Illustration by Dave Murray
Breaking News

The Ticker

Breaking news from Washington and beyond

Elon Musk Has No Idea How To Manage Twitter and the Kathy Griffin Ban Is Proof

Musk keeps changing Twitter policies, with little notice to its users or its staff.

Elon Musk appears on a video screen wearing a gray suit (slightly pixelated)
Christopher Pike/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Don’t worry everyone, Elon Musk totally knows what he’s doing at the helm of Twitter.

In the past few days, the Tesla founder has implemented a new policy, delayed another, and even reversed some of the mass layoffs that he previously touted as necessary.

Going forward, any Twitter handles engaging in impersonation without clearly specifying ‘parody’ will be permanently suspended,” Musk tweeted Sunday evening. “Previously, we issued a warning before suspension, but now that we are rolling out widespread verification, there will be no warning.”

The hasty policy change follows a slew of prominent accounts getting unceremoniously suspended over the weekend, after all of them changed their Twitter names (but not their handles) and profile pictures to mock Musk—proving if nothing else, America truly runs on dunkin’.

Comedian Kathy Griffin was one of the first to be suspended after she changed her name and profile to match Musk’s and tweeted, “After much spirited discussion with the females in my life. I’ve decided that voting blue for their choice is only right (They’re also sexy females, btw.) #VoteBlueToProtectWomen.”

Actor Rich Sommer was also on the chopping block after he tweeted, “okay, time to employ plan b, since they’re MAKING me keep twitter. Does anyone know any advertisers who are, like, kind of ‘into racism.’ NOT ACTUAL RACISTS!! Just ad ppl who are, y’know, curious about what it’s all about (racism).”

Musk explained that the new suspension-without-warnings system “will be clearly identified as a condition for signing up to Twitter Blue,” his $8-a-month subscription plan for verified users.

The plan was supposed to get rolled out Monday—which experts warn would have unleashed utter disinformation chaos on the midterm elections—but has now been postponed until Wednesday. Twitter has not given an official explanation for the delay.

The plan would allow anyone who pays the subscription fee to get a blue verification check mark on their account, making it impossible to actually verify who anyone is on Twitter anymore.

Musk—a self-described “free speech absolutist,” except, apparently, when it comes to jokes at his expense—has promised to roll back content moderation on the platform and fired half of Twitter’s staff, including its misinformation-fighting team.

Except…maybe not. After firing nearly 3,700 employees last week, Twitter has now asked dozens of them to come back, claiming they were fired “by mistake,” Bloomberg reported Monday.

Musk said the layoffs and subscription plan were necessary to produce revenue, complaining Friday that the platform had seen “massive drop in revenue, due to activist groups pressuring advertisers.”

Over the weekend, Twitter added a disclaimer to his tweet saying “readers added context” to his claims. The disclaimer linked to several articles reporting that companies were pulling ads from Twitter over concerns about the platform’s direction, particularly regarding content management.

Democrats Historically Suffer Down-Ballot Losses. That’s Really Dangerous This Year.

Abortion access, the climate, and basic democratic integrity are on the ballot this election.

Voters cast their ballots at Desert Vista Community Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. In the foreground to the right, an older white man wearing blue shorts, a white tshirt, and a black cap points at a paper on the table in front of him. In the background to the left, a woman with strawberry blonde hair wearing jeans and a black hoodie looks at a ballot. The booth panel has a sticker that reads "Clark County, Nevada."
David Becker/Getty Images
Voters cast their ballots at Desert Vista Community Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.

New research shows just how bad Democrats can be at voting down-ballot.

Analysis from the Sister District Project on ten battleground state legislatures reveals that Democrats are much more likely than Republicans to vote for their candidates at the top of the ticket, and then neglect to vote for down-ballot races. In contested races, Democrats failed to vote down-ballot 79.41 percent of the time, while Republicans only failed to vote 37.25 percent of the time.

Amid a midterm election where election denialists are running across the country, and as the future of abortion access and climate change will be decided in state legislatures and gubernatorial offices, Democrats’ failure to vote down-ballot is especially troubling.

Researcher Gaby Goldstein is especially worried about what this could mean in swing states like Nevada, where Democrats might be too comfortable.

“Nevada could be this year’s Virginia if Democrats don’t pay attention,” Goldstein said, referring to the Republican gubernatorial victory last year.

Nevada’s state Senate is divided with 12 Democrats and nine Republicans; its Assembly divided 26 Democrats to 16 Republicans. Democratic incumbent Senator Catherine Cortez-Masto is in a dead heat with Republican challenger Adam Laxalt, while incumbent Governor Steve Sisolak is similarly neck-and-neck with Republican Joe Lombardo.

Goldstein fears that Republicans’ strong performances at the top of the ticket, like the Senate race, will carry all the way down to the state legislature.

Wisconsin is another state to keep a close eye on, as state legislators have already blocked the Democratic governor’s efforts to expand early voting, adjust public benefit programs, and guarantee the right to an abortion.

“We are in a moment of ascendancy, where states are growing in power,” Goldstein said, describing it as a consequence of strategic power-building on the right. “We desperately need a compelling and intellectually-consistent project around the idea of progressive federalism—and the need to build state power, not just as a reaction to the terrible activities of Republicans in our states, but as an important project in and of itself.”

Read more at Sister District Project.

Twitter Is Descending Into Misinformation Chaos, Right Before the Midterm Elections

Twitter plans to unveil paid verified badges one day before the election.

Elon Musk's Twitter account on a phone, with the Twitter logo (a blue bird) and the words "WHAT IS HAPPENING" on a screen behind it

Twitter is falling into chaos days away from midterm elections that are already rife with disinformation.

On Monday—just one day before the election—Elon Musk’s Twitter is set to unveil its subscription plan allowing anyone to become verified if they pay $8 a month. Internal company documents suggest that users would not even need to actually authenticate their identity to get the verification badge.

That is going to make it harder to find out what is real, and what’s isn’t, come Election Day.

“The website is built on sticks, and it might fall apart,” NBC reporter Ben Collins warned Friday about the rapid changes happening at Twitter under the Musk regime.

If verification has nothing to do with actually verifying who someone is, that is a formula for disaster for a place like Twitter, where politicians speak to the public, election officials report results, and news outlets keep track of it all. Twitter is also a major source of news on Election Day, as journalists track results.

There are nearly 80 million Twitter users in the U.S. As in, nearly 80 million people—plus their friends and families, plus the audiences of news outlets who report on what happens on Twitter—are now at risk of being duped by people who may try impersonating politicians and elected officials.

Meanwhile, hundreds of election denialists are running across the country, Republicans are already priming voters to reject Democratic victories, and our government is still adjudicating an attack on the Capitol sprung up by election conspiracy.

To make matters worse, it seems like the company is even less equipped than ever to handle any misinformation or inflammatory content as Musk has begun mass layoffs, including reportedly, members of the curation team responsible for tackling misinformation. (Musk is now dealing with an employee-led lawsuit for violating California labor laws.)

The consequences of Musk’s layoffs are already underway. Twitter users are reporting that antisemitic and incendiary posts are very quickly being marked as having “no violations.”

Musk, of course, claims “nothing had changed with content moderation.”

What makes the Musk era of Twitter so disturbing is that there don’t appear to be clear mechanisms of accountability or support. Technology reporter Davey Alba said Twitter was the most responsive platform in 2020, helpful in quelling misinformation. Now, the communications department appears “dark,” unclear what staff are even left.

Meanwhile, any customer support Musk directly offers involves reinstating the accounts of conspiracy theorists and election denialists.

Billionaires Have Spent $881 Million This Election (Mostly on Republicans)

This is the most expensive midterms ever.

Ken Griffin
PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images

American billionaires have spent a record $881 million on the crucial 2022 midterms, a new report found, with most of that money going to Republican candidates and causes.

The mindboggling amount is 44 percent higher than billionaires’ total spending during the 2018 midterm cycle and could easily reach $1 billion by next week, according to a report published Thursday by the group Americans for Tax Fairness.

The influx of cash from billionaires has made this the most expensive midterms ever.

A separate report from Open Secrets found that midterm spending at both the state and federal levels is expected to exceed $16.7 billion this year.

That is the most that has ever been spent on midterm elections at both levels, the group’s director Sheila Krumholz said.

The biggest individual billionaire donor this election was George Soros, who gave $128 million to the liberal super PAC Democracy II. But his total contribution was edged out by the combined total of donations from the second- and third-place donors, Richard Uihlein and Ken Griffin, who gave $67.3 million and $66.1 million respectively to several Republican super PACs and candidates.

Overall, Republicans received 59 percent of the donations, while Democrats received only 39 percent. Considering billionaires make up a tiny fraction of the U.S. population, their contributions risk “distorting our democracy by drowning out the voices of regular Americans,” Americans for Tax Fairness warned.

The 2022 midterms haven’t even happened yet, but they’re already proving to be some of the most contentious and crucial elections in recent history. Democrats are struggling to maintain their razor-thin hold on Congress, while Republicans have promised a raft of petty repercussions should they take control, such as impeaching President Joe Biden.

Many GOP members are already sowing disinformation about the elections online and are priming voters to reject tight Democratic victories.

So it’s no surprise that people in general, especially billionaires, are pouring money into the elections to try and influence the outcome in their favor.

Of Course Elon Musk Is Being Sued for the Way He’s Mass Firing Twitter Employees

What did the "Chief Twit" think was going to happen?

CARINA JOHANSEN/NTB/AFP via Getty Images

Just when he thought he’d escaped one Twitter-related lawsuit by buying the platform, Elon Musk finds himself at the center of another.

A group of former and current Twitter employees filed suit against the company Thursday night, alleging that they were not provided enough notice of their layoffs, in violation of both federal and California state law.

In the suit, the group said that one member was fired effective immediately, instead of receiving the required 60-days notice. Three others were locked out of their Twitter accounts before they had been formally notified of a layoff or given advance notice.

The billionaire, who definitely bought Twitter because he “loves humanity,” clearly thought he was above the federal law prohibiting mass layoffs without at least 60 days advance notice. His week-long reign has been nothing short of shambolic.

Musk bought Twitter last Friday for $44 billion, after a court ordered him to complete the deal when he tried to back out of it. He promptly fired most of the top executives and the entire board of directors.

He also announced plans to lay off about 3,700 people, roughly half of the company’s staff. Many employees are not told of his decisions directly and instead have to follow him on Twitter to see what’s going to happen next.

Twitter gets 90 percent of its revenue from advertising, but since Musk took over, advertisers have been fleeing Twitter in droves. General Motors has suspended ads on the platform. Earlier this week, advertising behemoth IPG recommended its clients—which include Coca-Cola, Johnson & Johnson, and Spotify—do the same.

Twitter has had a massive drop in revenue, due to activist groups pressuring advertisers, even though nothing has changed with content moderation and we did everything we could to appease the activists,” Musk tweeted Friday morning. “Extremely messed up! They’re trying to destroy free speech in America.”

Musk has been scrambling to come up with new ways to produce revenue, including a plan to charge verified accounts $8 per month that has been widely met with scathing criticism, including from Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Lmao at a billionaire earnestly trying to sell people on the idea that ‘free speech’ is actually a $8/mo subscription plan,” she tweeted Tuesday.

Kyrie Irving’s Week-Long Journey Towards (Sort-of) Apologizing

After the Nets suspended Irving for five games, Irving has finally kind of apologized.

Dustin Satloff/Getty Images

All it took for Kyrie Irving to say the words “I apologize” was a five-game suspension.

Last week, the NBA and Brooklyn Nets star posted a tweet and an Instagram story boosting Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America, a movie based on a book of the same name.

The film, filled with antisemetic tropes, depicts a global Satanic conspiracy. It invites viewers to “find out what Islam, Judaism and Christianity have covered up for centuries.” Among other things, the film promotes antisemitic tropes of Jewish power and greed and calls the death toll of the Holocaust one of “five major falsehoods.”

Two days later, Irving pushed back against public backlash, saying he was an “omnist”—someone who respects all religions.

Irving was later confronted by ESPN reporter Nick Friedell about Irving’s promotion of the film. “Stop calling it promotion,” Irving said, accusing the reporter of “dehumanizing” him. “I put it out there, just like you put stuff out there,” Irving said.

By Tuesday, Irving was not made available to the media. “We don’t want to cause more fuss right now…Let’s let him simmer down,” said Nets general manager Sean Marks. The following day, Irving, the Nets, and the Anti-Defamation League released a joint statement saying Irving and the Nets would each donate $500,000 towards organizations working “to eradicate hate and intolerance in our communities.”

On Thursday, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who is Jewish, expressed disappointment that Irving hadn’t offered “an unqualified apology.” That afternoon, Irving conceded the film “may have had some falsehoods in it,” but stopped short of a straightforward apology. “I cannot be antisemitic if I know where I come from,” he said.

That evening, the Nets suspended Irving for a minimum of five games. “Such failure to disavow antisemitism when given a clear opportunity to do so is deeply disturbing…Accordingly, we are of the view that he is currently unfit to be associated with the Brooklyn Nets,” the team wrote.

On Thursday evening, Irving published an apology on Instagram, writing “To All Jewish families and Communities that are hurt and affected from my post, I am deeply sorry to have caused you pain, and I apologize:”

Still, the apology was strange, as Irving referred to himself as a “seeker of truth and knowledge” and he apologized for “posting the documentary without context.” 

In some ways, Kyrie has actually embodied “free thinking” in speaking out on behalf of Palestinians, Indigenous peoples, and even animal rights. But his conspiratorial promotion—from his anti-vaccine stance to dangerous antisemitic content—will stain his legacy.

Trump’s Deadline To Hand Over Subpoenaed Documents to the January 6 Committee Is Here

It's still unclear if the former president will comply with the deadline.

Mario Tama/Getty Images

It’s the deadline for former President Donald Trump to turn a slew of subpoenaed documents over to the House committee investigating the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, but there’s no word on whether he’ll actually comply.

The committee had given Trump until Friday to hand over electronic messages, call logs, photos, videos, and even handwritten notes going back as far as September 2020.

It’s unclear whether Trump will meet the deadline, although committee Vice Chair Liz Cheney has said that the investigators are in contact with his legal team.

This is not a situation where the committee is going to put itself at the mercy of Donald Trump in terms of his efforts to create a circus,” she told PBS reporter Judy Woodruff on Tuesday during an event at Cleveland State University.

“He has a legal obligation to testify, but that doesn’t always carry weight with Donald Trump,” Cheney noted.

In the subpoena, issued on October 21, the committee asked for call logs, text and encrypted message records, photos, videos, and any notes about those conversations. In particular, the panel requested any conversations with the extremist groups the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers that may have taken place since September 2020.

The committee also requested communications with former Trump advisors Roger Stone, Stephen Bannon, and Michael Flynn, as well as lawyers John Eastman and Rudy Giuliani.

It is unclear what the panel will do if Trump does not comply—Cheney declined to say—but Bannon was recently sentenced to four months in prison for failing to comply with another of the committee’s subpoenas.

In addition to the House committee, Trump is under fire on multiple fronts, facing two lawsuits in New York, where he has been charged with business fraud and his organization accused of tax fraud. The FBI is also investigating his storing sensitive government documents at Mar-a-Lago after leaving office.

He spent Friday morning trashing the New York attorney general Letitia James, as well as presiding Judge Arthur Engoron, who on Thursday ruled that given the “persistent misrepresentations throughout every one of Mr. Trump’s [financial statements] between 2011 and 2021, the Court finds that the appointment of an independent monitor is the most prudent and narrowly tailored mechanism to ensure there is no further fraud or illegality.”

“The New York State Court System is being ridiculed all over the World!” Trump said on his Truth Social platform. “You have a Corrupt, Racist, Weak on Crime Attorney General.”

“Then you have a highly political, biased Judge, who is totally controlled by my worst enemies. His rulings and manner are SICK.”

Why Did Rihanna Invite Johnny Depp to the Fenty Show?

Rihanna and her team specifically invited him to take part, according to reports.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

For reasons clear to absolutely no one, Johnny Depp will feature in the next fashion show for Rihanna’s lingerie line Savage X Fenty.

But the news conveniently comes a day after Depp and his legal team appealed a $2-million verdict awarded to his ex-wife Amber Heard in their blockbuster defamation trial in the spring.

Depp will appear in the November 9 Fenty show in a pre-recorded video cameo, TMZ reported. Rihanna and her team specifically invited him to take part, according to the outlet.

In the past, Fenty has been praised for its inclusive sizing and its hiring of models with a diverse array of body types, genders, and ethnicities. But fans are not pleased with the Depp decision and are calling Rihanna out of touch.

On Wednesday, Depp’s legal team filed paperwork appealing a jury’s decision to side with Heard on one of her counterclaims in their defamation lawsuit.

The lawsuit was over a 2018 op-ed Heard published in The Washington Post saying she had been in an abusive relationship. She did not mention Depp by name, but he sued her for defaming him in the piece, as well as in a separate headline and two other statements she had made.

Heard countersued him for saying her claims were “a hoax” and charged that his former lawyer Alex Waldman had defamed her in comments to the Daily Mail.

A jury in Fairfax, Virginia decided in April that Heard had defamed Depp, and he walked away with a whopping $10 million. But the jury also found that Waldman had defamed Heard and awarded her $2 million.

Many domestic abuse victims’ advocates said at the time that the ruling was a backlash against the #MeToo movement and would make it much harder for other abuse victims to come forward.

Depp has now appealed the jury’s decision in Heard’s favor, saying he was not responsible for Waldman’s comments.

Regardless, the main question when it comes to his Fenty appearance is: Huh?

Report: 96 Percent of U.S. Coal Plants Have No Plans to Clean Up Groundwater They Contaminated

Coal plants have gotten away with contaminating our water for years.

Patrick Pleul/picture alliance via Getty Images

Seven years ago, the Environmental Protection Agency issued its coal ash rule, ordering power plants to clean up toxic coal ash waste dumps. But three presidential administrations later, just one out of 292 plants evaluated by researchers has planned a comprehensive cleanup. Ninety-six percent of all plants evaluated have proposed no groundwater treatment at all.

These toxic sites host arsenic, lead, mercury, and other toxic metals—all of which seep into groundwater and thus the water we drink. Seventy percent of these waste ponds threaten lower income neighborhoods and communities of color.

These findings were published in a report by the Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice, revealing that coal-fired plants across the country have gotten away with data manipulation, lax environmental safety measures, and delayed clean-ups (not including the baseline carbon emissions they have spewed into the atmosphere for years).

It’s not just a lack of planning that has kept coal plants from cleaning up their mess. The report found nearly half the contaminating plants had owners refusing to take any cleanup action, and many even denying responsibility. Other plants have taken some action, simply agreeing that action is needed and—if we are so lucky—providing a list of possible solutions they could pursue someday. But owners have delayed actually executing solutions for years.

In January, the EPA began following up with plants that requested more time and others that have not complied. But enforcement is limited; much of the follow-up has been limited to notifying plants about their obligations to comply with regulations.

Though coal is on the decline in the U.S., it still generated about 22 percent of the nation’s electricity last year—roughly the same amount of all renewables. While renewable energy generation must overtake fossil fuel sources (by existential necessity), the report serves as a reminder that it isn’t enough to stop fossil fuel generation—the waste it leaves behind must be accounted for.

Read more at Environmental Integrity Project.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Is Suddenly Having Problems With Twitter After Fighting Elon

The New York representative said she is having problems with her Twitter account after criticizing Musk's subscription plan idea.

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is in a Twitter feud with the platform’s new owner Elon Musk, accusing him Thursday of blocking her from viewing her own notifications.

Ocasio-Cortez, popularly known as AOC, has been hitting out at Musk since Tuesday over his plan to charge verified Twitter users $8 a month.

At first, Musk only responded to those criticisms by highlighting that AOC’s campaign sweatshirts cost $58, which the congresswoman said was because the workers who make them are paid a living wage.

But soon after, AOC tweeted that her notifications and mentions—where users can see who has tagged them in posts—were not working.

She posted a screenshot of her mentions tab, which was empty. “This is what my app has looked like ever since my tweet upset you yesterday,” she explained. “What’s good? Doesn’t seem very free speechy to me.”

AOC, who has backed multiple pro-worker efforts in Congress, has expressed her displeasure with Musk’s Twitter takeover plans all week.

Lmao at a billionaire earnestly trying to sell people on the idea that “free speech” is actually a $8/mo subscription plan,” she tweeted Tuesday.

She also pushed back on longtime Musk associate David Sacks, who demanded to know why news publications such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Atlantic aren’t free.

“Are you seriously equating an app where people are torrenting racial slurs at an accelerated clip with the New York Times,” AOC responded with a cry-laughing emoji.

“Also fyi, legacy newspapers actually care about verifying newsworthy sources. And they don’t charge their journalists/creators for ‘priority’ placement.”

Musk is reportedly planning on laying off about half of Twitter’s entire staff. He has already fired all of the top executives and the board of directors. Meanwhile, multiple companies including Coca-Cola, Spotify, and HBO are considering pulling advertising activity from the platform.

The Tesla founder has been pushing employees to work 24/7 to develop a plan that will produce enough money to keep Twitter going, such as the $8/month scheme.

But experts warn that such a plan could encourage more disinformation and hate speech on the platform, leading more companies to pull their ad dollars.