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Quick Note on Respecting the Civil Service

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The news about the congestion pricing cancellation in New York is slowing down. Governor Hochul is still trying to kill it, but her legal right to do so at this stage is murky and much depends on actors that are nominally independent even if they are politically appointed, especially New York State Department of Transportation Commissioner Marie Therese Dominguez. I blogged and vlogged about the news, and would like to dedicate this post to one issue that I haven’t developed and barely seen others do: the negative effect last-minute cancellations have on the cohesion of the civil service.

The problem with last-minute cancellations is that they send messages to various interest groups, all of which are negative. My previous blog post went over the message such caprice sends to contractors: “don’t do business with us, we’re an unreliable client.” But the same problem also occurs when politicians do this to the civil service, which spent years perfecting these plans. I previously wrote about the problem with Mayor Eric Adams last-minute canceling a bike lane in Brooklyn under pressure, but what Hochul is doing is worse, because there was no public pressure and the assumption until about 3.5 days ago was that congestion pricing was a done deal.

With the civil service, the issue is that people are remunerated in both money and the sense of accomplishment. Industries and companies with a social mission have been able to hire workers at lower pay, often to the point of exploitation, in which managers at NGOs tell workers that they should be happy to be earning retail worker wages while doing professional office work because it’s for the greater good. But even setting aside NGOs, a lot of workers do feel a sense of professional accomplishment even when what they do is in a field general society finds boring, like transportation. One civil servant in the industry, trying to encourage an activist to go into the public sector, said something to the effect that it takes a really long time to get a reform idea up the hierarchy but once it happens, the satisfaction is great; the activist in question now works for a public transit agency.

Below the threshold of pride in one’s accomplishments, there is the more basic issue of workplace dignity. Workers who don’t feel like what they do is a great accomplishment still expect not to be berated by their superiors, or have their work openly denigrated. This is visible in culture in a number of ways. For example, in Mad Men, the scene in which Don Draper won’t even show a junior copywriter’s idea to a client has led to the famous “I don’t think about you at all” meme. And in how customers deal with service workers, ostentatiously throwing the product away in front of the worker is a well-known and nasty form of Karenish disrespect.

What Hochul did – and to an extent what Adams did with the bike lane – was publicly throwing the product that the state’s workers had diligently made over 17 years on the floor. A no after years of open debate would be frustrating, but civil servants do understand that they work for elected leaders who have to satisfy different interest groups. A no that came out of nowhere showcases far worse disrespect. In the former case, civil servants can advocate for their own positions with their superiors; “If we’d played better we would have won” is a frustrating thing to come to believe in any conflict, from sports to politics, but it’s understandable. But in the latter case, the opacity and suddenness both communicate that there’s no point in coming up with long-term plans for New York, because the governor may snipe them at any moment. It’s turning working for a public agency into a rigged game; nobody enjoys playing that.

And if there’s no enjoyment or even basic respect, then the civil service will keep hemorrhaging talent. It’s already a serious problem in the United States: private-sector wages for office workers are extremely high (people earning $150,000 a year feel not-rich) and public-sector wages don’t match them, and there’s a longstanding practice by politicians and political appointees to scorn the professionals. It leaves the civil service with the dregs and the true nerds, and the latter group doesn’t always rise up in the hierarchy.

Such open contempt by the governor is going to make this problem a lot worse. If you want to work at a place where people don’t do the equivalent of customers taking the coffee you made for them and deliberately spilling it on the floor while saying “I want to speak to the manager,” you shouldn’t work for the New York public sector, not right now. I’ll revise my career recommendation if Dominguez and others show that the governor was merely bloviating but the state legislature had passed the law mandating congestion pricing and the governor had signed it. I expect this recommendation will be echoed by others as well, judging by the sheer scorn the entire transportation activist community is heaping on Hochul and her decision – even the congestion pricing opponents don’t trust her.

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5 days ago
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6 days ago
New York, NY

Possession Of Bong Water Could Get Minnesota Woman 30 Years In Prison

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TIL that you can buy meth bongs on Amazon and also that they are very expensive.

There are a lot of problems with our criminal justice system in this country. One of those problems, at the root of so many others, is that no one with any power ever seems to take the time to ask Does this make any goddamn sense?

Case in point! Jessica Beske is currently facing up to 30 years in prison … for possession of bong water in Minnesota. Bong water. Like, the actual water from a bong. Not marijuana, not methamphetamine, not any actual controlled substance, bong water. Thirty years, in prison, for bong water.

Marijuana, by the way, is entirely legal in Minnesota. Also, as of last year, drug paraphernalia, even drug paraphernalia with drug residue in it, is legal in Minnesota. Apparently it’s just the bong water, in particular, that is a problem.

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Here’s what happened, as per the Minnesota Reformer:

On May 8, the 43-year-old Fargo resident was pulled over for speeding on Highway 59 in Polk County, Minnesota, according to charging documents. Deputies smelled marijuana and searched the car, where they allege they found a bong, a glass jar containing a “crystal substance” and some items of paraphernalia, including pipes.

The residue on the paraphernalia tested positive for methamphetamine, as did the water in the bong and the substance in the glass jar. Deputies further reported that the bong water weighed 8 ounces and, somewhat confusingly, that the crystal substance weighed 13.2 grams “in total with the packaging.”

But 13 grams is a considerable amount of meth, you are saying, because you were not aware until this sentence that the 13.2 grams was almost entirely the glass jar in which the meth was held, the meth residue being so small as to be unmeasurable.

So, basically, there were not enough actual drugs to charge Beske with anything serious, so the cops charged her with the weight of the bong water and the glass jar as if they were all made of straight crystal meth. This takes Beske from the threshold for personal use, which carries a much lower sentence, to the threshold for “distribution,” a felony that could lead to those 30 years in prison and a $1,000,000 fine.

Authorities also seized Beske’s car and $2,400 in cash that she had won at the casino (and for which she had shown the deputies the receipt), permanently, thanks to another state law that allows the police to take and keep any vehicle involved in “intended for distribution or sale” — which, by the way, is a whole ass scam in and of itself.

Would you like to know why this is? It is because, in 2009, a Minnesota State Trooper told the state supreme court that users sometimes save bong water “for future use … either drinking it or shooting it in the veins.”

The court decided 4-3 in favor of categorizing bong water as a “mixture” — defined as a “a preparation, compound, mixture, or substance containing a controlled substance, regardless of purity.” Regardless of purity? Like, what is this? Homeopathy?

Now, this sounds bizarre to me, but I have next-to-no knowledge about meth, so I looked it up and this, according to some meth users on Quora, is actually a thing people do sometimes. Though not often and it’s not exactly recommended.

That being said, we are talking about distribution here. In the history of the world, has anyone ever stood on a street corner selling meth bong water? Again, not a meth expert here, but that seems unwieldy at best. If you’re going to charge someone with “distribution” levels of meth, then you should be able to prove that anyone, in the history of the world, has distributed it in that matter.

The other reason this has happened is because the prosecuting attorney is a complete jackass.

Scott Buhler, the assistant county attorney prosecuting Beske’s case, said, “I will not comment on any pending cases. The criminal complaint filed in Ms. Beske’s case speaks for itself.” He added that his office “simply enforces the laws of this state as written.”

Buhler gained statewide attention in 2014 when the Star Tribune reported he was one of the few attorneys in the state charging people for violating an archaic law requiring them to pay taxes on illicit drugs.

“I simply charge it a lot because it leaves all options available regarding plea bargaining and sentencing,” he said at the time. Lawmakers tried, but ultimately failed, to repeal that tax during this legislative session.

That philosophy may explain why he’s throwing the book at Beske. In addition to first-degree possession, he charged her with a violation of the illicit drug tax law, which carries the potential for seven years in prison and a $14,000 fine. She was also charged with refusing a drug test at the time of her arrest.

So now we’re going to keep a woman in prison for, ostensibly, 37 years because of an empty bong in her car and a glass with an unmeasurably small amount of meth in it. Sure! Seems very reasonable. That’s almost the rest of her life. Is that how little this guy thinks of human life? If so, that’s pretty sick.

There’s an old saying: Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.

Donate Just Once!

Beske admits that she has a drug problem, which she said started while she was trying to leave an abusive ex.

“The only thing I’m guilty of is using substances to lessen my mental suffering caused by a sick and abusive predator,” she told the Minnesota Reformer. “Addicts—women especially—are made to feel like public enemy number one, when in fact most of us have been victims of serious crime that will never be prosecuted.”

On the semi-bright-side, in the only other instance I can find of someone in Minnesota being arrested on this charge, the case ended up getting tossed … though this was after he served seven months in prison.

Sending Beske to prison for 37 years is not going to help her, it’s not going to make the world a better place, it’s not going to discourage anyone from doing meth or selling bottles of bong water on the street. It will also likely cost a hell of a lot more than sending her to rehab will.

One of these options is a reasonable option that will potentially save a life, the other is not just a stupid one, but a cruel and unusual one that could take away almost the whole rest of a woman’s life. Can’t we please, for the love of God, be less stupid?


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5 days ago
Greenlawn, NY
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1 public comment
5 days ago
Would you like to know why this is? It is because, in 2009, a Minnesota State Trooper told the state supreme court that users sometimes save bong water “for future use … either drinking it or shooting it in the veins.”

The court decided 4-3 in favor of categorizing bong water as a “mixture” — defined as a “a preparation, compound, mixture, or substance containing a controlled substance, regardless of purity.” Regardless of purity? Like, what is this? Homeopathy?

Now, this sounds bizarre to me, but I have next-to-no knowledge about meth, so I looked it up and this, according to some meth users on Quora, is actually a thing people do sometimes. Though not often and it’s not exactly recommended.

That being said, we are talking about distribution here. In the history of the world, has anyone ever stood on a street corner selling meth bong water? Again, not a meth expert here, but that seems unwieldy at best. If you’re going to charge someone with “distribution” levels of meth, then you should be able to prove that anyone, in the history of the world, has distributed it in that matter.

The other reason this has happened is because the prosecuting attorney is a complete jackass.
Washington, DC
5 days ago
The cruelty is the point. That and the state trooper is probably the same type who goes into hysterics if he touches an unknown white powder, thinking he's been fentanyl poisoned.

The Sad Fate of the Sports Parent

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A true sports parent dies twice. There’s the death that awaits us all at the end of a long or short life, the result of illness, misadventure, fire, falling object, hydroplaning car, or derailing train. But there is also the death that comes in the midst of life, the purgatorial purposelessness that follows the final season on the sidelines or in the bleachers, when your sports kid hangs up their skates, cleats, or spikes after that last game.

The passage of time is woeful, and, for a parent, living your dreams through the progress of your progeny is as inevitable as the turning of the Earth. But the sports parent lives the experience in concentrate—a more intense version of the common predicament. You must give up your vicarious hope of big-league glory and let it die. You must part from what, if your kid pursued his passion seriously, had become a routine of away games and early-morning practices, hours in the car, a hot cup of coffee in your cold hand as the sun rose above the Wonderland of Ice, in Bridgeport, Connecticut; the Ice Arena in Brewster, New York; the Ice Vault, in Wayne, New Jersey—home of the Hitmen, whose logo is a pin-striped gangster with a hockey stick. And you’ll suddenly find yourself watching the Stanley Cup playoffs not in the way of a civilian but with the chagrin of knowing that the game’s upper ranks will never include your kid.

One recent morning, courtesy of Facebook Memories, I came across an old picture of my son, a high-school junior who recently announced his decision to quit hockey—to retire! The photo was taken by teammates after a victory at Lake Placid, New York. Sweat-soaked, draped in the arms of friends, grinning like a thief, he looked no less ecstatic than Mike Eruzione after he and his team won Olympic gold in the same arena in 1980.

And me? I was this Eruzione’s old man, waiting with the other parents outside the locker room, experiencing a moment of satisfaction greater than any other I’d known, either as a player or as a fan. I was a car in park with the accelerator pressed to the floor. I was a wall bathed in sunlight. This win was better than the Illinois State Championship I won with the Deerfield Falcons, in 1977. It was better than the Bears’ 1986 Super Bowl victory.

[Read: I thought I’d found a cheat code for parenting]

The end began like this: One evening, after the last game of the high-school season, I asked my son if he’d be trying out for spring league. For a youth-hockey kid, playing spring league is the equivalent of a minor-league pitcher playing winter ball in Mexico—so necessary as a statement of intent and means of improvement that forgoing it is like giving up “the path.” Rather than a simple affirmative nod, as I’d expected, I got these words: “I’m going to think about it.” Think about it? For me, this was the same as a girlfriend saying, “We need to talk.”

Only later did I realize that those words were the first move in a careful choreography. My son wanted to quit, but in a way that would not break my heart. He also didn’t want me to rant and rave and try to talk him out of it.

We had reversed roles. He was the adult. I was the child.

He knew he would not be playing college hockey even if he could. With this in mind, he had decided to use his final year of high school to get to know people other than hockey players and spend time in places other than hockey rinks. In the way of a pro with iffy knees nearing the age of 35, he had decided to exit on his own terms. He was not worrying about losing his identity as a player or about missing the camaraderie of the locker room; he was worrying about me. Hockey had been an entire epoch of our father-son life. It had ushered me, the sports parent, out of my 30s, through my 40s, and into my 50s.

[Derek Thompson: American meritocracy is killing youth sports]

My son began playing hockey in 2012. At 5 years old, he was among the army of kids enrolled in Ice Mice. He climbed the ranks from there: Mite to Squirt, Squirt to Peewee, Peewee to Bantam, Bantam to Midget. He had no inherent genius for the game, but he loved it, and that love, which was his talent, and the corresponding desire to spend every free moment at the facility—the life of a rink rat—jumping onto the ice whenever an extra player was needed, shooting tape balls in the lobby, made him an asset. A kid can have all the skills, speed, size, and shot, but if he doesn’t want to be there, if he doesn’t love the game, it’s not going to work.

It was passion that got him onto the top teams (this was tier-two and tier-three hockey in Fairfield County, Connecticut) and thus sowed the seed that eventually became, for me, a bitter plant. His love for the game elevated him to the hypercompetitive, goal-fixated ranks, where it’s always about the next tryout and the next season, who will make it and, more important, who will be left behind. Irony: His love for the game had carried him to a level where no love is possible.

When people accuse sports parents of living through their kids, they mean that the parent wants the kid to achieve in a way they never did. But that’s only part of the story. For most of us, the reward is in the present, not the past. You’re treated better when your kid scores; your status is raised. Your kid being on the top team puts you, or so many people in my world seem to believe, in a higher class of parent. If your kid is demoted, dropped from the AA squad to A or (yikes!) from A to B, your status and social life are diminished. It’s like experiencing a financial reversal.

Because I am human, I tend to blame entities or systems or other people for things that strike me as unfair. As my son progressed, I caught a glimpse, for one fabulous, deluded moment, of the life that he (we, I) would never live: high-school athletic stardom followed by college triumph and possibly even a professional-hockey career. That I knew this was a fantasy—he was never that good—did not make it less powerful. Lost in it, I experienced my life as an NHL fan with new intensity. I was not just watching the Blackhawks; I was scouting, picking up tricks that I could pass to my glory-bound boy. This was a dream that I was too embarrassed to share with anyone, even my wife. I regarded it the way members of the Free French regarded the liberation of Paris: Think of it always; speak of it never.

In short, I lost my way. Rather than letting him enjoy the moment and the fact that these seasons were his career, not a preparation or a path toward one, I was constantly scheming about his next move, his next opportunity, his next shot at the big time.

Here’s the worst part: I knew exactly what I was doing. I was attempting to replace my kid’s will with my own. I knew that it was wrong and, worse, counterproductive. The more I pressed, the less he enjoyed the game. The less he enjoyed the game, the worse he played. The worse he played, the more I pressed. Economists call this a negative feedback loop. I knew it but could not stop. It was psychosis.

Maybe the most notorious sports parents suffer from a shared psychological condition. LaVar Ball, Emmanuel Agassi, Earl Woods—those sports dads were all obsessed to the point of being abusive. I prefer to think that I am not; yet, for all the varying degrees of our kid’s success, our predicament is the same. At some point, even if it comes after 20 years in the pros, the set will be rolled away, revealing our true location. Rink parking lot. Beat-up vehicle. Alone. Even the child prodigies will retire.

[Read: You’ll miss sports journalism when it’s gone]

I told my wife that I feared our son would realize, too late, that he missed the game. He has the rest of his life to goof around; this was his last chance to be in there, mixing it up, instead of watching from the sidelines. But I was mostly anxious for myself. How was I going to survive all those endless winters without hockey? And what about the fantasies of TV cutaways, with the NHL announcer saying, “And there’s the man who taught him how to skate!” By entering my fever dream and pointing the way out, my son was behaving like the parent who says, “It’s going to be okay. There’s plenty to live for. It’s time to move on.”

Although it’s over for me and my kid, I do not want to sell the experience short. It was mostly wonderful: He played for a dozen years, from ages 5 to 17; that was his career in the game. In that time, he accumulated so many stats—goals, assists, penalty minutes, and so on—that the print on the back of his hockey card, if he had one, would require reading glasses to examine. He learned how to play on a team, support his linemates, stand up to bad coaches, learn from good ones. He learned that getting hit, even getting laid out, is not the worst thing, that scoring is better revenge than hitting back, that there is more to learn from losing than from winning, but that too much losing is soul-destroying, that the joys of victory are fleeting, and that it’s the physical sensations—the feel of your skate blades cutting freshly surfaced ice, the weight of the puck on your stick—that stay with you.

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35 days ago
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The surprise is not that Boeing lost commercial crew but that it finished at all | Ars Technica


NASA's senior leaders in human spaceflight gathered for a momentous meeting at the agency's headquarters in Washington, DC, almost exactly ten years ago.

These were the people who, for decades, had developed and flown the Space Shuttle. They oversaw the construction of the International Space Station. Now, with the shuttle's retirement, these princely figures in the human spaceflight community were tasked with selecting a replacement vehicle to send astronauts to the orbiting laboratory.

Boeing was the easy favorite. The majority of engineers and other participants in the meeting argued that Boeing alone should win a contract worth billions of dollars to develop a crew capsule. Only toward the end did a few voices speak up in favor of a second contender, SpaceX. At the meeting's conclusion, NASA's chief of human spaceflight at the time, William Gerstenmaier, decided to hold off on making a final decision.

A few months later, NASA publicly announced its choice. Boeing would receive $4.2 billion to develop a "commercial crew" transportation system, and SpaceX would get $2.6 billion. It was not a total victory for Boeing, which had lobbied hard to win all of the funding. But the company still walked away with nearly two-thirds of the money and the widespread presumption that it would easily beat SpaceX to the space station.

The sense of triumph would prove to be fleeting. Boeing decisively lost the commercial crew space race, and it proved to be a very costly affair.

With Boeing's Starliner spacecraft finally due to take flight this week with astronauts on board, we know the extent of the loss, both in time and money. Dragon first carried people to the space station nearly four years ago. In that span, the Crew Dragon vehicle has flown thirteen public and private missions to orbit. Because of this success, Dragon will end up flying 14 operational missions to the station for NASA, earning a tidy fee each time, compared to just six for Starliner. Through last year, Boeing has taken $1.5 billion in charges due to delays and overruns with its spacecraft development.

So what happened? How did Boeing, the gold standard in human spaceflight for decades, fall so far behind on crew? This story, based largely on interviews with unnamed current and former employees of Boeing and contractors who worked on Starliner, attempts to provide some answers.

The early days

When the contracts were awarded, SpaceX had the benefit of working with NASA to develop a cargo variant of Dragon, which by 2014 was flying regular missions to the space station. But the company had no experience with human spaceflight. Boeing, by contrast, had decades of spaceflight experience, but it had to start from scratch with Starliner.

Each faced a deeper cultural challenge. A decade ago, SpaceX was deep into several major projects, including developing a new version of the Falcon 9 rocket, flying more frequently, experimenting with landing and reuse, and doing cargo supply missions. This new contract meant more money but a lot more work. A NASA engineer who worked closely with both SpaceX and Boeing in this time frame recalls visiting SpaceX and the atmosphere being something like a frenzied graduate school, where all of the employees were being pulled in different directions. Getting engineers to focus on Crew Dragon was difficult.

But at least SpaceX was in its natural environment. Boeing's space division had never won a large fixed-price contract. Its leaders were used to operating in a cost-plus environment, in which Boeing could bill the government for all of its expenses and earn a fee. Cost overruns and delays were not the company's problem—they were NASA's. Now Boeing had to deliver a flyable spacecraft for a firm, fixed price.

Boeing struggled to adjust to this environment. When it came to complicated space projects, Boeing was used to spending other people's money. Now, every penny spent on Starliner meant one less penny in profit (or, ultimately, greater losses). This meant that Boeing allocated fewer resources to Starliner than it needed to thrive.

"The difference between the two company’s cultures, design philosophies, and decision-making structures allowed SpaceX to excel in a fixed-price environment, where Boeing stumbled, even after receiving significantly more funding," said Lori Garver in an interview. She was deputy administrator of NASA from 2009 to 2013 during the formative years of the commercial crew program and is the author of Escaping Gravity.

So Boeing faced financial pressure from the beginning. At the same time, it was confronting major technical challenges. Building a human spacecraft is very difficult. Some of the biggest hurdles would be flight software and propulsion.

Page 2

There was no single flight software team at Boeing. The responsibilities were spread out. A team at Kennedy Space Center in Florida handled the ground systems software, which kept Starliner healthy during ground tests and the countdown until the final minutes before liftoff. Separately, a team at Boeing's facilities in Houston near Johnson Space Center managed the flight software for when the vehicle took off.

Neither team trusted one another, however. When the ground software team would visit their colleagues in Texas, and vice versa, the interactions were limited. The two teams ended up operating mostly in silos, not really sharing their work with one another. The Florida software team came to believe that the Texas team working on flight software had fallen behind but didn't want to acknowledge it. (A Boeing spokesperson denied there was any such friction).

In a fixed-price contract, a company gets paid when it achieves certain milestones. Complete a software review? Earn a payment. Prove to NASA that you've built a spacecraft component you said you would? Earn a payment. This kind of contract structure naturally incentivized managers to reach milestones.

The problem is that while a company might do something that unlocks a payment, the underlying work may not actually be complete. It's a bit like students copying homework assignments throughout the semester. They get good grades but haven't done all of the learning necessary to understand the material. This is only discovered during a final exam, in class. Essentially, then, Boeing kept carrying technical debt forward so that additional work was lumped onto the final milestones.

Ultimately, the flight software team faced a reckoning during the initial test flight of Starliner in December 2019.

OFT-1 misses the mark

This uncrewed flight test faced problems almost immediately after liftoff. Due to a software error, the spacecraft captured the wrong "mission elapsed time" from its Atlas V launch vehicle—it was supposed to pick up this time during the terminal phase of the countdown, but instead, it grabbed data 11 hours off of the correct time. This led to a delayed push to reach orbit and caused the vehicle's thrusters to expend too much fuel. As a result, Starliner did not dock with the International Space Station.

The second error, caught and fixed just a few hours before the vehicle returned to Earth through the atmosphere, was a software mapping error that would have caused thrusters on Starliner's service module to fire incorrectly. This could have caused Starliner's service module and crew capsule to collide. Senior NASA officials would later declare the mission a "high visibility close call," or very nearly a catastrophic failure.

A couple of months after the flight, John Mulholland, a vice president who managed the company's commercial crew program, met with reporters to explain what happened. He acknowledged that the company did not run integrated, end-to-end tests for the whole mission. For example, instead of conducting a software test that encompassed the roughly 48-hour period from launch through docking to the station, Boeing broke the test into chunks. The first chunk ran from launch through the point at which Starliner separated from the second stage of the Atlas V booster.

Mulholland insisted that Boeing did not cut corners and that the lack of an end-to-end test was not due to cost concerns. "It was definitely not a matter of cost," Mulholland said at the time. "Cost has never been in any way a key factor in how we need to test and verify our systems."

Had Boeing run the integrated test, it would have caught the timing error, Mulholland said. The mission likely would have docked with the International Space Station. It's worth noting that some of the people interviewed for this article say NASA should have pressed Boeing harder for such tests but did not, perhaps out of a sense that Boeing was a superior contractor to SpaceX.

The bottom line is that Boeing technically earned the flight software milestones in its commercial crew contract. But by not putting in the work for an end-to-end test of its software, the company failed its final exam. As a result, Boeing had to take the disastrously expensive step of flying a second uncrewed flight test, which it did in May 2022.

Page 3

The heart of any spacecraft is its propulsion system. For its Dragon spacecraft, SpaceX developed its Draco and SuperDraco thrusters internally. This is consistent with its vertically integrated approach. Boeing took a more traditional path, turning to industry leader Aerojet Rocketdyne for Starliner's various thrusters. In turn, Rocketdyne had its own myriad subcontractors.

One of the big differences between new space companies like SpaceX and traditional space companies is vertical integration. If it works well, developing and building one's own technology is faster, cheaper, and much more efficient. Everyone is also on the same "team" and pulling in the same direction.

By contrast, partnerships between two large aerospace corporations are often cumbersome. Let's say you're a Rocketdyne engineer working on propulsion. If you want to design a widget that connects with the service module, you need to obtain information about the load limits from Boeing. This involves working with a Boeing engineer and a procurement officer. Rocketdyne engineers must then confirm this information. So you design the widget. Then someone else performs a structural analysis. You go through procurement to buy the materials for the part, then have to go through a manufacturing integrator and engineer to find a supplier to build it.

At the end of this process, perhaps a dozen different people in different departments at different companies have touched the part. It adds time and cost, and no one feels ownership of the process. At a new space company, the process can be much simpler: An engineer designs a part and writes a purchase order for the shop to build it.

"As an engineer, you're supposed to solve hard problems, but the structural inefficiency was a huge deal," said one person familiar with this process at Rocketdyne and Boeing.

It also didn't help that Rocketdyne and Boeing had a poor working relationship.

A test anomaly

That relationship was severely strained in June 2018 when the Starliner spacecraft experienced an anomaly during a hot-fire test of its launch abort system. During the test at a NASA facility in White Sands, New Mexico, the vehicle underwent a successful firing. However, due to a design problem, only four of the eight propellant valves closed at the end of the test.

This resulted in more than 4,000 pounds of toxic monomethylhydrazine propellant being dumped onto the test stand. There was no detonation or explosion, but a huge fireball engulfed the ground support equipment. The anomaly was caused, at least in part, by poor communication between Rocketdyne and Boeing.

"Boeing and Rocketdyne more or less hated one another," one person involved in the test told Ars. "Everyone was in super-defensive mode even before this happened. It had been classified as a risk, but the two sides weren’t talking openly and honestly about it."

What was the source of the animosity? After Boeing selected Rocketdyne, according to sources, it asked for changes to some system specifications. This prompted Rocketdyne to ask for a change order fee, as is customary in government contracts. That infuriated Boeing, which thought it had a partnership with Rocketdyne, but the latter company saw itself as a contractor. As a result, the Boeing and Rocketdyne teams were effectively walled off from one another and did not iterate together toward a more effective propulsion system.

Initially, Boeing kept quiet about the White Sands accident. The company did not even inform the commercial crew astronauts who were training to fly on the vehicle for a few weeks. It made no public comment until Ars reported on the anomaly nearly a month after it happened. (A Boeing spokesperson said the company immediately informed NASA).

Ultimately, the frayed relationship between Boeing and Rocketdyne reared its head publicly during the second half of 2021 when an issue with sticky valves in the propulsion system delayed the second uncrewed test flight. During its communications surrounding this issue, Boeing started to say it was working with its partners, including Aerojet Rocketdyne, to determine the cause of the valve issues. Effectively, this was the equivalent of throwing a supplier under the bus.

Asked directly about turbulence in the Boeing-Rocketdyne partnership, a Boeing spokesperson said, "We have a broad and diverse supply chain." For all of these suppliers, Boeing applies "the same values and expectations of product safety and product quality for our customers."

Page 4

All of Boeing's struggles with Starliner played out against a much larger backdrop of the company's misfortunes with its aviation business. Most notably, in October 2018 and March 2019, two crashes of the company's relatively new jet, the 737 MAX 8, killed 346 people. The jets were grounded for many months.

The institutional failures that led to these twin tragedies are well explained in a book by Peter Robison, Flying Blind. Robison covered Boeing as a reporter during its merger with McDonnell Douglas a quarter of a century ago and described how countless trends since then—stock buybacks, a focus on profits over research and development, importing leadership from McDonnell Douglas, moving away from engineers in key positions to MBAs, and much more led to Boeing's downfall.

It's estimated that, in addition to paying customers and the families of victims, the grounding of the 737 Max for nearly two years cost Boeing $20 billion since 2019. This critical loss of cash came just as Boeing's space division faced crunch time to complete work on Starliner.

There were so many other challenging issues, as well. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020 occurred when Boeing was dealing with the fallout from all the software issues on Starliner's debut flight. Additionally, the pandemic accelerated the retirement of experienced engineers who had brought spaceflight experience from the shuttle program. Boeing's best people were focused on the aircraft crisis, and the experienced space hands were leaving.

So it was all a pretty titanic struggle.

In late April, I asked Mark Nappi, a Boeing vice president and the manager of the company's commercial crew program, what he thought was the biggest challenge Boeing faced in its quest to fly astronauts.

"Design and development is hard, particularly with a human space vehicle," he replied. "There's a number of things that were surprises along the way that we had to overcome. And so I can't pick any one that I would point to. I would say, though, that it certainly made the team very, very strong."

Never doing that again

The Obama White House created the commercial crew program in early 2009, but Congress was reluctant to go along. It didn't see how companies like SpaceX could ever step up and put astronauts into orbit. According to Garver, the key advisor to Obama on space policy at the time, Congressional purse strings didn't really open up for NASA to support private spacecraft until Boeing indicated its willingness to participate. Suddenly, commercial crew became a legitimate program.

Boeing undoubtedly would like to have that decision back. In hindsight, it seems obvious that the strain of operating in a fixed-price environment was the fundamental cause of many of Boeing's struggles with Starliner and similar government procurement programs—so much so that the company's Defense, Space, & Security division is unlikely to participate in fixed-price competitions any longer. In 2023, the company's chief executive said Boeing would "never do them again."

A Boeing spokesperson pushed back on the idea that the company would no longer compete for fixed price contracts. However, the company believes such contracts must be used correctly, for mature products.

"Challenges arise when the fixed price acquisition approach is applied to serious technology development requirements, or when the requirements are not firmly and specifically defined resulting in trades that continue back and forth before a final design baseline is established," the spokesperson said. "A fixed price contract offers little flexibility for solving hard problems that are common in new product and capability development."

There is a great irony in all of this. By bidding on commercial crew, Boeing helped launch the US commercial space industry. But in the coming years, its space division is likely to be swallowed by younger companies that can bid less, deliver more, and act more expeditiously.

The surprise is not that Boeing lost to a more nimble competitor in the commercial space race. The surprise is that this lumbering company made it at all. For that, we should celebrate Starliner’s impending launch and the thousands of engineers and technicians who made it happen.

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Poor Weeoming.
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47 days ago
Congratulations to Alabama, finally coming in first place for something.
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She Just Had a Baby. Soon She'll Start 7th Grade. | TIME

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Ashley just had a baby. She’s sitting on the couch in a relative’s apartment in Clarksdale, Miss., wearing camo-print leggings and fiddling with the plastic hospital bracelets still on her wrists. It’s August and pushing 90 degrees, which means the brown patterned curtains are drawn, the air conditioner is on high, and the room feels like a hiding place. Peanut, the baby boy she delivered two days earlier, is asleep in a car seat at her feet, dressed in a little blue outfit. Ashley is surrounded by family, but nobody is smiling. One relative silently eats lunch in the kitchen, her two siblings stare glumly at their phones, and her mother, Regina, watches from across the room. Ashley was discharged from the hospital only hours ago, but there are no baby presents or toys in the room, no visible diapers or ointments or bottles. Almost nobody knows that Peanut exists, because almost nobody knew that Ashley was pregnant. She is 13 years old. Soon she’ll start seventh grade.

In the fall of 2022, Ashley was raped by a stranger in the yard outside her home, her mother says. For weeks, she didn’t tell anybody what happened, not even her mom. But Regina knew something was wrong. Ashley used to love going outside to make dances for her TikTok, but suddenly she refused to leave her bedroom. When she turned 13 that November, she wasn't in the mood to celebrate. “She just said, ‘It hurts,’” Regina remembers. “She was crying in her room. I asked her what was wrong, and she said she didn’t want to tell me.” (To protect the privacy of a juvenile rape survivor, TIME is using pseudonyms to refer to Ashley and Regina; Peanut is the baby’s nickname.)

The signs were obvious only in retrospect. Ashley started feeling sick to her stomach; Regina thought it was related to her diet. At one point, Regina even asked Ashley if she was pregnant, and Ashley said nothing. Regina hadn’t yet explained to her daughter how a baby is made, because she didn’t think Ashley was old enough to understand. “They need to be kids,” Regina says. She doesn’t think Ashley even realized that what happened to her could lead to a pregnancy.

On Jan. 11, Ashley began throwing up so much that Regina took her to the emergency room at Northwest Regional Medical Center in Clarksdale. When her bloodwork came back, the hospital called the police. One nurse came in and asked Ashley, “What have you been doing?” Regina recalls. That’s when they found out Ashley was pregnant. “I broke down,” Regina says.

Dr. Erica Balthrop was the ob-gyn on call that day. Balthrop is an assured, muscular woman with close-cropped cornrows and a tattoo of a feather running down her arm. She ordered an ultrasound, and determined Ashley was 10 or 11 weeks along. “It was surreal for her,” Balthrop recalls. "She just had no clue.” The doctor could not get Ashley to answer any questions, or to speak at all. “She would not open her mouth.” (Balthrop spoke about her patient's medical history with Regina's permission.)

At their second visit, about a week later, Regina tentatively asked Balthrop if there was any way to terminate Ashley’s pregnancy. Seven months earlier, Balthrop could have directed Ashley to abortion clinics in Memphis, 90 minutes north, or in Jackson, Miss., two and a half hours south. But today, Ashley lives in the heart of abortion-ban America. In 2018, Republican lawmakers in Mississippi enacted a ban on most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The law was blocked by a federal judge, who ruled that it violated the abortion protections guaranteed by Roe v. Wade. The Supreme Court felt differently. In their June 2022 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion that had existed for nearly half a century. Within weeks, Mississippi and every state that borders it banned abortion in almost all circumstances.

Balthrop told Regina that the closest abortion provider for Ashley would be in Chicago. At first, Regina thought she and Ashley could drive there. But it’s a nine-hour trip, and Regina would have to take off work. She’d have to pay for gas, food, and a place to stay for a couple of nights, not to mention the cost of the abortion itself. “I don’t have the funds for all this,” she says.

So Ashley did what girls with no other options do: she did nothing.

Clarksdale is in the Mississippi Delta, a vast stretch of flat, fertile land in the northwest corner of the state, between the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers. The people who live in the Delta are overwhelmingly Black. The poverty rate is high. The region is an epicenter of America’s ongoing Black maternal-health crisis. Mississippi has the second-highest maternal-mortality rate in the country, with 43 deaths per 100,00 live births, and the Delta has among the worst maternal-healthcare outcomes in the state. Black women in Mississippi are four times as likely to die from pregnancy-related complications as white women.

Mississippi’s abortion ban is expected to result in thousands of additional births, often to low-income, high-risk mothers. Dr. Daniel Edney, Mississippi’s top health official, tells TIME his department is “actively preparing” for roughly 4,000 additional live births this year alone. Edney says improving maternal-health outcomes is the “No. 1 priority” for the Mississippi health department, which has invested $2 million into its Healthy Moms, Healthy Babies program to provide extra support for new mothers. “There is a sense of following through, and not just as a predominantly pro-life state,” says Edney. “We don’t just care about life in utero. We care about life, period, and that includes the mother’s life and the baby’s life.”

Mississippi’s abortion ban contains narrow exceptions, including for rape victims and to save the life of the mother. As Ashley's case shows, these exceptions are largely theoretical. Even if a victim files a police report, there appears to be no clear process for granting an exception. (The state Attorney General’s office did not return TIME’s repeated requests to clarify the process for granting exceptions; the Mississippi Board of Medical Licensure and the Mississippi State Medical Association did not reply to TIME’s requests for explanation.) And, of course, there are no abortion providers left in the state. In January, the New York Times reported that since Mississippi's abortion law went into effect, only two exceptions had been made. Even if the process for obtaining one were clear, it wouldn’t have helped Ashley. Regina didn’t know that Mississippi’s abortion ban had an exception for rape.

Even before Dobbs, it was perilous to become a mother in rural Mississippi. More than half the counties in the state can be classified as maternity-care deserts, according to a 2023 report from the March of Dimes, meaning there are no birthing facilities or obstetric providers. More than 24% of women in Mississippi have no birthing hospital within a 30-minute drive, compared to the national average of roughly 10%. According to Edney, there are just nine ob-gyns serving a region larger than the state of Delaware. Every time another ob-gyn retires, Balthrop gets an influx of new patients. “These patients are having to drive further to get the same care, then they're having to wait longer,” Balthrop says.

Read More: The Future of Abortion Access After Roe v. Wade.

Those backups can have cascading effects. Balthrop recalls one woman who had to wait four weeks to get an appointment. "That’s unacceptable, because you don't know if she’s high risk or not until she sees you," the doctor says says. Her patient "didn’t know she was pregnant. Now the time has lapsed so much that she can’t drive anyplace to terminate even if she chose to."

Early data suggests the Dobbs decision will make this problem worse. Younger doctors and medical students say they don't want to move to states with abortion restrictions. When Emory University researcher Ariana Traub surveyed almost 500 third- and fourth-year medical students in 2022, close to 80% said that abortion laws influenced where they planned to apply to residency. Nearly 60% said they were unlikely to apply to any residency programs in states with abortion restrictions. Traub had assumed that abortion would be most important to students studying obstetrics, but was surprised to find that three-quarters of students across all medical specialties said that Dobbs was affecting their residency decisions.

“People often forget that doctors are people and patients too,” Traub says. “And residency is often the time when people are in their mid-30s and thinking of starting a family.” Traub found that medical students weren’t just reluctant to practice in states with abortion bans. They didn’t want to become pregnant there, either.

And so Dobbs has compounded America's maternal-health crisis: more women are delivering more babies, in areas where there are already not enough doctors to care for them, while abortion bans are making it more difficult to recruit qualified providers to the regions that need them most. “People always ask me: ‘Why do you choose to stay there?’” says Balthrop, who has worked in the Delta for more than 20 years. “I feel like I have no choice at this point."

The weeks went on, and Ashley entered her second trimester. She wore bigger clothes to hide her bump, until she was so big that Regina took her out of school. They told everyone Ashley needed surgery for a bad ulcer. “We’ve been keeping it quiet, because people judge wrong when they don’t know what’s going on,” Regina says. She’s been trying to keep Ashley away from “nosy people.” For months, Ashley spent most of the day alone, finishing up sixth grade on her laptop. The family still has no plans to tell anybody about the pregnancy. “It’s going to be a little private matter here,” Regina says.

Ashley has ADHD and trouble focusing, and has an Individualized Education Program at school. She had never talked much, but after the rape she went from shy to almost mute. Regina thinks she may have been too traumatized to speak. At first, Regina couldn’t even get Ashley to tell her about the rape at all.

In an interview in a side bedroom, while Ashley watched TV with Peanut in another room, Regina recounted the details of her daughter’s sexual assault, as she understands them. It was a weekend in the fall, shortly after lunchtime, and Ashley, then 12, had been outside their home making TikToks while her uncle and sibling were inside. A man came down the street and into the front yard, grabbed Ashley, and covered her mouth, Regina says. He pulled her around to the side of the house and raped her. Ashley told Regina that her assailant was an adult, and that she didn’t know him. Nobody else witnessed the assault.

Shortly after finding out Ashley was pregnant, Regina filed a complaint with the Clarksdale Police Department. The department's assistant chief of police, Vincent Ramirez, confirmed to TIME that a police report had been filed in the matter, but refused to share the document because it involved a minor.

Regina says that another family member believed they had identified the rapist through social-media sleuthing. The family says they flagged the man they suspected to the police, but the investigation seemed to go nowhere. Ramirez declined to comment on an ongoing investigation, but an investigator in the department confirmed to TIME that an arrest has not yet been made. With their investigation still incomplete, police have not yet publicly confirmed that they believe Ashley’s pregnancy resulted from sexual assault.

Regina felt the police weren’t taking the case seriously. She says she was told that in order to move the investigation forward, the police needed DNA from the baby after its birth. Experts say this is not unusual. Although it is technically possible to obtain DNA from a fetus, police are often reluctant to initiate an invasive procedure on a pregnant victim, says Phillip Danielson, a professor of forensic genetics at the University of Denver. They typically test DNA only on fetal remains after an abortion, or after a baby is born, he says.

But almost three days after Peanut was born, the police still hadn’t picked up the DNA sample; it was only after inquiries from TIME that officers finally arrived to collect it. Asked at the Clarksdale police station why it had taken so long after Peanut's birth for crucial evidence to be collected, Ramirez shrugged. “It’s a pretty high priority, as a juvenile,” he says. “Sometimes they slip a little bit because we’ve got a lot going on, but then they come back to it.”

Ashley doesn’t say much when asked how it felt to learn she was pregnant. Her mouth twists into a shy grimace, and she looks away. “Not good,” she says after a long pause. “Not happy.”

Regina’s own feelings about abortion became more complicated as the pregnancy progressed. She got pregnant with her first daughter at 17, and was a mother at 18. “I was a teen,” says Regina, now 33. “But I wasn’t as young as her.”

Regina had considered abortion during one of her own pregnancies. But her grandmother admonished her, “Your mama didn’t abort you.” Now Regina felt caught between her family’s general disapproval of abortion and the realization that her 13-year-old daughter was pregnant as the result of a rape. “I wish she had just told me when it happened. We could have gotten Plan B or something,” Regina says, referring to the emergency contraceptive often known as the “morning-after pill.” “That would have been that.”

Balthrop often sees this kind of ambivalence. Clarksdale is in the heart of the Bible Belt, and many of her patients are Black women from religious families. Even if they want to terminate their pregnancies, Balthrop says, many of them ultimately decide not to go through with it. Since the Dobbs decision, however, Balthrop has seen an increase in “incomplete abortions,” which is when the pregnancy has been terminated but the uterus hasn’t been fully emptied. Medication abortions— abortions managed with pills, which are increasingly available online—are overwhelmingly safe, but occasionally can have minor complications when the pills are not taken exactly as directed. “They're having complications after—not serious, but they'll come in with significant bleeding, and then we still have to finish the process,” Balthrop says, explaining that they sometimes have to evacuate dead fetal tissue.

According to Balthrop, Ashley didn’t have complications during her pregnancy. But she didn’t start speaking more until she felt the baby move, around her sixth month. “That’s when it hit home,” Balthrop says. “She’d complain about little aches and pains that she had never had before. That’s when her mom would come in and say, ‘She asked me this question,’ and the three of us would sit and talk about it.”

How did Ashley feel in anticipation of becoming a mother? “Nervous,” is all she will say. Toward the end of the pregnancy, she was terrified of going into labor, Balthrop recalls. Most of her questions were about pushing, and delivery, and how painful it would be. She was focused on “the delivery process itself,” Balthrop says. “Not, ‘What am I going to do when I take this baby home?’”

The Clarksdale Woman’s Clinic, where Balthrop practices, is across the street from the emergency room at Northwest Regional Medical Center, where Ashley first learned she was pregnant. The clinic is large and welcoming, with comfortable chairs and paintings of flowers on the walls. The staff is kind and efficient, the space is clean, and it helps that the three ob-gyns on staff are Black, since most of the patients are Black women. The clinic’s strong reputation attracts patients from an hour away in all directions. It is a lifeline in a vast region with few other maternity health options.

Even for healthy patients, it can be dangerous to be pregnant in such a rural area. “We have patients who walk to our clinic. They don't have transportation,” says Casey Shoun, an administrative assistant at Clarksdale Woman’s. Some can get Medicaid transportation, but it’s notoriously unreliable. The trip can be hard even for local residents: the roads leading to the clinic don’t have good sidewalks, and temperatures in the Delta regularly reach 100 degrees in the summer.

Shoun says the clinic gets patients who are six months pregnant by the time they have their first prenatal appointment. “We've had patients who go to the hospital, and they've already delivered,” Shoun says. Balthrop recalls one woman who went into labor about seven weeks early, and had to drive 45 minutes to get to the hospital. She was too late. “By the time she got here, the baby had passed already,” Balthrop says.

Clarksdale Woman's is equipped to handle routine appointments for a healthy pregnancy like Ashley’s. But a pregnant woman with any complication at all—from deep-vein thrombosis to diabetes, preeclampsia to advanced maternal age—will have to make a three-hour round trip drive to Memphis to see the closest maternal-fetal-medicine specialist. The most vulnerable patients are often the ones who have to travel the farthest for pregnancy care.

Read More: Inside Mississippi's Last Abortion Clinic.

One morning in August, as the clinic filled, Balthrop allowed TIME to interview consenting patients in the waiting room and parking lot. One of them was Mikashia Hardiman, who is 18 years old and pregnant with her first child. Hardiman had just had her 20-week anatomy scan, and learned that she has a shortened cervix, which means her mother now has to drive her to Memphis to see a specialist.

Jessica Ray, 36, was 13 weeks pregnant with her third child. Three years ago, when she suddenly went into labor with her second child at 33 weeks, she drove herself 45 minutes to the hospital and delivered less than half an hour after she arrived. Ray knows the travel ordeals ahead of her: because she had preeclampsia with her first two pregnancies, she’ll have to go see the specialist in Memphis each month. “You have to take off work and make sure somebody's getting your kids,” Ray says.

Balthrop, who has three kids of her own, has long considered moving to a different region with a better education system. "I feel like I can’t," she says. "I would be letting so many people down."

But the clinic is under serious financial strain. Between overhead, malpractice insurance, the increasing costs of goods and services, and decreasing insurance reimbursements, Balthrop and her colleagues can barely afford to keep Clarksdale Woman's open. They’re considering selling the practice to a hospital 30 miles away. If that happened, Balthrop says, babies would no longer be delivered in Clarksdale, a city of less than 15,000. Some of her patients would have to leave the Delta—possibly driving an hour or more—to get even the most basic maternity care.

For the patients who already struggle to make it to Clarksdale, that would spell disaster. "They just wouldn't get care until they show up for delivery at the hospital,” says Shoun, the administrative assistant. “Imagine if we weren't here. Where would they go?"

Ashley started feeling contractions on a Saturday afternoon when she was 39 weeks pregnant. She called Regina, who came home from work, and together they started timing them. They arrived at the hospital around 8 p.m. that night. An exam revealed Ashley was already six centimeters dilated. Her water broke soon after, and she got an epidural. She delivered Peanut within five hours. Ashley describes the birth in one word: “Painful.”

For Regina, the arrival of her first grandchild has not eased the pain of watching what her daughter has endured. “This situation hurts the most because it was an innocent child doing what children do, playing outside, and it was my child,” Regina says. “It still hurts, and is going to always hurt.”

Ashley doesn’t know anybody else who has a baby. She doesn’t want her three friends at school to find out that she has one now. Regina is working on an arrangement with the school so Ashley can start seventh grade from home until she’s ready to go back in person. Relatives will watch Peanut while Regina is at work. Is there anything about motherhood that Ashley is excited about? She twists her mouth, shrugs, and says nothing. Is there anything Ashley wants to say to other girls? “Be careful when you go outside,” she says. “And stay safe.”

There is only one moment when Ashley smiles a little, and it’s when she describes the nurses she met in the doctors’ office and delivery room. One of them, she remembers, was “nice” and “cool.” She has decided that when she grows up, she wants to be a nurse too. “To help people,” she says. For a second, she looks like any other soon-to-be seventh grader sharing her childhood dream. Then Peanut stirs in his car seat. Regina says he needs to be fed. Ashley’s face goes blank again. She is a mother now.

With reporting by Leslie Dickstein

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47 days ago
You know you're on the wrong side of history when Time Magazine is dunking on you.
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1 public comment
47 days ago
I wish that the god that every Christian who voted for Republican policies believes in leading to this obvious result would exist. I wish every single Christian would face the judgement of their god.

But, we don't live in that fantasy world. We live in the real world where vile human beings can casually ruin a child's life because of some stupid shit their pastor sad.
Denver, CO
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