Category Archives: Reality Check

Reality Check With Ben Swann

Reality Check: Hollywood Actress Charged with Sex Trafficking for Cult

Another shocking story of sex trafficking in the United States, this time involving a Hollywood actress arrested on charges of recruiting women to become sex slaves for a cult.

The cult, operating as “self-help” business NXIVM, was flagged as “expensive brainwashing” as far back as 2003. But the organization is much more than that, with connections to both Hollywood and political elite.

This is a Reality Check you won’t get anywhere else.

Allison Mack, known for her role as “Chloe” in the TV series Smallville, was arrested on April 20 as part of an indictment charging her and a man named Keith Raniere for sex trafficking and forced labor.

Mack allegedly recruited women to join a female empowerment group, one of many programs under Raniere’s multi-level marketing business, NXIVM.

But according to U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue, instead of being empowered, these women were “exploited, both sexually and for their labor.”

Based in Albany, New York, Raniere formed Executive Success Programs, Inc. in 1998 offering courses to help “actualize human potential.” He later set up NXIVM in 2003 as the umbrella organization for ESP, Inc. and other affiliated entities.

Since then, NXIVM has grown to become a global pyramid scheme, operating in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and South America. Members are required to recruit others to rise in the ranks, and are charged thousands of dollars for so-called self-help classes that can run as long as 14 hours per day.

Now, after years of reports that NXIVM is a cult, Raniere has been arrested, taken into custody in March following sex trafficking and forced labor charges.

A month later, Mack was charged and arrested. She was released on $5 million bond…
So what exactly did Mack do? According to the DOJ, “Mack is credited in publicly available materials with co-creating a NXIVM program, called the source, which recruited actors.”

Mack regularly touted NXIVM as a feminist group on her social media pages.

In particular, she exhibited strange behavior on Twitter, allegedly attempted to recruit actress Emma Watson, and back in January, posting an image of Marina Abramovic… yes, the woman most famous for “spirit cooking.”

Further, court filings state that, “Mack directly or implicitly required her slaves, including Jane Does 1 and 2, as identified in the indictment, to engage in sexual activity with Raniere. In exchange for this, Mack received financial and other benefits from Raniere.”

These slaves were allegedly starved, branded, and forced to have nude photos taken of them as collateral. And that might not be the full extent of the torture these women went through.

The latest in this sex cult scandal: NXIVM’s resident physician has been charged with conducting illegal human experiments.

Forty-four-year-old Dr. Brandon Porter is accused of forcing actress Jennifer Kobelt to watch dismemberment and rape videos for an alleged “fright study.”

The New York State Office of Professional Medical Conduct is accusing Porter of moral unfitness, gross incompetence, and gross negligence, according to the New York Post.

What you need to know is that NXIVM’s self-help and empowerment programs attracted wealthy, powerful and public figures from around the world, even as the company was accused of being a front for a cult.

And now, beyond these charges against Mack and Raniere for sex trafficking, there could be bigger implications for those who funded NXIVM.

That includes the heiresses to the Seagrams liquor fortune, Clare and Sara Bronfman reportedly gave $150 million of their trust fund to support NXIVM, according to an article published by Vanity Fair in 2010.

Because remember, in December of last year, President Donald Trump issued an executive order stating that anyone involved in human rights abuses and corruption could have their assets frozen.

There’s more to this story, with at least 70 business entities listed in court documents associated with NXIVM. We’ll keep watch as the story develops.

That’s Reality Check. Let’s talk about that, right now, on Facebook and Twitter.

Reality Check: Will Haspel Stick to Her Word on Torture?

It has been a heated fight for the nomination of Gina Haspel as the new CIA director. Some have nicknamed her the “Queen of Torture.”

Haspel, now confirmed as our next CIA director, said in her bid to head the agency that the torture program shouldn’t have happened. But should we believe her?

Let’s give it a Reality Check.

Before CIA Director Gina Haspel was confirmed on Thursday, she had written a letter saying that the CIA should not have carried out the post- 9/11 torture and rendition program.

According to the letter, sent to Virginia Sen. Mark Warner and obtained by CNN, Haspel now says that the torture program, “is not one the CIA should have undertaken.”

Haspel went on to say that the program had “ultimately done damage” to CIA officers and the U.S.’s “standing in the world.”

But she still claimed that the U.S. has gathered valuable intelligence from the program.

Keep in mind, as I have told you before, Gina Haspel didn’t just oversee a black site prison. She helped to destroy evidence of the program she now says did damage to the U.S. standing in the world.

But this isn’t the first CIA director to be exposed for their support of the torture program, and then to claim their opinion has changed.

Former CIA Director John Brennan defended the usefulness of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation tactics after the CIA torture report was released.

In a 2014 press conference, Brennan stated that the CIA’s actions resulted in “useful” intelligence despite them being “abhorrent” and even exceeding what’s legal.

And yet, during his confirmation hearings in 2013, Brennan expressed doubts that the CIA enhanced interrogation program had resulted in valuable intelligence.

So once he was confirmed, he shed those doubts and concluded that the agency was in the right to torture.

What you need to know is that Haspel could do exactly what Brennan did once confirmed as the new head of the CIA – backtrack on comments in the confirmation hearing and stand firm with the agency’s torture and rendition actions.

Remember, during the hearings Haspel offered her “personal commitment” to not restart such a detention and interrogation program with the CIA.

Can we trust Haspel? NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden tweeted about Gina Haspel’s nomination to the CIA director position, saying, “If the congress confirms Gina Haspel, who admitted to participating in a torture program and personally writing the order to destroy evidence of that crime, is “qualified” to head the CIA, it says more about our government than it does about her.”

That’s Reality Check. Let’s talk about that, right now, on Facebook and Twitter.

Reality Check: The FBI Planted a Spy In the Trump Campaign?

The FBI planted a spy in the Trump campaign?

Turns out that claim is true. But the story is so much deeper than that.

Who that spy has turned out to be, is a man with CIA connections who has inserted himself into presidential campaigns before. And the fact that the DOJ has fought to keep his identity a secret is completely reshaping what we know about the investigation in Russian meddling.

This is a Reality Check you won’t get anywhere else.

The investigation into a possible connection between Russia and the Trump campaign just took a dramatic twist, with reports confirming the use of an FBI informant embedded within the Trump campaign in the run up to the 2016 election.

In a tweet Friday, President Trump wrote, “Reports are there was indeed at least one FBI representative implanted, for political purposes, into my campaign for president. It took place very early on, and long before the phony Russia hoax became a ‘hot’ Fake News story. If true – all time biggest political scandal!”

The Department of Justice and several spokespersons for the FBI did not deny that a spy had been embedded in the Trump campaign but they described the individual as an informant. Turns out he is much more than that.

Who was that informant exactly, and what makes the fact that he personally was embed in the trump campaign even more concerning?

His name is Stefan Halper. And according to The Intercept, “Halper was responsible for a long-forgotten spying scandal involving the 1980 election, in which the Reagan campaign – using CIA officials managed by Halper, reportedly under the direction of former CIA director and then-vice-presidential candidate George H.W. Bush – got caught running a spying operation from inside the Carter administration. The plot involved CIA operatives passing classified information about Carter’s foreign policy to Reagan campaign officials in order to ensure the Reagan campaign knew of any foreign policy decisions that Carter was considering.”

So while the DOJ has intentionally painted a picture of this informant as some sort of as a super secret high level, covert intelligence asset, he actually is not. He is an informant who has worked in Washington for years providing information to the CIA.

At this point we know that Halper met with three Trump campaign advisers in 2016.

George Papadopoulos, who Halper contacted, offering him $3,000 to write a policy paper on issues related to Turkey, Cyprus, Israel and the Leviathan natural gas field. Halper also offered to pay for Papadopoulos’s flight and a three-night stay in London.

Papadopoulos completed the project and was paid for it. But it was what happened while Papadopoulos was in London that is of interest.

From The Daily Caller, “According to a source with knowledge of the meeting, Halper asked Papadopoulos: ‘George, you know about hacking the emails from Russia, right?’Papadopoulos told halper he didn’t know anything about emails or Russian hacking…”

Halper also met with Trump aide, Carter Page, “at a July 2016 symposium held at Cambridge regarding the upcoming election, Page told The DCNF [Daily Caller News Foundation]. The pair remained in contact for several months.”

So a least three Trump aides were contacted by Halper… two of those aides have been under FBI investigation and one of those aides has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.

If we look at Halper in the course of presidential politics and history, then we know that Halper was part of one of the largest attempts ever for the CIA to push their former director to become president. When George H.W. Bush ran for president, Halper was a foreign policy aide.

As The Intercept points out, “In 1980, the Washington Post published an article reporting on the extremely unusual and quite aggressive involvement of the CIA in the 1980 presidential campaign.”

The CIA had never before backed a presidential and then vice presidential candidate so openly as it did with George H.W. Bush. That is, not until 2016, when former CIA officials publicly and aggressively backed Hillary Clinton

Former acting CIA Director Michael Morell publicly endorsed Clinton in the New York Times. George W. Bush’s CIA and NSA Director Gen. Michael Hayden called Trump a “clear and present danger.”

Reality Check here: The secret informant the FBI used in 2016, is not some top secret asset whose identity needed to be protected. Instead, it is a well known CIA informant whose role in a clearly unethical and possible illegal spying effort during the 1980 election is very well known.

That’s Reality Check. Let’s talk about that, right now, on Facebook and Twitter.

Reality Check: Millions Wasted ‘Rebuilding’ Afghanistan

Seventeen years of wasted taxpayer money and government mismanagement: millions of U.S. dollars spent on projects to rebuild Afghanistan that have not helped the Afghan people.

In some cases, these projects actually put Afghans in danger.

This is a Reality Check you won’t get anywhere else.

A new report shows that the U.S. has spent some $60 million on building totally useless power lines in Afghanistan. The effort, overseen by the army corps of engineers, was intended to help rebuild the country.

As we reported at TruthInMedia.com, the $60 million spent is just part of a $116 million project that was plagued from the start.

Back in 2013, the U.S. army corps of engineers awarded an Afghan company $116 million to design and build phases two and three of the north east power system, or NEPS, in Afghanistan. According to the report, published by SIGAR, or the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, the $60 million spent on a power transmission project is, quote, “not operational.”

Not operational, because the contract was poorly written. The afghan government was supposed to buy land in the path of the project, allowing the contractor to build phase. They didn’t, and yet the U.S. army corps of engineers gave the contractor clearances to move ahead with construction.

The result? Power lines built through privately held land, some over residential homes, causing real estate disputes. And there’s more.

The contractor’s approved plans did not include connecting the power transmission project to the power source. The army corps of engineers approved a submittal for a temporary connection, but those plans didn’t match the configuration of the power source. So there’s no way to test, let alone go live, with the project.

If the contractors can’t get the plans right, what about the construction of the project?

Well, according to the report, the project’s power towers foundations are already crumbling. Plus, they were built in loose soil, on embankments that are likely to erode. Near where people live.

So that’s $60 million of U.S. taxpayer dollars wasted on a non-operational project. But this isn’t the first time SIGAR has released troubling reports of government waste.

According to TruthInMedia.com, our government spent $160 million on a failed electronic payment system for the afghan government to collect taxes. SIGAR also identified $93 million spent on “forest” camouflage gear for Afghan troops, when there are very few forests in the country.

The irony here: the USAID published a video in 2011 promoting the NEPS project as a way to create efficiency and reduce cost.

What you need to know is that in the 17 years of the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan, it’s estimated that our government’s reconstruction effort has cost taxpayers $1 trillion. And the occupation continues.

President Trump authorized a troop surge in Afghanistan, bringing the total number of U.S. military there to 14,000. And that’s just military.

So if our government is willing to waste your tax dollars, endanger people halfway across the globe and put our service men and women at risk, to “create efficiency and reduce cost,” what exactly are they doing for us?

That’s Reality Check. Let’s talk about that, right now, on Facebook and Twitter.

Reality Check: EU Replacing U.S. as Global Leader After Trump Leaves Iran Deal?

The president of the European Commission says the the EU needs to replace the U.S. as a global superpower because President Trump has announced that the U.S. will pull out of the Iran nuclear deal.

Jean-Claude Juncker had strong words. But is he right?

Let’s give it a Reality Check you won’t get anywhere else.

“At this point, we have to replace the United States, which as an international actor has lost vigor, and because of it, in the long term, influence…”

Those are the words of EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker during an address to Belgium’s Flemish Regional Parliament in Brussels. He says that the European Union should take over as global leader because the U.S. “no longer wants to cooperate” with the world, as it’s abandoning the Iran nuclear deal.

Is the EU posturing after President Donald Trump said the new U.S. sanctions against Iran would impact anyone who deals with Iran, including companies in the EU?

One sign indicating EU is posturing is talk of sanctioning the U.S.

According to Reuters, EU officials are revamping a blocking statue used by the governing body in the 1990s to threaten then President Bill Clinton’s administration when the U.S. tried to penalize foreign businesses trying to work with Cuba.

It worked, coupled with a political strategy, and Washington backed down.

Basically the statue blocks EU companies from following U.S. sanctions, and doesn’t recognize court rulings enforcing U.S. penalties for non-compliance. But it’s never actually been used, and is seen by EU governments as more of a warning to the U.S. than anything.

Now, the idea that Europe should or would replace the U.S. as global leader is somewhat silly at this point.

Through NATO, the United States uses its massive military to protect and pay for protection for 27 European nations, with the U.S. spending more than double and in some cases triple for defense.

But the underlying concern behind Juncker’s statements are the very real questions about the reasons for President Trump’s decision to leave the Iran nuclear deal, especially when the IAEA says Iran is in fact following the agreement.

The IAEA Director General released a statement last week stating, “As requested by the United Nations Security Council and authorised by the IAEA Board of Governors in 2015, the IAEA is verifying and monitoring Iran’s implementation of its nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA.

“Iran is subject to the world’s most robust nuclear verification regime under the JCPOA, which is a significant verification gain. As of today, the IAEA can confirm that the nuclear-related commitments are being implemented by Iran.”

So what you need to know is that there are actually multiple story lines here.

The EU leadership posturing, stating the U.S. should no longer be the world leader—that isn’t really worth debating.

The IAEA saying that Iran is following the deal—that is something we need to pay attention to.

And finally, the biggest, most under reported story line so far—the fact that Israel is pushing this decision at the same moment that nation launching military strikes against Iranian positions in Syria.

Again, that is the question here. Is the U.S. going to be dragged into another Middle East war, this time alongside Israel against Iran and Syria?

That’s Reality Check. Let’s talk about it, right now, on Facebook and Twitter.

Reality Check: Why Did Trump Abandon the Iran Nuclear Deal?

President Trump announced Tuesday that the U.S. will pull out of the Iran nuclear deal. It is a campaign promise that he made repeatedly during the election.

Trump has said the Iran deal is the worst of all time, and instead of staying in it he’s going to impose new sanctions against Iran.

So why did Trump abandon the Iran deal? Was it truly a bad deal, or was there influence coming from Israel? And what could that influence mean for our future?

This is a Reality Check you won’t get anywhere else.

“The Iran deal is defective at its core. If we do nothing, we know exactly what will happen. In just a short period of time, the world’s leading state sponsor of terror, will be on the cusp of acquiring the world’s most dangerous weapons.”

That was President Trump on Tuesday announcing that just three years into the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, known as the Iran nuclear deal, the U.S. will abandon the agreement that got Iran, some say, to rein in its nuclear program.

But others say it was a terrible deal that sped up their nuclear ambitions.

So why did President Trump abandon the Iran deal? To understand that, we actually need to look back at our relationship with Iran. Here’s a quick history lesson to bring you up to speed.

In 1953, the CIA led Operation Ajax, a coup in Iran to overthrow the democratically elected Prime Minister Mosaddegh and to strengthen the monarchy led by the Shah.

After that, our government actually provided Iran a nuclear reactor fueled by highly-enriched uranium, under the Atoms for Peace program.

But then the shah was overthrown in 1979, and the U.S. stopped supplying Iran with highly enriched uranium.

Since then, our government has worked to prevent any nuclear development deal in the nation of Iran. It’s been going on for some time.

That is, until 2015, when the Obama Administration made a deal to allow Iran to keep a maximum of 660 pounds of low-enriched uranium through 2031 and drastically reduce the number of installed nuclear centerfuges.

As part of the deal, Iran has been under 24-hour surveillance by the International Atomic Energy Agency. In 2015, the IAEA found no credible evidence of nuclear bomb development. And the country has been under a very tight watch ever since.

But now, the U.S. pulling out of the deal, just as President Trump promised he would.

Yet a key reason that the president gave for quitting the Iran deal is alleged evidence from Israel that Iran was not in compliance.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed on April 30 that Israeli spies had stolen Iranian nuclear plans. Yet, according to the New York Times, Netanyahu did not provide any evidence that Iran violated the agreement.

What you need to know is that Israel’s influence in President Trump’s decision is interesting. Those on the left say the Iran deal would have prevented a nuclear Iran. Those on the right say the Iran deal would have sped that process up. But that isn’t the question we should be asking. No, the real question is one I asked here exactly one month ago.

Is the U.S. being pulled into an all-out war with Iran and Syria?

Remember, in March the U.S. participated in a joint military exercise in Israel to play out a scenario of an Iranian attack. In April, Israel bombed Syria and injured Iranians, just days before the U.S. led targeted attacks on Syria. You see a theme here?

And now, just hours after the U.S. abandoned the Iran deal, Israeli air strikes targeted an Iranian position in Syria, with nine reported Iranian deaths. And in Israel, military forces are preparing for a possible Iranian attack.

The real question we should be asking: Are we, the American people, ready to join Israel’s escalating war against Iran, a war that looks more likely every day?

That’s Reality Check. Let’s talk about that, right now, on Facebook and Twitter.

Reality Check: Is the U.S. No Longer Funding the White Helmets?

It was just hours after releasing our last Reality Check on the White Helmets that the news broke—reports that the State Department had ceased funding of the controversial group.

But the reports lacked detail as to what funding is specifically being frozen, and the State Department isn’t going on the record.

So is the U.S. no longer funding the white helmets? And is it connected to Trump’s freeze on $200 million earmarked for Syrian “recovery”?

This is a Reality Check you won’t get anywhere else.

Late Friday, the White Helmets were all over the news. The reason? The State Department allegedly is no longer funding the controversial organization.

This, just hours after our investigation into who’s funding the White Helmets was released.

So what funding has been cut, exactly? That remains unclear.

According to CBS News, the White Helmets have complained that they haven’t received U.S. funding in weeks. This, after President Trump announced a freeze of $200 million in recovery funding for Syria.

But was that a freeze of the additional $200 million promised by former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson? Or something else entirely?

In our investigation into who’s funding the White Helmets, we discovered that in August 2015, USAID awarded a $211 million, five-year contract with Chemonics to “provide fast, flexible, short-term assistance targeted at key political transition and stabilization needs” in Syria.

According to the website GovTribe, $2.1 million in incremental funding was last allocated for the contract in March of this year.

So far, $81.6 million of the total contract has been obligated in the deal with Chemonics.

There is no clear indication as to whether this contract is frozen. Even so, western governments are still supporting the white helmets.

If you missed our investigation into who is funding the White Helmets, watch below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0EXtHoOi7_4

Reality Check: Who’s Funding the White Helmets?

UPDATE: Watch Ben Swann explain the recent developments in US funding of the White Helmets in an updated Reality Check by clicking here. 

As the U.S. moves closer toward all out war in Syria, a lot of what our government seems to base its intelligence on, especially claims of chemical weapon use by they Syrian government, is an impartial humanitarian group called the White Helmets.

You’ve no doubt, heard of the White Helmets. They have been praised in the media as heroes and have reportedly saved more than 100,000 lives as of April 2018.

But who are the White Helmets really? Are they a legitimate organization or pawns, funded for the purpose of regime change?

Let’s give it a Reality Check you won’t get anywhere else.

Despite a recent U.S. funding freeze for humanitarian aid for Syria, the U.S. continues to fund the controversial group, known as White Helmets.

The White Helmets claim to be a neutral entity in Syria. They say they are just helping people caught in the middle of a civil war. But are they?

Follow the money and you will find numerous ties to government funding from not only the U.S., but the U.K., the Netherlands, Denmark, and Germany.

Untangling these ties to the White Helmets is complicated, so stay with me.

According to their website, the Syria Civil Defense, nicknamed the White Helmets, formed in “late 2012- early 2013” as self-organized groups.

Realizing they needed training, 20 Syrians went to Turkey back in March 2013 to learn from a former British army officer named James Le Mesurier.

Le Mesurier has ties to the failed NATO intervention in Kosovo. He developed a training program for Syrians that included trauma care, command and control and crisis management courses.

He is credited for helping form the White Helmets’ structure and operations.

Le Mesurier was able to fund this training program through Mayday Rescue, his Netherlands-based non-profit funded by grants from the Dutch, British, Danish and German governments.

Now, this brings us to December 2013, when the U.K.-based PR machine backing the White Helmets was established.

It’s called the Voices Project, set up as a private limited company for public relations and communications activities.

Part of the Voices Project’s articles of incorporation state that the organization seeks to “influence public opinion” and “influence governmental and other bodies and institutions regarding reform … legislation and regulation.”

Who set up the Voices Project? The first listed director on the articles of incorporation is Jeremy Heimans, the co-founder and CEO of the global PR platform “Purpose” and a co-founder of controversial online activist network “Avaaz”.

Though Heimans stepped down from his position with the Voices Project in 2015, his connection to the project is worth noting. Here’s why.

In February 2014, New York-based “Purpose” listed a job posting for interns to “help launch a new movement for Syria.”

By March 2014, the Voices Project set up The Syria Campaign NGO, which they describe as “a human rights organisation that supports Syria’s heroes in their struggle for freedom and democracy.”

This, coinciding with the graduates of the Mayday Rescue training establishing new teams in Syria.

Six months later, in October 2014, a conference of these teams came together to establish the Syrian Civil Defense as an official, national organization. They then became known as the White Helmets, thanks to The Syria Campaign.

According to their website, the White Helmets have been directly funded by Mayday Rescue, and a company called Chemonics, since 2014.

Yet there’s evidence that both of those organizations started supporting the White Helmets back in early 2013, right around the time the White Helmets claim to have formed as self-organized groups.

Mayday Rescue, as we said, is funded by the Dutch, British, Danish and German governments. And Chemonics?

They are a Washington, D.C. based contractor that was awarded $128.5 million in January 2013 to support “a peaceful transition to a democratic and stable Syria” as part of USAID’s Syria regional program. At least $32 million has been given directly to the White Helmets as of February 2018.

The firm has been funded by USAID for years, and carries a record of failures in supporting so-called humanitarian interventions, including in Libya.

What you need to know is that first, this was only part one of our look at the White Helmets.

There are even more dots to connect here, including the relationship between USAID, Chemonics, Jeremy Heimans and Azaaz. We will make those connections in another episode of Reality Check.

But for today, let’s make this clear: there are very real questions about the authenticity of the voice of the White Helmets as representative of the Syrian people.

It is also clear that the White Helmets have ties to organizations that are being funded by governments that have been seeking, and right now continue to, seek to overthrow the Assad government and to establish a new regime in Syria.

And yet our media and government act as if the information coming from the White Helmets is coming from an impartial observer. When in fact, it appears to actually be coming from an organization that is being funded with an agenda to see the Syrian government overthrown.

That’s Reality Check. Let’s talk about that, right now, on Facebook and Twitter.

Reality Check: The Fight for Alfie Evans

His name was Alfie Evans, a 24-month-old baby who died in the UK on Saturday.

Though his life was mercilessly short, Alfie was at the center of a heart-wrenching debate over who should have final authority over a child’s medical care: the parents, or the state.

And at what point does medical care cross the line into medical kidnapping? Did that happen here?

Let’s give it a Reality Check you won’t get anywhere else.

Little Alfie Evans passed away this past weekend. The story of his struggle, of his life and ultimately his death has raised a huge debate over the issue of the right to life, and the right to fight for life.

Here’s the backstory: Alfie was born May 9, 2016 to Tom Evans and Kate James. But as early as July 2016, Alfie’s health began to deteriorate. He was brought into the pediatric unit at Alder Hey Hospital in December 2016, where, over the course of a year, he suffered seizures, bilateral pneumonia, and cardiac complications that put Alfie into a coma by January of this year.

According to (Quartz) Qz.com, “Alfie’s doctors decided that continuing to keep the boy on ventilatory support was not in his best interest, concluding that he had an untreatable, progressive neuro-degenerative disease of unknown origin. Typically, in the UK, doctors in a similar position use private mediation to agree upon a course of action with family members. But Alfie’s parents did not accept the doctors’ conclusion, arguing that the hospital had rushed to judgment. In later court hearings, they said they felt the hospital had ‘given up’ on Alfie. And so the hospital turned to the family division of the UK’s high court for a ruling.”

But the UK high court ruled against them, deciding that life support, “compromises Alfie’s future dignity.”

His parents filed an appeal, but it was denied in march, so they took the case to the European Court of Human Rights. There, the appeal was deemed inadmissible.

As this was all happening the story grew. Large groups of Christian, specifically Catholic, supporters began rallying around Alfie. They were called Alfie’s Army. Even the pope himself got involved.

In fact, the pope’s support prompted the Italian government last week, to grant Alfie Italian citizenship so that he could have “immediate transfer to Italy” for new treatment.

And this is where the story become outrageous. Alder Hey Hospital refused to allow Alfie to be transferred. They determined continuing treatment was “not in Alfie’s best interests.”

Alder Hey Hospital said scans showed “catastrophic degradation of his brain tissue” and that further treatment was not only “futile” but also “unkind and inhumane.”

So to be clear, Alder Hey Hospital decided that they would no longer treat Alfie, that he would be removed from life saving ventilation. But they also determined that no one else would be allowed to treat him. No other hospital, no other doctors. No one.

And despite the Italian citizenship being granted, the UK Court of Appeals blocked that, but upholding a ruling preventing the toddler from traveling abroad after life support was withdrawn.

Why would the high courts do this, especially when Alder Hey Hospital has such a troubling history?

According to The Guardian, back in 2001 the hospital admitted to taking organs from live children, and selling them to a pharmaceutical company in exchange for cash.

“Just days before the publication of a report on the removal and storage of hundreds of children’s organs at Alder Hey without parents’ knowledge, it emerged that supplies of the thymus gland, which is routinely removed during cardiac surgery to give better access to the heart, were regularly handed over to the pharmaceutical company Aventis Pasteur, in exchange for cash donations to the hospital.”

On Monday, April 23, the doctors at Alder Hey took Alfie off life support, against his parents’ wishes.

Again, from Quartz (Qz.com), “Most expected that he would not be able to keep breathing on his own. Defying expectations, he did. He survived several hours without assistance, after which doctors began giving him oxygen and hydration to help him breathe.”

On Saturday, April 28, Alfie passed away. The pope tweeted, “I am deeply moved by the death of little Alfie. Today I pray especially for his parents, as God the Father receives him in his tender embrace.”

What you need to know is that under UK law, when doctors and parents disagree about the best course of action in a child’s medical care, the final decision is made through the court systems.

This law was created to protect children. But in this case, it didn’t protect Alfie Evans.

Reality check here: it is arguably the height of arrogance for a medical staff to say it can do nothing to help a child’s condition and yet to simultaneously block any other medical staff, any other doctor from being allowed to try.

The right to try, the right to fight for life, the right to hope, were taken from Alfie’s family in the name of being humane. And yet so many can clearly see there is nothing humane about that.

That’s Reality Check. Let’s talk about it now on Facebook and Twitter.

Reality Check: Are Gun Confiscation Laws Trampling Your Civil Liberties?

A candidate for sheriff in North Carolina has said he would confiscate guns in his county by taking them from the “cold, dead hands” of the people he is supposed to protect. Now, he says he was only joking.

Joking or not, the attitude of gun confiscation is raising concern about the power of law enforcement in this country. And are newly enacted gun confiscation laws violating due process and civil liberties?

This is a Reality Check you won’t get anywhere else.

R. Daryl Fisher’s recent comments about gun confiscation are disturbing. In a video captured March 7, Fisher was speaking to the members of the local Moms Demand Action meeting when he said this:

“What about people that already have weapons? Well, I will tell you now, don’t buy into the scare tactics. Don’t believe the scare tactics. Because you’ve heard people say, ‘You’ll have to pry my gun from my cold, dead hands.’ Okay.”

Now, since that video was released, Fisher has come forward saying he shouldn’t have joked.

Fisher supports tougher gun control. As we reported at TruthInMedia.com, Fisher, like many politicians, wants to raise the minimum age to purchase a firearm, ban “high capacity” magazines and anything that increases a firearms rate of fire.

He also wants to outlaw military style weapons and require firearm qualifications before people can carry guns.

Fisher said it would be unconstitutional to take guns from people before a ban was in place, and that “Responsible gun owners have nothing to worry about.” And yet, the “joke” of killing gun owners for refusing to allow their guns to be confiscated, resonated with the audience. You hear it in their cheers.

That alone raises questions about the mentality about gun confiscation in this country.

Today, lawmakers across the U.S. are looking to implement so-called “red flag” gun laws in order to confiscate guns from owners who are deemed an “extreme risk.” Immediate family or law enforcement file a ERPO, or extreme risk petition order, on a gun owner to confiscate their weapons. A judge can swiftly approve the ERPO as an immediate temporary order or full order, according to TruthInMedia.com

And while the intent is to protect gun owners from harming themselves or others, civil liberties groups and Second Amendment advocates claim otherwise.

Let’s look at the State of Washington, which has a “red flag” law in place in its capital of Seattle. There, the law allows for gun confiscation before an arrest or charge of crime.

According to TruthInMedia.com, “While this has been championed as a valuable tool for law enforcement, due process procedures come into question; under the provisions of an ex parte ERPO, the accused respondent will not have the opportunity to face their accuser or challenge the claim until after a temporary order is already issued. This effectively allows law enforcement take a person’s firearms first, with due process occurring after firearms are removed.”

Yes, law enforcement can take guns away from people they deem “extreme risk” and hold those weapons until a judge decides the owner is not a threat to the public or themselves.

Five states including Washington allow guns to be confiscated before a crime has been committed. Similar measures have been proposed in 18 other states, including Florida, plus the District of Columbia, according to the Washington Post.

What you need to know is that while we can agree that we want to reduce threats of violence in this country, we must consider the rights of individuals and the authority we give those in power.

In the wake of mass shootings, lawmakers rush to push gun control legislation that often duplicates existing laws on the books or tramples our civil liberties.

Let’s take the politics out of it so that we can have a real discussion about whether these “red flag” gun confiscation laws are actually accomplishing what they are meant to do.

That’s Reality Check. Let’s talk about that, on Facebook and Twitter.

Reality Check: What Venezuela’s National Crypto Means for Decentralization

President Trump recently announced a ban on Venezuela’s new national cryptocurrency, the petro.

That’s right—Venezuela created its own national crypto, possibly to circumvent U.S. sanctions.

But could the petro do more than that, and actually catalyze government-controlled cryptos around the world?

This is a Reality Check you won’t get anywhere else.

President Trump signed an executive order March 21 banning all transactions involving digital currency issued by the Venezuelan government, after it began pre-selling its own cryptocurrency, the petro, in February.

The petro differs from other cryptos because, according to the Brookings Institute, “The price of one petro is pegged to the price of one barrel of Venezuelan oil…” and “the petro/bolivar exchange rate … includes a discount factor determined by the Venezuelan government.”

By making that distinction, the Venezuelan government is now responsible for managing multiple currency systems simultaneously, creating what Dash Force News Editor Joël Valenzuela described as “an accounting nightmare.”

But isn’t cryptocurrency supposed to make accounting for transactions easier?

Well, actually it’s not the cryptos but the tech they’re built on. A few episodes back, we discussed how cryptocurrency is backed by radical transparency due to the power of the blockchain.

https://youtu.be/OpBU_OtVai0?t=3m43s

Rather than being backed by radical transparency and being a “trustless system”, as Valenzuela called it, the petro is essentially “fiat crypto.”

“When you back it with something that doesn’t have transparency, you have to trust the party that is providing the assets that back the coin,” according to Valenzuela. “It ruins its original value proposition.”

So why would Venezuela create the petro in the first place?

Once a crypto is a national currency, it’s subject to many tariff barriers and, in some cases, sanctions. Which is why President Trump made the first major national decision by the U.S. to ban a cryptocurrency. But cryptos like Dash aren’t tied to a government and weren’t created to bypass sanctions.

Once the richest nation in Latin America, Venezuela had suffered wild inflation, plummeting the standard of living and causing uproar from poverty stricken citizens. Many Venezuelans facing economic hardship are putting pressure on the government to stop the bleeding.

Anything to ease their suffering in the short term will be a boon to the tyrants, according to Valenzuela. But because the petro is not truly backed by trustlessness, critics say the government crypto won’t last long. And that presents a challenge to other governments considering creating their own cryptos.

Russian President Vladimir Putin already announced his government will issue its own CryptoRuble, likely sometime in mid-2019, according to CoinTelegraph.

The CryptoRuble is supposed to be directly tied to the ruble, issued by the Russian government and could not be mined.

More governments are likely to investigate the benefits of state controlled blockchain technology.

But remember, the two major selling points of blockchain are radical transparency and decentralization, meaning no one can manipulate the supply or the transactions.

And it’s those two aspects of blockchain that governments aren’t fans of.

Recently Congressman Brad Sherman of California read a statement that called cryptocurrencies “harmful,” and appeared to accidentally admit that cryptocurrency reduces government control of our currency. He said, “It hurts the U.S. government in two ways. Our contr… …our ability to have the US dollar be the chief means of international finance is what has underpinned our ability to impose sanctions…”

So Sherman doesn’t like the lack of “contr…” that the government has over crypto.
But on the other hand, imagine if the U.S. decided to use blockchain to track how our tax dollars are spent. Remember when the Pentagon admitted earlier this year that it couldn’t account for hundreds of millions of dollars?

What could help prevent data loss like this? The blockchain.

Corporations are already testing out the tech to prevent major data breaches like what happened to Target, Home Depot, JP Morgan, Anthem and others.

John Oliver explained the power of the blockchain in a recent episode of his show “Last Week Tonight.” He said, “The blockchain… a database that is nearly impossible to hack or tamper with, and which could possibly improve security, efficiency and trust. That is why big companies like Wal-Mart, IBM and JP Morgan have all been experimenting with blockchain as a way to potentially share and secure data transactions in a reliable, easy to access way.”

So what you need to know is that the blockchain presents an opportunity for governments to create a more transparent financial system. But Venezuela isn’t really doing that with the petro.

The crypto market has and will continue to fluctuate. Some crypto will disappear, some will stick around.

The question is, who is going to control the crypto? If governments do… they will take away the freedom of crypto… but if crypto currencies remain decentralized, then we will be able to keep a radically transparent financial system for the people.

That’s Reality Check. Let’s talk about that, right now, on Twitter and Facebook.

Reality Check: Is Your Personal Data Safe Online?

The Facebook scandal involving personal data mishandled by Cambridge Analytica has raised concerns over the privacy of the information we share on our social media accounts.

Some countries have gone as far as to legislate Internet data privacy with laws granting the “right to be forgotten.”

Yet Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says we don’t need such regulations here in the states. Is he right?

This is a Reality Check you won’t get anywhere else.

It’s an unsettling thought: your personal data, being manipulated on a global scale. Where you live, what kind of car you drive, how many children you have, what food you eat, how much you money you earn, what clothes you wear, how you exercise, the list goes on and on.

While other countries are tightening laws on Internet privacy and how corporations can use your data, such as the UK’s data protection law with its “right to be forgotten,” the United States seems to be stuck in the 1980s on the issue.

In California, privacy is a right in the state constitution. “Privacy” was added to the state’s “inalienable rights” by the legislature in 1972.

And though California has been a leader in privacy, the last meaningful update to the state’s privacy laws was in the 1980s, long before today’s technology.

For context, Census data shows that in 1989, 15 percent of American households owned a computer.

Today, according to Pew Research, 77 percent of Americans have a smartphone—a computer in their pocket or purse.

And in 2015, those smartphone owners used about 27 smartphone apps per month, according to Statista.

Just think about all of the information you give to the apps on your smartphone. Do you read their terms of use?

You know you don’t. And yet, a California-based group called the Californians for Consumer Privacy has raised concern about how our information is collected and sold.

From that group came the California Consumer Privacy Act. The act is intended to not only hold major corporations making $50 million per year or more responsible for their consumers’ data, but also giving Californians the right to know where and to whom their data is being disclosed or sold, and if their data is being properly protected.

There’s nothing in California today that allows users see what data has been collected on them. And data is being collected everywhere you go.

From the checkout at Target, to your Facebook account, browsing the Internet or even just walking on a city street—credit cards are being swiped, messages are being shared, and cameras are recording.

So are the rules of how businesses use your data fair and respectful of your privacy?

One of the key aspects of the California Consumer Privacy Act is a right of action against companies that store data but have not taken reasonable steps to secure that data. That means consumers can sue companies that didn’t protect their data.

What exactly “reasonable steps” means needs to be fleshed out in the courts, but there are plenty of examples of companies that didn’t take “reasonable steps” until after data was compromised.

From December 19, 2013, “Target says hackers breached its system and stole 40 million credit card numbers.”

From September 18, 2014, “Almost immediately after word broke that Home Depot had been hacked, security experts were noting that the breach was likely even worse than the massive Target that had preceded it.”

From October 2, 2014, “JP Morgan just revealing that an August data breach could affect 76 million households.”

From February 5, 2015, “One of America’s largest health insurers, Anthem, this morning confirmed a massive data breach. Reports say hackers may have stolen up to 80 million records. No credit card or medical information is in danger, but Social Security numbers, birthdays and addresses may have been compromised.”

What you need to know is that when we provide information to a corporation, we establish a relationship.

We believe the corporation will use our information for the purpose of their service. Once your information is outside of the intended use, it’s nearly impossible to control it.

And third party sharing of your data allows it is be used, shared and disseminated without any control on your part. Big data is powerful force in the United States. But should big data be allowed to do whatever it wants with your information. If not, how do we, as the public, get some control back?

Let’s talk about that, right now, on social media, while someone collects our data.

Reality Check: Lies Justify U.S. Air Strikes on Syria?

The U.S. seems to be stuck on repeat.

Our government and our media have been peddling lies to justify war, from WMDs in Iraq to humanitarian intervention in Libya.

The latest? A U.S.-led missile strike on Syria for the alleged use chemical weapons on civilians. This, just a week after President Trump said we were ready to get our troops out of that country.

Time and time again, history has proven that our government has made the wrong choice in its efforts to overthrow authoritarian governments in the Middle East, from Iraq to Libya, and now Syria.

But this time, the U.S. is meddling in a country where multiple countries are playing out a proxy war, including Israel, Saudi Arabia and Iran. Not to mention the heightened tensions from our president calling out Russia for its support of the Assad regime.

The big picture question: will we see this war escalate into a global conflict?

This is a Reality Check you won’t get anywhere else.

So much has happened in Syria in the past two weeks: an alleged gas attack by the Assad regime, missile strikes blamed on Israel hit Syria and killed some 14 people, including Iranians, then President Trump announcing late Friday that the U.S. had launched its own missile attack on Syria in coordination with allies France and the United Kingdom.

Strong words from the president for not only Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, but also for his allies Iran and Russia.

As we reported last week, it was just a year ago that Trump authorized the first missile strike on Syria. So what did this new bombing involve?

Here’s what we know: the missile strikes hit just before dawn in Syria. They were carried out by manned U.S. military aircraft, and targeted an airfield, an alleged chemical weapons storage and manufacture facility, and command and control of the Syrian air defenses.

And while this barrage of air strikes is over, the pentagon did not rule out further strikes later.

U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis had previously stated that there was no evidence that Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad used sarin gas on his own people. Now Mattis seems to be telling a different story.

To be clear, our government is claiming that there is evidence of a chlorine gas attack, and is framing this bombing as a retaliatory measure to stop Assad from gassing his own people, a humanitarian action.

Yet, as the financial times reported last Wednesday, it will take weeks to confirm if deadly gas was used, and by whom.

Again, Mattis said there is no evidence Assad used sarin gas on his own people. And why would Assad? What motive does the Syrian government have to gas attack civilians if it would only risk western retaliation?

Remember, the U.S., U.K. and France have been arming Syrian rebels bombing ISIS and putting boots on the ground in Syria for years. 2017 marked the first direct targeting of Assad’s government, and now this missile strike. Both labeled as humanitarian efforts.

But remember, the U.S. government has a history of taking humanitarian action without evidence.

Remember when Colin Powell and others in the Bush Administration said there was no doubt that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? He didn’t.

The lies continued, with claims that after our invasion of Iraq the extremists would be curtailed. Yet with some 4,500 American lives lost and $2.4 trillion spent, Iraq is still a mess.

And what about Libya? In an episode of Reality Check from early March, we covered the open market slave trade happening there as a result of U.S. intervention. Even former President Obama said the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi was his greatest single mistake in office.

Our elected leaders never seem to learn from these mistakes. And the mainstream media is severely failing in holding them accountable.

Case in point, these latest strikes were authorized by the president, not congress. Congressional leaders were notified by the vice president shortly before the airstrikes were carried out. And many members of congress were angry at the president for not getting congressional approval before taking action against Assad.

Back in 2013, Trump criticized then-President Obama on Twitter for even considering striking Syria without congressional approval, saying:

“The president must get congressional approval before attacking Syria-big mistake if he does not!”

What you need to know is that history tends to repeat itself, if we let it. Our government could very well be trying to do the same thing in Syria as it has done in Libya and Iraq.

And the trail goes back further. There’s a Wikileaks cable from 2006 detailing how to overthrow Assad, including radicalizing Islamists in the region.

Yet President Trump says this bombing was a targeted attack to stop the use of chemical weapons, that’s it. U.K. prime minister Theresa May took it further, stating that “this is not about regime change.”

It’s hard to believe when history tells a different story.

That’s Reality Check. Let’s talk about that on social media.

 

NOTE: The flag used in the graphics for this episode should have been the Syrian Arab Republic flag with two green stars, not the Syrian Interim Government flag with three red stars.

Reality Check: Media Consolidation & News Script Repeaters

A viral video showing news anchors all over the nation reading the exact same words verbatim has people wondering, is this fake news?

The promotional content all comes from media giant Sinclair, who owns all of these local broadcast news stations. But is Sinclair the only broadcaster that controls what its anchors and reporters say?

This is a Reality Check you won’t get anywhere else.

It is the latest “outrage” over fake news, now a viral video of local TV anchors all reading the same copy.

Last week I explained in a Reality Check why this video isn’t about fake news. It’s a promo video.

The uproar over this video though is a little disingenuous because it is pointed solely at Sinclair, which is being painted as “pushing the Trump agenda.

News networks across the U.S., owned by various corporations, have been doing this for years. And it’s not just Sinclair that controls messaging.

Truth In Media Editor-in-Chief Annabelle Bamforth explained in an op/ed for our site that local news stations have been parroting familiar stories across the U.S.

“Among the most popular illustrations of this practice is a segment called “Media Reacts” from Late Night With Conan O’Brien, in which O’Brien pokes fun at the identical media messaging from local news stations. Note that a handful of stations in this clip ARE owned by Sinclair, but there are plenty of stations in these clips that are not; some are owned by Nexstar Media Group, Tegna, Heartland Media, Tribune and Raycom Media.”

In a report for Truth In Media from 2013, our writer quoted my experience as a TV anchor at multiple stations across the country. What I had to say then, I stand by today.

“In most of these cases where O’Brien uses anchors from different TV stations all over the country reading the exact same script word for word, the source of that script is some kind of wire service. This means those stations have subscribed to AP, Reuters, CNN, FOX, ABC, NBC, etc wire services. In those cases, the wire story will come down and a station reporter or producer will copy and paste it word for word into a newscast.

“The problem with this policy is that reporters and producers simply take that content as gospel and no one in any newsroom ever bothers to fact check or verify if the wire story is correct. Simply put, in a newsroom, if it is on the wire it has to be true.”

That was five years ago, well before the phrase “fake news” was trending in our culture.

The problem with newscasters using their news block to reading station promos or wire stories verbatim is that they are participating in a propagandizing of the population.

This demonstrates the danger of when one company—whether it’s Sinclair, Tribune, Cox, Meredith, or another—owns and controls so many stations around the country. If the corporate leaders decide to require stations to read news stories, without allowing anchors or reporters to fact check or edit their scripts, that’s a problem.

Now consider this: with media consolidation, more and more stations in America are owned by fewer corporations. Each corporation can control the station’s messaging. And here’s the kicker: most American’s don’t even know who owns their local news station.

What you need to know is that there is a solution to all of this. It’s called decentralization.

No matter what they say, all corporations that own news media, whether TV, radio or internet are controlling what content you see.  Period.

But under a decentralized funding model, news can be created that is accountable, not to some corporate suit that wants to impress his or friends, not to politicians, not to advertisers like Big Pharma, but accountable to the truth.

That’s Reality Check. Let’s talk about that on social media.

Reality Check: Syrian Gas Attack Connected to Bigger Conflict?

Another devastating report from the Middle East: some 40 children hit by a gas attack in Syria, with Assad’s regime being blamed.

President Trump tweets Assad is an “animal,” but that Russia and Iran are responsible for backing him. And there’s a “big price to pay.”

Twelve hours later, missile strikes hit a Syrian air base, killing 14 including Iranians. Assad blames Israel, and Senator Lindsey Graham says Israel would have every right to do so “because Iran is very embedded in Syria.”

So, is there any evidence that the Syrian government is responsible for the gas attack? And what about the tensions between Israel, Syria and Iran?

There are major problems with what is being played out in the Middle East that other media are just going to ignore. But we won’t.

Let’s give it a Reality Check.

It is a difficult issue to take on. Largely because emotions around the issue are so high. Over the weekend, reports of another chemical attack in Syria, this one in the city of Douma.

Video has been released on ABC, CNN, Al-Jazeera and so many other networks shows the horrific sight of small children who have been gassed.

According to the Associated Press, “Suspected poison gas was used to attack the last remaining foothold for the Syrian opposition in the eastern suburbs of Damascus, killing at least 40 people, including families found in their homes and shelters.” These reports come from rescue groups and anti government forces in Syria.

Sunday, President Trump responded with a series of tweets:

“Many dead, including women and children, in mindless CHEMICAL attack in Syria. Area of atrocity is in lockdown and encircled by Syrian Army, making it completely inaccessible to outside world. President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price… to pay Open area immediately for medical help and verification. Another humanitarian disaster for no reason whatsoever. SICK!”

President Trump went even further to threaten even more action against Assad, tweeting:

“If President Obama had crossed his stated Red Line In The Sand, the Syrian disaster would have ended long ago! Animal Assad would have been history!”

It was nearly a year to the day when reports of another Syrian gas attack prompted the U.S. military to conduct airstrikes against a Syrian air base.

But as I reported only a few weeks ago, the U.S. Secretary of Defense now admits that there was actually no evidence in that case, or in any case that the Syrian government was the one that used sarin gas. And yet, that was the reason the U.S. gave for its the most recent airstrike.

So with no evidence, the U.S. previously conducted an airstrike against a Syrian air base. Now, President Trump is saying he will go even further. And the usual war cheerleaders in Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham are pushing the president to do so.

For his part, Sen. McCain released a statement that attempted to blame President Trump for Sunday’s attack.

“President Trump last week signaled to the world that the United States would prematurely withdraw from Syria. Bashar Assad and his Russian and Iranian backers have heard him, and emboldened by American inaction, Assad has reportedly launched another chemical attack against innocent men, women and children, this time in Douma.”

All of this as the media continues to discount the idea that jihadists, including so called U.S. backed Syrian rebels have used chemical weapons in the past. “Even though U.N. Investigator Carla del Ponte, was unable to fulfill her U.N. joint Investigative mandate in Syria and withdrew in protest over the United States refusing to fully investigate allegations of chemical weapon use by ‘rebels’ who are actually jihadis, allied with the American effort to oust President Assad (including the use of Sarin by anti-Assad rebels).”

According to the Times of London, “Carla del Ponte, head of the independent UN commission investigating reports of chemical weapons use in Syria, told a Swiss-Italian television station that UN investigators gleaned testimony from victims of Syria’s civil war and medical staff which indicated that rebel forces used sarin gas, a deadly nerve agent.”

“Our investigators have been in neighboring countries interviewing victims, doctors and field hospitals and according to their report, of last week, which i have seen, there are strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof of the use of sarin gas, from the way the victims were treated,’ Del Ponte said in the interview, translated by Reuters. ‘This was use on the part of the opposition, the rebels, not by the government authorities, she added.”

What you need to know goes back to what Sen. John McCain said about Syria doing this because the U.S. might withdraw, the opposite is likely true.

Consider this: a year ago, with no evidence, President Trump ordered the largest strike so far against Syria over claims of chemical weapon use.

So if now, the president signaled that he would withdraw from Syria, why would the Syrian government, before that withdrawal happens, use chemical weapons on its own people?

Strategically that makes no sense at all. Unless there’s a bigger strategy at play here involving the U.S., Israel, Russia and Iran.

But believe this: what is being sold in the media as to what is happening in Syria is not what it seems.

Would Israel and the U.S. attack Syria and Iran because of a chemical attack that has not been proven to be from the Syrian government? Remember, Israel recently admitted that it was behind the 2007 bombing of Syria’s nuclear reactor. And, just two weeks ago, the a joint military exercise between Israel and the U.S. played out a scenario of an Iranian attack on Israel.

Meanwhile the media shows you pictures of harmed children and avoids the bigger question, which is this: is the U.S. potentially being pulled into an all-out war with Iran and Syria?

That’s Reality Check, let’s talk about it right now on social media.

Reality Check: Could 9/11 Victim Families Actually Sue Saudi Arabia?

Last week a U.S. District court judge rejected a request by Saudi Arabia to dismiss lawsuits accusing the nation of being involved in the 9/11 attacks.

So what does this mean for the families of 9/11 victims?

Does this mean that Saudi Arabia’s immunity in the case has run out? And will the public finally get to read the 28 pages of the 9/11 report without redactions?

Let’s give it a Reality Check you won’t get anywhere else.

Families of 9/11 victims will get the chance to try to prove that Saudi Arabia is liable for helping to fund 9/11 hijackers. That, according to a ruling by a district court judge last week.

According to U.S. District Judge George Daniels, the plaintiffs’ allegations of Saudi Arabia’s involvement in 9/11 “narrowly articulate a reasonable basis” for him to assert jurisdiction under JASTA.

JASTA, or the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, provides a legal exemption to the principle of sovereign immunity, thus allowing foreign governments to be held liable in U.S. courts.

This is a big deal because, until now, Saudi Arabia had broad-based immunity from 9/11-related lawsuits in the United States.

In 2016, then-President Obama attempted to veto JASTA, claiming that it “could expose U.S. companies, troops and officials to lawsuits in other countries,” according to Reuters. But the Senate overrode the veto by an overwhelming margin to adopt the legislation.

From Reuters: “Daniels’ decision covers claims by the families of those killed, roughly 25,000 people who suffered injuries, and many businesses and insurers.”

While the current lawsuit is moving forward, it is not the only fear the Saudis have over 9/11. The Saudi government also is reportedly worried about the possibility of the release of the un-redacted “28 pages” which have long kept secrets about the alleged connection between the Saudis and 9/11.

So what are the 28 pages?

They are 28 pages of the Congressional Joint Inquiry into 9/11 report that had been classified, until a redacted version was declassified 2016.

Yet, members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, and the heads of the Congressional Joint Inquiry, have indicated that if the redactions of those 28 pages were made available to the public, it would completely change everything you think you know about the 9/11 attacks.

The implications revealed so far in the redacted 28 pages are deeply concerning. According to page 424 of the Congressional Joint Inquiry into 9/11, the FBI received “numerous” reports from individuals who believed Omar al-Bayoumi, the man who co-signed an apartment lease in San Diego for two of the 9/11 hijackers, was a Saudi intelligence officer.

It also reads that Al-Bayoumi also introduced the two hijackers to a translator in San Diego, who helped them get driver licenses and locate flight schools.

We also know that, according to the Miami Herald, FBI records released in 2013 show a Saudi family living in Florida directly tied to the Saudi Royal Family, had “many connections” to two other 9/11 hijackers and then fled the country in a “sudden departure” only days before the attacks, leaving valuables and personal effects behind as if they left at a moment’s notice.

Additionally, according to the New York Post, leaked information from the redacted 28 pages, details a transfer of “some 130 thousand dollars from then Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar’s family checking account to yet another one of the [9/11] hijacker’s Saudi handlers in San Diego.”

What you need to know is that the lawsuit against the Saudis may still be blocked… that’s because, a last-minute amendment was inserted into the JASTA legislation called the “Stay of Actions Pending State Negotiations,” which allows the U.S. attorney general or secretary of state to simply “certify” that the U.S. is “engaged in good-faith discussions with the foreign-state defendant concerning the resolution of claims against the foreign state.”

And even though Candidate Trump had said that he would consider releasing the un-redacted 28 pages of the Congressional Joint Inquiry into 9/11, based on how close he is with the Saudis, that is not likely to actually happen, as much as the families of 9/11 victims deserve to know the truth.

That’s Reality Check, let’s talk about it right now on Facebook and Twitter.

Reality Check: 3 Things You Need to Know About Sinclair News Anchors Parroting the Same Script

There is a new video making the rounds of news anchors from Sinclair-owned TV stations, all saying the exact same thing.

All of them.

When you put the news anchor clips together, they are speaking in unison. So what is this video, why are these news anchors reading like drones, and is there a bigger issue here?

Let’s give it a Reality Check.

Next week we will break down the big picture, but today I want to show you the Sinclair news anchor clip and tell you what’s going on here in three main main points.

Before I get to my three points, let me say that I actually know some of the anchors in that video. Some work in Cincinnati for the the Sinclair station there. Others are in El Paso at the Sinclair station there. And some of those journalists, I have worked with before.

Okay, so point No. 1: So what is this video?

Well first, it’s not news. Clearly, this is a promotional segment which the stations are recording in order to express why they are unique. It is done everyday in local television stations.

What’s different about this promotional segment is that Sinclair clearly has one promotions director who is sending down the same copy to all its television stations. They seem to have thought that people in those markets would never know that anchors in multiple markets are reading the same thing. But thanks to the Internet, we know.

Point No. 2: this video is clearly evidence of the fact that these anchors from various markets are simply reading what they are told.

And that happens in every TV market in the country, every day.

Anchors have a job and that job is to sell the copy. But they are not allowed to change the copy. In fact, a friend of mine who works at one of those stations says that station management was required to have the script read, word-for-word, exactly how it was written. They couldn’t even substitute the word “hi” for “hello.”

Point No. 3: this video highlights the biggest problem with media consolidation.

When one company owns so many television stations, they have the ability to push messaging however they choose to vast parts of the country. Now, some people want to jump all over this because it’s Sinclair, which is seen seen as friendly to President Trump. But to raise the alarm over just Sinclair is disingenuous, because media consolidation has been happening for for years. And it’s not just Sinclair that controls messaging.

Next week, we’ll break down how local media consolidation is happening across America, and why decentralized media, thanks for cryptocurrency like Dash Digital Cash, is the answer.

That’s Reality Check. Let’s talk about that on Twitter and Facebook.

Reality Check: Would Trump’s New CIA Director Reinstate Torture Program?

The next director of the CIA might be one of the most controversial picks ever.

Gina Haspel not only helped to oversee the CIA’s torture program, but may have also destroyed evidence in an effort to hide torture techniques. And one CIA whistleblower says Haspel and those around her “tortured for the sake of torture.”

Is this really the person who should run the Central Intelligence Agency?

Let’s give it a Reality Check you won’t get anywhere else.

Gina Haspel is making headlines as the newly nominated director of the Central Intelligence Agency. She’s been chosen to step in for outgoing CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who President Trump chose to become Secretary of State in place of outgoing Rex Tillerson.

Some of those headlines are for her being the first woman nominated to the top CIA post. But others are rightfully questioning her connections to the CIA’s failed torture program.

So who is Haspel?

Well, we know she’s been with the CIA since 1985 and was assigned to the Central European Division.

According to the New York Times, Haspel served “in Turkey and Central Asia, before ascending to station chief in New York, where she was posted when Osama bin Laden was killed and worked closely with the F.B.I. as the agencies combed through files taken from his compound.”

In her career, she’s also headed up the CIA station in London — twice — and served as the acting director of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service in 2013.

But what’s troubling is her role in torture, and destruction of evidence of torture, dating back to 2002.

In October 2002, Haspel was placed in charge of the CIA “black site” prison named “Cat’s Eye” in Thailand. She arrived after Al Qaeda terror suspect Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded and tortured at the cite.

But, under her watch, another Al Qaeda suspect, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, was waterboarded three times.

I’m sure you know what waterboarding is… it’s a torture technique that simulates a drowning sensation.

The CIA doesn’t like the word torture… instead, they call waterboarding one of 13 “enhanced interrogation techniques” used on detainees dating back to 2001.

Former CIA officer John Kiriakou, who blew the whistle on the agency’s torture practices and went to prison for it, knew Haspel personally. Kiriakou had this to say about her in an interview on Democracy Now.

After the “Cat’s Eye” black site was closed in December 2002, Haspel went to work in the CIA’s National Clandestine Service in Washington, D.C under former director Jose Rodriguez.

This is where Haspel’s background becomes even more troubling.

According to the New York Times, Haspel encouraged her bosses at the CIA in 2005 to destroy video recordings of “enhanced interrogation,” including the tapes of Zubaydah’s waterboarding. Her direct boss, the head of the agency’s Counterterrorism Center, ultimately signed the order to feed the 92 tapes into a shredder.

The videotapes were destroyed just as debates heated up around the globe as to whether these techniques were illegal under U.S. and international laws. And yet, no one was charged in the destruction of what may have been evidence of illegal activity.

At the time the public did not know the extent to which these techniques were being used by our government on suspected terrorists. Candidly, we still don’t, but we did get a glimpse of the CIA torture and rendition program, and its failures, in 2014.

Back in 2012, the Senate Committee on Intelligence voted 9-6 to approve a 6,000 page report on a study of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program.

Just 525 pages of the full report have been declassified since December 2014, but it’s enough to show how mismanaged and ineffective the enhanced interrogation or torture program was in protecting Americans.

Ultimately the report found that the CIA’s torture techniques conducted at black sites did not help the agency get the cooperation of detainees or result in any actionable intelligence.

We know from the report that these CIA black sites were hotbeds for torture. Torture, including stress positions to sleep deprivation to waterboarding.

So why would Trump appoint someone with extensive connections to a secret torture program that failed to protect Americans?

Because Trump believes that the torture program wasn’t “tough enough.” He explained on the campaign trail.

And in an interview with CBS News, Trump further explained that he would want waterboarding to be the “minimum” when fighting terrorism.

What you need to know is that President Trump’s effort to bring waterboarding back to the CIA —if it ever actually ended—might backfire, because he’s putting Gina Haspel in the hot seat.

You see, Haspel’s hearing presents the first time the Senate has had an opportunity to question, under oath, someone directly involved in the CIA torture program. But it’s not just the program the public needs to know more about.

It’s the decision to act and then to destroy evidence of those actions that Haspel and others must be held accountable for.

If no illegal acts were committed, why destroy the evidence?

Reality Check here: Among senior officials, Gina Haspel’s acts are likely not the most egregious in the CIA when it comes to torture. In fact, her actions to carry out the CIA’s torture program, and her actions to help hide evidence of that program, again, among senior officials, is likely not unique. What is unique, is that we know about it.

That’s Reality Check. Let’s talk about that, right now, on Twitter and Facebook.

Reality Check: How Prevalent is the Global Child Sex Trade in the U.S.?

It’s a horrific issue that doesn’t get nearly enough coverage in U.S. mainstream media. Child sex trafficking is a booming black market business.

Most parents can’t imagine it happening in their own backyard.

While we know it’s a global issue, child sex trafficking is finally starting to become a mainstream topic in the U.S.

A film called “I Am Jane Doe,” released in February, highlights young girls between the ages of 13 and 15 years old who were picked up off the street and sold for sex online.

The film takes aim at Backpage.com. But in reality, the issue of child sex trafficking is so much bigger than one website. And the appetite for child sex abuse goes all the way to the top.

This is Reality Check you won’t get anywhere else.

It’s a disheartening statistic: the child sex trafficking market is resulting in more than 1 million children abused around the world each year. So how has this market proliferated?

Tim Swarens, a columnist and editor for The Indianapolis Star, recently began publishing a series of articles about the child sex trade, a subject he’s reportedly investigated for more than a year. He explains that the child sex trade is like any other business trade, driven by supply and demand.

According to a study by the Center for Court Innovation from 2016, between 8,900 and 10,500 children ages 13 to 17 are being sold in the U.S. each year. Swarens writes, “The researchers found that the average age of victims is 15 and that each child is purchased on average 5.4 times a day.”

To determine a conservative estimate of the demand, Swarens “multiplied the lower number of victims (8,900) identified in the Center for Court Innovation study by the rate of daily exploitation per child (5.4), and then by an average of only one ‘work’ day per week (52). The result: Adults purchase children for sex at least 2.5 million times a year in the United States.”

And while the supply side is what garners most media attention, the issue of demand doesn’t get nearly as much coverage.

Take the recent documentary “I Am Jane Doe,” a film about parents seeking justice for their young teenage girls being picked up and trafficked for sex right in their own communities.

Those parents took aim at the website Backpage.com for profiting off of its adult section, allegedly riddled with young girls being sold for sex. But even if Backpage.com is a platform for advertising and selling, a channel through which these transactions can take place, it’s just one of many online channels being used by pedophiles to buy children to abuse.

But is the problem the channels, or is it something deeper?

What’s missing from the discussion is the high demand perpetuating the child sex trade.

Swarens explains, “The critical need to reduce demand has gained far less attention and money. The result: Buyers continue to abuse children with near impunity.”

Now, in the film “I Am Jane Doe,” the people buying children to abuse are described to be white, married men with families who live in suburbia. A former pimp interviewed for the film, Homer King, says on camera that he sold girls to priests, lawyers and even politicians.

Swarens came to the same conclusion in his investigation. He writes: “This project began with a question: Who buys a 15-year-old child for sex? The answer: Many otherwise ordinary men. They could be your co-worker, doctor, pastor or spouse.”

Who are some of these men buying children to abuse?

Remember Jared Fogle from the Subway sandwich commercials? He “admitted to charges of having child pornography and repeatedly having sex with minors,” according to NPR. Court documents show that one of the text messages Fogle sent to a 17-year-old he paid for sex, stated his preferences as quote: “The younger the girl, the better.”

And back in June 2008, billionaire Jeffrey Epstein was prosecuted and sentenced to 18 months in prison for paying for sex with girls as young as 14. He served only 13 of those months.

The appetite for underage sex goes all the way to the top—some most powerful people in the world.

The longest serving Republican Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, who was second in line to the presidency from 1999 to 2007, admitted to sexually abusing boys while he was a high school wrestling coach. After making the admission in 2016, the judge who sentenced him 15 months in prison and two years of supervised release, called Hastert a “serial child molester.” He served only 13 months.

Now, let’s be clear: there’s no evidence that Hastert actually paid for sex. But the desire to abuse children is what fuels the global child sex trade, and demand is high.

Back in 2015, a special report aired on 60 Minutes Australia revealing that elected officials and elites in the UK were accused of buying and abusing children.

From powerful elites down to “otherwise ordinary men,” children are easily being bought and abused… around in the world.

Posing as a buyer, former special agent for the Department of Homeland Security Timothy Ballard has been setting up undercover sting operations through his nonprofit Operation Underground Railroad since 2013.

Working in conjunction with governments all around the world, Operation Underground Railroad has so far busted 443 child sex traffickers and saved more than 1,000 victims. Here are just some of their 2017 operations.

  • Operation Sainte Jou: Port-au-Prince, Haiti – 32 rescued, 9 arrested
  • Operation Grand Via: Mexico – 25 rescued, 5 arrested
  • Operation NN9: Washington State, USA – 17 rescued, 21 arrested
  • Operation Jetsar: Cambodia – 11 rescued, 9 arrested

So what you need to know is that the battle to dismantle the global child sex trade is a massive and almost overwhelming undertaking.

Yet mainstream media does not treat it that way. Networks like CNN will give at least 40 days of daily coverage to stories like the missing Flight 370 in 2014. But in those 40 days, using Swarens’s math, about 250,000 children were bought and abused.

Even if that made the news, we make a mistake when the focus of the efforts to end this trafficking is only focused on how children are sold, instead of also focusing on to whom they are sold.

That discussion is one we need to have because until mainstream media and law enforcement is willing to go down that road… we will likely not see any real changes.

That’s Reality Check. Let’s talk about that, right now, on Twitter and Facebook.

Reality Check: The True Meaning of the Second Amendment

It may be the most controversial, the most contentious right we have as Americans: the right to keep and bear arms. The root of that contention is in the often misunderstood intention of the founders and framers.

So what is the Second Amendment really about?

This is a Reality Check you won’t get anywhere else.

There are so many questions being debated in the media about what rights we have under the Second Amendment. One of those questions that has come up is: is the Second Amendment outdated?

If the founding fathers of this country had been aware of the kind of weapons we would have today, would they have kept the Second Amendment in the Bill of Rights?

And is the Second Amendment about protecting yourself, or is it more about hunting and sportsmanship?

Let’s start with the actual language of the amendment. It reads:

“A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, and the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.”

Over the years, Politico, The Atlantic, The New Yorker and other media outlets have reported about the National Rifle Association’s efforts in the 1980s that caused the “well regulated militia” part of the Second Amendment to become ignored. And, thanks to an all-out push by the the NRA, the meaning of the Second Amendment was expanded from “militia” to the individual.

Jeffrey Toobin, senior legal analyst for CNN and staff writer at The New Yorker, wrote an article for the magazine in 2012 on this very topic. He writes, “The re-interpretation of the Second Amendment was an elaborate and brilliantly executed political operation, inside and outside of government. Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980 brought a gun-rights enthusiast to the White House.

“At the same time, Orrin Hatch, the Utah Republican, became chairman of an important subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and he commissioned a report that claimed to find clear and long lost proof that the Second Amendment to our Constitution was intended as an individual right of the American citizen to keep and carry arms in a peaceful manner, for protection of himself, his family, and his freedoms.”

Now, Toobin’s analysis may be historically correct in his observation of the change in the public’s understanding of the Second Amendment today. But he gets it wrong when he indicates that the Second Amendment did not grant the right to private ownership of a gun for individuals.

Let’s read the Second Amendment once more, for clarity, “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, and the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.”

So what about well-regulated militias? What were the framers talking about?

The answer lies in the history of our country. Of all the fears held by the founding fathers, none was stronger than their fear of standing armies.

As constitutional scholar David E. Young has observed, “The necessity of an armed populace, protection against disarming of the citizenry, and the need to guard against a select militia and assure a real militia which could defend liberty against any standing forces the government might raise were topics interspersed throughout the ratification period.”

Now this likely a very foreign concept to many Americans, but understand this: the very first battle over the Second Amendment was not about whether or not the people should be armed. It was a given at the time of writing the Bill of Rights, as everyone was armed.

No, the battle was over whether we would have a standing army, a battle between the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists.

The Anti-Federalists, among them George Mason, Patrick Henry, and Samuel Adams, were staunch advocates of the inclusion of a Bill of Rights in the Constitution because they did not trust the power of the federal government to be self-restrained.

Don Kates, a constitutional and Second Amendment scholar, explains, “During the ratification debate, the Federalists vehemently denied that the federal government would have the power to infringe freedom of expression, religion, and other basic rights – expressly including the right to arms. In this context, Madison secured ratification by his commitment to support and to safeguard the fundamental rights that all agreed should never be infringed.”

On the other side of the debate were the Federalists, which included John Jay, James Madison and George Washington. These men supported a Second Amendment because, they believed, that a central, federal government would be capable of controlling a standing army.

Instead of a standing army, Anti-Federalists wanted every able-bodied man in America to be armed in the event that a federal government, or America’s own standing army, turned against its own people.

What you need to know is that, for many Americans, this is a very difficult and uncomfortable truth. The Second Amendment is not about hunting. And it’s not about defense of your property.

The Second Amendment was written by men who ultimately believed that governments and armies would turn on their own people, as a way to guarantee that that would never happen.

That’s Reality Check. Let’s talk about that, right now, on Twitter and Facebook.

 

Producer’s Note: In the slides quoting the Second Amendment, the quote should read: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” The quote on screen includes an  “and” that should not be there.