Chinese organized crime’s latest US target: Gift cards

Chinese crime rings already dominate the illegal marijuana trade in the U.S. and launder cocaine and heroin profits. Now a federal task force is investigating their role in a burgeoning form of gift card fraud.

by Craig Silverman and Peter Elkind, ProPublica

Federal authorities are investigating the involvement of Chinese organized crime rings in gift card fraud schemes that have stolen hundreds of millions of dollars or more from American consumers.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has launched a task force, whose existence has not previously been reported, to combat a scheme known as “card draining,” in which thieves use stolen or altered card numbers to siphon off money before the owner can spend it. The initiative has been dubbed “Project Red Hook,” for the perpetrators’ ties to China and their exploitation of cards hung in store kiosks on “J-hooks.”

This marks the first time that federal authorities have focused on the role of Chinese organized crime in gift card fraud and devoted resources to fighting it. Homeland Security began prioritizing gift card fraud late last year in response to a flurry of consumer complaints and arrests connected to card draining.

Over the past 18 months, law enforcement across the country has arrested about 100 people for card draining, of whom 80 to 90 are Chinese nationals or Chinese Americans, according to Adam Parks, a Homeland Security assistant special agent in charge based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Parks, who is leading the task force, estimates that another 1,000 people could be involved in card draining in the U.S., mostly as runners for the gangs.

“We’re talking hundreds of millions of dollars, potentially billions of dollars, [and] that’s a substantial risk to our economy and to people’s confidence in their retail environment,” he told ProPublica.

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Idaho is losing OB-GYNs after strict abortion ban

Doctors, confused about how to practice medicine under Idaho’s abortion ban, pleaded with state legislators for a solution.

by Kyle Pfannenstiel, Idaho Capital Sun  

Idaho, already in a doctor shortage, is losing doctors who specialize in obstetrics and gynecology.

In a presentation at the Idaho State Capitol Building on Wednesday, Idaho medical leaders say the workforce shortage is exacerbated by doctors’ confusion about how to practice medicine under Idaho’s abortion ban that only allows abortion if it is needed for the mother’s life — not their health.

And they pleaded with lawmakers for a health exception, which would allow a doctor to terminate a pregnancy to prevent significant harm to a patient, not just prevent their death. For example, if a patient’s water broke early and infection was setting in before a fetus was viable, a physician could treat the infection, which may involve terminating the pregnancy, without fear of prosecution.  

“Idaho is digging itself into a workforce hole that will take many years, if not decades, to fill. But before we can stabilize the environment and move forward, we have to stop digging. And we need more clarity in our laws to help with that,” said Susie Pouliot Keller, CEO of the Idaho Medical Association.

If a provider is prosecuted under Idaho’s abortion law, they face two to five years in prison and could have their medical license suspended or revoked. Idaho also has a civil enforcement law, allowing doctors to be sued for at least $20,000 by any family members of a person who obtained an abortion.

But legislation modifying Idaho’s abortion ban isn’t likely this year. The Idaho Legislature finished most of its business for the session on Wednesday and has recessed until April 10 to give itself time to address any potential vetoes Gov. Brad Little could issue.

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Tax cuts for the rich are a bad deal for corporate elites—and everyone else

Donald Trump is offering a corrupt deal to America’s wealthy elites: He’ll give them tax cuts and deregulation if he’s elected to a second term, even though he’s signaled that he intends to govern as an autocratic leader unrestrained by the rule of law.

That would be a deal with the devil that’s likely to end badly for everyone—even the corporate elite, many of whom remain in a state of denial about Trump.

Daniel Ziblatt, director of Harvard’s Center for European Studies, has studied what happens when conservative elites ally with authoritarian movements, which happened during Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in Germany.

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Black Music Sunday: Happy birthday to 3 great ladies of jazz!

Since April is Jazz Appreciation Month, and because so many of the finest practitioners of the genre were born this month, let’s pay a special birthday tribute to three of the all-time top jazz vocalists! Ella Fitzgerald (born April 25, 1917), Billie Holiday (born April 7, 1915), and Carmen McRae (born April 8, 1920) are all from the same generation, but each had a unique sound.

And since this year’s JAM is a celebration of the great Duke Ellington, we’re playing these ladies’ renditions of his work.

Check out our JAM kickoff and Duke retrospective here: Black Music Sunday: It’s Jazz Appreciation Month!

”Black Music Sunday” is a weekly series highlighting all things Black music, with over 200 stories covering performers, genres, history, and more, each featuring its own vibrant soundtrack. I hope you’ll find some familiar tunes and perhaps an introduction to something new.

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Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: Rest In Peace and Power, Ms. Faith Ringgold

Abbreviated Pundit Roundup is a long-running series published every morning that collects essential political discussion and analysis around the internet.

We begin today with a celebration of the life of noted African American artist Faith Ringgold, who passed away yesterday at her home in Englewood, N.J. at the age of 93.

Margalit Fox/The New York Times

For more than a half-century, Ms. Ringgold explored themes of race, gender, class, family and community through a vast array of media, among them painting, sculpture, mask- and doll-making, textiles and performance art. She was also a longtime advocate of bringing the work of Black people and women into the collections of major American museums.

Ms. Ringgold’s art, which was often rooted in her own experience, has been exhibited at the White House and in museums and galleries around the world. It is in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim Museum, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and the American Craft Museum in New York; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston; and other institutions.

For Ms. Ringgold, as her work and many interviews made plain, art and activism were a seamless, if sometimes quilted, whole. Classically trained as a painter and sculptor, she began producing political paintings in the 1960s and ’70s that explored the highly charged subjects of relations between Black and white people, and between men and women, in America.

Yes, there’s a lot of bad, mad, and sad news and punditry below the fold. I wanted to begin today with a celebration and a smile.

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Donald Trump’s no good, very bad week talking about abortion

Let’s be clear: If Donald Trump is talking about abortion, he’s losing. He and his campaign would much rather be playing offense, slamming President Joe Biden on issues like immigration and the economy as the 2024 presidential race heats up.

But when he’s talking about abortion, Trump is playing defense. So at the outset of the week, Trump tried to put the issue to rest. Here’s a very brief recap of how that worked out.

Monday: After months of obfuscation, Trump finally stated his position on abortion: Individual states should decide the issue. Electorally speaking, Trump’s states’ rights stance seemed like his least bad play in a crappy hand. The worst option, it seemed, would be endorsing a national ban of any kind.

The Biden campaign ran with it, hanging every horrific statewide abortion ban around Trump’s neck.

Tuesday:  Arizona’s extremist Supreme Court upholds a near-total abortion ban that dates back to 1864, without exceptions for rape, incest, or the health of the mother (unless her life is in jeopardy).

Biden again saddles Trump with another Draconian ban.

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Candidate for governor built his brand through online vitriol—particularly toward Black women

Experts say the candidacy of Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson sheds light on how Republican candidates rise by appealing to the extremes and how hate spreads online.

by Grace Panetta, The 19th

North Carolina Republican gubernatorial nominee Mark Robinson has a long history of attacking influential women in personal and often vulgar terms. But Robinson has reserved particular vitriol for Black women in positions of power, with many of his social media postings invoking misogyny, racism, homophobia and transphobia.

Experts and advocates say Robinson’s candidacy and his easily winning the Republican nomination reflect both the incentives within the Republican Party to appeal to the extremes with inflammatory language and stances — and how major tech platforms have enabled the spread of hateful content disproportionately harming Black women.

“As it relates to Black women in particular, we know that they have historically been plagued by biases and disparities that reflect broader issues of representation and diversity within this country,” said Esosa Osa, founder and CEO of Onyx Impact, a nonprofit organization focused on Black voters’ civic engagement and combatting disinformation.

“As they become more visible on any platform, their presence is weaponized,” Osa said.

Robinson, the state’s first Black lieutenant governor who has made frequent speaking appearances at churches, rose to prominence with his far-right views, embrace of conspiracy theories and incendiary rhetoric at the pulpit and on social media. Throughout his career, Robinson has espoused anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ+ stances — including stating that God “formed” him to fight LGBTQ+ acceptance.

Robinson will face Democrat Josh Stein in one of the most competitive and consequential governor’s races this year. If elected, Robinson would be North Carolina’s first Black governor. His candidacy comes at a time when the Republican Party is attempting to win over more Black voters in battleground states like North Carolina.

But, Osa said, nominating a Black candidate doesn’t mean the Republican Party will win over Black voters, especially Black women, who are the core of the Democratic Party’s base. Osa said Robinson’s rise comes from a “historical lack of curiosity about the Black voter” and described him as a “tsunami of anti-Black disinformation.”

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