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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
COURTESY OF THE DISCOVERY CHANNEL

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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Kennedy Family Writes Anti-Trump Op-Ed In Washington Post That EVERYONE Should Read

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If there is one family in America that is qualified to speak on the issue of hatred and violence, it is the Kennedys. John F. Kennedy was shot and killed in 1963 followed by Robert F. Kennedy in 1968.

The remaining Kennedy members were so disturbed by Donald Trump that they wrote the following op-ed for The Washington Post.

Written by William Kennedy Smith and Jean Kennedy Smith

On April 4, 1968, the day the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed, Robert Kennedy was campaigning for the presidency in Indianapolis. Bobby conveyed the news of King’s death to a shattered, mostly black audience. He took pains to remind those whose first instinct may have been toward violence that President John F. Kennedy had also been shot and killed. Bobby went on, “What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.”

That speech has crystallized into the single most enduring portrait of Bobby’s candidacy. Because it was extemporaneous, it conveyed directly, and with raw emotion, his own vulnerability, his aspirations for his country, and a deep compassion for the suffering of others. Bobby concluded his remarks that night by urging those listening to return home and say a prayer for our country and for our people. Those words mattered. While there were riots in cities across the nation that night, Indianapolis did not burn.

Today, almost 50 years later, words still matter. They shape who we are as a people and who we wish to be as a nation. In the white-hot cauldron of a presidential campaign, it is still the words delivered extemporaneously, off the cuff, in the raw pressure of the moment that matter most. They say most directly what is in a candidate’s heart. So it was with a real sense of sadness and revulsion that we listened to Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for president, as he referred to the options available to “Second Amendment people,” a remark widely, and we believe correctly, interpreted as a thinly veiled reference or “joke” about the possibility of political assassination.

Political violence is a terrible inherent risk to any free society. Dictators and strongmen like Vladimir Putin have an answer. They are surrounded and shielded by force at all times. They do not brook dissent. In democracies, we expect our leaders to be accessible and, by and large, they want to be. Inevitably, that makes them vulnerable and the loss of a leader at a crucial time impacts family, country, and even the world, for generations. Anyone who loves politics, the open competition of ideas and public participation in a free society, knows that political violence is the greatest of all civic sins. It is not to be encouraged. It is not funny. It is not a joke.

By now, we have heard enough dark and offensive rhetoric from Trump to know that it reflects something fundamentally troubled, and troubling, about his candidacy. Trump’s remarks frequently, if not inevitably, spark outrage, which is followed by a clarification that, in lieu of an apology, seeks to attribute the dark undertones of his words to the listener’s twisted psyche. This fools no one. Whether you like what he is saying or, like a growing segment of the electorate, you reject it, it is easy to grasp Trump’s meaning from his words. But what to make of a candidate who directly appeals to violence, smears his opponents and publicly bullies a Gold Star family, a decorated prisoner of war, and a reporter with a disability, among others? To borrow the words of Army Counsel Joseph Welch, directed at another dangerous demagogue: “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”

The truth remains that words do matter, especially when it comes to presidential candidates. On that basis alone, Donald Trump is not qualified to be president of the United States.

 

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My favorite life hacks for getting older

There’s a lot of technology out there that makes it easier.

by LLOYD ALTER  –

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Selfie of me cycling in the rain. It keeps you young … and damp. (Photo: Lloyd Alter)

I had a birthday this past weekend. (It’s the one the starts with six and ends with four that Paul McCartney sang about.) I went out to dinner with my family. While I was in that noisy restaurant, I pressed my Apple Watch a few times to switch my Halo 2 hearables to restaurant mode, which focuses them on the people across the table and cuts out a lot of the extra noise. That makes me wonder why people complain about loud restaurants instead of having their hearing checked and getting some modern tech to fix it. I’ve written about hearables a few times, but it’s just one of the many things you can do to keep doing what you love to do, to adapt.

Here are some of the things I’ve done over the years:

home officeA little home office on our stair landing. (Photo: Craig A. Williams)

Downsize for dollars

There are so many baby boomers who say that they want to “age in place” and stay in their suburban homes. The problem is, they’re dependent on their cars to get around or to do just about anything. As Jane Gould wrote in her book “Aging In Suburbia“:

An estimated 70 percent of Baby Boomers live in areas served by limited or no public transit. If Boomers stay in their homes as they age and continue to drive their cars, do they put other drivers and pedestrians at risk?

Yet many people are sinking big bucks into “aging in place” renovations with giant bathrooms, wide corridors and huge kitchens, giant garages with room for a wheelchair van, when the object of this game is to keep out of wheelchairs, to be mobile and on your feet as long as possible. That’s why people who live in Italian hill towns and New York walk-up apartments live longer than most Americans; all that schlepping up and down the stairs keeps them fit and mobile.

We raised our family in a relatively large house in a 100-year-old streetcar suburb in Toronto, and I wanted to sell it and move into a condo downtown. But my wife wanted to stay and one of my kids was paying a lot of rent not too far away, so we duplexed the house; we rent the upstairs to my daughter at a market rent that pays the mortgage cost of the renovation. We live in a third of the space we used to. To do this, we had to get rid of a ton of stuff, but we now have a lovely minimalist small dwelling unit instead of a giant drafty old house. (More in MNN on How to lighten your life by downsizing.)

Philips Hue I like it bright and cool white. (Photo: Lloyd Alter)

Crank up the lumens and check the color temperature

In a previous post, Boomer alert: You need better lighting to compensate for aging eyes, I noted that by age 65, the amount of light that gets through those cloudy lenses is down to a third of what young people see, so you need a lot more light. Fortunately, this is a great time to be going through this stage because new LED bulbs are getting brighter and better without using more power. When I wrote that article, I theorized that having RGB bulbs like the Philips Hue, where you can adjust the color, might be useful for aging eyes as lenses yellow with age. In fact, this has proven to be true. According to the Lighting Research Center, our eyes change as we age:

-Reduced contrast and color saturation: The crystalline lens becomes less clear and, as a result, begins to scatter more light as one ages. This scattered light reduces the contrast of the retinal image. This effect also adds a “luminous veil” over colored images on the retina, thus reducing their vividness (saturation). Reds begin to look like pinks, for example.
-Reduced ability to discriminate blue colors: The older eye loses some sensitivity to short wavelengths (“blue light”) due to progressive yellowing of the crystalline lens.

This totally explains the lighting wars my wife and I have over our settings; I like the light bright and very cool white, almost blue, and she likes it warm. So when the newspaper arrives, I get out my phone and switch to “Concentrate” mode and crank it up as high as it can go.

study on cyclingStudy shows that older people should cycle more. (Photo: Oxford Brookes University)

Get a bike

This is perhaps the single most important thing I’ve done: I just refuse to drive and I ride my bike everywhere, year-round unless the city is a sheet of ice. Driving is stressful; everybody goes so fast and I get so judgmental of everyone else going through red lights and speeding, I feel much more relaxed and comfortable cruising along down the bike lane. It’s also much cheaper and I suspect for most trips in the city, just as fast.

However the health benefits are probably the best part. A recent British study noted:

Cycling offers the potential for positive experience by providing older people with the means to participate in meaningful activity: to engage with landscape, foster personal relationships and maintain social contact with the outside world. The broader health and wellbeing benefits of cycling need to be recognized, promoted and supported through activities, events and programmes.

I hurt my knee snowboarding two years ago and now find running painful; I’ve been cycling a lot more because it is pretty much zero-impact and is easy on the knees. We also walk a lot. Instead of driving to my birthday dinner, we walked 45 minutes, got some exercise and really worked up an appetite.

Get an Apple Watch (or another fitness tracker)

Really, my watch is such a nag. But it bugs me to get at least 30 minutes of exercise every day, and to stand and move a lot. It even tells me to take a break and breathe. I now put it on the second I wake up so that it tracks everything I do. I also use Myfitnesspal to track everything I eat and drink. It’s depressing to see how much I do of both, but as they say, what gets measured, gets managed.

lots of listsI have lots of lists. (Photo: Lloyd Alter)

Manage your memories

The late Nora Ephron noted:

We’re saved somewhat by Google. You can — when you’re all sitting around the table desperately snapping your fingers in the hopes of remembering the name of that movie that you can’t remember the name of — you can make people think that you are not as old as you actually are because you have the technology to find the answer.

But we are also saved by other internet sites; I particularly love Evernote, my giant bucket where I put everything — scans of invoices, websites I want to remember, documents, research — all in one place. I never write anything on a piece of paper because I might lose it; I wrote the outline for this post on the back of an envelope because it was handy — and then I lost it. I scan and shred, scan and shred so that I can search on everything and don’t have much paper around. When I’m not near my scanner, I use Scanbot on my phone.

Most importantly, I’ve become a creature of habit about it, and I make it totally part of my routine so that I know, if I need information, that I can find it all in one place.

bedside tableOn my bedside table right now (Photo: Lloyd Alter)

Never stop reading

Everyone complains about the millennials always staring at their phones, but I’m worse; I’m almost never not looking at my phone, iPad or computer. I’m reading news sites, environmental journals, magazines and newspapers. I subscribe to left- and right-wing journals to keep up on all sides of politics, trying to cope with the Wall Street Journal the Washington Post and the Guardian online before the local dead tree papers arrive on the doorstep. There are a lot of things I do not know, since I don’t watch TV or have cable. I’m really terrible at modern cultural references, never saw an episode of “Seinfeld” and do not know anything about the Kardashians. But my brain is always working at absorbing.

I actually prefer to read books on my iPad to the paper book; I can crank up the font and highlight really easily for future reference.

It’s a great time to be getting older — for some.

My 98-year-old mom never had a cellphone and never touched a computer, and when she lost her driver’s license, she felt trapped in a much smaller world. My late mother-in-law parked herself in front of the television for about a decade because that was about all she could do.

The recent American election revealed a massive schism in America —many people of boomer age who don’t know how email or servers work, who don’t have good jobs and don’t know what they or their kids are going to do. They’re probably pretty close to my age, but frankly, they sound like my mother-in-law and feel like they are a different generation.

But I suspect that those in my generation who have been immersed in tech and phones and computers will be far luckier and happier and connected through social media; I had 47 people wish me happy birthday on Facebook and I even knew most of them — and I barely use Facebook. It was nice. It was nice walking 45 minutes to a restaurant; it was nice being able to adjust my hearables on my Apple Watch while I was there.

For those who are wired in, who have the money and the access and the insurance, there has probably never been a better time to get older. It’s a shame that not everyone is so fortunate.

 

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Bernie Sanders Could Replace President Trump With Little-Known Loophole

Read this article and then share with your friends.

MATTHEW MASUR
Bernie Sanders in Syracuse, N.Y., 2016

Here is exactly what we need to do to save our great society. The information here is what we’ve all been waiting for. By doing this we can make Bernie the president on Inauguration day rather than President-elect Donald Trump.

Actually, no we can’t. There is no loophole that allows a random person to assume the office of president. That’s pretty basic common sense but yet you clicked or even shared this article anyway. Now that right there is the real point of this post…

Our social media sites have been flooded with misinformation in the past few months. While this has always been a problem, it now appears to have exploded over this election season. We are seeing post after post stating just plain illogical things and this is not a problem unique to any one side.

Even more dangerous are the posts that don’t appear to be far-fetched until you dig into the details. The big problem with that… People don’t dig for the details.

There will be many people who clicked share on this post because of its headline. They may not even click to open the story. They will never actually read these words. Ironically these are the folks who need to hear it the most.

As John Oliver correctly pointed out Sunday night, folks are being fed what they want to hear and they’re eating it up like a starving person. The most important thing in a functional society is a well-informed public. What we have now is not only uninformed but misinformed masses. That’s something that should scare us all.

The most important thing in a functional society is a well-informed public. What we have now is not only uninformed but misinformed masses.

How do we combat this problem? Easy, we have to do some work. While I could give a long dissertation on what exactly that means, no one has the patience to read it all, so here are five quick steps that’ll fit in a meme…

1. Read first. Then share. I myself am guilty of basing comments or even clicking share based on the headline. This is the worst thing any of us could do. Stop being lazy.

2. Check the source (and their sources). In the age of new media true and valid information comes from non-traditional sources but so does a lot of garbage. Any article that posts facts, figures or quotes should provide a source for that information. If there is no backup for their claims, move on.

3. Watch out for recycled stories. One thing that seems to be feeding into the misinformation problem is when old stories are being presented as happening now. Check the date on the story before you read on. You’ll be shocked to see how many are from another time and aren’t applicable to the current event you thought they were talking about.

4. If you care about facts, ignore the blatantly slanted. Having a slant or taking a position on a story is not wrong in itself. What is wrong is when these ideas are taken as unbiased fact. You can avoid all of this by simply avoiding those sites to start with. Any website with the words: Conservative, Liberal, Democrat, Republican, etc. in the title are just advertising how slanted they are. That’s ok if you choose to live in your side’s bubble but please don’t have any delusions that these stories reflect the whole picture.

5. Google it. God (and Sergey) gave us Google for a reason. If you see a story that’s unbelievable or has no sources or even if it does, verify. See if the same facts are reported across multiple outlets. See if anyone disputes these facts. Read these pieces and then make up your mind.

If we could all take these simple steps our society would be a better place. We all have opinions and leanings. There is nothing wrong with that but could we at least all come from a starting point based on facts and reality?

The truth is, sharing illogical things begins to erode YOUR credibility and it makes you look foolish. Trust me, I speak from experience.

Now go share this, please.

 

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Staying safe and secure during the holidays-Part 2

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Check your rear view mirror frequently:

Again, I will admit this may seem a tad bit weird and unusual during the holiday season, but the reasoning is just as simple. Having a car load of gifts, the criminals may not assault or rob you in the mall parking lot. They’ll follow you home and take what they want when you’re most vulnerable, while you’re in the driveway, garage, or parking lot unloading them.

If you’ve spent a hard day or night, shopping and you have your shopping done, what’s the worst that can happen? Especially if you’re on a limited budget. All of those gifts that you shopped for, budgeted for (possibly for months), coveted, and thought is perfect for the receiver will be stolen. That means that your entire season will be spent with anguish and anxiety and you will miss the joy of giving to your closest loved ones!

 

Always check for frayed cords on your lights or other appliances and never put them under rugs:

This may seem a bit obvious to everyone, but it really isn’t. Christmas is when a lot of house fires occur. And because of this you have to be more careful than normal when plugging in those lights and novelty items in the yard. Fire hazards can, and will, happen if a cord is the least bit frayed and placed under a rug to prevent people from tripping on it. Inspect the cords and plugs carefully before utilizing them. If they are the least bit frayed, then use them away from other flammable items. But you really should throw it away and buy a new set of lights or a new cord.

Going along with this is ensuring that your outlets aren’t overloaded with all those pretty lights and other items. While the multiple outlets extensions say they’re safe…

Take care to ensure your tree is well watered and the lights are out. A tree can literally go up in flames within 30 seconds. It becomes a torch if ignited and will turn your home into a training exercise for the local fire department, and none of us wants that. So ensure that you use an artificial tree or that the tree you put up in the window is fresh and well watered every day to prevent it from drying out. And always turn out the lights when you go to bed or leave the house.

 

LOCK THE HOUSE INCLUDING THE BACK GATE & WINDOWS:

                Again, you may think this is a duh! Thing, but it isn’t. People have to be constantly reminded to lock their windows, doors, & back gates to try and keep criminals out of their homes. Because our minds are on other happier subjects, sometimes we forget to lock the house. And if a door, window, gate, or even doggie door is otherwise left unlocked, and then a criminal can…

 

Wrap those pretty packages and place them in a closet:

Sound a little weird? Well it is. But you can imagine the surprise on a criminals face when they open them! Did you realize that it’s not unusual for a thief to break in thru the front window and take the packages from under the tree? Despite the racket it makes, criminals will do most anything to give gifts they didn’t work, shop or pay for!

Soooo, make it hard for them! If they do break in and steal your packages, then they’ll be sorely disappointed when they open them and find…nothing! And the person the present was intended will, hopefully, be greatly surprised, excited, & grateful!

 

I hope these blogs have given you some tips that you may utilize and that hey help keep you safe and secure during the holidays. I sincerely hope that this upcoming holiday, whichever one you celebrate, will be happy, joyous, and full of the heart-warming love that it deserves.

 

Robert D. Sollars is a recognized expert on security issues having spent 33 years in the field. If you wish to know of WPV/SV incidents and other security news, visit his Facebook page, One is too Many. Or follow him on twitter @robertsollars2.

 

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