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Wednesday, September 7, 2022

UNESCO Initiative Attacks 'Conspiracy Theories' Which "Foster Harmful Thinking Patterns and Exclusive Worldviews"

Rational scrutiny and debate must not be placed into a sieve for truth by a single truth-finder. Even the word "rational" needs debating.

In the widely publicized initiative posted here below, critics are quoted:

Organisation for Propaganda Studies Co-Director Piers Robinson said these kinds of developments are “extremely dangerous.”

“Basic principles of freedom of expression remind us that, because we can never be sure who is right and who is wrong, all ideas and arguments need to be evaluated through a process of rational scrutiny and debate,” Robinson told The Epoch Times. “Censoring arguments and opinions believed to be wrong means we risk censoring the truth.”

Explaining that these dangers have long been understood, Robinson quoted the great 19th-century British philosopher John Stuart Mill.

“First: the opinion which it is attempted to suppress by authority may possibly be true. Those who desire to suppress it, of course deny its truth; but they are not infallible,” Mill said. “All silencing of discussion is an assumption of infallibility.

 Betsy Combier

UN Education Agency Launches War on ‘Conspiracy Theories' 

According to the Paris-based U.N. education agency, which released a major report on the subject for educators this summer, conspiracy theories cause “significant harm” and form “the backbone of many populist movements.”

Among other concerns, conspiracy theories “foster and reinforce harmful thinking patterns and exclusive worldviews,” the report said.

They also “reduce trust in public institutions” and “scientific institutions,” which can drive people to violence or decrease their desire to “reduce their carbon footprint,” UN officials argued in the document.

While “all conspiratorial thinking threatens human rights values,” the document says without elaborating, some conspiracy theories are more dangerous than others.

In some cases, teachers are even encouraged to report their students to authorities.

Examples of “conspiracy theories” cited in the report include everything from widely held and respectable beliefs such as “climate change denial” and “manipulation of federal elections” in the United States, to more far-fetched notions such as the “earth is flat” or “Michelle Obama is actually a lizard.”

“There are plenty of crazy thoughts on the Internet, many of which are patently false,” explained Citizens for Free Speech Director Patrick Wood. “The only thoughts being ‘corrected’ are those contrary to the globalist narrative. This proves that the focus is on protecting their own narratives and nothing else.”

“UNESCO joins a censorship cartel that now includes the European Union, the U.S. government, the World Economic Forum, social media giants like Facebook and Twitter, and notably, Google,” Wood told The Epoch Times. “Anyone who does not parrot the globalist narrative is by default considered to be a ‘conspiracy theorist.'”

At the heart of the global program to combat these ideas and theories are teachers and schools, according to the U.N. agency. Also central is the battle online and in the media, UNESCO documents explain.

The latest strategy was unveiled at UNESCO’s “International Symposium on Addressing Conspiracy Theories through Education.” Held in late June in Brussels, the summit brought together academia, governments, civil society, and the private sector to promote “joint action” against conspiracy theories and those who believe or spread them.

The plan includes strategies to prevent people from believing in conspiracy theories in the first place as well as tools for dealing with those who already believe them.

Several experts on propaganda and free speech, however, warned that the U.N. effort represents a “dangerous” escalation in what they portrayed as a global war on free speech, free expression, questioning official narratives, and dissent more broadly.

What they mean by ‘conspiracy theory’ is any claim or argument or evidence that differs from the propaganda pumped out by the government and media,” warned New York University Professor of Media Studies Mark Crispin Miller, who studies propaganda and government misinformation.

“I can’t think of anything more dangerous to free speech and free thought—and, therefore, democracy—than this effort by the U.N., which has no business telling us what’s true and what is not,” Miller told The Epoch Times. “That distinction is not theirs to make, but ours, as free people capable of thinking for ourselves, and unafraid of civil argument.”

The Global War on Conspiracy Theories

Official efforts to clamp down on “conspiracy theories” and “misinformation” are not new. In fact, Western governments—including the U.S. government—have for years been leading the charge.

In 2010, the U.S. State Department, with help from its “Counter Misinformation Team,” published “Conspiracy Theories and Misinformation” on claiming to debunk various “conspiracy theories.”

More recently, the Biden administration has also turned its focus to “conspiracy theories.” Last year, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security repeatedly suggested that belief in widespread voter fraud or alternative views on COVID-19 and public health measures represented a major terrorism threat to the United States.

While the Biden administration’s proposed “Disinformation Governance Board” appears to have been shelved for now following a public outcry, the U.S. government has been working closely with technology giants to suppress speech surrounding election fraud, Hunter Biden’s laptop, alternative views on COVID-19, and more.

National Public Radio, a tax-funded operation, has published numerous pieces over the last month echoing UNESCO’s talking points about the alleged danger and prevalence of conspiracy theories in schools and beyond.

Outgoing senior health official Dr. Anthony Fauci has chimed in recently, too. “What we’re dealing with now is just a distortion of reality, conspiracy theories which don’t make any sense at all pushing back on sound public health measures, making it look like trying to save lives is encroaching on people’s freedom,” he said on MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show” on Aug. 22.

The World Economic Forum, which has become a lightning rod for criticism around the world over its “Great Reset” agenda, is also working to counter ideas it labels misinformation and conspiracy theories.

“Key to stopping the spread of conspiracy theories is educating people to be on the lookout for misleading information—and teaching them to be suspicious of certain sources,” senior WEF writer Charlotte Edmond wrote two years ago in a piece for the organization’s website.

The U.N. has been central to the global effort. Indeed, the new program is actually an extension of a 2020 initiative by UNESCO and the European Commission dubbed #ThinkBeforeSharing to combat conspiracy theories online.

That effort included urging citizens to post links to fact-checking services and even report journalists who may be engaged in conspiracy theorizing to “your local/national press council or press ombudsperson.”

In an October 2020 World Economic Forum podcast on “Seeking a cure for the infodemic,” U.N. global communications chief Melissa Fleming boasts of having enlisted over 100,000 volunteers to amplify the U.N.’s views and squelch competing narratives.

So far, we’ve recruited 110,000 information volunteers, and we equip these information volunteers with the kind of knowledge about how misinformation spreads and ask them to serve as kind of ‘digital first-responders’ in those spaces where misinformation travels,” the U.N. communications chief said.

The revelation came after years of U.N. and governmental efforts to quash what it describes as extremism, misinformation, and more on the internet. In 2016, the U.N. Security Council launched a “framework” to fight “extremism” online on the heels of a program from the previous year to battle “ideologies” that could lead to violence.

But the fresh UNESCO efforts in education signal a dramatic escalation in the battle—especially in the targeting of school children.

Combating ‘Conspiracy Theories’ at School

Education and schools are at the center of the new UNESCO plan to combat conspiracy theories.

“The fight against conspiracy theories, and the antisemitic and racist ideologies they often convey, begins at school, yet teachers worldwide lack the adequate training,” said UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay about the new effort. “That is why today, UNESCO is launching a practical guide for educators, so they can better teach students how to identify and debunk conspiracy theories.”

Beyond working through education, the U.N. agency also hopes to expand its efforts to combat the spread of what it refers to as conspiracy theories in the realms of press and social media.

This builds on the wider work we’re doing to strengthen media and information literacy to better prepare learners to navigate a world of algorithms, artificial intelligence and invasive data collection,” added Azoulay, who served in the French government as a member of the Socialist Party before taking over the UN education organization.

The UN strategy for fighting conspiracy theories in education lists a number of major objectives for educators.

These include teaching teachers how to “identify and dismantle conspiracy theories,” how to develop students’ “resilience to conspiracy theories,” and how to tell the difference between a “real conspiracy” and a “conspiracy theory.”

One of the ways offered for educators to determine the veracity of information is to check fact-checking services, which have come under repeated criticism in recent years for being highly politicized and often inaccurate. Many of the services are funded by individuals, such as billionaire founder of Microsoft Bill Gates, who UNESCO says are frequently the target of conspiracy theories.

The document also contains multiple strategies for combating conspiracy theories. To fight “harmful information” among students, for example, UNESCO urges teachers to engage in what the agency describes as “prebunking.”

“Prebunking is also sometimes called ‘inoculation,’” the report reads. “Psychologists have proven that weakened forms of harmful information, carefully introduced and framed, can help to strengthen the resilience against wider harmful messages, much like a vaccine.”

When students believe in ideas because of parental influence, teachers are instructed to seek help from school officials and consider a “mediated conversation with parents.”

If a student were to express concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine, teachers are instructed to “state that the vaccine has been scientifically proven to be safe” and “that it is important to get vaccinated to curb the pandemic.”

It was not immediately clear whether the relevant section of the UNESCO document was written before public health authorities in the United States and around the world began acknowledging that the COVID-19 injections do not prevent infection from or transmission of the CCP virus that causes COVID-19.

In some cases where conspiracy theories involve alleged hate or discrimination, teachers are urged to consider reporting students to “safeguarding authorities or safeguarding officers.”

What Is a Conspiracy Theory?

The document, titled “Addressing conspiracy theories – what teachers need to know,” defines a conspiracy theory as: “The belief that events are being secretly manipulated by powerful forces with negative intent. Typically, conspiracy theories involve an imagined group of conspirators colluding to implement an alleged secret plot.”

The UNESCO report moves on to offer warnings about, and definitions for, misinformation, disinformation, hate speech, and fake news.

One term that is not defined in the document, however, is the word “conspiracy” itself. Most dictionaries define it as an illegal or immoral plot carried out in secret involving two or more individuals. State and federal law-enforcement authorities charge large numbers of people with the crime of “conspiracy” each year.

In its short guide for telling the difference between “real” conspiracies and mere “theories,” the U.N. report divides the thinking into two broad categories.

The first, dubbed “conventional thinking” in the UNESCO document, uses Watergate as an example of a real conspiracy uncovered by following evidence and having “healthy” skepticism.

The other mode of thinking, labeled “conspiratorial thinking,” features a “birds aren’t real” theory that concludes birds are robots spying on people and the government creates replica eggs to cover it all up. This conclusion is reached as a result of “overriding suspicion” and “over interpreting evidence,” UNESCO said.

In the real world, experts say the line between conspiracy theory and conspiracy fact is far less obvious.

According to a 2020 YouGov-Cambridge Globalism poll cited in the UNESCO document, strong majorities believe in overarching “conspiracy theories” in many nations. Almost eight in 10 Nigerians, for example, said they believed in “a single group of people who controlled world events.” Almost six out of 10 Mexicans, 56 percent of Greeks and 55 percent of Egyptians believed that, too, the poll showed.

One of the reports at the center of the new UNESCO effort, “The Conspiracy Theory Handbook” by Stephan Lewandowsky and John Cook, also acknowledges that conspiracies exist and are not uncommon.

“Real conspiracies do exist,” the report admits at the start. “Volkswagen conspired to cheat emissions tests for their diesel engines. The U.S. National Security Agency secretly spied on civilian internet users. The tobacco industry deceived the public about the harmful health effects of smoking. We know about these conspiracies through internal industry documents, government investigations, or whistleblowers.”

The U.N. documents also outline various reasons why people believe in conspiracy theories. These include feelings of powerlessness, coping mechanisms for handling uncertainty, or seeking to claim minority status. Evidence is not listed as a reason why people might believe in a conspiracy theory.

One of the “case studies” listed in the UNESCO document refers to Mikki Willis’s documentary “Plandemic.” Among other points, the film and the experts who are interviewed argue that COVID-19 may have been created in a laboratory for sinister purposes.

Reached by The Epoch Times, Willis slammed the U.N. and its effort to “indoctrinate” people.

“When I hear that the U.N. is now directing its indoctrination towards teachers, I become concerned about the well-being of our future generations,” he said, adding that the U.N.’s attack on “conspiracy theories” was an effort to stop the truth.

“The fact that they continue to use my film series as an example of what they’re fighting against says everything we need to know,” continued Willis, saying the vast majority of scientists now agree with key points in his film and yet “propagandists” keep trying to “perpetuate the lies.”

Critics Sound the Alarm

Multiple experts in the field of propaganda warned The Epoch Times that the UNESCO initiative was a major threat to free expression.

Organisation for Propaganda Studies Co-Director Piers Robinson said these kinds of developments are “extremely dangerous.”

“Basic principles of freedom of expression remind us that, because we can never be sure who is right and who is wrong, all ideas and arguments need to be evaluated through a process of rational scrutiny and debate,” Robinson told The Epoch Times. “Censoring arguments and opinions believed to be wrong means we risk censoring the truth.”

Explaining that these dangers have long been understood, Robinson quoted the great 19th-century British philosopher John Stuart Mill.

“First: the opinion which it is attempted to suppress by authority may possibly be true. Those who desire to suppress it, of course deny its truth; but they are not infallible,” Mill said. “All silencing of discussion is an assumption of infallibility.

Robinson, who also serves as co-editor of Propaganda in Focus and sits on the executive committee of Pandemics Data & Analytics (, also cautioned that powerful actors with large budgets would likely be involved in deciding what is true and not.

“This means allowing powerful actors to define reality and, as history shows, they will define reality in a way that serves their own interests,” he said. “This is all contradictory to democracy and, of course, the reason why freedom of expression is understood to be so important: we must be free to scrutinize and criticize those in power in order to guard against tyranny and abuse of power.”

Robinson also blasted the use of the term “conspiracy theory” as “deeply problematic,” saying it was a term often used to shut down discussion on serious issues and questions about powerful actors.

“If we value democracy and the ideas of freedom of expression and rational debate, UNESCO could do useful work on helping people of the world to think for themselves, and develop their own critical skills,” he concluded. “They should not be in the business of telling people what to think.”

Another expert on propaganda, environmental political theory Professor Tim Hayward at the University of Edinburgh, also warned that efforts to demonize and silence “conspiracy theories” was really an effort to pathologize dissent and inconvenient lines of questioning.

“Instead of reasoned arguments put forward by critics and dissidents being met with proper consideration and rebuttal, they are just dismissed out of hand; and the critics themselves are smeared with the name conspiracy theorists,” warned Hayward, who has written a number of peer-reviewed academic papers on the subject in recent years.

“Worse, of course, is that the general denigration of dissent is used to whip up moral panic about ‘disinformation’ and to try and justify increased censorship,” he added.

Hayward views the focus on education to combat “conspiracy theories” as particularly concerning.

“It is truly worrying when those responsible for the strategic communications challenged by dissidents get to infiltrate education systems and implant prejudices in favor of ‘official stories’ which are only official because they are backed by political authority rather than actual epistemic authority,” he said.

While Hayward cautioned that he was not necessarily accusing UNESCO of doing this, he warned that the organization and its programs needed to be watched as this was a troubling trend.

It would be better to teach children “the fundamentals of critical reasoning” so they can detect falsehoods on their own, he told The Epoch Times.

“You cannot reasonably identify disinformation or reject a ‘conspiracy theory’ unless you have a robust and defensible grip on what is reliable information,” he said, calling for “logical thinking” and “broad knowledge” to help people guard against disinformation from adversaries or even their own leaders. “That should be the focus of education.”

Truth or Misinformation?

The fresh push to quash “misinformation” and “conspiracy theories” online comes as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other federal agencies increasingly admit that much of what was labeled false during the pandemic turned out to be correct.

For instance, today, the CDC admits that the COVID-19 vaccines do not prevent infection or transmission—an idea that was censored by multiple social media companies relying on government as “misinformation” as recently as a few months ago.

Also widely acknowledged by federal officials today is that the CCP virus may have, in fact, been created through “gain-of-function” research taking place at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in communist China. This, too, was blocked, censored, and labeled as misinformation.

Alleged conspiracy “theories” being ultimately proven correct is hardly a new phenomenon. Just this summer, Reader’s Digest published a list of “12 Conspiracy Theories That Actually Turned Out to Be True.” The list includes everything from CIA mind-control programs and government spying to tobacco companies conspiring to hide the negative health effects of their products.

Despite the escalating UN concern about conspiracy theories and the claims that they are proliferating at an unprecedented rate, new research by the University of Miami suggests that is simply not true.

Critics, though, have repeatedly raised concerns about UNESCO’s leadership, and even those behind the new effort, including a number of individuals from autocratic nations and with ties to dictatorial regimes.

There are numerous Chinese communists embedded in the agency’s senior leadership such as Qu Xing, who serves as deputy director-general of the agency.

The agency itself has been regularly condemned for extremism by U.S. authorities, including by the Ronald Reagan administration when it withdrew from UNESCO.

The Trump administration ended U.S. membership in the controversial U.N. organization in 2018, citing anti-Semitism, “extreme politicization,” hostility to fundamental American values, and other concerns.

However, as reported by The Epoch Times, the Biden administration is seeking ways to circumvent federal statutes barring U.S. re-engagement in the global organization.

None of the press officers, media liaisons, or spokespeople for UNESCO responded to requests for comment on the plan.

Alex Newman 
Alex Newman is a freelance contributor. Newman is an award-winning international journalist, educator, author, and consultant who co-wrote the book “Crimes of the Educators: How Utopians Are Using Government Schools to Destroy America’s Children.” He is the executive director of Public School Exit, serves as CEO of Liberty Sentinel Media, and writes for diverse publications in the United States and abroad.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

The Supreme Court Rules That New York's Concealed Carry Handgun Law Violates Second Amendment

U.S, Supreme Court

Supreme Court strikes down New York concealed gun law in 6-3 decision

New York Daily News

The Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that New York’s century-old concealed carry handgun law violated the Second Amendment, a finding long feared by local officials who viewed the law as a linchpin in efforts to curb the proliferation of pistols on New York City streets.

The 6 to 3 decision, which is the court’s most significant gun-rights ruling in more than a decade, voided the state’s Sullivan Act, a regulation that limited concealed carry handgun licenses to New Yorkers with specific defense needs.

The court’s conservative majority was widely expected to gut the gun law after hinting at their opposition during oral arguments in the fall. But the decision in the case, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, still landed a blow to New York Democrats and promised swift political outcry from Brooklyn to Buffalo and beyond.

Mayor Adams said repeatedly in recent weeks the looming Supreme Court decision was keeping him up at night.

“Can you imagine being on the 4 train with someone having a 9-millimeter, exposed?” the mayor said at a news conference earlier this month. “This is not the Wild Wild West.”

Gov. Hochul has said she would consider calling lawmakers back to the state capitol if the court invalidated the gun regulation. “We will have to figure it out,” she told reporters last month. “I’ll do whatever I have to do to protect the people of this state.”

But lawmakers will now be operating under judicial edicts from Washington that have significantly expanded constitutional gun rights in the 21st century. In 2008, the Supreme Court held in a landmark decision that Americans have a personal right to possess guns that is baked into the Second Amendment.

That 5-to-4 ruling, in District of Columbia v. Heller, struck down a strict gun-control law in Washington that outlawed possession of handguns at home. The New York ruling went further, extending firearm protections in the public realm.

Two upstate New Yorkers, Robert Nash and Brandon Koch, had challenged the state’s law after unsuccessfully attempting to acquire unrestricted handgun carry licenses, saying their constitutional right to bear arms had been abridged.

The Supreme Court agreed.

This is a breaking news story

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Former New York State Insurance Fund Employee Melissa Saren Sues Gov. Hochul For "Retaliatory Termination"

New York State Governor Kathy Hochul

New York State could be seen as the most 'corrupt' in the United States. Newspapers reporting on State business are full of stories about who is secretly taking money for favors, and how whistleblowers get retaliation as their award. The former Governor of New York State, Andrew Cuomo, resigned in light of misconduct charges, and Kathy Hochul, Lieutenant Governor, took his place. Hochul was not elected by the voters of New York State. 

Not everyone would believe that NYS Governor would violate State rules and laws against retaliation , but a former employee of the New York State Insurance Fund says that is what happened when she filed a complaint with the ethics board against an employee who uncovered some shady dealings.

Melissa Saren, (picture above from Linkedin) NYSIF's Chief Compliance Officer and Ethics Officer had the support of her Supervisor at the NYSIF, Mary Beth Woods, (picture below from Linkedin) when she filed her complaint. Days afterward, an aide to Hochul allegedly told Woods to resign, and three weeks later Saren was fired from her 23-year employment at NYSIF without explanation.

In our opinion, both Saren and Woods should get their jobs back with back pay and benefits. Hochul is running for Governor in the next election. She does not need this on her record.

 Betsy Combier
Editor, ADVOCATZ Blog

 Lawsuit: Hochul's office involved in retaliatory firing of ethics officer

by Chris Bragg, Times Union,  May 20, 2022

ALBANY — The ethics officer for a state agency felt a colleague might be improperly steering a contract to a politically connected law firm.

So last September, Melissa Saren filed a complaint with New York’s ethics oversight body. Before doing so, she'd received approval from her supervisor at the New York State Insurance Fund, acting Executive Director Mary Beth Woods.

Three days after the complaint was filed, a top aide to Gov. Kathy Hochul allegedly instructed Woods to resign. Hochul's director of state operations, Kathryn Garcia, allegedly told Woods that her services were “no longer needed.” And less than three weeks later, Saren was fired from her longtime job at the Insurance Fund — also without explanation.

Saren has filed a lawsuit against the state, contending that her “retaliatory termination” was “executed with the knowledge and approval of Gov. Kathleen Hochul’s Executive Chamber." The state Court of Claims lawsuit, filed in mid-March, contends Saren was fired simply for "doing the job that she was hired to" — to report unethical behavior.

The unrest at the obscure state agency played out during the hectic early weeks of Hochul's tenure, which began Aug. 24. Citing the ongoing litigation, the governor's office declined to comment on the allegations or Garcia's alleged involvement.

Saren’s ethics complaint last September contended that Insurance Fund General Attorney Tanisha Edwards may have improperly sought to steer a contract to a Manhattan law firm, Bradford, Edwards & Varlack.

One of the three-person firm's partners, Camille Joseph Varlack, had been a high-ranking attorney in former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s office from 2016 to 2019. Edwards had been a former colleague of Varlack’s in Cuomo's counsel's office, serving as assistant counsel for Taxation and Financial Services over the same three-year span. Denver Edwards, another partner in the firm, is not related to Tanisha Edwards.

In Saren’s complaint filed with the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics, there was no allegation that Tanisha Edwards would have personally benefited from her former colleague gaining a NYSIF contract. According to state law, however, it's illegal for a state official “to secure unwarranted privileges” for themself or others — though it's rare for the ethics agency to pursue the latter type of case.

JCOPE's general counsel at the time, Monica Stamm, allegedly advised Saren that it was unclear Edwards had violated ethics laws. In addition, until mid-August, Varlack had been the Cuomo-appointed chair of the ethics commission, though she resigned a month before Saren filed the complaint.

As a result, Stamm allegedly advised Saren that it would be “cleaner” if Saren referred her concerns to the state Inspector General’s office instead of JCOPE. Inspector General Lucy Lang — who was appointed by Hochul in October  — has “entirely ignored” the issues raised by Saren over the past seven months, Saren's attorney says. She has also heard nothing from JCOPE.

Lang's office declined to comment. An Insurance Fund spokesman said he could not comment on pending litigation. Woods, Stamm and Tanisha Edwards did not respond to requests for comment.

NYSIF is a state agency and self-supported carrier of workers compensation and disability insurance; its purpose is to guarantee the availability of those products at the lowest possible cost to state employers. With premiums paid by policyholders, the fund makes substantial investments. As of last October, NYSIF managed about $21 billion in assets.

Beginning in 1986, Saren had a 23-year career at the state attorney general’s office, and according to her lawsuit was given the office’s highest award for “superior service by attorneys” in 2005. She joined the Insurance fund in 2009.

At NYSIF, Saren had dual roles: as its ethics officer and as the head of its Investment Compliance Department. According to the lawsuit, Edwards did not have any oversight of investment compliance in her position.

But last June, Edwards began raising concerns that the Investment Compliance Department was not adhering to a recommendation made during a prior outside review, concerning disclosure of possible conflicts when agency officials managed their personal portfolios.

According to Saren's lawsuit, Woods was asked by the chairman of NYSIF, Kenneth Theobalds, to have an updated outside review done by a Minority and Women-Owned Business — a longstanding priority for Theobalds, who is Black.

Bruce Menken, Saren's attorney in the lawsuit, contends Saren was not threatened by Edwards' implicit criticism of her job performance — Edwards, he noted, was not Saren's supervisor. If she hadn't later filed the ethics complaint against Edwards, Saren could have been accused of being "asleep at the switch" in her role as ethics officer, her attorney told the Times Union.

In late August, Tanisha Edwards had a lunch at the pricey Odeon restaurant in Manhattan with the three partners of Bradford, Edwards & Varlack; the Insurance Fund's deputy counsel, George Tidona, also attended. Everyone present was said to have paid for their own meal.

Afterwards, Tidona allegedly told Edwards that the law firm was “completely unqualified” for the work.

Tidona allegedly then told Saren he was “uncomfortable” with the lunch and follow-up discussions with Edwards, relaying that she had "yelled" at him when he recommended hiring other firms and had insisted on Varlack's. Tidona also allegedly told Saren that the law firm had first been referred to the agency staff by its chairman, Theobalds, who did not respond to a request for comment.

After NYSIF’s head of procurement suggested issuing a public "request for information" as part of the contracting process, Edwards allegedly said that was unnecessary, and wanted to narrow down the search to the Bradford team and two other M/WBE firms.

Edwards allegedly created her own specifications for an investment compliance review, pushing for an outside firm to conduct "full-blown and continuing oversight and management" of investment compliance, rather than the planned limited review. She allegedly tried to unilaterally have the solicitation expedited, have it only sent to the Bradford team and two other firms, and to set up a meeting between NYSIF's chief investment officer and the Bradford firm.

On Sept. 21, Saren submitted the ethics complaint to JCOPE with Woods' assent. The complaint stated that given Edwards’ lack of a formal role in the oversight of investment compliance, the agency was concerned her "aggressive championing" of the Bradford firm may have been an attempt to "improperly direct work to that firm.”

Three days later, Garcia allegedly asked Woods to resign.

As part of her job, Saren had access to internal agency emails — and began seeing exchanges between Edwards and Hochul’s office that suggested Saren was about to be fired.

Edwards allegedly emailed a senior Hochul senior advisor, stating that NYSIF needed to hire an employee for the exact titles Saren held. Edwards then forwarded that email to Julia Kupiec, an ethics counsel to Hochul.

On Oct. 5, Saren wrote to Kupiec, stating that she was “stunned to read that you are planning to fill my position. First, my position is not vacant, and I have not submitted either a resignation or a request for retirement.” She wrote that Edwards had “no authority to terminate my employment” and that “Edwards’ effort to dispose of me, despite my superior record, is purely in retaliation for my recently reporting her misconduct to JCOPE.” Saren attached a copy of the JCOPE complaint.

Kupiec responded that she had “no plans to do anything with respect to your position, nor would I have that authority in any event.” She recommended that if Saren felt she was the victim of retaliation, she should report the matter to the Governor's Office of Employee Relations.

On Oct. 8 — a Friday — Woods formally resigned as acting executive director, allegedly at Garcia's prompting. Four days later, shortly after NYSIF reopened from a long weekend, the agency’s deputy executive director Joseph Mullen called Saren, identified himself as the fund's new acting executive director, and told her he had been “directed” to inform her that her services were no longer needed. Mullen later provided Saren with a letter simply stating the same.

“At no time did Mullen or anyone employed by, affiliated with or representing NYSIF tell Saren why her long-tenured employment was abruptly ended,” Menken contends in the lawsuit.

In an interview, Denver Edwards said there was no connection between his law firm and Tanisha Edwards, besides Varlack and Tanisha Edwards being former colleagues in Cuomo’s office. He added that the law firm has no relationship with Theobalds, the NYSIF chairman.

“I don’t know why they took an interest in our firm,” Denver Edwards said.

When the Bradford firm launched in late 2020, it was widely publicized that “three very talented, experienced African-American professionals had taken a risk in starting a new business at the height of the pandemic."

“There are leaders of organizations that have made supplier diversity a very, very important thing for their companies,” Denver Edwards said. “There was nothing abnormal, under those circumstances, in having a meeting with an agency that routinely hires third-party law firms.”

He said the firm was especially qualified in investment compliance. Denver Edwards previously worked at U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s enforcement division.

After Saren's ethics complaint, momentum for retaining Bradford Edwards stalled; the law firm never bid on the NYSIF contract.

In late October, NYSIF enlisted Jackson Lewis, a national employment law firm, to investigate Saren’s allegations about Tanisha Edwards. (In 2020, Jackson Lewis had won contract worth up to $700,000 to provide NYSIF with legal services over five years.) 

In mid-February, Jackson Lewis told Saren her complaint was “not corroborated” and “not substantiated." Jackson Lewis declined to release any further findings to her. NYSIF would not provide a copy of any investigation report to the Times Union, either.

The same month, Edwards resigned from her nine-year appointment as NYSIF’s general attorney to take a job at the New York City Council speaker's office.

In March, NYSIF offered to reinstate Saren to a position as associate counsel with the same pay, but did not offer a return to her prior position. Saren declined the offer.

Her lawsuit is seeking $700,000 for back pay and other alleged lost benefits, as well as full reinstatement to her prior position. In late April, Attorney General Letitia James’ office, which is representing the state agency, denied Saren’s claims in a court filing.

Chris Bragg is a political and investigative reporter for the Capitol bureau and contributor to Capitol Confidential. You can reach him at or 518-454-5303.

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Hunter and Joe Biden's Partnership in Business Dealings on the Wrong Side of the Track


Then-Vice President Joe Biden and Hunter played golf with Burisma board member Devon Archer in the Hamptons in 2014
FOX News/Tucker Carlson Tonight

Here’s a dozen times Joe Biden played a role in son Hunter’s business dealings

President Biden and the White House have repeatedly denied that he and Hunter Biden ever discussed the first son’s controversial overseas business dealings — yet there are at least a dozen times when Joe Biden had to know what his son was doing.

1. Joe “recommends”

The latest example emerged Wednesday, when it was revealed that Hunter Biden got his dad to write a recommendation letter to Brown University for the son of a powerful Chinese business associate, Jonathan Li.

“Jonathan, Hunter asked me to send you a copy of the recommendation letter that he asked his father to write on behalf of Christopher for Brown University,” Hunter Biden’s then-business partner, Eric Schwerin, wrote to Li on Feb. 18, 2017, in an email first revealed by Fox News.

Schwerin told Li the “original” was being shipped by FedEx to university president Christina Paxson “directly at Brown.”

After the White House refused to say whether the first son remained a part-owner after resigning from the board in 2019, Hunter Biden’s lawyer finally told the New York Times that Hunter “no longer holds any interest, ­directly or indirectly, in either BHR or Skaneateles.”

2. The other kid, too

Hunter Biden also arranged for his dad to write a letter to Georgetown University — Hunter’s alma mater — on behalf of Li’s daughter, but neither child got into the elite institutions, The Post understands.

During Wednesday’s White House briefing, press secretary Jen Psaki said, “I have no confirmation of any recommendation letter the president wrote — when he was a private citizen, by the way, and not serving in public ­office.”

3. Joe’s “hopes”

Hunter Biden acknowledged in a 2019 New Yorker magazine article that he and his dad once discussed Hunter’s job on the board of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma Holdings, which paid him as much as $83,333 a month when Joe Biden was vice president under President Barack ­Obama.

“Dad said, ‘I hope you know what you are doing,’ and I said, ‘I do,’ ” he recalled.

4. Air Force 2 trip

 In December 2013, Hunter and his daughter Finnegan Biden traveled to China on Air Force Two with then-Vice President Joe Biden during an official, six-day trip to Asia. Joe Biden met with Chinese President Xi Jinping and other officials — and was also introduced to Li by his son in the lobby of the hotel where the American delegation was staying.

Afterward, Hunter Biden sat with Li for what both sides claimed was a social meeting, with Hunter Biden telling The New Yorker, “How do I go to Beijing, halfway around the world, and not see them for a cup of ­coffee?”

5. Half his salary?

In a 2019 text message to his daughter Naomi, Hunter Biden bitterly wrote, “I hope you all can do what I did and pay for everything for this entire family for 30 years.” He added, “It’s ­really hard. But don’t worry, ­unlike Pop [Joe], I won’t make you give me half your salary.”

Meanwhile, White House chief of staff Ron Klain was revealed this week to have hit up Hunter Biden for help raising $20,000 for the foundation that maintains the vice president’s official residence.

6. Meet the partners

As vice president, Joe Biden met with Hunter Biden business partner Devon Archer in April 2014, around the same time that Archer joined the Burisma board and shortly before Hunter Biden did so, according to Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.).

A photo that surfaced more than five years later reportedly shows Joe Biden, Hunter Biden and Archer posing with golf clubs on a course in the Hamptons in August 2014.

In February, Archer was sentenced to one year and one day in prison in an unrelated bond fraud scheme that targeted the impoverished Oglala Sioux tribe of American Indians.

7. Meet the Ukrainians

Vadym Pozharskyi, a Burisma exec and adviser to its board, sent Hunter Biden an April 17, 2015, email that said, “Dear Hunter, thank you for inviting me to DC and giving an opportunity to meet your father and spent [sic] some time together. It’s realty [sic] an honor and pleasure.”

8. Meet the Kazakhs

One day earlier, Joe Biden attended a dinner at Washington, DC’s Cafe Milano with some of his son’s business associates from Ukraine, Russia and ­Kazakhstan.

An unverified photo apparently shows the Bidens posing between two of the guests who attended that night, Kazakhstani banking oligarch Kenes “Kenges” Rakishev and Karim Massimov, a former prime minister of Kazakhstan.

In January, Massimov was arrested in a plot to overthrow the former Soviet republic’s government, following his ouster as head of its counterintelligence and anti-terrorism agency.

9. Meet Bobulinski

 Former Hunter Biden business partner Tony Bobulinski revealed in October 2020 that he spoke with Joe Biden in May 2017 after being introduced by Hunter, who reportedly described Bobulinski as “the one who’s helping us with the business we’re doing with the Chinese.”

According to Bobulinski — who has identified Joe Biden as “the big guy” with a 10 percent share in a planned deal with CEFC China Energy — the former vice president told him, “Keep an eye on my son and brother and look out for my family.”

Bobulinksi also said he later asked Joe’s brother James Biden about the possibility that Joe would run for president in 2020. “He looks at me and kind of chuckles and says, ‘Plausible deniability,’ ” Bobulinski said.

10. Getting an office 

 Emails show that in September 2017, Hunter Biden asked for a new sign and additional keys to an office he was renting in Washington, DC’s House of Sweden office building, which is home to the Swedish Embassy.

The sign was to say, “The Biden Foundation and Hudson West (CEFC-US)” and the keys were for his father, stepmother Jill Biden, uncle James Biden and a Chinese executive named Gongwen Dong.

The building manager wrote back, “We are very excited and honored to welcome your new colleagues!” but a spokeswoman for the Swedish agency that oversees the property told the Washington Post that the sign was never changed and the keys were not picked up.

11. Meet the Mexicans

In 2015, then-Vice President Joe Biden hosted a group of his son’s Mexican business associates at the vice president’s official residence and posed for a photo with Hunter Biden and a group of possible business partners, including Mexican billionaires Carlos Slim and Miguel Alemán Velasco.

12. Quid but no quo?

In 2016, emails indicate that Hunter Biden messaged Velasco’s son from Air Force Two, which was en route to Mexico for an official visit. Hunter complained to the younger Velasco that he hadn’t received reciprocal business favors after “I have brought every single person you have ever asked me to bring to the F’ing White House and the Vice President’s house and the inauguration.”


The Hunter Biden Scandal