Brandi Kruse
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[un]Divided Newsletter: October 2, 2022
October 02, 2022
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Take a minute to [un]wind with our Sunday morning newsletter. Grab a cup of coffee and catch up on what you may have missed from [un]Divided this week.

Smiley saga gets stranger

On Friday’s podcast, we discussed three cease and desist letters sent to the Tiffany Smiley for Senate camp over its use of corporate logos in her campaign ads.

Starbucks sent Smiley's campaign a letter on September 23, asking her to remove or alter a recent ad that shows her standing in front of a Starbucks in Seattle that closed due to concerns over crime. The company took issue with a barely visible (and backward) sign of theirs on the building, as well as the word “Starbucks” in a newspaper headline that flashed on screen.

Starbucks has every right to enforce its trademark, although I do find it a little petty in this instance. Besides, Starbucks should celebrate the fact that someone wants to actually pay attention to the crime crisis that has forced it to close several locations across the country.

The Seattle Seahawks sent Smiley’s campaign a letter on September 6, asking her to remove or alter an ad that depicts her family watching a football game at home. For two seconds of the ad, her husband Scotty can be seen on the couch wearing a Seahawks jersey. In its letter, the Seahawks organization said it was opposed to its trademarks being used by her campaign "in any manner that may suggest that it is in any way endorsed by, or otherwise affiliated" with the team.

The jersey in question was given to Mr. Smiley by the Seattle Seahawks when he raised the 12th man flag in honor of his service as the nation's first blind active-duty military officer.

In an effort to appease the Seahawks, Smiley's campaign altered the ad to make the jersey more generic.

As I stated on the show on Friday, I have no issue with the Seahawks protecting their brand as long as it's done so evenly. Which brings me to the latest development.

On Friday, Washington State Rep. Tarra Simmons (D) posted what appeared to be an endorsement from the Seahawks on her campaign page.

Certainly, there could be explanations as to why Simmons' post is fine, but Smiley's commercial is not. For example, have the Seahawks endorsed Simmons and therefore are fine with the usage of their trademark for a campaign post? Did she ask permission before posting? Are commercials treated differently than social media?

I'm open to a reasonable explanation, but the Seahawks have not responded to my inquiries thus far.

Overall, I don't think it's a good look for the Seahawks and could serve to alienate part of their fan base.

Now to letter number three, which I find most concerning of all.

The Seattle Times sent Smiley’s campaign a cease-and-desist letter on September 21, taking issue with use of its logo in her ad about the closed Starbucks shop.

The Times appears to take issue with its logo being shown on screen without permission. Here are the two instances:

Just like any other corporation, the Times has a right to protect its brand. But as a news organization, it has a duty to apply those rules evenly - especially when an election is at stake.

As Smiley's camp pointed out in a press release, Murray used the Times logo in her ads multiple times in 2016. Those ads remain up on YouTube, which would lead to the conclusion that there were no trademark disagreements that led to their removal.

Again, there could be explanations for this, but the Times has so far failed to provide one - even in its own reporting on the issue.

On Saturday, Times reporter David Gutman wrote a story about the trademark claims against Smiley. The article did not answer the single most important question: Why was Murray allowed to use the Times logo, but Smiley wasn't?

It is a fair question.

In an email exchange on Friday, Times Senior Vice President of Marketing and Public Service Kati Erwert told me:

"The Seattle Times permits candidates to use our logos and marks without charge if done so in a non-misleading manner that providers readers and voters accurate information. Ms. Smiley’s ad left the mistaken impression The Times has endorsed her campaign, which violates our policy. Her characterization of this as playing favorites to a specific campaign or political party is inaccurate and a misrepresentation."

I pressed Erwert for clarity on two fronts:

  • What about the use in question gives the impression that The Times has endorsed her campaign?
  • Was the Times comfortable with Patty Murray's usage of the logo in 2016 because it had endorsed her campaign in that race?

She declined further comment.

As a news organization, I would encourage the Times to be more transparent on this matter - even if they think the answer seems obvious. My gut tells me Murray's use was acceptable since the articles were actually about her, while Smiley's were not. If that's the case, the Times should simply say so.

More on this tomorrow on the show.

Is there no bottom in the briefing room?

Remember when the daily White House press briefings were so mundane that the average American had probably never watched one?

Oh, to experience mundanity again.

While I have my complaints with each of the past three press secretaries, Karine Jean-Pierre has brought the briefing room to a new low with her unwavering commitment to gaslight the public.

This week, despite being pressed by multiple reporters in the room, Jean-Pierre refused to make a simple and obvious acknowledgment that President Biden made a mistake when he called out for the late Congresswoman Jackie Walorski at an event. I discussed it at length on Friday’s podcast.

A press secretary is naturally going to try to protect the reputation of their boss, I don’t think anyone would fault her for that. But this goes well beyond routine efforts to spin narratives in a president’s favor. Don’t forget who pays her salary: you.

I’ve long shared my frustration with taxpayer-funded mouthpieces who protect elected officials at all costs. In fact, I’ve previously called for there to be a law against public spokespeople knowingly lying with the intent to conceal. Does that go too far? Perhaps. But stop for a second to think about the insanity of paying people to lie to you. Especially people you can't vote out of office. What's the recourse?

What recession?

Sharing this tweet from 2020 Libertarian VP nominee Spike Cohen, simply because I think it’s hilarious. I also wouldn’t be surprised if this is where we’re heading.

Where Seattle went wrong

I had the privilege this week to address the Gwinnett County (Georgia) Chamber of Commerce while they were in Seattle for a leadership convention. I’ve posted the remarks in full here if you’d like to listen.

My remarks reflect what I believe to be the true problem facing our country today: A divide between reasonable and unreasonable, rather than between warring political factions.

Reasonable people exist across the political spectrum and no one party has the market cornered on common sense. I would take a pragmatist who I had fundamental policy disagreements with over an ideologue who can't be reasoned with.

Housekeeping

Presidential Patrons, please mark your calendar for our October 16 event in Bellevue, Washington. You should have received a direct message on your Patreon account about this. RSVP as soon as possible.

Thank you to everyone who attended our virtual September Q&A – it was a lively one! My apologies for the technical issue off the start, but thanks for sticking with it. It was a lot of fun.

Miranda wanted to say thank you to everyone who reached out asking if she was OK down in Florida. Luckily, Miami was relatively untouched by the storm, but the devastation left behind by Hurricane Ian is profound. If you would like to donate, the Red Cross and Volunteer Florida are good options.

Have a great Sunday and thank you for supporting this mission to give common sense a comeback!

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00:01:25
Boring but productive: January 30, 2023

Those rightfully upset by the police killing of Tyre Nichols must be careful not to repeat the mistakes of 2020. Plus: Brandi explains her decision to back out of an event meant to empower women. And: Controversial opioid clinic opens.

Prefer to listen? https://audioboom.com/posts/8239105-boring-but-productive-1-30-23

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A pitiful plea: January 23, 2023

Serial rapist gets a slap on the wrist while prosecutor tries to hide from her sweetheart deal. Plus: Democrats look for political cover on police pursuits. Also: Robert Hammer, head of Homeland Security Investigations, joins us to discuss disturbing "sextortion" cases.

Prefer to listen? https://audioboom.com/posts/8234748-a-pitiful-plea-1-23-23

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[un]Divided Podcast: Condescension on crime

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I was a supporter for a month a while back and always meant to renew, but somehow I never did. However, reading todays post I find it is imperative for all of us to support Brandi Kruse. You go Brandi !

LIVE Q&A: With special guest!

Join me Thursday, January 26 at 7pm PT for a LIVE Q&A. My sister Miranda will join us in studio to answer all your burning questions.

BONUS: Beware of 'bold' ideas

Washington state is charting a course that no "bold" idea can save us from. The following remarks were delivered to a gathering of the Olympia Master Builders on January 19, 2023.
https://audioboom.com/posts/8234164-beware-of-bold-ideas-remarks-to-the-olympia-master-builders

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The weak war on reasonable people
Who is extreme is determined by the extremes and too many are scared to challenge the narrative.
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'You’re not actually a journalist': What happens when the government dictates media access
How some Democratic leaders are seeking to crush independent media dissent through rules that seem nearly impossible to apply consistently. 
 

 

 

In early October 2022, residents of Seattle’s Chinatown-International District gathered outside a gated-off facility in the city’s industrial south end. Inside, members of the media were invited to tour what would become an expanded shelter and service space for the county’s swelling homeless population.

Chinese elders and other community members held signs protesting plans for the complex, accusing local elected leaders of ignoring their concerns over public safety and pushing the expansion through without the neighborhood’s input.

Also outside the gates was Jonathan Choe, a former local TV reporter working as a senior fellow for the journalism arm of a local think tank.

As members of the media were escorted behind the gates to begin their walkthrough, private security guards and staffers for King County Executive Dow Constantine physically blocked Choe from entering.

“You’re not a member of the media, Jonathan,” said Chase Gallagher, a one-time press staffer for Governor Jay Inslee who now works as communications director for Constantine.

“Jonathan don’t be defensive about this, don’t make a scene.”

Choe was indignant. His coverage of the planned homeless complex was the reason other media outlets were interested in the story in the first place. He’d spent an extended amount of time covering concerns in the Chinatown community before any of the legacy newsrooms paid attention.

“I’m trying to go in and cover for the community what this is about,” Choe said, standing near the gate.

“Well, the media is here. You’re not a member of the media,” Gallagher replied. “That’s the facts.”

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Independent journalists have long been an accepted part of Seattle’s media landscape – today more than ever. With the continued downsizing of legacy newsrooms, these journalists help fill the gap, offering important viewpoints and niche coverage of issues that would otherwise be overlooked.

Only recently, more options have emerged to offer a critical counterpoint to Washington state’s prevailing progressive narrative. The success of those outlets depends, in part, on the willingness of public officials and elected leaders to recognize them as part of the media ecosystem.

Therein lies the problem.

Some of the state’s top Democratic officials and their staff have actively sought to blacklist these dissenting voices – changing internal policies around who can access press conferences, whose email inquiries are answered, and who is deemed to be a “real journalist.”

Over the past several months, unDivided reviewed hundreds of documents, emails, and text messages obtained through public disclosure requests. Taken together, they paint a troubling narrative of how some Democratic leaders are seeking to crush independent media dissent through rules that seem nearly impossible to apply consistently. 

“I think we need to nail down a policy for how we respond to WPC, and others like Choe or Kruse or Center Square,” read an August 22 email from Mike Faulk, the deputy communications director for Washington Governor Jay Inslee. Faulk wrote the email to Jaime Smith, Inslee’s executive communications director.

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His email was in response to a request from Elizabeth Hovde, who writes about healthcare and labor for the Washington Policy Center, a center-right think tank that advocates for free-market solutions.

Hovde was seeking clarity on some confusion in how a state labor union was interpreting Governor Jay Inslee’s vaccine mandate.

“I’ve been ignoring WPC’s inquiries because I don’t think they’re legitimate or coming in good faith,” Faulk told Smith. “I see you respond occasionally – and I’m sure that’s why Hovde reached out to you – so I just want to be consistent.”

Faulk’s email was particularly telling. Despite dozens of independent journalists and outlets in the state, many of which have a political agenda or outside funding, he specifically listed those known to offer less favorable coverage of Democrats: The Washington Policy Center, Center Square, Jonathan Choe, and yours truly.

Why?

The answer may seem obvious – but understanding the selectivity at play is far more complicated.

When I left my job in TV news in November of 2021 to launch the unDivided Podcast, I worried what it might mean for my access to elected leaders. At the same time, I was one of the longest-serving journalists in the market. I’d spent 13 years building trust, connections, and respect as one of the state’s only full-time political reporters.

For those reasons, I enjoyed a relatively soft landing in the world of independent media.

Jonathan Choe didn’t have the same luxury.

Choe began as a reporter in Seattle in April 2020, just after the onset of the pandemic. Much of his first two years with KOMO-TV were spent trying to cover issues virtually – a difficult way to build relationships.

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In March 2022, Choe was fired by KOMO after publishing a video on social media that highlighted a Proud Boys’ rally outside the state capitol. The city’s alt-Left social media mob, which already disliked Choe for his coverage of Seattle’s drug epidemic, called his video propaganda for the far right. It didn’t take KOMO long to relent.

Undeterred, Choe went to work for FixHomelessness.org, the journalism arm of Discovery Institute – a conservative think tank. Choe said he was clear with his new bosses upfront: he wanted full autonomy to do in-depth reporting on homelessness.

While government offices initially responded to his email requests and included him on lists for press releases, those communications quickly faded.

“Brandi, do you get the emails for Mayor Harrell’s press conferences?” Choe sent me in a text on August 31, 2022.

“Yes,” I responded.

“You’re not going to believe this, but the mayor’s media team has iced me out. So has Dow Constantine,” he wrote. “Could you please let me know moving forward when the mayor’s next physical press conference will be?”

Indeed, internal emails from that time show Choe’s inquiries going unanswered. Sometimes, Mayor Bruce Harrell’s communications director would simply forward the emails to other members of the team as an "FYI" but offer no response.

At the same time, when Choe did manage to find out about an in-person event, Mayor Harrell happily took his questions.

“He’ll see me, and he takes the time and does his best to answer my questions, so I don’t know what’s going on with the mayor’s press team – whether they’ve been given any guidance from the mayor not to invite me to these events.”

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Choe said he did attend an in-person mayoral press conference toward the end of 2022 without an RSVP and was not turned away – although he was not directly notified of the event either.

“As of now, I’ve not been technically blocked form any of the mayor’s press conferences or events,” he said.

The same is not true for King County Executive Dow Constantine.

Before the infamous incident outside the homelessness complex near Chinatown, tensions between Choe and the executive’s office were high.

In September, Constantine refused to answer questions from Choe at a press availability. Choe, not one to be ignored, followed Constantine out of the room (camera in hand) and continued his line of questioning.

“You’re not actually a journalist, you were fired for promoting the Proud Boys,” Constantine told him. “So, we talk with reporters like those in the room.”

With that, Constantine disappeared into a private elevator.

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A member of Constantine’s staff tried to appease Choe, telling him to direct questions to relevant departments.

“Your office is not responding to me, that’s the problem,” he said.

“You are not with a media outlet that is our focus,” the staffer responded.

What media outlets are their “focus”?

Behind the scenes, Executive Constantine’s office had been responding to Choe’s requests with various versions of the same line: “We decline to participate in your project.”

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Communications Director Chase Gallagher also encouraged other county departments not to treat Choe as a member of the press.

“Since the Discovery Institute is not a media organization (it is an agenda driven think tank) we do not need to treat these inquires as media requests,” Gallagher wrote in a June 23rd email to spokespeople for other county departments.

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At the same time, those departments would prepare themselves for other media requests on the same topics – noting that Choe’s coverage was sure to bring additional attention to the issues (which is what good journalism does).

The office of Washington Governor Jay Inslee has taken a slightly different approach to requests from Choe, but one that raises questions about whether their rules for media outlets can be applied consistently.

As far as the governor’s office is concerned, Choe’s employment by a think tank disqualifies him from attending press availabilities at the governor’s office.

“We’ve had think tanks in the past – conservative and liberal – that have requested the opportunity to ask questions at these media avails for their platforms and we have declined all of those requests to participate,” Deputy Communications Director Mike Faulk told Choe in a July 19 email. Choe had attempted to RSVP for a media availability with the governor on his efforts to clear encampments on state property.

unDivided has asked the governor’s office to provide examples of other think tanks who have been denied access to media briefings. This story will be updated accordingly. 

In a similar email exchange on September 8, Choe pressed Faulk on how the office was adjusting its requirements to adapt to the changing media landscape.

“A highly ideological think tank is not a news organization,” Faulk replied. “Even if they have an arm they say is a news organization.”

In several emails, both Faulk and Jaime Smith agreed that they would still try to respond to factual inquires for information from Choe and anyone else.

The governor’s office said it made decisions about access based, in part, on guidelines set forth by the Capitol Correspondents Association. Those guidelines detail what organizations or journalists can be credentialed to cover events at the statehouse.

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Certainly, the credentialing requirements also frown upon journalists who are affiliated with lobbying, political campaigns, or who are employed by a non-news organization.

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One could reasonably argue that separating think tanks or lobbyists from the ranks of media members is sound policy – but that line is increasingly blurred as news agencies look to outside funding sources to compensate for dwindling revenue.

For example, The Seattle Times’ Project Homelessness is funded by outside entities, some of which are clearly ideologically driven. The Times discloses the funding at the top of each story put out under the Project Homelessness banner and notes that they maintain editorial control.

Should that funding keep The Times from attending press conferences at the Governor’s office?

How about The Center Square?

The Center Square covers politics in states across the country, including Washington, with a focus on economic issues. While some argue its coverage is conservative, it’s no more to the right than most mainstream publications are to the left. Readers can donate to support the work, but it is funded through the Franklin News Foundation with a goal of delivering statehouse coverage where legacy newsrooms are falling short.

For any discerning person, The Center Square’s stories are well reported, timely, and informational. Yet, you’ll recall that August 22 email from Mike Faulk:

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Should one of the only outlets providing balanced and consistent coverage of the statehouse be denied access to the governor because of their funding source? Even as other outlets downsize?

I’d be remiss if I didn’t address the fact that I, too, was listed on Faulk’s email.

Just last week, Governor Inslee did a lengthy interview with me in my capacity as a fill-in host on KIRO Radio. Yet, in my full-time job hosting the unDivided Podcast, technically I would run afoul of their standards.

While the majority of unDivided’s revenue comes from listeners who pay $5 per month to support the show, we also (like nearly every media outlet) rely on ad revenue. Each Monday, we run a branded segment as part of a partnership with Future 42 – an arm of Project 42, which is a non-profit that advocates for personal liberty and free-market solutions in Washington state. Project 42 operates based on donations and does not contribute to political campaigns or committees.

 

 

Like The Times’ Project Homelessness, I maintain editorial control over the content in these segments.

See how quickly these rules can get confusing?

If Choe’s employment by a think tank was the only thing keeping him from gubernatorial press conferences, reasonable people could disagree. But then came this bizarre email admonishing Choe for his behavior on social media.

“…your online conduct does not reflect the same level of respect and decorum we experience from the credentialed reporters who attend events hosted by the governor and Legislature.”

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How does the governor’s office plan to police social media behavior as a condition of access?

After all, Erica Barnett, a local blogger who Smith accused Choe of attacking online, is herself is one of the wort offenders of social media misconduct. She has personally attacked my Twitter followers, calling them “troglodytes” and other condescending names. In 2020, she called for me to be fired, claiming I made up a story about a rioter firing a stolen police rifle, even going as far as to tag my employer in a Tweet. Barnett was later forced to back away from her claim when video surfaced showing that the incident had, in fact, occurred as reported. 

So, would Barnett be banned from the governor’s press conferences because of her online behavior?

The governor’s office put out its own guidelines around credentialing in October 2022, with a section on professional conduct.

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It seems reasonable, but I would also point out that a member of the governor’s press team seems to run afoul of their own rules on social media behavior. 

Faulk, the deputy communications director, has sent several tweets attacking members of the media.

In another Tweet, he told Missouri’s Republican governor to “eat shit.”

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At the very least, the tweets from Faulk raise serious questions about his ability to treat members of the media fairly.

Conservative radio host Ari Hoffman on 770 KVI provided me with an email exchange between he and Faulk.

In it, tensions are so high that Faulk demanded to speak to Hoffman’s boss. Without listing specifics, he said Hoffman had “repeatedly, knowingly spread lies in your ‘coverage’ of what the state is doing. You have no professional ethics. Goodbye.”

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Can Faulk, who is a public employee, be trusted to decide who the journalists are? Can anyone in government?

I asked Choe how he believes elected leaders should navigate this brave new media world.

“There aren't enough bodies left to cover these press conferences," he said. "Work with men and women who do journalism full time, regardless of differences in opinion or any perceived bias. Examine their entire body of work before making a decision about access. And just know, independent journalists like me are on the rise. So, if you are going to block me from press conferences because of my connection to a think tank, you better reevaluate how every other journalist is being funded.”

 

 

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[un]Divided Newsletter: January 29, 2023
 

 

Grab a cup of coffee and catch up on what you may have missed from [un]Divided this week.

Tyre Nichols case

A major story that broke while I was on vacation was the release of video showing the police killing of 29-year-old Tyre Nichols in Memphis, who was beat to death after fleeing on foot from a traffic stop. Five Memphis police officers have been charged with second-degree murder, official misconduct, aggravated kidnapping, official oppression and aggravated assault.

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There seems to be universal agreement that the video shows a brutal disregard for human life, far outside the realm of any reasonable or necessary force. 

Here is what we know about the officers:

All five officers charged in the case are black – a detail not highlighted prominently in early reporting on the story. Now, I tend to think there is a general overemphasis on race in most stories involving police use of force. Every time a white officer uses force against a person of the color, race is the default central theme of coverage. The prevailing narrative seems to be that if a white officer uses excessive force, it must be a result of racism – without exception or question. 

The racism narrative doesn't work in the Memphis case, although that didn't stop a few outlets from trying... 

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Absent a legitimate argument about race, there are other narratives taking shape. 

Several reports indicate that at least two of the officers were brought onto the Memphis Police Department under loosened hiring standards. 

According to the New York Post, Memphis PD relaxed hiring standards in 2018, lowering necessary work experience and educational requirements. The department again lowered its standards in 2022, forgoing a timed physical ability test and cutting the number of required college credit hours. 

From The Post:

Loosening the required qualifications however means that the department is ultimately getting “less desirable” job candidates, Mike Alcazar, an adjunct professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a retired NYPD detective, told The Post.

“They’re desperate. They want police officers,” Alcazar said. “They’re going through it, they check off some boxes, saying, ‘Ok, they’re good enough, get them on.”

With police departments across the country facing staffing shortages, it brings up an important conversation for us locally. Are we setting standards too low for people who are entrusted with so much power? This is a theme we'll discuss on the show tomorrow. 

Now certainly, lack of a college degree or physical aptitude doesn't make someone a killer. There is much more at play in this story than hiring standards (if that factored into Tyre's death at all).

Since the media can’t focus as readily on the race element, I’m hopeful we can actually have a productive dialogue. Unlike this weekend's Antifa protest in Seattle, where they somehow turned the tragedy into a march against Amazon. 

Co-opt much?

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If you watch one thing from [un]Divided this week…

…make it the Wednesday interview with Homeland Security Special Agent in Charge Robert Hammer. 

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In addition to discussing the very real threat of fentanyl coming into our communities from Mexico, it was interesting to hear some of the other types of crimes his agents are investigating (for instance, large retail and catalytic converter theft rings). 

While we know phones can expose our kids to all sorts of scary stuff, I was shocked to learn about the “sextortion” cases his office is encountering. Sextortion is when an online predator, usually posing as a young person, convinces a teen to send compromising photos and then threatens to send those photos to others if the child doesn't give into their demands. In one case, victims were convinced to carve their abuser's username into their arm. In other cases, kids have even been convinced to take their own lives. Horrible stuff. Anyone with kids in their life should take a few minutes to head his warnings and share. 

You can watch our interview on the Monday episode.

Housekeeping

I enjoyed a few days off with family and friends thanks to my awesome bosses (you) – and I said “yes” to the dress!

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In case you’re curious, here is a picture of it...

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:)

Thank you for your commitment to giving common sense a comeback! See you on the show tomorrow. Have a great week.

 

 

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