TBR News November 14, 2015

Nov 14 2015

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C. November 14, 2015:” Here is an extremely cogent comment sent to me by a connection in Paris concerning the Muslim problems in France.

“There is a growing awareness that these militants are funded by Saudis and by Qataris.

This commando targeted Friday night revelers, choosing places frequented by ‘Bobos’, as we call the young ‘bohemian’ types with money and suitably leftist opinions. Bobos, for instance, tend to support allowing mass immigration etc etc, so this will hopefully ram a lesson home to them that there is no human relationship to be established with these hateful creatures.

And now, France has closed its frontiers and imposed a curfew, with public places closed. She has closed the hen house door after allowing the foxes in. And the indigenous people will suffer the constraints of police state control whilst the delinquents are unchecked.

Because, in the end, all of this is rooted in hatred of white people and a quest for revenge in which these Arab and Negro types are pawns and the mass immigration of the post-WW2 years is a strategy orchestrated by these Turkic race imposters. But this is a Frankensteinian monster that hates The Chosen People even more that the ‘Crusaders’, as their inams call us. Of course, the Ashkenazis are not Semitic and therefore are not really of the Chosen People. They adopted the Judaic religion in order to slip between Muslim and Christian and were already despised by everyone.

Anyway, it is too late for talk. Even moderate PC types now understand how right commentators like Enoch Powell were. ‘Céline’. 

Robo-advisers are here. What’s a human financial planner to do?

November 5, 2015

by Todd C. Frankel

Washington Post

Please don’t call them robo-advisers.

That’s obviously a derogatory term,” says Adam Nash, president of Wealthfront.

He prefers the term automated investment services. So does Betterment and SigFig, two other leading wealth management firms that use algorithms instead of humans to manage billions of dollars in individual portfolios. With software running the show, the tech startups can charge clients drastically lower fees.

This sounds like a mortal threat to the nation’s 300,000 human financial advisers, an occupation that ranks high on “best jobs” lists for its good pay and work-life balance. And many analysts agree the sector is ripe for disruption, the same kind now shaking up the nation’s taxi fleets.

There’s an opportunity to do an Uber of another industry,” says Uday Singh, partner at management consulting firm A.T. Kearney.

The tension of robot vs. humans is expected to play out in an increasing number of jobs in the coming years as computers get faster, the algorithms smarter. For financial advisers, the battle is already underway – just as waves of baby boomers are hitting retirement and members of the even larger millennial generation reach the point in their careers when they are thinking about setting aside funds.

Billions of dollars in fees are up for grabs. The robo hype might be real. Or maybe advice dispensed by humans will triumph.  But neither side is waiting around to see how it shakes out, illustrating how the future of many industries will feature a continuing evolution, with each side trying to maximize its particular advantage.

Singh believes algorithm-driven investments will be mainstream in just a few years. He co-authored a 2015 study that found consumers have rapidly turned to robo-advisers after just a couple years on the scene, with these companies projected to be managing nearly 6 percent of all U.S. investments, about $2 trillion worth, by 2020.

There is every reason to believe that adoption will be exponential,” Singh says.

But mention Singh’s study to someone like Frank Moore, chief investment officer at Vintage Financial Services in Ann Arbor, Mich., and he chuckles dismissively.

Replace him?

There is so much you can’t do through a computer screen,” Moore says, pointing to the counseling he did of clients during the stock market’s dark days in 2008 and 2009. “That’s not something you can program into an algorithm.”

Geoffrey Brown, head of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisers, agrees.

There’s no way the robo-adviser product platform is going to take away the human interaction that comes with working with a financial adviser,” Brown says.

Some dismiss robo-advisers as just target-date funds with slicker marketing — meaning that firms such as Vanguard, which offers similar services, would have the most to lose. But that hasn’t limited the impact of robo-advisers.

They are revolutionizing everything,” says Randy Kurtz, president of financial advisory firm BetaFrontier in Chicago.

Kurtz said the days of advisers just picking investments and mailing quarterly statements is over. Now, advisers need to spend time with clients, discussing goals and crafting strategies to different needs.

The human adviser needs to be even more human.

The people who will survive will be more holistic,” Kurtz says.

The rise of these automated services already has driven smaller portfolio-management firms to merge with firms that offer a wider range of wealth management services, says Louis Diamond, vice president at Diamond Consultants in Morristown, N.J., a search and consulting firm for financial advisers.

They are seeking out access to tailored, white-glove services,” Diamond says.

Those skills are beyond computers, for now. That’s why Alex Benke, director of advice products at Betterment, thinks financial advisers will continue to have jobs. But those jobs are changing.

I think what is being disrupted is the selling of a portfolio and not doing anything else,” Benke said. “We’ve commodified the portfolio piece.”

Betterment, based in New York City, manages $3 billion for 118,000 customers. There’s no minimum balance — another development that has spread to traditional financial advisers who are hoping to capture investors earlier. At Betterment, fees range from 0.15 percent to 0.35 percent of assets. That’s significantly less than the typical adviser fee, which hovers around 1 percent.

Betterment plans to start offering 401(k) services to companies in 2016. Earlier this year it launched a service for advisers that allows them to provide robo-services to their own clients.

Wealthfront, based in Palo Alto, Calif., charges a 0.25 percent management fee on accounts above $10,000 and no fee below that, with a $500 minimum.

Robo-advisers ask customers their age, income and questions gauging risk tolerance before selecting a series of exchange-traded funds. Many of the companies also offer tax-loss harvesting and automatic re-balancing. All decisions are made by algorithms.

It’s the continuation of a long-running trend toward technological innovation and lower fees in financial services, says Nash, Wealthfront president. In 1975, Charles Schwab opened its doors as the nation’s first discount brokerage. Then Vanguard introduced index funds. More recently, exchange-traded funds became popular.

Now, it’s algorithm-driven investments.

Some of the larger firms have decided to imitate the newcomers. Both Schwab and Vanguard launched robo-adviser services earlier this year. And smaller advisers talk about the potential for continued downward pressure on their own fees from these new low-cost rivals.

That’s not the only problem facing the industry. The profession is graying – the average adviser is 51, with fewer than 5 percent younger than 30, according to Cerulli Associates. At many industry conferences, there’s at least one session on planning for the death of a lead financial adviser.

It’s concerning,” said Brown, head of the personal financial advisers association.

But with a third of advisers heading to retirement in the next decade, there’s a huge opportunity — for someone, whether it’s humans or computers.

Nash says Wealthfront is “optimized for millennials.” That’s the target market. Sixty percent of its clients are under 35 years old.

Betterment noted that while millennials make up the bulk of its customers, 30 percent of its business comes from clients older than 50.

The question is who will capture the next wave of investors — someone like Yazmin Chavira, whose views on investing show how messy and contested the future of financial advising will likely be.

Chavira, 31, is a math teacher living in Long Island City, N.Y. She got interested in investing a couple years ago. The negligible interest rate on her bank account was not cutting it. At first, she considered opening a self-directed account to buy index funds. But she kept looking.

A financial adviser would be too expensive, Chavira thought. And her situation was not complicated. She knew her parents preferred sitting down with someone to discuss finances. But she already entrusted so much of her life to computers – banking, health insurance, travel booking and shopping. She started reading about robo-advisers. She was intrigued.

Humans can make mistakes,” Chavira says. “Computers do only what we ask them to do.”

She opted to open an account with Betterment.

But, Chavira says, if one day she felt the need, she wouldn’t rule out visiting a human for financial advice.

Fact check: Ben Carson’s claim that the pyramids were used to store grain

November 5, 2015

by Thomas Batten

The Guardian


In a recently discovered clip of an address given at Andrews University in Michigan in 1998, retired neurosurgeon and Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson claims that the Egyptian pyramids were constructed by the biblical Joseph to store huge quantities of grain and were not, as is commonly believed, tombs for the pharaohs.


Carson’s claims seem to be drawn in part from Egyptologist Dr Wyatt Thom’s 1984 book Egypt Egypt Egypt. According to Thom, the pyramids were built to house grain, and mummified bodies were placed inside as scarecrows to keep birds away. If you’re wondering how that makes sense given that the pyramids are enclosed structures, Thom claims this is because you’re “hamstrung by a very modern conception of birds”.

Verdict: fact


According to Nathaniel Waggoner, a bagboy at the Los Angeles Four Seasons Hotel, Carson once told him, in lieu of the standard cash tip, that the pyramids were constructed with pointy tips in order to prevent blimps from landing on them.


This idea seems to be drawn from a speech given by archeologist Lizzy Acker at the University of Cambridge in 1992. Acker’s claim is that blimps did not in fact exist during the Old or Middle Kingdom periods during which the pyramids were

constructed, but that some Egyptian scholars had theorized that such a thing could be possible in the future, and wanted to be ready for anything.

Verdict: fact


On his official campaign website, Carson claims that he came up with the idea for a musical based on the story of Joseph and his coat of many colors during a surgical consultation with a patient named Jacob Brandman.


Carson did apparently propose this idea to Mr. Brandman … in 1998, 30 years after Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat premiered. However, when pushed for comment on this issue, Carson responded that he was in fact aware of the existing musical production in 1998, but that “The Bible calls it a coat of many colors, but in those days the only colors were black and white, as you can see in old television footage. My belief is that the coat was black, white and brown – the first time anyone had ever seen brown. That story has yet to be told.”

Verdict: fact


In 2009 Carson wrote an essay for his now deleted Livejournal account claiming that the Great Sphinx of Giza was not a creature with the body of a lion and the head of a human, but instead “an ugly cat with a hat on. The confusion stems from the fact that anything looks human with a hat on. Put a hat on a turtle, a monkey, a bat, tell me I’m wrong.”


This claim doesn’t seem to originate from any source outside Carson’s own imaginings. An independent study conducted by the Guardian concluded that putting a hat on a monkey primarily resulted in a cute idea for a calendar, and that getting a hat on a bat is basically impossible. But Carson was right about the turtle.

Verdict: half-true

How Law Enforcement Can Use Google Timeline To Track Your Every Move

November 6, 2015

by Jana Winter


The recent expansion of Google’s Timeline feature can provide investigators unprecedented access to users’ location history data, allowing them in many cases to track a person’s every move over the course of years, according to a report recently circulated to law enforcement.

The personal privacy implications are pretty clear but so are the law enforcement applications,” according to a document titled, “Google Timelines: Location Investigations Involving Android Devices,” which outlines the kind of information investigators can now subpoena.

The Timeline allows a user to look back at their daily movements on a map; that same information is also potentially of interest to law enforcement. “It is now possible to submit a legal demand to Google for location history greater than six months old,” the report says. “This could revitalize cold cases and potentially help solve active investigations.”

The report was written by a law enforcement trainer, Aaron Edens, and provides detailed guidance on the wealth of historic location information available through Google Timeline and how to request it. A copy of of the document was obtained by The Intercept.

The expansion of Google’s Timeline feature, launched in July 2015, allows investigators to request detailed information about where someone has been — down to the longitude and latitude — over the course of years. Previously, law enforcement subpoenas to the company could only yield recent location information.

The 15-page document includes what information its author, an expert in mobile phone investigations, found being stored in his own Timeline: historic location data — extremely specific data — dating back to 2009, the first year he owned a phone with an Android operating system. Those six years of data, he writes, show the kind of information that law enforcement investigators can now subpoena from Google.

The document also notes that users can edit or delete specific locations in their history, or an entire day, stressing the importance of preservation letters for criminal investigators involving Android phones. “Unfortunately, Google has made it very easy to delete location history from a specific date,” he wrote.

There is no indication data is recoverable from Google once it has been deleted by the user, the report says.

Location data is only stored in users’ Google accounts if they enable it. Individual Android users can turn it off, but users often don’t.

The ability of law enforcement to obtain data stored with privacy companies is similar — whether it’s in Dropbox or iCloud. What’s different about Google Timeline, however, is that it potentially allows law enforcement to access a treasure trove of data about someone’s individual movement over the court of years.

The report also advises investigators to remember there is a significant amount of other information retained by Google.

Consider including Gmail, photos and videos, search history, contacts, applications, other connected devices, Google Voice and Google Wallet, if they are relevant to the investigation,” the report suggests. Investigators are also advised to include a non-disclosure order with their search warrants for Google data, which prevents the company from notifying the account holder that their data is being provided to law enforcement.

It’s impossible to know how many of these requests for historic Timeline location information have been made by law enforcement, since Google does not specify what types of requests its gets from law enforcement. Google’s transparency report provides information on the number of requests received from law enforcement, and the most recent requests go up to the end of 2014 and do not cover the time period after the expanded Timeline was launched. (In the first half of 2014, Google received 12,539 criminal legal requests in the U.S. and in the second half it received 9,981.)

The major barrier law enforcement faces is that Google does not provide any additional advice or help on deciphering data, once it is turned over under subpoena. “Based on conversations with other law enforcement investigators and prosecutors, they have resisted attempts to bring them into court to discuss the issue,” Edens wrote.

“Google does not provide expert witness testimony,” Edens said in response to The Intercept’s questions, noting that this is a similar practice to that of other companies, like Facebook. His report, he added, was written to help law enforcement in the absence of assistance from Google.

“Google has always been wary of any perceived cooperation with law enforcement, even before [Edward] Snowden,” he told The Intercept.

We respond to valid legal requests, and have a long track record of advocating on behalf of our users,” a Google spokesperson told The Intercept.

  • Micah Lee contributed to this report.

Real Estate ShellCompanies Scheme to Defraud Owners Out of Their Homes

Relying on the secrecy of limited liability companies, white-collar thieves are targeting pockets of New York City for fraudulent deed transfers, leaving the victims groping for redress.

November 7, 2015

by Stephanie Saul  

New York Times

Partially paralyzed and reliant on a wheelchair, Ozella Campbell spends a lot of time watching television. It was under those circumstances in February 2014 that she saw a commercial urging her to call MyHouseIsADump.com, a company that offered to buy houses in as-is condition, in cash, and to close the purchase within seven days.

She called the toll-free number and within hours, she said, a well-spoken young man appeared at her brownstone, a longtime family home in Bedford-Stuyvesant, a Brooklyn neighborhood in the throes of transformation.

The next day, the man’s associate arrived.

He said, ‘You don’t have to pay any more bills,’” said Ms. Campbell, who was $1,000 behind on her electric bill at the time.

A third man, named Alex, ostensibly the boss, arrived next. He promised, Ms. Campbell said, to pay her delinquent mortgage, provide for her housing for two years, and pay her $43,800. He also hired a lawyer for her. All she had to do was sign over the deed to her house.

More than a year later, Ms. Campbell, 75, is in limbo. Her former home at 679 Jefferson Avenue is owned by an entity called Jefferson Holding LLC and she is left with her delinquent $529,000 mortgage.

He lied,” she said tearfully of Alex in an interview at the illegally converted garage in Canarsie, Brooklyn, where she lives for now. “He said, ‘Don’t worry, Mrs. Campbell, we’re going to take care of you.’  ”

Ms. Campbell never learned Alex’s surname. And when her relatives tried to find Jefferson Holding LLC at its Great Neck, N.Y., address, there was no company there by that name.


In Bedford-Stuyvesant and other pockets of the city, white-collar criminals are employing a variety of schemes to snatch properties from their owners. Often, they use the secrecy afforded to shell companies, leaving victims groping for redress, unable to identify their predators or even, in some cases, to prove a crime has been committed.

Attention lately has focused on the growing use of shell companies to buy prized real estate in Manhattan and other glittering destinations for global wealth. But the stealthy practice of deed theft illustrates another way that limited liability company law used to create such entities has been twisted and stretched to conceal the ownership of real estate. This is particularly true in Brooklyn neighborhoods where profits in the hundreds of thousands of dollars from quick turnaround sales have become common.

Sham LLCs are a huge problem in terms of their lack of transparency, in terms of who is behind the property and who is behind these schemes,” said Jennifer Sinton, a lawyer with South Brooklyn Legal Services, which is representing Ms. Campbell in an effort to reclaim her home.

A review by The New York Times of several dozen cases, and interviews with lawyers, prosecutors and others knowledgeable about fraudulent deed transfers, suggests they are accelerating even as officials struggle to address them. The city’s Department of Finance said it was investigating 120 cases, many of them hard to crack because of the role played by LLCs, officials said. Underscoring the rising alarm over the problem, the state attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, and the Brooklyn borough president, Eric L. Adams, held a forum last month to warn property owners about it.

Deed thieves often scan legal notices for mortgages in arrears, typically targeting properties like Ms. Campbell’s that are in poor repair or abandoned. Vulnerable homeowners — including older and disabled adults — are sometimes tricked into signing over their properties, while believing they are getting financial relief.

In other cases, signatures are simply forged on deeds. The thieves, meanwhile, hide behind inscrutable mazes of limited liability companies, rented post office boxes and fake addresses.

Coming amid waves of gentrification, the reports of deed theft have helped feed the unease felt in neighborhoods where longtime residents — blacks and Hispanics, the poor and middle class — are increasingly being priced out. A report last year by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the Center for NYC Neighborhoods found that the schemes disproportionately affected black and Hispanic homeowners.

When LLCs are taken to court, those behind them often remain a step ahead — and impossible to find. “They’re shell companies,” said Jomo Gamal Thomas, a lawyer who has represented several deed fraud victims. “There’s no guarantee you’ll get your money back.”


Some schemes are particularly brazen. After forging signatures and filing fraudulent deeds with the city to register transfers, thieves rent out vacated properties until they are caught, or resell them to third parties. Among the telltale signs of forgery, according to Toby M. Cohen, a Brooklyn lawyer who has represented clients attempting to reclaim stolen properties: “a deed transferred for no consideration to an LLC or a corporation and scribbled signatures you can’t read.”

LLCs formed in many states and offshore jurisdictions can shield their owners’ names, but secrecy was not originally their central purpose.

A limited liability company is a legal entity similar to a corporation — though with a less formal structure and no requirement for annual meetings or the keeping of minutes — that protects an owner’s individual assets in case of litigation. Initially established in the energy industry in the 1970s to avoid the payment of personal and corporate taxes, LLCs have more recently become instruments for buying real estate, making a once-transparent real-property market ever more opaque.

In a series of articles in February, The Times examined how Manhattan’s luxury condominium boom had been fueled by international investors buying properties through limited liability companies. More than half of such residences are now bought through LLCs.

A look behind the limited liability facades of one signature development, the Time Warner Center, found that a number of buyers had faced government inquiries around the world. A system of developers, condominium boards, real estate brokers and lawyers aid and abet the secrecy, The Times found.

Saying he had been motivated in part by The Times’s findings, New York’s finance commissioner, Jacques Jiha, began last spring to require that all members of LLCs be disclosed to the city for tax auditing purposes when deeds were transferred. Mr. Jiha said that wealthy residents might be able to use a “veil of secrecy” to evade city taxes by claiming to live elsewhere. While the new rules went beyond what many jurisdictions require, experts called them imperfect, because some LLC members are nominees, meaning the true owners remain hidden.

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration is sponsoring legislation in Albany intended to prevent deed theft. The bill’s provisions include a requirement that notaries public be fingerprinted. But the city recently removed a provision that would compel additional disclosure of LLC ownership in real estate transactions. While real estate interests had objected to the requirement, Sonia Alleyne, a spokeswoman for the Finance Department, said that was not why it was dropped. Instead, she said, city officials believed the new requirements imposed by Mr. Jiha had begun to work.

At the same time, investigators have been working to crack down on fraudulent deed transfers. Beyond the 120 cases under investigation, the Finance Department is aware of another 167 cases that appear suspicious, according to Joseph Fucito, the New York sheriff, the agency that investigates allegations of deed fraud. Indictments have been handed up in all five boroughs, with 16 arrests since July 2014.

But lawyers who have represented deed fraud victims said the sheer volume of such cases, which some estimate to be in the thousands, and the difficulty of tracking down the perpetrators, had overwhelmed law enforcement agencies.

Even so, in May, Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan, announced the indictment of three men accused of tricking people into signing over properties in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens.

The men’s company, Homeowner Assistance Services of New York, relied on telemarketers to promote their alleged scheme. Among those who received a call were Roy and Iris Jones.


Mr. and Ms. Jones have owned a multiunit building on Fulton Street in Brooklyn since 1999. An appraisal they commissioned put its value at $2.8 million. The couple used to operate an upholstery shop in the building. Since closing the shop, they have rented the property to tenants.

In 2014, JPMorgan Chase & Company, their mortgage lender, told them they owed $182,000 in back payments, an amount they disputed. After learning of the dispute, apparently from public documents, Homeowner Assistance Services of New York called the Joneses, offering to work it out, partially through a refinancing.

In an interview, Mr. Jones, 75, said officials with the company had offered the couple a loan at favorable terms, and even provided door-to-door car service to their offices in Hollis, Queens, to sign the paperwork.

Two months later, a friend called us and said, ‘Why are you selling the place?’  ” Mr. Jones said. The property had been transferred to an entity called Metro Development Group LLC without their knowledge, he said. Instead of a refinancing, the couple learned, the documents had conveyed ownership of the property — for no money — without resolving their dispute with JPMorgan Chase.

Mario Alvarenga, one of the three men indicted in May, was among those with whom Mr. and Ms. Jones dealt. All three men have pleaded not guilty. A lawsuit filed by Mr. and Ms. Jones in an attempt to reclaim their property named Mr. Alvarenga — vice president of Homeowner Assistance Services — as a defendant.

The Joneses have also filed a complaint with the Brooklyn district attorney’s office. But litigation, already costly for individual property owners, can be particularly difficult when the owners of LLCs are hard to find.

Consider the three-story house at 851 Lincoln Place in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

Gordon Tracey, a hospital maintenance worker, said he bought the property in 2000 as an investment, then had difficulty making his mortgage payments. In 2014, when he needed money for the burial of a cousin in Jamaica, Mr. Tracey said he was approached by a man he knew only as Sam from a company called Lincoln Holdings NY LLC.

Sam offered Mr. Tracey $500 just to meet, then later said he would pay him $30,000, negotiate with the lender to reduce his past-due mortgage, resell the property and pay him $245,000 when the deal was completed, according to a lawsuit filed in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn.

Then, Mr. Tracey said, his signature was forged on documents transferring the deed to Lincoln Holdings NY, which brought in tenants and collected rent but never paid off the mortgage. (Mr. Tracey said he had received the promised $30,000.)

Three months after reaching an agreement with Sam, Mr. Tracey said, he realized that the Lincoln Holdings NY letterhead did not have an address or a phone number. Hoping to speak with Sam, Mr. Tracey said he sat outside what he believed to be his Brooklyn building for hours, but never succeeded in making contact with Sam or Lincoln Holdings NY.

I worked so hard for that place,” said Mr. Tracey, 64. “It’s a model block. It’s a very nice house.”

A reporter visited the address of Lincoln Holdings NY at 694 Myrtle Avenue, Suite 166, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and found it to be a commercial mailing and shipping center. Suite 166 is not a suite at all, but a rented mailbox. The men operating the mailing center declined to identify Box 166’s owners.

A Brooklyn lawyer for Lincoln Holdings NY in the pending lawsuit, Avi Rosengarten, declined to identify his clients. In court papers, Lincoln Holdings NY has denied the allegations.


Two years ago, shaken by a series of break-ins, Susan Green moved out of her rowhouse in Bedford-Stuyvesant. The house, she said, was also facing foreclosure after falling into disrepair amid her financial and personal setbacks, including a back injury that kept her from working temporarily.

Last year, she was astounded to learn from a neighbor that the deed to her former home had been transferred to an entity she had never heard of, Greene Throop LLC.

When she looked at the documents filed with the city transferring the property’s ownership, she realized her signature had been forged.

Ms. Green, 47, who now works at a radio station, tried to track down Greene Throop LLC. Its address was of no help: it was her house’s address, 689 Greene Avenue.

She went to the Brooklyn office of a lawyer listed as an authorized signatory of Greene Throop LLC: Mr. Rosengarten, the same lawyer who represents Lincoln Holdings NY.

Contacted by phone, Moshe, who would not give his last name, confirmed that he was an investor, but said the property had been purchased legally. He promised to meet with a reporter, but twice rebuffed attempts to do so.

Ms. Green said she now hoped to get the deed back somehow so she could arrange a sale and erase a debt that had reached nearly $1 million.

We’re hoping by the grace of God that they’ll do the right thing and return it,” she said.


Ms. Campbell, who had taken over her Bedford-Stuyvesant house from her husband’s aunt, carrying on a multidecade family tradition in the neighborhood, is now, for all practical purposes, homeless.

In October 2014, before padlocking her house, Alex — the man who had promised to pay off her delinquent mortgage and find her a new place to live — arranged for her to move to the unheated garage in Canarsie that had been illegally converted into an apartment.

Last month, workers from the Buildings Department came to tell Ms. Campbell the apartment was too dangerous to inhabit. She is still there, waiting for the city to find her a safe place to live. In the meantime, she may soon be called as a witness in a criminal case.

Teresa Russo, an investigator for the city Sheriff’s Department who was looking into Ms. Campbell’s complaints, realized that the Alex Ms. Campbell had been dealing with was the same man involved in another, similar case. His real name is Arash Noghreh.

Mr. Noghreh, of Great Neck, had also signed some of the documents on behalf of Jefferson Holding LLC, the shell company that wound up with Ms. Campbell’s home. In August, he was indicted in Brooklyn on charges of grand larceny and filing false documents with the city. He pleaded not guilty.

In court papers, his lawyer, Roger L. Stavis, said the allegations against his client were “demonstrably false and flatly contradicted by the testimony before the grand jury.” In an interview, Mr. Stavis said Mr. Noghreh had made payments to Ms. Campbell exceeding $40,000, as promised.

Mr. Stavis argued in a motion that the charge of filing fraudulent documents should be dismissed.

The documents in question were submitted by and on behalf of the corporate entity, Jefferson Holding, LLC,” the motion said. “That corporate entity is not a named defendant in the indictment. The evidence was insufficient to establish that this defendant, Arash Noghreh, ‘presented’ those documents for filing, or even that he caused any documents to be filed. For that reason the counts must be dismissed.”

In a telephone interview, Mr. Rosengarten confirmed that he was involved in preparing paperwork for the transfer of Ms. Green’s house. Asked about Ms. Green’s visit, Mr. Rosengarten said a woman had appeared with identification showing that she was Susan Green; he said he now believed she was a different Susan Green posing as the owner.

Ms. Green said she demanded that Mr. Rosengarten rescind the deed transfer.

Instead, he supplied her with the phone number and the address, on Harrison Avenue in Brooklyn, of a man named Moshe, whom Mr. Rosengarten described as an investor in the property.

Alain Delaqueriere contributed research

Airpocalypse now: China pollution reaching record levels

In some areas level of harmful particles in the air were 56 times the levels considered safe by the World Health Organisation

November 8, 2015

by Tom Phillips in Beijing

The Guardian

Residents of north-eastern China donned gas masks and locked themselves indoors on Sunday after their homes were enveloped by some of the worst levels of smog on record.

Levels of PM2.5, a tiny airborne particulate linked to cancer and heart disease, soared in Liaoning province as northern China began burning coal to heat homes at the start of the winter.

In Shenyang, Liaoning’s capital, visibility levels plummeted to as little as 100 metres, the state broadcaster CCTV said.

China’s official news agency, Xinhua, published an apocalyptic gallery of images showing the country’s latest smog crisis alongside the headline: “Fairyland or doomsday?”

In some areas of Shenyang, PM2.5 readings reportedly surpassed 1,400 micrograms per cubic metre, which is about 56 times the levels considered safe by the World Health Organisation.

The air stings and makes my eyes and throat feel sore when I’m outdoors,” one woman, who had ventured out to buy a face mask, was quoted as saying. “As for what exactly we should do, I don’t know,” she added.

By Monday afternoon there had been a slight improvement, although air quality remained at “hazardous” levels in Shenyang, an industrial city of about 8 million inhabitants.

The Associated Press said Sunday’s smog represented one of the worst episodes of air pollution recorded in China since authorities began releasing air quality data in 2013.

There was indignation on social media as China confronted its latest “airpocalypse”.

The government knows how severe the smog problem is, so why haven’t they tackled it?” one critic wrote on Weibo, China’s Twitter.

What’s the point of having an environmental protection department? The precondition for developing the economy is not damaging the environment. Our leaders are all well educated. Can’t they understand this simple truth?”

Others reacted with resignation. “Other than reporting it, what can the government do?”

Shenyang, a major industrial centre since the days of Mao Zedong, has been attempting to clean up its act in recent years by relocating factories and starting to use natural gas instead of coal to heat homes.

But on Monday doctors in Shenyang were dealing with the consequences of the latest bout of toxic pollution to hit their city.

Yang Shenjia, who works at the Liaoning Jinqiu Hospital, said there had been a sudden influx of patients suffering from breathing complaints over the past two days. “The respiratory department’s inpatient wards are full,” the doctor told Xinhua.

Additional reporting by Luna Lin

Turkish President Ignores ISIS, Stokes Civil War with Kurds

November. 10 2015

by Anna Lekas Miller

The Intercept

Since Turkey joined the U.S.-led Coalition to fight ISIS, its military actions have struck far more Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) targets than ISIS targets, leading many to suspect that the government is using ISIS as an excuse to reignite the civil war against the PKK and intimidate the Kurdish population.

Critics argue, further, that Turkey’s failures to combat ISIS are calculated, given the Islamic State’s repeated attacks on Kurdish targets, such as the Suruc bombing last July and the Ankara bombing last month.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan escalated his anti-PKK rhetoric last week, saying on Wednesday, “Turkey will continue its fight against Kurdish insurgents until every last militant is liquidated,” in his first major presidential address since his Justice and Development Party (AKP) won reelection on November 1. The announcement led to an almost immediate end to a monthlong ceasefire, igniting deadly clashes that have killed almost 200 since last week alone.

On Monday, clashes broke out in the Turkish city of Cizre when PKK fighters bombed a hospital, heavily damaging the facility and forcing the evacuation of 30 patients during the most recent wave of violence in the southeastern region of the country.

While the AKP won the most recent elections by promising stability — appealing to an electorate traumatized by a summer of ISIS-linked bombings and renewed violence in the south — the ruling party’s actions leading up to and following the elections have yielded greater insecurity and instability. First is the renewal of Turkey’s war against the Kurds in the guise of fighting ISIS.

I am doubtful over whether AKP is afraid of the radicalization going on in society,” Dogu Eroglu, a locally based investigative journalist with the Daily BirGün told The Intercept. “After finding the best tool to contain Kurds both inside and outside of Turkey,” he continued, “there is no reason that AKP should give up on the opportunities offered by the existence of the Islamic State.”

A Useful Enemy

Turkey has fought an on-and-off war with the PKK since 1984, when, in a bid for an autonomous Kurdish state with greater rights for Kurdish citizens, PKK militants launched their first insurgency against the Turkish government. Over the past three decades, the war has cost more than 40,000 lives, devastating villages in the southeast and forcing thousands to flee. Hundreds of Kurds have been jailed for alleged ties to the PKK, a terrorist organization according to both the Turkish and U.S. governments.

While Erdogan is credited with brokering a truce by instigating peace talks in 2013, the hope of stability was recently destroyed when, following Turkey’s decision to join the U.S.-led coalition to fight the Islamic State, Turkish fighter jets pummeled several PKK bases in northern Iraq — an alleged attempt to create an ISIS-free zone for Syrians fleeing the terrorist group. In reality, these actions — either purposefully or accidentally — caused more destruction to the PKK than ISIS, rendering the peace process meaningless, in the eyes of the rebel group, and catapulting Turkey into a two-front war between ISIS and the PKK.

Since beginning a ‘two-pronged’ assault on both the Islamic State and Kurdish PKK separatists on July 24, Turkey has fired roughly 100 times more strikes at the PKK than the Islamists,” Metin Gurcan, a military analyst following the developments and former Turkish forces member, stated in a recent report for IRIN news agency.

For many, Turkey’s war on the PKK is also a war on the country’s Kurdish minority. They argue that Erdogan views the Islamic State — which has advanced on heavily Kurdish areas inside of Syria such as Rojava and Kobane — as a tool, rather than a threat, as ISIS continues to focus its attacks on Kurdish targets.

Every single ISIS attack has targeted Kurdish people — or people showing solidarity with Kurdish people,” Ali Enid Esen, a 20-year-old survivor of both the Suruc and recent Ankara bombings, told The Intercept.

While the Suruc and Ankara bombings are the best-known — and most deadly — recent attacks, the Islamic State first targeted Kurds inside Turkey in the beginning of the summer, when People’s Democratic Party (HDP) offices were targeted in the southern cities of Mersin and Adana. A few weeks later, an HDP rally was bombed in the Kurdish-majority city of Diyarbakir. By the time bombs exploded in Suruc and two months later in Ankara, both times targeting groups of Kurdish and pro-Kurdish activists — and intimidating voters in the weeks leading up to the elections — many HDP supporters began to feel that, in addition to being under attack by the Islamic State, they were also being threatened by the Turkish government.

Whether or not you believe they are working together, one is helping the other,” Esen continued, voicing his suspicion that Turkey’s negligence toward the Islamic State is actually a calculated foreign policy decision meant to use ISIS to intimidate the country’s Kurdish population.

One of the major causes for suspicion is the existence of intelligence concerning the attackers. The Suruc bomber and one of the suspected Ankara bombers — two brothers — had been under police surveillance since 2013, when their father contacted the authorities out of concern that his sons had joined an extremist group. Although the Turkish police listened to Yunus Emre Alagoz, who later blew himself up in Ankara, wish his brother well before his suicide mission in Suruc, the police neither intervened before the Suruc attack, nor intensified their surveillance to prevent the Ankara bombing.

This attack was absolutely preventable,” Aaron Stein, a nonresident fellow for the Atlantic Council specializing in Turkey, told The Intercept.

Meanwhile, on the Syrian Border …

For communities living in the southern region bordering Syria, Turkey’s negligence in countering the Islamic State has begun to have serious consequences.

Last month, 22-year-old Syrian media activist Ibrahim Abdel Qader and 20-year-old Fares Hammadi were spending time together in their shared apartment in Sanliurfa, a city in southern Turkey only a few miles away from the Syrian border. The two men were members of Raqqa is Being Silently Slaughtered, a collective of Syrian journalists who travel between Turkey and the de facto capital of the Islamic State to document daily life inside ISIS-controlled areas. Once in Turkey, they upload and anonymously publish the images and videos, protected by the relative sanctuary of being on the Turkish side of the border.

The illusion of a sanctuary was shattered when Abdel Qader and Hammadi were found dead in their Sanliurfa apartment, their throats slit open in a signature ISIS-style execution.

“The apostates of Raqqa is Being Silently Slaughtered have been silently slaughtered,” a masked ISIS fighter sneered in a video, mocking the group’s name while claiming official responsibility for the attack. Although many of Abdel Qader and Hammadi’s colleagues have been similarly targeted — and murdered — for their work, this attack was the first that has been carried out inside Turkey. The killers have not been found.

The news sent shockwaves through the Syrian community, many of whom, even if they do not identify as activists or journalists, either work with Syrian organizations or have used the relatively safe atmosphere of Turkey to publish news or information coming out of Syria. The deaths signaled a change in the landscape — and the crystalizing reality that Turkey is no longer safe.

“I never thought this would happen here,” a Syrian activist who wishes to remain anonymous following the incident told The Intercept. “Who cares about the government,” he continued. “I don’t even feel safe in my own home.”

What is Facebook doing with my data?

November 10, 2015

by Jane Wakefield

BBC News

Facebook is in trouble again – this time from the Belgian privacy commission, which is cross about the fact that it tracks internet users who are not members of the social network.

A court has ruled that it is unacceptable that every time someone clicks a “like” button on a website, their browsing activity is collected, regardless of whether they are Facebook users or not.

Facebook says it would weaken the security of its 1.5 billion members to remove the tool.

What’s it all about?

The controversy centres around a cookie – a simple text file which can track a number of user activities – which Facebook has used for the last five years.

Researchers found that even non-members who visited any net page that fell under the facebook.com domain would have the datr cookie – which has a two-year lifespan – installed on their browser.

They conducted a series of tests including one where they did a Google search for the term “facebook data policy”. It led them to the Facebook data policy page which placed the datr cookie on their browser.

They then visited a Belgian website related to prostate cancer treatment which includes a Facebook like button and found that the datr cookie was sent to Facebook.

There was no formal notice regarding any cookie being stored.

The social network says that the primary use of the cookie is as a security tool: “It is something which our security team believes is the best way to protect people’s accounts,” a spokeswoman told the BBC.

But its tracking functionality has led the Belgian court to, rather dramatically, give Facebook 48 hours to stop using it or face a fine of 250,000 euros (£176,000 ) per day.

If Facebook has been using the cookie for years, why is this just coming to light now?

Eyes were drawn to the details of how Facebook’s cookies worked when the social network rolled out new terms and conditions in January, authorising it to track its users across websites and devices, use profile pictures for both commercial and non-commercial purposes and collect information about its users’ locations.

Users could agree to the changes or they could leave Facebook.

One of the things that the Belgian privacy commission did in response to the changes was commission a report from the Universities of Leuven and Brussels.

It concluded that tracking non-users was in breach of EU law.

Its findings were handed to the Belgian authorities who, after initial talks with Facebook failed to reach agreement, decided to take the case to court.

The judge agreed with the Belgian privacy commissioner, ruling that the information collected by the social network was personal data “which Facebook can only use if the internet user expressly gives their consent”.

What will Facebook do?

It is appealing against the ruling but has said that, if it is forced to remove the datr cookie in Belgium, it could make life harder for Belgian users of the service.

In a strongly-worded blog from head of security Alex Stamos it said that removing the cookie would mean “we would have to treat any visit to our service from Belgium as an untrusted login”.

It might mean that Belgians would have to go through a complicated log-in process to prove that they were the legitimate owners of their accounts, it added.

On the wider issue of how its privacy rules are enforced, it has said that it is only answerable to Ireland’s data commissioner, where it has its European headquarters.

Facebook says it needs the cookies for security reasons which sounds fair enough, no?

Mr Stamos said the cookie can help in a number of ways such as:

preventing the creation of fake accounts

reducing the risk of users’ accounts being taken over by other people

protecting users’ content against theft

preventing distributed denial of service attacks

It said that if the court blocks it from using the cookie in Belgium it “would lose one of our best signals to demonstrate that someone is coming to our site legitimately”.

It also pointed out that the cookie was associated only with browsers, not individual people, and does not contain any information that is tied to a particular person.

One of the report authors, Brendan Van Alsenoy said his team of researchers did not “buy the security argument”.

“We don’t find it persuasive. We think it is excessive. There are less intrusive ways to do this,” he told the BBC.

In a response to Facebook, it pointed out that the firm already faced many instances when it could not track users – such as the 198 million net users who use adblockers.

“To the best of our knowledge ad-blocking users do not pose a critical threat to Facebook nor do users who install them need to go through burdensome security checks when they log in to Facebook.”

Why does Facebook track users anyway?

Advertising revenue is Facebook’s biggest source of income, jumping 45% this year, with mobile ad sales accounting for 78% of that.

Being able to track web-browsing habits, even anonymised ones, allows it to better target that advertising.

The internet has always been offered for free and, the argument goes, people would not be prepared to pay cold, hard cash for services from the likes of Facebook and Google, preferring instead to pay with their data.

Facebook has learnt from past mistakes that it has to treat user data with kid gloves, understanding that privacy is hugely important to its members.

It allows users to opt out of having ads targeted at them by going to Settings, Adverts and then Advert Preferences but, pointed out Mr Van Alsenoy, this does not stop Facebook collecting the information.

Cookies which track browsing habits have always been controversial and, in 2011, all EU websites were forced to get consent from visitors to store or retrieve any information on a computer, smartphone or tablet.

What next?

It is unclear how the big tech firms will cope with the constant and increasing scrutiny from European privacy commissioners.

Privacy campaigners are very clear though about what they want from Facebook.

They argue that Facebook needs to be more explicit about what it is tracking and offer users the right to opt in to such tracking rather than having to search through the site to find ways to opt out.

And their voices are getting louder.

In October, Austrian student Max Schrems won a David and Goliath-style battle over data privacy, when the European Court of Justice agreed with him that there needed to be more scrutiny of the way US companies handled European users’ data.

And a court in Austria is now considering whether it will bring action against Facebook for violating privacy laws in its country.

The battle between privacy campaigners and the big tech firms is far from finished.

Funding ‘toys for police’: Best and worst states to have your assets seized

November 10, 2015


Texas leads the US in civil asset forfeiture, the notorious practice of police seizing property from suspects who have not been convicted of any crime, according to a new report. Such programs have skyrocketed since the start of the Great Recession.

In 2012, 26 states and the District of Columbia seized a total of $254 million through forfeiture, a new report by the Institute for Justice has found. Texas alone took in nearly 20 percent of those assets with $46 million, followed closely by Arizona with $43 million. Illinois was third with almost $20 million. Most states have little to no requirement to report civil asset forfeitures, though, and 2012 is the most recent year that consistent data from states was available.

In the report, titled ‘Policing for Profit,’ the Institute for Justice also graded each state on its forfeiture practices, looking at criteria like the share of forfeited funds that cops get to keep and protections for innocent owners. New Mexico, which reformed its laws on the practice in July, received an A-, the highest grade given. It was followed by Maine, North Carolina, Indiana and Missouri, which all received a B+.

Over half of the states ‒ 28 ‒ and the federal government received the abysmally low “passing” grade of D-, while Massachusetts and North Dakota outright flunked the test.

The federal government is also a big player in the forfeiture game, with 87 percent of its assets coming from civil, rather than criminal, cases. In 2012, the Departments of Justice and Treasury seized over $3 billion in combined net assets, a slight drop from the year before. By 2014, though, forfeitures had ballooned to nearly $4.5 billion ‒ a 485 percent increase from 2001.

With the media reporting story after story of civil asset forfeitures and congressional hearings into the issue, then-Attorney General Eric Holder announced reforms to the way the government targets companies and individuals suspected of “structuring” bank transactions. Structuring, which is one of the main ways people end up the victim of forfeiture, involves purposefully keeping transactions from surpassing a certain threshold so they do not require banks to make a record of them or file a report regarding a possibly suspicious operation.

The study’s authors believe the problem is that forfeitures are incentivized. Law enforcement agencies are allowed to keep some or all of what they seize, meaning that “civil forfeiture laws permit, if not encourage, law enforcement to police for profit. And agencies have responded with zeal.”

Civil forfeiture poses serious risks to property and due process rights,” they add in their introduction. “But through civil forfeiture, police and prosecutors can self-fund, financing operations entirely beyond the democratic controls embodied by city councils, county commissions and state legislatures.”

The practice can also be a tool to replace dwindling tax bases, as the meteoric rise in forfeitures coincided with the “lean economic years” of 2008 to 2014, report co-author Dick Carpenter told the Washington Post. “Forfeiture is an attractive way to keep revenue streams flowing when budgets are tight.”

At least 45 percent of forfeiture proceeds are directed to law enforcement funds in 43 states, while half  the states and the federal government allocate up to 100 percent of the seized funds to the police. The money can usually be spent at the agency’s discretion with very little oversight.

Columbia, Missouri Police Chief Kenneth M. Burton said his department used the practice to seize “toys for police.”

It’s usually based on a need  well, I take that back. There’s some limitations on it… Actually, there’s not really on the forfeiture stuff. We just usually base it on something that would be nice to have that we can’t get in the budget, for instance,” he said, according to the report. “It’s kind of like pennies from heaven ‒ it gets you a toy or something that you need is the way that we typically look at it to be perfectly honest.”

Law enforcement agencies readily admit that the practice is a veritable economic “gold mine.”

Now think about this, this is a gold mine, a gold mine. You can seize a house, not a vehicle. They seize the house and it goes on to say that there’s no judiciary involved,” Harry S. ‘Pete’ Connelly, Jr., a former Las Cruces, New Mexico, city attorney, was quoted as saying in the report.

The spike in seizures could also be the result of “a growing recognition by law enforcement of the profitability of forfeiture,” Carpenter said. “The combination of low procedural hurdles, high profit incentive, and meager accountability or oversight created a rich environment for forfeiture activities to flourish.”

While the practice is a boon for cash-strapped government agencies, it can be devastating for its victims, who are usually required to prove their innocence in order to recover their property, rather than the typical “innocent until proven guilty” standard in judicial proceedings.

Who Is the Man Behind Ben Carson’s Foreign Policy?

November 10, 2015

by James Bamford

Foreign Policy

Meet Robert Dees, a retired general who believes Muslims pose a threat to the U.S., the military should spread Christianity, and Carson should be president.

When it comes to foreign policy, it’s tempting to grade Ben Carson on a curve. A retired neurosurgeon with no political experience, Carson has promised that, as president, he would be as ready “as anybody else when foreign-policy questions come up” by surrounding himself with experts who would help him craft and, eventually implement, foreign policy.

But Carson’s foreign-policy experts are likely part of his problem. The candidate’s most outrageous statements on national security — including his shocking declaration in September that he believes Muslims are unfit to serve as president — aren’t merely a collection of ill-informed gaffes. They are a reflection of the troubling worldview of the people he has turned to for advice. Chief among them is Robert F. Dees, a retired Army officer who has indulged in anti-Muslim bigotry and advocated for a national security strategy centered on Christian evangelism.

Carson is said to have first met Dees at church last February. A four-hour dinner, and regular “study sessions,” followed that initial encounter. Carson has since called Dees “one of my most regular people” when it comes to foreign-policy briefings, and his campaign manager, Barry Bennett, has said that Carson’s national security team is headed by Dees. Dees, for his part, describes his current job title on LinkedIn as defense and national security advisor for Carson America.

It’s impossible to know the precise content of Dees’s advice to Carson. But Dees’s professional background doesn’t provide much reassurance. In 2013, he told a gathering at Wildfire Weekend, an all-male religious retreat, “My greatest pleasure has been being a private in the Lord’s army.” He also recounted being introduced to Jesus Christ by a math instructor at West Point not long after he enrolled there as a student in 1968. “Then I went off in the military,” he said, “as an ambassador for the Lord Jesus Christ.” Dees spent most of his career in the infantry and in staff positions in the United States, Germany, and Korea, eventually becoming deputy commander of the V Corps in Europe. His resume does not appear to list any combat assignments.

Dees has cited the 9/11 attacks as a personal and professional turning point. Speaking at Wildfire Weekend, Dees described visiting an intelligence center in Virginia sometime after the attacks. “I looked up on the wall … and there were cell-phone calls coming from certain places, and you could see where they would go into other places, and all of a sudden I saw Kandahar, Afghanistan, to Nashville, Tennessee; Dearborn, Michigan; Greensboro, South Carolina,” Dees told the gathering, describing the links between people in Afghanistan, where America was about to go to war, and residents of the United States.

Dees claimed to have an epiphany: When it comes to terrorism, all Muslims — some 23.4 percent of the world’s population — are equally worthy of suspicion. “It’s not about these guys who came from way out, knocked down some buildings, and then have left,” Dees explained at Wildfire Weekend. “We have a serious internal issue. We’ve been infiltrated.”

Dees has elaborated on these views in other settings. “I think it’s very important that we understand the threat,” he told a reporter for WND-TV after speaking at the 2014 Values Voter Summit, a conservative conference where Carson came in second behind Ted Cruz in a presidential straw poll. “Trying to appease the Muslim religion by saying [it is] a peace-loving religion is problematic. I think they need to show us. Rather than speak of peace, they need to demonstrate peace, and they need to demonstrate how their religion does not lead people to a final end state of violence and oppression.”

These views are consistent with the work Dees pursued after retiring from the military as a two-star general in 2003. For nearly six years, beginning in March 2005, Dees served as executive director of Military Ministry, a division of Campus Crusade for Christ, now called Cru, a Christian evangelical organization with an annual budget of almost half a billion dollars. His Military Ministry was dedicated to converting members of the military to Christian evangelicalism. Under Dees, the organization oriented its mission around “six pillars,” the first of which was: “Evangelize and disciple enlisted U.S. military members throughout their military careers.” According to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, which worked closely with the organization on a conference, “retired Maj. Gen. Bob Dees, U.S. Army, outlined goals that [included] evangelizing all enlisted personnel in the U.S. military.”

In a short video he posted to YouTube in 2007, Dees said: “Within Military Ministry, we do a number of things. We’re at our nation’s boot camps; we are at the ROTC detachments called the Valor Program, over 80 universities of our country.… We also pass out spiritual resources, something called Rapid Deployment Kit, 1.5 million since 9/11: bibles, how to know God personally, and a daily bread, in a waterproof bag inside troop cargo pockets. It’s amazing to hear the power of the word of God among these troops in combat.”

Dees has also described the military as a vehicle to eventually “indoctrinate” the American public at large to evangelical Christianity. “We must pursue our particular means for transforming the nation — through the military,” he noted in a 2005 newsletter published by Military Ministry. “And the military may well be the most influential way to affect that spiritual superstructure. Militaries exercise, generally speaking, the most intensive and purposeful indoctrination program of citizens.”

Dees also had troubling international ambitions for Military Ministry, in line with the organization’s “sixth pillar” to “change continents for Christ.” In the 2007 YouTube video, Dees described his group’s goal of converting foreign countries to Christianity by evangelizing their militaries. “We seek to transform the nations of the world through the militaries of the world,” he said. “And we’re in twenty different countries around the world, recognizing that if you could possibly impact the military, you can possibly impact that whole nation for Jesus Christ and for democracy and for proper morality and values-based institutions.”

After leaving Military Ministry, Dees focused on turning his ideas into concrete action at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. Founded by televangelist Jerry Falwell, Liberty is the world’s largest Evangelical Christian university. Dees became the first director of the Institute for Military Resilience, which is dedicated to educating military personnel. (He has described its mission as “putting the person of Jesus back into the resilience equation that has become so popular within the military.”) Since Dees arrived at Liberty, the school has continued to attract vast numbers of military students, including 21,000 active military personnel enrolled as of 2013, according to Liberty’s statistics.

In his speech at the institute’s 2015 commencement ceremony (which took place around the same time Dees became Carson’s national security advisor), he referred to the 5,400 military graduates as “champions for Christ.” He closed by quoting Psalm 21:31, which declares, “Victory comes from the Lord.” In addition to a diploma, the military graduates were also given commemorative coins engraved with images of the Bible and the American flag.

In addition to his work at Liberty University, Dees lectures at military bases around the country. In 2014, he delivered a PowerPoint presentation at West Point, his alma mater, entitled, “Resilient Life & Leadership ‘God Style.’” The presentation was filled with quotes from the Bible and Christian messages, including “JESUS was the ultimate Resilient Warrior & Leader,” “You are faithful, God, You are faithful,” and “Consider JESUS.”

It’s not hard to imagine the types of policies he might pursue if he achieved high office in Carson’s administration. His national security principles, after all, have been consistent for much of his career. He has repeatedly made it clear that he believes it is important to use the military to convert the American public and foreign nations to Christianity while addressing the “threat” posed by the world’s Muslim population whose “final end state,” he believes, is “violence and oppression.”

If you want to predict a presidential candidate’s future national security policies, the easiest shortcut has always been to consider whom he or she turns to for advice on the subject while running for office. Needless to say, if the pattern holds true with Carson, a front-runner for the Republican primary, the country has serious cause for concern.

Collapsing Greenland glacier could raise sea levels by half a metre, say scientists

Huge Zachariae Isstrom glacier has begun to break up, starting a rapid retreat that could continue to raise sea levels for decades to come

November 12, 2015

by Ian Sample

The Guardian

A major glacier in Greenland that holds enough water to raise global sea levels by half a metre has begun to crumble into the North Atlantic Ocean, scientists say.

The huge Zachariae Isstrom glacier in northeast Greenland started to melt rapidly in 2012 and is now breaking up into large icebergs where the glacier meets the sea, monitoring has revealed.

The calving of the glacier into chunks of floating ice will set in train a rise in sea levels that will continue for decades to come, the US team warns.

Even if we have some really cool years ahead, we think the glacier is now unstable,” said Jeremie Mouginot at the University of California, Irvine. “Now this has started, it will continue until it retreats to a ridge about 30km back which could stabilise it and perhaps slow that retreat down.”

Mouginot and his colleagues drew on 40 years of satellite data and aerial surveys to show that the enormous Zachariae Isstrom glacier began to recede three times faster from 2012, with its retreat speeding up by 125 metres per year every year until the most recent measurements in 2015.

The same records revealed that from 2002 to 2014 the area of the glacier’s floating shelf shrank by a massive 95%, according to a report in the journal Science. The glacier has now become detached from a stabilising sill and is losing ice at a rate of 4.5bn tonnes a year.

Eric Rignot, professor of Earth system science at the University of California, Irvine, said that the glacier was “being hit from above and below”, with rising air temperatures driving melting at the top of the glacier, and its underside being eroded away by ocean currents that are warmer now than in the past.

The glacier is now breaking into bits and pieces and retreating into deeper ground,” he said.

The rapid retreat is expected to continue for 20 to 30 more years, until the glacier reaches another natural ledge that slows it down.

The scientists recreated the history of the glacier from aerial radar, gravitational measurements and laser profiles, and from radar and optical images taken from space. The combined data reveal the changing shape, size and position of Greenland glaciers over the past four decades.

To the north of Zachariae Isstrom, the scientists studied a second large glacier called Nioghalvfjerdsfjorden. Together, the two glaciers drain a region of nearly 200,000 sq km, amounting to 12% of the Greenland ice sheet. Were both to melt, they would contribute a full metre to global sea levels.

The monitoring showed that Nioghalvfjerdsfjorden glacier was also melting rapidly, but retreating more slowly than Zachariae Isstrom along uphill terrain. If the thinning continues at today’s pace, the scientists believe the ice shelf will become vulnerable to break up in the near future.

The bleak assessment of the glaciers’ retreat comes only months after Nasa launched an urgent six year project called Oceans Melting Greenland, aptly contracted to OMG, to understand the processes that drive the loss of Greenland ice.

Nuts in NY: Anxiety, depression, substance abuse afflict 1/5 of New Yorkers

November 13, 2015


Depression and abuse of alcohol and drugs are the top contributors of disease among New York City residents, a new report says, as threats to mental health disproportionately affect people of color and those in poverty.

Psychological disorders – such as depression, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts, and anxiety – affect vast swaths of the city’s 8.4 million residents, especially depression, called the “single greatest source of disability” in the city in a new “white paper” released by New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Drugs, meanwhile, are not far behind. “Unintentional drug overdose deaths outnumber both homicide and motor vehicle fatalities,” the report found, while  substance misuse is a major cause of premature death. Alcohol abuse leads to 1,800 deaths in the city per year, as well as up to 70,000 emergency room visits among adults, the white paper reported.

The report – Understanding New York City’s Mental Health Challenge – was revealed Thursday ahead of a forthcoming plan, called NYC Thrive, that will outline steps the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene will take to tackle mental health problems in the city. The plan is expected to be public by the end of the year.

“We have a set of public health issues that affect many people and affect them very deeply,” Dr. Gary Belkin, a deputy commissioner of the health department, said, according to Reuters. “We know what we’re going to be doing, and over the coming weeks you’re going to be hearing about it.”Eight percent of New York City adults experience symptoms of depression each year, while a study of 1,000 City University of New York undergraduates found 19 percent met criteria for depression and 26 percent for significant anxiety.

New York’s children are bearing a significant burden of mental health problems, which are caused or exacerbated by exposure to traumatic or “adverse events,” like domestic violence or economic difficulties, the report said. Eight percent of the city’s public high school students have reported attempting suicide. In a biennial survey of city public high schools, more than one in four students -73,000 adolescents – reported feeling sad or hopeless on a persistent basis in the past year.

Alcohol abuse among those 21 years of age or less in the city results in about 7,000 emergency room visits each year, the report found. Gay and lesbian youth in the city are twice as likely as heterosexual youths to experience bullying on school property, and more than twice as likely to attempt suicide. LGBT youth of color may experience additional stress, the report stated.

The report included data on how poverty, race, and ethnicity compound the likelihood that a New York City resident will suffer from mental health problems.

“People from the city’s lowest income neighborhoods are twice as likely to be hospitalized for mental illness compared to residents from the highest income neighborhoods,” the report said.Serious mental illness is twice as common for the city’s adults living below 200 percent of the federal poverty line compared to those living 200 percent above that threshold. Ninety percent of children ages two to five diagnosed with common mental health disorders live in poverty, the report found.

Whites are generally far more likely than blacks to receive “community-based mental health care,” while being twice as unlikely to be hospitalized, according to national studies cited by the report. Nationally, there is also a discrepancy in how blacks and whites are diagnosed with basic mental illnesses such as anxiety or depression, the report said, adding that access to health care is a major obstacle in eliminating these gaps.

These variations – between low- and high-income areas of the city — in mental health suffering and the care needed to address it reflect a lack of other options for those living in poverty, the report said.

High rates of psychiatric hospitalization likely reflect the challenges residents of some neighborhoods face, including difficulty accessing preventive services and early care, greater exposure to stressors such as housing instability, and interruptions in health insurance,” the report stated.

The report added that the estimated “annual productivity losses” in the city caused by depression or substance misuse amount to $14 billion.

“Alcohol misuse is estimated to cost NYC nearly $6 billion in citywide economic productivity losses every year, while depression accounts for $2.4 billion in losses,” the report said, while “misuse of illicit and prescription drugs and alcohol in NYC together cost approximately $1 billion in criminal justice expenditures annually.”

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