Advertisements


The Twitter office responsible for complying with European misinformation laws has been shut down after Elon Musk"s layoffs

The only two people remaining at the office left last week, and now the EU is set to publish data showing Twitter is failing to combat disinformation. Elon Musk and the president of the EU, Ursula von der Leyen.Gotham/FilmMagic; Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images Twitter has closed down its office in Brussels, the home of the EU, per the Financial Times. Its digital policy chiefs, who had been working to comply with new misinformation laws, left the company last week. The EU is now set to publish data which says Twitter is failing to combat disinformation. Twitter has closed down its office in Brussels, Belgium, according to the Financial Times.The office was a small one, with under 10 staff, but was vital because of its relationship with the European Union, which last week introduced new laws for social media companies.Twitter's two digital policy chiefs in Europe — Julia Mozer and Dario La Nasa — left the company last week, five people familiar with the situation told the FT. It was unclear if they resigned or were laid-off, but they left the company after Musk issued an ultimatum to all staff, telling them to work "long hours at a high intensity" or leave with three months of severance pay.The pair worked on Twitter's compliance with landmark Big Tech laws which came into effect in the EU last week. The Digital Services Act sets new rules on disinformation, illegal content, and advertising, which also apply to other large platforms like Facebook, YouTube, and TikTok.Other executives in Brussels lost their jobs on November 4, when Musk laid-off half of Twitter's 7,500 employees. Before that, the office had around eight employees, according to Wired.The FT also reported that the European Commission will publish figures on Thursday showing how Twitter is failing to comply with the EU's disinformation code, because its removals of hate speech have dropped by nearly 5% year-on-year.Vera Jourova, the EU vice-president who's in charge of the disinformation code, told the Financial Times she was concerned about the closing of the Brussels office."If you want to effectively detect and take action against disinformation and propaganda, this requires resources," she said."Especially in the context of Russian disinformation warfare, I expect Twitter to fully respect the EU law and honour its commitments," Jourova added.Soon after Musk's takeover, the EU's internal market commissioner, Thierry Breton tweeted at him: "In Europe, the bird will fly by our rules."—Thierry Breton (@ThierryBreton) October 28, 2022Six days before the FT's report, Breton told Franceinfo that Musk "will have to open his algorithms. We will have control, we will have access, people will no longer be able to say rubbish."But now the Brussels office has closed its doors, Twitter's relationship with the EU will be tested.Fears about heightened levels off disinformation on the platform have grown since Musk's takeover, after he allowed anyone to be verified for $8. That led to trolls pretending to be the likes of George W. Bush and former British prime minister, Tony Blair, as well as companies like McDonald's and Nintendo.Musk has since paused the paid verification scheme, but is likely to bring it back in the near future.Twitter and the EU did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment. Read the original article on Business Insider.....»»

Category: dealsSource: nytNov 24th, 2022

What If People Actually Controlled The Government?

What If People Actually Controlled The Government? Authored by Jeffrey Tucker via The Brownstone Institute, Imagine, if you will, the following system... Government is managed by elected representatives who are in turn elected by the people. Government is further restrained by checks and balances between three branches, each of which is accountable ultimately to the people who live under the laws. Unlike the ancient system of government in which the only people who were truly free were the aristocracy, under this new system, every adult citizen has political rights. No one rules over anyone without accountability.  Also part of this, no one in government has a permanent job that is exempt from oversight. The laws and rules under which people live are not invented by faceless bureaucrats but rather by representatives with names who can be voted out.  In that way, we give the idea of freedom the best-possible hope.  Sounds dreamy? A bit. We haven’t had that system in the US for a very long time, even if what I just mapped out seems more or less like what the US Constitution set up.  There are two main reasons why we are so far from that ideal.  First, the US system was supposed to exalt the juridical sovereignty of the “several states” so that the central government was of secondary importance.  Second, a fourth branch of government gradually came into existence. It is what we now call the administrative state. It consists of millions of employees with maximum power who answer to absolutely no one. The Federal Register lists 432 agencies that currently employ people who are beyond legislative reach but they still make policy and determine the structure of the regime under which we live. But we the people have no real control over them.  Not even the president can control them. This system was created with one piece of legislation in 1883 called the Pendleton Act. The New Deal exploited the new system. The administrative state even got its own constitution in 1946 called the Administrative Procedures Act. The 1984 Supreme Court decision in Chevron vs NRDC even entrenched deference to the agency’s interpretation of the law.  The result is something the Founders never imagined: hundreds of three-letter agencies exercising hegemonic control over the country. Everyone got to know this system well from 2020 as the CDC invented myriad rules on the spot that shut businesses and churches and even legislated how many people you could have in your home for a party.  This problem vexxed Donald Trump, who came to power with the promise to drain the swamp. He soon discovered that he could not because most federal employees were beyond his reach. Things got wildly out of hand after he made the enormous error of greenlighting lockdowns in a March 16, 2020 press conference. After that point and all the way until the election, his presidential powers slipped ever further as the administrative bureaucracy wielded power without precedent.  Two weeks before the election, the Trump administration innovated a solution. It was Executive Order 13957 that created a new category of federal employment called Schedule F. Any employee involved at any level in policy making would be subject to presidential oversight. It makes sense: these are executive-level agencies so the president, because he bears responsibility for what they do, should have some personnel control over them.  This order was immediately reversed by Biden when he took office, leaving Schedule F a dead letter. The administrative state is once again safe from oversight.  Let us quote Trump’s executive order at length so that we can see the thinking here. Then we’ll deal with various objections. It reads as follows: To effectively carry out the broad array of activities assigned to the executive branch under law, the President and his appointees must rely on men and women in the Federal service employed in positions of a confidential, policy-determining, policy-making, or policy-advocating character. Faithful execution of the law requires that the President have appropriate management oversight regarding this select cadre of professionals. The Federal Government benefits from career professionals in positions that are not normally subject to change as a result of a Presidential transition but who discharge significant duties and exercise significant discretion in formulating and implementing executive branch policy and programs under the laws of the United States. The heads of executive departments and agencies (agencies) and the American people also entrust these career professionals with non‑public information that must be kept confidential… Given the importance of the functions they discharge, employees in such positions must display appropriate temperament, acumen, impartiality, and sound judgment. Due to these requirements, agencies should have a greater degree of appointment flexibility with respect to these employees than is afforded by the existing competitive service process. Further, effective performance management of employees in confidential, policy-determining, policy-making, or policy-advocating positions is of the utmost importance. Unfortunately, the Government’s current performance management is inadequate, as recognized by Federal workers themselves. For instance, the 2016 Merit Principles Survey reveals that less than a quarter of Federal employees believe their agency addresses poor performers effectively. Separating employees who cannot or will not meet required performance standards is important, and it is particularly important with regard to employees in confidential, policy-determining, policy-making, or policy-advocating positions. High performance by such employees can meaningfully enhance agency operations, while poor performance can significantly hinder them. Senior agency officials report that poor performance by career employees in policy-relevant positions has resulted in long delays and substandard-quality work for important agency projects, such as drafting and issuing regulations. Pursuant to my authority under section 3302(1) of title 5, United States Code, I find that conditions of good administration make necessary an exception to the competitive hiring rules and examinations for career positions in the Federal service of a confidential, policy-determining, policy-making, or policy-advocating character. These conditions include the need to provide agency heads with additional flexibility to assess prospective appointees without the limitations imposed by competitive service selection procedures. Placing these positions in the excepted service will mitigate undue limitations on their selection. This action will also give agencies greater ability and discretion to assess critical qualities in applicants to fill these positions, such as work ethic, judgment, and ability to meet the particular needs of the agency. These are all qualities individuals should have before wielding the authority inherent in their prospective positions, and agencies should be able to assess candidates without proceeding through complicated and elaborate competitive service processes or rating procedures that do not necessarily reflect their particular needs. Conditions of good administration similarly make necessary excepting such positions from the adverse action procedures set forth in chapter 75 of title 5, United States Code. Chapter 75 of title 5, United States Code, requires agencies to comply with extensive procedures before taking adverse action against an employee. These requirements can make removing poorly performing employees difficult. Only a quarter of Federal supervisors are confident that they could remove a poor performer. Career employees in confidential, policy-determining, policy‑making, and policy-advocating positions wield significant influence over Government operations and effectiveness. Agencies need the flexibility to expeditiously remove poorly performing employees from these positions without facing extensive delays or litigation. Part of the order pushed an internal review of all agencies to reclassify employees, thus making them subject to normal standards of employment – the same ones that every person in the private sector adheres to.  Why is there resistance aside from the high-stakes effort to keep the current despotism in place? Let’s look at the sincere objections.  Schedule F would bring back the spoils system The term itself is a smear of system in which the elected leadership can actually make a difference in public life. Are cronies hired? Yes. Are good people sometimes fired? Probably. But the alternative is dictatorship by the bureaucracy itself and that is what is truly intolerable. Instead of the “spoils system,” a state in which the elected leaders can enact policy by controlling personnel is called representative democracy. It is also the system the Constitution gave us.  Trump issued Schedule F because he wanted more power  Depends on what you mean by more power. More power over the bureaucracy, yes, but the driving motivation here was to emancipate power from being ruled by bureaucrats that he could not control. It was also designed to stop the bureaucracy from working directly with the media to undermine through lies and smears the work of the administration. In words, elected leaders absolutely do need more power over the deep state.  This would gut government of expertise  There is this strange presumption that educational credentials and a permanent job equals expertise plus good outcomes. That is very obviously untrue. Good outcomes come from basic competence and a work ethic. Those are in short supply in government precisely because the turnover rate is less than zero, unlike the private sector. Anyone who has worked in a federal agency knows this. The best way to unleash genuine expertise is through normal job accountability.  Presidents would use this to politicize the bureaucracy  This is a decent point but the bureaucracy is already heavily politicized, and always in the direction of policies that push more power and money toward the government. Everyone knows this. Is there a danger that a radically and dangerous president would press bureaucrats into even further politicization? Yes, but there is an easy solution to this one: cut the reach and power of the agencies themselves, consistent with the Constitution. Finally – a crucial point – elected leaders could override the influence of private industry which has captured their operations. Bureaucracies would get around this by minimizing Schedule F designations  They would certainly attempt this but that would require that employees refrain from ”policy-determining, policy-making, or policy-advocating positions.” That would be very great! If they eschewed Schedule F and did that anyway, the Office of Personnel Management could hunt them down and the agency itself would be responsible for illegal actions.  There are surely some downsides to the system as Trump imagined it but all of them trace to the inflated powers of the federal government itself. Yes, a vastly ambitious government machinery will always need bureaucracies and they will always have problems with waste, abuse, and unneeded exercise of power. Perhaps, then, the best long-term effect of Schedule F would be to inspire a rethinking of government’s role in a free society.  It seems remarkable that the executive order creating Schedule F was issued at all. It needs to be pressed upon any future reformers as a path to revisit, ideally with legislative support. Until that time, there will continue to be the grave problem that our elected officials are positioned to be little more than dancing marionettes while the administrative state wields all the real power.  Tyler Durden Fri, 07/01/2022 - 23:10.....»»

Category: blogSource: zerohedgeJul 1st, 2022

The Federal Bureau Of Tweets: Twitter Is Hiring An Alarming Number Of FBI Agents

The Federal Bureau Of Tweets: Twitter Is Hiring An Alarming Number Of FBI Agents Authored by Alan MacLeod via Mint Press News, Twitter has been on a recruitment drive of late, hiring a host of former feds and spies. Studying a number of employment and recruitment websites, MintPress has ascertained that the social media giant has, in recent years, recruited dozens of individuals from the national security state to work in the fields of security, trust, safety and content. Chief amongst these is the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The FBI is generally known as a domestic security and intelligence force. However, it has recently expanded its remit into cyberspace. “The FBI’s investigative authority is the broadest of all federal law enforcement agencies,” the “About” section of its website informs readers. “The FBI has divided its investigations into a number of programs, such as domestic and international terrorism, foreign counterintelligence [and] cyber crime,” it adds. For example, in 2019, Dawn Burton (the former director of Washington operations for Lockheed Martin) was poached from her job as senior innovation advisor to the director at the FBI to become senior director of strategy and operations for legal, public policy, trust and safety at Twitter. The following year, Karen Walsh went straight from 21 years at the bureau to become director of corporate resilience at the silicon valley giant. Twitter’s deputy general counsel and vice president of legal, Jim Baker, also spent four years at the FBI between 2014 and 2018, where his resumé notes he rose to the role of senior strategic advisor. Meanwhile, Mark Jaroszewski ended his 21-year posting as a supervisory special agent in the Bay Area to take up a position at Twitter, rising to become director of corporate security and risk. And Douglas Turner spent 14 years as a senior special agent and SWAT Team leader before being recruited to serve in Twitter’s corporate and executive security services. Previously, Turner had also spent seven years as a secret service special agent with the Department of Homeland Security. When asked to comment by MintPress, former FBI agent and whistleblower Coleen Rowley said that she was “not surprised at all” to see FBI agents now working for the very tech companies the agency polices, stating that there now exists a “revolving door” between the FBI and the areas they are trying to regulate. This created a serious conflict of interests in her mind, as many agents have one eye on post-retirement jobs. “The truth is that at the FBI 50% of all the normal conversations that people had were about how you were going to make money after retirement,” she said. Many former FBI officials hold influential roles within Twitter. For instance, in 2020, Matthew W. left a 15-year career as an intelligence program manager at the FBI to take up the post of senior director of product trust at Twitter. Patrick G., a 23-year FBI supervisory special agent, is now head of corporate security. And Twitter’s director of insider risk and security investigations, Bruce A., was headhunted from his role as a supervisory special agent at the bureau. His resumé notes that at the FBI he held “[v]arious intelligence and law enforcement roles in the US, Africa, Europe, and the Middle East” and was a “human intelligence and counterintelligence regional specialist.” (On employment sites such as LinkedIn, many users choose not to reveal their full names.) Meanwhile, between 2007 and 2021 Jeff Carlton built up a distinguished career in the United States Marine Corps, rising to become a senior intelligence analyst. Between 2014 and 2017, his LinkedIn profile notes, he worked for both the CIA and FBI, authored dozens of official reports, some of which were read by President Barack Obama. Carlton describes his role as a “problem-solver” and claims to have worked in many “dynamic, high-pressure environments” such as Iraq and Korea. In May 2021, he left official service to become a senior program manager at Twitter, responsible for dealing with the company’s “highest-profile trust and safety escalations.” Other former FBI staff are employed by Twitter, such as Cherrelle Y. as a policy domain specialist and Laura D. as a senior analyst in global risk intelligence. Many of those listed above were active in the FBI’s public outreach programs, a practice sold as a community trust-building initiative. According to Rowley, however, these also function as “ways for officials to meet the important people that would give them jobs after retirement.” “It basically inserts a huge conflict of interest,” she told MintPress. “It warps and perverts the criminal investigative work that agents do when they are still working as agents because they anticipate getting lucrative jobs after retiring or leaving the FBI.” Rowley – who in 2002 was named, along with two other whistleblowers, as Time magazine’s Person of the Year – was skeptical that there was anything seriously nefarious about the hiring of so many FBI agents, suggesting that Twitter could be using them as sources of information and intelligence. She stated: Retired agents often maintained good relationships and networks with current agents. So they can call up their old buddy and find out stuff… There were certainly instances of retired agents for example trying to find out if there was an investigation of so and so. And if you are working for a company, that company is going to like that influence.” Rowley also suggested that hiring people from various three-letter agencies gave them a credibility boost. “These [tech] companies are using the mythical aura of the FBI. They can point to somebody and say ‘oh, you can trust us; our CEO or CFO is FBI,’” she explained. Twitter certainly has endorsed the FBI as a credible actor, allowing the organization to play a part in regulating the global dissemination of information on its platform. In September 2020, it put out a statement thanking the federal agency. “We wish to express our gratitude to the FBI’s Foreign Influence Task Force for their close collaboration and continued support of our work to protect the public conversation at this critical time,” the statement read. One month later, the company announced that the FBI was feeding it intelligence and that it was complying with their requests for deletion of accounts. “Based on intel provided by the FBI, last night we removed approximately 130 accounts that appeared to originate in Iran. They were attempting to disrupt the public conversation during the first 2020 U.S. Presidential Debate,” Twitter’s safety team wrote. Yet the evidence they supplied of this supposed threat to American democracy was notably weak. All four of the messages from this Iranian operation that Twitter itself shared showed that none of them garnered any likes or retweets whatsoever, meaning that essentially nobody saw them. This was, in other words, a completely routine cleanup operation of insignificant troll accounts. Yet the announcement allowed Twitter to present the FBI as on the side of democracy and place the idea into the public psyche that the election was under threat from foreign actors. Based on intel provided by the @FBI, last night we removed approximately 130 accounts that appeared to originate in Iran. They were attempting to disrupt the public conversation during the first 2020 US Presidential Debate. — Twitter Safety (@TwitterSafety) October 1, 2020 Iran has been a favorite Twitter target in the past. In 2009, at the behest of the U.S. government, it postponed routine maintenance of the site, which would have required taking it offline. This was because an anti-government protest movement in Tehran was using the app to communicate and the U.S. did not want the demonstrations’ regime-change potential to be stymied. A carnival of spooks The FBI is far from the only state security agency filling Twitter’s ranks. Shortly after leaving a 10-year career as a CIA analyst, Michael Scott Robinson was hired to become a senior policy manager for site integrity, trust and safety. The California-based app has also recruited heavily from the Atlantic Council, a NATO cutout organization that serves as the military alliance’s think tank. The council is sponsored by NATO, led by senior NATO generals and regularly plays out regime-change scenarios in enemy states, such as China. The Atlantic Council has been associated with many of the most egregious fake news plants of the last few years. It published a series of lurid reports alleging that virtually every political group in Europe challenging the status quo – from the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn and UKIP in Great Britain to PODEMOS and Vox in Spain and Syriza and Golden Dawn in Greece – were all secretly “the Kremlin’s Trojan Horses.” Atlantic Council employee Michael Weiss was also very likely the creator of the shadowy organization PropOrNot, a group that anonymously published a list of fake-news websites that regularly peddled Kremlin disinformation. Included in this list was virtually every anti-war alternative media outlet one could think of – from MintPress to Truthout, TruthDig and The Black Agenda Report. Also included were pro-Trump websites like The Drudge Report, and liberatarian ventures like Antiwar.com and The Ron Paul Institute. PropOrNot’s list was immediately heralded in the corporate press, and was the basis for a wholescale algorithm shift at Google and other big tech platforms, a shift that saw traffic to alternative media sites crash overnight, never to recover. Thus, the allegation of a huge (Russian) state-sponsored attempt to influence the media was itself an intelligence op by the U.S. national security state. In 2020, Kanishk Karan left his job as a research associate at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensics Research (DFR) Lab to join Twitter as information integrity and safety specialist – essentially helping to control what Twitter sees as legitimate information and nefarious disinformation. Another DFR Lab graduate turned Twitter employee is Daniel Weimert, who is now a senior public policy associate for Russia – a key target of the Atlantic Council. Meanwhile, Sarah Oh is simultaneously an Atlantic Council DFR Lab non-resident senior fellow and a Twitter advisor, her social media bio noting she works on “high risk trust and safety issues.” In 2019, Twitter also hired Greg Andersen straight from NATO to work on cybercrime policy. There is sparse information on what Andersen did at NATO, but, alarmingly, his own LinkedIn profile stated simply that he worked on “psychological operations” for the military alliance. After MintPress highlighted this fact in an article in April, he removed all mention of “psychological operations” from his profile, claiming now to have merely worked as a NATO “researcher.” Andersen left Twitter in the summer of last year to work as a product policy manager for the popular video platform TikTok. Twitter also directly employs active army officers. In 2019, Gordon Macmillan, the head of editorial for the entire Europe, Middle East and Africa region was revealed to be an officer in the British Army’s notorious 77th Brigade – a unit dedicated to online warfare and psychological operations. This bombshell news was steadfastly ignored across the media. Positions of power and control With nearly 400 million global users, there is no doubt that Twitter has grown to become a platform large and influential enough to necessitate extensive security measures, as actors of all stripes attempt to use the service to influence public opinion and political actions. There is also no doubt that there is a limited pool of people qualified in these sorts of fields. But recruiting largely from the U.S. national security state fundamentally undermines claims Twitter makes about its neutrality. The U.S. government is the source of some of the largest and most extensive influence operations in the world. As far back as 2011, The Guardian reported on the existence of a massive, worldwide U.S. military online influence campaign in which it had designed software that allowed its personnel to “secretly manipulate social media sites by using fake online personas to influence internet conversations and spread pro-American propaganda.” The program boasts that the background of these personas is so convincing that psychological operations soldiers can be sure to work “without fear of being discovered by sophisticated adversaries.” Yet Twitter appears to be recruiting from the source of the problem. These former national security state officials are not being employed in politically neutral departments such as sales or customer service, but in security, trust and content, meaning that some hold considerable sway over what messages and information are promoted, and what is suppressed, demoted or deleted. It could be said that poachers-turned-gamekeepers often play a crucial role in safety and protection, as they know how bad actors think and operate. But there exists little evidence that any of these national security state operatives have changed their stances. Twitter is not hiring whistleblowers or dissidents. It appears, then, that some of these people are essentially doing the same job they were doing before, but now in the private sector. And few are even acknowledging that there is anything wrong with moving from big government to big tech, as if the U.S. national security state and the fourth estate are allies, rather than adversaries. That Twitter is already working so closely with the FBI and other agencies makes it easy for them to recruit from the federal pool. As Rowley said, “over a period of time these people will be totally in sync with the mindset of Twitter and other social media platforms. So from the company’s standpoint, they are not hiring somebody new. They already know this person. They know where they stand on things.” Is there a problem? Some might ask “What is the problem with Twitter actively recruiting from the FBI, CIA and other three-letter agencies?” They, after all, are experts in studying online disinformation and propaganda. One is optical. If a Russian-owned social media app’s trust, security and content moderation was run by former KGB or FSB agents and still insisted it was a politically neutral platform, the entire world would laugh. But apart from this, the huge influx of security state personnel into Twitter’s decision-making ranks means that the company will start to view every problem in the same manner as the U.S. government does – and act accordingly. “In terms of their outlooks on the world and on the question of misinformation and internet security, you couldn’t get a better field of professionals who are almost inherently going to be more in tune with the government’s perspective,” Rowley said. Thus, when policing the platform for disinformation and influence campaigns, the former FBI and CIA agents and Atlantic Council fellows only ever seem to find them emanating from enemy states and never from the U.S. government itself. This is because their backgrounds and outlooks condition them to consider Washington to be a unique force for good. This one-sided view of disinformation can be seen by studying the reports Twitter has published on state-linked information operations. The entire list of countries it has identified as engaging in these campaigns are as follows: Russia (in 7 reports), Iran (in 5 reports), China (4 reports), Saudi Arabia (4 reports), Venezuela (3 reports), Egypt (2 reports), Cuba, Serbia, Bangladesh, the UAE, Ecuador, Ghana, Nigeria, Honduras, Indonesia, Turkey, Thailand, Armenia, Spain, Tanzania, Mexico and Uganda. One cannot help noticing that this list correlates quite closely to a hit list of U.S. government adversaries. All countries carry out disinfo campaigns to a certain extent. But these “former” spooks and feds are unlikely to point the finger at their former colleagues or sister organizations or investigate their operations. The Cold (cyber)war Twitter has mirrored U.S. hostility towards states like Russia, China, Iran and Cuba, attempting to suppress the reach and influence of their state media by adding warning messages to the tweets of journalists and accounts affiliated with those governments. “State-affiliated media is defined as outlets where the state exercises control over editorial content through financial resources, direct or indirect political pressures, and/or control over production and distribution,” it noted. In a rather bizarre addendum, it explained that it would not be doing the same to state-affiliated media or personalities from other countries, least of all the U.S. “State-financed media organizations with editorial independence, like the BBC in the U.K. or NPR in the U.S. for example, are not defined as state-affiliated media for the purposes of this policy,” it wrote. It did not explain how it decided that Cuban, Russian, Chinese or Iranian journalists did not have editorial independence, but British and American ones did – this was taken for granted. The effect of the action has been a throttling of ideas and narratives from enemy states and an amplification of those coming from Western state media. As the U.S. ramps up tensions with Beijing, so too has Twitter aggressively shut down pro-China voices on its platform. In 2020, it banned 170,000 accounts it said were “spreading geopolitical narratives favorable to the Communist Party of China,” such as praising its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic or expressing opposition to the Hong Kong protests, both of which are majority views in China. Importantly, the Silicon Valley company did not claim that these accounts were controlled by the government; merely sharing these opinions was grounds enough for deletion. The group behind Twitter’s decision to ban those Chinese accounts was the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), a deeply controversial think tank funded by the Pentagon, the State Department and a host of weapons manufacturers. ASPI has constantly peddled conspiracy theories about China and called for ramping up tensions with the Asian nation. ASPI - The Gov’t-Funded Conspiracist Think Tank Now Controlling Your Social Media Feed Perhaps most notable, however, was Twitter’s announcement last year that it was deleting dozens of accounts for the new violation of “undermining faith in the NATO alliance.” The statement was widely ridiculed online by users. But few noted that the decision was based upon a partnership with the Stanford Internet Observatory, a counter-disinformation think tank filled with former spooks and state officials and headed by an individual who is on the advisory board of NATO’s Collective Cybersecurity Center of Excellence. That Twitter is working so closely with organizations that are clearly intelligence industry catspaws should concern all users. Not just Twitter While some might be alarmed that Twitter is cultivating such an intimate relationship with the FBI and other groups belonging to the secret state, it is perhaps unfair to single it out, as many social media platforms are doing the same. Facebook, for example, has entered into a formal partnership with the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensics Research Lab, whereby the latter holds significant influence over 2.9 billion users’ news feeds, helping to decide what content to promote and what content to suppress. The NATO cutout organization now serves as Facebook’s “eyes and ears,” according to a Facebook press release. Anti-war and anti-establishment voices across the world have reported massive drops in traffic on the platform. The social media giant also hired former NATO Press Secretary Ben Nimmo to be its head of intelligence. Nimmo subsequently used his power to attempt to swing the election in Nicaragua away from the leftist Sandinista Party and towards the far-right, pro-U.S. candidate, deleting hundreds of left-wing voices in the week of the election, claiming they were engaging in “inauthentic behavior.” When these individuals (including some well-known personalities) poured onto Twitter, recording video messages proving they were not bots, Twitter deleted those accounts too, in what one commentator called a Silicon Valley “double tap strike.” An April MintPress study revealed how TikTok, too, has been filling its organization with alumni of the Atlantic Council, NATO, the CIA and the State Department. As with Twitter, these new TikTok employees largely work in highly politically sensitive fields such as trust, safety, security and content moderation, meaning these state operatives hold influence over the direction of the company and what content is promoted and what is demoted. Likewise, in 2017, content aggregation site Reddit plucked Jessica Ashooh from the Atlantic Council’s Middle East Strategy Task Force to become its new director of policy, despite the fact that she had few relevant qualifications or experience in the field. Jessica Ashooh: The Taming of Reddit and the National Security State Plant Tabbed to Do It In corporate media too, we have seen a widespread infiltration of former security officials into the upper echelons of news organizations. So normalized is the penetration of the national security state into the media that is supposed to be holding it to account, that few reacted in 2015 when Dawn Scalici left her job as national intelligence manager for the Western hemisphere at the Director of National Intelligence to become the global business director of international news conglomerate Thomson Reuters. Scalici, a 33-year CIA veteran who had worked her way up to become a director in the organization, was open about what her role was. In a blog post on the Reuters website, she wrote that she was there to “meet the disparate needs of the U.S. Government” – a statement that is at odds with even the most basic journalistic concepts of impartiality and holding the powerful to account. Meanwhile, cable news outlets routinely employ a wide range of “former” agents and mandarins as trusted personalities and experts. These include former CIA Directors John Brennan (NBC, MSNBC) and Michael Hayden (CNN), ex-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (CNN), and former Homeland Security Advisor Frances Townsend (CBS). And news for so many Americans comes delivered through ex-CIA interns like Anderson Cooper (CNN), CIA-applicants like Tucker Carlson (Fox), or by Mika Brzezinski (MSNBC), the daughter of a powerful national security advisor. The FBI has its own former agents on TV as well, with talking heads such as James Gagliano (Fox), Asha Rangappa (CNN) and Frank Figliuzzi (NBC, MSNBC) becoming household names. In short, then, the national security state once used to infiltrate the media. Today, however, the national security state is the media. Social media holds enormous influence in today’s society. While this article is not alleging that anyone mentioned is a bad actor or does not genuinely care about the spread of disinformation, it is highlighting a glaring conflict of interest. Through its agencies, the U.S. government regularly plants fake news and false information. Therefore, social media hiring individuals straight from the FBI, CIA, NATO and other groups to work on regulating disinformation is a fundamentally flawed practice. One of media’s primary functions is to serve as a fourth estate; a force that works to hold the government and its agencies to account. Yet instead of doing that, increasingly it is collaborating with them. Such are these increasing interlocking connections that it is becoming increasingly difficult to see where big government ends and big media begins. Tyler Durden Thu, 06/23/2022 - 22:20.....»»

Category: blogSource: zerohedgeJun 23rd, 2022

Shellenberger: Why Biden"s Attacks On Energy Are "Absolutely Insane"

Shellenberger: Why Biden's Attacks On Energy Are "Absolutely Insane" Authored by Michael Shellenberger via Substack, President Joe Biden appears to be doing everything in his power to lower energy prices. Last month, Biden officials eased sanctions on Venezuela with an eye to increasing oil imports. Next month, Biden will travel to Saudi Arabia with the intention of improving relations and increasing oil production. And yesterday, Biden sent a harshly-worded letter to Exxon and other oil companies, urging them to increase production. “At a time of war,” Biden wrote, “high refinery profit margins being passed directly onto American families are not acceptable… companies must take immediate actions to increase the supply of gasoline, diesel, and other refined product.” President Joe Biden speaks at AFL-CIO Convention in Philadelphia on June 14, 2022. (Photo by Nicholas Kamm / AFP) But none of those actions will lower energy prices. Increasing oil production in Venezuela would take years and it wouldn’t be nearly enough to make up for the reduction of oil imports from Russia. Even Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates together could not produce enough oil to offset declining supply from Russia. And it’s not clear how antagonizing American oil and gas companies will result in more production and lower prices. U.S. refineries are already operating at 94% of their capacity and Exxon invested $50 billion over the last five years to expand oil production by 50%. And, said the CEO of a large, publicly traded energy company, who asked to remain anonymous, “Biden’s attacks on the industry have created an uncertain environment that prevents investment.” In what might be perceived as the extending of an olive branch, the Biden Administration last night invited oil and gas executives to the White House for talks about how to lower energy prices. And on CNN, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm emphasized that the administration is not seeking to destroy oil and gas companies but rather re-tool them. “We are asking the oil and gas companies to diversify,” she said, “and become diversified energy companies.” But these gestures pale in comparison to the overarching hostility the Biden Administration has directed toward oil and gas companies since taking office. In March, it revoked a permit by a refinery on the U.S. Virgin Islands to expand production. Last month, the Biden administration canceled a massive, one-million acre oil and gas lease in Alaska. And earlier this week, Senator Ron Wyden proposed a large new tax on oil industry profits, which Biden officials say the president may support. A senior executive at a major U.S. bank that finances oil and gas exploration yesterday told me, “If you were an oil company, why would you invest hundreds of millions of dollars into expanding refining capacity if you thought the federal government or investors would shut you down in the next few years? The narrative coming from the administration is absolutely insane. ” As a result, mainstream journalists are increasingly calling out Biden officials for the glaring contradiction at the heart of their energy policy. “Are you telling me you want them drilling for more oil?” asked CNN host John Berman of Secretary Granholm yesterday. “You want the refineries putting out more gasoline in five or ten years?” This clip is ASTONISHING. Energy Sec. @JenGranholm demands energy companies to make massive investments to increase oil supply while simultaneously saying they want to shut them down over the next 5-10 years. WHAT IS THIS WHITE HOUSE?! pic.twitter.com/CTgC4dk92x — Jason Howerton (@jason_howerton) June 15, 2022 “What we’re saying is today we need that supply increased,” she said. “Of course, in five or ten years — actually in the immediate — we are also pressing on the accelerator, if you will, to move toward clean energy, so that we don’t have to be under the thumb of petro-dictators like Putin, or at the whim of the volatility of fossil fuels. Ultimately American will be most secure when we can rely on our own clean domestic production of energy through solar, through wind —” “But that’s the problem for these companies,” interrupted Berman. “These companies are saying, ‘You’re asking me to do more now, invest more now, when, in fact 5 or 10 years from now, we don’t think that demand will be there, and the administration doesn’t even necessarily want it to be there.’” The result of the Biden Administration’s hostility toward the energy industry is skyrocketing inflation. Where energy prices rose 35% over the last year, all prices rose just 8%. In Europe, higher energy prices are responsible for at least half of all inflation. There are certainly other factors causing inflation, including the ramping up of supply chains following the pandemic, the $1.7 trillion stimulus last year, and China’s lockdown in response to the omicron coronavirus variant. But the non-energy factors behind inflation were temporary, and none explain consistently higher energy prices, which are a major factor in the higher prices of everything, from food to consumer products. And energy’s role could be even larger than economists can detect. “When you strip out of the [Consumer Price Index] all the items that are linked to energy (air fares, moving/freight, rental cars, delivery services, new and used vehicles),” noted economist David Rosenberg, “the core was +0.36% and the [year-over-year] steadied near 4%. ” The numbers speak for themselves. In the U.S., the monthly price change in May for all items was 1% but for fuel oil, airline fares, piped utility natural gas, and gasoline the price changes were 17%, 13%, 8%, and 4% respectively. Some say there's nothing Biden can do to increase energy production but my sources say that Biden could significantly increase oil/gas production within 12 - 18 months. How? First, they say, he should invoke the National Defense Act for Oil and Gas. This will enable the acceleration of required permits for oil and gas projects, they say. Second, he should announce a national commitment to purchase oil to fill the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) at a floor of $80/barrel. That will, they say, be a powerful incentive for the oil guys. Third, he should announce trade agreements with the international community to supply them with LNG (liquified natural gas) Doing so will incentivize natural gas production and create a surplus of energy for exports with an "American-First asterisk (keep nat gas storage full while exporting). Biden’s doing none of that. As a result, Biden’s hostility to expanded energy production could result in recession. The Federal Reserve yesterday raised interest rates more than at any point since 1994 and could raise them again next month in an increasingly desperate battle against inflation. “It may take a recession to stamp out inflation,” concludes Bloomberg, “one that may cost Biden a second term.” Why is that? Politicians are famously self-interested, focused on their own preservation at all costs. Why, then, is Biden not only wrecking the economy, by failing to take action to lower energy prices, but also destroying his own presidency? An Aging Ideology An awkward exchange between Biden and Jimmy Kimmel on ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” Subscribe to Michael Shellenberger to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives. Tyler Durden Sat, 06/18/2022 - 22:30.....»»

Category: smallbizSource: nytJun 18th, 2022

NY AG Letitia James is cooking up a lawsuit that could bring down Trump"s business empire

New York's attorney general, Letitia James, appears poised to seek the so-called corporate death penalty against the Trump Organization. Bobby Bank/Getty Images; Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images; iStock; Rebecca Zisser/Insider New York Attorney General Letitia James is not seeking criminal charges against Donald Trump. James appears poised, however, to seek the so-called 'corporate death penalty' against the NY-based Trump Organization.  In signaling she will do so, the AG has cited 'persistent' financial fraud at the golf resort and real estate empire. New York Attorney General Letitia "Tish" James is poised to give Donald Trump a Memorial Day-worthy grilling, thanks to a court ruling on Thursday ordering that he, Ivanka Trump, and Donald Trump, Jr. all sit for sworn depositions. But as James winds down her three-year probe into the Trump Organization — the former president's New York-based hotel, real estate, and golf resort empire — James appears to have greater pyrotechnics in store.Trump doesn't appear to be facing criminal charges. James distanced herself from that idea in a filing two months ago. The legal brief asserted that James is making no effort to prosecute the Trumps or their business independent of whatever the Manhattan District Attorney's office might still be doing, which appears to be not much at all.Instead, James may try to use her powers under state executive law to torch Trump's business empire entirely, something she has also sought, successfully, with the Trump Foundation, and so far unsuccessfully with the NRA.She would do so through a massive lawsuit seeking New York's so-called "corporate death penalty," as she has signaled over the past five months in legal filings alleging repeated and persistent fraud at Trump's business.Here's what James may be cooking as she gets that grill going.Letitia James v. Donald Trump, Eric Trump and beyondThe top of any lawsuit will read, "People of the State of New York, by Letitia James, Attorney General of the State of New York," as set by law.As to who would reside at the bottom of the lawsuit's caption, as its defendants, James has given ample warning, and not just in the roughly five dozen public taunts and threats she's made at Donald Trump's expense since running for attorney general, as recently compiled and annotated by Trump's legal team in a handy spreadsheet.  James has said more formally, in legal filings this year, that a decade's worth of Donald Trump's statements of financial condition — annual accountings of his net worth, used to secure hundreds of millions of dollars in bank loans and tax breaks — are rife with "misrepresentations."It's a finding echoed by Trump's own former accountants, Mazars USA, who conceded in February that the statements, that it had prepared "should no longer be relied upon."But who will James put in her legal sights?It makes sense to consider Donald Trump, who personally certified the allegedly faulty financial statements to be accurate every year through 2016, and personally reviewed at least some of them beforehand, the AG has alleged in legal filings. Then, in 2017, the Trump Organization was placed in a revocable trust, with the newly-elected president as sole beneficiary. From then on, the statements were certified by Eric Trump, executive vice president of the family business along with Donald Trump, Jr.Among the misrepresentations alleged by James' office are exaggerations of Trump's liquidity, or cash on hand; claims that the values of some assets were set by "outside professionals" who do not appear to exist; and the inclusion of a hidden, flat percentage for Trump's "brand value," despite the statements' express assurance that they exclude brand value in line with generally accepted accounting principles.Eric Trump pleaded the Fifth more than 500 times when he was deposed by James' office in October, 2020 after fighting her subpoena for nearly half a year.Donald Trump, Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. have not said if they would follow suit, or whether they will continue to appeal the AG's subpoenas for their testimony.Trump family lawyers have maintained there has been no wrongdoing. They will likely fight any accusations of bad math by saying no Trump can be held personally responsible for the numbers certified in the financial statements, and that real estate appraisals are always subjective estimates.But as the Attorney General's Senior Enforcement Counsel Kevin Wallace alleged at a hearing in Manhattan earlier this year, "The focus of our investigation isn't just subjective valuations that we disagree with. These are actual false statements." Trump family lawyer Alan Futerfas did not respond to requests for comment.Some 40 people have been subpoenaed and deposed in the sprawling probe, the AG has said. It remains to be revealed who were questioned as witnesses and who, if any, as targets.James is gearing up for 'something substantial'James does not mince words. Neither will her lawsuit against the 500 or so separate entities that collectively do business as the Trump Organization.For example, the AG's ongoing 2020 lawsuit seeking to shut down the NRA is 164 pages long and followed an AG inquiry spanning 18 months. Her Trump inquiry, by comparison, has taken twice as long and has been a far more massive effort.Dozens of James' staff attorneys have collected, organized, and reviewed more than 900,000 financial documents totaling some 6 million pages in the Trump probe, working out of the AG's offices in lower Manhattan.Challenges by the Trumps and longtime appraiser Cushman & Wakefield have been aggressively met and litigated in three courthouses, including in Albany, where a federal judge last week tossed Trump's Hail Mary lawsuit to end James' probe.Already, the amount of litigation has been mind-numbing. Just one filing — the AG's response, in March, to the 3 Trumps' appeal of having to testify — contains 5,587 pages of argument and evidence; its table of contents alone stretches 16 pages."Clearly the attorney general is gearing up for something substantial here," said Norman Eisen, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, which issued a report in June on possible criminal charges. "And her determination that she's shown, her doggedness, just the sheer amount of litigation that she's devoted to this, I think puts her in a very different category from her colleague Alvin Bragg, who cut and run despite his own lead prosecutors determining that there was proof beyond a reasonable doubt," Eisen added.A probe from sea to shining seaAllegedly questionable financial dealings relating to at least 12 of the former president's assets — properties spanning the country's East and West coasts, and even his golf course in Aberdeen, Scotland — have cropped up in hundreds of public court filings over the past two years.On the West coast, there is the oceanfront Trump National Golf Club just outside Los Angeles. There, James' office has alleged the former president reaped millions in tax benefits by inflating the potential development value of a landslide-prone driving range whose air rights he then donated as a conservation easement.Moving eastward, there is Trump Tower in Chicago, the Trump International Hotel in Washington DC, and the Trump National Doral Miami, properties where development was funded with some $300 million in Deutsche Bank loans the attorney general alleges were based on faulty Statements of Financial Condition signed by Eric Trump.New York is home not only to the Trump Organization but to the bulk of its assets, and there the state's top law enforcement officer has probed most intently.James' first subpoenas focused on Seven Springs, a 212-acre woodland tract purchased by Donald Trump in 1995 for $7.5 million, and where more than a dozen years of development attempts were thwarted by tough zoning laws in the three Westchester County towns the property spans across. The attorney general alleges Donald Trump found another way to make money from the property.He exaggerated its worth by tens of millions of dollars in statements of financial condition spanning 2007 through 2012, when he valued it at $291 million based on development plans that local zoning officials had specifically nixed, the AG accuses.And he used a similarly "misleading" valuation in donating a 156-acre easement to a local nature reserve, the AG also alleges. In all, Trump "may have obtained more than $5 million in tax benefits from misleading valuations of conservation easements" at Seven Springs and the LA golf resort, the AG wrote in January.James has also zeroed in on several Trump properties in Manhattan. These include 40 Wall Street, where Donald Trump's interest in the 70-story skyscraper doubled in value from 2012 to 2015, and at his own triplex apartment at Trump Town on Fifth Avenue, which the AG alleges he persisted for years in claiming had three times its actual square footage.The lawsuit against Trump may drop 'in the near future' At least four sworn, court-ordered depositions remain to be taken in the AG's inquiry, each important enough that James will likely wait for them before filing her massive lawsuit.In addition to the yet-scheduled depositions of the 3 Trumps, a deposition for Trump's longtime personal assistant, Rhona Graff, is set for Tuesday.Graff, too, is a crucial witness.The AG has a lot of questions for Graff, given that out of 900,000 documents turned over by the Trump Organization, only 10 came from Donald Trump's personal business files.James' lawyers particularly want to ask Graff about Donald Trump's "retention and preservation practice" for documents related to those statements of financial condition."Did he ever review the statement in draft form before he signed the final version each year?" AG Special Counsel Andrew Amer asked in a recent filing to New York Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron, the Manhattan judge presiding over the probe's subpoena-related litigation."Did he annotate any drafts with comments and/or questions?" Amer asked, citing another question he'd like to pose to Graff."If so, what happened to those drafts? In what form was the final version of the statement presented for Mr. Trump's approval each year? How did he make his approval clear?"Other possible delays for James' lawsuit could come from further appeals that could be filed by the Trump lawyers or by longtime Trump appraisers Cushman & Wakefield, who were ordered after a protracted fight to turn over its own last batch out of tens of thousands of subpoenaed documents by this month.Still, the AG intends to file soon."We would likely need to bring some kind of enforcement action in the near future," Wallace, the AG's senior enforcement counsel, said during a hearing in late April.The New York state laws that could doom Trump's empireWhat gives Letitia James, the first woman elected to the office of New York Attorney General, the power to investigate the former president of the United States, and potentially padlock his business? New York's Executive Law, which among other things sets the powers and duties of state officials and which notably still refers to the attorney general — and its first female governor, Kathy Hochul, for that matter — using male pronouns only.But Section 63(12) of the Executive Law begins with these words:"Whenever any person shall engage in repeated fraudulent or illegal acts or otherwise demonstrate persistent fraud or illegality in the carry on, conducting or transaction of business..." The words "persistent" and "repeated" pop up frequency in the hundreds of pages of court documents filed so far this year by the AG, describing the alleged pattern of misstatement in Donald Trump's financial statements.In those instances of "persistent" fraud, executive law authorizes the attorney general to begin a civil investigation, complete with subpoena power, and allows the AG to seek fines, damages, and a state judge's order "enjoining," or halting, such fraudulent acts.And where appropriate, the state attorney general can seek a judge's order dissolving the business — the so-called "corporate death penalty."James' office has also repeatedly cited — though less frequently — the state's Martin Act, more mundanely known as New York General Business Law Article 23-A. This is the tough and sweeping securities law that James' predecessor, Eric Schneiderman, used against AIG CEO Maurice Greenberg in 2017.James' team has alleged in filings as recently as last month that Trump used a misleading appraisal of his stake in 40 Wall Street to get a $160 million, securitized mortgage loan in 2015, so the Martin Act may figure into James' plans, James has been promising something big for years, even before taking office. Seeking the corporate death penalty, and possibly millions in restitution for ill-gotten tax gains, may well be it."Oh, we're definitely gonna sue him," she vowed in an Instagram post shared on Nov. 7, 2018, the day after New Yorkers decisively elected her to be New York's top law enforcement officer."We're going to be a real pain in the ass," she promised, dressed in her trademark power-red and grinning broadly on that warm, windy day. "He's going to know my name personally."Read the original article on Business Insider.....»»

Category: worldSource: nytMay 30th, 2022

NY AG Letitia James is cooking up a lawsuit that could bring down Donald Trump"s business empire

New York Attorney General Letitia James appears poised to seek the so-called 'corporate death penalty' against the NY-based Trump Organization. Bobby Bank/Getty Images; Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images; iStock; Rebecca Zisser/Insider New York Attorney General Letitia James is not seeking criminal charges against Donald Trump. James appears poised, however, to seek the so-called 'corporate death penalty' against the NY-based Trump Organization.  In signaling she will do so, the AG has cited 'persistent' financial fraud at the golf resort and real estate empire. New York Attorney General Letitia "Tish" James is poised to give Donald Trump a Memorial Day-worthy grilling, thanks to a court ruling on Thursday ordering that he, Ivanka Trump, and Donald Trump, Jr. all sit for sworn depositions. But as James winds down her three-year probe into the Trump Organization — the former president's New York-based hotel, real estate, and golf resort empire — James appears to have greater pyrotechnics in store.Trump doesn't appear to be facing criminal charges. James distanced herself from that idea in a filing two months ago. The legal brief asserted that James is making no effort to prosecute the Trumps or their business independent of whatever the Manhattan District Attorney's office might still be doing, which appears to be not much at all.Instead, James may try to use her powers under state executive law to torch Trump's business empire entirely, something she has also sought, successfully, with the Trump Foundation, and so far unsuccessfully with the NRA.She would do so through a massive lawsuit seeking New York's so-called "corporate death penalty," as she has signaled over the past five months in legal filings alleging repeated and persistent fraud at Trump's business.Here's what James may be cooking as she gets that grill going.Letitia James v. Donald Trump, Eric Trump and beyondThe top of any lawsuit will read, "People of the State of New York, by Letitia James, Attorney General of the State of New York," as set by law.As to who would reside at the bottom of the lawsuit's caption, as its defendants, James has given ample warning, and not just in the roughly five dozen public taunts and threats she's made at Donald Trump's expense since running for attorney general, as recently compiled and annotated by Trump's legal team in a handy spreadsheet.  James has said more formally, in legal filings this year, that a decade's worth of Donald Trump's statements of financial condition — annual accountings of his net worth, used to secure hundreds of millions of dollars in bank loans and tax breaks — are rife with "misrepresentations."It's a finding echoed by Trump's own former accountants, Mazars USA, who conceded in February that the statements, that it had prepared "should no longer be relied upon."But who will James put in her legal sights?It makes sense to consider Donald Trump, who personally certified the allegedly faulty financial statements to be accurate every year through 2016, and personally reviewed at least some of them beforehand, the AG has alleged in legal filings. Then, in 2017, the Trump Organization was placed in a revocable trust, with the newly-elected president as sole beneficiary. From then on, the statements were certified by Eric Trump, executive vice president of the family business along with Donald Trump, Jr.Among the misrepresentations alleged by James' office are exaggerations of Trump's liquidity, or cash on hand; claims that the values of some assets were set by "outside professionals" who do not appear to exist; and the inclusion of a hidden, flat percentage for Trump's "brand value," despite the statements' express assurance that they exclude brand value in line with generally accepted accounting principles.Eric Trump pleaded the Fifth more than 500 times when he was deposed by James' office in October, 2020 after fighting her subpoena for nearly half a year.Donald Trump, Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. have not said if they would follow suit, or whether they will continue to appeal the AG's subpoenas for their testimony.Trump family lawyers have maintained there has been no wrongdoing. They will likely fight any accusations of bad math by saying no Trump can be held personally responsible for the numbers certified in the financial statements, and that real estate appraisals are always subjective estimates.But as the Attorney General's Senior Enforcement Counsel Kevin Wallace alleged at a hearing in Manhattan earlier this year, "The focus of our investigation isn't just subjective valuations that we disagree with. These are actual false statements." Trump family lawyer Alan Futerfas did not respond to requests for comment.Some 40 people have been subpoenaed and deposed in the sprawling probe, the AG has said. It remains to be revealed who were questioned as witnesses and who, if any, as targets.James is gearing up for 'something substantial'James does not mince words. Neither will her lawsuit against the 500 or so separate entities that collectively do business as the Trump Organization.For example, the AG's ongoing 2020 lawsuit seeking to shut down the NRA is 164 pages long and followed an AG inquiry spanning 18 months. Her Trump inquiry, by comparison, has taken twice as long and has been a far more massive effort.Dozens of James' staff attorneys have collected, organized, and reviewed more than 900,000 financial documents totaling some 6 million pages in the Trump probe, working out of the AG's offices in lower Manhattan.Challenges by the Trumps and longtime appraiser Cushman & Wakefield have been aggressively met and litigated in three courthouses, including in Albany, where a federal judge last week tossed Trump's Hail Mary lawsuit to end James' probe.Already, the amount of litigation has been mind-numbing. Just one filing — the AG's response, in March, to the 3 Trumps' appeal of having to testify — contains 5,587 pages of argument and evidence; its table of contents alone stretches 16 pages."Clearly the attorney general is gearing up for something substantial here," said Norman Eisen, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, which issued a report in June on possible criminal charges. "And her determination that she's shown, her doggedness, just the sheer amount of litigation that she's devoted to this, I think puts her in a very different category from her colleague Alvin Bragg, who cut and run despite his own lead prosecutors determining that there was proof beyond a reasonable doubt," Eisen added.A probe from sea to shining seaAllegedly questionable financial dealings relating to at least 12 of the former president's assets — properties spanning the country's East and West coasts, and even his golf course in Aberdeen, Scotland — have cropped up in hundreds of public court filings over the past two years.On the West coast, there is the oceanfront Trump National Golf Club just outside Los Angeles. There, James' office has alleged the former president reaped millions in tax benefits by inflating the potential development value of a landslide-prone driving range whose air rights he then donated as a conservation easement.Moving eastward, there is Trump Tower in Chicago, the Trump International Hotel in Washington DC, and the Trump National Doral Miami, properties where development was funded with some $300 million in Deutsche Bank loans the attorney general alleges were based on faulty Statements of Financial Condition signed by Eric Trump.New York is home not only to the Trump Organization but to the bulk of its assets, and there the state's top law enforcement officer has probed most intently.James' first subpoenas focused on Seven Springs, a 212-acre woodland tract purchased by Donald Trump in 1995 for $7.5 million, and where more than a dozen years of development attempts were thwarted by tough zoning laws in the three Westchester County towns the property spans across. The attorney general alleges Donald Trump found another way to make money from the property.He exaggerated its worth by tens of millions of dollars in statements of financial condition spanning 2007 through 2012, when he valued it at $291 million based on development plans that local zoning officials had specifically nixed, the AG accuses.And he used a similarly "misleading" valuation in donating a 156-acre easement to a local nature reserve, the AG also alleges. In all, Trump "may have obtained more than $5 million in tax benefits from misleading valuations of conservation easements" at Seven Springs and the LA golf resort, the AG wrote in January.James has also zeroed in on several Trump properties in Manhattan. These include 40 Wall Street, where Donald Trump's interest in the 70-story skyscraper doubled in value from 2012 to 2015, and at his own triplex apartment at Trump Town on Fifth Avenue, which the AG alleges he persisted for years in claiming had three times its actual square footage.The lawsuit against Trump may drop 'in the near future' At least four sworn, court-ordered depositions remain to be taken in the AG's inquiry, each important enough that James will likely wait for them before filing her massive lawsuit.In addition to the yet-scheduled depositions of the 3 Trumps, a deposition for Trump's longtime personal assistant, Rhona Graff, is set for Tuesday.Graff, too, is a crucial witness.The AG has a lot of questions for Graff, given that out of 900,000 documents turned over by the Trump Organization, only 10 came from Donald Trump's personal business files.James' lawyers particularly want to ask Graff about Donald Trump's "retention and preservation practice" for documents related to those statements of financial condition."Did he ever review the statement in draft form before he signed the final version each year?" AG Special Counsel Andrew Amer asked in a recent filing to New York Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron, the Manhattan judge presiding over the probe's subpoena-related litigation."Did he annotate any drafts with comments and/or questions?" Amer asked, citing another question he'd like to pose to Graff."If so, what happened to those drafts? In what form was the final version of the statement presented for Mr. Trump's approval each year? How did he make his approval clear?"Other possible delays for James' lawsuit could come from further appeals that could be filed by the Trump lawyers or by longtime Trump appraisers Cushman & Wakefield, who were ordered after a protracted fight to turn over its own last batch out of tens of thousands of subpoenaed documents by this month.Still, the AG intends to file soon."We would likely need to bring some kind of enforcement action in the near future," Wallace, the AG's senior enforcement counsel, said during a hearing in late April.The New York state laws that could doom Trump's empireWhat gives Letitia James, the first woman elected to the office of New York Attorney General, the power to investigate the former president of the United States, and potentially padlock his business? New York's Executive Law, which among other things sets the powers and duties of state officials and which notably still refers to the attorney general — and its first female governor, Kathy Hochul, for that matter — using male pronouns only.But Section 63(12) of the Executive Law begins with these words:"Whenever any person shall engage in repeated fraudulent or illegal acts or otherwise demonstrate persistent fraud or illegality in the carry on, conducting or transaction of business..." The words "persistent" and "repeated" pop up frequency in the hundreds of pages of court documents filed so far this year by the AG, describing the alleged pattern of misstatement in Donald Trump's financial statements.In those instances of "persistent" fraud, executive law authorizes the attorney general to begin a civil investigation, complete with subpoena power, and allows the AG to seek fines, damages, and a state judge's order "enjoining," or halting, such fraudulent acts.And where appropriate, the state attorney general can seek a judge's order dissolving the business — the so-called "corporate death penalty."James' office has also repeatedly cited — though less frequently — the state's Martin Act, more mundanely known as New York General Business Law Article 23-A. This is the tough and sweeping securities law that James' predecessor, Eric Schneiderman, used against AIG CEO Maurice Greenberg in 2017.James' team has alleged in filings as recently as last month that Trump used a misleading appraisal of his stake in 40 Wall Street to get a $160 million, securitized mortgage loan in 2015, so the Martin Act may figure into James' plans, James has been promising something big for years, even before taking office. Seeking the corporate death penalty, and possibly millions in restitution for ill-gotten tax gains, may well be it."Oh, we're definitely gonna sue him," she vowed in an Instagram post shared on Nov. 7, 2018, the day after New Yorkers decisively elected her to be New York's top law enforcement officer."We're going to be a real pain in the ass," she promised, dressed in her trademark power-red and grinning broadly on that warm, windy day. "He's going to know my name personally."Read the original article on Business Insider.....»»

Category: worldSource: nytMay 30th, 2022

The Anatomy Of Big Pharma"s Political Reach

The Anatomy Of Big Pharma's Political Reach Authored by Rebecca Strong via Medium.com, They keep telling us to “trust the science.” But who paid for it? After graduating from Columbia University with a chemical engineering degree, my grandfather went on to work for Pfizer for almost two decades, culminating his career as the company’s Global Director of New Products. I was rather proud of this fact growing up — it felt as if this father figure, who raised me for several years during my childhood, had somehow played a role in saving lives. But in recent years, my perspective on Pfizer — and other companies in its class — has shifted. Blame it on the insidious big pharma corruption laid bare by whistleblowers in recent years. Blame it on the endless string of big pharma lawsuits revealing fraud, deception, and cover-ups. Blame it on the fact that I witnessed some of their most profitable drugs ruin the lives of those I love most. All I know is, that pride I once felt has been overshadowed by a sticky skepticism I just can’t seem to shake. In 1973, my grandpa and his colleagues celebrated as Pfizer crossed a milestone: the one-billion-dollar sales mark. These days, Pfizer rakes in $81 billion a year, making it the 28th most valuable company in the world. Johnson & Johnson ranks 15th, with $93.77 billion. To put things into perspective, that makes said companies wealthier than most countries in the world. And thanks to those astronomical profit margins, the Pharmaceuticals and Health Products industry is able to spend more on lobbying than any other industry in America. While big pharma lobbying can take several different forms, these companies tend to target their contributions to senior legislators in Congress — you know, the ones they need to keep in their corner, because they have the power to draft healthcare laws. Pfizer has outspent its peers in six of the last eight election cycles, coughing up almost $9.7 million. During the 2016 election, pharmaceutical companies gave more than $7 million to 97 senators at an average of $75,000 per member. They also contributed $6.3 million to president Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign. The question is: what did big pharma get in return? When you've got 1,500 Big Pharma lobbyists on Capitol Hill for 535 members of Congress, it's not too hard to figure out why prescription drug prices in this country are, on average, 256% HIGHER than in other major countries. — Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) February 3, 2022 ALEC’s Off-the-Record Sway To truly grasp big pharma’s power, you need to understand how The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) works. ALEC, which was founded in 1973 by conservative activists working on Ronald Reagan’s campaign, is a super secretive pay-to-play operation where corporate lobbyists — including in the pharma sector — hold confidential meetings about “model” bills. A large portion of these bills is eventually approved and become law. A rundown of ALEC’s greatest hits will tell you everything you need to know about the council’s motives and priorities. In 1995, ALEC promoted a bill that restricts consumers’ rights to sue for damages resulting from taking a particular medication. They also endorsed the Statute of Limitation Reduction Act, which put a time limit on when someone could sue after a medication-induced injury or death. Over the years, ALEC has promoted many other pharma-friendly bills that would: weaken FDA oversight of new drugs and therapies, limit FDA authority over drug advertising, and oppose regulations on financial incentives for doctors to prescribe specific drugs. But what makes these ALEC collaborations feel particularly problematic is that there’s little transparency — all of this happens behind closed doors. Congressional leaders and other committee members involved in ALEC aren’t required to publish any records of their meetings and other communications with pharma lobbyists, and the roster of ALEC members is completely confidential. All we know is that in 2020, more than two-thirds of Congress — 72 senators and 302 House of Representatives members — cashed a campaign check from a pharma company. Big Pharma Funding Research The public typically relies on an endorsement from government agencies to help them decide whether or not a new drug, vaccine, or medical device is safe and effective. And those agencies, like the FDA, count on clinical research. As already established, big pharma is notorious for getting its hooks into influential government officials. Here’s another sobering truth: The majority of scientific research is paid for by — wait for it — the pharmaceutical companies. When the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) published 73 studies of new drugs over the course of a single year, they found that a staggering 82% of them had been funded by the pharmaceutical company selling the product, 68% had authors who were employees of that company, and 50% had lead researchers who accepted money from a drug company. According to 2013 research conducted at the University of Arizona College of Law, even when pharma companies aren’t directly funding the research, company stockholders, consultants, directors, and officers are almost always involved in conducting them. A 2017 report by the peer-reviewed journal The BMJ also showed that about half of medical journal editors receive payments from drug companies, with the average payment per editor hovering around $28,000. But these statistics are only accurate if researchers and editors are transparent about payments from pharma. And a 2022 investigative analysis of two of the most influential medical journals found that 81% of study authors failed to disclose millions in payments from drug companies, as they’re required to do. Unfortunately, this trend shows no sign of slowing down. The number of clinical trials funded by the pharmaceutical industry has been climbing every year since 2006, according to a John Hopkins University report, while independent studies have been harder to find. And there are some serious consequences to these conflicts of interest. Take Avandia, for instance, a diabetes drug produced by GlaxoSmithCline (GSK). Avandia was eventually linked to a dramatically increased risk of heart attacks and heart failure. And a BMJ report revealed that almost 90% of scientists who initially wrote glowing articles about Avandia had financial ties to GSK. But here’s the unnerving part: if the pharmaceutical industry is successfully biasing the science, then that means the physicians who rely on the science are biased in their prescribing decisions. Photo credit: UN Women Europe & Central Asia Where the lines get really blurry is with “ghostwriting.” Big pharma execs know citizens are way more likely to trust a report written by a board-certified doctor than one of their representatives. That’s why they pay physicians to list their names as authors — even though the MDs had little to no involvement in the research, and the report was actually written by the drug company. This practice started in the ’50s and ’60s when tobacco execs were clamoring to prove that cigarettes didn’t cause cancer (spoiler alert: they do!), so they commissioned doctors to slap their name on papers undermining the risks of smoking. It’s still a pretty common tactic today: more than one in 10 articles published in the NEJM was co-written by a ghostwriter. While a very small percentage of medical journals have clear policies against ghostwriting, it’s still technically legal —despite the fact that the consequences can be deadly. Case in point: in the late ’90s and early 2000s, Merck paid for 73 ghostwritten articles to play up the benefits of its arthritis drug Vioxx. It was later revealed that Merck failed to report all of the heart attacks experienced by trial participants. In fact, a study published in the NEJM revealed that an estimated 160,000 Americans experienced heart attacks or strokes from taking Vioxx. That research was conducted by Dr. David Graham, Associate Director of the FDA’s Office of Drug Safety, who understandably concluded the drug was not safe. But the FDA’s Office of New Drugs, which not only was responsible for initially approving Vioxx but also regulating it, tried to sweep his findings under the rug. "I was pressured to change my conclusions and recommendations, and basically threatened that if I did not change them, I would not be permitted to present the paper at the conference," he wrote in his 2004 U.S. Senate testimony on Vioxx. "One Drug Safety manager recommended that I should be barred from presenting the poster at the meeting." Eventually, the FDA issued a public health advisory about Vioxx and Merck withdrew this product. But it was a little late for repercussions — 38,000 of those Vioxx-takers who suffered heart attacks had already died. Graham called this a “profound regulatory failure,” adding that scientific standards the FDA apply to drug safety “guarantee that unsafe and deadly drugs will remain on the U.S. market.” This should come as no surprise, but research has also repeatedly shown that a paper written by a pharmaceutical company is more likely to emphasize the benefits of a drug, vaccine, or device while downplaying the dangers. (If you want to understand more about this practice, a former ghostwriter outlines all the ethical reasons why she quit this job in a PLOS Medicine report.) While adverse drug effects appear in 95% of clinical research, only 46% of published reports disclose them. Of course, all of this often ends up misleading doctors into thinking a drug is safer than it actually is. Big Pharma Influence On Doctors Pharmaceutical companies aren’t just paying medical journal editors and authors to make their products look good, either. There’s a long, sordid history of pharmaceutical companies incentivizing doctors to prescribe their products through financial rewards. For instance, Pfizer and AstraZeneca doled out a combined $100 million to doctors in 2018, with some earning anywhere from $6 million to $29 million in a year. And research has shown this strategy works: when doctors accept these gifts and payments, they’re significantly more likely to prescribe those companies’ drugs. Novartis comes to mind — the company famously spent over $100 million paying for doctors’ extravagant meals, golf outings, and more, all while also providing a generous kickback program that made them richer every time they prescribed certain blood pressure and diabetes meds. Side note: the Open Payments portal contains a nifty little database where you can find out if any of your own doctors received money from drug companies. Knowing that my mother was put on a laundry list of meds after a near-fatal car accident, I was curious — so I did a quick search for her providers. While her PCP only banked a modest amount from Pfizer and AstraZeneca, her previous psychiatrist — who prescribed a cocktail of contraindicated medications without treating her in person — collected quadruple-digit payments from pharmaceutical companies. And her pain care specialist, who prescribed her jaw-dropping doses of opioid pain medication for more than 20 years (far longer than the 5-day safety guideline), was raking in thousands from Purdue Pharma, AKA the opioid crisis’ kingpin. Purdue is now infamous for its wildly aggressive OxyContin campaign in the ’90s. At the time, the company billed it as a non-addictive wonder drug for pain sufferers. Internal emails show Pursue sales representatives were instructed to “sell, sell, sell” OxyContin, and the more they were able to push, the more they were rewarded with promotions and bonuses. With the stakes so high, these reps stopped at nothing to get doctors on board — even going so far as to send boxes of doughnuts spelling out “OxyContin” to unconvinced physicians. Purdue had stumbled upon the perfect system for generating tons of profit — off of other people’s pain. Documentation later proved that not only was Purdue aware it was highly addictive and that many people were abusing it, but that they also encouraged doctors to continue prescribing increasingly higher doses of it (and sent them on lavish luxury vacations for some motivation). In testimony to Congress, Purdue exec Paul Goldenheim played dumb about OxyContin addiction and overdose rates, but emails that were later exposed showed that he requested his colleagues remove all mentions of addiction from their correspondence about the drug. Even after it was proven in court that Purdue fraudulently marketed OxyContin while concealing its addictive nature, no one from the company spent a single day behind bars. Instead, the company got a slap on the wrist and a $600 million fine for a misdemeanor, the equivalent of a speeding ticket compared to the $9 billion they made off OxyContin up until 2006. Meanwhile, thanks to Purdue’s recklessness, more than 247,000 people died from prescription opioid overdoses between 1999 and 2009. And that’s not even factoring in all the people who died of heroin overdoses once OxyContin was no longer attainable to them. The NIH reports that 80% of people who use heroin started by misusing prescription opioids. Former sales rep Carol Panara told me in an interview that when she looks back on her time at Purdue, it all feels like a “bad dream.” Panara started working for Purdue in 2008, one year after the company pled guilty to “misbranding” charges for OxyContin. At this point, Purdue was “regrouping and expanding,” says Panara, and to that end, had developed a clever new approach for making money off OxyContin: sales reps were now targeting general practitioners and family doctors, rather than just pain management specialists. On top of that, Purdue soon introduced three new strengths for OxyContin: 15, 30, and 60 milligrams, creating smaller increments Panara believes were aimed at making doctors feel more comfortable increasing their patients’ dosages. According to Panara, there were internal company rankings for sales reps based on the number of prescriptions for each OxyContin dosing strength in their territory. “They were sneaky about it,” she said. “Their plan was to go in and sell these doctors on the idea of starting with 10 milligrams, which is very low, knowing full well that once they get started down that path — that’s all they need. Because eventually, they’re going to build a tolerance and need a higher dose.” Occasionally, doctors expressed concerns about a patient becoming addicted, but Purdue had already developed a way around that. Sales reps like Panara were taught to reassure those doctors that someone in pain might experience addiction-like symptoms called “pseudoaddiction,” but that didn’t mean they were truly addicted. There is no scientific evidence whatsoever to support that this concept is legit, of course. But the most disturbing part? Reps were trained to tell doctors that “pseudoaddiction” signaled the patient’s pain wasn’t being managed well enough, and the solution was simply to prescribe a higher dose of OxyContin. Panara finally quit Purdue in 2013. One of the breaking points was when two pharmacies in her territory were robbed at gunpoint specifically for OxyContin. In 2020, Purdue pled guilty to three criminal charges in an $8.3 billion deal, but the company is now under court protection after filing for bankruptcy. Despite all the damage that’s been done, the FDA’s policies for approving opioids remain essentially unchanged. Photo credit: Jennifer Durban Purdue probably wouldn’t have been able to pull this off if it weren’t for an FDA examiner named Curtis Wright, and his assistant Douglas Kramer. While Purdue was pursuing Wright’s stamp of approval on OxyContin, Wright took an outright sketchy approach to their application, instructing the company to mail documents to his home office rather than the FDA, and enlisting Purdue employees to help him review trials about the safety of the drug. The Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act requires that the FDA have access to at least two randomized controlled trials before deeming a drug as safe and effective, but in the case of OxyContin, it got approved with data from just one measly two-week study — in osteoarthritis patients, no less. When both Wright and Kramer left the FDA, they went on to work for none other than (drumroll, please) Purdue, with Wright earning three times his FDA salary. By the way — this is just one example of the FDA’s notoriously incestuous relationship with big pharma, often referred to as “the revolving door”. In fact, a 2018 Science report revealed that 11 out of 16 FDA reviewers ended up at the same companies they had been regulating products for. While doing an independent investigation, “Empire of Pain” author and New Yorker columnist Patrick Radden Keefe tried to gain access to documentation of Wright’s communications with Purdue during the OxyContin approval process. “The FDA came back and said, ‘Oh, it’s the weirdest thing, but we don’t have anything. It’s all either been lost or destroyed,’” Keefe told Fortune in an interview. “But it’s not just the FDA. It’s Congress, it’s the Department of Justice, it’s big parts of the medical establishment … the sheer amount of money involved, I think, has meant that a lot of the checks that should be in place in society to not just achieve justice, but also to protect us as consumers, were not there because they had been co-opted.” Big pharma may be to blame for creating the opioids that caused this public health catastrophe, but the FDA deserves just as much scrutiny — because its countless failures also played a part in enabling it. And many of those more recent fails happened under the supervision of Dr. Janet Woodcock. Woodcock was named FDA’s acting commissioner mere hours after Joe Biden was inaugurated as president. She would have been a logical choice, being an FDA vet of 35 years, but then again it’s impossible to forget that she played a starring role in the FDA’s perpetuating the opioid epidemic. She’s also known for overruling her own scientific advisors when they vote against approving a drug. Not only did Woodcock approve OxyContin for children as young as 11 years old, but she also gave the green light to several other highly controversial extended-release opioid pain drugs without sufficient evidence of safety or efficacy. One of those was Zohydro: in 2011, the FDA’s advisory committee voted 11:2 against approving it due to safety concerns about inappropriate use, but Woodcock went ahead and pushed it through, anyway. Under Woodcock’s supervision, the FDA also approved Opana, which is twice as powerful as OxyContin — only to then beg the drug maker to take it off the market 10 years later due to “abuse and manipulation.” And then there was Dsuvia, a potent painkiller 1,000 times stronger than morphine and 10 times more powerful than fentanyl. According to a head of one of the FDA’s advisory committees, the U.S. military had helped to develop this particular drug, and Woodcock said there was “pressure from the Pentagon” to push it through approvals. The FBI, members of congress, public health advocates, and patient safety experts alike called this decision into question, pointing out that with hundreds of opioids already on the market there’s no need for another — particularly one that comes with such high risks. Most recently, Woodcock served as the therapeutics lead for Operation Warp Speed, overseeing COVID-19 vaccine development. Big Pharma Lawsuits, Scandals, and Cover-Ups While the OxyContin craze is undoubtedly one of the highest-profile examples of big pharma’s deception, there are dozens of other stories like this. Here are a few standouts: In the 1980s, Bayer continued selling blood clotting products to third-world countries even though they were fully aware those products had been contaminated with HIV. The reason? The “financial investment in the product was considered too high to destroy the inventory.” Predictably, about 20,000 of the hemophiliacs who were infused with these tainted products then tested positive for HIV and eventually developed AIDS, and many later died of it. In 2004, Johnson & Johnson was slapped with a series of lawsuits for illegally promoting off-label use of their heartburn drug Propulsid for children despite internal company emails confirming major safety concerns (as in, deaths during the drug trials). Documentation from the lawsuits showed that dozens of studies sponsored by Johnson & Johnson highlighting the risks of this drug were never published. The FDA estimates that GSK’s Avandia caused 83,000 heart attacks between 1999 and 2007. Internal documents from GSK prove that when they began studying the effects of the drug as early as 1999, they discovered it caused a higher risk of heart attacks than a similar drug it was meant to replace. Rather than publish these findings, they spent a decade illegally concealing them (and meanwhile, banking $3.2 billion annually for this drug by 2006). Finally, a 2007 New England Journal of Medicine study linked Avandia to a 43% increased risk of heart attacks, and a 64% increased risk of death from heart disease. Avandia is still FDA approved and available in the U.S. In 2009, Pfizer was forced to pay $2.3 billion, the largest healthcare fraud settlement in history at that time, for paying illegal kickbacks to doctors and promoting off-label uses of its drugs. Specifically, a former employee revealed that Pfizer reps were encouraged and incentivized to sell Bextra and 12 other drugs for conditions they were never FDA approved for, and at doses up to eight times what’s recommended. “I was expected to increase profits at all costs, even when sales meant endangering lives,” the whistleblower said. When it was discovered that AstraZeneca was promoting the antipsychotic medication Seroquel for uses that were not approved by the FDA as safe and effective, the company was hit with a $520 million fine in 2010. For years, AstraZeneca had been encouraging psychiatrists and other physicians to prescribe Seroquel for a vast range of seemingly unrelated off-label conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease, anger management, ADHD, dementia, post-traumatic stress disorder, and sleeplessness. AstraZeneca also violated the federal Anti-Kickback Statute by paying doctors to spread the word about these unapproved uses of Seroquel via promotional lectures and while traveling to resort locations. In 2012, GSK paid a $3 billion fine for bribing doctors by flying them and their spouses to five-star resorts, and for illegally promoting drugs for off-label uses. What’s worse — GSK withheld clinical trial results that showed its antidepressant Paxil not only doesn’t work for adolescents and children but more alarmingly, that it can increase the likelihood of suicidal thoughts in this group. A 1998 GSK internal memo revealed that the company intentionally concealed this data to minimize any “potential negative commercial impact.” In 2021, an ex-AstraZeneca sales rep sued her former employer, claiming they fired her for refusing to promote drugs for uses that weren’t FDA-approved. The employee alleges that on multiple occasions, she expressed concerns to her boss about “misleading” information that didn’t have enough support from medical research, and off-label promotions of certain drugs. Her supervisor reportedly not only ignored these concerns but pressured her to approve statements she didn’t agree with and threatened to remove her from regional and national positions if she didn’t comply. According to the plaintiff, she missed out on a raise and a bonus because she refused to break the law. At the top of 2022, a panel of the D.C. Court of Appeals reinstated a lawsuit against Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Roche, and GE Healthcare, which claims they helped finance terrorist attacks against U.S. service members and other Americans in Iraq. The suit alleges that from 2005–2011, these companies regularly offered bribes (including free drugs and medical devices) totaling millions of dollars annually to Iraq’s Ministry of Health in order to secure drug contracts. These corrupt payments then allegedly funded weapons and training for the Mahdi Army, which until 2008, was largely considered one of the most dangerous groups in Iraq. Another especially worrisome factor is that pharmaceutical companies are conducting an ever-increasing number of clinical trials in third-world countries, where people may be less educated, and there are also far fewer safety regulations. Pfizer’s 1996 experimental trials with Trovan on Nigerian children with meningitis — without informed consent — is just one nauseating example. When a former medical director in Pfizer’s central research division warned the company both before and after the study that their methods in this trial were “improper and unsafe,” he was promptly fired. Families of the Nigerian children who died or were left blind, brain damaged, or paralyzed after the study sued Pfizer, and the company ultimately settled out of court. In 1998, the FDA approved Trovan only for adults. The drug was later banned from European markets due to reports of fatal liver disease and restricted to strictly emergency care in the U.S. Pfizer still denies any wrongdoing. “Nurse prepares to vaccinate children” by World Bank Photo Collection is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 But all that is just the tip of the iceberg. If you’d like to dive a little further down the rabbit hole — and I’ll warn you, it’s a deep one — a quick Google search for “big pharma lawsuits” will reveal the industry’s dark track record of bribery, dishonesty, and fraud. In fact, big pharma happens to be the biggest defrauder of the federal government when it comes to the False Claims Act, otherwise known as the “Lincoln Law.” During our interview, Panara told me she has friends still working for big pharma who would be willing to speak out about crooked activity they’ve observed, but are too afraid of being blacklisted by the industry. A newly proposed update to the False Claims Act would help to protect and support whistleblowers in their efforts to hold pharmaceutical companies liable, by helping to prevent that kind of retaliation and making it harder for the companies charged to dismiss these cases. It should come as no surprise that Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Merck, and a flock of other big pharma firms are currently lobbying to block the update. Naturally, they wouldn’t want to make it any easier for ex-employees to expose their wrongdoings, potentially costing them billions more in fines. Something to keep in mind: these are the same people who produced, marketed, and are profiting from the COVID-19 vaccines. The same people who manipulate research, pay off decision-makers to push their drugs, cover up negative research results to avoid financial losses, and knowingly put innocent citizens in harm’s way. The same people who told America: “Take as much OxyContin as you want around the clock! It’s very safe and not addictive!” (while laughing all the way to the bank). So, ask yourself this: if a partner, friend, or family member repeatedly lied to you — and not just little white lies, but big ones that put your health and safety at risk — would you continue to trust them? Backing the Big Four: Big Pharma and the FDA, WHO, NIH, CDC I know what you’re thinking. Big pharma is amoral and the FDA’s devastating slips are a dime a dozen — old news. But what about agencies and organizations like the National Institutes of Health (NIH), World Health Organization (WHO), and Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC)? Don’t they have an obligation to provide unbiased guidance to protect citizens? Don’t worry, I’m getting there. The WHO’s guidance is undeniably influential across the globe. For most of this organization’s history, dating back to 1948, it could not receive donations from pharmaceutical companies — only member states. But that changed in 2005 when the WHO updated its financial policy to permit private money into its system. Since then, the WHO has accepted many financial contributions from big pharma. In fact, it’s only 20% financed by member states today, with a whopping 80% of financing coming from private donors. For instance, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) is now one of its main contributors, providing up to 13% of its funds — about $250–300 million a year. Nowadays, the BMGF provides more donations to the WHO than the entire United States. Dr. Arata Kochi, former head of WHO’s malaria program, expressed concerns to director-general Dr. Margaret Chan in 2007 that taking the BMGF’s money could have “far-reaching, largely unintended consequences” including “stifling a diversity of views among scientists.” “The big concerns are that the Gates Foundation isn’t fully transparent and accountable,” Lawrence Gostin, director of WHO’s Collaborating Center on National and Global Health Law, told Devex in an interview. “By wielding such influence, it could steer WHO priorities … It would enable a single rich philanthropist to set the global health agenda.” Photo credit: National Institutes of Health Take a peek at the WHO’s list of donors and you’ll find a few other familiar names like AstraZeneca, Bayer, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and Merck. The NIH has the same problem, it seems. Science journalist Paul Thacker, who previously examined financial links between physicians and pharma companies as a lead investigator of the United States Senate Committee, wrote in The Washington Post that this agency “often ignored” very “obvious” conflicts of interest. He also claimed that “its industry ties go back decades.” In 2018, it was discovered that a $100 million alcohol consumption study run by NIH scientists was funded mostly by beer and liquor companies. Emails proved that NIH researchers were in frequent contact with those companies while designing the study — which, here’s a shocker — were aimed at highlighting the benefits and not the risks of moderate drinking. So, the NIH ultimately had to squash the trial. And then there’s the CDC. It used to be that this agency couldn’t take contributions from pharmaceutical companies, but in 1992 they found a loophole: new legislation passed by Congress allowed them to accept private funding through a nonprofit called the CDC Foundation. From 2014 through 2018 alone, the CDC Foundation received $79.6 million from corporations like Pfizer, Biogen, and Merck. Of course, if a pharmaceutical company wants to get a drug, vaccine, or other product approved, they really need to cozy up to the FDA. That explains why in 2017, pharma companies paid for a whopping 75% of the FDA’s scientific review budgets, up from 27% in 1993. It wasn’t always like this. But in 1992, an act of Congress changed the FDA’s funding stream, enlisting pharma companies to pay “user fees,” which help the FDA speed up the approval process for their drugs. A 2018 Science investigation found that 40 out of 107 physician advisors on the FDA’s committees received more than $10,000 from big pharma companies trying to get their drugs approved, with some banking up to $1 million or more. The FDA claims it has a well-functioning system to identify and prevent these possible conflicts of interest. Unfortunately, their system only works for spotting payments before advisory panels meet, and the Science investigation showed many FDA panel members get their payments after the fact. It’s a little like “you scratch my back now, and I’ll scratch your back once I get what I want” — drug companies promise FDA employees a future bonus contingent on whether things go their way. Here’s why this dynamic proves problematic: a 2000 investigation revealed that when the FDA approved the rotavirus vaccine in 1998, it didn’t exactly do its due diligence. That probably had something to do with the fact that committee members had financial ties to the manufacturer, Merck — many owned tens of thousands of dollars of stock in the company, or even held patents on the vaccine itself. Later, the Adverse Event Reporting System revealed that the vaccine was causing serious bowel obstructions in some children, and it was finally pulled from the U.S. market in October 1999. Then, in June of 2021, the FDA overruled concerns raised by its very own scientific advisory committee to approve Biogen’s Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm — a move widely criticized by physicians. The drug not only showed very little efficacy but also potentially serious side effects like brain bleeding and swelling, in clinical trials. Dr. Aaron Kesselheim, a Harvard Medical School professor who was on the FDA’s scientific advisory committee, called it the “worst drug approval” in recent history, and noted that meetings between the FDA and Biogen had a “strange dynamic” suggesting an unusually close relationship. Dr. Michael Carome, director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group, told CNN that he believes the FDA started working in “inappropriately close collaboration with Biogen” back in 2019. “They were not objective, unbiased regulators,” he added in the CNN interview. “It seems as if the decision was preordained.” That brings me to perhaps the biggest conflict of interest yet: Dr. Anthony Fauci’s NIAID is just one of many institutes that comprises the NIH — and the NIH owns half the patent for the Moderna vaccine — as well as thousands more pharma patents to boot. The NIAID is poised to earn millions of dollars from Moderna’s vaccine revenue, with individual officials also receiving up to $150,000 annually. Operation Warp Speed In December of 2020, Pfizer became the first company to receive an emergency use authorization (EUA) from the FDA for a COVID-19 vaccine. EUAs — which allow the distribution of an unapproved drug or other product during a declared public health emergency — are actually a pretty new thing: the first one was issued in 2005 so military personnel could get an anthrax vaccine. To get a full FDA approval, there needs to be substantial evidence that the product is safe and effective. But for an EUA, the FDA just needs to determine that it may be effective. Since EUAs are granted so quickly, the FDA doesn’t have enough time to gather all the information they’d usually need to approve a drug or vaccine. “Operation Warp Speed Vaccine Event” by The White House is licensed under CC PDM 1.0 Pfizer CEO and chairman Albert Bourla has said his company was “operating at the speed of science” to bring a vaccine to market. However, a 2021 report in The BMJ revealed that this speed might have come at the expense of “data integrity and patient safety.” Brook Jackson, regional director for the Ventavia Research Group, which carried out these trials, told The BMJ that her former company “falsified data, unblinded patients, and employed inadequately trained vaccinators” in Pfizer’s pivotal phase 3 trial. Just some of the other concerning events witnessed included: adverse events not being reported correctly or at all, lack of reporting on protocol deviations, informed consent errors, and mislabeling of lab specimens. An audio recording of Ventavia employees from September 2020 revealed that they were so overwhelmed by issues arising during the study that they became unable to “quantify the types and number of errors” when assessing quality control. One Ventavia employee told The BMJ she’d never once seen a research environment as disorderly as Ventavia’s Pfizer vaccine trial, while another called it a “crazy mess.” Over the course of her two-decades-long career, Jackson has worked on hundreds of clinical trials, and two of her areas of expertise happen to be immunology and infectious diseases. She told me that from her first day on the Pfizer trial in September of 2020, she discovered “such egregious misconduct” that she recommended they stop enrolling participants into the study to do an internal audit. “To my complete shock and horror, Ventavia agreed to pause enrollment but then devised a plan to conceal what I found and to keep ICON and Pfizer in the dark,” Jackson said during our interview. “The site was in full clean-up mode. When missing data points were discovered the information was fabricated, including forged signatures on the informed consent forms.” A screenshot Jackson shared with me shows she was invited to a meeting titled “COVID 1001 Clean up Call” on Sept. 21, 2020. She refused to participate in the call. Jackson repeatedly warned her superiors about patient safety concerns and data integrity issues. “I knew that the entire world was counting on clinical researchers to develop a safe and effective vaccine and I did not want to be a part of that failure by not reporting what I saw,” she told me. When her employer failed to act, Jackson filed a complaint with the FDA on Sept. 25, and Ventavia fired her hours later that same day under the pretense that she was “not a good fit.” After reviewing her concerns over the phone, she claims the FDA never followed up or inspected the Ventavia site. Ten weeks later, the FDA authorized the EUA for the vaccine. Meanwhile, Pfizer hired Ventavia to handle the research for four more vaccine clinical trials, including one involving children and young adults, one for pregnant women, and another for the booster. Not only that, but Ventavia handled the clinical trials for Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and Novavax. Jackson is currently pursuing a False Claims Act lawsuit against Pfizer and Ventavia Research Group. Last year, Pfizer banked nearly $37 billion from its COVID vaccine, making it one of the most lucrative products in global history. Its overall revenues doubled in 2021 to reach $81.3 billion, and it’s slated to reach a record-breaking $98-$102 billion this year. “Corporations like Pfizer should never have been put in charge of a global vaccination rollout, because it was inevitable they would make life-and-death decisions based on what’s in the short-term interest of their shareholders,” writes Nick Dearden, director of Global Justice Now. As previously mentioned, it’s super common for pharmaceutical companies to fund the research on their own products. Here’s why that’s scary. One 1999 meta-analysis showed that industry-funded research is eight times less likely to achieve unfavorable results compared to independent trials. In other words, if a pharmaceutical company wants to prove that a medication, supplement, vaccine, or device is safe and effective, they’ll find a way. With that in mind, I recently examined the 2020 study on Pfizer’s COVID vaccine to see if there were any conflicts of interest. Lo and behold, the lengthy attached disclosure form shows that of the 29 authors, 18 are employees of Pfizer and hold stock in the company, one received a research grant from Pfizer during the study, and two reported being paid “personal fees” by Pfizer. In another 2021 study on the Pfizer vaccine, seven of the 15 authors are employees of and hold stock in Pfizer. The other eight authors received financial support from Pfizer during the study. Photo credit: Prasesh Shiwakoti (Lomash) via Unsplash As of the day I’m writing this, about 64% of Americans are fully vaccinated, and 76% have gotten at least one dose. The FDA has repeatedly promised “full transparency” when it comes to these vaccines. Yet in December of 2021, the FDA asked for permission to wait 75 years before releasing information pertaining to Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, including safety data, effectiveness data, and adverse reaction reports. That means no one would see this information until the year 2096 — conveniently, after many of us have departed this crazy world. To recap: the FDA only needed 10 weeks to review the 329,000 pages worth of data before approving the EUA for the vaccine — but apparently, they need three-quarters of a century to publicize it. In response to the FDA’s ludicrous request, PHMPT — a group of over 200 medical and public health experts from Harvard, Yale, Brown, UCLA, and other institutions — filed a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act demanding that the FDA produce this data sooner. And their efforts paid off: U.S. District Judge Mark T. Pittman issued an order for the FDA to produce 12,000 pages by Jan. 31, and then at least 55,000 pages per month thereafter. In his statement to the FDA, Pittman quoted the late John F. Kennedy: “A nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.” As for why the FDA wanted to keep this data hidden, the first batch of documentation revealed that there were more than 1,200 vaccine-related deaths in just the first 90 days after the Pfizer vaccine was introduced. Of 32 pregnancies with a known outcome, 28 resulted in fetal death. The CDC also recently unveiled data showing a total of 1,088,560 reports of adverse events from COVID vaccines were submitted between Dec. 14, 2020, and Jan. 28, 2022. That data included 23,149 reports of deaths and 183,311 reports of serious injuries. There were 4,993 reported adverse events in pregnant women after getting vaccinated, including 1,597 reports of miscarriage or premature birth. A 2022 study published in JAMA, meanwhile, revealed that there have been more than 1,900 reported cases of myocarditis — or inflammation of the heart muscle — mostly in people 30 and under, within 7 days of getting the vaccine. In those cases, 96% of people were hospitalized. “It is understandable that the FDA does not want independent scientists to review the documents it relied upon to license Pfizer’s vaccine given that it is not as effective as the FDA originally claimed, does not prevent transmission, does not prevent against certain emerging variants, can cause serious heart inflammation in younger individuals, and has numerous other undisputed safety issues,” writes Aaron Siri, the attorney representing PHMPT in its lawsuit against the FDA. Siri told me in an email that his office phone has been ringing off the hook in recent months. “We are overwhelmed by inquiries from individuals calling about an injury from a COVID-19 vaccine,” he said. By the way — it’s worth noting that adverse effects caused by COVID-19 vaccinations are still not covered by the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. Companies like Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson are protected under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) Act, which grants them total immunity from liability with their vaccines. And no matter what happens to you, you can’t sue the FDA for authorizing the EUA, or your employer for requiring you to get it, either. Billions of taxpayer dollars went to fund the research and development of these vaccines, and in Moderna’s case, licensing its vaccine was made possible entirely by public funds. But apparently, that still warrants citizens no insurance. Should something go wrong, you’re basically on your own. Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccine business model: government gives them billions, gives them immunity for any injuries or if doesn't work, promotes their products for free, and mandates their products. Sounds crazy? Yes, but it is our current reality. — Aaron Siri (@AaronSiriSG) February 2, 2022 The Hypocrisy of “Misinformation” I find it interesting that “misinformation” has become such a pervasive term lately, but more alarmingly, that it’s become an excuse for blatant censorship on social media and in journalism. It’s impossible not to wonder what’s driving this movement to control the narrative. In a world where we still very clearly don’t have all the answers, why shouldn’t we be open to exploring all the possibilities? And while we’re on the subject, what about all of the COVID-related untruths that have been spread by our leaders and officials? Why should they get a free pass? Photo credit: @upgradeur_life, www.instagram.com/upgradeur_life Fauci, President Biden, and the CDC’s Rochelle Walensky all promised us with total confidence the vaccine would prevent us from getting or spreading COVID, something we now know is a myth. (In fact, the CDC recently had to change its very definition of “vaccine ” to promise “protection” from a disease rather than “immunity”— an important distinction). At one point, the New York State Department of Health (NYS DOH) and former Governor Andrew Cuomo prepared a social media campaign with misleading messaging that the vaccine was “approved by the FDA” and “went through the same rigorous approval process that all vaccines go through,” when in reality the FDA only authorized the vaccines under an EUA, and the vaccines were still undergoing clinical trials. While the NYS DOH eventually responded to pressures to remove these false claims, a few weeks later the Department posted on Facebook that “no serious side effects related to the vaccines have been reported,” when in actuality, roughly 16,000 reports of adverse events and over 3,000 reports of serious adverse events related to a COVID-19 vaccination had been reported in the first two months of use. One would think we’d hold the people in power to the same level of accountability — if not more — than an average citizen. So, in the interest of avoiding hypocrisy, should we “cancel” all these experts and leaders for their “misinformation,” too? Vaccine-hesitant people have been fired from their jobs, refused from restaurants, denied the right to travel and see their families, banned from social media channels, and blatantly shamed and villainized in the media. Some have even lost custody of their children. These people are frequently labeled “anti-vax,” which is misleading given that many (like the NBA’s Jonathan Isaac) have made it repeatedly clear they are not against all vaccines, but simply making a personal choice not to get this one. (As such, I’ll suggest switching to a more accurate label: “pro-choice.”) Fauci has repeatedly said federally mandating the vaccine would not be “appropriate” or “enforceable” and doing so would be “encroaching upon a person’s freedom to make their own choice.” So it’s remarkable that still, some individual employers and U.S. states, like my beloved Massachusetts, have taken it upon themselves to enforce some of these mandates, anyway. Meanwhile, a Feb. 7 bulletin posted by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security indicates that if you spread information that undermines public trust in a government institution (like the CDC or FDA), you could be considered a terrorist. In case you were wondering about the current state of free speech. The definition of institutional oppression is “the systematic mistreatment of people within a social identity group, supported and enforced by the society and its institutions, solely based on the person’s membership in the social identity group.” It is defined as occurring when established laws and practices “systematically reflect and produce inequities based on one’s membership in targeted social identity groups.” Sound familiar? As you continue to watch the persecution of the unvaccinated unfold, remember this. Historically, when society has oppressed a particular group of people whether due to their gender, race, social class, religious beliefs, or sexuality, it’s always been because they pose some kind of threat to the status quo. The same is true for today’s unvaccinated. Since we know the vaccine doesn’t prevent the spread of COVID, however, this much is clear: the unvaccinated don’t pose a threat to the health and safety of their fellow citizens — but rather, to the bottom line of powerful pharmaceutical giants and the many global organizations they finance. And with more than $100 billion on the line in 2021 alone, I can understand the motivation to silence them. The unvaccinated have been called selfish. Stupid. Fauci has said it’s “almost inexplicable” that they are still resisting. But is it? What if these people aren’t crazy or uncaring, but rather have — unsurprisingly so — lost their faith in the agencies that are supposed to protect them? Can you blame them? Citizens are being bullied into getting a vaccine that was created, evaluated, and authorized in under a year, with no access to the bulk of the safety data for said vaccine, and no rights whatsoever to pursue legal action if they experience adverse effects from it. What these people need right now is to know they can depend on their fellow citizens to respect their choices, not fuel the segregation by launching a full-fledged witch hunt. Instead, for some inexplicable reason I imagine stems from fear, many continue rallying around big pharma rather than each other. A 2022 Heartland Institute and Rasmussen Reports survey of Democratic voters found that 59% of respondents support a government policy requiring unvaccinated individuals to remain confined in their home at all times, 55% support handing a fine to anyone who won’t get the vaccine, and 48% think the government should flat out imprison people who publicly question the efficacy of the vaccines on social media, TV, or online in digital publications. Even Orwell couldn’t make this stuff up. Photo credit: DJ Paine on Unsplash Let me be very clear. While there are a lot of bad actors out there — there are also a lot of well-meaning people in the science and medical industries, too. I’m lucky enough to know some of them. There are doctors who fend off pharma reps’ influence and take an extremely cautious approach to prescribing. Medical journal authors who fiercely pursue transparency and truth — as is evident in “The Influence of Money on Medical Science,” a report by the first female editor of JAMA. Pharmacists, like Dan Schneider, who refuse to fill prescriptions they deem risky or irresponsible. Whistleblowers, like Graham and Jackson, who tenaciously call attention to safety issues for pharma products in the approval pipeline. And I’m certain there are many people in the pharmaceutical industry, like Panara and my grandfather, who pursued this field with the goal of helping others, not just earning a six- or seven-figure salary. We need more of these people. Sadly, it seems they are outliers who exist in a corrupt, deep-rooted system of quid-pro-quo relationships. They can only do so much. I’m not here to tell you whether or not you should get the vaccine or booster doses. What you put in your body is not for me — or anyone else — to decide. It’s not a simple choice, but rather one that may depend on your physical condition, medical history, age, religious beliefs, and level of risk tolerance. My grandfather passed away in 2008, and lately, I find myself missing him more than ever, wishing I could talk to him about the pandemic and hear what he makes of all this madness. I don’t really know how he’d feel about the COVID vaccine, or whether he would have gotten it or encouraged me to. What I do know is that he’d listen to my concerns, and he’d carefully consider them. He would remind me my feelings are valid. His eyes would light up and he’d grin with amusement as I fervidly expressed my frustration. He’d tell me to keep pushing forward, digging deeper, asking questions. In his endearing Bronx accent, he used to always say: “go get ‘em, kid.” If I stop typing for a moment and listen hard enough, I can almost hear him saying it now. People keep saying “trust the science.” But when trust is broken, it must be earned back. And as long as our legislative system, public health agencies, physicians, and research journals keep accepting pharmaceutical money (with strings attached) — and our justice system keeps letting these companies off the hook when their negligence causes harm, there’s no reason for big pharma to change. They’re holding the bag, and money is power. I have a dream that one day, we’ll live in a world where we are armed with all the thorough, unbiased data necessary to make informed decisions about our health. Alas, we’re not even close. What that means is that it’s up to you to educate yourself as much as possible, and remain ever-vigilant in evaluating information before forming an opinion. You can start by reading clinical trials yourself, rather than relying on the media to translate them for you. Scroll to the bottom of every single study to the “conflicts of interest” section and find out who funded it. Look at how many subjects were involved. Confirm whether or not blinding was used to eliminate bias. You may also choose to follow Public Citizen’s Health Research Group’s rule whenever possible: that means avoiding a new drug until five years after an FDA approval (not an EUA, an actual approval) — when there’s enough data on the long-term safety and effectiveness to establish that the benefits outweigh the risks. When it comes to the news, you can seek out independent, nonprofit outlets, which are less likely to be biased due to pharma funding. And most importantly, when it appears an organization is making concerted efforts to conceal information from you — like the FDA recently did with the COVID vaccine — it’s time to ask yourself: why? What are they trying to hide? In the 2019 film “Dark Waters” — which is based on the true story of one of the greatest corporate cover-ups in American history — Mark Ruffalo as attorney Rob Bilott says: “The system is rigged. They want us to think it’ll protect us, but that’s a lie. We protect us. We do. Nobody else. Not the companies. Not the scientists. Not the government. Us.” Words to live by. Tyler Durden Sat, 04/09/2022 - 22:30.....»»

Category: personnelSource: nytApr 9th, 2022

China"s Belt-And-Road Comes To America"s Heartland, Part 2: This Is Not The End

China's Belt-And-Road Comes To America's Heartland, Part 2: This Is Not The End Authored by Fortis Analysis via Human Terrain, Earlier this year, Fortis Analysis released details on the proposal by Fufeng Group, a CCP-connected company, to build a wet corn mill and amino acid production facility in Grand Forks, ND. In conducting further research, interviewing local residents, and working with recognized experts in national security and United States trade law, it is more and more clear that the Grand Forks city council and mayor Brandon Bochenski are both economically and constitutionally illiterate. Pictured: Fufeng USA Chief Operating Officer Eric Chutorash, speaking to Grand Forks City Council A single line of inquiry into this project is impossible, so we will work to highlight a range of domains where this project falls short of both good sense and the law of the land. To that end, let’s first explore the FAQ on this project released by the Grand Forks Regional Economic Development Council. There are numerous claims so easily rebutted that making them is either knowingly spreading false information, or an inexcusable lack of attention (or ability) to performing due diligence. A selection: CLAIM: ”Fufeng USA is a global leading bio-fermentation company manufacturing products that serve fast-growing animal nutrition. Their headquarters is in Chicago, Ill. Fufeng USA has chosen to invest in Grand Forks to establish a wet corn mill processing plant in the United States.” FACT: Fufeng USA Incorporated was established in the United States at the address of a private residence in Wheaton, IL. As of this writing, Fufeng USA Incorporated imports to the United States using the same Wheaton location as its official consignee address registered with US Customs and Border Protection. Another Fufeng USA corporate address noted on the Chicago Chinatown Chamber of Commerce website (under the “Manufacturers” section) is located inside a multi-tenant office building in Oak Brook, IL. This entity is wholly-owned by Fufeng USA Holdings Limited, which is domiciled in Hong Kong, and is itself wholly-owned by Trans-Asia Capital Resources Ltd., also domiciled in Hong Kong. Trans-Asia Capital Resources Ltd. is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Fufeng Group, which has its principal place of business in Junan in the Shandong Province of China. It is beyond a stretch to say that Fufeng USA is anything more than a shell company to facilitate Fufeng Group’s ability to do business in the United States. This information comes directly from Fufeng Group’s annual report for 2020, published in 2021. CLAIM: “The North Dakota Trade Office has done a search for illegal import/export activity for Fufeng USA and its principles. No red flags or areas of concern were found. NDTO resources include access to 30 federal databases. Fufeng USA has been operating in the United States since 2020. Also, First Biotech, Inc., a Fufeng USA subsidiary, has been doing business in the US for over 10 years. Both have filed federal taxes in the US and have established international banking accounts with large financial institutions that have significant federal oversight. The company will be subject to all the same US laws, regulations, and oversight and any US company. Fufeng USA Group is publicly traded on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. The US Securities and Exchange Commission has a supervisory oversight relationship with the Exchange. Fufeng USA Group has many US and European institutional investors including TreeTop Management, Vanguard, Fidelity, Mellon, and Blackrock, all heavily regulated.” FACT: This is, quite simply, a word salad intended to obscure the real issue at stake here - the absence of correct and proper due diligence. The United States has multiple layers of regulatory oversight beyond basic financial oversight, few if any of which have been notified by GFREDC, the city, or Fufeng, let alone conducted formal inquiries. One other point that must be noted is that “Fufeng USA Group” is not a real entity, nor is any Fufeng USA entity “publicly traded on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange”. The publicly-traded entity is the ultimate parent company, Fufeng Group Limited. More detailed explorations of these points follow further in this analysis. In short, the absurd and incorrect statement that a cursory review of trade databases and some correctly-filed taxes is sufficient proof of Fufeng’s safety to national security should embarrass all involved in this process. CLAIM: “The development of the Fufeng USA plant will create a local market for corn and improve pricing. Regional farmers will have the option to sell to elevators or Fufeng USA. The North Dakota Corn Growers Association, a farmer led membership organization focused on policy that impacts North Dakota corn producers, were pleased with the announcement that Fufeng USA will establish a wet corn mill in Grand Forks. They issued a press release indicating the project will have tremendous value to regional farmers.” FACT: The claim made elsewhere by the city about the economic impact to farmers betrays a startling ignorance about the mechanisms of grain production and sales. The estimate of $.20 to $.40 per bushel of corn in premium versus current market conditions was not derived from careful analysis conducted by third-party experts. When pressed on the matter by Shaun Beauclair, himself a farmer and former board member of a regional corn processing facility, the GFREDC admitted that the premium assumption was given by a single farmer. In a February interview with AgWeek about the Fufeng project, Dr. Frayne Olson of North Dakota State University said that he believes the $.40 per bushel claim is only realistic for the first year or two to incentivize sales to the corn mill. Once the market settles back in future years, the realistic premium is closer to $.10 to $.20 per bushel. In practice, the grain elevators in the area who do not have direct interest in a value-added market for their purchased corn will quickly be faced with the choice of becoming a de facto origination and storage facility for Fufeng, or closing their doors. As one can see from this selection of “facts”, the Grand Forks Regional Economic Development Council has not done its best work to provide complete or accurate information to its stakeholders. Now, if this was the only vector of misinformation and all others involved were honest brokers, one might understand how an economic development group would choose to shade the truth a bit in order to bring a splashy, high-revenue project to town. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Multiple other individuals in positions of city leadership have also willingly promoted dishonest talking points, or chosen unscrupulous partners for the city, all in the interest of pushing the project forward. Let’s examine a few of these. Fufeng Group Has No Financial Connection to the Chinese Government On November 17, 2021, in a publicly-posted comment on his official Facebook account, Grand Forks mayor Brandon Bochenski stated that: “…the company is an American subsidiary of a publicly traded company that has zero govt. ownership. They are investing in an American facility built by American contractors, using American corn stock to produce products sold in America and manufactured by American workers. The company is more American than Apple, Nike and Amazon quite frankly in the global economy of today.” Members of the city council have used similar talking points in publicly-available council discussions. Now, this particular formulation of the zero-affiliation claim is intended to reassure listeners that as Fufeng Group Limited is a publicly-traded company on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange (a subsidiary of HKEx, or Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing), it is not reasonable to believe that the firm or any of its subsidiaries would choose (or be forced) to act in any way outside the direct fiduciary interests of its global shareholders. A complete overview of the complicated (and compromised) relationship between the HKEx and the Chinese Communist Party is beyond the scope of this piece, but for now, the following data will more than suffice to rebut this talking point. HKEx’s largest single shareholder is the Hong Kong Government, which also has the right to appoint six of thirteen directors to HKEx’s board. This matters for a number of reasons, but perhaps the most important is the Hong Kong national security law unanimously passed by China’s Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress on 30 June 2020 in the wake of widespread pro-democracy protests throughout Hong Kong. Among the various deeply anti-democratic provisions of the law are the requirement that companies listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange act in accordance with the security directives of a secret body called the Committee for Safeguarding National Security. This entity has the ability to at any time investigate, indict, prosecute, or ruin any non-compliant company who has any business interest in Hong Kong - and extend these enforcement protocols anywhere in the world in violation of sovereign law and international norms. It is impossible to believe that HKEx will push back in any way if the Chinese Communist Party directs Fufeng Group to perform certain actions or disclose confidential business, community, or employee information in any of its subsidiaries - including Fufeng USA Incorporated. In simplified form, if the secret national security entity in mainland China or Hong Kong creates any pretext whatsoever, it will be able to force Fufeng USA to reveal all personal details of any employee, contractor, or even guests of the corn mill, regardless of the laws of the United States. This is an extremely important detail that as of yet, has not been properly addressed by Fufeng or city officials. Moreover, it is not even accurate to say that Fufeng Group does not have a financial connection to the Chinese government. In the same annual report referenced earlier, Fufeng Group Limited lists an interesting disclosure: a 30% ownership stake in Jilin COFCO Biomaterial Co Ltd. This joint venture between Fufeng Group and China Oil and Foodstuffs Corporation (COFCO) is notable because COFCO is the largest agribusiness in China, and is a 100% state-owned enterprise under the management of the hyperpowerful State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of the State Council (SASAC). Note that SASAC manages numerous entities that are currently sanctioned by the United States for espionage activities, use of forced labor in Xinjiang and elsewhere, and violation of international treaties or laws. Though COFCO has as yet not been similarly sanctioned, it is important to note that its sister companies under SASAC were penalized for carrying out the will of the Chinese Communist Party, and that COFCO can at any time be similarly leveraged by the CCP to perform illegal activities against the United States. As with numerous other claims made by the North Dakota Trade Office, Mayor Bochenski, GFREDC, and the Grand Forks city council, one cannot help but wonder how much due diligence has actually been put into this project. The City Is Taking All Appropriate Steps to Examine the Impact on U.S. National Security Interests This omnibus talking point, used repeatedly by city officials, is also completely inaccurate. There are numerous checks and balances that exist at the federal level concerning real estate acquisitions and foreign investments into the U.S. economy. The most well-known of these, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), is a multi-agency group under the Executive Branch that has the mandate of reviewing transactions by foreign entities into companies or technologies designated as “critical” to national security, and/or real estate transactions located within 100 miles of designated military installations. An examination of the facts shows that the Fufeng project may fall into the category of a “covered real estate transaction”, which means CFIUS expects voluntary disclosure of the project’s details. The risk is that if stakeholders do not disclose and CFIUS chooses to open an inquiry at some point, then an adverse finding from CFIUS will result in significant penalties for all involved, up to and including the forced sale of the property and assets to an approved third party. That the city and county have been courting Fufeng Group since mid-2020 and as of yet have not sought out independent legal review for compliance with FIRRMA (the law governing CFIUS’ activities), or submitted for a free voluntary review with CFIUS since the public reveal of this project in November 2021, does not argue well for the city council’s competence or motives in continuing to ignore public outcry and push the process forward at a breakneck pace. Another talking point used by the city and GFREDC is that the county and city’s “base retention” consultant, retired USAF General David Deptula, has reviewed the proposal and discussed it with the leadership at Grand Forks Air Force Base. The claim is that no one has issued an objection to the Fufeng proposal. There are a few things about this, however, that raise red flags. First, Deptula was the subject of a multi-year investigation by Department of Defense into illicit contracting activities and fraud while he was in uniform. In February 2015, Deptula agreed with the Department of Justice to pay a fine of $125,000, and was barred by the Air Force from conducting business with the federal government from November 2014 to February 2016. Despite this, the Grand Forks city council continues to authorize a $5,000 per month direct payment to The Deptula Group (Deptula’s lobbying and consulting firm) for base retention activities. When questioned about this, city council president Dana Sande initially insisted that Grand Forks County employs Deptula, not the city. After being reminded of the monthly expense approved by Sande and the rest of the city council, Sande admitted that the city pays a portion of the funding for base retention activities, but the county is in charge of selecting and coordinating with Deptula. However, a review of the county’s 2021 budget does not show a request or approval for funding to be allocated under the Base Retention line item, nor do county minutes throughout 2021 show approvals to remit any funds to Deptula, his company, or for base retention activities. It is possible that the county has allocated funding under a different line item to pay for Deptula’s services, but such is not noted. However, if the county is indeed not contributing to paying Deptula, then the city of Grand Forks appears to be willingly carrying the cost of Mr. Deptula for “base retention” activities, even as the Air Force already publicly committed in 2021 to expanding the base’s role and increasing its footprint in Grand Forks. Regardless, the ongoing payment of Deptula for at least $5,000 per month from city funds reflects the council’s comfort with employing fixers who have a questionable at best code of ethics when it comes to personal enrichment at the expense of taxpayers. Moreover, it is not for the leadership of the local military installation to make a determination on if a particular project is compliant with national security regulations. Thus, the constant talking points by city officials that Grand Forks Air Force Base has reviewed the project and not issued a complaint is misleading and wholly incorrect. The base leadership cannot review and rule on the Fufeng project, or any other potential commercial investment by foreign entities in the area of the base. The fact that city officials have continuously asserted that the Grand Forks Air Force Base commander has done so is incorrect, and jeopardizes the careers of both the commanding officer and any active duty personnel so connected to the claim. It also opens the door to civilian law enforcement involvement, as active duty military personnel allegedly issuing inappropriate and unauthorized statements in support of foreign investment may also entangle the civilians making such claims into criminal or civil charges. This is a tightrope for city officials to publicly walk, and it would seem from the outside that they have created a fiasco in the making in their haste to justify a lack of responsible and legal due diligence. There Are No Other Conflicts of Interest on the City Council with This Project Before each City Council vote on this project, the council brings up councilmember Jeannie Mock’s conflict of interest in the project and votes to force her to abstain. Mock’s company, AE2S, was involved in the preparation of land-use and infrastructure data before the project was publicly revealed, as can be seen on Slide 12 of the city’s pitch deck for the project. It is not known for certain how Mock would vote on the project, but it is proper for her to abstain on the basis of conflicts of interests and good ethics. However, there are other potential future conflicts of interest on the council not discussed or considered as exclusionary by the council. Kyle Kvamme is employed by ICON Architectural Group, a regional commercial project design firm headquartered in Grand Forks. Kvamme is the Director of Community Engagement and Project Development. He also recently became an owner in the firm. ICON is an obvious potential beneficiary of such a massive development as Fufeng’s, being a prominent local firm specializing in the design of buildings and layouts for large-scope projects. Bret Weber, who has been one of the most supportive voices on the council for the Fufeng project, is employed by the University of North Dakota as Department Chair and Professor of Social Work. Also employed by UND is Danny Weigel, who is the Investigations Commander and Public Information Officer for the UND Police force. Both have disclaimed any conflicts of interest. However, neither has disclosed that Fufeng USA is a tenant of the UND Center for Innovation, the university’s on-campus “entrepreneurial incubator”. Nor has Weigel shared if he has conducted any background checks on Fufeng Group or its representatives prior to them establishing occupancy in campus facilities. It is currently unknown if Fufeng USA is simply paying rent for part of the Center’s co-working office space in order to have a local presence, or if the company is a more integrated user of Center resources, such as the wet lab. The Center touts the wet lab as such: “High tech, bioscience, and scientific companies are all welcome at the UND Center for Innovation. Our state of the art wet lab makes innovations happen.” Given that Fufeng USA is, fundamentally, a biotech company that must cultivate and maintain various strains of bacteria to manufacture amino acids, it is not unreasonable to assume that the company has been, or will be, a major stakeholder in the Center. As the university already financially benefits from Fufeng’s presence in Grand Forks, the full scope of UND’s interest in current and future projects involving Fufeng should be disclosed. So, too, should it be considered a potential conflict of interest for university employees to vote as city council members on favorable considerations for a company that is an active revenue stream for the entity that cuts their paychecks. The obvious rebuttal of “it’s a drop in the bucket in the university’s overall revenue stream” is beside the point, and frankly, is an inappropriate attitude for a public official to hold. Just as with the city utilizing a disgraced former general to help gain Department of Defense approval for the project, or Weber indicating in the March 7th city council meeting that he feels public concerns about the project’s impact to national security are overblown, it seems that a number of city officials involved with this project are willing to excuse impropriety and ethical lapses as the cost of doing business with Chinese companies. Fufeng USA and Its Parent Companies Have No Known Connection to Forced Labor or Human Rights Crimes In China This is the murkiest and most troubling of all the accusations Fortis Analysis and other groups have leveled against Fufeng, yet has been hand-waived away by project proponents as unfounded innuendo because the firm has not been sanctioned specifically by U.S. authorities. But like most of the complex issues involved with this project, such casual dismissals betray a malignant ignorance of how and why sanctions law functions as it does in our nation. Fortunately for the Grand Forks city officials, we are here to provide accurate and detailed information that can help those officials make informed decisions in line with their sworn duty to their offices. The United States takes very seriously the issue of China’s human rights abuses, particularly in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of western China. In fact, the devastating suppression of non-Han ethnic groups in Xinjiang has been so intense that on 13 July 2021, the U.S. State Department issued its “Xinjiang Supply Chain Business Advisory”, with the summary reading as such: The People’s Republic of China (PRC) government continues to carry out genocide and crimes against humanity against Uyghurs and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (Xinjiang), China. The PRC’s crimes against humanity include imprisonment, torture, rape, forced sterilization, and persecution, including through forced labor and the imposition of draconian restrictions on freedom of religion or belief, freedom of expression, and freedom of movement. Businesses, individuals, and other persons, including but not limited to investors, consultants, labor brokers, academic institutions, and research service providers (hereafter “businesses and individuals”) with potential exposure to or connection with operations, supply chains, or laborers from the Xinjiang-region, should be aware of the significant reputational, economic, and legal risks of involvement with entities or individuals in or linked to Xinjiang that engage in human rights abuses, including but not limited to forced labor and intrusive surveillance. Given the severity and extent of these abuses, including widespread, state-sponsored forced labor and intrusive surveillance taking place amid ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, businesses and individuals that do not exit supply chains, ventures, and/or investments connected to Xinjiang could run a high risk of violating U.S. law. Potential legal risks include: violation of statutes criminalizing forced labor including knowingly benefitting from participation in a venture, while knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that the venture has engaged in forced labor; sanctions violations if dealing with designated persons; export control violations; and violation of the prohibition of importations of goods produced in whole or in part with forced labor or convict labor. Now, given how adept Chinese companies are at masking their participation in, or benefit derived in part from, these evil activities, the U.S. will utilize a standard called “rebuttable presumption” when investigating abuses and issuing sanctions under the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act and future similar laws. What this means is that a company accused of connection to human rights abuses in Xinjiang (or other provinces) in China are treated by U.S. authorities as essentially being guilty until proven innocent. Importantly, this does not just mean that the company in question is directly employing forced laborers. Any company that uses raw materials, goods, or labor at any point in its supply chain where forced labor is involved is considered just as guilty of the abuse - a presumption of illegal benefit that extends to every single subsidiary, wherever it may be located. As just one example of the new risk to American stakeholders from this expanded enforcement against China’s human rights abuse, Fufeng Group lists in its annual report that coal is the primary energy feedstock for its corn mills in China. Coal is one of the sectors most heavily targeted for enforcement and sanctions due to Chinese coal mining companies making extensive use of forced labor to keep production costs low. Fufeng Group specifically notes that it strategically locates its facilities close to coal-fired power plants, and that such practice is “instrumental in strengthening the Group’s pricing power.” Even more so than coal, Fufeng consumes corn at enormous rates. Thus, it makes sense that Fufeng tends to locate its operations not only close to coal power production, but also major agriculture regions. Here, too, Fufeng should be assumed to benefit substantially from lower raw material prices derived from the involvement of forced labor. In Heilongjiang province, Fufeng’s subsidiary Qiqihar Fufeng is located less than 50 miles from the sprawling Liusan Prison farm, managed by the Communist Party Committee Deputy Secretary of Liusan. Only a few miles further southwest from Liusan inside Inner Mongolia, there are numerous other farms at Wutaqi, Ulan, and the notorious Bao’anzhao Prison. Hulunbeier Northeast Fufeng Biotechnologies is located approximately 200 miles from the large prison farm at “Genghis Kahn Ranch” in Zalantun City. One of Fufeng’s largest plants, Neimenggu Fufeng Biotechnologies, is located in Hohhot City in Inner Mongolia. The entire administrative apparatus for the corporation that sells forced prison labor goods to Chinese and international consumers is called Inner Mongolia Hengzheng Industrial Group Co., Ltd., and also happens to be located in Hohhot City. As of October 2019, the company was run by Xu Hongguang, a CCP member and the Deputy Director of the Ministry of Justice of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. Among the company’s primary goods produced in the prisons and sold to companies in China are grains, processed agriculture commodities, and food ingredients. Notably, the company was sanctioned by the United States in October of 2020 for use of forced labor in manufacturing stevia sweetener, which like Fufeng’s products, are a derivative of biological processing. [Edit, 21 March 2022 - The original comment that stevia sweetener is a derivative of corn processing is not correct. The author has corrected the article.] It would require an absurd leap of faith to state that Fufeng has no plausible connections to, or benefit from, the expansive use of forced labor in agriculture production so logistically close to Fufeng’s major corn- and coal-consuming plants in Xingang, Heilongjiang, and Inner Mongolia. Should an investigation be raised by Commerce, State, or Treasury into the activities of any Fufeng Group subsidiary in connection to forced labor, it is highly likely that Fufeng would be unable to satisfy the rebuttable presumption of participation in the forced labor and abusive regimes in place in China. This would trigger automatic sanctions not only against Fufeng Group in China, but also their international subsidiaries such as First Biotech and Fufeng USA. Such sanctions would make it impossible for banks to lend to any of the affected entities in the United States or conduct normal business operations, shutting down the entire project in Grand Forks and invalidating the letter of credit the city proclaims as providing a no-risk guarantee to local taxpayers the city has not wasted money chasing a pot of gold at the end of the CCP’s genocidal rainbow. This Is Not the End As one can see, there is not much more that needs to be said about the Fufeng Group’s bid to purchase 370 acres of land in Grand Forks and build its wet corn mill. Nearly every single major talking point used by city officials and Fufeng USA is provably false or shaded with just enough truth to pass scrutiny of low-information voters. This is how it works when one chooses to do business with CCP-aligned entities who deliberately target local and state officials to circumvent the United States’ federal national security countermeasures. The officials, craving a big win to build their next campaign on, or perhaps finding some compelling self-interest in the economic aspects of the project, suspend all good sense and dive headfirst into extreme legal and moral hazard at the expense of their communities, their state, and their nation. Grand Forks Mayor Brandon Bochenski, City Council president Dana Sande, and their grasping enablers have (to this point) made the choice to do just that. And at least for now, we know that the most powerful weapon in the CCP’s gray zone war against the United States is not hypersonic missiles, cyberespionage, or theft of intellectual property. It’s 30 pieces of silver wrapped in a box of false promises to our elected officials. Addendum A number of Grand Forks residents and concerned stakeholders around the nation have expressed to this author their alarm and despair at the ease with which the Chinese Communist Party continues to corrupt and undermine the United States. That it all feels hopeless, and that our collapse as a nation is both certain and imminent. I will share this, then - Winston Churchill’s words to the Harrow School on 29 October 1941, in the midst of the darkest hours of Great Britain’s seemingly hopeless defense against the mighty Nazi war machine. “…Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never - in nothing, great or small, large or petty - never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy… Do not let us speak of darker days: let us speak rather of sterner days. These are not dark days; these are great days - the greatest days our country has ever lived; and we must all thank God that we have been allowed, each of us according to our stations, to play a part in making these days memorable in the history of our race.” Dum spiro spero. Subscribe to Human Terrain Tyler Durden Fri, 03/25/2022 - 23:00.....»»

Category: dealsSource: nytMar 25th, 2022

Shellenberger: Why We Will Save California (And Why Newsom Doesn"t Care)

Shellenberger: Why We Will Save California (And Why Newsom Doesn't Care) Authored by Michael Shellenberger via Substack, Like a lot of Californians, I have a full and happy life. My wife and I own a home in the Berkeley Hills from which we enjoy watching the fog roll underneath the Golden Gate bridge, and blanket the bay. Our children are healthy and happy. We enjoy a safe and comfortable living as researchers and writers, seemingly far from the chaos and suffering in California’s downtowns. But over the last few years, the rising chaos and suffering have increasingly troubled me. In 2018 I ran for governor to make the case for abundant housing to address homelessness. In 2019, I called for a State of Emergency on homelessness and mandatory psychiatric care or rehab for addicts and the mentally ill who break the law.  And in 2021, I co-founded a statewide coalition with parents of homeless drug addicts, parents of children killed by fentanyl, and recovering addicts, to advocate for a statewide psychiatric and addiction care system (“Cal-Psych”), a crackdown on open air and online drug markets, and a change from the state’s de facto “camp anywhere” policy to a ban on illegal camping. I thought we were making progress. In September, I button-holed Governor Gavin Newsom in San Francisco, and told him about Cal-Psych, explaining that it was a way to centralize psychiatric and addiction care. He told me, “I look forward to talking more about it!” When Joe Rogan asked me in October if I thought Newsom cared, I defended the governor, saying that I thought he did. But Newsom has failed to increase housing, refused to fight for universal health care, and has rejected the idea of a statewide psychiatric and addiction care system, choosing instead to double down on the same policies that created the homelessness crisis in the first place Today, Gov. @GavinNewsom will characterize his proposal for dealing with mentally ill homeless as "unprecedented" In truth, Newsom is proposing to waste more money on a system that HIS MOST SENIOR ADVISOR SAYS CAN'T WORK pic.twitter.com/VK8evvp2fE — Michael Shellenberger (@ShellenbergerMD) March 8, 2022 As a result, chaos and suffering are increasing nearly everywhere in California, even in small towns. Half of all fires in California’s cities are in homeless encampments, even though the unsheltered homeless are less than 0.005 percent of the state’s population. Firefighters and EMTs revive, at great cost, fentanyl addicts who overdose and nearly die — and then put the poor souls right back on the street again. And violent crime is rising because the police are understaffed and demoralized. California spends much more than other states on homelessness and mental illness and yet has worse outcomes. Homelessness increased 31 percent in California, over the last decade, while it declined 18 percent in the rest of the country. Recently, a drug-addicted 16-year-old girl, the age of my daughter, was allegedly raped, repeatedly, before overdosing on fentanyl, in an open drug scene in downtown San Francisco. Why won’t Governor Gavin Newsom take action to shut down the open drug scenes, and restore order? And what must be done?  Why Newsom Doesn’t Care In October, HarperCollins published San Fransicko, which assembles a significant body of evidence to show that what we call “homelessness” results primarily from untreated mental illness and addiction, not poverty and high rents. That book, my reporting on Substack, and my video interviews, helped change the national conversation. In mid-December of last year, San Francisco Mayor London Breed called for a crackdown on open air drug dealing and even “tough love.” Shortly after, I was invited to address the city’s Commonwealth Club.  But a few days before my Commonwealth Club talk I discovered, and was the first to report, that Mayor London Breed had secretly and illegally created a supervised fentanyl and meth use site in United Nations Plaza in downtown San Francisco. The site was part of a new, so-called “Linkage Center,” the centerpiece of the mayor’s plan to supposedly direct homeless addicts to rehab, but the site has only worsened open air drug use, drug dealing, and violent crime, and sent just a handful of people to rehab. The bottom line is that San Francisco city government has put the business interests of violent drug dealers above the needs of vulnerable 16 year-old homeless female drug addicts. When cities can no longer properly govern themselves, it is the role of the governor to intervene, but instead of using his State of the State address last week to lay out a vision for California to realize its incredible potential, Newsom was dehumanizing, disrespectful, and dishonest, and not just on the issue of homelessness. At a time when just nine percent of African American students, and 12 percent of Latino students in Los Angeles public schools are proficient in eighth-grade math, Newsom began by patronizingly praising his appointees for their racial identies, sexual preferences, and immigration status, not their achievements.  In his speech, the governor talked tough on forest fires — even though he cut the budget for fighting them, and the area treated for fire prevention declined by half, during his time in office. Newsom took credit for job growth even though California has a 6.5 percent unemployment rate, which is three percentage points higher than the national average, and three times higher than other states. We Californians have the highest income tax, highest gasoline tax, and highest sales tax in the United States, and yet suffer blackouts and abysmal public services. California’s residential electricity prices grew three times faster than they did in the rest of the U.S., in 2021. Last summer Newsom issued emergency rules allowing for the burning of dirty diesel fuel to prevent blackouts for 2.5 million people, and yet is moving full-speed ahead with plans to shut down Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, which provides reliable, pollution-free power for three million Californians, and whose closure could result in catastrophic blackouts. In other words, Newsom gave the speech a presidential candidate would make to Democratic primary voters in Iowa — not the speech a governor who cared about California would make. Naturally, Newsom made no mention of the two issues he had campaigned on in 2018, universal health care and adding 500,000 new housing units a year. It’s easy to see why. Health care legislation recently failed due to his lack of care, courage, and clarity. And new annual housing construction has been just one-fifth of what he promised, for the same reasons. Nor did Newsom discuss the shocking failure of California’s public schools. We spend more per capita than most other states and yet under half of our public school students are proficient in reading while just one-third are proficient in math. Those are the statistics of a failed state, and a failing civilization. Newsom refuses to do what must be done because that requires standing up to the interest groups he believes he needs to become president. “He wants to be on the biggest stage,” confessed a former Newsom aide to The Los Angeles Times. “The obvious what-next for a governor of California is president of the United States.” The governor’s political ambitions stand in stark contrast to the gritty realities on the street. While Newsom and his aides were pitching to reporters last week that his State of the State speech would be “upbeat,” the parents of the 16 year-old girl killed by fentanyl dealers were quietly grieving her death. Courage To Care “We have got to find the courage to care for California.” @ShellenbergerMD on what his message will be to voters as he hits the campaign trail to @NikkiLaurenzo on #InsideCAPolitics pic.twitter.com/nwyIUGzb2Q— Inside California Politics (@CAinsider) March 13, 2022 The suffering and chaos resulting from California’s vacuum of leadership led me to once again decide to run for governor. I am heartbroken at the humanitarian disaster in the streets, angry that the politicians keep making things worse, and inspired by our vision for saving California. It is fair to say that I am an underdog. Newsom defeated last year’s recall election by an astonishing margin: 62 - 38 percent. He has $25 million in the bank. And he is gifted at dividing Californians, and demonizing his opponents, in ways that distract from his failures. But I am not a longshot. I would not have decided to run again if I didn’t feel we could come in second place in the open primary election on June 7, proceed to the November 8 general election, and defeat Newsom. By then, I will have won a mandate to implement Cal-Psych and finally solve the homeless crisis which Newsom has, over the last 20 years, made worse.  Newsom and the interest groups that control him will no doubt attempt to demonize me with liberal voters, but I have long supported LGBTQ rights, the right of women to make their own decision on abortion, strong gun safety laws, universal health care, decriminalized marijuana and psychedelics for medical and spiritual purposes, and strong action on climate change, alongside more funding for the police, the continued operation of our last nuclear plant, and mandatory treatment of addicts and the untreated mentally ill homeless as an alternative to jail or prison when they break the law. Under my leadership, California will deal with the homeless drug addiction and mental illness crisis in a humane and efficient way and give us the momentum to build the societal consensus we need to achieve changes on other, long-delayed reforms around energy, water, and the environment, and schools, housing, and infrastructure.  My parents were teachers and my mother a representative of the teachers union. As governor I will work with all parties, including interest groups like the teachers union. But I will not be hostage to them. I will fight for the higher-quality, better scheduled, and more personalized education system our children need. That will require that parents have more choices. But it will also require consequences for the schools that are failing to educate our children I believe that most Californians are sick and tired of being divided, whether by Left and Right, or by race and sex, and will support an agenda that brings us together. We need law and order, but we also need psychiatric care. We need more housing, but we also need to protect our quality of life. We need cheap and reliable energy, but we also need to make progress on climate change. I am a lifelong Democrat but changed my party affiliation to “No Party Preference” last year out of disgust with both parties. Initial polling show our agenda draws equal numbers of independents, Democrats, and Republicans. As such, not only can not only win, we can create the governing majority California needs. None of this will be easy and in fact will be hard. I expect my name to be dragged through the mud, and I don’t expect it to be pleasant. But it’s hard things, not soft ones, that bring out our best, as individuals as as movements. And I am heartened by the overwhelming response from my friends and supporters to my announcement. My family and I will be fine, no matter what happens. Indeed, our lives will be more comfortable if we lose than if we win. But the lives of the people suffering around us won’t be fine no matter what. Many more people on the street will die, often in gruesome fashion, unnecessarily. In the end, our lives are not our own. All of us, not just Helen, our movement, and me, are being called to serve. With this announcement, we are answering the call. We hope you will, too.  Tyler Durden Mon, 03/14/2022 - 20:20.....»»

Category: dealsSource: nytMar 14th, 2022

January 6: A Legacy Of Troubling Questions

January 6: A Legacy Of Troubling Questions Authored by Joseph Hannemann via The Epoch Times, The hardened-steel baton made the most disturbing sound as it bounced off Victoria White’s skull. It varied between a hollow click and a deeper snap, depending on where on her head the metal weapon made contact. “Please don’t beat her!” a man in the crowd yelled. It was chaos in the West Terrace tunnel entrance of the U.S. Capitol on the afternoon of Jan. 6, 2021. Outside, thousands who had attended President Donald Trump’s “Save America” rally milled about the terrace, while groups of rioters battled police near the tunnel. An almost demonic cacophony emanated from under the tunnel arch. “I didn’t even touch you,” a woman cried. “I need help! I need help,” a man shouted. “Stand up, dammit!” intoned a police officer in riot gear. “Get out!” boomed another. Then a blood-curdling scream, followed by the ear-splitting sound of an emergency siren. Victoria White appears prone or near-collapse in several parts of a five-minute video. (Screen Captures/Joseph McBride) After repeatedly striking White in the head, the officer in white holstered his baton. Then he made a fist with his bare left hand and punched White in the face. “Oh, no-no-no! Please! Please don’t beat her!” someone shouted, to no effect. After three full-force knuckle shots to White’s head, the officer in white paused. Then he went in for two more blows. He grabbed the hair at the back of her head and pulled it hard. White looked dazed and confused. She wore a blank stare. Another officer reached in with his baton in an apparent attempt to prevent more blows. The officer in white grabbed his colleague’s arm and shoved it back at him. The almost unbelievable violence meted out on the unarmed, 5-foot-4-inch White provides a stark contrast to the often-preached narrative that Jan. 6 was strictly an insurrection carried out by mobs of Trump supporters wanting to overthrow the government. White was a victim of brutality. Her lawyer is preparing a civil suit. Hers is one of the hidden stories of Jan. 6, exposed only after a federal judge ordered that three hours of surveillance video held by the U.S. Department of Justice be released to White’s attorney. Political Divide Widens The voluminous media coverage in the weeks leading up to the one-year anniversary of Jan. 6 demonstrates the substantial and growing divide between Americans of differing political stripes. The prevailing narrative is that supporters of Trump, whipped into a frenzy by his Jan. 6 speech at the Ellipse, descended on the U.S. Capitol in a violent attempt to upend democracy. A large crowd of Trump supporters—estimates ranged from 30,000 on the low end to 2 million on the high end—crowded the Ellipse to hear the president rail against the 2020 presidential election. Trump contended, along with millions of supporters, that widespread election fraud in key states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Georgia, Arizona, and Wisconsin had robbed him of a second term and placed Democrat Joe Biden in an illegitimate presidency. The speech started approximately an hour later than scheduled. Well before Trump concluded his remarks, a group of protesters breached a lightly guarded barrier on the Capitol’s pedestrian walkway. They quickly headed for the Capitol building. By the time the throngs of rally-goers made the long walk to the Capitol grounds, the perimeter fencing and security signs indicating the site was restricted had been methodically removed. As tens of thousands of protesters surrounded the Capitol, pockets of violence broke out. Windows were broken, and protesters climbed inside, just after 2 p.m. At other entrances, protesters found doors propped open and proceeded inside like tourists. The circumstances of the worst violence are hotly contested, but the results were real. Trump supporter Ashli Babbitt, 35, was shot and killed by a Capitol Police officer as she attempted to enter the Speaker’s Lobby. White and others were beaten by police in or near the West Terrace tunnel, attorneys say. Aaron Babbitt with his wife, Ashli, who was killed at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. “She loved life,” he said. (Courtesy of Aaron Babbitt) Some 140 police were injured during battles with rioters. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick died on Jan. 7, 2021, although his death was eventually determined to be from natural causes. Capitol Police Officer Howard Liebengood and Washington Metropolitan Police Officer Jeffrey Smith—both of whom were on duty at the Capitol—took their own lives in the weeks after Jan. 6. President Joe Biden described Jan. 6 as the “worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War.” The Associated Press asserted it was “the most sustained attack on the seat of American democracy since the War of 1812.” Steven Sund, former U.S. Capitol Police chief, called it “a coordinated violent attack on the United States Capitol by thousands of well-equipped armed insurrectionists.” Many Americans don’t see those words as hyperbole, insisting Trump-fueled mobs fully intended to disrupt the U.S. Congress and overthrow the federal government. Across the political chasm are those who reject that dominant narrative, and assert that while Jan. 6 was many things, it was no insurrection. They view that characterization as a convenient way to suppress the truth. The real Jan. 6 story, they believe, remains hidden on some 14,000 hours of surveillance video from around the Capitol grounds. Portions of that video will undoubtedly be unsealed as some of the more than 725 people arrested for alleged Jan. 6-related crimes go on trial. Whatever the chaos of that infamous day is called, one thing seems clear. The full Jan. 6 story hasn’t been told. One year later, the legacy of Jan. 6 is a trail of troubling questions—the answers to which could rock American politics and deepen the divide between its citizens. Is There Evidence of Treason or Sedition? In response to the violence at the Capitol, the FBI launched one of the most sweeping investigations in its history. Agents pored over cell phone video, social media postings, surveillance video, and police bodycam footage to identify those who were at the Capitol that day. The FBI opened a national tip line and posted videos and photographs of protesters. Tips came from many sources, including neighbors and family members who turned in their relatives. Of the more than 725 people arrested over the past year, no one was charged with treason or sedition. At least 225 defendants were charged with assaulting, resisting, or impeding police, including 75 who allegedly used a deadly or dangerous weapon, or caused serious bodily injury to an officer. Two men climb over other protesters and lunge at police officers guarding the entrance to the West Terrace tunnel at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. (Screen Capture via The Epoch Times) The most common charge issued by federal prosecutors—involving 640 individuals—was for entering or remaining in a restricted federal building or grounds. About 40 percent of all those arrested were charged with impeding or attempting to impede an official proceeding—the certification of the Electoral College votes from the 2020 presidential election. Of the 165 people who have pleaded guilty to date, nearly 90 percent of the cases involved misdemeanors. The rest were felonies. Are There Any Investigative Conclusions? House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) appointed a select committee to investigate the Jan. 6 breach and subsequent violence. That group’s work is ongoing. Preliminary findings could be made public by summer. Republican House members are conducting their own probe, but complain that Democrats refuse to cooperate or share records with their GOP colleagues. The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, and the Committee on Rules and Administration, issued a report on the Capitol breach that cited a range of intelligence and law enforcement failures that enabled the violence. Among the findings in the Senate report was that neither the FBI nor the Department of Homeland Security issued formal intelligence bulletins about the potential for violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6. The FBI’s Norfolk field office sent out a situational information report late on Jan. 5, warning of individuals traveling to Washington for “war” at the Capitol, but the agency overall didn’t view as credible online posts calling for violence. Capitol Police didn’t have a department-wide operational plan or staffing plan for the Jan. 6 joint session of Congress, the report said. It faulted a lack of training in civil disturbances and a failure to provide basic protective equipment to rank-and-file officers. Who Incited the Capitol Breach and Violence? Independent media and online sleuths sounded alarms about the presence of unindicted individuals among those who first breached the Capitol at about 12:50 p.m. These men played a central role in the breach, encouraged protesters to go to the Capitol, and directed people into the building. Yet they haven’t been arrested, indicted, or identified by the FBI as among the wanted. Who were they? A man—now known to be Ray Epps of Queen Creek, Arizona—was captured on video on Jan. 5, 2021, attempting to recruit Trump supporters to assault the Capitol the next day. “Tomorrow, we need to go into the Capitol,” Epps says, as seen in a video clip. “Into the Capitol!” A man near him says, “What?” and others are heard shouting, “No!” Then the crowd breaks into a chant: “Fed! Fed! Fed! Fed!”—accusing Epps of being a federal agent. Ray Epps seen on Jan. 5, 2021, trying to recruit men to attack the Capitol. They accuse him of being a federal agent. (CapitolPunishmentTheMovie.com/Bark at the Hole Productions) Epps gets into verbal sparring with some of the Trump supporters. “You’re counterproductive to our cause,” one young man shouts. Epps shouts back, staying on message: “It doesn’t matter. … That’s not what we’re here for. … You’re getting off the subject. … We’re here for another reason.” Another video shows Epps saying, “Tomorrow—I don’t even like to say it because I’ll be arrested,” prompting a man nearby to reply, “Then let’s not say it.” Epps responds: “I’ll say it. We need to go into the Capitol!” A young man in the crowd, wearing an American flag neck gaiter, replies, “I didn’t see that coming!” On Jan. 6, as crowds milled about the Washington Monument in long lines to get in to watch Trump’s speech, Epps could be heard shouting through a megaphone: “As soon as our president is done speaking, we are going to the Capitol, where our problems are. It’s that direction. Please spread the word!” Epps is seen again in video footage taken at the metal barricades outside the Capitol at 12:50 p.m., as a small crowd chants, “USA! USA!” He whispers something in the ear of a man wearing a backward Make America Great Again cap. A few seconds later, the young man helps push over the barricade as Epps steps back to watch. This first breach of the security perimeter was 20 minutes before Trump finished his speech. Epps is then seen sprinting with the crowd up the steps toward the Capitol. A few days after the Jan. 6 violence, the FBI placed a photo of Epps on a “Seeking Information” poster, asking for the public’s help in identifying those who breached the Capitol. He could be seen in Photograph No. 16. That photo has since been scrubbed from the FBI website. Ray Epps is shown at lower left on an early FBI wanted poster, but his photo has since been scrubbed from the FBI website. (FBI.gov/Wayback Machine) On the current list of 1,559 photographs of people the FBI wants to identify, there is no longer a No. 16. The list skips from Photograph No. 15 to Photograph No. 17. Epps hasn’t been arrested or charged. John Guandolo, a former FBI agent and counter-terrorism expert who was on the Capitol grounds on Jan. 6, said he saw FBI agents dressed as protesters. “For a good portion of the day, I was with law enforcement, FBI, etcetera,” Guandolo said in an interview for the documentary “Capitol Punishment.” “Guys would walk by, and we’d look at each other and be like, ‘Two more right there. Here comes another. There’s another one.’ They were everywhere.” Revolver, an alternative news outlet, identified others around the Capitol grounds who were active participants in the breach but whose photos weren’t included on the FBI’s wanted list. One man, wearing a grey Bulwark jacket, knit cap, and sunglasses, is seen on video rolling up the green plastic fencing around the security perimeter. He pulls up the stakes and removes the “Area Closed” signs. A man in a blue cap with a blue bullhorn is seen in multiple videos atop the media tower erected for the inauguration. Dubbed “Scaffold Commander” by online researchers, he barks out directives and encouragement for 90 minutes. “Don’t just stand there! Keep moving!” “Move forward! Help somebody over the wall!” Once the crowd filled in around the Capitol, Scaffold Commander switched gears. “We’re in! Come on! We gotta fill up the Capitol! Come now, we need help!” Revolver’s video investigation said that whether or not Epps and Scaffold Commander knew each other, their words and actions worked well together. “So we have Scaffold Commander directing the body of the crowd from the tower above, and Ray Epps directing the vanguard front-liners at the police line below,” the Dec. 18 story read. “Yet neither one of them has been prosecuted, nor is either presently ‘wanted’ by the FBI.” Revolver founder Darren Beattie took to Twitter to ask Epps to expose who his handlers were. “But now, it is time to think for yourself, Ray. Forget about your boat and your ranch and your grill. If you make the right move and tell the truth, you change everything,” Beattie wrote on Dec. 29. Neither Epps, the FBI, nor federal prosecutors have commented on Epps’s actions that day, on whether he worked for the FBI, or on why he hasn’t been indicted. Epps told an Arizona Republic reporter on Jan. 12, 2021, “I didn’t do anything wrong.” Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) asked Attorney General Merrick Garland on Oct. 21 to dispel concerns about the Epps videos, but Garland wouldn’t comment. I just played this video for AG Merrick Garland. He refused to comment on how many agents or assets of the federal government were present in the crowd on Jan 5th and 6th and how many entered the Capitol. pic.twitter.com/lvd9n4mMHK — Thomas Massie (@RepThomasMassie) October 21, 2021 “You’ve said this was one of the most sweeping investigations in history,” Massie said during a public hearing. “Have you seen that video, those frames from that video?” Garland began talking about a standing practice of not commenting on investigative specifics, before Massie interrupted him: “How many agents or assets of the federal government were present on January 6th, whether they agitated to go into the Capitol, and if any of them did?” Garland’s reply: “I’m not going to comment on an investigation that’s ongoing.” What Is the Significance of Unindicted Actors? Attorneys who represent Jan. 6 defendants say if Epps or other participants were FBI informants or agents, then it blows a hole in the idea that Trump supporters were solely responsible for violence at the Capitol. Participation by government actors could legally invalidate conspiracy charges, they say. Attorney Jonathon Moseley, who represents Jan. 6 defendant Kelly Meggs of Dunnellon, Florida, a member of the Oath Keepers, issued subpoenas to Epps, Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes, and other men who played visible roles on Jan. 6. As Meggs’s April trial on conspiracy charges approaches, Moseley wants to know why Epps was at the Trump rally and Capitol, and whether he was working for the government. Moseley said Epps was seen at the first breach of a police line at the pedestrian walkway, about 200 yards from the Capitol building. Video shows Epps as he appears to rush the makeshift barricade erected by police, “then stops short,” Moseley said. Ray Epps at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, shortly before pepper gas is shot into the crowd. “Been a long time,” he says after coughing. “Aah, I love it!” (Screen Capture/Rumble) “It’s like he’s head-faking people to rush with him, but then he never touches it,” he said. “A police officer falls—I think it may be a woman—and his immediate instinct is to go help her, and he thinks better of it and steps back. It really looks like he’s undercover.” Moseley said the involvement of government-paid actors in facilitating or inciting the breach of the Capitol complex would create reasonable doubt in just about any of the Jan. 6 cases. “There are legal consultants who keep emphasizing that, legally, you can’t conspire with the government. So if he’s working directly or indirectly for the government, then people are innocent of the conspiracy,” Moseley said. “It’s a legal rule. If there are 10 people conspiring and one of them is with the government, not only could it be entrapment, but it also may invalidate a conspiracy.” That type of legal issue has been raised in a Michigan case in which a group of men stand accused in federal court of a plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat. Defense attorneys recently filed a motion to dismiss the case, contending that government agents and informants concocted the kidnapping plan and pushed to convince the defendants to participate. Are Jan. 6 Detainees Political Prisoners? Third-world banana republics are notorious for terrible prison conditions and brutal treatment of the accused and convicted alike. Some lawyers, family members, and defendants believe the District of Columbia operates a jail that would be at home in any of those countries. The jail is sometimes called “DC-GITMO,” after the U.S.-run terrorist detention camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The poor accommodations at the D.C. jail have long been the subject of discussion in the nation’s capital. The Washington Post said conditions there were “deplorable,” an ironic descriptor, considering who the jail’s primary occupants are these days. The issue got national attention in 2021 because of repeated allegations of brutal, abusive treatment of men accused of Jan. 6 crimes. A 28-page report issued in late 2021 by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) said treatment of Jan. 6 detainees was “inhumane.” (Document Cover/Marjorie Taylor Greene) “American citizens are being tortured right now within five miles of the White House,” said Joseph McBride, a New York attorney who represents a half-dozen Jan. 6 defendants. “America does not punish its citizens pre-trial,” McBride wrote on Twitter. “Authoritarian regimes do.” McBride said his clients have suffered treatment that should never happen in America, all because they supported Trump by being at the U.S. Capitol on that fateful day. During incarceration, they’ve suffered—among other things—severe beatings by guards; the denial of medical attention, including medications for chemotherapy; and refusal of food, McBride said. Christopher Quaglin, charged with assaulting police officers during the riot, suffers from celiac disease, but the jail feeds him only food with gluten, McBride said. He has been refused medical treatment. “Yes, we are extremely concerned that he will die,” McBride wrote on Twitter on Dec. 27. Ted Hull, the superintendent of Northern Neck Regional Jail, where Quaglin is housed, said McBride’s assertions are wrong. Christopher Quaglin with his wife, Moria, who fears her husband could die without medical attention in federal custody. (Courtesy Quaglin Family) “Regardless of Mr. McBride’s fictitious assertions,” Hull told The Epoch Times, “inmate Quaglin is and has been receiving the appropriate dietitian-designed diet consistent with his specific dietary requirements and the appropriate level of medical services consistent with his diagnosis.” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) toured the D.C. jail with Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) in November, then issued a 28-page report titled “Unusually Cruel.” The report said the conditions for the Jan. 6 detainees were “inhumane.” Couy Griffin, the founder of Cowboys for Trump who attended the Jan. 6 Trump rally and was on the Capitol grounds, never went inside the Capitol building. He was charged with entering and remaining in a restricted building, and disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted building. He was arrested and jailed, but eventually released while awaiting trial. “I spent the next nine days in that cell in total solitary confinement. No shower, no phone, no attorney,” Griffin said in the film “Capitol Punishment.” The guards, he said, often chanted “F Trump! F Trump!” and called him an “[expletive] white cracker.” He complained about his treatment to the deputy warden, who he said told him, “The only job these guards have is to keep your chest moving up and down.” Richard Barnett of Gravette, Arkansas, faced seven charges for his alleged actions on Jan. 6, including sitting in the office chair of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, captured in a now-iconic news photograph. One day during his four-month detention, Barnett experienced tightness in his chest and arm pain. He called for help, but the guard who responded only mocked and laughed at him. Barnett then called out to a female staff member, who said she would get help. “Richard [lay] there for a significant period of time—certainly enough for him to die,” read McBride’s report on jail conditions, which he sent to Amnesty International. After being given a medical checkup and returned to his cell, Barnett fell asleep. A guard began pounding on the glass door to his cell, jolting him awake so quickly he stood up and then fainted, hitting his head on the sink. Now bleeding from a head wound, Barnett screamed for an hour before help came, the report said. One day, Barnett’s cell door opened, and some nine officers entered, cuffing his wrists and shackling his legs. Guards violently shook him back and forth, lifted him off his feet by the shackles, and slammed him headfirst into the concrete floor, according to McBride’s report, a copy of which was also sent to the American Civil Liberties Union. The U.S. Marshals Service conducted a surprise inspection of the D.C. jail facilities in October and interviewed 300 detainees. Conditions at the jail “do not meet the minimum standards of confinement,” the Marshals report said. As a result, the Marshals Service removed all of its detainees and transferred them to facilities in the federal Bureau of Prisons. This didn’t include the Jan. 6 detainees. Emery Nelson, spokesperson for the Bureau of Prisons, said the agency doesn’t comment on “anecdotal allegations” or provide information about individual inmates. “The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is committed to accommodating the needs of federal offenders and ensuring the safety and security of all inmates in our population, our staff, and the public,” Nelson said. “The BOP takes seriously our duty to protect the individuals entrusted in our care.” Who Died at the Capitol on Jan. 6? One person was killed at the hands of U.S. Capitol Police, and police action might have contributed to the death of two others, but the four other deaths related to Jan. 6 were either from natural causes or suicides. Ashli Babbitt was shot in the left shoulder and killed as she crawled through a broken window at the entry to the Speaker’s Lobby. Ashli’s husband, Aaron Babbitt, said a careful examination of video footage from the hallway indicates Ashli was upset with rioters who smashed glass in the double doors. He thinks she panicked and sought escape through the window, only to be shot by Lt. Michael Byrd as a result. She was unarmed and presented no threat to anyone, Aaron Babbitt said. Capitol Police Lt. Michael Byrd aims his Glock 22 at the window where Ashli Babbitt was about to appear. (CapitolPunishmentTheMovie/Bark at the Hole Productions) Rosanne Boyland, 34, of Georgia, died in or near the West Terrace tunnel at the Capitol. McBride says surveillance video shows Boyland was beaten by a police officer as she lay on the ground. The D.C. medical examiner ruled the death accidental: intoxication from a prescription medication. Kevin Greeson, 51, of Georgia, died on the Capitol grounds of a heart attack brought on by cardiovascular disease, the medical examiner ruled. Benjamin Phillips, 50, of Pennsylvania, died of atherosclerosis, heart disease characterized by fatty plaques that build up in the arteries, the medical examiner ruled. Of the three police officers who died in the weeks following Jan. 6, Sicknick died from natural causes, and Liebengood and Smith died from suicide. Did Democrats Weaponize Jan. 6? Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), ranking member of the Committee on House Administration, accused House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Democrats of “weaponizing events of January 6th against their political adversaries.” Davis sent a letter to Pelosi on Jan. 3, 2022, complaining that House Democrats repeatedly obstructed attempts by Republican lawmakers to investigate security vulnerabilities at the U.S. Capitol before and during Jan. 6 violence. The obstruction came through denial of House records and ignoring repeated requests for documents, Davis wrote. “Unfortunately, over the past twelve months, House Democrats have been more interested in exploiting the events of January 6th for political purposes than in conducting basic oversight of the security vulnerabilities exposed that day,” Davis wrote. Specifically, lawmakers want to know about a request that former U.S. Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund said he made to then-House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul Irving prior to Jan. 6 for “the assistance of the National Guard,” Davis wrote. Sund reported that Irving was “concerned about the ‘optics’ of a National Guard presence at the Capitol.” During violence on Jan. 6, when Sund asked about getting authorization for the National Guard, Irving responded that he “needed to run it up the chain of command,” the letter said. Former U.S. Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund testifies at a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and Senate Rules and Administration committees joint hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on Feb. 23, 2021. (Erin Scott/Pool/AFP via Getty Images) In February 2021 testimony before the U.S. Senate, Irving denied Sund’s claims. Republican lawmakers then requested access to Irving’s communications to substantiate that denial. Davis said he wrote to House General Counsel Douglas Letter to request those records, but Letter never replied. “Both the Sergeant at Arms and the chief administration officer failed to produce any documents to Republicans pursuant to our requests,” Davis wrote, “suggesting that these House officers may be providing documents only to Democrats on a partisan basis.” Davis said Republicans want to know why Sund’s Jan. 4, 2021, request for National Guard support on Jan. 6 was denied, and whether Pelosi or her staff ordered the refusal. They also want to know what conversations occurred during Capitol violence on Jan. 6, when Sund again asked for National Guard help. Finally, they want to know why the select committee on Jan. 6, appointed by Pelosi, won’t examine the speaker’s role “in ensuring the proper House security preparations,” the letter said. When asked whether the speaker had responded to Davis, Henry Connelly, Pelosi’s communications director, referred The Epoch Times to a statement issued by House Administration Committee Chair Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.). “The Ranking Member’s letter is pure revisionist fiction. The Chief Administrative Officer and House Sergeant at Arms have already notified Ranking Member Davis they are complying with preservation requests and will fully cooperate with various law enforcement investigations and bonafide congressional inquiries,” Lofgren said in the statement. From the inception of the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, Republican leadership discounted its work because Pelosi rejected two of the five Republicans chosen by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) for the probe. McCarthy then withdrew his picks. Pelosi appointed Reps. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) to serve on the nine-member panel. The select committee could issue at least an interim report by mid-2022 and a final report in the fall, committee sources told several media outlets. Committee chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said in December that there was no set schedule for public hearings to release the group’s findings. The Epoch Times asked the Department of Justice for comment on the presence of federal agents on Jan. 6, but didn’t receive a reply by press time. The Epoch Times contacted Epps through his business for comment, but didn’t receive a reply by press time. Tyler Durden Thu, 01/06/2022 - 16:20.....»»

Category: blogSource: zerohedgeJan 6th, 2022

2021 Greatest Hits: The Most Popular Articles Of The Past Year And A Look Ahead

2021 Greatest Hits: The Most Popular Articles Of The Past Year And A Look Ahead One year ago, when looking at the 20 most popular stories of 2020, we said that the year would be a very tough act to follow as there "could not have been more regime shifts, volatility moments, and memes than 2020." And yet despite the exceedingly high bar for 2021, the year did not disappoint and proved to be a successful contender, and if judging by the sheer breadth of narratives, stories, surprises, plot twists and unexpected developments, 2021 was even more memorable and event-filled than 2020. Where does one start? While covid was the story of 2020, the pandemic that emerged out of a (Fauci-funded) genetic lab team in Wuhan, China dominated newsflow, politics and capital markets for the second year in a row. And while the biggest plot twist of 2020 was Biden's victory over Trump in the presidential election (it took the pandemic lockdowns and mail-in ballots to hand the outcome to Biden), largely thanks to Covid, Biden failed to hold to his biggest presidential promise of defeating covid, and not only did he admit in late 2021 that there is "no Federal solution" to covid waving a white flag of surrender less than a year into his presidency, but following the recent emergence of the Xi, pardon Omicron variant, the number of covid cases in the US has just shattered all records. The silver lining is not only that deaths and hospitalizations have failed to follow the number of cases, but that the scaremongering narrative itself is starting to melt in response to growing grassroots discontent with vaccine after vaccine and booster after booster, which by now it is clear, do nothing to contain the pandemic. And now that it is clear that omicron is about as mild as a moderate case of the flu, the hope has finally emerged that this latest strain will finally kill off the pandemic as it becomes the dominant, rapidly-spreading variant, leading to worldwide herd immunity thanks to the immune system's natural response. Yes, it may mean billions less in revenue for Pfizer and Moderna, but it will be a colossal victory for the entire world. The second biggest story of 2021 was undoubtedly the scourge of soaring inflation, which contrary to macrotourist predictions that it would prove "transitory", refused to do so and kept rising, and rising, and rising, until it hit levels not seen since the Volcker galloping inflation days of the 1980s. The only difference of course is that back then, the Fed Funds rate hit 20%. Now it is at 0%, and any attempts to hike aggressively will lead to a horrific market crash, something the Fed knows very well. Whether this was due to supply-chain blockages and a lack of goods and services pushing prices higher, or due to massive stimulus pushing demand for goods - and also prices - higher, or simply the result of a record injection of central bank liquidity into the system, is irrelevant but what does matter is that it got so bad that even Biden, facing a mauling for his Democratic party in next year's midterm elections, freaked out about soaring prices and pushed hard to lower the price of gasoline, ordering releases from the US Strategic Petroleum Reserve and vowing to punish energy companies that dare to make a profit, while ordering Powell to contain the surge in prices even if means the market is hit. Unfortunately for Biden, the market will be hit even as inflation still remain red hot for much of the coming year. And speaking of markets, while 2022 may be a year when the piper finally gets paid, 2021 was yet another blockbuster year for risk assets, largely on the back of the continued global response to the 2020 covid pandemic, when as we wrote last year, we saw "the official arrival of global Helicopter Money, tens of trillions in fiscal and monetary stimulus, an overhaul of the global economy punctuated by an unprecedented explosion in world debt, an Orwellian crackdown on civil liberties by governments everywhere, and ultimately set the scene for what even the World Economic Forum called simply "The Great Reset." Yes, the staggering liquidity injections that started in 2020, continued throughout 2021 and the final tally is that after $3 trillion in emergency liquidity injections in the immediate aftermath of the pandemic to stabilize the world, the Fed injected almost $2 trillion in the subsequent period, of which $1.5 trillion in 2021, a year where economists were "puzzled" why inflation was soaring. This, of course, excludes the tens of trillions of monetary stimulus injected by other central banks as well as the boundless fiscal stimulus that was greenlighted with the launch of helicopter money (i.e., MMT) in 2020. It's also why with inflation running red hot and real rates the lowest they have ever been, everyone was forced to rush into the "safety" of stocks (or stonks as they came to be known among GenZ), and why after last year's torrid stock market returns, the S&P rose another 27% in 2021 and up a staggering 114% from the March 2020 lows, in the process trouncing all previous mega-rallies (including those in 1929, 1938, 1974 and 2009)... ... making this the third consecutive year of double-digit returns. This reminds us of something we said last year: "it's almost as if the world's richest asset owners requested the covid pandemic." A year later, we got confirmation for this rhetorical statement, when we calculated that in the 18 months since the covid pandemic, the richest 1% of US society have seen their net worth increase by over $30 trillion. As a result, the US is now officially a banana republic where the middle 60% of US households by income - a measure economists use as a definition of the middle class - saw their combined assets drop from 26.7% to 26.6% of national wealth as of June, the lowest in Federal Reserve data, while for the first time the super rich had a bigger share, at 27%. Yes, the 1% now own more wealth than the entire US middle class, a definition traditionally reserve for kleptocracies and despotic African banana republics. It wasn't just the rich, however: politicians the world over would benefit from the transition from QE to outright helicopter money and MMT which made the over monetization of deficits widely accepted in the blink of an eye. The common theme here is simple: no matter what happens, capital markets can never again be allowed to drop, regardless of the cost or how much more debt has to be incurred. Indeed, as we look back at the news barrage over the past year, and past decade for that matter, the one thing that becomes especially clear amid the constant din of markets, of politics, of social upheaval and geopolitical strife - and now pandemics -  in fact a world that is so flooded with constant conflicting newsflow and changing storylines that many now say it has become virtually impossible to even try to predict the future, is that despite the people's desire for change, for something original and untried, the world's established forces will not allow it and will fight to preserve the broken status quo at any price - even global coordinated shutdowns - which is perhaps why it always boils down to one thing - capital markets, that bedrock of Western capitalism and the "modern way of life", where control, even if it means central planning the likes of which have not been seen since the days of the USSR, and an upward trajectory must be preserved at all costs, as the alternative is a global, socio-economic collapse. And since it is the daily gyrations of stocks that sway popular moods the interplay between capital markets and politics has never been more profound or more consequential. The more powerful message here is the implicit realization and admission by politicians, not just Trump who had a penchant of tweeting about the S&P every time it rose, but also his peers on both sides of the aisle, that the stock market is now seen as the consummate barometer of one's political achievements and approval. Which is also why capital markets are now, more than ever, a political tool whose purpose is no longer to distribute capital efficiently and discount the future, but to manipulate voter sentiments far more efficiently than any fake Russian election interference attempt ever could. Which brings us back to 2021 and the past decade, which was best summarized by a recent Bill Blain article who said that "the last 10-years has been a story of massive central banking distortion to address the 2008 crisis. Now central banks face the consequences and are trapped. The distortion can’t go uncorrected indefinitely." He is right: the distortion will eventually collapse especially if the Fed follows through with its attempt rate hikes some time in mid-2020, but so far the establishment and the "top 1%" have been successful - perhaps the correct word is lucky - in preserving the value of risk assets: on the back of the Fed's firehose of liquidity the S&P500 returned an impressive 27% in 2021, following a 15.5% return in 2020 and 28.50% in 2019. It did so by staging the greatest rally off all time from the March lows, surpassing all of the 4 greatest rallies off the lows of the past century (1929,1938, 1974, and 2009). Yet this continued can-kicking by the establishment - all of which was made possible by the covid pandemic and lockdowns which served as an all too convenient scapegoat for the unprecedented response that served to propel risk assets (and fiat alternatives such as gold and bitcoin) to all time highs - has come with a price... and an increasingly higher price in fact. As even Bank of America CIO Michael Hartnett admits, Fed's response to the the pandemic "worsened inequality" as the value of financial assets - Wall Street -  relative to economy - Main Street - hit all-time high of 6.3x. And while the Fed was the dynamo that has propelled markets higher ever since the Lehman collapse, last year certainly had its share of breakout moments. Here is a sampling. Gamestop and the emergence of meme stonks and the daytrading apes: In January markets were hypnotized by the massive trading volumes, rolling short squeezes and surging share prices of unremarkable established companies such as consoles retailer GameStop and cinema chain AMC and various other micro and midcap names. What began as a discussion on untapped value at GameStop on Reddit months earlier by Keith Gill, better known as Roaring Kitty, morphed into a hedge fund-orchestrated, crowdsourced effort to squeeze out the short position held by a hedge fund, Melvin Capital. The momentum flooded through the retail market, where daytraders shunned stocks and bought massive out of the money calls, sparking rampant "gamma squeezes" in the process forcing some brokers to curb trading. Robinhood, a popular broker for day traders and Citadel's most lucrative "subsidiary", required a cash injection to withstand the demands placed on it by its clearing house. The company IPOed later in the year only to see its shares collapse as it emerged its business model was disappointing hollow absent constant retail euphoria. Ultimately, the market received a crash course in the power of retail investors on a mission. Ultimately, "retail favorite" stocks ended the year on a subdued note as the trading frenzy from earlier in the year petered out, but despite underperforming the S&P500, retail traders still outperformed hedge funds by more than 100%. Failed seven-year Treasury auction:  Whereas auctions of seven-year US government debt generally spark interest only among specialists, on on February 25 2021, one such typically boring event sparked shockwaves across financial markets, as the weakest demand on record hit prices across the whole spectrum of Treasury bonds. The five-, seven- and 10-year notes all fell sharply in price. Researchers at the Federal Reserve called it a “flash event”; we called it a "catastrophic, tailing" auction, the closest thing the US has had to a failed Trasury auction. The flare-up, as the FT put it, reflects one of the most pressing investor concerns of the year: inflation. At the time, fund managers were just starting to realize that consumer price rises were back with a vengeance — a huge threat to the bond market which still remembers the dire days of the Volcker Fed when inflation was about as high as it is today but the 30Y was trading around 15%. The February auaction also illustrated that the world’s most important market was far less liquid and not as structurally robust as investors had hoped. It was an extreme example of a long-running issue: since the financial crisis the traditional providers of liquidity, a group of 24 Wall Street banks, have pulled back because of higher costs associated with post-2008 capital requirements, while leaving liquidity provision to the Fed. Those banks, in their reduced role, as well as the hedge funds and high-frequency traders that have stepped into their place, have tended to withdraw in moments of market volatility. Needless to say, with the Fed now tapering its record QE, we expect many more such "flash" episodes in the bond market in the year ahead. The arch ego of Archegos: In March 2021 several banks received a brutal reminder that some of family offices, which manage some $6 trillion in wealth of successful billionaires and entrepreneurs and which have minimal reporting requirements, take risks that would make the most serrated hedge fund manager wince, when Bill Hwang’s Archegos Capital Management imploded in spectacular style. As we learned in late March when several high-flying stocks suddenly collapsed, Hwang - a former protege of fabled hedge fund group Tiger Management - had built up a vast pile of leverage using opaque Total Return Swaps with a handful of banks to boost bets on a small number of stocks (the same banks were quite happy to help despite Hwang’s having been barred from US markets in 2013 over allegations of an insider-trading scheme, as he paid generously for the privilege of borrowing the banks' balance sheet). When one of Archegos more recent bets, ViacomCBS, suddenly tumbled it set off a liquidation cascade that left banks including Credit Suisse and Nomura with billions of dollars in losses. Conveniently, as the FT noted, the damage was contained to the banks rather than leaking across financial markets, but the episode sparked a rethink among banks over how to treat these clients and how much leverage to extend. The second coming of cryptos: After hitting an all time high in late 2017 and subsequently slumping into a "crypto winter", cryptocurrencies enjoyed a huge rebound in early 2021 which sent their prices soaring amid fears of galloping inflation (as shown below, and contrary to some financial speculation, the crypto space has traditionally been a hedge either to too much liquidity or a hedge to too much inflation). As a result, Bitcoin rose to a series of new record highs that culminated at just below $62,000, nearly three times higher than their previous all time high. But the smooth ride came to a halt in May when China’s crackdown on the cryptocurrency and its production, or “mining”, sparked the first serious crash of 2021. The price of bitcoin then collapsed as much as 30% on May 19, hitting a low of $30,000 amid a liquidation of levered positions in chaotic trading conditions following a warning from Chinese authorities of tighter curbs ahead. A public acceptance by Tesla chief and crypto cheerleader Elon Musk of the industry’s environmental impact added to the declines. However, as with all previous crypto crashes, this one too proved transitory, and prices resumed their upward trajectory in late September when investors started to price in the launch of futures-based bitcoin exchange traded funds in the US. The launch of these contracts subsequently pushed bitcoin to a new all-time high in early November before prices stumbled again in early December, this time due to a rise in institutional ownership when an overall drop in the market dragged down cryptos as well. That demonstrated the growing linkage between Wall Street and cryptocurrencies, due to the growing sway of large investors in digital markets. China's common prosperity crash: China’s education and tech sectors were one of the perennial Wall Street darlings. Companies such as New Oriental, TAL Education as well as Alibaba and Didi had come to be worth billions of dollars after highly publicized US stock market flotations. So when Beijing effectively outlawed swaths of the country’s for-profit education industry in July 2021, followed by draconian anti-trust regulations on the country's fintech names (where Xi Jinping also meant to teach the country's billionaire class a lesson who is truly in charge), the short-term market impact was brutal. Beijing’s initial measures emerged as part of a wider effort to make education more affordable as part of president Xi Jinping’s drive for "common prosperity" but that quickly raised questions over whether growth prospects across corporate China are countered by the capacity of the government to overhaul entire business models overnight. Sure enough, volatility stemming from the education sector was soon overshadowed by another set of government reforms related to common prosperity, a crackdown on leverage across the real estate sector where the biggest casualty was Evergrande, the world’s most indebted developer. The company, whose boss was not long ago China's 2nd richest man, was engulfed by a liquidity crisis in the summer that eventually resulted in a default in early December. Still, as the FT notes, China continues to draw in huge amounts of foreign capital, pushing the Chinese yuan to end 2021 at the strongest level since May 2018, a major hurdle to China's attempts to kickstart its slowing economy, and surely a precursor to even more monetary easing. Natgas hyperinflation: Natural gas supplanted crude oil as the world’s most important commodity in October and December as prices exploded to unprecedented levels and the world scrambled for scarce supplies amid the developed world's catastrophic transition to "green" energy. The crunch was particularly acute in Europe, which has become increasingly reliant on imports. Futures linked to TTF, the region’s wholesale gas price, hit a record €137 per megawatt hour in early October, rising more than 75%. In Asia, spot liquefied natural gas prices briefly passed the equivalent of more than $320 a barrel of oil in October. (At the time, Brent crude was trading at $80). A number of factors contributed, including rising demand as pandemic restrictions eased, supply disruptions in the LNG market and weather-induced shortfalls in renewable energy. In Europe, this was aggravated by plunging export volumes from Gazprom, Russia’s state-backed monopoly pipeline supplier, amid a bitter political fight over the launch of the Nordstream 2 pipeline. And with delays to the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany, analysts say the European gas market - where storage is only 66% full - a cold snap or supply disruption away from another price spike Turkey's (latest) currency crisis:  As the FT's Jonathan Wheatley writes, Recep Tayyip Erdogan was once a source of strength for the Turkish lira, and in his first five years in power from 2003, the currency rallied from TL1.6 per US dollar to near parity at TL1.2. But those days are long gone, as Erdogan's bizarre fascination with unorthodox economics, namely the theory that lower rates lead to lower inflation also known as "Erdoganomics", has sparked a historic collapse in the: having traded at about TL7 to the dollar in February, it has since fallen beyond TL17, making it the worst performing currency of 2021. The lira’s defining moment in 2021 came on November 18 when the central bank, in spite of soaring inflation, cut its policy rate for the third time since September, at Erdogan’s behest (any central banker in Turkey who disagrees with "Erdoganomics" is promptly fired and replaced with an ideological puppet). The lira recovered some of its losses in late December when Erdogan came up with the "brilliant" idea of erecting the infamous "doom loop" which ties Turkey's balance sheet to its currency. It has worked for now (the lira surged from TL18 against the dollar to TL12, but this particular band aid solution will only last so long). The lira’s problems are not only Erdogan’s doing. A strengthening dollar, rising oil prices, the relentless covid pandemic and weak growth in developing economies have been bad for other emerging market currencies, too, but as long as Erdogan is in charge, shorting the lira remains the best trade entering 2022. While these, and many more, stories provided a diversion from the boring existence of centrally-planned markets, we are confident that the trends observed in recent years will continue: coming years will be marked by even bigger government (because only more government can "fix" problems created by government), higher stock prices and dollar debasement (because only more Fed intervention can "fix" the problems created by the Fed), and a policy flip from monetary and QE to fiscal & MMT, all of which will keep inflation at scorching levels, much to the persistent confusion of economists everywhere. Of course, we said much of this last year as well, but while we got most trends right, we were wrong about one thing: we were confident that China's aggressive roll out of the digital yuan would be a bang - or as we put it "it is very likely that while 2020 was an insane year, it may prove to be just an appetizer to the shockwaves that will be unleashed in 2021 when we see the first stage of the most historic overhaul of the fiat payment system in history" - however it turned out to be a whimper. A big reason for that was that the initial reception of the "revolutionary" currency was nothing short of disastrous, with Chinese admitting they were "not at all excited" about the prospect of yet one more surveillance mechanism for Beijing, because that's really what digital currencies are: a way for central banks everywhere to micromanage and scrutinize every single transaction, allowing the powers that be to demonetize any one person - or whole groups - with the flick of a switch. Then again, while digital money may not have made its triumphant arrival in 2021, we are confident that the launch date has merely been pushed back to 2022 when the rollout of the next monetary revolution is expected to begin in earnest. Here we should again note one thing: in a world undergoing historic transformations, any free press must be throttled and controlled, and over the past year we have seen unprecedented efforts by legacy media and its corporate owners, as well as the new "social media" overlords do everything in their power to stifle independent thought. For us it had been especially "personal" on more than one occasions. Last January, Twitter suspended our account because we dared to challenge the conventional narrative about the source of the Wuhan virus. It was only six months later that Twitter apologized, and set us free, admitting it had made a mistake. Yet barely had twitter readmitted us, when something even more unprecedented happened: for the first time ever (to our knowledge) Google - the world's largest online ad provider and monopoly - demonetized our website not because of any complaints about our writing but because of the contents of our comment section. It then held us hostage until we agreed to implement some prerequisite screening and moderation of the comments section. Google's action was followed by the likes of PayPal, Amazon, and many other financial and ad platforms, who rushed to demonetize and suspend us simply because they disagreed with what we had to say. This was a stark lesson in how quickly an ad-funded business can disintegrate in this world which resembles the dystopia of 1984 more and more each day, and we have since taken measures. One year ago, for the first time in our 13 year history, we launched a paid version of our website, which is entirely ad and moderation free, and offers readers a variety of premium content. It wasn't our intention to make this transformation but unfortunately we know which way the wind is blowing and it is only a matter of time before the gatekeepers of online ad spending block us again. As such, if we are to have any hope in continuing it will come directly from you, our readers. We will keep the free website running for as long as possible, but we are certain that it is only a matter of time before the hammer falls as the censorship bandwagon rolls out much more aggressively in the coming year. That said, whether the story of 2022, and the next decade for that matter, is one of helicopter or digital money, of (hyper)inflation or deflation: what is key, and what we learned in the past decade, is that the status quo will throw anything at the problem to kick the can, it will certainly not let any crisis go to waste... even the deadliest pandemic in over a century. And while many already knew that, the events of 2021 made it clear to a fault that not even a modest market correction can be tolerated going forward. After all, if central banks aim to punish all selling, then the logical outcome is to buy everything, and investors, traders and speculators did just that armed with the clearest backstop guarantee from the Fed, which in the deapths of the covid crash crossed the Rubicon when it formally nationalized the bond market as it started buying both investment grade bonds and junk bond ETFs in the open market. As such it is no longer even a debatable issue if the Fed will buy stocks after the next crash - the only question is when. Meanwhile, for all those lamenting the relentless coverage of politics in a financial blog, why finance appears to have taken a secondary role, and why the political "narrative" has taken a dominant role for financial analysts, the past year showed vividly why that is the case: in a world where markets gyrated, and "rotated" from value stocks to growth and vice versa, purely on speculation of how big the next stimulus out of Washington will be, the narrative over Biden's trillions proved to be one of the biggest market moving events for much of the year. And with the Biden stimulus plan off the table for now, the Fed will find it very difficult to tighten financial conditions, especially if it does so just as the economy is slowing. Here we like to remind readers of one of our favorite charts: every financial crisis is the result of Fed tightening. As for predictions about the future, as the past two years so vividly showed, when it comes to actual surprises and all true "black swans", it won't be what anyone had expected. And so while many themes, both in the political and financial realm, did get some accelerated closure courtesy of China's covid pandemic, dramatic changes in 2021 persisted, and will continue to manifest themselves in often violent and unexpected ways - from the ongoing record polarization in the US political arena, to "populist" upheavals around the developed world, to the gradual transition to a global Universal Basic (i.e., socialized) Income regime, to China's ongoing fight with preserving stability in its gargantuan financial system which is now two and a half times the size of the US. As always, we thank all of our readers for making this website - which has never seen one dollar of outside funding (and despite amusing recurring allegations, has certainly never seen a ruble from the KGB either, although now that the entire Russian hysteria episode is over, those allegations have finally quieted down), and has never spent one dollar on marketing - a small (or not so small) part of your daily routine. Which also brings us to another critical topic: that of fake news, and something we - and others who do not comply with the established narrative - have been accused of. While we find the narrative of fake news laughable, after all every single article in this website is backed by facts and links to outside sources, it is clearly a dangerous development, and a very slippery slope that the entire developed world is pushing for what is, when stripped of fancy jargon, internet censorship under the guise of protecting the average person from "dangerous, fake information." It's also why we are preparing for the next onslaught against independent thought and why we had no choice but to roll out a premium version of this website. In addition to the other themes noted above, we expect the crackdown on free speech to accelerate in the coming year when key midterm elections will be held, especially as the following list of Top 20 articles for 2021 reveals, many of the most popular articles in the past year were precisely those which the conventional media would not touch out of fear of repercussions, which in turn allowed the alternative media to continue to flourish in an orchestrated information vacuum and take significant market share from the established outlets by covering topics which the public relations arm of established media outlets refused to do, in the process earning itself the derogatory "fake news" condemnation. We are grateful that our readers - who hit a new record high in 2021 - have realized it is incumbent upon them to decide what is, and isn't "fake news." * * * And so, before we get into the details of what has now become an annual tradition for the last day of the year, those who wish to jog down memory lane, can refresh our most popular articles for every year during our no longer that brief, almost 11-year existence, starting with 2009 and continuing with 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020. So without further ado, here are the articles that you, our readers, found to be the most engaging, interesting and popular based on the number of hits, during the past year. In 20th spot with 600,000 reads, was an article that touched on one of the most defining features of the market: the reflation theme the sparked a massive rally at the start of the year courtesy of the surprise outcome in the Georgia Senate race, where Democrats ended up wining both seats up for grabs, effectively giving the Dems a majority in both the House and the Senate, where despite the even, 50-seat split, Kamala Harris would cast the winning tie-breaker vote to pursue a historic fiscal stimulus. And sure enough, as we described in "Bitcoin Surges To Record High, Stocks & Bonds Battered As Dems Look Set To Take Both Georgia Senate Seats", with trillions in "stimmies" flooding both the economy and the market, not only did retail traders enjoy unprecedented returns when trading meme "stonks" and forcing short squeezes that crippled numerous hedge funds, but expectations of sharply higher inflation also helped push bitcoin and the entire crypto sector to new all time highs, which in turn legitimized the product across institutional investors and helped it reach a market cap north of $3 trillion.  In 19th spot, over 613,000 readers were thrilled to read at the start of September that "Biden Unveils Most Severe COVID Actions Yet: Mandates Vax For All Federal Workers, Contractors, & Large Private Companies." Of course, just a few weeks later much of Biden's mandate would be struck down in courts, where it is now headed to a decision by SCOTUS, while the constantly shifting "scientific" goal posts mean that just a few months later the latest set of CDC regulations have seen regulators and officials reverse the constant drone of fearmongering and are now even seeking to cut back on the duration of quarantine and other lockdown measures amid a public mood that is growing increasingly hostile to the government response. One of the defining political events of 2021 was the so-called "Jan 6 Insurrection", which the for America's conservatives was blown wildly out of proportion yet which the leftist media and Democrats in Congress have been periodically trying to push to the front pages in hopes of distracting from the growing list of failures of the Obama admin. Yet as we asked back in January, "Why Was Founder Of Far-Left BLM Group Filming Inside Capitol As Police Shot Protester?" No less than 614,000 readers found this question worthy of a response. Since then many more questions have emerged surrounding this event, many of which focus on what role the FBI had in organizing and encouraging this event, including the use of various informants and instigators. For now, a response will have to wait at least until the mid-term elections of 2022 when Republicans are expected to sweep one if not both chambers. Linked to the above, the 17th most read article of 2021 with 617,000 views, was an article we published on the very same day, which detailed that "Armed Protesters Begin To Arrive At State Capitols Around The Nation." At the end of the day, it was much ado about nothing and all protests concluded peacefully and without incident: perhaps the FBI was simply spread too thin? 2021 was a year defined by various waves of the covid pandemic which hammered poor Americans forced to hunker down at home and missing on pay, and crippled countless small mom and pop businesses. And yet, it was also a bonanza for a handful of pharma companies such as Pfizer and Moderna which made billions from the sale of "vaccines" which we now know do little if anything to halt the spread of the virus, and are instead now being pitched as palliatives, preventing a far worse clinical outcome. The same pharma companies also benefited from an unconditional indemnity, which surely would come in useful when the full side-effects of their mRNA-based therapies became apparent. One such condition to emerge was myocarditis among a subset of the vaxxed. And while the vaccines continue to be broadly rolled out across most developed nations, one place that said enough was Sweden. As over 620,000 readers found out in "Sweden Suspends Moderna Shot Indefinitely After Vaxxed Patients Develop Crippling Heart Condition", not every country was willing to use its citizens as experimental guniea pigs. This was enough to make the article the 16th most read on these pages, but perhaps in light of the (lack of) debate over the pros and cons of the covid vaccines, this should have been the most read article this year? Moving on to the 15th most popular article, 628,000 readers were shocked to learn that "Chase Bank Cancels General Mike Flynn's Credit Cards." The action, which was taken by the largest US bank due to "reputational risk" echoed a broad push by tech giants to deplatform and silence dissenting voices by literally freezing them out of the financial system. In the end, following widespread blowback from millions of Americans, JPMorgan reversed, and reactivated Flynn's cards saying the action was made in error, but unfortunately this is just one example of how those in power can lock out any dissenters with the flick of a switch. And while democrats cheer such deplatforming today, the political winds are fickle, and we doubt they will be as excited once they find themselves on the receiving end of such actions. And speaking of censorship and media blackouts, few terms sparked greater response from those in power than the term Ivermectin. Viewed by millions as a cheap, effective alternative to offerings from the pharmaceutical complex, social networks did everything in their power to silence any mention of a drug which the Journal of Antibiotics said in 2017 was an "enigmatic multifaceted ‘wonder’ drug which continues to surprise and exceed expectations." Nowhere was this more obvious than in the discussion of how widespread use of Ivermectin beat Covid in India, the topic of the 14th most popular article of 2021 "India's Ivermectin Blackout" which was read by over 653,000 readers. Unfortunately, while vaccines continue to fail upward and now some countries are now pushing with a 4th, 5th and even 6th vaccine, Ivermectin remains a dirty word. There was more covid coverage in the 13th most popular article of 2021, "Surprise Surprise - Fauci Lied Again": Rand Paul Reacts To Wuhan Bombshell" which was viewed no less than 725,000 times. Paul's reaction came following a report which revealed that Anthony Fauci's NIAID and its parent, the NIH, funded Gain-of-Function research in Wuhan, China, strongly hinting that the emergence of covid was the result of illicit US funding. Not that long ago, Fauci had called Paul a 'liar' for accusing him of funding the risky research, in which viruses are genetically modified or otherwise altered to make them more transmissible to humans. And while we could say that Paul got the last laugh, Fauci still remains Biden's top covid advisor, which may explain why one year after Biden vowed he would shut down the pandemic, the number of new cases just hit a new all time high. One hope we have for 2022 is that people will finally open their eyes... 2021 was not just about covid - soaring prices and relentless inflation were one of the most poignant topics. It got so bad that Biden's approval rating - and that of Democrats in general - tumbled toward the end of the year, putting their mid-term ambitions in jeopardy, as the public mood soured dramatically in response to the explosion in prices. And while one can debate whether it was due to supply-issues, such as the collapse in trans-pacific supply chains and the chronic lack of labor to grow the US infrastructure, or due to roaring demand sparked by trillions in fiscal stimulus, but when the "Big Short" Michael Burry warned that hyperinflation is coming, the people listened, and with over 731,000 reads, the 12th most popular article of 2021 was "Michael Burry Warns Weimar Hyperinflation Is Coming."  Of course, Burry did not say anything we haven't warned about for the past 12 years, but at least he got the people's attention, and even mainstream names such as Twitter founder Jack Dorsey agreed with him, predicting that bitcoin will be what is left after the dollar has collapsed. While hyperinflation may will be the endgame, the question remains: when. For the 11th most read article of 2021, we go back to a topic touched upon moments ago when we addressed the full-blown media campaign seeking to discredit Ivermectin, in this case via the D-grade liberal tabloid Rolling Stone (whose modern incarnation is sadly a pale shadow of the legend that house Hunter S. Thompson's unforgettable dispatches) which published the very definition of fake news when it called Ivermectin a "horse dewormer" and claimed that, according to a hospital employee, people were overdosing on it. Just a few hours later, the article was retracted as we explained in "Rolling Stone Issues 'Update' After Horse Dewormer Hit-Piece Debunked" and over 812,000 readers found out that pretty much everything had been a fabrication. But of course, by then it was too late, and the reputation of Ivermectin as a potential covid cure had been further tarnished, much to the relief of the pharma giants who had a carte blanche to sell their experimental wares. The 10th most popular article of 2021 brings us to another issue that had split America down the middle, namely the story surrounding Kyle Rittenhouse and the full-blown media campaign that declared the teenager guilty, even when eventually proven innocent. Just days before the dramatic acquittal, we learned that "FBI Sat On Bombshell Footage From Kyle Rittenhouse Shooting", which was read by over 822,000 readers. It was unfortunate to learn that once again the scandal-plagued FBI stood at the center of yet another attempt at mass misinformation, and we can only hope that one day this "deep state" agency will be overhauled from its core, or better yet, shut down completely. As for Kyle, he will have the last laugh: according to unconfirmed rumors, his numerous legal settlements with various media outlets will be in the tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars.  And from the great US social schism, we again go back to Covid for the 9th most popular article of 2021, which described the terrifying details of one of the most draconian responses to covid in the entire world: that of Australia. Over 900,000 readers were stunned to read that the "Australian Army Begins Transferring COVID-Positive Cases, Contacts To Quarantine Camps." Alas, the latest surge in Australian cases to nosebleed, record highs merely confirms that this unprecedented government lockdown - including masks and vaccines - is nothing more than an exercise in how far government can treat its population as a herd of sheep without provoking a violent response.  The 8th most popular article of 2021 looks at the market insanity of early 2021 when, at the end of January, we saw some of the most-shorted, "meme" stocks explode higher as the Reddit daytrading horde fixed their sights on a handful of hedge funds and spent billions in stimmies in an attempt to force unprecedented ramps. That was the case with "GME Soars 75% After-Hours, Erases Losses After Liquidity-Constrained Robinhood Lifts Trading Ban", which profiled the daytrading craze that gave an entire generation the feeling that it too could win in these manipulated capital markets. Then again, judging by the waning retail interest, it is possible that the excitement of the daytrading army is fading as rapidly as it first emerged, and that absent more "stimmies" markets will remain the playground of the rich and central banks. Kyle Rittenhouse may soon be a very rich man after the ordeal he went through, but the media's mission of further polarizing US society succeeded, and millions of Americans will never accept that the teenager was innocent. It's also why with just over 1 million reads, the 7th most read article on Zero Hedge this year was that "Portland Rittenhouse Protest Escalates Into Riot." Luckily, this is not a mid-term election year and there were no moneyed interests seeking to prolong this particular riot, unlike what happened in the summer of 2020... and what we are very much afraid will again happen next year when very critical elections are on deck.  With just over 1.03 million views, the 6th most popular post focused on a viral Twitter thread on Friday from Dr Robert Laone, which laid out a disturbing trend; the most-vaccinated countries in the world are experiencing  a surge in COVID-19 cases, while the least-vaccinated countries were not. As we originally discussed in ""This Is Worrying Me Quite A Bit": mRNA Vaccine Inventor Shares Viral Thread Showing COVID Surge In Most-Vaxxed Countries", this trend has only accelerated in recent weeks with the emergence of the Omicron strain. Unfortunately, instead of engaging in a constructive discussion to see why the science keeps failing again and again, Twitter's response was chilling: with just days left in 2021, it suspended the account of Dr. Malone, one of the inventors of mRNA technology. Which brings to mind something Aaron Rogers said: "If science can't be questioned it's not science anymore it's propaganda & that's the truth." In a year that was marked a flurry of domestic fiascoes by the Biden administration, it is easy to forget that the aged president was also responsible for the biggest US foreign policy disaster since Vietnam, when the botched evacuation of Afghanistan made the US laughing stock of the world after 12 US servicemembers were killed. So it's probably not surprising that over 1.1 million readers were stunned to watch what happened next, which we profiled in the 5th most popular post of 2021, where in response to the Afghan trajedy, "Biden Delivers Surreal Press Conference, Vows To Hunt Down Isis, Blames Trump." One person watching the Biden presser was Xi Jinping, who may have once harbored doubts about reclaiming Taiwan but certainly does not any more. The 4th most popular article of 2021 again has to do with with covid, and specifically the increasingly bizarre clinical response to the disease. As we detailed in "Something Really Strange Is Happening At Hospitals All Over America" while emergency rooms were overflowing, it certainly wasn't from covid cases. Even more curiously, one of the primary ailments leading to an onslaught on ERs across the nation was heart-related issues, whether arrhytmia, cardiac incidents or general heart conditions. We hope that one day there will be a candid discussion on this topic, but until then it remains one of the topics seen as taboo by the mainstream media and the deplatforming overlords, so we'll just leave it at that. We previously discussed the anti-Ivermectin narrative that dominated the mainstream press throughout 2021 and the 3rd most popular article of the year may hold clues as to why: in late September, pharma giant Pfizer and one of the two companies to peddle an mRNA based vaccine, announced that it's launching an accelerated Phase 2/3 trial for a COVID prophylactic pill designed to ward off COVID in those may have come in contact with the disease. And, as we described in "Pfizer Launches Final Study For COVID Drug That's Suspiciously Similar To 'Horse Paste'," 1.75 million readers learned that Pfizer's drug shared at least one mechanism of action as Ivermectin - an anti-parasitic used in humans for decades, which functions as a protease inhibitor against Covid-19, which researchers speculate "could be the biophysical basis behind its antiviral efficiency." Surely, this too was just another huge coincidence. In the second most popular article of 2021, almost 2 million readers discovered (to their "shock") that Fauci and the rest of Biden's COVID advisors were proven wrong about "the science" of COVID vaccines yet again. After telling Americans that vaccines offer better protection than natural infection, a new study out of Israel suggested the opposite is true: natural infection offers a much better shield against the delta variant than vaccines, something we profiled in "This Ends The Debate' - Israeli Study Shows Natural Immunity 13x More Effective Than Vaccines At Stopping Delta." We were right about one thing: anyone who dared to suggest that natural immunity was indeed more effective than vaccines was promptly canceled and censored, and all debate almost instantly ended. Since then we have had tens of millions of "breakout" cases where vaccinated people catch covid again, while any discussion why those with natural immunity do much better remains under lock and key. It may come as a surprise to many that the most read article of 2021 was not about covid, or Biden, or inflation, or China, or even the extremely polarized US congress (and/or society), but was about one of the most long-suffering topics on these pages: precious metals and their prices. Yes, back in February the retail mania briefly targeted silver and as millions of reddit daytraders piled in in hopes of squeezing the precious metal higher, the price of silver surged higher only to tumble just as quickly as it has risen as the seller(s) once again proved more powerful than the buyers. We described this in "Silver Futures Soar 8%, Rise Above $29 As Reddit Hordes Pile In", an article which some 2.4 million gold and silver bugs read with hope, only to see their favorite precious metals slump for much of the rest of the year. And yes, the fact that both gold and silver ended the year sharply lower than where they started even though inflation hit the highest level in 40 years, remains one of the great mysteries of 2021. With all that behind us, and as we wave goodbye to another bizarre, exciting, surreal year, what lies in store for 2022, and the next decade? We don't know: as frequent and not so frequent readers are aware, we do not pretend to be able to predict the future and we don't try despite endless allegations that we constantly predict the collapse of civilization: we leave the predicting to the "smartest people in the room" who year after year have been consistently wrong about everything, and never more so than in 2021 (even the Fed admitted it is clueless when Powell said it was time to retire the term "transitory"), which destroyed the reputation of central banks, of economists, of conventional media and the professional "polling" and "strategist" class forever, not to mention all those "scientists" who made a mockery of the "expertise class" with their bungled response to the covid pandemic. We merely observe, find what is unexpected, entertaining, amusing, surprising or grotesque in an increasingly bizarre, sad, and increasingly crazy world, and then just write about it. We do know, however, that after a record $30 trillion in stimulus was conjured out of thin air by the world's central banks and politicians in the past two years, the attempt to reverse this monetary and fiscal firehose in a world addicted to trillions in newly created liquidity now that central banks are freaking out after finally getting ot the inflation they were hoping to create for so long, will end in tears. We are confident, however, that in the end it will be the very final backstoppers of the status quo regime, the central banking emperors of the New Normal, who will eventually be revealed as fully naked. When that happens and what happens after is anyone's guess. But, as we have promised - and delivered - every year for the past 13, we will be there to document every aspect of it. Finally, and as always, we wish all our readers the best of luck in 2022, with much success in trading and every other avenue of life. We bid farewell to 2021 with our traditional and unwavering year-end promise: Zero Hedge will be there each and every day - usually with a cynical smile - helping readers expose, unravel and comprehend the fallacy, fiction, fraud and farce that defines every aspect of our increasingly broken system. Tyler Durden Sun, 01/02/2022 - 03:44.....»»

Category: personnelSource: nytJan 2nd, 2022

Top 20 Media Stories CNN"s Brian Stelter "Overlooked" On His Show Dedicated To Media Stories

Top 20 Media Stories CNN's Brian Stelter 'Overlooked' On His Show Dedicated To Media Stories Of all the year-end roundups coming out, the one that caught our eye for pointing out the worst examples of MSM hypocrisy comes from Joseph A. Wulfohn via Fox News, who notes the top 20 major media stories that were utterly ignored by CNN's Brian Stelter - whose entire job is to cover controversies involving the media. Yet, "Stelter turned a blind eye to many headlines that were far from flattering to his liberal allies in the industry," writes Wulfohn - who notes that this is nothing new for the CNN host. "Most famously, he completely avoided ABC News' shocking coverup of the Jeffrey Epstein scandal, omitting it from his "top ten media stories" of 2019." Without further ado, here are 2021's top 20 major media stories ignored by Brian Stelter: Judge bans MSNBC from the Kyle Rittenhouse trial The entire nation was intensely monitoring the trial of teenager Kyle Rittenhouse, who was charged with murdering two people amid the Kenosha riots following the 2020 police-involved shooting of Jacob Blake. But the day before Rittenhouse was acquitted on all counts, Judge Bruce Schroeder made headlines by barring MSNBC from the courthouse after police caught a freelance NBC News producer following the jury bus when he ran a red light.  Stelter swept the controversy plaguing CNN's closest liberal competitor under the rug. -Fox News In fact, CNN has essentially sheltered MSNBC from scrutiny - which has appeared just 34 times in Reliable Sources' 2021 transcripts vs. Fox News, which appeared 695 times (via Grabien search results). Stelter ignored Joy Reid's spat with rapper Nicki Minaj over her vaccine hesitancy, as well as MSNBC analyst and NYT editorial board member Mara Gay, when she said that the sight of American flags on the back of trucks was "disturbing," which caused the Times to issue a statement in her defense. Yet, crickets from Stelter. As Wulfohn notes, the respect seems to be mutual, as MSNBC offers 'little to no coverage' of any controversy at CNN. Trump-era media narratives that fell apart  In March, the media pundit avoided the Washington Post's major correction to its bombshell January report about a phone call between then-President Donald Trump and a Georgia elections investigator, urging her to "find the fraud" and that she would be a "national hero" if she did, which turned out to be not true. WASHINGTON POST PANNED FOR MASSIVE CORRECTION TO TRUMP-GEORGIA ELECTION STORY: 'SO, THEY MADE UP QUOTES' The CNN star had nothing to say about the collapsed narrative alleging Trump ordered Lafayette Square Park to be cleared of protesters so he could pose in front of the riot-torched St. John's Church last year. An inspector general investigation concluded U.S. Park Police and the U.S. Secret Service deemed it necessary to remove protestors from the park in order to install anti-scale fencing. -Fox News The Washington Post issues stunning corrections on articles involving the Steele dossier Yet, Stelter couldn't be bothered when the dossier his network breathlessly peddled was completely debunked after Christopher Steele source Igor Danchenko was accused of lying to the FBI, leading to a flood of corrections from WaPo. The first two stories, published in March 2017 and February 2019, were changed when the newspaper’s executive editor, Sally Buzbee, said she could no longer stand by their accuracy. The Post added editor’s notes, amended headlines, removed sections identifying Sergei Millian as the source and deleted an accompanying video summarizing the articles.  Lengthy editor's notes were additionally placed on at least 14 other articles.  The Steele dossier helped fuel the Trump-Russia collusion conspiracy for years and dominated CNN and MSNBC's coverage. -Fox News The New York Times forced to admit Babylon Bee is not ‘misinformation’ This one was a biggie - after the Times ran a story in March characterizing the satire site The Babylon Bee as "misinformation." In fact, they called it a "far-right misinformation site" that "sometimes trafficked in misinformation under the guise of satire." Under the threat of a lawsuit, the Times issued a correction in June which backpedaled their claim. "An earlier version of this article referred imprecisely to the Babylon Bee, a right-leaning satirical website, and a controversy regarding the handling of its content by Facebook and the fact-checking site Snopes. While both Facebook and Snopes previously have classified some Babylon Bee articles as misinformation, rather than satire, they have dropped those claims, and the Babylon Bee denies that it has trafficked in misinformation," reads the correction. Paging Stelter? Nope. Don Lemon's texts emerge during the Jussie Smollett trial Former "Empire" star Jussie Smollett shocked the nation in 2019 when he claimed he was the victim of a vicious hate crime in Chicago, which the national media hyped while offering little to no skepticism. It wasn't long before Chicago Police Department suspected Smollett had orchestrated a hoax.  Nearly three years later, Smollett stood trial and was ultimately convicted on five counts of disorderly conduct. However, before the verdict was in, Smollett revealed during his testimony that he was tipped off about the CPD's doubts into his claims by his pal, CNN anchor Don Lemon. -Fox News Neither Lemon nor Stelter mentioned the incident on their CNN shows. The turmoil of The Lincoln Project If CNN is the king of propaganda, anti-Trump PAC The Lincoln Project is a close second. They also have a pedophile problem in common. In January, news broke that Lincoln Project co-founder John Weaver was accused of sexually harassing 20 young men online, one of whom was just 14 when it began. All of Weaver's former colleagues denied knowledge of the predatory behavior, and Weaver himself has since resigned and vanished from the public. In addition to ignoring this, Stelter also failed to mention questions over the group's murky financial dealings - and where millions of dollars raised to fight Trumpism actually ended up. The marathon of controversies sparked an exodus among the group's prominent leaders and even calls from co-founder George Conway, who had left the group in 2020, to be shut down.  However, the Lincoln Project was able to weather the storm and managed to keep the lights on thanks to the lack of media coverage its scandals received.  More recently, Stelter failed to address the Lincoln Project's widely panned race stunt it took credit for in the days leading up to the Virginia gubernatorial election. In a move that co-founder Steve Schmidt even condemned as "recklessly stupid," the Lincoln Project sent five people – one of them a Black man – to dress as Tiki-torch bearing White nationalists in front of Republican Glenn Youngkin's campaign bus in Charlottesville, in what was viewed as a desperate smear effort to liken his supporters to racists. -Fox News USA Today allows Stacey Abrams to stealth-edit column to water down past support for Georgia boycott This spring, Georgia was at the center of an intense national debate over its election reform legislation that was signed into law after the 2020 election with prominent Democrats calling it racist and comparing it to "Jim Crow." A movement to boycott the Peach State was ignited and one of its backers appeared to be Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams.  In an op-ed published by USA Today in March 31, Abrams argued that boycotts were an effective form of protest, writing, "The impassioned response to the racist, classist bill that is now the law of Georgia is to boycott in order to achieve change." But after Major League Baseball announced it was moving its All-Star Game out of Atlanta, Abram's op-ed went through a stunning transformation, watering down her support for boycotts historically without issuing any editor's note acknowledging the changes. A spokesperson for Gannett, USA Today's parent company, told Fox News, "We regret the oversight in updating the Stacey Abrams column. As soon as we recognized there was no editor’s note, we added it to the page to reflect her changes. We have reviewed our procedures to ensure this does not occur again." The journalistic malpractice was ultimately ignored by CNN's media hall monitor. -Fox News Joe Rogan's explosive interview with CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta This one might actually be #1, as podcast giant Joe Rogan cornered CNN's top doc over the network's disingenuous framing of Ivermectin as a 'horse dewormer.' "Calling it a horse de-wormer is not the most flattering thing, I get that," said Gupta. "It's a lie on a news network - and it's a lie that they're conscious of. It's not a mistake. They're unfavorably framing it as veterinary medicine," Rogan shot back. "Why would you say that when you're talking about a drug that's been given out to billions and billions of people? A drug that was responsible for one of the inventors winning the Nobel Prize in 2015?" the 54-year-old Rogan continued. "A drug that has been shown to stop viral replication in vitro - you know that, right? Why would they lie and say that's horse de-wormer? I can afford people medicine, motherfucker. This is ridiculous." Watch: Joe Rogan asks Sanjay Gupta if it bothers him that CNN outright lied about Rogan taking horse dewormer to recover from covid. This is fantastic: pic.twitter.com/PEgJqIXhSD — Clay Travis (@ClayTravis) October 14, 2021 CNN then doubled down on their stupidity, issuing a statement which said "The only thing CNN did wrong here was bruise the ego of a popular podcaster who pushed dangerous conspiracy theories and risked the lives of millions of people in doing so." Radio silence from Stelter... Rolling Stone, MSNBC stars peddle false narrative of ivermectin overdoses overwhelming Oklahoma hospitals After Joe Rogan announced that he'd kicked Covid in just a few days using a cocktail of drugs, including Ivermectin - an anti-parasitic prescribed for humans for over 35 years, with over 4 billion doses administered (and most recently as a Covid-19 treatment), the left quickly started mocking Rogan for having taken a 'horse dewormer' due to its dual use in livestock. Rolling Stone's Jon Blistein led the charge: Then, Rolling Stone's Peter Wade took another stab - publishing a hit piece claiming that Oklahoma ERs were overflowing with people 'overdosing on horse dewormer.' As people take the drug, McElyea said patients have arrived at hospitals with negative reactions like nausea, vomiting, muscle aches, and cramping — or even loss of sight. “The scariest one that I’ve heard of and seen is people coming in with vision loss,” the doctor said. -Rolling Stone It was all a lie...  as NHS Sequoyah, located in Sallisaw, Oklahoma - issued a statement disavowing McElyea's claims. Of course, the lie was peddled by MSM notables, including Rachel Maddow and Joy Reid. Stelter? Reliable sources? His job running cover, as opposed to exposing MSM lies should be clear as day by now. New York Times sports reporter ousted after failing to disclose book deal with Michael Phelps New York Times sports reporter Karen Crouse landed herself in hot water in July for failing to disclose the book deal she made with Michael Phelps while she herself was covering the Olympic swimmer.  In June, Crouse authored a glowing piece that painted the 23-time gold medalist in a highly positive light with multiple tidbits about Phelps mentoring youth athletes.  But a month after the piece was initially published, it was updated with a scathing editor’s note.  "After this article was published, editors learned that the reporter had entered an agreement to co-write a book with Michael Phelps. If editors had been aware of the conflict, the reporter would not have been given the assignment," the editor's note read. "Our guidelines state that no staff member may serve as a ghost writer or co-author for individuals who figure or are likely to figure in coverage they provide, edit, package or supervise," a New York Times spokesperson told Fox News. "As the editors’ note makes clear, the arrangement was a conflict of interest. This was a significant lapse in judgment. We are reviewing this matter and will take appropriate action once the investigation has concluded." After initially being suspended, Crouse announced weeks later she was leaving the Times after 16 years with the paper. The controversy received no on-air mention by Stelter, a former media reporter for the Times. -Fox News USA Today botches fact-check claiming Biden didn't check his watch during dignified transfer ceremony "Stelter typically reveres fact-checks conducted by his media allies, but there was one in particular that mysteriously never reached the "Reliable Sources" radar," writes Wulfohn. Biden was slammed by Gold Star families after he checked his watch several times during a ceremony for 13 service members that were killed during his botched Afghanistan pullout. Gold Star Father Darin Hoover, whose son Marine Staff Sgt. Taylor Hoover was killed in Kabul, alleges that President Biden looked down at his watch when all 13 fallen service members arrived at Dover Air Force Base: "That happened on every single one of them." pic.twitter.com/PC83XWNWsx — Daily Caller (@DailyCaller) August 31, 2021 USA Today attempted to "fact-check" the report, claiming that Biden had only checked his watch after the ceremony. Not so. And USA Today was forced to issue a correction which read: "This story was updated Sept. 2 to note that Biden checked his watch multiple times at the dignified transfer event, including during the ceremony itself." Meghan McCain's dramatic exit from "The View" 2021 was a year of many high-profile media departures, among them the exit of "The View" co-host Meghan McCain.  McCain turned the ABC daytime talk show into must-watch television for the on-air clashes she had with her liberal co-hosts throughout much of the Trump administration, as well as the first six months into the Biden administration.  While she was vocal with her opposition to Trump, her conservative stance was repeatedly met with hostility from Whoopi Goldberg, Joy Behar and Sunny Hostin.  But McCain's exit received no mention on "Reliable Sources." -Fox News Jeffrey Toobin's awkward return to CNN Need we say more? Stelter certainly didn't. We just want to reintroduce Jeffry Toobin after a bit of a hiatus *fap fap fap fap* Jeffrey had to take time off *fap fap fap* After an unfortunate incident during *fap … fap fap* A zoom meeting. Welcome back, Jeffrey. *fapfapfap* Jeffrey, stop pic.twitter.com/piS3vp778L — Geoffrey Ingersoll (@GPIngersoll) June 10, 2021 Chris Cuomo's mounting scandals When CNN announced it had fired its primetime star Chris Cuomo after the network learned of a second sexual harassment allegation leveled against him, Stelter spoke critically of his fallen colleague and the "headaches" he created for CNN as he aided his brother, now-ousted Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. This, however, was a drastic shift in tone since the CNN lackey spent months defending the anchor and downplaying the blatant violation of journalistic ethics, most infamously on "The Late Show." But while Stelter was occasionally forced to address the Cuomo saga on "Reliable Sources," there were other controversies that plagued the CNN host he overlooked. For example, he made no mention of Cuomo's first accuser, veteran TV producer Shelley Ross, who alleged that he grabbed her buttock at a 2005 work function when the two of them were colleagues at ABC News. -Fox News And finally... CNN's own producer arrested for child sex crimes The "Reliable Sources" host would be the first to revel whenever an employee at a conservative media outlet landed in hot water, but he was noticeably mum about the alleged pedophile walking the halls of CNN. John Griffin, a senior producer for CNN's flagship morning program "New Day," was arrested by the FBI after a grand jury in Vermont indicted him for shocking child sex crimes.  After initially being suspended, Griffin was later fired by CNN.  "The charges against Mr. Griffin are deeply disturbing. We learned of his arrest Friday afternoon and terminated his employment Monday," a CNN spokesperson told Fox News Digital. -Fox News And, as usual, silence from Stelter! Tyler Durden Mon, 12/27/2021 - 13:30.....»»

Category: blogSource: zerohedgeDec 27th, 2021

Family Dollar workers said they put in 80-hour weeks and slept on cardboard to keep stores open

One worker said he slept on cardboard boxes piled on a metal cart, and another slept in an office chair during days he did double or triple shifts. Insider spoke with 32 former Family Dollar workers, most of whom received a cash settlement from the firm in arbitration.REUTERS/ Jim Young Insider spoke with 32 former Family Dollar employees who settled lawsuits with the chain. Some workers said they slept in stores during long shifts, and encountered snakes in the break room. Former managers said they did not receive overtime pay even for 80-hour weeks.  Former Family Dollar workers who received money from the chain through arbitration have publicly revealed their complaints for the first time. Insider's Jack Newsham and Peter Coutu spoke with 32 former Family Dollar workers, most of whom received a cash settlement from the firm in arbitration. Family Dollar workers cannot sue the chain because they sign away to their right to benefit from a large-scale lawsuit during onboarding.Family Dollar workers said they worked so much overtime they slept at the store instead of going home to rest between shifts. One worker said he slept on cardboard boxes piled on a metal cart, and another slept in an office chair during days he did double or triple shifts.Workers in some stores said they encountered pests like snakes, lizards, and large spiders in break rooms. Others said the company gave them few days off, even in the case of family deaths or injury.For much of the past year, the US has grappled with a labor crisis as companies struggle to find workers and Americans quit their jobs in record numbers. Some Family Dollar employees joined scores of other American workers "rage quitting" their jobs this year. A Family Dollar store in Lincoln, Nebraska, shut down in August after every employee quit, citing low pay and long work hours.The retailer announced a hiring spree for thousands of associates this spring.Former Family Dollar workers told Insider they received "manager" titles but still performed menial tasks like stocking shelves and working the register. Former managers told Insider they did not receive overtime pay, even for 80-hour weeks. Under US labor laws, employers generally don't need to pay managers overtime.Rising labor costs were partially responsible for Family Dollar parent company Dollar Tree's decision to raise prices to $1.25 from $1. The announcement signaled the end of true $1-and-under retailers in the US, according to Insider's Mary Hanbury.The most a former employee told Insider they had been paid was $4,000. Some workers told Insider they did not believe the settlement money was enough to make up for years of poor working conditions."Over the years and years and years of me dedicating all those hours that doesn't even put a dent in it," said former Family Dollar worker Temperance Grant, who told Insider her arbitration settlement money equaled about one extra paycheck. If you're a subscriber, you can read the full story here.Read the original article on Business Insider.....»»

Category: personnelSource: nytDec 20th, 2021

San Francisco Mayor Finally Blasts "All The Bulls**t That"s Destroyed" The City, Demands More Money For Cops

San Francisco Mayor Finally Blasts "All The Bulls**t That's Destroyed" The City, Demands More Money For Cops Authored by Michael Shellenberger via Substack, After Black Lives Matter protesters last year demanded that cities “Defund the Police,” San Francisco Mayor London Breed held a press conference to announce that her city would be one of the first to do exactly that. Breed announced $120 million in cuts to the budgets of both San Francisco’s police and sheriff's departments. A spokesperson for the police officers’ union warned the cuts "could impact our ability to respond to emergencies,” but the police chief assured the public that the cuts “will not diminish our ability to provide essential services." Yesterday, Breed reversed herself in dramatic fashion, announcing that she was making an emergency request to the city’s Board of Supervisors for more money for the police to support a crackdown on crime, including open air drug dealing, car break-ins, and retail theft. The plan contains much of what the California Peace Coalition, which Environmental Progress and I cofounded last spring, has been demanding, including in a series of protests by parents of homeless addicts, parents of children killed by fentanyl, and recovering addicts. San Francisco Mayor Breed and other San Francisco politicians have for years promised to crack down on drug dealing and crime, and things have only grown worse over, so skepticism is merited. Already, progressives in San Francisco have denounced Mayor Breed’s plan, which she announced with the support of just two members of the city’s 11 Board of Supervisors, and without the apparent support of the city’s District Attorney. But there’s good reason for hope. Breed's plan lays out big goals and makes very specific promises, including more funding for police. There will be a recall election next June of San Francisco’s District Attorney Chesa Boudin which many political experts believe will succeed. And the progressive Supervisor who represents the Tenderloin, the neighborhood with most of city’s open drug scene, is running for state assembly, creating a leadership vacuum and opportunity for Breed. More importantly, Breed’s speech has the potential to change the conversation about crime. Breed explicitly embraced “tough love,” which is a very different philosophy from Woke victimology, which divides the world into victims and oppressors and demands that victims, a category that includes street addicts and criminals, only be given things, from cash and clean needles to their own apartment with butler service, and not be held accountable for their actions. "I'm proud this city believes in giving people second chances,” said Breed. “Nevertheless, we also need there to be accountability when someone does break the law...Our compassion cannot be mistaken for weakness or indifference…. I was raised by my grandmother to believe in 'tough love,' in keeping your house in order, and we need that, now more than ever." Breed punctuated her emotional speech with an explitive. “It is time for the reign of criminals to end,” she said. “And it comes to an end when are more aggressive with law enforcement and less tolerant of all the bulls**t that has destroyed our city.” Why is that? What explains Breed’s 180 degree reversal in less than 18 months? And what will determine whether she keeps her promise? SF Mayor @LondonBreed has literally just called bullshit on progressive criminal justice reformers “It is time for the reign of criminals to end. It comes to an end when are more aggressive with law enforcement & less tolerant of all the BULLSHIT that has destroyed our city” pic.twitter.com/ewqheftUun — Michael Shellenberger (@ShellenbergerMD) December 14, 2021 Murder, Looting, and Drug Deaths The main reason for Breed’s turnabout is skyrocketing crime. A report released yesterday by San Francisco’s Public Policy Institute of California concluded that homicides increased in Los Angeles, Oakland, San Diego, and San Francisco by 17% in 2021. Property crimes in those four cities rose 7% between 2020 and 2021, reaching 25,000 total in October. Two-thirds of increase is due to larcenies, mainly car break-ins (by 21%) and vehicle thefts (by 10%). PPIC stresses that property and violent crimes are lower than historic levels, but business leaders and residents have told me for two years that they often do not report many crimes. And the rate of arrest has declined significantly for many crimes. In 2019, 40% of all shoplifting reports resulted in arrest; in 2021, only 19% did. San Francisco’s progressive D.A. charged just 46% of theft arrests, a 16 point decline since he took office in 2020, and charged just 35% of petty theft arrests, a 23 point decline from two years ago. In November, San Francisco was the first of several progressive cities hit by smash-and-grab mobs of thieves, sometimes as many as 80 in a group. Video from the San Francisco looting of Louis Vuitton shows criminals walking casually out of the store, goods in hand. In response, many of San Francisco’s luxury stores in its Union Square shopping district boarded up their windows, making the area resemble a blighted neighborhood in Detroit, and embarrassing city leaders.  Meanwhile, San Francisco’s open drug scene contributed to three times more deaths from illicit drugs than covid last year, and has degraded the low-income historically black Tenderloin neighborhood. San Francisco could shut the open drug scene down like European cities did but has instead refused to mandate proven medical treatment to drug addicts. San Francisco’s progressive leaders have effectively been overseeing a radical social experiment, one that killed more African Americans last year alone than the entire Tuskegee syphilis experiment killed over 40 years. Breed has been personally impacted by addiction and crime. Both Breed’s sister and brother struggled with addiction while growing up in public housing in San Francisco. Her sister died of a drug overdose and her brother is in prison for armed robbery. “I am not for playing games with my life when it comes to politics,” she told an interviewer. “I’ve been in that community, working in the trenches, dealing with the public safety issues, dealing with those things because my people are the ones getting left behind at the end of the day.” But Breed also had to be pushed. In May, I helped Jacqui Berlinn, a mother of a homeless fentanyl addict, organize the first-ever protest of open drug dealing in the Tenderloin, which generated national and local headlines and local TV coverage. A few months later, Berlinn and I co-founded, with parents of children killed by fentanyl, recovering addicts, and community leaders, a new state-wide group, the California Peace Coalition, to demand the enforcement of laws against open drug dealing, mandatory treatment for addicts who break the law, and a state takeover of psychiatric and addiction care. Then, in early November, over 200 mostly poor and working class people in the Tenderloin protested a 161% increase in violence in the neighborhood between 2020 and 2021, and open drug dealing, in a march on City Hall. Part of their motivation was a brutal attack on an 11-year-old girl while she was walking to school. The day before, a 61-year-old man was shot while sitting in a donut shop. Two weeks later, a half a dozen gunmen fired 30 and 40 rounds at each other, sending bystanders running in chaos. Breed put their voices at the heart of her announcement. “Last week, I met with a group of families from the TL [Tenderloin],” she wrote. “I was told about drug dealers threatening grandmothers. About mid-day shootings near a park where a single mother brings her toddler after school. About assaults on the street…. We need to take back our Tenderloin.” The response to Breed’s remarks from parents and residents was overwhelmingly positive. “I can’t express how happy this makes me,” tweeted Berlinn. Tom Wolff, a formerly homeless drug addict who is on the city’s Drug Dealing Task Force, said, "I'm really happy to hear the mayor take a tougher approach on this. We can't arrest our way out of everything, but there needs to be some target specific enforcement." Michelle Tandler, a San Francisco native whose photos of boarded up Union Square stores went viral, said, “I've been observing Mayor Breed for many years now and have to say, I think this was her greatest speech to-date. Mayor Breed took a stand for what is right. I haven't seen her this impassioned since her inauguration a few years back.” Seizing the Momentum Breed’s speech puts pressure on progressive San Francisco supervisors and the District Attorney to shut down the open drug scene in the Tenderloin. When he ran for office in 2018, San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin called “open-air drug use and drug sales… technically victimless crimes.” When Boudin announced that he was not going to prosecute street-level drug dealers he said it was because they are “themselves [are] victims of human trafficking.”  But, after the looting of Louis Vuitton, Boudin struck a more tough-on-crime tone. “I'm outraged by the looting in Union Square last night” Boudin tweeted. “We are seeing similar crimes across the country. I have a simple message: don't bring that noise to our City.” Stanford addiction expert @KeithNHumphreys describes the importance, and politics, of the promise by San Francisco Mayor @LondonBreed to shut down the open drug scene in the Tenderloin neighborhood, which kills addicts and is ruining the city. pic.twitter.com/yEhnTbbcpi — Michael Shellenberger (@ShellenbergerMD) December 15, 2021 But standing up for luxury stores is different from shutting down open drug scenes. “Boudin made a very strong statement after the [flash mob] theft of Louis Vuitton,” said Stanford addiction specialist Keith Humphreys. “But I want a DA who is the most worried about the poorest residents and less about Louis Vuitton.” Other politicians are responding to the crime wave. California Attorney General Rob Bonta promised “more resources” for investigating retail theft. And the Mayor of Oakland, which will have its highest homicides in nine years, has demanded more funding for the police, and asked Gov. Gavin Newsom to finally implement technology that would allow police to read license plates on state highways to catch criminals. Former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer said he viewed Breed’s announcement as vindication for what he has been advocating. “Californians are tolerant, but we don’t tolerate brazen crime and dangerous streets,” he said. ”It should not even be a question as to whether or not the open drug markets should be shut down — I’ve been saying for years: if you let people live and do drugs on the streets, you’re condemning them to die on the streets. I enforced this as Mayor of San Diego and it must be enforced throughout California.” Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, a former Republican running for California Attorney General as an independent, praised Breed and used her announcement to attack Attorney General Bonta as soft-on-crime. “Bravo to London Breed,” Schubert tweeted, “and her commitment to cracking down on crime and open air drug usage. Breed has laid out common sense strategies that Rob Bonta clearly disagrees with. San Franciscans deserve better than an Attorney General who won’t listen to local officials about common sense public safety measures.” Breed’s announcement come days after former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter attacked progressive District Attorney Larry Krasner for dismissing the city’s record high homicides, and several weeks after Seattle voters, of whom less than 10 percent voted for Donald Trump in 2020, elected a Republican as the city’s State Attorney in response to rising crime. “I don't think we can overestimate the influence of the city of Seattle voting 8% for Donald Trump one year ago and voting 55% for a Republican city attorney who had a law and order platform in this year’s election,” said Humphreys. Here’s former Philly Mayor @Michael_Nutter denouncing “white wokeness” and “white privilege” for resulting in more homicide and crime pic.twitter.com/05bLU1Tdqn — Michael Shellenberger (@ShellenbergerMD) December 14, 2021 In the end, shutting down the city’s open drug scenes is crucial to ending drug deaths and the chaos that plagues the city. “It is an entirely fixable problem,” said Humphreys, “as many cities have shown. There will still be drug use and addiction in San Francisco. But harm reduction requires closing down open air drug scenes. Every city in America has drug problems. They do not all have a drug scene like San Francisco.” Humphreys emphasized, as did the authors of a study of how five European cities closed open drug scenes, that coordination between homeless service providers and police officers is crucial. The head of one of them, Urban Alchemy, Lena Miller, said, in response to Breed’s announcement, “We are relieved. The problem wasn’t created overnight and solving it will take time. But we very happy and looking forward to everyone coming off the sidelines to solve this.” For Humphreys, citing the European model, “Harm reduction is not a fantasy about a drug-free society, which we're never going to have. It's trying to minimize the damage that drugs do. Closing down open drug markets is going to have huge gains for people, particularly in the Tenderloin, but more broadly in the city.” Breed announcement may help change how Americans think about drugs. While it may not be possible to halt drugs from coming into the U.S., it is possible to shut down open drug scenes, and mandate treatment for those who need it. “The public is wanting some action here and she's going to try to deliver it,” said Humphreys. “I think her announcement will resonate in some of these other cities, too, and give courage. I admire the mayor for taking a political risk on behalf of the least powerful people in the city.” *  *  * Michael Shellenberger is a Time Magazine "Hero of the Environment,"Green Book Award winner, and the founder and president of Environmental Progress. He is author of just launched book San Fransicko (Harper Collins) and the best-selling book, Apocalypse Never (Harper Collins June 30, 2020). Subscribe To Michael's substack here Tyler Durden Thu, 12/16/2021 - 21:40.....»»

Category: worldSource: nytDec 16th, 2021

How the Enron Scandal Changed American Business Forever

It’s the kind of historic anniversary few people really want to remember. In early December 2001, innovative energy company Enron Corporation, a darling of Wall Street investors with $63.4 billion in assets, went bust. It was the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history. Some of the corporation’s executives, including the CEO and chief financial officer, went… It’s the kind of historic anniversary few people really want to remember. In early December 2001, innovative energy company Enron Corporation, a darling of Wall Street investors with $63.4 billion in assets, went bust. It was the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history. Some of the corporation’s executives, including the CEO and chief financial officer, went to prison for fraud and other offenses. Shareholders hit the company with a $40 billion lawsuit, and the company’s auditor, Arthur Andersen, ceased doing business after losing many of its clients. It was also a black mark on the U.S. stock market. At the time, most investors didn’t see the prospect of massive financial fraud as a real risk when buying U.S.-listed stocks. “U.S. markets had long been the gold standard in transparency and compliance,” says Jack Ablin, founding partner at Cresset Capital and a veteran of financial markets. “That was a real one-two punch on credibility. That was a watershed for the U.S. public.” [time-brightcove not-tgx=”true”] The company’s collapse sent ripples through the financial system, with the government introducing a set of stringent regulations for auditors, accountants and senior executives, huge requirements for record keeping, and criminal penalties for securities laws violations. In turn, that has led in part to less choice for U.S. stock investors, and lower participation in stock ownership by individuals. In other words, it was the little guy who suffered over the last two decades. Americans lost trust in the stock market The collapse of Enron gave many average Americans pause about investing. After all, if a giant like Enron could collapse, what investments could they trust? A significant number of Americans have foregone participating in the tremendous stock market gains seen over the last two decades. In 2020, a little more than half of the population (55%) owned stocks directly or through savings vehicles such as 401Ks and IRAs. That’s down from 60% in the year 2000, according to the Survey of Consumer Finances from the U.S. Federal Reserve. That could have had a large financial impact on some folks. For instance, an investment of $1,000 in the S&P 500 at the beginning of 2000 would recently have been worth $4,710, including reinvested dividends. Wealthier people, who often employ professionals to handle their investments, were more likely to stick with their stocks, while middle class and poorer people couldn’t take the risk. Without doubt this drop in stock market participation has contributed to the growing levels of wealth inequality across the U.S. It became harder for companies to IPO While lack of trust in the market is a direct consequence of Enron’s mega fraud, the indirect consequences of government actions also seem to have hurt Main Street USA. Immediately following the bankruptcy, Congress worked on the Sarbanes-Oxley legislation, which was meant to hold senior executives responsible for listed company financial statements. CEOs and CFOs are now held personally accountable for the truth of what goes on the income statement and balance sheet. The bill passed in 2002 and has been with us since. But it has also drawn harsh criticisms. “The most important political response was Sarbanes-Oxley,” says Steve Hanke, professor of applied economics at Johns Hopkins University. “It was unnecessary, and it was harmful.” In many ways, the legislation wasn’t needed because the Justice Department and the Securities Exchange Commission already had the powers to prosecute executives who cooked the financial books or at a minimum were less than transparent with the truth, Hanke says. The direct result of the legislation was that public companies got dumped with a load of bureaucratic form-filling, and executives would be less likely to take on entrepreneurial risks, Hanke says. There is also much ambiguity in the law about what is or what isn’t allowed and what are the ultimate consequences of non-compliance. “You don’t know what you are facing in terms of penalties, so you back off of everything risky,” he says. Quickly, that meant the stock market underwent two significant changes. First, fewer companies are listed now than since the 1970s. In 1996, during the dot-com bubble, there were 8,090 companies listed on stock exchanges in the U.S., according to data from the World Bank. That figure had fallen to 4,266 by 2019. That drop was partially a reflection of the regulatory burden of companies wishing to go public, experts say. “It costs a lot of money to employ the securities attorneys needed for Sarbanes-Oxley,” says Robert Wright, a senior fellow at the American Institute of Economic Research and an economic historian. “Clearly, fewer companies can afford to meet all these requirements.” Companies now wait under they are far larger before going public than they did before the Sarbanes-Oxley rules were introduced. Yahoo! went public with a market capitalization of $848 million in April 1996, and in 1995 Netscape got a valuation of $2.9 billion. Compare that to the $82 billion IPO valuation for ride share company Uber in 2019, or Facebook $104 billion IPO value in 2012. Now, companies grow through investments that don’t require a public market listing and that don’t involve heavy bureaucratic costs. Instead, startups go to venture capital firms or private equity. The recent rise in the use of Special Acquisition Corporations (SPACs) is seen by some as a relatively easy way to skirt some of the burdensome regulations of listing stocks. However, SPACs do nothing to reduce ongoing costs or burden of complying with the Sarbanes-Oxley rules. But when companies stay private longer, they spend more time without the public accountability required of listed companies. Former blood testing company Theranos famously remained private in a move some theorized was to avoid publicizing internal data. Because of the high barriers Sarbanes-Oxley placed on going public, the business world is now littered with large, private companies that don’t have to reveal their inner workings. Delaying going public also affects Main Street because most individual investors cannot buy shares in companies that aren’t public. They haven’t been able to share in the profits from the speedy early-stage corporate growth that is typically seen in companies like Facebook and Uber. Put simply, the Sarbanes-Oxley regulations have chased away some investing opportunities from the public market to the private ones. And in doing so have excluded small investors from participating—and gaining. “Now smaller investors are shut out and all the big economic profits go to venture capitalists and the like,” Wright says. That, in many ways, is the legacy of Enron......»»

Category: topSource: timeDec 2nd, 2021

San Francisco Homeless Insider Tells All

San Francisco Homeless Insider Tells All Authored by Michael Shellenberger via Substack, Why progressives defend and finance open drug scenes... In my new book, San Fransicko, I describe why progressives create and defend what European researchers call “open drug scenes,” which are places in cities where drug dealers and buyers meet, and many addicts live in tents. Progressives call these scenes “homeless encampments,” and not only defend them but have encouraged their growth, which is why the homeless population in California grew 31 percent since 2000. This was mostly a West Coast phenomenon until recently. But now, the newly elected progressive mayor of Boston, Michelle Wu, has decided to keep open a drug scene at Mass and Cass avenues, even though it has resulted in several deaths from drug overdoses and homicides. Progressives defend their approach as compassionate. Not everybody who is homeless is an addict, they say. Many are just down on their luck. Others turn to drugs after living on the street. What they need is our help. We should not ask people living in homeless encampments to go somewhere else. Homeless shelters are often more dangerous than living on the street. We should provide the people living in tents with money, food, clean needles, and whatever else they need to stay alive and comfortable. And we should provide everyone with their own apartment unit if that’s what they want. But this “harm reduction” approach is obviously failing. Cities already do a good job taking care of temporarily homeless people not addicted to drugs. Drug dealers stab and sometimes murder addicts who don’t pay. Women forced into prostitution to support their addictions are raped. Addicts are dying from overdose and poisoning. The addicts living in the open drug scenes commit many crimes including open drug use, sleeping on sidewalks, and defecating in public. Many steal to maintain their habits. The hands-off approach has meant that addicts do not spend any amount of time in jail or hospital where they can be off of drugs, and seek recovery. Now, even a growing number of people who have worked or still work within the homeless services sector are speaking out. A longtime San Francisco homeless service provider who read San Fransicko, and said they mostly agreed with it, reached out to me to share their views. At first this person said they wanted to speak on the record. But as the interview went on, and the person criticized their colleagues, they asked to remain anonymous, fearing retribution. Why “Housing First” Failed The main progressive approach for addressing homelessness, not just in San Francisco but in progressive cities around the nation, is “Housing First,” which is the notion that taxpayers should give, no questions asked, apartment units to anyone who says they are homeless, and asks for one. What actually works to reduce the addiction that forces many people onto the streets is making housing contingent on abstinence. But Housing First advocates oppose “contingency management,” as it’s called, because, they say, “Housing is a right,” and it should not be condition on behavior change. But such a policy is absurdly unrealistic, said the San Francisco homeless expert. “To pretend that this city could build enough permanent supportive housing for every homeless person who needs it is ludicrous,” the person said. “I wish it weren’t. I wish I lived in a land where there was plenty of housing. But now people are dying on our streets and it feels like we’re not doing very much about it.” The underlying problem with Housing First is that it enables addiction. “The National Academies of Sciences review [which showed that giving people apartments did not improve health or other life outcomes] you cited shows that. San Francisco has more permanent supportive housing units per capita than any other city, and we doubled spending on homelessness, but the homeless population rose 13%, even as it went down in the US. And so we doubled our spending and the problem got worse. But if you say that, you get attacked.” How did progressives, who claim to be evidence-based, ever get so committed to Housing First? “Malcolm Gladwell’s [2006 New Yorker article] “Million Dollar Murray,” really helped popularize this idea,” the person said. “But it was based on an anecdote of one person. It works for who it works for but is not scalable. [Governor] Gavin [Newsom] made a mistake [as San Francisco’s Mayor 2004-2011] which was that we stopped investing in shelter. But that’s because all the best minds were saying, ‘This is what’s going to work.’” One of the claims made defenders of the open drug scenes is that people who live in them are mostly locals who were priced out of their homes and apartments and decided to pitch a tent on the street. In San Fransicko, I cite a significant body of evidence to show that this is false, and that many people come to San Francisco from around the U.S. for the city’s unusually high cash welfare benefits, free housing, and tolerance of open drug scenes. The insider agreed. “People come here because they think they can. It’s bullshit that ‘Only 30 percent [of homeless] are from out of town.’ At least 20,000 homeless people come through town every year. Talk to the people on the street. There’s no way 70 percent of the homeless are from here. Ask them the name of their high school and they guess, ‘Washington? The one around the corner?’ But you can’t even talk about that without being called a fascist.”  The people living on the street suffer from serious addiction, this person said. “During the first point in time count [census of homeless population] in 2007, one-third had a disability, mental illness, or addiction, while last time, it was over two-thirds. The population fundamentally changed, whether from the drugs, or the time on the street. It doesn’t matter because a lot of the problems on the street are drugs-related. Neither San Francisco nor any other municipality can solve the housing policy without changing federal policy.” Life in the open drug scenes is brutal, this person confirmed. “Most homeless encampments are not communities but have paper-thin relationships based on their disease. It’s hard to have healthy relationships when you’re just trying to keep your head above water because you’re so dope dependent.” What San Francisco and other progressive cities are doing isn’t working. “People in those encampments have food brought to them, port-a-potties brought to them, and all they need to do is put drugs in their arm all day. They get really really sick and they die. Portugal didn’t make it so you can do whatever you want. The consequences of your action are treatment driven, but there are consequences. Here there are no consequences. And so we make it worse.” This person was harshly critical of San Francisco’s Department of Public Health for allowing drug overdoses to rise to over 700 per year. “They say, ‘It’s not our fault because it’s fentanyl.” But it’s only gotten worse.” This person stressed they were in favor of harm reduction policies like giving addicts clean needles in exchange for them giving back dirty ones, but not just giving out needles. “I’m all in favor of needle exchange, but not of needle distribution. Ask people to return the needles they’ve been given. There are people who don’t have it together enough. I get that. But when you tell people we’re going to give you whatever you want, to do whatever you want… Sleeping on a sidewalk is a crime. There are things you can’t do. You can’t shoot up on the street. The laws are there for a reason.” Why Progressives Create Homelessness So ⁦@SFPD⁩ just arrested ⁦@christinevans⁩ for interfering with their work of displacing folks in a large encampment under the freeway during a pandemic as Delta is spreading. I was talking to an unhoused pregnant woman when they threatened to arrest me too. pic.twitter.com/NBANKCWA0Y — Kelley Cutler (@NutCheese) July 27, 2021 Open drug scenes look like natural disasters, but they are the result of specific city policies. These policies including giving money, food, and drug paraphernalia to addicts to support their addiction. But even if progressives didn’t give people those things, many addicts would still live in open drug scenes. As such, the main reason “homelessness” is so much worse in progressive West Coast cities is because progressives hotly oppose efforts by cities to close the open drug scenes and move addicts into shelters and rehab. By blocking the closing of open drug scenes, which is referred to as “clearing an encampment,” people in need of help don’t get it. “The San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness recently [July 2021] protested an encampment clearing where a woman was pregnant,” the insider told me. “As soon as everybody left, the woman went into a shelter, after having been on the streets for three months. She went indoors. It’s like, ‘What are you fighting for? The right of this person to stay on private property and be pregnant?’” One of the questions I tried to answer in San Fransicko was when it was that street addicts started living in tents. I concluded that it started with the “Occupy Wall Street” protests in 2011, when progressive activists in San Francisco, Oakland, and other cities lived in tents in front of government buildings to protest capitalism. This person confirmed this account. “You’re right that the tents popped up after Occupy,” they said. “But it wasn’t just that the Occupy activists gave the homeless their tents. It was that the homeless saw well-heeled whites sleeping in tents. It got moralized.” The most influential homeless advocate in San Francisco, and perhaps the United States as a whole, is the head of the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness, Jennifer Friedenbach. Over the last three decades, Friedenbach has taken control over San Francisco’s homelessness budget and other policies. She blocks the closure of open drug scenes, calls people who disagree with her fascists and racists, and organizes protests at the homes of politicians. Time to house all San Franciscans, don’t you think? pic.twitter.com/PA5fFGivhN — Jennifer Friedenbach (@fbach4) May 18, 2021 A typical example of Friedenbach’s tactics could be seen in posters she promoted in May. The headline read, “See a tent? Just fucking leave it alone, thanks. Maybe instead of complaining about a homeless person’s only shelter from the elements, you could do something about the economic conditions that put them there in the first place?” The main reason San Francisco lacks sufficient homeless shelters is because Friedenbach and other Housing First advocates have long opposed them. They have demanded that money go to providing people with their own apartment units. The reason, Friedenbach explained to me, is that “if you ask unhoused people, they’re not screaming for shelter. They’re screaming for housing.” In the spring of 2021, Friedenbach published an op-ed opposing a proposal considered by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to create, within eighteen months, sufficient homeless shelters and outdoor “Safe Sleeping Sites” for all of the city’s unsheltered homeless. “One can simply take a look to New York City,” she wrote. “Their department spends about $1.3 billion dollars of its budget on providing shelter for their unhoused population while thousands remain on the street. . . . As a result, New York has a higher rate of homelessness than San Francisco.” But the claim was misleading. New York shelters the vast majority of its homeless, whereas San Francisco leaves the vast majority of its homeless unsheltered. “New York [City] has made the decision that everyone should have an exit from the street,” noted Rafael Mandelman, a San Francisco county supervisor. “San Francisco has consciously chosen not to make that commitment. And the conditions on New York’s streets versus San Francisco streets are somewhat reflective of what that means.” Friedenbach controls how San Francisco spends its astonishing $850 million annual budget. “Jenny built her power base by becoming a master of the budget’s “add back” process,” said the San Francisco insider. “The night before the budget is announced, it gets reviewed by the Board of Supervisors, but they’re trying to get out of there by midnight, and that’s when these ‘community asks.’ The board goes and trims stuff out of the mayor’s budget and does “add backs'' of money for struggling nonprofits. Jenny has mastered that process. And so if you’re a nonprofit executive director, and you want money in the add back process, which everyone does, you have to go through Jenny.” This person said that Friedenbach also operates behind the scenes. “She controls fake front groups like the Homeless Service Providers’ Coalition and the Justice Budget Coalition,” said the insider. “She knows the issue well. A lot of people look to her.” But more importantly, Friedenbach, like many progressive defenders of open drug scenes, demonize the people who stand up to her. “They shut down the discussion,” the insider said. “Everybody is just like, ‘Police bad. Public health good.’ It’s Animal Farm. But the city’s homeless outreach team can’t do their jobs without the cops. That’s the stuff that shuts down any meaningful discussion.” Why do they do it? Radical anti-system ideology. “There’s a San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness hat which says, ‘Coalition on Homelessness: On The Frontlines of Class Warfare,’” said the insider. “They feel like they’re fighting class warfare. They tell people to not take shelter.” I documented in San Fransicko that Friedenbach and other homeless advocates are motivated in significant measure by their belief that capitalism, not addiction, is responsible for the suffering on the streets. After I appeared on Joe Rogan, a clinical psychologist who for two decades ran programs for homeless veterans at the San Francisco Veterans Administration Medical Center, which included homeless vets, emailed me. “I agree with all you say about the ‘homeless’ people who are actually mislabeled mentally ill and drug addicts,” wrote Dr. Mark Zaslav. “I like your comparison of the ‘ideology’ of people who “advocate” for the homeless to a religion gone haywire. But I wanted, as a psychologist, to add another point for your consideration.  This is the fact that this leftwing religion is based on split-off hatred and contempt for civilization itself.  When I attended substance abuse conferences in San Francisco run by community leaders, it became clear to me that these people had no understanding of mental health disorders like addiction – they regarded “homeless” addicts as heroes of some kind.   “Thus, each drug addict defecating on the streets in the Tenderloin was a massive middle finger to some imagined white male with a briefcase.  The premise of your solutions, which make so much sense, assume that adherents to the now reigning ideology want things solved.  They do not.  They want people inconvenienced by addicts – the homeless become quote literal scared cows who roam society reminding everyone of the sins of capitalism. “You mentioned Noam Chomsky.  These people are angry and full of hate.  They have tapped into a form of blindness among the voters of places like San Francisco or California itself – these are angry people endlessly telling themselves they are compassionate while projecting their hatred toward the ‘bourgeoise.’ I am afraid this does not end well. “ The San Francisco homelessness insider agreed, and despaired over the religious fervor in which the people who work at the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness, the San Francisco Public Health Department, and many elected members of the Board of Supervisors are gripped. “Maybe homelessness is part of capitalism and racism,” said this person. “I can’t solve that and neither can any nonprofit organization. I can’t stand seeing people suffering on the streets. What are we going to do right now?” .*  *  * Michael Shellenberger is a Time Magazine "Hero of the Environment,"Green Book Award winner, and the founder and president of Environmental Progress. He is author of just launched book San Fransicko (Harper Collins) and the best-selling book, Apocalypse Never (Harper Collins June 30, 2020). Our research and writing depends on individuals like you. Please consider subscribing now so we can expand our work in the coming year Tyler Durden Mon, 11/29/2021 - 22:20.....»»

Category: blogSource: zerohedgeNov 29th, 2021

Five Trump-Russia "Collusion" Corrections We Need From The Media Now

Five Trump-Russia 'Collusion' Corrections We Need From The Media Now Authored by Aaron Maté via RealClearInvestigations.com, Five years after the Hillary Clinton campaign-funded collection of Trump-Russia conspiracy theories known as the Steele dossier was published by BuzzFeed, news outlets that amplified its false allegations have suffered major losses of credibility. The recent indictment of the dossier's main source, Igor Danchenko, for allegedly lying to the FBI, has catalyzed a new reckoning. In response to what the news site Axios has called "one of the most egregious journalistic errors in modern history," the Washington Post has re-edited at least a dozen stories related to Steele. For two of those, the Post removed entire sections, changed headlines, and added lengthy editor's notes. Rosalind Helderman: Bylined reporter on two of the Post's most corrected stories. Twitter/@PostRoz Tom Hamburger: Other bylined reporter on two of the Post's most corrected stories. Twitter/@thamburger But the Post's response also exhibits the limits of the media's Steele-induced self-examination. First, the reporters bylined on those two articles, Rosalind S. Helderman and Tom Hamburger, and their editors have declined to explain how and why they were so egregiously misled. Nor have they revealed the names of the anonymous sources responsible for deceiving them and the public over months and years. Perhaps more important, the Post, like other publications, has so far limited its Russiagate reckoning to work directly involving Steele – and only after a federal indictment forced its hand. But the Steele dossier has been widely discredited since at least April 2019, when Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller and his team of prosecutors and FBI agents were unable to find evidence in support of any of its claims. The dossier was also only one aspect of the Trump-Russia misinformation fed to the public. Even when not advancing Steele's most lurid allegations, the nation's most prominent news outlets nonetheless furthered his underlying narrative of a Trump-Russia conspiracy and a Kremlin-compromised White House. Along the way, some journalists won their profession's highest distinction for this flawed coverage. While co-bylining stories that the Post has all but retracted, Helderman and Hamburger also share a now increasingly awkward honor along with more than a dozen other colleagues at the Post and New York Times: a Pulitzer Prize. In 2018, the Pulitzer awards committee honored the two papers for 20 articles it described as "deeply sourced, relentlessly reported coverage in the public interest that dramatically furthered the nation's understanding of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and its connections to the Trump campaign, the President-elect's transition team and his eventual administration." Above, Washingon Post and New York Times reporters whose 2018 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting on the Trump-Russia affair is tainted by evidence in the public record that significant reporting was erroneous or misleading -- reporting that still has not been corrected by their publications, even though the Post recently made numerous corrections regarding the long-discredited Steele dossier. Journalist identifications are here. (Credit: YouTube/The Pulitzer Prizes) Although neither newspaper has given any indication that it is returning the Pulitzer, the public record has long made clear that many of those stories – most of which had nothing to do with Steele – include falsehoods and distortions requiring significant corrections. Far from showing "deeply sourced, relentlessly reported coverage," the Post's and the Times' reporting has the same problem as the Steele document that these same outlets are now distancing themselves from: a reliance on anonymous, deceptive, and almost certainly partisan sources for claims that proved to be false. Many other prestigious outlets published a barrage of similarly flawed articles. These include the report by Peter Stone and Greg Gordon of McClatchy that the Mueller team obtained evidence that Trump lawyer Michael Cohen had visited Prague in 2016; Jane Mayer's fawning March 2018 profile of Steele in the New Yorker; the report by Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier of BuzzFeed that President Trump instructed Cohen to lie to Congress -- explicitly denied by Mueller at the time; and Luke Harding of The Guardian's bizarre and evidence-free allegation that Julian Assange and Paul Manafort met in London's Ecuadorian embassy. McClatchy and BuzzFeed have added editors' notes to their stories but have not retracted them.  In this article, RealClearInvestigations has collected five instances of stories containing false or misleading claims, and thereby due for retraction or correction, that were either among the Post and Times' Pulitzer-winning entries, or other work of reporters who shared that prize. Significantly, this analysis is not based on newly discovered information, but documents and other material long in the public domain. Remarkably, some of the material that should spark corrections has instead been held up by the Post and Times as vindication of their work. RCI sent detailed queries about these stories to the Post, the Times, and the journalists involved. The Post's response has been incorporated into the relevant portion of this article. The Times did not respond to RCI's queries by the time of publication. Falsehood No. 1: Michael Flynn Discussed Sanctions With Russia and Lied About It Flynn faces the press in his only White House Briefing Room remarks as national security adviser. YouTube/C-SPAN Officials say Flynn discussed sanctions By Greg Miller, Adam Entous and Ellen NakashimaWashington Post, February 9, 2017 Less than a month after BuzzFeed published the Steele dossier, the Washington Post significantly advanced the then-growing narrative that the Trump White House was beholden to Russia. A Feb. 9, 2017, Post article claimed that National Security Adviser Michael Flynn "privately discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia" with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak "during the month before President Trump took office, contrary to public assertions by Trump officials." The Post sourced its reporting to nine "current and former officials" who occupied "senior positions at multiple agencies at the time of the calls" between Flynn and Kislyak following the Nov. 8, 2016 election. The Post's sources – who were revealing classified information, presumably from taps on Kislyak's phone – left no room for doubt: "All of those officials said Flynn's references to the election-related sanctions were explicit." They also added their own spin to the meaning of the conversations: Flynn's calls with Kislyak "were interpreted by some senior U.S. officials as an inappropriate and potentially illegal signal to the Kremlin that it could expect a reprieve from sanctions that were being imposed by the Obama administration in late December to punish Russia for its alleged interference in the 2016 election." Adding some mind-reading to the narrative, a former official told the Post that Kislyak "was left with the impression that the sanctions would be revisited at a later time." The Post and its sources fueled innuendo that Flynn had floated a payback for Russia's alleged 2016 election help and lied to cover it up. Facing a barrage of anonymous officials contradicting him, Flynn walked back an initial denial and told the Post that "while he had no recollection of discussing sanctions, he couldn't be certain that the topic never came up." Four days later, he was forced to resign. The following December, Special Counsel Mueller seemingly vindicated the Post's narrative when Flynn pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI, including about his discussion of sanctions with the Russian ambassador. Flynn would later backtrack and reverse that guilty plea, sparking a multi-year legal saga. When the transcripts of his calls with Kislyak were finally released in May 2020, they showed that Flynn had grounds to fight: It wasn't Flynn who made a false statement about discussing sanctions with Kislyak; it was all nine of the Post's sources — and, later, the Mueller team — who had misled the public. Sergei Kislyak: Transcripts of Flynn's calls with the Russian Ambassador do not square with the Washington Post's reporting. AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File In all of Flynn's multiple conversations with Kislyak in December 2016 and January 2017, the issue of sanctions only gets one fleeting mention – by Kislyak. The Russian ambassador tells Flynn that he is concerned that sanctions will hurt U.S.-Russia cooperation on fighting jihadist insurgents in Syria. The sum total of Flynn's response on the matter: "Yeah, yeah." The pair did have a longer discussion about a separate action Obama had ordered at the time: the expulsion of 35 Russian officials living in the United States. The expulsions, which were carried out by the State Department, were a distinct action from the sanctions, which targeted nine Russian entities and individuals under a presidential executive order. In discussing the expulsions, Flynn never addressed what Trump might do; his only request was that the Kremlin's response be "reciprocal" and "even-keeled" so that "cool heads" can "prevail." "[D]on't go any further than you have to," Flynn told Kislyak. "Because I don't want us to get into something that has to escalate, on a, you know, on a tit for tat." In its rendering of the call, the Mueller team cited these comments from Flynn – but inaccurately claimed that he had made them about sanctions. The Special Counsel's Office appeared to be following the lead of the Post's sources, who had claimed, falsely, that Flynn's references to sanctions were "explicit." Both the Post and the special counsel used Flynn's explicit comments about expulsions to erroneously assert that he had discussed sanctions. Yet the release of the transcripts did not prompt the Post to come clean. Instead, both the Post and the New York Times doubled down on the deception. The Post's May 29, 2020, story about the transcripts' release was headlined "Transcripts of calls between Flynn, Russian diplomat show they discussed sanctions." The Times claimed that same day that "Flynn Discussed Sanctions at Length With Russian Diplomat, Transcripts Show." In reality, the transcripts showed the exact opposite. In response to RCI, the Post acknowledged that the Feb. 9, 2017 story had conflated "sanctions" with "expulsions." "We appropriately used the word 'sanctions' in reference to the punitive measures announced by President Obama, including Treasury penalties on Russian individuals, expulsions of Russian diplomats/spies and the seizure of two Russia-owned properties," Shani George, the Post's Vice President for Communications, wrote. In other articles, however -- including a Dec. 29, 2016 article linked in the Feb. 9 story's second paragraph – the Post made a clear distinction between the two. Asked about dropping the distinction between sanctions and expulsions for the article discussed here, the Post did not respond by the time of publication.  Falsehood No. 2: Repeated Contacts With Russian Intelligence Left to right, Carter Page, Paul Manafort, Roger Stone: Repeated contacts with Russian spies? Doubtful. FNC/AP Trump Campaign Aides Had Repeated Contacts With Russian Intelligence By Michael S. Schmidt, Mark Mazzetti and Matt ApuzzoNew York Times, February 14, 2017 On Feb. 14, 2017 – just one day after Flynn resigned – the New York Times fanned the flames of the growing Trump-Russia inferno. "Phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald J. Trump's 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election, according to four current and former American officials," the Times reported. The story, written by three members of the paper's Pulitzer Prize-winning team, Michael S. Schmidt, Mark Mazzetti and Matt Apuzzo, also suggested that these suspicious "repeated contacts" were the basis for the FBI's investigation of the Trump campaign's potential conspiracy with Russia: "American law enforcement and intelligence agencies intercepted the communications around the same time they were discovering evidence that Russia was trying to disrupt the presidential election by hacking into the Democratic National Committee, three of the officials said. The intelligence agencies then sought to learn whether the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians on the hacking or other efforts to influence the election." The article even threw in a plug for Christopher Steele, who, the Times said, is believed by senior FBI officials to have "a credible track record." The story helped build momentum for the appointment of Special Counsel Mueller, and then quickly unraveled. Four months after the Times' report – and just weeks after Mueller's hiring – FBI Director James Comey testified to Congress about the story, saying that "in the main, it was not true." When the Mueller report was released in April 2019, it contained no evidence of any contacts between Trump associates and Russian intelligence officials, senior or otherwise. And in July 2020, declassified documents showed that Peter Strzok, the top FBI counterintelligence agent who opened the Trump-Russia probe, had privately dismissed the article. The Times reporting, Strzok wrote upon its publication, was "misleading and inaccurate … we are unaware of ANY Trump advisers engaging in conversations with Russian intelligence officials." Comey on Times story: "In the main, it was not true." It's still uncorrected. To date, the Times has appended two minor corrections. The most recent one reads: "An earlier version of a photo caption with this article gave an incorrect middle initial for Paul Manafort. It is J., not D." Rather than address its glaring errors, the Times left the story otherwise intact. When the Strzok notes disputing its claims emerged, the Times responded: "We stand by our reporting." Earlier this year, the Times even claimed vindication. The occasion was an April 15, 2021, press release from the Treasury Department. The Treasury statement alleged that Konstantin Kilimnik, a former aide to Trump's one-time campaign manager, Paul Manafort, is a "known Russian Intelligence Services agent" who "provided the Russian Intelligence Services with sensitive information on polling and campaign strategy" during the 2016 election. Writing that same day, Times reporters Mark Mazzetti and Michael S. Schmidt declared that Treasury's evidence-free press release — coupled with an evidence-free Senate Intelligence claim in August 2020 that Kilimnik is a "Russian intelligence officer" — now "confirm" the Times' report from February 2017. The Treasury announcement did not explain how the department, which conducted no official Russiagate investigation, was prompted to lodge an explosive allegation that a multi-year FBI/Mueller investigation found no evidence for. It also does not name the position Kilimnik allegedly held in Russian intelligence – much less say whether he was a senior official. It also failed to address ample countervailing evidence: that Kilimnik had shared this same, publicly available polling data with Americans; that the FBI still does not deem him a Russian intelligence officer, instead claiming that he has unspecified "ties"; that he had long been a valued State Department source; that he traveled to the U.S. on a civilian Russian passport, not the suspicious diplomatic one Mueller alleged without producing it; and that even the Senate Intelligence Committee was "unable to obtain direct evidence of what Kilimnik did with the polling data and whether that data was shared further."  Wanted in the U.S., Kilimnik shared his civilian (not diplomatic) passport with RCI. Konstantin Kilimnik via RealClearInvestigations In addition, no U.S. government or congressional investigator ever contacted him for questioning, Kilimnik told RCI in an April 2021 interview when he produced images of the civilian passport. To declare victory, Mazzetti and Schmidt not only relied on one sentence of a press release but distorted the claims of their original story. Even if Kilimnik somehow proved to be a Russian intelligence officer, the Times' 2017 story had reported that the Trump campaign had engaged in "intercepted calls" with multiple "senior Russian intelligence officials" – not just one person, and at a "senior" level. To elide that, Mazzetti and Schmidt abandoned the plural Russian "intelligence officials" to spin the Treasury press release as proof that "there had been numerous interactions between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence during the year before the election." It then returned to the use of the plural to further claim that Treasury's statement is "the strongest evidence to date that Russian spies had penetrated the inner workings of the Trump campaign." RCI sent Mazzetti and Schmidt detailed questions about their February 2017 article and their claim, four years later, that a Senate report and a Treasury press release confirm it. They did not respond. Falsehood No. 3: George Papadopoulos's 'Night of Heavy Drinking' With the Australian Envoy The Times mischaracterized George Papadopoulos's supposed Russiagate-launching barroom chat. AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin Unlikely Source Propelled Russian Meddling Inquiry By Sharon LaFraniere, Mark Mazzetti and Matt ApuzzoNew York Times, December 30, 2017 By late 2017, the Russiagate saga was engulfing the Trump presidency. The indictments of several figures connected to Trump fueled a media-driven narrative that Mueller was closing in on a Trump-Russia conspiracy. But a roadblock emerged in late October. After a year of evasions, the Hillary Clinton campaign and its law firm Perkins Coie admitted that they had funded the Steele dossier and that a lawyer for the firm, Marc Elias, had commissioned it. The disclosure was forced by House Republicans, led by Rep. Devin Nunes, who had subpoenaed the bank records of Fusion GPS in a bid to identify its secret funder. (Fusion GPS was the opposition-research firm hired by Perkins Coie that in turn hired Steele.) For those wedded to the Trump-Russia collusion narrative, the admission was problematic: After months of anonymous media claims that Steele's dossier was "credible" and even "bearing out," the heralded document was exposed as a paid partisan hit job from Trump's political opponents. If the FBI was found to have relied on the dossier, the Clinton campaign's key role could discredit the entire investigation. Just before the 2017 year-end deadline for 2018 Pulitzer eligibility, the New York Times produced a new origin story for the probe that would temper these concerns and help the newspaper win the prize. The FBI's decision to open the Trump-Russia probe had nothing to do with Steele, the Times claimed. Instead, the instigator was George Papadopoulos, a low-level campaign volunteer indicted by Mueller two months prior. "During a night of heavy drinking at an upscale London bar in May 2016," the Times' piece began, Papadopoulos told an Australian diplomat named Alexander Downer that Russia had "political dirt on Hillary Clinton," including "thousands of emails." Papadopoulos, the Times said, had learned of the Russian scheme the previous month from Joseph Mifsud, a Maltese academic who claimed to be in touch with "high-level Russian officials." Mifsud's claim signaled inside knowledge of Russia's alleged hack of the Democratic National Committee, the Times said, because at that point the "information was not yet public." Alexander Downer: The Australian diplomat's account of his conversation with George Papadopoulos conflicts with the Times' reporting. Twitter/@AlexanderDowner When Downer, via the Australian government, relayed this information to the U.S. in July, the FBI decided to open its Trump-Russia probe, codenamed Crossfire Hurricane, the Times reported. "The [DNC] hacking and the revelation that a member of the Trump campaign may have had inside information about it were driving factors that led the F.B.I. to open an investigation in July 2016 into Russia's attempts to disrupt the election and whether any of President Trump's associates conspired," the Times claimed. The article pointedly asserted that the Steele dossier "was not part of the justification to start a counterintelligence inquiry, American officials said." (In a possible contradiction, it also claims, without specifics, "that the investigation was also propelled by intelligence from other friendly governments, including the British.") Several key aspects of the article have been challenged by the principals involved — leaving aside a key question the Times appears never to have asked: Why would the FBI launch a counterintelligence probe of a presidential campaign based on a barroom conversation involving a volunteer? Moreover, the Times or its sources mischaracterized the barroom conversation, according to both of its participants. Speaking to a Sydney-based newspaper a few months later about the fateful London exchange, Downer said Papadopoulos had never mentioned "dirt" or "thousands of emails" — which the FBI would have linked to the DNC hack. Instead, Downer told The Australian, Papadopoulos "mentioned the Russians might use material that they have on Hillary Clinton in the lead-up to the election, which may be damaging." Contrary to the specificity of the Times' rendering, Downer recalled that Papadopoulos "didn't say what it was." He also said Papadopoulos made no mention of Mifsud, a mysterious figure with rumored ties to Western intelligence who vanished after a cursory FBI interview. A declassified FBI document would later confirm Downer's account of a vague conversation. In May 2020, the Justice Department released the July 31, 2016, FBI electronic communication (EC) that officially opened its Russia investigation. The EC states that Downer had told the U.S. government that Papadopoulos had "suggested the Trump team had received some kind of suggestion from Russia that it could assist" the Trump campaign by anonymously releasing damaging information about Clinton and President Obama. The EC made no mention of any "dirt," "thousands of emails," or Mifsud. It also acknowledged that the nature of the "suggestion" was "unclear" and that the possible Russian help could entail "material acquired publicly," as opposed to hacked emails by the thousands. Another declassified document, the December 2017 testimony from Andrew McCabe — the former FBI deputy director who helped launch and oversee the Russia probe — also undermined the Times' premise. Asked why the FBI never sought a surveillance warrant on the Trump volunteer who supposedly sparked the investigation, McCabe replied that "Papadopoulos' comment didn't particularly indicate that he was the person … that was interacting with the Russians." Despite the countervailing claims of Downer, McCabe, and the FBI document that opened the investigation (not to mention the recollections of both Papadopoulos and Downer that they only had one drink, belying the Times claim of "a night of heavy drinking"), the Times has never run a single update or correction. Falsehood No. 4: Russia Launched a Sweeping Interference Campaign That Posed a ‘National Security Threat' Social media posts from Russia's effort to "assault American democracy," as the Times put it. HPSCI Minority Doubting the intelligence, Trump pursues Putin and leaves a Russian threat unchecked By Greg Miller, Greg Jaffe and Philip RuckerWashington Post, December 14, 2017 To Sway Vote, Russia Used Army of Fake Americans By Scott ShaneNew York Times, September 8, 2017 As the Pulitzer-winning media outlets relied on anonymous intelligence officials to fuel innuendo about Trump-Russia collusion, they turned to these same sources to imply that a compromised president was unwilling to confront the existential threat of "Russian interference." "Nearly a year into his presidency," a Pulitzer-winning December 2017 Washington Post story declared, "Trump continues to reject the evidence that Russia waged an assault on a pillar of American democracy and supported his run for the White House." As a result, Trump has "impaired the government's response to a national security threat." The Post's article was sourced to "more than 50 current and former U.S. officials" including former CIA Director Michael Hayden, who "described the Russian interference as the political equivalent of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks." Another Pulitzer-winning story, written by Scott Shane of the New York Times two months earlier, offered a revealing window into the merits of the Russian interference allegations, and the appropriateness of equating them to attacks like 9/11. "To Sway Vote, Russia Used Army of Fake Americans," the Times' headline blared. Aside from the Pulitzer board, Shane's article also impressed the New York Times' editors, who proclaimed in a follow-up editorial that their colleague's "startling investigation" had revealed "further evidence of what amounted to unprecedented foreign invasion of American democracy." But from the details in Shane's article, it is difficult to see why anonymous U.S. intelligence officials, Pulitzer judges, and Times editors saw the alleged Russian "cyberarmy" as such a seismic danger. Melvin Redick, suspected Russian operator. The proof? Articles "reflecting a pro-Russian worldview," the Times reported. New York Times Shane's piece opened by describing a June 2016 Facebook post by an account user named Melvin Redick, who promoted the website DC Leaks, alleged by the U.S. to be a Russian intelligence cutout. Redick's posts, Shane writes, were "among the first public signs" of Russia's "cyberarmy of counterfeit Facebook and Twitter accounts" that turned the platforms into "engines of deception and propaganda." To Clint Watts, a former FBI agent turned MSNBC commentator, Russia's infiltration of Facebook and Twitter was so dangerous that social media, he said, is now afflicted by a "bot cancer." But these explosive conclusions, Shane's own piece later acknowledged, were undermined by a lack of evidence. The online users who manipulated social media, Shane quietly notes near the bottom, were in fact only "suspected Russian operators" [emphasis added]. Shane's uncertainty extends to Melvin Redick, the alleged Russian bot who begins the story. Redick is one of several identified accounts that "appeared to be Russian creations," Shane concedes. The only proof tying Redick to Russia? "His posts were never personal, just news articles reflecting a pro-Russian worldview." Robert Mueller's final report two years later also tried to raise alarm about what he called a "sweeping and systematic" Russian interference campaign. But as with the Pulitzer-winning outlets before him, the contents of his report failed to support the headline assertion. The Russian troll farm blamed for a sweeping social media campaign to install Trump spent about $46,000 on pre-election posts that were juvenile, barely about the election, and mostly appeared during the primaries. After suggesting that the troll farm was tied to the Kremlin, the Mueller team was forced to walk back that innuendo in court, and later dropped the case altogether. The other main claim regarding Russian interference – that the GRU (Russia's foreign intelligence agency) hacked the DNC's email servers and gave the material to Wikileaks – was quietly undermined by Mueller's qualified language and key evidentiary gaps, as RCI reported in 2019. The Russian hacking claim suffered an additional setback in May 2020, when testimony from the CEO of CrowdStrike — the Clinton-contracted firm that was the first to publicly accuse Russia of infiltrating the DNC — was declassified. Speaking to the House Intelligence Committee in December 2017, CrowdStrike's Shawn Henry disclosed that his company "did not have concrete evidence" that alleged Russian hackers had stolen any data from the servers. Despite its once exhaustive and alarmist interest in the operations of Russia's cyber army, neither the Times nor the Post has ever reported Henry's explosive admission. This includes Pulitzer-winning Post national security reporter Ellen Nakashima, who effectively kicked off the Russiagate saga by breaking the news on CrowdStrike's Russian hacking allegation in June 2016. Other than Henry, Nakashima's main source was Michael Sussmann – the Clinton campaign attorney recently indicted for lying to the FBI. Falsehood No. 5: The Justice Department Pulled Its Punches on Trump Ex-Justice official Rod Rosenstein was blamed for handcuffing Mueller -- a charge much doubted. AP Photo/Evan Vucci Justice Dept. Never Fully Examined Trump's Ties to Russia, Ex-Officials Say By Michael S. SchmidtNew York Times, Aug. 30, 2020 (Updated June 9, 2021) When Mueller ended his investigation in 2019 without charging Trump or any other associate for conspiring with Russia, a collusion-obsessed media formulated more conspiracy theories to explain away this unwelcome ending. First came the belief that Attorney General William Barr had forced Mueller to shut down, misrepresented his final report, and hid the smoking-gun evidence behind redactions. When Mueller failed to support any of these allegations in his July 2019 congressional testimony, a new culprit was needed. One year later, the New York Times found its fall guy: Mueller's overseer, former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, had handcuffed the special counsel. "The Justice Department secretly took steps in 2017 to narrow the investigation into Russian election interference and any links to the Trump campaign, according to former law enforcement officials, keeping investigators from completing an examination of President Trump's decades-long personal and business ties to Russia," Michael Schmidt reported on Aug. 30, 2020. Rosenstein, Schmidt said, "curtailed the investigation without telling the bureau, all but ensuring it would go nowhere" and preventing the FBI from "completing an inquiry into whether the president's personal and financial links to Russia posed a national security threat." To buttress his case, Schmidt cited the Democrats' leading collusion advocate, Rep. Adam Schiff, who feared that "that the F.B.I. Counterintelligence Division has not investigated counterintelligence risks arising from President Trump's foreign financial ties." But as Schmidt's article tacitly acknowledged, that outcome did not come from Rosenstein but the Mueller team itself. After Rosenstein appointed Mueller, Schmidt reported, members of the special counsel's team "held early discussions led by the agent Peter Strzok about a counterintelligence investigation of the president." But these "efforts fizzled," Schmidt added, when Strzok "was removed from the inquiry three months later for sending text messages disparaging Mr. Trump." If Rosenstein had indeed "curtailed" a counterintelligence investigation by Mueller's team, why did the special counsel staffers discuss it, and why did it only "fizzle" upon Strzok's exit three months later? Strzok himself disputed the premise of Schmidt's article. "I didn't feel such a limitation," Strzok told the Atlantic. "When I discussed this with Mueller and others, it was agreed that FBI personnel attached to the Special Counsel's Office would do the counterintelligence work, which necessarily included the president." The only problem, Strzok added, was that by "the time I left the team, we hadn't solved this problem of who and how to conduct all of the counterintelligence work." Strzok's "worry," he added, was that the counterintelligence angle "wasn't ever effectively done" – not that it was ever curtailed. Another key Mueller team member, lead prosecutor Andrew Weissmann, also rejected Schmidt's claim. NYT story today is wrong re alleged secret DOJ order prohibiting a counterintelligence investigation by Mueller, “without telling the bureau.” Dozens of FBI agents/analysts were embedded in Special Counsel's Office and we were never told to keep anything from them. 1 of 2 — Andrew Weissmann (@AWeissmann_) August 31, 2020 Also erroneous is NYT claim "Rosenstein concluded the F.B.I. lacked sufficient reason to conduct an investigation into the president’s links to a foreign adversary.” See DOJ Special Counsel Appointment Order, para. (b)(i). 2 of 2 — Andrew Weissmann (@AWeissmann_) August 31, 2020 Rosenstein's May 2017 scope memo, which established the parameters of Mueller's investigation, indeed contained no such limitations. It broadly tasked Mueller to examine "any links and/or co-ordination" between the Russian government and anyone associated with the Trump campaign, as well as – even more expansively – "any matters that arose or may arise directly from that investigation." In his July 2019 congressional appearance, Mueller had multiple opportunities to reveal that his probe had been impeded or narrowed. Asked by Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) whether "at any time in the investigation, your investigation was curtailed or stopped or hindered," Mueller replied "No." When Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) tried to lead Mueller into agreeing that he "of course … did not obtain the president's tax returns, which could otherwise show foreign financial sources," Mueller did not oblige. "I'm not going to speak to that," Mueller replied. With no curtailing or interference in the probe, perhaps Mueller never turned up any Russia-tied counterintelligence or financial concerns about Trump because there was simply none to find. For a media establishment that had spent years promoting a Trump-Russia collusion narrative and sidelining countervailing facts, that was indeed a tough outcome to fathom. But it's no time for excuses or false claims of vindication: The tepid accounting spurred by the Steele dossier's collapse should be just the start of a far more exhaustive reckoning. Broadly misleading journalism that plunged an American presidency into turmoil demands much more than piecemeal corrections. Tyler Durden Wed, 11/24/2021 - 17:40.....»»

Category: smallbizSource: nytNov 24th, 2021

Inside Frances Haugen’s Decision to Take on Facebook

Blowing the whistle against a multibillion-dollar tech company is no small feat Frances Haugen is in the back of a Paris taxi, waving a piece of sushi in the air. The cab is on the way to a Hilton hotel, where this November afternoon she is due to meet with the French digital economy minister. The Eiffel Tower appears briefly through the window, piercing a late-fall haze. Haugen is wolfing down lunch on the go, while recalling an episode from her childhood. The teacher of her gifted and talented class used to play a game where she would read to the other children the first letter of a word from the dictionary and its definition. Haugen and her classmates would compete, in teams, to guess the word. “At some point, my classmates convinced the teacher that it was unfair to put me on either team, because whichever team had me was going to win and so I should have to compete against the whole class,” she says. [time-brightcove not-tgx=”true”] Did she win? “I did win,” she says with a level of satisfaction that quickly fades to indignation. “And so imagine! That makes kids hate you!” She pops an edamame into her mouth with a flourish. “I look back and I’m like, That was a bad idea.” She tells the story not to draw attention to her precociousness—although it does do that—but to share the lesson it taught her. “This shows you how badly some educators understand psychology,” she says. While some have described the Facebook whistle-blower as an activist, Haugen says she sees herself as an educator. To her mind, an important part of her mission is driving home a message in a way that resonates with people, a skill she has spent years honing. Photograph by Christopher Anderson—Magnum Photos for TIME It is the penultimate day of a grueling three-week tour of Europe, during which Haugen has cast herself in the role of educator in front of the U.K. and E.U. Parliaments, regulators and one tech conference crowd. Haugen says she wanted to cross the Atlantic to offer her advice to lawmakers putting the final touches on new regulations that take aim at the outsize influence of large social media companies. The new U.K. and E.U. laws have the potential to force Facebook and its competitors to open up their algorithms to public scrutiny, and face large fines if they fail to address problematic impacts of their platforms. European lawmakers and regulators “have been on this journey a little longer” than their U.S. counterparts, Haugen says diplomatically. “My goal was to support lawmakers as they think through these issues.” Beginning in late summer, Haugen, 37, disclosed tens of thousands of pages of internal Facebook documents to Congress and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The documents were the basis of a series of articles in the Wall Street Journal that sparked a reckoning in September over what the company knew about how it contributed to harms ranging from its impact on teens’ mental health and the extent of misinformation on its platforms, to human traffickers’ open use of its services. The documents paint a picture of a company that is often aware of the harms to which it contributes—but is either unwilling or unable to act against them. Haugen’s disclosures set Facebook stock on a downward trajectory, formed the basis for eight new whistle-blower complaints to the SEC and have prompted lawmakers around the world to intensify their calls for regulation of the company. Facundo Arrizabalaga—EPA/EFE/ShutterstockHaugen leaves the Houses of Parliament in London on Oct. 25 after giving evidence to U.K. lawmakers. Facebook has rejected Haugen’s claims that it puts profits before safety, and says it spends $5 billion per year on keeping its platforms safe. “As a company, we have every commercial and moral incentive to give the maximum number of people as much of a positive experience as possible on our apps,” a spokesperson said in a statement. Although many insiders have blown the whistle on Facebook before, nobody has left the company with the breadth of material that Haugen shared. And among legions of critics in politics, academia and media, no single person has been as effective as Haugen in bringing public attention to Facebook’s negative impacts. When Haugen decided to blow the whistle against Facebook late last year, the company employed more than 58,000 people. Many had access to the documents that she would eventually pass to authorities. Why did it take so long for somebody to do what she did? Read More: How Facebook Forced a Reckoning by Shutting Down the Team That Put People Ahead of Profits One answer is that blowing the whistle against a multibillion-dollar tech company requires a particular combination of skills, personality traits and circumstances. In Haugen’s case, it took one near-death experience, a lost friend, several crushed hopes, a cryptocurrency bet that came good and months in counsel with a priest who also happens to be her mother. Haugen’s atypical personality, glittering academic background, strong moral convictions, robust support networks and self-confidence also helped. Hers is the story of how all these factors came together—some by chance, some by design—to create a watershed moment in corporate responsibility, human communication and democracy. When debate coach Scott Wunn first met a 16-year-old Haugen at Iowa City West High School, she had already been on the team for two years, after finishing junior high a year early. He was an English teacher who had been headhunted to be the debate team’s new coach. The school took this kind of extracurricular activity seriously, and so did the young girl with the blond hair. In their first exchange, Wunn remembers Haugen grilling him about whether he would take coaching as seriously as his other duties. “I could tell from that moment she was very serious about debate,” says Wunn, who is now the executive director of the National Speech and Debate Association. “When we ran tournaments, she was the student who stayed the latest, who made sure that all of the students on the team were organized. Everything that you can imagine, Frances would do.” Haugen specialized in a form of debate that specifically asked students to weigh the morality of every issue, and by her senior year, she had become one of the top 25 debaters in the country in her field. “Frances was a math whiz, and she loved political science,” Wunn says. In competitive debate, you don’t get to decide which side of the issue you argue for. But Haugen had a strong moral compass, and when she was put in a position where she had to argue for something she disagreed with, she didn’t lean back on “flash in the pan” theatrics, her former coach remembers. Instead, she would dig deeper to find evidence for an argument she could make that wouldn’t compromise her values. “Her moral convictions were strong enough, even at that age, that she wouldn’t try to manipulate the evidence such that it would go against her morality,” Wunn says. When Haugen got to college, she realized she needed to master another form of communication. “Because my parents were both professors, I was used to having dinner-table conversations where, like, someone would have read an interesting article that day, and would basically do a five-minute presentation,” she says. “And so I got to college, and I had no idea how to make small talk.” Today, Haugen is talkative and relaxed. She’s in a good mood because she got to “sleep in” until 8:30 a.m.—later than most other days on her European tour, she says. At one point, she asks if I’ve seen the TV series Archer and momentarily breaks into a song from the animated sitcom. After graduating from Olin College of Engineering—where, beyond the art of conversation, she studied the science of computer engineering—Haugen moved to Silicon Valley. During a stint at Google, she helped write the code for Secret Agent Cupid, the precursor to popular dating app Hinge. She took time off to undertake an M.B.A. at Harvard, a rarity for software engineers in Silicon Valley and something she would later credit with helping her diagnose some of the organizational flaws within Facebook. But in 2014, while back at Google, Haugen’s trajectory was knocked off course. Haugen has celiac disease, a condition that means her immune system attacks her own tissues if she eats gluten. (Hence the sushi.) She “did not take it seriously enough” in her 20s, she says. After repeated trips to the hospital, doctors eventually realized she had a blood clot in her leg that had been there for anywhere between 18 months and two years. Her leg turned purple, and she ended up in the hospital for over a month. There she had an allergic reaction to a drug and nearly bled to death. She suffered nerve damage in her hands and feet, a condition known as neuropathy, from which she still suffers today. “I think it really changes your priorities when you’ve almost died,” Haugen says. “Everything that I had defined myself [by] before, I basically lost.” She was used to being the wunderkind who could achieve anything. Now, she needed help cooking her meals. “My recovery made me feel much more powerful, because I rebuilt my body,” she says. “I think the part that informed my journey was: You have to accept when you whistle-blow like this that you could lose everything. You could lose your money, you could lose your freedom, you could alienate everyone who cares about you. There’s all these things that could happen to you. Once you overcome your fear of death, anything is possible. I think it gave me the freedom to say: Do I want to follow my conscience?” Once Haugen was out of the hospital, she moved back into her apartment but struggled with daily tasks. She hired a friend to assist her part time. “I became really close friends with him because he was so committed to my getting better,” she says. But over the course of six months, in the run-up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election, she says, “I just lost him” to online misinformation. He seemed to believe conspiracy theories, like the idea that George Soros runs the world economy. “At some point, I realized I couldn’t reach him,” she says. Soon Haugen was physically recovering, and she began to consider re-entering the workforce. She spent stints at Yelp and Pinterest as a successful product manager working on algorithms. Then, in 2018, a Facebook recruiter contacted her. She told him that she would take the job only if she could work on tackling misinformation in Facebook’s “integrity” operation, the arm of the company focused on keeping the platform and its users safe. “I took that job because losing my friend was just incredibly painful, and I didn’t want anyone else to feel that pain,” she says. Her optimism that she could make a change from inside lasted about two months. Haugen’s first assignment involved helping manage a project to tackle misinformation in places where the company didn’t have any third-party fact-checkers. Everybody on her team was a new hire, and she didn’t have the data scientists she needed. “I went to the engineering manager, and I said, ‘This is the inappropriate team to work on this,’” she recalls. “He said, ‘You shouldn’t be so negative.’” The pattern repeated itself, she says. “I raised a lot of concerns in the first three months, and my concerns were always discounted by my manager and other people who had been at the company for longer.” Before long, her entire team was shifted away from working on international misinformation in some of Facebook’s most vulnerable markets to working on the 2020 U.S. election, she says. The documents Haugen would later disclose to authorities showed that in 2020, Facebook spent 3.2 million hours tackling misinformation, although just 13% of that time was spent on content from outside the U.S., the Journal reported. Facebook’s spokesperson said in a statement that the company has “dedicated teams with expertise in human rights, hate speech and misinformation” working in at-risk countries. “We dedicate resources to these countries, including those without fact-checking programs, and have been since before, during and after the 2020 U.S. elections, and this work continues today.” Read More: Why Some People See More Disturbing Content on Facebook Than Others, According to Leaked Documents Haugen said that her time working on misinformation in foreign countries made her deeply concerned about the impact of Facebook abroad. “I became concerned with India even in the first two weeks I was in the company,” she says. Many people who were accessing the Internet for the first time in places like India, Haugen realized after reading research on the topic, did not even consider the possibility that something they had read online might be false or misleading. “From that moment on, I was like, Oh, there is a huge sleeping dragon at Facebook,” she says. “We are advancing the Internet to other countries far faster than it happened in, say, the U.S.,” she says, noting that people in the U.S. have had time to build up a “cultural muscle” of skepticism toward online content. “And I worry about the gap [until] that information immune system forms.” In February 2020, Haugen sent a text message to her parents asking if she could come and live with them in Iowa when the pandemic hit. Her mother Alice Haugen recalls wondering what pandemic she was talking about, but agreed. “She had made a spreadsheet with a simple exponential growth model that tried to guess when San Francisco would be shut down,” Alice says. A little later, Frances asked if she could send some food ahead of her. Soon, large Costco boxes started arriving at the house. “She was trying to bring in six months of food for five people, because she was afraid that the supply lines might break down,” Alice says. “Our living room became a small grocery store.” After quarantining for 10 days upon arrival, the younger Haugen settled into lockdown life with her parents, continuing her work for Facebook remotely. “We shared meals, and every day we would have conversations,” Alice says. She recalled her daughter voicing specific concerns about Facebook’s impact in Ethiopia, where ethnic violence was playing out on—and in some cases being amplified by—Facebook’s platforms. On Nov. 9, Facebook said it had been investing in safety measures in Ethiopia for more than two years, including activating algorithms to down-rank potentially inflammatory content in several languages in response to escalating violence there. Haugen acknowledges the work, saying she wants to give “credit where credit is due,” but claims the social network was too late to intervene with safety measures in Ethiopia and other parts of the world. “The idea that they don’t even turn those knobs on until people are getting shot is completely unacceptable,” she says. “The reality right now is that Facebook is not willing to invest the level of resources that would allow it to intervene sooner.” A Facebook spokesperson defended the prioritization system in its statement, saying that the company has long-term strategies to “mitigate the impacts of harmful offline events in the countries we deem most at risk … while still protecting freedom of expression and other human rights principles.” What Haugen saw was happening in nations like Ethiopia and India would clarify her opinions about “engagement-based ranking”—the system within Facebook more commonly known as “the algorithm”—that chooses which posts, out of thousands of options, to rank at the top of users’ feeds. Haugen’s central argument is that human nature means this system is doomed to amplify the worst in us. “One of the things that has been well documented in psychology research is that the more times a human is exposed to something, the more they like it, and the more they believe it’s true,” she says. “One of the most dangerous things about engagement-based ranking is that it is much easier to inspire someone to hate than it is to compassion or empathy. Given that you have a system that hyperamplifies the most extreme content, you’re going to see people who get exposed over and over again to the idea that [for example] it’s O.K. to be violent to Muslims. And that destabilizes societies.” In the run-up to the 2020 U.S. election, according to media reports, some initiatives proposed by Facebook’s integrity teams to tackle misinformation and other problems were killed or watered down by executives on the policy side of the company, who are responsible both for setting the platform’s rules and lobbying governments on Facebook’s behalf. Facebook spokespeople have said in response that the interventions were part of the company’s commitment to nuanced policymaking that balanced freedom of speech with safety. Haugen’s time at business school taught her to view the problem differently: Facebook was a company that prioritized growth over the safety of its users. “Organizational structure is a wonky topic, but it matters,” Haugen says. Inside the company, she says, she observed the effect of these repeated interventions on the integrity team. “People make decisions on what projects to work on, or advance, or give more resources to, based on what they believe is the chance for success,” she says. “I think there were many projects that could be content-neutral—that didn’t involve us choosing what are good or bad ideas, but instead are about making the platform safe—that never got greenlit, because if you’ve seen other things like that fail, you don’t even try them.” Being with her parents, particularly her mother, who left a career as a professor to become an Episcopal priest, helped Haugen become comfortable with the idea she might one day have to go public. “I was learning all these horrific things about Facebook, and it was really tearing me up inside,” she says. “The thing that really hurts most whistle-blowers is: whistle-blowers live with secrets that impact the lives of other people. And they feel like they have no way of resolving them. And so instead of being destroyed by learning these things, I got to talk to my mother … If you’re having a crisis of conscience, where you’re trying to figure out a path that you can live with, having someone you can agonize to, over and over again, is the ultimate amenity.” Haugen didn’t decide to blow the whistle until December 2020, by which point she was back in San Francisco. The final straw came when Facebook dissolved Haugen’s former team, civic integrity, whose leader had asked employees to take an oath to put the public good before Facebook’s private interest. (Facebook denies that it dissolved the team, saying instead that members were spread out across the company to amplify its influence.) Haugen and many of her former colleagues felt betrayed. But her mother’s counsel had mentally prepared her. “It meant that when that moment happened, I was actually in a pretty good place,” Haugen says. “I wasn’t in a place of crisis like many whistle-blowers are.” Read More: Why Facebook Employees ‘Deprioritized’ a Misinformation Fix In March, Haugen moved to Puerto Rico, in part for the warm weather, which she says helps with her neuropathy pain. Another factor was the island’s cryptocurrency community, which has burgeoned because of the U.S. territory’s lack of capital gains taxes. In October, she told the New York Times that she had bought into crypto “at the right time,” implying that she had a financial buffer that allowed her to whistle-blow comfortably. Haugen’s detractors have pointed to the irony of her calling for tech companies to do their social duty, while living in a U.S. territory with a high rate of poverty that is increasingly being used as a tax haven. Some have also pointed out that Haugen is not entirely independent: she has received support from Luminate, a philanthropic organization pushing for progressive Big Tech reform in Europe and the U.S., and which is backed by the billionaire founder of eBay, Pierre Omidyar. Luminate paid Haugen’s expenses on her trip to Europe and helped organize meetings with senior officials. Omidyar has also donated to Whistleblower Aid, the nonprofit legal organization that is now representing Haugen pro bono. Luminate says it entered into a relationship with Haugen only after she went public with her disclosures. Haugen resigned from Facebook in May this year, after being told by the human-resources team that she could not work remotely from a U.S. territory. The news accelerated the secret project that she had decided to begin after seeing her old team disbanded. To collect the documents she would later disclose, Haugen trawled Facebook’s internal employee forum, Workplace. She traced the careers of integrity colleagues she admired—many of whom had left the company in frustration—gathering slide decks, research briefs and policy proposals they had worked on, as well as other documents she came across. Read more: Facebook Will Not Fix Itself While collecting the documents, she had flashbacks to her teenage years preparing folders of evidence for debates. “I was like, Wow, this is just like debate camp!” she recalls. “When I was 16 and doing that, I had no idea that it would be useful in this way in the future.” Jabin Botsford—Getty ImagesHaugen testifies on Oct. 5 before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. In her Senate testimony in early October, Haugen suggested a federal agency should be set up to oversee social media algorithms so that “someone like me could do a tour of duty” after working at a company like Facebook. But moving to Washington, D.C., to serve at such an agency has no appeal, she says. “I am happy to be one of the people consulted by that agency,” she says. “But I have a life I really like in Puerto Rico.” Now that her tour of Europe is over, Haugen has had a chance to think about what comes next. Over an encrypted phone call from Puerto Rico a few days after we met in Paris, she says she would like to help build a grassroots movement to help young people push back against the harms caused by social media companies. In this new task, as seems to be the case with everything in Haugen’s life, she wants to try to leverage the power of education. “I am fully aware that a 19-year-old talking to a 16-year-old will be more effective than me talking to that 16-year-old,” she tells me. “There is a real opportunity for young people to flex their political muscles and demand accountability.” I ask if she has a message to send to young people reading this. “Hmm,” she says, followed by a long pause. “In every era, humans invent technologies that run away from themselves,” she says. “It’s very easy to look at some of these tech platforms and feel like they are too big, too abstract and too amorphous to influence in any way. But the reality is there are lots of things we can do. And the reason they haven’t done them is because it makes the companies less profitable. Not unprofitable, just less profitable. And no company has the right to subsidize their profits with your health. Ironically, Haugen gives partial credit to one of her managers at Facebook for inspiring her thought process around blowing the whistle. After struggling with a problem for a week without asking for help, she missed a deadline. When she explained why, the manager told her he was disappointed that she had hidden that she was having difficulty, she says. “He said, ‘We solve problems together; we don’t solve them alone,’” she says. Never one to miss a teaching opportunity, she continues, “Part of why I came forward is I believe Facebook has been struggling alone. They’ve been hiding how much they’re struggling. And the reality is, we solve problems together, we don’t solve them alone.” ShutterstockFacebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently announced the company was rebranding as Meta. It’s a philosophy that Haugen sees as the basis for how social media platforms should deal with societal issues going forward. In late October, Facebook Inc. (which owns Facebook, Whats App and Instagram) changed its name to Meta, a nod to its ambition to build the next generation of online experiences. In a late-October speech, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he believed the “Metaverse”—its new proposal to build a virtual universe—would fundamentally reshape how humans interact with technology. Haugen says she is concerned the Metaverse will isolate people rather than bring them together: “I believe any tech with that much influence deserves public oversight.” But hers is also a belief system that allows for a path toward redemption. That friend she lost to misinformation? His story has a happy ending. “I learned later that he met a nice girl and he had gone back to church,” Haugen says, adding that he no longer believes in conspiracy theories. “It gives me a lot of hope that we can recover as individuals and as a society. But it involves us connecting with people.” —With reporting by Leslie Dickstein and Nik Popli.....»»

Category: topSource: timeNov 22nd, 2021

Biden has quietly helmed the most radically anti-asylum policy in more than 70 years

To understand how extreme Biden is on immigration, you need to understand one policy: Title 42. President Joe Biden is actively defending a radically anti-asylum policy. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images Biden has maintained and defended a Trump-era policy banning asylum-seekers from entering the US. The ban is said to be a public health measure, but scientists argue it is unnecessary and inhumane. Biden is acting out of political interest, sending people to their deaths for his own political gain. Jack Herrera is an independent reporter writing about immigration, race, and human rights. He is a contributing opinion writer for Insider. This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author. When President Joe Biden first took office, immigrant advocates across the country told me they felt cautiously optimistic; it was hard to imagine him being worse than his predecessor. But warning signs appeared early on. While Biden spent his first days in office undoing some parts of former President Donald Trump's immigration policies, the new president decided to keep one of the most radical immigration bans from Trump's tenure. That ban is Title 42, an order the Trump administration enacted in the early days of the pandemic. An obscure piece of federal by-law, Title 42 gives the federal government the remarkable power to completely shut US borders in times of crisis. Trump used this new power to make his advisor, Stephen Miller's, greatest fantasy a reality: He announced a ban on asylum. For eight months, many people fleeing the danger of death and persecution abroad were "expelled" back to their home countries on deportation flights that came without the due process of asylum court. Almost a year later, when Biden swept into office, he was expected to quickly undo this ban. Instead, to the horror of immigrant advocates, he's done the opposite. He's adopted Title 42 as his own, going as far as to defend it vehemently in court. Armed with a policy that can operate, at its most extreme, as a complete ban on asylum, Biden is today at the helm of the most anti-asylum administration in US history - tied for first place only with his predecessor. Why no one is talking about Title 42Few people seem to understand or appreciate Biden's extreme position on asylum. Few Americans have even heard of Title 42. In a way, that makes sense. In my years as an immigration reporter, I've discovered that the United States-Mexico border only really appears in most Americans' minds as a set of shocking images. People pay attention when children are ripped out of their parents' arms, or when Border Patrol fires tear gas at families or charges them on horseback. But the slow, grueling suffering created by policies like Title 42 goes on basically unnoticed. After more than 18 months of Title 42 - which is the most radical anti-asylum policy the US has enacted since World War II - I find that many people don't know what it is. A United States Border Patrol agent on horseback tries to stop a Haitian migrant from entering an encampment on the banks of the Rio Grande in Del Rio, Texas on September 19, 2021. Paul Ratje/Getty Images There are other reasons Title 42 hasn't gotten more news. Last year, most of us were overwhelmed by the unending litany of tragedies, big and small, that COVID-19 brought into each of our lives; and news headlines were overwhelmed by the ugliest presidential election in recent memory. This year, both Biden and his Republican critics have tried to minimize references to Title 42, because they don't fit within the lies both sides are telling about immigration. Republicans are trying to frame Biden as an "open borders" radical. Biden is trying to frame himself as an open-hearted pragmatarian, trying to achieve a "fair, orderly, and humane immigration system." Both messages are politically expedient; neither are true. Here's what's actually happening Since he took office, Biden has summarily expelled tens of thousands of asylum seekers. Even if asylum seekers face torture or death in their home countries, they have been returned, without the chance to plea asylum. Besides expulsions, Title 42 has led to other kinds of suffering. In March in Tijuana, Mexico, I spoke with parents who had made or were considering the gut-wrenching choice to send their children to cross the border alone, without them. Because a court order blocked Trump and later Biden from summarily expelling asylum seekers who arrived alone as unaccompanied minors, Biden spent the spring accepting children but immediately expelling many families. While children weren't being torn out of parents' arms, Title 42 was causing the most desperate and vulnerable families to subject themselves to family separation. Title 42 is also putting extraordinary strain on American border agents, and is putting asylum seekers in danger. In September, thousands of largely Haitian asylum seekers arrived in Del Rio, Texas at the same time. When I went to Del Rio to investigate, I spoke to many Haitians who had been waiting months in Mexico, waiting for their opportunity to cross. But with Title 42 keeping the border firmly closed, all they could do was wait. Increasingly desperate, many of them sprung suddenly at a rumor that people were being allowed to cross in Del Rio. Even though the rumor was false, the glimmer of hope was enough to send thousands to the Texas border. Most of them were expelled to their home countries within days.In Del Rio, I saw that Biden has started allowing some families into the country, as well some of the most vulnerable asylum seekers arriving on the border - for instance, people who were pregnant or had disabilities. But even with these exemptions, Title 42 expulsion flights continue. A Haitian migrant seeking asylum looks out of the window of a van in Del Rio, Texas, Sept. 24, 2021. Nick Wagner/Xinhua/Getty Images Biden's justification is hollow The Biden administration has argued that, during a global pandemic, Title 42 is necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But that claim is preposterous, and I suspect the administration knows as much. From its earliest days, it has been clear that Title 42 has nothing to do with public health. When the Trump White House first pushed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to enact Title 42, scientists at the CDC refused, arguing that it was neither necessary nor humane. It wasn't until then-Vice President Mike Pence pressured the director of the CDC that the agency begrudgingly issued the order. Since then, dozens of scientists and public health experts have public ally decried Title 42's application, saying it's neither necessary to prevent the spread of COVID nor in the interest of human well-being. "Imposing restrictions on asylum seekers and other migrants based on immigration status is discriminatory and has no scientific basis as a public health measure," a collection of prominent public health experts wrote in an open letter published on January 28. The hypocrisy and discrimination inherent in the order is clear: Right now, any American can cross the border freely. In the last year, I've crossed back and forth from Mexico multiple times. I received no temperature check, no one asked for my vaccination status, and no one asked me if I had COVID-19 symptoms. Americans - including at least one US Senator - are vacationing in Cancun and other resort towns across Mexico, and crossing back over the border freely. If Title 42 was really necessary for health, the border would be closed to Americans, not just asylum seekers - the most vulnerable people in the world. Haitian migrants use a dam to cross to and from the United States from Mexico, Friday, Sept. 17, 2021, in Del Rio, Texas. Eric Gay/AP Photo Rather, it seems the administration's commitment to Title 42 comes less from prioritizing public health, and more from maintaining approval ratings. Biden officials, terrified that the "open borders" rhetoric from conservatives will sink Democrats in the midterms, have gone out of their way to appear tough on immigration. Biden has the power to overturn Title 42 at any moment he chooses. The asylum system, while deeply backlogged and under-resourced, still exists, and the US still has the potential to be a refuge from persecution for countless people. Biden's decision not to undo the order does not come from an ignorance of the good it could do for human well-being; instead, his commitment to Title 42 comes from cynical political calculation.I'm sympathetic to the tough position the president is in. Could undoing Title 42 hurt Biden among anti-immigrant voters and see him pilloried in conservative media? Certainly. Would it be tedious and difficult to process thousands of asylum claims, while also maintaining social distance and other necessary health protections? It would be. However, the reason we as a species have developed the concept of human rights is because these rights are not always politically expedient: If respecting a human right like asylum was always simple and easy for our governments, we would not have needed to sign multiple massive, international treaties and pass several laws through Congress. Asylum isn't easy or convenient. But it's an aspect of basic morality. If someone is fleeing death, and we turn them around, we're responsible for whatever happens to them next. In many ways, modern asylum in this country was born in response to the most infamous example of this happening in US history: When our country returned Jewish asylum seekers to the horrors of the Holocaust. Today, amidst countless expulsion flights, we are repeating that history. We are sending people back to their deaths.Read the original article on Business Insider.....»»

Category: personnelSource: nytNov 7th, 2021

Tech Earnings Are Here: Which Ones Should You Buy?

This promises to be a great quarter for tech stocks, so we should be preparing for a big haul. Tech earnings have been pretty exciting for a while now, what with the pandemic accelerating the drive toward digitization, as if the need for data collection and artificial intelligence and the efficiencies of cloud computing, online media consumption and sales, etc. weren’t quite enough.  I mean, miniaturized gadgets are fairly flocking to our homes, desktops, dashboards and what have you, as people get increasingly accustomed to having what they want literally at their fingertips. And thanks to the pandemic, we now have a new demographic (children) leaving a larger footprint thanks to their learning from home as well.Big tech companies are having a field day gobbling up all that data, notwithstanding the increasingly louder noises from lawmakers, citizens and privacy advocates.And honestly, technology is already so deeply entrenched into our lives that trying to turn the situation around may in fact be simply a matter of transferring business from one tech co to another. When Apple AAPL further secured its walled garden in the interest of user privacy for example, it was something of a hit to Alphabet GOOGL and Facebook FB, but generally favorable for Apple itself.Some regulators would like to split up the companies, others would like to make them pay larger and larger fines, but it’s really hard to see them crippled, let alone brought down.What’s far more likely to happen is that they keep on generating the strong cash flows that we’ve grown accustomed to while collecting ever-growing mounds of data that lets them keep their customer bases engaged and advertisers thrilled. Of course, they’ll need some of that cash to hire teams of lawyers to find holes in whatever laws regulators come up with and then defending their activities in court.A far larger amount will however be spent on R&D and G&A, the first being vital to take technology (and therefore, society) forward and the second, responsible for employing increasing numbers of people. And while they’re at it, be rest assured that everything’s going to become much more efficient – across sectors – and this in turn is going to displace some jobs.Alright, with that as a background, let’s take stock of what’s happening today.  The two buzzwords across the industry seems to be very strong demand and constrained chip supply, which are the tiny little brains of all things computing.And from what we can tell from the Taiwan Semiconductor TSM earnings read (and otherwise), this situation will continue for a few more quarters at least. Which is good news for chipmakers that can charge higher prices, but not so great for the manufacturers of smartphones, computers, other smart gadgets for the home and office, and of course for the auto sector that has been starved of chips through most of this year. A fresh wave of the pandemic has made matters worse because a number of chip makers and other electronic goods assemblers with facilities in Asia had to shut down.Speaking of which, Taiwan Semi reported a solid quarter last week, with earnings jumping 20% from last year on revenues that grew 22.6%. While earnings beat the Zacks Consensus, revenues were just short. The company’s competitive strength lies in its leading-edge process technology that companies like Apple rely upon for their most advanced products. That’s really the reason it’s expected to continue generating strong revenues, and also the reason it continues to build capacity across countries (the latest addition being Japan).And then, yesterday, we had Netflix NFLX, which also missed the revenue estimate by sliver, despite growing 16.3% from last year. Earnings however beat by a mile (24.6%), as the company reported solid subscriber adds (all regions were up but strongest increase in the Asia/Pac and EMEA regions, partly attributable to lower penetration), as well as new revenue per sub (up across regions, but strongest growth in North America). The 4.4 million net paid subscriber adds is encouraging given the increasing competition and says something for its business model.Netflix’s story is essentially about subscriber ads and pricing, since it doesn’t generate anything from ads. And that’s the only way it can continue to build a pipeline of hit shows, games and other content that can keep users engaged.  While cash flow was positive last quarter, this is a high investment business, so the 8.5 million net paid adds expected this quarter is encouraging. Zacks has a #3 (Hold) rating on NFLX shares.Next up is Tesla TSLA, which will be reporting third quarter numbers after the bell today. I’ve been a long-term bull on Tesla and this stock has been very rewarding for all those who had the patience and stomach to hold on to the shares when Elon Musk had nothing to offer but promises. Now that we’re in 2021, it’s plain for all to see that the company is posting very solid growth numbers, quarter upon quarter and year upon year. And that’s despite the chip shortage that has racked the entire auto industry. Tesla is somewhere between an automaker and a tech company because it makes the most advanced and attractive (and hyped) cars in a highly techie way. And it has straddled the EV trend earlier than traditional automakers. While that doesn’t mean it’s going to be the ultimate winner in the space, Tesla has clearly made a place for itself. The company recently pushed back delivery schedules on most of its models, so it isn’t immune to the chip crunch either. The Zacks predictive model (Earnings Expected Surprise Prediction, or ESP) points to a solid beat. But we’ll know more about this on the call. There’s a #1 (Strong Buy) rating on these shares.Some other stocks that look attractive right now are #2 (Buy) ranked Alphabet, Microsoft MSFT and Advanced Micro Devices AMD. Let me touch on each one briefly.Alphabet is a direct beneficiary of increased online activity and advertiser spend and there’s positive momentum in both. The company also offers cloud infrastructure, which is benefiting from pandemic inflicted acceleration. This is one old company that continues to grow like a new one on the back of a very strong core search business that’s supplemented by increasing contributions from cloud, gadgets and the Play Store. And its solid cash flows allow significant reinvestment, both in the core and in moonshots that have allowed it to develop autonomous driving technology, health tech and more. This is also one of the few companies that benefited both from the pandemic, as more activity moved online and the reopening that is encouraging increased advertiser spending. As far as the numbers are concerned, the Zacks ESP model predicts another beat, on top of its regular earnings beats when the company reports on Oct 26.Microsoft is a prime beneficiary of the work and learn from home trends that have developed over the past year or more. That’s because it provides many of the tools that we need to do these things. That’s why its per share net cash has been robust throughout this period. But the company is also a major provider of cloud infrastructure and services, with Azure being the primary challenger to Amazon’s AMZN AWS. The company adopted the hybrid strategy early on, which is helping to shift its legacy user base to the new normal. The focus on cloud is clearly paying off as it continues to grow the strongest and account for an increasing share of revenue and profits. Productivity solutions are still in a state of transition, and there’s some offset when customers shift to the cloud. Devices, gaming and other things are also trending up, although they’re not as strong as the first two segments. Our ESP model seems to indicate that another surprise is possible, and going by its past record, it will surely report a surprise when it reports on Oct 26.And finally, we have AMD. The chipmaker headed by Lisa Su has stolen everyone’s hearts with its steady resolve and slew of innovations that pulled the rug from under Intel. So while Intel struggled with yield issues, leadership, complacency and other things, AMD doubled down on delivering the goods. And that included internally developed advanced technology designs and strategic acquisitions.  The company’s revenues and earnings have been soaring since the pandemic hit last year and business has only strengthened further this year (management expects 60% revenue growth this year) as it continues to take share from Intel. Our ESP model indicates another beat this quarter.Final WordsWhen choosing tech stocks, it’s better to check the growth profile than the valuation (especially when comparing with broader indexes), because they can seem excessive. But most of these tech players are fast-growing, so when they report stronger and stronger numbers, the multiple you pay today actually starts looking cheap. So it makes sense to buy at these levels. All indications are that this is going to be a pretty solid quarter for tech stocks, particularly the large, competitively strong names discussed above.One-Month Price PerformanceImage Source: Zacks Investment Research Zacks’ Top Picks to Cash in on Artificial Intelligence This world-changing technology is projected to generate $100s of billions by 2025. From self-driving cars to consumer data analysis, people are relying on machines more than we ever have before. Now is the time to capitalize on the 4th Industrial Revolution. Zacks’ urgent special report reveals 6 AI picks investors need to know about today.See 6 Artificial Intelligence Stocks With Extreme Upside Potential>>Want the latest recommendations from Zacks Investment Research? Today, you can download 7 Best Stocks for the Next 30 Days. Click to get this free report Amazon.com, Inc. (AMZN): Free Stock Analysis Report Apple Inc. (AAPL): Free Stock Analysis Report Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. (AMD): Free Stock Analysis Report Microsoft Corporation (MSFT): Free Stock Analysis Report Netflix, Inc. (NFLX): Free Stock Analysis Report Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company Ltd. (TSM): Free Stock Analysis Report Tesla, Inc. (TSLA): Free Stock Analysis Report Facebook, Inc. (FB): Free Stock Analysis Report Alphabet Inc. (GOOGL): Free Stock Analysis Report To read this article on Zacks.com click here. Zacks Investment Research.....»»

Category: topSource: zacksOct 20th, 2021

How Facebook Forced a Reckoning by Shutting Down the Team That Put People Ahead of Profits

Facebook's civic-integrity team, where whistle-blower Frances Haugen worked, pledged to put people ahead of profits. Facebook shut it down, but some former members are still honoring their promise. Facebook’s civic-integrity team was always different from all the other teams that the social media company employed to combat misinformation and hate speech. For starters, every team member subscribed to an informal oath, vowing to “serve the people’s interest first, not Facebook’s.” The “civic oath,” according to five former employees, charged team members to understand Facebook’s impact on the world, keep people safe and defuse angry polarization. Samidh Chakrabarti, the team’s leader, regularly referred to this oath—which has not been previously reported—as a set of guiding principles behind the team’s work, according to the sources. [time-brightcove not-tgx=”true”] Chakrabarti’s team was effective in fixing some of the problems endemic to the platform, former employees and Facebook itself have said. But, just a month after the 2020 U.S. election, Facebook dissolved the civic-integrity team, and Chakrabarti took a leave of absence. Facebook said employees were assigned to other teams to help share the group’s experience across the company. But for many of the Facebook employees who had worked on the team, including a veteran product manager from Iowa named Frances Haugen, the message was clear: Facebook no longer wanted to concentrate power in a team whose priority was to put people ahead of profits. Illustration by TIME (Source photo: Getty Images) Five weeks later, supporters of Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol—after some of them organized on Facebook and used the platform to spread the lie that the election had been stolen. The civic-integrity team’s dissolution made it harder for the platform to respond effectively to Jan. 6, one former team member, who left Facebook this year, told TIME. “A lot of people left the company. The teams that did remain had significantly less power to implement change, and that loss of focus was a pretty big deal,” said the person. “Facebook did take its eye off the ball in dissolving the team, in terms of being able to actually respond to what happened on Jan. 6.” The former employee, along with several others TIME interviewed, spoke on the condition of anonymity, for fear that being named would ruin their career. Paul Morris—Bloomberg/Getty ImagesSamidh Chakrabarti, head of Facebook’s civic-integrity team, stands beside Katie Harbath, a Facebook director of public policy, in Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California, on Oct. 17, 2018.   Enter Frances Haugen Haugen revealed her identity on Oct. 3 as the whistle-blower behind the most significant leak of internal research in the company’s 17-year history. In a bombshell testimony to the Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security two days later, Haugen said the civic-integrity team’s dissolution was the final event in a long series that convinced her of the need to blow the whistle. “I think the moment which I realized we needed to get help from the outside—that the only way these problems would be solved is by solving them together, not solving them alone—was when civic-integrity was dissolved following the 2020 election,” she said. “It really felt like a betrayal of the promises Facebook had made to people who had sacrificed a great deal to keep the election safe, by basically dissolving our community.” Read more: The Facebook Whistleblower Revealed Herself on 60 Minutes. Here’s What You Need to Know In a statement provided to TIME, Facebook’s vice president for integrity Guy Rosen denied the civic-integrity team had been disbanded. “We did not disband Civic Integrity,” Rosen said. “We integrated it into a larger Central Integrity team so that the incredible work pioneered for elections could be applied even further, for example, across health-related issues. Their work continues to this day.” (Facebook did not make Rosen available for an interview for this story.) Impacts of Civic Technology Conference 2016The defining values of the civic-integrity team, as described in a 2016 presentation given by Samidh Chakrabarti and Winter Mason. Civic-integrity team members were expected to adhere to this list of values, which was referred to internally as the “civic oath”. Haugen left the company in May. Before she departed, she trawled Facebook’s internal employee forum for documents posted by integrity researchers about their work. Much of the research was not related to her job, but was accessible to all Facebook employees. What she found surprised her. Some of the documents detailed an internal study that found that Instagram, its photo-sharing app, made 32% of teen girls feel worse about their bodies. Others showed how a change to Facebook’s algorithm in 2018, touted as a way to increase “meaningful social interactions” on the platform, actually incentivized divisive posts and misinformation. They also revealed that Facebook spends almost all of its budget for keeping the platform safe only on English-language content. In September, the Wall Street Journal published a damning series of articles based on some of the documents that Haugen had leaked to the paper. Haugen also gave copies of the documents to Congress and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The documents, Haugen testified Oct. 5, “prove that Facebook has repeatedly misled the public about what its own research reveals about the safety of children, the efficacy of its artificial intelligence systems, and its role in spreading divisive and extreme messages.” She told Senators that the failings revealed by the documents were all linked by one deep, underlying truth about how the company operates. “This is not simply a matter of certain social media users being angry or unstable, or about one side being radicalized against the other; it is about Facebook choosing to grow at all costs, becoming an almost trillion-dollar company by buying its profits with our safety,” she said. Facebook’s focus on increasing user engagement, which ultimately drives ad revenue and staves off competition, she argued, may keep users coming back to the site day after day—but also systematically boosts content that is polarizing, misinformative and angry, and which can send users down dark rabbit holes of political extremism or, in the case of teen girls, body dysmorphia and eating disorders. “The company’s leadership knows how to make Facebook and Instagram safer, but won’t make the necessary changes because they have put their astronomical profits before people,” Haugen said. (In 2020, the company reported $29 billion in net income—up 58% from a year earlier. This year, it briefly surpassed $1 trillion in total market value, though Haugen’s leaks have since knocked the company down to around $940 billion.) Asked if executives adhered to the same set of values as the civic-integrity team, including putting the public’s interests before Facebook’s, a company spokesperson told TIME it was “safe to say everyone at Facebook is committed to understanding our impact, keeping people safe and reducing polarization.” In the same week that an unrelated systems outage took Facebook’s services offline for hours and revealed just how much the world relies on the company’s suite of products—including WhatsApp and Instagram—the revelations sparked a new round of national soul-searching. It led some to question how one company can have such a profound impact on both democracy and the mental health of hundreds of millions of people. Haugen’s documents are the basis for at least eight new SEC investigations into the company for potentially misleading its investors. And they have prompted senior lawmakers from both parties to call for stringent new regulations. Read more: Here’s How to Fix Facebook, According to Former Employees and Leading Critics Haugen urged Congress to pass laws that would make Facebook and other social media platforms legally liable for decisions about how they choose to rank content in users’ feeds, and force companies to make their internal data available to independent researchers. She also urged lawmakers to find ways to loosen CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s iron grip on Facebook; he controls more than half of voting shares on its board, meaning he can veto any proposals for change from within. “I came forward at great personal risk because I believe we still have time to act,” Haugen told lawmakers. “But we must act now.” Potentially even more worryingly for Facebook, other experts it hired to keep the platform safe, now alienated by the company’s actions, are growing increasingly critical of their former employer. They experienced first hand Facebook’s unwillingness to change, and they know where the bodies are buried. Now, on the outside, some of them are still honoring their pledge to put the public’s interests ahead of Facebook’s. Inside Facebook’s civic-integrity team Chakrabarti, the head of the civic-integrity team, was hired by Facebook in 2015 from Google, where he had worked on improving how the search engine communicated information about lawmakers and elections to its users. A polymath described by one person who worked under him as a “Renaissance man,” Chakrabarti holds master’s degrees from MIT, Oxford and Cambridge, in artificial intelligence engineering, modern history and public policy, respectively, according to his LinkedIn profile. Although he was not in charge of Facebook’s company-wide “integrity” efforts (led by Rosen), Chakrabarti, who did not respond to requests to comment for this article, was widely seen by employees as the spiritual leader of the push to make sure the platform had a positive influence on democracy and user safety, according to multiple former employees. “He was a very inspirational figure to us, and he really embodied those values [enshrined in the civic oath] and took them quite seriously,” a former member of the team told TIME. “The team prioritized societal good over Facebook good. It was a team that really cared about the ways to address societal problems first and foremost. It was not a team that was dedicated to contributing to Facebook’s bottom line.” Chakrabarti began work on the team by questioning how Facebook could encourage people to be more engaged with their elected representatives on the platform, several of his former team members said. An early move was to suggest tweaks to Facebook’s “more pages you may like” feature that the team hoped might make users feel more like they could have an impact on politics. After the chaos of the 2016 election, which prompted Zuckerberg himself to admit that Facebook didn’t do enough to stop misinformation, the team evolved. It moved into Facebook’s wider “integrity” product group, which employs thousands of researchers and engineers to focus on fixing Facebook’s problems of misinformation, hate speech, foreign interference and harassment. It changed its name from “civic engagement” to “civic integrity,” and began tackling the platform’s most difficult problems head-on. Shortly before the midterm elections in 2018, Chakrabarti gave a talk at a conference in which he said he had “never been told to sacrifice people’s safety in order to chase a profit.” His team was hard at work making sure the midterm elections did not suffer the same failures as in 2016, in an effort that was generally seen as a success, both inside the company and externally. “To see the way that the company has mobilized to make this happen has made me feel very good about what we’re doing here,” Chakrabarti told reporters at the time. But behind closed doors, integrity employees on Chakrabarti’s team and others were increasingly getting into disagreements with Facebook leadership, former employees said. It was the beginning of the process that would eventually motivate Haugen to blow the whistle. Drew Angerer—Getty ImagesFormer Facebook employee Frances Haugen testifies during a Senate hearing entitled ‘Protecting Kids Online: Testimony from a Facebook Whistleblower’ in Washington, D.C., Oct. 5, 2021. In 2019, the year Haugen joined the company, researchers on the civic-integrity team proposed ending the use of an approved list of thousands of political accounts that were exempt from Facebook’s fact-checking program, according to tech news site The Information. Their research had found that the exemptions worsened the site’s misinformation problem because users were more likely to believe false information if it were shared by a politician. But Facebook executives rejected the proposal. The pattern repeated time and time again, as proposals to tweak the platform to down-rank misinformation or abuse were rejected or watered down by executives concerned with engagement or worried that changes might disproportionately impact one political party more than another, according to multiple reports in the press and several former employees. One cynical joke among members of the civic-integrity team was that they spent 10% of their time coding and the other 90% arguing that the code they wrote should be allowed to run, one former employee told TIME. “You write code that does exactly what it’s supposed to do, and then you had to argue with execs who didn’t want to think about integrity, had no training in it and were mad that you were hurting their product, so they shut you down,” the person said. Sometimes the civic-integrity team would also come into conflict with Facebook’s policy teams, which share the dual role of setting the rules of the platform while also lobbying politicians on Facebook’s behalf. “I found many times that there were tensions [in meetings] because the civic-integrity team was like, ‘We’re operating off this oath; this is our mission and our goal,’” says Katie Harbath, a long-serving public-policy director at the company’s Washington, D.C., office who quit in March 2021. “And then you get into decisionmaking meetings, and all of a sudden things are going another way, because the rest of the company and leadership are not basing their decisions off those principles.” Harbath admitted not always seeing eye to eye with Chakrabarti on matters of company policy, but praised his character. “Samidh is a man of integrity, to use the word,” she told TIME. “I personally saw times when he was like, ‘How can I run an integrity team if I’m not upholding integrity as a person?’” Do you work at Facebook or another social media platform? TIME would love to hear from you. You can reach out to billy.perrigo@time.com Years before the 2020 election, research by integrity teams had shown Facebook’s group recommendations feature was radicalizing users by driving them toward polarizing political groups, according to the Journal. The company declined integrity teams’ requests to turn off the feature, BuzzFeed News reported. Then, just weeks before the vote, Facebook executives changed their minds and agreed to freeze political group recommendations. The company also tweaked its News Feed to make it less likely that users would see content that algorithms flagged as potential misinformation, part of temporary emergency “break glass” measures designed by integrity teams in the run-up to the vote. “Facebook changed those safety defaults in the run-up to the election because they knew they were dangerous,” Haugen testified to Senators on Tuesday. But they didn’t keep those safety measures in place long, she added. “Because they wanted that growth back, they wanted the acceleration on the platform back after the election, they returned to their original defaults. And the fact that they had to break the glass on Jan. 6, and turn them back on, I think that’s deeply problematic.” In a statement, Facebook spokesperson Tom Reynolds rejected the idea that the company’s actions contributed to the events of Jan. 6. “In phasing in and then adjusting additional measures before, during and after the election, we took into account specific on-platforms signals and information from our ongoing, regular engagement with law enforcement,” he said. “When those signals changed, so did the measures. It is wrong to claim that these steps were the reason for Jan. 6—the measures we did need remained in place through February, and some like not recommending new, civic or political groups remain in place to this day. These were all part of a much longer and larger strategy to protect the election on our platform—and we are proud of that work.” Read more: 4 Big Takeaways From the Facebook Whistleblower Congressional Hearing Soon after the civic-integrity team was dissolved in December 2020, Chakrabarti took a leave of absence from Facebook. In August, he announced he was leaving for good. Other employees who had spent years working on platform-safety issues had begun leaving, too. In her testimony, Haugen said that several of her colleagues from civic integrity left Facebook in the same six-week period as her, after losing faith in the company’s pledge to spread their influence around the company. “Six months after the reorganization, we had clearly lost faith that those changes were coming,” she said. After Haugen’s Senate testimony, Facebook’s director of policy communications Lena Pietsch suggested that Haugen’s criticisms were invalid because she “worked at the company for less than two years, had no direct reports, never attended a decision-point meeting with C-level executives—and testified more than six times to not working on the subject matter in question.” On Twitter, Chakrabarti said he was not supportive of company leaks but spoke out in support of the points Haugen raised at the hearing. “I was there for over 6 years, had numerous direct reports, and led many decision meetings with C-level execs, and I find the perspectives shared on the need for algorithmic regulation, research transparency, and independent oversight to be entirely valid for debate,” he wrote. “The public deserves better.” Can Facebook’s latest moves protect the company? Two months after disbanding the civic-integrity team, Facebook announced a sharp directional shift: it would begin testing ways to reduce the amount of political content in users’ News Feeds altogether. In August, the company said early testing of such a change among a small percentage of U.S. users was successful, and that it would expand the tests to several other countries. Facebook declined to provide TIME with further information about how its proposed down-ranking system for political content would work. Many former employees who worked on integrity issues at the company are skeptical of the idea. “You’re saying that you’re going to define for people what political content is, and what it isn’t,” James Barnes, a former product manager on the civic-integrity team, said in an interview. “I cannot even begin to imagine all of the downstream consequences that nobody understands from doing that.” Another former civic-integrity team member said that the amount of work required to design algorithms that could detect any political content in all the languages and countries in the world—and keeping those algorithms updated to accurately map the shifting tides of political debate—would be a task that even Facebook does not have the resources to achieve fairly and equitably. Attempting to do so would almost certainly result in some content deemed political being demoted while other posts thrived, the former employee cautioned. It could also incentivize certain groups to try to game those algorithms by talking about politics in nonpolitical language, creating an arms race for engagement that would privilege the actors with enough resources to work out how to win, the same person added. Graeme Jennings—Bloomberg/Getty ImagesMark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer and founder of Facebook, speaks via video conference during a House Judiciary Subcommittee hearing in Washington, D.C., on, July 29, 2020. When Zuckerberg was hauled to testify in front of lawmakers after the Cambridge Analytica data scandal in 2018, Senators were roundly mocked on social media for asking basic questions such as how Facebook makes money if its services are free to users. (“Senator, we run ads” was Zuckerberg’s reply.) In 2021, that dynamic has changed. “The questions asked are a lot more informed,” says Sophie Zhang, a former Facebook employee who was fired in 2020 after she criticized Facebook for turning a blind eye to platform manipulation by political actors around the world. “The sentiment is increasingly bipartisan” in Congress, Zhang adds. In the past, Facebook hearings have been used by lawmakers to grandstand on polarizing subjects like whether social media platforms are censoring conservatives, but this week they were united in their condemnation of the company. “Facebook has to stop covering up what it knows, and must change its practices, but there has to be government accountability because Facebook can no longer be trusted,” Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, chair of the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, told TIME ahead of the hearing. His Republican counterpart Marsha Blackburn agreed, saying during the hearing that regulation was coming “sooner rather than later” and that lawmakers were “close to bipartisan agreement.” As Facebook reels from the revelations of the past few days, it already appears to be reassessing product decisions. It has begun conducting reputational reviews of new products to assess whether the company could be criticized or its features could negatively affect children, the Journal reported Wednesday. It last week paused its Instagram Kids product amid the furor. Whatever the future direction of Facebook, it is clear that discontent has been brewing internally. Haugen’s document leak and testimony have already sparked calls for stricter regulation and improved the quality of public debate about social media’s influence. In a post addressing Facebook staff on Wednesday, Zuckerberg put the onus on lawmakers to update Internet regulations, particularly relating to “elections, harmful content, privacy and competition.” But the real drivers of change may be current and former employees, who have a better understanding of the inner workings of the company than anyone—and the most potential to damage the business. —With reporting by Eloise Barry/London and Chad de Guzman/Hong Kong.....»»

Category: topSource: timeOct 7th, 2021