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Facebook Censorship Contractor Hell

BODIES IN SEATS

At Facebook’s worst-performing content moderation site in North America, one contractor has died, and others say they fear for their lives

 Utley loved to help.

First, he served in the Coast Guard, where he rose to the rank of lieutenant commander. He married, had a family, and devoted himself utterly to his two little girls. After he got out of the military, he worked as a moderator for Facebook, where he purged the social network of the worst stuff that its users post on a daily basis: the hate speech, the murders, the child pornography.

Utley worked the overnight shift at a Facebook content moderation site in Tampa, FL, operated by a professional services vendor named Cognizant. The 800 or so workers there face relentless pressure from their bosses to better enforce the social network’s community standards, which receive near-daily updates that leave its contractor workforce in a perpetual state of uncertainty. The Tampa site has routinely failed to meet the 98 percent “accuracy” target set by Facebook. In fact, with a score that has been hovering around 92, it is Facebook’s worst-performing site in North America.

The stress of the job weighed on Utley, according to his former co-workers, who, like all Facebook contractors at the Tampa site, must sign a 14-page nondisclosure agreement.

“The stress they put on him — it’s unworldly,” one of Utley’s managers told me. “I did a lot of coaching. I spent some time talking with him about things he was having issues seeing. And he was always worried about getting fired.”

On the night of March 9th, 2018, Utley slumped over at his desk. Co-workers noticed that he was in distress when he began sliding out of his chair. Two of them began to perform CPR, but no defibrillator was available in the building. A manager called for an ambulance.

The Cognizant site in Tampa is set back from the main road in an office park, and between the dim nighttime lighting and discreet exterior signage, the ambulance appears to have had trouble finding the building. Paramedics arrived 13 minutes after the first call, one worker told me, and when they did, Utley had already begun to turn blue.

Paramedics raced Utley to a hospital. At Cognizant, some employees were distraught — one person told me he passed by one of the site’s designated “tranquility rooms” and found one of his co-workers, a part-time preacher, praying loudly in tongues. Others ignored the commotion entirely, and continued to moderate Facebook posts as the paramedics worked.

Utley was pronounced dead a short while later at the hospital, the victim of a heart attack. Further information about his health history, or the circumstances of his death, could not be learned. He left behind a wife, Joni, and two young daughters. He was 42 years old.

On Monday morning, workers on the day shift were informed that there had been an incident, and they began collecting money to buy a card and send flowers. But some site leaders did not initially tell workers that Utley had died, and instructed managers not to discuss his death, current and former employees told me.

“Everyone at leadership was telling people he was fine — ‘oh, he’ll be okay,’” one co-worker recalled. “They wanted to play it down. I think they were worried about people quitting with the emotional impact it would have.”

But the illusion shattered later that day, when Utley’s father, Ralph, came to the site to gather his belongings. He walked into the building and, according to a co-worker I spoke to, said: “My son died here.”

 February, I wrote about the secret lives of Facebook contractors in America. Since 2016, when the company came under heavy criticism for failing to prevent various abuses of its platform, Facebook has expanded its workforce of people working on safety and security around the world to 30,000. About half of those are content moderators, and the vast majority are contractors hired through a handful of large professional services firms. In 2017, Facebook began opening content moderation sites in American cities including Phoenix, Austin, and Tampa. The goal was to improve the accuracy of moderation decisions by entrusting them to people more familiar with American culture and slang.

Cognizant received a two-year, $200 million contract from Facebook to do the work, according to a former employee familiar with the matter. But in return for policing the boundaries of free expression on one of the internet’s largest platforms, individual contractors in North America make as little as $28,800 a year. They receive two 15-minute breaks and a 30-minute lunch each day, along with nine minutes per day of “wellness” time that they can use when they feel overwhelmed by the emotional toll of the job. After regular exposure to graphic violence and child exploitation, many workers are subsequently diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and related conditions.

My initial report focused on Phoenix, where workers told me that they had begun to embrace fringe views after continuously being exposed to conspiracy theories at work. One brought a gun to work to protect himself against the possibility of a fired employee returning to the office seeking vengeance. Others told me they are haunted by visions of the images and videos they saw during their time on the job.

Conditions at the Phoenix site have not improved significantly since I visited. Last week, some employees were sent home after an infestation of bed bugs was discovered in the office — the second time bed bugs have been found there this year. Employees who contacted me worried that the infestation would spread to their own homes, and said managers told them Cognizant would not pay to clean their homes.

“Bed bugs can be found virtually every place people tend to gather, including the workplace,” Cognizant said in a statement. “No associate at this facility has formally asked the company to treat an infestation in their home. If someone did make such a request, management would work with them to find a solution.”

Facebook executives have maintained that the working conditions described to me by dozens of contractors do not accurately reflect the daily lives of the majority of its workers. But after publishing my story about Phoenix, I received dozens of messages from other contractors around the world, many of whom reported having similar experiences. The largest single group of messages I received came from current and former Facebook contractors in Tampa. Many of them have worked closely with employees at the Phoenix site, and believe working conditions in Florida are even more grim.

In May, I traveled to Florida to meet with these Facebook contractors. This article is based on interviews with 12 current and former moderators and managers at the Tampa site. In most cases, I agreed to use pseudonyms to protect the employees from potential retaliation from Facebook and Cognizant. But for the first time, three former moderators for Facebook in North America agreed to break their nondisclosure agreements and discuss working conditions at the site on the record.

A hallway in Cognizant’s content moderation site in Tampa, FL.
A hallway in Cognizant’s content moderation site in Tampa, FL. Despite pressure to improve their scores, moderators here have never consistently met the 98 percent accuracy target set for them by Facebook.

Employees told me that pressure from managers to improve its performance has taken a toll on the workforce. Cognizant’s contract with Facebook is coming up for renewal, and with the entire company struggling to hit the 98 percent accuracy target, there are widespread concerns internally that Cognizant will lose Facebook’s business.

Contractors told me that Cognizant had lured them away from less demanding jobs by promising regular schedules, bonuses, and career development, only to renege on all three.

They described a filthy workplace in which they regularly find pubic hair and other bodily waste at their workstations. Employees said managers laugh off or ignore sexual harassment and threats of violence. Two discrimination cases have been filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission since April.

They said marijuana use is so prevalent that the site manager jokingly complained at an all-hands meeting that he had gotten a contact high walking in the door.

More than anything else, the contractors described an environment in which they are never allowed to forget how quickly they can be replaced. It is a place where even Keith Utley, who died working alongside them, would receive no workplace memorial — only a passing mention during team huddles in the days after he passed. “There is no indication that this medical condition was work related,” Cognizant told me in a statement. “Our associate’s colleagues, managers and our client were all saddened by this tragic event.” (The client is Facebook.)

Utley’s family could not be reached for comment. Employees who began working after he died told me they had never heard his name.

“We were bodies in seats,” one former moderator told me. “We were nothing to them — at all.”

 Speagle was 23 and employed at an online education company working with English language learners when he visited a Cognizant job fair. A recruiter there described to him a role in which Speagle would primarily help businesses analyze engagement on their Facebook pages. He might have to do some content moderation, the recruiter said, but Speagle entered the interview believing he was about to embark on a new career in high technology — one that he hoped would eventually lead to a full-time role at Facebook.

Cognizant offered Speagle $15 an hour to do the job full time — a marked improvement over his previous job, which was seasonal. Only after he began training did he realize that the job would not, in fact, involve helping businesses with Facebook marketing. Instead, two weeks after Speagle was put onto the production floor, a manager told him he and a colleague would be reviewing graphic violence and hate speech full time.

“For our associates who opt to work in content moderation, we are transparent about the work they will perform,” a Cognizant spokesman said in response. “They are made aware of the nature of the role before and during the hiring process, and then given extensive and specific training before working on projects.”

But had his managers asked, they would have learned that Speagle had a history of anxiety and depression, and that he might not be suited well for the role. No one did.

Shawn Speagle worked at Cognizant for about six months, where he mostly saw graphic violence and hate speech.

“They just said me and [my colleague] were very meticulous and had a lot of promise to move up to the SME position,” Speagle said, referring to the subject matter experts who make $1 more per hour in exchange for answering moderators’ questions about Facebook policy. “They said Facebook is basically shoving all of their graphic violence content to us, that they didn’t want it anymore. So they had to move more people to cover it. And that’s all that we saw, every single day.”

Speagle vividly recalls the first video he saw in his new assignment. Two teenagers spot an iguana on the ground, and one picks it up by the tail. A third teenager films what happens next: the teen holding the iguana begins smashing it onto the street. “They beat the living shit out of this thing,” Speagle told me, as tears welled up in his eyes. “The iguana was screaming and crying. And they didn’t stop until the thing was a bloody pulp.”

Under the policy, the video was allowed to remain on Facebook. A manager told him that by leaving the video online, authorities would be able to catch the perpetrators. But as the weeks went on, the video continued to reappear in his queue, and Speagle realized that police were unlikely to look into the case.

Speagle had volunteered at animal shelters in the past, and watching the iguana die on a regular basis rattled him. “They kept reposting it again and again and again,” he said, pounding the table as he spoke. “It made me so angry. I had to listen to its screams all day.”

 Tampa facility opened in a maze-like office park in the summer of 2017, about two months after the Phoenix facility came online. It operates out of a single-story building next to a pond fed by two storm drains. On most days, an alligator emerges from one of the drains to bask in the sun.

Before the office opened, the company began advertising work on Indeed and other job sites, using opaque titles such as “social media analyst.” Initially, applicants are not told they will be working for Facebook — only a “large social media company.”

Cognizant was not always straightforward with applicants about the nature of the work in Tampa. Marcus*, who worked in management, told me that a recruiter had persuaded him to leave a more normal job with the promise of a regular schedule, performance bonuses, and a good work-life balance. Once he joined, though, he was made to work nights, and the bonuses never materialized.

Marcus was made to moderate Facebook content — an additional responsibility he says he was not prepared for. A military veteran, he had become desensitized to seeing violence against people, he told me. But on his second day of moderation duty, he had to watch a video of a man slaughtering puppies with a baseball bat. Marcus went home on his lunch break, held his dog in his arms, and cried. I should quit, he thought to himself, but I know there’s people at the site that need me. He ultimately stayed for a little over a year.

Cognizant calls the part of the building where contractors do their work “the production floor,” and it quickly filled with employees. The minimum wage in Florida is $8.46, and at $15 an hour, the job pays better than most call center work in the area. For many content moderators — Cognizant refers to them by the enigmatic title of “process executive” — it was their first real job.

In its haste to fill the workplace, Cognizant made some odd staffing decisions. Early on, the company hired Gignesh Movalia, a former investment advisor, as a moderator. Cognizant conducts background checks on new hires, but apparently failed even to run a basic web search on Movalia. Had they done so, they would have learned that in 2015 he was sentenced to 18 months in prison for his involvement in a $9 million investment fraud scheme. According to the FBI, Movalia had falsely claimed to have access to shares of a fast-growing technology startup about to begin trading on the public market.

The startup was Facebook.

An entrance to the main workspace for Cognizant’s Tampa moderation site.

Movalia was eventually fired, but employees I spoke with believed his tenure exemplified Cognizant’s approach to hiring moderators: find bodies wherever you can, ask as few questions as possible, and get them into a seat on the production floor where they can start working.

The result is a raucous workplace where managers send regular emails to the staff complaining about their behavior on the site. Nearly every person I interviewed independently compared the Tampa office to a high school. Loud altercations, often over workplace romances, regularly take place between co-workers. Verbal and physical fights break out on a monthly basis, employees told me. A dress code was instituted to discourage employees from wearing provocative clothing to work — “This is not a night club,” read an email to all employees obtained by The Verge. Another email warned employees that there had been “numerous incidents of theft” on the property, including stolen food from the office refrigerator, food from vending machines, and employees’ personal items.

Michelle Bennetti and Melynda Johnson both began working at the Tampa site in June 2018. They told me that the daily difficulty of moderating content, combined with a chaotic office environment, made life miserable.

“At first it didn’t bother me — but after a while, it started taking a toll,” Bennetti told me. “I got to feel, like, a cloud — a darkness — over me. I started being depressed. I’m a very happy, outgoing person, and I was [becoming] withdrawn. My anxiety went up. It was hard to get through it every day. It started affecting my home life.”

Johnson was particularly disturbed by the site’s sole bathroom, which she regularly found in a state of disrepair. (The company says it has janitors available every shift in Tampa.) In the stalls, signs posted in response to employee misbehavior proliferated. Do not use your feet to flush the toilet. Do not flush more than five toilet seat covers at one time. Do not put any substances, natural or unnatural, on the walls.

“And obviously the signs are there for a reason, because people are doing this,” said Johnson, who worked at the site until March. “Every bit of that building was absolutely disgusting. You’d go in the bathroom and there would be period blood and poop all over the place. It smelled horrendous all the time.”

She added: “It’s a sweatshop in America.”

Michelle Bennetti and Melynda Johnson (from left) worked for Cognizant for about nine months
Melynda Johnson and Michelle Bennetti (from left) worked for Cognizant for about nine months. Johnson calls the office “a sweatshop in America.”

The work day in Tampa is divided into five shifts, and desks are shared between employees. Contractors I spoke with said they would frequently come to work and find their workstation for the day in dire condition — encountering boogers, fingernails, and pubic hairs, among other items. The desks would be cleaned whenever Facebook made one of its regular planned visits to the site. At other times, employees told me, the office was filthy.

Florida law does not require employers to offer sick leave, and so Cognizant workers who feel ill must instead use personal leave time. (They are granted five hours of personal leave per pay period.) Missing work is one of the few reasons Cognizant regularly fires its contractors. And so to avoid receiving an “occurrence,” as the company calls unapproved absences, contractors who have exhausted their break time come to work sick — and occasionally vomit in trash cans on the production floor.

A worker named Lola* told me that health problems had resulted in her receiving so many occurrences she was at risk of being fired. She began going into work even when she felt ill to the point of throwing up. Facebook contractors are required to use a browser extension to report every time they use the restroom, but during a recent illness, Lola quickly took all her allotted breaks. She had previously been written up for going to the bathroom too many times, she said, and so she felt afraid to get up from her desk. A manager saw that she was not feeling well, and brought a trash can to her desk so she could vomit in it. So she did.

“Then I was crying at my desk,” Lola said. “I was like, ‘I can’t go on.’ My co-workers said, ‘Just go home.’ I said ‘I can’t, because I’m going to get an occurrence.’” She stayed at her desk and cried.

Employees told me about other disturbing incidents at the Tampa site. Among them:

  • An employee who used a colostomy bag had it rupture while she was at work, spilling some waste onto the floor. Senior managers were overheard mocking her. She eventually quit.
  • An employee who threatened to “shoot up the building” in a group chat was placed on paid leave and allowed to return. He was fired after making another similar threat. (A Cognizant spokesperson said the company has security personnel on site at all hours. “Our goal is to ensure that our employees feel assured that they work in a safe environment,” he said.)
  • Another employee broadcast himself on Facebook Live talking about wanting to bash a manager’s head in. Another manager determined that he was making a joke, and he was not disciplined.

In April, two women who work at the Tampa site filed complaints with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging that they had been sexually harassed by two of their male co-workers. According to the complaint, the men regularly discussed anal sex in the office. When the women were not receptive to the discussion, one of the men said he “was going to start a YouTube channel and record himself shooting up the place,” according to the complaint. On April 3rd, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office came to the site to interview the women. According to the officer’s report, one of the men had been photographed following one of the women home.

A Cognizant spokesman told me that the employee has been suspended while the claims are being investigated. But some workers say they are still concerned.

“Every time I get an email or a phone call from my clients, I worry that there’s been a shooting — and I know that’s their worry as well,” said KC Hopkinson, an attorney who represents several current and former Cognizant employees in Tampa. “They go in there every morning asking, ‘what am I going to see today? And am I going to make it home tonight?’”

Hopkinson told me that her clients who have reported incidents to human resources are generally either ignored or retaliated against, a claim that was echoed to me by several other employees there. In some cases, the site’s human resources staff has followed workers who filed complaints to the bathroom, and questioned them about what they were doing for the few minutes they were inside. (“We take allegations such as this very seriously,” a company spokesman told me. “Cognizant strives to create a safe and empowering workplace.”)

“I wouldn’t want my worst enemy to work there,” Hopkinson said. “It’s a terrible, terrible environment.”

 the six months after he was hired, Speagle would moderate 100 to 200 posts a day. He watched people throw puppies into a raging river, and put lit fireworks in dogs’ mouths. He watched people mutilate the genitals of a live mouse, and chop off a cat’s face with a hatchet. He watched videos of people playing with human fetuses, and says he learned that they are allowed on Facebook “as long as the skin is translucent.” He found that he could no longer sleep for more than two or three hours a night. He would frequently wake up in a cold sweat, crying.

Early on, Speagle came across a video of two women in North Carolina encouraging toddlers to smoke marijuana, and helped to notify the authorities. (Moderator tools have a mechanism for escalating issues to law enforcement, and the women were eventually convicted of misdemeanor child abuse.) To Speagle’s knowledge, though, the crimes he saw every day never resulted in legal action being taken against the perpetrators. The work came to feel pointless, never more so than when he had to watch footage of a murder or child pornography case that he had already removed from Facebook.

In June 2018, a month into his job, Facebook began seeing a rash of videos that purportedly depicted organs being harvested from children. (It did not.) So many graphic videos were reported that they could not be contained in Speagle’s queue.

“I was getting the brunt of it, but it was leaking into everything else,” Speagle said. “It was mass panic. All the SMEs had to rush in there and try to help people. They were freaking out — they couldn’t handle it. People were crying, breaking down, throwing up. It was like one of those horror movies. Nobody’s prepared to see a little girl have her organs taken out while she’s still alive and screaming.” Moderators were told they had to watch at least 15 to 30 seconds of each video.

Speagle helps to take care of his parents, who have health problems, and was afraid to quit Cognizant. “It was tough to find a job down here in this market,” he said. To cope with the stress, he began binge-eating pastries from the vending machines, and eventually put on a significant amount of weight. He sought out the on-site counselor for support, but found him unhelpful.

“He just flat-out told me: ‘I don’t really know how to help you guys,’” Speagle said. The counselor he spoke with had been substituting for the regular counselor, who had more training. Cognizant also offers a 24/7 hotline, full healthcare benefits, and other wellness programs. But the experience soured Speagle on the site’s mental health resources. Other times, when he was having a particularly bleak day in the queue, a manager would hand him a bucket of Legos and encourage him to play with them to relieve the stress as he worked. Speagle built a house and a spaceship, but it didn’t make him feel better.

Shawn Speagle holds the medication he was prescribed to deal with the effects of PTSD.
Shawn Speagle holds the medication he was prescribed to deal with the effects of PTSD.

By last fall, Speagle told me, he was sleeping only an hour or two each night. The lack of sleep, coupled with depression, made it difficult for him to exercise. He began lashing out at his parents. Meanwhile, at work, he felt micromanaged by his team leaders, who pressured him to moderate more posts.

“I felt like I was trapped inside my own body,” he said. “I couldn’t, for the life of me, get up from my desk, or I would be yelled at to stay in my desk. So I was trapped at my desk and in my body. I was so scared.”

Cognizant periodically purges large numbers of staff members in what have come to be known as “red bag days” for the red bags that managers give to the newly fired to collect their belongings. Sometimes the dismissals are related to job performance, and sometimes employees aren’t given any explanation at all. Speagle was laid off as part of a red bag day last October.

In February, he went to a psychiatrist, who diagnosed him with PTSD. He is currently in treatment. Meanwhile, he has gone back to school to get his teaching certificate. Seeing so many children harmed on Facebook made him want to make a positive contribution to the lives of young people, he said.

“I really wanted to make a difference,” Speagle told me of his time working for Facebook. “I thought this would be the ultimate difference-making thing. Because it’s Facebook. But there’s no difference being made.”

I asked him what he thought needed to change.

“I think Facebook needs to shut down,” he said.

 week, I visited the Tampa site with a photographer. It had received a deep cleaning the night before I visited, according to two employees I spoke with, and the bathroom sparkled. As I walked the floor with the site manager and a Facebook spokeswoman, I noted that most rooms smelled of cleaning products.

Work stopped while we were there to ensure we did not see any Facebook user’s personal information. Moderators, mostly in their 20s and 30s, chatted at their desks, or shot baskets in one of the miniature hoops around the building. The site’s senior managers, who employees say are normally cloistered in their offices, made a show of walking the production floor and chatting with their subordinates.

Every few feet, a wall decal or poster offered an inspirational platitude. Exhortations to always try your hardest and maintain a positive attitude were punctuated with other signs that came across as slightly more sinister. “No news is good news,” read one. “Our reputation depends on you,” read another.

We saw an activity room where workers are invited to participate in yoga sessions, and a break room presided over by a small Buddha holding an electric candle. Across the room from the Buddha, coloring books were fanned out on a table beside windows overlooking the alligator pond.

The tour ended about an hour after we arrived.

“That was a dog-and-pony show,” an employee named Bob told me over the phone the next day. “That was completely staged. We’re out there playing games, and the senior management are out there interacting with people — it’s all a facade.”

Facebook sees a similar facade when it visits the site, he said.

The person responsible for managing Facebook’s growing contractor workforce is Arun Chandra, whose title is vice president of scaled support. Chandra arrived at Facebook last November after a long career at HP, where he helped to oversee the company’s global supply chain. In his new role, he told me, he hopes to gradually improve contractors’ standard of living while also working to ensure they become more effective at their jobs.

Signage inside a stall of the women’s bathroom at Cognizant in Tampa, FL.
Signage inside a stall of the women’s bathroom at Cognizant in Tampa, FL.

“I’m trying to address the macro picture, and move the bigger things forward in the right way,” said Chandra, who struck me as energetic and deeply sincere. “We’ll never solve 100 percent, but I’m trying to show I can solve 80 to 90 percent of the larger problems.”

Chandra has visited more than a dozen of the company’s far-flung partner sites in the United States and abroad, and has plans to visit them all. When he arrives, he likes to pull rank-and-file contractors into rooms and ask them about working conditions without their managers around. He told me that in the Philippines, content moderation has become an attractive career track, and that everywhere he goes, he meets moderators who take great pride in their work. “The level of enthusiasm people have is amazing,” he said.

This spring, Chandra organized a summit of around 200 leaders from content moderation sites around the world — an event he plans to hold twice a year, with another coming this fall. Up until now, vendors have had different policies and programs for promoting workers’ mental health. At the summit, they agreed to share information about their approaches — effectively agreeing to stop competing on the basis of who does a better job taking care of workers.

“We have to run a very large-scale platform. We have to take care of the community. And that means we have to get a whole lot of work done,” Chandra said. “But that is not at the expense of [contractors’] well-being.”

Chandra plans to launch a new audit program later this year to promote better working conditions. That will include more surprise visits — an effort to get around the dog-and-pony-show phenomenon I observed last week. He also plans to stop evaluating partners on the sole basis of whether vendors achieve a 98 percent accuracy rate — instead, he said, Facebook will develop a balanced “scorecard” approach to measuring vendors’ performance. Chandra intends for worker well-being to be part of that score, though Facebook has not yet determined how it will be measured.

In May, Facebook announced that it will raise contractor wages by $3 an hour, make on-site counselors available during all hours of operation, and develop further programs for its contractor workforce. But the pay raises are not due to take effect until the middle of 2020, by which time many, if not most, of the current Tampa workforce will no longer work there. Turnover statistics could not be obtained. But few moderators I have spoken with make it to two years on the job — they either are fired for low accuracy scores, or quit over the working conditions. And so while the raises will be a boon to a future workforce, the contractors I spoke to are unlikely to benefit.

Nor will the many contractors who have already left the job. As in Phoenix, former employees of the Tampa site described lasting emotional disturbances from their work — one for which neither Facebook nor Cognizant offers any support.

I asked Chandra whether Facebook should hire more content moderators in house, rather than relying on big staffing companies. He told me that Facebook’s business changes so quickly that it might not be possible. But he did not rule it out.

“I completely get the debate,” he said. “If anything I’m very empathetic to the entire conversation, having spent a lot of time with these people. I don’t think we have a better answer right now.”

In the meantime, Facebook is building a “global resiliency team” tasked with improving the well-being of both full-time employees and contractors. Chris Harrison, who leads the team, told me that he aspires to build a wellness program that begins at the point of hiring. He wants to screen employees to gauge their psychological fitness — a move that might prevent someone like Shawn Speagle from being assigned to a queue filled with graphic violence — but says Facebook is still working to understand whether this is possible under employment law.

Harrison plans to make “resiliency” — the art of bouncing back after seeing something awful — a key part of contractor training. He helped to develop new tools for moderators that can automatically blur out faces in disturbing videos, turn them grayscale, or mute the audio — all things that can reduce the psychological harm to the moderator viewing them.

Eventually, Harrison hopes Facebook will offer post-employment counseling to moderators who suffered psychological harm on the job. “Of course we should do that,” he said. But the idea is still in the earliest discussion stages, he said. “There’s just so many layers of complexity globally. It’s really, really hard to pull it off in a legally compliant way.”

I asked Harrison, a licensed clinical psychologist, whether Facebook would ever seek to place a limit on the amount of disturbing content a moderator is given in a day. How much is safe?

“I think that’s an open question,” he said. “Is there such thing as too much? The conventional answer to that would be, of course, there can be too much of anything. Scientifically, do we know how much is too much? Do we know what those thresholds are? The answer is no, we don’t. Do we need to know? Yeah, for sure.”

“If there’s something that were to keep me up at night, just pondering and thinking, it’s that question,” Harrison continued. “How much is too much?”

 you believe moderation is a high-skilled, high-stakes job that presents unique psychological risks to your workforce, you might hire all of those workers as full-time employees. But if you believe that it is a low-skill job that will someday be done primarily by algorithms, you probably would not.

Instead, you would do what Facebook, Google, YouTube, and Twitter have done, and hire companies like Accenture, Genpact, and Cognizant to do the work for you. Leave to them the messy work of finding and training human beings, and of laying them all off when the contract ends. Ask the vendors to hit some just-out-of-reach metric, and let them figure out how to get there.

At Google, contractors like these already represent a majority of its workforce. The system allows tech giants to save billions of dollars a year, while reporting record profits each quarter. Some vendors may turn out to mistreat their workers, threatening the reputation of the tech giant that hired them. But countless more stories will remain hidden behind nondisclosure agreements.

In the meantime, tens of thousands of people around the world go to work each day at an office where taking care of the individual person is always someone else’s job. Where at the highest levels, human content moderators are viewed as a speed bump on the way to an AI-powered future.

In such a system, offices can still look beautiful. They can have colorful murals and serene meditation rooms. They can offer ping pong tables and indoor putting greens and miniature basketball hoops emblazoned with the slogan: “You matter.” But the moderators who work in these offices are not children, and they know when they are being condescended to. They see the company roll an oversized Connect 4 game into the office, as it did in Tampa this spring, and they wonder: When is this place going to get a defibrillator?

(Cognizant did not respond to questions about the defibrillator.)

I believe Chandra and his team will work diligently to improve this system as best as they can. By making vendors like Cognizant accountable for the mental health of their workers for the first time, and offering psychological support to moderators after they leave the company, Facebook can improve the standard of living for contractors across the industry.

But it remains to be seen how much good Facebook can do while continuing to hold its contractors at arms’ length. Every layer of management between a content moderator and senior Facebook leadership offers another chance for something to go wrong — and to go unseen by anyone with the power to change it.

“Seriously Facebook, if you want to know, if you really care, you can literally call me,” Melynda Johnson told me. “I will tell you ways that I think that you can fix things there. Because I do care. Because I really do not think people should be treated this way. And if you do know what’s going on there, and you’re turning a blind eye, shame on you.”


Have you worked as a content moderator? We’re eager to hear your experiences, especially if you have worked for Google, YouTube, or Twitter. Email Casey Newton atcasey@theverge.com, or message him on Twitter @CaseyNewton. You can also subscribe here to The Interface, his evening newsletter about Facebook and democracy.

Update June 19th, 10:37AM ET:This article has been updated to reflect the fact that a video that purportedly depicted organ harvesting was determined to be false and misleading.

SMART HOME

Philips Hue company announces lights that beam data at 250 Mbps

TL;DR

A paper towel dispenser with an end-user license agreement is a special kind of hell

TECH

Facebook’s Calibra logo bears a striking resemblance to this bank’s

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Most effective visceral and liver fat diet

 

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The Most Effective Diet For Reducing The Worst Kind Of Fat

A team of researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) led by Professor Iris Shai recently published a long-term study on the impact of Mediterranean and low-carb diet and exercise, measuring their impact with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to map body fat distribution.

Woman measuring waist of overweight man with tape measure, middle sectionWoman measuring waist of overweight man with tape measure, middle section

Woman measuring waist of overweight man with tape measure, middle section

For their study, the researchers used the results of full-body MRI scans of 278 obese participants, detailing their fat distribution before, during and after the 18-month trial period to analyze the effects of 2 specific diets on body fat distribution.

The study demonstrated that a low-carb Mediterranean diet had a more significant effect on reducing fat around the liver (hepatic fat), heart and pancreas, compared to low-fat diets with similar calorie counts, while overall weight loss between the diets revealed no  significant difference. The team also noted that moderate physical exercise reduced the degree of central abdominal obesity, a known risk factor for developing metabolic syndrome (associated with elevated blood pressure and cholesterol), and linked to increased risk of  heart attack, stroke and peripheral artery disease (PAD).

Reducing liver fat by 30%, along with moderate weight loss is an important aspect of reducing health risks associated with obesity from a long term perspective, according to the researchers. High liver fat content is associated with metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and coronary artery disease . Along with moderate weight loss, fat around the heart decreased by 11% (nearly 70 cc reduction in volume) and visceral fat was reduced by 25%. Meanwhile, fat in and around the pancreas and muscle was reduced by only 1 to 2%.

 Reduction in liver fat is a better predictor of long-term health than reduction of visceral fat , which was previously believed to be the main predictor,” explained Prof. Shai, a member of BGU’s S. Daniel Abraham International Center for Health and Nutrition and School of Public Health in a press release. “The findings are a significant contributor to the emerging understanding that for many obese individuals, excess liver fat is not merely a sign of health risks associated with obesity, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes, but is likely also a cause.”

“Healthy nutrition, while also maintaining consistent, moderate weight loss, has a much more dramatic impact on levels of body fat related to diabetes, heart disease and cardiovascular disease than we previously thought,” added Shai.

The research team evaluated the impact of reducing liver fat (in relation to overall visceral fat) by looking at the results of 278 overweight people who followed one of 2 diets:  a Mediterranean diet and a low-fat diet. They followed and tracked the participants for 18 months, measuring blood biomarkers and evaluating fat distribution on MRI scans.

For the study, the low-carb Mediterranean diet group featured a diet low in red meat, with moderate amounts of poultry and fish, along with fresh vegetables, legumes, and healthy nuts. The goal of the those in the low fat diet group was to limit total fat intake to 30% of total calories, with no more than 10% saturated fat, less than 300 mg per day of cholesterol, and to increase dietary fiber.  Participants were also instructed to eat whole grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes and to limit their consumption of extra fats, refined sugar, and snacks with excess high fat.

In a nutshell, the researchers found that reducing liver fat, not just aiming for weight loss in a general sense, is more important when attempting to reduce the myriad risks associated with obesity. Visceral fat, which is metabolically active, is the fat that encases all organs in the body, most importantly the liver, heart and bowels. This is the most dangerous type of fat and significantly increases the risk for heart attack, stroke and peripheral artery disease (PAD).

Participants in the low-carb Mediterranean diet group demonstrated a significantly greater decrease in hepatic fat content (HFC) than those in the low fat diet group, even after accounting for the differences in visceral fat loss noted on MRI scans.

Another aim of the researchers was to evaluate the ability of different blood biomarkers to reflect the effects of diet on observed changes in hepatic fat content (HFC) or liver fat. Serum levels of GGT, ALT, chemerin, and HbA1c  were significantly reduced, after adjustment for total weight loss or change in visceral fat content.

The study also demonstrated that the risks of heart disease were reduced to a greater degree in those on the low-carb Mediterranean diet compared to those on the low-fat diet, reflected in measurements of their lipid profiles and visceral fat deposits on MRI scans.

The Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet

One of the most important health benefits of the Mediterranean diet is that it includes whole foods, according to Sharon Zarabi, RD, CDN, CPT, Program Director for Bariatric Surgery, Lenox Hill Hospital, Northwell Health.

“This is a huge benefit to anyone’s diet as it includes foods from nature, food that our bodies actually need,” explained Zarabi.  ”It includes a diet high in omega-3 essential fatty acids.

Essential fatty acids are obtained from fatty fish, seeds, olives and plants. “We don’t produce it, so getting it from diet is key,” she emphasized. “Omegas-3’s also have anti-inflammatory properties, which is what keeps us healthy and lean.  Inflammation causes us to bloat and store fat, and usually occurs when the body is under stress from toxins and disease.”

One question is whether a low fat diet has any adverse health effects compared to the Mediterranean diet.

Zarabi explains that there are caveats to a low fat diet. “A low fat diet may be high in processed foods. Pretzels, for example are low fat, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are healthy.  Pretzels are full of flour which turns into sugar, and sugar as stated above causes inflammation within the body.  Low fat foods does not mean low calorie, and as new science emerges we are learning that we had it all wrong.  Dietary fat and body fat are not the same!”

For optimal heart health in the general population, Zarabi states that “I am a huge supporter of the Mediterranean diet.  It includes a good balance of heart healthy foods, plant based and protein sources from fish and seafood.  When we look at the blue zones across the world, where the happiest and healthiest people dwell, we find them in Mediterranean regions.  They must be doing something right!”

“Fatty liver disease is most often caused by excess sugar that gets stored as fat and elevates triglycerides within the blood.  In order to shrink the liver we must eat a plant based, whole foods diet including foods that come from the earth and the sea,” offers Zarabi.

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VATICAN DEBATES VIRI PROBATI

Vatican formally opens debate on married priests in Amazon

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican formally opened debate Monday on letting married men be ordained as priests in remote parts of the Amazon where priests are so few that Catholics can go weeks or months without attending a Mass.

The call for study on the proposal was contained in the working document, released Monday, for an October meeting of South American bishops on the Amazon.

The document, prepared by the Vatican based on input from the region, affirmed that celibacy is a gift for the Catholic Church.

But it suggested officials study “the possibility of priestly ordination for older men, preferably indigenous and respected and accepted by their communities, even if they have stable families, for the region’s most remote areas.”

The idea of ordaining so-called “viri probati” — married men of proven virtue — has been around for decades to cope with a priest shortage and decline in vocations overall. But it has drawn fresh attention under Pope Francis, history’s first Latin American pope, thanks to his familiarity with the challenges facing the Amazon church.

The Oct. 6-27 meeting on the sacramental and environmental needs of the Amazon will draw bishops from Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela.

Brazil’s bishops have long pushed for the church to consider ordaining viri probati to minister in remote parts of the Amazon where by some estimates there is one priest for every 10,000 Catholics.

The celibacy question has been a mainstay in Catholic debate given it is a discipline, not a doctrine, and therefore can change. The church has had the tradition since the 11th century, imposed in part to spare the church the financial burdens of providing for large families and to ensure that any assets of the priest would pass to the church, not his heirs.

Proponents of a relaxation of the rule say more men would consider a vocation to the priesthood if they could marry, a surefire fix to the decline in priests globally.

Opponents say relaxing the rule for the Amazon will certainly fuel calls for it to be relaxed elsewhere. Already, married men can be ordained in the Eastern rite Catholic Church and married men who convert from Protestant churches can be Catholic priests.

In addition to ordaining married men, the document called for the synod to identify “the type of official ministry that can be conferred on women.”

It said women, who already play important roles in indigenous communities, must be guaranteed leadership roles. But it stopped short of recommending debate on whether women could be ordained as deacons.

One of the organizers, Monsignor Fabio Fabene, said the female diaconate was essentially off the table since Francis has recently determined that the issue needs further discussion.

Overall, the synod bishops are expected to debate a host of measures to better minister to indigenous and migrant communities in the Amazon amid deforestation and exploitative industries and competition for souls from Pentecostal churches, which are more present in the region with indigenous, local leaders.

The Vatican’s working document acknowledged this competition, saying the Catholic Church must transition from being a church that merely visits vast regions to one that has a full-time presence with ministries, liturgies, sacraments and social services.

It called for a church that has a more indigenous face, with local songs, dance, costumes and the Bible translated into various languages. What is needed, it said, is to essentially recover aspects of the primitive Christian church.

FED JUDGE BLOCKS CA HI-CAPACITY MAGAZINE LAW

Judge blocks California’s ban on high-capacity magazines over 2nd Amendment concerns

The judge cited home invasions, including one where a pajama-clad woman took on three intruders: “She had no place to carry an extra magazine and no way to reload.”
Image: High Capacity Magazine

A 30 round magazine, from left, and a 10 round magazine, from right, rest below an AR-15 rifle at the Ammunition Storage Component company in New Britain, Conn., on April 10, 2013.Charles Krupa / AP file

By Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — High-capacity gun magazines will remain legal in California under a ruling Friday by a federal judge who cited home invasions where a woman used the extra bullets in her weapon to kill an attacker while in two other cases women without additional ammunition ran out of bullets.

“Individual liberty and freedom are not outmoded concepts,” San Diego-based U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez wrote as he declared unconstitutional the law that would have banned possessing any magazines holding more than 10 bullets.

California law has prohibited buying or selling such magazines since 2000, but those who had them before then were allowed to keep them.

In 2016, the Legislature and voters approved a law removing that provision. The California arm of the National Rifle Association sued and Benitez sided with the group’s argument that banning the magazines infringes on the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

Benitez had temporarily blocked the law from taking effect with a 2017 ruling.

Chuck Michel, an attorney for the NRA and the California Rifle & Pistol Association, said the judge’s latest ruling may go much farther by striking down the entire ban, allowing individuals to legally acquire high-capacity magazines for the first time in nearly two decades.

“We’re still digesting the opinion but it appears to us that he stuck down both the latest ban on possessing by those who are grandfathered in, but also said that everyone has a right to acquire one,” Michel said.

Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement that his office is “committed to defending California’s common sense gun laws” and is reviewing the decision and evaluating its next steps.

Becerra previously said similar Second Amendment challenges have been repeatedly rejected by other courts, with at least seven other states and 11 local governments already restricting the possession or sale of large-capacity ammunition magazines. The conflicting decisions on extended magazines may ultimately be sorted out by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Michel said the decision “recognizes that the Second Amendment is not a second-class right and that the state has to meet a high burden before it can pass a law that infringes on the right to keep or bear arms,” Michel said.

Benitez described three home invasions, two of which ended with the female victims running out of bullets.

In the third case, the pajama-clad woman with a high-capacity magazine took on three armed intruders, firing at them while simultaneously calling for help on her phone.

“She had no place to carry an extra magazine and no way to reload because her left hand held the phone with which she was still trying to call 911,” the judge wrote, saying she killed one attacker while two escaped.

He ruled that magazines holding more than 10 rounds are “arms” under the U.S. Constitution, and that the California law “burdens the core of the Second Amendment by criminalizing the acquisition and possession of these magazines that are commonly held by law-abiding citizens for defense of self, home, and state.”

The goal of the California law is to deter mass-shootings, with Becerra previously listing as an example the terrorist assault that killed 14 and injured 22 in San Bernardino.

Benitez, an appointee of Republican President George W. Bush, called such shootings “exceedingly rare” while emphasizing the everyday robberies, rapes and murders he said might be countered with firearms.

Both the magazine ban and new assault weapon restrictions were included in legislation, but voters strengthened penalties for the magazine ban with their approval in 2016 Proposition 63, which also included other gun control measures and was championed by then-Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Gov. Newsom did not comment Friday.

Fascism And Communism

Fascism and Communism
Fascism

he word “fascism” is derived from the Latin fasces, bundles of rods bound around an ax and carried in Roman processions as an authority symbol; the bound rods represented the community unified around the central authority figure.  Fascism is conceived as an expression of the organic unity of the society.  Absolute power is vested in a supreme ruler.  The state represents the collective will of the people.

Fascism has some ancient ideological foundations.  Throughout most of human history the absolute power of the monarch was simply taken for granted.  In the Middle Ages it was “the divine right of kings” who, at least by implication, embodied and interpreted the will of God to their subjects.

Fascism typically vests absolute authority in a single leader, who controls state bureaucracy with a hierarchy of delegated powers.  Ths supreme leader is the source of all law, and is himself above the law.  All government authority devolves from him; all rights of citizens are granted by him.  The primary duty of other officials and the citizenry is strict obedience to their superiors in the state hierarchy, and ultimately to the supreme leader.  The successful fascist leader maximizes his personal authority and, by extension, the power of the state.

The conception of the state as an organic being, equivalent to a human body with the brain in control, derives from classical political theorists including Machiavelli (1469-1527) and Hobbes.  From this analogy some fascist theorists have proposed that the state has a kind of super-reality, a life of its own. These ideas are fully articulated by G.W.F. Hegel (1770-1831).  By this reasoning, the state actually defines the “will of the people” for its citizens.  Individualism is subsumed in the state.  The citizens can’t disagree with the state any more than the big toe can disagree with the brain.  This philosophy justifies a totalitarian state that may pursue whatever objectives it desires, and is free to use any means to eliminate opposition that might impede its progress to those objectives.

Fascism is typically associated with strong racial, ethnic or religious myths, which unify the dominant social group against perceived threats from minority groups.  Viewed objectively, these social myths are irrational.  Within the fascist society, however, the super-rational state manufactures whatever reality it wants.  The moral and intellectual validity of this reality is irrelevant; only its emotional appeal matters.  Mussolini’s famous retort to critics of his movement was “We think with our blood.”  Hitler, Mussolini, Milosevic all promoted a strident nationalism based upon social myths, and fomented irrational racial or ethnic hatreds that led to state-sponsored programs of genocide.  The tactic is simple: the shared hatred of some minority becomes a patriotic rallying point for supporters, and the violence it engenders intimidates any opposition.

Mussolini’s Doctrine of Fascism (1932) provides a clear statement of fascist ideology:

…Fascism is a historical conception, in which man is what he is only in so far as he works within the spiritual process  where he finds himself, in the family or social group, in the nation and in the history in which all nations collaborate.  From this follows the great value of tradition, in memories, in language, in customs, in the standards of social life.  Outside history man is nothing.  Consequently Fascism is opposed to all the individualistic abstractions of a materialistic nature like those of the 18th century; and it is opposed to all Jacobin utopias and innovations.  It does not consider that “happiness” is possible upon earth…. Against individualism, Fascism is for the state….  Liberalism denied the state in the interests of the particular individual; Fascism reaffirms the state as the true reality of the individual….  Not a race, not a geographically determined region, but as a community historically perpetuating itself, a multitude unified by a single idea, which is the will to existence and to power: consciousness of itself, personality.

…For Fascism the tendency to empire,  to the expansion of nations, is a manifestation of vitality; its opposite, staying at home, is a sign of decadence.

Fascism implies a high degree of central economic planning, although there is little explicit economic dogma.  A fascist state has ultimate authority over the labor, property and economic activities of its citizens, and the state’s objective is (presumably) to maximize total economic output from its economy.  There is no collective bargaining for labor.  The state may establish monopoly control over any or all industries, nationalize any or all resources, or leave markets to function on their own.Communism

Literally, “communism” means collective ownership.  In a communist society, all resources are owned by the people.  Communist ideology is based upon the writings of Karl Marx (1818-1883) and Friedich Engels (1820-1895), particularly their Communist Manifesto (1847) and Marx’s almost unreadable Capital (1887).  Marxist theory holds that communism is an inevitable outgrowth of decadent capitalism.  He predicts that the means of production will be increasingly concentrated in the hands of the capitalists, the workers (proletariat) are reduced to subsistence living, the capitalist economy falls into “secular stagnation” because the workers cannot afford the things they produce.  The workers finally overthrow the capitalists and expropriate their capital.

In theory, the communist bureaucracy established to administer the expropriated means of production should be transitory: the state will wither away as the people achieve a utopian state of equality and cooperation. But twentieth-century communism didn’t quite work out that way, of course.

Although the political fortunes of communism faded at the end of the 20th century, the theory and practice of communism are important to understand.  Communism was an extremely expensive social experiment.  The major genocides of the 20th century were mostly committed in pursuit of communist ideals: 30+ million dead in Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution in China; 25+ million dead in Stalin’s forced collectivization of Soviet agriculture and political purges of the 1930’s.  Most of these people died in engineered famines.  Even Hitler didn’t kill this many people.

Marxism had a powerful appeal to the European and American working classes in the early 20th century.  The language of the Communist Manifesto is stirring: “Workers of the world, unite!”  The utopian goals are appealing: “From each according to his abilities; to each according to his needs.”  In fact, despite the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Marxism is still a powerful political ideology, a valid method for interpreting history, and an influential intellectual framework.

Marxism is at heart a utopian philosophy based on “dialectical materialism.”  Marx and Engels followed a long utopian tradition seeking the perfectibility of human nature and the realization of a perfectly free, equal society.  They were humanists who would have been horrified to see their ideas used to justify so much political brutality in the 20th Century.

Dialectics, as fully articulated by Hegel in describing human thought (and grossly simplified here), is the analysis of conflicting principles or forces in history that are eventually resolved in a “synthesis”–some new idea, or new political, cultural or technological outcome.  Each synthesis then generates an opposing principle, a new dialectical conflict, and a new synthesis.  History is understood as a cycle of such conflicts and transformative resolutions.

Marx and Engels were materialists, dismissing religion as “the opium of the masses” in favor of material experience as the basis of knowledge and human interactions (materialism is a direct outgrowth of Locke’s empiricism).  They therefore extended the application of dialectics to the material world: commodities become capital, market competition becomes monopoly, etc.

Soviet-style communism involved the collectivization of land and capital under the control of worker cooperatives, which were supervised by a central planning bureaucracy dominated by members of the communist party.  State planners specified production quotas for each cooperative, and oversaw the supply of intermediate goods between industries.  Goods and resources were allocated according to a central plan reflecting the government’s perception of the country’s needs, not by the “invisible hand” of competitive market forces.  Obviously this was an enormous organizational challenge, and it is not surprising that the Soviet planned economy suffered from production bottlenecks, shortages of retail goods, quality control problems, etc.  The government tolerated a degree of underground and quasi-underground private economic activity, the Soviet economy became increasingly dependent on this private sector, and the government eventually lost political control of it and finally succumbed to overwhelming economic reform pressures.

OAKLAND AIRPORT “ECON” PARKING CROOKS

WATCH OUT! There are several “economy” self-park lot operators, and associated listing websites that are less than scrupulous. They tease you, get your attention with $4.95, $5.95 per day, save money!

So, as the well-worn saying goes – if it’s too good to be true…

All seems normal when you start the booking process online. After you plug in the anticipated parking duration time-frame,  3 days for example, the booking site will display the total correctly. BUT WAIT…when you actually go to “checkout” (btw, I despise this damn term; so condescending and childlike) the REAL TOTAL flashes at the bottom at a rate 200%+ higher! What a bunch of flea-bit camel traders! What was implied at first as $18 more or less becomes $40 more-than-less.

Farrakhan – “Hitler was a great man”

WASHINGTON, DC – NOVEMBER 16: Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan delivers a speech and talks about U.S. President Donald Trump, at the Watergate Hotel, on November 16, 2017 in Washington, DC. This is the first time that Minister Farrakhan will speak directly to the 45th President of the United States and will address “issues of importance regarding Americas domestic challenges, her place on the world stage and her future.”

“Keith Ellison’s long pattern of lies about his ongoing relationship with Louis Farrakhan, who the Anti-Defamation League calls ‘America’s leading anti-Semite,’ has put a stain on the Democrat Party,” McDaniel said in a press release. “Anti-Semitism has no place in American politics, Tom Perez must address this issue.”

As head of the Nation of Islam, Farrakhan has a long history of making deeply anti-Semitic comments.

His ties to current elected Democrats rapidly came to light after a previously unreleased photo of Farrakhan visiting with then-Senator Barack Obama at a 2005 Congressional Black Caucus meeting surfaced in January 2018. (

Seven House Democrats Have Deep Ties To Louis Farrakhan)

While several of the officials linked to Farrakhan have disavowed their past relationships with him, Ellison in particular has maintained that Democrats should not be “bothered” being associated with him.

Ellison has repeatedly declined to comment on the several meetings he has reportedly had with Farrakhan since disavowing him in 2006

“The FISA judge was never informed that Hillary Clinton and the DNC funded the dossier.”

Dems’ rebuttal to GOP FISA memo is released; Trump deems it a ‘bust’
www.foxnews.com

President Trump on Saturday dismissed a Democratic rebuttal to the GOP memo outlining government surveillance abuses in the 2016 campaign as a “total political and legal bust,” claiming that it only confirms the ”terrible things” that were done by the nation’s intelligence agencies.

The rebuttal, written by Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, concluded that officials at the FBI and Justice Department “did not abuse the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) process, omit material information, or subvert this vital tool to spy on the Trump campaign.”

Democrats sought to counter claims made in a Republican memo released this month that the FBI and DOJ relied on a Democrat-funded anti-Trump dossier to ask the FISA court for a warrant to monitor Trump adviser Carter Page.

Democrats have vehemently claimed that the Republican memo left out important information.

But Trump was unimpressed by the 10-page memo that resulted.

Ranking Democrat Adam Schiff, D-Calif., countered by saying it confirmed that intelligence officials acted appropriately.

Republicans had found that the DOJ and FBI left out Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign funding of the dossier, as well as the anti-Trump motivations of author and former British spy Christopher Steele, in its request for a warrant. Indeed, Republicans have pointed to this as proof that intelligence agencies abused surveillance powers.

The Democratic rebuttal, though it did not directly challenge some of the key findings of the earlier one from Republicans, backed the FBI and DOJ in their pursuit of that FISA warrant to surveil Page.

“In fact, DOJ and the FBI would have been remiss in their duty to protect the country had they not sought a FISA warrant and repeated renewals to conduct temporary surveillance of Carter Page, someone the FBI assessed to be an agent of the Russian government,” the rebuttal said, adding that the DOJ met the “rigor, transparency, and evidentiary basis” needed to meet FISA’s probable-cause requirement.

The memo said the Page surveillance warrant produced intelligence deemed reliable, and sufficient to justify renewals every 90 days.

The rebuttal said the FBI had an “independent basis” for investigating Page’s motivations, and that he had been targeted for recruitment by the Russians. It also claimed that the DOJ “repeatedly informed the Court about Steele’s background, credibility, and potential bias.” And it maintained that the Justice Department infomed the FISA court that Steele had been hired by “politically motivated U.S. persons and entities and that his research appeared intended for use “to discredit” Trump’s campaign.

The rebuttal added that the DOJ only made “narrow use” of information from Steele’s sources and that  in later FISA renewals the DOJ provided “additional information obtained through multiple independent sources” that backed up Steele’s reporting. It  challenged the Republican assertion that the FBI authorized payment to Steele, saying that it neglected that the payment was canceled.

The memo, however, did not directly challenge the Republican assertion that former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe testified to the House Committee that they would not have sought the Page surveillance warrant had it not been for that infamous dossier.

The new memo also asserted that the dossier had been corroborated by multiple sources. However, in June 2017 testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee, former FBI Director James Comey said the opposite — that three months after the warrant on Page had been granted he still considered the dossier “unverified” and “salacious” when he briefed incoming President Trump in January 2017 at Trump Tower.

The rebuttal was voted out of committee earlier this month but a redraft was ordered after the White House demanded that sensitive information be stripped out before the document be made public. The Justice Department and FBI claimed the initial draft would reveal information about sources and methods, ongoing investigations and other sensitive information.

Schiff said the minority’s memo should “put to rest” any concerns about conduct by the intelligence agencies.

DEM MEMO – POINT BY POINT

His confidence notwithstanding, it seemed unlikely to mark an end to the ongoing fight over the FISA application and the role of that infamous dossier. Indeed, while the two parties clash over whether that dossier was a primary or secondary driver of the surveillance application, the newly declassified criminal referral for Christopher Steele from Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said the FBI and DOJ relied “heavily” on the controversial and salacious document for the FISA application.

And upon the new memo’s release, Republicans on the intel committee responded with rebuttals to the rebuttal, providing more evidence that this battle has legs. For instance, while the Democrats say that the court was given information about the political motivations of Steele, Republicans say that such a statement is “buried in a footnote” that obscures rather than clarifies his motives.

“The American people now clearly understand that the FBI used political dirt paid for by the Democratic Party to spy on an American citizen from the Republican Party,” Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif. said in a statement.

“Furthermore, the FISA court was misled about Mr. Page’s past interactions with the FBI in which he helped build a case against Russian operatives in America who were brought to justice. It defies belief that the Department of Justice and FBI failed to provide information to a secret court that they had provided to an open federal court regarding their past interactions with Mr. Page,” he said.

The White House called the rebuttal a “politically driven document” that fails to answer the concerns raised by the Republican memo.

“As the Majority’s memorandum stated, the FISA judge was never informed that Hillary Clinton and the DNC funded the dossier that was a basis for the Department of Justice’s FISA application,” Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement.

“In addition, the Minority’s memo fails to even address the fact that the Deputy FBI Director told the Committee that had it not been for the dossier, no surveillance order would have been sought,” she added.

Democrats have claimed that the original Republican memo was an effort to attack FBI Director Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian interference in 2016. Trump had previously said that the memo “totally vindicates” him in the investigation.

Continue reading “The FISA judge was never informed that Hillary Clinton and the DNC funded the dossier.”

JERUSALEM AND EAST JERUSALEM

Jerusalem or Eastern Jerusalem (Arabic: القدس الشرقية‎; Hebrew: מזרח ירושלים‎) is the sector of Jerusalem that was occupied by Jordan in 1948 and had remained out of the Israeli-held West Jerusalem at the end of the 1948–49 Arab–Israeli War. It includes Jerusalem’s Old City and some of the holiest sites of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, such as the Temple Mount, Western Wall, Al-Aqsa Mosque, Dome of the Rock and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, as well as a number of adjacent neighbourhoods. Israeli and Palestinian definitions of it differ;[1] the Palestinian official position is based on the 1949 Armistice Agreements, while the Israeli position is mainly based on the current municipality boundaries of Jerusalem, which resulted from a series of administrative enlargements decided by Israeli municipal authorities since the June 1967 Six-Day War. Despite its name, East Jerusalem includes neighborhoods to the north, east and south of the Old City, and in the wider definition of the term even on all these sides of West Jerusalem.

During the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, Jerusalem was contested between Jordan and Israel, and on the cessation of hostilities, the two countries secretly negotiated a division of the city, with the eastern sector coming under Jordanian rule. This arrangement was formalized in the Rhodes Agreement in March 1949.[2][3] A week after David Ben-Gurion presented his party’s assertion that “Jewish Jerusalem is an organic, inseparable part of the State of Israel” in December 1949,[4] Jordan annexed East Jerusalem.[5] These decisions were confirmed respectively in the Knesset in January 1950 and the Jordanian Parliament in April 1950.[6]

On being occupied by Israel after the 1967 Six-Day War, East Jerusalem, with expanded borders, came under direct Israeli rule.[7] East Jerusalem had been occupied by Israel in June 1967. On 27–28 June 1967, East Jerusalem was integrated into Jerusalem by extension of its municipal borders and was placed under the law, jurisdiction and administration of the State of Israel.[8][9] In a unanimous General Assembly resolution, the UN declared the measures trying to change the status of the city invalid.[10] Jerusalem was effectively annexed by Israel in 1980, an act internationally condemned.[by whom?]

In the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)’s Palestinian Declaration of Independence of 1988, Jerusalem is stated to be the capital of the State of Palestine. In 2000, the Palestinian Authority passed a law proclaiming Jerusalem as such, and in 2002, this law was ratified by then chairman Yasser Arafat,[11][12] although Israel does not allow Palestinian government offices in East Jerusalem. The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) recognised East Jerusalem as capital of the State of Palestine on 13 December 2017.

Political term
History
See also: History of Jerusalem and Timeline of Jerusalem
1948 Arab–Israeli War aftermath

Following the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, Jerusalem was divided into two parts. The western portion, populated primarily by Jews, came under Israeli rule, while the eastern portion, populated mainly by Muslim and Christian Palestinians, came under Jordanian rule. Arabs living in such western Jerusalem neighbourhoods as Katamon or Malha either fled or were in some cases forced out; the same fate befell Jews in the eastern areas, including the Old City and Silwan. The only eastern area of the city that remained in Israeli hands throughout the 19 years of Jordanian rule was Mount Scopus, where the Hebrew University is located, which formed an enclave during that period.

Following the 1967 Six-Day War, the eastern part of Jerusalem came under Israeli rule, along with the entire West Bank. Shortly after the Israeli takeover, East Jerusalem was annexed to West Jerusalem, together with several neighboring West Bank villages. In November 1967, United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 was passed, calling for Israel to withdraw “from territories occupied in the recent conflict” in exchange for peace treaties. In 1980, the Knesset passed the Jerusalem Law, which declared that “Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel”, which is commonly called an act of annexation, though no such formal measure was even taken.[8][17] This declaration was determined to be “null and void” by United Nations Security Council Resolution 478.

Jordanian rule
See also: Jordanian annexation of the West Bank
King Hussein flying over the Temple Mount while it was under Jordanian control, 1965

Jerusalem was to be an international city under the 1947 UN Partition Plan. It was not included as a part of either the proposed Jewish or Arab states. During the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, the western part of Jerusalem was captured by Israel, while East Jerusalem (including the Old City) was captured by Jordan. The war came to an end with the signing of the 1949 Armistice Agreements.

Upon its capture, the Jordanians immediately expelled all the Jewish residents of the Jewish Quarter. 58 synagogues were destroyed.[19][20] The ancient Jewish cemetery on Mount of Olives was desecrated, and the tombstones there were used for construction and paving roads.[21] Jordan also destroyed the Jewish villages of Atarot and Neve Yaakov just north of Jerusalem (their sites became Jerusalem neighborhoods after 1967).

East Jerusalem absorbed some of the refugees from West Jerusalem’s Arab neighborhoods that came under Israeli rule. Thousands of Arab refugees who were displaced from their homes in Israeli-held West Jerusalem were settled in the previously Jewish areas of East Jerusalem.

In 1950 East Jerusalem, along with the rest of the West Bank, was annexed by Jordan. Nevertheless, the annexation of the West Bank was recognized only by the United Kingdom, although the Israeli and Jordanian annexations of the two parts of Jerusalem were given only de facto recognition. During the period of Jordanian rule, East Jerusalem lost much of its importance, as it was no longer a capital, and losing its link to the coast diminished its role as a commercial hub. It even saw a population decrease, with merchants and administrators moving to Amman. On the other hand, it maintained its religious importance, as well as its role as a regional center. Reaffirming a 1953 statement, Jordan in 1960 declared Jerusalem its second capital.[22] The USA (and other powers) protested this plan, and stated it could not “recognize or associate itself in any way with actions which confer upon Jerusalem the attributes of a seat of government…”

During the 1960s, Jerusalem saw economic improvement and its tourism industry developed significantly, and its holy sites attracted growing numbers of pilgrims, but Israelis of all religions were not allowed into East Jerusalem.[clarification needed][18][24] Israeli rule
After 1967 war

During the Six-Day War of 1967 Israel captured the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and eventually incorporated Eastern Jerusalem and its surroundings into the municipality of Jerusalem, including several neighboring villages.[25] This move, amounting to 111 km2 (43 sq mi)[dubious ] of West Bank territory,[26] excluded many of East Jerusalem’s suburbs and divided several villages. The old Moroccan Quarter in front of the Western Wall was bulldozed three days after its capture, leading to the deaths of several residents in the forced resettlement of its 135 families.[26][27][28] It was replaced with a large open air plaza. The Jewish Quarter, destroyed in 1948, was depopulated, rebuilt and resettled by Jews.

After 1980 annexation
Israeli West Bank barrier in Jerusalem

Under Israeli rule, members of all religions are largely granted access to their holy sites, with the Muslim Waqf maintaining control of the Temple Mount and the Muslim holy sites there.

With the stated purpose of preventing infiltration during the Second Intifada, Israel decided to surround Jerusalem’s eastern perimeter with a security barrier. The structure has separated East Jerusalem neighborhoods from the West Bank suburbs, all of which are under the jurisdiction of Israel and the IDF. The planned route of the separation barrier has raised much criticism, with the Israeli Supreme Court ruling that certain sections of the barrier (including East Jerusalem sections) must be re-routed.

The Oslo Accords, prohibit the establishment of any activity of the Palestinian Authority in Jerusalem. Under the pretext that they are part of the PA, Israel closed many Palestinian NGOs since 2001.

In the 25 January 2006 Palestinian Legislative Elections, 6,300 East Jerusalem Arabs were registered and permitted to vote locally. All other residents had to travel to West Bank polling stations. Hamas won four seats and Fatah two, even though Hamas was barred by Israel from campaigning in the city. Fewer than 6,000 residents were permitted to vote locally in the prior 1996 elections.

In March 2009, a confidential “EU Heads of Mission Report on East Jerusalem” was published, in which the Israeli government was accused of “actively pursuing the illegal annexation” of East Jerusalem. The report stated: “Israeli ‘facts on the ground’ – including new settlements, construction of the barrier, discriminatory housing policies, house demolitions, restrictive permit regime and continued closure of Palestinian institutions – increase Jewish Israeli presence in East Jerusalem, weaken the Palestinian community in the city, impede Palestinian urban development and separate East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank.”

A poll conducted by Palestinian Center for Public Opinion and American Pechter Middle East Polls for the Council on Foreign Relations, among East Jerusalem Arab residents in 2011 revealed that 39% of East Jerusalem Arab residents would prefer Israeli citizenship contrary to 31% who opted for Palestinian citizenship. According to the poll, 40% of Palestinian residents would prefer to leave their neighborhoods if they would be placed under Palestinian rule.

 

FBI DIR – THE CHINA THREAT

The director of the FBI says the whole of Chinese society is a threat to the US — and Americans must step up as a society

to defend themselves
www.businessinsider.com

FBI Director Christopher Wray; Chinese President Xi Jinping. AP/Andrew Harnik/Fred Dufour/Pool

FBI director Christopher Wray issued a dire warning against China’s growing influence during a Senate intelligence hearing on Tuesday.

He cited the variety of ways that China is implementing its plan to replace the US as the foremost global power, including infiltrating American academia.

China’s Confucius Institutes are ostensibly language learning centers, but often serve as vehicles for Chinese propaganda at universities around the world, including the US.

Intelligence experts also cited Chinese cybersecurity threats as a major concern in 2018.

FBI director Christopher Wray reiterated a commonly held view on Tuesday that China is seeking to become a global superpower through unconventional means — but framed the threat China poses to the US as not just a governmental one, but as a societal one, too.

Speaking before the Senate Intelligence Committee alongside the heads of other US intelligence agencies, Wray told Senators that China is using a host of methods to undermine American military, economic, cultural, and informational power across the globe that rely on more than just China’s state institutions.

“One of the things we’re trying to do is view the China threat as not just a whole of government threat, but a whole of society threat on their end,” Wray said, “and I think it’s going to take a whole-of-society response by us.”

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats expressed a similar sentiment after Sen. Marco Rubio asked him about China’s plans to overtake the US as the world’s supreme world power.

“There is no question that what you have just articulated is what’s happening with China,” Coats said. “They’re doing it in a very smart way; they’re doing it in a very effective way; they are looking beyond their own region.”

Coats said multiple agencies are conducting “intensive studies” to understand the ways China is looking to carry out its global agenda.

The double-edged sword of open academics
Wray pointed to China’s use of unconventional intelligence sources at US universities as a salient example of China’s reach.

In intelligence jargon, “collectors” are individuals who collect intelligence on behalf of agencies or governments. And he said they’ve infiltrated American universities.

“I think in this setting, I would just say that the use of non-traditional collectors — especially in the academic setting, whether it’s professors, scientists, students — we see in almost every field office that the FBI has around the country,” Wray said.

“They’re exploiting the very open research and development environment that we have which we all revere, but they’re taking advantage of it,” Wray added, noting that there is a “naivete” amid academics about the risks posed by foreign nationals at universities.

Chinese President Hu Jintao (L) visits the The Confucius Institute at Walter Payton College Preparatory High School in Chicago on January 21, 2011. REUTERS/Chris Walker/Pool

As Wray mentioned, the openness of academia in general contributes to an open flow of ideas across the globe and the overall advancement of human knowledge and innovation.

To this end, US universities admit over a million international students, and Chinese students make up the largest share of these students. Nearly 329,000 Chinese nationals were enrolled in American colleges during the 2015-2016 school year, according to TIME.

While there is no evidence that a majority of Chinese students or academics pose any threat to US interests, there are a number of education efforts that the Chinese government uses as vehicles for soft power.

The first of these are the Confucius Institutes, which Rubio alluded to during his questioning of Wray and Coats at the Senate hearing.

These institutes mirror many other foreign-language education entities that countries fund around the world, but with a couple caveats. Rather than existing as stand-alone bodies, they are inserted into US universities, and in addition to teaching Mandarin Chinese, they also reportedly engage in disseminating Chinese propaganda and restricting what professors and students should say.

As a result of the dangers to open expression posed by these institutes, the University of Chicago and Pennsylvania State have already closed the Confucius Institutes on their campuses. Other global universities have followed suit.

Confucius Institutes also have a strong presence on the African continent, where China is also in the process of growing its economic and political power. Africans in countries like Zambia and Zimbabwe are encouraged to view China as a positive economic force and a source of progress and opportunity as part of the “Look East” policy many African countries have implemented.

As a result of this push, the number of African students in China has skyrocketed over the last 10 years.

Chinese cybersecurity threats – During Tuesday’s Senate hearing, the top US intel chiefs drew attention to Chinese cybersecurity strategies.

“Frankly, the United States is under attack,” Coats said, “by entities that are using cyber to penetrate virtually every major action that takes place” within the US.

U.S. security chiefs testify before Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on “worldwide threats” on Capitol Hill in Washington Thomson Reuters

The Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community, also released Tuesday, outlines China’s online capabilities in detail.

“China will continue to use cyber espionage and bolster cyber attack capabilities to support national security priorities,” the report concluded. Coats added that China’s cyber activity is at much lower levels than it was before September 2015, but is still threatening

Most Chinese cyber operations that the US has detected targeting private industry are against defense contractors, IT, and communications firms. The assessment said these companies are often ones that support the international operations of both the US government and the private sector.

As a result of these findings, several intelligence heads reaffirmed the necessity to beef up US counterintelligence efforts in cyberspace. Many indeed identified it as one of the top priorities for the intelligence community in the coming year.

With so many facets of American society under threat, Wray said it would take a lot more than just work from intelligence agencies to combat China.

“It’s not just the intelligence community,” he said, “but it’s raising awareness within our academic sector, within our private sector, as part of the defense.”

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