Surprise Exit Catches Trumpworld By Surprise

The New York Times

Surprise Exit Catches Trumpworld By Surprise

Jonathan Swan and Maggie Haberman – April 25, 2023

From left: Eric Trump, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), Tucker Carlson, Donald Trump Jr. and former President Donald Trump at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., July 31, 2022. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)
From left: Eric Trump, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), Tucker Carlson, Donald Trump Jr. and former President Donald Trump at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., July 31, 2022. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)

The announcement on Monday that Fox News was parting ways with its top-rated prime-time host, Tucker Carlson, stunned people in Donald Trump’s orbit. The former president himself was surprised by the news, according to a person with direct knowledge, and his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., who is a close friend of Carlson’s, described the network’s decision as “mind-blowing.”

“I think it changes things permanently,” Donald Trump Jr. said on “The Charlie Kirk Show,” adding that Carlson was “an actual thought leader in conservatism” and a “once-in-a-generation type talent.”

The casual news observer would be forgiven for thinking that Trump and his family no longer had a relationship with Carlson, given recent disclosures of the Fox host’s scathing private text messages, which emerged as part of the conservative network’s legal battle against Dominion Voting Systems.

In early 2021, as Trump desperately tried to overturn the 2020 election, Carlson texted a confidant that he hated the president “passionately.” He also described Trump as a “demonic force.”

When the texts were released in March, Trump was wounded and called Carlson to talk about them, according to a person familiar with the outreach. But the two men patched it up quickly. Since then, they have talked regularly, exchanged text messages and appeared to have a closer relationship than at any time before, according to two people close to Trump who are familiar with their relationship and who did not want to be identified to discuss their private interactions.

In an interview with Greg Kelly of Newsmax that was recorded shortly after Carlson’s departure became public, Trump offered support for the former anchor. “I’m shocked. I’m surprised,” Trump said. “I think Tucker’s been terrific. He’s been, especially over the last year or so, he’s been terrific to me.”

Carlson did not respond to a request for comment.

Last year, some of Trump’s advisers had worried that Carlson seemed poised to support the potential presidential candidacy of Trump’s top rival, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida. Carlson had given DeSantis plenty of airtime and praised his policies. But over the past six weeks, as Trump and Carlson spoke more often, the Trump team felt increasingly confident that Carlson would not be weighing in for DeSantis, who has been heavily promoted by Rupert Murdoch’s media properties including Fox News.

The Trump team liked their odds even more when they learned that Carlson was disgusted with DeSantis’ decision, in late March, to call President Vladimir Putin of Russia a “war criminal.”

Sen. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, a close ally of both Trump and Carlson, described the Fox News host’s ousting as a shock.

“Tucker is a giant, and the most powerful voice against idiotic wars and an economy that placed plutocrats over workers,” Vance said in a text message. “This is a huge loss for a conservative movement that hopes to be worthy of its own voters. I assume he’ll land on his feet and continue to have a powerful voice. If he doesn’t it will be terrible for the country.”

“The best decision I ever made was leaving Fox. Good for you, @TuckerCarlson. You’re free & uncensored!” Kari Lake, a Republican who lost the governor’s race in Arizona last year, wrote in a tweet. Lake left her job as an anchor at a local Fox channel in 2021.

Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., struck an upbeat tone in a Monday tweet: “Wherever Tucker Carlson goes, America will follow!”

Joe Kent, a Republican who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in Washington state, tweeted, “Standing by for the launch of the Tucker news network, the people demand it!”

One close ally of Trump said he was happy that Carlson would not be able to give rocket fuel to any other candidate on Fox’s airwaves. Yet for some candidates in the Republican primary field, the loss of Carlson could mean a minefield they would have to navigate is now gone from a prominent platform.

For instance, DeSantis’ statement to Carlson weeks ago describing the Russian invasion of Ukraine as a “territorial dispute” set off alarm bells and a wave of criticism among Republicans in Washington and some donors. It represented the beginning of what has been a period of concern about DeSantis’ expected candidacy from some who had seen him as the best option to stop Trump.

A Trump adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the sense in Trump’s world was that any pro-Trump host at Fox News had something of a target on their back after the Dominion lawsuit.

Trump’s longest-serving adviser, Roger Stone, who is also an old friend of Carlson’s, said in an interview that Fox News had “essentially canceled the single most influential conservative commentator in the country, at the same time killing a cash cow for the network.”

He predicted that Carlson would take his “massive audience” wherever he ends up next.

Top Kremlin propagandist tells Tucker Carlson he should run for president and ‘You are always welcome in Russia and Moscow’


Top Kremlin propagandist tells Tucker Carlson he should run for president and ‘You are always welcome in Russia and Moscow’

Nicholas Carlson – April 24, 2023

ucker Carlson speaks during the Mathias Corvinus Collegium (MCC) Feszt on August 7, 2021 in Esztergom, Hungary.
Former Fox News host Tucker Carlson.Janos Kummer/Getty Images
  • Vladimir Solovyov is a notorious Russian propagandist.
  • He says Tucker Carlson should run for President of the United States.
  • Back when Carlson had a Fox News show he would often parrot Kremlin talking points.

The US Department of State describes Vladimir Solovyov as perhaps “the most energetic Kremlin propagandist around today.”

Solovyov is also, apparently, a Tucker Carlson fan.

On Telegram, Solovyov says that after he learned that Carlson and his long time cable network, Fox News, were parting ways, he sent him an email.

“You have our admiration and support in any endeavor you choose for yourself next, be it running for president of the United States (which you should totally do, by the way) or making an independent media project. We’ll happily offer you a job if you wish to carry on as a presenter and host!”

Soloyvov also welcomed Carlson to visit Russia.

You can read it here:

RT, the Russian state television network focused on a US audience, also appeared to offer Carlson a job today.

Carlson is popular with Russian propagandists because, back when he had a show on Fox News, he would regularly use his air time to share points of view on the war in Ukraine that were eerily similar to Russian talking points.

Last year, he said the war, which was started by Russia when it invaded a neighboring independent country, was “designed to cause regime change in Moscow” and was also “payback for the 2016 election.”

In March 2022, Mother Jones obtained a directive the Kremlin gave to state-friendly media outlets in Russia: “It is essential to use as much as possible fragments of broadcasts of the popular Fox News host Tucker Carlson.”

Now that Carlson doesn’t have a show, that directive will be more difficult for the next little while. 

Can lawmakers save the collapsing Florida home insurance market?


Can lawmakers save the collapsing Florida home insurance market?

Cate Deventer – April 24, 2023

Hurricane Ian could be ‘one of the most severe loss events in U.S. history’: Insurance expert

Insurance Information Institute Director Mark Friedlander joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the fraud and over-litigation in Florida’s insurance markets, the losses expected from Hurricane Ian, and insurance reform legislation.

The Florida home insurance market has spent most of 2022 tumbling toward collapse, but recent legislation just might avert disaster. Bankrate dug deep into the Florida insurance industry to discover the cause of the problem and to report on the proposed solutions. We can help you understand why the Florida home insurance crisis is happening and your options if you receive a cancellation or nonrenewal notice on your homeowners insurance policy.

Lightbulb Key insights Governor Ron DeSantis signed a second insurance reform bill into law on December 16, 2022. Combined with earlier legislation, these new regulations may stabilize the spasming home insurance market.

Florida accounts for only 9 percent of the country’s home insurance claims but 79 percent of its home insurance lawsuits, many of them fraudulent.
Because of the fraudulent lawsuits and the high overall claim risk in Florida, insurance companies have faced two consecutive years with net underwriting losses over $1 billion.
The devastating damage from Hurricane Ian will likely put further strain on Florida insurers and could worsen the crisis.

The crisis in the Florida insurance market

Florida has always been a complex home insurance market, but recent issues are pushing the state’s market to the point of collapse. Since 2017, six property and casualty companies that offered homeowners insurance in Florida liquidated. Five more are in the liquidation process in 2022. Other insurance companies are voluntarily leaving the state. Even more are choosing to nonrenew swaths of home insurance policies, drastically tighten their policy eligibility requirements or request substantial rate increases.

For Florida homeowners, this is resulting in fewer home insurance companies and increased premiums. When a company goes insolvent, the Florida Insurance Guaranty Association (FIGA) takes on any claims that still need to be paid by that company. In late August, FIGA’s board and the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation (OIR) approved a .7 percent assessment to help cover the costs of open claims associated with the liquidated companies. That’s the second assessment this year, with a 1.3 percent assessment approved in March. Homeowners will pay these fees regardless of the insurance company they are with.

According to Logan McFaddin, Vice President of State Government Relations at the American Property Casualty Insurance Association,

Florida’s property insurance market is in crisis as insurers grapple with out-of-control litigation costs and billions in losses from recent natural disasters.

Florida’s Insurance Consumer Advocate (ICA) Tasha Carter agrees, saying, “Homeowners insurance options in Florida have become more and more limited, and consumers are facing dire consequences.”

Why are home insurance companies leaving Florida?

Florida insurers are canceling policies, leaving the state or liquidating at a rapid pace. Why? What is behind these companies’ aversion to insuring Florida homes?

Florida has always presented a risky market to home insurance companies due to the high threat of widespread weather-related damage, but the current crisis is caused by a number of factors reaching a boiling point at the same time.

Insurance fraud in Florida

The biggest issue right now in Florida is home insurance fraud, driven by fraudulent roofing claims. A proclamation from the office of Governor Ron DeSantis notes that, although Florida only accounts for 9 percent of the country’s home insurance claims, it is home to 79 percent of the country’s home insurance lawsuits. Many of these lawsuits are fraudulent. ICA Carter explains how the scams generally work:

  1. First, roofers canvas neighborhoods and offer inspections to unsuspecting homeowners. These contractors inevitably “find damage” on the roof and often promise a “free roof” to the homeowner, claiming they can have the home insurance deductible waived.
  2. Homeowners are pressured to sign an assignment of benefits form, giving contractors the right to file an insurance claim on their behalf.
  3. claims adjuster from the insurance company inspects the alleged damage. The adjuster either finds no damage or far more minimal damage than the contractor found, and the claim payout is less than what the contractor demanded.
  4. The contractor brings legal action against the insurance company, demanding a claim payout for the contractor’s original quote. Remember, the homeowner signed the benefits of the policy to the contractor, so the contractor doesn’t need the homeowner’s permission to do this.
  5. The insurance company now has a choice: it can pay the legal costs to fight the lawsuit or pay the costs to settle out of court. Either way, the insurance company loses money due to the legal action.

ICA Carter notes that “these schemes are real and are happening more frequently,” which puts more and more financial pressure on insurance companies, especially in a state with high claims costs due to weather-related events.

According to Mark Friedlander, Director of Corporate Communications at the Insurance Information Institute, “Florida property insurers are projected to post a cumulative underwriting loss of $1.7 billion for 2021” due to these runaway litigation costs. The governor’s office reports that, for two consecutive years, net underwriting losses have exceeded $1 billion. It’s no wonder that so many companies are going insolvent or leaving the state before they reach that point.

On top of that, Florida also previously had a “one-way attorney fee” system. This meant that, when a court ruled in favor of the plaintiff (in this case, a home insurance policyholder or the third-party contractor who filed the claim), the defendant (in this case, the insurance company) was responsible for paying the plaintiff’s attorney fees. So not only were insurers paying for fraudulent lawsuits, they were also paying for the fraudster’s legal costs. Friedlander notes that the insurance reform bill passed in December 2022 “addresses the two root causes of Florida’s residential insurance crisis — litigation abuse and assignment of benefits (AOB) abuse…Eliminating both is necessary to slow down the mass volume of lawsuits being filed against Florida insurers.” Going forward, assignment of benefits forms are banned for home insurance losses and Florida will no longer operate a one-way attorney fee system.

Roof age

Instead of leaving altogether, some companies are tightening their underwriting restrictions to lessen the risk of these scams. This may be the reason why several companies — including Southern Fidelity, Progressive and Universal — have chosen to continue operations in Florida but have nonrenewed tens of thousands of policies.

However, companies are now prohibited from denying coverage solely based on roof age if the roof is fewer than 15 years old and has a life expectancy of five years at the time the policy is issued. That said, insurers will have to decide if they are comfortable with these restrictions or if they will continue leaving Florida.

Storm risk

Risk will always be a consideration for home insurance companies in Florida. The state’s shape and geographic location mean that it could get hit from either side by a hurricane. Because the peninsula is so thin, even homes in the interior counties aren’t entirely protected.

To make matters worse, fraudulent claims may be more common after severe storms — and storms are not uncommon in the state. Hurricane Ian made landfall on September 28 as a powerful Category 4 storm, causing widespread damage. The damage and financial fallout could push the already-teetering home insurance market into collapse due to increased home repair expenses, including the potential of fraudulent roof claims.

However, although the risk of hurricane damage complicates things, it isn’t what’s driving the market to the brink of collapse. After all, other risky states don’t have this problem. A high likelihood of damage generally means paying a higher premium to offset that risk, but coverage is usually still available. Oklahoma, for example, has the highest average cost of home insurance in the nation at $3,593 per year for $250K dwelling coverage due to the likelihood of tornado damage, but homeowners in the state don’t face the same difficulty finding coverage that Floridians do.

Is anything being done to curb the crisis?

Yes, although the full effects of the measures have yet to be seen. Senate Bill 76 went into effect in July 2021 and included several provisions to curb fraudulent claims causing insurers so much strain. One such provision is aimed at reducing the solicitation tactics that fraudulent contractors often use at the start of a scam. While this legal measure may help solve the problem, Sean Harper, CEO of Kin Insurance, warns that “there will need to be additional action taken to restore the market to health.”

Florida lawmakers met for a special session from May 23 through May 27. The Legislature passed an insurance reform bill that includes several provisions to help slow the spiral of the market. The provisions included setting up the My Safe Florida Home Program, which provides grants to help Florida homeowners strengthen their homes against damage. Additionally, home insurance companies will not be able to deny coverage for homes solely based on roof age if a roof is less than 15 years old and still has five years of useful life left (older roofs may still be denied as they present a high risk of damage). Finally, lawyers will be restricted in the rates they can charge for property insurance claims cases, hopefully discouraging fraudulent lawsuits and decreasing litigation costs.

Update: December Special Session yields promising reform legislation

Additional legislation was signed into law on December 16, 2022. Senate Bill 2-A. The bill has numerous provisions but focuses on one-way attorney fees and the assignment of benefits scam. Friedlander told Bankrate:

“This is the strongest insurance reform package we have ever seen passed in Florida. It shows Florida’s new legislative leaders understand the enormity of the state’s property insurance crisis and are initiating decisive actions to create a path toward stability of the market.”

Doing away with one-way attorney fees and assignment of benefit forms could potentially remove massive financial pressure from insurance companies and reduce the number of fraudulent lawsuits. The combination of actions included in Senate Bill 2-A will hopefully buoy the rapidly-sinking insurers in the Florida market.

However, Friedlander notes that change won’t happen overnight: “…it will take time to see positive impacts of the legislative reform. We expect home insurance rates in Florida to remain high in 2023 due to expenses associated with ongoing litigation, combined with soaring reinsurance rates and double-digit replacement cost increases driven by escalating prices of construction materials and labor.”

In other words, relief may be coming, but it’ll likely take some time for homeowners and insurers to feel it.

Demotech responds to potential rating downgrades

Because many home insurance companies have been hit hard by the rampant and fraudulent litigation, they may no longer be as financially stable as they were. In late July 2022, financial strength rating company Demotech announced it was considering downgrading the financial strength ratings of 27 property insurance companies.

The situation is complex. While these carriers may no longer have the financial strength they used to, downgrading also causes issues. Downgrading financial ratings impacts homeowners with federally-backed mortgages — those from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — because these lenders require home insurance companies with Demotech ratings to maintain at least an ‘A’ level. Demotech has not released the names of the companies it is considering downgrading.

“Preliminary evaluations are just that — preliminary,” Demotech President Joe Petrelli told Bankrate. Some of the 27 could retain an ‘A’ or higher rating. But if these downgrades happen, homeowners whose coverage is with an affected company may need to find another insurance carrier in a market where options are already limited or expensive.

While a rating downgrade may present challenges for a company and its insureds, that hardship cannot, and does not, factor into our ratings, which are based on specific data and the objective application of our rating methodology.— Joe PetrelliPresident of Demotech

The Florida OIR established a reinsurance fund through its last-resort insurer, Citizens. This means that if an insurance company’s financial strength rating is downgraded below the ‘A’ level, the downgraded company could purchase coverage from Citizens to back it, similar to a co-signer backing a loan. Reinsurance through Citizens would allow the downgraded insurance company to meet Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s requirements. This is important because it would prevent policyholders from being required to find a new property insurer. However, a reinsurance solution further strains Citizens, which is already taking on substantial risk by insuring more policyholders in the state as other insurance companies exit Florida.

Learn more: Demotech downgrades and what they might mean for the Florida property insurance market

Update: Florida seeks to replace Demotech

On September 9, the Florida legislature approved a $1.5 million plan to search for a financial strength rating company to replace Demotech. The state will hire a consultant to seek out alternatives that may include finding another company or creating a state-backed financial strength rating agency. Petrelli released a statement in response:

“Since 1996 in Florida, Demotech has provided neutral, unbiased ratings to property insurers, among the approximately 50,000 such ratings we have produced across the country. Our review and analysis process has remained consistent throughout this time. Currently, at least four rating organizations acceptable to the government-sponsored mortgage enterprises operate in Florida and countrywide, and a research effort on rating alternatives could be accomplished at no cost to the taxpayers by reviewing existing Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae sellers or servicer guides. Today’s action is an unnecessary response to a problem that does not exist. The reality is that when Hurricane Andrew devastated the state nearly 30 years ago, the rating agencies involved in Florida chose to step away — but Demotech stepped up.”

It remains to be seen if finding another ratings agency will produce meaningful results toward correcting the Florida home insurance crisis. As always, Bankrate continues to monitor the situation.

How to lessen your risk of nonrenewal

If you live in Florida, having a plan could help you lessen your risk of receiving an insurance nonrenewal. There’s nothing you can do to prevent your company from pulling out of the state, but there are steps you can take to make your home as insurable as possible:

  • Keep your roof updated and in good shape: Inspect your roof regularly and repair minor damage as it happens. If you can afford to, replace your roof before it reaches 15 years of age to lessen the risk of being nonrenewed.
  • Install wind mitigation features: State law requires Florida home insurance companies to offer discounts for certain wind protection features, such as hurricane straps and other roof-bracing measures. These features lessen the risk of severe damage to your home, thus making your property more attractive to insurers.
  • Maintain your property: Generally, maintaining your property will make finding insurance coverage easier. Along with checking your roof, also regularly check the rest of the exterior features of your home for damage. You should also make sure no large tree branches or other potential hazards overhang your home, as these could put you at risk of roof damage in a windstorm.

Additionally, there are ways you can lessen the impact of home insurance fraud and help keep companies from having to liquidate. ICA Carter points out that “consumers have the power to help stop contractor fraud by being informed and reporting fraud.”

  • Know the signs and stay educated: ICA Carter created educational resources called “Demolish Contractor Fraud: Steps to Avoid Falling Victim” that may help homeowners recognize the signs of fraud, stop it before it happens and report it.
  • Be wary of solicitation: Soliciting business isn’t against the law, but contractors who canvas neighborhoods after storms — and especially those who offer incentives and rebates for an inspection — may be part of a scam. Instead, contact your insurance company if you are concerned your home sustained damage after a storm.
  • Do not sign an assignment of benefits form: These forms have been banned by Senate Bill 2-A, but keeping an eye out for them as you work with a contractor could still be useful. By keeping control of your policy, you decide if a lawsuit is filed, which vastly cuts down on fraudulent litigation. It’s worth noting that these forms are often buried within otherwise legitimate-looking contracts. Once you’ve signed, the form is legally binding, so it’s important to read everything you are asked to sign. Do not let a contractor simply point out a signature section on paperwork or scroll past the details on a tablet screen. Read the entire document carefully.

Additionally, some companies now offer a discount if you agree to make your policy unassignable. Kin is one such company, and Harper notes that having a high number of unassignable policies has shielded the company from much of the litigation nightmare ensnaring other carriers.

What to do if your home insurance has been canceled

If you’ve received a Florida homeowners insurance cancellation, act quickly. With hurricane season approaching and the insurance market in turmoil, getting another policy could be difficult, but it is possible.

McFaddin recommends that you “work closely with your insurer or insurance agent to see what options may be available to you.” ICA Carter’s advice was similar, advising that “consumers should contact their insurance agency immediately to determine what their options are for homeowners insurance.”

If you’re struggling to find home insurance coverage in Florida, there are still a few companies that may be able to help.


No home insurance company in Florida is immune to the ripping effects of raging litigation, but Harper notes that his company has “some things that we’re doing that allow us to stay open in Florida when other folks aren’t or are going out of business.” In addition to the bulk of the company’s policies being unassignable, the company also employs a unique system for assessing claim damage.

Harper explains that Kin uses software that monitors weather systems and accurately pinpoints which houses may be damaged. The company can then proactively reach out to homeowners to determine if a claim needs to be filed, thereby cutting out potentially predatory contractors.

It sounds crazy, right, to be an insurance company that is asking our customers for claims? But it actually pays off.— Sean HarperCEO of Kin Insurance

Citizens Property Insurance Corporation

Citizens is often one of the only options for homeowners in many areas of the state. The company has experienced rapid growth due to other carriers leaving the market. In 2018, the company had only 414,000 active policies; by August 2022, that number had ballooned to over 1,000,000. Michael Peltier, the spokesperson for Citizens, told Bankrate that the company is writing 5,000 to 6,000 new policies per week, and that in many parts of the state, Citizens is “the only game in town right now.”

Even so, Peltier says that “we do have underwriting guidelines,” so it may not be an option for all homeowners. Citizens is also affected by the same issues that are plaguing other insurance carriers and have recently raised their rates. Although the company requested a 10.7 percent increase on standard home insurance policies, the Florida OIR approved a 6.4 percent increase. While 6.4 percent is certainly better than 10.7 percent, it’s likely that many Citizens policyholders will still feel the strain of a larger bill. The rate increase will go into effect on September 1.

Additionally, Friedlander warns that, because Citizens is insuring so many of the high-risk homes that other carriers have walked away from, “a major hurricane striking Florida could have devastating effects” on the company and the industry. Offering reinsurance to companies if Demotech does downgrade ratings will add more risk to Citizens if a disaster strikes.

Citizens may get some relief from the December 2022 reform bill, though. Policyholders must now accept private insurance quotes if they are no more than 20 percent higher than Citizens’ quotes. Additionally, Citizens’ rates must be actuarially sound but are now required to be non-competitive with the private insurance market. Finally, Citizens policyholders will be required to carry flood insurance. Rates for a last-resort policy are likely to be higher going forward, but that should theoretically help curb the influx of policies that could drown Citizens entirely.

Update: Slide Insurance takes on some St. Johns and UPC policyholders after insolvency

Since its 2021 inception, Tampa-based company Slide Insurance has embraced taking on books of business from insolvent Florida home insurance companies.

In February of 2022, the Florida OIR announced that Slide would absorb about 147,000 policyholders from St. Johns Insurance Company when it reported its insolvency. In a similar move, approximately 72,000 UPC Insurance policyholders were transferred to Slide when UPC went belly-up in February 2023.

But what is Slide Insurance? Founded by former Heritage Insurance CEO Bruce Lucas, Slide is an insurtech that relies on AI and large data sets for its underwriting models. The company claims this is the edge it needs to thrive in the challenged Florida homeowners insurance market. Slide is rated A (Exceptional) by Demotech.

If you’re one of the many homeowners who have found themselves transferred to Slide, you might be wondering what’s next. According to the company, policyholders have no actions to take — as long as you pay your premiums, there will be no lapse of coverage. Additionally, Slide will notify your mortgage company for escrow purposes (if applicable).

One important thing to note is that Slide will not handle any open UPC claims that occurred before February 1, 2023. Instead, those that need help with an existing UPC claim should contact the UPC claims center directly.

Update: Florida OIR announces Tailrow Insurance Company as newest carrier to enter the Florida home insurance market

In April 2023, the Florida OIR announced that it approved the application for Tailrow Insurance Company, bringing a new carrier into the state.

While Tailrow is yet to be formed (the company has provisions to meet before the OIR will authorize it to do business), this may be a promising first step in stabilizing the market. Bankate’s experts are committed to staying on top of this story and will bring our readers new information as it unfolds.

The bottom line

Florida home insurance has always been complex due to the state’s high risk of storm damage, but the incidence of fraudulent roofing claims has pushed the market to the brink of collapse. The problem may not stay in Florida, either; if other high-risk states like Louisiana and California see an increase in insurance fraud, those markets could begin to degrade. There is hope, though, as measures are put into place to protect companies and policyholders from financial strength rating downgrades, laws are passed that could help curb scams and carriers take a different approach to insuring homes in the Sunshine State. But will these measures be enough to save a market in turmoil?

Dangers from future technologies? It’s the current ones that are killing us

Resilience – Environment

Dangers from future technologies? It’s the current ones that are killing us

By Kurt Cobb, originally published by Resource Insights 

April 23, 2023

vision of the future
Image: “A futuristic vision: the advance of technology leads to rapid transport, sophisticated tastes among the masses, mechanization, and extravagant building projects. Coloured etching by William Heath” (1829). Via Wikimedia Commons

Certainly, there a plenty of horror stories about possible disasters awaiting us from emerging technologies. I’ve written about two of them: 1) the possibility of small cheap, AI-guided drones used to commit mass slaughter (or targeted assassinations) and 2) lethal synthetic viruses for warfare or released by an apocalyptic cult trying to bring the apocalypse forward on the calendar. More recently, some have predicted that advances in artificial intelligence will ultimately lead to the destruction of humanity.

As bad as these sound, it’s possible that doomscrolling our way through the breathless coverage of dangerous new technologies is distracting us from what is already happening in right front of us: Existing technologies are already pushing humans quickly down the path to extinction (along with many plants and animals). Pretending that dangers to the survival of the human species come ONLY from the future is a perilous diversion.

In fact, the combination of climate change; the increasingly toxic pollution of the soil, water and air; depletion of arable soil, water, energy and critical metals; galloping development of wild and farm lands; and second order effects such as habitat and biodiversity loss, acidification of the oceans and dramatic loss of Greenland’s ice that may lead to a breakdown in the Gulf Stream ocean current that keeps much of Europe temperate—all this has gathered so much momentum that, frankly, we don’t need any help from the future to kill ourselves as a species. (Oh, I almost forgot; we could obliterate ourselves with a nuclear winter without any new nuclear technology or warheads needed.)

It turns out that we may be doing such a good job of threatening our species already that the emerging technologies we fear most will never get a chance to fully emerge. In the not-too-distant future, we humans may already be gone or our societies so degraded that launching a second apocalypse with the help of new technologies will be a practical impossibility. We won’t have the functioning infrastructure to do it!

And, that is basically the key to the lethality of most emerging technologies: connectivity. If communities become so isolated that inhabitants cannot travel to distant places harboring designer virus outbreaks, humanity will paradoxically be saved from extinction because of the loss of technology and any attendant mobility. Contemplate that for moment!

As for artificial intelligence, well, it needs a vast infrastructure of connected information sources to be effective. When I asked friends recently why we can’t literally just pull the plug on AI if it becomes dangerous, they had many explanations. But, perhaps the most telling one was that we have become so networked across the globe and AI will be so distributed, that we’d effectively have to pull the plug on ourselves—and we are not willing to do that even if not pulling the plug ultimately leads to our destruction.

Of course, the public has been told again and again that emerging technologies will bring abundance for all, solve climate change, get rid of pollution, cure most diseases, produce so much energy we’ll never have to think about the cost, and actually help regenerate the soil and the forests while increasing biodiversity.

I don’t know what they’ve been waiting for, but the tech overlords who’ve sold us this story had better get busy right now. There isn’t much time left for them to build out their “solutions.”

Kurt Cobb

Kurt Cobb is a freelance writer and communications consultant who writes frequently about energy and environment. His work has appeared in The Christian Science Monitor, Common Dreams, Le Monde Diplomatique,, OilVoice, TalkMarkets,, Business Insider and many other places. He is the author of an oil-themed novel entitled Prelude and has a widely followed blog called Resource Insights. He is currently a fellow of the Arthur Morgan Institute for Community Solutions.

A California journalist documents the far-right takeover of her town: ‘We’re a test case’

The Guardian

A California journalist documents the far-right takeover of her town: ‘We’re a test case’

Dani Anguiano in Redding with photographs by Marlena Sloss

April 22, 2023

In a seemingly long gone era – before the Trump presidency, and Covid, and the 2020 election – Doni Chamberlain would get the occasional call from a displeased reader who had taken issue with one of her columns. They would sometimes call her stupid and use profanities.

Today, when people don’t like her pieces, Chamberlain said, they tell her she’s a communist who doesn’t deserve to live. One local conservative radio host said she should be hanged.

Chamberlain, 66, has worked as a journalist in Shasta county, California, for nearly 30 years.

Never before in this far northern California outpost has she witnessed such open hostility towards the press.

She has learned to take precautions. No meeting sources in public. She livestreams rowdy events where the crowd is less than friendly and doesn’t walk to her car without scanning the street. Sometimes, restraining orders can be necessary tools.

Related: Far-right county throws out voting machines – with nothing to replace them

These practices have become crucial in the last three years, she said, as she’s documented the county’s shift to the far right and the rise of an ultraconservative coalition into the area’s highest office. Shasta, Chamberlain said, is in the midst of a “perfect storm” as different hard-right factions have joined together to form a powerful political force with outside funding and publicity from fringe figures.

The new majority, backed by militia members, anti-vaxxers, election deniers and residents who have long felt forgotten by governments in Sacramento and Washington, has fired the county health officer and done away with the region’s voting system. Politically moderate public officials have faced bullying, intimidation and threats of violence. County meetings have turned into hours-long shouting matches.

Chamberlain and her team at A News Cafe, the news site she runs, have covered it all. Her writing has made her a public enemy of the conservative crowd intent on remaking the county. Far-right leaders have confronted her at rallies and public meetings, mocking and berating her. At a militia-organized protest in 2021, the crowd screamed insults.

The response of parts of her community has left her shocked: “This isn’t how it’s supposed to be to be a journalist. I shouldn’t go to my car afraid one of these guys is gonna bash me in the head with a baseball bat,” she said on a beautiful spring day in Redding late last month.

But it has left her with a sense of urgency, a determination to warn readers about a movement that shows no signs of slowing down and could have national repercussions as extremists try to create a framework that could be replicated elsewhere. “I can’t imagine how bad things can get here,” she said.

A community swinging to the extreme right

A lifelong Shasta county resident, Chamberlain became a cub reporter in her late thirties. She went to college later in life after marrying her high school sweetheart and having children. She initially wanted to be a social worker but has always been drawn to scratching under the surface of things, she said, a tendency she attributed to her childhood: after the death of her mother, she and her sisters were raised by a family that was far less kind than they appeared to be from the outside.

For 10 years, she wrote a beloved column at the local newspaper, telling the stories of community characters and sharing her personal experiences, like her son’s deployment to Iraq. When she was laid off, a hundred people picketed outside the newspaper’s office.

With help from her son, she started A News Cafe, an online magazine that documents local affairs, and readers came with her. Just before Covid hit, she had considered selling the website, and then decided to scale back operations and change its focus to town happenings and recipes, a favorite topic of the hobby baker.

But then Covid shut down the state, and laid bare the bitter fault lines that divided this community.

Residents angry over pandemic closures began filling county meetings, sometimes forcing their way inside, and directed their ire at elected officials who enforced only the minimum restrictions required by the state. One local resident, Carlos Zapata, warned the board of supervisors at a meeting in August 2020 to reopen the county or things wouldn’t be “peaceful much longer”.

“When the ballot box is gone, there is only the cartridge box. You have made bullets expensive, but luckily for you, ropes are reusable,” another resident said at a board of supervisors meeting in January 2021.

Religious leaders defied state orders and continued holding events. Bethel church, a Redding megachurch with more than 11,000 members and a major footprint in this city of 92,000, reported hundreds of cases at its school of “supernatural ministry”.

But there was more than just a backlash under way. The anger coalesced into an anti-establishment movement backed financially by the Connecticut millionaire Reverge Anselmo, who has a longstanding grudge against the county over a failed effort to start a winery.

Leaders of the movement sought to recall county supervisors, and produced a glossy documentary series about their efforts to “take back” their county. In February 2022, voters ousted a longtime supervisor, a former police chief and self-described Reagan Republican, and gained control of the board of supervisors.

The climate in the area had shifted, residents said, and those who had expressed support for officials and Covid rules encountered hostility. One man had his tires slashed, Chamberlain said. Others reported being mocked and bullied in public for wearing masks.

Still, the recall election saw low turnout with just 41% of eligible voters casting a ballot. Though many residents opposed the rightwing agenda, they didn’t take the threat seriously, Chamberlain said.

Chamberlain followed the upheaval closely, and the far-right figures driving it, while still writing stories about the joys of loungewear and how to sell old belongings.

She began documenting the political developments through chatty and irreverent opinion columns, with analysis of what’s happening and who’s behind it, and warnings of the danger it poses to the community.

“As the shit storm of civil unrest piles up, the North State has become a tinderbox at the ready, on the verge of ignition. Slogans and memes are the kindling. Calls to action, aggression and civil war are often found on the same Facebook pages as family photos, holiday greetings and birthday wishes,” she wrote in August 2020.

Chamberlain and A News Cafe reporters were also often breaking news: a Bethel church leader officiating his son’s wedding, a large gathering held in defiance of Covid restrictions; a pandemic shortage of nurses temporarily closing a local neonatal intensive care unit; and a sheriff’s deputy promoting far-right extremist content on social media.

Chamberlain described Zapata, the resident who had threatened violence and had become the public face of Shasta county’s anti-establishment movement, as an “alt-right recall kingpin/militia member/bull-semen purveyor/restaurant owner/former Florida strip-club owner”. He lashed out in comments before the board of supervisor that Chamberlain was “coward” who wants to “poison children”.

Zapata told the Guardian he was frustrated with Chamberlain’s “incessant writing” about him and what he described as attacks on his reputation and his family. He argued he was cordial and willing to sit down for an interview, but feels Chamberlain has created a caricature of him by taking things out of context.

“I stand for the majority of residents in Shasta county who want to ensure Shasta county remains a safe and healthy place for our children to grow and prosper,” he said in a statement. “Doni doesn’t like that. That is why she has made it her priority to attack me in the name of journalism for several years.”

Zapata is the only person in Chamberlain’s three decade career whom she has refused to interview, the journalist said. Instead, she has quoted his statements and social media posts rather than speak with him directly. “He has used very abusive language. He has made threats against people. He doesn’t tell the truth often. I refuse to write things that I know are not going to be true.”

Chamberlain has made a point of not interacting with those who attack her directly, and continuing her reporting. But the exchanges, along with the menacing, graphic threats to her and her staff and others in the community, and the lack of action from law enforcement have fundamentally changed how she approaches her job.

Last year, for example, A News Cafe reported that Zapata had threatened a local man in a voicemail, telling him he was a “dead motherfucker” for talking about Zapata’s wife. Zapata apologized and law enforcement forwarded the case to the district attorney, requesting a charge of terrorist threats, Chamberlain said, but nothing has come of it. “Every time one of those guys gets away with saying something like that, with zero consequences, it moves the line a little further.”

Zapata described the incident to the Guardian as a “situation between two grown men”. “It was handled and there hasn’t been any further issue,” he said.

But the threats make doing journalism in Shasta county particularly challenging, she added. Finding sources is difficult. Many people are afraid of speaking out, even anonymously.

And her family worries for her. Her son has put cameras all around the house. For Mother’s Day, he gifted her gel pepper spray. She keeps an air horn next to her bed.

Chamberlain’s twin sister has warned her not to poke the bear.

“I say, ‘I’m not poking a bear, I’m just holding a flashlight, I’m reporting things other people can’t go report,’” she said. “I feel a moral responsibility to let people know what’s happening.”

Amid the rage, a loyal following

Chamberlain has vocal opponents, but she also has devoted followers.

As local journalism across the US disappears, Chamberlain has found a winning formula. Her site attracts more than 100,000 unique visitors a month, according to Chamberlain, and hundreds donate, locally and from across the US. She has several paid editorial staff members, even more than the local newspaper, she says. She’s looking to hire more.

At a board of supervisors meeting in March on the hiring of a new county CEO and the voting system, audience members could be seen browsing her site. (It had just published two bombshell stories: one revealing that police were investigating the county’s top candidate for said CEO job, a leader of a California secessionist group, for an incident with a teenage girl at a local business; the other an analysis from the county clerk about the risks of introducing an untested manual tally voting system in response to disproven theories about Dominion voting machines.) Chamberlain was sitting in the front of the room, her notebook and pen in hand.

In the back of the chambers, Jeff Gorder, the retired Shasta county public defender who came to urge supervisors to keep its voting system intact, said he was a longtime reader of the site. “What would we do without journalists like that to follow up on all of these issues? We’d really been in a world of hurt. Journalism is going away at the local level, so I’m really glad that we have them,” he said. “She’s just very thorough.”

Chamberlain has no plans to slow down and said she pulls all-nighters at least four times a month.

“As a journalist, you couldn’t ask for a place to have a more exciting job because so much is happening here,” she said.

She balances her work with the things that bring her joy: baking, spending time with friends and working on her home.

“There’s so many things that are out of my control. And what’s happening in Shasta county, all that kind of stuff is out of my control. So what I do have control of is planting, I planted hundreds of bulbs,” Chamberlain said. “That’s an optimistic thing to do. And when I was planting them, I was thinking, ‘I wonder what things will be like here when those tulips bloom.’”

Still, she fears for the future of Shasta county and the repercussions it could have. “I think we’re a test case for rightwing folks like [Mike] Lindell,” she said. “These big heavy-hitting wealthy people are using Shasta county, I believe, as this little petri dish … And so far, it’s working. I’m watching it unveil before my very eyes. And it’s terrifying.”

If GOP doesn’t listen to Nancy Mace on abortion, the party can count on losing big in 2024

The Abilene Reporter – News – Opinion

If GOP doesn’t listen to Nancy Mace on abortion, the party can count on losing big in 2024

Ingrid Jacques, USA TODAY – April 22, 2023

South Carolina U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace seems to understand some things that many others in her Republican Party are missing.

On issues such as abortion and guns, compromise is going to be necessary – or the GOP will lose the support of all but its most devout proponents. And that is not a recipe for winning elections.

Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year, Mace has advocated a “middle ground” approach to abortion rights, warning that extreme anti-abortion views allowing for few if any exceptions aren’t compassionate toward women and will alienate moderate conservatives and independent voters. The majority of Americans now support legal abortion in most cases, according to polls.

Voters supported abortion rights: Here’s what anti-abortion leaders should learn from it

“The middle, the independent voters, right of center, left of center, they cannot support us,” Mace said on a Sunday TV show.

Court battle renews focus on abortion

The midterm elections made it clear that voters were motivated on the issue of abortion, and many Republicans weren’t ready with a message that resonated – if they had one at all.

Even former President Donald Trump has pointed out that the GOP fell short on the issue. While he was likely trying to take the heat away from his own role in the party’s losses, he has a good point.

And now the legal battle over access to frequently used abortion pill mifepristone has brought fresh attention to the matter. After a federal judge in Texas halted Food and Drug Administration approval of the drug this month, the case has moved quickly through the courts.

The debate over this pill is a big deal, because more than half of abortions in the United States are medication abortions. Mifepristone is used in conjunction with misoprostol, which can also be used on its own. The two drugs are also used to treat miscarriages.

The Supreme Court is expected Wednesday to make a decision about whether to uphold an appeals court’s restrictions on the drug. Last week, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the Biden administration that FDA approval of mifepristone could continue, but it allowed other restrictions on the drug’s access to stand.

A plea for ‘common sense’

The judge’s decision sparked outrage from Democrats, including New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who said the Biden administration should simply ignore the ruling. Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon echoed the sentiment.

Mace joined in shortly thereafter, saying she agreed with “ignoring it at this point.”

As I wrote previously about Ocasio-Cortez and Wyden, Mace took things too far by making the argument that the executive branch can simply ignore the judicial branch when it doesn’t like a court decision. The ruling needs to play out in the courts, and it is.

Her broader point is worthy of consideration, however.

“This is an issue that Republicans have been largely on the wrong side of,” Mace told CNN after the Texas judge’s decision. “We have, over the last nine months, not shown compassion toward women, and this is one of those issues that I’ve tried to lead on as someone who’s pro-life and just have some common sense.”

Political decisions on issues as impactful as abortion shouldn’t be based solely on polls. Yet conservatives have to realize that imposing too much change at once on citizens will backfire on them.

USA TODAY columnist Ingrid Jacques
USA TODAY columnist Ingrid Jacques

Politicians and groups opposed to abortion should listen to voices like Mace and fine-tune a strategy going into 2024 that is reasonable and won’t create a backlash that could hurt the GOP for years to come.

Japan has almost completely eliminated gun deaths — here’s how

Business Insider

Japan has almost completely eliminated gun deaths — here’s how

Chris Weller, Erin Snodgrass, Katie Anthony, Azmi Haroun, Lloyd Lee – April 20, 2023

japan gun shotgun
japan gun shotgun


  • Japan is a country of more than 127 million people, but it rarely sees more than 10 gun deaths a year.
  • Culture is one reason for the low rate, but gun control is a major one, too.
  • Japan has a long list of tests that applicants must pass before gaining access to a small pool of guns. 

A recent spate of mass shootings has prompted intensified discussions around gun control in the US.

On Saturday, four people were killed and 32 were injured in a shooting in Dadeville, Alabama, during a 16th birthday party. Last month, a 28-year-old woman opened fire at The Covenant School in Nashville, Tennessee, killing three elementary school students and three adult staff members, according to police.

The attacks come on the heels of several other mass shootings in the past year, including at a Fourth of July parade in Illinois, in a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, and at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

There was 17 mass shooting this year, with 88 people killed, according to The Associated Press.

One of the biggest questions being asked: How does the US prevent this from happening over and over again?

Although the US has no exact counterpart elsewhere in the world, some countries have taken steps that can provide a window into what successful gun control looks like. Japan, a country of 127 million people and yearly gun deaths rarely totaling more than 10, is one such country.

“Ever since guns entered the country, Japan has always had strict gun laws,” Iain Overton, executive director of Action on Armed Violence, a British advocacy group, told the BBC. “They are the first nation to impose gun laws in the whole world, and I think it laid down a bedrock saying that guns really don’t play a part in civilian society.”

Japan is a country with regulations upon regulations

Japan’s success in curbing gun deaths is intimately linked with its history. Following World War II, pacifism emerged as one of the dominant philosophies in the country. Police only started carrying firearms after American troops made them, in 1946, for the sake of security. It’s also written into Japanese law, as of 1958, that “no person shall possess a firearm or firearms or a sword or swords.”

The government has since loosened the law, but the fact Japan enacted gun control from the stance of prohibition is important. (It’s also one of the main factors separating Japan from the US, where the Second Amendment broadly permits people to own guns.)

If Japanese people want to own a gun, they must attend an all-day class, pass a written test, and achieve at least 95% accuracy during a shooting-range test. Then they have to pass a mental-health evaluation, which takes place at a hospital, and pass a background check, in which the government digs into their criminal record and interviews friends and family. They can only buy shotguns and air rifles — no handguns — and every three years they must retake the class and initial exam.

japan riot police
Even Japanese riot police infrequently turn to guns, instead preferring long batons.Toru Hanai/Reuters

Japan has also embraced the idea that fewer guns in circulation will result in fewer deaths. Each prefecture — which ranges in size from half a million people to 12 million, in Tokyo — can operate a maximum of three gun shops; new magazines can only be purchased by trading in empty ones; and when gun owners die, their relatives must surrender the deceased member’s firearms.

The role of trust can’t be overstated

The result is a situation where citizens and police seldom wield or use guns.

Off-duty police aren’t allowed to carry firearms, and most encounters with suspects involve some combination of martial arts or striking weapons. When Japanese attacks do turn deadly, they generally involve fatal stabbings. In July of 2016, an assailant killed 19 people in an assisted living facility. Japan rarely sees so many fatalities from guns in an entire year.

Yet even Japan is not immune to gun violence. The assassination of former the county’s former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on July 8, 2022, shocked the nation. Abe was shot and killed by a shooting suspect wielding what appeared to be a homemade firearm constructed of metal barrels attached to wood with black tape.

Video from the moments before Abe was shot show the suspect standing close behind him with little visible security around him. 

Nancy Snow, Japan director of the International Security Industrial Council, told Insider that Japan will be “forever changed” by Abe’s death.

“When I talk about Japan changing forever — the Japanese people, it’s hard to even have a conversation with them about the gun culture in the United States, without people getting viscerally upset thinking about it because they say, we’re not that country,” Snow said.

Gun control in Japan, combined with the prevailing respect for authority, has led to a more harmonious relationship between civilians and the police than in the US. It’s something of a chicken-egg problem: The police, in choosing to use sub-lethal force on people, generate less widespread fear among the public that they’ll be shot. In turn, people feel less of a need to arm themselves.

The US, meanwhile, has a more militarized police force that uses automatic weapons and armored cars. There is also less widespread trust between people (and between people and institutions). The factors combine to produce a much fearful culture that can seem to be always on-edge.

Japan’s approach would be a tough sell in the face of American gun culture, but it can provide a starting point for reining in the senseless violence that has become a hallmark of life in the US.

As Fears of Banking Crisis Surged, Members of Congress Sold Bank Shares

The New York Times

As Fears of Banking Crisis Surged, Members of Congress Sold Bank Shares

Kate Kelly – April 20, 2023

An account belonging to Representative Jared Moskowitz’s children sold shares of Seacoast Banking Corporation as fears of a banking crisis rattled investors. (AP)

WASHINGTON — On March 10, as fears were swirling over the health of the nation’s banks, an investment account belonging to the children of Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Fla., sold shares of Seacoast Banking Corp. worth $65,000 to $150,000.

Two days later, with the government working to control the crisis, Moskowitz said in a television interview that he had attended a bipartisan congressional briefing on the tumult. And on March 13, as investors fretted over the failure of Silicon Valley Bank and two other, smaller banks, Seacoast Banking shares fell nearly 20%.

A spokesperson for Moskowitz said in an email that the Seacoast share sales had been suggested by the congressman’s financial adviser as a means to diversify his young children’s holdings. Moskowitz said the congressional briefing on the bank crisis had taken place just before the television interview and after the shares were sold.

But the transaction was just one example of how members of Congress continue to buy and sell stocks and other financial assets in industries that intersect with their official duties.

At least eight members of Congress or their close relatives sold shares of bank stocks in March, according to an analysis by Capitol Trades, a project of the data firm 2iQ — a number that could rise in the coming days, as lawmakers make additional disclosures of trades made last month.

Although broadly legal, stock trading by members of Congress has become a flashpoint because lawmakers are sometimes privy to closely held information about the companies and industries they oversee.

A New York Times investigation last year showed that during a three-year period, nearly one-fifth of federal lawmakers or their immediate family members had bought or sold stocks or other securities that could have been affected by their legislative work.

Efforts to pass legislation to place limits on trading by members of Congress or to ban it have stalled in recent years. On Capitol Hill on Tuesday, Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, announced a new bill intended to eliminate the practice that has 19 co-sponsors in the Senate.

A House version of the bill is co-sponsored by Rep. Michael Cloud, R-Texas, and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill.

“As the Silicon Valley Bank was closed, even during that period, there were reports that members of Congress were trading bank stocks,” Brown said. “I mean, imagine that — that members of Congress, we have more inside information,” he said, adding, “members of Congress are able, because of our jobs, to know more about the economy.”

Rep. Dan Goldman, D-N.Y., sold shares of First Republic Bank, the large depositor that was rapidly losing both cash and clients, on March 15, the day before it received an industry bailout of $30 million.

The wife and children of Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., sold First Republic shares that same day. Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, sold shares in First Republic from a joint account with his spouse on March 16, the day the industry bailout occurred.

By that time, First Republic shares had already fallen nearly 80% from a February peak. The timing of the sales by those three lawmakers or their relatives meant that the sellers averted an additional price swoon that was still to come. First Republic stock is down nearly 90% since the beginning of this year.

A spokesperson for Goldman has said that his portfolio is managed by a third party without his knowledge and that he is setting up a blind trust to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest. Khanna has said that his filings relate to trades made by a diversified trust belonging to his wife and young children and that he has no involvement in it. Spokespersons for Curtis did not respond to requests for comment.

Some members were also buying bank shares during the volatility. On March 17, Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, R-N.Y., bought shares of New York Community Bancorp after private discussions with New York state bank regulators. Her transaction was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Two days later, New York Community Bancorp bought assets belonging to the failed Signature Bank — a deal that prompted its biggest share rally ever. Around that same time, other lawmakers, including Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., and family members of Khanna, bought shares in larger U.S. banks, like Truist Financial. Goldman, among other transactions, made a series of purchases of shares in foreign banks, like Lloyds Banking Group and Mizuho Financial Group.

A spokesperson for Malliotakis said that her financial adviser had recommended the purchase and that it amounted to less than $5,000 in value. A spokesperson for Peters did not respond to questions about the transaction.

Will the West Turn Ukraine into a Nuclear Battlefield?

Resilience – Energy

Will the West Turn Ukraine into a Nuclear Battlefield?

By Joshua Frank, originally published by Tom Dispatch 

April 20, 2023

Why Depleted Uranium Should Have No Place There

It’s sure to be a blood-soaked spring in Ukraine. Russia’s winter offensive fell far short of Vladimir Putin’s objectives, leaving little doubt that the West’s conveyor belt of weaponry has aided Ukraine’s defenses. Cease-fire negotiations have never truly begun, while NATO has only strengthened its forces thanks to Finland’s new membership (with Sweden soon likely to follow). Still, tens of thousands of people have perished; whole villages, even cities, have been reduced to rubble; millions of Ukrainians have poured into Poland and elsewhere; while Russia’s brutish invasion rages on with no end in sight.

The hope, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, is that the Western allies will continue to furnish money, tanks, missiles, and everything else his battered country needs to fend off Putin’s forces. The war will be won, according to Zelensky, not through backroom compromises but on the battlefield with guns and ammo.

“I appeal to you and the world with these most simple and yet important words,” he said to a joint session of Great Britain’s parliament in February. “Combat aircraft for Ukraine, wings for freedom.”

The United Kingdom, which has committed well over $2 billion in assistance to Ukraine, has so far refused to ship fighter jets there but has promised to supply more weaponry, including tank shells made with depleted uranium (DU), also known as “radioactive bullets.” A by-product of uranium enrichment, DU is a very dense and radioactive metal that, when housed in small torpedo-like munitions, can pierce thickly armored tanks and other vehicles.

Reacting to the British announcement, Putin ominously said he would “respond accordingly” if the Ukrainians begin blasting off rounds of DU.

While the UK’s decision to send depleted-uranium shells to Ukraine is unlikely to prove a turning point in the war’s outcome, it will have a lasting, potentially devastating, impact on soldiers, civilians, and the environment. The controversial deployment of DU doesn’t pose faintly the same risks as the actual nuclear weapons Putin and his associates have hinted they might use someday in Ukraine or as would a potential meltdown at the embattled Zaporizhzhia nuclear facility in that country. Still, its use will certainly help create an even more lethal, all too literally radioactive theater of war — and Ukraine will end up paying a price for it.

The Radioactive Lions of Babylon

Stuart Dyson survived his deployment in the first Gulf War of 1991, where he served as a lance corporal with Britain’s Royal Pioneer Corps. His task in Kuwait was simple enough: he was to help clean up “dirty” tanks after they had seen battle. Many of the machines he spent hours scrubbing down had carried and fired depleted uranium shells used to penetrate and disable Iraq’s T-72 tanks, better known as the Lions of Babylon.

Dyson spent five months in that war zone, ensuring American and British tanks were cleaned, armed, and ready for battle. When the war ended, he returned home, hoping to put his time in the Gulf War behind him. He found a decent job, married, and had children. Yet his health deteriorated rapidly and he came to believe that his military service was to blame. Like so many others who had served in that conflict, Dyson suffered from a mysterious and debilitating illness that came to be known as Gulf War Syndrome.

After Dyson suffered years of peculiar ailments, ranging from headaches to dizziness and muscle tremors, doctors discovered that he had a severe case of colon cancer, which rapidly spread to his spleen and liver. The prognosis was bleak and, after a short battle, his body finally gave up. Stuart Dyson died in 2008 at the age of 39.

His saga is unique, not because he was the only veteran of the first Gulf War to die of such a cancer at a young age, but because his cancer was later recognized in a court of law as having been caused by exposure to depleted uranium. In a landmark 2009 ruling, jurors at the Smethwick Council House in the UK found that Dyson’s cancer had resulted from DU accumulating in his body, and in particular his internal organs.

“My feeling about Mr. Dyson’s colon cancer is that it was produced because he ingested some radioactive material and it became trapped in his intestine,” Professor Christopher Busby, an expert on the effects of uranium on health, said in his court testimony. “To my mind, there seems to be a causal arrow from his exposure to his final illness. It’s certainly much more probable than not that Mr. Dyson’s cancer was caused by exposure to depleted uranium.”

The U.S. Department of Defense estimated that American forces fired more than 860,000 rounds of DU shells during that 1991 war to push Iraqi autocrat Saddam Hussein’s military out of Kuwait. The result: a poisoned battlefield laced with radioactive debris, as well as toxic nerve agents and other chemical agents.

In neighboring southern Iraq, background radiation following that war rose to 30 times normal. Tanks tested after being shelled with DU rounds had readings 50 times higher than average.

“It’s hot forever,” explains Doug Rokke, a former major in the U.S. Army Reserve’s Medical Service Corps who helped decontaminate dozens of vehicles hit by DU shells during the first Gulf War. “It doesn’t go away. It only disperses and blows around in the wind,” he adds. And of course, it wasn’t just soldiers who suffered from DU exposure. In Iraq, evidence has been building that DU, an intense carcinogenic agent, has led to increases in cancer rates for civilians, too.

“When we were moving forward and got north of a minefield, there were a bunch of blown-out tanks that were near where we would set up a command post,” says Jason Peterson, a former American Marine who served in the first Gulf War. “Marines used to climb inside and ‘play’ in them … We barely knew where Kuwait was, let alone the kind of ammunition that was used to blow shit up on that level.”

While it’s difficult to discern exactly what caused the Gulf War Syndrome from which Dyson and so many other soldiers suffered (and continue to suffer), experts like Rokke are convinced that exposure to depleted uranium played a central role in the illness. That’s an assertion Western governments have consistently downplayed. In fact, the Pentagon has repeatedly denied any link between the two.

“I’m a warrior, and warriors want to fulfill their mission,” Rokke, who also suffers from Gulf War Syndrome, told Vanity Fair in 2007. “I went into this wanting to make it work, to work out how to use DU safely, and to show other soldiers how to do so and how to clean it up. This was not science out of a book, but science done by blowing the shit out of tanks and seeing what happens. And as we did this work, slowly it dawned on me that we were screwed. You can’t do this safely in combat conditions. You can’t decontaminate the environment or your own troops.”

Death to Uranium

Depleted uranium can’t produce a nuclear explosion, but it’s still directly linked to the development of atomic weaponry. It’s a by-product of the uranium enrichment process used in nuclear weapons and fuel. DU is alluring to weapons makers because it’s heavier than lead, which means that, if fired at a high velocity, it can rip through the thickest of metals.

That it’s radioactive isn’t what makes it so useful on the battlefield, at least according to its proponents. “It’s so dense and it’s got so much momentum that it just keeps going through the armor — and it heats it up so much that it catches on fire,” says RAND nuclear expert and policy researcher Edward Geist.

The manufacturing of DU dates back to the 1970s in the United States. Today, the American military employs DU rounds in its M1A2 Abrams tanks. Russia has also used DU in its tank-busting shells since at least 1982 and there are plenty of accusations, though as yet no hard evidence, that Russia has already deployed such shells in Ukraine. Over the years, for its part, the U.S. has fired such rounds not just in Kuwait, but also in Bosnia, Iraq, Kosovo, Syria, and Serbia as well.

Both Russia and the U.S. have reasons for using DU, since each has piles of the stuff sitting around with nowhere to put it. Decades of manufacturing nuclear weapons have created a mountain of radioactive waste. In the U.S., more than 500,000 tons of depleted-uranium waste has built up since the Manhattan Project first created atomic weaponry, much of it in Hanford, Washington, the country’s main plutonium production site. As I investigated in my book Atomic Days: The Untold Story of the Most Toxic Place in America, Hanford is now a cesspool of radioactive and chemical waste, representing the most expensive environmental clean-up project in history with an estimated price tag of $677 billion.

Uranium, of course, is what makes the whole enterprise viable: you can’t create atomic bombs or nuclear power without it. The trouble is that uranium itself is radioactive, as it emits alpha particles and gamma rays. That makes mining uranium one of the most dangerous operations on the planet.

Keep It in the Ground

In New Mexico, where uranium mines were primarily worked by Diné (Navajo People), the toll on their health proved gruesome indeed. According to a 2000 study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicinerates of lung cancer in Navajo men who mined uranium were 28 times higher than in those who never mined uranium. The “Navajo experience with uranium mining,” it added, “is a unique example of exposure in a single occupation accounting for the majority of lung cancers in an entire population.”

Scores of studies have shown a direct correlation between exposure to uranium and kidney diseasebirth defects in infants (when mothers were exposed), increased rates of thyroid disease, and several autoimmune diseases. The list is both extensive and horrifying.

“My family had a lot of cancer,” says anti-nuclear activist and Indigenous community organizer Leona Morgan. “My grandmother died of lung cancer and she never smoked. It had to be the uranium.”

One of the largest radioactive accidents, and certainly the least reported, occurred in 1979 on Diné land when a dam broke, flooding the Puerco River near Church Rock, New Mexico, with 94 million gallons of radioactive waste. The incident received virtually no attention at the time. “The water, filled with acids from the milling process, twisted a metal culvert in the Puerco and burned the feet of a little boy who went wading. Sheep keeled over and died, while crops curdled along the banks. The surge of radiation was detected as far away as Sanders, Arizona, fifty miles downstream,” writes Judy Pasternak in her book Yellow Dirt: A Poisoned Land and the Betrayal of the Navajo.

Of course, we’ve known about the dangers of uranium for decades, which makes it all the more mind-boggling to see a renewed push for increased mining of that radioactive ore to generate nuclear power. The only way to ensure that uranium doesn’t poison or kill anyone is to leave it right where it’s always been: in the ground. Sadly, even if you were to do so now, there would still be tons of depleted uranium with nowhere to go. A 2016 estimate put the world’s mountain of DU waste at more than one million tons (each equal to 2,000 pounds).

So why isn’t depleted uranium banned? That’s a question antinuclear activists have been asking for years. It’s often met with government claims that DU isn’t anywhere near as bad as its peacenik critics allege. In fact, the U.S. government has had a tough time even acknowledging that Gulf War Syndrome exists. A Government Accountability Office report released in 2017 found that the Veterans Affairs Department had denied more than 80% of all Gulf War illness claims by veterans. Downplaying DU’s role, in other words, comes with the terrain.

“The use of DU in weapons should be prohibited,” maintains Ray Acheson, an organizer for the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons and author of Banning the Bomb, Smashing the Patriarchy. “While some governments argue there is no definitive proof its use in weapons causes harm, it is clear from numerous investigations that its use in munitions in Iraq and other places has caused impacts on the health of civilians as well as military personnel exposed to it, and that it has caused long-term environmental damage, including groundwater contamination. Its use in weapons is arguably in violation of international law, human rights, and environmental protection and should be banned in order to ensure it is not used again.”

If the grisly legacy of the American use of depleted uranium tells us anything, it’s that those DU shells the British are supplying to Ukraine (and the ones the Russians may also be using there) will have a radioactive impact that will linger in that country for years to come, with debilitating, potentially fatal, consequences. It will, in a sense, be part of a global atomic war that shows no sign of ending.

The Dominion Settlement Is Just the Beginning of Fox and Rupert Murdoch’s Nightmare


The Dominion Settlement Is Just the Beginning of Fox and Rupert Murdoch’s Nightmare

Jeffrey Sonnenfeld – April 19, 2023

Celebrity Sightings In Los Angeles - November 12, 2019
Celebrity Sightings In Los Angeles – November 12, 2019

Rupert Murdoch is seen on November 12, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. Credit – PG-Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

Forget the repetitive media chatter debating the political and societal wins and losses over the historic record $787.5 million settlement between Fox News and Dominion Voting Systems, after the voting machine maker alleged defamation by the cable network for promoting false news stories that Dominion rigged the 2020 presidential election against Donald Trump. Fox settled out of court at the last minute, seemingly panicked over the prospect of a dazed 92-year-old Rupert Murdoch, CEO of Fox News parent company Fox Corporation, having to take the stand to explain how he lost control of his prized creation—his “Foxenstein” monster. But while it’s a historic and record-setting amount to pay to avoid an embarrassing public trial over the airing of an admitted lie, the settlement doesn’t mark the end of Fox’s or Murdoch’s nightmare.

The horror story that is just beginning to unfold and that will continue to haunt the company and its patriarch is the corporate governance catastrophe this case leaves in its wake and the punctured business bravado of the scorching public record of admitted fraud and negligent management oversight. Fox’s celebrity anchors already soiled themselves in emailed evidence revealing they did not believe what they were reporting as truth. Their testimony and emails are in the public record for future litigants. Meanwhile, the judge’s special master, investigating fraudulent representations by Fox and its lawyers in discovery, continue undaunted by this settlement. The rest of Murdoch’s life and the rest of the careers of his board will likely be defined by ongoing fallout.

The Big Winner

There is no disputing that this is a grand slam for Dominion and nothing short of a transformative business success. Dominion is a tiny young company not even 1% the size of Fox, and it was sold to private equity investors Staple Street Capital for just about $40 million in 2018. This week’s settlement is gigantic—more than eight times their company revenues last year of $98 million, which assuming a 20% profit margin means that the settlement results in a whopping 5000% boost in the company’s earnings.

Such a whopping settlement may not have been awarded by a jury in court and very well could have been tossed on appeal. This small a company would have had a tough time proving concrete economic damage and lost revenues equivalent to $787.5 million let alone the $1.6 billion in damages they were seeking had it gone to trial. There are two types of damages—compensatory and punitive—and the idea that a company that may have been valued by its own investors, according to Fox’s lawyers, at no more than $80 million could get anything close to 10 times that as compensatory damages is blatantly ludicrous, while punitive damages are becoming increasingly pegged to the value of compensatory damages.

Even if an appellate court concurred with a possible jury verdict that an actual malice standard was met, the financial damages Dominion asked for were excessive. Plus, unlike the Alex Jones award of $1 billion, which is facing years of byzantine appeals and stalling, Dominion gets this money now—without any more hassle, delay, or expense and without having to deal with anxious insurers and litigation finance hedge funds breathing down their neck.

News Corporation headquarters, home to Fox News, on April 18, 2023 in New York City. Moments before opening arguments were set to begin, Fox News and Dominion Voting Systems said that they had reached a settlement of $787 million in the voting machine company’s defamation lawsuit against Fox.<span class="copyright">Spencer Platt-Getty Images</span>
News Corporation headquarters, home to Fox News, on April 18, 2023 in New York City. Moments before opening arguments were set to begin, Fox News and Dominion Voting Systems said that they had reached a settlement of $787 million in the voting machine company’s defamation lawsuit against Fox.Spencer Platt-Getty Images
The Even Bigger Loser

On the other hand, for Fox Corp., the parent company of Fox News, this is a major strikeout. Incredibly, even though $787.5 million, more than half of the company’s total profit last fiscal year, is four times larger than the prior record for a defamation settlement—in 2017, Disney/ABC News paid out $177 million over misleading reporting on pink slime—Fox’s woes are just beginning.

Sure, some Dominion fans or Fox News haters might be upset that the cable channel did not have to publicly accept responsibility or apologize, rather just releasing a statement of meaningless legalese: “We acknowledge the Court’s rulings finding certain claims about Dominion to be false.” But such disappointment ignores the massive business and financial ramifications that Fox will have to live with for years. We are still only in the early innings of Fox’s struggles.

What now stands as a statement of legal fact for future litigants is the judge’s condemning conclusions.

The judge wrote, “the evidence does not support that FNN conducted good-faith, disinterested reporting.”

In another finding, the judge wrote that the “evidence developed in this civil proceeding demonstrates that is CRYSTAL clear that none of the statements relating to Dominion about the 2020 election are true.”

These rulings were accepted by Fox with “no contest” and stand as legal fact and cannot be appealed.

Other companies, such as Smartmatic, will surely be emboldened in their own defamation suits against Fox, which share basically the same fact patterns as Dominion’s. Furthermore, the condemning depositions of Fox anchors and executives, admitting that they knew their stories were false and sources were ludicrous, opens Fox’s board to serious claims of negligence and breaches of fiduciary duty—violations of a board’s duty of care and duty of loyalty under Delaware corporate law.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys are rushing to file derivative shareholder class action lawsuits on behalf of the 60% of Fox shares not held by the Murdoch family. Fox has a sophisticated board with accomplished individuals, such as former House Speaker Paul Ryan, Managing Partner of Quinn Emanuel William Burck, former Ford CEO Jacques Nasser, and Formula One CEO Chase Carey, all of whom have a lot to lose—whether by way of reputation or liability—by more embarrassing disclosures coming out of depositions and trials.

Already two of many law firms queuing up filed suit in Delaware Chancery Court, charging: “Fox knew—from the Board on down—that Fox News was reporting false and dangerous misinformation about the 2020 Presidential election, but Fox was more concerned about short-term ratings and market share than the long-term damages of its failure to tell the truth.”

While some media commentators have suggested that insurance might cover a large portion of Fox’s Dominion settlement, the company’s breaches of fiduciary duty could absolve insurers from having to cover the payout on top of permitting them to charge the company permanently higher insurance premiums. Even worse for Fox, unless the company reforms its coverage and corporate governance processes, insurers might recoil from underwriting the insurance of Fox’s board directors and officers, much the way Elon Musk was once forced to personally underwrite the insurance of Tesla’s board directors and officers after every insurance company refused to stomach the risk.

Admissions by Murdoch, Ryan, Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott, and Fox Corp. Chief Legal Officer Viet Dinh demonstrate a failure to act on what they knew to be false—or a failure of their duties of care and duty of loyalty to the shareholders. Their duties were not to protect management or even to please viewers, but to protect the enterprise and shareholder value. Yet, when asked in a January deposition if he could have intervened when falsehoods were being spread on his cable network, Murdoch succinctly replied on the record, “I could have. But I didn’t.”

Alt-right media such as One America News Network and Newsmax are likely facing even greater financial peril as they are facing similar legal challenges as Fox.

Despite his self-proclaimed willingness to testify in court, Murdoch’s rambling, brutally candid, and self-incriminating answers in deposition raise questions over his judgment. Fox cannot retract Murdoch’s sworn testimony, and when they unsuccessfully tried to hide his actual Fox News executive oversight duties, they had to apologize for such deception. Presumably Murdoch will be forced to continue to shed light on how much he knew, when he knew it, and what he did or didn’t do in response, as the drumbeat of investigations rolls on.

For its part, Fox News is already modifying its approach and seeming to take some of these lessons to heart before they become total Faux News. Nobody would mistake Fox today for MSNBC, but the cable network has severely limited former President Trump’s airtime recently, rarely ever showcasing full Trump campaign rallies and speeches as it used to do, while anchors almost always now resort to pre-taped edited clips of Trump rather than offering the unchecked freewheeling surprise live dial-in privileges Trump used to enjoy. Like Samuel Johnson quipped, nothing so focuses the mind like the prospect of an imminent hanging. Still, as Murdoch tries to restrain his out-of-control creation, he has his work cut out for him.