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MRI costs: why this surgeon is challenging NC’s certificate of need law

Dr. Gajendra Singh, a surgeon in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, who opened his own medical imaging center. He is suing to overturn the state’s “certificate of need” law.  Courtesy of the Institute of Justice
Dr. Gajendra Singh, a surgeon in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, who opened his own medical imaging center. He is suing to overturn the state’s “certificate of need” law.  Courtesy of the Institute of Justice

Dr. Gajendra Singh walked out of his local hospital’s outpatient department last year, having been told an ultrasound for some vague abdominal pain he was feeling would cost $1,200 or so, and decided enough was enough. If he was balking at the price of a routine medical scan, what must people who weren’t well-paid medical professionals be thinking?

The India-born surgeon decided he would open his own imaging center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and charge a lot less. Singh launched his business in August and decided to post his prices, as low as $500 for an MRI, on a banner outside the office building and on his website.

There was just one barrier to fully realizing his vision: a North Carolina law that he and his lawyers argue essentially gives hospitals a monopoly over MRI scans and other services.

Singh ran into the state’s “certificate of need” law, which prohibited him from buying a permanent MRI machine, which meant his office couldn’t always offer patients one of the most important imaging services in medicine. He has resorted to renting a mobile MRI machine a couple of days a week. But it will cost him a lot more over time than a permanent machine would, and five days a week, his office can’t perform MRIs.

Now Singh has had enough. He filed a lawsuit Monday in North Carolina Superior Court to overturn the state law, news that he and his attorneys from the Institute for Justice shared exclusively with Vox…

Why FB and Netflix Support “Net Neutrality”

“[Companies like Netflix] support net neutrality because they stand to benefit from the anti-competitive nature of the rules. We have been predisposed to think of net neutrality as a pro-competitive measure because we have only considered its effects on ISPs, but those rules also create an anti-competitive moat around market-dominate [content providers].”

In the debate over net neutrality, we need to pay closer attention to the anti-competitive interests of Internet Content Providers.

Now that the FCC has formally repealed its net neutrality guidelines, many net neutrality advocates are worried about how Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will respond. ISPs are middlemen who build and maintain the fiber optic cables and satellites that allow consumers to connect with Internet Content Producers (ICPs) like Facebook and Amazon. Net neutrality proponents worry that ISPs will create “fast” and “slow” lanes on the information superhighway, which would mean prioritizing some content over other content rather than handling it all in an equal fashion.

For instance, Netflix (an ICP) might pay Comcast (an ISP) to guarantee that Comcast customers can stream its movies at full HD resolution. Meanwhile, those who subscribe to Amazon Prime Video would have their internet connection throttled so that they could only stream in SD in order to avoid buffering issues. This would, of course, give Netflix a competitive advantage over Amazon but at the expense of users who would once have been able to watch either service at the same resolution. Without net neutrality, advocates worry that the internet will become a series of proprietary walled gardens rather than a digital commons where all users are treated fairly.

Yes, ISP Monopolies Are a Problem, but…

There are many reasons for skepticism about these fears. As others have noted, it is based on the popular misconception of the internet as a gigantic network of “dumb” pipes treating all data packets in an equivalent fashion, but net neutrality in a technical sense has not existed in decades. Services like video calls already receive privileged treatment over email and other less time-sensitive information. Furthermore, differential treatment of data is a vital precondition for innovation in online medical technology. Nobody wants the robo-surgeon—controlled by a doctor a thousand miles away—that is performing surgery on their body to suddenly be disrupted by a local user’s decision to torrent the latest season of Game of Thrones.

Even after “Ma Bell” was broken up, her child companies had what amounted to regional monopolies on telephone lines and, eventually, on access to the internet.

But net neutrality activists do have at least one legitimate concern. The post-net neutrality worst case scenario is made at least theoretically plausible because of the lack of competition between the handful of ISPs that dominate the market. As a legacy of the nearly century-long, State-protected Bell System telephone monopoly, even after “Ma Bell” was broken up in the 1980s her child companies had what amounted to regional monopolies on telephone lines and, thus, eventually, on access to the internet. Even today, the median American consumer has only a single ISP option for high-speed internet, if that.

The lack of competition among ISPs is a major problem and it is not hard to see how it could contribute to ISPs mistreating customers. After all, it is competition that forces companies in any industry to treat their customers fairly or else risk their customers choosing another provider. A lack of competition removes that natural, market-based disciplinary system. Given the lack of competition in many markets, the skepticism of pro-net neutrality activists towards the anti-competitive motives of the ISPs is not unwarranted.

However, the same skepticism should be directed towards the major corporate sponsors of the pro-net neutrality push. As much as ISPs stand to gain from the end of net neutrality, Internet Content Providers (ICPs) stand to benefit from the rules remaining in place. This facet of the net neutrality debate remains under-examined.

Content Providers Have Everything to Gain

All of the major ICPs have backed net neutrality, including Facebook, Amazon, and Google. Each company has poured millions of dollars into the Internet Association, which lobbies Congress on their behalf. The organization backed a “Day of Action” in July 2017 in which members posted banner ads encouraging their users to protest the FCC’s rollback of net neutrality rules. Since then, the Internet Association has sponsored studies, successfully lobbied for the Senate to vote to preserve the rules, and sued to delay the rule change.

Wu’s suspicions ran directly counter to what these companies were actually doing at that very moment, which was opposing the repeal of net neutrality.

This has caused cognitive dissonance for some progressives in the tech sector who have traditionally framed the debate over net neutrality as a David-versus-Goliath struggle between activists and corporations. It is assumed that corporations have an inherent anti-competitive interest and so they will support regulatory policies that will allow them to extract “rent” from consumers. Since getting rid of net neutrality will allow these companies to extract larger rents, it is assumed that opposition to net neutrality would be the default corporate position.

Yet the most influential internet content providers—Alphabet (Google), Apple, and Amazon—all support net neutrality and each has a market cap several times larger than any of the major internet service providers. Clearly, there is no default corporate position on net neutrality. Instead, companies are generally divided on the issue along an ISP vs. ICP faultline.

Columbia Law School professor Tim Wu, who coined the term “net neutrality” in 2003, attempted to resolve this cognitive dissonance in an interview with Slate’s If Then podcast after the FCC’s decision to repeal net neutrality. One of the interviewers asked Wu whether he agreed that the end of net neutrality rules would “further entrench the power of these incumbents,” speaking of Facebook, Google, and Netflix. Wu noted that these companies once supported net neutrality but that now “everyone also knows that it’s to some degree to their advantage to climb up the ladder and pull it up after them.”

Of course, Wu’s suspicions ran directly counter to what these companies were actually doing at that very moment, which was opposing the repeal of net neutrality. How did Wu explain the dissonance between the actual actions of these companies and what “everyone knows” they really wanted to be doing? He said it was because their employees and consumers were pressuring them to support net neutrality even though they really wished they could stand against it. Wu concluded, “[Support for net neutrality] is against their philosophy, but not their business interests.” The interviewers quickly agreed. After all, it was something “everyone knows.”

Netflix Supports Net Neutrality Except When It Doesn’t

While nobody can definitively rule out the possibility that the likes of Google, Amazon, and Netflix formed a multi-million dollar lobbying outfit to push for the maintenance of net neutrality out of the fear of the ire of their users (and despite the prospect of reaping windfall profits from the repeal of the same), there is a much simpler explanation. Incumbent ICPs support net neutrality because they stand to benefit from the anti-competitive nature of the rules. We have been predisposed to think of net neutrality as a pro-competitive measure because we have only considered its effects on ISPs, but those rules also create an anti-competitive moat around market-dominate ICPs.

Consumers get better and cheaper access to content. The ISP gets paid. The market becomes more competitive.

Put yourself in Netflix’s position. As long as every entertainment streaming company is treated equally by the ISPs, Netflix can compete on its own terms: the impressive depth of its catalog and its ability to leverage its large user base in negotiating new content acquisition deals. But startup streaming companies compete on those terms at a severe disadvantage because by their nature they have neither many users nor much of a catalog.

Yet they might be able to compete with an incumbent like Netflix on access. Imagine a streaming startup paying a mobile ISP to give their service a “zero-rating” for their users, which means that the ISP would not count any mobile data used while streaming against the user’s data cap. In this scenario everyone, except for Netflix, wins. Consumers get better and cheaper access to content. The ISP gets paid. The market becomes more competitive.

While it may be true that “everyone knows” corporations have an anti-competitive interest, Netflix’s current anti-competitive interest is actually the use of net neutrality rules to prevent competition from insurgent ICPs. We do not have to rely on assumptions or hypotheticals to show this to be true.

Netflix was an incumbent in America but an insurgent in Australia, and it adjusted its position on net neutrality accordingly.

For example, while Netflix has long opposed zero-rating in America, where it is the market-dominant incumbent, it actually paid to have its service zero-rated when it launched in Australia in 2015. In the land “Down Under,” Netflix was an upstart, trying to compete with streaming services that had deeper catalogs of film and television made in Australia. If Netflix could not compete on catalog depth or user base, what could it compete on? Access.

Netflix paid an indeterminate sum to have the largest Australian ISP give its customers zero-rated access to Netflix. It may be fair to accuse Netflix of trans-Pacific hypocrisy, but it was responding rationally to its relative market position in both countries. Simply put, Netflix was an incumbent in America but an insurgent in Australia, and it adjusted its position on net neutrality accordingly.

Netflix is by no means the only ICP to have paid for zero-rating. Several times over the past decade, mobile ISPs have struck deals with ICPs to provide zero-rated streaming access. In 2012, Comcast zero-rated its own Xfinity video streaming service. More recently, there has been a flurry of similar deals as AT&T zero-rated HBO Now, T-Mobile did so for Netflix, and Verizon expanded access to its go90 service.

But What About the “Slow Lanes”?

It is no accident that this flurry of zero-rating happened in the immediate aftermath of the FCC’s announced repeal of net neutrality. One might wonder why net neutrality advocates would be so alarmed by the prospect of consumers receiving new, cheaper, and better service given that the ostensible goal of net neutrality is maximizing consumer internet access. But advocates reason that allowing ISPs to privilege one content provider over another would lead to “throttling,” in which the companies would create “slow lanes” for content from providers who did not pay for access to “fast lanes.”

The takeaway from Comcast’s throttling program should not be that ISPs wanted to end net neutrality for nefarious ends. Rather, it was much the opposite.

The most commonly cited example of throttling is Comcast’s campaign against BitTorrent users in 2007. This was during the height of the internet piracy boom when a relatively small number of users downloaded millions of illegally-shared music and video files. At the time, peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing consumed between 49 and 95 percent of internet bandwidth (depending on the time of day), with most of that usage coming from fewer than 1 percent of internet users. A handful of P2P downloaders of movies, music, and porn were clogging up the internet for everybody else and disincentivizing investment in additional bandwidth.

Comcast wanted to make sure that the maximum amount of bandwidth was dedicated to serving the maximum number of users, but the FCC fined Comcast for doing so, stopping the throttling program as a violation of net neutrality principles. The takeaway from Comcast’s throttling program should not be that ISPs wanted to end net neutrality for nefarious, anti-competitive, and regressive ends. Rather, it was much the opposite. In 2007, net neutrality rules prevented Comcast from making changes that would have benefited 99 percent of users, incentivized investment in high-speed infrastructure, and created more competition between ISPs.

Fast forward to today when theoretical concerns about zero-rating have led net neutrality advocates to oppose giving actual users more and better access to content. What has happened since the FCC announced the repeal of net neutrality has not been Comcast-style throttling but the opposite, a kind of “widening” of the internet. Just as adding toll lanes to an actual highway can improve traffic speeds for all drivers while encouraging further investment in highway infrastructure, so too will adding high speed or zero-rated lanes to the internet superhighway.

To return to concerns about competition and net neutrality, advocates on both sides of the issue should devote at least as much attention to the anti-competitive motivations of the ICPs backing net neutrality as they do to the anti-competitive motivations of the ISPs which are opposed. In the end, consumers will benefit from an internet economy that maximizes robust competition between both content producers and service providers.

Source: The Real Reason Facebook and Netflix Support Net Neutrality – Foundation for Economic Education

Central banks manipulating & suppressing gold prices, says industry expert

© Leonhard Foeger / Reuters
© Leonhard Foeger / Reuters

Gold price suppression by the world’s central banks is a well-documented fact, according to Singapore’s BullionStar precious metals expert Ronan Manly. He explained to RT.com why that’s the case.

Central banks have a long and colorful history of manipulating the gold price. This manipulation has taken many shapes and forms over the years. It also shouldn’t be surprising that central banks intervene in the gold market given that they also intervene in all other financial markets. It would be naive to think that the gold market should be any different.

© Tamara Abdul Hadi

In fact, gold is a special case. Gold to central bankers is like the sun to vampires. They are terrified of it, yet in some ways they are in awe of it. Terrified since gold is an inflation barometer and an indicator of the relative strength of fiat currencies. The gold price influences interest rates and bond prices. But central bankers (who know their job) are also in awe of gold since they respect and understand gold’s value and power within the international monetary system and the importance of gold as a reserve asset.

So central banks are keenly aware of gold, they hold large quantities of it in their vaults as a store of value and as financial insurance, but they are also permanently on guard against allowing a fully free market for gold in which they would not have at least some form of influence over price direction and market sentiment.

The Bank for International Settlements (BIS) crops up frequently in gold price manipulation as the central coordination venue and the guiding hand behind a lot of the gold price suppression plans. This is true in all decades from the 1960s right the way through to the 2000s. If you want to know about central bank gold price manipulation, the BIS is a good place to start. Unfortunately the BIS is a law onto itself and does not answer to anyone, except its central banks members.

In the 1960s, central bank manipulation of the gold price was conducted in the public domain, predominantly through the London Gold Pool. This was in the era of a fixed official gold price of $35 an ounce. Here the US Treasury and a consortium of central banks from Western Europe explicitly kept the gold price near $35 an ounce, coordinating their operation from the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) in Basel, Switzerland, while using the Bank of England in London as a transaction agent. This price manipulation broke down in March 1968 when the US Treasury ran out of good delivery gold, which triggered the move to a “free market” gold price.

© Chromorange

Central banks continued to surpress gold prices in the 1970s both through efforts to demonetize gold and also dump physical gold into the market to dampen price action. These sales were unilateral e.g. US Treasury gold sales in 1975 and over 1978-1979, and also coordinated (and orchestrated by the US) e.g. IMF gold sales across 1976-1980.

Collusion to manipulate the price also went underground, for example in late 1979 and early 1980 when the gold price was rocketing higher, the same central banks from the London Gold Pool again met at the opaque BIS in Switzerland at the behest of the US Treasury and Federal Reserve in an attempt to launch a new and secretive Gold Pool to reign in the gold price. This was essentially a revival of the old gold pool, or Gold Pool 2.0.

These meetings, which are not very well known about, were of the G10 central bank governors, i.e. at the highest levels of world finance. All of the discussions are documented in black and white in the Bank of England archives and can be read on the BullionStar website.

The wording in these discussions is very revealing and show the contempt which central bankers feel about a freely functioning gold market.

Phrases used in these meetings include:

there is a need to break the psychology of the market” and “no question of any permanent stabilisation of the gold price, merely at a critical time holding it within a target area” and  “to stabilise the price within a moving band” and “it would be easy and nice for central banks to force the price down hard and quickly“.

And these meetings of top central bankers were in early 1980, 11 years after the London Gold Pool and 8 years after the US Treasury reneged on its commitment in August 1971 to convert foreign holdings of US dollars into gold.

Whether this new BIS gold pool was rolled out in the 1980s is open to debate, but it was discussed across the board for months by the Governors at the BIS, and may have been introduced in a form which would provide physical gold to the oil producers (gold for oil trades) without putting a rocket under the gold price. Their main worry was to allow the Middle Eastern oil producers to acquire some gold for oil without pushing the gold price up.

© Pavel Lisitsyn

The Bank of England was also involved in the 1980s in influencing prices in the London Gold Fix auctions, in what an ex Bank of England staffer described euphemistically as ‘helping the fixes’. And the Bank of England has even at times used terminology in the 1980s such as “smoothing operations” and “stabilisation operations” when referring to coordinated central bank efforts to control the gold price.

Probably two of the most influential changes on the gold market in the modern era are structural changes to the gold market which channel gold demand away from physical gold and into paper gold. These two changes were the introduction of unallocated accounts and fractionally backed gold holdings in the London Gold market from the 1980s onwards, and the introduction of gold futures trading in the US in January 1975.

In unallocated gold trading in the London OTC market, gold trades are cash-settled and there is rarely any physical delivery of gold. The trading positions are merely claims against bullion banks who don’t hold anywhere near the amount of gold to back up the claims. Unallocated bullion is therefore just a synthetic paper gold position that provides exposure to the gold price but doesn’t drive demand for physical gold.

When gold futures were launched in the US in January 1975, the primary reason for their introduction, according to a US State Department cable at the time, was to create an alternative to the physical market that would syphon off demand for gold, creating trading that would dwarf the physical market, and which would also ramp up volatility which in turn would deter investors from investing in physical gold. Gold futures are also fractionally backed and overwhelmingly cash-settled, and their trading volumes are astronomical multiples of actual delivery volumes.

Central banks as regulators of financial markets are therefore ultimately responsible for allowing the emergence of fractional reserve gold trading in London and New York. This trading undermines the demand for physical gold and allows the world gold price to be formed in these synthetic gold trading venues. Price discovery is not happening in physical gold markets. Its is happening in the London OTC (unallocated) and COMEX derivative markets. So this is also a form of gold price manipulation since the central banks know how these markets function, but they do nothing to crack down on what are essentially gold ponzi schemes.

© Ilya Naymushin

Imagine, for example, that central banks were as tough on paper gold as they seem to be now on crypto currency markets. Now imagine if central banks outlawed fractional gold trading or scare-mongered about it in the same way that they do about crypto currencies? What would happen is that the gold market participants would panic and unwind their paper positions, precipitating a disconnect between paper gold and physical gold markets. So by being lenient on the fractional structure of trading in the gold markets, central banks and their regulators are implicitly encouraging activities that have a dampening effect on the gold price.

The gold lending market, mostly centred in London, is another area in which central banks have the ability to cap the gold price. Here central banks transfer their physical gold holdings to bullion banks and this physical gold then enters the market. These transactions can either be in the form of gold loans or gold swaps. This extra supply of gold through the loans and swaps disturbs the existing supply demand balance, and so has a depressing effect on the gold price.

The gold lending market is totally opaque and secretive with no obligatory or voluntary reporting by either central bank lenders or bullion bank borrowers. The Bank of England has a major role in the gold lending market as the gold used in lending is almost all sourced from the central bank custody holding in the Bank of England’s vaults.

There is therefore zero informational efficiency in gold lending, and that’s the way the central banks like it. furthermore, freedom of information requests about gold lending are almost always shot down by central banks, even sometimes on ‘national security’ grounds.

Many central banks have lent out their gold long ago, and just hold a ‘gold receivable’ on their balance sheet, which is a claim against a bullion bank or bullion banks. These bullion banks roll over the liability to the central bank for years on end and the original gold is long gone. Since central bank gold is never independently audited, there is no independent confirmation of any of the gold that any central banks claim they have.

Gold receivables are another fiction that allows central banks to fly under the radar in the gold lending market, and central banks go to great lengths to make sure the market does not know the size and existence of outstanding gold lending and swapped gold positions.

In Febuary 1999, the BIS was again the nexus for secretive discussions about the gold market when a number of the large powerful central banks basically ordered the IMF to drop an accounting change that would have split out gold and gold receivables into two separate line items on central bank balance sheets and accounting statements. These discussions are documented in the IMF document which is available to see here.

This accounting change would have shone a light on to the scale of central bank gold lending around the world, information which would have moved gold prices far higher.

However, a group of the large central banks in Europe comprising the Bank of England, the Bundesbank, the Bank de France and the European Central Bank (ECB) applied pressure to torpedo this plan as they said that “information on gold loans and swaps was highly market sensitive” and that the IMF should “not require the separate disclosure of such information but should instead treat all monetary gold assets including gold on loan or subject to swap agreements, as a single data item.” 

© Leonhard Foeger

Central banks also at times sell large quantities of gold, such as the Swiss gold sales in the early the 2000s, and the Bank of England gold sales in the late 1990s.While the details of such gold sales are always shrouded in secrecy, and the motivations may be varied, such as bullion bank bailouts or redistribution of holdings to other central banks, the impact of these gold sales announcements usually has a negative impact on the gold price. So gold sales announcements are another tactic that central banks use to at times keep the pressure on the price.

There are many examples of central bankers discussing interventions in the gold market. In July 1998, former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan testified before the US Congress saying that “central banks stand ready to lease gold in increasing quantities should the price rise.

In June 2005, William R. White of the BIS in Switzerland, said that one of the aims of central bank cooperation was to “joint efforts to influence asset prices (especially gold and foreign exchange) in circumstances where this might be thought useful.

In 2008, the BIS at its headquarters in Switzerland even stated in a presentation to central bankers that one of the services it offers is interventions in the gold market.

In 2011, one of the gold traders from the BIS even stated on his LinkedIn profile that one of his responsibilities was managing the liquidity for interventions. After this was published, he quickly changed his LinkedIn profile.

Ronan Manly is a precious metals expert at BullionStar based in Singapore

Source: Central banks manipulating & suppressing gold prices – industry expert to RT — RT Business News

Confirmed: Facebook’s Recent Algorithm Update Burying Right-Wing Sources, Boosting Left

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg Press conference at the summit G8/G20 about new technologies - Deauville, France on May 26 2011 (Shutterstock)
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg Press conference at the summit G8/G20 about new technologies – Deauville, France on May 26 2011 (Shutterstock)

By George Upper

Facebook’s much-publicized demotion of publishers’ content in users’ news feeds has negatively impacted conservative-leaning publishers significantly more than liberal-leaning outlets, an analysis by The Western Journal has revealed.

Liberal publishers have gained about 2 percent more web traffic from Facebook than they were getting prior to the algorithm changes implemented in early February.

On the other hand, conservative publishers have lost an average of nearly 14 percent of their traffic from Facebook.

This algorithm change, intentional or not, has in effect censored conservative viewpoints on the largest social media platform in the world. This change has ramifications that, in the short-term, are causing conservative publishers to downsize or fold up completely, and in the long-term could swing elections in the United States and around the world toward liberal politicians and policies.

Facebook Algorithm Impact On Conservatives

Example: New York Post vs. New York Daily News

Case in point: Two rival publishers in New York City, the New York Post and the New York Daily News, are similar in many ways, except for their editorial slants. The Post is well-known as a right-leaning outlet, whereas the Daily News has an established left-leaning slant. For example, the Daily News recently ran a headline after the Parkland shooting that read, “Brave Florida survivors plan day of action for gun sanity and to call out ‘blood on hands’ of NRA puppets.”

Headlines like that garnered the Daily News a 24.18 percent increase in traffic from Facebook, while the right-leaning Post’s traffic dropped 11.44 percent in the same time period.

NY Post vs NY Daily News Facebook

 

These results are similar to the “surprisingly profound and partisan” findings of analysis conducted by The Outline. However, whereas The Outline analyzed user engagement on Facebook itself, The Western Journal looked at actual traffic driven to news websites by Facebook, which directly impacts revenue for these sites.

Why did Facebook make this change?

Campbell Brown, a former anchor on NBC and CNN who now leads Facebook’s news partnerships team, told attendees at a recent technology and publishing conference that Facebook would be censoring news publishers based on its own internal biases:

“This is not us stepping back from news. This is us changing our relationship with publishers and emphasizing something that Facebook has never done before: It’s having a point of view, and it’s leaning into quality news. … We are, for the first time in the history of Facebook, taking a step to try to to define what ‘quality news’ looks like and give that a boost.” (Emphasis added.)

Based on The Western Journal’s analysis — and an overwhelming amount of insider reports from new media publishers — it is clear that Facebook’s definition of “quality news” is news with a liberal slant.

RELATED: Huckabee Jokes He’s ‘Rushed To Cardiac Unit’ After Seeing Surprising CNN Report

Where does this data come from?

To conduct this evaluation, The Western Journal selected 50 publishers known to receive a significant amount of online traffic from Facebook. These publishers include traditional print or television outlets such as The Washington Post, CNN and Fox News, as well as new media outlets like Salon, Vox and The Daily Caller. (The full list of publishers appears in the chart below.)

The Western Journal then assigned each publisher a number between 0 and 100 based on Media Bias / Fact Check News, a third party website that analyzes publishers for political bias and places them on a continuum between “extreme left” and “extreme right.”

Next, The Western Journal checked the monthly Facebook traffic for each of these sources using data from global digital market intelligence company SimilarWeb and compared January traffic to traffic from Feb. 4 through Mar. 3, adjusted for the slightly shorter time period. According to available internal data, Facebook began rolling out this major algorithm change on Feb. 6.

The results: Conservative publishers negatively impacted

The 25 on the liberal side of the scale averaged a 1.86 percent boost in traffic from Facebook, whereas the 25 news organizations on the conservative side averaged a 13.71 percent decrease in traffic.

Based on this analysis, it is clear that liberal news sites are being promoted in Facebook users’ news feeds more often than conservative sites.

Facebook Algorithm Impact On Conservatives

After removing the 15 publishers with the least traffic from Facebook, the trend becomes even more clear.

Of the remaining 35 news sources, the 12 most liberal sites averaged a boost of 0.21 percent — in other words, they don’t appear to have been affected in any meaningful way.

The 11 sites in the middle — which ranged from “left-center” to “least biased” on the MBFC News scale — saw a significant increase in Facebook traffic of 12.81 percent.

The 12 most conservatives sites lost an average of 27.06 percent of their traffic from Facebook.

Of the 12 most liberal sites, six saw double-digit decreases in traffic, while four saw double-digit increases and two — The Washington Post and HuffPo — saw single-digit increases. CNN’s traffic increased 43.78 percent.

Of the 11 sites in the middle of the scale, nine saw traffic increase. Only two — CBS News and The Atlantic — saw a traffic decrease.

Among those 11, only two — USA Today and The Economist — can truly be considered centrist according to the MSFC News scale. Their traffic increased by 23.16 percent and 1.12 percent, respectively.

Of the 12 most conservative sites, only two benefited from increased Facebook traffic — the Daily Mail with 3.51 percent and Fox News with 31.67 percent.

The other 10 saw decreases ranging from 3.13 percent at Breitbart to a whopping 76.49 percent at Independent Journal Review.  On Feb. 15, IJR announced significant layoffs to an “already skeletal staff,” The Daily Caller reported. Rare, a conservative leaning news media publication owned by Cox Media Group, experienced a 68.7 percent drop in traffic after the algorithm change. Rare will shut down entirely at the end of the month, Axios reported.

The average impact per news site with the most desktop sessions from Facebook also varied significantly depending on the political leaning of the site.

Facebook Algorithm Crushing Conservative News

Fox News was the only conservative site that saw significant growth in this calculation. If Fox were removed from the group of 12 conservative sites shown above, the average drop would grow to 32.4 percent among the remaining 11.

Facebook’s Response

It is, of course, possible that the benefit to liberals sites and the harm to conservatives is unintentional, a side effect of Facebook’s well-known “move fast, break things” attitude. Given Facebook’s history of manually suppressing conservative news, and given recent Facebook comments acknowledging that Facebook will have a point of view, it would not be surprising if this move was an intentional break with the formerly stated goal to be a neutral platform.

“How this manifests in the coming months is not totally clear to us right now,” Campbell admitted at the Recode event. “These are conversations we’ve just started having with a lot of publishers. But in terms of us taking a big step in that direction, I think, yes, I think this is, I think this is us having a very clear point of view.”

Facebook has not responded to a request for comment submitted by The Western Journal last week.

For the full data set, visit this public Google Sheet.

(Correction: An earlier version of this article erroneously referred to The Outline as The Outlet. I have corrected the error, which was completely my fault, and apologize for the oversight. – G.)

Source: Western Journal

$21 trillion of unauthorized spending by US govt discovered by economics professor

From 16 Dec, 2017: “The US government may have misspent $21 trillion, a professor at Michigan State University has found. Papers supporting the study briefly went missing just as an audit was announced.”
$21 trillion of unauthorized spending by US govt discovered by economics professor
© Lee Jae Won © Reuters

The professor would not suggest whether the missing trillions went to some legitimate undisclosed projects, wasted or misappropriated, but believes his find indicates that there is something profoundly wrong with the budgeting process in the US federal government. Such lack of transparency goes against the due process of authorizing federal spending through the US Congress, he said.

Interestingly, in early December the authors of the research discovered that the links to key document they used, including the 2016 report, had been disabled. Days later the documents were reposted under different addresses, they say…”

Full story: $21 trillion of unauthorized spending by US govt discovered by economics professor — RT News

$21 trillion of unauthorized spending by US govt discovered

© Lee Jae Won / Reuters
The US government may have misspent $21 trillion, a professor at Michigan State University has found. Papers supporting the study briefly went missing just as an audit was announced.

Two departments of the US federal government may have spent as much as $21 trillion on things they can’t account for between 1998 and 2015. At least that’s what Mark Skidmore, a Professor of Economics at MSU specializing in public finance, and his team have found.

They came up with the figure after digging the websites of departments of Defense (DoD) and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as well as repots of the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) over summer.

The research was triggered by Skidmore hearing Catherine Austin Fitts, a former Assistant Secretary in the HUD in the first Bush administration, saying the Inspector General found $6.5 trillion worth of military spending that the DoD couldn’t account for. She was referring to a July 2016 report by the OIG, but Skidmore thought she must be mistaking billion for trillion. Based on his previous experience with public finances, he thought the figure was too big even for an organization as large as the US military.

“Sometimes you have an adjustment just because you don’t have adequate transactions… so an auditor would just recede. Usually it’s just a small portion of authorized spending, maybe one percent at most. So for the Army one percent would be $1.2 billion of transactions that you just can’t account for,” he explained in an interview with USAWatchdog.com earlier this month.

After discovering that the figure was accurate, he and Fitts collaborated with a pair of graduate students to comb through thousands of reports of the OIG dating back to 1998, when new rules of public accountability for the federal government were set and all the way to 2015, the time of the latest reports available at the time. The research was only for the DoD and the HUD.

“This is incomplete, but we have found $21 trillion in adjustments over that period. The biggest chunk is for the Army. We were able to find 13 of the 17 years and we found about $11.5 trillion just for the Army,” Skidmore said.

The professor would not suggest whether the missing trillions went to some legitimate undisclosed projects, wasted or misappropriated, but believes his find indicates that there is something profoundly wrong with the budgeting process in the US federal government. Such lack of transparency goes against the due process of authorizing federal spending through the US Congress, he said.

Skidmore also co-authored a column on Forbes, explaining his research.

The same week the interview took place the DoD announced that it will conduct its first-ever audit“It is important that the Congress and the American people have confidence in DoD’s management of every taxpayer dollar,” Comptroller David Norquist told reporters as he explained that the OIG has hired independent auditors to dig through the military finances.

“While we can’t know for sure what role our efforts to compile original government documents and share them with the public has played, we believe it may have made a difference,” Skidmore commented.

Interestingly, in early December the authors of the research discovered that the links to key document they used, including the 2016 report, had been disabled. Days later the documents were reposted under different addresses, they say.

Source: $21 trillion of unauthorized spending by US govt discovered by economics professor

NYT: Harvey Weinstein Paid Off Sexual Harassment Accusers for Decades

During that time, after being confronted with allegations including sexual harassment and unwanted physical contact, Mr. Weinstein has reached at least eight settlements with women, according to two company officials speaking on the condition of anonymity. Among the recipients, The Times found, were a young assistant in New York in 1990, an actress in 1997, an assistant in London in 1998, an Italian model in 2015 and Ms. O’Connor shortly after, according to records and those familiar with the agreements

In 2015, the year Ms. O’Connor wrote her memo, his company distributed “The Hunting Ground,” a documentary about campus sexual assault. A longtime Democratic donor, he hosted a fund-raiser for Hillary Clinton in his Manhattan home last year. He employed Malia Obama, the oldest daughter of former President Barack Obama, as an intern this year, and recently helped endow a faculty chair at Rutgers University in Gloria Steinem’s name …

At Fox News, where the conservative icons Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly were accused of harassment, women have received payouts well into the millions of dollars. But most of the women involved in the Weinstein agreements collected between roughly $80,000 and $150,000, according to people familiar with the negotiations…’

Source: Harvey Weinstein Paid Off Sexual Harassment Accusers for Decades – The New York Times

Are you being watched? Government spy tool found hiding as WhatsApp and Skype

Malware used by intelligence agencies spotted in 7 countries, experts said

Glenn Carstens-Peters/Unsplash
Glenn Carstens-Peters/Unsplash

Legitimate downloads of popular software including WhatsApp, Skype and VLC Player are allegedly being hacked at an internet service provider (ISP) level to spread an advanced form of surveillance software known as “FinFisher”, cybersecurity researchers warn.

FinFisher is sold to global governments and intelligence agencies and can be used to snoop on webcam feeds, keystrokes, microphones and web browsing. Documents, previously published by WikiLeaks, indicate that one tool called “FinFly ISP” may be linked to the case.

The digital surveillance tools are peddled by an international firm called Gamma Group and have in the past been sold to repressive regimes including Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

In March this year, the company attended a security conference sponsored by the UK Home Office.

This week (21 September), experts from cybersecurity firm Eset claimed that new FinFisher variants had been discovered in seven countries, two of which were being targeted by “man in the middle” (MitM) attacks at an ISPlevel – packaging real downloads with spyware.

Companies hit included WhatsApp, Skype, Avast, VLCPlayer and WinRAR, it said, adding that “virtually any application could be misused in this way.”

When a target of surveillance was downloading the software, they would be silently redirected to a version infected with FinFisher, research found.

When downloaded, the software would install as normal – but Eset found it would also be covertly bundled with the surveillance tool.

The stealthy infection process was described as being “invisible to the naked eye.”

The seven countries were not named for security reasons, Eset said. WhatsApp and VLC Player did not respond to request for comment by the time of publication.

A Microsoft spokesperson, referencing the Skype infections, told IBTimes UK: “Windows Defender antivirus cloud protection already automatically identifies and blocks the malware.

“For non-cloud customers, we’ve deployed signatures to protect against this in our free antivirus software”, the statement added.

An Avast spokesperson said: “Attackers will always focus on the most prominent targets.

“Wrapping official installers of legitimate apps with malware is not a new concept and we aren’t surprised to see the PC apps mentioned in this report.”

“What’s new is that this seems to be happening at a higher level.”

“We don’t know if the ISPs are in cooperation with the malware distributors or whether the ISPs’ infrastructure has been hijacked.”

The latest version of FinFisher was spotted with new customized code which kept it from being discovered, what Eset described as “tactical improvements”. Some tricks, it added, were aimed at compromising end-to-end (E2E) encryption software and known privacy tools.

One such application was Threema, a secure messaging service.

“The geographical dispersion of Eset’s detections of FinFisher variants suggests the MitM attack is happening at a higher level—an ISP arises as the most probable option”, the team said.

“One of the main implications of the discovery is that they decided to use the most effective infection method and that it actually isn’t hard to implement from a technical perspective”, FilipKafka, a malware researcher at Eset, told IBTimes UK.

“Since we see have seen more infections than in the past surveillance campaigns, it seems that FinFisher is now more widely utilized in the monitoring of citizens in the affected countries.”

Breaking encryption has become a major talking point of governments around the world, many of which conduct bulk communications collection. Politicians argue, often without evidence, that software from companies such as WhatsApp has become a burden on terror probes.

WhatsApp
Microsoft to shut Skypes London offices and make most of its 400 employees redundant
VLC Player for Windows 10
WhatsApp, Skype and VLC all targeted by FinFisher spyware. Image credits (L/R): iStock, Reuters, Windows Phone Store

One WikiLeaks document on FinFly ISP touted its ability to conduct surveillance at an ISP level.

The software’s brochure boasted: “FinFly ISP is able to patch files that are downloaded by the target on-the-fly or send fake software updates for popular software.”

It added that it “can be installed on an internet service provider’s network” and listed one use case when it was previously deployed by an unnamed intelligence agency.

Eset found that all affected targets within one of the countries were using the same ISP.

“Unprecedented”

“The deployment of the ISP-level MitM attack technique mentioned in the leaked documents has never been revealed – until now”, the researchers said in their analysis.

“If confirmed, these FinFisher campaigns would represent a sophisticated and stealthy surveillance project unprecedented in its combination of methods and reach.”

It remains unknown who was behind the fresh hacking campaigns, but FinFisher is almost exclusively tailored to government, police or intelligence agency use.

“We cannot say for sure who is behind the campaign but the ISP re-direction could be a service ordered from FinFisher”, Kafka said.

“This question should be addressed to FinFisher.”

“We [have] very limited information on this, who specifically was targeted, but generally the targets were catered to what FinFisher is generally used for”, he added.

Gamma Group did not immediately respond to a request for comment from IBTimes UK.

Computer code
The variant was spotted in 7 countriesMarkusSpiske/Unsplash

This is not the first time that the company, which has offices in Europe, has been linked to questionable business practices.

In 2013, tech firm Mozilla sent it a cease and desist letter after its software was caught posing as a version of its Firefox browser.

“We cannot abide a software company using our name to disguise online surveillance tools that can be – and in several cases actually have been – used by Gamma’s customers to violate citizens’ human rights and online privacy”, it complained in a blog post.

The same year, Reporters without Borders branded Gamma Group as one of the “Corporate Enemies of the Internet” in an annual report. The creepy and invasive spyware can also be spread via more traditional means – malicious email attachments, for example.

Back in 2011, it emerged that Gamma International, a UK subsidiary, was selling a malware Trojan disguised as an update for Apple’s iTunes media player.

Before being patched, the gaping vulnerability had been exploited for approximately three years, found security journalist Brian Krebs at the time.

Source: Are you being watched? FinFisher government spy tool found hiding as WhatsApp and Skype

How to secure your browser in 10 minutes for free (and why you urgently need to)

‘Soon every mistake you’ve ever made online will not only be available to your internet service provider (ISP) — it will be available to any corporation or foreign government who wants to see those mistakes.

Thanks to last week’s US Senate decision (update March 28: and today’s House decision), ISPs can sell your entire web browsing history to literally anyone without your permission. The only rules that prevented this are all being repealed, and won’t be reinstated any time soon (it would take an act of congress).

You might be wondering: who benefits from repealing these rules? Other than those four monopoly ISPs that control America’s “last mile” of internet cables and cell towers? … these politicians — who have received millions of dollars in campaign contributions from the ISPs for decades — have sold us out.

VPN company Private Internet Access paid $600,000 to run this full-page ad in Sunday’s New York Times — even though they would make a ton of money if these rules were repealed. That’s how this CRA is — even the VPN companies are campaigning against it.

…ISPs can now continue doing these things as much as they want…

  1. Sell your browsing history to basically any corporation or government that wants to buy it
  2. Hijack your searches and share them with third parties
  3. Monitor all your traffic by injecting their own malware-filled ads into the websites you visit
  4. Stuff undetectable, undeletable tracking cookies into all of your unencrypted traffic
  5. Pre-install software on phones that will monitor all traffic — even HTTPS traffic — before it gets encrypted. AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile have already done this with some Android phones …

How VPNs can protect you

VPN stands for Virtual Private Network.

  • Virtual because you’re not creating a new physical connection with your destination — your data is just traveling through existing wires between you and your destination.
  • Private because it encrypts your activity before sending it, then decrypts it at the destination.

People have traditionally used VPNs as a way to get around websites that are blocked in their country (for example, Medium is blocked in Malaysia) or to watch movies that aren’t available in certain countries. But VPNs are extremely useful for privacy, too.

There are several types of VPN options, with varying degrees of convenience and security.

Experts estimate that as many as 90% of VPNs are “hopelessly insecure” and this changes from time to time. So even if you use the tools I recommend here, I recommend you take the time to do your homework.

Most VPNs are services that cost money, but the following options are convenient and free to use, with some limited functionality:


Desktop VPN apps

Probably the most secure, trustworthy free VPN you can install (as of when this article was last updated) is ProtonVPN. It’s made by the folks who also make the most secure free email, ProtonMail (which we also highly recommend)

To learn more about why we recommend this stellar VPN, check out BestVPN’s Comprehensive ProtonVPN Review


Mobile Device VPN apps (smartphone, tablet, etc.)

Windscribe – This is our choice for best freemium VPN, since they earn high marks for privacy and give you 10GB free/month. Check out BestVPN’s Review

Opera VPN – While there are definitely better VPNs available, OperaVPN is one of the very few that offer free ulimited bandwitdh. See BestVPN’s Review


Browser-based VPNs

Opera is a popular web browser that comes with some excellent privacy features, like a free built-in VPN and a free ad blocker (and as you may know, ads can spy on you).

Opera’s free VPN service offers a choice of ‘virtual’ country locations to connect through.

I recommend setting the U.S. as your location for Americans, unless you’re quite familiar with the ins & outs of how VPNs work.

Also be advised that you will likely need to disable your VPN in order to use certain websites or apps.

If you just want a secure way to browse the web without ISPs being able to easily snoop on you and sell your data, Opera is a great start. Let’s install and configure it real quick. This takes less than 5 minutes.

Before you get started, note that this will only anonymize the things you do within the Opera browser. Also, I’m obligated to point out that even though Opera’s parent company is European, it was recently purchased by a consortium of Chinese tech companies, and there is a non-zero risk that it could be compromised by the Chinese government.

Having said that, here’s how to browse securely with Opera:

Step #1: Download the Opera browser

Step #2: Turn on its ad blocker by clicking on the Opera menu (upper left) and going to Preferences

Step #3: Turn on its VPN:

That’s it! You can now browse much more privately than you likely had been.

For secure messaging, you may also want to check out Edward Snowden-recommended Open Whisper Systems’ mobile and desktop app called Signal.

Click here for the original article this was excerpted from.