: Konstantina Stankovic, an associate professor of otolaryngology at Harvard Medical School who earned both a medical degree from Harvard and a doctorate in auditory neuroscience from MIT. “Her training and research indicated that she might know what was happening,” Behforouz said. She hoped a doctor at Mass Eye and Ear — a large referral center whose staff is accustomed to seeing unusual cases — might have encountered something resembling hers.

Behforouz planned to be in Boston in September 2016 on a college tour with her older daughter. She called Stankovic’s office and made an appointment.

What the patient is saying

“It was her story that really told me what it probably was,” Stankovic recalls of her initial meeting with Behforouz. “You really have to listen to a patient’s story to even think of it.”

As she had with each doctor she had seen, Behforouz recounted “the whole rigmarole.”

To Stankovic, chief of the division of otology and neuro-otology, the problem did not sound idiopathic; she suspected that Behforouz had inadvertently fractured a tiny delicate bone in her middle ear called the malleus.

When she examined the records of Behforouz’s previous hearing tests, Stankovic realized that the results had been misinterpreted. Behforouz didn’t have sensorineural hearing loss — damage to the nerve. Instead, she had conductive hearing loss, a problem with the way sound is transmitted. The difference is important because some forms of conductive hearing loss can be fixed through surgery.

Malleus fractures, which prevent sound from being properly delivered to the middle ear, are rare, Stankovic said, and probably underdiagnosed. She said researchers at Mass Eye and Ear have studied 13 patients with the fracture and “every one had the same story”: sudden hearing loss after what doctors call “digital manipulation.”

Moisture “provides the perfect pressure seal,” Stankovic said, and force can result in fractures to the bones in the ear, which are the smallest in the body. Behforouz had an additional risk factor: osteoporosis, the bone-thinning disease.

Behforouz said she “nearly fell off the chair” when, five minutes into her first appointment, Stankovic told her what she suspected had happened.

“She really listened to my story, and her history was much more thorough,” Behforouz recalled. The hearing tests were more extensive and careful, she said, describing them as “a very different experience.”

Stankovic told Behforouz that the problem could be corrected surgically, although her hearing loss, which was mild, might not improve and could even get worse.

It was a chance Behforouz was willing to take.

A month later, she returned to Boston. In an hour-long operation, Stankovic repaired the fracture using bone cement. But to Stankovic’s surprise, the broken bone wasn’t the malleus but another tiny one called the incus.

Behforouz said she was elated by the results. The clicking immediately ceased, although her hearing loss and tinnitus were largely unchanged. Behforouz was also relieved that the problem wasn’t caused by a progressive disorder that she feared could impair hearing in her right ear.

“I think this is very diagnosable,” said Stankovic, who explained that the clicking was caused by two fragments of bone vibrating out of sync in response to sound. “You just have to be thinking about it. The important thing is you really have to listen to a patient.”

Submit your solved medical mystery to sandra.boodman@washpost.com. No unsolved cases, please. Read previous mysteries at wapo.st/medicalmysteries.