Category - Feature Articles

All The President’s Hitmen

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The “covert” in covert ops doesn’t just apply to specific operational details. One of JSOC’s strengths is that it exists in a legal black box, where the executive branch rarely briefs Congress in advance of a mission, and “usually not afterward,” according to Priest and Arkin. Of course, some victories will be acknowledged — the White House started springing leaks as soon as Osama bin Laden’s corpse was dumped into the ocean — but it was some time before JSOC took any responsibility for Gardez.

Continue reading at The Verge

Being cynical: Julian Assange, Eric Schmidt, and the year’s weirdest book

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There is an unacknowledged political reality that permeates The New Digital Age, one that assumes that human beings assert no control over their destiny, that regulating people is “good” while regulating business is “bad,” that post-modernity means that humankind is destined to be cast adrift in waves of market innovation — submerged, in fact. And that’s exactly the kind of thinking that informs the policy recommendations of organizations like the Council on Foreign Relations. It’s the political realism that informs the mad politics of someone like Henry Kissinger, who earns pride of place not only as someone who wrote an inside-cover blurb for The New Digital Age (an august group that includes Bill Clinton, Madeleine Albright, and Elon Musk) but as someone who — unlike Julian Assange, who was interviewed then dismissed when his testimony proved inconvenient — actually received a few good-sized passages in the text. If this were an intellectually honest book, there would be dialogue, acknowledgement of opposing viewpoints. Instead, this is a manifesto.

A manifesto for what, exactly? I suppose we’ll have to ask Bill Clinton. Or the war criminal, Henry Kissinger. Or Madeleine Albright, once she’s done shilling for Herbalife.

Continue reading my review of The New Digital Age by Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen at The Verge

 

Income At Home, Herbalife, and the $8 billion pyramid

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Written with Matt Stroud. Additional reporting and significant editorial heavy lifting by Jesse Hicks.

This one focuses on the business practices of the company responsible for all those terrible Income At Home ads, and makes the case that for-sale “business opportunities” are the real source of Herbalife’s wealth. Trust me, it’s a lot more fun than it sounds!

Following the publication of this story, the company, an off-shore shell corporation in Barbados named Centurion Media group, switched its affiliation from Herbalife to something called Vemma. And by “following the publication,” I mean, “the very same day.”

The fact that Vemma is basically “Herbalife without all the negative media attention from hedge fund managers and federal investigative agencies,” as we write in an update to the story, says a lot about Herbalife, and the real source of its profits.

As Frank Kern, one of the stars of “Scamworld,” once said: “The product is really irrelevant.” 

Continue reading at The Verge

 

 

The End: A journey through America’s doomsday obsession

“The End” is a five-part series I wrote for The Verge documenting a diverse group of Americans connected by a common thread — each is here to warn us about the cataclysmic possibilities that the future holds. I was attracted to these people and their stories, as implausible as they might seem, because I think they say something about who we are and the times we live in.

K-Pop takes America: how South Korea’s music machine is conquering the world

Walking into the DoubleTree Hotel in Irvine, California, the Verge team was greeted by representatives from K-Pop United, a world-wide fan organization. The Los Angeles chapter was apparently quite new, and the three reps (two young women and one young man) seemed really psyched to be there. They told us about the chapter in Las Vegas that holds some sort of big concert or parade or something every year, and about how they arranged to have one cancer stricken member come to Irvine to meet her favorite K-Pop star.

“We’re actually here to do a story on this,” I said.

“On K-Con?” The most vocal of the three asked. She was referring to the K-Pop fan convention being sponsored by Mnet America, a TV network devoted to Korean music and culture.

“Yeah.”

“What for?”

“The Verge,” I said, wondering if she’s heard of it.

“The Verge, cool,” she said. Then she cocked her head to the side, still smiling, and challenged me: “You’re not here to write about Psy, are you?”

I assured her we were not, and she seemed satisfied with the answer. I guess now I’m going to make a liar out of myself.

Continue reading on The Verge

Close to the edge: a week on the fringes of the RNC

Co-written with Matt Stroud

In every direction, Jersey barriers: heavy concrete walls used for deflecting cars and, in this case, slowing down human mobs. Just shy of three feet tall and chipped uneven from having been hauled back and forth to various worksites over the years, they’re now being used to establish a perimeter, within which one might choose to legally go and protest the Republican National Convention. In contrast to the rest of the city, which has been swept clean and done up in red, white, and blue in anticipation of the cash influx this event is supposed to provide, the lot we’re in now is a dusty, hot, and muggy mess, a good twenty minutes’ march from anyone of importance. There is no shade, and we’re feeling it — but not nearly as much as the sixty cops in riot gear who just marched into the box. There are also a half dozen protesters from the Westboro Baptist Church. Their signs bear legends like: “Too Late To Pray,” “Ye are of your father the devil,” and of course “God Hates Fags.” One sign features a picture of an Anonymous / Guy Fawkes mask in crosshairs.

We are in a tucked-away industrial expanse, sweating our asses off, while a couple hundred Anarchist and Occupy protesters dance provocatively and scream at the “God Hates Fags” creeps, to no real effect. This is definitely not the tightly scripted and “on message” Republican National Convention that we expected when we flew to Tampa.

Continue reading on The Verge

Beyond lies the wub: a history of dubstep

The atmosphere of Belvedere’s, a dive bar on Butler Street in Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville neighborhood — with its stage and pool tables and little in the way of ambiance — was completely transformed by the bass. It reminded me of a water jet cutter. Taking water and streaming it at such a high rate that it could slice into steel and marble? Genius. In the same way, the sound system was taking these records that, all together might not add up to much — a drum pattern and a bassline, some sound effects — and pushing them out at such a volume as to consume all the empty space in the room. I imagined that it might be transforming the molecules in the very air that surrounded me.

Under the right conditions, this is dubstep. The product of a handful of DJs and producers driven to forge a new sound, it is comprised of elements familiar to the London underground — drum and bass, two-step garage, hip-hop, for starters — yet it is still somehow very exciting, very different. Initially the sole province of tiny clubs and pirate radio stations, the last few years have seen a radical evolution of this mutant dance music genre, spurred on every bit as much by the internet as by the devotion of its fans.

Continue reading at The Verge

When animals attract: Inside Anthrocon, the Furry utopia

If you’ve been mercifully cut off from the more absurd aspects of internet culture since, well, the dawn of the world wide web, you might wonder what Anthrocon is exactly. First, you have to be acquainted with furry fandom. A “furry,” in their lingo, is an anthropomorphic animal: Bugs Bunny, for example. He contains the characteristics of a rabbit — the tail, the ears, the buck teeth — as well as those of a human. He walks upright, and he presumably has vocal cords that allow him to speak English. Kids love this shit. And sometimes kids grow into adults that love this shit, as well. And some of them don’t just love the funny animals, as they’re known. They want to become funny animals, and they purchase several-thousand-dollar fursuits to make their transformation into an anthropomorphic beast feel a little more real. These people, the fans of funny half-human / half-animals who spend so much time buying comics, creating artwork, and developing full-scale animal personas, or “fursonas,” are known as furries. Their biggest in real life meet and greet is Anthrocon, which takes place annually in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Continue reading at The Verge

Mitt Romney goes to Scamworld: Prosper, Inc. and its powerful friends

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One of the biggest boiler rooms in America has ties that could lead all the way to the White House

Commenters on The Verge agree!

Congratulations, Joseph L. Flatley. Your poor attempt at a political hit piece, complete with sensationalized headline just cost The Verge a regular reader. Sad to see what is otherwise an excellent tech site stoop to this kind of “journalism.”
— ljc1423

This was disingenuous and in poor taste.
— Modred189

Add me as another name on the pile who thinks that this, while mostly an interesting follow-up to Scamworld, ends up feeling like a lefty hit piece with an atrociously irresponsible headline.
— RainingGlitteryMind

This “Romney to Scamworld” is nothing more than a lame, deceptively titled hit piece. I am extremely disappointed, as I have quickly come to expect much better than this here at the Verge.

This Joseph Flatley character, if that is his real name, should be ashamed of his laziness and unprofessionalism, and he no longer has any credibility with this reader. The Verge has seriously damaged its brand with this garbage.

Both the author and the editors owe the readers a sincere apology.
— ffarkle

If I wanted to read thinly veiled hit pieces on the GOP then I would go to MSNBC.
— mike.may85

Read it now on The Verge

(photo credit: Xavdog)

Scamworld: ‘Get rich quick’ schemes mutate into an online monster

From Boing Boing: “The Verge’s Joseph L. Flatley delves into the world of Internet marketing scams (those stupid spam pitches you get for “lead generation” and such) in eye-watering detail. Fundamentally, these things are exactly what they appear to be: con artists who suck money out of desperate people by lying to them about the money they can make with “work from home” businesses. They’re pyramid schemes. But Flatley lingers on the personalities, the histories, the motivations and the unique innovations that the Internet has given rise to, providing insight into the feel of being inside one of these desperate, sweaty scams.”

The New Yorker calls it: “[a] fun piece… about the dark, wacky world of Internet con men.”

Kiplinger’s says: “In the age of internet marketing, ‘get rich quick’ scams have evolved way beyond the point of fruitless envelope-stuffing and fake work-at-home jobs. Now national syndicates trick their victims out of tens of thousands of dollars before disappearing into the digital ether.”

O’Reilly Radar: “amazing deconstruction of the online ‘get rich quick’ scam business.”

And Andy Jenkins says: “I’ve been bitten by a rattlesnake… stung by a scorpion, and attacked by an asp.”

Read it at The Verge