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Musk drops the bipartisan pose — and Republicans cheer

Politico -

Before buying Twitter, the world's richest man was a political cipher — an entrepreneur tangling equally with Donald Trump and Justin Trudeau, pushing gun control while questioning Covid-19 rules. And Twitter, meanwhile, was a social-media platform increasingly policed for sensitivity by progressive-leaning top executives.

That world was so early-2022.

Since taking the company private in October, Musk has abruptly re-invited numerous right-wingers to the platform, including Trump. He has mocked Democrats, backed Republicans ahead of the recent midterms, and — perhaps most notably — tweeted last weekend that he’d support Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for president in 2024.

Though he still says he's after "balance" in Washington, he's come down hard on the Republican side — and the party is now treating him as a convert. The informal alliance has already paid some early political dividends, when the GOP backed Musk in a spat with Apple, and with Republicans taking over the House next year, it could prove useful for a tech CEO who’s constantly in the spotlight.

“Every time we can add someone of Mr. Musk’s intellect to the Republican Party, I’d do an old-man backflip. I’m happy to have him,” Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) said of Musk.

The billionaire is the kind of tech gatekeeper Republicans have been looking for. As a self-proclaimed free speech absolutist, he’s relaxed or removed many of Twitter’s content moderation guardrails, actions conservatives have welcomed after years of chafing under what they alleged was censorship by the big platforms. And with each feud that Musk engineers — with liberal leaders, other tech companies, “cancel culture” — he draws himself closer to his new fans on the right.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, the expected incoming speaker, defended Musk against President Joe Biden’s call for a national security review of foreign investors’ role in Musk’s purchase of Twitter. “That is offensive to me. The government's going to go after someone who wants to have free speech?” he told reporters at the White House on Tuesday. “I think they should stop picking on Elon Musk.”

Longtime tech industry analysts have been shocked by Musk’s cavalier embrace of politics. It’s an arena most tech CEOs try to “take great pains” to distance themselves from, said Nu Wexler, who worked in policy communications at Twitter, Google and Facebook as well as for Democrats in Congress.

“Social media executives have spent the last five or 10 years tip-toeing around the political swimming pool; it’s funny to watch the new guy just do a belly-flop straight into it,” Wexler added.

Most of Twitter’s media team was part of Musk’s company-wide layoffs, and didn’t respond to a request for comment.

For now, Musk’s theatrics aren’t netting him tangible wins on regulatory or legislative issues. But he is able to whip up GOP rhetorical support with a handful of tweets, as he did this week when he accused Apple of threatening to kick Twitter off its App Store, before abruptly retracting his accusations as a “misunderstanding” after meeting with Tim Cook. Cook told reporters on Thursday night at the White House state dinner that his meeting with Musk was “very good.”

In the hours after Musk made his original allegations, DeSantis joined Republican lawmakers including Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Sen. Mike Lee of Utah and Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado in lining up behind the new Twitter CEO. Several of them renewed calls to pass an antitrust bill that would dramatically curtail Apple’s control over what apps are allowed on the iPhone.

For all their fiery words, no politician has publicly changed their position on the antitrust bills after Musk’s tirade, which has remained stalled in Congress amid opposition from key lawmakers. And his quick retraction and declaration of harmony might make those threats to punish Apple seem a little hasty.

However, Wexler said Musk may eventually sway some undecideds in Congress. “Musk might be able to pull some Republicans over to support the competition bills,” he said.

If nothing else, Musk demonstrated how quickly the GOP would rally to his cause, particularly when he was taking aim at a conservative bogeyman like Apple. Republicans have borne a grudge against the company ever since it — along with Google — banned the conservative-friendly media app Parler after the pro-Trump insurrection at the U.S. Capitol in January 2021. More recently, Republicans have slammed Apple for limiting the airdrop sharing feature on iPhones in China ahead of the Covid-19 lockdown protests in that country.

“Right now, it looks like Republicans might go a little easier on Twitter because they like decisions that Musk is making,” said another tech industry executive, who asked not to be identified so they could speak freely.

Future Proofing 

Tech policy observers say Musk’s GOP allyship could potentially benefit him, particularly when it comes to defending the tech industries’ coveted liability shield known as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act — which Republicans have said they want to roll back next year.

Trump and Biden have both called for removing the statute, which protects online companies from being sued over their decisions to host, remove or filter content posted by users. Some Republicans have proposed paring back the shield, for example by allowing suits against companies that show political bias in making content decisions. Democrats, meanwhile, have called for holding tech companies liable for extremist content, hate speech and misinformation.

“If Elon is able to explain Section 230 protections to congressional Republicans and a conservative audience in a way that they understand and agree with, I think that could be very helpful to Twitter and to the industry,” Wexler said.

On the other side, some progressive Democrats — such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York — have been quick to attack Musk’s latest antics, including his missteps and false starts trying to persuade people to pay for Twitter’s formerly free account-verification system.

“Lmao at a billionaire earnestly trying to sell people on the idea that ‘free speech’ is actually a $8/mo subscription plan,” she tweeted in early November when Musk rolled out a botched attempt at the paid subscription service — dubbed Twitter Blue — which led to a surge in fake accounts mimicking politicians and brands. She also criticized Musk’s reinstatement of Trump after the former president’s role in the Jan. 6 insurrection on the Capitol.

“Musk is increasingly entering the political arena, which means he’s going to be engaged in more political combat,” said Alex Conant, a GOP consultant and partner at public affairs firm Firehouse Strategies. “I would expect if he’s going to support Republicans, he should expect Democrats to increase their scrutiny of him.”

As Musk stepped deeper into politics, he had said it was because he favored divided government — a manifesto he tweeted the day before the midterms — arguing that “shared power curbs the worst excesses of both parties, therefore I recommend voting for a Republican Congress, given that the Presidency is Democratic.”

And later in his endorsement of DeSantis, he said he preferred a 2024 candidate who is “sensible and centrist.” He tweeted that he’d hoped that would be true for the Biden administration, but he’s “been disappointed so far.”

“He endorsed divided government in the midterms, he seems to be consistently pushing for more centrist candidates and bipartisan control,” Conant said.

So far, at least according to Musk’s metrics, his foray into politics — and his welcoming back of right-wing users like Trump and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) — has been good for business, reportedly driving new user sign-ups and engagement to an all-time high.

“Musk is probably seeing something in the data that gives him hope or encouragement to continue on the course that he’s going,” said Eric Wilson, a managing partner at conservative investment fund Startup Caucus. “We’re several weeks into it, he would’ve pivoted out if it weren’t working.”

Musk hasn’t shied away from dramatically remaking Twitter since he bought it for $44 billion a month ago. He’s slashed two-thirds of staff, driven away at least 50 of its top 100 advertisers, drawn a warning shot from the Federal Trade Commission and rolled back Twitter’s Covid-19 misinformation policies — among other major changes to the site.

And it’s clear to outside observers that he’s not following any traditional playbook. “It does strike me that the strategy seems to be — throw spaghetti on the wall and see what sticks,” Wilson said.

Three Days in a Mobile Vasectomy Clinic in Post-Roe America

Politico -

JOPLIN, Mo. — Inside a black trailer vinyl-wrapped with illustrations of cartoon sperm, the faint smell of burning flesh fills the enclosure. Here, in this unconventional operating room — situated in a Planned Parenthood parking lot — the doctor is trying, with mixed success, to get his patient to relax.

“You have to breathe,” Esgar Guarín, small-framed and slender, tells Denny Dalliance gently. “Take a deep breath.”

Dalliance, who’s 31, drives a truck for a living and arrived clad in black, is trying to keep his cool. Just minutes before, he peeled off his leather jacket and hopped on the operating table. Now he’s forcefully exhaling, squeezing his eyes shut, folding an arm over his head, as his partner reassuringly caresses his arm.

We’re sitting inside the country’s only mobile vasectomy clinic, owned and operated by Guarín, who is so committed to getting men to participate in contraception that he once performed the procedure on himself, on camera. He’s been practicing medicine for 20 years and over the past few, he’s clocked in more than 3,000 vasectomies.

Guarín distracts Dalliance with small talk, asking about everything from his longest trucking assignment (1,600 miles from northern Texas to Los Angeles) to his dating history (Dalliance is polyamorous) to his thoughts on Elon Musk’s electric truck (“He’s basically the dude that sells the monorail in The Simpsons.”).

The tension eases and then Dalliance is all done. Guarín reaches into his mini-fridge and hands the newly sterilized trucker a can of Fanta as Dalliance heads out to score his post-op reward meal: a veggie burrito from Taco Bell. Outside in the parking lot, Dalliance tells me he’d long ago decided that he didn’t want any biological children, period. He doesn’t feel like it’s right to bring a child into this world, what with fears of climate Armageddon and democratic backsliding. But, he says, it was a single event this year that prompted him to make the 2½-hour trek from Kansas City to make sure he couldn’t have biological children: the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade.

Twenty minutes after the Dobbs ruling in June, Missouri banned all abortions, except in cases of medical emergencies. And that, Dalliance says, “made the consequences of an unplanned pregnancy much worse.”

Many women, especially in deep-red states like Missouri, responded with immediate alarm to the Dobbs decision, imagining how they would navigate an unwanted pregnancy. Dalliance was among the many Americans who asked themselves what they could do to prevent those pregnancies in the first place. In the months after the Dobbs decision they called a doctor’s office to book an appointment for a vasectomy, a form of contraception that involves severing the vas deferens so that sperm cells cannot leave the testicles and thus cannot fertilize an egg. It’s something many couples are turning to after GOP-controlled legislatures have fully banned abortion in 13 states. Although there is scant national data on this surge, hospitals and doctors across the country are reporting a marked increase in both calls and appointments for the procedure, especially among young, childless men. On TikTok, the hashtag #vasectomy, which includes clips of women who assemble celebratory care packages for their partners, has been viewed 650 million times.

Guarín calls it a “vasectomy revolution.” In the 48 hours after Dobbs, traffic on his website jumped 250 percent; in the following month, the number of vasectomies he performed doubled.

Though he usually stays in Iowa, this time he’s touring Missouri as part of an agreement with Planned Parenthood, parking his vasectomy-mobile in clinic parking lots. His 24-by-8.5-foot, 11,000-lb. trailer is outfitted with running water, a bathroom and a printer, and festooned with giant letters that read, “Honk if you had your vasectomy.” The vehicle has gone viral online as “The Nutcracker,” a cheeky moniker Guarín’s friends came up with, though he thinks “The Myth Cracker” is more fitting. Over three days on the road with him, traveling from St. Louis to the industrial outposts of Springfield and Joplin in southwest Missouri, I see dozens of men of all ages, professions and political inclinations file through, seeking Guarín’s “fast, effective, stress-free, … no-needle, no-scalpel” vasectomies. There’s extreme liberals (including an anarchist) and anti-abortionists, the recently unemployed, and at least one election denier.

Whether or not they wanted a vasectomy before June 24, the majority of the 15 men I spoke with said Dobbs accelerated their decision-making process. Some of them saw this as the only alternative, given the unavailability of abortion in some states and the specter of the Supreme Court targeting contraception next, taking a hint from Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurring opinion. Others said their families wouldn’t have chosen abortion anyway but credited the Dobbs decision with expanding the availability of these vasectomies — and prompting them to make the calls.

But Roe’s demise isn’t the only thing driving these men. Many of the patients filing in to see Guarín and Margaret Baum, the Planned Parenthood doctor he’s partnered with, also talk about their financial worries: men who recently lost their jobs, small-business owners without access to health insurance, and those who simply could not afford adding another member to their families. As Anthony Phillips, a 30-year-old electrician in St. Louis says, “Kids are expensive. I have a house payment, we have cars, life’s already expensive as it is now, and yet another kid in there … it adds up really fast.”

The spike in vasectomies is generating a conversation about how men should take responsibility for their reproductive health and their partners’. According to a 2017 study published in the Journal of Sex Research, women bear the disproportionate burden of contraception, undergoing procedures and taking medication that can lead to painful side effects. While tubal ligations often require multiple medical visits and weeks of recovery time, vasectomies are so simple that post-op patients can walk out of the clinic and drive home. The 10-minute procedure is considered the simplest and most effective contraceptive method available to men, and it can be reversed in some cases. In his cabinet, Guarín keeps a short book titled “Ejaculate Responsibly,” which argues that those who want to prevent unwanted abortions should target men, not women. (“A woman’s body produces a fertile egg for approximately 24 hours each month. … A man’s sperm is fertile every single second of every single day,” author Gabrielle Blair writes.)

“It makes more sense to take the bullets out of a gun, than try to put a bulletproof vest on somebody,” says Jackson Frazier, a 32-year-old from St. Louis, adding his decision to get the procedure was “100 percent” because of Roe’s fall.

That wasn’t the case for Gabe Meadows, a 42-year-old Republican from Ozark, Mo., who owns a resurfacing company and an ATV dealership. Meadows believes “there’s just no possible way” Biden won the 2020 election, and hadn’t heard of Dobbs until I brought it up. (There is no evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 election.)

Minutes after Guarín performs his vasectomy, Meadows talks about why he was moved to act. He’d been needing a vasectomy for a while now, he says, because he has seven children, but he’d had a fear of going to the doctor. “I don’t do flu shots, I don’t do vaccines, I don’t do anything like that,” says Meadows as he recovers in the Planned Parenthood kitchen, a surgical mask pulled down to his chin. But then, his mother and the paralegal assisting him with his own child custody case sent him a link to the free clinic at this staunchly pro-abortion rights organization that the GOP has long sought to defund. Meadows decided it was time.

“Not that I don’t love my kids,” Meadows says, “but the time has come for those to quit coming.”

The first time that Guarín heard of a vasectomy, he was 11 years old.

He was living in Bucaramanga, Colombia, growing up in a machista culture that delineated strict roles for men to fulfill — and often excused the harm they caused others. And yet here was his mother, demanding that his father get sterilized. The context: He’d had a child with another woman. “It really got my attention when I saw the reaction my father had,” he tells me one evening on I-44, driving through the Ozark Plateau. SUVs and semis and sedans speed by, honking rhythmically. When she said that word, the conversation turned grave and his father’s face serious. It was a steep price to pay, but in exchange for meeting his daughter, his father was willing to swallow his masculine pride. “I know this is going to sound graphic, but it was literally as if my mom grabbed him by the balls,” Guarín says.

His father got the vasectomy. And Guarín carried that exchange between his parents with him for the rest of his life, even after he came to the United States in 2003 when his wife, a microbiologist, took a job at the University of Maryland. Years later, the couple settled in Des Moines, Iowa, where Guarín worked as a family practitioner.

Some 2½ years ago, when he was still working full-time as a family doctor and doing vasectomies on the side, he said he became aware that he had delivered babies from five women, and all of the children had the same father. Guarín had developed a rapport with the man, so he tried to persuade him to get a vasectomy. “This is an option for you. Why don’t you let me give you, literally, a worry-free sex pass?” he recalls asking. But the man refused. “That triggered a lot of debate in my head about why it is that that happens.”

There’s something about masculinity that keeps some men from getting a vasectomy, even if they want to. For centuries, many cultures have perpetuated the myth that being a man — a real man — requires competition and domination and sexual conquest. In politics, versions of that message recur each cycle, from Donald Trump’s showboating and bragging about what amounts to sexual assault to Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley’s criticism of what he calls a liberal war against “assertive” masculinity. Some men incorrectly fear that a vasectomy will make them sexually dysfunctional or “less of a man,” and myths about the mechanics of the procedure abound.

In Joplin, which went 72 percent for Trump in 2020 and 73 percent for Republican Sen.-elect Eric Schmitt in 2022 (the former attorney general in charge of enforcing the state’s abortion ban), some of these messages resonate. Jacob Baughman, a thick-bearded, 40-year-old roofer here, encountered those myths when he told his co-workers he was getting snipped. “Because we’re a bunch of roofers, all this shit in the world comes right out of their mouths,” he says shortly after his vasectomy, letting out a big laugh. “‘Oh, you’re getting your balls cut!’ And I’m like, ‘No, it don’t work that way no more.’” Dalliance, who is an avowed socialist, views the political nostalgia for a return to virility as a distraction from economic issues like wage stagnation.

When Guarín decided to start performing vasectomies full-time, he wanted to make it as easy as possible for men to take this step. Instead of calling a medical office and scheduling an appointment with a receptionist, his patients could sign up online. Where other doctors charged north of $1,300 for the procedure out of pocket, he charged just $699. (Insurance plans generally cover vasectomies, but they’re not required to under federal law.)

And then came the mobile clinic. He got the idea from a 2017 trip with World Vasectomy Day, a nonprofit for which he serves on the medical advisory board. Traveling with the group to Mexico, he saw that the government used mobile clinics to reach rural populations where access to health care is limited. He said he became obsessed, deciding in summer 2020 to use his own funds to buy the trailer, the Ford F-150 that tows it, and set it up to be procedure-ready. So far, his model has proved effective: He consistently fills his appointment slots when he’s on the road for a week each month.

As the young and childless have swarmed vasectomy doctors after the Dobbs decision, some physicians have hesitated to sterilize them and even imposed minimum age requirements. Guarín says he’ll take any patient above 18, but he makes sure to probe the reasoning of the especially young and ask if they have considered sperm banking, given that reversals to the procedure have mixed success (30 percent to 90 percent depending on a variety of factors, according to the Mayo Clinic).

Guarín believes that this broader skittishness in the medical establishment comes from a dark history of coercive sterilizations in the United States. At the turn of the 19th century and well into the 1970s, eugenics ideology in the medical field helped spur government programs that forcibly sterilized men and women of color, particularly African American and Puerto Rican women. Last year, the head of Planned Parenthood unequivocally denounced founder Margaret Sanger’s associations with white supremacists and eugenicists.

When I asked Baum how she would broach the subject with a patient of color who’s concerned about this history, she said she’d directly acknowledge the harm that resulted from it. “But then to say, apart from that, here’s the medical information about the safety of this procedure and the success rate … and then I trust you to make the best decision for yourself and your body,” she said.

Even so, there are always naysayers. At least one online commentator has gone as far as calling the push for improved access to vasectomies “a front for eugenics.” “I’m surprised, to be absolutely honest with you,” Guarín says. “No one has said anything about the fact that I’m Latino and that I’m in the middle of one of the whitest states in the United States, snipping white men left and right.”

Joplin’s Planned Parenthood is a small, squat brick building with a used-car dealership, a tanning salon and a Baptist church nearby. Like other Planned Parenthood clinics, a blue sign with the words “STILL HERE” hangs next to the door. As Guarín performs vasectomies in his mobile clinic, Baum is seeing another raft of men inside. Even though politics and religion are normally kept out of the procedure room, sometimes the patients bring it up.

Take 47-year-old Casey Saddler, who lies on the sage-colored exam table, telling Baum that he’d just returned home from China after teaching English there since 2009. This post-Roe America, he tells her, is “like Bizarro World.”

“It’s weird that the people that scream and cry about their religious freedom are the ones that want to impose their religion on people that don’t share it,” Saddler says. He says he tried to get a vasectomy in China, but his doctor tried to steer him toward a tubal ligation for his wife instead.

“I’m very supportive of this operation,” Saddler’s wife, Yaxian Yu, says, as she stands next to her husband. The room bursts into laughter.

Baum, who is a gynecologist and the medical director of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, had been providing abortions in Missouri until June. These days, she and her patients have to cross the border into southern Illinois, where abortion is legal. (Planned Parenthood also recently unveiled a mobile abortion unit.) But vasectomies, on the other hand, are readily available, so in 2021, Baum decided to learn how to perform vasectomies, partly because of the country’s political climate, but also because she wanted to provide the “full spectrum of family planning.” In her view, it didn’t make sense that half of the population got saddled with birth control, while the other half didn’t have to worry. So she reached out to the Midwest Access Project, an Illinois-based nonprofit that trains clinicians on how to provide reproductive health services. They put her in touch with Guarín, who traveled to Missouri to train Baum.

Since then, Baum says, Planned Parenthood has vastly expanded its capacity to offer the procedure. While the clinics under her purview have seen an increase in both tubal ligations and vasectomies, the rise in vasectomies has been much steeper. According to the organization’s internal data, 18 tubal ligations took place in St. Louis and southwest Missouri in July 2022, compared with 42 vasectomies the same month. In August 2022, eight tubal ligations took place, but the number of vasectomies remained the same. In August 2021, by comparison, there were only 14 vasectomies and three tubal ligations. Some of those vasectomies have been on trans women, Baum says, who have told her the inability to cause a pregnancy has been affirming of their gender.

When offered the chance to peek, Saddler is not faint of heart: He sits up and looks at the delicate tube. “So, that little, tiny —” Baum catches herself. “I mean, OK, so when I say little, tiny, yours aren’t any tinier than others,” she jokes, the fine lines around her eyes creasing as she smiles beneath her mask.

“I know, I know,” Saddler says, bemused, before lying back down on the table, his arms folded over his stomach.

By the end of the third day, the duo have completed 61 vasectomies. Guarín is exhausted. But he is not quite done. As he has every evening, he sanitizes his instruments, changes the paper on the examination table, lugs the sandbags that keep his promotional banners from flying away onto the bed of the truck, sprays disinfectant all over the interior, and looks for a gas station to fill up his generators. Spanish and English songs softly seep out of a small Bluetooth speaker, from Maná’s “Mariposa Traicionera” to AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long.” It’s gratifying work, even when his patients come to him amid difficult circumstances. With every patient he meets, he collects new stories of how men are wrestling with this decision. He uses those conversations to build trust with other men — to convince them that vasectomies are a good choice. “Every single case is a learning experience … and that learning sticks with me,” he says. There’s one story from Springfield, he says, that did more than teach him something. It broke his heart.

A man came in with his wife. Guarín asked if the couple had any children. No, they didn’t. All right, Guarín told them, if you’re satisfied with where you’re at, then it’s no problem. “Well, actually, we wanted to have children,” the husband told him. But his wife had developed scar tissue in her womb from an infection, which heightened the risk of an ectopic pregnancy, a life-threatening and extremely painful condition where the fetus develops outside the uterus. Terminating the pregnancy is the only treatment. And while Missouri law makes an exception to its abortion ban for medical emergencies, many Missouri physicians worry that the language is too vague and puts patients with ectopic pregnancies and other life-threatening conditions at risk.

“What happens is that many, many, many hospitals don’t know what to do with that, because that’s terminating a pregnancy, so they don’t want to be held liable for that,” Guarín says. It was a hypothetical he’d considered before, but here was a real husband, who had to get a vasectomy because of what six justices decided. “That’s exactly what was not considered before overturning [Roe]. … It’s not just black and white. There’s a lot of gray.”

He worries for the future of the country he’ll soon become a citizen of. He worries about the judicial branch becoming politicized, that the political parties seem to be talking past each other instead of working together, and how the society his U.S.-born daughters are growing up in is becoming increasingly polarized. His daughters are proud to be Colombian, but he reminds them: “This is your country.”

In 2015, around the time the Republican primary field was beginning to take shape, his youngest daughter, Manuela, then just 5 years old, told him something that had happened at school. One of her classmates was misbehaving, and she told him that if he didn’t stop, she would tell the teacher on him. The kid turned around and told her: “You tell the Miss, and I’ll get your parents to be sent back to their country,” Guarín recalls.

As Guarín tells this story, he’s driving through the pitch-dark night. A car passes him on the highway, honking twice, piercing the silence that followed. It’s a man in a Prius, smiling.

Guarín smiles. He honks back.

Opinion | The Confession of Sam Bankman-Fried

Politico -

“Please, shut up.” This is what lawyers tell clients who have been charged with crimes — or are in danger of being charged — because anything they say will only be dredged up by the prosecution to prove their guilt. Sam Bankman-Fried, the wunderkind behind the FTX and Alameda crypto trading scandal in which upwards of $8 billion has gone AWOL, rejected this foundational advice on Wednesday afternoon to give New York Times reporter Andrew Ross Sorkin a lengthy, live tele-interview.

Bankman-Fried didn’t just give prosecutors a few leads as he rambled. He essentially confessed in serial fashion to his many potential offenses.

“I didn’t ever try to commit fraud on anyone,” Bankman-Fried said near the top of the interview, as he began to shovel himself into the trench he has been digging since the scandal broke in early November. “Clearly, I made a lot of mistakes or things I would give anything to be able to do over again,” he said, adding vinyl wood paneling to his new underground home. “I was responsible ultimately for doing the right things and I mean, we didn’t. Like, we messed up big,” he said, installing a wet bar in his space. And then came the rug that pulled it all together. “There absolutely were management failures, huge management failures. I bear responsibility for that. There were oversight failures, transparency failures, reporting, like, so many things we should have had in place. I think that a lot of it was on the risk management side,” Bankman-Fried said. “Look, I screwed up.”

Will somebody please dispatch an Uber yacht to the Bahamas, where Bankman-Fried resides, throw a net over him and give him his day in court? How many ways are there to say, “I did it,” and not have the book thrown at you? At least O.J. Simpson had the cunning to add the word “if” to his book, If I Did It, about the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. But Bankman-Fried’s ego is too big to add the conditional. I did it, I did it, I did it, he tells Sorkin repeatedly, but somehow it wasn’t deliberate.

Watching the interview, you couldn’t help but think you were watching an unaired episode of Billions, the sharp Showtime series Sorkin co-created about Wall Street rascals and the cops who chase them. The scene: A child-man with Dylan ringlets from his Blonde on Blonde period interviewed by a leading financial journalist while sitting in the corner of a room as if placed there on detention by his parents, eyes downcast and remorseful, but also puckish. “I’m deeply sorry about what happened,” which Bankman-Fried actually said to Sorkin, as if expressing regrets for spilling a magnum of burgundy on his host’s antique Persian carpet. Had this actually appeared on Billions, even the most devoted fan would have thrown his remote at the screen and said, no way, not in a million years could this happen. Nobody could possess that much guile to lose that much money and then plead guilty to a live audience. Any scriptwriter daring to write such a scene would be tossed out of the writers’ room and banned from the profession.

And yet, life does resemble bad fiction? Viewed in retrospect, Bankman-Fried’s entire life is a piece of bad fiction, authored by him, in which he charms the grown-ups around him. Up until now, the world has bought Bankman-Fried’s child-genius one-act completely. The baggy T-shirts and shorts. The claims of being a missionary for the now-less-buzzy philosophy of “effective altruism.” The cheeky lad who League of Legends on his computer","link":{"target":"NEW","attributes":[],"url":"https://web.archive.org/web/20221109025610/https:/www.sequoiacap.com/article/sam-bankman-fried-spotlight/","_id":"00000184-d2ba-d952-adae-dbfa7de90000","_type":"33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df"},"_id":"00000184-d2ba-d952-adae-dbfa7de90001","_type":"02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266"}">played League of Legends on his computer while pitching the VCs at Sequoia Capital and dispensed campaign donations in the millions. The financial wise man who talks crypto on stage with Bill Clinton and Tony Blair and ventures to lobby Congress for favorable regulation. So why shouldn’t he just continue playing the role, just because it’s become unbelievable over the past month? More than one kid has beaten the raiding-the-cookie-jar rap by saying they wanted to get to the bottom of the caper, even though they’re covered in chocolate chip crumbs.

Everything you need to know about Bankman-Fried was revealed when Sorkin, who pilots his ship through financial scams almost daily, asked him if he had been honest in this interview. “Absolutely,” would have been a good answer. “Yes,” would have sufficed. But that’s not the Bankman-Fried way. As he repeatedly did in the interview, he uncorked the sort of mind-bending language that sounds like it might have been lifted from a website’s terms of service agreement. As if dusting the cookie crumbs off his face, Bankman-Fried answered Sorkin: “I was as truthful as I — you know, I’m knowledgeable to be — there’s some things I wish I knew about more. But, yes, I was.”

As truthful as I’m knowledgeable to be. When billions have evaporated. Spoken like a true con man.

“I’ve had a bad month,” Bankman-Fried said, a sympathy-seeking aside that induced laughter from the crowd halfway through the session. It was probably the most honest and direct thing he said. On Wall Street, they like to say that past performance is no guarantee of future results, but in Bankman-Fried’s case we should amend that. His bad month is an excellent predicter of many more bad months to come.


Send your spare billions to Shafer.Politico@gmail.com","link":{"target":"NEW","attributes":[],"url":"mailto:shafer.politico@gmail.com","_id":"00000184-d2ba-d952-adae-dbfa7de90004","_type":"33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df"},"_id":"00000184-d2ba-d952-adae-dbfa7de90005","_type":"02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266"}">Shafer.Politico@gmail.com. No new email alert subscriptions are being honored at this time. My Twitter feed is busy watching Billions reruns. My Mastodon account opposes all forms of capitalism, even state capitalism. My RSS","link":{"target":"NEW","attributes":[],"url":"https://t.co/tfg9KzdCxq","_id":"00000184-d2ba-d952-adae-dbfa7de90006","_type":"33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df"},"_id":"00000184-d2ba-d952-adae-dbfa7de90007","_type":"02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266"}">RSS feed dresses worse than Sam Bankman-Fried.

Musk suspends Ye's Twitter account for 'incitement to violence'

Politico -

Elon Musk blocked Ye’s Twitter account late Thursday for violating the platform’s rules against “incitement to violence,” hours after the rapper had provoked a new round of condemnation by declaring that "I like Hitler."

The billionaire didn’t elaborate on how the musician formerly known as Kanye West had violated Twitter’s policies, although some news reports said he had posted an image of a swastika inside a Star of David","link":{"target":"NEW","attributes":[],"url":"https://www.axios.com/2022/12/02/elon-musk-ye-suspended-twitter-swastika-post","_id":"00000184-d2ba-d952-adae-dbfa7dd60000","_type":"33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df"},"_id":"00000184-d2ba-d952-adae-dbfa7dd60001","_type":"02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266"}">image of a swastika inside a Star of David.

Musk, who has made a loosening of speech restrictions a highlight of his ownership of Twitter, tweeted","link":{"target":"NEW","attributes":[],"url":"https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/1598543670990495744","_id":"00000184-d2ba-d952-adae-dbfa7dd60002","_type":"33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df"},"_id":"00000184-d2ba-d952-adae-dbfa7dd60003","_type":"02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266"}">tweeted that "I tried my best."

"Despite that, he again violated our rule against incitement to violence,” Musk wrote early Friday in reply to a user’s question about the penalty against Ye. “Account will be suspended."

It was unclear if the suspension would be permanent.

The action came at the end of a particularly troubled day for Ye, who recently provoked a political firestorm by bringing an avowed antisemite to dine with him and former President Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago. Most recently, Ye made comments lauding Nazis and saying he sees “good things” about Adolf Hitler","link":{"target":"NEW","attributes":[],"url":"https://www.politico.com/news/2022/12/01/ye-antisemitism-republicans-hitler-00071695","_id":"00000184-d2ba-d952-adae-dbfa7dd60004","_type":"33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df"},"_id":"00000184-d2ba-d952-adae-dbfa7dd60005","_type":"02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266"}">“good things” about Adolf Hitler in an interview with conspiracy theorist Alex Jones earlier on Thursday.

Also on Thursday, the conservative-friendly social media network Parler announced it had terminated an agreement","link":{"target":"NEW","attributes":[],"url":"https://www.politico.com/news/2022/12/01/parler-halts-sale-kanye-00071720","_id":"00000184-d2ba-d952-adae-dbfa7dd60006","_type":"33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df"},"_id":"00000184-d2ba-d952-adae-dbfa7dd60007","_type":"02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266"}">terminated an agreement for Ye to buy the platform. While the separation happened in mid-November, the announcement came hours after Ye’s statements about Hitler.

Southern Poverty Law Center sues DeSantis over Martha's Vineyard flights

Politico -

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The Southern Poverty Law Center and non-profit immigration rights organizations are suing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis over his controversial transport of migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard.

The plaintiffs, which include the Florida Immigrant Coalition, filed the lawsuit Thursday on behalf of three groups in a Miami federal court. The lawsuit against DeSantis and the state’s transportation secretary contends that Florida’s program — which led the DeSantis administration to the flying of nearly 50 mostly Venezuelan migrants from San Antonio to Massachusetts in September — is unconstitutional because the state is “usurping the federal government’s sole role in regulating and enforcing immigration law.”

The lawsuit also alleges that the program is discriminatory and constitutes “state-sponsored harassment of immigrants based on race, color, and national origin.”

“The Constitution is clear — the sole and exclusive power to regulate immigration policy is granted to the federal government, not the states,” said Paul Chavez, senior supervising attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Immigrant Justice Project in a statement. “The scheme by Gov. DeSantis and the state of Florida to use taxpayer funds for the ‘relocation’ of ‘unauthorized alien’” is a blatant and unlawful attempt to harass immigrants at the state level.”

The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for a comment about the new lawsuit. DeSantis previously said he arranged to relocate migrants in order to draw attention to the immigration policies of the Biden administration. He claimed that the migrants went voluntarily.

But the flights sparked a massive backlash by Democrats and others. The Treasury Department’s watchdog is looking into whether the governor improperly used money connected to federal Covid-19 relief to pay for the flights while a sheriff in Texas is investigating the flights. The Boston-based Lawyers for Civil Rights also filed a federal class action lawsuit against the governor, accusing him of violating the migrants’ rights by coercing them to get on the flights to Massachusetts through “false promises and misrepresentations.”

While the administration has only flown one set of migrants so far, DeSantis vowed to spend the entire $12 million the Florida Legislature set aside for the relocation program. So far, Florida paid a Panhandle-based company a total of $1.56 million.

The lawsuit maintains that the groups — which also include Americans for Immigrant Justice and Hope CommUnity Center — are being harmed because they are diverting resources from their “core missions” to helping immigrants deal with the fallout of the DeSantis’ administration migrant relocation program.

The groups want a federal judge to declare the program unconstitutional and block the DeSantis administration from carrying out any additional flights.

The new lawsuit is one of four over the migrant flights. Besides the Lawyers for Civil Rights lawsuit, an open government organization, the Florida Center for Government Accountability, also sued the DeSantis administration for allegedly withholding public records associated with the flights.

Florida Democratic state senator, Jason Pizzo, also sued the administration in order to stop the governor from using more money on the flights. A judge in November dismissed Pizzo’s on technical grounds.

In Photos: Biden’s first state dinner

Politico -

President Joe Biden, first lady Jill Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife, Brigitte Macron, pose for photos at the Grand Staircase of the White House ahead of the state dinner. | Drew Angerer/Getty Images Brigitte Macron steps out of a motorcade vehicle as she arrives on the North Portico of the White House. | Patrick Semansky/AP Photo Late night talk show host Stephen Colbert and his wife, Evelyn McGee-Colbert, arrive at the White House. | Susan Walsh/AP Photo Musician Jon Batiste and family arrive at the White House. | Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron walk down the Grand Staircase to pose for a photo with President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden in Grand Foyer of the White House. | Andrew Harnik/AP Photo Chrissy Teigen, left, and John Legend arrive at the White House. | Susan Walsh/AP Photo Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks to members of the media as he arrives with his daughter Jessica Schumer. | Susan Walsh/AP Photo President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden prepare to pose for photos with Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron. | Patrick Semansky/AP Photo Jennifer Garner and her daughter, Violet, arrive at the White House. | Nathan Howard/Getty Images Former Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, center, responds to the press while passing Rep. Steve Scalise during the arrivals for the state dinner. | Nathan Howard/Getty Images President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden wait to welcome French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife, Brigitte Macron. | Andrew Harnik/AP Photo Keisha Lance Bottoms and her husband, Derek Bottoms, arrive at the White House. | Susan Walsh/AP Photo Baz Luhrmann and Anna Wintour arrive at the White House. | Susan Walsh/AP Photo President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden welcome French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife, Brigitte Macron, to the North Portico of the White House ahead of the state dinner. | Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images Apple CEO Tim Cook arrives at the White House. | Nathan Howard/Getty Images Connecticut Gov. Edward Lamont arrives at the White House toting a sign to welcome the French president. | Susan Walsh/AP Photo President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden, followed by French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife, Brigitte Macron, walk from the Grand Foyer of the White House. | Andrew Harnik/AP Photo First lady Jill Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife, Brigitte Macron, walk into the Blue Room after arriving at the White House. | Andrew Harnik/AP Photo Guests mingle and take their seats ahead of the arrival of President Biden and President Macron at the State Dinner on the South Lawn of the White House. | Drew Angerer/Getty Images President Biden and President Macron toast during the State Dinner. | Andrew Harnik/AP Photo

Obama closes for Warnock in Georgia Senate race

Politico -

ATLANTA — Former President Barack Obama returned to Georgia on Thursday, just weeks since his last visit here to energize Democrats in an only-recently-purple southern state.

Voters, Obama acknowledged, have reason to be weary. Sen. Raphael Warnock, the Democrat who narrowly won in the state’s January 2021 runoff, has had to make his case to Georgia voters over and over.

“This is the fifth time my name has been on the ballot in less than two years, for the same doggone job,” Warnock told the crowd gathered to see him and the former Democratic president.

But to finally serve a full six-year term, Warnock has to earn Georgia’s vote again — a runoff election that will take place on Tuesday against Republican Herschel Walker. The Thursday night gathering, held in an event space in the historic Pullman Yard, came on the eve of the final day of early voting.

Reading from a black binder about Warnock’s vote history in the Senate, Obama fired up the crowd about “what’s at stake” in the Dec. 6 runoff election, warning about “the difference between 50 and 51” seats for Democrats — which, as he put it, is “a lot.”

“You have the power to determine the course of this country,” Obama said, later mentioning the possibility of Republicans passing a national abortion ban in the future if they retake control of the Senate in 2024, when the map favors the GOP.

“If voters here in Georgia had stayed home two years ago, Republicans would have kept control of the Senate and they would have blocked every single piece of legislation that President Biden and Democrats passed,” Obama said.

Warnock, the pastor of the Atlanta church that Martin Luther King Jr. attended, tied the election to the long struggle of African Americans for equal rights, noting the crowd had gathered on the 67th anniversary of Rosa Parks refusing to get up from a bus seat in Montgomery, Alabama. Walker is also African American.

He reminded supporters of the “multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-religious coalition” that elected Georgia’s first African American senator two years ago.

Warnock received roaring applause when he poked fun at Walker, something Obama also did, referencing a series of outlandish comments the retired football star has made over the course of his candidacy.

“We all know some folks in our lives who, we don’t wish them ill will, they say crazy stuff ... but you don’t give them serious responsibility,” Obama said.

“He was an amazing running back,” Warnock said of Walker. “And come next Tuesday, we’re going to send him running back to Texas.”

Walker, who was raised in the Peach State and was a star player at the University of Georgia, lived the majority of his adult life in Texas before returning to run for Senate in 2021.

The rally marked Obama’s second campaign visit to the state this fall, after the former president traveled to Georgia in late October to stump for Warnock and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, who lost her race to incumbent GOP Gov. Brian Kemp.

As of Thursday morning, more than 1 million people had cast votes in the runoff election. The Georgia Secretary of State’s Office reported that the pace exceeded that of runoff elections in 2016 and 2018, though it remains to be seen how turnout will compare to the state’s January 2021 runoff, which featured two Senate races.

Voters this week have, in some cases, endured long lines. Lt. Gov. Geoff Dunan, a Republican who was critical of Walker ahead of the general election, said he stood in line for an hour on Wednesday before ultimately looking at his ballot and deciding both candidates were “disappointing.” Duncan said on CNN that he left the polling place without voting, an announcement that drew mockery from other high-profile Republicans who have united in support of Walker.

The actress America Ferrera, who has taken part in other campaign events in the state in recent days, opened the Warnock-Obama rally. She spoke in both English and Spanish to emphasize the need to mobilize Latino voters to the polls.

Republicans braced for the potential boost of an Obama get-out-the-vote visit. In the days leading up to Thursday, Walker highlighted the upcoming visit in fundraising appeals, including filming a video with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). In the video, the pair framed the upcoming election as an opportunity not just to oust Warnock, but to “beat” the 44th president.

“Obama’s coming back to Georgia. He’ll create a lot of excitement,” Graham said. “But we need you. If you help us, we will beat Obama. We will beat Warnock.”

The campaign signed its fundraising emails with a note that Obama drew thousands of supporters during his last visit to the state — and “now he's looking to have a bigger impact in the runoff.”

Walker on Thursday held two campaign events, one in Columbus and another, during the Obama rally, in Woodstock. Former Secretary State Mike Pompeo, among Republicans believed to be eyeing a presidential bid in 2024, was scheduled to headline both rallies but didn't make it. A family emergency, the Walker campaign said, prevented Pompeo from traveling to the state.

While continuing to hold multiple campaign rallies each day this week, Walker has shied away from answering media questions except from conservative outlets. As he did throughout the general election, Walker during the runoff has continued to face a steady stream of unflattering news coverage. Most recently, that included news that Walker has continued to list a Texas house as his primary residence for tax purposes, while reporting from the Daily Beast on Thursday featured an ex-girlfriend who said she feared Walker was going to ‘beat” her during an altercation in 2005 — adding to a list of other past allegations of domestic violence by Walker.

Walker’s campaign and GOP allies, meanwhile, have continued to draw attention to a series of eviction notices filed against low-income tenants of a building owned by Warnock’s church — a storyline the incumbent senator has also sought to avoid talking about.

This year’s runoff in Georgia has not drawn the same level of national attention — or national money — that the Senate runoffs did two years ago. That’s in part because of the shortened timeline of this year’s month-long runoff campaign, compared to two months in late 2020. The stakes are also lower this time around: control of the Senate is not up for grabs, since Democrats secured 50 seats in the Nov. 8 election.

But a host of political groups from both parties have still fanned across the state in an effort to mobilize a weary electorate subjected to more political advertisements — and calls to vote — than the rest of the country over the past two years.

Democrats, who have emphasized early voting, were encouraged by vote totals last weekend and early in the week, though Republicans are holding out hope that voters will show out in force on Election Day, when vote totals favor the GOP.

While Walker has not discussed or urged his supporters to vote early, his surrogates have begun to do so.

The evangelical Christian political leader Ralph Reed, who has traveled with Walker in recent days, told supporters gathered in a Piggly Wiggly parking lot in Columbus on Thursday to “vote either today or tomorrow” if they hadn’t already. And he advised them to spend the remaining days knocking on neighbors’ doors and sending text messages to friends, urging them to vote for Walker.

“Ignore the pollsters. Ignore the press. Ignore the media here,” Reed said. “There's only one poll that matters, and it's you.”

Ooh la la! Biden's first state dinner brings out glamour and guests galore

Politico -

A glass pavilion on the South Lawn. A White House decked out for the holidays. A live performance by Grammy- and Oscar-winning musician Jon Batiste. Tables of Napa Valley wine and award-winning American cheeses. And 200 lobsters from Maine.

They all awaited the more than 300 black-tie guests who descended on the White House grounds Thursday for a state dinner honoring France, the United States’ oldest ally, and a jubilant tribute to President Joe Biden’s French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron.

Biden’s first state dinner comes nearly two years into his first term, after the Covid pandemic put the pageantry on pause. The president’s selection of France as the guest is a testament to Biden and Macron’s close relationship — on full display Thursday as the two leaders referred to each other as “friend” in their chummy interactions, which included the French president frequently patting his U.S. counterpart on the back and referring to him as “Dear Joe.”

The ritzy affair comes after a long day of diplomatic discussions, in which the foreign leaders held a lengthy bilateral to discuss thorny subjects like the energy crisis in Europe, the Inflation Reduction Act’s impact abroad and Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine. The leaders then held a joint press conference with more than a hundred members of the American and French press in the East Room of the White House.

But Thursday night, any growing tensions got set aside in favor of bottles of bubbly with notable French Americans, lawmakers and big names from the business and arts world.

Early arriving guests included late-night TV host — and Batiste’s former boss — Stephen Colbert and “Veep” actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who was asked by reporters as she was walked by whether she had ever attended a state dinner before. (She had!)

Celebrity power couple John Legend and Chrissy Teigen also were among guests, and so was Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour — who declined to comment when asked about her magazine’s wedding photo spread featuring Biden’s granddaughter, Naomi Biden. Actress Jennifer Garner brought her daughter, Violet Affleck.

Batiste arrived with his wife and numerous family members. Asked about performing in front of the crowd, he said: “It’s gonna be fire!” Others on the guest list included Academy-Award winner Ariana DeBose and director Bazmark Luhrmann.

The evening brought out power list lawmakers, too, including House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who brought her daughter, Alexandra. The pair was asked about the Democratic leader’s successors, and Pelosi said she was “happy and relieved,” while her daughter chimed in with “free at last!”

Administration officials like Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, and Brian Deese, director of the National Economic Council, were spotted entering the White House.

The guests will dine on butter-poached Maine lobster, caviar and beef with shallot marmalade — just a few of the menu items. The spread will also include an “American Artisanal Cheeses” course and finish with an orange chiffon cake and crème fraîche ice cream — a fancier spin on Biden’s favorite dessert.

It’s Macron’s second state dinner in a four-year span — he was also former President Donald Trump’s first in 2018. Trump, who wasn’t as keen on holding such events, had two during his presidency. He had a third planned for April 2020 to honor Spain’s king and queen, but the event was canceled due to the pandemic.

But at this point in Barack Obama’s presidency, he had held six state dinners.

One such high-profile dinner during the Obama administration was also the stage for a highly-publicized security stumble. A Virginia couple, both aspiring reality TV stars, managed to crash Obama’s first state dinner and meet the then-president in 2009, leading to a flood of D.C. social criticism and a full review of the breach.

Olivia Olander contributed to this report.

‘Died Suddenly’ Pushes Bogus Depopulation Theory

FactCheck -

SciCheck Digest

What appear to be ordinary postmortem blood clots are held up in a viral online video as supposed evidence that there’s a depopulation plot underway using COVID-19 vaccination to kill people. There’s no evidence for this theory. The hourlong video also repeats numerous falsehoods that have previously been debunked.

How do we know vaccines are safe? How do we know vaccines are safe?

No vaccine or medical product is 100% safe, but the safety of vaccines is ensured via rigorous testing in clinical trials prior to authorization or approval, followed by continued safety monitoring once the vaccine is rolled out to the public to detect potential rare side effects. In addition, the Food and Drug Administration inspects vaccine production facilities and reviews manufacturing protocols to make sure vaccine doses are of high-quality and free of contaminants.

One key vaccine safety surveillance program is the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, or VAERS, which is an early warning system run by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and FDA. As its website explains, VAERS “is not designed to detect if a vaccine caused an adverse event, but it can identify unusual or unexpected patterns of reporting that might indicate possible safety problems requiring a closer look.”

Anyone can submit a report to VAERS for any health problem that occurs after an immunization. There is no screening or vetting of the report and no attempt to determine if the vaccine was responsible for the problem. The information is still valuable because it’s a way of being quickly alerted to a potential safety issue with a vaccine, which can then be followed-up by government scientists.

Another monitoring system is the CDC’s Vaccine Safety Datalink, which uses electronic health data from nine health care organizations in the U.S. to identify adverse events related to vaccination in near real time.

In the case of the COVID-19 vaccines, randomized controlled trials involving tens of thousands of people, which were reviewed by multiple groups of experts, revealed no serious safety issues and showed that the benefits outweigh the risks.

The CDC and FDA vaccine safety monitoring systems, which were expanded for the COVID-19 vaccines and also include a new smartphone-based reporting tool called v-safe, have subsequently identified only a few, very rare adverse events. 

For more, see “How safe are the vaccines?

Link to this

Full Story

Misinformation masquerading as documentary has been a fixture of the COVID-19 pandemic — from the “Plandemicvideos that suggested “the scientific and political elite” planned the pandemic to the Stew Peters video claiming that the disease was caused by snake venom secretly injected into the water supply by the Catholic Church and government agencies.

Now another video from Peters, a conservative radio host, is making the rounds on social media, racking up millions of views across major platforms — such as Facebook and YouTube — and niche platforms — such as Rumble and Gab.

It’s also been promoted by high-profile anti-vaccine campaigners, including Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s Children’s Health Defense and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene.

The roughly hourlong video repeatedly flashes across the screen what appear to be postmortem blood clots, which are often found in dead bodies. Although such clots are common, the video features nine embalmers and funeral directors who describe the clots as a new anomaly and surmise that they were caused by COVID-19 vaccines. The video suggests that this is part of a shadowy plot to depopulate the world.

The video, which is called “Died Suddenly,” offers no evidence to support this theory and, instead, relies on references to previous conspiracy theories — including the false claim that circulated earlier this year that Sudden Arrhythmic Death Syndrome was somehow related to vaccination; the long-standing false claim that athletes are dropping dead due to vaccination; and the false claim that pilots are causing plane crashes because of COVID-19 vaccination.

Like most conspiracy theories, this one contains a tiny grain of truth. One of the vaccines available in the U.S., made by Johnson & Johnson, can cause a particular kind of clotting combined with low platelets. But the condition is very rare — it has occurred in about 4 cases per 1 million doses administered — and in December the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended the two mRNA vaccines over Johnson & Johnson’s. Only about 3% of the vaccine doses administered in the U.S. have been from Johnson & Johnson.

And experts say the clots shown in the video appear to be a different type of clot.

“Just looking at those blood clots from the movie, they look like very common postmortem blood clots, and I feel like it was just the shock and awe value of using these images of blood clots taken out of context to scare people,” Dr. Eric Burnett, of Columbia University’s Irving Medical Center, told MedPage Today.

We’ll explain more on that below.

Embalmers’ Claims Not Evidence of Vaccine Harm

As we said, the video’s central claim is that embalmers have been noticing unusual clots in dead people, and that these clots have killed people and may be due to COVID-19 vaccination. Photos and videos of scary-looking clots taken from corpses pepper the movie.

As the camera pans over clot specimens in tubes, Richard Hirschman, a licensed funeral director and embalmer in Alabama featured in the video, asks, “How come, all of a sudden, these things are happening in so many people?”

While Hirschman takes one of the clots out of a tube, describing it as “like a rubber band or like calamari,” the filmmaker says, “So of course that would explain people stroking out.”

Hirschman was featured in a video posted by the “Stew Peters Network” on Rumble in January, and his apparent findings have been highlighted on other dubious websites. But in a phone interview with FactCheck.org, he told us he never said he could prove a connection between the clots he was showing and the COVID-19 vaccines.

“I can’t prove what this is,” Hirschman told FactCheck.org in a phone interview. “I’m not a doctor nor a scientist — I never said I was.”

Later, John O’Looney, a U.K. funeral director, holds up another specimen, saying the clots “take the shape of the vessels that they’re growing in,” and the clot is what killed the person.

But there is no evidence that the clots are related to vaccination, nor are they necessarily abnormal. Many of the clots shown, in fact, appear to be postmortem clots, or blood clots that form after death, which would have nothing to do with vaccination or why someone died.

Burnett, the Columbia physician, explained in a TikTok video debunking the “documentary” that the clots have many features characteristic of postmortem clots.

“If you look at postmortem clots just with the naked eye, they’re gelatinous and they’re rubbery. And if you listen to the embalmers on this documentary, that’s exactly how they’re describing these new, strange clots,” he said. “Postmortem clots typically take the shape of the blood vessel they’re in, and that’s exactly how these embalmers describe these newfangled clots that they’re finding. They’re pulling out these perfect casts of blood vessels.”

Other experts have come to the same conclusion when asked before by fact-checkers about such claims from funeral service providers, including Hirschman and O’Looney.

“The images look to me more like postmortem clots, mainly due to the color, the shape, and particularly because of the amount,” Nikolaus Klupp, an associate professor of forensic medicine at the Medical University of Vienna, told Health Feedback in September.

“The blood clots are from refrigeration. It happens to many bodies,” embalmer Monica Torres, of NXT Generation Mortuary Support, told AFP the same month. “It’s just that there were so many bodies to process, many of them sat in refrigeration for long durations so they got blood clots. It’s not a big deal and these people are trying to make it a thing.”

Some of the clots could be ones that formed prior to death, as blood clots are relatively common, but there is no evidence that COVID-19 mRNA vaccination causes them, as we’ve written.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine can very rarely cause a very particular blood clotting problem involving low levels of blood platelets, known as thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome, or TTS. But the condition has not been linked to the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna, and there is no evidence that the vaccines raise the risk of blood clotting generally.

Research suggests vaccination prevents blood clots by protecting against COVID-19, which raises the risk of clotting and associated health problems.

The National Funeral Directors Association told PolitiFact in February that embalmers had noticed an increase in blood clots among COVID-19-related deaths, including vaccinated and unvaccinated people.

Jessica Koth, director of public relations for the association, told us in an email that “[f]uneral service professionals are in no way qualified to draw any conclusions about COVID vaccines and blood clots. We’re not medical examiners or physicians or scientists.”

She pointed us to a blog post by funeral director and embalming expert Ben Schmidt, who called such claims “clickbait” and noted that it would be “extremely unusual for an embalmer to know someone’s medical history unless they were closely related to the deceased person,” and that embalming “often takes place before a specific cause of death is communicated to the embalmer let alone their vaccination records.”

He added that postmortem clots “can form quickly as long as the blood is still in a liquid state” and that formaldehyde coagulates proteins, such as those in blood, during the embalming process.

Hirschman told us that he started noticing the clots after the vaccines became available and discussed his thoughts with colleagues and his personal doctor. He didn’t bring his concerns to any federal or state health agency because, he said, “I didn’t know who to bring it to.”

Instead, he went to a person identified in the January “Stew Peters Network” video as Dr. Jane Ruby. She has a doctor of education degree, but is not a medical doctor, although she wears a white coat and stethoscope in pictures on social media.

Over the last year or so, Hirschman brought in people he worked with as a contract embalmer in Alabama. He knew three of the morticians who appeared in the video, he said.

One of them is Chad Whisnant, whose name is spelled incorrectly in the video.

Whisnant runs a funeral home in Alabama with his wife, Brooke.

He didn’t return our call for comment, but Brooke Whisnant told us in a phone interview that the clots shown in the video aren’t out of the ordinary and that she doesn’t share her husband’s view of vaccination, which has changed over the last several years.

“I’m now an antivaxxer,” Chad Whisnant said in the video. “I wasn’t before.”

“It’s been a slow, slow process ever since Trump took office,” Brooke Whisnant said of her husband’s shifting beliefs after former President Donald Trump took office in 2017. “It’s been a very weird abyss of misinformation on the internet,” she said.

Chad Whisnant’s first appearance in the video actually references a well-worn piece of misinformation that we’ve addressed before. The filmmakers play a clip of Bill Gates misleadingly edited to make it look like he was saying vaccines could be used to kill people as part of an effort by elites to depopulate the world. But Gates was really saying that improving health care and reducing child deaths, including through vaccines, can reduce population growth, which will be important in the future for limiting carbon dioxide emissions.

Brooke Whisnant also said that Hirschman had performed embalming services at their funeral home and pointed out that they don’t know who’s been vaccinated and who hasn’t among the deceased.

Finally, it’s worth noting that some of the video used in “Died Suddenly” has been taken from a medical education video posted on YouTube in April 2019. The procedure shown, known as a pulmonary embolectomy, involves surgical removal of a clot, and is typically only done in extreme cases. Since the video was posted in the spring of 2019, it has no connection whatsoever to COVID-19 vaccination. (Also, contrary to what the “documentary” claims, there are several methods for identifying a problematic clot without resorting to surgery.)

The video below shows a side-by-side comparison of footage from the “Died Suddenly” video and the 2019 YouTube educational video.

Google Search Provides No Evidence of Vaccine Deaths

One of the frequently referenced claims throughout the video is that people have been dropping dead because of the COVID-19 vaccines. Despite a complete lack of evidence, this claim has been made many times before — often with reference to athletes or to Sudden Arrhythmic Death Syndrome.

Both of those versions of the claim have been addressed by us and other fact-checkers before, but the suggestion continues to spread online.

For example, within the first 10 minutes, the video suggests that a Google search of the term “died suddenly” will reveal deaths related to the vaccines. But, of the 17 headlines that scroll across the screen in this segment, none of the deaths has been attributed to the vaccine, according to publicly available information.

In one case, the person had died in a car crash in 2017 — three years before the pandemic began. His name was Eric Cruz, and his mother, Dolores Cruz, had written a piece about her journey with grief that was published on HuffPost. The only part of the story that showed up in “Died Suddenly,” though, was the headline from that essay: “My Kind, Compassionate Son Died Unexpectedly. This Is What I Want You To Know About Grief.”

In another case, a 32-year-old English woman died after having a pulmonary embolism — a blood clot in the lung — weeks after giving birth. Samantha Crosbie had suffered from pelvic girdle pain during her pregnancy, which made it hard for her to move during that time, putting her at risk for developing blood clots, her mother, Jane Parker, explained to the British newspaper the Sun.

“Samantha not being able to move around for nine months, not doing very much, was a sign that could have been highlighted,” Parker told another newspaper, the Daily Mail. “If she had understood that she would be more at risk of a blood clot, I am sure it would have made a difference,” she said.

All of that information was included in the story that was referenced in “Died Suddenly,” but the only thing the video showed was the headline: “Mother, 32, died just five weeks after giving birth because of a ‘preventable’ blood clot.”

In another example, Robert Cormier — an actor who appeared in the Canadian television show Heartland — died Sept. 23 in what his family described as a “tragic accident.” His sister told the Hollywood Reporter that he died of injuries he suffered from a fall.

But the only thing the video showed was a headline that said: “Actor’s sudden death aged 33.”

Similarly, video footage played in the segment shows television news anchors reporting on the death of baseball Hall of Famer Hank Aaron, falsely suggesting it was related to COVID-19 vaccination. As we’ve written, Aaron was vaccinated against COVID-19 as part of a public health campaign encouraging vaccination shortly after the shots became available, but there is no evidence that had anything to do with his death. He died of natural causes at the age of 86.

One of the last examples in that segment featured Jacob Clynick, a 13-year-old Michigan boy who died June 16, 2021. His death, which occurred days after he had received his second dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, was reported to the CDC and investigated for any potential connection to the vaccine.

The investigation found that there was no causal link between the vaccine and his death.

“Conclusions reached by the CDC and local investigators discovered no evidence of a causal relationship between vaccine administration and this young man’s death,” a press release from the Michigan Institute of Forensic Science and Medicine said.

So, as we said, there is no publicly available evidence connecting any of the deaths referenced in this portion of the video with COVID-19 vaccination and, in some cases, the evidence contradicts the claim.

Later in the video, filmmakers play clips of people collapsing with the suggestion that the cause was vaccination, but, as others have pointed out, some of the clips are old and don’t have anything to do with vaccination.

In one example, a woman in Argentina is shown falling off a platform into a moving train earlier this year. The woman, who’s been identified only by her first name in news reports, survived the incident, which has not been linked to vaccination. She said afterward, “I am undergoing treatment for hearing and nutrition issues, and I have to undergo neurological exams.”

Invalid Claims About Excess Deaths and Health Conditions

Twenty minutes into “Died Suddenly,” Peters introduces Lt. Col. Theresa Long, an Army flight surgeon who as an expert for the anti-vaccine group America’s Frontline Doctors has falsely claimed that the COVID-19 vaccines contain an active ingredient in antifreeze.

As the camera pans over a news article with the headline “Indiana life insurance CEO says deaths are up 40% among people ages 18-64,” Long incorrectly suggests that the excess deaths are due to the COVID-19 vaccines.

“40%,” Long says, while the camera zooms in on that number in the headline. “No one’s even, no one’s even calculated that. … It’s apocalyptic.”

But the fact is that the increase in deaths was linked to COVID-19, not to the vaccines. The number comes from a presentation by J. Scott Davison, CEO of OneAmerica, during a news conference about a surge of COVID-19 cases in Indiana in December 2021.

Davison said death rates in the third quarter of the year “are up 40% over what they were pre-pandemic,” primarily in working age people. “Just to give you an idea of how bad that is,” he added, “a 1 in 200-year catastrophe would be a 10% increase over pre-pandemic.” 

Davison associated the increase with COVID-19 itself, not the vaccine. He added that the deaths reported as COVID-19 deaths are “greatly” understated. His comments were later misrepresented by Dr. Robert Malone and others, and fact-checked by the Associated Press and PolitiFact earlier this year. 

According to an analysis of life insurance data conducted by Jeffrey Morris, a biostatistician at the University of Pennsylvania, in August, the excess deaths in young and middle adults in the fall of 2021 were related to COVID-19. “There is no evidence of any connection to vaccination,” he wrote.

Next, Long and Lt. Col. Pete Chambers, another military physician, bring up the Defense Medical Epidemiology Database, or DMED, which they claim has shown a concerning spike in medical conditions among the military caused by the COVID-19 vaccines. 

This claim was debunked in early 2021 by ReutersPolitiFact and Health Feedback, among others

“Seeing the DMED data, I have significant concerns that we won’t have a standing Army in five years,” Long says.

The video then shows a clip from a COVID-19 discussion hosted by Sen. Ron Johnson on Jan. 25, in which attorney Thomas Renz presents DMED data provided by Long, Chambers and a third military physician. 

“Miscarriages increased by 300% over the five-year average … We saw almost 300% increase in cancer over the five-year average,” Renz says, giving a special mention to Ryan Cole, a doctor from Idaho who has baselessly claimed the vaccines cause cancer and autoimmune diseases. 

“This one’s amazing … neurological issues, which would affect our pilots — over 1,000% increase,” Renz continues.

But as we said, these numbers are invalid. The apparent increases were caused by a data error in DMED for the years 2016 to 2020. 

In February, a Department of Defense representative told Reuters that when the Defense Health Agency’s Armed Forces Surveillance Division compared the DMED database with the source data contained in the Defense Medical Surveillance System, it “discovered that the total number of medical diagnoses from 2016-2020 that were accessible in DMED represented only a small fraction of actual medical diagnoses for those years.” 

So comparing data from 2021, which was up-to-date, with data from 2016-2020 “resulted in the appearance of significant increased occurrence of all medical diagnoses in 2021 because of the underreported data for 2016-2020,” the representative added. 

The article also notes that the agency temporarily took DMED offline “to identify and correct the root-cause of the data corruption.” The database is now back online.

But “Died Suddenly” falsely suggests the database went offline to avoid further investigation and incorrectly implies it’s still inaccessible.

In randomized controlled trials and surveillance studies, the COVID-19 vaccines have been shown to be remarkably safe, often causing temporary and expected side effects such as a sore arm, but only very rarely causing serious harm.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, as we mentioned, very rarely may cause TTS, and may also increase the risk of Guillain-Barré Syndrome. The mRNA vaccines are both associated with an increased risk of myocarditis and pericarditis, or inflammation of the heart or its surrounding tissue. While real, the risk of these conditions is very low, and they are primarily observed in younger males. There is no evidence that the vaccines cause the wide range of health problems the video claims.

No Link Between COVID-19 Vaccination and Miscarriage, Stillbirth

The last quarter of “Died Suddenly” is devoted to unsupported claims about the effect of COVID-19 vaccination on pregnant people. Studies have repeatedly shown that the vaccines are not associated with an increased risk of miscarriage or stillbirth, contrary to what is presented in the video.

The video shows a phone call with Michelle Gershon, described onscreen as a “whistle blower RN from the post partum ward of a major hospital in Fresno, CA,” who suggests that an increase in stillbirths at her hospital are related to COVID-19 vaccination. As evidence, she shares an internal hospital email that gives a record high number of “demise patients” for one month.

But as we’ve written, there hasn’t been an increase in stillbirths in Fresno or California with the advent of COVID-19 vaccination. And the email, which makes no reference to COVID-19 vaccination, never states that its figure is only for stillbirths. Fetal death, or fetal demise, refers to death at any time in pregnancy. Deaths before 20 weeks of gestation are miscarriages, while deaths after 20 weeks (or sometimes 28 weeks) are considered stillbirths.

For that reason, among others, no rate of stillbirths can be calculated from the email figure. Yet that is precisely what “Died Suddenly” proceeds to do, showing a presentation given by Dr. James Thorp, a Florida gynecologist who has trafficked in COVID-19 misinformation, in which he erroneously attempts to graph the purported increase in stillbirths calculated using the number.

Thorp then repeats this same flawed exercise using two bogus figures for stillbirths (more than 80 stillbirths in Waterloo, Canada, and 13 “dead fetuses in one 24-hour period”) that we and others have previously debunked.

Numerous studies have not found any link to COVID-19 vaccination and a higher risk of stillbirth. In fact, some have found a lower risk, likely because the shots protect against COVID-19, and the disease is known to increase the risk of stillbirth.

Thorp then baselessly claims there is a “substantial increase in miscarriages, in birth defects” as a result of vaccination, with the video showing a series of images of infants with deformities. The implication is that the photos are of babies born to mothers who had been vaccinated, but that’s incorrect.

Two of the images are from well before the vaccines were available. The first, as Dr. Frank Han, a cardiologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago, noted on Twitter, comes from a scientific paper published in 2011. The second, which shows a child born without a nose, is an AP photo from 2015 that ran in a Today Show story about the boy.

A third image has been taken from a YouTube video posted by a plastic surgery clinic in India, for a baby born prior to April 2021. There is no indication the child’s cleft palate is due to COVID-19 vaccination. India did not even authorize COVID-19 shots for pregnant people until July 2021, and the country at the time wasn’t using any of the COVID-19 vaccines authorized in the U.S.

The video then pivots to another claim about pregnancy loss, with Long, the Army flight surgeon, falsely saying that a Pfizer document “outlined that 83% of all pregnant women who got vaccinated ended up with a dead baby.”

Purveyors of misinformation have previously misinterpreted the document to incorrectly claim, as we’ve written, that it showed 44% of vaccinated women miscarried. Again, studies have found that COVID-19 vaccination does not increase the risk of miscarriage and can reduce the risk of stillbirth by protecting against COVID-19.

Earlier in the video, Long also incorrectly cited the same Pfizer document as evidence that the vaccine is harming people — and part of a conspiracy to intentionally kill people.

“I think if you look at the … post-marketing analysis report and the 1,291 adverse events, I don’t think those came as diagnostic tests. I think they came as confirmatory tests,” she said. “You ordered a product, you wanted the product to kill people, pay stockholders, you got exactly what you ordered.”

Except the Pfizer document, which covers the first three months of the vaccine’s rollout, shows nothing of the sort, as we’ve written. It describes the adverse events reported following vaccination — which are not necessarily caused by vaccination — and “confirms a favorable benefit: risk balance” of the vaccine. In other words, the document is evidence of the vaccine’s continued safety.

As for the 1,291 adverse events, that’s a misinterpretation of the document’s appendix, which lists in alphabetical order all of the adverse events of special interest that Pfizer was monitoring for. It is not a list of health problems that have been observed after or shown to be due to vaccination.

Birth Rate Decline Claims

The “documentary” also baselessly blames COVID-19 vaccination for a birth rate decline in several countries.

In a clip of what is labeled on screen as a 2022 hearing before the Hungarian Parliament, a woman speaking Hungarian, dubbed into English, says that in January, “something happened that has not happened for decades: The birth rate fell by 20% compared to the same period last year.” She adds that according to the Centre for Economic and Regional Studies the “drastic decline came just nine months after the COVID mass vaccination began in Hungary.”

There is no evidence that COVID-19 vaccination has lowered the birth rate or reduced fertility.

Preliminary data from the Hungarian Central Statistical Office show a decline of 11.6% in the number of births for the first quarter of 2022, compared with the same period a year before. But the decline narrows to less than 5% for the cumulative totals in the second and third quarters — and those totals are nearly identical to the figures from just a few years ago.

Experts quoted in Hungarian news reports have said the decline in births in January of this year could be due to several factors, including people postponing having children either because of the pandemic or because of wanting to wait to get pregnant after getting vaccinated. They said the drop might also reflect the impact of policies used to increase the population, which may have incentivized families to have children earlier than they otherwise would have, boosting births in 2020 and 2021, but artificially lowering them in later years. According to the data, the figures for births in 2022 are very similar to those in 2019.

Later, the video shows a graph purportedly charting birth rate declines in several countries, but with no dates or sources, so it’s not even clear what the decline is relative to. The worst listed decline, of 70%, is in Australia.

We could not find any support for this statistic. Australia’s fertility rate has been falling since the 1960s, according to the Australian Institute of Family Studies. The birth rate fell from 64 per 1,000 women in 2010 to 56 per 1,000 women in 2020. Fertility rates reached a record low in 2020, and officials said “COVID-19 disruptions” could have played a role. But in 2021, the birth rate increased for the first time in a decade (up 5.3% from 2020), and some argue the lockdowns might have had a positive impact.

Editor’s note: SciCheck’s COVID-19/Vaccination Project is made possible by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The foundation has no control over FactCheck.org’s editorial decisions, and the views expressed in our articles do not necessarily reflect the views of the foundation. The goal of the project is to increase exposure to accurate information about COVID-19 and vaccines, while decreasing the impact of misinformation.


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The post ‘Died Suddenly’ Pushes Bogus Depopulation Theory appeared first on FactCheck.org.

Appeals court tosses Trump’s lawsuit over Mar-a-Lago search

Politico -

A federal appeals court has acted to shut down an outside review of the Justice Department’s use of nearly 3,000 documents the FBI seized from former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in August.

A panel of the Atlanta-based 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously that a district court judge erred both by granting Trump’s request to block investigators’ access to the records and in her decision to appoint a special master to assess Trump’s claims that some of the documents could be protected by executive privilege or other legal doctrines.

The ruling represents another major setback for the former president and a clear victory for the Justice Department. Prosecutors had been using those records as part of a criminal investigation into alleged retention of national security information, theft of government records and obstruction of justice.


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