Whirled Musings

Across the Universe with Cosmic Connie, aka Connie L. Schmidt...or maybe just through the dung-filled streets and murky swamps of pop culture -- more specifically, the New-Age/New-Wage crowd, pop spirituality & religion, pop psychology, self(ish)-help, business babble, media silliness, & related (or occasionally unrelated) matters of consequence. Hope you're wearing boots. (By the way, the "Cosmic" bit in my moniker is IRONIC.)

Friday, January 20, 2017

Vive la Résistance


I did not and will not watch
any of the inauguration and post-inaug hoopla. I most certainly did not listen to Herr Drumpf's "American carnage" inauguration speech, which was apparently little more than a rehash of the same old pseudo-populist wrath that helped push the world's nakedest emperor into power. Maybe I'm being a bit of a hear-no-evil see-no-evil monkey, which is quite unlike me, but I just haven't been able to stomach the spectacle. (And speaking of American carnage, there's evidence of it right now on the WhiteHouse.gov web site.)

That said,
there were actually good reasons for anti-Drumpfs to watch it all if they were in a position to do so, as Kathryn VanArendonk explained in a piece that originally appeared in Vulture and was posted on Salon.com earlier today.
You should watch it because watching the whole of it, rather than clips filtered through other media, will give you a stronger, more visceral, more immediate sense of the reality of what’s going on. You should watch it actively, skeptically, thoughtfully, critically, and as just one part of a bigger plan of action and resistance. You should watch it because it’s really happening, and we need to learn how to look directly at the thing we don’t like or don’t understand. Refusing to watch Trump will not make him less the president. We need to learn to watch the president we have, and use that knowledge so that we never let this kind of presidency happen again.
I get that, but I still didn't watch. Which doesn't mean that I'm going to continue not watching Drumpf on TV and other media, moving forward. It's just that I really, really needed a bit of a break.

Let the record show...

Except for the parts relating to being a person of faith -- since I'm not, really -- I could have written
this post, which was actually written by North Carolina pastor John Pavlovitz. And so, I think, could at least 65 million other Americans.
Let the record show that I did not consent to this.

Let it show that I did not vote for this man, that he did not represent me, that I did not believe he was deserving of being here, that I grieved his ascension.
...

...
And if I prove to be wrong, it will be one of the most joyful errors of my life. I will own these words and if necessary, willingly and gladly admit my misjudgment because it will mean that America is a better and stronger nation, and the world a more peaceful place.

But right now I don’t see that happening.

Right now I am worried for my country, concerned for our planet, scared for the future of my children, and greatly saddened that 62 million Americans seem okay with all of this.

Let the record show that I was not okay with it.

Not at all.
U.S. voters who protest Trump's ascendancy to the throne are not alone. Our friends across the pond are expressing their views as well; for instance, a banner reading "Build bridges not walls" was draped across London's Tower Bridge earlier today. And that's just one of many protests planned across Britain. My friend Tammy Samede, whose thoughts on activism and unity I shared here shortly after the election, is right in the thick of it.

And
the protests are and will be going on around the globe. Most heartening of all, the Women's March on Washington, taking place in D.C. on January 21, has gone global, with even Antarctica getting in on the act, meaning that the movement now covers all seven continents. You can find a map of the planned protests, as well as additional information about demonstrations in various cities around the world, in this CommonDreams.org piece.

Let the record show that millions and millions and millions of people across the globe are not happy with the
profoundly narcissistic, thin-skinned, grievously unqualified and egregiously unprepared man-child who has just become the most powerful man in the world. And he'll have a historically unqualified Cabinet to help him try to wreck the republic.

"I'm still holding up this little wild bouquet..."
Damn, I miss
Leonard Cohen, from whose song, "Democracy," the above sub-head was snatched, and I grabbed it because, despite all of the above, there may be reasons even now for hope. And like comic relief, I will take reasons for hope where I can find them. Tech company founder, author and speaker Peter Leyden speculates that Drumpf's rise to power heralds not the beginning of a new era of hatred and retrogressive policies, but the end.

It’s easy for politicians to whip up public fears against [progressive] changes and rally people to go back to the old ways, to make America great again. This is the standard playbook for right-wing nationalism. In the 1930s... that era’s right wing took those fears and drove a good chunk of the world into fascism and a world war. Today Trump is heading down that path — but he won’t get far.

I think Trump ultimately is going to do America and the world a service by becoming the vehicle that will finally take down right-wing conservative politics for a generation or two. He is getting the entire Republican conservative establishment to buy into his regime. He is creating an administration that is blatantly all about rule by — and for — billionaires, sold out to the oil and carbon industries, and celebrating an out-of-control corporate capitalism. It will be a caricature of conservative policies. In short order he will completely and irrevocably alienate all the growing political constituencies of the 21st century: the Millennial Generation, people of color, educated professionals, women. He’ll eventually do the same for a significant number of more moderate Republicans. And does anyone out there really think Trump will do anything for the white working class that got him elected? Watch as repealing Obamacare blows up in his face.
I hope to Goddess that Leyden is correct. Pablo Picasso famously said that "every act of creation is first an act of destruction." I hope that in the process of creation, the most precious parts of the American experiment are not completely destroyed.

Vive la Résistance.


More than one way to skin a dragon 
The really, REALLY good news -- and now I can say it publicly -- is that Jason Michael Jones, aka Salty Droid, is a fully licensed lawyer once again (he'd voluntarily dropped out of the legal profession about ten years ago). Jason was one of the first to document the Scamworld creds of our new Scammer-in-Chief. And he has already gone to work battling some of the other scum of Scamworld.
...why can’t I be a lawyer and a SaltyDroid? Because it may cause “a certain amount of emotional distress” among Scientologists and their attorneys?

I’m pretty sure I just answered my own question.

I’m fuckin’ doin’ it.
And he seems to have hit the ground running.
Where should we start? {#alreadystarted}

How about maybe multi-billion dollar snake-oil hydra head Herbalife?

Carl Icahn :: President Trump’s new
special advisor on regulatory reform … owns the biggest chunk of cult-Herbalife. Edith Ramirez :: who is not not a foe of the company :: is stepping down as chairwoman of the FTC … leaving three of the five commissioner slots open for The Donald to fill. I’m sure HotCarl will have some super duper great ideas about how to ‘reform’ the agency.

Go, Jason and Salty. We're going to need both of you, now more than ever.

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Monday, January 16, 2017

NNATE: Katie beats a (legal) dead horse, while Loony Lenny rants on


I've modified some of the text in this post to clarify some points about the Court of Appeals decision.
~ CC, 18 January 2017

 

As you may know if you've been following this blog for a few years, one of my favorite slogans, and a constant theme that runs throughout many of the posts, is: "No neat and tidy endings," or NNaTE, as my friend Julie Daniel abbreviates it. In Scamworld, as in most of real life, there are very rarely neat endings to any story, or to any scam as the case may be. Some stories and scams just go on and on and on.

So perhaps a group of three appellate court judges were being a tad optimistic when they began their December 29, 2016 opinion, regarding some business interests of imprisoned serial scammer
Kevin Trudeau (aka KT, aka Katie) with the suggestion that their decision marked the close of a very long chapter. As the Chicago Tribune reported earlier this month:
Even getting sent to prison for a decade in 2014 by a Chicago judge for lying didn't shut the smooth-talking pitchman up, or put an end to his seemingly inexhaustible legal battles.

But now — 18 years after he was first pursued by the Federal Trade Commission for his fraudulent claims — Trudeau's case is finally toast, U.S. Court of Appeals judges are praying.

"This decision marks the end of litigation about Kevin Trudeau's frauds — or so we hope," Seventh Circuit Judge
Frank Easterbrook wrote in an opinion published last week.
The decision wasn't whether or not to keep Katie in prison, where he is serving ten years on charges of criminal contempt related to deceptive claims in infomercials for his diet book, Weight Loss Secrets They Don't Want You to Know About. That conviction and sentence have already been appealed, and he lost the appeal last year around the time of his birthday, as reported on this blog.

Never a quitter, Katie took his fight all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States -- or, rather, he tried to.
That was a wash too. As far as I know, SCOTUS didn't even bother with an explanation as to why they didn't care to hear his case; they just issued this:

But the December 29 decision concerned one of Katie's dozens of companies, Website Solutions, which along with his other assets whose existence was known to the court, was put under receivership in 2013. At some point Website Solutions hired their own law firms to represent it in responding to Federal Trade Commission (FTC) demands to turn over business records, and those firms later demanded that they be paid from the receivership funds. The district court determined that because Website Solutions was, as the business records revealed, indeed part of Trudeau's assets and therefore subject to receivership, any and all profits from that business must be used for restitution to the customers who'd been scammed by the weight-loss book.
 
After the receiver had collected about $8 million it submitted a plan to the district court to distribute the funds to victims. The court approved the distribution plan, and also determined that Website Solution's law firms -- Hogan Marren Babbo & Rose, Ltd.; and Faruki Ireland & Cox, P.L.L. -- were not entitled to compensation from the receivership estate. All that money was slated to go to victims, not lawyers. The law firms appealed the denial, and their appeal was in turn denied on December 29.


I found it amusing that the appellate judges also suggested a couple of strategies that Website Solutions' law firms might have used to at least give themselves and their client a fighting chance. From
Bloomberg BNA's January 5 article on the matter:
The court noted that neither the firms nor Website Solutions sought court approval for the firms’ engagement or their “proposed course of conduct,” and that ultimately their actions were more obstructive than helpful to the receiver’s efforts.

The court also pointed out that the firms may have sought recovery of fees related to complying with the receiver’s discovery requests under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 45(d)(3)(C)(ii). That section permits a court under certain circumstances to order reasonable fees for complying with a subpoena request.
Some folks sure waste a lot of money on lawyerly incompetence; have you noticed? When it happens to good people that's an outrage, but when it's a scammer whose money is squandered, it's really kind of funny..

From the Caselaw site,
here is a link to the text of the December 29 decision.

And if you'd like a PDF,
here's a link to that.

You can of course find links to many earlier Katie legal documents
on this very Whirled -- docs related to his civil, criminal, appeals, and bankruptcy cases -- but if you don't feel like wading through old blog posts, try this link to find previous documents related to Trudeau's appeals. Just search for "Kevin Trudeau" and you'll find a few decisions that in their own way helped pave Katie's road to Federal sleepaway camp.

I should note, as I have on previous posts, that whether it has finally come to a close or not, the entire 18-plus years of legal actions by the FTC (and, later, the U.S. Attorney) against Kevin Trudeau were for various and sundry frauducts and flopportunities, but not for the biggest scam of all, the
Global Information Network, or GIN. As I've written before, thousands of people were bilked out of millions of dollars during GIN's heyday, and although a reading of some of the many court documents makes it pretty obvious that Trudeau's actions regarding GIN had some influence on the judges' decisions, the court actions that sent Trudeau to prison were not directly related to GIN at all. People who were scammed by GIN and unable to get a refund a few years ago, but are still expecting some sort of compensation, will probably have a long, long wait.

Of course this doesn't mean that there won't be any lawsuits about Katie's mega-scam, so for that and other reasons those circuit judges were justified in adding, "or so we hope," to their speculation that their decision marked an end to Trudeau-related litigation. For if there's one thing you learn on this beat, it's that you just can't keep a good scammer down, and indeed the Chicago Trib article I linked to above noted as much:

On Facebook last week, Trudeau's backers continued to solicit donations to his legal defense fund from his 29,000 followers, promising them they could "DOUBLE YOUR MONEY."

And in a pre-Christmas message presumably relayed through supporters from his cell at the Montgomery, Alabama federal prison camp, Trudeau told his fans he would "share 2 secrets that will give you success in every area of your life."

If they followed his advice, the convicted fraudster, formerly of Oak Brook, wrote, they would "vibrate frequencies that will allow you to create the life you want."
The article also mentioned Trudeau's boasts about predicting Donald Trump's victory, a matter that I wrote about last July (back when there still seemed to be a chance that Trump might lose). The Trib writer duly noted that Trudeau had written that he was confident about a Trump victory because "the overwhelming energy of the people is consistent with Trump's vibration."

Not this people, I hasten to add, and not tens of millions of other people, but I quibble. Not surprisingly many of Trudeau's fans are also Trump fans, and some have expressed hopes that Trump will pardon Trudeau once he gets in office. The Trib writer noted that one of the folks on the short list for Trump's Supreme Court pick is none other than
Diane Sykes, one of the judges who signed off on the December 29 decision. Of course that doesn't rule out a presidential pardon. Turds of a feather, you know...

And speaking of not being able to keep a good scammer down, you can't keep an incompetent one down either. On
a January 4, 2017 post on Katie's Facebook page, one of Katie's surrogates wrote:

Kevin has a legal right to a defense fund. The Law firm that has been defending him is Winston and Strawn LLP. Proceeds from the fund go directly to the LAW FIRM.
As you can see either by following the link above or looking at the screen grabs below, a few folks responded, mostly with words of support, on the day the post was published, or shortly thereafter.



But early today (January 16), little Lenny Coldwell, cancer quack, fraudster and bigot extraordinaire, jumped in (under one of his phony names, "Eyn Rand") to slam Katie and promote himself, repeatedly and semi-literately.


FYI, Lenny can't write under his main Facebook profile at the moment because
once again he has been suspended for hate speech. But as he often does, here he demonstrates the old saying about pots and kettles. And once again... NNaTE.

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Friday, January 06, 2017

With liberty and justice for all



This short post is blatantly political, and has very little to do with Scamworld, except to the extent that Not-My-President-Elect Donald J. Trump is the Scammer-in-Chief. Politix is still not my normal beat, but then again, these are not normal times.

Very simply, if you are in the US and want to be part of the Resistance, download this guide to activism, Indivisible.
You can do it here. Indivisible was written by former congressional staffers who have learned, from years of experience, the most (and least) effective ways to make Congress listen.

Stay peaceful, stay safe, and maybe I'll see you on the barricades.

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Monday, January 02, 2017

Snopes "scandal" has fake-news and conspiracy mongers foaming at the mouth


So 2016 has come and gone, and what a trail of wreckage it left. Today started out stormy in my neck of the woods -- there's a 30-foot-long tree limb, knocked down by the wind, in our backyard -- but it turned into a brilliant and lovely day, as if to proclaim, "Hey, it's the very first Monday of a brand new year, and the world should look fresh and new and bright and happy!" But in reality there is no such thing as a clean slate just because the calendar turns over to a new year. It doesn't work that way. In reality
Leonard Cohen is still dead (as are Princess Leia and her mom and a host of others). And even worse, Donald J. Trump is still the not-my-president-elect.

Granted, more rational heads have pointed out that
2016 was not a record year for celebrity deaths, and that despite the horrors of 2016, lots of good stuff happened too (and hopefully Drumpf and his wrecking crew won't be able to reverse all of it). Even so, Leonard Cohen is... well, you know. And Drumpf... well, you know. Not to belabor a point or anything.

But let's get down to business. 2016 also stands out as the year that
fake news finally came into its own (which arguably played a part propelling the Orange Blowfish to electoral victory). And the mention of fake news brings us to the point of this post.

On several occasions
on past blog posts and on Facebook, I have cited the fact-checking/mythbusting site Snopes.com, and have defended it against its many critical-thinking-impaired detractors who proudly and defiantly proclaim that (1) they never trust anything they read on Snopes; and (2) anyone who does believe or cite Snopes is a gullible sheeple or an idiot. I have written that although I don't consider Snopes infallible, even as I don't consider any source infallible, I believe it to be a reliable source and a good starting point for doing one's own research about silly social media memes and too-bad-to-be-true Internet rumors.

Accordingly some folks might be wondering if
some recent Snopes buzz -- regarding founders David and Barbara Mikkelson's highly contentious divorce, David Mikkelson's remarriage to a former sex worker, and a couple of Snopes fact checkers' political affiliations, kinky proclivities and (oh, the horror!) pot smoking -- constitutes an elephant-in-the-room situation for my Whirled.

Indeed, there's a whole lot of what I see as completely unjustified schadenfreude bubbling up in the fever swamps of the alt-right and the conspiracy industry, some of whose true believers have jeered at me and called me an idiot (or a paid shill of George Soros/Hillary Clinton/the New World Order) for being a Snopes fan. It's not a stretch to imagine some of them snickering at me -- and at other Snopes supporters -- right about now.

I'm sorry to disappoint any detractors, but I welcome that elephant and am more than happy to discuss it. The reason I haven't addressed the issue before now is that I was preoccupied with the holidaze, work deadlines and other stuff related to my real life. Now that I have a bit of a breather, let's talk about the Snopes "scandal" that has so many right-wing haters and conspiracy nutcakes foaming at the mouth (and perhaps secretly masturbating -- admit it, Lenny).

The big story was "broken" by the notorious right-wing UK tabloid The Daily Mail, aka The Daily Fail (
here's that link again). This, I feel compelled to point out, is the same tabloid whose online tentacle is a co-defendant in a $150 million lawsuit by incoming First Lady Melania Trump. The suit concerns a story about suggestions (mere suggestions, mind you, not accusations) that Melania might have once been a sex worker herself, as in "paid escort." (Here's a link to that September 2016 complaint.) The Mail retracted and apologized (or apologised, as the case may be), but the suit has gone forward. Melania made her first appearance in court on December 12, 2016.

Anyway. The headline on the Snopes story is as lurid as one might expect from The Fail:

EXCLUSIVE: Facebook 'fact checker' who will arbitrate on 'fake news' is accused of defrauding website to pay for prostitutes - and its staff includes an escort-porn star and 'Vice Vixen domme'

As per its usual practice, The Fail precedes the actual article with a bulleted list, for the benefit, I suppose, of people who are in too much of a hurry, or too reading-challenged, to wade through the typo-ridden main article:


  • Facebook has announced plans to check for 'fake news' using a series of organizations to assess whether stories are true 
  • One of them is a website called Snopes.com which claims to be one of the web's 'essential resources' and 'painstaking, scholarly and reliable' 
  • It was founded by husband-and-wife Barbara and David Mikkelson, who used a letterhead claiming they were a non-existent society to start their research 
  • Now they are divorced - with Barbara claiming in legal documents he embezzled $98,000 of company money and spent it on 'himself and prostitutes' 
  • In a lengthy and bitter legal dispute he is claiming to be underpaid and demanding 'industry standard' or at least $360,000 a year
  • The two also dispute what are basic facts of their case - despite Snopes.com saying its 'ownership' is committed to 'accuracy and impartiality' 
  • Snopes.com founder David Mikkelson's new wife Elyssa Young is employed by the website as an administrator 
  • She has worked as an escort and porn actress and despite claims website is non-political ran as a Libertarian for Congress on a 'Dump Bush' platform 
  • Its main 'fact checker' is Kimberly LaCapria, whose blog 'ViceVixen' says she is in touch with her 'domme side' and has posted on Snopes.com while smoking pot
  • Now let me say right off that I am not suggesting at all that The Fail made this up from whole cloth. I'd been wondering for some time whatever happened to Barbara Mikkelson, whose work from past years still appears on Snopes but who is no longer named as one of the founders. I have no problem believing that there was an acrimonious divorce between David and Barbara (I'd heard some vague buzz about it some time ago), nor am I particularly shocked that David Mikkelson took up with a former sex worker who is now a website admin at Snopes. As for one of the fact checkers being in touch with her "domme side" and insinuating that she has smoked pot while posting on Snopes.com... yawn. Would anyone be scandalized by a blogger or journalist posting while enjoying a glass of wine?

    The embezzlement accusations are more serious, but that's between the Mikkelsons and their lawyers. And frankly I don't know enough about the details of the case to make a comment. I'm not trying to let Dave Mikkelson off the hook for anything, and if I were going to take sides I'd be inclined to take sides with Barbara at this point. But if you read The Fail's report you will notice that they did not provide a link to the actual legal documents that were cited in the piece, although they did display what presumably are screen shots of snippets of said documents. So I can't really address the documents or the conflicts they supposedly describe with any authority. And neither can you, and neither can the writers on any of the alt-right hate sites that picked up the story, unless any of you have actually read all of the documents.

    And the alt-right/conspiracy nutter sites did indeed take this story and run, and run, and run with it.

    The alt-right blog Zero Hedge
    was even less subtle than The Fail with its headline:

    Snopes Co-Founder Embezzles $98,000, Drops Weight, Leaves Fat Wife And Marries Actual Whore

    And this piece, which appears on racist, hatemonger and conspiracy nut Jeff Rense's site (though not authored by Rense himself), is downright pornographic. You can almost see the writer, "journalist" Yoichi Shimatsu, salivating. Shimatsu is a yuuuge believer in the idiotic Pizzagate fake scandal, and so apparently is Rense. Here are the two of them blathering on video.

    The stupidest and most evil man in Scamworld, Not-Doktor Leonard Coldwell, who is a passionate Snopes hater (and Trump lover),
    curated a piece from the right-wing Daily Caller for his "blog."

    And not surprisingly,
    the self-proclaimed king of the (fact)free press, Mike "The Health Ranger" Adams, bubbled over with righteous glee about the Snopes dramas, with this headline:

    Prostitutes for the Presstitutes: SNOPES fact-checkers revealed to be actual whores, fraudsters and deviant left-wing fetish bloggers

    Naturally, Mikey inserted himself into the drama.
    Facebook recently announced it would rely on SNOPES to “fact-check” news articles to make sure Facebook operated with high integrity standards and full transparency. In reality, the announcement was a thinly-veiled attempt to censor independent journalism by labeling real news “fake news” with the help of all the left-wing (actual) whores and fraudsters at SNOPES.

    Now, Mikey's sites are prime examples of fake news, pseudo-science, conspiracy lunacy, dirty SEO tricks and right-wing propaganda (regarding the latter, so much for political neutrality, which so many of the Snopesophobes, including Adams, claim is missing from Snopes). His Natural News site was once described by a blogger on the Rational Wiki site as being the Daily Mail of Alternative Medicine. So it stands to reason that he might feel threatened by Facebook's attempts to crack down on the phonies. But hey, Mikey, you want "deviant?" You want "fraudster?" Have you taken a look at your pudgy little pal Lenny? For that matter, have you delved into the personal lives and private and public failings of the "independent journalists" whom you claim to be the real guardians of truth and morality? No, I didn't think so.
     
    But I digress. Where Natural News is concerned,
    it seems that Snopes can give as good as it gets. So it's perfectly understandable that Mikey would hate them so much.

    Perspective
    Let's look at this a little more closely. First off, the disagreements between two people involved in a rancorous divorce do not necessarily invalidate those people's efforts in other aspects of their lives. So The Fail's snarky bullet point (i.e., "The [Mikkelsons] also dispute what are basic facts of their case - despite Snopes.com saying its 'ownership' is committed to 'accuracy and impartiality'") is irrelevant. Even if it is true that Barbara and David Mikkelson can't agree on the "basic facts" about their personal affairs, this does not invalidate the fact-checking and mythbusting work done over the years by the Mikkelsons, Kim LaCapria, or any other Snopes "staffer."

    And the "whore" that the right-wingers are jeering about -- David Mikkelson's new wife, Elyssa Young -- is not a fact-checker on Snopes; she is just an administrative assistant. Not that being a sex worker would render someone incapable of being a fact checker, but I think the haters are making much too big a deal out of Young's position (ahem) at Snopes.

    In fact The Fail seems to be making much too big a deal out of a lot of things about Mikkelson's new bride. Take this bullet point (please): "She has worked as an escort and porn actress and despite claims website is non-political ran as a Libertarian for Congress on a 'Dump Bush' platform."

    Elyssa Young
    was an unsuccessful Libertarian candidate in 2004 -- nearly 13 years ago. But again, she was not then and is not now (to my knowledge) a Snopes fact-checker. And even if she had been, and assuming that she allowed her Libertarian tendencies to influence her work, that would have actually made the common allegation that Snopes has a "liberal bias" even sillier. Libertarians may skew liberal on certain social issues, but they're pretty much in sync with the right wing and the Tea Party on everything else.

    Then there's the much-criticized Kim LaCapria, who is often described as the top fact-checker on Snopes. The alt-right haters have long accused her of leftist tendencies, though quite a few of her stories have debunked left-wing memes and have effectively defended people such as Donald Trump. Now the haters are drooling over the fact that she has some sexy web sites and that she claimed to have posted on Snopes after smoking pot. Meh. LaCapria clearly has a life apart from Snopes, and if that offends you, hey, don't visit her web sites. If you think her work is affected by her pot smoking and you don't trust her because of that, keep in mind that her pieces on Snopes, like all the articles on the site, provide links to other sources, so you can do further research on your own. So c'mon, put down that bottle of bourbon, Lenny, and learn to use the Internet for something besides reinforcing your own biases.


    The big but
    I did find one critical piece about the Snopes "scandal" that made a few valid points about Snopes and its fact-checking methods.
    This article by Kalev Leetaru on Forbes.com is worth reading, although I think that Leetaru, like other critics, made too big a deal out of Elyssa Young's past political activities. I think he also reacted too strongly to David Mikkelson's reluctance to divulge details of his personal legal troubles.

    But at least Leetaru made an effort to reach out to Mikkelson, and he made some excellent suggestions about how Snopes could improve by being more forthcoming about its assessment process. So while I don't expect either Barbara or David Mikkelson to air all of their personal dirty laundry to the world, I do think that there's room for improvement on Snopes.com.



    Separating real fake news from fake fake news
    I don't want to veer too far off-track from the main point of this post, but since fake news has become such a force, and fighting fake news has now become a thing as well, and Snopes has been front and center in that fight since long before "fake news" became a trending topic, here's another piece that bears sharing. It's partly about how the fake-news perps and believers have gone all Pee-Wee Herman ("I know you are, but what am I?") on their accusers in the mainstream media.
    Some supporters of President-elect Donald J. Trump have also taken up the call. As reporters were walking out of a Trump rally this month in Orlando, Fla., a man heckled them with shouts of “Fake news!”

    Until now, that term had been widely understood to refer to fabricated news accounts that are meant to spread virally online. But conservative cable and radio personalities, top Republicans and
    even Mr. Trump himself, incredulous about suggestions that fake stories may have helped swing the election, have appropriated the term and turned it against any news they see as hostile to their agenda.

    In defining “fake news” so broadly and seeking to dilute its meaning, they are capitalizing on the declining credibility of all purveyors of information, one product of the country’s increasing political polarization. And conservatives, seeing an opening to undermine the mainstream media, a longtime foe, are more than happy to dig the hole deeper.
    And that's a pretty dangerous trend. I only hope that Snopes can survive this latest round of attacks so it can continue to be a force in the fight against fakery. We need you now more than ever, Snopes.


    Carry it on
    Snopes.com started out as a hobby on the old-school newsgroup circuit -- in those ancient days before social media and really, even before blogs -- and over the years it grew from there. It is possible that at some level its founders may have always considered it a hobby, albeit a lucrative hobby. But at some point along the way Snopes managed to also become a legitimate and much-cited source of information about misinformation, perhaps surprising its founders more than anyone else. Yet to my knowledge neither Barbara nor David Mikkelson ever pretended to be infallible or to be experts in anything.

    This October 19, 2016 piece on the Webby Awards site gives a more balanced perspective about Snopes' history.

    And
    here's a December 25, 2016 piece in the New York Times about Snopes and David Mikkelson.

    You might also be interested in this December 2015 Washington Post interview with David Mikkelson, in which he discusses, among other things, Snopes' role as a political reporter and fact-checker. (Keep in mind that even though the vast majority of the right-wing bitching and whining and griping about Snopes is based on its political content, Snopes did not start out as a political site, and it still reports on many topics besides politics.)
     
    As far as I'm concerned, Snopes remains a legitimate source of information, despite the allegations about hookers and pot smoking and yes, even despite the allegations of David Mikkelson's embezzlement. I hope the Mikkelsons get that latter bit worked out soon and that they can get on with their lives.

    Is Snopes a perfect source? Of course not. Is there room for improvement? You bet (see Forbes.com article linked to above). But let's separate the salacious from the serious, the voyeur fodder from the valid criticism about Snopes' methods. Even though in his private life David Mikkelson may be a complete sleazeball, and although some of the Snopes "staff" may be involved in kinky activities on their own time, Snopes, with all of its imperfections and juicy non-scandals, still beats the pants off of the army of alt-right wingnutters and misinformation mongers such as Natural News, Breitbart, Alex Jones, WorldNut Daily, The Daily Caller, Pamela Geller, Stormfront, Jeff Rense and, of course, anything by Leonard Coldwell.

    And one more point: I find it utterly astounding that many of the same people who are so scandalized by David Mikkelson's private life, and those of some of the Snopes staffers, apparently aren't scandalized at all by
    the garish, lurid spectacle that is Donald John Trump. Just saying.


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    Tuesday, December 06, 2016

    Mike Adams and the fact-free press step up to defend "legitimacy" of Drumpf reign

    The bad news: Donald Trump is still the not-my-president-elect, and Leonard Cohen is still dead. The good news: For the time being, the other Leonard C who has occupied space on this blog -- the truly stupid and evil LC, Not-Doktor Leonard Coldwell -- seems to be suspended from Facebook once again, as recently celebrated on UK wag Longdog's hilarious blog. This time it appears that the suspension isn't limited to his main English Language Facebook page, "Leonard Coldwell," but also to his main German language page, "Dr. Leonard Coldwell," his totally fake-profile page "Eyn Rand," and the English-language page for his failed GIN ripoff, the IMBS-ing U Master Baiter'sSociety. So that is a small bright spot.

    But this blog negotiates a landscape that is more often marred by bad news than brightened by good. And there's more bad news to report (granted, it's also amusing news, but bad news nevertheless): the fact-free press, led by cynical conspiracy monger, frauduct peddler and Trumpian rabble-rouser Mike "The Health Ranger" Adams, has stepped up to "defend the legitimacy" of the Trump presidency, calling upon the conspiracy-theorist-in-chief to use his presidential power to "blockade" the "lying mainstream media."

    You'll notice that the last link in the paragraph above leads to the aforementioned Not-Doktor Stoopid's "blog," which rarely contains original content but is mostly a curation of misinformation from other sites. In this case, LoonyC curated a post from Mike Adams' Natural "News" site. Both the re-post and the original post on Adams' site were published on December 2.

    In an "open letter" to His Unholy Orangeness, Adams urges Trump to refuse to let the mainstream press corps into his (ultra)White House at all. After all, declares Adams (repeating by rote what every faithful Trumpian knows), the mainstream media are Drumpf's enemy and "they will do anything and everything to destroy you." Says he:

    It's time to deprive those lying, deceptive media outlets of all the oxygen in the room. Blockade them from all White House announcements and presidential events. Bring in the real media... the independent publishers, radio hosts and bloggers who are truly the only remaining free press in America.
    We all have teams of writers, video editors, bloggers and researchers ready to report the real news about the successes of your new administration. We will defend your legitimacy as President and help defend the Republic against the assaults of the Fidel Castro-worshipping lunatic fringe left.

    My own network of online sites includes Trump.news, WhiteHouse.news and hundreds of others. Combined with Infowars.com, PrisonPlanet.com, DrudgeReport.com and others, we already dwarf most of the mainstream media outlets in terms of reach. We absolutely dwarf all mainstream media in terms of the public trust factor.
    He forgot to mention "in terms of the utter-disrespect-for-inconvenient-facts factor." They've got it all over the "lying" mainstream media on that one.

    Adams also uses his post as an opportunity to boast to Trump about his own search engine, GoodGopher, which, he writes without any apparent irony, "excludes all the mainstream media liars and news fabrication propagandists working for CNN, WashPost, NYT, MSNBC and so on. We already have an authoritative list of who's who in the independent media. Compiling a contact list would only take a day or two."


    "What good is a totally censored search engine?" you may be asking. All the good in the world, it seems, if you feel a need to lower a cone of ignorance over yourself every time you do an Internet search. It's sort of like the cone of silence in the old Get Smart TV series, except instead of preventing the escape of secret information, it prevents the infiltration of facts. Or maybe it's more like parental block, except instead of protecting kids from online exploitation it protects willfully stupid adults from learning real facts.

    Facts may be stubborn things, but they're not nearly as stubborn as those who like to make up their own "facts."


    Adams, like everyone else in the conspiracy biz (not to mention the basket of gullibles who embrace and spread phony conspiracies on social media), seems to have a very casual relationship with the truth, and that is putting it charitably. To advance his own agendas he isn't above perpetuating distortions and libelous falsehoods (e.g., his recent smear campaign against Dr. David Gorski, aka "Orac," as I wrote about in April of this year). Nor is he above casually posting complete misinformation that doesn't libel anyone but is simply, ludicrously inaccurate.

    If Adams were just another blog-fodder blowhard there wouldn't be much cause for concern. But there are larger and more serious issues that stretch far beyond cranky little blogs like this.
    For Adams is both riding the crest of an enormous wave of disinformation and making that wave bigger. He's part of the "alternative" press/"independent" media that are the vanguard of the
    "post-truth" era. These are the media that are tailor-made for Trump, and he for them. It's a match made in infotainment (with the emphasis on "tainment") heaven. 


    Granted, the mainstream media have made serious missteps themselves, and we shouldn't let them off the hook. And I'm not just talking about the insane amount of non-critical attention and free promotion the media have consistently handed to Trump on a silver platter, or the way they embraced the "Crooked Hillary" narrative and made a huge deal about the non-issue of her emails. I'm also talking about the way major news outlets such as Washington Post may have lent undeserved legitimacy to a questionable group, PropOrNot, in their own reporting about "fake news." The conspiracy lunatics and the alt-right and the Trumpians are all over that one, but Rolling Stone and Fortune also weighed in critically. Even so, it would be folly to discount the possible roles played by Russian operatives in influencing the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and certainly foolish to dismiss the influence of fake-news sites and the under-informed voters who take these sites seriously. 
     
    Apart from the dumbing-down issues there are more serious matters of public safety at stake. On Sunday, December 4, 2016, Edgar M. Welch, a 28-year-old white gunman from North Carolina, apparently fueled by the ludicrous and debunked "Pizzagate" conspiracy narrative, walked into Comet Ping Pong, a pizza restaurant in northwest Washington D.C., and fired from an AR-15 rifle. He had driven six hours from his home to "investigate" rumors that the pizzeria was harboring young children as sex slaves, as part of a child-abuse ring led by Hillary Clinton. Yes, there are idiots who truly believe that; Ron and I just got scolded by a couple of them on Facebook within the past few days. If you ask me there are far too many people who seem to be unhealthily obsessed with pedophilia, and it's not the Clintons and their cronies.

    Fortunately Welch was arrested before anyone was hurt, but what about the next angry nutcake who walks in? Comet Ping Pong has reported that they have received lots of disturbing threats in the wake of Pizzagate, and even some of the neighboring businesses have received threats as well.

    Pizzagate is far from the only blatantly false conspiracy tale making the rounds, and what is disturbing is that Donald Trump himself seems to be a big believer in conspiracy theories and conspiracy web sites, and is stocking his administration with others who have a fondness for fake news sites and conspiracy stories. And if that doesn't worry you, just a little bit... then what are you doing on this blog?

    Once again without irony, Mike Adams concludes his December 2 post thusly:
     It’s time to #TakeDownCNN once and for all. The network doesn’t deserve to operate in any free society (but they might feel right at home in North Korea). And it’s time to support the rise of the new, independent media in America.
    Uh-huh. Freedom of the press is an inalienable right in America, but only freedom of certain types of press: the fact-free, totally self-serving-to-cynical-scammers-and-hatriarchs variety.

    But if you care about actual freedom of the press, and about responsible journalism, there's plenty you can do. Start with becoming a fact-checker yourself. Read with a critical eye, especially if the content seems to fit too neatly into someone's preferred narrative (even or especially your own). And hold the mainstream media's feet to the fire, but don't dismiss them just because they're mainstream. This isn't to say that you should automatically dismiss a source just because it's "alternative" or "independent," but keep your eyes open and your b.s. detector active, always.


    Otherwise, Trump and his cynical champions and surrogates may lead all of us around a corner from which there will be no turning back.

    PS added on 19 December 2016: Here is some background information about the traditions of irrationality and hysteria that ultimately gave rise to Pizzagate. Waves of hysteria have been part of American history, not just for decades but for centuries. The problem is that today, the popularity of social media makes it easier than ever to spread the hysteria, and fake news sites make the irrationality much more difficult to battle. 


     

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    Monday, December 05, 2016

    SCOTUS rebuffs Kevin Trudeau; Camp Cupcake gets to keep its celebrity huckster

    On Monday, 5 December 2016, the Supreme Court of the United States determined that it will not hear the criminal appeal of imprisoned serial scammer Kevin Trudeau, aka KT, aka Katie on this blog. In July Trudeau petitioned the SCOTUS to hear his case, hoping that they would overturn his criminal contempt conviction and ten-year prison sentence.

    Without comment, SCOTUS let stand a 5 February ruling by the federal appeals court in Chicago. The appeals court had upheld Katie's November 2013 conviction and March 2014 sentencing (
    as reported here in February of this year).

    The conviction and sentence were not for Trudeau's mega-scam the Global Information Network, or GIN, which in its heyday bilked thousands of folks out of millions of dollars, because... well, the FTC is pretty slow about getting around to these things. Instead the case was about deceptive claims Trudeau had made in infomercials about his diet book, The Weight Loss Cure "They" Don't Want You to Know About, after having signed consent decrees promising that he would stop lying in infomercials. The case had dragged out for decades and cost millions of dollars.

    I first shared the link to Trudeau's petition to SCOTUS on this July 2016 post (under the sub-head, "Katie and the Supremes"). A couple of months later I shared the link again on this post (under "Caged Katie and his fellow scammer").

    Here's a direct link to the petition.

    After losing his appeal in February, Katie was clearly holding out hopes that SCOTUS would set him free. The promotions he has been running from "Camp Cupcake" via social media all centered around donating to his legal fund to help pay for his high-dollar attorneys to keep working on his behalf.

    Sometimes, though, even money can't buy you freedom.

    On the other hand, Katie has been getting a lot of social media mileage out of
    the martyr creds he has gained since he's been on the inside, and he has become quite the "spiritual" leader. Besides, he has often said that he is perfectly content being at Camp Cupcake, aka Federal Prison Camp (FPC) Montgomery (Alabama). I guess SCOTUS was paying attention and decided to bestow mercy upon him by totally rebuffing him.

    But hey, maybe
    Herr Drumpf will pardon Katie when Drumpf assumes the throne of the United States. Turds of a feather...

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    Sunday, December 04, 2016

    Message to James Arthur Ray: Please. Stop.


     
    A couple of days ago I published a brief (for me) post about the CNN premiere of Enlighten Us, a documentary about New-Wage hustledork, star of The Secret and -- oh, yeah, convicted killer -- James Arthur Ray.

    I didn't watch the premiere. I don't have cable so I don't get CNN on TV, and because I live out at the Edge of Nowhere, in an area where currently the only option for high-speed Internet is severely bandwidth-restricted satellite Internet, I can't do in-demand (if that's even an option right now for this film). At some point, if I get a chance to watch Enlighten Us -- which some have described as a James Ray infomercial -- for free or relatively cheap (maybe on Amazon Marketplace or in the Walmart DVD remainders bin), I will. But what I have been doing is keeping up with the buzz around the film, and it appears that Death Ray is milking it for all the publicity it's worth. (I know, big surprise.)

    Yesterday I found out via
    a Facebook post from Jean Brown Allison, the sister of Ray victim Kirby Brown, about some of the egregious and hurtful lies that Ray has been spreading about his victims and their families -- specifically, about Kirby. Then last night Salty Droid sent me a link to a snippet from an interview Ray gave, in which he claimed that Kirby had been "estranged" from her family, and that she had attended the fatal event in part because she was trying to deal with her family problems.

    Jean, who gave me permission to share her Facebook post here, wrote:

    This morning, I got a comment on my Oprah letter. I can only imagine this is in response to the effort we've made to counter James Ray's infomercial.
    "Darlene" wrote: "I’m curious Jean,why you would purposely go to James Ray’s FB page ? Why do you care what he’s doing? He served his sentence. What exactly do you expect him to do? All the hatred towards him leads me to believe you want him dead! Like that would be the only solution that would make you feel better. He has a right to move forward and live his life. So should you!"

    I responded:

    "Hi Darlene,

    Thank you for your question. I appreciate the opportunity to discuss how I feel.

    I would never wish anyone dead. That is not at all what I wish for James Ray. I’ve always been a pacifist, do not believe in the death penalty, etc. James Ray’s trial tested those convictions and I assure you, they held up. He absolutely has a right to move on and live his life and I recognize that he fulfilled the conditions of the law following his conviction.

    The problem, and the reason that we continue to follow him, is that he is not moving on. Moving on would be recognizing his mistakes and vowing not to recommit them. Instead, he is back in the same line of work, trying to convince people to trust him with their desire to improve their lives.

    Instead of moving on, he is using the story of what happened–my sister’s story–to relaunch his business.

    And in fact, he’s now manipulating her story. He was on CNN yesterday saying that she was estranged from our family. This is a gross and deeply hurtful lie. Just months before she died, she was my maid of honour, in the wedding at my parents’ house! Kirby was seeking her own path in life, absolutely. A path that deviated from the normal path, certainly one that deviated from my parents’ path. But that does not at all mean she was estranged from our family.

    Do you understand why James Ray using and misrepresenting her story would be so deeply hurtful to me and my family? And yes, I have a right to move forward. Ray’s return to the self-help industry makes it very difficult for me to do that. He is using my sister’s story–and in so doing makes us relive our pain over and over–for his own gain. Do you see how that prevents us from moving forward?

    I continue to share this story and press this case because in order to live with my sister’s death, I need to do everything I can to make sure someone else doesn’t die needlessly as she did. I need to make her story mean something. Despite saying that he takes responsibility, James Ray continues to deflect responsibility and will not recognize the actions he took that led to people’s deaths. This is why I still feel he is dangerous. Honouring my sister’s memory means I will continue to warn people of this danger, from James Ray and others in the self-help industry who abuse their customers’ trust.

    Thank you again for your question. I wish you well!

    Jean Brown"

    ***

    Friends, I share this because we are very much in the "post-truth" era, and I feel like over and over again I'm losing the battle to proclaim the truth. I need help. Please share whatever you can far and wide to help us tell the truth about James Ray. My posts about SEEK, etc, are usually public and shareable. [Seek Safely is the Browns' nonprofit that attempts to bring responsibility and accountability into the self-help industry. ~CC]
    Thanks xo
    "Post-truth" era, indeed. We're seeing signs of that everywhere, and I won't get into the political angle on this post, because what I wish to stress here is that it is the height of arrogance, ignorance and insensitivity to callously declare that the loved ones of those who were killed as a result of James Ray's recklessness -- as well as those who were injured or otherwise traumatized by him in some way -- should "just move on."

    Jean has been making a concentrated effort to counter Ray's lies, and yesterday
    she posted a video imploring him to "Please stop." It's embedded at the beginning of this post, or you can click on the link in the previous sentence.

    Jean and her family are not going to shut up about this, and neither am I, and neither are several other bloggers... and if you care about countering the dark side of Scamworld, neither should you. And by the way, if you need a primer or refresher on why those who were hurt by Ray, or those who sympathize with their cause, cannot and should not "just move on,"
    here again is a direct link to Ray's October 2016 motion to have his convictions for negligent homicide overturned, and -- more importantly -- the State's response.

    Never forget.

    PS added 8 December 2016: Salty Droid will never, never forget. Here he does a detailed debunking of Death Ray's outrageous lies about the Brown family (and Ray's other victims as well). And once again Salty points a finger at CNN.

    Keep in mind that this isn’t a pathetic attempt at journalism. This is CNN using air time on its news shows to promote its entertainment content. It’s a fucking commercial … and that’s how James Ray is using it as well.

    So inside the commercial :: within the commercial :: within the news show … James Arthur Ray is allowed to speak horrible unquestioned slander against Kirby and her family.

    PPS added 9 December 2016: Who's afraid of Virginia Brown? Cowardly Death Ray, apparently.

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    Friday, December 02, 2016

    En-blight-en us more: Death Ray documentary to premiere on CNN

    This past April I mentioned a documentary on the rise and fall and attempted rise again of convicted killer James Arthur "Death" Ray: Enlighten Us, in advance of the film's premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival. Mostly I wrote about Salty Droid, aka jason Jones, writing about it, since he actually attended the premiere.

    Now the work is finally coming to a wider audience; it is currently scheduled to premiere
    on CNN on Saturday, December 3, 2016 (that's tomorrow, as I write this) at 8 PM ET. There will be several encores later in the month; they're listed in the link above. No doubt it will be available for even wider viewing in due time via Internet outlets, Blu-Ray/DVD and the like. I'll wait.

    Not surprisingly Salty weighed in again, ahead of the CNN premiere; he never did publish his full review of the documentary on his blog, but
    on today's post he did include snippets from one of his efforts. He describes meeting Ginny Brown, mother of one of Ray's victims, Kirby Brown. It was an emotional experience, to say the least.
    This thing, The Salty Droid, is all about computer screens. I observe and capture the world as seen on my screens, and then I interact with that world via a half-crazed half-fictional character. The layers of abstraction help to keep my brain safe while I’m inhabiting one dark mire after the next; I try to crossover as rarely as possible. This is the first article I’ve ever published as myself.

    Ginny and George are out trying to raise awareness for SEEK Safely
    [
    the Browns' nonprofit that attempts to bring responsibility and accountability into the self-help industry]. They feel like they’ve been completely shutout by the film makers. They’ve not been represented on camera, and their input has not been sought off camera. They haven’t even been invited to attend the premiere. They are visibly upset, and that makes me upset.
    Jason noted that Ray was not in the theater where Enlighten Us was screening." Too bad :: because he missed the audience’s overwhelmingly negative reaction to him :: which manifested via audible groans :: and again during the Q&A with director Jenny Carchman."

    Despite the seemingly uncritical lens through which the film presented Ray, Jason wrote that he "still comes off as a horrible disgusting monster." Not to mention a hypocritical one:

    Ray tells the film maker’s camera …
    I came out of prison in debt. My credit is crap. I’ve got nothing tucked away.
    Juxtapose Ray telling a marketer’s camera …
    I’d like to begin a conversation with you here today… it’s about the topic of wealth, abundance, and prosperity.
    Scamworld in a James Arthur Ray nutshell.
    Yep. It's all about Ray "pitching himself as a specialist in comebacks … while perpetually waiting for his own comeback to come." Salty also took some potshots at CNN for providing such a golden platform for Ray for years, and he got some shots in at Ray's "old-as-dirt mentor-in-scam Bob Proctor" (who has also been a frequent guest on my Whirled, particularly back in the heyday of The Secret).

    Salty/Jason wasn't the only one of my pals to write about Ray in the wake of the CNN premiere buzz. Steve Salerno of SHAMblog had
    an excellent piece on Slate yesterday. And he published some "outtakes" on SHAMblog yesterday as well.

    Apart from the fact that Death Ray is trying, mostly in vain, to regain his superstar status in the selfish-help industry,
    he is also trying to get his criminal convictions set aside so he can have all of his civil rights restored. If the motion were to be granted he would regain voting rights, and international travel would become less of a hassle.

    Back in 2013, following his release from prison in Arizona, Ray had toyed with getting the convictions overturned,
    but in September of that year he moved to drop the appeal. In an affidavit he wrote, "I wish to ensure the prompt, complete and definitive termination of these criminal proceedings by dismissing this appeal and allowing the conviction and sentence to stand undisturbed." Apparently he didn't want to risk re-trial and possible re-sentencing. He insisted, however, that the convictions were flawed.

    And now he's trying to push that narrative through the courts.
    As Steve Salerno wrote in the Slate piece linked to above:
    In both the film and in life, Ray is poorly cast as the martyr of self-help culture. He’s far from it: Ginny Brown, mother of 38-year-old victim Kirby Brown, recalls that when Ray finally reached out to her after her daughter’s death, a full five days later, he kept saying over and over, that he “couldn’t believe this had happened ... to him.” Seven years later, Ray does not seem to have changed—indeed, he is currently petitioning to have his conviction set aside. The state of Arizona is countering the motion vigorously, as are families of those killed.

    Legal maneuvers like the one Ray is attempting rarely succeed in homicide cases. But the hubris of even trying reaffirms that far from offering a story of redemption, Ray remains the epitomic reminder that self-help culture may be less about bettering the self than about creating alternative realities in which your unimproved self is just fine.

    Couldn't have said it better myself. (And as I've written about numerous times on this blog, the selfish-help culture is full of false heroes and martyrs, imprisoned serial scammer Kevin Trudeau being one of them.)

    Here is a link to Ray's October 2016 motion and to the State's response, requesting denial of the motion. If you aren't familiar with the events leading up to his conviction, or just want to refresh your memory, you can get a reasonably good overview by reading the response.

    Ray may never get his luster restored, either legally or in the minds of a the public. But the very fact that he is still trying so desperately to do so says a lot about his character, or complete lack thereof.

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