Category Archives: Politics

Retirees Face $1.3 Billion Loss in Wall Street Fraud

It was supposed to be a safe investment.

In small offices across the country, brokers sold a security called L Bonds. The bonds were backed by life insurance policies and were supposed to provide a steady stream of income.

Many buyers were elderly. Now they’re facing catastrophic losses of up to $1.3 billion.

From a report that broke this morning in The Wall Street Journal:

What many of these retail investors didn’t know was that [bond issuer] GWG’s founders and a board director would each use the money to fund and launch their own startup ventures, then move them out of the investors’ reach, according to people familiar with the matter. The roughly 27,000 individuals who bought GWG’s unique debt securities, known as L Bonds, are now facing huge potential losses – for many, their retirement nest eggs.


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The original business buying life insurance policies quickly ran into trouble. So, bond issuer GWG Holdings cast about for another strategy.

It settled on backing speculative startups run by the company’s founders.

That would be reckless enough a thing to do with small savers’ money. But worse yet, the miscreants running GWG quickly moved those assets out of reach of the L Bond buyers.

Once the top executives had taken the assets, they drove GWG into bankruptcy.

The judge overseeing the court proceedings in Houston said he had never before seen a company give up control of everything it owns before seeking chapter 11 protection.

GWG appears to have operated like a Ponzi scheme. Of the $1.26 billion in L Bonds the company sold, nearly two-thirds went to paying off prior bonds.

Meanwhile, the top executives siphoned off tens of millions of dollars in dividends for themselves.

The SEC began investigating GWG as early as 2020. GWG didn’t disclose the investigation to its investors for a year.

In the mean time, it sold another $200 million in toxic L Bonds.

The law generally prohibits the SEC from disclosing investigations. I think it’s high time to change those laws.

Many elderly put their life’s savings into these bonds.

They should’ve known the company was under federal investigation. The government they pay taxes to should never have kept that a secret from them.

It doesn’t help for the SEC to blow the whistle once the money is already gone.

What do you think of this case and how the SEC handled it? Leave a comment at the bottom and let me know.

See you on Monday!

More on markets:

Hedge Fund Tiger Global Losing $136 Million a Day, Down 52%

Hedge Fund Giant D1 Loses $7 Billion in 2022

Shadowy Hedge Fund Cash Bankrolls Fight Against Regulation

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Photo: SEC building seal

The Autonomous Weapons of the Future…and Present


A man walks in a remote field. From a place he cannot even see, a quiet drone takes off.

It’s headed his way.

This drone was made by Anduril Industries and this time, it just watched. But it can do a lot more.

These powerful craft can fly at 80 to 100 mph. By comparison, a typical DJI drone can reach about 40 miles per hour.

The Anduril drone is so fast and durable it can knock other drones out of the sky. The five year old defense startup bills itself as different from the big boys like General Dynamics or Northrop Grumman:

“Unlike most defence companies, we don’t wait for our customers to tell us what they need. We identify problems, privately fund R&D and sell finished products off the shelf.

David Goodrich, CEO Anduril Australia & Asia Pacific

Anduril is taking robot warfare beyond aerial drones. It recently bought a company called Dive Technologies, which makes autonomous submarines.

What if you had hundreds of even thousands of these autonomous subs patrolling your coast…or even attacking your enemy’s navy right in its own harbors? These relatively cheap and quick to produce vessels could change naval warfare forever.

Anduril’s drones rely on computer vision and AI to spot threats.

I’ve actually seen similar technology used by startups that sell security cameras to individuals. In those cases, the system flags a potential intruder for a human to review in real time.

This type of tech isn’t just being used abroad. It’s in our neighborhoods and also on our southern border, where it’s used to track immigration.

We’ve had numerous issues with policing of poor communities in America. It concerns me how a new generation of AI and robotics could be trained on those who already have the least.

As explosive as certain policing incidents have been, what will happen when the unarmed man is confronting a robot?

But like any new technology, Anduril’s capabilities can also be used for good. The startup is working with NATO forces in Poland, perhaps to prepare them for a Russian threat to Poland stemming from the Ukraine conflict.

I doubt we can put this genie back in the bottle. But I hope governments and citizens will work together to ensure these powerful technologies are used for good.

What do you think of Anduril’s tech and how it may be used? Leave a comment at the bottom and let me know.

More on tech:

Growing Veggies on Mars

How Tech Could Stop Wildfires

The Startup Pitch Checklist

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Citadel Loans Supported Chinese Surveillance

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Citadel made a major loan to a Chinese surveillance company in 2006. This shadowy company, which doesn’t even appear to have a website, has sold surveillance equipment to China’s Communist government.

From a new report from Crain’s Chicago Business:

…in 2006, Citadel loaned $110 million to China Security & Surveillance Technology. The company used the funds to acquire “10 of the 50 biggest surveillance companies in China.” That has opened it to charges that it “provid(ed) much of the surveillance infrastructure for the ruling Chinese Communist Party, including technology used to alert police of possible unsanctioned protests and internet cafes to track down democracy advocates and dissidents.”

Citadel CEO Ken Griffin doesn’t seem to find the loan problematic, according to a statement he released:

“In 2006, China Security & Surveillance Technology—a company listed on the New York Stock Exchange—was raising further capital to pursue growth opportunities. CS&ST was hoping to be selected as a key partner in providing security capabilities for the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics and the 2010 Shanghai World’s Fair to ensure those events would be safe for everyone.

So what does this company do? It appears to have gone private since Citadel’s loan, but here’s how the company described itself in an SEC annual report it filed while a public company:

We are primarily engaged, through our indirect Chinese subsidiaries, in the manufacturing, distributing, installing and servicing of surveillance and safety products, systems and services, and developing surveillance and safety related software primarily for governmental entities and their affiliates, non-profit organizations, and commercial entities in China.

In other words, the company sells surveillance gear to the Chinese government, among others. Citadel’s involvement with this business is concerning, given China’s oppressive surveillance of its population.

Ethnic and religious minorities such as Uyghur Muslims are particularly hard hit. From The Guardian:


The US has accused China of committing genocide and crimes against humanity for running a mass detention, repression and sterilization campaign against Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim ethnic minorities. Countless reports have detailed detainees enduring torture, coerced abortions as well as re-education in what former secretary of state Mike Pompeo described as the “forced assimilation and eventual erasure” of Uyghurs by the Chinese government.


The surveillance system propped up by these often global companies serves to facilitate that genocide, argues Dolkun Isaa, president of the World Uyghur Congress advocacy group.


“The goal of these surveillance tactics is not only to instill fear in Uyghurs’ minds that every aspect of their behavior is monitored, but most importantly to single out Uyghurs for detention in the internment camp system,” Isaa said.


Griffin may be right that China Security & Surveillance Technology bid on an Olympic contract. But it appears that he and his company didn’t ask any questions about what else the company does.

Citadel’s “make money now, ask questions later” attitude has also made it a target of a federal investigation here in the US.

I only hope someone holds this company accountable.

More on markets:

Citadel Under Federal Investigation

Mass Firings at Citadel Right Before Federal Probe

NYSE Investigating Shopify Stock Plunge; Citadel Involved

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Photo: Citadel LLC CEO Kenneth Griffin

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Ken Griffin Making Hundreds of Millions in Campaign Contributions

Hi everyone! I got a late call time on the movie I’m shooting today, so I wound up having time to chat with you guys after all!

And I’ve got an interesting one for you today.

Billionaire hedge fund manager Kenneth Griffin has given hundreds of millions of dollars to political campaigns in recent years, Crain’s Chicago Business reports this morning. That includes $86 million in federal races in just the last 3 years.

$63 million of that came in 2020 alone. And if that weren’t enough, the Citadel LLC founder put $122 million into elections just in Illinois!

The money appears to be opening doors for Griffin and Citadel:

“When you’re making very large political contributions, it increases your access to sitting officeholders if they win,” says Peter Quist, deputy research director at OpenSecrets, the nonpartisan research group that tracks political spending nationally. Griffin’s increased spending “seems to indicate that he is being successful at being able to set up those meetings.”

In the last year, Citadel has gone from a large but under-the-radar fund to one of the most controversial companies in America. It is the subject of lawsuits, parodies, and lawsuits about parodies.

Perhaps Griffin is aiming his firehose of cash at politicians in order to protect his business from regulation.

Some call in influence peddling. The Russians call it “krysha,” or roof.

Either way, any professional investor like Griffin is going to want to see a return on that investment. The question is, why should anyone, especially a highly controversial billionaire, be allowed such disproportionate influence on our elections?

More on markets:

Citadel Can’t Beat the S&P 500, Despite High Fees

Melvin Capital Loses $1 Billion in 3 Weeks to Start 2022

Engineering an AMC Short Squeeze in Dark Pools

Photo: Citadel LLC CEO Kenneth Griffin

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Ken Griffin to Spend $300 Million to Defeat Governor

Major news today as Politico reports Citadel LLC CEO Kenneth Griffin may spend up to $300 million in the next Illinois selection. He is determined to unseat Democratic Governor J.B. Pritzker and push a slate of conservative candidates:

A source who spoke to Playbook about [political operative] Mike Z, also said Griffin has committed $150 million to the campaign, which would match what Pritzker spent in his first run for governor.

Other media reports have attributed “multiple sources” as saying Griffin is willing to spend as much as $300 million in next year’s election.

Griffin was also behind a shadowy group that defeated a ballot measure for a progressive state income tax last year. The group is now interviewing potential gubernatorial candidates in secrecy, per Politico.

I find the idea of a billionaire threatening to outspend a sitting governor single handedly while interviewing candidates in secret disturbing. This is not the type of proportional representation consistent with democracy.

I also find the idea of the state’s richest resident, with a net worth of $21 billion, secretly campaigning to stop a fairly modest 8% top tax rate unseemly. Griffin has benefited enormously from the state but seems unwilling to give back.

Wherever you turn, you seem to find Griffin and his firm. His hedge fund is conversing with Robinhood right before they limit trades, causing large losses for meme stock investors.

At the same time, he’s investing in Melvin Capital, which had short positions in those same stocks. Now he’s the plutocrat kingmaker in Illinois politics.

And he even picked up a copy of the Constitution for a cool $43 million. After all, Junior had to have it!

Griffin seems determined to throw his weight around wherever he can. The question is, how long are we going to take it?

More on markets:

Hedge Fund Paid Researcher to Write Misleading Reports on Seeking Alpha

How Solana Could Wipe Out Visa and MasterCard

Parody Site Sues Citadel to Stop Shutdown

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Jack Ciattarelli’s $10 Billion Budget Cut

New Jersey has an election tomorrow, pitting Democratic Governor Phil Murphy against Republican candidate Jack Ciattarelli.

While researching who to vote for, I came across a startling piece of information. From NJ.com:

Ciattarelli has vowed to cut $10 billion in spending from the budget. But he has not outlined what programs he’d slash.

That got me wondering: how big is the state budget? Would cutting $10 billion be a little, or a lot?

It turns out the total state budget is $46.4 billion. A $10 billion cut would mean slashing 22% of the state budget.

That sounds drastic. If Ciattarelli had clearly outlined wasteful spending we should eliminate, I’d feel a little better about his argument.

But the total lack of clarity on what state services will get the axe concerns me.

Would this mean no more buses, closing state parks, or the end of free community college? We have no way to know because the candidate hasn’t told us.

The question is, do we want to find out?

More on New Jersey:

Murphy’s Innovation Agenda

The Best Mexican Food Is In…New Jersey?

A Hidden Castle…In New Jersey?

Photo: “File:Jack Ciattarelli.jpg” by NJTVNews is licensed under CC BY 3.0

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My wife and I have gotten organic produce shipped to our house by Misfits for over a year. It’s never once disappointed me. Every fruit and vegetable is super fresh and packed with flavor. I thought radishes were cold, tasteless little lumps at salad bars until I tried theirs! They’re peppery, colorful and crunchy! I wrote a detailed review of Misfits here.

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Murphy’s Innovation Agenda

If you’re a fellow New Jerseyan, you know a big election is coming up. We have the constant barrage of commercials and junk mail to prove it.

Doing some research on the races today, I came across an interesting initiative Governor Phil Murphy recently passed. It’s called the NJ Innovation Evergreen Fund.

This fund provides tens of millions of dollars to venture firms to invest in New Jersey-based companies. I’d love to see our state dominate this field, especially since we’re the original home of the transistor!

I invest in tech startups and I can tell you this much: every one of them is hiring. They’re a great source of high quality jobs.

Murphy also passed free community college and a $1 billion school funding increase. This means our population will have better skills.

The transformative inventions and great companies of tomorrow will be created by those with the best skills. And I want New Jersey to be a big part of that.

One change I’d suggest to the fund would be to have it directly invest in companies. Its current structure is complicated and hard to understand.

If the fund simply hired people knowledgeable about tech and venture capital and came in as a co-investor on great New Jersey-based companies, it could help them scale much faster.

And if the fund did well, the state could make a huge profit.

I’m excited to see this novel approach by the Murphy administration. Let’s make the Menlo Park that matters most Menlo Park, NJ!

More on tech:

Why I Just Invested in Kippo, Where Gamers Find Love

What if Everyone on Earth Had Super Fast Internet for $1?

Why I Just Invested in Capbase, The Startup in a Box

Photo: “Governor Murphy, Lieutenant Governor Oliver, Senate President Sweeney and Speaker Coughlin hold a press conference on budget agreement in Trenton on June 30, 2019.Edwin J. Torres/NJ Governor’s Office.” by GovPhilMurphy is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

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Amazon Business American Express Card

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Fundrise

This platform lets me diversify my real estate investments so I’m not too exposed to any one market. I’ve invested since 2018 and returns have been good so far. More on Fundrise in this post.

If you decide to invest in Fundrise, you can use this link to get your management fees waived for 90 days. With their 1% management fee, this could save you $250 on a $100,000 account.

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My wife and I have gotten organic produce shipped to our house by Misfits for over a year. It’s never once disappointed me. Every fruit and vegetable is super fresh and packed with flavor. I thought radishes were cold, tasteless little lumps at salad bars until I tried theirs! They’re peppery, colorful and crunchy! I wrote a detailed review of Misfits here.

Use this link to sign up and you’ll save $10 on your first order. 

Why the SEC Report Is Crap

After nearly 9 months, the Securities and Exchange Commission released its report on January’s meme stock mania yesterday. Their dramatic conclusion:

There are many different types of investors, and they buy and sell stocks for many different reasons.

Good thing we’re paying these guys, huh?

The report is mostly a bland summary of the run-up in stocks like GameStop Corp., AMC Entertainment Holdings, Inc., and others. It ends with a series of milquetoast “areas for potential study” including “forces that may cause a brokerage to restrict trading”.

I’ll give you something to study: how about the internal chat logs at Robinhood in which the person who made the decision to restrict trading describes selling all his AMC shares first?

This allegation appears in a pending lawsuit in US District Court in South Florida. I find it incredible that the SEC never even bothers to mention it or investigate its veracity.

I just came back from vacation, and I was hoping to feel relaxed. But frankly, reading this report pissed me off.

This is the usual government hemming and hawing while strong evidence exists of crimes by well-connected fatcats.

The only way it’s going to change is if the public speaks out.

More on markets:

Robinhood Exec Dumped AMC Right Before He Limited Trades, Lawsuit Alleges

Robinhood Knew Its Platform Was Falling Apart, But Kept Signing Up Record Numbers of Users

AMC Fails to Deliver Are 40,000 Times Amazon’s, Per Latest Data

Photo: “CMI 101: Demystifying Derivatives with CFTC Chairman Gary Gensler” by Third Way is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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You already shop on Amazon. Why not save $100?

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Best of all: No fee!

Fundrise

This platform lets me diversify my real estate investments so I’m not too exposed to any one market. I’ve invested since 2018 and returns have been good so far. More on Fundrise in this post.

If you decide to invest in Fundrise, you can use this link to get your management fees waived for 90 days. With their 1% management fee, this could save you $250 on a $100,000 account.

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Misfits Market

My wife and I have gotten organic produce shipped to our house by Misfits for over a year. It’s never once disappointed me. Every fruit and vegetable is super fresh and packed with flavor. I thought radishes were cold, tasteless little lumps at salad bars until I tried theirs! They’re peppery, colorful and crunchy! I wrote a detailed review of Misfits here.

Use this link to sign up and you’ll save $10 on your first order. 

China’s Crypto Ban and the Road to Total Control

You just went to a protest marking the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. You were scared, but you went. You wore a mask and took a winding route home. No one could have seen you.

You arrive home to your Hong Kong apartment and decide to check your bank account. Did the rent get deducted yet?

But when you log in, you see the balance has gone from 21,000 yuan to zero.

A notice appears to contact your local Party office.

This is the future China wants to bring about. Its tools:

1) The social credit score
2) The digital yuan
3) The banning of cryptocurrencies other than the digital yuan

Today, China banned bitcoin and all other cryptocurrencies. All, that is, except its own digital yuan, which debuted this spring.

It wasn’t hard to see this coming. China banned cryptocurrency mining earlier this year. This is part of a long term trend toward total control under Xi Jinping.

China’s government has cracked down hard on tech companies, Hong Kong dissidents, and even seemingly random targets like celebrities.

What’s next? About five years ago, China’s government created a social credit score. Any action that upsets the government, from farebeating to protesting, can have dire consequences. One may be unable to get a loan, a job, or access the internet.

After the crypto ban, the next logical step for China’s dictatorship is to ban cash and all non-digital yuan. Then, all money is electronic, traceable, and centrally controlled.

Step out of line, and your life savings could be gone.

It’s a dark, dystopian future. But I strongly suspect it’s coming.

We in the United States and the rest of the free world should guard against any such thing being done here. I will be wary of attempts to ban cryptocurrencies or cash as paving the way for similar control. Control that has no place in a democratic society.

More on China tech:

China’s Real Goal in Tech Crackdown: A Regimented, Obedient Society

How China’s Tech Industry Dies

China Is Crushing One of Its Most Innovative Companies

Photo: “1984” by jason ilagan is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

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Save Money on Stuff I Use:

Amazon Business American Express Card

You already shop on Amazon. Why not save $100?

If you’re approved for this card, you get a $100 Amazon gift card. You also get up to 5% back on Amazon and Whole Foods purchases, 2% on restaurants/gas stations/cell phone bills, and 1% everywhere else.

Best of all: No fee!

Fundrise

This platform lets me diversify my real estate investments so I’m not too exposed to any one market. I’ve invested since 2018 and returns have been good so far. More on Fundrise in this post.

If you decide to invest in Fundrise, you can use this link to get your management fees waived for 90 days. With their 1% management fee, this could save you $250 on a $100,000 account.

iHerb

The only place I buy vitamins and supplements. I recently placed an order and received it in less than 48 hours with free shipping! I compared the prices and they were lower than Amazon. I also love how they test a lot of the vitamins so that you know you’re getting what the label says. This isn’t always the case with supplements.

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Misfits Market

My wife and I have gotten organic produce shipped to our house by Misfits for over a year. It’s never once disappointed me. Every fruit and vegetable is super fresh and packed with flavor. I thought radishes were cold, tasteless little lumps at salad bars until I tried theirs! They’re peppery, colorful and crunchy! I wrote a detailed review of Misfits here.

Use this link to sign up and you’ll save $10 on your first order. 

Why is the SEC Threatening Coinbase?

The SEC has threatened to sue Coinbase Global, Inc. over its plans to introduce a crypto lending product called Coinbase Lend :

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has told Coinbase Global Inc (COIN.O) that it plans to sue the cryptocurrency exchange if it goes ahead with plans to launch a programme allowing users to earn interest by lending digital assets, Coinbase said.

Coinbase was working with the SEC prior to the surprise lawsuit threat, per CEO Brian Armstrong:

Why is the SEC Doing This?

It’s not every day that the SEC privately threatens a lawsuit against a major American corporation. What is the SEC’s motivation here? From Cointelegraph:

The Commission could have a reason for not being forthcoming with information related to cryptocurrency lending products and this stance could be related to upcoming enforcement actions against the interests of BlockFi.

If the SEC is preparing to go after BlockFi and other players in the crypto lending scene then perhaps responding to Coinbase’s request for guidance might have constituted revealing its enforcement playbook prematurely.

Behind the Crypto Lending Boom

Behind the rush into crypto lending: incredibly low interest rates. Whether you look at bank deposits or treasury bonds, returns on safe assets are well below the rate of inflation.

Coinbase planned to offer 4% interest in its Lend product.

Is the SEC Right?

It seems likely to me that Armstrong is wrong in saying his Coinbase Lend program isn’t a security, and thus need not comply with typical securities laws. Banks have an exception from these laws when they pay interest on an account.

But Coinbase is not a bank. So it’s hard to see how this product isn’t a security.

SEC Shenanigans

That said, I think the SEC’s behavior here is extreme and bad for American business. If the SEC has determined that Lend is illegal, they should tell Coinbase that. At least Coinbase could move on to other projects.

Instead, they’ve left Coinbase in regulatory limbo. They don’t know if their product is legal or not, they don’t know what the SEC’s standard is, and they can’t launch anything without being sued.

This is a recipe for stagnation, not innovation. How can American businesses compete in the global economy when regulators won’t work with them?

As part of its threats to Coinbase, the SEC is even digging into private citizens:

Apart from the threat of legal action, a move seemingly out of left field from the Commission’s usual approach to enforcement, the SEC also asked Coinbase to provide customer details from its Lend waitlist.

On what authority are they doing this? And what are they planning to do to those prospective customers?

Keeping investors safe has its place, but bringing business to a standstill and snooping on average Americans isn’t part of it.

The SEC needs to clean up its act.

More on tech:

How Solana Could Wipe Out Visa and MasterCard

What if Everyone on Earth Had Super Fast Internet for $1?

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Photo: “775208327GB00106_TechCrunch” by TechCrunchis licensed under CC BY 2.0

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Save Money on Stuff I Use:

Amazon Business American Express Card

You already shop on Amazon. Why not save $100?

If you’re approved for this card, you get a $100 Amazon gift card. You also get up to 5% back on Amazon and Whole Foods purchases, 2% on restaurants/gas stations/cell phone bills, and 1% everywhere else.

Best of all: No fee!

Fundrise

This platform lets me diversify my real estate investments so I’m not too exposed to any one market. I’ve invested since 2018 and returns have been good so far. More on Fundrise in this post.

If you decide to invest in Fundrise, you can use this link to get your management fees waived for 90 days. With their 1% management fee, this could save you $250 on a $100,000 account.

iHerb

The only place I buy vitamins and supplements. I recently placed an order and received it in less than 48 hours with free shipping! I compared the prices and they were lower than Amazon. I also love how they test a lot of the vitamins so that you know you’re getting what the label says. This isn’t always the case with supplements.

Use this link to save 5%! 

Misfits Market

My wife and I have gotten organic produce shipped to our house by Misfits for over a year. It’s never once disappointed me. Every fruit and vegetable is super fresh and packed with flavor. I thought radishes were cold, tasteless little lumps at salad bars until I tried theirs! They’re peppery, colorful and crunchy! I wrote a detailed review of Misfits here.

Use this link to sign up and you’ll save $10 on your first order.