Supreme Court Injustice

On October 6, 2018, the United States Senate voted 50 to 48 to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, despite credible allegations of sexual assault against him. Christine Blasey Ford who says she encountered Kavanaugh at a high school party in 1982, testified:

I was pushed onto the bed and Brett got on top of me. He began running his hands over my body and grinding his hips into me. I yelled, hoping someone downstairs might hear me, and tried to get away from him, but his weight was heavy. Brett groped me and tried to take off my clothes. He had a hard time because he was so drunk, and because I was wearing a one-piece bathing suit under my clothes. I believed he was going to rape me.

Forty-nine Republicans Senators and one Democrat dismissed this testimony and voted to confirm Kavanaugh anyway. Some said they thought Blasey Ford was credible, but it was a case of mistaken identity. Some said there was not enough evidence to back up Blasey Ford's accusations. Some said it was all a Democratic conspiracy to undermine Trump. In the end, it didn't matter. Fifty Senators voted to give Kavanaugh a permanent seat on the Supreme Court. 

Notably, Blasey Ford was the only witness, other than Kavanaugh himself, allowed to testify about Kavanaugh's sexual misconduct. Another woman, Deborah Ramirez, was not permitted to testify and barely came up during the hearing. Kavanaugh said that he "emphatically" denied the accusation that he waved his penis in Ramirez's face at a party during their first year at Yale. He described it as a "false last-minute smear[] designed to scare me and drive me out of the process." And that was that. 

But now, new reporting by the New York Times, shows there is substantial evidence backing Ramirez's allegation:

During his Senate testimony, Mr. Kavanaugh said that if the incident Ms. Ramirez described had occurred, it would have been “the talk of campus.” Our reporting suggests that it was. At least seven people, including Ms. Ramirez’s mother, heard about the Yale incident long before Mr. Kavanaugh was a federal judge. Two of those people were classmates who learned of it just days after the party occurred, suggesting that it was discussed among students at the time.

The marginalization of Ramirez was a grave failure by the United States Senate, the Trump administration, and the media. (A full account of Ramirez's claim would have also lent additional credibility to Blasey Ford, by establishing a pattern of conduct.) It is a failure that the country will likely be forced to live with for decades to come. 

How the media failed Deborah Ramirez

Ramirez's allegations against Kavanaugh were first reported by the New Yorker on September 23, 2018. 

Ramirez said that she felt confident enough of her recollections to say that she remembers Kavanaugh had exposed himself at a drunken dormitory party, thrust his penis in her face, and caused her to touch it without her consent as she pushed him away. Ramirez is now calling for the F.B.I. to investigate Kavanaugh’s role in the incident. “I would think an F.B.I. investigation would be warranted,” she said.

This didn't please the New York Times, which reported the same day that it had been looking into Ramirez's allegations and cast doubt on their veracity:

The Times had interviewed several dozen people over the past week in an attempt to corroborate her story, and could find no one with firsthand knowledge. Ms. Ramirez herself contacted former Yale classmates asking if they recalled the incident and told some of them that she could not be certain Mr. Kavanaugh was the one who exposed himself.

That New York Times report was then used by Senate Republicans to dismiss Ramirez. The next day, the New York Times clarified its stance on Ramirez's allegations, noting that it did not rebut them and the paper, unlike the New Yorker, was unable to secure an interview with Ramirez.

So [Republicans] have instead trained their fire...on the news media — in particular The New Yorker. Many cited a Times article that said The Times had conducted numerous interviews but was unable to corroborate Ms. Ramirez’s story. But The Times did not rebut her account and, unlike The New Yorker, was not able to obtain an interview with Ms. Ramirez.

But the damage was done. "I think it’s important to note that two of those sets of allegations had so little corroboration that even the New York Times, which is no conservative outlet, refused to report on them because they could find no basis for them," Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) said during the hearing. 

Now, the New York Times, which first suggested that no one could confirm Ramirez's story, reveals that the opposite is true. There are seven people who learned about Ramirez's allegations against Kavanaugh before he even became a federal judge. 

But the New York Times is still soft-pedaling this information. The new reporting, which isn't revealed until the 9th paragraph, is part of a story headlined, "Brett Kavanaugh Fit In With the Privileged Kids. She Did Not." It is categorized as "News Analysis," instead of just "news, and placed in the opinion section.

And then there was the tweet:

This is not the fault of the reporters, who are doing important work by continuing to pursue the story. The New York Times pulled down the tweet and apologized. But the paper, as an institution, is failing Deborah Ramirez.

How the Trump administration rigged the FBI investigation

After Blasey Ford's compelling testimony, Republican leaders announced they would support an FBI investigation into allegations of sexual assault by Kavanaugh. This was something Republicans did not want to do but were forced to agree to after former Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and a few others said they would not support Kavanaugh without an investigation.

But that investigation was a farce. The FBI interviewed Ramirez and said that it found her account credible. Ramirez's lawyers also provided "a list of at least 25 individuals who may have had corroborating evidence." But the FBI contacted none of them and were prohibited by the Justice Department from freely pursuing leads. Several "potential witnesses tried in vain to reach the F.B.I. on their own."

The FBI also did not investigate a separate, previously unreported, allegation of Kavanaugh touching another female classmate with his penis. 

The FBI investigation was severely limited. Instead of an actual criminal investigation, it was deemed a "supplement" to the investigation of all nominees that the FBI performs on behalf of the White House. Therefore, the White House got to set the terms of the investigation, and there were many. It had to be completed within one week, and initially, the FBI was restricted to interviewing "two of Kavanaugh’s high school friends, one of Ford’s high school friends, and Ramirez." Later, the restrictions on interviews were formally lifted, but the FBI was not given additional time to conduct them. 

In the end, the FBI spoke to just ten people. But Flake and another swing vote, Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), announced they were satisfied and voted to confirm Kavanaugh. 

Calls for impeachment

Several Democratic presidential candidates, including Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, and Pete Buttigieg, called for Kavanaugh to be impeached. While Kavanaugh is unlikely to be convicted by the Senate, an impeachment inquiry could give Kavanaugh's accusers a real hearing, with corroborating witnesses. It could also be a forum to explore the limitations of the FBI's investigation.

Trump, who has been accused of sexual assault by more than a dozen women, had a different suggestion. He said Kavanaugh should sue the women accusing of Kavanaugh of sexual assault. 

Kavanaugh "declined to comment."


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UPDATE: The Facebook diabetes scam

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On Monday, Popular Information reported on the machinations of the Rowdy Republican Facebook page, which combined incendiary right-wing memes with dangerous misinformation about diabetes. The reach of the Rowdy Republican page on Facebook was extraordinary — exceeding large national publications like USA Today — and, according to a leading diabetes expert, the scam it was pushing on Facebook users put their health in danger.

Less than 24 hours later, all the links to the diabetes scam have been removed from the Rowdy Republican page. Facebook is finally enforcing its own rules. 

The persistent threat of misinformation on Facebook

While the Rowdy Republican page is no longer allowed to push dangerous misinformation about diabetes, the threat of misinformation on Facebook continues. There are many unanswered questions:

1. Why is a company with vast resources not able to do a better job of rooting out obvious scams and misinformation? This was not a case of a single random link. This was a systematic campaign, over many months, by a page with an enormous reach to push dangerous health misinformation to Facebook users. 

2. Why is The Daily Caller, a right-wing site with a history of false reports, still an official Facebook fact-checking partner? The Daily Caller reviewed a post from Rowdy Republican that included the diabetes scam and rated the post "true." The Daily Caller cannot be part of a legitimate effort to root out disinformation. It is actively making things worse. 

3. Will Facebook commit itself to transparency and accountability? Despite taking action after the Popular Information report, Facebook has not responded to multiple inquiries about the Rowdy Republican page. Facebook says that it wants to earn the trust of the public, but it's hard to take that effort seriously if the company doesn't explain how it enforces its rules.


The real Trump economy: Numbers don't lie

Donald Trump repeatedly claims that he is presiding over "the greatest Economy in U.S. history."

And yet, according to a new ABC/Washington Post poll, more Trump's approval on the economy is now underwater. What gives? Do people not realize how good things are going for them?

New economic data released by the Census reveals the truth. Overall, working Americans are treading water or worse. Trump is telling them that things have never been better, but that doesn't match up with reality. 


My friend Walt Hickey writes an excellent newsletter called Numlock that focuses on the numbers in the news. It's a quick read, and I learn something new from it every time. You can subscribe HERE.


Median income hasn't budged

When the Trump administration was pitching its massive tax cuts for corporations and the rich, officials promised "average U.S. household income would increase at least $4,000 a year but could rise as much as $9,000 annually."

That hasn't happened. The Census Bureau reports "[m]edian household income was $63,179 in 2018, not statistically different from the 2017 median, following three consecutive years of annual increases." In other words, median income was growing somewhat and, after the passage of Trump's tax cuts, it stopped. 

Working-class Americans don't think the economy is the greatest ever because, while the economy is growing, it is not improving their lives.  

If you take a broader view, things get even bleaker. Overall, real median income has barely budged for the last two decades. This is a problem that transcends Trump. Regardless of what party has been in control, the average income has not meaningfully improved in twenty years. 

This reality prompted some impressive spin by the White House Council of Economic Advisors. Instead of recognizing the fact real median income has not budged in 20 years for as a massive policy failure, it touted the new numbers as an accomplishment. 

Millions of Americans have lost insurance coverage

Another group of people who are probably not feeling great about the economy: the 1.9 million who lost their health insurance over the last year. The Census data revealed that for the first time in nearly a decade the number of uninsured increased -- from 25.6 million in 2017 to 27.5 million in 2018. The uninsured are just one serious illness away from economic catastrophe. 

The rise in the uninsured is directly attributable to the actions of the Trump administration. The administration has drastically cut funding for "programs designed to provide outreach, education, and enrollment assistance" in the Obamacare marketplace. For example, the administration "cut the outreach advertising budget for Open Enrollment by 90 percent, from $100 million to just $10 million – which resulted in as many as 1.1 million fewer people getting covered." The Trump administration has also encouraged states to impose onerous requirements on Medicaid enrollment, denying millions more coverage. 

Income inequality hit all-time record

The economy has been growing, but most of the benefits have been flowing to the very top. The Gini Index, a statistical measure of inequality, has reached an all-time high since the Census started measuring it in 1967.

The top 20% of Americans collected 52% of total household income last year. Meanwhile, the bottom 20% received just 3.1%. 

These figures actually understate the reality of economic inequality because they focus on income and not accumulated wealth, where the distribution is even more stark. 

The silver lining

The Census report wasn't all bad news. The number of Americans living in poverty is down. Specifically, the "official poverty rate in 2018 was 11.8 percent, down 0.5 percentage points from 12.3 percent in 2017." The percentage of Americans living in poverty is finally lower than in 2007, which was the start of the last recession. 

The reduction in poverty can largely be attributed to the steady growth in employment. The U.S. economy has added jobs for 107 straight months, and the unemployment rate stands at 3.7%. Still, job growth under Trump has slowed. In the last 30 months of the Obama administration, the economy 6.61 million jobs, significantly more than the 5.74 million jobs added in the first 30 months of the Trump administration. 


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Facebook giving massive distribution to dangerous misinformation about diabetes

Facebook is giving a page featuring incendiary right-wing memes and dangerous misinformation about diabetes massive distribution — reach that exceeds some of the nation's largest news outlets. 

The Rowdy Republican page, which has over 780,000 followers, is run by an affiliate marketer with a history of legal problems and deceptive practices. He is seeking to drive people to a site about "The Big Diabetes Lie," which tries to convince people to purchase a $55 paperback book. According to the website, if you have diabetes and don't purchase this book, you will soon die: 

If you are OK with slowly losing your vision and then going blind as diabetes destroys the blood vessels in your eyes causing them to wither and die, if you're perfectly fine with dying 9 years earlier, possibly not waking up tomorrow, dropping dead at any moment or having your legs amputated. If you are OK with not seeing your kids or grandkids grow up, then please, close this page and go back to what you were doing.

One of the leading medical experts in treating diabetes, Dr. David Goldstein, an endocrinologist affiliated with the University of Missouri, reviewed the website and told Popular Information that the information was "ridiculous" and contained "dangerous misinformation." 

The Daily Caller, a member of Facebook's official fact-checking program, reviewed a post by Rowdy Republican that included a link to "The Big Diabetes Lie" and rated it "true."

The runaway success of the Rowdy Republican page is a sign that Facebook's efforts to reduce the spread of misinformation is failing. As a result, its users are being put in danger. 

According to a source that has contacted Facebook representatives, the company has ignored reports about misinformation from the Rowdy Republican page since at least November 2018. Facebook also did not respond to a request for comment by Popular Information. 

The Rowdy Republican way

The Rowdy Republican Facebook page is not, on the surface, about diabetes. Instead, it traffics in provocative conservative memes to attract engagement, which on Facebook means likes, comments, and shares. Posts that get more engagement on Facebook are rewarded with increased distribution.

There are posts arguing that a flag featuring Barack Obama's face should be "illegal" and posts claiming Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez "should be removed from any form of government." There are hundreds of similar posts along these lines.

But the real purpose of these posts is to drive traffic to a seemingly unrelated website, "The Big Diabetes Lie." Nearly everything posted to the Rowdy Republicans page includes this message: "There is PANIC in The Diabetes Industry! Big Pharma executives can't believe their eyes. SEE WHY CLICK HERE."

The incredible reach of the Rowdy Republican Facebook page

The tactics of the Rowdy Republican Facebook page have been wildly successful. According to Crowdtangle, an analytics site owned by Facebook, the Rowdy Republican page has more engagement over the last 30 days than USA Today, the second-largest newspaper in the United States. 

The Rowdy Republican page has been able to outperform USA Today, even though USA Today has over 8 million followers, more than ten times the Rowdy Republican's following of 780,000. Over the last 30 days, the Rowdy Republican page also has outperformed the Los Angeles Times (2.76 million followers), another of the nation's largest newspapers, and prominent digital outlets like BuzzFeed News (3.02 million) and Vox (2.43 million).

The big diabetes scam

Facebook users who are exposed to posts from the Rowdy Republican page are encouraged relentlessly to visit "The Big Diabetes Lie" website. The fundamental message is that if you have diabetes and listen to your doctor's recommendations, you will die a painful death. Instead, you should follow the advice contained in a $55 paperback book. 

It doesn't matter if you follow your doctors recommendations and dosages exactly as prescribed. This isn't a question of IF, but WHEN. Your health will get worse. The drugs you take will fail. The insulin injections you take will also fail.

If you have diabetes, you simply cannot continue this way - sooner rather than later you WILL die; either from diabetes, its complications, or side-effects from the drugs you take. And it won't be quietly in your sleep either. Getting rushed to the hospital while the paramedics break all of your ribs giving you CPR will be hell on earth.

Popular Information talked with Dr. David Goldstein, an endocrinologist who is one of the leading experts in diabetes treatments. Goldstein, who has been treating diabetes patients since the 1960s, "pioneered the clinical use" of the A1C blood test that has revolutionized the treatment of diabetes. 

Goldstein has been involved in a number of long-running studies that have successfully identified the risk factors for diabetes complications. Someone who has either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, receives appropriate care from a well-trained doctor, and follows the doctor's recommendations, can expect to live a normal life. By turning people with diabetes away from these scientifically proven methods, the website puts people's health in danger. 

"We know how to prevent all diabetes complications," Goldstein said. Some people still run into complications, Goldstein explained, because they don't follow the recommendations of their doctors, receive substandard care, or "watch crazy videos" like the one on "The Big Diabetes Lie" website.

The website is manipulative, Goldstein said, because it "combines some truthful things with nonsense." Yes, changes in diet can control diabetes for some patients. But other patients, even those with Type 2 diabetes, need drugs or insulin to control the disease. Advising everyone to avoid these treatments, and ignore the advice of doctors, is extremely dangerous. 

"It's hard to treat diabetes well. It takes a lot of discipline. But you have to know what you have to do," Goldstein explained. 

Buried at the very bottom of "The Big Diabetes Lie" page is a "disclaimer" that underscores Goldstein's points. After telling people with diabetes that their doctor is leading them to a painful death, the "disclaimer" warns that it "is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease." The company behind the product, according to the "disclaimer," is not "engaged in rendering medical or similar professional services or advice via this website or in the product, and the information provided is not intended to replace medical advice offered by a physician or other licensed healthcare provider."

The man behind Rowdy Republican

The "about" page of Rowdy Republican lists "isthatbaloney.com," as the affiliated website. That domain is registered to Alan LeStourgeon, a content marketer from Florida. According to LeStourgeon's Facebook page, he works "at home as an affiliate marketer, political commentator, and runs several Facebook pages."

In 2009, LeStourgeon was the subject of an FTC complaint for impersonating a government website, MakingHomeAffordable.gov, designed to help struggling homeowners. The complaint alleged that LeStourgeon "bought advertising links on the results pages of Internet search engines, and consumers looking for 'making home affordable' were diverted to commercial Web sites that pitched loan modification services or sold consumers’ personal information to marketers of such services." According to the FTC, the action was part of its "crackdown on scams that prey on financially distressed homeowners." 

LeStourgeon did not admit guilt but agreed to a settlement that permanently banned him from "advertising, marketing, promoting, offering for sale, or selling any mortgage loan modification or foreclosure relief service." He also agreed to pay a penalty of $7,803 and to cooperate with the FTC's broader investigation, among other requirements.

LeStourgeon did not create "The Big Diabetes Lie" website or the ebook. Rather, it is one of the hundreds of schemes available through ClickBank, a company that offers products for affiliate marketers. The listing for the program promises "Insane Conversions," "New Upsells," and "More $$$ Per Sale!!"

The truth about Max Sidorov 

"The Big Diabetes Lie" website claims its methods are "Real Dr. Approved" and is produced by the "International Council for Truth In Medicine." The author of the book is listed as Max Sidorov. On his Facebook profile, Max Sidorov describes himself as the "CEO and Founder at International Truth in Medicine Council." 

On Facebook, Max Sidorov lists an undergraduate degree in 2008 from York University in Toronto, but no medical training. A biography from another company Sidorov founded says he has "studied traditional massage, visceral manipulation, craniosacral therapy and accupressure [sic]." The same biography says Sidorov has "studied the Montessori method and worked at a Montessori kindergarten, was a camp counselor for a children's summer camp, worked as a personal trainer, and now is a health and wellness coach to people from all across the world." There is no mention of medical training or expertise in diabetes treatment.

The top of the website includes a picture of Max Sidorov, listed as "M Sidorov." The photo is also featured on Sidorov's Facebook page. 

Fact-check failure

Facebook's solution to combating misinformation is working with approved third-party fact-checkers to evaluate content. But bowing to pressure from the right-wing, it has "balanced" mainstream sources like the Associated Press or Factcheck.org with rabidly partisan right-wing outlets. Facebook partnered with Tucker Carlson's website, the Daily Caller, to "fact check" content on the social network. The Daily Caller was selected even though it has repeatedly published misinformation without basic fact-checking, including a false claim that a United States Senator hired prostitutes in the Dominican Republic.

The Daily Caller's fact check site, CheckYourFact, reviewed one posting by the Rowdy Republican page in January 2019. The post, like most on the Rowdy Republican page, included a link to "The Big Diabetes Lie" website. But the Daily Caller fact check ignored the link and the message about diabetes that was featured prominently in the post and just checked the right-wing meme that accompanied it.

It pronounced the Rowdy Republican post "True." 


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