Japanese women push back against Valentine’s tradition of ‘obligation chocolate’ – The Guardian

Japanese women are pushing back against a tradition the dictates they must give chocolates to male colleagues on Valentine’s Day, with growing anger at the practice of “forced giving”.

Until recently, women in the workplace were expected to buy chocolates for their male workmates as part of a tradition called giri choco – literally, obligation chocolates.

Men are supposed to reciprocate on 14 March on White Day – an event dreamed up by chocolate makers in the early 80s to boost sales.

But there is growing evidence that giri choco is falling out of favour.

For a growing number of people, the pressure to avoid causing offence by spending thousands of yen on chocolates for coworkers is becoming intolerable. Some companies are now banning the practice, which is seen by many workers as a form of abuse of power and harassment.

A survey found that than 60% of women will instead buy chocolates as a personal treat on 14 February. More than 56% said they would give chocolates to family members, while 36% would make the same gesture towards partners or the objects of a crush.

Keeping on the right side of colleagues, however, was furthest from their thoughts, with just 35% saying they planned to hand out chocolate treats to men at their workplace, according to the poll by a Tokyo department store.

“Before the ban, we had to worry about things like how much is appropriate to spend on each chocolate and where we draw the line in who we give the chocolates to, so it’s good that we no longer have this culture of forced giving,” one of the surveyed office workers said, according to the Japan Today website.

SoraNews24, meanwhile, reported on the recent phenomenon of gyaku choco – reverse chocolate – in which men give chocolates to spouses, girlfriends or prospective lovers.

Giving chocolate as Valentine’s Day gifts took off commercially in Japan in the mid-1950s, growing into a multimillion-dollar market that provides some manufacturers with a sizeable chunk of their annual sales in just a few days.

But the backlash against giri choco has prompted some confectioners to revamp their marketing campaigns.

In the run-up to Valentine’s Day last year, the Belgian chocolatier Godiva caused a stir when it ran a full-page newspaper ad urging businesses to encourage female employees not to hand out giri choco if they felt they were doing so under duress.

“Valentine’s Day is a day when people convey their true feelings, not coordinate relationships at work,” the ad said.

While individual consumers weigh up their gift-giving options, Japan’s collective Valentine’s chocolate obsession is gathering pace as the day approaches.

Japan Airlines will hand out chocolates to passengers – male and female – on all of its domestic and international flight on 14 February, while a hot spring resort near Tokyo has unveiled a bath filled with steaming “chocolate water”.

But the prize for the most improbable Valentine’s gimmick must go to a chain of sushi restaurants whose diners will be offered slivers of raw yellowtail raised on feed mixed with, yes, chocolate.

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Student-run honey business, farmers market helping community’s ‘food desert’ – WISN Milwaukee

Student-run honey business, farmers market helping community’s ‘food desert’

These students were already making a difference by running their own business, but now they’re overseeing a farmers market.The Parramore Farmers Market may be located in a parking lot, but it’s a key place to get fresh food: The closest produce store is nearly 3 miles away.“Parramore is a food desert, and it’s a little difficult to find access to fresh food and vegetables,” said Jemmy Barrera, the farmers market coordinator.Check out the video above to learn more about how students are involved.

These students were already making a difference by running their own business, but now they’re overseeing a farmers market.

The Parramore Farmers Market may be located in a parking lot, but it’s a key place to get fresh food: The closest produce store is nearly 3 miles away.

“Parramore is a food desert, and it’s a little difficult to find access to fresh food and vegetables,” said Jemmy Barrera, the farmers market coordinator.

Check out the video above to learn more about how students are involved.

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Klein Transportation announces schedule and rates for service to New York City – Reading Eagle



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Sprint files lawsuit against AT&T over 5G claims – ZDNet

Sprint has filed a lawsuit against AT&T over its 5G E advertising, calling it false and misleading by deceiving customers to believe that its 4G LTE Advanced network is actually 5G.

The complaint claims that AT&T is making itself seem more technologically advanced than its competitors, which is causing “irreparable harm” to Sprint.

“AT&T has employed numerous deceptive tactics to mislead consumers into believing that it currently offers a coveted and highly anticipated fifth generation wireless network, known as 5G,” the complaint, filed in the United States District Court Southern District of New York, said.

“What AT&T touts as 5G, however, is nothing more than an enhanced fourth-generation Long-Term Evolution wireless service, known as 4G LTE Advanced, which is offered by all other major wireless carriers.”

As well as a nationwide advertising campaign for its 5G E network, Sprint said AT&T is pushing out a software update to its customers to make them 5G E-capable. According to Sprint, the main change from the update is it places a 5G E logo at the top of smartphone and tablet screens.

“The only reason for the software change, therefore, is to deceive consumers into believing that they are now operating on a 5G network, and convince them to remain with AT&T, or convince others to purchase AT&T’s services,” Sprint argued.

“AT&T’s 5GE network is not, in fact, a 5G wireless network, nor does AT&T sell a single 5G-enabled mobile phone or tablet.”

Sprint said it is poised to launch the first actual 5G network in the US, and that AT&T’s advertising is harming customers by encouraging them to switch carriers.

 “AT&T’s claims of offering 5GE (or ‘5G E’ or ‘5G Evolution’) wireless service are literally false and/or misleading,” the lawsuit said.

Sprint also ran surveys finding that 54 percent of consumers think 5G E is true 5G, and 43 percent believe that buying a phone through AT&T means it would run on 5G immediately.

This false advertising will dampen consumer enthusiasm for 5G, Sprint argued, because they won’t see any difference between LTE and 5G E. It also added that this will diminish the value of its 5G rollout and result in increased revenue for AT&T while causing Sprint “significant lost sales”.

“AT&T’s deception guts Sprint’s opportunity to reap the full commercial benefits of Sprint’s 5G network launch that it has been developing for years at enormous expense,” the complaint said.

Sprint is seeking a permanent injunction against AT&T preventing them from using the term 5G E, as well as damages for “disgorgement of profits and costs for corrective advertisement”.

T-Mobile — which plans to merge with Sprint this year — in January mocked AT&T’s 5G E branding, while Verizon CTO Kyle Malady criticised the move.

“The potential for 5G is awesome, but the potential to over-hype and under-deliver on the 5G promise is a temptation that the wireless industry must resist,” Malady said at the time.

“If network providers, equipment manufacturers, handset makers, app developers, and others in the wireless ecosystem engage in behavior designed to purposefully confuse consumers, public officials and the investment community about what 5G really is, we risk alienating the very people we want most to join in developing and harnessing this exciting new technology.”

AT&T announced its 5G network going live in mid-December in parts of Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Waco, Atlanta, Charlotte, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Louisville, Oklahoma City, New Orleans, and Raleigh. In the first half of 2019, it will also be switched on across Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, Las Vegas, Orlando, and Nashville.

However, smartphones are not yet 5G-capable. Instead, AT&T is providing a Netgear Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot that uses the carrier’s advanced LTE and millimetre-wave (mmWave)-based 5G mobile network. Existing smartphones will be able to connect to the Netgear hotspot.

“Currently, there are no 5G-enabled mobile phones or tablets available for sale or lease to consumers,” the Sprint lawsuit pointed out.

“No service provider has finished upgrading all of its cell towers with the requisite 5G radios to allow broad, contiguous 5G network access as consumers travel from tower to tower in individual markets — let alone across the country. Nor has any service provider released the software necessary for future 5G devices and 5G cell towers to talk to each other.”

Sprint this month said it had doubled its quarterly network investment to $1.4 billion to prepare for 5G, which will launch across the initial 5G markets of downtown Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, New York City, Phoenix, and Washington DC in the coming months.

Related Coverage

Did AT&T trick your business into paying for fake 5G? Sprint lawsuit says yes (TechRepublic)

Sprint is suing AT&T over use of “5G E” to characterize industry standard LTE Advanced technology, as their market research finds AT&T’s marketing ploy confuses subscribers.

5G, smart cities, and other top tech trends for 2019 (TechRepublic)

Quantitative futurist Amy Webb shares her predictions for 2019 tech trends.

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The company also said its churn rates improved as it builds out its 5G network.

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As more and more employees request the opportunity to perform some or all of their work from a remote location, the need has grown for organizations to have clearly defined guidelines that govern employees.

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Air New Zealand Dreamliner flight NZ289 touches down in Shanghai after being rejected over weekend – New Zealand Herald

An Air New Zealand Dreamliner has touched down in Shanghai after an administrative blunder meant a flight at the weekend had to return to Auckland.

The service at the weekend didn’t meet Chinese requirements, meaning 275 passengers had their travel plans disrupted leading one commentator to call for compensation for the paperwork “cock up”.

Air New Zealand said yesterday the issue was specific to the aircraft used on yesterday’s flight.

That plane is a five-month-old Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner leased aircraft. The plane that landed just after midday today on a special replacement service is over three years old.

An airline spokeswoman said the airline was confident there would not be any further issues flying to Shanghai.

About four and half hours into its flight early on Sunday NZ789 had to turn around over the Coral Sea after it was discovered it didn’t have regulatory clearance to land in China.

Passengers were put up for the day at hotels or at the airport’s Strata Lounge before they departed for Shanghai on a special service at 11pm last night.

A statement from Air New Zealand yesterday said: “It is normal process to get a flight plan cleared by local authorities prior to departure and this was done on this occasion and was approved by Chinese authorities.

“Unfortunately, it was discovered during the flight that this particular aircraft did not, in fact, have the necessary permit to land.”

Independent aviation commentator Irene King said such an incident was highly unusual and knew of only one other instance of this happening with an Air New Zealand aircraft.

She said yesterday it was likely that although the airline would have filed for an aircraft to land, a different aircraft was suddenly listed to land on the other side – something Chinese authorities would not have accepted.

“China’s very restrictive to filing applications for landing slots. Normally, the airlines are obsessive with their systems – filing landing slots applications days, weeks, months in advance.

“Clearly, there’s been a serious administrative cock-up for this to happen.”

King said it was well-known among airlines and the aviation world that the Chinese were “very particular” and strict about their airspace; so it was the airline’s mistake to make.

“It’s just highly unusual. Basically, it should not have happened.”

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At San Francisco International Airport, private contractors handle security screening. Is it the airport of the future? – Washington Post

During the partial government shutdown, screeners at two Silicon Valley airports, San Francisco and San Jose International, moved thousands of people through security checkpoints.

Operations at the airports, 35 miles apart, looked similar — uniformed officers reminding people to take off their shoes and put their laptops in plastic bins — but there was one major difference: Only the officers at the San Francisco airport were getting paid.

That’s because San Francisco International is one of nearly two dozen airports across the country that use private contractors instead of the Transportation Security Administration to conduct its security screening.

As the shutdown stretched from days into weeks, growing numbers of TSA workers stopped showing up. At one point, 10 percent of TSA officers failed to report for duty.

The result: scattered staffing shortages across the country and anxiety for travelers. Airports in Baltimore, Houston and Miami were forced to temporarily close checkpoints. TSA officials conceded that many officers weren’t coming into work because of the financial hardship of working without pay.

But in San Francisco?

“Operations were normal,” said Doug Yakel, an airport spokesman.

There has long been a debate over whether airport screening should be provided by the federal government or by private companies. And the recent government shutdown — and the potential for a repeat if lawmakers can’t reach a deal with President Trump by Friday — has some wondering whether anxiety over staffing may prompt more airports to consider switching to private contractors.

Before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, airport security was handled by private contractors and paid for by the airlines. But after 9/11, those duties were turned over to the newly created TSA, which is responsible for security screening at the vast majority of the nation’s 440-plus airports.

But as part of that agreement, Congress also created a voluntary pilot program that allowed five airports to use private contractors for security screening. The program, launched in 2002, eventually was open to all airports. Today, 22 airports — including the original five: San Francisco, Kansas City International in Missouri, Greater Rochester Inter­national in New York, Jackson Hole in Wyoming and Tupelo Regional in Mississippi — participate.

Why not more?

Proponents of the system say that the TSA hasn’t made it easy for airports to make the switch. The agency has final say on whether an airport can opt to have private screeners, and although requests are rarely turned down, the process could be time-consuming. Others blame inertia, saying some airports are reluctant to tinker with an arrangement that works.

“I don’t know why, but it’s just ingrained in our mind that this is the only way it’s done,” said David Inserra, a policy analyst for homeland security at the Heritage Foundation, who has long advocated for the shift to the use of private companies for screening.

Among the considerations once an airport has applied for the program: The cost of private screeners cannot be greater than what it would be if the TSA remained at the airport. If approved, the TSA — not the airport — selects, pays and manages the contractor.

Private contractors are required to follow the same rules and procedures as their TSA counterparts but are given some leeway to determine how they staff checkpoints. The workers wear different uniforms, but their training, salary and benefits are about the same. The starting salary for a TSA officer is $37,455 but can be higher in some parts of the country depending on staffing needs and the cost of living.

Although the private screeners are contractors, they were paid during the shutdown when other government contractors were not because they were considered essential personnel, and failure to pay them would have violated their contract.

Evaluations of the two programs by outside firms hired by the TSA have found no significant differences between the two systems — either in cost or the ability to move passengers through checkpoints, TSA officials said.

However, studies by the Government Accountability Office note that in some instances private contractors’ costs were 2 percent to 19 percent lower than the TSA’s estimates of its costs for the same work. The GAO also said that the TSA’s calculations failed to include costs such as retirement benefits.

A TSA spokeswoman said the agency has adjusted its estimates based on the GAO’s recommendations.

The outside evaluations did not examine customer complaints, nor did they analyze absenteeism, retention or attrition of the screeners who work for private companies.

Inserra, of the Heritage Foundation, contends that private companies are better suited to the job of managing airport security. He said they are more adept at managing and retaining employees and can react more quickly to surges in passenger traffic.

“TSA’s focus should be on policy — setting the standards, developing new technology,” added Steve Amitay, executive director of the National Association of Security Companies. “So much of TSA is devoted to managing this screener workforce. It’s doing a job that’s not inherently governmental.”

A 2004 report by the Congressional Research Service, however, found that when private companies ran security services in the years before the 9/11 attacks, their workforce suffered from low morale and high turnover — some of the same problems that plague today’s TSA. Amitay, however, maintained that new standards for training and pay have improved working conditions and morale for contractors.

But Greg Regan, secretary-treasurer of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO, a coalition of 32 unions, argued that security screening is best left to the federal government.

“The mission of TSA is to keep people safe,” he said. “The goal is to identify threats and prevent them from having a negative impact on our system. That is the ultimate mission statement. When you privatize, you’re going to introduce another goal into that, and that’s profit.”

Other union officials argue that the answer isn’t privatization, but a functional federal government that can pay its workers and its bills on time.

“I think throwing up our hands and turning to private security operators is not the solution here,” said J. David Cox Sr., national president of the American Federation of Government Employees. “The federal government needs to do its job to provide the screening services.”

Added Mary Schiavo, former inspector general of the U.S. Transportation Department and an aviation expert: “We must never say our TSA employees are not important enough to be federal employees.”

She noted that the 9/11 attacks happened at a time when checkpoints were run by private companies.

Some of the country’s largest airports have toyed with the idea of shifting to private contractors. In 2016, after an understaffed TSA struggled to keep up with a record number of travelers, airport officials in Chicago, New York and Atlanta threatened to use private contractors.

TSA officials blamed the backups on years of cuts that forced the agency to slash its airport workforce of 45,000 by 12 percent. The furor died down after TSA officials pledged changes and persuaded Congress to beef up its staffing. The TSA has 51,000 screeners, and about 33,000 work on any given day.

Atlantic City International Airport recently shifted to private screeners after growing frustration with TSA staffing that didn’t take into account flight delays.

Stephen F. Dougherty, executive director of the South Jersey Transportation Authority, said the TSA would regularly close the airport’s checkpoint at certain hours regardless of whether flights were delayed. As a result, hundreds of passengers missed their flights because there was no one to clear them through security.

“[Atlantic City International] prides itself on being a much more convenient, passenger- friendly airport than the larger airports in the region, and this change went against core operating principles,” he said.

Some Republican lawmakers have pushed legislation to make it easier for airports to shift to private screeners. A bill introduced by last year by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) sought to, among other changes, shorten the amount of time it takes for airports to get TSA approval to make the switch. Lee is updating his bill and plans to reintroduce it this year, his spokesman said. However, a provision in legislation to fund the Federal Aviation Administration, approved last year, requires the TSA to make a decision on any application within 60 days. The agency previously had 120 days to make a decision.

Christopher Bidwell, vice president of security at Airports Council International-North America, a group that advocates for the nation’s airports, said it supports programs that give airports the flexibility they need to best serve travelers.

“Our position on [SPP], is that it should remain a viable program for any airport that wishes to participate.”

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Paris sues Airbnb over illegal rental ads – Engadget

The lawsuit could prove expensive for Airbnb. The law permits fines of 12,500 euros per illegal posting, which could leave the company paying nearly $14.2 million if every ad is deemed illegal.

In response, Airbnb told Reuters that it had taken steps to ensure visitors to Paris honor European law, but claimed the Parisian approach was “inefficient, disproportionate and in contravention of European rules.” It’s not going to quietly accept the allegations, then.

The firm might not have much choice but to pay out. Paris is Airbnb’s single largest market, with 65,000 listings, while France is its second most important country. If the company defied the law, it would suffer a serious financial blow and would cede control of a major tourist destination to competitors like HomeAway. A fine might be a small price to pay if it keeps business humming.

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Washington Eyes Crackdown On OPEC | OilPrice.com – OilPrice.com

Legislation targeting OPEC is suddenly gaining steam in the U.S. Congress, raising alarm bells for the cartel.

On Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee passed a bill that would allow the U.S. Justice Department to sue members of OPEC for manipulating the oil market. The so-called “NOPEC” bill would remove sovereign immunity, exposing member countries to antitrust regulation.

The bill has appeared in the past under prior administrations. But previous presidents from both political parties have opposed taking punitive action, fearing damage to the U.S.-Saudi relationship.

Times have changed. President Trump has repeatedly posted angry tweets about OPEC, blaming it for high gasoline prices. That led to a revived push for the NOPEC legislation. The murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi may have also been a turning point, erasing a lot of goodwill for Saudi Arabia in Washington.

In theory, OPEC members could face confiscation of their assets in the United States. Saudi Aramco, for instance, controls Motiva Enterprises, which owns the largest oil refinery in the country in Port Arthur, Texas.

According to the Financial Times, the prospect of the NOPEC bill becoming law has raised alarm bells not just for OPEC, but also for international oil companies who fear reprisals abroad. Companies like ExxonMobil and BP have major stakes in projects in places like Nigeria and Iraq. These OPEC-member countries could retaliate if they face punitive action from the U.S. government. The FT reports that the oil majors, along with the American Petroleum Institute and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, are lobbying against the NOPEC legislation.

Analysts speculate that Qatar exited OPEC in 2018 not just because of its rivalry with Saudi Arabia, but also because it has major interests in the U.S., and does not want to face antitrust action. Qatar Petroleum, along with ExxonMobil, just gave the final investment decision for the $10 billion Golden Pass LNG project in Texas. Related: Chevron Looks To Double Permian Production By 2022

So, what are the odds of passage for the NOPEC bill? Joe McMonigle, senior energy policy analyst at Hedgeye, told Reuters that low oil prices have removed some of the urgency. “I don’t see any kind of groundswell for it,” McMonigle said.

However, the takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives by the Democrats gave momentum to the bill. One of the first acts of the new House Judiciary panel was to take up the legislation, which it quickly approved on February 7. A full House vote is now possible.

In fact, there is suddenly quite a bit of bipartisan support for the bill, making it closer to becoming law than at any point in history. Senator Chuck Grassley, a Republican, has proposed a companion bill in the Senate. “The oil cartel and its member countries need to know that we are committed to stopping their anti-competitive behaviour,” Grassley said. Across the aisle, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, also representing a state with significant ethanol interests, came out in support of the bill.

“Given President Trump’s known hostile stance towards OPEC it now looks like a very good chance that the bill will be voted through,” Bjarne Schieldrop, chief commodities analyst at SEB, said in a statement. “The prospect of a passage of NOPEC legislation has added bearish pressure to Brent crude.”

It is still too early to say with any certainty, but if the NOPEC legislation were to become law, it could theoretically make it much more difficult for OPEC to set production limits with the aim of achieving certain price targets. It could also put in jeopardy the formalization of the OPEC/non-OPEC alliance with Russia, the so-called OPEC+ arrangement. OPEC and the non-OPEC group led by Moscow are currently negotiating such an entity. Related: The Next Big Threat For Oil Comes From China

Still, countries could individually raise and lower production. Or, more specifically, Saudi Arabia – the only country that can make massive changes to production levels – could still tailor output to meet strategic goals. But it wouldn’t be able to call upon other countries to chip in. “The NOPEC legislation could end tactical, cooperative production cuts and increases orchestrated by OPEC,” Schieldrop said. “It will probably not hinder Saudi Arabia to move production up and down on its own in order to address tactical turns and imbalances in the global oil market.”

Othes see a more significant impact. “We are just a tweet away from Nopec becoming law,” Bob McNally of the Rapidan Energy Group told the FT. McNally said the legislation could lead to more volatility and lower prices if OPEC was unable to restrain supply. “After a good dose of Nopec, if it was successful, we would end up begging them to reunite, get back into business and start controlling supply,” he added.

Maybe. But outside of oil companies themselves, there isn’t a massive constituency in the U.S. for OPEC. The cartel is not exactly popular in the United States. Moreover, if the NOPEC legislation became law and pushed down oil prices, Trump could claim credit and millions of American motorists would probably be thankful. It seems unlikely that there would be a political price to pay in the U.S. for lower oil prices and a crackdown on OPEC, even if American oil companies faced reprisals. Nobody is going to shed a tear for ExxonMobil if the company suddenly runs into trouble in Iraq or Nigeria because of the NOPEC law. 

By Nick Cunningham of Oilprice.com

More Top Reads From Oilprice.com:

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Mistress’ Brother Leaked Bezos’ Racy Texts to Enquirer, Sources Say – The Daily Beast

The brother of Jeff Bezos’ mistress, Lauren Sanchez, supplied the couple’s racy texts to the National Enquirer, multiple sources inside AMI, the tabloid’s parent company, told The Daily Beast.

Another source who has been in extensive communication with senior leaders at AMI confirmed that Michael Sanchez first supplied Bezos’ texts to the Enquirer.

The leaked texts, published last month, included notes from Bezos like, “I want to smell you, I want to breathe you in. I want to hold you tight.”

AMI has previously refused to identify the source of the texts, but a lawyer for the company strongly hinted at Sanchez’s role during a Sunday morning interview on ABC.

“The story was given to the National Enquirer by a reliable source that had given information to the National Enquirer for seven years prior to this story. It was a source that was well known to both Mr. Bezos and Ms. Sanchez,” attorney Elkan Abramowitz told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos.

Asked directly whether Sanchez was the source, Abramowitz said, “I can’t discuss who the source was. It’s confidential within AMI.”

An AMI spokesperson declined to comment for this story. Asked directly more than a half-dozen times whether or not he supplied the texts to the Enquirer, Sanchez declined to do so.

As The Daily Beast was the first to report, Bezos launched his own investigation into who leaked the texts. The security consultant he hired, Gavin de Becker, has repeatedly declined to disclose the findings of his investigation, including whether or not it had determined Sanchez was the culprit. But he did say the probe is over and the results will be turned over to the authorities.

“Our investigation into who initially provided texts to the National Enquirer, and why it was done—that investigation is now complete. We have turned our conclusions over to our attorneys for referral to law enforcement,” de Becker told The Daily Beast on Sunday.

“Our investigation into what the National Enquirer and [publisher] AMI did after they received the initial texts—that investigation is ongoing,” he added.

The identity of the Enquirer’s source was only one of the many mysteries in a tale that is sordid and tangled, even by supermarket tabloid standards. Still unresolved: why Sanchez allegedly supplied the information to the Enquirer; why the Enquirer promoted a story about Bezos with such vigor; what, if anything this had to do with the Enquirer’s long-standing support for Trump; why its parent company was so bothered by the suggestion that it was motivated by “external forces, political or otherwise”; and why AMI tried to later coerce Bezos with a previously-unreleased “d*ck pick.”

Documents reviewed by The Daily Beast show that Michael Sanchez believed the Enquirer pursued its story about Bezos with “President Trump’s knowledge and appreciation”—a chase encouraged, in Sanchez’s estimation, by Republican operatives “who THINK Jeff gets up every morning and has a WaPo meeting to plot its next diabolical attack on President Trump.”

No one who spoke to The Daily Beast implied that Michael Sanchez in any way hacked his sister’s phone, and he has not been charged with any crime. In fact, three people familiar with the Bezos-funded probe told The Daily Beast in late January that it had found no evidence of a hack. However, Bezos’ investigators have strongly suspected Sanchez was the leaker since at least last week, according to two people familiar with the investigation. “There is no one inside this inquiry process who doesn’t believe he’s ground zero,” one of those sources said.

Abramowitz, the AMI lawyer, appeared to confirm this in his Sunday interview, saying, “Any investigator that was going to investigate this knew who the source was.”

The Daily Beast previously reported that de Becker had interviewed Sanchez as part of his probe. Of particular interest were his personal and business ties to some prominent figures in President Donald Trump’s orbit, including Roger Stone, Carter Page, and Scottie Nell Hughes. (Her private emails, it should be noted, were once leaked to an AMI-owned publication.)

As The Daily Beast previously reported last week, documents show that Sanchez and Stone were in touch about the National Enquirer story in the days after it ran.

“I’ve never hacked anyone,” Stone told The Daily Beast, which had neither suggested or asked if he had. “I do know Michael Sanchez—very good guy.”

He certainly was a reliable and public supporter of the president. “For anyone too stupid or too bitter to admit Mueller’s pack of @POTUS-hating @TheDemocrats is leading an out-of-control witch hunt, read about @jerome_corsi,” Sanchez wrote in a more-or-less typical tweet. “Muellerism = McCarthyism.”

According to the Washington Post, Sanchez said he had heard from AMI staffers that the tabloid operation was in the middle of “a takedown to make Trump happy.”

And it did. The cover story and the highly unusual 12-page spread that accompanied what the paper called its “largest investigation” ever prompted President Trump to tweet, “So sorry to hear the news about Jeff Bozo being taken down by a competitor.”  

Trump and AMI chief David Pecker have been friends for decades, and began working together professionally in the late 1990s, when a Pecker-led publishing company began putting out a quarterly, Trump-branded style magazine. In the years since, Trump was an extensive subject of and source for coverage by AMI-owned publications. And as Pecker has now admitted, he used AMI to buy up stories damaging to Trump and sit on them—a tactic known as “catch and kill”—most notably to bury the testimony of an alleged Trump mistress in the final weeks of the 2016 presidential campaign.

Documents show that Michael Sanchez believed the Enquirer pursued Bezos with ‘President Trump’s knowledge and appreciation.’

Pecker and his deputy, AMI chief content officer Dylan Howard, escaped prosecution for their roles in that scheme after agreeing to cooperate with federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York. That office is now examining whether AMI may have violated that agreement. Presumably, the attorneys retained as part of Bezos’ probe will turn over what information they have to the Southern District.

Though de Becker declined to identify the attorneys, The Daily Beast has learned they include famed Watergate Special Prosecutor Richard Ben-Veniste, and William Isaacson, an partner at Boies Schiller Flexner. The firm has previously represented AMI.

Sanchez’s alleged involvement in the Bezos leak, and his ties to various Trumpworld figures, has informed investigators’ conclusions that the disclosure was at least in part politically motivated, a finding that drew intense efforts from AMI to insulate the Enquirer’s reporting from any allegations that they were seeking to please Trump, a close friend of AMI chief executive David Pecker.

But those efforts backfired in dramatic fashion this week, after Bezos publicly posted copies of emails sent by AMI executive Dylan Howard and lawyer John Fine. In one of those emails, Howard threatened to publish sexually suggestive photos of Bezos and Sanchez if the Washington Post didn’t back off its investigations of the Enquirer.

“American Media emphatically rejects any assertion that its reporting was instigated, dictated or influenced in any manner by external forces, political or otherwise,” wrote Fine. “Any further dissemination of these false, vicious, speculative and unsubstantiated statements is done at your client’s peril.”

To Bezos, the mention of “external forces” seemed to suggest that AMI’s past promotion of the Saudi royal family might have informed its decision to pursue and publish with such unprecedented vigor its lengthy expose on Bezos’ affair. “For reasons still to be better understood, the Saudi angle seems to hit a particularly sensitive nerve,” Bezos wrote.

—with additional reporting by Noah Shachtman

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