Jeff Bezos accusing National Enquirer/AMI of blackmail and extortion

Jeff Bezos, founder and major shareholder of Amazon and owner of the Washington Post, has accused ‘the top people’ at the National Enquirer/AMI of blackmail and extortion in trying to stop further investigations by the Washington, and to get Bezos to issue a statement saying they have no knowledge of AMI coverage being politically motivated or ‘influenced by political forces’.

AMI owner David Pecker has been a strong supporter of Donald Trump. In December AMI was entered into an immunity deal with the Department of Justice over to their role in the so-called “Catch and Kill” process on behalf of President Trump and his election campaign. If they have acted illegally with the alleged threats that could affect that immunity deal.

Yesterday Bezos posted No thank you, Mr. Pecker

Something unusual happened to me yesterday. Actually, for me it wasn’t just unusual — it was a first. I was made an offer I couldn’t refuse. Or at least that’s what the top people at the National Enquirer thought. I’m glad they thought that, because it emboldened them to put it all in writing. Rather than capitulate to extortion and blackmail, I’ve decided to publish exactly what they sent me, despite the personal cost and embarrassment they threaten.

…I didn’t know much about most of that a few weeks ago when intimate texts messages from me were published in the National Enquirer. I engaged investigators to learn how those texts were obtained, and to determine the motives for the many unusual actions taken by the Enquirer. As it turns out, there are now several independent investigations looking into this matter.

To lead my investigation, I retained Gavin de Becker

Several days ago, an AMI leader advised us that Mr. Pecker is “apoplectic” about our investigation. For reasons still to be better understood, the Saudi angle seems to hit a particularly sensitive nerve.

A few days after hearing about Mr. Pecker’s apoplexy, we were approached, verbally at first, with an offer. They said they had more of my text messages and photos that they would publish if we didn’t stop our investigation.

My lawyers argued that AMI has no right to publish photos since any person holds the copyright to their own photos, and since the photos in themselves don’t add anything newsworthy.

AMI’s claim of newsworthiness is that the photos are necessary to show Amazon shareholders that my business judgment is terrible.

Email sent Howard, Dylan (Chief Content Officer, AMI) to Martin Singer (litigation counsel for Mr. de Becker) includes:

However, in the interests of expediating this situation, and with The Washington Post poised to publish unsubstantiated rumors of The National Enquirer’s initial report, I wanted to describe to you the photos obtained during our newsgathering.

In addition to the “below the belt selfie — otherwise colloquially known as a ‘d*ck pick’” — The Enquirer obtained a further nine images.

The photos are described.

It would give no editor pleasure to send this email. I hope common sense can prevail — and quickly.

Bezos:

Well, that got my attention. But not in the way they likely hoped. Any personal embarrassment AMI could cause me takes a back seat because there’s a much more important matter involved here. If in my position I can’t stand up to this kind of extortion, how many people can? (On that point, numerous people have contacted our investigation team about their similar experiences with AMI, and how they needed to capitulate because, for example, their livelihoods were at stake.)

In the AMI letters I’m making public, you will see the precise details of their extortionate proposal: They will publish the personal photos unless Gavin de Becker and I make the specific false public statement to the press that we “have no knowledge or basis for suggesting that AMI’s coverage was politically motivated or influenced by political forces.”

If we do not agree to affirmatively publicize that specific lie, they say they’ll publish the photos, and quickly. And there’s an associated threat: They’ll keep the photos on hand and publish them in the future if we ever deviate from that lie.

These communications cement AMI’s long-earned reputation for weaponizing journalistic privileges, hiding behind important protections, and ignoring the tenets and purpose of true journalism. Of course I don’t want personal photos published, but I also won’t participate in their well-known practice of blackmail, political favors, political attacks, and corruption. I prefer to stand up, roll this log over, and see what crawls out.

From an email on Wednesday from Fine, Jon (Deputy General Counsel, AMI) to Martin Singer (Mr de Becker’s attorney)

Here are our proposed terms:

2. A public, mutually-agreed upon acknowledgment from the Bezos Parties, released through a mutually-agreeable news outlet, affirming that they have no knowledge or basis for suggesting that AM’s coverage was politically motivated or influenced by political forces, and an agreement that they will cease referring to such a possibility.

3. AM agrees not to publish, distribute, share, or describe unpublished texts and photos (the “Unpublished Materials”).

6. In the case of a breach of the agreement by one or more of the Bezos Parties, AM is released from its obligations under the agreement, and may publish the Unpublished Materials.

Whether that constitutes blackmail and/or extortion, or whether it will warrant legal action or investigation, will no doubt unfold.

AMI has issued a statement in response:

“American Media believes fervently that it acted lawfully in the reporting of the story of Mr. Bezos. Further, at the time of the recent allegations made by Mr. Bezos, it was in good faith negotiations to resolve all matters with him. Nonetheless, in light of the nature of the allegations published by Mr. Bezos, the Board has convened and determined that it should promptly and thoroughly investigate the claims. Upon completion of that investigation, the Board will take whatever appropriate action is necessary.”

Pecker is one of four AMI board members.

CNBC: National Enquirer publisher believes it ‘acted lawfully’ on Bezos story, vows to investigate matter

AMI’s assertion that it violated no laws in its reporting matters beyond the Bezos affair. In December, the tabloid publisher struck an immunity deal with federal prosecutors in connection with the $150,000 hush-money payment the supermarket tabloid gave to a Playboy model who claims she had an affair with Trump.

That agreement requires that AMI “shall commit no crimes whatsoever.” If it turns out that Bezos’ blackmail allegations are confirmed, AMI could lose its immunity.

Brett Kappel, a lawyer specializing in political finance and ethics at Akerman LLP, said AMI’s immunity deal could be at risk.

“AMI is looking at the very real possibility that it may be found to have breached the nonprosecution agreement and could be prosecuted both for the crimes that were the subject of the nonprosecution agreement and any subsequent crimes,” Kappel told CNBC.

“In addition, the lawyers involved will almost certainly face disciplinary proceedings by the New York State Bar and could be disbarred,” Kappel added.

Former federal prosecutor David Weinstein told CNBC that Bezos’ accusation “certainly sounds like extortion or blackmail.” But he cautioned that “sounding like something and actually filing charges are two different things. AMI will undoubtedly argue that their statements were simply litigation negotiation strategy.”

This raises the tensions between media and politics in the US. There is big money and big power in both politics and the media there. The whole kaboodle looks dysfunctional and a corruption of power.

Whether this latest move from Bezos lifts a scab or just adds more puss is yet to be seen.

US Supreme Court rules on online sales tax

The US Supreme Court has overturned a ruling that had given online retailers a way of avoiding some state taxes.

NY Times: Supreme Court Clears Way to Collect Sales Tax From Online Retailers

Internet retailers can be required to collect sales taxes in states where they have no physical presence, the Supreme Court ruledon Thursday.

Brick-and-mortar businesses have long complained that they are disadvantaged by having to charge sales taxes while many of their online competitors do not. States have said that they are missing out on tens of billions of dollars in annual revenue under a 1992 Supreme Court ruling that helped spur the rise of internet shopping.

On Thursday, the court overruled that ruling, Quill Corporation v. North Dakota, which had said that the Constitution bars states from requiring businesses to collect sales taxes unless they have a substantial connection to the state.

This could be significant for New Zealand. If internet retailers like Amazon have to comply with all the state taxes in the US (a complex thing) depending on the location of the purchaser,then it should be simple to also comply with tax requirements for other countries.

Writing for the majority in the 5-to-4 ruling, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said the Quill decision had distorted the nation’s economy and had caused states to lose annual tax revenues between $8 billion and $33 billion.

But there could be a downside. If online retailers are forced to charge more tax in the US they may look for more sales in places where they can get away without charging tax.

On Lori Wallach

Lori Wallach has just toured New Zealand on an anti-TPPA speaking tour with Jane Kelsey. Both are long time campaigners against international trade agreements, globalisation and corporations.

Wallach founded the Global Trade Watch section of Public Citizen in 1995. From her profile on their website:

Lori Wallach has promoted the public interest regarding globalization and international commercial agreements in every forum: Congress and foreign parliaments, the courts, government agencies, the media, and the streets.

For 20 years Wallach has played a prominent role in the United States and internationally in the roiling debate over the terms of globalization.

As a relentless campaigner, Wallach has played an important role in creating public debate and supporting public activism about the implications of different models of globalization on jobs, livelihoods, and wages; the environment; public health and safety; and democratically accountable governance.

I’ve seen Wallach speak on the Auckland meeting live stream and have now seen her speak in person in Dunedin.

She wrote Whose Trade Organization? A Comprehensive Guide to the WTO, published in 2004. At Amazon this book as several 5 star reviews that look like promotions, balanced by as many 2-3 star reviews. One of these sounds quite a bit like how Wallach came across in her anti-TPPA speeches.

October 6, 2005
I had to read Whose Trade Organization for a graduate level political science course. The books is perfect for those arguing on the anti-globalization side of the debate and may be somewhat useful for those who argue for limited or slow globalization reforms.

Unfortunately the book has clouded and conflated issues, subscribes to fallacious reasoning, and blatantly ignores empirical evidence. Whether she is pushing an ideological viewpoint or ignorant of reality is another question that I won’t answer..

There is absolutely no evidence that suggests more free trade creates poverty. Evidence suggests the opposite. The real income of third world labor (As happened in the first world in the 19th century) is on the rise, not decline. Yes there is an “inequality” in this rise, but global society is rising as a whole. To suggest this inequality is wrong or bad is to make the assumption that the wealth of the world is a zero sum game…which it is not. Looking at relative gains in economics is a fallacious way of viewing the world.

There is also no evidence that suggests that more economic openness, also known as economic freedom, reduces democracy. As a matter of fact the overwhelming empirical evidence suggests that the more open a society is the more civil and political freedoms citizens enjoy. Countries who suppress economic trade tend to be far less democratic but most often tyrannical dictatorships.

The author seems to subscribe to an idea that democracy is defined by action a government can take, specifically, action in regard to the political majority. She believes that increasing globalization (more importantly classic liberalism: for non political and econ types this means free trade and limited government) will reduce democracy by reducing governments ability to take action to “solve problems” or through accountability to the people.

The reality is…again the opposite. In no way can anyone construe a political majority as being an example of governmental accountability. This is what classic theorists described as a tyranny of the majority, where a group votes themselves the wealth of the nation at the expense of the minority. In modern times such notions of majority rule led to segregation, discrimination, and everyone’s favorite: Nazi Germany, who by the way were elected to lead Germany democratically. Who seriously wants to argue that democracy is defined by majority rule?

She also confuses government action with government sovereignty. Yes, governments will lose sovereignty over economic policies through globalization. But this by no means demonstrates a loss of accountability to the people. Again she is conflating government action with the will (tyranny) of the majority and assuming this is accountability.

The fact is that the policy preferences she desires produce the results she hates. Governments who retain the ability to economically discriminate (set up protections) give a great deal of power to the capital owners in that society. They are effectively able to protect their capital from outside competition at the expense of the domestic consumer who must now pay high prices for goods. At the international level, foreign producers find themselves restricted as to where they can import and as a result labor in those countries find themselves unable to develop and pull themselves up from poverty. Corporations learn to use government intervention to their own advantage at the expense of society.

She also operates under the fallacious assumption that corporations seeking their own advantage under a free market will reduce democracy and, as the anti globalization protestors like to scream, a “tyranny of profits” or rule by corporation. That simply isn’t the case, nor possible. Competition between corporations will increase greatly, reducing any political power you think they wield now. Because voluntary transaction is the rule of the game for free trade, corporations will only be able to attract profits by getting customers to purchase products or services. With competition in the mix each company must do their best to attract customers by being the best, having the highest quality, the lowest price good, or a combination of these or other issues. The result is simple, corporations are accountable to the people because their survival depends on it! Those corporations who are unable to give the people want the want in the market either die out or innovate and try again. Furthermore, limited governments under free trade won’t be able to take action to give corporations special privileges…special privileges that make “special interests” possible.

I find it absolutely silly to argue that corporations are taking advantage of everyone and then follow it up with an argument for more government intervention. I find it even sillier to want to help the third world poor and then argue economic protection for first world industries and agriculture from weak and developing third world industries and agriculture.

The problem is not the WTO it is globalization that is maturing in a world that still accepts an archaic form of global trade: mercantilism. Scholars like these conflate mercantilist-capitalism with free trade-capitalism and assume all the negative aspects of protectionism (a mix of voluntary and coercive transactions) will occur under a system of free trade (voluntary transaction). Mercantilism and Free Trade are polar opposites and neither are necessary conditions for globalization (that is globalization can occur under either, I believe). The on balance will ONLY be positive for the world if Free Trade is the rule set, which is what the WTO pushes. Mercantilism, socialism, communism will only make poverty worse, stagnate economies, restrict innovation, exploit the consumer, and result in a very privileged elite at the expense of society.

Overall, the book is incorrect in its assessment of opening trade and reducing trade restrictions. The results of which will not be more poverty or a reduction in democracy. The book is the result of years of fallacious reasoning, clouded facts, and illogical arguments.

 

Belt digs deeper

A day after it was revealed that Pete Belt, a close associate of Cameron Slater at Whale Oil, had written a review of Slaters book Dodgy Unions under the name ‘B Edwards’ at Amazon Belt has posted an explanation at Whale Oil.

The review is now deleted but this is what Belt wrote:

Didn’t want to like it, but it is unique both in New Zealand politics and political books, and for that alone it needs to exist. Although Cam Slater’s personal distaste of unions is clear and provided as a rider from page 1, the actual content appears factual. The main take-away point for me is that Labour allow themselves to be controlled by the union movement but are actually getting very little in return. If the book achieves anything, I would hope it makes the Labour Party take note and change its direction in proportion.

Belt gave the book a 5 star rating. The review appeared soon after the book was listed and looked obviously suspicious.

Here’s a reminder of Whaleoil’s Rules of Politics

1. If you are explaining, you are losing

2. Utu is good, even necessary

3. Never hug a corpse – it smells and you end up smelling like the corpse too

4. Always know where the bodies are buried

5. Don’t let mongrels get away with being mongrels

6. Don’t mess with The Whale or Cactus Kate

7. Never wrestle with pigs, two things are for certain if you do. You will get dirty and the pig will enjoy it.

8. Never ask a question if you don’t already know the answer

9. Speak plain, Speak Simple

10. Remember, I’m telling this story

11. Never trust a politician if you aren’t close enough to them to hit them in the back of the head with a bit of 4×2

12. Never trust a politician with a moustache or a hyphenated name

So Belt broke lame rule number 1 in CAM SLATER’S DODGY UNIONS BOOK NOW #1 BEST SELLER ON AMAZON (under a very misleading headline).

I have, of course, read the book, so I left a review on Amazon.   I didn’t create a fake account.  I put it under my own account, with my own name on it.   However, as we did that, we saw that you can have a “Screen Name” for reviews – oh what fun.   So I picked B Edwards.   B Edwards is a politically loaded name.  Brian?  Bryce?  Brent?  I knew that some people would be immediately check – is it you?  No?  How about you?

Note “as we did that, we saw that…” – Belt doesn’t explain who the ‘we’ is. He and Slater? He and Spanish Bride?

I was subsequently “busted” by some leftie sleuths who though they had ‘exposed’ me.   Oh my.  Twitter, The Blog of the Damned and other places lit up.   The outrage!    The orders!!!

It was good to see that the old Dirty Politics tricks still work. Create a bit of outrage, and the rest takes care of itself.

Odd to see Belt brag about breaking Amazon rules as “old Dirty Politics tricks’.

Yes, Belt generated publicity and probably some sales. But he also further trashed his own and Whale Oil’s reputation.

Now any positive review of anything Slater markets will be looked on with greater suspicion, now they have a proven and admitted record of deliberate deception. I’m not sure this is what Belt meant by “the rest takes care of itself”.

This increased suspicion also applies to product endorsements and enthusiastic donation comments on Whale Oil – Belt can deceive on his own blog as much as he likes, but using those same practices on sites like Amazon is not ‘Dirty Politics’, it’s ‘Very Dumb’.

In comments on Belt’s post ‘Mr Man’ asked “If your review was above board then why did you delete it?”

We didn’t want to risk sales by having a complaint lodged against it. It served its purpose.

It’s short term purpose was to deceive to sell copies of the book. It’s longer term effect isn’t so flash.

Belt explained some more in another comment:

It was in fact a real review. But I was warned that Amazon may not see it that way as I am associated with the writer (although I had nothing to do with it), so rather than give the TISOs a free stick to beat us with, thought it better removed.

The B Edwards thing was just divine inspiration. (It now says “GOTCHA!”)

So his explanation is that he was very clever.

But not clever enough to see how dumb this was. But it shouldn’t be surprising, it’s another dumb move that coincides with Belt’s involvement with and slide of Whale Oil.

An Alexa rating of Whale Oil from November 2014:

Alexa Whaleoil traffic

The dive in June July coincides with when Belt started a major purge, banning many commenters including long time loyal supporters. It bounced back up with the launch of Hager’s ‘Dirty Politics’ book followed by the election, but soon afterwards dived and hasn’t recovered since.

A current Alexa chart of Whale Oil:

WhaleOilAlexaOct15That sums up the Belt effect on Whale Oil, although Slater losing his mojo and his political confidants hasn’t helped.

Belt has been toxic for Whale Oil and Slater has become toxic in politics and media.

Belt’s dumb Amazon review strategy just reinforces this.

Belt faked ‘Dodgy Unions’ review?

Whenever there is fund raising on Whale Oil some of the endorsements look like promotional jack ups. They can do what they like on their own blog regardless of ethics or credibility.

But faking reviews on Amazon is a different story – and it appears that the suspiciously prompt review on Cameron Slater’s book was posted by Whale Oil moderator/banner/message controller Pete Belt. This is very dodgy.

The review was under the name of B Edwards:

Didn’t want to like it, but it is unique both in New Zealand politics and political books, and for that alone it needs to exist. Although Cam Slater’s personal distaste of unions is clear and provided as a rider from page 1, the actual content appears factual. The main take-away point for me is that Labour allow themselves to be controlled by the union movement but are actually getting very little in return. If the book achieves anything, I would hope it makes the Labour Party take note and change its direction in proportion.

Brian Edwards, Brent Edwards and Bryce Edwards all denied it was them.

As posted at The Standard – Dodgy reviews by Natwatch – someone did a bit of simple investigating on the ‘B Edwards’. Clicking  on the profile of ‘B Edwards’ profile and then on the Public Wish List (1) link:

dodgy3

‘Keep track of Pete Belt’s Wish Lists’ is a bit of a give-away.

Deceit on Whale Oil is one thing, but deceit on Amazon is a very poor look. Apart from the deceit Amazon states in their ‘Conditions of Use’ under REVIEWS, COMMENTS, COMMUNICATIONS, AND OTHER CONTENT:

You may not use a false e-mail address, impersonate any person or entity, or otherwise mislead as to the origin of a card or other content.

Fake reviews and self promotions are a major problem on sites like Amazon (Trip Advisor has also had major problems with fake reviews). It was recently reported that Amazon was trying hard to deal with fake reviews:

Computer says no: Amazon uses AI to combat fake reviews

Amazon is using artificial intelligence to combat fake product reviews and inflated star ratings.

It is employing a new AI machine-learning system that the online retailer built in-house to boost the prominence and weight of verified customer purchase reviews, those marked as helpful by other users and newer, more up-to-date critiques on its site.

Can you trust that five-star review?

That means marketers have taken to attempting to influence star ratings, especially in the initial stages of a product going on sale on any particular site. They post fake, inflationary reviews or pay users to do so on their behalf.

The practice known as “astroturfing” – fake grassroots campaigns – is widespread across a variety of sites and services. Amazon, as one of the world’s largest online retailers, is a significant target.

Belt may have achieved what he wanted – a lot of attention to Slater’s book on Amazon.

But it appears that he is trying to cover his tracks (too late, once outed online it’s out).  Since Belt was outed the reviewer name has been changed:

DodgyUnionsGotchaChanging a fake and misleading name to ‘GOTCHA!’ is as dumb as the fake review. If he had any sense he would take down the review, but sense is obviously in short supply with him.

The user (Belt) had previously posted one review in April 2013, and another two reviews yesterday which looks like a lame attempt to cover his intent.

Now Belt has blocked access to the identifying Wish List – “This customer has chosen to hide some activity” –  but too late.

This is a sad sideshow that won’t help credibility of Slater’s first book – and any promotion or review of the book or any of his subsequent (promised) books will be looked on with suspicion.

Spanish Bride, I know you will be checking this post – taking down the review and publicly acknowledging the stupidity and apologising may repair some of the damage. Otherwise this will hover over any Whale Oil related promotion. The Internet doesn’t forget.

And a side issue – why was ‘Dodgy reviews’ posted under the occasional ‘author’ NATWATCH at The Standard? It’s fairly well known that Slater is now like a fart in a National lift.

Lastly a bit of irony – The Daily Proverb on Whale Oil today:

Truthful words stand the test of time, but lies are soon exposed.

Which B Edwards?

The first (and currently only) review of Cameron Slater’s book Dodgy Unions on Amazon:

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful

By B Edwards on October 11, 2015

Didn’t want to like it, but it is unique both in New Zealand politics and political books, and for that alone it needs to exist. Although Cam Slater’s personal distaste of unions is clear and provided as a rider from page 1, the actual content appears factual. The main take-away point for me is that Labour allow themselves to be controlled by the union movement but are actually getting very little in return. If the book achieves anything, I would hope it makes the Labour Party take note and change its direction in proportion.

This has raised some speculation on Twitter about which B Edwards.

Not moi!

Not me either.

Bryce Edwards hasn’t responded yet, but he hasn’t been on Twitter since 9th October.

UPDATE:

Bryce Edwards

Wtf! Definitely not me! It’s a conspiracy against us “B Edwards” people.

‘Dodgy Unions’ – details

The launch of Cameron Slater’s first book, Dodgy Unions, was marred by scant and sometimes misleading information about the book. Now it is available as a Kindle download from Amazon it has more details.

Dodgy Unions Kindle Edition

The Union movement has occupied a privileged position in New Zealand. It is a vastly wealthy, incredibly well resourced sector with a staggering amount of money.

The headline figures are the Union movement has combined equity of well over $120 million dollars. Unions’ revenues are over $120m per year. Unions’ wage bill is over $70m per year, meaning they have a massive and ideologically pure work force. Most unions make a significant surplus, with the Corrections Association making a surplus of almost half their annual revenue.

Unions seem to live in parallel moral universe where they can do no wrong. They escape scrutiny and live in an echo chamber. They do not realise that they are the group that New Zealand public has the least trust in. This book uses publicly available information to tell New Zealand the story of the unions financial might.

Cameron Slater is New Zealand’s most popular and most fearless political blogger. He has been blogging since 2005 and has broken numerous political stories including Mayor Andrew Williams pissing on a tree outside his offices, the Labour Party’s web site security flaw and the Len Brown Sex Scandal. In 2014 his emails were hacked and Nicky Hager wrote the book “Dirty Politics” which has helped promote and expand Cam’s political consulting and social media business.

The price is $8.79 (presumably US$).

Product details:

  • File Size: 1159 KB
  • Print Length: 100 pages
  • Publisher: Whaleoil Media; 1 edition (October 10, 2015)
  • Publication Date: October 10, 2015
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English

So at 100 pages it’s not a long read.

  • Dirty Politics is 166 pages.
  • Trinity by Leon Uris is 759 pages.
  • Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson is 270 pages (a very interesting read).

If anyone wants to read and review it I’d be happy to post here.