Watch | Foreign interference in elections | Is there a basis for India’s fears?

As election season takes off in India, allegations by PM Modi and EAM Jaishankar of foreign interference from the West heat up the campaign – we will look at the history of such allegations worldwide, and whether theres basis for New Delhi’s present concerns.

Hello and Welcome to WorldView- as Elections get under way in India, diplomatic activity may be on the decline- but undiplomatic activity is in the spotlight- as the PM and EAM accuse global powers and western media of running interference in Indian elections

What really is of concern to New Delhi?

1. Reactions in US, Germany and even the UN, that spoke about the arrest of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, and then perhaps for the first time, spoke of the need for “free and fair elections” in India

2. The release of Human Rights reports, especially during election season by the US and EU parliament.

Pg 8 of EU Parliament Resolution on India Human Rights concerns referred to divisive speeches by leaders

In the US, Secretary of State Antony Blinken released a report this week that said there are significant human rights abuses- spoke of lynchings, Manipur violence and several other issues in India

The MEA response was tough:

“This report, as per our understanding, is deeply biased and reflects a very poor understanding of India. We attach no value to it and urge you also to do the same.”

Then, there’s the worry that embassies and diplomats are interfering in India’s internal politics- there have long been allegations by this government on Pakistan, including in Gujarat elections in the past, more recently the government accused Canadian officials based in India of interfering in India’s internal affairs, and then ordered the High Commission to downsize numbers. This was in the context of the allegations over the assassination Nijjar and of the plot against Pannun in the US, that the government’s high-level panel continues to investigate.

Finally, there is the barrage of criticism of Indian elections and democracy in the Western media that has upset the government- despite PM Modi giving interviews to foreign publications like the Financial Times and Newsweek, here’s a list compiled by former CEO of Prasar Bharati

In Ireland, India’s Ambassador came in for criticism for over-stretching his mandate with a response to the Irish Times, where he defended the current government but also criticised previous Indian governments leading to calls for his sacking from the opposition

The Indian worries over foreign interference have yet to be proven, but globally there are many such fears- especially as more than 60 countries around the world go to polls this year. according to an Oxford University Study: Industrialized Disinformation 2020 Global Inventory of Organized Social Media Manipulation, at least 81 countries’s governments attempt cyber manipulation for propaganda and disinformation. Historically it was the US and Russia that were accused of manipulating one in 9 countries’ elections during the Cold War

1. This week U.S. President Joe Biden on Wednesday signed a bill that forces Tik Tok owner Byte dance to sell the company in the next year or face being banned, as the US Congress believes it is used by China’s ruling communist party to influence elections in the US and spy on Americans, a charge the company denies.

2. In 2018, the US Senate released a report that concluded Russia’s spy agencies used Facebook ads to manipulate US voters in the election Donald Trump won in 2016. 

3. Canada just completed an investigation on foreign interference during previous elections, which its NSA said countries including Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan and even India may have tried to manipulate. Eventually, however, its report did not find conclusive evidence against India, but did against China. UK conducted a similar enquiry last year

4. This month Microsoft said in a report that Microsoft has issued a warning that Chinese state backed cyber troops will attempt to disrupt elections in the US, South Korea and India this year using artificial intelligence-generated content, and with support from North Korean groups following a trial run during the presidential election in Taiwan- however, Taiwan elected an anti-China president

.5. In India’s neighbourhood, India is often accused, especially in Bangladesh, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka of leaning in favour of one party or another, to oust anti-India leaders. While these have yet to be proven, the allegations have been made by senior regional leaders like Rajapaksa, Yameen, Khaleda Zia.

6. The European Union too has released a report on its fears over manipulation during upcoming EU parliament elections in June, called Combating foreign interference in elections

7. Of course the major allegations historically made are against the two cold war powers- US and Russia- The US for elections in South America, in what were then called Banana Republics, and Russia in Europe, including famously helping a West German leader survive a confidence vote in 1972.

What does Indian diplomacy need to do:

1. It is necessary to do researched studies rather than make allegations of a foreign hand without substantiating them with proof- this speaks to the country’s diplomatic credibility

2. In the age of AI and Deepfakes, it is important to improve India’s technology security capabilities, and techonology diplomacy to share best practices

3. Counter external influences by building consumer and cyber voter awareness – and share concerns with other democracies

WorldView Take: The best response to interference and criticism is to walk the talk on democracy, and on building democratic practices into India’s diplomatic culture as well. Since independence, India has been seen as a country that is democratic pluralistic and rule-abiding- which is why many speak of “shared values” with India. Over sensitivity to criticism, invoking an imaginary foreign hand, or expressing loyalty to a government not the State or nation are not exemplars of democratic diplomatic culture, however.

Reading Recommendations:

1. Rigged: America, Russia, and One Hundred Years of Covert Electoral Interference by David Shimer

2. Meddling in the Ballot Box and

When the Great Power Gets a Vote: The Effects of Great Power Electoral Interventions on Election Results by Dov H. Levin

3. Rules and Allies: Foreign Election Interventions Kindle Edition by Johannes Bubeck Nikolay Marinov – looking at 300 elections in 100 countries

4. How to Stand Up to a Dictator by Maria Ressa

5. The Digital Divide in Democracy: How Tech Shapes (and Warps) Elections by Sebastian Whitman

6. Deep Disinformation: Can AI-Generated Fake News Swing an Election? by Ashley Parker Owens

7. Foreign Electoral Interference Normative Implications in Light of International Law, Human Rights, and Democratic Theory- Nils Reimann

8. Election Interference: International Law and the Future of Democracy by Jens David Ohlin

Script and Presentation: Suhasini Haidar

Production: Gayatri Menon and Shibu Narayan

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Binance’s Changpeng Zhao Clings To Multibillion-Dollar Fortune After Guilty Plea

On his way to the heights of crypto, Changpeng Zhao postured as though he couldn’t be bothered with the concept of his wealth. “I don’t really know what my net worth is. I’m not too bothered about it,” he told Forbes in the summer of 2021.

On Tuesday, U.S. prosecutors painted a different portrait of Binance’s chief. Zhao, who goes by CZ, pled guilty to federal money laundering charges, admitting to skirting U.S. regulations and evading sanctions laws on his quest for crypto market dominance, which in turn bolstered his fortune.

“The purpose of the conspiracy was to allow… to gain market share and profit as quickly as possible,” the U.S. complaint states. Zhao, in addition to stepping down as CEO, has agreed to pay $50 million in the Department of Justice case, while Binance is on the hook for $4.3 billion–one of the largest ever corporate penalties. Zhao also faces up to ten years in prison. (To resolve a separate case brought earlier this year by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, Zhao must also pay a $150 million fine.)

Though Zhao is barred from involvement with Binance for three years, he gets to keep his majority stake in Binance, which means he may emerge from his plea deal as one of the richest convicted felons in the world–and still by far the wealthiest person in crypto.

Zhao’s estimated 90% stake in Binance, which accounts for the vast majority of his fortune, is now worth an estimated $15 billion, Forbes estimates. That’s up from $10.5 billion in April, when Forbes published the 2023 World’s Billionaires list. Binance has generated upward of $3 billion in revenue the last 12 months, Forbes estimates, based on an analysis of the exchange’s spot and derivatives trading volumes (as tracked by CoinGecko), while also accounting for Binance’s alleged spoof or wash trades, which create the appearance of more customer activity than actually exists. (Binance has denied this.)

A recovery in crypto markets has driven up Binance’s valuation. Bitcoin’s price, a barometer of the industry, has more than doubled this year to date to $36,500 as crypto markets rallied in the aftermath of FTX’s implosion. Shares of Coinbase, a Binance competitor, have more than tripled since early January. Collectively, the market value of major cryptocurrencies has grown by $600 billion this year.

Despite the tailwinds in crypto, Binance now faces its own unique reality, one in which an independent compliance monitor will supervise its activity for three years and report its findings to the U.S. government. Those constraints may hamper Binance’s revenues, threatening its position as the leading global crypto exchange.

“Their influence and market share is going to drop precipitously,” says Mike Alfred, a crypto investor and longtime critic of Zhao and Binance. “The world in which Binance was winning and gaining market share was a world in which anything could be done at any time if it suited CZ, [and] if there was a profit in it.”

Whether Binance is able to maintain its market share as a cryptocurrency exchange will determine the direction of Zhao’s fortune. Binance facilitated 32% of spot trades and 50% of derivatives trades in October, according to a report from CCData – though its share in spot markets has declined for eight consecutive months, per the report.

Alternatively, Tuesday’s plea deal could help Binance by removing the cloud that’s been hanging over its head, says Owen Lau, a crypto and financial exchange analyst at Oppenheimer & Co. “People concerned by the prosecutors have left [Binance] already. Today’s announcement gives them some comfort that they can come back,” Lau said on Tuesday. “To me, it could have some positive effect on Binance. The super downside – that Binance becomes a dead business – has not played out. They’re still operational.”

Richard Teng, Binance’s newly appointed CEO, insists the company is positioned for future growth. “The fundamentals of our business are VERY strong,” he said in a tweet.

Since the news of the plea deal came out, Binance has experienced a net outflow of about $956 million on Ethereum, though its total crypto holdings remain above $65 billion, according to tracking site Nansen. “At the time of writing, withdrawals are continuing, and we’re not seeing a mass exodus of funds,” Nansen tweeted this morning.

As part of the settlement with the DOJ, an independent compliance monitor will be surveying Binance. As a result, the exchange will bleed customers as it falls behind more agile competitors, predicts Alfred. “If you went down the list of things that need to be fixed at Binance, it’s literally thousands of bullet points long,” Alfred says. “Other ventures that are coming up that are more growth oriented will take share.”

Zhao, a programmer by training, founded Binance in 2017 with a $15 million crowdsale. From its early days, Binance was favored by crypto traders and developers for its speed of execution and new products. Zhao’s tolerance for risk and brash approach fueled the company’s growth, but also put Binance on the radar of financial cops and regulators. “Wherever I sit, is going to be the Binance office,” he infamously told Coindesk in 2020.

China, Singapore and Malta were all way stations for Zhao and a small group of loyal lieutenants, until regulatory pressures forced them to remain on the move. Binance attempted to set up a European homebase in London, only to be spurned by regulators and accused of fraud by partners. Zhao ultimately moved to the United Arab Emirates; he’s lived in Dubai since 2021.

The company’s growth fueled a lavish lifestyle for Zhao. Using offshore entities controlled by his longtime deputy Heina Chen, Zhao splashed out $55 million for a private jet, spent $11 million on a yacht, distributed $62.5 million to one of his personal bank accounts, and directed another $178 million to two Singapore companies controlled by Zhao and Chen, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission, which filed charges against Zhao and Binance in June. The SEC alleged that Binance sold unregistered securities to U.S. customers. (Zhao and Binance deny the allegations and continue to fight the SEC charges, which are separate from those settled this week.)

Forbes’ $15 billion net worth estimate for Zhao does not include a personal investment portfolio. But he could have one worth several billion dollars, depending on how much of Binance’s profits he squirreled away for himself over the years. He previously told Forbes that he owned about 1,400 Bitcoins – currently worth about $36 million.

Zhao could even stage a return to Binance’s leadership after the company’s three-year period of supervision by an independent compliance monitor, according to the plea agreement.

In the meantime, Zhao plans to “probably do some passive investing” in crypto, AI and biotech, he said in a tweet on Tuesday. Zhao previously told Forbes he intended to donate between 90% and 99% of his wealth to charitable causes. “Hopefully, sooner than later,” Zhao had said. There was no mention of charitable giving in his recent tweet.

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Who Is Anthony Pratt, The Australian Billionaire Trump Reportedly Told U.S. Nuclear Secrets?

Donald Trump shared sensitive details about America’s nuclear submarine fleet with a member of his Mar-a-Lago club, who then went on to share the information with 45 others, according to an ABC News report. Who is that Mar-a-Lago club member? Australian cardboard box kingpin Anthony Pratt, a fixture on Forbes’ ranking of the World’s Billionaires for the past decade. Forbes profiled Pratt in 2015, back when the “affable, orange-haired” mogul had just invested $450 million in his U.S. operations, including a $260 million paper mill in Georgia. His net worth was an estimated $3.4 billion. In the years since, Pratt has befriended Trump in a big way. He won $350,000 by betting $75,000 on Trump to win the 2016 election, then started throwing real money around, pledging in 2017 to invest $2 billion in American manufacturing over a decade. Front-and-center, giving him a standing ovation: then-president Donald Trump. In 2021, Pratt broke ground on a $500 million paper mill and box factory in Kentucky. In the era of online shopping, where everything comes in a box, Pratt is now worth an estimated $11.1 billion.

Here is Forbes’ 2015 profile of Anthony Pratt, the Australian box billionaire with friends in high places, republished in full.

When Anthony Pratt, the affable, orange-haired Australian billionaire behind America’s biggest maker of fully recycled cardboard boxes, takes you on a tour of his factory in Valparaiso, Ind., you’re bound to stop for the bronze plaque outside: “Dedicated by Muhammad Ali on July 15, 2000.” “I like to say we’re the second-greatest boxer of all time,” Pratt chuckles.

Well-worn jokes and a friendship with Ali aren’t the only things he has to be happy about. His privately held Pratt Industries is one of the fastest-growing players in America’s $35 billion corrugated packaging industry and the only big boxmaker using 100%-recycled paper. By taking the nation’s paper trash—yellowed newspapers and greasy pizza boxes—and turning it into new packaging, Pratt has helped bolster a personal fortune FORBES estimates at $3.4 billion, while saving some 50,000 trees a day. That’s especially significant in today’s world of online shopping, where everything comes in a box. “We were in recycling before recycling was cool,” says Pratt, 55.

In the past 15 months alone the company, based in Conyers,Ga., has invested nearly $450 million in America, most notably constructing a $260 million paper mill (the company’s fourth) next to the Ali-autographed box factory in Valparaiso. The firm does $260 million in Ebitda (on $2 billion in sales), and Pratt thinks it will surpass $300 million once the new mill—driving his first big push into nearby Chicago, one of the largest box markets in the U.S.—comes online in September. In total the company operates more than 130 sites, including paper mills, box factories and distribution centers, across 26 states and Mexico, churning out more than 3,000 tons of paper every day. That’s enough to create 12 million boxes, all without cutting down a single tree. “They’re the upstart player in the industry,” says Mark Wilde, managing director at BMO Capital Markets. “It’s a remarkable story.”

Pratt’s journey began at a single wasteful paper mill in Macon, Ga. in 1991. That’s when he was dispatched to the U.S. from Australia, where his family operated Visy, a recycled-packaging juggernaut founded by his grandfather in 1948. (Today Pratt Industries and Visy operate as sister companies, both run by Pratt.) Arriving in the country he quickly saw a gap in the market. Everyone was making paper from trees. Why wasn’t anyone just recycling the stuff heading for the landfills, as Visy did in Australia? He soon shuttered the Macon mill and focused on recycling the waste produced by competitors.

That decision—made more than a decade ahead of the recent consumer-driven outcry for greener products—unleashed a domino effect of efficiency. Unlike his rivals, who must operate mills close to timber sources and then send the paper to factories near cities, where it’s turned into boxes, Pratt situates operations where they make the most logistical sense: near cities, which are full of waste—and customers—thereby cutting transportation costs.

And because he’s relatively new to the U.S. market and builds his own factories—rather than acquiring existing plants, like most of his competitors—Pratt’s facilities are some of the most advanced and efficient in the industry. He builds cheap by owning his own construction company, one that specializes in making mills on budget. Newer technology and the relative simplicity of the recycling process allow his mills to employ just a quarter of the staff his competitors do. “We’re building the space shuttle competing against other people who are still flying Spitfires,” he says.

Still, he’s dependent on his competitors to keep pumping out more paper to be thrown away, collected and sent to his mills. After all, paper fiber can be recycled only so many times before it starts to disintegrate. But given the size of America’s paper market and how entrenched his competitors are in the standard (and profitable) method, he’s bullish about the future.

He sees Pratt Industries, which controls less than 5% of the U.S. market, doubling in size to more than $4 billion in sales in the next seven years while global sales grow to $10 billion. That includes $1 billion from his newly launched California operation, a play into the state’s massive fruit and vegetable market. Pratt is also cozying up to big shippers like Amazon and the U.S. Postal Service, betting that the rise of online retailing will translate to more boxes being sent directly to consumers who want to see sustainable products. And Pratt continues to expand one of his most successful product lines: lightweight packaging.

He’s also dependent on U.S. companies to keep pumping out products to be boxed, tethering him to American manufacturing. That puts him in a position many might find uncomfortable, yet Pratt is happy to rely on a sector many once counted out. Industry is booming, according to Pratt, and the country’s regenerative nature is more than enough to carry a young boxer a few more rounds. “My policy in America is ‘steady growth is forever,’ ” says Pratt. “We think sustainability is a wave that’s not going away anytime soon.”

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Here’s The Story Of The Billionaire Founder Behind Hindenburg Research’s Latest Short Selling Target

The short seller Hindenburg has accused Kazakhstan-based brokerage Freedom Holding of fraudulent practices. Former employees who spoke with Forbes have their own beef with the company.

The short seller Hindenburg Research published its latest report on Tuesday, accusing Freedom Holding Corp., a Nasdaq-listed financial services company headquartered in Kazakhstan, of a litany of fraudulent and illegal activity.

One thing Hindenburg didn’t mention: the founder of Freedom Holding, Timur Turlov, 35, has been on Forbes’ billionaires list since 2021, worth an estimated $3.2 billion as of Tuesday’s market close, down more than $100 million in a day. In 2021, Forbes highlighted the seemingly inexplicable runup in Freedom Holdings share price and some concerning issues about the way part of the brokerage was set up.

According to Hindenburg Research, Freedom Finance, the company’s stock brokerage, has allegedly been evading U.S. and European sanctions since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by continuing to offer its services to Russia-based customers, including clients of firms targeted specifically for sanctions enforcement measures. (The company admitted to providing “brokerage services to certain individuals and entities who are subject to sanctions” in its annual report earlier this month.)

Hindenburg Research also accuses Freedom Holding Corp. of “fabricating revenue,” of manipulating its own stock price, and of commingling customer funds. “All told, Freedom Holding has exhibited a startling array of red flags relating to virtually every category of financial malfeasance worthy of investigation,” writes Hindenburg Research, which has entered a short position on the company’s stock.

The company’s shares closed Tuesday’s market down 3.2%, leaving it with a market capitalization of nearly $4.4 billion. Turlov owns over 70% of the stock, which means the company’s shares prices are less susceptible to general investor sentiment.

“The allegations in the Hindenburg report are without merit,” a company spokesperson told Forbes in an emailed statement. “Freedom Holding and its subsidiaries continue to provide all required disclosures to regulators and investors, who can review our recently filed form 10-K and and [sic] audited financial statements on our website.”

Freedom Holding Corp., as those who’ve followed it well know, has had its share of challenges in the past year. The company’s previous auditors, a small Utah-based firm called WSRP LLC, was sanctioned last December by the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board for failing to “inquire about the business purpose of…related party transactions.” Freedom also had to restate its 2022 earnings and three different quarterly reports (the fourth quarter of 2021, as well as Q2 and Q3 of last year). Nasdaq has been threatening to delist the company since June 15 this year.

When Forbes first reported on Freedom over two years ago, the company’s meteoric stock market gains had vaulted its founder and CEO Turlov, a Russian-born millennial fond of wearing black turtlenecks and speaking with the U.S. press, into the billionaire ranks. The company, which had previously traded over-the-counter in the U.S., listed on the Nasdaq in October 2019. As Turlov told Forbes in a two-hour interview from his home in Almaty, Kazakhstan: “I had become determined to become a public company that would be good enough to be traded on [U.S. exchanges.] Because that’s the top of this business.”

In recent weeks, former Freedom Finance employees and analysts have spoken to Forbes about their impressions of and experiences working at Freedom Finance. Some corroborated claims recently made by Hindenburg Research, while others have brought fresh revelations on the firm’s working culture and toxic environment.

“They came in like cowboys, wild cowboys,” a former Freedom executive working in Dubai told Forbes a few weeks ago. “They were primarily looking for black funds, dark funds, unreported funds, to siphon them off into stock markets like they’d previously done very successfully in Russia” added the individual, who asked to remain anonymous in order to speak openly. “Once you go into unreported funds, that could be anything, especially in a market like Dubai. It could be terrorist money, it could be criminal syndicate money. It’s all kind of mixed up.”

This same employee also says that Freedom stiffed him out of money he was owed. “They would say, ‘As soon as the license is in place, we’ll be able to open our bank accounts in Dubai and you’ll get what is owed by us,’” the employee recalls. “They paid me a total of about $5,000 in six months whereas they were supposed to give me about [that much] a month,” added the employee, whose employment contract Forbes reviewed. “They still owe me salary for like eight months.”

A second former Freedom Finance employee who worked in the company’s Cyprus office, which employs about 300 people, did not have any insight or knowledge of the company’s allegedly dubious financials or Know Your Customer (KYC) requirements, but had plenty to say about a toxic work environment.

“I was abused many times by my management and gasli[t] and it was very, very difficult for me to go on,” says the former employee, who worked in finance and says he received double the amount of work that his colleagues did, yet was belittled by his managers. “They wanted to prove to me that I’m the worst one; that I’m not worth working there,” recalls the employee, who left after six months. “It was a terrible experience.”

Other employees had a better time at the company. “I will tell you, it was one of the nicest places that I’ve worked,” says a former senior executive who worked in the Cyprus office. “The nicest people.” Did they sense that anything was off about the company? Absolutely not: “It was straightforward. I didn’t see anything strange,” the person added. “I’m quite a skeptical person, but no, everything was good. Everything was good.”

Perhaps, however, a grain of salt or two are warranted. Since leaving Freedom Finance, this individual (who asked that Forbes not use his name) has worked for the equity market investment arm of Alfa Bank, Russia’s largest private bank, which has been sanctioned by the EU and the US. Alfa Bank is cited extensively in Hindenburg’s report; Freedom “continues to publicly offer clients ways to circumvent sanctions through Alfa Bank,” Hindenburg says.

A spokesperson for Freedom Holding has not yet replied regarding comments from former employees.

Turlov got his start in finance nearly two decades ago. In 2003, at age 16, he applied to a Moscow trading firm as a part-time junior trader, before moving to another bank two years later with the goal of investing in U.S. markets, he told Forbes in 2021. When the great recession hit and Turlov lost his job, he and about a half dozen of his fellow traders started a new company that would become Freedom, Turlov told Forbes.

The group set up shop in Almaty, Kazakhstan, and from there, expanded the business to other Eastern European countries. Turlov’s entree to U.S. markets came in 2015, when the company completed a reverse merger with Bmb Munai, a Nevada-incorporated company that formerly owned Kazakh oil and gas assets. Bmb President Askar Tashtitov stayed on as Freedom’s president.

For Turlov, Freedom’s 2019 IPO was a dream come true. “Never in my first days of my career would [I have been] able to expect that we will become a stock trading a million shares in a day,” he told Forbes.

But being a public company has exposed Freedom Finance’s curious design to investors. One of its most head-scratching features: the Belize-based brokerage firm, FFIN Belize, a third-party entity that routes all U.S. stock trades by Freedom customers, and which is wholly owned by Timur Turlov himself. In 2021, Turlov explained away the offshore connection as stemming from a regulatory hangup in Kazakhstan. In reality, Hindenburg claims, citing former company executives, FFIN Belize has been used to “funnel money out of Russia, often in cash, with no regard for KYC and AML [anti-money laundering] protocols.”

Another curiosity of Freedom involves one of its chief selling points to international customers—the firm’s supposed access to hot U.S. IPO stocks. The secret, Freedom told Bloomberg and others, was an unidentified hedge fund that bought shares directly from stock IPO underwriters, and then passed along the stock to Freedom via its Belize affiliate to the firm’s customers.

But that hedge fund may not exist at all, Hindenburg reports, citing individuals from the company. Jay Ritter, a professor at the University of Washington, is also skeptical about the existence of this investment vehicle. “Allocations to hedge funds aren’t being hidden. There aren’t pre-IPO investments. It’s all done transparently, it’s above the table,” Ritter, who researches IPOs, told Forbes a few weeks ago. “I find it very fishy.”

With additional reporting by Lisette Voytko.

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Maternal deaths in the U.S. more than doubled over two decades

A study published Monday, July 3, 2023, in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows maternal mortality rates in the U.S. doubled between 1999 and 2019, that Native American and Alaskan Native populations had the largest rate increase and that, overall, Black maternal mortality rates were the highest.
| Photo Credit: AP

Maternal deaths across the U.S. more than doubled over the course of two decades, and the tragedy unfolded unequally.

Black mothers died at the nation’s highest rates, while the largest increases in deaths were found in American Indian and Native Alaskan mothers. And some states — and racial or ethnic groups within them – fared worse than others.

The findings were laid out in a new study published Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Researchers looked at maternal deaths between 1999 and 2019 — but not the pandemic spike — for every state and five racial and ethnic groups.

Also Read | One woman dies every 2 minutes in pregnancy, childbirth: United Nations

“It’s a call to action to all of us to understand the root causes — to understand that some of it is about health care and access to health care, but a lot of it is about structural racism and the policies and procedures and things that we have in place that may keep people from being healthy,” said Dr. Allison Bryant, one of the study’s authors and a senior medical director for health equity at Mass General Brigham.

Among wealthy nations, the U.S. has the highest rate of maternal mortality, which is defined as a death during pregnancy or up to a year afterward. Common causes include excessive bleeding, infection, heart disease, suicide and drug overdose.

Bryant and her colleagues at Mass General Brigham and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington started with national vital statistics data on deaths and live births. They then used a modeling process to estimate maternal mortality out of every 100,000 live births.

Overall, they found rampant, widening disparities. The study showed high rates of maternal mortality aren’t confined to the South but also extend to regions like the Midwest and states such as Wyoming and Montana, which had high rates for multiple racial and ethnic groups in 2019.

Researchers also found dramatic jumps when they compared maternal mortality in the first decade of the study to the second, and identified the five states with the largest increases between those decades. Those increases exceeded:

— 162% for American Indian and Alaska Native mothers in Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Rhode Island and Wisconsin;

— 135% for white mothers in Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Missouri and Tennessee;

— 105% for Hispanic mothers in Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota and Tennessee;

— 93% for Black mothers in Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, New Jersey and Texas;

— 83% for Asian and Pacific Islander mothers in Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan and Missouri.

“I hate to say it, but I was not surprised by the findings. We’ve certainly seen enough anecdotal evidence in a single state or a group of states to suggest that maternal mortality is rising,” said Dr. Karen Joynt Maddox, a health services and policy researcher at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis who wasn’t involved in the study. “It’s certainly alarming, and just more evidence we have got to figure out what’s going on and try to find ways to do something about this.”

Also Read | ‘COVID-19 led to rise in maternal deaths, stillbirths’

Maddox pointed to how, compared with other wealthy nations, the U.S. underinvests in things like social services, primary care and mental health. She also said Missouri hasn’t funded public health adequately and, during the years of the study, hadn’t expanded Medicaid. They’ve since expanded Medicaid — and lawmakers passed a bill giving new mothers a full year of Medicaid health coverage. Last week, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson signed budget bills that included $4.4 million for a maternal mortality prevention plan.

In neighbouring Arkansas, Black women are twice as likely to have pregnancy-associated deaths as white women, according to a 2021 state report.

Dr. William Greenfield, the medical director for family health at the Arkansas Department of Health, said the disparity is significant and has “persisted over time,” and that it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why there was an increase in the state’s maternal mortality rate for Black mothers.

Rates among Black women have long been the worst in the nation, and the problem affects people of all socioeconomic backgrounds. For example, U.S. Olympic champion sprinter Tori Bowie, 32, died from complications of childbirth in May.

The pandemic likely exacerbated all of the demographic and geographic trends, Bryant said, and “that’s absolutely an area for future study.” According to preliminary federal data, maternal mortality fell in 2022 after rising to a six-decade high in 2021 — a spike experts attributed mainly to COVID-19. Officials said the final 2022 rate is on track to get close to the pre-pandemic level, which was still the highest in decades.

Bryant said it’s crucial to understand more about these disparities to help focus on community-based solutions and understand what resources are needed to tackle the problem.

Arkansas already is using telemedicine and is working on several other ways to increase access to care, said Greenfield, who is also a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Arkansas Medical Center in Little Rock and was not involved in the study.

The state also has a “perinatal quality collaborative,” a network to help health care providers understand best practices for things like reducing cesarean sections, managing complications with hypertensive disorders and curbing injuries or severe complications related to childbirth.

“Most of the deaths we reviewed and other places have reviewed … were preventable,” Greenfield said.

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Aviator Nation Founder Walks Back Plans For Retail Cuts After Backlash

It’s not all rainbows and smiley faces at popular clothing brand Aviator Nation. Founder Paige Mycoskie, one of the wealthiest self-made female entrepreneurs in the U.S., set off a frenzy at her company last week after calling for sudden cuts to Aviator Nation’s retail staff – and then jetting off on a week-long Hawaii vacation.

The 43-year-old Mycoskie, who owns 100% of the business, known for its, yes, pricey smiley-faced sweatpants and rainbow-striped hoodies popular among TikTok teens and twenty-somethings, then appeared to back track on the plans, which involved slashing the hours worked by many employees in the company’s 17 stores.

“We drafted new guidelines for retail employee scheduling in order to provide additional structure as we continue scaling the business,” Mycoskie said in a statement shared via an Aviator Nation spokesperson late on Thursday, a day after she returned home to a barrage of staff complaints and to questions from Forbes about her plans. (She had outlined retail expansion plans in a Forbes article weeks earlier).

“With our continued growth, this was intended to provide the team with more structure and support, however, once we released the new guidelines it came to my attention that the team is concerned with the proposed changes,” Mycoskie’s statement continued. An Aviator Nation spokesperson denied that the changes related to any decrease in retail sales at the company.

The founder added that all plans for layoffs or cutbacks on employee hours are “currently on hold while we review and address the team’s concerns.” The company said Friday afternoon that Mycoskie had alerted her team and that “the modified schedule was not put into place yet.” However, as of Friday evening, two employees and one store manager told Forbes that employees’ hours had already been reduced and that they’d heard no news yet of reversing those changes.

Forbes was contacted on June 13 by two employees at Aviator Nation’s location in Laguna Beach, California, who said they were pulled into an emergency meeting earlier that day and informed that most of their team would likely be let go following new orders from HQ. By the next day, the employees, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution, said they were updated that there wouldn’t be layoffs at their store but that both full-time and part-time employees–a number of whom were invited back to work this summer after working at the company last year–would instead see their hours significantly reduced. (An Aviator Nation spokesperson said it is “categorically false” that employees at this store were ever told they could be laid off.)

The Laguna Beach store would usually have up to seven people on the sales floor, but the new requirements called for a maximum of three during weekdays and four during the weekends, according to the store employees. One of the sales associates said they were told they would be reduced from working five days a week to one day a week, which meant they would have to look for another job and therefore it had a similar impact to being laid off. “We never thought something like this would happen at Aviator Nation since Paige talks so much about how she prioritizes her employees,” this person said.

Employees at two other Aviator Nation stores told Forbes that workers’ hours were diminished at their locations, too, though the cuts varied by store. The Aviator Nation store in Austin was told to have fewer people on the sales floor, according to two employees there (this is the closest store to Mycoskie, who divides her time between her homes in the Texas capital and Aspen, Colorado–where she recently splashed out $20 million for her ninth home). Meanwhile, an employee at Aviator Nation’s Venice Beach location says part-time workers at their store were also reduced to one day a week. “I will probably not be with the company by the end of the month,” this person said.

Adding to employees’ grievances about the situation was the fact that Mycoskie was on vacation in Hawaii when the new guidelines were sent through to employees. She was out of the office from at least Wednesday June 14 and returned on Wednesday June 21. A company spokesperson described this as a “scheduled family vacation.” Over the weekend Mycoskie posted a video of herself beachside and a selfie to her Instagram story with the caption, “Island life.” “She’s posting like inspirational quotes on her story though and I’m like girl what???” one sales associate said in a text.

Forbes recently highlighted Mycoskie as one of the richest self-made women in the U.S. with an estimated net worth of $380 million. In an April interview, she stressed Aviator Nation’s growing sales, which increased from $110 million in 2021 to $130 million in 2022, and new store openings in New York City and Nashville in the coming months; the company just opened a location in The Hamptons. She made no mention of any plans for impending layoffs. “I do believe it’s important for the long-term success of the company to keep brick and mortar,” Mycoskie said at the time, though she noted that most of the company’s revenue came through its online channels instead of the stores.

Though she has since hit pause on her plans for a retail shakeup, some employees painted the saga as reflective of broader management issues at the buzzy clothing company. Aviator Nation also halted the introduction of new mandatory “uniforms” that proved unpopular among some employees, who complained about wearing the long-sleeved, black “flight suits” (they retail for $350 a pop on Aviator Nation’s website) they were sent in hot climates like California and Texas. “We look like we’re about to go and change a tire,” said a sales associate at the Austin store.

“[Paige] is on vacation quite a bit,” said one store manager, also speaking on the condition of anonymity. The manager said the company’s founder has been “pretty out of the loop on what’s going on in retail stores for quite a while by choice… Recently her attention was turned back to stores and she realized we have ‘too many employees.’” The Venice Beach sales associate and a sales associate at Aviator Nation’s Austin location said they rarely see Mycoskie at their locations.

A company spokesperson responded that Mycoskie, who launched Aviator Nation back in 2007 while working part-time at a Venice Beach surf shop and grew it over the years with no outside funding (as detailed by Forbes in a 2022 profile), remains “very involved in every aspect of her business including the retail stores but she also trusts her leadership team to manage their departments, especially as the company continues to grow.” The spokesperson said that Mycoskie still visits stores weekly and “reviews photos of the ones she is not visiting as often regularly.”

The Venice Beach sales associate also highlighted a cliquey environment at the company (“All of Paige’s friends are hired and her girlfriend works for her,” said the employee, referencing Mycoskie’s girlfriend Jessica Jean Martin who is the company’s head of social media and partnerships) as well as what they said appeared to be over-the-top spending. They say Aviator Nation was flying many of their colleagues back and forth to the company’s new store in The Hamptons for the store’s May opening. “They did it in this crazy way where they fly one person there for a few days and then fly them back and then fly another person there,” said the employee. This company spends money like just down the drain.”

“We did fly members to the East Coast in order to build-out our new East Hampton and NYC shops and get those stores up and running,” said the Aviator Nation spokesperson. “We do offer the team the opportunity to travel to wherever the business may need them… Our employees consider these opportunities ‘perks.’”

Another speed bump at the trendy retailer: an uptick in customer complaints after the company’s Memorial Day sale, say three employees. The company was unable to facilitate the massive influx in orders that came in after the brand marked prices down by 40% and has been flooded with complaints from customers either receiving the wrong orders or still waiting for updates on orders they placed in May. Dozens of comments from disgruntled buyers on many of Aviator Nation’s Instagram posts prompted Mycoskie to respond from her personal Instagram on multiple posts between June 6 and June 11 that the company received “about 4x the amount of orders we typically have during a big sale” and the team was “overwhelmed.”

But a Laguna Beach sales associate says the company had the same issue last year with its Black Friday sale. “This is an issue that happens every single time that we have a sale,” this employee said. “And then even though people haven’t received their items from that sale, we had another Father’s Day Sale.” Aviator Nation says that all its Memorial Day orders have now been processed and shipped to customers.

The three store employees also said they are also seeing more complaints from customers about the quality of the clothing. “It’s practically every day now that a customer is coming in showing us this full set that they bought and they spent $400 on and the color of the top and the bottom doesn’t match. That’s one of our most frequent (complaints),” said one Laguna Beach sales associate, who adds that people also complain that shirts are slanted or the stripes or falling off. “Your clothes from Lululemon would not look like that,” added the Austin sales associate.

“Our sales–retail, wholesale and ecommerce–continue to grow and we have a lifetime guarantee on our products for any manufacturing defects,” said an Aviator Nation spokesperson. “The brand will pay to have the item fixed or replace it. We stand behind the excellent quality of our clothing.”

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North Korea fires cruise missiles as allies stage drills

A TV screen reports about North Korea’s missile launch with file image during a news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, on March 22, 2023.
| Photo Credit: AP

North Korea launched cruise missiles toward the sea on March 22, South Korea’s military said, three days after the North carried out what it called a simulated nuclear attack on South Korea to protest its military drills with the United States.

North Korea has stepped up its weapons testing activities, saying they are in response to the ongoing South Korean-U.S. military training that it sees as an invasion rehearsal. Analysts say North Korean leader Kim Jong Un likely intends to enlarge his arsenal to win greater outside concessions, while trying to boost an image of a strong leader amid domestic economic hardships.

The 11-day South Korean-U.S. drills are to end on March 23. But North Korea is expected to continue its weapons tests as the United States reportedly plans to send an aircraft carrier in coming days for another round of joint drills with South Korea.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said it detected “several” cruise missile launches from the North’s eastern coastal town of Hamhung. It said the missiles flew into the waters off the North’s east coast and that South Korean and U.S. intelligence authorities were analyzing further details.

The launches are the North’s sixth round of missile tests this month and the fourth since the U.S. and South Korean militaries early last week began large-scale military drills, which include field exercises and computer simulations. The field training is the largest of its kind since 2018 .The Joint Chiefs of Staff said the South Korean military will maintain a firm readiness and successfully complete the rest of the drills with the United States.

North Korea keeps a huge stockpile of ballistic missile systems whose tests are banned by multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions. Eleven rounds of U.N. sanctions imposed on North Korea since 2006 were approved because of North Korea’s previous ballistic missile and nuclear test explosions.

Cruise missile tests by North Korea aren’t prohibited by the U.N. council. But experts say they still pose a serious threat to its neighbors because they are designed to fly at a lower altitude to avoid radar detection. Experts say the main mission of North Korean cruise missiles include striking U.S. aircraft carriers or other big enemy ships in the event of conflict.

North Korea has called some of its cruise and ballistic missiles “strategic” weapons, a suggestion that it wants to arm them with nuclear warheads. Foreign experts debate whether the North has overcome the remaining technological hurdles to possess functioning nuclear missiles.

North Korea’s state media didn’t immediately confirm Wednesday’s launches. But it carried a statement by senior Foreign Ministry official Jo Chol Su, which protested what it called recent U.S. diplomatic attempts at the U.N. Security Council to push with the North’s denuclearization.

Mr. Cho said North Korea will view any outside bid to force it to surrender its nuclear weapons as “a declaration of war.” He said North Korea will sternly deal with such an attempt in line with its escalatory nuclear doctrine.

After more than 70 missile tests last year — the largest number for a year — North Korea has extended its provocative run in weapons demonstrations in 2023, launching around 20 missiles in 10 separate events. The weapons that were tested this year included short-range nuclear-capable ballistic missiles capable of striking South Korea and intercontinental ballistic missiles designed to attack the mainland U.S.

This picture taken on March 16, 2023 and released by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on March 17 shows the launch of a Hwasong-17 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) at Pyongyang International Airport.

This picture taken on March 16, 2023 and released by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on March 17 shows the launch of a Hwasong-17 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) at Pyongyang International Airport.
| Photo Credit:

On March 12, the day before the South Korea-U.S. drills began, North Korea test-fired two cruise missiles from a submarine. In February, North Korea launched what it called four long-range cruise missiles that demonstrated potential to strike targets 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles) away.

On March 19, Mr. Kim supervised a test-firing of a short-range ballistic missile launched from what was possibly a silo dug into the ground. State media called it a simulated nuclear attack on unspecified South Korean targets that was meant to send a “stronger warning” to the United States and South Korea over their drills.

The North’s media said a mock nuclear warhead placed on the missile detonated 800 meters (2,600 feet) above water, an altitude that some experts say was aimed at maximizing damage .It was the first time for North Korea to publicize such an altitude for detonating a nuclear weapon though it has previously claimed to have conducted simulated nuclear strikes on its rivals.

By disclosing such information, North Korea likely wanted to intimidate South Korea and the United States. After a test last week of the country’s longest-range Hwasong-17 ICBM, Mr. Kim told state media that the launch was meant to “strike fear into the enemies.”

The North’s testing spree indicates Mr. Kim is emboldened by his advancing nuclear arsenal. Last year, North Korea legislated a law that authorizes the preemptive use of nuclear weapons.

South Korea and the United States have been responding by expanding their joint military exercises .Seoul’s Defense Ministry said earlier Wednesday that South Korea and the U.S. are planning to conduct a live-fire exercise that would be “unprecedented” in scale in June.

As part of the ongoing joint drills, South Korean and U.S. troops on March 22, staged live-fire training at a site near the land border with North Korea. Col. Brandon Anderson, Deputy Commanding Officer of the 2nd Infantry Division, stressed that the drills were defensive in nature.

“We are (going to) continue to do it,” he said. “It is what we expect to do in conflict and to be good at it.”

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Vietnamese Billionaire Pham Nhat Vuong-Backed VinFast Ships First Batch Of Electric SUVs To U.S.

VinFast—an electric carmaker backed by Vietnam’s richest man, Pham Nhat Vuong—is shipping its first batch of electric sports utility vehicles to the U.S., challenging billionaire Elon Musk’s Tesla in his home market.

The 999 VF 8 SUVs were loaded to the Silver Queen—a Panamanian charter ship—in Vietnam’s northern port city of Haiphong on Friday and expected to arrive in California by mid-December, in time for delivery to U.S. customers by year end, VinFast said in a statement. The EVs are part of the 65,000 global orders that the company aims to deliver to customers around the world, with shipments to Canada and Europe expected to arrive in early 2023, it added.

“The export of the first VF 8s is a significant event for VinFast and VinGroup and a proud historical milestone for the Vietnamese automotive industry,” Nguyen Viet Quang, vice chairman and CEO of Vingroup, said. “It affirms that Vietnam has successfully produced high quality electric vehicles that are ready to compete in the international market.”

VinFast has been working on producing EVs to compete in the global market in recent years, beefing up its management by recruiting senior executives from major car manufacturers such as Tesla, BMW, Porsche, Toyota and Nissan. The company has set up branches across the U.S., Canada, and Europe in preparation for the global launch of its smart electric cars.

Besides car manufacturing, VinFast’s controlling shareholder Vuong has interests in real estate, retail, consumer electronics and healthcare through VinGroup, Vietnam’s largest conglomerate by market value. He is the country’s richest person with a net worth of $4.3 billion, according to the Forbes real-time ranking of billionaires.

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