Category: Opinion

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COMING SOON: Mueller Ready to Deliver Key Findings…


There’s no indication, though, that Mueller is ready to close up shop, even if he does make some findings, according to former federal prosecutors. Several matters could keep the probe going, such as another significant prosecution or new lines of inquiry. And because Mueller’s investigation has been proceeding quietly, out of the public eye, it’s possible there have been other major developments behind the scenes.



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Mysterious radio signal unusually close to Earth…


ASKAP

A strange flash of radio waves that was recently detected in space has now been traced to its home galaxy – and appears to originate from relatively nearby.

Fast radio bursts (FRBs) are blasts of radio waves that last for only a few milliseconds but can contain as much energy as our sun puts out in decades. Over 50 have been spotted in space since they were first discovered in 2007, however we still don’t know what causes them.

Most detected bursts have been billions of light years away, making them hard to study. …



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Sneaky subscriptions plague APPLE app store…


Subscriptions have turned into a booming business for app developers, accounting for $10.6 billion in consumer spend on the App Store in 2017, and poised to grow to $75.7 billion by 2022. But alongside this healthy growth, a number of scammers are now taking advantage of subscriptions in order to trick users into signing up for expensive and recurring plans. They do this by intentionally confusing users with their app’s design and flow, by making promises of “free trials” that convert after only a matter of days, and other misleading tactics.

Apple will soon have an influx of consumer complaints on its hands if it doesn’t reign in these scammers more quickly.

However, the company’s focus as of late has been more so on getting developers to give subscriptions a try — even holding “secret” meetings where it evangelizes the business model that’s earning developers (and therefore Apple itself) a lot of money. In the meantime, a good handful of apps from bad actors have been allowed to flourish.

Utilities Top Grossing Apps are worst offenders 

Today, the majority of the Top Grossing apps on Apple’s App Store are streaming services, dating sites, entertainment apps or games. But when you get past the market leaders — apps like Fortnite, Netflix, Pandora, Tinder, Hulu, etc. — and down into the top hundreds on the Top Grossing chart, another type of app appears: Utilities.

How are apps like QR code readers, document scanners, translators and weather apps raking in so much money? Especially when some of their utilitarian functions can be found elsewhere for much less, or even for free?

This raises the question as to whether some app developers are trying to scam App Store users by way of subscriptions.

We’ve found that does appear to be true, in many cases.

After reading through the critical reviews across the top money-making utilities, you’ll find customers complaining that the apps are too aggressive in pushing subscriptions (e.g. via constant prompts), offer little functionality without upgrading, provide no transparency around how free trials work and make it difficult to stop subscription payments, among other things.

Here are a few examples. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but rather a representative one, just to illustrate the problem. A recent Forbes article listed many more, if you’re curious.

Scanner App – This No. 69 Top Grossing app is raking in a whopping $14.3 million per year for its document scanning utility, according to Sensor Tower data. It has an unbelievable number of customer reviews, as well — nearly 340,000 as of today, and a rating of 4.7 stars out of 5. That will lead most customers to believe this is a good and trustworthy app. But when you parse through the critical reviews, you’ll see some valid complaints.

Tap around in the app and you’ll be constantly prompted to subscribe to a subscription ranging from $3.99 a week to $4.99 per month, or start a free trial. But the subscription following the free trial kicks in after only 3 days — something that’s detailed in the fine print, but often missed. Consumers clearly don’t understand what they’re agreeing to, based on their complaints. And many of the negative reviews indicate customers feel they got duped into paying.

QR Code Reader — Forbes recently found that TinyLab’s QR Code Reader was tricking users into a ridiculously priced $156 per year subscription. This has now earned the app the rank of No. 220 Top Grossing across the App Store, and annual revenue of $5.3 million.

QR Code Scanner, via Forbes 

Again, this “free” app immediately starts pushing you to upgrade by starting a “free trial.” And again, this trial converts to a subscription after only 3 days. Can you imagine paying $156 per year for QR code scanning — something the iPhone camera app now does natively?

Weather Alarms – With a 4-star rating after hundreds of reviews, this weather alerting app seems to be handy. But in reality, it’s been using a “dark pattern” to trick users into pushing a button that will start a free trial or sign them up for subscription. And it’s working — to the tune of over a million in annual revenue.

A full screen ad appears in the app, offering two buttons — try for free or pay. The small “X” to close the ad doesn’t even immediately appear! Users then end up paying some $20/month for weather alerts. That seems… excessive.

Legitimate developers have complained about this app for months, but Apple even featured it on its big screen at WWDC. (Watch the video embedded below. It’s incredible.)

*After speaking to Apple about this app, Weather Alarms was removed from the App Store over the weekend. 

Translate Assistant – The same developer behind Weather Alarms offers this real-time translation app promising instant translations across more than 100 languages and has 4.7 stars after nearly 4,000 ratings.

But the app is also super aggressive about pushing its subscriptions. With every app launch, a splash screen appears with three different boxes — 1 month ($12.99/mo), 12 months ($44.99/year) or the “free trial,” which converts users to a pricey $7.99/week plan after only 3 days.

Meanwhile, the option to “continue with a limited version” is in small, gray text that’s intentionally been designed to be hard to see.

The app is making $1.3 million a year, per Sensor Tower data.

As you can tell, the issue with many of these scammy apps is that they capitalize on people not reading the fine print, or they allow an app’s design to guide them to the right button to tap. Trickery like this isn’t anything new — it’s been around on the web as long as software has been sold. It’s just that, now, subscriptions are the hip way to scam.

These developers also know that most people — especially if they’ve just downloaded a new app — aren’t going to immediately subscribe. So they push people to their “free trial” instead. But that “free trial” is actually just an agreement to buy a subscription unless you visit the iTunes Settings and cancel it right away.

Many of these “free trials” convert almost immediately, too, which is another way developers are cashing in. They don’t give you time to think about it before they start charging.

“It’s incredibly frustrating how little has been done to thwart these scams,” says Contrast founder and longtime developer David Barnard, whose apps include Weather Atlas and Launch Center Pro. “It erodes trust in the App Store, which ultimately hurts Apple and conscientious developers who use subscriptions,” he says.

Apple also buries Subscription management 

The issue of scam apps may not always be the failure of App Store review. It’s possible that the scammy apps sneak in their tricks after Apple’s App Review team approves them, making them harder to catch.

But for the time being, users have to take it upon themselves to cancel these sneaky subscriptions.

Unfortunately, Apple isn’t making it as easy for users to get to their subscriptions as it could be.

Compare Apple’s design with Google Play, where the option to manage Subscriptions is in the top-level navigation:

On the iPhone, it takes several more taps and a bit of scrolling to get to the same area in iOS Settings:

 

Above: Getting to subscriptions in the iPhone Settings (click images to view larger)

In the App Store itself, you can navigate to subscriptions in fewer taps, but it’s not obvious how. You first tap on your profile icon on the top right of the Home page, then your Apple ID, then scroll down to the bottom of the page. It’s still buried further than need be, considering how critical it is to manage these auto-payments.

“I firmly believe this is not the future we should be aspiring for in terms of user experience,” says Denys Zhadanov, VP at Readdle, makers of Scanner Pro, Spark, PDF Expert and other productivity apps, speaking about these scam apps. “Apple as a platform, as an ecosystem, has always been a symbol of trust. That means people can rely on it for personal life and work needs,” he continues.

“The App Store has always been a great place, overseen and curated by highly intelligent and ethical people. I believe the App Store can stay as it always has been, if the right measures are taken to deal with those developers who trick the system,” Zhadanov adds.

Today, most subscription-based businesses thriving on the App Store come from legitimate developers. But they know how scammers could easily ruin the market for everyone involved. If allowed to continue, these scams could lead to consumer distrust in subscriptions in general.

In a worst-case scenario, consumers may even go so far as to avoid downloading apps where subscriptions are offered as in-app purchases in order to protect themselves from scams.

For now, Apple is largely relying on user and developer reports via reportaproblem.apple.com — a site most probably don’t know exists — to help them fight scammers. It needs to do more.

In addition to making access to your subscriptions easier, it also needs to better police “Top Grossing” utilities and productivity apps — especially if the service’s value is questionable, and the 1-star reviews are specifically calling out concerns like “sneaky billing” or mentions other subscription tricks.

Apple declined to comment on the matter, but its Developer Guidelines clearly prohibit fraudulent behavior related to subscriptions, and insist that apps are clear about pricing. In other words, Apple has grounds to clear out these scammy subscription apps, if it chose to focus on this problem more closely in the future.

 



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Too much money is too good a problem for Dem hopefuls…


Record-breaking campaign hauls in House races across the country have left some nominees with an enviable conundrum: How can they possibly spend all the money?

At least 60 House Democratic candidates reportedly raised more than $1 million each in the third quarter of the campaign cycle that ended Sept. 30, eye-popping sums that defy even the most optimistic of projections. But with Nov. 6 less than a month away, some political observers have wondered publicly whether a candidate could have too much cash. 

That was the question from the Twitterverse when Roll Call reported last week that Democrat Amy McGrath had raised an astounding $3.65 million in the third quarter — one of the largest sums reported so far — in her bid against Republican Rep. Andy Barr in Kentucky’s 6th District. “How do you even spend that much money in KY-06?? Wow!” tweeted Alixandria Lapp, president of House Majority PAC, a super PAC tied to House Democratic leadership. 

One response came from Democratic campaign veteran Brandon Lorenz: “Yard signs?”

A joke, but seriously, Democratic strategists say the fundraising hauls could pose a real challenge to any campaign, especially in areas where the money goes a lot further. The way a campaign responds to the largesse could be a clear indication of how well — or how poorly — it is run.

Flashback: Democratic Candidates Raise Millions in Second Quarter Fundraising

Wheat from the chaff

Good campaign managers will know how to manage their money so they have an “arc of spending” throughout the campaign, said Ian Russell, who spent six years with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and now does congressional consulting for Beacon Media. 

“We would tell clients, ‘It’s not worth spending the money at a certain point.’ They might as well light a fire with it in the middle of the room,” he said. “Hopefully, they have a team that can start spending earlier.”

Mike Fraioli, whose firm Fraioli & Associates provides campaign consulting to Democrats, said campaigns rarely make it all the way through their wish lists for spending. 

“If you have that much more money, all your broadcast is covered, now you buy TV Land, the Hallmark Channel,” he said. “You just keep going down your list.”

He brushed aside concerns that candidates run the risk of “voter fatigue,” turning off potential supporters by bombarding them with too many advertisements and face-to-face appeals. 

“There is a long list of candidates who would like to have that problem,” he said. 

And complaints about having too much cash are hard to find.

Having worked on many campaigns, some that were well-funded and some that were under-funded, I was never at a point when I was like, ‘Oh, I have too much money,’” said Brian Smoot, a partner and founder of marketing agency 4C and a former political director at the DCCC. “That has never happened.”

McGrath’s $3.65 million, for context, is 69 times the $52,000 median household income in the district in the heart of Kentucky’s bluegrass country.

And that’s only half of the $6.65 million the Marine veteran’s campaign has raised since it launched in August of last year. She finished the third quarter with $1.7 million in the bank.

As to how she was going to spend the extra cash, her campaign is remaining tight-lipped. 

“I’m not especially inclined to tell a reporter (i.e. the public) how I’m spending my extra money late so that our opponent knows what to anticipate. So, I’ll have to politely decline comment for now,” McGrath campaign manager Mark Nickolas said in an email.

Barr’s campaign did not return a request for comment.

More Democratic dough

McGrath is among the top fundraisers this cycle, but other Democrats aren’t far behind. Thirty have raised more than $2 million each and eight have raised more than $3 million, DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico said at a Bloomberg News breakfast last week.

Luján declined to say which campaigns he was referring to, and candidates don’t have to report their third-quarter fundraising totals to the Federal Election Commission until Oct. 15.

Besides McGrath, more than 20 other candidates have reported third-quarter hauls of $1 million or more. Almost all of those are Democrats running for the House, where they have a better chance of taking majority control.

They include Josh Harder, who raised $3.5 million in California’s 10th District; Andrew Janz, who reported bringing in $4.3 million in California’s 22nd; and Elissa Slotkin, who raised $2.6 million in Michigan’s 8th, according to figures from Daily Kos Elections, which has been keeping a tally of third-quarter fundraising results over $1 million.

Much of that money is coming from small, individual donations, candidates have said.

Again for context, New Jersey Democrat Mikie Sherrill splashed headlines over the summer for raising $1.9 million in the second quarter ending June 30, which was more than what many Senate candidates raised during the same period. 

Some of the candidates who have reported the largest numbers have benefited from national profiles. McGrath, a retired Marine fighter pilot, filmed a campaign ad that went viral. Janz, a local prosecutor, has benefited from the progressive fury directed at his opponent, House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, a Trump loyalist who has attempted to block the investigation into Russian influence in the 2016 campaign. 

Democrats attribute the windfall to voters who have been riled up since President Donald Trump’s unexpected victory two years ago, and say it shows they will have more than enough momentum to net the 23 seats needed to retake the House.

New calculus

Being able to post such big numbers so late in the campaign season has been a complete game changer for Democrats, said Russell of Beacon Media. 

Republicans, meanwhile, are reporting numbers on par with what they raised in 2016, according to The Washington Post. 

The GOP’s national campaign committees were crushing their Democratic counterparts in fundraising at the beginning of the year and could have easily underestimated their opponents until late in the summer when the third quarter numbers started to trickle out, Russell said. In those cases, candidates might have thought they could easily “extinguish a lot of Democratic hopes early on” by saturating the airwaves.

“The thing they didn’t realize was that the Democrats had the money to fight back,” he said. “I guarantee you that was not in the plan.”

Russell’s schedule is a sign of the times.

“It’s one of the reasons why I’m doing a bunch of shoots this week,” he said during a layover while crisscrossing the country to file campaign ads. “These numbers are unbelievable. I’ve been in politics a long time, and I’ve never seen anything like this.”

As for any leftovers, Fraioli had this pro tip: Throw a big party for everyone who helped.

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Right-wing march in London turns violent…



Right-wing march in London turns violent...

(Third column, 17th story, link)


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PAPER: Can our modern 'house divided' remain one nation?


Debating Stephen Douglas over slavery, Abraham Lincoln said a house divided cannot stand. In 2018, we also are a house divided and must ask whether the terrible biblical saying Lincoln quoted applies to us. Can we endure as a united country?

We thought our politics couldn’t get any crazier, but the political divide and the breakdown in trust became even deeper after the Brett Kavanaugh hearings. When Anita Hill accused Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment, we were permitted to disagree about who was telling the truth. No longer. This time you’re “complicit with evil” if you don’t believe his accusers and oppose Kavanaugh, said Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ).

Moral outrage has become the basic currency of political debate, with Hillary Clinton telling her supporters, “You cannot be civil,” and former Attorney General Eric Holder advising, “When they go low, we kick them.” So have we, as a story in The Washington Post says, hit rock bottom with no clear path up?

After Kavanaugh was confirmed, liberal columnist E.J. Dionne wrote that the Supreme Court’s legitimacy is in tatters. Kavanaugh was nominated by the president, as the Constitution requires, but many liberals think Trump an illegitimate president because more people voted for Clinton. As for the Senate, which confirmed Kavanaugh, it’s undemocratic because little North Dakota has the same number of senators as California.

This amounts to a claim that all three branches of government are illegitimate. To those making such claims, it’s the Constitution itself that is illegitimate.

Before the 2016 election, Trump said he might not accept its results. Clinton said this was horrifying and cast doubt on the legitimacy of our institutions. But after Trump won, it was Clinton who joined the “Resistance,” and what has followed is nothing more than the working out of that movement’s grim logic.

As legislators, you’d think Democratic congressmen would understand what it means to question a government’s legitimacy. Apparently not. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) has called Trump an illegitimate president, but if that’s the case the military would be excused from obeying his orders as commander-in-chief.

Perhaps that’s just what Markey thought. His colleague in the House, Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), tweeted that the military should mount a coup, as they do from time to time in South America.

When our political leaders tell us the Constitution is illegitimate, that we’re a hair’s breath from fascism, that’s how a civil war begins. Is it impossible to imagine? When polled, 31 percent of likely voters think that there will be a second Civil War within the next five years. That’s made secession look attractive, and nearly two-fifths of Americans tell pollsters they want to secede.

We’ve not seen anything like this since the 1850s. As for what happens next, who knows?

Were the GOP to hold its majorities in Congress next month, the Democrats might possibly come to terms with their defeat and abandon their infantile protests. I don’t expect that to happen, mind you. The party is so invested in its hatreds that it’ll not give them up.

If that’s where we are now, picture what it might be like in a future America, where Trump has won re-election and both houses of Congress remain in Republican hands.

Suppose further that Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer have left the Supreme Court, and Trump fills both seats with conservatives. From prominent Democrats, there are daily calls for resistance in the streets, and our restaurants and theaters have turned into no-go zones for people of the wrong political party.

Were that to happen, Lincoln’s “house divided” would have new meaning, and we’d begin to wonder whether we all belong in the same country. “Some of those folks — they are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America,” said Clinton, about the millions of “deplorables.” Yet if they’re not Americans, they might reasonably ask themselves to what country they belong or should belong.

Maybe we should stare the possibility of a breakup in its face, if we’re ever to regain our old civility and affection for fellow Americans. Before criminalizing honest policy differences, before the online shaming, the Twitter mobs and the no-platforming, before doxing ideological enemies, let’s recall that those enemies just might have exit options.

F.H. Buckley wrote “The Republican Workers Party: How the Trump Victory Drove Everyone Crazy, and Why It Was Just What We Needed.”



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Schwarzenegger Apologizes for Using Phrase 'Girlie Men'…



Schwarzenegger Apologizes for Using Phrase 'Girlie Men'...

(Third column, 17th story, link)


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Witches to Hex Kavanaugh in Occult Ritual…


(Screenshot, Facebook)

(CNSNews.com) — Witches plan to place a public hex on Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh through an occult ritual on Oct. 20 in New York City, an event sponsored by Catland Books, which describes itself as “Brooklyn’s premiere occult bookshop & spiritual community space.” The planned ritual has been advertised on Facebook. 

“Please join us for a public hex on Brett Kavanaugh, upon all rapists and the patriarchy at large which emboldens, rewards and protects them,” reads the description for the event, “Ritual to Hex Brett Kavanaugh.”

“We are embracing witchcraft’s true roots as the magik of the poor, the downtrodden and disenfranchised and it’s history as often the only weapon, the only means of exacting justice available to those of us who have been wronged by men just like him,” reads the description. 

“He will be the focal point, but by no means the only target, so bring your rage and and all of the axes you’ve got to grind,” states Catland. 

(Screenshot, Facebook)

“There will also be a second ritual afterward — “The Rites of the Scorned One” — which seeks to validate, affirm, uphold and support those of us who have been wronged and who refuse to be silent any longer,” reads the description.

It further states that 50% of the event proceeds will go to charity: 25% to the Ali Forney Center and 25% to Planned Parenthood.

The Ali Forney Center is a homeless shelter and help center for LGBTQ youth. Planned Parenthood is America’s largest abortion provider. It received $543.7 million in taxpayer funding for the year ending June 30, 2017, reads its latest annual report. 

Tickets cost $10.00.  

As this story was posted, the Facebook page for the ritual hex said that 931 people would be attending and that 10,000 were “interested” in attending.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, to hex, as a verb, means to “cast a spell on; bewitch.” As a noun, hex means “a magic spell; a curse.”

Some of the other events occuring at Catland Books this month include “Demonology,” “Magic Spells with the Tarot,” “Witchcraft 101,” and an “All Hallows Seance.” 

(Getty Images North America.) 

In its “About,” section online, Catland says that it aims “to serve the local community of Occultists, Yogis, Pagans, Mystics, Thelemites, Witches, Chaotes, and anyone interested in the enhancement of their spiritual self.”



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Lena Dunham, HBO Face Rare Failure as New Series Gets Critical Roasting…


Home Television Lena Dunham, HBO Face Rare Failure as New Series “Camping” Gets a…


I guess now we know why Lena Dunham and creative partner Jenni Konner went there separate ways a few months ago.

The pair knew that they had a turkey on their hands. “Camping,” their new series at HBO– based on a British comedy– is apparently a dud.

read today’s headlines click here

 

Only 6 reviews have shown up so far on Rotten Tomatoes, and they are all negative. The show currently has a zero rating. Its limited run starts Sunday on HBO.

Over on Metacritic, the rating is 48, ranging from an 80 down to a 25. The Washington Post said the show was “wickedly funny.” But TV Line wrote: “It’s a colossal waste of everyone’s time and talent. Cringe humor without the humor is just cringing.”

Dunham, of course, had a huge success at HBO with “Girls.” HBO almost never has a failure, with shows like “Veep,” “Silicon Valley,” and “Barry” all booming comedies. Fans of Sarah Jessica Parker’s “Divorce” are even waiting for new episodes. HBO also had a massive dramatic hit this summer with Amy Adams in “Sharper Objects.”

But “Camping” sounds like it pitched its tent in the wrong place. At worst, HBO can just play off the episodes and move on to better things.

 

Author

Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News. He writes for Parade magazine and has written for Details, Vogue, the New York Times, Post, and Daily News and many other publications. He is the writer and co-producer of “Only the Strong Survive,” a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals.



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Plan to Police 'Tone'…



Plan to Police 'Tone'...

(First column, 22nd story, link)


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