Blinken to raise risks for American travelers on trip to Beijing

This post was originally published on this siteThe Biden administration is unlikely to ease high-level travel warnings for the People’s Republic of China unless Beijing takes concrete steps to address safety concerns, a senior administration official told The Hill ahead of Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s trip to Beijing this week. Blinken will raise with […]

Hunter Biden to plead guilty to federal tax charges, strikes deal on gun charge

Hunter Biden will plead guilty to two tax misdemeanors and struck a deal with federal prosecutors regarding a felony gun charge, the Justice Department said Tuesday in court filings.

Today’s Rate Hikes Threaten to Push Up Tomorrow’s Housing Costs

This post was originally published on this siteFewer builders are starting new homes amid high prices for materials and loans, threatening housing shortages.

Judge issues order that Trump keep quiet about disclosure of discovery material issued in classified documents case

A magistrate judge has signed off on special counsel Jack Smith’s request that former President Donald Trump and his co-defendant Walt Nauta be prohibited from disclosing information the discovery handed over to the defense in the criminal case Trump and Nauta now face from the special counsel.

Russia reportedly tried to assassinate a high-value CIA asset in Miami

Russia tried unsuccessfully to assassinate a valuable CIA informant in Miami — a former high-ranking Russian intelligence official named Aleksandr Poteyev — in a brazen operation that “spiraled into tit-for-tat retaliation by the United States and Russia,” including the expulsions of “top intelligence officials in Moscow and Washington,” The New York Times reported Monday. Poteyev provided information that led to the uncovering and 2010 arrest of 11 Russian spies “living under deep cover in suburbs and cities along the East Coast.”
The incident signaled that Russian President Vladimir Putin is willing to expand his targeting of his enemies onto U.S. soil. In 2018, Russian operatives tried to fatally poison Sergei Skripal, a former Russian military intelligence colonel convicted of selling secrets to Britain, in Salisbury, England. Skripal was one of four prisoners Russia released in 2010 after the U.S. sent 10 of the 11 uncovered Russian spies back to Moscow.
“The red lines are long gone for Putin,” former CIA officer Marc Polymeropoulos told the Times. “He wants all these guys dead.” The foiled assassination attempt is revealed in the British edition of the book “Spies: The Epic Intelligence War Between East and West” by Harvard national security and intelligence scholar Calder Walton, scheduled to be published June 29. The Times corroborated his reporting and added more information about the fallout. You can read the details that The New York Times.

Blinken meets China’s Xi in effort to ease Washington-Beijing tensions 

This post was originally published on this siteSecretary of State Antony Blinken met with Chinese President Xi Jinping Monday in an effort to stabilize the relationship between Washington and Beijing. Blinken kicked off meetings in China during his high-stakes trip to the country Sunday amid rising tensions between the two countries. Ahead of their meeting […]

COVID-19 relief fraud by the numbers

President Joe Biden ended the Covid-19 national emergency this past April, a little more than three years after the pandemic began. While the disease may no longer be an everyday crisis, the pandemic saw the emergence of a new problem: efforts by fraudsters to steal Covid-19 relief funds from the government. 
While fraud schemes surrounding Covid have been well documented, a report from The Associated Press provided new figures that shed light on what the AP called “the greatest grift in U.S. history.” In total, the outlet reported that $400 billion in Covid relief funds were stolen or lost, and that figure is “certain to grow as investigators dig deeper into thousands of potential schemes,” the AP said. 
The haphazard nature of the pandemic’s early days, along with agency shortages and other problems, created an environment where “the grift was just way too easy,” the AP reported. The government’s relief funds represented a “sort of endless pot of money that anyone could access,” Dan Fruchter, the chief of the fraud and white-collar crime unit for the Eastern District of Washington’s U.S. Attorney’s office, told the outlet. “Folks kind of fooled themselves into thinking that it was a socially acceptable thing to do, even though it wasn’t legal.”
How much fraud has occurred?
While there is no exact number, fraudsters “potentially stole more than $280 billion in Covid-19 relief funding,” the AP reported. Another $123 billion was “wasted or spent,” putting the total estimated fraud at $403 billion. This combined figure represents 10% of the $4.2 trillion in total relief sent out by the United States during the pandemic. 
The agency in charge of dispersing the money, the Small Business Administration (SBA), began doling out funds at a rapid pace upon the start of the pandemic. The SBA handled two massive programs, the Paycheck Protection Program and the Covid-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan. Both of these programs ended up giving out billions in relief funds as the pandemic raged. 
In the initial rush by the SBA to get these funds out, “guardrails to protect federal money were dropped,” the AP said, allowing fraudsters to swoop in. The SBA inspector general’s office initially estimated that fraud from the Paycheck Protection Program had lost $20 billion to fraud and the economic injury disaster loan had lost $86 billion. However, with the AP’s new report, the office is “expected in coming weeks to release revised loss figures that are likely to be much higher.”
What type of fraud was it?
The scope of the payouts “has obscured multibillion-dollar mistakes,” the AP reported. For example, an $837 billion IRS program succeeded in getting stimulus checks to the right taxpayers 99% of the time. However, the 1% failure rate caused nearly $8 billion to go to ineligible recipients, a Treasure Department spokesperson told the AP. 
Other schemes have been more targeted. Medicare advocates across the country noticed “an eleventh-hour rise in complaints from beneficiaries who received [Covid] tests,” NPR reported, even though the tests were never requested. These tests likely came from fraudsters who “may have been using, and could continue to use, seniors’ Medicare information to improperly bill the federal government.” 
The fraud was “everywhere and the grift of fake businesses, stolen identities and other shenanigans ranged from epic steals to petty robbery,” the Chicago Tribune reported. The Tribune cited one agency, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, at which there were “some $1 billion in ‘fraudulent pandemic unemployment claims’ and another $4.8 billion in ‘overpayments.'”
How many defendants have been charged?
The government has charged more than 2,230 people with allegedly perpetrating Covid-19 fraud, according to a running tally from the AP. This represents a significant ramp-up in the past two years. By March 2021, the Justice Department had only charged 474 defendants with fraud-related crimes. 
Biden has pressed for additional anti-fraud measures to be implemented. This includes investing $600 million “in fraud prevention and identity theft” and $600 million in resources “for investigations and prosecution of those engaged in major or systemic pandemic fraud,” according to a White House fact sheet. The push appears to be somewhat productive, as one federal case alone “seized and recovered $286 million in stolen pandemic relief funds,” the White House stated. 

Juneteenth became a federal holiday two years ago. What does the day commemorate?

This post was originally published on this siteMonday marks the second year that Juneteenth will be commemorated as a federal holiday, providing Americans the chance to celebrate the end of slavery     

Biden taps Dr. Mandy Cohen for top role as next CDC director

President Joe Biden intends to appoint Dr. Mandy Cohen to lead the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the White House confirmed exclusively to CNN, succeeding Dr. Rochelle Walensky in the critical public health role as the agency grapples with challenges in the aftermath of the pandemic.

‘Systemic problems’ at Minneapolis Police Dept. led to George Floyd’s murder, Justice Department says

Three years after George Floyd was murdered by then-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, the Justice Department issued a blistering report Friday of the city’s police department, detailing racial discrimination, excessive and unlawful use of force, First Amendment violations and a lack of accountability for officers.