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RealClearInvestigations' Picks of the Week

RealClearInvestigations' Picks of the Week
/Miami Herald via AP)
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RealClearInvestigations' Picks of the Week
June 27 to July 3, 2021



Featured Investigation:
Surfside Condo Failure:
Warnings, but Mixed Signals

Wall Street Journal

There were plenty of warning signs about structural and maintenance problems at the Surfside, Florida, building that collapsed last week – killing still untold numbers of people. They included a 2018 report that found the 136-unit Champlain Towers South building was flawed from the start due to poor waterproofing. During the 1990s, Champlain Towers South – or the ground beneath it – sank, though it would take more than two decades for a geophysicist to spot the changes. More recently residents complained about leaks and worries about building-rattling construction work next door, suggesting deterioration of the concrete. This article also reports:

Engineers are still guessing at what could have caused a collapse they say is without modern precedent in the U.S. It took acts of terrorism to bring down the Twin Towers in New York City and to shear off a huge part of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. An engineering failure on suspended walkways in a new Kansas City hotel killed 114 people 40 years ago.

It is possible there isn’t one cause but several, engineering experts said, including multiple damage points and flaws that eventually triggered a failure. Jiann-Wen Ju, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of California, Los Angeles who specializes in construction defects, likened it to someone who has a slow-moving, underlying chronic condition, that then suddenly manifests as something serious, such as a heart attack.

“That person at some point just collapses,” he said.

The collapse was shocking, but the problems that led to it were not. In April the condo board president was warning residents the observable damage had grown “significantly worse.” That led to a $15 million special assessment condo owners would have to pay for repairs; or more than $100,000 per owner. The article does not report when that work was set to begin.

Biden, Trump and the Beltway

Trump Organization and Top Executive Indicted New York Times
Inside William Barr’s Breakup With Trump The Atlantic
Biden Pick Pushed U.S. Population Control Breitbart
Hunter Biden-Tied Law Firm Dodged Disclosures Washington Free Beacon

Other Noteworthy Articles and Series

Kamala Harris’ Office Rife With Dissent
Morale is low in Vice President Kamala Harris’ office. In interviews, 22 current and former vice presidential aides, administration officials and associates of Harris and Biden described a tense and at times dour office atmosphere. Aides and allies pointed one finger at Chief of Staff Tina Flournoy who, in an apparent effort to protect Harris, has instead created an insular environment where ideas are ignored or met with harsh dismissals and decisions are dragged out. Often, they said, she refuses to take responsibility for delicate issues and blames staffers for the negative results that ensue. The article also reports:

“People are thrown under the bus from the very top, there are short fuses and it’s an abusive environment," said another person with direct knowledge of how Harris’ office is run. "It’s not a healthy environment and people often feel mistreated. It’s not a place where people feel supported but a place where people feel treated like s---." …

Harris and Flournoy’s defenders also note that women in power – Black women in particular – are subjected to standards that men often don’t have to clear. A tough and demanding office environment may be seen as a virtue for one and a sign of disorder and lack of leadership acumen for another.


How North Korea Closed In on a Billion-Dollar Hack
In 2016 North Korean hackers planned a $1 billion raid on Bangladesh's national bank and came within an inch of success – it was only by a fluke that all but $81 million of the transfers were halted. This article, drawn from a 10-part podcast, details the hack while providing rare insight into the working of North Korea’s criminal state. It reports that the operation was  ...

... the culmination of years of methodical preparation by a shadowy team of hackers and middlemen across Asia, operating with the support of the North Korean regime. In the cyber-security industry the North Korean hackers are known as the Lazarus Group, a reference to a biblical figure who came back from the dead; experts who tackled the group's computer viruses found they were equally resilient. … [Some Lazarus Group members are among the] thousands of young North Koreans who have been cultivated from childhood to become cyber-warriors – talented mathematicians as young as 12 taken from their schools and sent to the capital, where they are given intensive tuition from morning till night.

Broadband's Secret: Redlining Still Exists, Digitally
This article uses inflammatory language – invoking the history of racist redlining by banks decades ago to deny loans to blacks – to attack internet providers that do not build expensive fiber networks in poor neighborhoods. Because fiber connections are expensive, and companies need a return on their investment, big providers tend to focus on wealthier parts of cities when upgrading their networks. As a result, poorer communities often have no internet or poor service. This is certainly a problem, but without any evidence regarding motive besides profit, this article asserts, “The gap in broadband coverage in a poorer neighborhood is effectively a digital form of redlining, a now-banned practice that denied service based on race.”

Legal Pot Has a Bogus THC Potency Problem
Potency matters to American consumers who bought more than $17 billion of legal pot last year. “Weed shoppers,” this article reports, “use THC percentages like nutritional labels, purchasing products based on their THC content.” But the lab system entrusted with measuring the THC concept of various strains is vulnerable to corruption:

Laboratories across the country have been suspended or fined for manipulating potency results, having deficient procedures for detecting contaminants like mold or faking those contaminant tests altogether. "THC inflation is pernicious, it’s easy to accomplish and there are strong financial incentives to do it," said Don Land, a professor of chemistry and forensics at the University of California, Davis, and an adviser to the multistate cannabis lab company Steep Hill. "I believe that it is likely to happen at least infrequently in every market out there, and there’s very little chance that labs would get caught.”

Fired by Bot at Amazon: ‘It’s You Against the Machine’
Stephen Normandin thought he was doing a good job as a contractor delivering packages for Amazon in Phoenix. Then the 63-year-old received an automated email informing him that the algorithms tracking him had determined his performance wasn’t up to snuff. He’d been fired, this article reports, by a machine. At Amazon, machines are increasingly the boss:

For years, the company has used algorithms to manage the millions of third-party merchants on its online marketplace, drawing complaints that sellers have been booted off after being falsely accused of selling counterfeit goods and jacking up prices. Increasingly, the company is ceding its human-resources operation to machines as well, using software not only to manage workers in its warehouses but to oversee contract drivers, independent delivery companies and even the performance of its office workers. People familiar with the strategy say Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos believes machines make decisions more quickly and accurately than people, reducing costs and giving Amazon a competitive advantage.

Teens vs. Suspected Female Predator Teacher
Tampa Bay Times
The Florida high school teacher dubbed herself the “Biology Bombshell.” Students said she would casually mention that she was not wearing underwear and would open her legs and say she was “airing out.” She allegedly told students about her sex life, showed them photos of men on her phone and she couldn’t wait for some of them to turn 18, the implication being that they would then be old enough to consent to sex. Her conduct so outraged one female student that she complained about the teacher. This article details the school’s relatively tepid response to her complaint and its seemingly aggressive efforts to punish the young woman for relatively minor offenses.  

Coronavirus Investigations

Untreated Pandemic Psych Patients Swamp Hospitals Wall Street Journal
Why Did So Many Homeless Die in LA Hotel During Covid?  Los Angeles Times
Held Back: Inside a Lost School Year ProPublica
Company Got $10M PPP Loan, Then Moved to Mexico  ProPublica
Covid Probe's China Dead End: Missing Wild Animals Wall Street Journal


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