Posts Tagged “fraud”

Wall Clocks, Time, Clock, Timing / via PixabayIn a little over a month, Daylight Saving Time will end, here in the US. Over the years I’ve blogged a number of times about the scam which is Daylight Saving Time. Yes, that’s what I called it: A scam. A lie! Fraudulent in every possible way. As I noted six and half years ago, it’s perhaps the cleverest fraud ever perpetrated on the country (although the presidential campaign of Donald “it’s my own orange hair!” Trump certainly gives it a run for its money in that regard).

It’s long past time for twice-annual time changes to end. It’d be fantastic if we moved our clocks ahead in March, then left them there forever. In other words, what I’d like is for DST to be made perpetual.

(That might seem strange, coming from a guy who’s railed against DST for years, but what I object to is the twice-annual time changes. Leaving the clock alone is my goal.)

The problem with fixing the debacle which is DST, is that the propaganda campaign which brought DST into effect has done too good a job. People believe a lot of things about it which aren’t true, but it’s nearly impossible to get them to understand the lies they’ve been told.

Among the DST myths which is most persistent is that DST helped farmers and was implemented for them. Well, that’s not true — at all! Quite the opposite, farmers are among those most harmed by DST, since it means they spend more mornings in the dark milking cows and preparing for their work day. In reality, farmers lobbied against it, and their agitation against it was the reason DST rolled back at the end of World War I. I’ve had arguments with people over this … people who are otherwise reasonable and can be swayed; but on this myth, they will not bend one millimeter. It’s a lie they’ve been told far too often and it’s embedded in their brains. They literally cannot dislodge it; no amount of debunking it will work.

Another widely-disseminated and -believed lie about DST is that it saves energy. In truth, it very likely doesn’t do anything of the sort (cached). It also has negative effects on public health; for instance, it’s associated with an increase in heart attacks (cached).

At the moment the real instigators of DST are — believe it or not — retailers (cached). DST essentially helps keep stores open a little later than they would otherwise, for 8 months out of the year, and they don’t want to give that up. Note: This motivation means they ought to support my suggestion that DST be made perpetual. I’m surprised it hasn’t been mentioned more often.

Given the inanity which is DST, some New England states — for instance, Massachusetts — have begun looking into whether or not they should shift to Atlantic Standard Time, without any DST (cached). Since Atlantic Standard Time without DST is the same as Eastern Daylight Time, this means our clocks would be the same as they are now for eight months of the year, and one hour ahead of Eastern Standard Time during the winter months. AST is already observed in the Canadian maritime provinces as well as the US territories of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. If one looks at a map, one can see the New England states are much closer to the Canadian maritimes than to the western edge of the EST region (say, Indiana). My home state of Connecticut is almost longitudinally in line with the Dominican Republic (which also is on AST), so geographically, it makes a lot of sense.

The long and short of it is that our twice-annual ritual of changing clocks one hour back and forth is patently absurd, and it just fucking needs to stop already. It might have been helpful during wartime (when it allowed factories another hour of daylight production time) but otherwise it has no useful purpose, and is only detrimental. Let’s jettison it as the fraud it is. Yes, it’ll take some courage to do away with a tradition many Americans have grown up with and are accustomed to — but we should be mature enough to face the fact that it’s a damn joke, one that’s no longer funny.

Photo credit: Pixabay.

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'FBI raids FLDS businesses' / KSTU-TVI’ve blogged occasionally about the antics of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, aka FLDS. They’re a sect of Mormonism that broke away from the main LDS church when it banned polygamy. Since this split took place, the FLDS church has become even stranger than the predominant LDS church (which is already pretty strange, if you know anything about Mormonism). They’re also reclusive, living in communities they come to dominate, which is necessary since their polygamy is illegal and they need some way to fend off Johnny Law if they want to practice their religion. The current chief FLDS prophet, Warren Jeffs, is currently in prison, convicted of statute rape of underage girls who were part of his harem back in 2011.

Since then, the FLDS has effectively been run by Warren’s brother Lyle, but it seems he also has trouble operating within the bounds of the law. The Salt Lake Tribune reports that Lyle and a number of other FLDS leaders have been indicted for a food-stamp con (WebCite cached article):

In a case that some say could destroy Utah’s largest polygamous sect, federal prosecutors on Tuesday announced indictments against leaders and members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints on charges related to food stamp fraud.

Lyle Jeffs, who has been running the FLDS for his imprisoned brother, is one of nearly a dozen people named in an indictment that was unsealed Tuesday while FBI agents and sheriffs deputies searched businesses in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., that are owned by members of the FLDS.

Also indicted was Seth Jeffs, full brother to both Lyle and FLDS President Warren Jeffs, the religion’s prophet, who is serving a sentence of up to life in prison plus 20 years in Texas for crimes related to marrying and sexually abusing underage girls.…

Hildale and Colorado City, collectively known as Short Creek, are home to the FLDS church. Isaac Wyler, a former member of the church, said Tuesday’s action appears to be the largest law enforcement raid in the towns since 1953, when Arizona authorities arrived to arrest polygamists.

“There are officers all over town,” Wyler said.

Lyle Jeffs and 10 other FLDS church leaders and members were indicted Tuesday in Utah and South Dakota, according to a news release from the U.S. attorney’s office.

The article explains various ways this scheme worked; among them:

The prosecutors’ indictment says the alleged fraud is rooted in the FLDS church’s “United Order,” instituted in 2011, which instructs all adherents to donate their lives and all their material substance to their church.

Members were told to divert their food stamp benefits to the church by purchasing food from church-owned businesses like the Meadowayne Dairy Store and Vermillion Cliffs Produce and then bring those items to the FLDS Storehouse for “donation,” according to the indictment.

“These leaders also provided instruction on how to avoid suspicion and detection by the government,” the indictment alleges.

FLDS leaders also told members to transfer their SNAP benefits to the church-owned stores without receiving any food products, according to the indictment.

On one occasion, [indicted John Clifton] Wayman [the former bishop of Short Creek] is accused of taking an Electronic Benefit Transfer, or EBT, card — which operates similar to a debit card and is linked to a SNAP account — from a qualifying person and giving it to an unauthorized person to buy food and goods.

There’s more there, but this is enough to give one a taste of the machinations the FLDS engaged in for years. Overall, this racket accumulated multiple millions of dollars in fraudulent SNAP benefits. According to another article by KSTU-TV in Salt Lake City, which provides details from court filings (cached), this amount was over $12 million. It also includes details of Lyle’s and Seth’s operations, which naturally included crimes on the side such as “Failed to report incidents of underage sex abuse.” Sigh. I guess Warren’s conviction never taught them anything.

A lot of articles I’ve read on this case assert that, with these indictments and arrests, the FLDS church is finished. That, however, would be wishful thinking. Various states had gone after Warren Jeffs and others in the FLDS for a decade before he was finally jailed for his pedophilia*, unsuccessfully until the state of Texas finally got a case they could prosecute. The FLDS has been up to no good for a very long time, and has managed to continue being up to no good for an even longer time. I truly doubt this will finish them.

* As I’ve blogged so many times before: Yes, it’s really not just a Catholic problem.

Photo credit: KSTU-TV.

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Wall clocks / camera4u, via PixabayFor several years I’ve blogged about the scam which is Daylight Saving Time. It’s a ridiculous, twice-annual exercise in stupidity which provides no benefits and only burdens people (some of them fatally).

Over the years since I’ve started calling DST out as the fraud it is, I’ve seen a small amount of media attention which also debunks it; for instance, this CNN story, released today, with DST ending this coming Sunday (WebCite cached version). Sadly, there’s just not enough of this to make any real difference. That, however, may change, now that there’ve been more serious studies of DST and its effects.

An example of this, as the Washington Post reports, is a soon-to-be-issued study which suggests making DST permanent may reduce crime (cached):

Making daylight saving time permanent — by never “falling back” again — could save the country billions a year in social costs by reducing rapes and robberies that take place in the evening hours, according to a forthcoming paper [cached] by researchers at the Brookings Institution and Cornell University.…

The mechanism that might cause this drop is fairly simple: “Most street crime occurs in the evening around common commuting hours of 5 to 8 PM,” the authors write, “and more ambient light during typical high-crime hours makes it easier for victims and passers-by to see potential threats and later identify wrongdoers.”

Moreover, according to the paper, the drop in crime during evening hours wasn’t accompanied by a rise in crime during the morning hours. Criminals aren’t morning people, as it turns out. In addition to the decrease in robbery rates, the researchers found “suggestive evidence” of a decrease in the incidence of rape during the evening hours, as well.

Permanent DST appears, then, to be a very reasonable solution. Hopefully the powers-that-be will begin discussing it. Let’s get on it!

Photo credit: camera4u, via Pixabay.

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Screen shot of preventable-disease map, by CFREven though the current anti-vax movement has been constructed upon a single demonstrably-fraudulent study (WebCite cached article) by Dr Andrew Wakefield — which he’d intended as the basis for a franchise selling “remedies” for something he called “austistic enterocolitis” (cached), it’s taken on a life of its own. It morphed originally from Wakefield’s (false) contention that the MMR vaccine causes autism, to the assumption that all vaccines, of any type, are toxic.

The mass media have done more than their share to perpetuate the lie that vaccines are dangerous, including this past December when Katie Couric spent an entire show parading sanctimonious mommies on her stage (cached) telling everyone that the HPV vaccine is lethal. Ms Couric later sort-of conceded she might have gone too far with that one (cached).

The truth of the anti-vax movement is much worse than just that it’s a big fat fucking lie with a fraudulent genesis; it’s actually hurting people in very real — and measurable — ways. The Council on Foreign Relations released a map showing the incidence of vaccine-preventable outbreaks around the world (cached). And the picture isn’t pretty:Screen shot of preventable-disease map, by CFROne expects to see such illnesses in developing countries, but as is evident in the map, even in highly industrialized nations, preventable childhood illnesses are also occurring in large numbers. Europe is plastered with measles, for instance, and the U.S. is spawning whooping cough from sea to sea.

I know I’ll be accused of having been paid by “Big Pharma” to point this out and condemn the anti-vax movement … but no matter how fervently the anti-vax crowd may believe otherwise, I haven’t. “Big Pharma” doesn’t even know who I am. I also don’t know anyone who works for, or who’s ever been paid any amount, by a “Big Pharma” firm. I’m just a guy who objects to irrationality and lies, and doesn’t think it’s a good idea for people to he harmed or killed by irrationality and lies. Call me crazy if you want — and many have! — but that’s just how I roll. <shrug>

Photo credit: CFR map screen-shot.

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you probably don't wanna knowNote: There’s some recent news in this case; see the update below.

I’ve long complained that Johnny Law tends to turn a blind eye to the machinations and lies of “psychics.” Criminal prosecutions are extremely rare. At worst, when caught, they pay off their victims (sometimes only partly) then lay low for a short time and move on to new targets. They almost never see the inside of a prison. No wonder it’s such a lucrative business!

But the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports on the unusual example of one such trial, which got underway today (WebCite cached article):

When Fort Lauderdale fortune teller Rose Marks goes on trial Monday, accused of masterminding a $25 million fraud, the case will offer a rare peek inside the secretive world of those who say they have psychic powers.

The amount of money involved in what prosecutors say was a 20-year scam and the celebrity status of the main witness — best-selling romance novelist Jude Deveraux, who they say lost $17 million — have brought notoriety to the case.

Though it’s not the first time a “psychic” has been criminally charged with fleecing customers, trials in such cases are uncommon, records show. Most fortune tellers accused of fraud have reached plea agreements with prosecutors or agreed to pay back what their clients said they owed.

Among the schemes employed by Marks and her family (the rest of them have already pled guilty) is their own variation on the old “gypsy curse” scam:

Marks and her family convinced some of the walk-in clients that their problems were caused by curses that had dogged their families for generations and that the family could perform rituals and other services to remove those curses, prosecutors said.

While they acknowledge that fortune telling is not against the law, “any more than performing magic or card tricks is not unlawful, or telling lies is not, per se, unlawful,” prosecutors say that Marks and her family committed fraud by making false promises and not returning money they said they would give back.

Marks herself protests her innocence and claims to be the victim:

In an exclusive interview about the case, Marks told the Sun Sentinel in December that she did nothing wrong.

“I gave my life to these people. We’re talking about clients of 20 years, 30 years, 40 years. We’re not talking about someone I just met and took all their money and ran off,” Marks said.…

Marks told the Sun Sentinel that she earned the money Deveraux paid her during their 17-year friendship. She said she was a personal assistant to Deveraux and negotiated a fee of about $1 million a year when she agreed to give up her profitable business to work almost exclusively for the wealthy author, whose work includes more than 35 books on the New York Times bestsellers list.

Marks also said that she helped Deveraux write some of her novels.

“I was her inspiration and gave her insight on Romani mysticism and beliefs in the after life and religion and the psychic world and the spiritual world and romany theology and … it took a lot of time and effort,” Marks told the newspaper.

Oh, and, of course, this prosecution was triggered by anti-Romani prejudice:

Marks’ defense says she is the victim of bias against the Roma, also known as Gypsies, and that investigators drummed up the charges against her after some of her long-term clients experienced “buyer’s remorse.”

While there’s no doubt that there’s anti-Romani prejudice in the world, that doesn’t mean there can’t still be some crooked Romani out there who genuinely deserve to be prosecuted.

At any rate, it’s heartening to see the criminal justice system actually take on these metaphysical swindlers. What a lot of these psychics do is fraud — plain and simple — and it ought to be prosecuted a lot more often.

Update: Putative “psychic” Rose Marks was given a 10-year federal sentence for her swindle (cached) after being convicted in September 2013.

Photo credit: Flood, via Flickr.

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Tony anthonyStories about vicious reprobates — the more villanous, the better — being “reformed” by their miraculous faith in the Almighty, is something that warms the cockles of Christians’ hearts. They just love hearing about how the worst sorts of people are magically transformed into devout, loving Christians, merely by virtue of their having “accepted Jesus Christ as their ‘Personal Lord and Savior’™.” It also happens to be an extremely profitable business. More than a few speakers and authors have amassed fortunes on this meme.

Given the massive accolades and profits involved, it’s not surprising that more than a few of these well-known and wealthy authors, have turned out to be liars and con-artists. Among the most famous of these was Mike Warnke, the “Christian comedian” who, during the 70s and 80s, was a wildly popular preacher with his own ministry. His fame had been built on his Christian-bookstore staple The Satan Seller, his autobiography of having been a Satanic high priest who miraculously turned to Jesus and changed his ways completely. But Warnke’s career crashed and burned when, in 1992, the Christian magazine Cornerstone exposed his book as a tissue of lies.

Others have followed similar tracks, including Ergun Caner, a theologian I’ve blogged about, who claimed to have been raised as an devout Islamist fundamentalist but magically converted to Christianity. He and his brother wrote their own book, Unveiling Islam, based on their supposed experience. Most of it, though, turns out to be untrue; after being exposed, Caner eventually lost his job as head of Liberty University’s theology school.

It turns out there’s yet another best-selling liar for Jesus out there. As the (UK) Guardian reports, a book by a claimed killer-turned-evangelical-Christian also turns out to be fraudulent (WebCite cached article):

It was the autobiography that gave hope to hundreds of thousands and warmed the hearts of Christians.

Chronicling how a convicted criminal and martial arts fighter found redemption through God, Taming the Tiger had more than 1.5m copies distributed around the world while its author, Tony Anthony, become a sought-after speaker in schools and churches.

In the book, which carries the strapline “From the Depths of Hell to the Heights of Glory”, Anthony explains how he was taken to China by his grandfather, a kung fu grand master, and trained to become a martial arts champion. He then moved to Cyprus, where he became a bodyguard to businessmen, gangsters and diplomats. “In the line of duty as a bodyguard, I killed people,” Anthony would tell church audiences. “I have broken more arms and legs than I care to remember.” Later he recounted how he found God while in prison in Nicosia after being convicted of theft.

The book was a phenomenon. It was translated into 25 languages and won the Christian Booksellers’ Convention Award in 2005.

But now, following a sustained internet campaign by a group of Christians who doubted Anthony’s claims almost from the start, it appears that little of the book is true.

Anthony was undone by one of his own: Mike Hancock, a director of his ministry, asked for verification of Anthony’s claims; after being rebuffed, he resigned. That triggered a review, which found a number of problems with the book, including the following:

Anthony claimed to be a three times world kung fu champion and tried to deflect suspicions that he had embellished his past by claiming that the competitions were so specialised they were not known to outsiders. But it emerged that some of the material was copied from a martial arts website. One passage was lifted from a book about Bruce Lee.

Anthony himself has said nothing. His ministry is closing down, but his publisher stands behind him:

In a statement, Anthony’s publisher, Authentic Media, said that it was withdrawing Taming the Tiger, a follow-up book, Cry of the Tiger, and a related DVD.

It said: “Tony strongly defends his story — though he acknowledges that the recent information that he has received about his early life requires him to update and clarify his story.”

There’s Christian morality for you. The publisher that’s made millions selling his book is not about to admit it contains demonstrable lies.

I have to give credit to the Christians who exposed Anthony as a fraud. They had the scruples to take on “one of their own” and wanted to set the record straight. Even so, there are too many other Christians who won’t even think twice about the lies of people like Anthony — or Caner or Warnke. They aren’t bothered by fraud, if it brings other people to God. They have an example of this in their own Bibles: Rahab the Harlot, a native of Jericho who was honored by the Hebrews and their god YHWH because she’d lied for them.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Roman Clock / Mikael Ganehag Brorsson, via Open Clip Art LibraryTonight at 2 am, most Americans will go through the inane, ridiculous exercise of advancing their clocks one hour. I’ve blogged several times about the twice-annual scam that is Daylight Saving Time. Once again, I’m taking this opportunity to point out that it’s fraudulent, in every possible way.

As I’ve said previously, everything we’ve been told about DST is a lie. It wasn’t invented by Benjamin Franklin (except as a joke); it had nothing to do with farmers, and does nothing for them; and it doesn’t save energy.

Back when I first blogged about the fraudulent nature of DST, mine was pretty much a “lone voice in the wilderness” calling for it to be ended. But over the last couple years I’ve noticed more folks realizing it’s a scam. Today, Gothamist took note of how DST is predicated on lies and foisted on Americans for no good reason.

I’ve had one correspondent call me “whiny” and told me to get over it; we’ve always done DST, so just deal with it. Unfortunately, we haven’t “always done DST,” it wasn’t consistently implemented until Congress passed the Uniform Time Act of 1966. (Which itself was a lie, since this Act did not, in fact, make time “uniform” through the country … some parts of the country were left out of it.) But even if we had “always” had DST, that’s not a valid reason to keep doing it. Instead, it’s an appeal to tradition, and is fallacious.

It’s time for everyone just to admit, we need to end the twice-annual fraud which is daylight saving time.

Photo credit: Mikael Ganehag Brorsson, via Open Clip Art Library.

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