Monthly Archives: November 2016

Hiking in Yosemite National Park

Which U.S. national parks will you visit in 2017? (Photo: sp.VVK/Shutterstock)

Are you ready to take on some adventures in 2017? As you plan your travel wish list, keep in mind the National Park Service offers a number of fee-free days each year during which entrance fees to all 413 U.S. national parks are waived. So instead of paying $3 to $30 to get in, you can “Find Your Park” for free.

In 2017, there will be 10 days when you can enjoy a fee-free vacation to a national park:

  • Jan. 16: Martin Luther King Jr. Day
  • Feb. 20: Presidents Day
  • April 15-16 and April 22-23: National Park Week Weekends
  • Aug. 25: National Park Service Birthday
  • Sept. 30: National Public Lands Day
  • Nov. 11-12: Veterans Day Weekend

And don’t forget, the National Park Service is in charge of natural gems such as Yosemite National park in California, Acadia National Park in Maine and Zion National Park in Utah, as well as many national historical parks, national monuments, national recreation areas, national battlefields and national seashores.

“National parks are known for their priceless beauty,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “They are a bargain anytime but on these 10 days in 2017, they really will be priceless. We want everyone to visit their national parks, and the fee-free days provide extra incentive to experience these amazing places.”

If you’re looking for more fee-free fun beyond these dates, you’ll be glad to know that 289 of the agency’s 413 sites actually have free admission every day of the year. But do your research before you go because while the entrance fees may be free, there may be charges for parking or programs — even on those fee-free days.

Now get out there and Find Your Park — for free — in 2017.


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Hey progressives, Liberals, socialists, and communists! Gun control won’t work!

wpid-gregaryidiotBy Robert Sollars –

After I get verbally pounded and threatened by those groups in the title and they have stopped reading this because after all I’m the one who is misinformed and not them… It simply won’t work, no-where near as quickly, efficiently, or effectively as they would have you believe.

Every time a crime utilizing a firearm is committed, usually workplace or school violence, there is a feeding frenzy about gun control, as the only viable alternative. It’s reminiscent of sharks at the sinking of the USS Indianapolis. And unfortunately it is the politicians looking for votes, progressive, socialistic, communistic and other groups as well as celebrities, who begin pushing for better and more regulatory control.

In roughly 90% of all incidents that are perpetrated using a firearm, they were purchased legally, and then borrowed, or stolen, from the legal owner. And you need an example… Sandy Hook Elementary. In any of those cases gun control would not have prevented them.

We can’t stop illegal immigration, drug smuggling, ISIS, or states breaking federal law (marijuana, discounting the benefits of medical use). They are all illegal so how do we expect stricter laws to prevent violence from firearms? It won’t. No matter what we do, the criminals will always have access to firearms. If felons, or illegal immigrants, aren’t supposed to have firearms, strict laws against it, then how do we arrest so many with a firearm?

And if we regulate them out of private ownership, what other items will we ban when they start causing crime? All of the following can cause serious injury, death, & trauma to a person and their families; Knives, vehicles, pencils, screwdrivers, pipe wrenches…?These items take many more lives than firearms in our country just not reported on as such because it’s not sensational and falling in line with the liberal agenda of control.

A firearm is not dangerous unless used improperly.  Much like a pencil, knife, pipe wrench, and so on. They can’t do any harm to anyone unless used improperly. If used improperly cars, alcohol, and drugs (both illegal and legal) cause more death & destruction than firearms, except during war. So why don’t we ban war as well, it would be better for the environment and our health would it not?

Overturning parts of the Constitution is easy if you have enough people on your side, prohibition for example. Several 2016 Presidential candidates stated they want to overturn parts of the 1st Amendment and make it harder to exercise our fundamental right of free speech, because it can be inflammatory and libelous… to certain groups of people i.e. Hispanics, Muslims, blacks, and etc. We need to grow up and stop whining about being offended.

Remember that then President Clinton signed a United Nations agreement in 1996 that stated that all personally owned firearms should be confiscated and banned. And current President Obama has stated that he wants the Senate to ratify that Small Arms Treaty.

There is no such thing as gun control anywhere in the United States. The cities with the strictest firearm laws have some of the worst murder rates in the United States. An example is Chicago. 2012-June 2015 has seen more than 6,000 murders and countless other crimes with firearms, (Kinda ironic that President Obama is from there and says virtually nothing about that huh?). The entire state of Illinois and California now has some of the most restrictive firearm laws in the country.

Look at the statistics of open carry states. Those with open carry laws have lower violent crime rates than those with strict laws. Oklahoma, Arizona, Alabama, Alaska, & Texas. Compare their violent crime rates, per capita, with California, New York, Michigan, and Illinois. They have the most population, but also have, per capita, the highest rates of violent crime.

I don’t like more government control and regulation on us. The Constitution is not a malleable instrument and unless we are ready for another Constitutional Convention and throw out the old and in with a new one… ‘If you ban guns the only ones to have guns will be criminals’. Again, if we regulate lawful and responsible gun ownership out of existence, do you really think that gun violence will end? And then where do the social progressives go from there? Can you say slippery slope?

And just as an added factoid, do you know why we have so much violence in this country with firearms compared to most European and Asian countries? It’s very simple and a basic fact that is carefully avoided by most firearm hating groups and news organizations. Look at the differences in population sizes. We have more than 345 million, including illegals, in the America. That’s nearly 10 times the populations of many of those countries.

Take off your ideological hats and think clearly for a second to look at the facts. You don’t live on Fantasy Island; you live in the United States of America. Founded on God, country, family, and protecting our God given rights to protect ourselves.


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I survived because I was warming somebody else…

jewIn Crown Heights, there was a Jew, Yankel, who owned a bakery. He survived the camps. He once said, “You know why it is that I’m alive today? I was a kid, just a teenager at the time. We were on the train, in a boxcar, being taken to Auschwitz. Night came and it was freezing, deathly cold, in that boxcar. The Germans would leave the cars on the side of the tracks overnight, sometimes for days on end without any food, and of course, no blankets to keep us warm,” he said. “Sitting next to me was an older Jew – this beloved elderly Jew – from my hometown I recognized, but I had never seen him like this. He was shivering from head to toe, and looked terrible. So I wrapped my arms around him and began rubbing him, to warm him up. I rubbed his arms, his legs, his face, his neck. I begged him to hang on. All night long; I kept the man warm this way. I was tired, I was freezing cold myself, my fingers were numb, but I didn’t stop rubbing the heat on to this man’s body. Hours and hours went by this way. Finally, night passed, morning came, and the sun began to shine. There was some warmth in the cabin, and then I looked around the car to see some of the other Jews in the car. To my horror, all I could see were frozen bodies, and all I could hear was a deathly silence.

Nobody else in that cabin made it through the night – they died from the frost. Only two people survived: the old man and me… The old man survived because somebody kept him
warm; I survived because I was warming somebody else…”

Let me tell you the secret of Judaism. When you warm other people’s hearts, you remain warm yourself. When you seek to support, encourage and inspire others; then you discover support, encouragement and inspiration in your own life as well. That, my friends, is “Judaism 101”.


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8 foods you’d never guess were artificially colored

Bottles of food coloring

Plenty of foods that appear naturally colored are actually hue-enhanced using synthetic dyes or chemical processing. (Photo: Scott Bolster/Shutterstock)

It’s probably no surprise that those unnaturally bright-colored soft drinks, candies, cake mixes and breakfast cereals on store shelves are artificially colored. They simply don’t look like anything found in nature. That makes it’s easier to bypass them if you don’t want to eat potentially health-harming red, orange, yellow, green and blue food dyes.

Now for the bad news. These products are the easy ones to spot. Plenty of other foods may look natural but are actually color-enhanced or altered through artificial dyes and chemical processing. You just don’t suspect them because either they don’t look unrealistic or because you’ve always seen them that color.

The following list of artificially colored foods may surprise you for many reasons, not least of which is that most are usually considered fresh and unaltered just as Mother Nature made them. Before you decide to strike them from your diet, read on. In some cases, the coloring used is natural, and for the rest, non-colored versions are typically available if you know where to look.

Here are some facts about eight foods that aren’t the color they appear to be.


cheddar cheese is often artificially coloredChances are that orange cheddar you love is artificially colored. (Photo: george ruiz/flickr)

Cheese comes in orange and white, right? Well, not exactly. The truth is cheese, especially cheddar, is naturally white or light yellowish. The yellow pigment comes from beta carotene, a colorful plant nutrient that’s transferred from the grass cows eat into their milk. In the 17th century, English cheesemakers realized they could skim off the cream, which contains most of the beta carotene, and sell it separately for more profit. To keep the yellow-orange color that people expected, they started adding coloring from saffron, carrot juice and currently annatto (a natural coloring made from the seeds of the achiote tree, though some is synthetically made). The tradition carried on in America, except for places like Vermont where anti-coloring cheesemakers — and white cheddar — continue to reign.


tuna is often gassed with carbon monoxideGassing fresh tuna with carbon monoxide helps keep it bright red and eye-pleasing to fish lovers. (Photo: Nick Richards/flickr)

That bright red tuna steak you’re fixing for dinner might look fresh from the sea, but chances are it was “gassed” with carbon monoxide, an odorless, colorless toxic gas that prevents flesh from discoloring to an unappealing brown. In fact, many meats undergo this treatment because they don’t arrive in supermarkets before the natural browning process begins. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says gassing meat is safe, but the European Union, Japan and Canada have banned the practice. Their main concern is that it can be used to camouflage potentially dangerous tuna and other meats that are past their sell-by dates. Ask your supermarket whether meat is color-enhanced or consider buying local meats fresh from the farm.


Pickles in a jarTo keep cucumber skins from fading during their stint on supermarket shelves, manufacturers often add yellow coloring to amplify their natural color. (Photo: Marie C Fields/Shutterstock)

Sure, pickles are naturally green, just not the vibrant green you often see in jars. To keep cucumber skins from fading during their stint on supermarket shelves, manufacturers often add yellow coloring to amplify their natural color. Some food companies use turmeric (a yellow spice added to curry) and some use tartrazine, an artificial lemon-yellow dye derived from coal tar that may cause mutations in cell DNA. Tartrazine also goes by the names FD&C Yellow #5 and Yellow 5. Read labels and choose pickle brands without added synthetic color. A few, like Trader Joe’s brand pickles, are dye-free. If you can’t give up your neon green dills, sours and sweets, opt for those containing natural coloring.


Orange juice - vitamin CBuy oranges in season or stick to organic brands to avoid artificial dyes sprayed on the peels. (Photo: MaKo-studio/Shutterstock)

They’re called oranges for a reason. It’s just that oranges aren’t orange all the time. Early in the growing season before the nights start turning cool, orange skins are green or at least not quite orange enough to have visual appeal in the produce aisle. That’s why some growers looking for year-round sales spray the skins with Citrus Red #2, an artificial dye certified by the FDA to give oranges a consumer-pleasing pop of their namesake color. Unfortunately, like many synthetic food dyes, this one is potentially harmful to human health. To avoid getting too much orange in your oranges, buy organic brands (which don’t allow dyes) or select those grown in California or Arizona (two states that prohibit Citrus Red #2).


Wasabi and chopsticksIs this real wasabi? Maybe not, if you bought it in the store. (Photo: kungverylucky/Shutterstock)

Here’s a small dose of color reality for sushi-lovers. That ball of green hot wasabi next to your sushi rolls isn’t really green. In fact, it’s not even really wasabi. The genuine stuff is made by grating the root of the Wasabia japonica plant, which is hard to grow and cultivate — and therefore extremely rare and expensive to serve. The cheaper alternative — what most of us think of as wasabi — is actually a concoction of horseradish, mustard, synthetic green food coloring and other chemicals that often comes powdered and is mixed with water into a paste.

Dried apricots

dried apricots often treated with sulfur dioxideSulfur dioxide is often used to keep dried apricots bright orange and visually appetizing. (Photo: miheco/flickr)

Bright orange and delicious, dried apricots seem like a healthy way to satisfy your sweet tooth. Except that their orange brightness is probably a sign they were treated with sulfur dioxide prior to drying to keep them from turning brown. This foul-smelling gas also boosts shelf life and preserves taste. If you’re sensitive to sulfites or just want to avoid potentially toxic chemicals in your food, opt for less colorful organic brands and always read the label. What you give up in vibrancy, you’ll likely gain in health and nutrition.

Pickled ginger

Pickled gingerTraditionally, pickled ginger is white or slightly pink. However, most commercially produced pickled ginger is artificially colored with FD&C Red #40. (Photo: mama_mia/Shutterstock)

Fake green wasabi isn’t the only sushi-related color deception. That pickled pink ginger served to cleanse your palate isn’t naturally quite that pink. Traditionally, pickled ginger (gari) is white or slightly pink, due to the pickling process. However, most commercially produced gari today is artificially colored with FD&C Red #40 (also called Red 40 or Allura Red), which is made from synthetic coal tar. There’s some evidence it can cause ADHD-like behavior in certain children, but it has yet to be banned by the FDA.


farm-raised salmon given nutrients to enhance color.Farm-raised salmon are given nutrient additives in their feed to make them look more like their orangey-pink wild cousins. (Photo: Boca Dorada/flickr)

Wild salmon swim the oceans foraging for crustaceans, plankton and algae that contain naturally occurring colorful carotenoid plant pigments like canthaxanthin and astaxanthin. These micronutrients give salmon flesh (as well as lobster and shrimp shells) their naturally orangey-pink color. Farmed salmon, though, are fed an artificial soy- and corn-based diet devoid of these natural pigments, which leaves them pretty devoid of color. To prevent consumers from turning up their noses at the pallid flesh, salmon farmers add synthetic canthaxanthin and astaxanthin to their fish feed to boost color appeal. The health impact of these additives is still being studied, but you may want to forgo farmed salmon in favor of wild-caught whenever you can — and not just for that reason. Experts say farmed salmon is also less nutritious because fish are fed unnatural diets and because their overcrowded conditions are a breeding ground for pollutants and disease.


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How a Serial Con Man Fooled Silicon Valley and Took an NFL Star’s Millions

A lawsuit by NFL linebacker Patrick Willis put Eren Niazi in the news, but his history of scams goes back much further.
Patrick Willis, formerly of the San Francisco 49ers, and Eren Niazi.
CREDIT: Courtesy Anonymous

You’ve probably never heard of Eren Niazi, but you’ve certainly heard of his friends.

Anyone who has ever met Niazi has heard the stories about them. They include the two most important Steves in Silicon Valley: Apple co-founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. Jobs, the inventor of the iPhone, took the young Niazi under his wing and made time for him just one week before his death from cancer in 2011. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is also a friend; he invited Niazi to accompany him to the Nasdaq on the day he rang the opening bell to mark Facebook’s IPO and was devastated when Niazi told him he couldn’t be there.

If you’re a football fan, you also know of Niazi’s business partner, Patrick Willis, the All-Pro linebacker who suddenly and shockingly left the San Francisco 49ers in 2015 to pursue a career in tech working alongside Niazi at his startup, Open Source Storage. Willis said working with Niazi at Open Source was a bigger honor than anything he had accomplished on the field.

San Francisco 49er Patrick Willis during 2013’s Super Bowl XLVII.
CREDIT: Getty Images

You’ve probably never heard of Niazi, but you know the companies he’s helped build. He helped code the websites of companies like Facebook and eBay, and his company, Open Source Storage, counted as clients a who’s who of tech companies, ranging from Yahoo to Sony to AOL.

“I only like to take tough jobs,” Niazi said in a promotional video from 2012. “The harder the job, the most demanding applications, the newest of innovation is what I’ve always been involved with, and that’s what I love and have a passion for.”

These were stories Niazi told, anyway. Those who spent enough time around him often found they didn’t check out, but not until too late.

Niazi is a skinny man with black hair who typically wears thin, frameless glasses and flashy clothes. Niazi was known for his charismatic and engaging manner. He charmed the women around him and impressed the men he worked with. He could connect with anyone and gain their trust.

It didn’t hurt that Niazi often mentioned his family’s vast fortune. With his flashy clothes, his shining jewelry, the huge checks he wrote, his roaring BMWs and Ferraris, and his imposing NFL sidekick, Niazi had the accessories to match the image he sought to project.

He cut an unlikely figure, to be sure, but anything is possible in Silicon Valley. It’s a land of meritocracy, those who work there always say, where the only thing that matters is your talent, not your pedigree. In this world, investors and executives don’t care where you came from; they care only where you’re going. They have money to spend, and they want to bet on the next big thing. The shorter the resume, the fresher the ideas might be.

Who would question Niazi’s bona fides? Who even cared?

Most didn’t. Not until September 29, when Niazi was arrested for shooting up a home he was living in, piercing multiple bullets through a football helmet worn in a Super Bowl and putting the life of a child in danger. That’s when Willis, the owner of that helmet, began to question Niazi, the authenticity of his larger-than-life tales, and what the tech executive had done with his millions.

Earlier this month, Inc. reported on a lawsuit filed in Santa Clara County Superior Court on Willis’s behalf. The lawsuit accuses Niazi of fraud and breach of fiduciary duty. The suit seeks more than $2 million in disputed real estate and yet-to-be-determined monetary damages. A second, previously unreported lawsuit was filed by Willis farther south, in the Superior Court of San Benito County. The lawsuit raises the same allegations and seeks at least $1 million in disputed real estate damages.

To more than a few people in Niazi’s past, what he did to Willis was not as surprising as much as it was the culmination of a career, a career that was not spent coding and cutting business deals, but rather, conning, scamming, bilking, over-charging, shortchanging, and lying to those around him. At least two former business associates have gone to the FBI with information about Niazi, although the agency can neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation.

These people knew Niazi was not what he made himself out to be, not remotely. But even they didn’t know the full extent of what he was capable of.

Now that they know, they are afraid. A number of sources Inc. approached for this story agreed to speak only on condition of anonymity or declined to speak altogether, citing the fear that Niazi would seek to retaliate after his release from jail, which took place Thursday.

The idea that he would go after people he once called friends is all too plausible, says one such source. “He has no feeling for any of these people. There’s no guilt or remorse there.”

Heir to the turtleneck

The first time many in the tech industry heard the name Eren Niazi came in 2014 when The Street published a piece titled “Apple’s Steve Jobs Would See Himself in Tech Pioneer Eren Niazi.”

The article told of an ambitious entrepreneur who had founded Open Source Storage in 2001, when he was in his mid-20s. The young company’s customers ranged from Friendster to Facebook and NASA, the article claimed. With Facebook alone, “Open Source Storage’s efforts for the social media giant fetched $5.5 billion in revenue for open-source storage and commodity hardware,” the article said.

It was a company on the fast track to success, but its run stalled as the Great Recession arrived, the article said. “Investors fought to control the enterprise, yet it went bankrupt. Niazi was out.”

But like Jobs, his mentor, Niazi did not give up on his company. In 2013, he relaunched Open Source Storage, and quickly, the second iteration of the firm picked up where the original had left off. “Since its re-entry last year, the Silicon Valley-based company has sold 50 million shares to private investors (with no valuation disclosed), launched 12 new product lines, and exceeded its revenue targets in six months,” the article said.

The story described a company with all the trappings of Silicon Valley success. It was exactly the kind of company that would spark the interest of an NFL superstar living in the tech capital of the world and nearing the end of his football career.

Inseparable partners

Willis and Niazi met each other sometime in late 2014, according to Willis’s lawsuits and public accounts previously given by both individuals in the press. The two met by chance while both were living in Santana Row, a trendy shopping center and residential complex in San Jose.

Whenever he met anyone, Niazi was quick to reel off his outsize accomplishments as a tech entrepreneur and scene-maker. To a football player with no experience in business or tech, those stories were intriguing. “Patrick was easy,” the source said. “He was looking for someone to mentor him in business as he prepared to walk away from football.”

The two neighbors quickly became friends, and after just a few months of knowing each other, they also became business partners.

From left: Gracie Gato, Patrick Willis, another Open Source Storage employee, and Eren Niazi.
CREDIT: Courtesy Anonymous

Willis joined the company in early 2015, within weeks of his retirement from football. During his decorated career with the San Francisco 49ers, Willis had racked up 950 tackles, been named the Defensive Rookie of the Year, and been selected to the Pro Bowl in seven of his eight seasons in the NFL. His highest accomplishment was helping lead the 49ers to a Super Bowl appearance. Yet all that paled next to the pride he felt upon joining Open Source Storage, Willis said in an interview in September with CNBC.

Willis came in as an investor of Open Source Storage, a board member of the company, and its new executive vice president for partnerships. In his role, Willis was in charge of interviewing job candidates, Mashable reported. And as he had been by his teammates in football, Willis was well liked by his new colleagues.

“Patrick is the greatest guy I’ve met,” said Gracie Gato, an employee of Open Source Storage from March until May. “He’s the sweetest guy in the world.”

Getting to know Willis, however, was not easy. Anytime Willis was in the office, Niazi kept the retired defender isolated from everyone else. When someone addressed Willis, Niazi and he would whisper in each other’s ears before Niazi finally spoke for his business partner.

Willis rarely left Niazi’s sight. Where one went so did the other. The two friends and business partners even had matching white gold and blue-jeweled rings on their fingers. Niazi showed off his new friend to everyone he knew as avidly as he had retailed his anecdotes about Zuckerberg and Jobs — albeit from a distance.

“The way Eren treated Patrick was sort of like a pet. He would parade him around like ‘Look at me, I’m with a celebrity,’ ” Gato said. “It was truly disgusting. It was disgusting. He exploited the hell out of Patrick.”

Eventually, word of Willis’s joining Open Source Storage reached the tech press. On May 18, Mashable published a glowing profile of Willis and the company. The story went viral and dozens more articles were written about the football legend’s second act in Silicon Valley. Just one day later, word of the story reached another, more serious entity: the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The whistleblower

After being hired as an engineer in March and working at Open Source Storage for more than two months, Gato had become suspicious of her company. In all of that time, she had not written a single line of code. And Niazi treated everyone around her, with the exception of Willis, with an unpredictable temperament. He would hire and fire employees on a whim, several sources said, and he was just as likely to cut your salary as he was to give you a raise or promotion.

Gato herself had experienced that erratic behavior. Shortly after being hired, she was promoted (with no raise in salary) to director of customer support, but she never did anything. There were no customers to support because there was no product to sell. Never mind the 12 product lines Niazi claimed in his interview with TheStreet.

“He wasn’t interested in making money or getting any type of sales whatsoever. It seemed like he was riding out whatever money he was on,” Gato said. “It seemed like he just kept us on the payroll to look legit.”

Suspicious, Gato set up a conference call, asking a friend to ask her colleagues basic sales questions about Open Source Storage’s services. She suspected Open Source Storage wasn’t legit, but she needed to find out, Gato said.

“When [my friend] asked them, ‘What exactly do you guys do?’ everybody was stuttering over themselves,” Gato recalls. “That’s when I found out this whole thing was a lie.”

As far as Gato could gather, Open Source Storage’s only source of income appeared to be Willis’s NFL fortune. Gato quit on May 6 and never cashed her final check.

“I knew my paycheck came from Patrick. I refused to accept another dollar,” Gato said. “I knew his fate, another broke NFL player — I couldn’t deal with that.”

While the rest of the world was excited to see how Willis would do in the tech industry, Gato grew worried for the NFL star.

“Everything about Eren Niazi is fake,” Gato wrote in a note sent to the FBI. “He is a Venture Capitalist [sic] worst nightmare. He defaults on debts, never pays them. He is now using a retired NFL player’s money, and he has no product.”

Along with the FBI, she reached out to news outlets. No one heeded Gato’s warnings. She gave up. For months, she stopped trying to warn people until November 4, the day she saw the Inc. report about Willis’s lawsuit, at which point she took to Twitter to contact this reporter.

Gato, however, was not the first person to contact the FBI about Niazi. In 2015, Glenn Carnahan had done the same.

‘He could sell snow to an Eskimo’

Carnahan is the chief financial officer at Ridgeline Entertainment, a TV production company based in Auburn, California. Carnahan, along with his business partner Doug Stanley, had come up with an idea to create a TV channel based right in Facebook’s News Feed.

As the two scouted for a development firm that could build out their vision, they were referred to Dodecahedron, a company owned by Niazi. As he did with everyone he met, Niazi quickly swept the pair off their feet. He told them about the supposedly pivotal role he’d played in Facebook’s early days: Years earlier, before the company went public, Niazi had helped Mark Zuckerberg get the social network back online after his own engineers messed up its code, he said.

Niazi also promised to introduce Carnahan and Stanley to Wozniak, the guy who created the first Apple computers. With all of his connections, Niazi struck them as just the right guy to build out Smackdab, the name they gave to their idea.

“He could just sell snow to an Eskimo,” said one source who worked for Niazi at one of his companies in the early 2010s. “He had a way with people of connecting with them and getting them to believe things.”

Ridgeline Entertainment entered into an agreement with Dodecahedron. Niazi’s company would be responsible for putting together Smackdab, take care of the hosting, file pertinent patents, and deliver subsequent updates for the site.

“There was flattery,” Carnahan said. “We were a priority to him and that made us feel better and trust him.”

Dodecahedron delivered the site. In a promotional video from 2012, Stanley can be seen claiming his company hired “the chief architect of Facebook, Eren Niazi,” to oversee its creation.

“I’ve helped architect some of the world’s largest websites, including Facebook, Shutterfly, eBay,” Niazi says in the video.

But after the release of the website, Niazi’s firm failed to provide the promised updates, Carnahan said. As time passed, the relationship became strained. Ridgeline wanted its updates, and as Carnahan looked more closely into the matter, he started seeing red flags he’d missed earlier.

One early sign was the hosting. Dodecahedron was charging Ridgeline $10,000 a month to host Smackdab, but after delving into the specifics, Carnahan found the hosting provider Niazi was using charged just $1,500 a month.

More alarming was Niazi’s handling of the patent filing. Rather than list Carnahan and Stanley as the applicants, Niazi put his own name down, a copy of the document dated July 2012 shows. Carnahan was able to catch and correct the filing after a meeting with the patent lawyer that did not involve Niazi.

“He tried to make himself the owner of the intellectual property,” Carnahan said.

Niazi had kept himself at the center of information flow to mislead them and charge inflated prices, and he had written the contract in a loose enough way to justify his actions, Carnahan said.

“He bled us in a very deliberate manner, and he managed it very well by shielding us from the people we should’ve been talking to,” Carnahan said. “He preyed on our ignorance.”

All in all, Dodecahedron charged Ridgeline almost $700,000 for its services. “We overpaid Eren by $500,000. That’s a lot of content that we could’ve developed with that,” said Carnahan, noting that although Ridgeline continues to operate, it is a shell of what it could have been. “We could’ve done a lot.”

Carnahan wanted to sue, but Niazi had already wasted so much of their money that the partners chose not to squander their remaining resources on a distracting lawsuit. Instead, he put together a thick folder and went to the FBI’s Sacramento office, Carnahan said.

The FBI said it can neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation. However, many of the companies and people Niazi claims to have worked with deny any involvement. Facebook and eBay both said they have never been clients of Niazi or Open Source Storage. As to whether Niazi and Zuckerberg ever had the friendship Niazi claimed, a Facebook spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment. Wozniak, however, denies ever having met Niazi. “I do not know, nor know of, this person,” he told Inc. via email.

Family feud

Another company Niazi claimed to have worked with is Yahoo. Niazi brought up Yahoo when he met with Swee and Ozkan Niazi, his aunt and uncle, one day in April 2007, according to court documents from 2009.

At the time, Niazi was still running the original Open Source Storage. Niazi told his aunt and uncle of the “rapid growth” the company was experiencing but he said that it was “short of cash” as it sought to fill a “significant order from Yahoo.” Niazi needed their help in the form of a $200,000 loan.

Niazi promised Swee and Ozkan that he would quickly return them their money. The next day, Niazi stopped by his uncle’s office to pick up the check. Weeks and then months passed without Ozkan and Swee getting any of their money back. Finally, on September 4, Niazi paid them a portion of their loan, a check for $30,000 listed as “loan-partial.” Three weeks later, Ozkan contacted Niazi.

Eren Niazi.
CREDIT: Courtesy Anonymous

“Hello Eren, were you able to get that line of credit?” asked Ozkan in an email. “I am MAXed out on my credit cards. I need the funds back ASAP.”

“Hello Uncle, I will call you tomorrow,” responded Niazi later that day. “I am trying my best and do not have any credit lines available to me……”

For more than two years, Ozkan haggled with Niazi seeking the remainder of the loan. In the meantime, Open Source Storage filed for bankruptcy. The company listed about $1.5 million in assets and nearly $6 million in liabilities, according to bankruptcy filings from 2007.

Finally on December 7, 2009, Ozkan and Swee filed a formal lawsuit against Niazi. Emails included as evidence in that lawsuit showed that Open Source Storage never made a sale to Yahoo; the Sunnyvale company did take delivery of some OSS servers but returned them without making a purchase.

Like Willis would years later, the couple sued their nephew for breach of contract and securities fraud. They sought damages of $170,000 plus interest and legal fees. At the trial, Niazi alleged that the transaction was a business deal between Ozkan and OSS, not a personal loan.

Ozkan and Swee won their case and later won a challenge brought forth by Niazi. Collecting their money, though, was a different story.

Reached by phone in November, Swee said she was not able to speak as she and her husband were still going through legal proceedings. This reporter asked if Niazi had yet to pay back the $200,000 he had borrowed from his relatives. Quickly, before hanging up, Swee said no.

A trail of destruction

The lawsuits from Willis accuse Niazi of misleading the football player into investing his money into companies registered in Nevada. The plan was for Willis and Niazi to grow their fortunes as co-investors, combining their assets. The lawsuits allege that while Willis upheld his part of the agreement, Niazi did not.

Willis is now seeking full ownership of six properties that Niazi purchased throughout Santa Clara and San Benito via the Nevada companies. Some of the properties were purchased by companies that name both Willis and Niazi as partners. One of the properties — a stately house in Hollister, worth more than $1 million, according to the county assessment — was purchased through a Nevada business that lists Niazi as the sole member, one of the lawsuits alleges.

“Niazi made that property his home, representing that he owned it and purchased it with his own money,” the San Benito lawsuit claims. “Of course, he never paid Plaintiff anything in rent for the months he lived there.”

Aside from the $3 million in property disputes, Willis’s lawyers said they do not yet have exact figures for the monetary damages they will be seeking. One of Willis’s attorneys told Inc. they have hired forensic accountants to investigate but anticipate the damages sought at trial will be significant. One source who worked with Niazi in the past year said the amount may be between $13 and $14 million.

Earlier this week, Niazi retained a new attorney, who addressed the football player’s allegations against her client on Tuesday. “I’m bothered by the idea that there are people who are saying and speaking ill of some of his business dealings,” said Katy Young, a partner at Ad Astra Law Group.

Young met with Niazi for the first time on Tuesday and spoke with him for a number of hours. After the meeting, Young said that she reached out to the lawyers who are representing Willis.

“Eren is interested in coming to an amicable resolution as possible,” Young said. “He genuinely cares for Patrick Willis and certainly never meant to harm him. It’s a delicate case because there is a friendship that hangs in the balance. Unclear whether they’ll ever be able to rectify that.”

As to the claims made in Willis’s lawsuit, Young said, “Mr. Willis’s complaint is very general in its fraud allegation, and the rule regarding pleading fraud in a civil context is that fraud has to be pled with particularity. The plaintiff, Mr. Willis in this case, would have to articulate the who, what, when, why and how of the alleged defrauding that took place.”

Shooting spree

Eren Niazi appears in court at San Benito County for his criminal case.
CREDIT: Courtesy Anonymous

The incident that resulted in Niazi’s jailing took place at a house located 50 miles south of San Jose, in a tiny California town of 35,000 people called Hollister. It is a huge, eight-bedroom home with a brick driveway the length of a football field. The home sits on a vast, 16-acre lot. There is a large American flag that waves in front of the home’s four-pillared entrance. The mansion is nicknamed the White House, and it is unlike any of the small homes that surround it. It’s one of the properties under dispute in Willis’s lawsuit, the one Niazi allegedly bought with Willis’s money while listing himself as sole owner.

Residing in the house with Niazi was a woman who has subsequently obtained an order of protection against him from San Benito Superior Court. (Another woman has also obtained such an order.) The woman’s young child was with her in the house that night as well, according to a source who has spoken with her subsequently.

That night, Niazi permitted a child “to suffer and to be inflicted with unjustifiable physical pain and mental suffering,” according to the case brought against him on behalf of the state of California. He used a Smith and Wesson 10mm handgun, and he “willfully and unlawfully discharged a firearm in a grossly negligent manner which could result in injury and death to a person,” the documents read.

“He just freaked out,” said the source who spoke with the woman who was in the house with Niazi that night.

“He grabbed his gun and then started shooting holes in the wall like a commando up and down the hallways,” adds the source, who visited the house following the shooting. The source noted the black scuffmarks and dark bullet holes on the walls that were left by Niazi and were still visible a few days after the shooting.

Niazi took several shots at the walls and out of the windows of the home. He then went into a room in the home where Willis kept several bits of memorabilia from his eight-year NFL career. Among the articles was a 49ers helmet that the source said he believes is the same one worn by Willis during his Super Bowl XLVII appearance against the Baltimore Ravens in 2013.

“He killed that helmet. There’s several bullet holes in it,” said the source. “It’s not replaceable.”

Escape plan

On Thursday, November 17, Niazi was released from jail after pleading no contest to gross and negligent use of a firearm and agreeing to post $50,000 in bail. The other charge against him, child endangerment with use of a firearm, was dismissed. Under the conditions of his release, Niazi must take medications for bipolar disorder and cannot possess a firearm.

Thomas Worthington of the Worthington Law Centre, the attorney representing Niazi in his criminal case, said his client had had a mental breakdown. Earlier that night, Niazi had been taken to the hospital on a so-called 5150, an involuntary psychiatric hold. The shooting spree occurred only after Niazi was released, Worthington said.

“I’m convinced from everything that I reviewed that he really had no intent to harm anyone whatsoever, on that particular day,” said Worthington.

“What he thought he was doing was protecting his family, and in my opinion, it was a product of his impaired mental functioning at the time,” Worthington said. Worthington said he has objected to findings that Niazi is incompetent to stand trial. Niazi has the right to a jury trial, and that is what they have demanded, Worthington said. Niazi’s sentencing is set for December 15, and felony probation has been granted, the lawyer said.

“Going back further, these issues about investments and whether he intentionally cheated any investors — from what I have learned about this man is that he is a good person. There is no record that he has ever been in trouble in his life in a criminal way,” Worthington said.

“I believe that as we continue to explore this we will learn that his mental condition contributed to the decisions he made and the actions that he took probably in all those years,” Worthington said. “I do not think that he intentionally bilked people of money.”

Given Niazi’s long history of manipulation and deceit, however, those around him are unwilling to write off all of his actions to factors beyond his control.

“He got found out, and he didn’t have a way out,” said a former colleague who has known Niazi for close to a decade. “The escape plan was to go nuts. But he’s not nuts. He’s a very smart man.”


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Jeff Sessions as Attorney General: An Insult to Justice

Credit Hanna Barczyk

In 1986, President Ronald Reagan nominated Jeff Sessions, then a United States attorney from Alabama, to be a federal judge. The Republican-controlled Senate rejected Mr. Sessions out of concern, based on devastating testimony by former colleagues, that he was a racist.

Three decades later, Mr. Sessions, now a veteran Alabama senator, is on the verge of becoming the nation’s top law-enforcement official, after President-elect Donald Trump tapped him on Friday to be attorney general.

It would be nice to report that Mr. Sessions, who is now 69, has conscientiously worked to dispel the shadows that cost him the judgeship. Instead, the years since his last confirmation hearing reveal a pattern of dogged animus to civil rights and the progress of black Americans and immigrants.

Based on his record, we can form a fairly clear picture of what his Justice Department would look like:

For starters, forget about aggressive protection of civil rights, and of voting rights in particular. Mr. Sessions has called the Voting Rights Act of 1965 a “piece of intrusive legislation.” Under him, the department would most likely focus less on prosecutions of minority voter suppression and more on rooting out voter fraud, that hallowed conservative myth. As a federal prosecutor, Mr. Sessions brought voter-fraud charges against three civil rights workers trying to register black voters in rural Alabama. The prosecution turned up 14 allegedly doctored ballots out of 1.7 million cast, and the jury voted to acquit.

Forget, also, any federal criminal-justice reform, which was on the cusp of passage in Congress before Mr. Trump’s “law and order” campaign. Mr. Sessions strongly opposed bipartisan legislation to scale back the outrageously harsh sentences that filled federal prisons with low-level drug offenders. Instead, he called for more mandatory-minimum sentences and harsher punishments for drug crimes. The one bright spot was his working with Democrats to reduce the 100-to-1 disparity between punishments for crack and powder cocaine offenses.

But Mr. Sessions can do plenty of damage without any congressional action. As attorney general, he would set the guidelines prosecutors follow in deciding what cases and charges to bring. In 2013, Eric Holder Jr. ordered his prosecutors to avoid the most severe charges in low-level nonviolent drug cases, which has helped cut the number of absurdly long sentences for minor players. Mr. Sessions could reverse that with the stroke of a pen. He could just as easily reverse Mr. Holder’s decision not to interfere with state marijuana laws, likely ramping up prosecutions even as states continue to legalize the drug for medicinal or recreational use. “Good people don’t smoke marijuana,” he said at a Senate hearing in April.

Mr. Sessions has been the Senate’s most ardent opponent of fixing the immigration system. In 2015 he proposed a five-year mandatory minimum sentence for anyone re-entering the country illegally after being deported. That could increase the federal prison population by as much as 30 percent. As Mr. Trump’s chief law enforcer, he is likely to fully support efforts to enlist local law enforcement in a widening dragnet for people without papers. He also, during the campaign, endorsed the idea of a ban on Muslim immigrants.

Count Mr. Sessions, as well, among those Trump allies calling for a special prosecutor to continue investigating Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation, a decision that, if he is attorney general, would be his to make.

Donald Trump ran a presidential campaign that stoked white racial resentment. His choice for attorney general — which, like his other early choices, has been praised by white supremacists — embodies that worldview. We expect today’s senators, like their predecessors in 1986, to examine Mr. Sessions’s views and record with bipartisan rigor. If they do, it is hard to imagine that they will endorse a man once rejected for a low-level judgeship to safeguard justice for all Americans as attorney general.


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A Bigfoot hunter on how to have smart political discourse

– Ranae Holland is host of 'Finding Bigfoot' on Animal Planet

Ranae Holland is host of ‘Finding Bigfoot’ on Animal Planet

Ranae Holland grew up in South Dakota reading about the legend of Bigfoot with her father. She was fascinated at the idea of an ape-like creature hiding in the mountains of America. That passion led her to be a host on Animal Planet’s TV show “Finding Bigfoot”.

But Ranae is unique in the world of Bigfoot searchers: She doesn’t believe the animal is real. Holland has a background as a field biologist and believes there is no proof of Sasquatch. She plays the role of the skeptical scientist on the show.

“I love Bigfoot stories. I am curious, so even though I don’t believe it’s real I love the idea of it,” says Holland.

Holland says her favorite part of hosting the show is the connection that she can make with the people who claim to have seen Bigfoot. But these are delicate conversations for her. She doesn’t want to dismiss the person’s experience but needs stay true to her scientific knowledge. She says she is just trying to understand what happened to them.

“They had this experience and then here I come strolling in and because I have some type of degree or something, or because I’m on a TV show, I get to tell you what happened to you,” says Holland. “Absolutely not.”

Ranae wants to be an example of how people who fundamentally disagree on facts, like the existence of a hairy mountain dweller, can show empathy and compassion to one another. She says the lack of these types of conversations is why we’ve become so polarized and has set the stage for the vitriol that has run rampant through our culture.

Is anybody thinking of our contentious presidential election yet?

Ranae Holland has. “Finding Bigfoot” began filming in 2010, and Ranae has traveled a lot through rural America since then and she says it was a real wake up call. She was able to see the anger and feelings of being marginalized outside major cities.

“I’m a lesbian environmental activist so I am very Seattle urban archipelago liberal bubble and I would come home on a hiatus and everybody’s all, ‘No problem, Hillary’s got this in the bag.’ And I was talking to my friends, ‘You guys, have you left the city limits? Have you talked to any of your folks back in Montana?’” says Holland.

Holland saw a red wave coming and indeed on Nov. 8, it came. Holland is concerned what President Trump will mean for her rights as a lesbian and for environmental protection. But the lessons she’s learned having conversations with people who believe in Bigfoot give her hope that we don’t have to be a divided nation.

“I want to be vulnerable. I want to look somebody in the eye and have a conversation, a sincere conversation,” says Holland. “I think it’s this mentality of proving someone is right or wrong, it’s black or white, that mentality is what has gotten us to this horrible place.”

She gave an example of a Baptist she met while filming the show. The man was surprised to learn Ranae was a lesbian. She was able to have a conversation with him about her sexuality and religion that happened organically.

“I didn’t try to change his mind or his religion. I tried to tell him my experience and why I believe the way I do, without calling him a name or tearing him down,” says Holland. “The conversation can be vulnerable. The conversation can be gracious.”

Bigfoot has taught Ranae the power of asking questions. She believes that is the only way that people on the opposite side of any issue, whether it be abortion, climate change, or even Bigfoot, can come together.

“I, as a skeptical scientist, am constantly trying to ask the question, to understand things, not tell somebody what to think, not declare and stick a flag in and put my hands on my hips,” Holland says. “I’m trying to bridge that gap.”


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