So Much For Golf Being A Gentleman’s Game.

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ALERT TOP STORY
Names of two men shot, killed at Casa Grande released, 5th body found
Mike Hodgson mhodgson@leecentralcoastnews.com Jun 22, 2019 Updated 2 hrs ago
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The names of two men who were shot and killed Friday at Casa Grande Mobile Estates were released Saturday, and a fifth body was found in the rubble of the suspect’s burned-out mobile home, according to Santa Maria Police officials.

Kurt Bracke, 70, and Richard Hanen, 78, were shot by a suspect whose name has not been released.

Names of suspect, victims in mobile home park shooting, fire released by Santa Maria Police

Names of suspect, victims in mobile home park shooting, fire released by Santa Maria Police
Names of suspect, victims in mobile home park shooting, fire released by Santa Maria Police
Santa Maria Times Staff Report
Police also haven’t released a motive, but several park residents said Friday the two men got into an argument with a third man on the park’s pitch-and-putt golf course shortly before the shooting.

Police responding to a report of shots fired at 519 W. Taylor St. Friday around 11:30 a.m. found a dead man inside the Casa Grande clubhouse and another outside on the grass not far away, Police Chief Phil Hansen said after the incident.

062219 Casa Grande shooters home closer
A partially burned car sits in the driveway of the home of the man suspected of shooting and killing two men at Casa Grande Mobile Estates on Friday, then killing two other people inside his home before setting it on fire and killing himself.

Mike Hodgson, Staff
After the shooting, the suspect apparently returned to his mobile home, which moments later went up in flames following a small explosion, Hansen said.

The fire spread to the mobile home next door, destroying it as well, and damaged two homes behind those before the flames were extinguished by Santa Maria Fire Department crews, who had to wait to be escorted in by armed police.

Hansen said that after the fires were out, investigators found what they believed were two bodies in the rubble of the suspect’s home.

But on Saturday, Sgt. Alfredo Ruiz said investigators had located a third body in the suspect’s home, bringing the total number of dead to five.

“Identification of the suspected gunman and the two additional victims will be released once the Coroner’s Office confirms their identities,” Ruiz said in a release.

Casa Grande was quiet early Saturday afternoon. The manager’s office was closed, and a notice on the door expressed condolences to the families of the dead.

Video: Santa Maria Police Chief Phil Hansen press conference on June 21 shooting and structure fire
Video: Santa Maria Police Chief Phil Hansen press conference on June 21 shooting and structure fire
It also said a memorial gathering will take place in the next couple of weeks, with the date and time to be announced.

Yellow crime scene tape blocking the street had been taken down, but it still surrounded the gutted remains of the two mobile homes.

Residents were coming and going in their cars, and a few gathered in twos and threes in front yards to talk about the violence.

Video: House fire in mobile home park in Northwest Santa Maria
Video: House fire in mobile home park in Northwest Santa Maria
Most did not want to speak to a reporter, but a couple said the gas service to the entire park had been shut off all day, and one said a gas company crewman told him it was because the fires had damaged gas lines.

One Casa Grande resident driving through the park said he lives not far from the suspected shooter he knew only as “Bodie.”

He declined to talk about the man’s personality or character and would not give his own name.

062219 Casa Grande shooter’s home overall
Yellow crime scene tape surrounds the mobile home of a man suspected of killing to men in Casa Grande Mobile Estates, then killing two other people inside his home before setting it ablaze and dying inside Friday.

Mike Hodgson, staff
But he said he was told “by someone who should know” that the man returned to his home, shot and killed his son and then committed suicide, and he believes he heard it happen.

“I was out in my driveway,” he said. “I didn’t see him, but I heard three or four ‘pops.’ I thought it was fireworks, you know, ’cause they weren’t very loud, and so I didn’t pay much attention. People been shooting off fireworks all around for a week.

“I went back inside, and a minute or two later there was this … kind of … soft boom,” he said. “Yeah, a soft boom. Fireworks again.

“Next thing I know, all hell breaks loose —smoke and fire, cops with guns, glass breaking and then all these ‘pop-pop-pops.’ It was a scary thing, I’ll tell you what. I just stayed inside.”

All those “pop-pop-pops” were probably ammunition that officials said was inside the suspect’s home being ignited by the fire.

“All throughout the firefighting efforts, ammunition was cooking off inside [Unit] 407, so that created a safety hazard for residents, for responding officers and firefighters and whatnot,” Hansen said Friday.

Third body found in rubble of burned Santa Maria mobile home
Third body found in rubble of burned Santa Maria mobile home
Santa Maria Times Staff Report
Fire reignites at mobile home park where four died Friday
Fire reignites at mobile home park where four died Friday
Staff Report
Four dead in shooting, fire at mobile home park in northwest Santa Maria
Four dead in shooting, fire at mobile home park in northwest Santa Maria
Mike Hodgson mhodgson@leecentralcoastnews.com
3 min to read
Names of suspect, victims in mobile home park shooting, fire released by Santa Maria Police
Names of suspect, victims in mobile home park shooting, fire released by Santa Maria Police
Santa Maria Times Staff Report
+2Collection: Five dead in shooting, fire at mobile home park in northwest Santa Maria
Collection: Five dead in shooting, fire at mobile home park in northwest Santa Maria
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Lee Central Coast Newspapers associate editor Mike Hodgson covers Santa Barbara County government and events and issues in Santa Ynez Valley. Follow him on Twitter @MHodgsonSYVNews.

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“Galas” A Modern Tragedy.

Robert Massimi.
It was good seeing Everett Quinton playing in a role that Charles Ludlam wrote. In the 70’s and 80’s, the two ran The Ridiculous Theater Company. Many great plays were put on at various theaters, the company ended up at 1 Sheridan Square theater.
Quinton went on to have a terrific career, Ludlam succumbed to AIDS. I was able to catch part of the show last evening at Theater at St.Johns in the West Village. St Johns Theater puts on many magnificent performances and last night was no exception. “Galas” was humorous, playing to the absurd.
On a simple stage, the actors kept the audience in stiches the entire evening. Great costumes by Romona Ponce and set by Jim Bountin. Lighting and sound design by Robert Neapolitan. The show was directed by the show’s star, Everett Quinton.
Charles Ludlam is gone, but his memory went on last evening. Ludlam was a very talented writer and actor.
In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising- the resident companies who call St John’s their home have joined together, along with a couple of guest companies, to celebrate the spirit of Stonewall. Putting on “Galas” brought to the forefront the spirit of the legendary and cultural-shifting Ridiculous Theater Company, the writing of Charles Ludlam and the brilliance of Everett Quinton.
St Johns next production will be “A Dolls House”, August 8th-11th.

“Last Man Club” Theater Review.

Robert Massimi.

Very similar to a Sam Shepard play, “Last Man Club” is a gritty play that is also reminiscent of a Twilight Zone episode. Set in a dust bowl, a family stuggles with a deep drought. Desperate to have rain, they will believe it will come, even if it by snake oil salesman.

In what was excellent staging,( we smell the dirt throughout the performance), the sound effects and lighting add to the edginess of this play. The music goes so well in creating the mood for the audience. With all three in place, it lets the audience focus squarly on the play at hand.

Set in the the Midwest right after World War I, a family stays the course on their farm. Not all family members have stayed, however. Many people in this community have sought refuge in California. The community is desperate as the dust keeps the residents miserable. Cars are ruined, farmers cannot afford food, and everything is in short supply.

The family is always looking to it’s leader, Major (Jon Mc Cormick) to make the decisions for the household. He is protective of his property and although he is a local yocal, he is not a foolish man. Major is a man who tells it like it is, whether you agree with it or not. His brother has left for California, taking the families money with him, or so he thinks. Major is left with people who cannot think for themselves and it is up to him to lead through these difficult times.

Randy Sharp who wrote and directed this play, keep the characters tight throughout the performance. The use of the curtains that spanned the entire back of the stage was brilliant. Performer’s were able to go in and out, back and forth, and it worked well on a very economical stage.

The play gets away from us about fifty five minutes in. I’m not really sure what the two woman in the show were, or even why they were there. Most of the great dialogue came from Major, Pints, Henry and Pogord. These men fence with one another and create most of the action.

What adds to the plays character is the lighting. David Zeffren has a mystique about the whole performance with his deft lighting design. From romantic lighting genre, he is able to capture the true essence of what this show’s backbone is too be.

Karl Ruckdeschel’s costumes replete with face scarfs to block the dust are excellent. Set just after World War I, he puts forth and great replica of the farmers garb.

In directing, Sharp keeps the actors locked in tightly. We never know as an audience when things can explode. Sharp keeps us on edge throughout the entire hour and fifteen minutes.

The cast for the most part do a very good job. The last fifteen minutes could be put in a better direction, however. Maybe a conflict eith Major and Henry and Pints would have a better result. A physical conflict in this type of play could have worked much better. Instead, the two sand baggers drive off without any explanation as to why.

“Last Man Club” runs through June 28th. It is a good play for the most part. This play is very reminiscent of the many plays that ran in the West Village throughout the 80’s and 90’s. It’s raw, creative and keeps the audience attentive. A lot of detail went into this show and it was evident on how well the performance was executed.

Theater Review. “Frankie and Johnny in the CLAIR de LUNE”

Robert Massimi.

“Frankie and Johnny” at the Broadhurst theater is an action filled play with many laughs and much sorrow. We meet both characters in the middle of sex. After the love making, both want different things. Johnny ,(Michael Shannon) wants love, while Frankie (Audra McDonald) wants him to leave.

Both Frankie and Johnny are wounded people, their lives never really worked out the way they planned it. Johnny is a short order cook and Frankie is a waitress at the same Greek dinner. In a very comical way, we find out that both have a lot in common.

As the play progresses, we find out more about them… He was in jail for check fraud, and she cannot have children due to a beating her boyfriend gave her. She was an aspiring actress and he made many mistakes in his life. While Johnny is content with his failures, Frankie is very guarded, not willing to let people into her life. She eventually lost her boyfriend to her best friend; trust is off the table for her

“Frankie and Johnny ” is a revival. First performed in 1987 with Kathy Bates and F. Murray Abraham as the leads. In 2002, Edie Falco and Stanley Tucci played the leads. Under the Direction of Arin Arbus, this production works magnificently. Both Mc Donald and Shannon deliver outstanding performances. Mc Donald (6 time Tony Winner) and Shannon ( 2 time Oscar nominee), feed off each others energy that keeps the audience mesmerized throughout the two hours, fifteen minutes.

Terrance Mc Nally is a four time Tony Winner. He is at the forefront as a contemporary writer. In “Frankie and Johnny “, he shows us a persons life in Hell’s Kitchen and the struggles that life has given her. Johnny, who reads Shakespeare and has a dictionary always at the ready in his work locker, is a very peculiar person who the audience has to try to figure out. Mc Nally never takes the foot of the gas with this play. Just when we think we know what’s going to happen next, he throws us a curve ball.

Under cool white lights, we see a simple one room apartment. A fire escape is the only thing that does not box Frankie in. She cannot get away from her past, she sees really no future, only the present, and in that present is a man whom she wants to leave.

Arbus brilliantly shows us the two different people. Johnny never stops talking. What he talks about varies from meaningless to very deep. He tries to get on common grounds with Frankie, he continually tells her how much they have in common. When Frankie questions him, he continues on as if they were meant for each other. Frankie the fighter will not be worn down that easy, she has a reaction to everything that Johnny has to say. Johnny too, a fighter, will not take no for an answer. He will not leave, he will not accept Frankie not wanting to fall in love with him.

The main allure of ” Frankie and Johnny ” is the two characters. Who is right, what’s wrong with the two of them. The plot also focuses deeply on their lives, particularly in the second act. It is in this act that we really see why the two are the way they are and how they got here. Arbus takes away the laughter a little bit and hits the audience hard, showing us the baggage and the scars that these two have suffered.

“Frankie and Johnny ” pulls out all the stops with our emotions. These two great actors command the stage and let us freely see into their lives. We see the strong, the vulnerable and the very human side of Frankie and Johnny. These are two people in everyday life, in an everyday situation, but through this great production we see their lives magnified over a brilliant two hours of theater.

As AOC And Bernie Sanders Push Socialism, Cuba Is In Crisis.

Robert Massimi.
As socialist Democrats push Socialism in America, Venezuela,Cuba and many other socialists countries are in horrible shape.
Read below:

Cuba last month tightened state rations of some essential items. Above, Cubans in Havana lined up for their allotment of rice. ALEXANDRE MENEGHINI/REUTERS
LATIN AMERICA
Cuba Ration Lines Grow Tense as Economy Flails
On island hit by U.S. sanctions and Venezuela downturn, Cubans flash back to post-Soviet hardships
By José de Córdoba
June 21, 2019 5:30 am ET
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HAVANA—A 91-year-old former comrade of Cuba’s late dictator Fidel Castro recently startled Cubans when he announced government plans to breed ostriches to help feed the masses.

Comandante Guillermo García raved on Cuba’s main TV news show about the giant flightless bird, “which produces more [meat] than a cow.” The comandante, who runs some of Cuba’s cattle-breeding operations, also extolled the meat of the hutia, a giant rodent endemic to the island, as better than beef.

Comandante Guillermo García, left, attended a rally in Havana on May 1. PHOTO: ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
Pushed by the implosion of top ally Venezuela and sanctions imposed by the Trump administration, Cuba has driven into an economic ditch. The government has tightened state rations. Residents stand in lines for hours to buy scarce basic goods such as eggs, flour and chicken.

For many Cubans, ration lines and ostrich farms recall the grim “Special Period” in the 1990s after the collapse of its benefactor, the Soviet Union. As the Communist-run island endured near famine conditions, residents devoured cats and fried “steaks” made of breaded grapefruit rind.

“We are starting to go into a new special period,” said Osmary Armas, 45, who owns a neoclassical mansion turned bed-and-breakfast that has been largely bereft of U.S. visitors in recent months. “Things are very bad.”

Dependent Relationship
Venezuela helped prop up Cuba’s economy following thedissolution of the Soviet Union…
Share of Cuba’s GDP that comes from trade with eachpartner
%
Soviet Union
Venezuela
1980
’85
’90
’95
2000
’05
’10
’15
0
10
20
30
40
…but Cuba’s growth has suffered as its patron’s economycontracts.
Annual change in GDP
Source: Cuba Standard Economic Trend Report
%
Cuba
Venezuela
2006
’08
’10
’12
’14
’16
’18
-20
-15
-10
-5
0
5
10
15
For years, American officials made no secret of their belief that if the U.S. turned the economic screws, the Cuban government would be forced out. But the Cuban regime has had nearly six decades of experience defying the U.S., administering scarcity and dishing out repression.

Cuba’s police state is intact. The government has scant opposition, and commands the loyalties of many.

The Trump administration has continued to turn the screws. In early June, the administration banned U.S.-based cruise ships from traveling to Cuba, affecting some 800,000 passenger bookings in the coming months. The U.S., which doesn’t allow regular tourism to Cuba, also eliminated a “people-to-people” travel permit that most Americans use to visit the island.

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What do you think of President Trump’s Cuba policy? Join the conversation below.

Those moves came after the administration put a cap on remittances from Cuban Americans, among other steps. It has even nixed an agreement with Major League Baseball allowing Cuban baseball players to join its teams.

The administration is trying to pressure Cuba into abandoning its support of Venezuela’s beleaguered President Nicolás Maduro. The U.S. says Cuban intelligence services have prevented Venezuela’s military from removing him. Cuba denies stationing soldiers or the 2,500 security agents the U.S. says Havana has in Venezuela.

Cuba continues to count on Venezuelan largess, particularly cheap oil and cash in payment for the services of more than 20,000 Cuban doctors, but the support is dwindling. Venezuela’s contribution to Cuba’s GDP fell to 8.5% in 2017 from 22% in 2013, said Carmelo Mesa Lago, professor emeritus at the University of Pittsburgh and an expert on the Cuban economy.

During the Special Period, Cuba’s economy contracted at least 35%. Now, if all Venezuelan ties are cut, the economy could shrink by 8% to 10%, said Pavel Vidal, a Cuban economist now at the Universidad Javeriana in Cali, Colombia.

As Venezuela’s economy collapsed, some of Cuba’s Communist leaders banked that a rise in U.S. tourism would make up for the shortfall.

For an instant, hopes were high. During the frothy two years after President Obama declared an end to almost six decades of Cold War enmity and visited the island, Hollywood shot a segment of “The Fate of the Furious” on the crumbling streets of Havana, French fashion house Chanel turned the city’s once elegant El Prado boulevard into a catwalk, and the Rolling Stones, whose music Cuba once banned as decadent capitalistic noise, held a huge outdoor concert.

Some Cubans who had emigrated seeking a better life came back to the island. There was hope of a future. Private restaurants opened, art galleries boomed, old residences were renovated for rental to the flood of visitors. The number of self-employed workers grew to more than 583,000 in 2017, about 13% of the workforce, from 424,300, or 9%, in 2013, according to official Cuban statistics.

“It was the only boom we’ve ever had in my 45 years of life,” said Ms. Armas.

People in Havana marched during the Maleconazo on Aug. 5, 1994. PHOTO: PRENSA LATINA/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Mr. Trump slammed the door on this new Cuba. “We were full of hope and Trump arrived and everything started to go bad,” said restaurateur Alain Rodriguez. Business is down 60% at “Waoo!”, his restaurant in Havana, since Mr. Trump’s first months in office, he said.

A few miles away, on a chicken line outside a state-run market, tensions were high. About 100 people waited in the scarce shade of a parking lot, as police kept the peace. The crowd hissed and yelled as an older man tried to break the line. He backed off.

An officer let in several people at a time to buy their ration: two packages of chicken each.

RELATED
U.S. Imposes New Travel Curbs on Cuba (June 4)
Cuba Plans to Ration Sales of Basic Food Items (May 12)
The police presence suggested the government is wary that Cuba’s faded revolutionary dream could end in a social conflagration started by a fight over chicken parts.

“They treat us like cockroaches, stepping on us,” hissed a woman on the line, referring to Cuba’s ruling establishment. She said had been waiting for about two hours. “Everything in Cuba is political, even the chicken. They have everything and we suffer.”

She whispered: “The special period is coming, and it’s coming hard.”

In 1994, during the worst days of the Special Period, frustration with food shortages boiled over. Police battled hundreds of protesters shouting “Libertad!” in a riot known as the Maleconazo. The tide turned when the late Fidel Castro appeared on the street and protesters cheered him.

Shortages of staples such as chicken, cooking oil, flour and eggs have reminded some Cubans of the post-Soviet ‘Special Period’ of the 1990s. Above, a Havana street scene earlier this month. PHOTO: YAMIL LAGE/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES
Nothing like that protest had ever been seen in Communist Cuba, and nothing like it has been seen since.

Soon after, Mr. Castro allowed Cubans to leave to the U.S. Thousands took to the sea in homemade rafts and boats. Some 35,000 made it to the U.S..

Mr. Castro died in 2016, and his brother and successor Raúl has retired from the presidency. But despite the transformative power of the internet, whose use has increased in Cuba, and the lack of a charismatic figure like the late Mr. Castro, regime change appears unlikely.

“No one here is going to go into the streets and go on strike, throw stones or riot,” said a 43-year-old former security guard. He was selling guava cakes from a stand in front of his house.

The view was similar from the spacious porch in a bed-and-breakfast in Havana’s Vedado district. “Nobody can fix this. But nobody can overthrow it, either,” said proprietor Margarita Alvarez, fanning herself against the heat of a summer’s day in Havana.

The Trump administration banned Cuba trips by ships belonging to U.S. cruise companies as of June 5. The Empress of the Seas left Havana that day. PHOTO: ADALBERTO ROQUE/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES
Write to José de Córdoba at jose.decordoba@wsj.com

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Thanks To Jimmy Carter, Iran Has Been A Thorn In Our Side.

Robert Massimi.
Rembrandt Jimmy Carter? Remember what the Shah of Iran said? Well here we are. Thank goodness Obama is still not president, that suck ass would be pandering to the Iranians.
Jimmy Carter let the Fundamentalist’s rule and ruin what was a great nation. Today, Iran is a Fundamentalist hell hole, with radicals ruining it. The Shah warned as Iran goes, so does thr middle east.
Iran must learn the hard way, we need to beat them down and quickly. President Trump will not stand f ou r this and neither will the American people.
Read below:

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DON BLAST Trump says Iran has ‘made a very big mistake’ after shooting down US drone as Putin warns war would be ‘catastrophic’
Tariq Tahir
20 Jun 2019, 18:47Updated: 20 Jun 2019, 18:50
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DONALD Trump has warned Iran has “made a very big mistake” shooting down a US drone.

His comments come as Russian President Vladimir Putin warned US against using force on Iran, saying it would have catastrophic consequences.

The RQ-4 Global Hawk, a US military drone, can fly at high altitudes for more than 30 hours
14
The RQ-4 Global Hawk, a US military drone, can fly at high altitudes for more than 30 hoursCredit: Getty – Contributor
Donald Trump issued a warning to Iran over its claim to have shot down one of the drones
14
Donald Trump issued a warning to Iran over its claim to have shot down one of the dronesCredit: Getty – Contributor
Iran has said it’s “ready for war” after claiming to shoot down a US “spy” drone today as tensions continue to rise in the Persian Gulf.

But the US president tweeted: “Iran made a very big mistake!”

Speaking on Thursday during a televised call-in show, Putin said the US military action against Iran would be a “catastrophe for the region as a minimum.”

‘SOMEBODY MADE A MISTAKE’
He added that it would trigger an escalation of hostilities with unpredictable results.

Trump tonight claimed the drone strike could have been an accident by someone “foolish and stupid”.

He added: “I have a feeling – I may be wrong, and I may be right, but I’m right a lot – I have a feeling that it was a mistake made by somebody that shouldn’t have been doing what they did…

“And I’m not just talking the country made a mistake. I think that somebody under the command of that country made a mistake.”

“It was a very foolish move,” he commented. But he added: “This country will not stand for it.”

I have a feeling – I may be wrong, and I may be right, but I’m right a lot – I have a feeling that it was a mistake made by somebody that shouldn’t have been doing what they did

Donald Trump
There was no immediate response from Iran to Trump’s suggestion that the shootdown was a mistake.

Putin had earlier noted that Iran has abided by the terms of a nuclear deal despite the US withdrawal, adding that he considers US sanctions against Iran unfounded.

The Islamic Republic’s state-run IRNA news agency has insisted the country’s Revolutionary Guard hit the drone when it flew over Iran in a “clear message” to Washington.

It has now filed a complaint with the United Nations over the incident and said it would “vigorously” defend its sovereignty.

Senior leaders of Congress have received an urgent briefing on the situation, House speaker Nancy Pelosi has said, adding that United States has no appetite to go to war with Iran.

But in a shocking twist it was claimed the image Iran used to make the claim is fake – and actually shows a drone being shot down over Yemen two years ago.

Iran made a very big mistake!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 20, 2019
Vladimir Putin has warned war between the US and Iran would be catastrophic
14
Vladimir Putin has warned war between the US and Iran would be catastrophicCredit: Getty – Contributor
The military drone was gunned down this morning by Iran
14
The military drone was gunned down this morning by Iran
Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency released this picture – which has now been branded a fake that actually shows a drone being shot down over Yemen two years ago
14
Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency released this picture – which has now been branded a fake that actually shows a drone being shot down over Yemen two years ago
The US military challenged Iran’s claims saying the drone was gunned down in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz by an Iranian surface-to-air missile.

Earlier, Navy Captain Bill Urban, of America’s Central Command, said: “No US aircraft were operating in Iranian airspace today.”

Hossein Salami, the commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, said that Tehran does “not have any intention for war with any country, but we are ready for war” while insisting “our airspace is a red line”.

Speaking on Iranian state television, he said this morning’s incident sends a “clear message” to the US while issuing a threat to the country’s “enemies”.

General Salami said: “We warn enemies of any aggression at this stage and assure them that we can reach them wherever they are.”

IRNA, citing the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, identified the drone as an RQ-4 Global Hawk – an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) which can fly at high altitudes for more than 30 hours.
FAKE PHOTO?
When revealing Iran had shot down the drone, the country’s state-run IRNA news agency released a picture of an aircraft appearing to spiral towards Earth.

It claimed the image showed a RQ-4 Global Hawk, a US military drone, being blasted out the sky over Iranian territory.

However the same photograph – albeit in a wider crop – had previously appeared in a two-year-old report of a spy drone being shot down over Yemen in 2017.

That report quoted Yemeni military sources as saying it showed an American MQ 9 drone falling to Earth near the country’s capital Sanaa – and included pictures of the crashed drone burning on the ground.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether Iran mistakenly shared the old image or whether it was a deliberate attempt at spreading misinformation.

The same photograph – albeit in a wider crop – had previously appeared in a two-year-old report of a spy drone being shot down over Yemen in 2017
14
The same photograph – albeit in a wider crop – had previously appeared in a two-year-old report of a spy drone being shot down over Yemen in 2017
SPY DRONE ‘SHOT DOWN’
RQ-4 Global Hawk drones can gather near-real-time, high-resolution imagery of large areas of land in all types of weather, its makers Northrop Grumman says.

IRNA had earlier claimed the drone entered Iranian airspace near the Kouhmobarak district in southern Iran’s Hormozgan province.

The reported shoot-down comes amid heightened tensions between Tehran and Washington.

In recent days, the US confirmed an attempt by Iran to shoot down an American drone last week as well as a successful destruction of one on June 6 by Iran-aligned Houthi forces in Yemen

Earlier this week, the US announced plans to deploy more than 1,000 additional troops to the Middle East following bomb attacks on two oil tankers.

Photos released by the Pentagon appear to prove Iran’s Revolutionary Guard were behind the bomb attacks on the tankers in the Gulf of Oman.

Acting Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan announced the deployment for what he said were “defensive purposes” citing concerns about a threat from Iran.

TENSIONS RISE
He said the “recent Iranian attacks validate the reliable, credible intelligence we have received on hostile behaviour by Iranian forces and their proxy groups” towards America.

The new images, many taken from a Navy helicopter, show what the Pentagon said were Iranian forces removing an unexploded mine from the side of the Kokuka Courageous tanker.

Other photos show a large hole on the side of the Japanese-owned ship, above the water line, that officials say appears to have been caused by another similar mine.

The vessel is believed to have been targeted by a magnetic mine causing a series of massive explosions.

Recent US and Iran tensions
May 5: USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group and a bomber task force is deployed in Middle East in response to ‘a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings’ by Iran.
May 8: Iran vows to enrich its uranium stockpile if world powers fail to negotiate new terms for its nuclear deal. The US responds by imposing sanctions on Iran’s metals industry.
May 10: The US says it will move a Patriot missile battery into the Middle East to counter threats from Iran.
May 24: President Trump says the US will bolster its military presence in the Middle East with an additional 1,500 troops.
May 12: The UAE says four commercial ships off its eastern coast “were subjected to sabotage operations,” just hours after Iranian and Lebanese media outlets air false reports of explosions at a nearby Emirati port.
June 13: Two oil tankers are attacked in the Gulf of Oman – Washington blames Iran while Tehran denies involvement
June 18: US sends more than 1,000 additional troops to Middle East citing Iran’s ‘hostile behaviour’
June 20: Iran shoots down American ‘spy’ drone insisting the aircraft had flown over its airspace – a claim the US denied

Massive oil tanker ‘struck by torpedo’ in the Gulf of Oman near Iran
The pictures also show damage to the vessel
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The pictures also show damage to the vesselCredit: Reuters
The new images were taken from a US Navy helicopter
14
The new images were taken from a US Navy helicopterCredit: AP:Associated Press
According to the Pentagon, the Iranians are removing an unexploded mine
14
According to the Pentagon, the Iranians are removing an unexploded mineCredit: AP:Associated Press
A satellite picture taken directly above shows the Iranian vessel beside the tanker
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A satellite picture taken directly above shows the Iranian vessel beside the tankerCredit: AP:Associated Press
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo standing in front of pictures of the tankers attacked in the Gulf
14
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo standing in front of pictures of the tankers attacked in the GulfCredit: AP:Associated Press
A huge fire rages on board the Front Altair after it was attacked in the Gulf of Oman
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A huge fire rages on board the Front Altair after it was attacked in the Gulf of Oman
An aerial picture showing the huge blaze raging on the oil tanker after the attack
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An aerial picture showing the huge blaze raging on the oil tanker after the attackCredit: AP:Associated Press
Both it and the Front Altair burst into flames and were forced to evacuate the troubled region.

Iran has denied any involvement in the explosions.

It comes as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States is “considering a full range of options” after the attacks.

“We have briefed the President a couple of times, we’ll continue to keep him updated,” he said.

“We are confident that we can take a set of actions that can restore deterrence which is our mission set,” Pompeo said in an interview on CBS’s Face The Nation.

When questioned if a military response was one of the options, Pompeo responded: “Of course.”

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1 / 3
He then added: “The President will consider everything we need to do to make sure, right? But what’s the President said? We don’t want Iran to get a nuclear weapon.

“President Trump has said very clearly, he doesn’t want to go to war.”

And when asked if the administration had the legal authorisation to strike Iran without approval from Congress, Pompeo said: “We always have the authorisation to defend American interests.”

Pentagon releases a video which appears to show Iranian boat removing an unexploded mine from one of the attacked oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman

US and Iran – a troubled history
Before the 1979 Iranian revolution, Iran was one of America’s biggest allies in the Middle East and was led by the US-backed Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi.
However, since the seismic revolt, Iran has been led by murderous Islamic fundamentalists and tensions with Washington have remained ever since.
On November 4, 1979, the Iranian regime took 52 US diplomats hostage in response to President Carter’s administration allowing Iran’s deposed former leader into America.
The hostage crisis lasted for 444 days and also included a failed rescue mission which cost the lives of eight US soldiers.
In April 1980, the US ended diplomatic relations with Iran – a break which lasted for more than 30 years.
In April 1983, Washington blamed the Iranian-funded terror group Hezbollah for carrying out a bombing attack on the American embassy in Beirut, Lebanon.
The assault, carried out amid a brutal civil war in Lebanon, killed 17 Americans.
In November of that year, two truck bombs in Beruit killed 241 US peace keepers. The US again blamed Hezbollah for the incident.
The Clinton White House, in 1995, placed a total embargo on Iran meaning US companies could not trade with the country.
And in 2002, George W Bush included the Islamic Republic in his famous “Axis of evil” speech along with North Korea and Iraq.
It was also revealed the US Navy is sending the guided missile destroyer USS Mason to the scene of the attacks.

The deployment of extra troops is part of a broader military package of options that were initially laid out to US leaders late last month.

They include many as 10,000 personnel, Patriot missile batteries, aircraft and ships.

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The Royal Navy is also set to send Marines to the region amid rising tensions.

The attacks came as tensions in the Persian Gulf between the United States and Iran reach boiling point.

In recent weeks, Washington has deployed an aircraft carriers and B-52 bombers to the region in response to what it says are Iranian threats against American interests and its allies in the region.

The shocking attacks happened in the Gulf of Oman – a key trade route in the Middle East
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The shocking attacks happened in the Gulf of Oman – a key trade route in the Middle East
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BLASTED OUT THE SKY Iran accused of using FAKE photo to ‘prove’ US drone was over its territory – as America slams ‘unprovoked’ attack

Mark Hodge
20 Jun 2019, 14:40Updated: 20 Jun 2019, 21:24

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Facebook Like Amazon Have Deplorable Work Conditions.

Robert Massimi.
For these so called champions of liberal causes, Facebook, like Amazon have deplorable working conditions. Rats, feces on floors,inhuman work conditions make these two companies a nightmare to work for.
The story below is an example of how badly some of these Silicon Valley companies treat there workers.
Facebook, like Amazon, tries to keep things under wraps. They don’t want the public to know about what a disaster it is to work at there establishments.
It is unconscionable that labor authorities have not been involved. If it was a factory, labor would be all over it. It seems that because these behemoths contribute to politicians that they get a pass. It is clear to everyone who understands that there is no reason that these two have not been brought under the microscope.
Read this shocking story below:
BODIES IN SEATS
At Facebook’s worst-performing content moderation site in North America, one contractor has died, and others say they fear for their lives

By Casey Newton@CaseyNewton Jun 19, 2019, 8:00am EDT
Illustrations by Corey Brickley | Photography by Amelia Holowaty Krales
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Content warning: This story contains descriptions of violent acts against people and animals, accounts of sexual harassment and post-traumatic stress disorder, and other potentially disturbing content.

Keith Utley loved to help.

First, he served in the Coast Guard, where he rose to the rank of lieutenant commander. He married, had a family, and devoted himself utterly to his two little girls. After he got out of the military, he worked as a moderator for Facebook, where he purged the social network of the worst stuff that its users post on a daily basis: the hate speech, the murders, the child pornography.

Utley worked the overnight shift at a Facebook content moderation site in Tampa, FL, operated by a professional services vendor named Cognizant. The 800 or so workers there face relentless pressure from their bosses to better enforce the social network’s community standards, which receive near-daily updates that leave its contractor workforce in a perpetual state of uncertainty. The Tampa site has routinely failed to meet the 98 percent “accuracy” target set by Facebook. In fact, with a score that has been hovering around 92, it is Facebook’s worst-performing site in North America.

KEY FINDINGS
Facebook’s content moderation site in Tampa, FL, which is operated by the professional services firm Cognizant, is its lowest-performing site in North America. It has never consistently enforced Facebook’s policies with 98 percent accuracy, as stipulated in Cognizant’s contract.
For the first time, three former Facebook moderators in North America are breaking their nondisclosure agreements and going on the record to discuss working conditions on the site.
A Facebook content moderator working for Cognizant in Tampa had a heart attack at his desk and died last year. Senior management initially discouraged employees from discussing the incident, for fear it would hurt productivity.
Tampa workers have filed two sexual harassment cases against coworkers since April. They are now before the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Facilities at the Tampa site are often filthy, with workers reporting that the office’s only bathroom has repeatedly been found smeared with feces and menstrual blood.
Workers have also found pubic hair and fingernails at their desks, along with other bodily waste.
Verbal and physical fights at the office are common. So are reports of theft.
The Phoenix site has been dealing with an infestation of bed bugs for the past three months.
Facebook says it will conduct an audit of its partner sites and make other changes to promote the well-being of its contractors. It said it would consider making more moderators full-time employees in the future, and hopes to someday provide counseling for moderators after they leave.
The stress of the job weighed on Utley, according to his former co-workers, who, like all Facebook contractors at the Tampa site, must sign a 14-page nondisclosure agreement.

“The stress they put on him — it’s unworldly,” one of Utley’s managers told me. “I did a lot of coaching. I spent some time talking with him about things he was having issues seeing. And he was always worried about getting fired.”

On the night of March 9th, 2018, Utley slumped over at his desk. Co-workers noticed that he was in distress when he began sliding out of his chair. Two of them began to perform CPR, but no defibrillator was available in the building. A manager called for an ambulance.

The Cognizant site in Tampa is set back from the main road in an office park, and between the dim nighttime lighting and discreet exterior signage, the ambulance appears to have had trouble finding the building. Paramedics arrived 13 minutes after the first call, one worker told me, and when they did, Utley had already begun to turn blue.

HE LEFT BEHIND A WIFE, JONI, AND TWO YOUNG DAUGHTERS
Paramedics raced Utley to a hospital. At Cognizant, some employees were distraught — one person told me he passed by one of the site’s designated “tranquility rooms” and found one of his co-workers, a part-time preacher, praying loudly in tongues. Others ignored the commotion entirely, and continued to moderate Facebook posts as the paramedics worked.

Utley was pronounced dead a short while later at the hospital, the victim of a heart attack. Further information about his health history, or the circumstances of his death, could not be learned. He left behind a wife, Joni, and two young daughters. He was 42 years old.

On Monday morning, workers on the day shift were informed that there had been an incident, and they began collecting money to buy a card and send flowers. But some site leaders did not initially tell workers that Utley had died, and instructed managers not to discuss his death, current and former employees told me.

“Everyone at leadership was telling people he was fine — ‘oh, he’ll be okay,’” one co-worker recalled. “They wanted to play it down. I think they were worried about people quitting with the emotional impact it would have.”

But the illusion shattered later that day, when Utley’s father, Ralph, came to the site to gather his belongings. He walked into the building and, according to a co-worker I spoke to, said: “My son died here.”

In February, I wrote about the secret lives of Facebook contractors in America. Since 2016, when the company came under heavy criticism for failing to prevent various abuses of its platform, Facebook has expanded its workforce of people working on safety and security around the world to 30,000. About half of those are content moderators, and the vast majority are contractors hired through a handful of large professional services firms. In 2017, Facebook began opening content moderation sites in American cities including Phoenix, Austin, and Tampa. The goal was to improve the accuracy of moderation decisions by entrusting them to people more familiar with American culture and slang.

Cognizant received a two-year, $200 million contract from Facebook to do the work, according to a former employee familiar with the matter. But in return for policing the boundaries of free expression on one of the internet’s largest platforms, individual contractors in North America make as little as $28,800 a year. They receive two 15-minute breaks and a 30-minute lunch each day, along with nine minutes per day of “wellness” time that they can use when they feel overwhelmed by the emotional toll of the job. After regular exposure to graphic violence and child exploitation, many workers are subsequently diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and related conditions.

THREE FORMER MODERATORS FOR FACEBOOK IN NORTH AMERICA AGREED TO BREAK THEIR NONDISCLOSURE AGREEMENTS
My initial report focused on Phoenix, where workers told me that they had begun to embrace fringe views after continuously being exposed to conspiracy theories at work. One brought a gun to work to protect himself against the possibility of a fired employee returning to the office seeking vengeance. Others told me they are haunted by visions of the images and videos they saw during their time on the job.

Conditions at the Phoenix site have not improved significantly since I visited. Last week, some employees were sent home after an infestation of bed bugs was discovered in the office — the second time bed bugs have been found there this year. Employees who contacted me worried that the infestation would spread to their own homes, and said managers told them Cognizant would not pay to clean their homes.

“Bed bugs can be found virtually every place people tend to gather, including the workplace,” Cognizant said in a statement. “No associate at this facility has formally asked the company to treat an infestation in their home. If someone did make such a request, management would work with them to find a solution.”

Facebook executives have maintained that the working conditions described to me by dozens of contractors do not accurately reflect the daily lives of the majority of its workers. But after publishing my story about Phoenix, I received dozens of messages from other contractors around the world, many of whom reported having similar experiences. The largest single group of messages I received came from current and former Facebook contractors in Tampa. Many of them have worked closely with employees at the Phoenix site, and believe working conditions in Florida are even more grim.

In May, I traveled to Florida to meet with these Facebook contractors. This article is based on interviews with 12 current and former moderators and managers at the Tampa site. In most cases, I agreed to use pseudonyms to protect the employees from potential retaliation from Facebook and Cognizant. But for the first time, three former moderators for Facebook in North America agreed to break their nondisclosure agreements and discuss working conditions at the site on the record.

A hallway in Cognizant’s content moderation site in Tampa, FL.
A hallway in Cognizant’s content moderation site in Tampa, FL. Despite pressure to improve their scores, moderators here have never consistently met the 98 percent accuracy target set for them by Facebook.
Employees told me that pressure from managers to improve its performance has taken a toll on the workforce. Cognizant’s contract with Facebook is coming up for renewal, and with the entire company struggling to hit the 98 percent accuracy target, there are widespread concerns internally that Cognizant will lose Facebook’s business.

Contractors told me that Cognizant had lured them away from less demanding jobs by promising regular schedules, bonuses, and career development, only to renege on all three.

They described a filthy workplace in which they regularly find pubic hair and other bodily waste at their workstations. Employees said managers laugh off or ignore sexual harassment and threats of violence. Two discrimination cases have been filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission since April.

“WE WERE BODIES IN SEATS,” ONE FORMER MODERATOR TOLD ME
They said marijuana use is so prevalent that the site manager jokingly complained at an all-hands meeting that he had gotten a contact high walking in the door.

More than anything else, the contractors described an environment in which they are never allowed to forget how quickly they can be replaced. It is a place where even Keith Utley, who died working alongside them, would receive no workplace memorial — only a passing mention during team huddles in the days after he passed. “There is no indication that this medical condition was work related,” Cognizant told me in a statement. “Our associate’s colleagues, managers and our client were all saddened by this tragic event.” (The client is Facebook.)

Utley’s family could not be reached for comment. Employees who began working after he died told me they had never heard his name.

“We were bodies in seats,” one former moderator told me. “We were nothing to them — at all.”

Shawn Speagle was 23 and employed at an online education company working with English language learners when he visited a Cognizant job fair. A recruiter there described to him a role in which Speagle would primarily help businesses analyze engagement on their Facebook pages. He might have to do some content moderation, the recruiter said, but Speagle entered the interview believing he was about to embark on a new career in high technology — one that he hoped would eventually lead to a full-time role at Facebook.

Cognizant offered Speagle $15 an hour to do the job full time — a marked improvement over his previous job, which was seasonal. Only after he began training did he realize that the job would not, in fact, involve helping businesses with Facebook marketing. Instead, two weeks after Speagle was put onto the production floor, a manager told him he and a colleague would be reviewing graphic violence and hate speech full time.

“For our associates who opt to work in content moderation, we are transparent about the work they will perform,” a Cognizant spokesman said in response. “They are made aware of the nature of the role before and during the hiring process, and then given extensive and specific training before working on projects.”

But had his managers asked, they would have learned that Speagle had a history of anxiety and depression, and that he might not be suited well for the role. No one did.

Shawn Speagle worked at Cognizant for about six months, where he mostly saw graphic violence and hate speech.
“They just said me and [my colleague] were very meticulous and had a lot of promise to move up to the SME position,” Speagle said, referring to the subject matter experts who make $1 more per hour in exchange for answering moderators’ questions about Facebook policy. “They said Facebook is basically shoving all of their graphic violence content to us, that they didn’t want it anymore. So they had to move more people to cover it. And that’s all that we saw, every single day.”

Speagle vividly recalls the first video he saw in his new assignment. Two teenagers spot an iguana on the ground, and one picks it up by the tail. A third teenager films what happens next: the teen holding the iguana begins smashing it onto the street. “They beat the living shit out of this thing,” Speagle told me, as tears welled up in his eyes. “The iguana was screaming and crying. And they didn’t stop until the thing was a bloody pulp.”

Under the policy, the video was allowed to remain on Facebook. A manager told him that by leaving the video online, authorities would be able to catch the perpetrators. But as the weeks went on, the video continued to reappear in his queue, and Speagle realized that police were unlikely to look into the case.

Speagle had volunteered at animal shelters in the past, and watching the iguana die on a regular basis rattled him. “They kept reposting it again and again and again,” he said, pounding the table as he spoke. “It made me so angry. I had to listen to its screams all day.”

Cognizant’s Tampa facility opened in a maze-like office park in the summer of 2017, about two months after the Phoenix facility came online. It operates out of a single-story building next to a pond fed by two storm drains. On most days, an alligator emerges from one of the drains to bask in the sun.

Before the office opened, the company began advertising work on Indeed and other job sites, using opaque titles such as “social media analyst.” Initially, applicants are not told they will be working for Facebook — only a “large social media company.”

Cognizant was not always straightforward with applicants about the nature of the work in Tampa. Marcus*, who worked in management, told me that a recruiter had persuaded him to leave a more normal job with the promise of a regular schedule, performance bonuses, and a good work-life balance. Once he joined, though, he was made to work nights, and the bonuses never materialized.

FIND BODIES WHEREVER YOU CAN, ASK AS FEW QUESTIONS AS POSSIBLE
Marcus was made to moderate Facebook content — an additional responsibility he says he was not prepared for. A military veteran, he had become desensitized to seeing violence against people, he told me. But on his second day of moderation duty, he had to watch a video of a man slaughtering puppies with a baseball bat. Marcus went home on his lunch break, held his dog in his arms, and cried. I should quit, he thought to himself, but I know there’s people at the site that need me. He ultimately stayed for a little over a year.

Cognizant calls the part of the building where contractors do their work “the production floor,” and it quickly filled with employees. The minimum wage in Florida is $8.46, and at $15 an hour, the job pays better than most call center work in the area. For many content moderators — Cognizant refers to them by the enigmatic title of “process executive” — it was their first real job.

In its haste to fill the workplace, Cognizant made some odd staffing decisions. Early on, the company hired Gignesh Movalia, a former investment advisor, as a moderator. Cognizant conducts background checks on new hires, but apparently failed even to run a basic web search on Movalia. Had they done so, they would have learned that in 2015 he was sentenced to 18 months in prison for his involvement in a $9 million investment fraud scheme. According to the FBI, Movalia had falsely claimed to have access to shares of a fast-growing technology startup about to begin trading on the public market.

The startup was Facebook.

An entrance to the main workspace for Cognizant’s Tampa moderation site.
Movalia was eventually fired, but employees I spoke with believed his tenure exemplified Cognizant’s approach to hiring moderators: find bodies wherever you can, ask as few questions as possible, and get them into a seat on the production floor where they can start working.

The result is a raucous workplace where managers send regular emails to the staff complaining about their behavior on the site. Nearly every person I interviewed independently compared the Tampa office to a high school. Loud altercations, often over workplace romances, regularly take place between co-workers. Verbal and physical fights break out on a monthly basis, employees told me. A dress code was instituted to discourage employees from wearing provocative clothing to work — “This is not a night club,” read an email to all employees obtained by The Verge. Another email warned employees that there had been “numerous incidents of theft” on the property, including stolen food from the office refrigerator, food from vending machines, and employees’ personal items.

Michelle Bennetti and Melynda Johnson both began working at the Tampa site in June 2018. They told me that the daily difficulty of moderating content, combined with a chaotic office environment, made life miserable.

“IT SMELLED HORRENDOUS ALL THE TIME”
“At first it didn’t bother me — but after a while, it started taking a toll,” Bennetti told me. “I got to feel, like, a cloud — a darkness — over me. I started being depressed. I’m a very happy, outgoing person, and I was [becoming] withdrawn. My anxiety went up. It was hard to get through it every day. It started affecting my home life.”

Johnson was particularly disturbed by the site’s sole bathroom, which she regularly found in a state of disrepair. (The company says it has janitors available every shift in Tampa.) In the stalls, signs posted in response to employee misbehavior proliferated. Do not use your feet to flush the toilet. Do not flush more than five toilet seat covers at one time. Do not put any substances, natural or unnatural, on the walls.

“And obviously the signs are there for a reason, because people are doing this,” said Johnson, who worked at the site until March. “Every bit of that building was absolutely disgusting. You’d go in the bathroom and there would be period blood and poop all over the place. It smelled horrendous all the time.”

She added: “It’s a sweatshop in America.”

Michelle Bennetti and Melynda Johnson (from left) worked for Cognizant for about nine months
Melynda Johnson and Michelle Bennetti (from left) worked for Cognizant for about nine months. Johnson calls the office “a sweatshop in America.”
The work day in Tampa is divided into five shifts, and desks are shared between employees. Contractors I spoke with said they would frequently come to work and find their workstation for the day in dire condition — encountering boogers, fingernails, and pubic hairs, among other items. The desks would be cleaned whenever Facebook made one of its regular planned visits to the site. At other times, employees told me, the office was filthy.

Florida law does not require employers to offer sick leave, and so Cognizant workers who feel ill must instead use personal leave time. (They are granted five hours of personal leave per pay period.) Missing work is one of the few reasons Cognizant regularly fires its contractors. And so to avoid receiving an “occurrence,” as the company calls unapproved absences, contractors who have exhausted their break time come to work sick — and occasionally vomit in trash cans on the production floor.

A MANAGER SAW THAT SHE WAS NOT FEELING WELL, AND BROUGHT A TRASH CAN TO HER DESK SO SHE COULD VOMIT IN IT
A worker named Lola* told me that health problems had resulted in her receiving so many occurrences she was at risk of being fired. She began going into work even when she felt ill to the point of throwing up. Facebook contractors are required to use a browser extension to report every time they use the restroom, but during a recent illness, Lola quickly took all her allotted breaks. She had previously been written up for going to the bathroom too many times, she said, and so she felt afraid to get up from her desk. A manager saw that she was not feeling well, and brought a trash can to her desk so she could vomit in it. So she did.

“Then I was crying at my desk,” Lola said. “I was like, ‘I can’t go on.’ My co-workers said, ‘Just go home.’ I said ‘I can’t, because I’m going to get an occurrence.’” She stayed at her desk and cried.

Employees told me about other disturbing incidents at the Tampa site. Among them:

An employee who used a colostomy bag had it rupture while she was at work, spilling some waste onto the floor. Senior managers were overheard mocking her. She eventually quit.
An employee who threatened to “shoot up the building” in a group chat was placed on paid leave and allowed to return. He was fired after making another similar threat. (A Cognizant spokesperson said the company has security personnel on site at all hours. “Our goal is to ensure that our employees feel assured that they work in a safe environment,” he said.)
Another employee broadcast himself on Facebook Live talking about wanting to bash a manager’s head in. Another manager determined that he was making a joke, and he was not disciplined.
In April, two women who work at the Tampa site filed complaints with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging that they had been sexually harassed by two of their male co-workers. According to the complaint, the men regularly discussed anal sex in the office. When the women were not receptive to the discussion, one of the men said he “was going to start a YouTube channel and record himself shooting up the place,” according to the complaint. On April 3rd, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office came to the site to interview the women. According to the officer’s report, one of the men had been photographed following one of the women home.

“WHAT AM I GOING TO SEE TODAY? AND AM I GOING TO MAKE IT HOME TONIGHT?”
A Cognizant spokesman told me that the employee has been suspended while the claims are being investigated. But some workers say they are still concerned.

“Every time I get an email or a phone call from my clients, I worry that there’s been a shooting — and I know that’s their worry as well,” said KC Hopkinson, an attorney who represents several current and former Cognizant employees in Tampa. “They go in there every morning asking, ‘what am I going to see today? And am I going to make it home tonight?’”

Hopkinson told me that her clients who have reported incidents to human resources are generally either ignored or retaliated against, a claim that was echoed to me by several other employees there. In some cases, the site’s human resources staff has followed workers who filed complaints to the bathroom, and questioned them about what they were doing for the few minutes they were inside. (“We take allegations such as this very seriously,” a company spokesman told me. “Cognizant strives to create a safe and empowering workplace.”)

“I wouldn’t want my worst enemy to work there,” Hopkinson said. “It’s a terrible, terrible environment.”

For the six months after he was hired, Speagle would moderate 100 to 200 posts a day. He watched people throw puppies into a raging river, and put lit fireworks in dogs’ mouths. He watched people mutilate the genitals of a live mouse, and chop off a cat’s face with a hatchet. He watched videos of people playing with human fetuses, and says he learned that they are allowed on Facebook “as long as the skin is translucent.” He found that he could no longer sleep for more than two or three hours a night. He would frequently wake up in a cold sweat, crying.

Early on, Speagle came across a video of two women in North Carolina encouraging toddlers to smoke marijuana, and helped to notify the authorities. (Moderator tools have a mechanism for escalating issues to law enforcement, and the women were eventually convicted of misdemeanor child abuse.) To Speagle’s knowledge, though, the crimes he saw every day never resulted in legal action being taken against the perpetrators. The work came to feel pointless, never more so than when he had to watch footage of a murder or child pornography case that he had already removed from Facebook.

In June 2018, a month into his job, Facebook began seeing a rash of videos that purportedly depicted organs being harvested from children. (It did not.) So many graphic videos were reported that they could not be contained in Speagle’s queue.

“HE JUST FLAT-OUT TOLD ME: ‘I DON’T REALLY KNOW HOW TO HELP YOU GUYS’”
“I was getting the brunt of it, but it was leaking into everything else,” Speagle said. “It was mass panic. All the SMEs had to rush in there and try to help people. They were freaking out — they couldn’t handle it. People were crying, breaking down, throwing up. It was like one of those horror movies. Nobody’s prepared to see a little girl have her organs taken out while she’s still alive and screaming.” Moderators were told they had to watch at least 15 to 30 seconds of each video.

Speagle helps to take care of his parents, who have health problems, and was afraid to quit Cognizant. “It was tough to find a job down here in this market,” he said. To cope with the stress, he began binge-eating pastries from the vending machines, and eventually put on a significant amount of weight. He sought out the on-site counselor for support, but found him unhelpful.

“He just flat-out told me: ‘I don’t really know how to help you guys,’” Speagle said. The counselor he spoke with had been substituting for the regular counselor, who had more training. Cognizant also offers a 24/7 hotline, full healthcare benefits, and other wellness programs. But the experience soured Speagle on the site’s mental health resources. Other times, when he was having a particularly bleak day in the queue, a manager would hand him a bucket of Legos and encourage him to play with them to relieve the stress as he worked. Speagle built a house and a spaceship, but it didn’t make him feel better.

Shawn Speagle holds the medication he was prescribed to deal with the effects of PTSD.
Shawn Speagle holds the medication he was prescribed to deal with the effects of PTSD.
By last fall, Speagle told me, he was sleeping only an hour or two each night. The lack of sleep, coupled with depression, made it difficult for him to exercise. He began lashing out at his parents. Meanwhile, at work, he felt micromanaged by his team leaders, who pressured him to moderate more posts.

“I felt like I was trapped inside my own body,” he said. “I couldn’t, for the life of me, get up from my desk, or I would be yelled at to stay in my desk. So I was trapped at my desk and in my body. I was so scared.”

Cognizant periodically purges large numbers of staff members in what have come to be known as “red bag days” for the red bags that managers give to the newly fired to collect their belongings. Sometimes the dismissals are related to job performance, and sometimes employees aren’t given any explanation at all. Speagle was laid off as part of a red bag day last October.

In February, he went to a psychiatrist, who diagnosed him with PTSD. He is currently in treatment. Meanwhile, he has gone back to school to get his teaching certificate. Seeing so many children harmed on Facebook made him want to make a positive contribution to the lives of young people, he said.

“I really wanted to make a difference,” Speagle told me of his time working for Facebook. “I thought this would be the ultimate difference-making thing. Because it’s Facebook. But there’s no difference being made.”

I asked him what he thought needed to change.

“I think Facebook needs to shut down,” he said.

Last week, I visited the Tampa site with a photographer. It had received a deep cleaning the night before I visited, according to two employees I spoke with, and the bathroom sparkled. As I walked the floor with the site manager and a Facebook spokeswoman, I noted that most rooms smelled of cleaning products.

Work stopped while we were there to ensure we did not see any Facebook user’s personal information. Moderators, mostly in their 20s and 30s, chatted at their desks, or shot baskets in one of the miniature hoops around the building. The site’s senior managers, who employees say are normally cloistered in their offices, made a show of walking the production floor and chatting with their subordinates.

Every few feet, a wall decal or poster offered an inspirational platitude. Exhortations to always try your hardest and maintain a positive attitude were punctuated with other signs that came across as slightly more sinister. “No news is good news,” read one. “Our reputation depends on you,” read another.

“THAT WAS A DOG-AND-PONY SHOW”
We saw an activity room where workers are invited to participate in yoga sessions, and a break room presided over by a small Buddha holding an electric candle. Across the room from the Buddha, coloring books were fanned out on a table beside windows overlooking the alligator pond.

The tour ended about an hour after we arrived.

“That was a dog-and-pony show,” an employee named Bob told me over the phone the next day. “That was completely staged. We’re out there playing games, and the senior management are out there interacting with people — it’s all a facade.”

Facebook sees a similar facade when it visits the site, he said.

The person responsible for managing Facebook’s growing contractor workforce is Arun Chandra, whose title is vice president of scaled support. Chandra arrived at Facebook last November after a long career at HP, where he helped to oversee the company’s global supply chain. In his new role, he told me, he hopes to gradually improve contractors’ standard of living while also working to ensure they become more effective at their jobs.

Signage inside a stall of the women’s bathroom at Cognizant in Tampa, FL.
Signage inside a stall of the women’s bathroom at Cognizant in Tampa, FL.
“I’m trying to address the macro picture, and move the bigger things forward in the right way,” said Chandra, who struck me as energetic and deeply sincere. “We’ll never solve 100 percent, but I’m trying to show I can solve 80 to 90 percent of the larger problems.”

Chandra has visited more than a dozen of the company’s far-flung partner sites in the United States and abroad, and has plans to visit them all. When he arrives, he likes to pull rank-and-file contractors into rooms and ask them about working conditions without their managers around. He told me that in the Philippines, content moderation has become an attractive career track, and that everywhere he goes, he meets moderators who take great pride in their work. “The level of enthusiasm people have is amazing,” he said.

This spring, Chandra organized a summit of around 200 leaders from content moderation sites around the world — an event he plans to hold twice a year, with another coming this fall. Up until now, vendors have had different policies and programs for promoting workers’ mental health. At the summit, they agreed to share information about their approaches — effectively agreeing to stop competing on the basis of who does a better job taking care of workers.

WHILE THE RAISES WILL BE A BOON TO A FUTURE WORKFORCE, THE CONTRACTORS I SPOKE TO ARE UNLIKELY TO BENEFIT
“We have to run a very large-scale platform. We have to take care of the community. And that means we have to get a whole lot of work done,” Chandra said. “But that is not at the expense of [contractors’] well-being.”

Chandra plans to launch a new audit program later this year to promote better working conditions. That will include more surprise visits — an effort to get around the dog-and-pony-show phenomenon I observed last week. He also plans to stop evaluating partners on the sole basis of whether vendors achieve a 98 percent accuracy rate — instead, he said, Facebook will develop a balanced “scorecard” approach to measuring vendors’ performance. Chandra intends for worker well-being to be part of that score, though Facebook has not yet determined how it will be measured.

In May, Facebook announced that it will raise contractor wages by $3 an hour, make on-site counselors available during all hours of operation, and develop further programs for its contractor workforce. But the pay raises are not due to take effect until the middle of 2020, by which time many, if not most, of the current Tampa workforce will no longer work there. Turnover statistics could not be obtained. But few moderators I have spoken with make it to two years on the job — they either are fired for low accuracy scores, or quit over the working conditions. And so while the raises will be a boon to a future workforce, the contractors I spoke to are unlikely to benefit.

Nor will the many contractors who have already left the job. As in Phoenix, former employees of the Tampa site described lasting emotional disturbances from their work — one for which neither Facebook nor Cognizant offers any support.

I asked Chandra whether Facebook should hire more content moderators in house, rather than relying on big staffing companies. He told me that Facebook’s business changes so quickly that it might not be possible. But he did not rule it out.

“I completely get the debate,” he said. “If anything I’m very empathetic to the entire conversation, having spent a lot of time with these people. I don’t think we have a better answer right now.”

In the meantime, Facebook is building a “global resiliency team” tasked with improving the well-being of both full-time employees and contractors. Chris Harrison, who leads the team, told me that he aspires to build a wellness program that begins at the point of hiring. He wants to screen employees to gauge their psychological fitness — a move that might prevent someone like Shawn Speagle from being assigned to a queue filled with graphic violence — but says Facebook is still working to understand whether this is possible under employment law.

HOW MUCH IS SAFE?
Harrison plans to make “resiliency” — the art of bouncing back after seeing something awful — a key part of contractor training. He helped to develop new tools for moderators that can automatically blur out faces in disturbing videos, turn them grayscale, or mute the audio — all things that can reduce the psychological harm to the moderator viewing them.

Eventually, Harrison hopes Facebook will offer post-employment counseling to moderators who suffered psychological harm on the job. “Of course we should do that,” he said. But the idea is still in the earliest discussion stages, he said. “There’s just so many layers of complexity globally. It’s really, really hard to pull it off in a legally compliant way.”

I asked Harrison, a licensed clinical psychologist, whether Facebook would ever seek to place a limit on the amount of disturbing content a moderator is given in a day. How much is safe?

“I think that’s an open question,” he said. “Is there such thing as too much? The conventional answer to that would be, of course, there can be too much of anything. Scientifically, do we know how much is too much? Do we know what those thresholds are? The answer is no, we don’t. Do we need to know? Yeah, for sure.”

“If there’s something that were to keep me up at night, just pondering and thinking, it’s that question,” Harrison continued. “How much is too much?”

If you believe moderation is a high-skilled, high-stakes job that presents unique psychological risks to your workforce, you might hire all of those workers as full-time employees. But if you believe that it is a low-skill job that will someday be done primarily by algorithms, you probably would not.

Instead, you would do what Facebook, Google, YouTube, and Twitter have done, and hire companies like Accenture, Genpact, and Cognizant to do the work for you. Leave to them the messy work of finding and training human beings, and of laying them all off when the contract ends. Ask the vendors to hit some just-out-of-reach metric, and let them figure out how to get there.

At Google, contractors like these already represent a majority of its workforce. The system allows tech giants to save billions of dollars a year, while reporting record profits each quarter. Some vendors may turn out to mistreat their workers, threatening the reputation of the tech giant that hired them. But countless more stories will remain hidden behind nondisclosure agreements.

In the meantime, tens of thousands of people around the world go to work each day at an office where taking care of the individual person is always someone else’s job. Where at the highest levels, human content moderators are viewed as a speed bump on the way to an AI-powered future.

FURTHER READING
Facebook’s dirty work in Ireland, by Jennifer O’Connell in The Irish Times.
Inside Facebook, the second-class workers who do the hardest job are waging a quiet battle, by Elizabeth Dwoskin in The Washington Post.
It’s time to break up Facebook, by Chris Hughes in The New York Times.
The Trauma Floor, by Casey Newton in The Verge.
The Impossible Job: Inside Facebook’s Struggle to Moderate Two Billion People, by Jason Koebler and Joseph Cox in Motherboard.
The laborers who keep dick pics and beheadings out of your Facebook feed, by Adrian Chen in Wired.
In such a system, offices can still look beautiful. They can have colorful murals and serene meditation rooms. They can offer ping pong tables and indoor putting greens and miniature basketball hoops emblazoned with the slogan: “You matter.” But the moderators who work in these offices are not children, and they know when they are being condescended to. They see the company roll an oversized Connect 4 game into the office, as it did in Tampa this spring, and they wonder: When is this place going to get a defibrillator?

(Cognizant did not respond to questions about the defibrillator.)

I believe Chandra and his team will work diligently to improve this system as best as they can. By making vendors like Cognizant accountable for the mental health of their workers for the first time, and offering psychological support to moderators after they leave the company, Facebook can improve the standard of living for contractors across the industry.

But it remains to be seen how much good Facebook can do while continuing to hold its contractors at arms’ length. Every layer of management between a content moderator and senior Facebook leadership offers another chance for something to go wrong — and to go unseen by anyone with the power to change it.

“Seriously Facebook, if you want to know, if you really care, you can literally call me,” Melynda Johnson told me. “I will tell you ways that I think that you can fix things there. Because I do care. Because I really do not think people should be treated this way. And if you do know what’s going on there, and you’re turning a blind eye, shame on you.”

Have you worked as a content moderator? We’re eager to hear your experiences, especially if you have worked for Google, YouTube, or Twitter. Email Casey Newton at casey@theverge.com, or message him on Twitter @CaseyNewton. You can also subscribe here to The Interface, his evening newsletter about Facebook and democracy.

Update June 19th, 10:37AM ET: This article has been updated to reflect the fact that a video that purportedly depicted organ harvesting was determined to be false and misleading.

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