5 More Insane News Stories That Somehow Flew Under The Radar
If you want the clearest picture of how crazy the world has gotten, look at the stories the media isn't covering. As we try to point out from time to time, shocking and bizarre news constantly gets buried under whatever is happening with Trump this week. So here are a few more things that probably shouldn't have flown under the radar.
China's "Social Credit" System Is Now Up And Running
"Imagine a future where your whole life was scored like social media, and a bad score means you lose your rights!" That was the seemingly preposterous premise of a 2016 Black Mirror episode featuring Bryce Dallas Howard. Apparently, it is now a reality in China. The government is slowly rolling out a "social credit" system, wherein every citizen gets a score that, if too low, can wall them off from the routine amenities of modern life.
The stated purpose of the system is to help citizens "trust each other again," though I wonder if the people who were denied plane or train tickets 23 million times last year for committing often-minor offenses are feeling more or less trusting than before. The kind of stuff that can get you discredited varies wildly, from tax evasion to acting like a dickhead on the bus, all the way down to leaving a bicycle on a footpath or not paying bills on time. To be fair, they're still ironing out the wrinkles and are assuring everyone that it will eventually be much, much worse.
For example, the system denied a guy a plane ticket back home (stranding him 1,200 miles away) because he was deemed "untrustworthy" for having failed to carry out a court order two years prior. He must've done some fucked-up shit, right? Nope. He was ordered to issue a written apology, which was then deemed "insincere." Oh, well, he must've committed some horrible crime that warranted an extremely sincere apology, right? Ha! No. He's a lawyer, and his offense was mishandling a client's statement, which it turned out wasn't even his fault. Weird, it's almost like it's arbitrary and dystopian by design, and they want everyone to constantly live in a state of cowed paranoia.
When fully implemented, the social credit system will apparently judge people based on every conceivable sin, and there's barely a process in place for appealing the decision while you're, say, stranded at a train station with your family. And the effects of having a low social credit score go beyond travel. It can affect what school your child gets into, job prospects, and whether you can buy a house. It will supposedly be fully implemented next year, so that's something to look forward to.
Someone Killed Five Women In A Bank, And It Barely Made Headlines
I remember a time when it would have been a pretty fucking big story if a man executed five random women in a bank, apparently for the hell of it. But this incident in Sebring, Florida occurred 1) after so many other mass shootings and 2) in the middle of an All Trump All The Time news cycle -- in this case, right at the climax of the U.S. government shutdown over the border wall funding back in January.
So it barely made headlines when Zephen Xaver allegedly walked into a SunTrust Bank on a weekday afternoon with a gun he'd bought the week before. He, or someone who did an almost magical job of framing him, shot five people execution-style: four bank employees and one customer, all women. He then called the police himself and told them what he had done.
And no, this wasn't a robbery gone awry. Police say Xaver had no intention of walking out with any money. He also had no connection to anyone in the bank, ruling out some kind of personal vendetta. In fact, investigators haven't discovered a motive for any of this, but as with most mass shooters, it wasn't exactly out of the blue. The guy's ex-girlfriend says he used to constantly talk about death, and even got kicked out of school for "having a dream that he killed everybody in his class." She tried warning people that he was going to kill someone, but no one intervened, because the modern world still doesn't know how to.
The resulting massacre made headlines for about a minute and then just faded away like it never happened. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. Xaver has pleaded not guilty.
An 11-Year-Old Student Was Arrested After Refusing To Stand For The Pledge Of Allegiance
It's weird how the "football players shouldn't protest the anthem" crowd didn't make a big stink out of this story about a black child who refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance and the substitute teacher who then had him arrested. It's almost like they wouldn't give a shit about this kind of stuff if they weren't being egged on by a vast culture war industrial complex.
The boy had been refusing to stand for the pledge all year out of protest. That was well within his rights, and everyone seemed to acknowledge that. But then a substitute named Ana Alvarez filled in for his regular teacher. She asked the boy why he wasn't standing for the pledge, and he told her he didn't feel like pledging allegiance to a racist country. She later told the police that she asked the boy, "why if it was so bad here he did not go to another place to live."
My gut tells me that the boy's wife and four kids, along with his job at the auto plant, make leaving the country all but impossible, but then my brain tells me that he's 11 and she's an idiot. To her absurd question, the boy answered: "They brought me here."
Alvarez, who, in the political cartoon I'm imagining was at some point kicked in the head by a horse that said "Fox News" on it, replied by saying, "Well you can always go back, because I came here from Cuba, and the day I feel I'm not welcome here anymore, I would find another place to live." She says the boy got disruptive, so the school's "resource officer" was called in and the boy was arrested. Note: Children of any age can be arrested in Florida. That sounds harsh, but will you still think that way when you're mugged in a dark Miami alley by a gang of hardcore toddlers? I think not.
Alvarez says the boy threatened her. The boy says that didn't happen, and also he's a child. The boy won't be charged, because apparently Florida can occasionally can do one thing right -- it just needs to do a lot of things wrong leading up to it. And while we're on the subject of "Isn't there ANYTHING else the police could be doing?" ...
A Man Was Arrested For A Pot Cookie, Then Died In Jail From Neglect
Chris Howard was on probation after a New Year's DUI. On the following Valentine's Day, he and his girlfriend shared a pot cookie. He wound up in jail the next day when he violated his probation by failing a drug test, because imagine a world in which people like this were allowed to just sit at home on their sofas in peace.
Then things got much, much worse. Chris's girlfriend says he hadn't eaten much on the day of his arrest. This normally wouldn't be a big deal, but Chris had a genetic disorder called medium-chain acyl-CoA dehydrogenase deficiency, less obnoxiously referred to as MCADD. The condition prevents the body from converting fats to energy, especially if the sufferer hasn't eaten much. People with MCADD are prone to seizures, but Chris had never had one until he was in the jail cell.
Deputies saw Chris experiencing what was very clearly a medical emergency, and so, against the advice of the county jail's nursing staff, they put him in a solitary observation cell. Why? Well as one deputy explained it:
Yep, they saw a guy having a seizure and thought he was a violent criminal who needed to be thrown in the tank to cool his jets. By this point, Chris was the panicking insect the sheriffs held beneath a glass for their own amusement. He writhed and squirmed for a little over a half hour in that cell. He clawed at the door. There's no audio to go along with the security tape, but you can see him shouting in the footage, trying to get someone's attention, trying to get someone to help. The most attention he got was when a deputy took a couple quick peeks through the windows, presumably to see what all the fuss was about, before nonchalantly wandering away from a man who was clearly going through some very real shit.
A nurse eventually insisted that he be taken to the jail's medical unit, but by the time officers complied, it was too late. He went into cardiac arrest along the way and was pronounced dead upon arrival. This happened in 2017, but is coming to light now because Chris' family just filed a lawsuit against everyone involved. Which raises a question: How big of a judgment would it take to actually change the system? Is there any amount?
Cities Across America Are Being Held Hostage By Ransomware
Looks like we're bookending this list with corny sci-fi plots come to life, and why the hell not? "Evil hackers are holding entire cities for ransom, threatening to leave them in ruins if their demands aren't met! Can super-hacker Jax Cyberman (Emilio Estevez) defrag the mainframe in time?"
Yep, a version of this has in fact happened in Washington state, Baltimore, New Jersey, and Maine. You probably didn't notice because the weapon of mass destruction isn't as sensational as a hijacked satellite's laser beam. It's ransomware, a malicious software that locks a user's system unless a ransom is paid.
Take the attack on Atlanta. One morning in March 2018, government workers turned on their computers to find that nearly two decades' worth of emails and city data were gone after an attack engineered by a group called SamSam. For days, Atlanta's governmental systems were at a near standstill. Estimates put the damage at around $17 million, maybe even more. And all that for a ransom demand of only $51,000, to be delivered in bitcoin (the digital currency of choice for assholes).
That's what makes this extra stupid: These are devastating attacks done for fairly trivial amounts of money. A hospital in Buffalo, New York was hit with a $30,000 ransomware demand that wasn't paid, but the recovery cost the hospital nearly $10 million. Likewise, it took $1.5 million just to get the Colorado Department of Transportation's computer system running at 80 percent functionality after a different SamSam ransom for $51,000 in bitcoin.
The criminals likely set the ransoms low on purpose, knowing the cost of recovery far outweighs the cost of the demand. In many cases, the victims do wind up just paying the ransom, which of course motivates the bad guys to keep doing it. West Haven, New Hampshire paid $2,000 in bitcoin to regain access to its servers. Del Rio, Texas paid up after a ransomware attack held hostage 20 years' worth of data (the city's IT department shut down the wireless network, forcing government workers to do their jobs with pen and paper).
The people behind these attacks are almost never identified, let alone captured. Not that it isn't possible. Two of the guys who created the SamSam ransomware netted around $6 million in extortion payments before they were arrested by the FBI, which presumably had to first defuse a series of devious digital traps using virtual reality headsets.