Sunday, 21 March 2021

Race in the Ranks: Investigating racial bias in the U.S. military

David Martin reports on the new efforts being put forth to address inequality in the military, this time under the watch of the country's first Black Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin.

More than 70 years after the armed services were integrated, it is still a fact of life in the U.S. military that African Americans are more likely to be disciplined and less likely to be promoted than Whites. Even the most successful Black officers routinely feel the sting of racial bias while large segments of the rank and file believe the system is stacked against them. The military has made attempts to deal with inequality before but this time it's happening under the eye of Lloyd Austin, this country's first African American secretary of defense. A former soldier who experienced discrimination first-hand.  

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin: It doesn't change-- as you climb the ladder. You still get the doubts. There are always gonna be people, because of what you look like, that will question your qualifications.

Lloyd Austin climbed every rung in the Army, starting at West Point - and rising all the way to four-star general - many times breaking barriers as the first African American ever to hold the job.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin: There's probably not a job that I had since I was a lieutenant colonel where some people didn't question whether or not I was qualified to-- to take that job. It's a world I live in. And I'm sure that the other officers that you talked to would probably say the same thing. There's not a day in my life, David, when I didn't wake up and think about the fact that I was a Black man.

David Martin: A number of the African Americans that we have talked to-- for this story have said when they are the only one in the room, they feel as if they're not being listened to. Did you have that experience?

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin: Absolutely had that experience. And I found ways -- to operate, to adapt.

In 1995, as the 82nd Airborne's first African American operations officer, then Lieutenant Colonel Austin adapted by having someone else give his briefings – someone he felt White officers were more likely to listen to.

David Martin: Was that a White officer?

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin: It was.

David Martin: Did you feel that was a conscious bias, people not ready to listen to you?

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin: It absolutely was a conscious bias.  

Bias didn't end even when he was a four-star general.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin: I would go someplace with my staff, and we were wearing civilian clothes. Somebody would come out to meet the-- meet the general, and I wasn't the guy that they walked up to. 

General C.Q. Brown: People have a perception that African Americans can't be in-- in key positions just because you're African American. They just assume that it's always gonna be somebody else.

General C.Q. Brown rose from fighter pilot to become the first African American in history to head the Air Force, which makes him a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The last time there was an African American in this room was nearly 30 years ago when Colin Powell was chairman of the Joint Chiefs. 

We met then-Lieutenant General Brown nearly six years ago at his operations center in the Persian Gulf where he was commanding the air war against ISIS. 

It was all about destroying the enemy – but there was something else going on we didn't see.   

General C.Q. Brown: There's a world that I live in as an African American and there's a world that I also live in as a minority inside the United States Air Force.

Those two worlds collided one day last May when a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into George Floyd's neck. 

General C.Q. Brown: And the fact-- just the-- how long he was in the position he was in, and how nonchalant the cop looked-- and that-- that-- that actually-- I mean, that-- that bothered me tremendously.

Brown felt compelled to send out this message to his airmen.

General C.Q. Brown in video: Here's what I'm thinking about. I'm thinking about how full I am with emotion, not just for George Floyd but the many African Americans that have suffered the same fate as George Floyd. 

With that, a lifetime of frustration came boiling out.

General C.Q. Brown in video: I'm thinking about the pressure I felt to perform error-free, especially for supervisors I perceived had expected less from me as an African American. I'm thinking about having to represent by working twice as hard to prove their expectations and perceptions of African Americans were invalid. 

General C.Q. Brown: It-- was really what I wanted to get off my chest. I had no intention for it to-- go as big as it did-- but I'm glad it did, 'cause I think it helped-- generate the conversation that many of us are having-- today about race relations in the United States.

So far, the video has been viewed 4 million times

With Black Lives Matter protests breaking out across the country, the Air Force Inspector General conducted a survey on racial disparity which produced eye-opening responses. 

"2 out of every 5 [African Americans] do not trust their chain of command to address racism, bias and unequal opportunities." 

"3 out of every 5 five… believe they do not… receive the same benefit of the doubt as their White peers if they get in trouble." 

There were 123,000 responses in just two weeks. 

General C.Q. Brown: Really an outpouring of emotion from our airmen that I've not seen in the time I've been wearing this uniform.

For Senior Master Sergeant Sapphira Morgan, the survey was long overdue.

Senior Master Sergeant Sapphira Morgan: I think people were so just elated to finally have an opportunity to speak - when you hold in things for so long without being able to express yourself. And then you're given an avenue to speak.  People ate it up.

The Air Force is now conducting another survey to include Hispanics and other minorities. But the hard data from the first survey is now a matter of record. 

"…young Black enlisted members are almost twice as likely as White enlisted members to be involuntarily discharged based on misconduct." 

Black airmen of all ranks are "…57% more likely…to face courts martial."

As a senior sergeant, Morgan had been seeing numbers like that for years.

Senior Master Sergeant Sapphira Morgan: I felt sick the first time I saw how many Black airmen had article 15s or discharges in comparison to White airmen. Across the Air Force. And the thing that I think hurt the most was that no one wanted to have the conversation.

Last summer that conversation began at Randolph Air Force Base in Texas with a program called "Real Talk," hosted by Lieutenant General Brad Webb. 

Lieutenant General Brad Webb on "Real Talk": Obviously, the Air Force has fundamentally had a wake-up call.

In which Black airmen like Chief Master Sergeant Michael Holland got a chance to speak truth to air force power.

Chief Master Sergeant Michael Holland on "Real Talk": This is brave for us to address these things.

David Martin: You said to-- General Webb, "This is brave." What did you mean?

Chief Master Sergeant Michael Holland: It takes courage to talk about racism, you know, in America period, but really in the Air Force where it's-- White male dominated.

He told Webb, Black airmen have to abide by unwritten rules which don't apply to their White counterparts.

David Martin: What are some of the unwritten rules?

Chief Master Sergeant Michael Holland: Like, change your posture when you walk into the room.

David Martin: Change your posture?

Chief Master Sergeant Michael Holland: Yeah, so, I'm 5'11, right, 220 pounds. A Black big guy is scary and threatening. So you strip those things away from you to make people feel comfortable with you. 

David Martin: What are some of the other things you have to strip?

Chief Master Sergeant Michael Holland: Voice, right. Voice, you don't wanna be loud.

David Martin: Any other unwritten rules?

Chief Master Sergeant Michael Holland: Yeah, you gotta be better.

For Lieutenant General Webb, the sessions were a revelation.

David Martin: Did you hear things that surprised you?

Lieutenant General Brad Webb: Oh yeah, I mean, any number of things.

David Martin: For example.

Lieutenant General Brad Webb: The African American community inside the Air Force is dealing with an extra load that the White Caucasian community does not deal with: Am I being intimidating by the way I talk? Am I being intimidating by the way I sit?  There's a mental checklist that has to occur here that I was never oriented to ever in my Air Force career.

Episodes of "Real Talk" – including the one with Sergeant Sapphira Morgan - were streamed live on Facebook. 

David Martin: It was up there for all to see, what was the reaction?

Senior Master Sergeant Sapphira Morgan: Negative and positive. I've had countless people say, "I never knew." But I've also had some Black people say, "Why are we exposing some of the things that we deal with to people who may not care?" 

Chief Master Sergeant Michael Holland: Everybody's not for this. It's hard to accept, but that's you know, truth. 

David Martin: The people who are not for this, what do they say?

Chief Master Sergeant Michael Holland: Nothing, right. And that's what makes it difficult.  You know, you don't know what their biases are, right?

David Martin: Have you ever encountered a real racist--

Chief Master Sergeant Michael Holland: Oh yeah, 

David Martin: --in the Air Force?

Chief Master Sergeant Michael Holland: Absolutely. Had a supervisor, you know, who told me I will never succeed under him. The best thing I could do is survive while he was there and to stay away from him. 

David Martin: What'd you do?

Chief Master Sergeant Michael Holland: Stayed away from him.

The Facebook sessions were not Webb's first time in the hot seat. He was the busiest man in the White House Situation Room on the night of the Bin Laden raid.

After 37 years in the Air Force, he's now in charge of education and training.

David Martin: Before George Floyd and the events of last summer, how had the Air Force dealt with race?

Lieutenant General Brad Webb: We had training sessions, you know, that was principally PowerPoint slide oriented and it was very formalized.

David Martin: Did it have any impact on you?

Lieutenant General Brad Webb: Marginal, I mean, I have to be honest.

African Americans represent 17% of all the active duty troops in the military – but only 8% of the officers. 

And in key jobs – like Air Force pilots - it's worse. 

The top general, C.Q. Brown, knows that first-hand from his flying days in the 1990s.

David Martin: What was the-- percentage of Black pilots back then?

General C.Q. Brown: 2%. 

David Martin: And what is it today?

General C.Q. Brown: It is still 2%.

David Martin: What does that say?

General C.Q. Brown: We haven't made much progress. 

Retired Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs during the Bush and Obama administrations, set out to change the nearly all White complexion of the senior ranks.

David Martin: Was it racial bias?

Admiral Mike Mullen: I don't think it was conscious bias, but I think it was institutional bias, if you will.

David Martin: So, what is the institutional bias?

Admiral Mike Mullen: I have a phrase I use called ducks pick ducks. And when you have White guys pickin', they pick other White guys. That, to me, is the bias and that's what the leadership has to break up to make sure that we're not in that kind of a situation.

Mullen met then-Lieutenant General Lloyd Austin in Iraq and in 2009 brought him to Washington as the first African American director of the chairman's powerful Joint Staff.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin: He said "You know, I really wanna diversify my staff." And he knew that talent was out there. But he knew that if he didn't lead the organization to-- to identify that talent and bring that talent on board, it wouldn't happen.

David Martin: There's that picture of you standing with the African-American generals and admirals on your-- your staff.

Admiral Mike Mullen: I mean, General Austin came into my office and said, "I want you to come down to the Joint Staff room for a minute. And I walked into that room and they were all standing there. And the photographer was ready to go.  And I said, I asked them, I said, "What's this all about?" And one of them said, "It's about history."

Turns out it was only a moment in history. Eleven years later – these are the people who fill the top positions on the joint staff.  

David Martin: Have you looked at the website of the-- Joint Staff lately?

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin: I have. 

David Martin: Top 25, no African Americans.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin: I suspect that'll change in the near term-- 

David Martin: It's been, what, more than 70 years since the Armed Forces were integrated. Why do you think it's-- it's taken this long?

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin: I think, things have moved slowly in America, David.  I think, the military, in a lot of ways, has led the way-- for diversity. But-- you know as well as I do that if you look at our senior leadership right now-- it's not representative of what's in the ranks.

David Martin: What in your job can you personally do to make a change?

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin: I'm the guy that makes the recommendation to the president on who our senior flag officers oughta be going forward.



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Thursday, 18 March 2021

Treasury has sent about 90 million stimulus payments

Washington (CNN)About 90 million stimulus payments, totaling more than $242 billion, have been sent as of Wednesday, the Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service said.

That likely covers more than half of the households eligible for this third round of payments, which were included in the $1.9 trillion Covid relief bill signed into law by President Joe Biden less than a week ago.

A majority of this first batch of payments was sent via direct deposit and all of those recipients will have access to the funds Wednesday, the agencies said.

More batches of payments will go out in the coming weeks through direct deposit, paper checks and prepaid debit cards.

No action is required for most people to receive the money. Social Security recipients and those who receive Veteran Affairs benefits should also get the money automatically even if they don't file taxes.

People can check the status of their payments using the IRS's Get My Payment tool online.

Who gets a payment?

The payments are worth up to $1,400 per person and are expected to reach 85% of households, according to the White House.

Families will receive an additional $1,400 per dependent, so a couple with two children could receive up to $5,600. Unlike prior rounds, families will now receive the additional money for adult dependents over the age of 17.

The full amount goes to individuals earning less than $75,000 of adjusted gross income, heads of households (like single parents) earning less than $112,500, and married couples earning less than $150,000. But then the payments gradually phase out as income goes up.

Lawmakers narrowed the scope of the payments this time so that not everyone who received a previous check will be sent one now. It cuts off individuals who earn at least $80,000 a year of adjusted gross income, heads of households who earn at least $120,000, and married couples who earn at least $160,000 -- regardless of how many children they have.

On what year are the income limits based?

The new income thresholds will be based on a taxpayer's most recent return. If they've already filed a 2020 return by the time the payment is sent and it has been processed, the IRS will base eligibility on their 2020 adjusted gross income. If not, it will be based on the 2019 return or the information submitted through an online portal set up last year for people who don't usually file tax returns.

If your 2019 income was less than your pay in 2020, you will not owe back any money. But if your income fell in 2020, filing your tax return now -- before the payments go out -- may mean you'll get a bigger check.

Reaching those that need it the most

Most people receive the payments automatically, but there are many who missed out -- for a variety of reasons. An estimated 8 million eligible people didn't get the first round of payments that were delivered last year.

Many of these people have very low incomes and are not normally required to file tax returns. Last year, the IRS set up an online portal where they could register for the money.

At this time, the IRS does not have plans to reopen the portal. Instead, officials are encouraging people to file 2020 tax returns. Low-income people can use the agency's free file option.




Wednesday, 17 March 2021

Justice Amy Coney Barrett's first majority written opinion limits reach of FOIA

(CNN)Justice Amy Coney Barrett penned her first Supreme Court majority opinion on Thursday, writing a 7-2 decision that will shield federal agencies from having to disclose certain materials under an exception to the Freedom of Information Act.

Barrett's debut majority opinion came in a case that was the first she heard as a justice, back on November 2.

The case at hand concerned FOIA, a law designed to allow the public greater access to records from the government. It mandates the disclosure of documents held by a federal agency unless they fall within certain exceptions.

On Thursday, the court narrowed the category of documents subject to release, dealing a loss to those seeking more government transparency and who argue that FOIA was meant to lift the curtain and give the public insight into a government's decision-making process.

The Sierra Club and other groups had brought the challenge, seeking more information about an Environmental Protection Agency 2014 rule concerning the operation of cooling water intake structures and whether they would hurt protected species.

Specifically, the groups sought records related to the US Fish and Wildlife Service's and National Marine Fisheries Service's consultations with the EPA. Although the services turned over thousands of documents, they invoked the "deliberative process privilege" for some draft opinions.

"The deliberative process privilege protects the draft biological opinions at issue here because they reflect a preliminary view -- not a final decision -- about the likely effect of the EPA's proposed rule on endangered species," Barrett wrote. She said the drafts by the agencies never had final approval, hadn't been sent to the EPA and were "pre-decisional and deliberative."

The confirmation of Barrett, nominated by President Donald Trump to fill the seat of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, was rushed so that she could take the bench before the presidential election. She was confirmed on October 26, a little over a month after Ginsburg's death, by a Senate vote of 52-48.

Barrett garnered the necessary majority for her opinion on the case, but Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.

Breyer questioned whether the documents at issue really functioned as drafts, writing that he thought they reflected final decisions and should "normally fall outside, not within," the exemption.



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Sunday, 14 March 2021

$190 Billion Of Stimulus Money Could Go Straight To The Stock Market

President Biden signed the third stimulus package amounting to $1.9 trillion yesterday. Many Americans will get their $1,400 stimulus checks in the coming weeks, and the U.S. stock market could be a lucrative (but risky) place for them to invest, given the wild swings we have seen in meme stocks.   

Stimulus Checks And The Stock Market  

There is no doubt that retail traders have been enormously active since the coronavirus pandemic. If the stimulus check money finds its way to the stock market, one thing is quite certain: The S&P 500 stock index, the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the Nasdaq Composite Index may post new record highs. The stock market will not worry about inflation or rising bond yields as this new money is going to bring a fighting spirit to retail traders. 

How Much Stimulus Money Could Be Going To The Stock Markets?

There are speculations that the third round of stimulus checks is going to find its way into the stock market. Banks have already started to estimate how much of that money could be going towards the stock market. The speculations are that we could see approximately 9% to 10% of the total stimulus money going towards stocks. To put this into perspective, we could see anywhere between $150 billion to $190 billion cash pumped into the U.S. stock market. 

According to a Deutsche Bank survey of more than 400 investors, retail investors aged between 25 and 34 could be putting 50% off their stimulus check payments into the stock market, Bloomberg reported. The bank forecasts that the total amount of money that could be going to the stock market is $150 billion.

One of the Wall Street giants, JP Morgan, echoes that forecast. It believes social platforms such as Reddit’s forum Wallstreetbets and Stockwits can again light up the stock market over the coming weeks.

Meme Stocks May See More Stimulus Inflow

Retail investors are likely to flock towards meme stocks with their stimulus money, as they are more likely to take on risk for a potentially big reward.

Meme stock and movie theater operator AMC is trending heavily on Reddit’s forum Wallstreetbets. AMC shares surged yesterday by over 9%, mainly due to strong earnings and positive vaccination updates; it is likely that retail stock traders may continue to bet heavily on this stock with stimulus checks in hand. 

Reddit traders are also paying close attention to Cathie Wood, CEO and CIO of ARK Investment Management LLC PZN -1.1%, ETFs (ARKK & ARKW). RBLX, Roblox Corp, listed their stock yesterday, with an IPO price of $45. Cathie Wood, whom many retail traders are now following, has bought this stock. Since Roblox’s IPO, the stock price has been rising, and yesterday, it hit a high of $76.

Some of the stocks that are mentioned on the WallStreetbets are part of the ARK Investment’s portfolios. Here is a list of the top 10 stocks that are trending on Wallstreetbets:  












For the last few weeks, concerns over soaring inflation and rising bond yields have been surfacing among traders. But President Joe Biden’s signature on the $1.9 trillion stimulus package yesterday means that many Americans will soon get their $1,400 stimulus checks—pumping up to $190 billion into the market.

Retail traders are likely to invest into the U.S. stock market with their fresh capital, and this could fade all the qualms around inflation and bond yields. Thus, stock indices may reach their new all-time highs in the coming weeks.



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Sunday, 7 March 2021

Selling Social Media Posts for $1.5 Million? Blockchain-Certified Tweet Sales Spark NFT Controversy

The cryptocurrency community is in a tizzy this weekend after the founder of Twitter, Jack Dorsey, tweeted about a new application that allows people to purchase tweets with ethereum. The application is called Valuables and it allows individuals to purchase a digital certificate of the tweet, which is signed and verified by the tweet’s creator.

Tokenized Tweets for Sale

Tokenization and non-fungible token (NFT) asset industry have swelled during the last six months and a great number of artists, celebrities, and social luminaries have jumped on the bandwagon.

There have been 5,368,992 NFT sales equating to $381 million in sales to-date since started tallying up the market history. Now a project called Valuables or the Web3 compatible web portal is attempting to make tweets valuable by tokenizing them via the Matic blockchain. But there is a lot of controversy over whether or not tweets can be valued and stored in a meaningful way on a blockchain.

On March 5, 2021, Jack Dorsey the founder of Twitter and Square Inc., tweeted about the project with a tweet that he is selling.

At the time of publication, the founder of the Tron blockchain, Justin Sun, has bid $1 million dollars for a tweet Dorsey created back in 2006. The CEO at Bridge Oracle, Hakan Estavi, outbid Justin Sun and is now offering $1.5 million in ether for the tweet. The two have been going back and forth in a bidding war for the Dorsey tweet being sold on Valuables.

Selling Social Media Posts for $1.5 Million? Blockchain-Certified Tweet Sales Spark NFT Controversy

At the time of publication, the CEO at Bridge Oracle, Hakan Estavi has bid $1.5 million worth of ether toward Jack Dorsey’s tweet. He has outbid, the founder of Tron, Justin Sun’s last bid at $1 million for the tweet from 2006.

The tweet from 15 years ago is when Dorsey wrote “just setting up my twttr.” With the Valuables program, Dorsey certified his tweet from 2006 and people can offer to buy the digital certificate of the tweet with ethereum (ETH).

Concept Sparks Criticism Toward Tokenizing Tweets on a Blockchain

Of course, not everyone in the crypto space is impressed with the Valuables project and many people think the application’s real-world value is worthless. Meanwhile, many people said that Bitcoin maximalists were just jealous and the Valuables tokenization of tweets idea is innovative. “Welcome to Ethereum, Jack,” one Ethereum proponent tweeted in response to Jack’s sale. “Surely, you will fetch a good price for this tweet. However, the cope and salt from the maxis: priceless,” he added.

Despite the NFT and tokenization fans, a myriad of crypto proponents seemed disillusioned by the concept of selling tweets.

“What happens if you buy someone’s tweet and then they delete it?” software developer Jameson Lopp tweeted. Also, how can you audit the ecosystem to ensure that a tweet hasn’t been sold multiple times? Point being, I suspect your ownership claim is quite weak. This looks like a prestige system, not an ownership system,” Lopp added.

On March 5, the CEO of Kraken Jesse Powell wrote that the purchasing of tweets may open Twitter to a whole lot of security vulnerabilities. “This whole buying tweets thing is putting bounties on Twitter account takeovers,” Powell insisted. “Hope you all are using U2F security keys and not SMS for account 2FA/recovery.” A number of people agreed with the Kraken founder’s assessment on Friday afternoon.

Meanwhile, Dorsey’s 2006 status on the Valuables platform is not the first time that specific tweet has been tokenized. There’s already an existing application called Tokenized Tweets (@tokenizedtweets), which has been around since 2019.

Dorsey’s 15-year-old tweet was first tokenized using the Tokenized Tweets platform on June 17, 2020. The Valuables FAQ says that tweets can “only be minted once on Valuables, [but the] NFT though can be bought and sold an unlimited number of times.” It begs the question: Which Jack Dorsey March 21, 2006, tokenized tweet is more valuable? Some would say, however, Dorsey’s NFT mint is more valuable because he certified it using the Valuables application.

As far as the payment is concerned when a tweet is purchased using Valuables, 95% goes to the original tweet creator and 5% goes to keeping running Valuables. The project is run by an organization called Cent and for secondary sales, 87.5% goes to the seller, 10% goes to the creator, and 2.5% goes to company Cent



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