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The Oversight Board’s Trump Decision Highlights Problems with Facebook’s Practices

ACLU News -

The ACLU condemns the bald-faced lies that President Trump repeatedly propounded after decisively losing the Nov. 4 election, and we called for his impeachment for his concerted effort to subvert our democratic process, leading to the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol. We also recognize that Facebook is a private entity with its own First Amendment rights to control the content it publishes. But Facebook’s decision to ban Trump nonetheless illustrates serious shortcomings in its content-related decision making — as its own Oversight Board (OB) properly declared yesterday in reviewing the decision. Facebook exercises quasi-monopoly power over a critical forum in our marketplace of ideas, and for many of the same reasons that we would be suspicious of a central government authority controlling what can and cannot be said, we have concerns with Facebook exercising such unchecked power.

The OB ruled that Facebook’s initial decision to suspend former President Trump’s account for 24 hours on Jan. 6, 2021, after the attack on the Capitol, was proper, but that its subsequent decision to suspend his account indefinitely — a sanction that is not mentioned in Facebook’s policies — was inappropriate. The board put the decision about a permanent ban back in Facebook’s hands, to be made in the next six months according to the rules the company applies to other users.

As pernicious as Trump’s speech was, the decisions by Facebook and other social media companies to remove Trump from their platforms highlight the immense power these corporations wield over our collective ability to speak online. For the foreseeable future, Facebook, Twitter, and a handful of other corporations will make some of the most consequential decisions affecting free expression. They present themselves as platforms for free speech rather than edited or curated newspapers. But historically they have failed to apply their own rules consistently, equitably, and transparently, or to adhere to basic notions of fair process in how they exercise the awesome power to decide what gets published on, and who can access, their forums.

Perfectly consistent content moderation is impossible in light of the scale at which these platforms operate. But Facebook’s failure to abide by basic principles of fairness and transparency are unacceptable given the influence they exert over our national debate. Facebook and similar platforms should err on the side of free expression, not censorship, while also offering users direct control over the content they see. Facebook effectively determines the boundaries of political speech for billions of users, even as it remains beholden to its bottom line, not the public interest.

In an attempt to add some accountability and transparency, Facebook created an Oversight Board to help it review hard questions regarding content moderation. But the company still holds too much unaccountable power over the process. The OB rightly highlighted many concerns with Facebook policies and practices that we share, but the decision also leaves crucial questions unanswered. Below we break down our take on this issue and the board’s decision.

What does the ACLU think of the Oversight Board’s decision?

Facebook’s initial decision to suspend Trump’s account for a defined and limited time, and the OB’s decision to uphold it, is understandable in light of the events of Jan. 6 and Trump’s part in spreading outright lies about the electoral process in the weeks and days leading up to those events. But the rule Facebook claimed to apply here — its community standard prohibiting “praise and support of dangerous individuals and organizations” — is too vague, and its application in this case offers little clarity. That standard, which Facebook explains is meant “to prevent and disrupt real-world harm,” bans those who “proclaim a violent mission or are engaged in violence” from the platform, including those engaged in “terrorist activity,” “organized hate,” and “organized violence or criminal activity.” It also bans content that “expresses support or praise for [the people and organizations] involved in these activities.”

That’s a disturbingly nebulous and far-reaching standard. Indeed, it’s worth keeping in mind that on Jan. 6, Facebook also banned “calls for protests – even peaceful ones — if they violate the curfew in D.C.” It’s not hard to imagine Facebook’s rule against “organized … criminal activity” getting misapplied to any plans for protests after curfews, whether in Kenosha, Wisconsin last summer or Elizabeth City, North Carolina today.

In addition, as the board’s lengthy opinion makes clear, when assessing the potential for speech to cause “real-world harm,” context matters. Words typed on a screen are often not enough to stoke “real-world harm” on their own, nor do they suffice to assess likely impact, yet that is often all that Facebook relies upon. In this week’s decision, the board properly calls on Facebook to consider context when assessing “issues of causality and the probability and imminence of harm” for posts by politicians and other “influential users.” We call on Facebook to consider context for all users.

As the board also properly noted, the penalty of indefinite suspension raises concerns. Unlike removing content, suspending an account for a limited period of time, or removing an account entirely, “indefinite suspension” appears nowhere in Facebook’s own rules. Facebook needs to make clear to users when, how, and according to what standards the company will indefinitely suspend accounts — particularly given that such a blunt tool removes a speaker from the platform entirely rather than focusing on specific content that violates policies in a more tailored way. Again, we condemn the pernicious, baseless, and demonstrably false statements Trump often made, but the issue here is bigger than Donald Trump.

Should there be special rules for political figures?

The ACLU believes that political speech deserves the greatest protection to ensure the functioning of our democratic system. We have parted company with other advocacy organizations that have been more willing to limit the speech of political leaders on social media platforms. The ACLU believes that the speech of former President Trump should be presumed important to the functioning of our democratic system given his prior role in government. Most of what politicians and political leaders say is, by definition, newsworthy, and can at times have legal or political consequences. While their words may have greater capacity for harm, there is also a greater public interest in having access to their speech. For example, courts considered President Trump’s tweets as evidence in several challenges to his official acts, including the transgender military ban and the Muslim ban. Given the importance of protecting political speech by political figures, Facebook’s primary recourse should be striking discrete statements by President Trump that run afoul of its standards, rather than imposing a lifetime, outright ban.

At a minimum, statements of political leaders relate to government transparency. We agree with the OB that for transparency and accountability purposes, if Facebook decides to censor a public official, the company should have a consistent plan in place for preserving the offending speech for transparency, research, and historical record purposes. In addition, Facebook should publicly explain its rules for removing posts and accounts of political figures. And its rules, as the OB recommended, must take into account the needs of human rights advocates, researchers, journalists, and others to access rule-violating content.

What else did we learn about Facebook’s relationship with the Oversight Board in this decision?

This week’s decision also highlights a number of the problems with Facebook’s approach to the Oversight Board. The board is only as powerful as Facebook lets it be, and that is problematic. For example, as the board’s decision makes clear, Facebook refused even to answer several questions the OB found relevant to its review. These included “questions about how Facebook’s news feed and other features impacted the visibility of Mr. Trump’s content,” “whether Facebook has researched, or plans to research, those design decisions in relation to the events of Jan. 6, 2021,” “questions related to the suspension of other political figures and removal of other content,” and “whether Facebook had been contacted by political officeholders or their staff about the suspension of Mr. Trump’s accounts.” Facebook should answer these questions.

In addition, Facebook denies users whose accounts it has suspended any opportunity to appeal to the board. That means that if Facebook permanently bans Trump’s account, the OB will have no say over the decision — unless, of course, Facebook itself asks for the OB’s opinion a second time. Facebook should enable users who are subjected to Facebook’s bluntest tools the option to appeal to the Oversight Board.

The OB is purportedly an effort to ensure that content moderation decisions are accountable. We approve of that impulse. We don’t want Mark Zuckerberg making these important decisions alone. The process and transparency the OB has the potential to provide are important, but this week’s decision makes clear that many roadblocks still stand in the way of fulfilling that goal.

Will this decision have an impact on regular Facebook users?

Not really — and that suggests a problem with the selection process of cases for the board. High-profile decisions like this might be interesting, but they’re not the ones that actually matter for most users, including, importantly, those who don’t have other outlets to speak online — as President Trump does. Account suspensions and deactivations can be devastating for such users.

The board’s decision doesn’t tell regular users looking at Facebook’s standards — including the “praise” standard applied here, what those standards mean for them. And regular users whose accounts are suspended don’t have the opportunity to appeal to the Oversight Board. The precedent set by this decision is very limited. The board repeats throughout that its ruling is fact-bound. In other words, it doesn’t address important questions about regular people’s use of Facebook.

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US Special Forces trained Mexican drug cartels linked to decapitation, torture, rape

The GrayZone -

An investigation into how U.S. Special Forces trained feared Mexican drug cartels responsible for grisly murders, and how Pentagon-backed counter-insurgency in Colombia and Guatemala has bled into organized crime. (This article was first published in CovertAction Magazine.) The Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) has established itself as one of the most feared paramilitaries in Mexico over the last decade. Images of the group have become the standard depiction of the Mexican cartels writ large. Their propaganda videos often feature groups […]

The post US Special Forces trained Mexican drug cartels linked to decapitation, torture, rape appeared first on The Grayzone.

‘Hedge Fund Managers Bleed Companies of Their Capabilities’

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting -

 

Janine Jackson interviewed the Institute for New Economic Thinking’s  Lynn Parramore about hedge funds vs. the Green New Deal for the April 30, 2021, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Institute for New Economic Thinking (3/4/21)

Janine Jackson: A new Green New Deal was announced last week, though you might not have noticed based on media coverage. Corporate media coverage of climate change is disorienting, in that journalists acknowledge that it’s happening, it’s life-endingly important; but then when it comes to what to do about this not imminent but already-happening crisis, we go back inside the Beltway again. And Senator So-and-So says, “Any change to our energy systems will kill your job and force you to eat only lettuce.” And that opinion needs “respectful space.”

What if media turned the corner and acknowledged that anyone serious about averting the most devastating impacts accepts that major societal changes have to be made, now; that those who are harmed will need help, and those who continue to harm will need to be shown off the stage? Then we can have necessary conversations about our possible livable future, including naming the actors and the processes that stand between us and the changes we need to make.

One critical piece of that conversation would include realities recently explored by our next guest. Lynn Parramore is senior research analyst at the Institute for New Economic Thinking, and author of the piece, and maybe I’m tipping her hand here, “Meet the ‘New Koch Brothers’–the Hedge Fund Activists Wrecking America’s Green New Deal.” She joins us now by phone from here in town. Welcome to CounterSpin, Lynn Parramore.

Lynn Parramore: Thank you so much for having me.

JJ:  When we think about converting the economy to reflect the realities of climate disruption, we think, “The government should,” and we think, “US companies could.”

LP: Yes.

JJ: So my question is: Who and what stands in the way of what government should, and companies could, do?

LP: Yes, well, there is a group of Wall Street financiers, they are typically called “activist shareholders,” which kind of sounds like maybe it’s a good thing–activism is good, right? But these guys are actually the descendants of the corporate raiders that we used to hear about in the 1980s, who would go in and buy a company, strip it down, fire all the workers and head out with a bunch of cash.

These hedge fund managers of today, and we’re talking about guys like Carl Icahn, they are billionaires many, many times over, very, very powerful men (and I say men, because they seem to be always men). They are able to buy shares of a company, like Apple, say, and then they can start telling the company what to do. They buy the shares, and then they line up proxy votes, and then they might start pressuring the CEO through letters, or maybe on social media, or in other public forums. And they’ll spend millions of dollars putting pressure on the CEOs and executives of a company to do what will enrich the shareholder in the short term.

So what that usually means is something called a “stock buyback.” Now, what is a stock buyback? That’s when a company buys outstanding shares of its own stock, thereby reducing the number of shares, which makes each share worth more money.

JJ: Right.

Lynn Parramore: “The money that the company spent on buying those outstanding shares in the stock buyback could have been used to develop new products, it could have been used for innovation, it could have been used to maintain and attract talent.”

LP: So the hedge fund managers like that. It gives them a quick return: They buy the shares, they force the CEO to do stock buybacks, or they pressure the CEO. And now their shares are worth more and they can dump them, head out of town with a quick bundle of cash, and leave the company to deal with the repercussions.

Now, what are the repercussions for the company? Well, the money that the company spent on buying those outstanding shares in the stock buyback could have been used to develop new products, it could have been used for innovation, it could have been used to maintain and attract talent. All the kinds of things that you want happening in the case of a company that might be able to work with the government on a Green New Deal.

You know, the government can’t just snap its fingers and make electric cars, or semiconductor chips, or all of those products and technologies that are needed to create a sustainable future. It needs big companies with the know-how, the capital investments, to get these things done.

Let me just give you one example: Intel is a company that makes semiconductor chips. You need these for all kinds of computer systems. You would need them to upgrade any electric grid. They’re found in almost everything: your phone, your car, whatever. Not many companies have the capital investment capability to make semiconductor chips. Intel is the one American company that does. The leaders in this industry, actually, are in China, mostly in Taiwan. But the US has Intel.

Any Green New Deal is going to involve semiconductor chips. But Intel, instead of investing in its manufacturing, it has been pressured by a hedge fund manager to use its resources to jack up the stock price, and, actually, it’s been pressured to get rid of its manufacturing arm, and just be a designer of chips, in which case the United States wouldn’t have any company that made semiconductor chips.

So you can see how these hedge fund managers, in the interest of making a quick short-term profit, really bleed companies of their capabilities and their resources, so that they can’t be leaders in technology.

And guess who doesn’t have this problem? China does not have this problem. Its companies don’t do stock buybacks. So Chinese companies are free to use their resources to invest in research and development, pay the talent, create manufacturing plants, do all the things that we wish our companies were doing if they weren’t caught up in these Wall Street games.

JJ: Let me just confirm: All of this is legal; none of this is breaking the law, but it’s still something that…. It’s still not transparent, exactly, you would say. There’s skullduggery, and yet it’s perfectly legal.

LP: Well, it used to be unlawful. Prior to 1982, stock buybacks were considered stock manipulation, and they were not legal.

JJ: OK.

JJ: But the Reagan administration came in, which was very friendly to Wall Street, and the law was changed.

Now, there are a lot of people—including economist William Lazonick, who has worked on this issue extensively—who think that stock buybacks should be made illegal once again. I happen to agree with that.

And there are more and more people in the political sphere who are beginning to understand this problem. Tammy Baldwin is a very good example. And Biden himself has a pretty good understanding of stock buybacks and the damage they cause. And he, for example, I think would be open to banning companies from doing this kind of Wall Street casino game playing, if they enjoy government contracts in any kind of big Green New Deal project or infrastructure project.

So that’s a start: banning companies from doing it as long as they are partnering with the government, and getting taxpayer money to partner with the government on these projects; that would be a very, very helpful thing.

And, eventually, it would be nice to just ban them altogether, because these stock buybacks really do nothing except pump up the price of stock shares temporarily. It’s really an illusion. A company’s stock price isn’t going up because suddenly it’s making better products or it has some wonderful vision for the future. It’s just a temporary boost that enriches wealthy executives and these hedge fund managers who, again, are already wealthy enough, and they really don’t need another superyacht.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Lynn Parramore, senior research analyst at the Institute for New Economic Thinking. Thank you so much, Lynn Parramore, for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

LP: My pleasure. Thank you for having me.

 

 

 

 

 

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis Signs a Voter Suppression Bill, and Fox News Has the Only Camera

Mother Jones Magazine -

After Republican Gov. Brian Kemp drew widespread outrage in March for signing Georgia’s controversial voter suppression law behind closed doors—an event that also saw the arrest of a Black lawmaker who knocked on them during the signing—it appears as though Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida is ready to one-up him.

According to local reports from Thursday morning, DeSantis prohibited the press from covering a signing ceremony for Florida’s own new voter suppression bill, instead giving Fox News an “exclusive” to the event. The result was every bit as dystopian as you’d imagine. 

There was the Florida governor speaking directly to Fox & Friends, where he touted the bill as “the strongest election integrity measure in the country,” before taking pen to paper as a group behind him broke out in applause. Then, as if he had taken stage direction from former President Donald Trump, DeSantis held up the freshly signed legislation for all to behold.

Many observers on social media compared the stunt, which comes as DeSantis continues to attract 2024 presidential buzz, to state-sponsored television

NEW: News media is barred from entry at Gov. Ron DeSantis’ signing of controversial elections bill, SB 90. DeSantis spokeswoman Taryn Fenske says bill signing is a “Fox exclusive” pic.twitter.com/NAos6kmtQS

— Steve Bousquet (@stevebousquet) May 6, 2021

Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) just signed the state's new restrictive voting bill live on Fox News (after barring local press from the bill's signing). pic.twitter.com/hR2ZXooABy

— The Recount (@therecount) May 6, 2021

While offering a friendly news outlet exclusive access to a bill signing likely comes with few precedents, Florida’s voter suppression law was enacted against the backdrop of similar legislative initiatives in GOP states across the country, including Arkansas, Utah, and Wyoming, that have enacted extreme bills aimed at rolling back ballot access after Trump’s 2020 election loss. As my colleague Ari Berman reported, in addition to significantly restricting mail-in voting, Florida’s new law, like Georgia’s, bans the distribution of water and food to people in line to vote and includes measures likely to disqualify more ballots.

Florida’s voting rights advocates are already ramping up a fight. Shortly after Thursday’s signing ceremony, three civil rights groups launched a lawsuit against the new law, condemning it as an effort to make it substantially more difficult for minority voters and retirees to cast ballots.

Shoshana Zuboff: Facebook's Oversight Board Is Not Enough. The Government Has to Regulate Big Tech

Democracy Now! -

Former President Donald Trump will continue to stay off Facebook after the company’s oversight board ruled Wednesday that his ban was justified for creating “an environment where a serious risk of violence was possible.” Trump was banned shortly after the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, which he helped foment by promoting baseless claims of election fraud. The oversight board also said Facebook should reassess its ban and make a final decision in six months. Shoshana Zuboff, professor emerita at Harvard Business School and author of the book “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism,” says that Facebook’s recent moves follow years of inaction by CEO Mark Zuckerberg. “He showed that he was willing to do just about anything to appease Trump … to keep regulation at bay,” Zuboff says.

"Nothing to Lose": Colombians Protest "Fascist Mafia Regime" Amid Deadly Police & Military Crackdown

Democracy Now! -

At least 30 people in Colombia have been reportedly killed since a nationwide uprising erupted against the government of right-wing President Iván Duque. Protesters are vowing to remain in the streets amid a deadly crackdown by police and military officers. About 800 people have been injured and 87 people are missing in the midst of the demonstrations, which were initially sparked by a now-withdrawn tax reform proposal, but they have since expanded in scope. People in Colombia are also denouncing rampant police brutality and demanding broader social, economic and political reforms. At least 15 people were killed in a massacre in the city of Cali on April 30 after police repeatedly opened fire on protesters. “The country has been a place of repression,” says Emilia Márquez Pizano, sex and gender director with the Colombian nonprofit Temblores, which collects data on police violence in the country. We also speak with Manuel Rozental, a Colombian activist with more than 40 years of involvement in grassroots political organizing and member of the collective Pueblos en Camino. He says “Colombians are fed up” with what he describes as the “fascist mafia regime” of Iván Duque. “They have pushed Colombians into the streets because most Colombians have nothing to lose,” Rozental says.

"Monumental Moment": U.S. Backs Waiving COVID Vaccine Patent Rights After Months of Blocking Talks

Democracy Now! -

The Biden administration has announced it now supports temporarily waiving the intellectual property rights for COVID vaccines, in what the World Trade Organization is calling a “monumental moment.” India and South Africa first proposed the waiver in October, but the United States and other wealthy nations blocked the WTO from even opening negotiations on the proposal. Supporters say the waiver is critically needed to increase the rate of vaccine production for the Global South as COVID-19 rapidly spreads in India, Latin America and other regions where few vaccines are available. Biden’s support for the waiver is “an incredibly pleasant surprise” and “late, but still welcome,” says Achal Prabhala, coordinator of the AccessIBSA project, which campaigns for access to medicines in India, Brazil and South Africa. “The proposal is monumental because what it does is it allows for more vaccines to be manufactured in the world,” Prabhala says. “The whole world faces a crippling shortage of coronavirus vaccines.”

Headlines for May 6, 2021

Democracy Now! -

Red London

Dissent Magazine -

Owen Hatherley’s eye-opening account of the left in power in London suggests both the possibilities and limits for municipal socialism.

Kushner Companies Violated Multiple Laws in Massive Tenant Dispute, Judge Rules

Mother Jones Magazine -

This story was originally published by ProPublica, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

It’s been six years since Dionne Mont first saw her apartment at Fontana Village, a rental housing complex just east of Baltimore. She was aghast that day to find the front door coming off its hinges, the kitchen cabinet doors stuck to their frames, mouse droppings under the kitchen sink, mold in the refrigerator, the toilet barely functioning and water stains on every upstairs ceiling, among other problems. But she had already signed the lease and paid the deposit.

Mont insisted that management make repairs, but that took several months, during which time she paid her $865 monthly rent and lived elsewhere. She was hit with constant late fees and so-called “court” fees, because the management company required tenants to pay rent at a Walmart or a check-cashing outlet, and she often couldn’t get there from her job as a bus driver before the 4:30 p.m. cutoff. She moved out in 2017.

Four years later, Mont has received belated vindication: On April 29, a Maryland judge ruled that the management company, which is owned by Jared Kushner’s family real estate firm, violated state consumer laws in several areas, including by not showing tenants the actual units they were going to be assigned to prior to signing a lease, and by assessing them all manner of dubious fees. The ruling came after a 31-day hearing in which about 100 of the company’s current and former tenants, including Mont, testified.

“I feel elated,” said Mont. “People were living in inhumane conditions—deplorable conditions.”

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh brought the consumer-protection case against Westminster Management, the property-management arm of Kushner Companies, in 2019 following a 2017 article by ProPublica and The New York Times Magazine on the company’s treatment of its tenants at the 15 housing complexes it owned in the Baltimore area, which have served as profitable ballast for a company better known for its gleaming properties in New York. The article revealed the company’s aggressive pursuit of current and former tenants in court over unpaid rent and broken leases, even in cases where tenants were in the right, as well as the shoddy conditions of many units.

To build its case, the attorney general’s office subpoenaed records from the company and solicited testimony from current and former tenants, who provided it via remote video link to Administrative Law Judge Emily Daneker late last year.

In her 252-page ruling last week, which was first reported by the Baltimore Sun, Daneker determined that the company had issued a relentless barrage of questionable fees on tenants over the course of many years, including both the fees identified in the 2017 article and others as well. In more than 15,000 instances, Westminster charged in excess of the state-maximum $25 fee to process a rental application. In more than 28,000 instances, the company also assessed a $12 “agent fee” on court filings against tenants even though it had incurred no such cost with the courts—a tactic that Daneker called “spurious” and which brought the company more than $332,000 in fees. And in more than 2,600 instances, the Kushner operation assessed $80 court fees to tenants at its two complexes within the city of Baltimore, even though the charge from the courts was only $50. “The practice of passing court costs on to tenants, in the absence of a court order,” Daneker wrote, “was deceptive.”

The manifold fees suggested a deliberate strategy to run up tenants’ tabs, Daneker wrote, repeatedly calling the practices “widespread and numerous.” She concluded that “these circumstances do not support a finding that this was the result of isolated or inadvertent mistakes.”

Daneker also found that the company violated consumer law by failing to have the proper debt-collection licenses for some of its properties and by misrepresenting the condition of units being leased to tenants. However, she found that the attorney general’s office did not establish that the company violated the law in several other areas, such as by misrepresenting its ability to provide maintenance on units or in some of its calculations of late fees.

Kushner Companies, which has since sold some of the complexes and put others of them on the market, declined to be interviewed for this article. A statement from Kushner general counsel Christopher Smith suggested that the ruling amounted to a victory for the company, despite the judge’s many findings against it. “Kushner respects the thoughtful depth of the Judge’s decision, which vindicates Westminster with respect to many of the Attorney General’s overreaching allegations,” Smith said.

In previous statements, the company had alleged that Frosh, a Democrat, had brought the suit for political reasons, and was singling out the company owned by the then-president’s son-in-law for a host of practices that the company said were common in the multi-housing rental industry. In her ruling, Daneker stated that she found no evidence of an “improper selective prosecution” in the suit.

The attorney general’s office declined to comment, noting that the case is not yet final. Each side will next have the chance to file exceptions, as objections are known, that will be considered by the final arbiter in the consumer protection division of the attorney general’s office. The state’s lawyers will also propose restitution sums for tenants and a civil penalty. Once the consumer protection arbiter issues a ruling, both sides will have the right to challenge it in the state’s appeals courts.

Also awaiting resolution is a separate class-action lawsuit brought by tenants that alleges, among other things, that the company’s late fees exceeded state limits. A Court of Special Appeals judge has yet to issue a ruling following a January oral argument on the plaintiffs’ appeal of previous rulings against both their attempt to certify themselves as a class and against the substance of their claim regarding late fees.

Despite the drawn-out process, including a three-month delay because of the pandemic, former tenants took satisfaction in the first judicial affirmation of their accounts of improper treatment. Kelly Ziegler, an orthodontic assistant, lived for two years in Highland Village, just south of Baltimore. She also didn’t get to see her unit before she moved in, in 2015, and was confronted with a litany of problems: a leak from the tub into the kitchen, a loose bedroom window that she worried her young child might fall out of, and a roach infestation so bad that she couldn’t use her stove. After some neighbor kids rolled a tire into her yard to use as a swing, she was fined $250 with no warning. “They did a lot of petty stuff,” she said.

But when she asked to break her lease over the problems with the house, management warned her that they would take her to court. She finally got out of the lease in 2017.

When the attorney general’s office approached Ziegler over her case, she was eager to share her experience. But when she found out that the complex was owned by President Trump’s son-in-law, she started to worry she would face repercussions for speaking out. “It made me scared that I was doing something wrong. This is a person with power,” she said. She said that her grandmother tried to reassure her: “You don’t have anything to worry about. You’ve done nothing wrong.”

Kushner has of course since left the White House and moved to Florida. Ziegler now lives with her family on a dead-end street in southwest Baltimore. It’s near a high-crime strip where, not long ago, a 17-year-old friend of her daughter was fatally shot. But Ziegler is still glad to be out of Highland Village, out of Kushner’s reach.

“I hope I don’t run into him,” she said.

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