Forget about the Xbox: Microsoft is all-in on its ‘Netflix for gaming’ subscription service

Starfield (Xbox/PC game)
Concept art for “Starfield,” the next major game from Microsoft-owned Bethesda Game Studios. It will arrive on Game Pass at launch, Microsoft says.

  • The focus of Microsoft’s big annual Xbox briefing this year was games, from “Halo” to “Starfield.”
  • A not-so-subtle message was highlighted throughout: Play all of these games on Xbox Game Pass.
  • Of the 30 games shown, 27 will be available on Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass service.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

During Microsoft’s big annual Xbox presentation on Sunday, there was one clear message: If you don’t already have a subscription to the Netflix-like game service Xbox Game Pass, you’re going to want it sooner or later.

Both of the companies upcoming marquee games, “Halo Infinite” and “Starfield,” will arrive on Game Pass at launch. You could drop at least $60 apiece on those games, or you could sign up for Game Pass starting at $10 per month.

That has become Microsoft’s key argument for the Xbox brand, and the company cemented that during the presentation streamed on Sunday afternoon. Of the 30 games shown, 27 are coming to the Xbox Game Pass service, and many will arrive at launch.

Microsoft has been planting the seeds leading to Game Pass’ wild success since it first debuted in 2017.

The service granted subscribers access to a curated library of over 100 games, and it cost just $10 per month. Moreover, every major Xbox game published by Microsoft, from “Halo” to “Gears of War” to “Forza,” would be published to the service at launch as part of the library.

If you’re thinking, “That sounds sort of like Netflix,” you’d be right, although with Game Pass you can download or stream games.

In the four years since, Game Pass has grown tremendously – it now boasts over 18 million subscribers across Xbox and PC, according to Microsoft. More than just its own games, the service offers a variety of major games from third-party game studios.

To that end, Microsoft made two major announcements on Sunday: “Back 4 Blood” and “Stalker 2” are among several upcoming third-party games that will launch on the service.

Xbox Game Pass (E3 2021)
Games like “Among Us” and “Hades” are among a variety of third-party games on Game Pass.

There was no talk of Xbox hardware or services, and no mention of upcoming operating system updates. The nearly 90-minute presentation was focused solely on games, the vast majority of which were punctuated with the same message: “Play it day one with Game Pass.”

In just a few words, that phrase is sending a message: You’ll get this game and dozens of others for just $10 to $15 per month, instead of paying $60 or more to play this game on a PlayStation or PC.

It’s a good argument, and one that applies to many more millions of people than just Xbox and PlayStation owners – anyone with a PC has access to Xbox Game Pass, and anyone with a smartphone is able to stream Game Pass games.

“There are 2 billion people who play video games on the planet today. We’re not gonna sell 2 billion consoles,” Xbox leader Phil Spencer told Insider in a June 2018 interview. “Many of those people don’t own a television, many have never owned a PC. For many people on the planet, the phone is their compute device. It’s really about reaching a customer wherever they are, on the devices that they have.”

And that’s the point of Game Pass: to move beyond consoles and widen Microsoft’s potential customer base beyond just console buyers. Sunday’s Xbox presentation was the strongest demonstration yet of Microsoft’s dedication to that mission.

Check out the full presentation right here:

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Critical race theory is a lucrative obsession for Republicans because the party is ‘offended by the political focus on racism and racial justice’

Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis bill signing
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R).

  • Critical Race Theory has become one of the most animating issues for Republicans nationwide.
  • The academic practice is front and center on Fox News and in GOP fundraising efforts.
  • Much of the backlash is not new, but has worsened “especially since the George Floyd murder.”
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Republicans across the US are waging an escalating culture war against critical race theory, an academic concept or framework centered on systemic racism and its effects across American society.

What is critical race theory?

Critical race theorists look at how America’s history of racism and discrimination continues to impact the country today.

“Critical race theory is a practice. It’s an approach to grappling with a history of White supremacy that rejects the belief that what’s in the past is in the past, and that the laws and systems that grow from that past are detached from it,” said Kimberlé Crenshaw, a founding critical race theorist and a law professor at UCLA and Columbia University, told CNN last year.

Why is the GOP turning it into an issue?

The GOP campaign against critical race theory, which distorts the concept, is linked to a broader effort to stifle or invalidate conversations on the pervasiveness of racism in the US in relation to its history, experts say. Republicans have launched similar attacks on the Black Lives Matter movement and the 1619 project in that regard.

“The base of the Republican Party is offended by the political focus on racism and racial justice that has been apparent for several years now, but especially since the George Floyd murder,” Andrew Hartman, a history professor at Illinois State University and author of “A War for the Soul of America: A History of the Culture Wars,” told Insider. “So, GOP politicians and conservative media obsess over the issue to gin up outrage that might translate into future votes, but in the meantime definitely translates into donations and ratings.”

Jelani Cobb, a staff writer at the New Yorker, historian, and professor at Columbia Journalism School, in a recent tweet said that the “attacks on critical race theory are clearly an attempt to discredit the literature millions of people sought out last year to understand how George Floyd wound up dead on a street corner.”

“The goal is to leave the next dead Black person inexplicable by history,” Cobb added.

Republicans in a number of states have pushed to ban critical race theory from schools, misleadingly contending that the concept teaches kids to hate the US and each other.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis recently convinced the state board of education to ban it, describing the practice as a “false history” that would “denigrate the Founding Fathers.”

In the process, they’ve taken an otherwise niche academic theory and legal practice to catapult it into the center of the contentious, ongoing debate on racism in the US.

“I am honestly confused why Critical Race Theory has become the specific target, except to say that conservatives have a LONG history of educational activism against secular and liberal trends in schools, and CRT checks a lot of boxes in that regard,” Hartman said. “It is an academic theory that emerged from elite universities (Harvard Law in particular). It seemingly indoctrinates students with the idea that racism is endemic and institutional, which flies in the face of conservative colorblindness.”

How is CRT being treated by the right-wing ecosystem?

The GOP obsession with critical race theory was in many ways sparked by former President Donald Trump, who has a well-documented history of racism. Last September, Trump sent out a memo ordering the Office of Management and Budget to stop funding training on critical race theory for federal employees. The memo referred to the theory as a “propaganda effort” that teaches or suggests that the US “is an inherently racist or evil country.”

“The divisive, false, and demeaning propaganda of the critical race theory movement is contrary to all we stand for as Americans and should have no place in the Federal government,” the memo said.

Similarly, Trump also railed against The New York Times’ “1619 Project,” stating that it “rewrites American history to teach our children that we were founded on the principle of oppression, not freedom.”

Although critical race theory is not a staple of K-12 curricula – mostly applying to colleges and universities – local squabbles and highly specific campus incidents have been amplified by Fox News and other outlets and used by politicians for fundraising pushes.

DeSantis is fundraising off of it and appearing on Fox News to talk about it, where he can then build his profile with an audience of millions.

As Fox’s top-viewed opinion hosts struggle to land on a coherent depiction of President Joe Biden in the way they handled Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, critical race theory serves as a convenient programming staple. Coverage of critical race theory dominates Fox News coverage across daytime, primetime, and online.

“Often compared by critics to actual racism, CRT is a school of thought that generally focuses on how power structures and institutions impact racial minorities,” an explainer post reads on the Fox News website.

Fox News hosts often depict things like the “1619 Project” as having a vast influence, or white children being explicitly told they’re racist when the segments are usually based solely on local news reports or aggrieved parents.

Once one of these local spats reaches Fox News, it effectively becomes mainstreamed and a de facto national issue that politicians in turn discuss.

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China thought it had escaped blame for the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, but is facing a second reckoning

Xi Jinping
Chinese President Xi Jinping.

  • This time last year, China evaded international scrutiny over the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Other countries now want to probe China’s role again, and a once-mocked “lab leak” theory is back.
  • China’s initial success guarding its reputation in the wake of the pandemic now looks tenuous.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Around this time time last year, China thought it had escaped blame for the start of the coronavirus pandemic, which began on its soil.

At the World Health Assembly – the annual forum for World Health Organization member states – in May 2020, dozens of countries were meant to vote on a draft motion, led by Australia, to start an investigation meant to hold China to account.

But China outplayed the world on the day, with its diplomats securing instead a watered-down draft motion that called only for a review on “lessons learned,” without apportioning blame. President Xi Jinping promised an investigation of sorts, but framed it in a way that shielded China from blowback.

After delays, the WHO sent a team of experts to Wuhan, the Chinese city where the novel coronavirus was first found, to investigate where the virus came from.

By the time they started, it had been more than a year since an outbreak of respiratory illness around a wet market in Wuhan alarmed the world. The virus had largely faded from China, and evidence would be hard to come by even if the WHO team had free rein.

Throughout the trip, observers noticed how closely the WHO team was being managed by China, further limiting their ability to find anything surprising. After the trip one of its members said that China had refused to hand over key data when asked.

Nonetheless, when the WHO reported back it seemed to be definitive – the most extensive and independent investigation so far. Its conclusions looked like a straight win for China, yielding few definitive answers that could embarrass Xi.

wuhan institute of virology
The Wuhan Institute of Virology pictured on April 17, 2020.

Another victory for China was that the WHO team said it was “extremely unlikely” that the virus had leaked from a Wuhan lab, seeming to put another nail in the coffin of what was then mostly dismissed as a conspiracy theory.

China appeared to have got off lightly, and other nations were preoccupied dealing with their own urgent outbreaks, almost totally absent from China itself by 2021.

But, months later, the tide is turning.

The lab-leak theory has gained new traction in recent weeks, with The Wall Street Journal uncovering last month a US intelligence report that said that three employees at the Wuhan Institute of Virology got sick more than a month before experts found the first COVID-19 cases.

Days after The Journal’s report, President Joe Biden ordered a new investigation from the US intelligence community into the origins of the virus. Biden gave a 90-day deadline to conclude the probe, meaning a report can be expected in late August.

British intelligence agencies are also helping with the investigation, The Telegraph reported. Although there are still no conclusions, and China is adamant that there is nothing to see, the theory is no longer the sole preserve of internet cranks.

biden xi jinping china
Then-Vice President Joe Biden and Xi in Beijing in December 2013.

Elsewhere, the countries that supported the watered-down draft motion last year are planning another try, which could prove much more damaging for Xi and China.

On Tuesday, Bloomberg’s Alberto Nardelli and Josh Wingrove reported that the European Union – which helped propose last year’s motion – was prepared to join the US in a draft statement calling for “progress on a transparent, evidence-based, and expert-led WHO-convened phase 2 study on the origins of Covid-19, that is free from interference.”

The last words of that statement can be read as a pointed rejection of the WHO effort which initially seemed to settle the matter.

Bloomberg reported that the statement is still in drafts and could still be amended. Any new investigation is likely to anger China, and pick away at what initially seemed like a triumph.

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ProPublica’s billionaire tax data shows the importance of closing 2 key tax loopholes. Here’s how.

taxes
  • Too much of billionaires’ true economic income is not getting counted on their tax returns.
  • We can count more capital gains as income, to make them report more income and pay more tax.
  • To do this, eliminate “stepped-up basis” rules and prevent double deduction of charitable giving.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

ProPublica has obtained years of federal income tax information for the 25 wealthiest Americans, and has released an analysis comparing their federal income tax bills to the rise of their net worth over the period from 2014 to 2018, showing their federal income tax bills added up to just 3.4% of their wealth gains.

ProPublica calls this their “true tax rate.” While I have some quibbles with their analysis, the investigation does demonstrate a real problem: The wealthiest Americans are paying less income tax than our tax policies are supposed to collect from them, and less than is fair.

But I also have a hopeful message. There are solutions available to this problem, and they don’t need to involve a wealth tax, which is appealing as a political soundbite but faces enormous political, constitutional and administrative challenges.

Our income tax is not defining “income” correctly. Adopting a more comprehensive definition of income would make it possible to collect more tax from the likes of Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk. In fact, closing just two major loopholes would get us a long way toward that goal.

What is income?

If you ask an economist what “income” is, they’re likely to point to a concept called “Haig-Simons income,” which says your income for a given period is equal to your expenses plus the change in your net worth. This makes intuitive sense: your income either gets spent or saved, so if you add up your spending and your savings, that’s your income. But unrealized gains create issues for this definition in relation both to the tax code and to popular conceptions of income.

Suppose your house was worth $300,000 a year ago, but is worth $350,000 today. Did your house produce $50,000 of income to you over the last year? Haig-Simons would say so, but few people think about things that way. Your home’s appreciation doesn’t actually feel like income until you sell it. And this is also how the tax code works: Asset appreciation isn’t counted as income until the asset is sold.

This is the main tax “avoidance” strategy demonstrated in the ProPublica article. The wealthiest Americans owned interests in major companies whose stocks rose. They didn’t sell their shares, and therefore didn’t report any income related to that appreciation.

Of course, that’s not cheating – it’s just how the law works. And it would be fine so long as the gains got taxed eventually: if the tax liability is building up and sure to be paid in a future year when the gain actually gets realized, that’s fine. The problem is that our tax code too often allows rich people to never pay taxes on those gains.

Joe Biden wants to close the “step-up in basis” loophole

One of the biggest problems with the way our tax code treats unrealized gains is that you get a big bonus for holding on to your assets until you die.

If you buy an asset for $200,000 and it’s worth $800,000 when you die, the IRS then readjusts the value and your heirs only pay taxes on realized gains above the new $800,000 value. The $600,000 in gains accrued during your lifetime never get treated as taxable income. This creates a huge incentive for wealthy people to hold assets instead of selling them, and is a major way their true economic income gets excluded from tax.

Joe Biden
US President Joe Biden speaks on the economy at Cuyahoga Community College Manufacturing Technology Center, on May 27, 2021, in Cleveland, Ohio.

But the tax code doesn’t have to work this way. In fact, President Biden has proposed to change the law so that death is a “realization event.” If a person has more than $1 million of unrealized gains when they die, those gains over $1 million would be subject to capital gains tax as though they sold them on their death bed. Not only would this generate more tax, it would eliminate much of the incentive for rich people to cling to specific assets, so it would encourage more capital gain realizations (and more tax payments) even before they die.

Of course, there is political resistance to this idea, partly because it would also raise taxes on people who are rich but much less rich than Jeff Bezos.

Still, if the goal is to get these ultra-wealthy to pay more, you could offer an exemption much larger than $1 million per decedent, reducing collections from the merely rich while still capturing much more of billionaires’ true income as taxable income.

Defining income better makes higher tax rates possible

Capital-gain income, income made from selling investments like stocks, bonds, etc., has almost always been taxed at a lower rate than wage income. There are several policy justifications for this, but a major reason capital gains tax rates need to be lower than wage tax rates is that capital gains taxes are relatively easy to avoid.

You can jack taxes on high earners’ wages and salaries up very high – likely 70% or higher – before you have to worry that the higher rate is going to cause them to report so much less income that they pay less tax overall. But economists typically estimate that the “revenue-maximizing” tax rate on capital gains is much lower, closer to 30%, mostly because there are better strategies to avoid capital gain taxes.

But if you eliminate the stepped-up basis loophole, the government can collect more tax in three ways. First, taxes will be imposed directly on appreciated assets at death. Second, the impossibility of avoiding tax entirely through delay will encourage more wealthy people to go ahead and realize taxable gains before they die. Third, with a key avoidance avenue eliminated, the government can impose a higher capital gains tax rate and still expect that high earners will grimace and pay it.

This is why Biden has paired his plan to raise capital gains tax rates to as much as 43.4% on the highest earners with his plan to abolish stepped-up basis at death. The former policy does not work well without the latter one.

Charitable deductions are calculated in a way that is too favorable to the rich

Besides unrealized gains, one of the obvious ways the wealthy people discussed in the ProPublica investigation avoid tax is by giving their wealth to charity.

I am not one of those people who is grumpy about billionaire philanthropy. I think the tax code should reward charitable donations. But the way we hand out tax benefits for charitable giving now is excessively generous to the wealthy, while ordinary people get little or no tax benefit for their own charitable donations. The rules need to change.

Felipe Castro holds a sign advertising a tax-preparation office for people who still need help completing their taxes before the IRS deadline on April 14, 2010, in Miami.
Felipe Castro holds a sign advertising a tax-preparation office for people who still need help completing their taxes before the IRS deadline on April 14, 2010, in Miami.

Suppose you are an affluent person and you donate $10,000 to charity. Your marginal federal income tax rate is 24% and you itemize deductions, so this donation reduces your tax bill by $2,400, or 24% of the amount you donated.

Now suppose you’re rich and you donate $100,000 worth of appreciated stock to charity. You bought this stock many years ago for just $20,000. Donating an appreciated asset is not a gain realization event, so not only do you get to reduce your taxable income by $100,000 – the value of the donation – you also never have to pay the capital gains tax on the $80,000 in value the stock gained. Plus, your income tax rate is higher – 40.8% on ordinary income, though just 23.8% on capital gains – which means your $100,000 deduction reduces your federal income tax liability by $59,840, or 59.8% of the amount donated, compared to if you had simply sold the appreciated stock.

Now suppose you donate $1,000 to charity. Your income is more towards the median for an American family, and you take the standard deduction instead of itemizing. In most years, a charitable donation doesn’t reduce your income tax liability at all. But for 2020 and 2021, there’s a special provision allowing people who take the standard deduction to additionally deduct $300 in charitable contributions. Your marginal income tax rate is 12%, so this deduction reduces your tax bill by $36, or 3.6% of the amount donated.

That all doesn’t seem fair, does it?

We can make charitable deductions more fair while still encouraging charity

There are ways to improve how we use the tax code to reward charity.

One is to close the loophole about appreciated assets – when you donate an appreciated asset, you should be able to deduct only what you paid for it. That still provides extensive tax savings, but does not allow the rise in asset value to be deducted twice. Essentially, it would mean any donation of $100,000 would shield only $100,000 of income from tax, not more.

Additionally, you could cap the value of charitable deductions, as the Biden administration has proposed to do. Regardless of the actual tax rate paid, Biden has proposed that taxpayers should only be able to reduce their tax liability by 28% of the amount of a donation. This rule would reduce the incentive to give to charity among the wealthiest. But it would also generate revenue that could be used to enhance the charitable deduction for a broader swath of the public, for example by converting the deduction into a more generous and more widely available tax credit.

A more democratized approach to tax incentives for charity could ideally maintain the overall level of charitable giving in society while tilting tax liabilities toward the wealthiest Americans and reducing the influence of billionaires on the priorities of charitable institutions.

If we do these two things, we don’t need to do other, harder things

There are other ideas about how to get the wealthiest Americans’ reported income for tax purposes closer to their true economic income about which I am much less eager.

One, discussed briefly in ProPublica’s story, is to switch from taxing capital gains only upon realization to taxing them every year. If your stock portfolio appreciates by $100,000, you’re taxed on that $100,000 this year. If it declines by $50,000, you get a $50,000 tax deduction.

Just because your assets went up in value doesn’t mean you have lots of cash to pay new taxes, but because this system would eliminate the tax implications associated with selling appreciated stock, there would be an easy way for taxpayers to finance their tax bills: by selling stock.

But there are problems.

One is that other assets, like real estate, art, and interests in private firms, are not so liquid as stocks. It’s also harder to figure out what these assets are worth in years when they don’t get sold. So some taxpayers would have good reason to contend their asset appreciation hasn’t made them liquid enough to pay more tax today, and they’d also have more ability to argue with the IRS about what their true “income” really was.

The IRS is already strapped for enforcement resources, and while I favor increasing the agency’s budget, I am wary of new tax rules that would make enforcement much more complicated and therefore spread even expanded enforcement resources thinly.

IRS
The IRS.

Abolition of stepped-up basis would only require tedious arguments about the true value of illiquid assets when a taxpayer dies – a time when we already have to have those tedious arguments in order to calculate estate tax. Taxing unrealized gains would require having these tedious arguments every year, with the IRS facing off against expensive lawyers retained by wealthy people fighting to keep their tax bills down. It would just be much more costly and difficult to implement.

Other proposals to better capture the income of the very wealthy involve taxing unrealized gains only on easy-to-value liquid assets like stocks. We would keep the old method for assets like private companies and art.

This approach would be relatively easy to administer. But it would also create economic distortions. Wealthy taxpayers would prefer illiquid assets to liquid ones, and might make economically inefficient choices, like taking companies private to avoid the new rules. This could have negative effects on the economy.

There is hope for taxing the rich

Back in 2015, when I was at The New York Times, the paper ran an exposé on how the top 400 taxpayers in the country were paying lower tax rates than they had been two decades earlier. Their effective federal income tax rate had fallen from the 26.4% in the mid-1990s to 16.7% in 2012. The story attributed this to increased use of creative strategies to shield their income from tax.

Hours after the article was published, the Obama Administration responded by publishing data from 2013, showing that in just one year, these taxpayers’ effective tax rate had zoomed back up to 22.9%, closing more than half the gap.

What happened here? Well, tax rates for high earners were cut in 1997, 2001, and 2003. And then, in 2013, parts of the Bush Tax Cuts expired and tax increases on high earners included in the Affordable Care Act came into effect. So the story seems pretty straightforward: cut rich people’s taxes and they pay less in taxes; raise their taxes and they pay more in taxes.

Much of the typical response to stories like the one from ProPublica is unproductive: conservatives pointing out that this is just how and liberals dreaming up extremely complex approaches like wealth taxes that will never be imposed. The experience in 2013 suggests these approaches are both wrong.

Look to 2025

The experience from 2012 to 2013 shows that very rich people’s income tax bills are responsive to changes in income tax policy. We don’t need entirely new taxes to get them to pay their fair share. We just need to define income more comprehensively, make deductions more rational and equitable, raise rates where economically appropriate, and properly fund enforcement at the IRS.

There is a reason the Biden administration is focusing its tax policy efforts in the areas I am describing: These reforms work within our existing tax system and are administrable. And while I do not see major tax increases passing in the current congress, many provisions of the Trump tax cuts are set to expire in 2025. If Democrats control the presidency or either house of Congress then, Republicans will be forced to work with them on a bipartisan deal to set new tax policy terms.

That’s a reason Democrats need to focus on getting Joe Biden reelected in 2024. Just as Barack Obama’s reelection in 2012 paved the way for the tax increases on the wealthy that became effective in 2013, a Biden win in 2024 should set the stage for a tax bill in 2025 that makes billionaires pay their fair share – within the existing income tax system.

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Netanyahu will look to Trump and Republicans as routes back to power in Israel, experts say

trump netanyahu
President Donald Trump and Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands while walking through the colonnade prior to an Oval Office meeting at the White House March 25, 2019 in Washington, DC.

  • Netanyahu is set to be ousted as Israel’s prime minister after 12 years in power.
  • Experts say he’ll look to the US and Republicans as a path to his political revival.
  • His impending replacement is far less influential in the US, which could create some space for Biden.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

After 12 years in power, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is on the verge of being ousted. Though he’s hit a low point in his historic career, experts and former US diplomats say Netanyahu will remain a force to be reckoned with and his political demise could actually push the Israeli leader to become more involved in US politics and elections.

Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving leader, has an outsized influence in the US – particularly with Republicans and Evangelicals. He garnered an especially close relationship with former President Donald Trump, who repeatedly took controversial steps on US-Israel relations that were in line with Netanyahu’s agenda and helped boost the Israeli leader’s profile.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if [Netanyahu] starts intervening in our own elections at a personal level and links himself to Trump more and Trumpism, and plays the Republican card,” Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat professor for peace and development at the University of Maryland, told Insider.

“Don’t underestimate that, because he’s not just going to focus on Israeli politics – he thinks he has a card to play in American politics. And I think he does, especially given our polarized political environment,” Telhami added.

Telhami said that people on the far right in the US looking for allies against the Biden administration could see Netanyahu as a top candidate in that regard. With the Democratic party increasingly divided over US-Israel relations, and progressives pushing for an approach that shows more concern for Palestinians, Netanyahu could look to the exploit the situation.

Netanyahu sees American politics as “part of his legitimization,” Telhami said, and “because he’s linked himself so tightly to Republican politics and even to Trump personally – and certainly Trump’s people like Jared Kushner and David Friedman – he’s going to be rooting for Republicans to win.”

Trump Netanyahu White House
U.S. President Donald Trump and Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu show members of the media the proclamation Trump signed on recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over Golan Heights after their meeting outside the West Wing of the White House on March 25, 2019 in Washington, DC.

The Israeli leader has already inserted himself into US affairs in ways that other world leaders wouldn’t dare to. As the Obama administration worked to finalize the Iran nuclear deal in 2015, for example, Netanyahu gave a speech before a joint session of Congress with the aim of torpedoing the agreement. Congressional Republicans invited Netanyahu to give the speech without consulting the White House, and the address was perceived as a major insult to then-President Barack Obama.

No longer being prime minister could potentially free Netanyahu up to be even more interventionist in the US, Telhami said, in the sense that he won’t have to be as mindful of the implications of his actions.

If the deal to form a new government made by a fragile coalition of eight opposition parties is ratified in the Knesset – Israel’s parliament – on Sunday, Netanyahu will be replaced as prime minister by Naftali Bennett, his former chief of staff and the head of the right-wing Yamina party.

Bennett is considered to be even further to the right than Netanyahu.

He supports expanding Jewish settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and annexing most of the Palestinian territory – both considered illegal under international law. Bennett is also against a two-state solution, which has been the centerpiece of US policy toward Israel-Palestine for decades (though Trump’s approach to the region undermined that goal).

But if Israeli lawmakers vote to approve the tenuous coalition, much of Bennett’s energy will be spent on trying to keep the alliance together. Meanwhile, Netanyahu would concentrate his efforts on breaking the government apart.

Naftali Bennett
Naftali Bennett speaks to the Israeli Parliament in Jerusalem, Sunday, May 30, 2021.

“At least in the short term, [Netanyahu] will be the opposition leader. That’s a position that has status and prominence in the Israeli system … In that role, he’ll travel to DC … and his voice will be heard. He’ll use it not only to express his views, but to try to put pressure on Bennett and into the coalition to try to split it apart,” according to a former US diplomat who spoke to Insider on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of this topic.

Though Netanyahu will look to the US as a venue for his political revival, this does not necessarily mean the Biden administration will suddenly become preoccupied with the Middle East. President Joe Biden has not made the region a top foreign policy priority, and that’s unlikely to change. While Netanyahu has become a household name in US politics, Bennett is fairly unknown and doesn’t hold the same sway or influence.

“Assuming Bennett becomes prime minister, he’ll come to DC, he’ll do business with Biden. They will agree on some things, they’ll disagree on others. He’ll visit the Hill – but it won’t pack the same punch. That gives Biden some space,” the former diplomat said.

But as Biden learned via the recent fighting between Israel and Hamas, neglecting the Middle East as a US president can have dire consequences.

In the meantime, the former diplomat said: “[Netanyahu] clearly has relationships and friendships or alliances with Republican politicians and Evangelicals. I’m sure there will be those who will continue to give him a platform and lift up his voice. The [Israeli] government will be shaky … There are definitely reasons why it could not survive and then he’ll have a shot to come back as prime minister. I don’t remove him from the story. He’ll still have a voice.”

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A special grand jury is secretly hearing from witnesses in the Manhattan DA’s Trump investigation. Here’s how it’ll decide whether to bring criminal charges.

Manhattan District Attorney cyrus vance jr da
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. in 2020.

  • The Manhattan DA’s office convened a “special grand jury” in its Trump investigation last month.
  • Jurors will decide whether to criminally charge Trump, the Trump Organization, or its executives.
  • Here’s a breakdown of how a special grand jury works, as well as what evidence and witnesses will likely come before jurors as they meet in secret.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

In a courtroom in downtown Manhattan, the district attorney’s office is marshaling paperwork and secretly whisking witnesses in front of a “special” grand jury for what may be one of the most consequential criminal cases in the history of the United States.

The grand jury is “special” in two ways. It’ll be convened for six months, rather than one month, which is standard. It also could be asked to do something no one has ever done before: indict a former president.

The Manhattan District Attorney’s investigation into Donald Trump’s and the Trump Organization’s finances appears to have reached an advanced stage. Prosecutors are expected to announce whether they’re bringing any criminal charges before the end of the year, and the special grand jury – a group of 23 ordinary citizens – will be the ones to make the final call.

Here’s how the process works.

What does a special grand jury do?

The precise rules for grand juries and criminal charges vary by state. Under New York law, which governs the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, a felony charge – a criminal charge that would result in a year or more in prison – may go to trial only if a grand jury decides to file an indictment.

A grand jury in New York consists of 23 people. Sixteen jurors must be present in order to make charging decisions, and 12 must vote in favor of bringing an indictment. They must meet in secret and are not permitted to discuss the case with anyone outside the jury. Grand juries can also issue subpoenas and compel witnesses to testify.

Most grand juries meet for one month and hear multiple cases. According to The Washington Post, the Manhattan DA has empaneled a “special” grand jury that will last up to six months in order to hear evidence from the Trump investigation and decide whether to bring an indictment.

Special grand juries are typically empaneled to review evidence for more sophisticated cases like Trump’s, which spanned two years and involves possibly millions of pages of documents. Court documents suggest that the office of Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance Jr. has been investigating whether the Trump Organization, its executives, or Donald Trump himself broke tax laws by keeping two sets of books. One set would have shown assets of little value, in order to pay little in taxes; another would have shown significant profits in order to receive favorable loan and insurance rates. Legal experts expect Vance to make a case for tax, bank, and insurance fraud charges.

donald trump
Donald Trump in 2020.

A judge may extend the special grand jury beyond the allotted six months, though Vance is widely expected to announce a charging decision before he retires at the end of December. The special grand jury, like regular grand juries, may also hear more than one case depending on how Vance’s office decides to schedule it.

Grand juries are meant to function as a check on government power. Prosecutors need to convince a majority of jurors that there’s probable cause to charge someone with a crime; only then can a case go to trial.

“The grand jury was designed to say, ‘Hey, wait a minute, government, before you just start taking anybody you feel like to trial and convicting them and tossing them into jail or cutting their heads off, we’re going to make you present evidence first and satisfy a group of people to show that we have a case,'” said Randy Zelin, an attorney at Wilk Auslander LLP and former prosecutor.

But in reality, defense lawyers like Zelin say, grand juries almost always agree with prosecutors.

In a trial, a judge oversees the process, defense lawyers can put up a defense or call their own witnesses, and prosecutors must overcome the challenge of getting a jury to reach a unanimous verdict.

But prosecutors determine which witnesses to bring and what evidence to show a grand jury – and the verdict doesn’t need to be unanimous.

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The judge’s bench is seen at the New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., August 21, 2020.

What evidence will jurors review?

Earlier this year, Vance’s office won what’s likely the biggest prize in their investigation. After two Supreme Court decisions, the district attorney’s office was finally able to obtain the Trump Organization’s tax documents in February.

Those documents include Trump’s tax returns, which he has fought vociferously to keep from the public and which he has repeatedly lied about. Legal experts say the documents also likely include email communications between Trump Organization officials, insurance brokers, third-party accountants, and banks about what would go into those tax returns. If the communications show that Trump Organization officials sought to distort the true value of the company’s properties, that could amount to tax and wire fraud, according to the legal experts.

Prosecutors have been examining that documentation for months. Now, they will present those documents as exhibits before the grand jury.

donald trump jr allen weisselberg
Donald Trump, Allen Weisselberg, Donald Trump Jr.

Aside from the subpoenaed tax documents, prosecutors may present jurors with financial documents provided by cooperating witnesses.

Jennifer Weisselberg, the former daughter-in-law of Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg, obtained seven boxes of documents as part of an acrimonious divorce from Barry Weisselberg, Allen’s son. She gave those documents to prosecutors in the fall, and in interviews with Insider said they may include evidence that Allen Weisselberg distorted employee compensation in a way that may break tax laws.

Barry Weisselberg is also a key Trump Organization employee, as the manager of the cash-only Wollman rink in Central Park. Prosecutors may also be examining documentation about the rink’s operations for potential tax fraud, according to people familiar with the investigation.

The financial documents investigators gathered may be complex and difficult for a grand jury to comprehend. That poses a challenge for Vance’s office. Under New York state law, prosecutors can’t present “hearsay evidence,” or prosecutors’ personal summaries of the evidence, to grand juries. Instead, prosecutors must provide the underlying documentation directly to the jurors.

cyrus vance
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. speaks at a news conference about dismissing some 3,000 marijunana smoking and possession cases in New York City, U.S., September 12, 2018.

Prosecutors can also get third parties to present evidence, including charts and summaries, for them. Vance’s office is working with FTI Consulting, a forensic accounting firm, to analyze Trump’s documents, and those accountants may present their analysis to a grand jury.

“There could be summary charts or analyses that are put together by the person who has done that analysis to help the grand jury understand the documents,” said Rebecca Ricigliano, a former first assistant attorney general for the state of New Jersey and longtime federal prosecutor in Manhattan. “You see that all the time in regular trials where there’s complicated financials or complicated issues concerning voluminous documents.”

What witnesses will jurors hear from?

The person or entities under investigation don’t have any say in who’s called as a witness before a grand jury. It’s up to prosecutors to decide who testifies.

By default, anyone who gets called as a witness in front of a grand jury in New York gets “transactional immunity,” meaning they get total immunity from prosecution for any possible crimes related to their testimony. Transactional immunity protects people from being subpoenaed and forced to incriminate themselves.

It also means prosecutors need to secure cooperating witnesses before going to a grand jury. The names of some of those witnesses in the DA’s investigation are already public.

Michael Cohen, a former Trump Organization executive and personal lawyer for the ex-president, told Insider he’s spoken to prosecutors more than a dozen times. Jennifer Weisselberg has helped prosecutors understand the company’s inner workings, which she’s described as corrupt. Both will likely serve as grand jury witnesses, and both declined Insider’s request to discuss their possible role, saying they don’t want to jeopardize the legal process.

On Friday, ABC News reported that Vance’s office brought Jeff McConney, a senior vice president and controller for the Trump Organization, to testify in front of the special grand jury.

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Michael Cohen.

Prosecutors also may have secured less boldfaced names, like tax preparers at Mazers, the firm used by the Trump Organization, or officials at the insurance firm Aon.

It’s unclear whether prosecutors have secured cooperation from Allen Weisselberg, who is widely viewed as a potential key witness for the case. He’s worked for the Trumps for more than four decades, and knows the company’s as well as the family’s finances inside and out. Prosecutors reportedly want him to testify about those finances.

But prosecutors wouldn’t want to just call Weisselberg as a grand jury witness, which would give him immunity from prosecution for any financial crimes he may have committed in his role as CFO.

Ricigliano noted that people shouldn’t assume Weisselberg will make or break the DA’s case.

“It’s hard to judge whether he’s really a make-or-break figure, or if they have been able to compile the evidence they need from multiple other sources,” Ricigliano, now an attorney at Crowell & Moring, told Insider. “You can build a case like building a house. You can either get a crane to drop down a prefab house, or you can build it brick by brick.”

Does Trump himself play any role?

If Trump himself is a subject of the DA’s probe, he wouldn’t be called as a grand jury witness. If prosecutors want to charge him, giving him transactional immunity would defeat the purpose of their investigation.

Still, if a lawyer knows their client is a subject of a probe, they can serve a “grand jury notice” to the district attorney’s office, Zelin told Insider.

Trump Tower
Then President-elect Donald Trump boards the elevator at Trump Tower in New York City on January 16, 2017.

If that notice is served, prosecutors may be forced to inform the special grand jury that a particular witness named by the defense attorney is willing to testify. The jurors may then decide to subpoena the witness, giving that person transactional immunity against the prosecutors’ wishes.

“It’s sometimes a sophisticated and savvy move on a defense attorney’s part,” Zelin said.

To head off that scenario, prosecutors will try to make a deal with potential witnesses – called a cooperation or plea agreement – where they’d testify in front of a grand jury and agree to waive transactional immunity.

“Prosecutors are very strategic in thinking through their presentation of evidence to ensure that they are not immunizing a witness who they shouldn’t be immunizing,” Ricigliano said.

What charging decisions can the special grand jury make?

It’s not clear whether Vance will seek to charge Trump, Trump Organization executives, the company – or not bring charges at all.

Former New York Supreme Court chief judge Sol Wachtler said a grand jury would “indict a ham sandwich” if a prosecutor told them to because of the amount of control they have over the process. Zelin said because of that dynamic, grand juries can offer prosecutors political cover.

If prosecutors don’t want to pursue a politically inconvenient case, they can blame the grand jury for not bringing an indictment.

But grand juries can also offer protection: Trump has already attempted to tarnish Vance’s investigation by describing it as politically motivated. If a grand jury brings an indictment against Trump, Vance could persuasively say that fellow citizens, not just his office, believe the former president may have committed a crime.

Mark Pomerantz
Mark F. Pomerantz at the press confernce were former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer announced his resignation March 12, 2008 in New York City.

Any charging decisions in this case will be controversial. Democrats sore over Trump’s apparent ability to wriggle out of every scandal will be further rattled if he isn’t personally charged. Trump supporters may be scandalized if he’s held responsible for financial wrongdoing that may have been engineered by other executives like Weisselberg.

Daniel R. Alonso, a former top Vance deputy, previously told Insider there’s a good chance the DA may ask the grand jury to bring charges against only the Trump Organization.

Charging the Trump Organization alone would be a smart strategic move that would further puncture Trump’s image as a successful businessman, possibly cut into his family’s reputation, and provoke less backlash from the 74 million people who voted for him, Zelin said.

“An argument could be made that it’s more devastating,” Zelin said. “If you kill the Trump Organization, basically you kill the Trump family’s means and a rather extravagant high-profile and lavish lifestyle.”

cyrus vance jr federal court
Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance arrives at federal court for a hearing related to President Donald Trump’s financial records on October 23, 2019 in New York City.

Ricigliano told Insider that prosecutors don’t typically think about political considerations when they bring cases in front of a grand jury.

She emphasized that prosecutors in Vance’s office – as well as prosecutors with New York Attorney General Letitia James’ parallel investigation – gathered massive amounts of information over the course of their two-year probe, and the public only is aware of a small fraction of it.

Those prosecutors will ultimately bring the best case they have based on the evidence, she said.

“I don’t think that prosecutors view the grand juries as potential scapegoats or ways to alleviate pressure,” Ricigliano said. “It’s part of the system that’s been part of the country since the dawn of the revolution.”

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Apple is finding more ways to keep you glued to the iPhone with iOS 15

Apple iPhone12Pro iOS15 wallet ID 060721
Apple’s iOS 15 update brings new features like digital IDs to Apple Wallet.

  • Apple is turning the iPhone into a replacement for our keys, wallet, and state IDs with iOS 15.
  • The move has the potential to make our iPhones feel more essential than ever.
  • It’s another way to dissuade iPhone owners from switching to Android.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The iPhone’s appeal is about much more than just the iPhone. It’s about the Apple Watch, AirPods, the Apple Card, Apple Fitness+, and the many other Apple products you probably use as an iPhone owner.

Apple is building on that idea with its next major iPhone update, called iOS 15, which introduces new features that let you replace critical items like keys and ID cards with your iPhone. Other major additions include updates to Apple’s core apps that help them better compete with third-party software like Zoom, and tighter integrations between Apple’s services.

Apple announced its new iPhone operating system at its Worldwide Developer Conference alongside software upgrades to other important products like the iPad, Apple Watch, and Mac computers.

The conference is always a critical moment for Apple, during which it showcases innovative new features for all of its major products. But it’s especially important this year as the company seeks to entice developers amid its high-profile legal battle with “Fortnite” maker Epic Games, which has accused Apple of monopolistic practices over the way it manages the App Store.

Now, with iOS 15, Apple is launching new capabilities that could make the iPhone an even more integral part of everyday life. One new feature, for example, represents a major step forward in Apple’s effort to turn the iPhone into a replacement for the most essential items in our purses and pockets: our keys, ID cards, and wallets.

Later this year, iPhone owners in the United States will be able to add their driver’s license or state identification cards to Apple Wallet, the company said during the event. Apple also announced that your iPhone will be able to serve as a digital key for your home, hotel room, and office when used with compatible third-party systems. This comes after Apple previously announced efforts to turn your iPhone into a digital car key.

Apple’s ambitions to enable your iPhone to serve as a digital wallet have been clear for some time. Apple CEO Tim Cook even said as much in 2014 when unveiling Apply Pay, and the company launched its own iPhone-based credit card called the Apple Card in 2019. But the new features in iOS 15 make that vision more fully realized.

If these digital key and ID card systems are widely embraced, it could make switching to Android much less compelling – or nearly impossible – for iPhone users. When I reviewed the Apple Card in 2019, one of my biggest takeaways was that it made the iPhone feel even more essential to my daily life since I found myself using Apple Pay much more often. Apple Pay had existed for years, but using it only became a daily habit when I started using the Apple Card.

Making the switch to Android would also be more cumbersome since it would mean canceling one of my credit cards. This push to move the rest of our wallet over to the iPhone seems like it has the potential to have a similar impact.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, of course. Why would anyone want to carry around a phone, a wallet, and a key ring when all you really need is your iPhone? Still, it raises the question as to whether the convenience of lightening our pockets is worth becoming so reliant on a single device, especially at a time when lawmakers are questioning the influence and reach of companies like Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google.

Apple’s new Wallet features are just a few of the many changes coming to Apple’s core products later this year. Another major focus of iOS 15 is the way Apple’s various products and services work together – a key advantage that Apple’s ecosystem has had for years.

A new feature called “Shared With You,” for example, surfaces content that friends and family members have shared with you in Apple’s Messages app in other corresponding apps like Music, Photos, Apple News, and Safari.

Apple is also giving you less of a reason to turn to third-party video chatting apps like Zoom thanks to its new FaceTime update, which brings the ability to watch movies and listen to music together via FaceTime and create links for FaceTime calls that can be shared and accessed, even on non-Apple devices, through a web browser.

At the same time, Apple has made it easier to use third-party apps with its products and services in recent years. In 2020, for example, it made it possible for iPhone users to change certain app defaults to third-party apps for the first time. And with iOS 15, it’s letting HomeKit accessory makers add Siri to their products for the first time.

Still, the overall message is clear: Apple’s iPhone ecosystem may be more open than ever, but it’s only going to get more difficult to leave it.

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Walmart, McDonald’s, and Amazon are among companies celebrating Pride after donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to politicians who voted against the Equality Act

Pride
Companies are celebrating Pride month, after donating to lawmakers voting against LGBTQ protections.

  • Companies like Amazon, Walmart, and McDonald’s are vocally supporting LGBTQ people this Pride Month.
  • The same three companies collectively donated $1 million-plus to lawmakers who voted against the Equality Act.
  • Companies donate to both Republicans and Democrats, even lawmakers they say they disagree with.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

As brands take to Twitter to celebrate Pride, many of the same companies donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to politicians who voted against expanded LGBTQ protections.

In February, the vast majority of Republicans in the House of Representatives voted against the Equality Act, which aims to expand LGBTQ protections. SEC filings show that some of the best-known companies in the US, including McDonald’s, Walmart, and Amazon, have donated significant sums to politicians who voted against the bill.

Most major companies donate to both parties via political action committees, historically giving more to Republicans. (Industry PACs supported by these organizations also donate to both parties, but tend to skew even further right.) In recent years, many companies’ PACs – including Walmart, Amazon, and McDonald’s – have moved toward a 50/50 split between Democrat and Republican donations.

Companies donate to politicians’ campaigns hoping to influence lawmakers on legislation that might impact business, from immigration to minimum wages.

As a result, these industry giants have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to politicians who are pushing for legislation that protects LGBTQ rights, and hundreds of thousands of dollars to politicians actively working to defeat the same bills.

Companies are increasingly caught between a desire to pursue bipartisan political alliances through donations and expectations that they support progressive social causes. Now, some are being forced to change their strategies.

Walmart, Amazon, and McDonald’s collectively donated over $1 million to lawmakers who voted against the Equality Act

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It is becoming common for companies to participated in Pride celebrations.

From 2019 to 2020, Walmart’s PAC donated $1.2 million to federal candidates, according to an Insider analysis of FEC data via the Center for Responsive Politics. Donations were exactly an even split – $596,000 to Republicans and $596,000 to Democrats. All but three Republicans in the House of Representatives voted against the Equality Act, saying it could infringe on religious freedom. That means Walmart donated nearly $400,000 to politicians opposing the bill.

Meanwhile, the company’s Twitter avatar is currently rainbow hued, and the retailer is selling a collection of Pride merchandise. A Walmart spokesperson did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.

Amazon has supported the Equality Act since 2015, with Brian Huseman, Amazon’s vice president of public policy, writing in a post in February that “now is the time for federal law to protect LGBTQ+ Americans across the country.”

At the same time, the company’s PAC split donations from 2019 to 2020, donating $659,000 to Democratic candidates and $648,500 to Republicans. More than $460,000 of those donations went to politicians who voted against the Equality Act.

An Amazon spokesperson told Insider that the company “engages with policymakers and regulators on a wide range of issues that affect our business, customers, and employees.”

“That does not mean we agree with any individual or political organization 100 percent of the time on every issue, and this includes legislation that discriminates or encourages discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community,” the spokesperson continued.

Fast-food PACs have also donated to Republicans in the House of Representatives who oppose the Equality Act. From 2019 to 2020, McDonald’s PAC donated a total of $213,000 to lawmakers who voted against the bill. Earlier this week, the company tweeted: “We’re proud of you. And you should be proud of you, too.”

Companies are changing how they approach political donations

In 2021, more brands are openly supporting LGBTQ people and celebrating Pride on social media than ever before.

Simultaneously, the US is seeing an explosion of anti-trans bills. Lawmakers are not simply voting against expanding protections for LGBTQ people, they are trying to pass new laws that advocates say will harm vulnerable individuals.

“These are organized anti-transgender forces, people who are ideologically anti-transgender, who are trying to push this everywhere that they can,” trans advocate Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen told Insider in April. “So it’s coordinated, it’s deliberate, and it is all about using trans people and especially trans youth as a political football.”

Employees and customers increasingly expect companies to uphold progressive social values, including vocal support of LGBTQ people. But, companies typically don’t want to surrender the chance to engage with politicians on both sides of the aisle.

However, companies are being forced to change their practices. Walmart and Amazon paused donations to lawmakers who opposed certifying President Joe Biden’s win in January, following the Capitol insurrection. McDonald’s paused all political donations in January, and its PAC has not donated to any lawmakers since, according to FEC filings.

In 2021, it is increasingly difficult for companies to say they support a cause, while donating to politicians who vote for laws that indicate the opposite. Marcia Chatelain, a Georgetown University professor, told Insider earlier this year that – in the aftermath of the George Floyd protests – brands like McDonald’s had assumed that tweeting support would satisfy most people.

“What they probably didn’t anticipate was we are at a moment where people ask for more,” Chatelain said. “They ask for more than donations. They ask for more than diversity-pipeline programs. They ask for more than skillful marketing. They actually ask for racial and economic justice.”

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Russia is using the power of ‘Black PR’ to destroy political reputations and spread disinformation in the West

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Vladimir Putin

    • Russia has been linked to an attempt to peddle coronavirus vaccine misinformation in France.
    • While the Russian link has not yet been proved, it follows a growing pattern of disinformation spread by Moscow.
    • Experts say Putin is now using the twin powers of social media and so-called “Black PR” to destroy reputations and undermine the West.
    • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

In May, a mysterious marketing agency contacted French influencer Léo Grasset and made a strange request.

The agency told Grasset, a popular science blogger, that it would pay him a “colossal” amount of money if he publicly cast doubt on the effectiveness of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine.

The agency, Fazze, asked Grasset to publish videos to his social media channels suggesting, falsely, that the western-made vaccine had caused over 1,000 deaths. The deal required that Grasset not reveal any sponsorship for the posts and would not ask who the client was making the request.

The Wall Street Journal later reported that Fazze – which contacted at least two other influencers – had ties with Russia. French counterintelligence authorities believe the campaign may have had Russian involvement, according to the report.

While claims of links to Moscow have not yet been proven, there is a distinctly Russian-style pattern in the attempt to use disinformation to sow division and doubt among people living in western democracies, which dates back decades.

Russia’s use of disinformation for such purposes dates back to the Soviet era. In the 1970s, the KGB ran a disinformation campaign to plant the idea that the United States had invented HIV/AIDS in a laboratory as a biological weapon.

Since the 1970s, it has continued to spread disinformation in the west, sowing division and doubt among its populations and undermining faith in democracy.

The major thing that has changed since the 1980s is the arrival of a new weapon in Russia’s disinformation arsenal: social media.

“The big difference is that in the last 10 to 15 years, [Russia’s disinformation efforts] have bled into mainstream life – political life, news, media, particularly social media,” said Christopher Steele – the author of the infamous Trump dossier – in a rare interview in November on the Infotagion podcast.

The sheer scale of Moscow’s disinformation efforts through social media is remarkable. A Facebook report published last week found that Russia remains the largest peddler of disinformation around the world. It was responsible not just for large-scale efforts during the 2016 election of Donald Trump and during the UK’s Brexit referendum campaign. Facebook said that Russia had run disinformation campaigns in more than 50 countries since 2017.

The report said that Russian military intelligence would create networks of increasingly sophisticated fake profiles which operated across multiple social media networks and blog platforms to try and avoid detection, peddling disinformation about topics including Russia’s proxy war with eastern Ukraine, Facebook said.

“It’s become a much more encompassing approach to trying to achieve your political and socio-economic objectives,” Steele said.

In one typical instance, Russian military intelligence created fake profiles that operated across blogs and multiple social media platforms to target Ukraine and neighboring countries. Some accounts posed as citizen journalists and tried to contact officials and other public figures, and others published blogs picked up by other journalists, Facebook said.

The objectives of these disinformation campaigns are not neatly defined. But they broadly represent attempts to undermine people’s faith in democracy and create partisanship and division, said Steele.

“What it does is undermine people’s faith in democracy and people’s faith in democracy which, as I’ve said before, should be the apogee of our democracy, not the weak point of it,” Steele said.

“The other thing I think it’s designed to do in its modern form is to create great polarity, great partisanship, and divisions.”

Disinformation is not the only decades-old Russian tactic gaining traction in the west in the social media era.

The rise of ‘Black PR’

putin disinformation black pr

So-called “Dark PR” or “Black PR” – is broadly defined as the practice of ruining reputations through dishonest public relations tactics, court battles, and other highly shady tactics. It first emerged in post-Soviet 1990s Russia as a means for political operators acting on behalf of state actors to destroy their opponents’ reputations.

However, the Kremlin, other state-owned entities, and Russian oligarchs with links to the state are now increasingly using those tactics in the west and using the power of social media to spread them further than ever before, according to a report by Dr. Andrew Foxall for the Henry Jackson Society.

“A lot of the time now, black PR campaigns tend to be on social media,” said Jade McGlynn, director of research at the Henry Jackson Society.

One example is the Bitkov family, who owned the highly successful North-West Timber Company in St Petersburg. Igor Bitkov, who built the company, made an enemy of Putin and was forced to flee the country with his wife and daughter after Russian state banks called in loans they had issued his company.

They sought refuge in Guatemala, but there was an intense and vitriolic social media campaign in Spanish against the family. “They were accused of all sorts of crimes – in that sense, it was a more typical disinformation campaign,” said McGlynn.

Whether the social media element to Russia’s disinformation efforts is actually effective is another question. In terms of Russia’s Black PR efforts, the accompanying efforts to prosecute individuals through the court systems appear to have been most effective.

The Bitkovs, for instance, were arrested and imprisoned in Guatemala in 2018, more than a decade after they fled Russia, on what they said were trumped-up charges following a decade of persecution from Russia – which had seen their daughter kidnapped. While Igor’s conviction was overturned, a Guatemalan appeals court upheld 14-year sentences against his wife and daughter only last year.

In the case of Russia’s more general disinformation campaigns, the effectiveness of its social media efforts has also been called into question, along with similar disinformation attempts backed by Iran’s government.

“Despite their relatively sophisticated nature, both of these operations reveal one of the fundamental challenges of “retail” [targeted] IO [information operations] – without a lucky break, they go nowhere,” Facebook’s report last week said. Russia’s disinformation effort in Ukraine, the company said, gained no “significant traction or attention.”

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Working mothers could face more negative effects from hybrid work models than their single male counterparts. Experts say the solution is to make remote work the default.

Mother working from home with child
A child plays while his mother works remotely.

  • Partial remote work could create a two-class system where workers in the office are rewarded.
  • This system could benefit unattached men and harm working mothers who need flexibility.
  • Experts say the solution is to make remote work the norm, not the exception.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

In some form or another, remote work is here to stay.

While some US workers are adamant that they’ll never return to an office, others just want flexibility – the option to stay at home when they want to and come into work when they need to. In corporate America, this has been dubbed a hybrid model of working, and everyone from Google CEO Sundar Pichai to JPMorgan’s Jamie Dimon have decreed that their companies will adopt a new, flexible way of working.

On the surface, this type of flexibility will be crucial for workers whose lives no longer revolve around commuting five days per week, or for working parents who need to adjust their schedules to support childcare duties.

But experts warn that there could be a hidden downside to hybrid models of working if employers don’t handle it properly – one that could harm the careers of working mothers, and hamper diversity efforts for years to come.

A two-class system

Zillow CEO Rich Barton was one of the first executives to publicly question what flexible working arrangements could mean for workers. While Zillow has fully embraced the hybrid model of work, Barton has voiced concerns about the challenges his team could face.

“We must ensure a level playing field for all team members, regardless of their physical location,” he said during the online real estate company’s fourth-quarter earnings call in February. “There cannot be a two-class system – those in the room being first-class and those on the phone being second-class.”

Bhaskar Chakravorti, dean of global business at the Fletcher School at Tufts University, told Insider that he’s worried about a hybrid future because of the impacts it could have on employee morale, diversity, and company culture.

“Frankly, I think it’s unsustainable to have a gigantic headquarters and then a whole bunch of people dispersed around the country, around the world, and expecting that the dispersed community is going to feel equal to the ones who are at the headquarters,” he said.

Unless companies make substantive changes now to hire more women and people of color and to support people who require flexibility, he said, company culture, particularly in tech, could easily become a sea of homogeneity: mainly white, unattached males who are willing and able to commute into an office every day.

Nicholas Bloom, a Stanford University economist who’s an expert on remote work, took it one step further. In an interview with Bloomberg’s Olivia Rockeman published this week, Bloom warned that this system could lead to at-home workers missing out on promotions to their peers who show up to the office, which could eventually lead to a diversity crisis in six to seven years and “a legal minefield of quite justifiable lawsuits.”

According to a survey of over 1,000 US workers from employee analytics firm Perceptyx, four out of 10 employees who work remotely at least part of the time said they felt impacted by a “perceived absence” from the office compared to their peers who reported to work every day. They reported feeling like their work was evaluated less often, they received less recognition, and they were less likely to receive a raise or promotion than their peers.

And according to Bloom, the population that chooses to stay home most of the time will not be random going forward.

“For people with children under the age of 12, you find almost 50% more women than men choose to work from home five days a week,” Bloom told Bloomberg.

Women have already been beaten down by the pandemic, economically speaking

A report from the International Labour Organization from January found that women, as well as younger workers, experienced the greatest employment losses during the last year. Last September, nearly 900,000 women reported that they were no longer employed, compared to 216,000 men who said the same.

A survey by McKinsey and Co. from last fall found that that one out of every four working women was considering scaling back their hours or leaving the workforce altogether, citing the challenge of juggling their work with childcare and other household tasks.

Read more: We’ve failed working mothers (again). This is how we build a better world for them.

Now that life is slowly returning to normal, women – who are more likely to shoulder the childcare burden – will require the flexibility to stay home a few days per week or adjust their hours to handle pick-up from school or daycare. This flexible future should be a blessing. But over time, inequity could rear its head, said Raafi Alidina, a consultant for diversity and inclusion consultancy Frost Included.

Alidina said he’s worried the hybrid model could also change the behavior of the employees who feel they need to keep up with their colleagues.

“You’ll end up having the people at home, noticing that they’re being treated as second-class and they’ll either leave [their job] or they’ll try to come back to work like they used to, they’ll try to go to the office,” he said. “And when they do go to the office, they won’t be at their best because they’ll be thinking, ‘Oh, I wish I could be at home with my kid,’ or they just won’t be able to work the way that works for their lives best.”

He added: “You’re not going to get the best version of them as a worker, you’re not gonna get the most productive version of them.”

Make remote work the norm, not the exception

So what’s the solution?

Alidina said there are a few ways to curb the rise of a two-class system. One way is to be proactive about helping employees feel connected to their workplace by driving home the value and importance of their work – and explaining how all employees are connected to their workplace, regardless of where they are.

He said companies also need to make employee recognition a priority, and ensure that that recognition is inclusive of every role.

“The accomplishments that you’ll feel are worth touting are going to be based on your own biases,” he said. “Credit isn’t always given as often or as easily to people of color, people with disabilities, and other members of marginalized groups.”

And finally, it’s all about how a company messages the work arrangement to employees. Rather than asking workers to request remote work, make remote work the default – and make managers justify why an employee needs to report to the office.

“It’s the same kind of thing that needs to happen for any kind of inclusion: If you’re the person who has more power and privilege in society, it’s your job to adapt to to help that other person feel like they can be their entire selves,” he said. “It’s the same way with managers the people who report them.”

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