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RealClearInvestigations' Picks of the Week

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RealClearInvestigations' Picks of the Week
July 4 to July 10, 2021


Featured Investigation:
Naming the Capitol Cop Who Killed
Unarmed Jan. 6 Rioter Ashli Babbitt

For six months, the U.S. Capitol Police, which is controlled by Congress, has refused to identify the officer who shot and killed Air Force veteran Ashli Babbitt, an unarmed protester in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. In RealClearInvestigations, Paul Sperry reports that the officer’s identity – 53-year-old Lt. Michael L. Byrd – appears to have been inadvertently leaked during a House hearing. Sperry reports:

  • On Feb. 25 the acting House Sergeant of Arms referred to him as “Officer Byrd.”
  • Byrd appears to match the description of the shooter, who video footage shows is an African American dressed in a business suit. Jewelry, including a beaded bracelet and lapel pin, also match up with other photos.
  • Byrd’s resume lines up with what is known about the experience and position of the officer involved in the shooting — a veteran USCP lieutenant who is the commander of the force's House Chamber Section.
  • Most police departments are required to release an officer’s name within days of a fatal shooting. Not the U.S. Capitol Police. The Babbitt shooting has thrust this double standard into the national spotlight.
  • After the shooting, Byrd’s Internet footprint was scrubbed, including his social media and personal photos.
  • In February 2019, Byrd was investigated for leaving his department-issued Glock-22 firearm unattended in a restroom. A Glock-22 was used in the Babbitt shooting.
  • Byrd, who did respond to requests for comment, is currently on administrative leave.

Featured Investigation:
If the Cyber-Scammer Says ‘I’m With the Brand,’
You Could be a Prime Sucker

Ransomware attacks that paralyze major enterprises get most of the publicity, but you the individual consumer may be more vulnerable to proliferating low-rent cyber scams that gain trust by hijacking well-known brands, John F. Wasik reports for RealClearInvestigations.

  • Ever since people found themselves stuck at home in the pandemic, scammers have been dramatically upping their scam of fraudulently exploiting trusted brands including Amazon, Apple, and Costco as decoys in their relentless quest to separate you from your cash.
  • The core emotional trap of the scams is to scare or entice you into calling, clicking or emailing to quickly reveal account information.
  • It’s estimated that hundreds of millions of potential marks are targeted each month by one alarming ruse alone: a con asking you to confirm a recent Amazon purchase.
  • Costco is falsely cited in at least 13 different scams, including a fake customer satisfaction survey promising “exclusive awards of up to $500” or free HDTVs.
  • Apple warns of fake calls or emails that pretend to alert potential victims through “pop-ups and ads that say your device has a security problem” or an “iPhone calendar virus.”
  • Scammers don’t require much more than a cheap router to blast out such name-brand swindles.
  • They illustrate how even the latest tech cons preying on people’s trust have evolved from one of the oldest tricks in the book — brand fraud — from knockoff Rolexes to cattle rustling.

Biden, Trump and the Beltway

Other Noteworthy Articles and Series

How Sports Owners Use Teams to Avoid Millions in Taxes
Buying a major sports team offers a lot more than prestige and excitement to the billionaire class – namely, a giant tax write-off. In its latest article based on stolen IRS records, ProPublica reports that the tax code allows anyone who buys a business to deduct almost the entire sale price against income during the ensuing years. The underlying logic is that the purchase price was composed of assets — buildings, equipment, patents and more — that degrade over time and should be counted as expenses. While this is entirely legal and may make economic sense in most cases, ProPublica reports:

... [I]n few industries is that tax treatment more detached from economic reality than in professional sports. Teams’ most valuable assets, such as TV deals and player contracts, are virtually guaranteed to regenerate because sports franchises are essentially monopolies. There’s little risk that players will stop playing for {former Microsoft CEO Steve] Ballmer’s [Los Angeles] Clippers or that TV stations will stop airing their games. But Ballmer still gets to deduct the value of those assets over time, almost $2 billion in all, from his taxable income. … Shahid Khan, an automotive tycoon who made use of at least $79 million in losses from a stake in the Jacksonville Jaguars even as his football team has consistently been projected to bring in millions a year. And Leonard Wilf, a New Jersey real estate developer who owns the Minnesota Vikings with family members, has taken $66 million in losses from his minority stake in the team.

Chinese Gene Giant Harvesting Prenatal Data Worldwide
A Chinese gene company selling prenatal tests around the world developed them in collaboration with the country's military and is using them to collect genetic data from millions of women for sweeping research on the traits of populations, a Reuters review of scientific papers and company statements found. So far, more than 8 million women globally have taken prenatal tests manufactured by the BGI Group. The article reports the data could give China a path to economic and military advantage:

As science pinpoints new links between genes and human traits, access to the biggest, most diverse set of human genomes is a strategic edge. The technology could propel China to dominate global pharmaceuticals, and also potentially lead to genetically enhanced soldiers, or engineered pathogens to target the U.S. population or food supply, the advisers said.

Britney Spears's Conservatorship Ordeal
New Yorker
If you only read one article about Britney Spears, make it this comprehensive piece that could be titled: What Price Fame? The news hook is the pop singer’s effort to remove the court-ordered conservatorship established 13 years ago when she was suffering emotional problems. Although she has released four albums, headlined a global tour that grossed $131 million and performed for four years in a hit Las Vegas residency, a team of lawyers continues to make personal, economic, and legal decisions for her on the grounds of incapacity. The article details Spears’ stratospheric success and stormy personal life, presenting her as small town girl from Louisiana wrestling with the demands of fame, including those who want to feed off her success. The article reports:

The question of control has surrounded Britney Spears from the start of her career. How much was she being manipulated by the powerful men who stood to profit from her image? To what extent was her existence manufactured by the demands of the system around her? A strong sense of self-ownership always emerged from Spears in performance, specifically in dance: when she moved, she was sharp, knowing, seemingly absorbing everything thrown at her and surmounting it through sheer will and charisma. And, all along, as her fans have noticed, she has been singing songs that she didn’t write but which nonetheless seem to speak directly to her situation: my loneliness is killing me; I’m a slave for you; I’m not a girl, not yet a woman; you want a piece of me. As famous and wealthy as Spears has been since she was a teen-ager, she has never been in full control of her life. 

Kansas: Inside a Dodge City SlaughterHouse
The Atlantic
The history of journalism is filled with the heroic dispatches of intrepid reporters who have gone undercover to expose inhumanity and cruelty at mental hospitals, prisons and workplaces. This article is not one of them. Yes, Michael Holtz took a job at a Cargill meatpacking plant on the outskirts of Dodge City. No doubt the work was hard – he spent shifts cutting meat in near freezing temperatures; he cut his palm with meat hook once. While he provides vivid descriptions of the plant, his work and co-workers – most of whom are Hispanic immigrants – his piece offers an interesting look at a tough job rather than an exposé of wrongdoing. He writes:

My job on the chuck table turned out to be much more difficult than I had anticipated. The sheer volume of meat that came down the line could be overwhelming at times; more than once, I threw my hands up in defeat.

A month or so in, things started to improve. My hands were still sore most days, as were my shoulders. (In mid-August, my left ring finger would develop an annoying habit of spontaneously locking up so I couldn’t extend it—a condition known as “trigger finger.”) But at least the constant, throbbing pain had begun to relent. And now that my hands were stronger, I was getting better at the job. By the Fourth of July, I was close enough to pulling count that Billion told me I qualified. On my 20th day on the line, he drew me aside to sign some paperwork that made it official. He later gave me a white hard hat to replace the brown one that I had received during orientation. I was surprised by how excited I was to put it on.

Study: Cut Energy Use 90% to Stop Climate Change 
President Biden and climate change activists usually present the transition to a green economy as a cavalcade of riches – millions of news jobs – that will not require any sacrifice. Not so fast, says a team of European researchers who claim that in order to save the planet from catastrophic climate change, Americans will have to cut their energy use by more than 90 percent and families of four should live in housing no larger than 640 square feet. The researchers, this article reports ...

... argue that human needs are sufficiently satisfied when each person has access to the energy equivalent of 7,500 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity per capita. That is about how much energy the average Bolivian uses. Currently, Americans use about 80,000 kWh annually per capita. With respect to transportation and physical mobility, the average person would be limited to using the energy equivalent of 16–40 gallons of gasoline per year. People are assumed to take one short- to medium-haul airplane trip every three years or so. … In addition, food consumption per capita would vary depending on age and other conditions, but the average would be 2,100 calories per day. … Each individual is allocated a new clothing allowance of nine pounds per year, and clothes may be washed 20 times annually.

Coronavirus Investigations

Delta Variant: What You Need to Know Washington Post
Russia’s Epic Fail of a Pandemic Response Foreign Policy
Hospitals Often Charge Uninsured Highest Prices Wall Street Journal
Can Kansas Lab Stop Next Animal Plague? Wired
From Wuhan to Paris, Search for ‘Patient Zero’ Washington Post


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