11 Weird Things That Relieve Stress & Make You Feel More Relaxed In Seconds

11 Weird Things That Relieve Stress & Make You Feel More Relaxed In Seconds

If you don’t take care of it, stress can turn into an ongoing, toxic cycle. You’re super stressed about work, or your friendships, or your relationship, or all of the above, and since you don’t always immediately know what to do about it, you get even stressed out, and the cycle just keeps going and going. Honestly, trying a few random, weird things that relieve stress is probably your best bet if you feel like you’ve already tried everything you can to help you relax, but have yet to see any real results.

Stress can be debilitating, there’s no doubt about it. It doesn’t matter if you’re a student, or you’re working a full-time job, or even if you’re a traveling Instagrammer who posts beautiful pictures of beautiful places. gets stressed out from time to time. What really matters is whether or not you choose to cope with your stress in a healthy way, and how you choose to do so.

There are tons of free, easy, and quick ways to relieve stress instantly. You don’t have to spend money on expensive workout classes, or talk your friends’ ears off  about the latest drama at work — unless you want to, in which case, go for it. But if you’re looking to find new ways to relieve stress, here are 10 kind of random, but seriously effective ways you can instantly relieve your anxiety in a matter of seconds.

1Fake A Smile

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Fake it ’til you make it, right? Although in general, forcing emotions isn’t the best idea, studies show that smiling, even when you don’t mean it, can trick your brain into feeling happier.

A fake smile can reduce your stress in seconds, and who knows, it might even influence the atmosphere of whatever else is going on around you!

2Put Your Thumb In Your Mouth And Blow On It

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Yeah, I tried it too as soon as I read that. It’s true: Blowing on your thumb (if the air passage is totally blocked) will activate something called your vagus nerve, which in turn will decrease your heart rate and blood pressure.

So if you can find some space at work to hide in a corner and suck your thumb, this is a really fast way to decrease pressure and relieve stress almost immediately.

3Blow On Your Thumb

If you can’t find some private space to suck on your thumb, subtly blowing cool air on it might do the trick, too. This is because your thumb has its own pulse, and blowing on it will slow the pulse and therefore decrease your stress.

Since this one’s a little more low-key, it’s especially great to try when you’re at a stressful work event and can’t find an opportunity to sneak away.

4Chew Some Gum

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Chewing gum while you’re stressed has been shown to reduce your overall anxiety in any given situation, and it can lead to an overall more positive mood.

This one could be tough, since chewing gum isn’t always professional in a lot of work environments. But if you’re out with friends or on your own, chewing gum is a great way to blow off stress without going out of your way.

5Find Fractals

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Fractals are patterns that you find organically in nature, such as the petals of a flower or the diametric shape of a spiderweb. Taking some time to gaze out at ocean waves, or to examine some pretty snowflakes, can reduce your stress by up to 60 percent.

What’s more, you can start to make a point of exposing yourself to a fractal-rich environment once you’re more aware of them. For example, you can try to plan a walk to work where you pass through a garden.

6Take A Deep Breath

This one seems obvious, but you have to actually think about you’re breathing in order for this to really work. Deep breathing is no joke, and neither are the health effects you can reap if you do it right.

Try to slow your breathing overall first, then inhale until your lungs are fully expanded, and slowly exhale. This type of deep breathing will slow your heart rate, and it also activates your parasympathetic nervous system, which controls the relaxation response, your body’s way of relieving stress.

7Stand Near A Plant

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Yep, you read that correctly. Simply surrounding yourself with plant life can reduce your stress instantly. A study by Washington State University revealed that the presence of plants in an office space instantly reduces blood pressure, and even increases productivity.

If you’ve been looking for the perfect excuse to splurge on some succulents for your apartment or your work desk, this is your sign to do so, my friend.

8Apply Pressure Between Your Second And Third Knuckles

This is a very, um, unique, way to relieve stress, but it actually works.

Apply pressure between the second and third knuckle of your finger, right where the finger meets the hand. This will activate a nerve that will help to reduce that awful fluttery feeling you get when you’re feeling super stressed out.

9Try An Easy Yoga Pose

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Yeah, you probably don’t always have time for a full hour of yoga, but that doesn’t mean you can’t reap the benefits of this meditative practice in a shorter amount of time.

A few simple yoga poses can easily be done at home in mere minutes, and the movements will help encourage deep breathing as well as bodily awareness, both of which will promote relaxation.

10Drink Some Green Tea

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Green tea contains theanine, which is an amino acid that has been found to counteract the effects of caffeine. Since caffeine can increase your heart rate and increase your overall stress response, drinking green tea is a great way to counteract the body’s response to stressful situations.

11Knock A Few Chores Off Of Your List

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Doing repetitive motions that you’re familiar with is a great way to lower your stress — and get sh*t done!

If you’re feeling seriously overwhelmed with anything in your life, one great strategy is to focus on some things you can do around your apartment that require motion, like cleaning your kitchen or taking out the trash. If you’re at work, use your lunch break to run some errands. Between the walking and the act of the chore itself, you’ll be sure to calm down a little in no time.

Read more: https://elitedaily.com/p/11-weird-things-that-relieve-stress-make-you-feel-more-relaxed-in-seconds-5489460

4,000-Year-Old Artifacts Reveal Locations Of The 11 Lost Cities Of Assyria

It was recently reported, to the delight of many, that a 4,000-year-old Assyrian baked clay tablet was likely a marriage contract. This, however, isn’t the only tablet of its kind – there are tens of thousands of others.

Now, as revealed in a new working paper, a careful translation of many of them has revealed something utterly remarkable: The locations of ancient metropolises that have been long lost to the sands of time.

Authored by Harvard University’s senior lecturer on Assyriology, Gojko Barjamovic, and an international team of economists, it has the potential to change how the Assyrian Empire is understood.

These tablets have all been excavated from the ancient city of Kanesh, located in modern-day Turkey. Written in the cuneiform script developed by the Sumerians of Mesopotamia, they are a mishmash of business transactions, accounts, seals, contracts, and so on – yes, even marriage certificates.

The tablets sound rather uninteresting to the layperson, but not to those with a trained eye. Business dealings always mention where they are taking place and perhaps where the trade is heading to or being received from. This means that the names and potentially the locations of cities that have yet to be found, those still buried beneath the Turkish soil, could be found within the texts.

After painstakingly going through 12,000 of these clay tablets, the team think that they’ve identified 26 of them; 15 have been found already, but 11 of them still elude capture.

The precise coordinates of the cities aren’t given though, but thanks to a now-defunct method of trading, the team think they know where most of them are regardless.

A bas relief from the palace of Nimrud. Andrea Izzotti/Shutterstock

Kanesh, once a small trading settlement, became a major trading post for the entire region. The tablets are so detailed that the authors describe the city in their paper as a “flourishing market economy, based on free enterprise and private initiative, profit-seeking and risk-taking merchants, backed by elaborate financial contracts and a well-functioning judicial system.”

It’s this comprehensive record of accounts that revealed that Kanesh traded most with cities closer to it and less with those further away. Taking all this data and properly quantifying it, the team managed to essentially create a system of distance based on the frequency of trade between cities.

This system, which they call a “structural gravity model”, gives robust estimates as to where these lost cities might be. They note that for many of them, their approximations “come remarkably close to the qualitative conjectures produced by historians.”

Although they need to be found to confirm the accuracy of their system, this paper provides a remarkable tool for archaeologists. It’s a gateway to a kingdom that, for all intents and purposes, was the world’s first superpower.

[H/T: Washington Post]

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/editors-blog/4000yearold-artifacts-reveal-locations-of-the-11-lost-cities-of-assyria/

Rebel Wilson Reveals She Was Sexually Harassed By A Well-Known Male Co-Star

Wow —

You can read it all in her tweet thread about the incident (below):

Wow.

Heavy, heavy stuff — obviously, everybody wants to know who the actor might be, and what happens next.

But good for her for standing up to it now!!!

Thoughts, Perezcious readers?! Let us know in the comments (below).

[Image via FayesVision/WENN.]

Read more: http://perezhilton.com/2017-11-12-rebel-wilson-sexual-harassment-hotel-room-incident-male-co-star-movie-news-twitter

Make Nepotism Great Again: 20 Families Got Jobs in Trump Administration

Most people have heard of Ivanka and Jared, but the first family is far from the only group of relatives staffing the Trump administration.

A Daily Beast examination of public records reveals that there are at least 20 families, joined by either blood or marriage, in which multiple members hold some federal post or appointment. They include the families of some of Trumps most prominent campaign supporters and agency officials, including one cabinet officer. The posts range from senior White House staff to more ceremonial and advisory positions.

A few of the most prominent cases came to the fore in recent weeks with the hiring of Eric Trumps brother-in-law to be chief of staff at the Department of Energy and the nomination of Brett Talley to a federal judgeship in Alabama. In paperwork filed with the Senate Judiciary Committee, Talley failed to disclose that his wife is the chief of staff to the White House senior counsel Don McGahnpresenting a potential conflict of interest if the administration ever argues a case in Talleys court.

But McGahn too has a direct relation in the administration. His wife, Shannon McGahn, was hired in May as a policy adviser to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. In March, Trump tapped former Ford Motor Company lawyer Jim Carroll to join McGahns team. Carroll has since moved over to the Office of Management and Budget, where he serves as general counsel. But before he did, the White House hired his son, James Carroll IIIwhose previous professional experience consisted of a stint as the sports editor of his college newspaperas a staff assistant.

Such staffing choices arent necessarily novel for this administration. From John Adams to John Kennedy, U.S. presidents and their teams have drawn on families for high-level staffing. A lack of comprehensive records for previous administrations makes it difficult to gauge whether the Trump administration is staffed by more families than his predecessors.

But Trumps administration is, more than any since perhaps Kennedys, defined by blood relations, with daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner occupying senior posts and other members of the family, including sons Don Jr. and Eric and daughter-in-law Lara Trump, serving as prominent public faces of the presidents political and business arms. And the degree to which other families supply the administration with top talent only further illustrates the insularity of the current group controlling the levers of power in Washington, D.C.

Though not technically a federal employee, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani serves as an informal adviser to the president. In March, his son Andrew joined the White House Office of Public Liaison as associate director after his professional golfing career petered out. The younger Giulianis LinkedIn page listed him as a former sales intern at investment firm CapRok.

As secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos is one of the administrations most senior officials. But her family has also provided tremendous financial support for the president and the Republican Party, shelling out more than $200 million in Republican campaign contributions. Donors are frequently rewarded with administration posts and the DeVos were no different. In September, Dick Devos Jr., Betsys husband, was appointed to the Federal Aviation Administrations Management Advisory Council. The next month, Pamella DeVos, Betsys sister-in-law, landed a spot on the advisory board for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. DeVos brother, Erik Prince, the founder of notorious military contractor Blackwater, was also said to be informally advising Trumps incoming administration after last years election.

Other intra-family administration posts have been more prominent and filled more direct policy-making roles. Often, these appointments have illustrated another ongoing trend in the Trump administration: the tasking of high-level officials to regulate or oversee industries in which they formerly worked.

Former House Financial Services Committee Oversight Counsel, Uttah Dhillon, was appointed as a senior assistant to the president in January. In June, his wife Janet Dhillon was tapped to be an Equal Employment Opportunity commissioner, which puts her on a body that previously took enforcement actions against at least two of her former employers, United Airlines (PDF) and JCPenny, for allegedly discriminatory action that took place while she served in legal roles for the companies.

Pamela Patenaude, Trumps deputy secretary of Housing and Urban Development, didnt work in industry. But she led the J. Ronald Terwilliger Foundation, which promotes U.S. housing policy reforms. When she was nominated in April, her daughter Meghan was already a deputy assistant for scheduling to Vice President Mike Pence. By the time she was confirmed to the HUD post in September, another of her daughters, Caitlin Patenaude, had been hired as a policy adviser at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Other Trump administration families appear to have followed their principals into the federal government. Sisters Millan and Sydney Hupp both worked on Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitts campaign for Oklahoma attorney general. Sydney Hupp is now Pruitts executive scheduler, and her sister is EPAs director of scheduling and advance.

Jennifer Pavlik likewise followed her former boss into the administration. She was Pences chief of staff in the Indiana governors mansion, and now serves as the vice presidents deputy chief of staff. She joined the administration in January, and a few months later her husband followed. Brian Pavlik, a former concessions program manager for the Indiana State Parks system, was hired as a special assistant to the National Parks Service.

At least one familial Trump official is no longer in the job. A few months after former White House adviser Sebastian Gorka joined the administration, his wife, Katharine Gorka, landed a job at the Department of Homeland Security. She remains in that post, but her husband was unceremoniously ousted in August.

As she continues advising high-level government officials, Sebastian Gorka has been relegated to an advisory position at a group run by Pizzagate conspiracy theorists. He was recently pictured parking his car on a sidewalk in Virginia.

Read more: https://www.thedailybeast.com/meet-the-trump-officials-making-government-a-family-business

What Every Parent Needs To Understand About Teens’ Mental Health

A new report is painting a bleak picture when it comes to teens’ mental health, as well as their access to professional support for those issues.

Data published by the nonprofit Mental Health America shows that rates of severe youth depression have increased from 5.9 percent to 8.2 percent over a five-year period. Half of those screened between the ages of 11 and 17 reported having thoughts of suicide or self-harm throughout the course of a week. South Dakota was the state that ranked the “best” in terms of good youth mental health. (The data measured access to treatment as well as prevalence of mental health conditions.) Nevada was ranked as the “worst” state.

Researchers collected public mental health data from each state between 2010 and 2015 (the most recent years of available information) to examine the state of mental health across the country. While they found some dizzying statistics about how adults are faring ― for example, 57 percent of people with a mental disorder did not receive proper treatment over the study period ― researchers were most alarmed by the findings surrounding youth mental health.

“I feel like it’s only something people have started to talk about in the last couple of years, if that,” Theresa Nguyen, vice president of policy and programs at Mental Health America, told HuffPost. “We’re starting to see data come out that shows not only are youth struggling significantly, but the numbers indicate ― like in our current report ― that the trend is getting worse.”

Mental Health America
The overall findings from the 2018 State of Mental Health Report published by Mental Health America.

How access to treatment is failing young people

Although access to services and insurance increased overall from last year’s report, researchers say there’s still not enough people receiving the care they need. This is especially true for teens: More than 76 percent of young people studied who had a major depressive episode ― which equated to approximately 1.7 million kids ― did not receive proper treatment for the issue.

Mental health treatment, whether it be therapy, medication or both, is the most effective way to manage a mental illness. Experts say that in extreme cases, treatment can also mean the difference between life and death.

“I wish I could say the mental health of our children is improving. Our report shows the opposite,” Paul Gionfriddo, president and CEO of Mental Health America, said in a statement. “Far too many young people are suffering ― often in silence. They are not receiving the treatment they need to live healthy and productive lives ― and too many simply don’t see a way out.”

What needs to be done

Experts say parents play a pivotal role in changing the conversation when it comes to their kids’ psychological well-being. Here are a few ways to spot if your kid is dealing with a mental health issue and how to realistically help them through it:

Look out for striking changes in behavior.

Nguyen says that drastic changes in mood ― especially in a month or a shorter period of time ― could be a sign that something bigger is at play. This can include withdrawing from social activities kids once loved, or displaying anger or sadness more than usual. Teens who might be engaging in self-harm may wear longer sleeves, even in warm weather, Nguyen added.

“That’s a huge red flag,” she said. “It’s kind of hard because these things correlate with puberty and sometimes adults are like, ‘Oh, my kid is just going through those shifts.’ It gets hard for parents because this period of time is so muddy.”

Talk about anything you notice.

Make your home an environment where teens feel comfortable approaching you about mental health issues, Nguyen said.

“Talking to your kid is really important,” she explained. “They’re really good at hiding problems … it’s really good for young kids, especially around puberty, to start having that conversation as you would with sex education.”

Let them know about any family history of mental health issues.

If you or a member of your family has experienced a mental illness, Nguyen says it’s vital that you bring it up with your kids. The more informed they are about their family history, the more likely young adults are to open up if they’re having issues of their own.

“As scary as it is, talking to kids about your own experience is a huge thing a parent can do,” Nguyen said. “Lead by example. Teenagers know a lot more than people give them credit for.”

Remind your child that mental health issues are nothing to feel shame over.

Bottom line: Mental illness deserves just as much attention and care as physical illness. Negative stereotypes surrounding mental health disorders only do more harm.

“It might help to think about [a] health perspective,” Nguyen said. “We wouldn’t be afraid to talk and hear about cancer or diabetes. Why are we afraid to share about mental illness?”

Read more: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/youth-mental-health-report_us_5a0d02c4e4b0b17e5e13f4f4

I Live In Centralia, PA: It’s America’s Creepiest Ghost Town

Get intimate with our new podcast Cracked Gets Personal. Subscribe for fascinating episodes like My Job Was Killing People: 3 Soldiers Tell Us Everything and Behind Every War News Story Is A 20-Something College Kid.

In 1962, there was a trash fire in a strip mine beneath Centralia, Pennsylvania. Well, we say “was” — there still is. That unassuming little fire ignited an eternal hellish blaze which burns underground to this day. Centralia is one of the most famous ghost towns on earth, but the term “ghost town” is not perfectly accurate, because a handful of people still live there. We spoke with a few former residents, Jack and Becky, as well as one current resident, Jack’s dad, “Guy.” They told us …

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The Earth Literally Eats People And Animals

Centralia was a thriving mining town right up until that whole “perpetual hellfire” thing. The land beneath it is honeycombed with mines and tunnels, and the fires have spread all through them. Sometimes the ground up and collapses, devouring whatever surface life lies above with its terrible burning maw. Jack explained: “The scariest things are the sinkholes. You need to watch your step in the woods, because the ground can give way. The fire might have burnt through a foot of coal, but the ground looks like it’s at the level it’s always been. So you step out there and you have some people coming back with broken ankles.”

Really, broken ankles aren’t all that bad compared to some of the things people in other towns face. But Centralia’s sinkholes are more ambitious than that: “The incident that told everyone ‘Maybe we should move’ was when a young kid down the street had a sinkhole collapse around him, and he was sucked down. His mother was watching him, turned around, and when she looked back, he was gone into the pit. This pit went 100 feet down, and looked like a cone if you looked down. He would have died if his arms weren’t stretched out. When they pulled him out, a huge plume of smoke came out, and you could just see the fire at the bottom of the hole.”

That boy, Todd Domboski, survived and presumably went on to write a bestselling book about his escape from the bowels of Hell. Other human-sized creatures in Centralia have not been as lucky.

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We keep waiting for glowing eyes to appear.

“Every once in a while, you would come across a deer sticking out vertically with steam billowing out. They looked like they were crawling out. The poor deer had fallen into a sinkhole and had either starved to death or suffocated to death from the fumes. My friends would claim to see smoke coming out of its mouth, like it had been burnt alive, but it was just the way the smoke came out.”

This means the kids who grew up in Centralia before it was completely abandoned had to deal with death on a pretty regular basis. Becky told us about watching the violent death of a neighbor’s cat: “We were swinging in the backyard, and this patch of grass suddenly turned brown. Their cat was standing there, and it suddenly became brown. It didn’t make any noise, and we thought she had done something to make it all suddenly brown, like flipping a sheet over. But it was just another hole, and the cat went down. We didn’t say anything until we jumped off and went over to the fence to see that it was another sinkhole, and we called out to our neighbor, but after some light digging (NEVER go into a sinkhole by yourself), her cat was gone.”

Asphalt Films

Sinkholes even caused an entire stretch of highway to be rerouted after holes and gas buckled parts of it back in 1994. The state did its best to hide the old highway, but because of the dangers lurking beneath, they never got rid of it. And it’s still there, waiting for George Miller to make a much more colorful Mad Max sequel.

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Life In A Ghost Town Is … Interesting

Underneath Centralia, the endless fire has created an environment as deadly as the surface of Saturn. While the gases aren’t lethal up above, they still play hell with the resident’s health. Poison gas has even built up in some citizens’ basements. Guy explained how that all simply became part of the weather in Centralia. “We always had the smoke, and my wife felt sick if she was near it. We stay away from it. It’s bad news. Only the tourists go into the damn thing.”

And Becky elaborated: “There was a lot of coughing. If you know what black lung is [this], it’s what the coughing sounded like. It’s this cough where you can hear the mucus. Worse than what smokers have. If you spent enough time near the smoke, you got a cough like that. And if you were a miner developing black lung, who smoked and spent time near the smoke, like my dad, then you knew when they were home, because you heard the worst cough in the world. If you went to a nearby store and you heard the cough, odds are they were from Centralia.”

This isn’t all in the past. Toxic gases still billow from burnt-out places, and that poses a major threat. Vents were built to pipe the steam away from town into areas of eminent domain where no one lives anymore.

Due to all the underground damage, many homes need additional supports (especially if the former houses next door were means of support for them), so they look like they have six or seven chimneys.

Becky points out that the fame of Centralia also means a lot of tourism. She lived there until her 20s, and while she was in grade school, her dying town became a Halloween vacation destination: “Everyone wanted to trick or treat near me. They didn’t care that they got less candy. They wanted to be scared. A few years some of that steam would rise, or it would be foggy. With all the abandoned houses, it was better than a haunted house. To them. Me, it was another day.”

Even outside of Halloween, tourists would come by just to take in the poisonous “atmosphere” in Centralia. “Whenever people visited from, say, Harrisburg or Lancaster, they would get scared easily. The ground would give out from under them and they’d fall in to their knees, and they’d go ‘Oh my God!’ I was so used to it that I said, ‘Sometimes it does that,’ and went on. This wasn’t unusual. My mom or dad would say not to go into the steam and to stay away from the ‘openings,’ and they always asked what that was. When they found out, they asked if they were going to die, and my dad, eloquent as ever, would say, ‘Oh, probably not.’ Not to be funny, but actually being serious about it.”

3

People Just … Didn’t Care About The Danger

People are remarkably good at ignoring imminent doom. For evidence of this, read absolutely any newspaper in the world today. It wasn’t until 1984, after several kids were sucked into sinkholes and the underground tanks at a local gas station nearly exploded, that the U.S. government ordered a total evacuation of the town. People still stayed behind, so in 1992, the governor put the entire town under eminent domain. In 2002, the state took their zip code away, and in 2009, the governor announced that all holdouts would be evacuated for their own good.

There are still seven people living in Centralia.

Jack explains why many of those residents ignored the government back then, even when it was doing something as reasonable as evacuating Toxic Firetown, USA. “We had meetings with scientists explaining what was happening. They were talking to miners, some of whom had degrees, so they didn’t have to go layman.” The denizens of Centralia understood coal and the mines, but they still weren’t able to accept that their hometown was now the abode of Satan himself. “The scientists, and even other miners, were telling them that the town could fall in piece by piece or get toxic gas, but they denied it, and said they’d continue to live here because they didn’t see it. These were after pits started opening up, but they STILL said no.”

Jack’s father, Guy, isn’t exactly on the same page. He’s one of the few that stayed behind. And he did it largely to spite those damned scientists and government officials who rolled into town to talk down to him and his neighbors. “They thought they knew more than us, but they were wrong. How come the town hasn’t collapsed like they said? It’s not as bad as they said, and you see that now.”

Jack and Guy’s disagreement is nothing new. Back when the evacuation efforts started, Centralia itself was bitterly divided over whether the fire was a threat or not. Becky remembers: “My parents stayed, because they didn’t think they could afford to move. But then they got an offer for double the value of their home, and they took it. My neighbor ([the one] who owned the cat), she stayed. She had seen the danger firsthand, and lost something she loved to it, but she wasn’t budging. The last time I was there, she was shouting from her porch at some men in suits who obviously wanted her house.”

In 2013, after a battle lasting over 20 years, the remaining ten residents were allowed to stay, but once they’re gone, their homes go to the public domain. Guy sums it neatly: “It’s my home. That’s all there is to it.”

Becky thinks that for some of those last remaining residents, staying in Centralia may be less about spite and more about living in a place so dangerous it’s effectively off the grid: “My old neighbor, until the day she died, would chase off journalists with a broom and hide sprinklers in her lawn to turn them on when people got near. I know before she died, she said she was ‘in talks’ to buy a cellphone jammer, which seems incredibly illegal, but this woman was also fine with threatening to spray bug spray at tourist’s dogs.”

2

The Government Is Trying to Erase Centralia

Jack pointed out that 20 years ago, while Centralia was emptying out, the town still looked more or less like it always had. But over the last two decades, the state government has been doing its damnedest to wipe the town away. “As soon as they bought houses, they tore them down and covered them with plants. Then they took out as much of the foundations as they could. Then they removed the lip in the curb. They don’t exist, and it looks like they never did.”

We took a picture of Becky’s old house:

“See that? You can kinda tell where a driveway was. But that’s it. No sign of the huge gate we had, or of the stairs, or anything.”

Jack continues: “They took away the name. One day, all the signs were gone. All the signs showing nearby towns had been replaced, with ‘Centralia’ [left] off. They even later covered up an arrow showing a way to get to another city through Centralia, so people passing through can’t get here.”

They removed Centralia’s name from the city municipal building:

The county records office is slowly removing the town from history, which has made life tough on Jack’s dad: “When my father went in to check his property lines, it took almost half a day to find a copy, because they had trashed so much of Centralia.”

The county has also cut back on basic services for the seven people who still live there. Says Jack: “My father doesn’t get mail. Officially, Centralia has no zip code, so nothing can be sent there. Everybody needs a PO box in another town, or need their family to collect it. All of my father’s mail is sent to me. He also stopped using checks. You can’t put Centralia down anymore, due to the zip code, and he didn’t want to ‘burden’ me with putting my address down as his. He went full cash and debit.”

Becky points out that the lack of a PO box has an even more disastrous consequence: It’s made pizza delivery much more difficult. “My parents, after they took away the zip code, couldn’t just give directions to people. If they didn’t know about Centralia, they needed to be specific. I overheard my parents say to pizza guys on the phone ‘Go to Aristes. Then head south on 42. Third little street you see, halfway turn right. We’re the only house on the street.'”

1

Tourists Are Destroying The Town

Centralia had 1,000 residents in 1980. It was down to 63 in 1990, and ten in 2010. The coal industry left after the whole, uh, giant apocalyptic coal fire thing. But even with all that, Centralia could’ve survived. There’s the tourism aspect, and the fact that it’s kind of an ideal filming location.

Unfortunately, tourism’s mostly benefited neighboring towns, since the state won’t issue new business permits in Centralia. The places selling souvenirs, gasoline, and lodgings are all outside Centralia’s old borders. Since the tourists don’t bring money into town, residents have come to hate them. Jack explained: “They’ll walk on lawns and property freely, thinking it’s abandoned. They’ll always be asking, ‘Why do you live here?’ They dump trash everywhere … The worst are the tourists who leave graffiti.”

Guy has some even more complaints: “They chipped at my house. For a souvenir, like they wanted a piece of the Lord’s cross. Chip chip chip, and they took a part of my stairs. Then they wrote ‘Let it burn’ on it. Why would they do that?”

So what can he do about it? Basically nothing. Jack explains that staying in Centralia means living beyond a lot of modern conveniences … like law enforcement. “We have no police anymore. [State and county] police come through town, of course, but for something routine, it’s not a big deal.”

The town has been beaten up so badly by these visitors that, according to Jack, Hollywood doesn’t really have any interest in filming there anymore. He told us about one time that several location scouts came through town (likely working on The Road), but decided they just couldn’t work there. “The movie people came here, looked around, decided it had too much graffiti, and shot on another abandoned highway out near Pittsburgh. Other Hollywood people talked to my father quickly (Centralia residents don’t like the press), and they liked the look, but they said ‘It might be too much graffiti,’ and since they never came back, it probably was.”

weible1980/iStock
Unless Bansky was directing, then yeah.

Becky adds: “For the last five years or so, [tourists have] been way more destructive than the fire.”

Despite intermittent police crackdowns, trespassing has been on the upswing. A lot of that probably has to do with the fact that so many articles on the internet have spread the story of Centralia. So, uh, sorry about that?

Readers, trust us here: Don’t visit Centralia. And if you do, don’t draw on anything. And super duper don’t break pieces off of people’s houses. That’s just messed up. Residents have enough problems.

Evan V. Symon is a journalist and interviewer for Cracked, who was on location in Centralia and didn’t die. Have an awesome job/experience you’d like to see here? Hit us up at tips@cracked.com today!

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Read more: http://www.cracked.com/personal-experiences-2537-i-live-in-centralia-pa-its-americas-creepiest-ghost-town.html

Senate Republicans Slip ‘Flimflam’ Paid Leave Proposal Into Tax Bill

Tucked inside the Senate Republicans’ latest tax bill is a proposal they’re touting as a paid family leave plan.

It’s not.  

The provision, as written in the version of the bill released Wednesday, offers companies a small tax credit for giving workers as little as two weeks of paid time off for family and medical leave. What’s covered by “family and medical leave” is not clearly defined. The concept is modeled on similar legislation pushed by Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) for the past few years.

Fischer seems thrilled. “This is a big step toward enacting the first nationwide paid leave policy in U.S. history,” she said in a statement Wednesday.

While the measure is certainly a sign that paid leave has finally become a major bipartisan issue, what’s on offer here will do little to address the needs of new parents in the United States, according to family advocates, some conservative economists and, well, common sense.

“It’s a flimflam,” said Ellen Bravo, co-director at Family Values@Work, a national coalition of paid leave advocates. “It’s pretending to say we’re giving you something new that people urgently need when, in fact, it’s a giveaway to the bigger corporations that can already afford to do it.”

The U.S. is one of just a handful of countries that do not mandate paid maternity leave. It is the only advanced economy in the world that requires no time off for new parents. This failing has devastating economic consequences. For starters, the U.S. has a lower percentage of women in the workforce than most other similarly situated countries. Researchers have even found a correlation between infant mortality rates and the amount of time mothers take off after the arrival of a child.

Even though an overwhelming majority of Americans believe parents should get paid time off to care for a newborn, only 15 percent of U.S. workers currently do, according to federal data. About one-quarter of mothers go back to work less than two weeks after giving birth. Others wind up quitting their jobs and relying on government benefits to squeak by. 

There’s increasing awareness among Democrats and Republicans that this is an urgent issue. Even President Donald Trump included a proposal for six weeks of paid time off in his draft budget released in May, although he’s done little to push the matter since.

The Senate’s family leave provision was not part of the tax bill passed Thursday by the House of Representatives, and it’s not clear whether it will make it into the final version of the tax plan.

There are a few problems with the tax credit itself, said Vicki Shabo, a vice-president at the National Partnership for Women and Families. It’s relatively small, covering just 12.5 percent of a worker’s pay while he or she is out on leave. It offers little incentive for companies to start offering leave ― they’d only get their money back at the end of the year.

And perhaps most disheartening, the tax credit would be temporary, expiring in 2019 ― which hardly gives employers time to get the new benefit up and rolling.

“This is a way for Republicans to check a box that says, ‘We care about paid leave,’ without ensuring any workers are actually getting paid leave,” said Shabo.

Several conservative economists agree. This kind of tax credit would most likely be embraced by companies that already offer paid family leave, wrote Aparna Mathur, a resident scholar in economic policy at the American Enterprise Institute.

“This is only a small step forward in this debate, not a giant leap,” Mathur said. “Much more can and should be done.”

The reality is that no one knows whether tax incentives would translate into more paid leave, Abby M. McCloskey wrote in the right-wing National Review. The approach outlined in Fischer’s earlier bill (which the current measure is modeled on) “leaves much to be desired,” McCloskey said.

Ben Gitis, labor policy director at the conservative American Action Forum, is more optimistic about the provision. “It could work,” he told HuffPost. He likes that the tax credit could be claimed only for workers who earn less than $72,000 a year, targeting those who need paid leave the most.

But he too noted that “no one really knows” if tax credits will ultimately lead to more paid leave.

There is consensus on what would work, Shabo, Bravo and McCloskey pointed out: enacting a policy that gives American workers paid time off. A handful of states ― including California and New Jersey― already offer paid leave. It works like this: Employees and employers, depending on the state, contribute small amounts of money to create an insurance pool that covers paid leave, much the way unemployment insurance works.

“Limited paid-leave programs have been found to increase work-force participation, raise wages, reduce use of government benefits, increase leave times, and improve children’s and mothers’ health outcomes — especially for low-wage parents for whom the alternative is often welfare,” McCloskey wrote.

And she asked: “Why not move forward with a program we know works?”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story indicated Connecticut was one of a few states that offer paid family leave. In fact, it only offers sick leave.

Read more: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/paid-family-medical-leave-senate-tax-bill_us_5a0de492e4b0c0b2f2f8c708

How One Woman’s Digital Life Was Weaponized Against Her

The first time the police arrived on her doorstep, in March of 2015, Courtney Allen was elated.

She rushed to the door alongside her dogs, a pair of eager Norwegian elkhounds, to greet them. “Is this about our case?” she asked. The police looked at her in confusion. They didn’t know what case she was talking about. Courtney felt her hope give way to a familiar dread.

Three days earlier, Courtney and her husband, Steven, had gone to the police headquarters in Kent, Washington, a suburb of Seattle, and reported that, for the past few months, they had been the victims of a campaign of online harassment. They had found a fake Facebook page under Steven’s name with a profile picture of Courtney, naked. Emails rained down in their inboxes; some called Courtney a cunt, whore, and bitch, and one they felt was a death threat. Her coworkers received emails with videos and screenshots of Courtney, naked and masturbating. The messages came from a wide range of addresses, and some appeared to be from Steven.

There were phone calls too. One to Steven’s grandmother warned that her house might burn down, with her in it, if she didn’t stay out of the Allens’ lives. There were so many calls to the dental office where Courtney worked that the receptionists started to keep a log: “Called and said, ‘Put that dumb cunt Courtney on the phone,’ ” one of them wrote in neat, bubbly handwriting. “I said, ‘She is not here at the moment, may I take a message?’ ” At one point Courtney created a Google Voice number to ask, “If I talk to you, will you leave me alone?” Instead, dozens of voicemails poured in: “Do you think I’m ever going away?” one said. “Now that my private investigator went and got all the tax information? There’s no job either one of you guys can have that I won’t know about and be there.”

The Kent police officer who took the Allens’ statement seemed unsure of what to make of their story. Courtney and Steven told him who they believed was behind the harassment: a man in Arizona named Todd Zonis with whom Courtney had an online relationship that she had recently broken off. She says she told the officers that she had sent Zonis the videos of herself while they were still involved and that he had sent ones of himself to her, but that she had deleted their exchange. In a report, the officer noted that, while Courtney and Steven insisted that his role was obvious, Zonis’ name barely appeared in the folder full of printouts and CDs that they had with them. The officer assigned them a case number and advised them not to have any more contact with Zonis.

Now, three days later, the two officers on Courtney’s doorstep explained why they had come: An anonymous tipster, who claimed to work with Steven, had left a report on the Crime Stoppers website. It said that Steven “had been telling everyone for months that his wife was leaving him but he had a plan to beat her into staying.” The tipster added that he had noticed “a lot of bruises.” When prompted for more information on the suspect, the informant wrote that the Allens had a “large gun collection” and two big dogs. (One detective later noted that some of the reports seemed designed to trigger “a large/violent police response.”)

December 2017. Subscribe to WIRED.

Rebecca Benderite/Eyeem/Getty Images

The police left after interviewing Courtney, but three days later, two detectives knocked on the Allens’ door in the early afternoon. Courtney wondered, more cautiously this time, if she would now get a response to her complaint. But no—the detectives were investigating another anonymous tip. This one was about an alleged incident at a park involving Steven and the Allens’ 4-year-old: “His son screamed and he smacked him repeatedly on the back, butt, legs, and head, but not the face,” the tipster wrote. “He then berated his wife, calling her ‘whore’ and worse … She covers for him when the abuse is to her, but abuse to the child I don’t know what will happen.”

In her report of the visit, detective Angie Galetti wrote that the Allens’ son “came downstairs and appeared to be happy and healthy.” She described how Courtney had to coax her nervous son into showing his skin to the detectives: “There was no suspicious bruising or marks of any kind,” she wrote. He “appeared appropriately attached to his mother and Detective Lorette and I had no concerns.”

But Courtney’s concerns were mounting. The day before, she had gotten an email to an account she only used for spam. “How did you even GET this email address?” Courtney wrote back. “Leave me and my family alone!” A reply came accusing Steven of also using unsavory cybertactics to find out about Courtney’s online behavior, but added: “I am MUCH better at it. For example. Your Jetta, in the driveway”—and yes, that’s where it was. The message included the car’s vehicle identification number. Courtney had started having nightmares; just going outside made her afraid. She felt violated by the images of her that were circulating who knew where, and anxious about what might come next.

And now this. It was “one of the worst moments of my life,” she said later, hoping that help was coming but instead “having to lift up my son’s shirt and show them my son’s body to make sure he had no bruises.” When the detectives asked for her phone number, she realized she didn’t remember it—she had just changed it in an attempt to evade the endless calls. She found herself sobbing in front of the detectives. The harassment was so creative, so relentless, so unpredictable. Around the same time, at least 15 of her neighbors received a “community alert” in the mail warning them that they were living near a dangerous abuser, Steven Allen. It was postmarked from Arizona.

But the most frustrating thing was how hard it all was to explain or prove. Courtney was beginning to feel trapped in a world of anonymous abuse. She didn’t know if she would be able to convince anyone that what she believed to be happening was real.

It began, as relationships often do these days, online. From the start it was a strange and tangled story of exposure and distrust in the internet era.

In the fall of 2012, Courtney and Steven had been together for 12 years but had known each other for 20: They met in a high school biology class and reconnected later when Courtney was going through a divorce. The couple—now in their mid-thirties, with a house full of fantasy books and clay dragons that Courtney sculpted—were avid players of Grepolis, an empire- and alliance-­building browser game set in ancient Greece.

One day a player in an opposing alliance asked if he could join theirs. The small council that ran the alliance agreed. This was Courtney’s first introduction to Todd Zonis and she liked him from the start: “He was crude and rude and I thought it was actually kind of funny,” she says.

Courtney’s player name was sharklady76. As she recalls it, Zonis sent her a note on the game’s messaging service to say he had once owned a shark, and from there the conversation took off. They talked about gardening and pets. She shared pictures of her elkhounds; Zonis sent ones of his tortoise. The two progressed to video-chats. Both were married, but “it just kind of grew from there,” Courtney remembers. “It was a really strong friendship and then turned into not a friendship.”

At the time, Courtney was staying home with her toddler. She and Steven had made that decision together, but still, it was rough on their marriage: Steven was working long hours as an IT instructor and felt the stress of being the sole breadwinner. He often traveled for work. Courtney was a nervous new mother, afraid to let her son stay with sitters, which only increased her sense of isolation. She was often angry at Steven, whom she began to see as controlling and neglectful.

Zonis was a freelance sound engineer with a flexible schedule. The relationship with him offered “an escape,” Courtney says: “He was charming. He told me everything that I ever wanted to hear about how wonderful I was.” She adds, “I just thought the world of him. Because it was online, it was very easy to not see the faults someone has, to not see warning signs.” Eventually Courtney was spending a lot of time online with Zonis and pulling further away from Steven. She kept telling herself that they were just good friends, even when Zonis sent her a penis-shaped sex toy. One day, nearly a year after Zonis first joined the alliance, Steven noticed Courtney’s email open while updating her laptop. He read an exchange between her and Zonis. It was explicit, and it mentioned videos. He confronted Courtney. She was furious that he had read her emails but said she would stop communicating with Zonis. Instead, she moved the relationship to her tablet, behind a password; she also labeled Zonis’ contact information with a fake name.

She wanted to be sure Steven wasn’t the mastermind of a complex scheme.

Steven, sensing his marriage falling apart, turned to Google. He searched “adultery” and “online affair” and found a website called Marriage Builders that bills itself as “the #1 infidelity support site on the internet.” It was founded by Willard F. Harley Jr., a psychologist who encourages his readers to work to understand and meet their spouse’s needs but also recommends a radical response when a spouse won’t end an affair: making it public to the family of the people involved. Love, he writes, should be based not on trust but on transparency. “Imagine how little crime would be committed if everyone’s activities were videotaped.”

Steven tried to follow Harley’s advice for healing a marriage. He apologized for being distant and tried to get Courtney interested in answering the site’s questionnaires. But Courtney, often busy on her tablet, was leery of the Marriage Builders philosophy.

In November of 2014, just over a year after first seeing Courtney’s emails with Zonis, Steven noticed her tablet unlocked on the counter. She was in the shower, so he looked. He saw messages from a name he didn’t recognize but a writing style that he did. He then found more messages. The relationship hadn’t ended. His mind went to the advice from Marriage Builders: “Exposure helps prevent a recurrence of the offense. Your closest friends and relatives will be keeping an eye on you—holding you accountable.”

A few days later, Steven contacted his parents and Courtney’s parents and told them about the relationship. He found Zonis’ wife and wrote and texted her. He looked up Zonis’ parents on a people-finder site. “I would ask that you encourage your son to stop this affair before it completely ruins our family,” he wrote, adding that he had heard that the Zonises had an open relationship. “If you have any questions or would like to see some of the evidence, please email me.”

Courtney was livid. She told Steven not to come home that night; when he did, she took their son to her parents’ house. She returned the next day, but they slept in separate rooms and Courtney discussed divorce.

Zonis, too, was outraged. He saw the messages that Steven sent as an attack on his family, and one that was unjustified. Zonis tells the story of the relationship differently. After he joined the alliance, he says, he noticed Courtney talking about her husband in forums in a disturbing way, saying he was controlling and would punish her. He says Courtney reached out and became friends with him and his wife, Jennifer—“The two would chat, you know, for hours,” he says—though Courtney denies this. She asked a lot of questions about their marriage, he says, looking for advice. He denies that either he or Courtney ever sent explicit videos, or that they were more than friends.

To Zonis, calling his relationship with Courtney an “affair” was a false characterization and cost him dearly; Steven’s comment about an open marriage, he says, turned his parents against him. He claimed that his parents cut off contact and wrote him out of their will, which meant he would not inherit the “ancestral home.” In total, he says he lost an inheritance worth more than $2 million. Zonis began saving for a lawyer so he could take Steven to court. “He destroyed my family,” Zonis says, “just to basically keep his own wife in line.”

After the “exposure,” the Allens received barrages of virulent emails from Zonis’ account. He later denied writing both the anonymous emails and some that came from his account, speculating that perhaps someone to whom he’d told his story had taken it upon themselves to punish the Allens, or that the Allens were harassing each other and blaming him. He didn’t much care, he says, because he considered the harassment trivial: “My rights were violated and nobody cares, and we’re still talking about what happened to poor Courtney?”

After exposing the affair, Steven continued asking for advice from other people on the Marriage Builders site. He even posted emails between Courtney and Zonis, and a copy of a letter that he wrote to Courtney: “I am so very sorry I hurt you and hurt you so deeply for years, by not considering your feelings near as much as I should have, and by demanding and disrespecting your opinion to get what I wanted. I was abusive and controlling. I was so sure I was right, and getting what I wanted would help you too, that I didn’t realize the hurt I was causing you.” He didn’t realize that Zonis had found these posts and took them as Steven admitting to being an abuser.

Steven had hoped the exposure would allow them to move on; it had the opposite effect. One of his coworkers received an email accusing Steven of assaulting Courtney. When Steven told Courtney that Zonis must have sent it, she refused to believe him. Zonis “had my ear,” she says. “I was listening to everything that he said, and I was assuming anything Steve said was a lie.”

Illustration by Yoshi Sodeoka/Science Photo Library/Getty Images

But she also felt cracks forming in her relationship with Zonis—she accused him of making the threatening call to Steven’s grandmother, which he angrily denied—and asked for space to try to get her head straight. She went back to work, seeking more independence. In an email to Zonis, the former sharklady described something she’d seen on TV: “There is a whale carcass. All the great whites gobble it up, ripping huge chunks out of it at a time. That is what I feel like … the whale.” “In my new world,” she wrote Zonis, “EVERYONE is lying to me. I don’t believe anyone anymore.”

In the meantime, Steven, angry about the message to his coworker, emailed Zonis, writing that he could “look forward to continued exposures to people in your life.” Zonis, who considered this a second attack, forwarded a copy of the email to Courtney, but when she read it she sensed something was wrong. The writer referred to their child as “her” son instead of “our” son, and a boast about his ability to manipulate her did not sound like her husband. (“I know Steven looks down upon people who try to manipulate,” she says. “It just didn’t fit with his character.”)

In a modern act of trust, she and Steven showed their emails to each other. She saw that the version Zonis sent to her had been edited—that Steven’s words had been changed. Courtney felt she finally knew whom to trust. “That,” she said later, “was when I turned to Steve and said, ‘I need help. I don’t know how to get myself out of this.’ ”

Courtney decided to ease Zonis out of her life. Her messages to him became short, bland, and infrequent, but still she received long, aggressive responses. Finally she began demanding to be left alone, then stopped responding at all. But emails and calls continued, as many as 20 in a single day; even Courtney’s mother was getting calls. Zonis said later that he was calling the Allens to get an apology, something that he could show to his parents. One email from his personal account said that the sender had just been in the Allens’ city —“VERY nice place”—and promised a visit to the area again soon. (Zonis denies writing the message.) There were also voicemails: “I will burn myself to the ground to get him. I told you, you’re going to lose him one way or the other.”

Emails arrived from other accounts too: Courtneythe­whore­sblog­@blogspot.com, Courtney­CallMe69@aol.com, CourtneysGotNoPrinciples@LyingCunt.com, ItsHOWsmall@babydick.com, urtheproblem@outlook.com, Youareaselfishcocksucker@noone­willeverreallyloveyou.com. There were dozens of others.

Some messages to the Allens’ neighbors and coworkers came from what appeared to be Steven’s email. Courtney’s boss got emails from “Steven” with subject lines such as “My Slut wife Courtney” and “Courtney is not who she seems to be.” One night, as Courtney worked on a sudoku puzzle in bed, she received an email that looked as if it had come from her husband, who was next to her reading a book. The next night, Steven’s cell phone dinged on the nightstand with a new email. He picked it up and turned to Courtney. “Apparently you hate me,” he said.

In March 2015, Courtney filed for a protective order against Zonis, which would make further contact a crime. Steven filed for a similar order for himself and their son the month after the “exposure,” but Courtney had believed that doing so would be too antagonizing. Zonis and his wife responded in kind by getting orders of their own. Two days after Courtney’s order was granted, she got an email from Zonis’ personal account: “Glad that bullshit symbolic gesture is out of the way,” it said. (Zonis denies writing this too.)

No charges were filed. The Kent police, while sympathetic, “weren’t really interested in something that was a misdemeanor protective order violation,” Steven says. The Allens got the sense that because Zonis was in Arizona, and because so much of the harassment was confusing and anonymous, it was hard for the police in Kent to act. At the end of March, Courtney and Steven walked into the FBI’s office in Seattle to present their case. (The Kent police, county prosecutor, and FBI all said they were unable to comment for this story.) Three months later the Allens got a letter stating, “We have identified you as a possible victim of a crime,” and informing them that the FBI was investigating. Months passed with no word. When they heard about the FBI’s involvement, the Kent police closed their own case. The Allens, not sure what else to do, continued to bring them evidence of new and ever more inventive harassment.

In early April the Allens received a package in the mail that was full of marijuana. After they reported it to the police, Detective Galetti informed the Allens that there had been more Crime Stoppers reports: allegations that they were selling drugs, that they were cutting them with butane, that their customers were high school kids.

The Allens began to consider a different option. Earlier that year, after Steven started a new job at the University of Washington, he told campus authorities about the harassment. Natalie Dolci, then a victim advocate with the campus police, referred him, as she had many others, to a pro bono program called the Cyber Civil Rights Legal Project at the prominent K&L Gates law firm. The project had been started a year earlier to help victims of what is variously known as sexual cyberharassment, cyberexploitation, and revenge porn. (Dolci prefers the terms “technology-enabled abuse” or “technology-enabled coercive control,” phrases broad enough to include things such as using spyware or hacking in-home cameras.) Often the cases didn’t go to court, meaning the public seldom heard their details. Most people just wanted to settle, get the harassment to stop, keep their images off the internet and their names out of public records.

Steven and Courtney weren’t eager to file a lawsuit, but they hoped the firm—a large one with a cyberforensics unit experienced in unraveling complex online crimes—would be able to help them unmask the harasser and prove their story to police. “We were just trying to get law enforcement to do something,” Steven said later.

On April 29, 2015, Steven and Courtney walked into a conference room overlooking Seattle’s port and Mount Rainier where they met David Bateman, a partner at K&L Gates and one of the founders of the Cyber Civil Rights Legal Project, and Breanna Van Engelen, a young attorney. A mock trial program in college convinced Van Engelen that she wanted to be a litigator—to stand up in court on behalf of clients she believed had been wronged—but she was fresh out of law school and had yet to try her first case.

The lawyers were skeptical of the Allens’ story at first. It was so outlandish that Van Engelen wondered if it was made up—or if one spouse was manipulating the other. Courtney’s fear seemed genuine, but so many of the emails did appear to come from Steven, who knew his way around computers. Van Engelen wanted to be sure that Steven wasn’t the mastermind of a complex scheme in which he hid his own abuse, impersonating Zonis impersonating him. She interviewed the Allens separately and then spent a week poring through the evidence: voicemails and social media profiles and native files of emails. By digging into how they were created, she found that emails from “Steven” had been spoofed—sent through anonymizing services but then tagged as if they came from his email or were sent from an untraceable account. Had Steven been the mastermind, it would have been “like robbing a bank but wearing a mask of your own face,” she said later. “It just doesn’t make any sense.” Van Engelen came to believe the Allens were telling the truth.

But that left another question. What if the case did go to trial? Even if she could convince a jury—which would mean explaining the complexities of how identity is both hidden and revealed on the internet—could she get them to care? Cyberharassment is still an unappreciated crime. Gary Ernsdorff, a prosecutor in King County, where the Allens live, said that people often don’t think it’s that big a deal—it’s just online, after all. Or they blame victims for sharing intimate images in the first place. What, Van Engelen wondered, would a jury make of the Allens’ saga? Would they think Steven had gone too far in exposing the affair? Would they blame Courtney for the videos? Though Van Engelen saw the Allens as victims, she realized a jury might not.

Many people assume that cyber­harassment is easy to avoid: They believe that if victims hadn’t sent a naked photo, then that person would have nothing to worry about. But experts say this assumption is essentially a comforting fiction in a world in which we’re all potential victims. A 2016 survey found that one in every 25 Americans online—roughly 10 million people—had either had explicit images of themselves shared online against their will or had been threatened with such sharing. For women younger than 30, it was one in 10. The same survey found that, photos or no, 47 percent of Americans who used the internet had been victims of online harassment of some kind.

Danielle Citron, a law professor at the University of Maryland and the author of Hate Crimes in Cyberspace, began studying cyberharassment in 2007. What she found reminded her of her past research on the shocking leakiness of information databases. Nearly all of us are giving away reams of sensitive information about ourselves without understanding how it might be used, whether by a stalker or an unscrupulous company. This includes what we share online—geotags on our photos, workout apps that generate maps to our houses, badly protected Facebook updates or lists that show family ties, or posts that reveal innocuous-­seeming facts, such as birthdays, that can be used to access other information. We also leave an enormous digital trail of personal and private information with every credit card purchase and Google search and ad click.

People are starting to understand “that the web watches them back,” says Aleecia McDonald, a privacy researcher at Stanford’s Center for Internet and Society. But we still don’t appreciate the extent to which it’s happening or what risks we might face in the future. McDonald suggests thinking of the internet as a backward-facing time machine that we are constantly loading with ammunition: “Everything that’s on file about you for the last 15 years and the next 40 years” may someday be used against you with technology that, at this time, we can’t understand or predict. And much of the information that we leave in our wake has no legal protection from being sold in the future: “We overcollect and we underprotect,” Citron says.

Even without access to intimate images, Van Engelen says, “if I was obsessed enough and motivated enough, I could mess up your life.” Many experts now agree that the solution to cyberharassment lies in changing the ways we respond to the release or misuse of private information: to stop trivializing it, to take it seriously as a crime, to show perpetrators that their actions have consequences.

“You can tell people, ‘Don’t do anything that you wouldn’t want to have go public,’ ” McDonald says. “But what kind of life is that?”

Illustration by Yoshi Sodeoka/Robert Daly/Getty Images

As Van Engelen prepared to take on the Allens’ case, she kept finding more social media profiles. There were accounts impersonating Courtney and Steven; one Google Plus account, which included the videos and Courtney’s contact information, birthday, and maiden name, had more than 8,000 views. There was an account for their son. A Facebook account in the name of “Jennifer Jones”—Courtney recognized one photo as Zonis’ pet tortoise—sent messages to her friends and family accusing Steven of abuse and of having sent “Jones” threatening emails and photos of his penis. (Zonis denies creating any of these accounts, saying: “I’ve never been on Facebook in my life” and “Who puts a picture of their pet on a secret account they’re trying to hide?”)

The Allens contacted Facebook, Google, YouTube, and other sites to have the accounts taken down, with mixed success. One of the hardest to remove was the Facebook page in their son’s name. When Courtney filled out a form indicating that she wasn’t the one being impersonated, the site suggested she alert that person to have it removed; there seemed to be no expectation that the targeted person might be a 4-year-old. The account stayed up despite repeated requests. (It was finally disabled in late October, after WIRED’s fact-checkers asked Facebook for comment.) But at least Facebook had a complaint option; other sites offered no recourse, and the most the Allens could do was ask search engines not to include them in results. Sites that specialize in posting revenge porn sometimes charge hundreds of dollars to remove images—what Ernsdorff calls “a business model of extortion.”

Van Engelen and her colleagues were subpoenaing tech companies to find out who was assigned IP addresses, but they kept having to send new subpoenas as new accounts kept popping up. According to court records, they found that many of the early emails—from addresses such as CourtneyCallMe69 and Dixienormousnu—could be traced to the Zonises’ house. In one case the same message was sent seven times by different accounts in just over a day. Some of the accounts were anonymous but traceable to the Zonises’ home IP address or a hotel where they stayed; one came from what appeared to be Steven’s email but with the tag “Douchebag” attached—it was routed from an anonymizing website based in the Czech Republic that sent email from fake accounts. Van Engelen interpreted this spree as evidence that Zonis was trying to get through spam filters, as well as proof that he used anonymizers and impersonation. Zonis counters that Steven was manufacturing evidence against him.

As time passed, the emails and social media accounts became harder to trace. Van Engelen found that many of the IP addresses, created and disguised with Tor software, bounced through layers of anonymous routing. More came from the Czech website or another anonymizer. The writing style changed too, as if, according to Van Engelen, the writer didn’t want the syntax or orthography to be analyzable: Sometimes they read as though they were written by someone with limited, fluctuating facility with English.

In the summer of 2015, the Allens found out that a new credit card had been opened in their names and that one of their existing cards had been used fraudulently. They could see that all the attempted charges were to access sites that might yield personal information: ancestry.com, a site that allows recovery of old W2s, a company that does background checks.

Courtney began seeing a counselor. Her fear had become “an absolute paranoia.” She had night terrors and panic attacks if she saw police in the neighborhood. Zonis had told her that he was able to fly for free because his wife worked for an airline; Courtney feared he might show up at any time. She stopped letting her son play outside. “It just changed who I was,” she says. “I wasn’t functioning.” Almost worse than the fear was the guilt about what was happening to the people in her life. “No one can say anything to me about the horrible things that I’ve done,” she says, “because I’ve already said them to myself.”

"Me living was how I was going to beat him."

Courtney had come to see the internet as a danger to which the people around her were oblivious. “Nobody’s safe,” she says. “If you’re on the internet, you’re pretty much a target.” She was appalled at what she saw her friends post—vacation updates that revealed their locations, pictures of their young children. She asked other parents at her son’s school not to post pictures of him, and one asked her, “Aren’t you proud of your son?” When she offered to share the recommendations that the FBI had sent her about keeping information private, only one friend responded—and only to ask whether such precautions were really necessary. Courtney locked down her own social media and stopped giving out her phone number. “Privacy has become top priority to me,” she said. “Anonymity has become sacred.”

In late June 2015, K&L Gates filed the Allens’ lawsuit against Zonis, seeking damages and relief related to defamation, negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, electronic impersonation, and invasion of privacy. Two months later, Zonis filed his own suit in federal court in Arizona, making similar claims against Steven. The complaint included excerpts of harassing emails that Zonis alleged were sent to him by Steven: “Too bad your whore wife is still without a child … did I mention that I own [Mrs. Allen] again?” and “All I had to do was act like the benevolent husband, and let you do the work … I plan on continuing to cause you pain like you can’t even imagine.” It took more than a year of motions and replies for the cases to be combined and moved to Washington, where the first case was filed.

In August Courtney received an anonymous email that ended, “Easier if one help everyone and kill self.” She’d had suicidal thoughts before. If she did kill herself, she thought, that might finally make the harassment stop. Maybe this was how she could save her family. She went to get a gun that was kept in a safe. Her hands were shaking and she fumbled the combination to the lock. She began to think about all the things she’d miss if she pulled the trigger—teaching her son to drive, retiring with Steven, the books she would never read. At last, still unable to open the safe, she gave up. “I decided he wasn’t going to win,” she said later. “Me living was how I was going to beat him.”

The following month the Allens took a trip to Hawaii. While they were away there were calls and emails, but none of them mentioned the trip. To Courtney it seemed like a small miracle: one moment in her life that belonged only to her. “It was a breath,” she said later. She would hold onto that precious realization for a long time: “I can keep some things private.”

But it was only a breath. Emails had begun coming to Steven’s account at the University of Washington—a job he thought had gone unnoticed until he got an anonymous email referencing the school’s mascot: “Public record. all. done.” Soon dozens of accounts, from the IT department to the university president, were getting emails about the Allens, often with images of Courtney. According to court records, two preschools in the Kent area also got emails that appeared to be from Steven; they said that he planned to come in with a gun and start shooting.“It wasn’t me!” Steven cried when the police called him at work. “I’m here!”

Gradually the Allens grew somewhat inured to the videos and emails—“There’s no one that I know who hasn’t seen me in very intimate detail,” Courtney says. “He can’t hurt me that way anymore”—though she continued to worry that their son would find the videos one day.

As Halloween neared, the K&L Gates lawyers received a threat they considered credible enough to heighten security. Later that fall, two FBI agents appeared at the Allens’. The couple hoped again that their troubles were ending at last. But while the agents were aware of their case, they said they were required to tell the Allens to cease and desist because Zonis had contacted them with evidence that he said showed the Allens were committing credit fraud against him. Later, Zonis would produce documents that he said showed Steven mocking Jennifer, sending her pictures of his penis, and threatening retribution; in one post, it appears that Steven had asked his Marriage Builders friends to make the threatening call to his grandmother.

“Everything he’s done, he’s claiming I’ve been doing,” Steven said later.

“Every bit of everything that we were accused of was what he did to us,” Zonis says.

In January of 2017, the lawsuit’s discovery process finally ended. Van Engelen and her colleagues had been working on the case for nearly two years. By then Zonis, after cycling through several lawyers, was representing himself, with his wife assisting. Before trial, the parties were required to attempt mediation. The judge encouraged a settlement, telling the Allens that a jury looking at the mess of competing claims would see everyone involved as having unclean hands. The Allens and their lawyers sent an offer to the room next door, where the Zonises were waiting: They would dismiss their suit if Zonis dropped his counterclaim and left the Allens alone. Zonis instead asked them to pay a large sum for what he said he lost. The case proceeded to trial.

On Wednesday, March 22, 2017, the Allens, their lawyers, and the Zonises gathered in a courtroom. Van Engelen watched from her seat as a colleague began questioning potential jurors: How many of you have made a friend on the internet? How many of you have ever taken a selfie? If someone takes and shares intimate pictures and they get published online, is that their fault?

Many of the responses were exactly what Van Engelen had feared. She summed them up: “This is trivial. Why am I here? I don’t want to be part of someone’s Facebook dispute. This is high school.” More than one person thought that if you made explicit videos of yourself, it was your fault if they were shared. Others felt the Allens, with their table of lawyers, had an unfair advantage. Van Engelen listened with growing nervousness. That night she went home and cried in the shower. She kept thinking: “What if somebody just decided that they weren’t going to listen to any of the evidence and they’d already made up their minds?”

Before the trial, Steven created a timeline of the harassment. Bateman decided to present it to the jury during opening arguments; because it had so many details, the lawyers had to print it on a 10-foot-long poster so that the jurors would be able to see the entries. This isn’t trivial, Bateman told the jury, detailing the false police reports, the enormous number of emails, the videos. Van Engelen felt her anxiety ease. “Right away you could see the jurors’ faces change,” she says. “I think they got that this wasn’t what they thought coming in.”

Van Engelen played some of the voicemails aloud. Courtney wept. She told the story of trying to unlock the gun.

Van Engelen called Courtney as her first witness. Courtney described her relationship with Zonis and said that she thought the videos would be private. Zonis had filed a motion to have the images of Courtney withheld from court. (He said later that the images were unimportant “flash” intended to distract the jury from what he had been through.) Van Engelen feared their absence would make the jurors take the case less seriously. In her questioning she described them as clinically as possible, so that Courtney wouldn’t have to: “Do you orgasm?” she asked. “Do they show your inner and outer labia?” Courtney testified for more than a day, the whole time too ashamed to look at the jurors. Van Engelen asked her to read some of the emails and played some of the voicemails aloud; she then read from the Google Plus profile that bore Courtney’s name and image. “I am a real whore wife,” Van Engelen read, continuing, “and have suffered for years with unsatisfying sex with a husband who is hung like a cocktail frank.”

“Did you write that about yourself?” she asked. “Did your husband write this about himself?” “No,” Courtney replied. Van Engelen continued her questions. Courtney wept. She told the story of trying to unlock the gun.

Zonis gave an opening statement. His wife cross-examined Courtney and later testified as her husband questioned her. Together the couple set out their version of the story: that they were Courtney’s friends who had tried to rescue her from an abusive husband. They said that Todd wasn’t romantically interested in Courtney and that Steven had been the one harassing them. The Zonises introduced emails and posts that they said were written by the Allens. But they were paper printouts with no metadata or digital trail to prove authenticity. When the lawyers requested a forensically sound copy of Zonis’ data, Zonis replied that his computer had malfunctioned—he blamed spyware that he claimed Steven had installed via an image file—and he had sold it; that he had copies of the files on CDs but Jennifer had thrown them out by mistake.

On the stand, Steven denied writing most of the emails or posts Zonis claimed were from him. The Allens had kept digital copies of emails that appeared to come from Steven, and the K&L Gates team showed the jury how those had been spoofed. They also showed that the email formatting on some posts didn’t match that of the Allens’ computer and that the time zone was not Pacific but Mountain, where Zonis lived. It appeared, the lawyers suggested, that Zonis had created the posts himself.

Zonis later countered that the discrepancies were proof that Steven had used spyware to steal the emails. The Zonises hired an expert witness to testify over Skype. He said that it was theoretically possible that the forensic trails leading back to Zonis could have been faked—though he conceded that he had never seen it done and had not reviewed the evidence.

The lawyers called Andreas Kaltsounis, a cyberforensics expert who used to work with the FBI and the Department of Defense. He explained to the jury how Tor networks and IP addresses function. He then presented a map showing that many of the seemingly separate accounts from which the Allens had received anonymous harassment were actually linked by overlapping IP addresses. One of the linked accounts was the Facebook page for “Jennifer Jones,” the account that used a picture of a tortoise. It could have been, as Zonis argued, an account that Steven, or some unknown person, created. But the lawyers were prepared. One day, months before the trial, as Van Engelen searched painstakingly through IP addresses associated with logins on the Jones account, she made a discovery: Among the many addresses, there had been one apparent slipup, a login not through Tor but from the Zonises’ home IP address. When she found it Van Engelen ran into Bateman’s office, yelling: “We’ve got him!” It would have been unheard of for someone to fake a login using Zonis’ IP address, Kaltsounis told the jury, because of a safeguard called the three-way handshake that requires hosts to establish a connection with the IP address belonging to the account before any information can be sent.

By the end of arguments, the Allens’ legal team had introduced 1,083 exhibits into evidence. The chart Van Engelen made just to organize the emails was 87 pages long. It was a level of scrutiny that few cyberharassment cases ever receive—and an illustration of what victims face when dealing with such a complicated case, especially if they don’t have access to pro bono help. K&L lawyers and paralegals had spent thousands of hours digging through the evidence. The value of Van Engelen’s time alone was in the ballpark of $400,000.

Zonis never took the stand. He blamed the lawyers for purposefully taking up too much time questioning Courtney and Jennifer, and introducing endless emails that he said had nothing to do with him. Van Engelen was disgusted: “He got his one big chance to tell his side of the story, and he didn’t take it,” she says. “This is somebody who’s very strong behind a keyboard. And when the opportunity arises to actually prove himself and be vindicated, he just folds like a flower.”

On Thursday, March 30, Van Engelen stood up to deliver her closing argument. It was the first time she’d ever done so in a real court.

She began by playing one of the voicemails that Zonis had admitted to leaving—“How does it feel to know that I’m never, ever, ever going to stop?” Then she turned to the jury: “Someone needs to tell him to stop.” She described Courtney’s lowest moment: going for the gun. She reminded them of a message promising isolation, shame, and ridicule, and the email from Zonis’ personal account after Courtney got a protective order: “Glad that bullshit symbolic gesture is out of the way.”

It was impossible to trace all of the harassment directly to Zonis with cyberforensics, Van Engelen told the jury, so she encouraged them to also consider repetition of details (like the sex toy he had sent) that were in both the anonymous messages and voicemails from Zonis. She talked about the problems with the evidence that Zonis had introduced.

“Do not,” Van Engelen concluded, “let this be another bullshit symbolic gesture. Tell him to stop, hold him liable.”

In his own closing statement, Zonis reiterated that “the stuff doesn’t trace back to me,” talked about the difficulty of being cut off from his parents, and cast himself as a scapegoat: “And what if I’m not the devil? Then what do you do? Oh, my God, we were wrong. We can’t have that, can we?” He told the jury that not testifying wasn’t his choice; the judge said this wasn’t true.

The K&L lawyers had not asked for a specific amount of compensation. The Allens told their lawyers that their goal wasn’t money but simply an end to the harassment.

The next afternoon the jury came back with a decision.

The 12 jurors had been given forms to explain which of the Allens’ and Zonis’ claims they deemed true and which they rejected. For the first claim, “Did Todd Zonis electronically impersonate the Allens?” the presiding juror circled yes. The jury also chose yes for “Was the electronic impersonation a proximate cause of the injury or damage to the Allens?” The form offered a blank space to write in the total amount of damages warranted. The jury’s answer: $2 million.

And so it went. The jury found each of the Allens’ other claims against Zonis—intentional invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and defamation—justified, and to each they affixed a boggling sum. The jury did agree with Zonis on one count: The Allens had “intruded upon the seclusion” of the Zonises, but they found that no harm had resulted. When the amounts awarded to the Allens were totaled, they added up to $8.9 million. It was a record for a cyberharassment case that didn’t involve a celebrity. The jury “didn’t believe it was trivial anymore,” Van Engelen said with satisfaction.

After the trial was over, the Allens and some of the jurors had the chance to meet outside the courtroom. One of the jurors came up to Courtney, gave her a hug, and said, “You’ve been through so much.” Neither the Allens nor their lawyers expect to actually see the award money, but that moment in the hallway felt just as valuable.

“The fact that other people can see it, and they see the crazy in it, helps me feel that I’m not insane,” Courtney said later. The Allens’ deepest hope, though, remained simple: that the harassment would stop.

For more than a month after the trial, it seemed they would get their wish. Then one afternoon Courtney logged on to her computer and found a new email. It read, “pun ish men t w ill soo n b han ded out to the wic ked. you rti me is sho rt. mis sin g fam ily we wil lno t. pri ce for act ion to be pai d y et it is.” More emails followed. Courtney felt a mixture of dread and exhaustion. It wasn’t over. “I’d love nothing more than for us to be left alone,” she says. “Do I expect that to happen? No. I expect this to be in our lives, in some capacity, forever.”

At the time this story went to press, law enforcement had not yet indicated whether criminal charges would be filed. Gary Ernsdorff, of the King County prosecutor’s office, allowed that he kept an eye on the case. Cyberharassment, especially with private images, “is dropping a bomb in somebody’s life,” he said.

After the trial Zonis filed a notice of appeal. He felt the trial was unfair and that the proceedings hadn’t paid enough attention to what he believed the Allens had done to him. His losses, he said, were real and numerous (to the list he added what he considered stress-­induced health problems), while the Allens’ were petty, just “flash” from a “hot-­button issue.” He still denied that his relationship with Courtney was an affair or that he had access to the videos of her or sent the anonymous emails. He also said, in a phone interview, “Anything that I said or did was reactionary” and “If they wanted me to plead guilty to harassment, no problem. What am I harassing them about?”

Soon after the trial, a blog appeared in Zonis’ name. In it he questioned the way the trial was run, disputed its findings, excoriated the people involved, and posted much of the same evidence against Steven that the lawyers discredited at trial. “My name is Todd Zonis and I lost my family, my home, my future, and probably my life, and while my life may not teach you anything, hopefully my death will,” the blog began. The evidence he posted included the images of Courtney and a note: “Please feel free to download any and all of the materials that I have posted here, and use or distribute them as you see fit.”


Brooke Jarvis (@brookejarvis) is a writer based in Seattle.

This article appears in the December issue. Subscribe now.

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Read more: https://www.wired.com/story/how-one-womans-digital-life-was-weaponized-against-her/

Trans woman Danica Roem beat her anti-trans opponent by focusing on … roads. Seriously.

“To every person who’s ever been singled out, who’s ever been stigmatized, who’s ever been the misfit, who’s ever been the kid in the corner, who’s ever needed someone to stand up for them when they didn’t have a voice of their own … this one’s for you,” said Virginia delegate-elect Danica Roem during a fiery victory speech on Tuesday, Nov. 7.

Roem is a transgender woman, but her gender identity is secondary to the main issue she campaigned on: fixing Route 28.

“That’s why I got in this race, because I’m fed up with the frickin’ road over in my home town,” she said to laughter and applause during the speech, calling on the state legislature to fix existing problems rather than creating new ones.

Roem’s election makes her the first out transgender person who will be elected and seated in a state legislature. Photo by Danica Roem for Delegate.

Roem used her speech to highlight the importance of focusing on unifying issues like infrastructure, ensuring teachers get fair pay, working to expand access to health care, and finding cost-effective solutions to local problems.

“This is the important stuff,” she told the crowd. “We can’t get lost in discrimination. We can’t get lost in BS. We can’t get lost tearing each other down.”

It’s that view, that it’s the government’s job to address issues of infrastructure and public health, that set her apart from her opponent, incumbent candidate Bob Marshall. Marshall, the self-described “chief homophobe” of Virginia, is perhaps best known for introducing a so-called “bathroom bill” designed to discriminate against trans people. Seeing a politician so obsessed with his anti-LGBTQ views have his seat won out from under him by a trans woman just feels … symbolic.

Oh yeah, did I mention Roem is also a singer in a heavy metal band?

Mailers sent out by her opponent’s campaign before the election warned that “[His] defeat would signal that holding these [anti-LGBTQ] principles is a detriment to being elected.”

Hopefully, Marshall is right about that. The people who represent us in government should represent all of us, and his defeat shows many voters aren’t willing to put up with elected officials who don’t see things that way.

In a recent interview on a right-wing radio show, Marshall showed his disdain for Roem and trans people, generally:

“It is not a civil right to masquerade your fantasies as reality. … I’ve drawn a line. I’m not leaving it, because I don’t make the laws of nature but I think I understand them, at least at this fundamental level. I never flunked biology, so I’m not going to call a man a woman, period.”

If a candidate wants to run on a platform of legislating trans people out of public existence or thinks it’s OK accuse their political opponents of defying the laws of nature, that should be detrimental to their odds of being elected.

We need more candidates like Roem whose political ambitions revolve around how best to help their constituents.

This country belongs to all of us. As Roem said in her victory speech (which is excellent, and you should watch it below) with all the intensity of a seasoned politician:

“No matter what you look like, where you come from, how you worship, who you love, how you identify — and yeah, how you rock — that if you have good public policy ideas and you’re well qualified for office, bring those ideas to the table because this is your America too.”

Just as it’s not enough for Democrats to simply run on being not-Trump, perhaps this is a sign that it’s not enough for Republicans to bank on voters hating the same groups as them. During the 2016 election, then-North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory ran hard on the state’s anti-trans bathroom bill only to come up short; Marshall did the same in his race against Roem.

Maybe, just maybe, empathy is winning out, and maybe people are coming to understand that the purpose of government isn’t to determine who to oppress, but how to help lift us all.

Read more: http://www.upworthy.com/trans-woman-danica-roem-beat-her-anti-trans-opponent-by-focusing-on-roads-seriously

Opioid Billionaire’s Indictment Opens New Window on Epidemic

More than a decade after opioid painkillers first exploded across the U.S., John Kapoor found an aggressive way to sell even more, according to prosecutors: He began bribing doctors to prescribe them.

Speakers’ fees, dinners, entertainment, cash — federal charges unsealed Thursday claim Kapoor’s striving company, Insys Therapeutics Inc., employed all of that and more to spur prescriptions of a highly addictive fentanyl-based drug intended only for cancer patients.

As President Donald Trump declared at a White House event that opioid abuse represents a public-health emergency, authorities arrested Kapoor in Arizona and painted a stark portrait of how Insys allegedly worked hand in glove with doctors to expand the market for the powerful agents.

“Selling a highly addictive opioid-cancer pain drug to patients who did not have cancer makes them no better than street-level drug dealers,” Harold Shaw, the top FBI agent in Boston, said of Kapoor and other Insys executives charged earlier in the case.

The story of the 74-year-old billionaire and the company he founded traces the arc of a crisis that claims 175 lives each day. What began with the over-prescription of painkillers in the late 1990s soon became a race by manufacturers to dispense more and more pills.

Overdose Risks

Charged with racketeering conspiracy and other felonies, Kapoor became the highest-ranking pharma executive to be accused of an opioid-related crime, and his arrest may portend charges against companies far larger than Insys, which has a modest $417 million market capitalization.

In Connecticut, prosecutors have begun a criminal probe of Purdue Pharmaceutical Inc.’s marketing of OxyContin. Scores of states, cities and counties have sued companies including Purdue, Endo International Plc, and Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen Pharmaceuticals, alleging they triggered the opioid epidemic by minimizing the addiction and overdose risks of painkillers such as Percocet.

But so far, no recent case has been so sweeping as the one against the executives including Kapoor, who made his initial court appearance late Thursday in Phoenix. A U.S. magistrate judge set bail at $1 million and ordered Kapoor to surrender his passport and submit to electronic monitoring. His lawyer, Brian Kelly, said Kapoor posted bail after the hearing.

This week, a Rhode Island doctor admitted accepting kickbacks from Insys in exchange for writing prescriptions. Earlier this year, two doctors were sentenced to more than 20 years behind bars for accepting bribes from companies including Insys to sell fentanyl-based medications.

The Kapoor indictment pinpoints the start of the alleged scheme.

Oral Spray

It was early 2012, and Insys’s new oral spray of the opioid fentanyl wasn’t selling well. Because it was so addictive, the pain-relief drug was subject to a tightly controlled distribution system, and regulators demanded to be notified about suspicious orders by manufacturers, wholesalers and pharmacies. And the drug wasn’t cheap, so insurers set up barriers for patients seeking it.

That was when Kapoor and others at Insys went to extremes to dramatically boost sales of the painkiller, prosecutors said. Doling out speaker fees, marketing payments and food and entertainment perks, they allegedly began bribing doctors to prescribe the drug, and then tricked insurers into paying for it.

One Insys sales executive told subordinates that it didn’t matter whether doctors were entertaining, according to the indictment: “They do not need to be good speakers, they need to write a lot of” Subsys prescriptions, the official said, referring to the brand name of the painkiller.

Over a two-year period starting in 2013, Chandler, Arizona-based Insys set aside more than $12.2 million for doctors’ speaking fees, prosecutors said. One doctor received as much as $229,640 in speaker fees for appearing at what amounted to “sham events that were mere social gatherings also attended by friends and office staff,” according to the indictment.

Friends, Family

The company encouraged doctors to write more prescriptions by hiring their friends and family members to serve as “business liaisons’’ and “business-relation managers,’’ prosecutors said. These support-staff employees worked in the doctors’ offices but were paid by Insys in what the indictment called bribes and kickbacks.

Insys even made a video featuring a sales rep dressed as a giant fentanyl spray bottle, rapping and dancing to a song that pushed the idea of getting doctors to prescribe higher doses, prosecutors said.

Others previously charged include Michael Babich, Insys’s former CEO, Alec Burlakoff, the ex-vice president of sales, and Richard Simon, once the company’s national sales director. They all deny wrongdoing.

Joe McGrath, an Insys spokesman, declined to comment on Kapoor’s indictment in Boston federal court. The company, which wasn’t charged, has reportedly been in settlement talks with the U.S. Justice Department to resolve a probe into its Subsys marketing. The company’s shares fell more than 22 percent to $5.74 in Nasdaq trading.

The Lawyer Who Beat Big Tobacco Takes On the Opioid Industry

The first person in his family to attend college, Kapoor rose from modest means in India to become a wealthy health-care entrepreneur, after earning a doctorate in medicinal chemistry at the University of Buffalo in 1972, according to a work-history the school posted.

He was a plant manager at Invenex Laboratories in New York and later became chief executive officer of LyphoMed, a hospital-products company. He sold LyphoMed to Fujisawa Pharmaceuticals and formed a venture capital firm that invested in health-care companies.

In 2010, he merged privately held Insys with NeoPharm Inc. to get access to technology to develop pain drugs for cancer patients. Even though he has stepped down as Insys’s chairman and chief executive officer, he still holds more than 60 percent of its stock.

Kapoor and Babich are also accused of misleading insurers about patients’ diagnoses and the types of pain they suffered that were covered by the Subsys prescriptions tied to the payment scheme, prosecutors said.

The company’s agents allegedly told insurers that patients were receiving Subsys for “breakthrough pain’’ to secure coverage. They also misled insurers about what other pain drugs patients had tried before being proscribed Subsys, according to the indictment.

Some lower-level Insys employees have pleaded guilty and are cooperating with prosecutors, according to court papers. Elizabeth Gurrieri, a former manager who oversaw insurance reimbursements, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to commit wire fraud in June.

    Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-10-26/insys-therapeutics-founder-charged-in-opioid-fraud-case