May 032019
 


Paul Klee In angel’s care (In Engelshut) 1931

 

Day of the Long Knives (Kassam)
Is The Media Driving America Insane? (LN)
How The News Took Over Reality (G.)
Assange or Khashoggi: Whither Journalistic Standards? (Aziz)
Democrats Rage At Empty Chair As Barr Misses Mueller Hearing (ZH)
How President Trump’s Legal Team Outfoxed Mueller (Chamberlain)
Ukrainian Embassy Confirms DNC Contractor Solicited Trump Dirt In 2016 (Hill)
April US Auto Sales Crash 6.1%, Worst Slide In 8 Years (ZH)
Global Foreign Direct Investment Flows Collapse (DQ)
Hippie-Punching MMT (Edward Harrison)

 

 

“If all these peoples’ ideas were not relevant, or popular, they would not need to be banned.”

It’s World Press Freedom Day today. Painfully ironic. We can’t let Facebook police our world. Or, rather, be police, judge and henchman all in one. We need laws for this and we need to apply them.

I don’t do Facebook anymore since they froze our account, what is it, 3 years ago?! I see Paul Joseph Watson every now and then on Twitter and though I don’t see myself becoming his best friend, he is an intelligent and articulate guy who has never violated Facebook’s regulations. Other than he has a link to Alex Jones. It’s easy to say Good Riddance, but you are next.

Day of the Long Knives (Kassam)

Alex Jones, Paul Joseph Watson, Laura Loomer and Milo Yiannopoulos have been unpersonned by the digital tech giant Facebook and its subsidiary Instagram. They’re coming for you, next. Or more likely, for us. Human Events stands shoulder-to-shoulder with those being routinely targeted by the would-be ‘Masters of the Universe’, no matter if we agree with them or not. Also banned was Louis Farrakhan, the anti-Semitic leader of the repugnant Nation of Islam group. But Farrakhan, like the others, should not have his fate decided by some little nerd in Silicon Valley who has decided his or her feelings are hurt. His fate should be decided in the court of public opinion, with sunlight acting as the greatest disinfectant.

Unfortunately, recent precedent has informed Big Tech that its methods to some extent work. The removal of people like Laura Loomer, Milo, and Tommy Robinson has directly impacted their livelihoods, their work, and their fundamental freedoms. And while Farrakhan is far from someone we would be seen dead around, it is only intellectually consistent if the rules apply both ways. For the psychopaths of Silicon Valley however, intellectual considerations come a distinct last to power, profit, and pandering. The likelihood is Farrakhan’s inclusion on the list is simply a sop to make the decision seem less of a one way street. If I were him, I’d be especially pissed off at being the fall guy in this regard.

But Jones, Loomer, Milo, and Watson have a claim to massive anger too, given they are being lumped in with a man who has said “white people deserve to die”, and who has said to Jewish people, “…don’t you forget, when it’s God who puts you in the ovens, it’s forever!” Tommy now struggles to gain traction – albeit with a smile on his face – and a plan to drive a bus around the country with a big screen on it, to highlight the censorship he faces. Milo – and he will probably hate me for saying this – faces total financial ruin. Alex Jones has had a massive business ripped out from under him. And Laura Loomer has been relegated to staging protests on the front lawns of those who needlessly aggress her.

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If they can make a buck from it, they certainly will.

Is The Media Driving America Insane? (LN)

Now that more of us are consuming news media more often than ever, a higher number of Americans are being fed a steady mental diet of outrage, fear, and hostility wrapped in clickbait headlines designed to make us even more contemptuous of those whose political beliefs clash with our own. Many media outlets have transformed emotionally charged, but ultimately irrelevant, stories into their bread and butter, manipulating their audiences into giving them their precious clicks in exchange for a dose of anger and panic. Otherwise unimportant stories are catapulted into the mainstream simply because the press knows Americans will tune in and boost their ratings.


The Covington kids fiasco is a prime example. What should have been a local matter was morphed into an issue of national importance by a left-wing media apparatus that wanted to further their “MAGA Hat-wearing white people are the spawn of Satan” narrative. In the end, what is accomplished? For the press, it is higher ratings and more clicks. But for the American public, it is a heightened sense of fear, hatred, and stress – a toxic brew rending the social fabric. It is no wonder that many are predicting another civil war. It would be easy to dismiss such claims as pure alarmism, but given how the Fourth Estate wields their influence, this reality is not hard to imagine. Is it possible to reverse course? Sure, but it won’t be easy. The media is in this game for two reasons: To earn a profit, and to achieve their political objectives. They have no incentive to inform rather than persuade. If the trend persists, things are sure to get uglier before they get better.

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Such a piece coming from the Guardian is pretty priceless. Even if it makes some valid points, it’s publications like that which seek to alter reality. Don’t report the news, but manufacture it.

How The News Took Over Reality (G.)

In recent years, there has been enormous concern about the time we spend on our web-connected devices and what that might be doing to our brains. But a related psychological shift has gone largely unremarked: the way that, for a certain segment of the population, the news has come to fill up more and more time – and, more subtly, to occupy centre stage in our subjective sense of reality, so that the world of national politics and international crises can feel more important, even more truly real, than the concrete immediacy of our families, neighbourhoods and workplaces. It’s not simply that we spend too many hours glued to screens. It’s that for some of us, at least, they have altered our way of being in the world such that the news is no longer one aspect of the backdrop to our lives, but the main drama. The way that journalists and television producers have always experienced the news is now the way millions of others experience it, too.


From a British or American standpoint, the overwhelmingly dominant features of this changed mental landscape are Brexit and the presidency of Donald Trump. But the sheer outrageousness of them both risks blinding us to how strange and recent a phenomenon it is for the news – any news – to assume such a central position in people’s daily lives. In a now familiar refrain, the New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof bemoans his social circle’s “addiction to Trump” – “at cocktail parties, on cable television, at the dinner table, at the water cooler, all we talk about these days is Trump.” But Trump’s eclipse of all other news is not the only precondition for this addiction. The other is the eclipse of the rest of life by the dramas of the news.

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Excellent point. But there’s more: how does Assange’s freedom relate to that of the people who got banned from Facebook yesterday? Most of us will initially react to that question with something about what and who we like, but that’s not good enough.

Assange or Khashoggi: Whither Journalistic Standards? (Aziz)

Did international media and free press advocates who once celebrated Assange, utilized his revelations and heaped awards on Wikileaks, collectively agreed to abandon their erstwhile hero? And why the turnaround? (It’s not easy to explain although one observer suggests former associates actually conspired to depose him.) Increased silence from within Assange’s refuge presaged his recent ‘capture’. Then, when he suddenly appeared, subdued by dozens of guards, how shamelessly international media rushed to cheer his arrest. They seemed to delight in highlighting scant, salacious details of his condition at the time of his arrest. Reprehensible. Dismaying. Will those gloating journalists care what his captors do to Assange in detention?


This for the man whose political analyses and Wikileaks revelations had been daily headlines not long ago. This for a journalist and publisher who introduced a profound strategy to expose a government’s sinister diplomatic schemes, excesses and crimes documented by their own internal reports. This for an organization gathering evidence of government wrongdoing at a critical time, starting in 2006 when U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were being reevaluated by a sobering public. Rumors of military crimes, cover-ups, torture, black-site prisons, etc. had gradually, although belatedly, gained credibility and, following the Abu Graib Prison revelations, Wikileaks provided irrefutable evidence of how U.S.A. and its allies conducted their wars.

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From the WSJ Editorial Board yesterday: “Mr. Barr has since released the full Mueller report with minor redactions, as he promised, and with the “context” intact. Keep in mind Mr. Barr was under no legal obligation to release anything at all. Mr. Mueller reports only to Mr. Barr, not to the country or Congress.

Mr. Barr has also made nearly all of the redactions in the report available to senior Members of Congress to inspect at Justice. Yet as of this writing, only three Members have bothered—Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and ranking House Republican on Judiciary Doug Collins. Not one Democrat howling about Mr. Barr’s lack of transparency has examined the outrages they claim are hidden.”

Doug Collins’ tirade is a good listen. No need to agree with him.

Democrats Rage At Empty Chair As Barr Misses Mueller Hearing (ZH)

Refusing to allow the fact that AG Barr chose not to attend today’s Mueller Report hearing, angry Democrats took full advantage of the photo-op to conjure images of a terrified attorney general cowering from the truth and protecting a clearly guilty-of-something president. Despite Barr’s decision last night not to attend, because he objected to Democratic demands that their staff counsel be able to question him, Democrats went forward with the theater of the hearing anyway, setting up an empty chair for the absent attorney general. As The Hill reports, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) brought a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken to the morning event, and accused Barr of being a coward after it ended. House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) tore into Barr, accusing him of failing to check President Trump’s “worst instincts” and misrepresenting Mueller’s findings.

“He has failed the men and women of the Department by placing the needs of the President over the fair administration of justice,” Nadler said. “He has even failed to show up today.” Republicans did not take it lying down with Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) noted vociferously that “Judiciary Democrats say AG Barr is “terrified.” Yesterday he testified for over five hours in an open hearing. Today, they cut off my microphone.” And, Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) accused Nadler of staging a “circus political stunt” and said the Democratic chairman wanted the hearing to look like an impeachment hearing. “That is the reason. The reason Bill Barr is not here today is because the Democrats decided they didn’t want him here today. That’s the reason he’s not here,” Collins said. “Not hearing from him is a travesty to this committee today.”

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Excellent read. Mueller wanted to make Trump’s firing of Comey to be obstruction. But that would have taken some hoops to jump through.

How President Trump’s Legal Team Outfoxed Mueller (Chamberlain)

When the Mueller Report was released on April 18th, most commentators focused on the “explosive” factual allegations. But other than the shocking revelation that the President once used an expletive in private, very few of those facts were novel; most were leaked long ago. At the end of Volume II of the Mueller Report, however, there were 20 pages of genuinely new material. There, the former FBI director turned Special Counsel Robert Mueller defended his “Application of Obstruction-Of-Justice Statutes To The President.” These overlooked 20 pages were dedicated to defending Mueller’s interpretation of a single subsection of a single obstruction-of-justice statute: 18 U.S.C. § 1512(c)(2).

That’s quite strange, but you know what’s stranger still? In June 2018, Bill Barr, then in private practice at Kirkland & Ellis, wrote a detailed legal memorandum to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. This memo came to light in December, when Barr was nominated for Attorney General. The subject was Mueller’s interpretation of the aforementioned 18 U.S.C. § 1512(c)(2). [..] Reading Barr’s June 2018 memo alongside the last twenty pages of the Mueller Report is a curious experience. Together, they read like dueling legal briefs on the meaning of 18 U.S.C. § 1512(c)(2); the type of material one would expect to see from adversarial appellate litigators.

So-why did Robert Mueller dedicate 20 pages of his report to a seemingly obscure question of statutory interpretation? Why did Bill Barr write a detailed legal memorandum to Rod Rosenstein about that very same statute? And how, exactly, did Bill Barr know that that § 1512(c)(2) was central to Mueller’s obstruction theory – in June 2018, when he was still in private practice at Kirkland? [..] why, exactly, was the interpretation of 18 U.S.C. § 1512(c)(2) so contested? Let’s start by looking the statute, excerpted here: (c) Whoever corruptly— (1) alters, destroys, mutilates, or conceals a record, document, or other object, or attempts to do so, with the intent to impair the object’s integrity or availability for use in an official proceeding; or (2) otherwise obstructs, influences or impedes any official proceeding, or attempts to do so [is guilty of the crime of obstruction].

Why was this so important to Mueller? Because most of the obstruction statutes couldn’t possibly apply to President Trump’s behavior, as they require that a defendant obstruct a “pending proceeding” before an agency or tribunal. It is settled law that an FBI investigation does not constitute such a proceeding. But § 1512(c) applies to acts of obstruction done with the intent of impairing evidence for a future, potential proceeding. That made it potentially usable against the President.

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Ukraine is central. Even without Biden.

Ukrainian Embassy Confirms DNC Contractor Solicited Trump Dirt In 2016 (Hill)

The boomerang from the Democratic Party’s failed attempt to connect Donald Trump to Russia’s 2016 election meddling is picking up speed, and its flight path crosses right through Moscow’s pesky neighbor, Ukraine. That is where there is growing evidence a foreign power was asked, and in some cases tried, to help Hillary Clinton. In its most detailed account yet, Ukraine’s embassy in Washington says a Democratic National Committee insider during the 2016 election solicited dirt on Donald Trump’s campaign chairman and even tried to enlist the country’s president to help.


In written answers to questions, Ambassador Valeriy Chaly’s office says DNC contractor Alexandra Chalupa sought information from the Ukrainian government on Paul Manafort’s dealings inside the country, in hopes of forcing the issue before Congress. Chalupa later tried to arrange for Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to comment on Manafort’s Russian ties on a U.S. visit during the 2016 campaign, the ambassador said. Chaly says that, at the time of the contacts in 2016, the embassy knew Chalupa primarily as a Ukrainian-American activist, and learned only later of her ties to the DNC. He says the embassy considered her requests an inappropriate solicitation of interference in the U.S. election.

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Am I still the only one who thinks this is good news?

April US Auto Sales Crash 6.1%, Worst Slide In 8 Years (ZH)

It was yet another dismal month for US auto sales in April, continuing a recessionary trend that has been in place not only in the US, but globally, for the better part of the last 12 months and certainly since the beginning of 2019. The nonsense-excuse-du jour for this month’s disappointing numbers is being placed on the weather on seasonality on rising car prices, which easily pushed away an overextended, broke and debt-laden U.S. consumer. In a nutshell, US auto sales in April tumbled by 6.1% – the biggest monthly drop since May 2011 – to just 16.4 million units, the lowest since October 2014.

Aside for an incentive-boost driven rebound in March, every month of 2019 has seen a decline in the number of annualized auto sales. Furthermore, as David Rosenberg notes, the -4.3% Y/Y trend is the weakest it has been for the past 8 years. Adding “fuel to the fire”, the average price of a new car in April came in at $36,720, the highest ASP so far this year, according to The Detroit News. It comes at a time where interest rates remain above 6% on average, further pressuring sales.

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Mostly US funds flowing back home.

Global Foreign Direct Investment Flows Collapse (DQ)

Global foreign direct investment flows plunged by another 27% in 2018 — after having already plunged 16% in 2017 — to just $1.1 trillion, the equivalent of 1.3% of global GDP, the lowest ratio since 1999, according to new data released by the OECD. It was the third consecutive annual plunge in global FDI flows, as more and more companies either choose not to invest in businesses or assets in other countries or are prevented from doing so. At the peak in 2015, before the trade wars began, before the Brexit vote happened, and before China began cracking down on the capital outflows that had fueled big-ticket purchases of strategic companies across the globe as well as surging asset prices in multiple jurisdictions, global FDI flows totaled $1.92 trillion and represented around 2.5% of global GDP. FDI has since collapsed by 43%.

The OECD apportions much of the blame for the latest fall in FDI flows on the US tax reform in 2017, which prompted many US companies to repatriate large amounts of earnings held with foreign affiliates in countries such as Ireland and Switzerland, which both suffered a massive reduction in inward foreign investment last year. The U.S. is traditionally the world’s biggest source of FDI, but last year it recorded negative outflows for the first time since 2005, as the movement of funds from U.S. investors into global businesses and assets reversed and flowed back toward the U.S., at least on paper. The total sum of outflows last year was -$48 billion, compared to $316 billion in 2017.

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Time to reserve some space for MMT. Harrison has some valid views.

Hippie-Punching MMT (Edward Harrison)

A lot of people like to argue that the central bank and the central government are independent and autonomous powers. And the argument goes that because of this autonomy, central governments like the US aren’t really all-powerful because the central bank can simply refuse to create more IOUs. I think this is a ridiculous argument, though. The central bank is the central government’s agent. And it exists only as a vehicle for executing banking and monetary policies in the government’s interest. The independence it enjoys is entirely at the central government’s discretion – mostly to create the appearance of non-politically motivated policy which would create inflation and debase the currency. If push came to shove, the central government would do whatever it took to issue IOUs to promise to pay the bearer of its money the required sum of fiat currency.

Notice, though, that Euro Zone governments don’t have the same power because they cannot create euros. Sure, they can enforce tax in euros with the coercive power of the penalty of prison as an incentive. But, when their euro taxes fall short, they can’t create euros to make up the shortfall. The euro is not their IOU. They are just like any other debtor in the eurozone. And the MMT crowd were onto this right from the start. In fact, one of the MMT forefathers, Wynne Godley, predicted the European Sovereign Debt Crisis when the euro was first conceived in 1992. On the other hand, most mainstream economists were caught flat-footed by the crisis. They were operating under the assumption that the bond vigilantes had the same power over all debtors including sovereigns.

They said the bond vigilantes just gave sovereigns more leeway. And that’s still their position today despite all evidence to the contrary. How do you trade that? For me, I trade that by saying Germany is the de facto ‘sovereign’ in the euro zone because of its size and fiscal rectitude. The euro would have to cease to exist before German sovereign debt came under attack from bond vigilantes. Now, if Deutsche Bank went bankrupt and Germany bailed it out at great cost and went on a deficit binge to boot and government debt to GDP ended up ballooning to 120% of GDP, things would be different.

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Aug 252018
 


Henry Bacon Étretat 1890

 

The Dogs of Vengeance (Jim Kunstler)
Chemical Attack Being Staged To Frame Damascus – Russia MoD (RT)
Half Of Millennials Take Out Car Finance To Match Social Media Dreams (Ind.)
Majority Of Young Americans Live In A Household Receiving Welfare (ZH)
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey To Testify On Conservative “Shadowbans” (ZH)
UK Immigration Minister Blocks Britons Who Sought Help On Twitter (G.)
Paul Singer, Doomsday Investor (New Yorker)
Tesla To Remain A Public Company, CEO Musk Says (AFP)
The Great Chinese Art Heist (GQ)
Drought In Central Europe Reveals Cautionary ‘Hunger Stones’ (NPR)
The Water Crises Aren’t Coming – They’re Here (Esq.)
Venezuela Heads For Refugee Crisis Moment Comparable To Mediterranean (R.)
Ecuador Opens “Humanitarian Corridor” For Venezuelan Migrants (AFP)
‘Begging To Die’: Succession Of Critically Ill Children Moved Off Nauru (G.)

 

 

The only thing today that mentions Trump.

The Dogs of Vengeance (Jim Kunstler)

History has a velocity of its own, and its implacable forces will drag the good, the bad, the clueless, the clever, the guilty, the innocent, the avid, and the unwilling to a certain fate. One can easily see a convergence of vectors shoving the nation toward political criticality this autumn. Mr. Trump is like some unfortunate dumb brute of the ancient Teutonic forests with a bulldog clamped to his nose, the rest of the pack close behind snapping at his hamstrings and soft, swaying underbelly. His desperate bellowing goes unanswered by the indifference of the trees in forest, the cold moon above, and all the other furnishings of his tragic reality.

As these things tend to happen, it looks like the exertions of Robert Mueller have turned from the alleged grave offenses of a foreign enemy to the sequela of consort with a floozie. Down goes Mr. Trump’s private attorney, Michael Cohen, in his personal swamp of incriminating files and audio recordings. Enter, stage left, one David Pecker, publisher of the venerable National Enquirer — the newspaper of wreckage — on his slime-trail of induced testimony. And there is your impeachable offense: an illegal campaign contribution. One way or another, as Blondie used to sing, I’m gonna getcha, getcha, getcha.

Some in this greatest of all possible republics may be asking themselves if this is quite fair play, given the hundreds of millions of dollars washed-and-rinsed through the laundromat known as the Clinton Foundation, and related suspicious doings in that camp of darkness. But remember, another president, Jimmy Carter, once declared to the shock of official Washington that “life is unfair.” What I wonder is what these dogs of vengeance reckon will happen when they achieve their goal of bringing down the bellowing bull and pulling his guts out. Perhaps a few moments of tribal satisfaction, one last war dance around the fire, and when the fire dies out, they will find themselves under the same cold indifferent moon with blood on their snouts and an ill wind blowing in the tree tops.

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Why there’s still support for the White Helmets.

Chemical Attack Being Staged To Frame Damascus – Russia MoD (RT)

The US and its allies are preparing new airstrikes on Syria, the Russian Defense Ministry said, adding that militants are poised to stage a chemical weapons attack in order to frame Damascus and provide a pretext for the strikes. The attack would be used as a pretext for US, UK and French airstrikes on Syrian targets, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, Major General Igor Konashenkov said. USS ‘The Sullivans,’ an Arleigh Burke-class Aegis guided missile destroyer, was already deployed to the Persian Gulf a couple of days ago, he added. The destroyer has 56 cruise missiles on board, according to data from the Russian Defence Ministry.

A US Rockwell B-1 Lancer, a supersonic bomber equipped with 24 cruise missiles, has also been deployed at the Qatari Al Udeid Airbase. The provocations are being prepared by militants from Al-Nusra Front (now known as Tahrir al-Sham) in Idlib province, northwestern Syria, In order to stage the attack, some eight canisters of chlorine were delivered in to village near Jisr al-Shughur city for the terrorists’ use, he added. A separate group of militants, prepped by private British security company Olive, have also arrived in the area. The group will be disguised as volunteers from the White Helmets group and will simulate a rescue operation involving locals purportedly injured in the attack, according to the military official.

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Instagram shapes the world.

Half Of Millennials Take Out Car Finance To Match Social Media Dreams (Ind.)

Forget fashion, music or gadgets. The desire to live up to social media aspirations has pushed more than half of millennials to buy a car for its status value, new figures suggest, and almost 40 per cent said Instagram or Facebook played a part in deciding which motor they went for. With two thirds of younger drivers reliant on credit to fund the purchase – twice the number of 37- to 54-year-old generation Xers – research from Admiral has revealed the new, expensive face of social media influencing. Younger drivers were found to be more reliant on credit, with 64 per cent taking car finance to fund a purchase compared with 38 per cent of 37- to 54-year-olds.

The consequences have financial implications on younger generations too, as more than half of drivers aged 19 to 36 admit feeling pressure to buy a specific car for status or prestige. More than one in 10 millennials said famous faces played a part in their choice of car, compared with just 4 per cent of gen-X drivers. They may currently own a Ford Fiesta, Vauxhall Corsa, VW Golf or Polo, but millennials dream of BMW i8s, Audi R8s, Ford GTs and Aston Martin Vantages.

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Car finance and food stamps?

Majority Of Young Americans Live In A Household Receiving Welfare (ZH)

New analysis from CNS News finds that the majority of Americans under 18 live in households that take “means-tested assistance” from the US government. The study, based on the most recently available data from the Census Bureau, leads with the question: Will they be called The Welfare Generation? The data presented by CNS editor Terrence Jeffrey shockingly reveals that in 2016 “there were approximately 73,586,000 people under 18 in the United States, and 38,365,000 of them — or 52.1 percent — resided in households in which one or more persons received benefits from a means-tested government program.”

It’s a slim majority, but a majority which nonetheless presents an extremely worrisome trend regarding the number of young Americans and possibly young families who’ve experienced some level of government dependency. To put it in another, perhaps more alarming way, if you’re under 18 the data shows you are more likely that not to be living in a home that receives some form of taxpayer-financed largesse. In terms of the country’s total population of 319.9 million Americans, the data finds that 114.8 million, or about 36 percent, lived as part of a household in which someone collected welfare. Jeffrey continued, “When examined by age bracket persons under 18 were the most likely to live in a household receiving means-tested government assistance (52.1 percent), while those 75 and older were least likely (18.8 percent).”

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You can’t have banning and shadowbanning on social media decided by opaque terms overseen by geeks. Just like you can’t ban people from having a phone, radio, TV just because you don’t like them.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey To Testify On Conservative “Shadowbans” (ZH)

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is scheduled to appear before the House Energy & Commerce committee on September 5th, after several GOP lawmakers demanded action in response to reports of conservatives being “shadow banned” by the San Francisco-based social media giant. “Twitter is an incredibly powerful platform that can change the national conversation in the time it takes a tweet to go viral,” wrote committee Chair Greg Walden (R-OR) in a Friday statement. “When decisions about data and content are made using opaque processes, the American people are right to raise concerns. This committee intends to ask tough questions about how Twitter monitors and polices content, and we look forward to Mr. Dorsey being forthright and transparent regarding the complex processes behind the company’s algorithms and content judgement calls,” the statement continues.

Earlier this month, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy sent a letter to Walden, requesting that he be allowed to publicly grill Jack Dorsey over recent allegations that the platform limits the reach of some conservative accounts. “Any solution to this problem must start with accountability from companies like Twitter, whose platforms have enormous potential to impact the national conversation — and unfortunately, enormous potential for abuse,” McCarthy said in the letter to House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden. “In particular, I would like to request a hearing with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey so that the American people can learn more about the filtering and censorship practices on his platform.” -Kevin McCarthy

McCarthy, who has worked on tech issues for years, has been investigating reports of Silicon Valley tech giants injecting their admittedly liberal bias into the way they enforce speech on their platforms. McCarthy and other Republican leaders met with Facebook staffers in June over their concerns, and as recently as last month McCarthy was running ads on Facebook inviting supporters to join him “and President Trump in defending our conservative voice against social media censoring,” according to the platform’s public database of political ads. This action follows Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) complaint filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) against Twitter after he discovered that his account was being ‘shadowbanned’ – the practice of excluding or reducing the visibility of one’s tweets from normal circulation on the platform.

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Didn’t we already have this with Trump? This lady needs some educating.

UK Immigration Minister Blocks Britons Who Sought Help On Twitter (G.)

The immigration minister blocked at least two British citizens on Twitter when they asked for her assistance after the Home Office failed to respond to their complaints or appeals from their MPs. Caroline Nokes’ action, which means the people concerned are unable to read her tweets or contact her, were described by a leading immigration lawyer as suggesting “complete indifference”. Stephen Buck was blocked from following Nokes or seeing her tweets on 11 August after he sent her three tweets in four months, asking for help to prevent his long-term partner, Rusty Goodall, from being deported to Australia. It took the Home Office 13 months to refuse Goodall’s application to extend his visa, during which time the couple received no update on his case.

“I was nothing but polite in my approaches, but having tried all other avenues available to us (ie contacting the Home Office directly, asking our MP for help) and still feeling as though we were in a position where nobody was doing anything and nobody cared about us, contacting Nokes on Twitter felt like the only option left to try and get somebody in power to listen,” Buck said. “The fact that the only response to these pleas to one of the few people who could make a difference in our case was to block me, was truly upsetting, frustrating and insulting.” John Holden, a British citizen who lives in the UK with his Filipino wife, son and three adopted children, was blocked by Nokes on the same day as Buck after also asking for help.

“The Home Office have refused to issue my British children with British passports: they say we need to change the children’s Philippine passports to their new adopted surnames first,” he said. “The problem is that the Philippine authorities won’t do that unless we take the children out of school and return to the Philippines for a process that could take up to 18 months, during which I would have to readopt children who are already mine and are already British.

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Singer bankrupts countries.

Paul Singer, Doomsday Investor (New Yorker)

In 1995, Singer started working with a trader named Jay Newman, who specialized in the government—or sovereign—debt of developing countries. The collaboration led to the legal battle that would publicly define Singer: his fourteen-year fight with the government of Argentina. Like Singer, Newman was a lawyer by training, and, also like Singer, he had no problem making money using methods that others might find distasteful. For many years, sovereign loans were treated by banks and other lenders much the way that subprime mortgages were prior to 2008—as highly desirable, relatively low-risk investments.

But many countries, particularly poorer ones with fragile economies or corrupt governments, borrowed far more than they could realistically repay, and, during the nineteen-eighties, approximately fifty countries defaulted or had to restructure their debt, including Mexico, most of Latin America, Poland, the Philippines, Vietnam, and South Africa. In most cases, the International Monetary Fund would come in, impose budget cuts and other austerity measures, and help the governments renegotiate what they owed. The countries’ debt holders generally traded their old bonds for new ones under reduced terms, which allowed the country to exit default.

Newman saw an opportunity in these financial crises: purchase the defaulted debt at a very low price and then try to negotiate for, or sue the country for, full repayment on the original terms. An investor who pursued this strategy came to be known as a “rogue creditor.” The tactic could prove extremely profitable—as long as you had the stomach for it. Newman said that he never sued a country that couldn’t afford to pay, but critics argue that rogue creditors interfere with a country’s ability to return to the financial markets, exacerbating the poverty and suffering of its citizens. Singer hired Newman, initially offering him thirty thousand dollars a month and 20% of the profits on investments he recommended.

The Republic of Peru had defaulted on its debt in 1984; in 1996, the government initiated a debt exchange, and more than ninety per cent of Peruvian debt holders traded in their old bonds for new ones, taking a fifty-per-cent discount on the original value. Singer purchased eleven million dollars of defaulted Peruvian bonds, and then began a protracted legal battle to force the government to pay back the full value. In 1998, after a trial, a federal court found Elliott to be in violation of the Dickensian-sounding Champerty laws, which prohibit buying debt with the sole purpose of bringing legal action. Elliott appealed the case and won. The company later engaged in an intense lobbying campaign to change the Champerty laws in New York State.

It also filed a lawsuit in Brussels, attempting to prevent Peru from paying interest on any of its new bonds until it had paid Elliott. Peru was left with an unpalatable choice: default, again, on its new bonds, or pay what it viewed as a ransom to a New York hedge fund.

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What say ye, SEC?

Tesla To Remain A Public Company, CEO Musk Says (AFP)

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said Friday that the company would continue to be publicly traded, weeks after suggesting that he would take the electric carmaker private. Musk met with Tesla’s board of directors on Thursday “and let them know that I believe the better path is for Tesla to remain public. The Board indicated that they agree,” he wrote on the company blog. Musk surprised markets on August 7 by announcing on Twitter he wanted to take Tesla private at $420 a share. But shares fell more than 20 percent since the announcement. After the announcement the controversial entrepreneur came under extensive scrutiny over his Twitter statements related to the proposal, especially a claim that Tesla had “secured” funding for the move.

However, Musk said Friday that based on talks with current shareholders, as well as an assessment by financial advisers Silver Lake, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, “it’s apparent that most of Tesla’s existing shareholders believe we are better off as a public company.” Even though the majority of shareholders “said they would remain with Tesla if we went private, the sentiment, in a nutshell, was ‘please don’t do this,'” he wrote. “I knew the process of going private would be challenging, but it’s clear that it would be even more time-consuming and distracting than initially anticipated.”

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Insane story. Hollywood must have already bought the rights.

The Great Chinese Art Heist (GQ)

The patterns of the heists were evident only later, but their audacity was clear from the start. The spree began in Stockholm in 2010, with cars burning in the streets on a foggy summer evening. The fires had been lit as a distraction, a ploy to lure the attention of the police. As the vehicles blazed, a band of thieves raced toward the Swedish royal residence and smashed their way into the Chinese Pavilion on the grounds of Drottningholm Palace. There they grabbed what they wanted from the permanent state collection of art and antiquities. Police told the press the thieves had fled by moped to a nearby lake, ditched their bikes into the water, and escaped by speedboat. The heist took less than six minutes.

A month later, in Bergen, Norway, intruders descended from a glass ceiling and plucked 56 objects from the China Collection at the KODE Museum. Next, robbers in England hit the Oriental Museum at Durham University, followed by a museum at Cambridge University. Then, in 2013, the KODE was visited once more; crooks snatched 22 additional relics that had been missed during the first break-in. Had they known exactly what was happening, perhaps the security officials at the Château de Fontainebleau, the sprawling former royal estate just outside Paris, could have predicted that they might be next. With more than 1,500 rooms, the palace is a maze of opulence. But when bandits arrived before dawn on March 1, 2015, their target was unmistakable: the palace’s grand Chinese Museum.

Created by the last empress of France, the wife of Napoleon III, the gallery was stocked with works so rare that their value was considered incalculable. In recent years, however, the provenance of those treasures had become an increasingly sensitive subject: The bulk of the museum’s collection had been pilfered from China by French soldiers in 1860 during the sack of Beijing’s Old Summer Palace. In the low light before daybreak, the robbers raced to the southwest wing and shattered a window. They climbed inside, stepping over broken glass, and swiftly went to work dismantling the empress’s trove. Within seven minutes, they were gone, along with 22 of the museum’s most valuable items: porcelain vases; a mandala made of coral, gold, and turquoise; a Chimera in cloisonné enamel; and more.

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History lessons: “If you see me, weep.”

Drought In Central Europe Reveals Cautionary ‘Hunger Stones’ (NPR)

A lengthy drought in Europe has exposed carved boulders, known as “hunger stones,” that have been used for centuries to commemorate historic droughts — and warn of their consequences. The Associated Press reports that hunger stones are newly visible in the Elbe River, which begins in the Czech Republic and flows through Germany. “Over a dozen of the hunger stones, chosen to record low water levels, can now be seen in and near the northern Czech town of Decin near the German border,” the AP writes. One of the stones on the banks of the Elbe is carved with the words “Wenn du mich siehst, dann weine”: “If you see me, weep.” A team of Czech researchers described that stone in detail in a 2013 paper about the history of droughts in Czech lands.

The stone is also chiseled with “the years of hardship and the initials of authors lost to history,” the researchers wrote: “It expressed that drought had brought a bad harvest, lack of food, high prices and hunger for poor people. Before 1900, the following droughts are commemorated on the stone: 1417, 1616, 1707, 1746, 1790, 1800, 1811, 1830, 1842, 1868, 1892, and 1893.” That particular stone is now a bit of a tourist attraction; it’s one of the oldest hydrological landmarks in central Europe. Also, because of a dam on a tributary of the Elbe, it’s seen more often now than it used to be, according to a Decin tourist site — although the current river levels are still exceptional.

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We have 1% of all earth’s water. So of course we’re rapidly poisoning it.

The Water Crises Aren’t Coming – They’re Here (Esq.)

Water cannot be created or destroyed; it can only be damaged. When Gleick says we’ll never run out, he means that at some point, millions of years ago, there was all the water there is, a result of the law of the conservation of matter. Having evaporated from lakes and rivers and oceans and returned as snow and rain, the water we consume has been through innumerable uses. Dinosaurs drank it. The Caesars did, too. It’s been places, and consorted with things, that you might not care to think about. In theory, there’s enough freshwater in the world for everyone, but like oil or diamonds or any other valuable resource, it is not dispersed democratically. Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Peru, Indonesia, and Russia have an abundance—about 40 percent of all there is.

America has a decent amount. India and China, meanwhile, have a third of the world’s people and less than a tenth of its freshwater. It is predicted that in twelve years the demand for water in India will be twice the amount on hand. Beijing draws water from an aquifer beneath the city. From being used faster than rain can replenish it, the aquifer has dropped several hundreds of feet in the last forty years, and in places the city is sinking four inches every year. As for the world’s stock, however, nearly all of the water on earth is salty; less than 3% is fresh. Some of that is in rivers, lakes, aquifers, and reservoirs—the Great Lakes contain one fifth of the freshwater on the earth’s surface—and we have stored so much water behind dams that we have subtly affected the earth’s rotation; but two thirds of all the freshwater we have is frozen in the earth’s cold places as ice or permafrost, leaving less than 1% of the world’s total water for all living things.

Much of that gets a rough ride. American ponds and streams and lakes and rivers contain fungicides, defoliants, solvents, insecticides, herbicides, preservatives, biological toxins, manufacturing compounds, blood thinners, heart medications, perfumes, skin lotions, antidepressants, antipsychotics, antibiotics, beta blockers, anticonvulsants, germs, oils, viruses, hormones, and several heavy metals. Not all of these are cleansed from water before we drink it.

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It’s already there.

Venezuela Heads For Refugee Crisis Moment Comparable To Mediterranean (R.)

The exodus of migrants from Venezuela is building toward a “crisis moment” comparable to events involving refugees in the Mediterranean, the United Nations migration agency said on Friday. Growing numbers are fleeing economic meltdown and political turmoil in Venezuela, where people scrounge for food and other necessities of daily life, threatening to overwhelm neighbouring countries. Officials from Colombia, Ecuador and Peru will meet in Bogota next week to seek a way forward. In Brazil, rioters this month drove hundreds back over the border. Peru tightened entry rules for Venezuelans, requiring them to carry passports instead of just national ID cards, though a judge in Ecuador on Friday rolled back a similar rule enacted there.

Describing those events as early warning signs, a spokesman for the International Organization for Migration, Joel Millman, said funding and means of managing the outflow must be mobilised. “This is building to a crisis moment that we’ve seen in other parts of the world, particularly in the Mediterranean,” he said. On Thursday, the IOM and UN refugee agency UNHCR called on Latin American countries to ease entry for Venezuelans, more than 1.6 million of whom have left since 2015.

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Millions of people moving to Peru and Chile? Maybe helping them at home is a better idea. Get the CIA out of Caracas first.

Ecuador Opens “Humanitarian Corridor” For Venezuelan Migrants (AFP)

Desperate Venezuelan migrants who made it across the border in time were breathing a sigh of relief hours before Peru’s tightened controls came into effect Saturday, preventing those not carrying passports from entering. “We have been on the road for five days. We traveled by bus and saw people, Venezuelans, walking along the road,” Jonathan Zambrano, 18, told AFP. Thousands of migrants fleeing the crippling economic crisis in their homeland had faced a race against time to cross into Peru from either Ecuador or Colombia after last week’s announcement from Lima that they had one week to enter before a passport would be required.

Until Saturday, a simple identity card was enough for Venezuelans heading south to escape food and medicine shortages, hyperinflation and failing public services back home. At one border crossing, Peruvian officers handed out balloons to exhausted children, but many Venezuelans feared it would be a different story once the new rules come into force. “People arrive with very few resources and after having traveled, five or six days being the shortest. There are people who’ve been traveling for months,” Regine de la Portilla of the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR told AFP.

Ecuador opened a “humanitarian corridor” on Friday and lifted its own entry restrictions to facilitate the Venzuelans’ travels to Peru, one of the region’s fastest growing economies with 4.7 percent growth projected for next year. Ecuadoran Interior Minister Mauro Toscanini said Friday that 35 busloads of migrants were on the move along the route authorities had opened to Peru.

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This is Australia. Forget about housing bubbles and yokel PM’s. This is Australia.

‘Begging To Die’: Succession Of Critically Ill Children Moved Off Nauru (G.)

A girl suffering “resignation syndrome” and who is refusing all food and water has been ordered off Nauru by an Australian court, as a succession of critically ill children are brought from the island. At least three children have left the island since Thursday, and reports from island sources say at least three more children, as young as 12, are “on FFR” – food and fluid refusal. The current crisis on the island is overwhelming medical staff, who are referring dozens of children for transfer off the island, only to have their decisions rebuffed by Australian Border Force officials on the island or department of home affairs bureaucrats in Canberra. Two children were moved off the island with their families on Thursday.

Early on Friday morning, a 14-year-old refugee boy suffering a major depressive disorder and severe muscle wastage after not getting out of bed for four months, was flown directly from Nauru to Brisbane with his family. There are concerns, doctors say, he may never be able to walk normally again. Later on Friday, in the federal court, Justice Tom Thawley ordered another girl – given the designation EIV18 by the court – to be moved to Australia for urgent medical treatment. Court orders prevent publication of the girl’s age – other than the fact she is a child – her name or country of origin. [..] The girl has been inside the supported accommodation area of the regional processing centre for three weeks, and has been refusing food and water for much of that time.

Before she, too, fell into acute depression and “resignation syndrome”, and refused to eat or drink anything, she had been one of the brightest and most articulate of the refugee children on Nauru. “Before she got sick, she was the best-performing student,” a source familiar with the girl and her condition told the Guardian. “She had a dream to be a doctor in Australia and to help others. Now, she is on food-and-fluid refusal and begging to die as death is better than Nauru.”

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