Update: As of Monday evening, about 900 websites are participating in the protest
About 400 websites are taking part in an online blackout today to protest the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA). The web-based demonstration, organized by the hacktivist organization, Anonymous, is not likely to interfere with the average web user's day, unless that user frequently posts funny videos on Reddit. CISPA, a controversial bill that aims to boost cybersecurity by removing legal barriers that prevent tech companies and the government from sharing sensitive information about web users, sailed through the House last week, despite strong opposition from privacy groups and President Barack Obama, who is threatening to veto the current version of the bill. Early last year, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA), two online copyright enforcement bills, spurred widespread blackouts involving more than 7,000 websites and tech giants, including Wikipedia and Google, yet the biggest websites willing to take a public stand against CISPA merely include various subsections of Reddit and a Facebook page for the Libertarian party.
"Unfortunately, there have not been any confirmed reports of larger companies joining the protest," says a spokesperson for Anonyops, a website that reports news on the activities of Anonymous. "SOPA threatened to take down websites that even linked to copyright infringed material, so for companies that allow their users to post freely on their sites [like Facebook, Google+, and Reddit] this would have been devastating. CISPA mostly effects the user's of these services, and doesn't cut into profits of these big companies, and let's face it, that's why they're a business, to make a profit."
"We've been running ads against CISPA for the past few months, but we didn't think the timing was right for us to participate in today's blackout," says Erik Martin, general manager at Reddit, the social news site. "We're going to plan more action closer to the vote in the Senate, but in the meantime, the [independently controlled] subreddits are becoming kind of a lab for how you raise awareness on something important like this. Some of them are blacked out, others are posting about it."
Molly Schwoppe, a spokesperson for the Libertarian party, tells Mother Jones that the party is "vehemently opposed to CISPA" but refused to confirm whether or not the Facebook page holding the blackout officially belonged to the party.
CISPA was first introduced in late 2011 by Rep. Michael Rogers (R-Mich.), but the measure failed to advance through the Senate. Rogers and Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) reintroduced the bill in February of this year. Dozens of civil-liberties-minded groups have cried foul and opposed the bill on the grounds that it delivers personal information like emails and Internet records straight to the hands of the government, which could freely use all this information for vague national security purposes. "This bill undermines the privacy of millions of Internet users" Rainey Reitman, activism director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation said in a press release. The Obama administration last week declared that it "remains concerned that the bill does not require private entities to take reasonable steps to remove irrelevant personal information when sending cybersecurity data to the government or other private sector entities."
But privacy concerns may not be enough to stop the bill. CISPA supporters spent 140 times more money on lobbying for the bill that its opponents, according to the Sunlight Foundation. Big-name companies that openly support CISPA include AT&T, Intel, IBM, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon, and other tech giants are quietly on board, including Google and Facebook, which released a statement arguing that "if the government learns of an intrusion or other attack, the more it can share about that attack with private companies (and the faster it can share the information), the better the protection for users and our systems." Facebook also claims that if shares data with the government, it will safeguard user information.
Anonyops isn't so optimistic. "Do I find it hypocritical [that tech companies are supporting CISPA]? It could be seen that way, after all," its spokesperson says. "These companies do have privacy policies, which is the very thing that CISPA would basically make void."
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev apparently maintained an active Twitter account. A high school classmate of the at-large Boston Marathon bombing suspect has confirmed to BuzzFeed that the @J_tsar Twitter account belongs to Tsarnaev, and multiple Twitter users who say they are friends of Tsarnaev have pointed to this Twitter feed as his. The tweets on the @J_tsar account cover a variety of topics, including religion and pop culture, and contain much trash talk about women. The user of this account kept on tweeting after the bombing. On April 15, hours after the attack, he tweeted, "Ain't no love in the heart of the city, stay safe people." On April 17, he tweeted, "I'm just a stress free kind of guy." Here's a sampling of odd, mundane, and chilling tweets from the account from the past year, including one in which the user laments, "The value of human life ain't shit nowadays."
There's a Czech bakery, deli, and gas station combo in tiny West, Texas, that's world-famous for serving up fruit kolaches and hot chubbies to locals and tourists driving on I-35 between Dallas and Austin, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for the last 29 years. Last night was no exception. In the wake of the massive explosion and fire that rocked a fertilizer plant just three miles down the road, Czech Stop kept its doors open—and the kolaches coming—almost without interruption.
"I rushed up there after it happened because one of my employees said the ceiling was falling in," says Barbara Schissler, president of the Czech Stop empire, who's worked there since it opened in 1983. "One of our freelance carpenters recommended that we close the doors, but when I showed up, I saw only the ceiling tiles were buckling, so I reopened. The only thing we did was cut the gas pumps, because we were expecting another blast."
When the plant exploded at 8 p.m., there were about seven employees on shift. Fifteen minutes later, fire trucks and police cars started rushing down the street to the site of the accident. Not long after, injured victims started walked in.
"Two women in a truck stopped by. One's leg was bandaged and bulging, and she had a few cuts on her arms and legs," says Schissler. "I don't know why they decided to stop here first. When you're in shock, you're not always thinking. We did whatever we could to make them feel comfortable, gave them ice water." Several more people with cuts and bruises stopped by through the night, but Schissler said her usual customers were missing. "All the bakery regulars were out there on the scene, helping out."
In the morning, Czech Stop was ready to help first responders who stopped by, donating cases of water and handing out free food and drink. The store is also planning on donating baked goods to the Red Cross.
Like many local bars, diners, and coffee shops in many other towns rocked by calamity, Czech Stop has transformed virtually overnight into a hub of refuge. After December's school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, the owners of Blue Colony Diner fed hundreds of volunteers, policemen, firefighters, and first responders, earning the nickname "The Food Angels." The morning after Hurricane Sandy struck, David T. Holmes III turned It's a Wrap, his lunch cafe in Plainfield, New Jersey, into a relief station for 10 days, offering victims free coffee, soup, power, and a place to sleep. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Joann Guidos kept Kajun's Pub open so that "the lonely and broke would not endure the ordeal alone." Homeowners fleeing the deadly June 2012 wildfires in Colorado congregated at Bob's Coffee Shop in Laporte, to figure out, over danishes, where the megafire was headed next.
A Jalopnik writer from Texas says when he first heard about the West Fertilizer explosion, his first thought was whether anyone was hurt. His second thought was whether the Czech Stop was okay. "It's no surprise that, when I turned on the local news last night, the news producers had thought to call the Czech Stop and put an employee on the air," he wrote. "It's what everyone knows."
This tiny community of around 3,000 boasts a remarkably vibrant and long-standing Czech heritage. In 1859, a popular Czech reverend immigrated to Galveston to minister to German Protestants, and many of his compatriots followed. By 1990, almost 300,000 Texans claimed some Czech ancestry according to the Texas State Historical Association, seeding this part of Texas with Eastern European languages, cultures, and cuisines. "Most notably, the Czech pastry 'kolache' (pronounced koh-law-chee) is still served today in restaurants and rest stops from Columbus near Houston all the way up to West," says Jalopnik's Hardigree. "It's a soft, sweet dough filled with some fruit, cheese, chocolate or some mixture of all of those. It's fantastic."
Czech Stop has been a fixture in town since it was opened in 1983 by Bill Polk, a former marine who bought the shop from a national chain and took it over with one employee, a small menu of sausage kolache, and a handful of fruit and poppy seed pastries. Its got lots of Czech neighbors in town. There's Picha's Czech-American Restaurant, known for its sausages and kraut. You can pick up a kroje at Maggie's Fabric Patch, a dress traditionally worn by Czechs and Slovaks at communions, weddings, and funerals. A Czech-language radio station broadcast from here until just a few years ago. West is also home to a branch of Sokol, a Czech organization that started in Ennis, Texas with a mission to help young community members become leaders through the practice of gymnastics.
Today some 75 percent of the town can claim some Czech origin according to Radio Praha, the Czech Republic's state radio station. Today, the Czech Ambassador to the United States is scheduled to visit West in a show of support and solidarity."The Czech authorities and the media are closely watching the latest news from this little outpost of Czech life in Texas," writes Radio Praha reporter Rob Cameron. West's mayor, Tommy Muska, agrees. "It's a lovely little town. Everybody's got a Czech last name it seems," he said. (Muska's Czech, too.) Author and journalist Brendan McNally, who grew up in Dallas but now lives in Pelhřimov with his family, tells Radio Praha that Czech Stop’s kolaches put West on the map.
Last night's tragedy has hit close to home in more ways than one: The bakery's office manager lived three blocks away from the fertilizer plant, and lost her house to the explosion. But Schissler and her crew plan to keep serving up kolaches and coffee 24 hours a day, business as usual. "We've never seen anything like this, but we've never closed a single day in 29 years," Schissler says. "You bet we're staying open."
An amendment proposed by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) to require background checks for commercial gun sales (but not for sales between "friends and neighbors") was shot down Wednesday afternoon in a 54-46 vote, failing to capture the 60 votes it needed to advance. The bill would have been a modest victory for gun control advocates, while ceding numerous concessions to the gun lobby (the NRA initially called it a "positive development.") Nevertheless, only four Republicans voted for the proposal, with 41 voting against it. Five Democrats rejected the proposal as well (Reid was a special case; see below). Standing with families of Sandy Hook victims, President Obama said that "there was no coherent argument for why we wouldn't do this. It came down to politics."
More MoJo coverage of the Senate's failed background check bill.
There's still a lot we don't know about Monday's bombing near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. We don't know if the bombs were set off by one person or multiple people; we don't know if it was an act of foreign or domestic terrorism; we don't know what the perpetrators(s) look like; we don't know what the motive was. One thing we do know: Many of the initial reports on media outlets on Monday and early Tuesday have proven to be false.
That's inevitable during a breaking news event—and in this case, even some law enforcement officials did more to confuse than to clarify. But one day later, here's a look at some early storylines that have fizzled upon further scrutiny:
1. Cellphone service shut down in Boston. Reported by: the Associated Press, which credited the information to an unidentified "law enforcement official." But cellphone service continued uninterrupted in the city. Verizon spokesman Torod Neptune told Mother Jones the reports were "incorrect," and that service providers were not asked to shut down.
2. Explosions kill 12 people. Reported by: the New York Post. As of 6:58 p.m. on Monday, the tabloid's website was still touting the 12 dead figure on a splash on its website. (It has since been updated.) The Boston Police Department has only confirmed three dead, along with 176 injuries (including 17 people in critical condition).
3. Bombing at JFK library. Reported by: multiple sources, thanks to a series of ambiguous statements from the Boston Police Department. Boston police commissioner Edward Davis said at a press conference Monday that police were investigating a link between an incident at the JFK library and the marathon bombing. Time's Andrew Katz reported on a "possible" device, citing police scanners. By Tuesday morning, the JFK library incident had been officially classified as a "mechanical fire"—as library officials had maintained all along.
4. Saudi national in custody. Reported by: the New York Post, which stated on Monday that a Saudi national had been taken into custody as a "suspect." Although investigators said they were speaking with a Saudi man who was in the United States on a student visa and was being treated for injuries at a nearby hospital, no one has been taken into custody, and at the moment there are no suspects.
5. Five additional incendiary devices found. Reported by: the Wall Street Journal, which initially said that counterterrorism officials had found five unexploded devices around the Boston area—separate from the two detonated bombs. The New York Timesreported three unexploded devices, including one at the corner of St. James and Trinity Streets, and another outside the city in Newton. But the Journal walked back its report quickly and Newton police rebutted the bomb report. On Tuesday, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick confirmed that "two and only two explosive devices were found yesterday," although many packages were investigated. "There were no unexploded explosive devices found." Both articles have since been updated.
6. Police have security footage of a "possible suspect." Reported by: CBS News, citing "one law enforcement official." According to a Monday afternoon CBS News report, authorities had found a video of an individual carrying backpacks on Boylston Street minutes before the first explosion. This would be news to the Boston Police Department and the FBI, both of whom say they are still looking for a suspect and have no description of what he or she might look like.
7. Sunil Tripathi did it. Reported by: Dozens of sources, most notably BuzzFeed's Andrew Kaczynski, and Reddit—which had zeroed in on the missing Brown University student over the previous 24 hours. But Tripathi's name had never been mentioned on the Boston police scanner prior to the initial reports on Twitter. And just a few hours later, NBC's Pete Williams officially corrected the record, breaking the news that authorities had identified Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as the primary suspects in the bombings. (Tripathi is still missing.)