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Links 25/12/2018: Linux Kernel 4.20, Darktable 2.6 Released

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Free Software/Open Source

  • Closed, Proprietary, Felonious: The Toxic Rainbow of Locked Technology
    When is software free? Is it enough that the software be licensed under a free or open license? What about patents? Software as a service? Trade secrets? What about DRM? Is software ever free?

    There's a saying in the software freedom movement: "if you can't open it, it's not yours." That is, if you can't run it, study it, improve it, and distribute it, then your technology isn't free. It's closed, proprietary, un-free.

    When software was first invented, it wasn't considered to be a copyrightable work; it was something more like math, a collection of utilitarian facts. A series of acts of Congress and court decisions in the 1970s and 1980s gradually and firmly moved software into the realm of copyrightable "literary works" and in reaction, Richard Stallman started the Free Software movement, with the goal of halting and reversing the encroachment of un-freedom on software.

    The early free software licenses focused on clearing copyright claims, giving software authors a boilerplate legal tool to give away many of the exclusive rights that copyright automatically conferred upon them, retaining just enough copyright to prevent others from locking up the code they'd made free.

  • Indies Must Open Source To Gain Momentum
    When you are a professional game developer, unless you are in that "in" group that was there since the beginning, you have no creative control. You're just a gear in the machine. And there is a very good reason for that. The reason is that for whatever reason, the original "in" group did what worked. They had the right mix of experience, talent, connections, code and assets at the right time. Who are you, as a mere hired gear in the machine, to challenge their (or the CEO's) opinion that the border color for this game should be orange, not pink? Reality is, change it to orange and sales will probably tank. If you're willing to be creative, be ready to accept the consequences of your creativity. The big boys do what works because it works and no one cares about your opinion or idea.

  • China looks to private capital, open source technology for global tech game advantage

  • Events

    • The definitive pronunciation guide for kubectl
      If you've ever labored over how to pronounce unpronounceable IT terms, H. "Waldo" Grunenwald has your back.

      In his humorous Lightning Talk at All Things Open 2018, "'kubectl': The definitive pronunciation guide," Waldo offers over a dozen ways to pronounce "kubectl" before landing on the right answer.

  • Web Browsers

    • Mozilla

      • Firefox 65 Beta 6 Testday Results
        As you may already know, last Friday December 21st – we held a new Testday event, for Firefox 65 Beta 6.

        Thank you all for helping us make Mozilla a better place: priyadharshini A.

        From the Bangladesh team: Sayed Ibn Masud, Osman Noyon, Alamin Shikder, Farhan Sadik Galib, Tanjia Akter Kona, Hossain Al Ikram, Basirul Fahad, Md. Majedul Islam, Sajedul Islam, Maruf Rahman and Forhad Hossain. From the India team: Mohammed Adam and Adam24, Mohamed Bawas, Aishwarya Narasimhan@Aishwarya, Showkath begum.J and priyadharshini A.

  • BSD

    • FreeBSD's 2018 Report
      With FreeBSD having gone all the way to 12, it is perhaps useful to take a look back at all the things that have been accomplished, in terms of many visible changes, as well as all the things that happen behind the scenes to ensure that FreeBSD continues to offer an alternative in both design, implementation, and execution.

      The things you can look forward to reading about are too numerous to summarize, but cover just about everything from finalizing releases, administrative work, optimizations and depessimizations, features added and fixed, and many areas of improvement that might just surprise you a little.

      Please have a cup of coffee, tea, hot cocoa, or other beverage of choice, and enjoy this culmulative set of reports covering everything that's been done since October, 2017.

    • FreeBSD Had A Very Successful 2018: Performance Improvements, Better Hardware Support
      The FreeBSD project is out with their latest status report spanning from January to September 2018. This report covers the bulk of their project changes this year granted not their very latest Q4 happenings, including the release earlier this month of the long-awaited FreeBSD 12.0.

    • DragonFlyBSD 5.4.1 Released With HAMMER2 File-System Updates, New Intel Graphics Support
      Released at the start of December was DragonFlyBSD 5.4 that brought a number of new features and improvements while now v5.4.1 is available that collected a few weeks worth of fixes.

      DragonFlyBSD 5.4 as a six-month update to this popular BSD operating system delivered GCC 8 as the default compiler, AMD Threadripper 2 CPU support, various NUMA performance improvements, DPorts updates, various kernel tuning, and a lot of work on maturing the project's original HAMMER2 file-system support.

    • Semantik on FreeBSD
      Semantik 1.2.0 was just released this week. It is (or was) one of the bits of KDE4-era software in the FreeBSD ports tree. So our packaging has jumped forward by two years for this particular piece of software.


    • GNU Linux-libre 4.20-gnu: Four.Two-Oh! Ho! Ho!
      4.20-rc6-gnu required slightly different deblobbing code, like 4.19.11-gnu vs 4.19.10-gnu; I thought the scripts for 4.20-rc6-gnu were too late and skipped it, but Jason Self prepared and released sources and Freesh binaries. So, don't be alarmed by what might seem to be an unofficial release. I might even back-create an -rc tag for it, in case someone thinks that would be useful for paranoid-mode checking or something.

      Three new drivers containing requests for blobs had them disabled: MT76x0E, Lantiq/Intel GSWIP, and Microsemi PHY. Other drivers requesting blobs required updating to the cleaning up code: btrtl, AMD GPU, i915 CSR, PSP crypto, MT76x0U, MT76x2E, MT76x2U, qtnfmac, Qualcomm ADSP and Hexagon V5 Remoteproc, x86 touchscreen, hda ca0132, ath10k, and iwlwifi.

      The deblob-check script carried a lot of old gunk: rules to match false positives in old patches. Those have not been used for a while, so I cleaned them up. Holidays are such a good time to get rid of stuff you don't need any more, aren't they?

    • GNU Linux-libre 4.20-gnu Released With A Fresh Round Of Driver De-Blobbing
      Alexandre Oliva on the behalf of the GNU Linux-libre folks has announced the release of GNU Linux-libre 4.20-gnu as their fresh re-spin of the newly released Linux 4.20 that removes support for loading binary-only modules and disabling driver code that tries to load non-free firmware/microcode.

    • Reproducible Builds Summit, 4th edition
      As it has become tradition, a sizeable delegation of Guix developers attended this year's Reproducible Builds Summit in Paris a little over one week ago. In the Mozilla offices around 50 people representing dozens of free software projects (and also Microsoft) got ready to share ideas and work together on reproducibility problems for three days. As the agenda unfolded we would split up into small groups, each focusing on a different issue. This blog post is an attempt to share impressions from some of these group sessions.

    • Small victories matter: the year in free software
      At a brief glance, 2018 might seem like a big old bummer when it comes to the fight for software freedom: the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to dismantle net neutrality regulations, Facebook continued to abuse public trust, and the European Union passed the disastrous Article 13, which threatens free speech and free software. Plus, smartphones and other computers are thoroughly infested with spyware, Digital Restrictions Management (DRM), and other creepy crawlies, and we don’t even have to tell you how sinister the Internet of Things is -- don’t invite Alexa, Echo, Google Home, Nest, or any of those other invaders into your house!

      The wins for 2018 haven’t made headlines in the same way as all of these items, but they reflect some important trends: greater public awareness of the importance of controlling the technology we use, and greater awareness of how to fight back. The Free Software Foundation (FSF) works hard every day for wins like these, and in this article, we're sharing some of the progress the digital rights community has made.

    • Some losses from 2018
      When I look back on 2018, of course I see successes for user freedom across the world: the appeal in Christoph Hellwig's GPL compliance case against VMWare is moving forward; Google employees are rallying against Dragonfly, the authoritarian search engine being built for the Chinese government; the Free Software Foundation's (FSF) home state of Massachusetts is taking steps for the Right to Repair; and people all over the world shared their tips and tricks to leading safer digital lives -- just to name a few! It's hard not to be impressed and inspired by everything the free software -- and greater digital rights -- community has done so much over the past year.

      But the work we need to do for freedom is far from over. I want to highlight just a few of the (many) losses from 2018. I think these make it clear why the work of organizations like the FSF is so important. The FSF sets a hard line for freedom -- uncompromising in our ideology and bringing it to everything we do. I look at this list and am reminded why the FSF exists, why we need to keep fighting, and why we can only succeed by rallying as a community.

  • Public Services/Government

    • Pbi varsity signs MoUs for software development
      Punjabi University, Patiala has inked two new cooperation agreements with Sabudh Foundation (SF), Mohali, and international Center for Free and Open Source Software (ICFOSS), Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala for setting up of Sabudh Data Science for Social Good Center at Mohali, besides development of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) and related technology.

      The MOUs were initiated by Dr Vishal Goyal, Professor, Department of Computer Science, Punjabi University Patiala, and coordinated by Dr Ashok Kumar Malik, Director, Directorate of International Students and Dr Damanjit Sandhu, Coordinator, Directorate of International Students, Punjabi University, Patiala.

  • Licensing/Legal

    • Cloud Backlash Grows as Open Source Gets Less Open
      Are cloud providers freeloading on free and open software? That question is casting a shadow on the growth potential of cloud computing as vendors like Confluent, MongoDB, and Redis Labs put new restrictions that prevent cloud companies from using their software in specific ways.

      Confluent this month became the latest commercial open source software company to restrict the use of its software in the cloud. The move prevents cloud companies from using parts of the Confluent Platform, such as the KSQL component that uses SQL to process streaming data, as standalone software as a service (SaaS) offerings.

      Jay Kreps, the co-creator of Apache Kafka and the CEO of Confluent, explained the significance of switching the Confluent Platform from the Apache 2.0 license to the new Confluent Community License.

    • License Changes for Confluent Platform Restricting Cloud Vendor Usage
      Confluent has announced changes to the license for some components of their Confluent Platform, a streaming platform which provides capabilities to transport data, and tools to connect systems and data sources. The license changes specifically focus on restricting the usage of these components by SaaS providers.

      Founded by the creators of Apache Kafka, Confluent employees are still among the primary committers on the project, while also providing their own platform based on this. The license changes will only impact specific components of this Confluent Platform, and "has no effect on Apache Kafka, which is developed as part of the Apache Software Foundation and remains under the Apache 2.0 license", as stated by Jay Kreps, Co-founder and CEO of Confluent. Accordingly, the components restricted by the new license are the Confluent REST Proxy, Schema Registry, KSQL, and connectors and were formerly known as Confluent Open Source.

  • Programming/Development

    • How good you really are in python
      Today I have paid a visit to codewars after a few months of abandoned it, once I arrive at this site I immediately go to work by solving a python related question. This question goes by this, given three values of a color in a tuple, such as (0, 0, 0), I will need to convert them to their hex color code, and here is my solution to this question which earned me a few points later on.

    • PyDev of the Week: William Vincent
      This week we welcome William Vincent (@wsv3000) as our PyDev of the Week! William is the author of 3 books on the Django web framework, including Django for Beginners. You can find out more about what William is up to on his website where he writes about Python, Django and more. Let’s take a few moments to get to know him better!

    • An Asynchronous WebRTC Framework with Jeremy Lainé
      Real-time communication over the internet is an amazing feat of modern engineering. The protocol that powers a majority of video calling platforms is WebRTC. In this episode Jeremy Lainé explains why he wrote a Python implementation of this protocol in the form of AIORTC. He also discusses how it works, how you can use it in your own projects, and what he has planned for the future.

    • 8 Python conferences to attend in 2019
      There are a lot of reasons to go to tech conferences, and even more of a reason to go to a conference focused specifically on your chosen programming language. My favorite is Python.

      Rather than rehash all the various reasons why conferences are great and you should attend, I'll go right into which Python conferences you might want to show up to in 2019.

    • An Introduction to Go
      (What follows is an excerpt from my master’s thesis, almost all of section 2.1, quickly introducing Go to people familiar with CS)

      Go is an imperative programming language for concurrent programming created at and mainly developed by Google, initially mostly by Robert Griesemer, Rob Pike, and Ken Thompson. Design of the language started in 2007, and an initial version was released in 2009; with the first stable version, 1.0 released in 2012 1.

      Go has a C-like syntax (without a preprocessor), garbage collection, and, like its predecessors devloped at Bell Labs – Newsqueak (Rob Pike), Alef (Phil Winterbottom), and Inferno (Pike, Ritchie, et al.) – provides built-in support for concurrency using so-called goroutines and channels, a form of co-routines, based on the idea of Hoare’s ‘Communicating Sequential Processes’ 2.

      Go programs are organised in packages. A package is essentially a directory containing Go files.

    • Python Insider: Python 3.7.2 and 3.6.8 are now available
      Python 3.7.2 and 3.6.8 are now available. Python 3.7.2 is the next maintenance release of Python 3.7, the latest feature release of Python.
    • Using a Kotlin-based gRPC API with Envoy proxy for server-side load balancing
      These days, microservices-based architectures are being implemented almost everywhere. One business function could be using a few microservices that generate lots of network traffic in the form of messages being passed around. If we can make the way we pass messages more efficient by having a smaller message size, we could the same infrastructure to handle higher loads.

      Protobuf (short for “protocol buffers”) provides language- and platform-neutral mechanisms for serializing structured data for use in communications protocols, data storage, and more. gRPC is a modern, open source remote procedure call (RPC) framework that can run anywhere. Together, they provide an efficient message format that is automatically compressed and provides first-class support for complex data structures among other benefits (unlike JSON).

    • Intro to the Python Random Module
      Even for someone not interested in computer programming, the usefulness of generating random numbers in certain circumstances is something obvious. In most board games we throw dice to generate an unpredictable number that defines the player's next move. Also, we can all agree that playing any card game would be pointless without a proper shuffle between rounds.

      But random numbers are not only important in relatively trivial fields like entertainment or gambling. They're especially crucial in the field of cryptography. In order to ensure safe transmission of data, every time a secure connection is necessary, a random key has to be generated. Many different kinds of electronic communication use this kind of security. It's very important for the key to be difficult to guess - the best way to ensure that is by making it random since the moment someone guesses the key, they are able to decipher the message - and the communication is not secure anymore.

    • Make a Location-Based Web App With Django and GeoDjango
      Throughout this tutorial, you’ll learn how to use Django and GeoDjango to build a location-based web application from scratch. You’ll be building a simple nearby shops application that lists the shops closest to a user’s location.

    • Manipulate string with python
      After I have visited codewars yesterday I continue to visit that site today and solve one more problem. We will stick to codewars site for a while and solve some problems in the incoming few articles before we move on to visit another website. If you have not yet joined codewars then you should really give it a try. The problem I have solved a few moments ago looks like this:-

    • fridge 0.2
      My offgrid, solar powered, zero-battery-use fridge has sucessfully made it through spring, summer, fall, and more than enough winter.

      I've proven that it works. I've not gotten food poisoning, though I did lose half a gallon of milk on one super rainy week. I have piles of data, and a whole wiki documenting how I built it. I've developed 3 thousand lines of control software. It purrs along without any assistance.

      Fridge0 consists of a standard chest freezer, an added thermal mass, an inverter, and computer control. It ties into the typical offfgrid system of a solar charge controller, battery bank, and photovoltaic panels.

    • Building Very Fast App Backends with Falcon Web Framework on PyPy

    • Python Qt5 - most simple QTreeWidget - part 001.


  • The 12 days of working from home over the holidays
    You can maintain a productive and professional workplace at home if called to do so by your organisation. It is your responsibility to balance the needs of work with your needs and, of course, the needs of your family.

    Have a Merry Christmas (or other festival) and a Happy New Year (whenever it falls for you)!

    And finally... There were two number 8s. You didn't notice, did you? You need to take a break, so enjoy one now!

  • Herod, USA
    The real meaning of Christmas is not to be found in a manger, but in a massacre. A massacre rarely addressed in Christian Churches, rather serving merely as a prop in the glorification of the manger.

  • Science

  • Health/Nutrition

    • Top Cancer Doctor Resigns as Editor of Medical Journal
      Dr. José Baselga, the former chief medical officer of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, was asked to resign after he failed to disclose corporate ties in dozens of scientific articles.

    • VA Was “Taken Advantage Of” by Paying Billions in Fees, Secretary Say
      Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie acknowledged on Wednesday that his agency got a bad deal in paying nearly $2 billion in fees to companies responsible for booking veterans with private doctors.

      “The department, I admit, was taken advantage of because of the hasty nature that took place when the program was put together,” Wilkie testified at a joint hearing of the House and Senate veterans committees.

      Wilkie was responding to lawmakers’ questions about an investigation published this week by ProPublica and PolitiFact into the Veterans Choice Program. The program, which began in 2014, was supposed to give veterans a way around long waits in the VA. But veterans using the Choice Program still had to wait longer than allowed by law. And according to ProPublica and PolitiFact’s analysis of VA data, the two companies hired to run the program took almost $2 billion in fees, or about 24 percent of the companies’ total program expenses.

      Wilkie avoided blaming the companies directly, and he instead faulted Congress for giving the VA only three months to launch the program. Asked by Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, to specify who took advantage of the VA, he said, “We were forced to take what we could get to implement a law based on the timeline created by that act.”

      Wilkie and his deputies who joined him at the hearing said the problems identified in the article occurred in the past and would be addressed when the VA rolls out a permanent replacement for the Choice Program in June. But lawmakers said they’re concerned the VA’s new program, created by a recent law called the Mission Act, could repeat the earlier mistakes on an even larger scale.

    • The Trump Administration Wants to Make It Harder to Access Food Stamps
      Although congressional Republicans failed to increase work requirements for recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) program (aka food stamps) in the 2018 Farm Bill, on Thursday, the United States Department of Agriculture did what Congress could not: It released a proposed regulatory rule that, if implemented, would, as The Washington Post reports, use the rulemaking powers granted to executive agencies to “force hundreds of thousands more Americans to hold jobs if they want to keep receiving food stamps.”

      Over 42 million Americans rely on SNAP benefits to buy groceries to feed themselves and their families. Existing SNAP rules, Vox points out, already include work requirements for adult recipients who are able-bodied, have no dependents and use the program for more than three months in a three-year period. They must work at least 20 hours a week or be enrolled in a job training program.

    • 'Mass Starvation Plan': Trump USDA to Push Work Requirements for Food Stamps That Congress Left Off Farm Bill
      While critics including Food & Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter charged that the final Farm Bill "fails to fix critical problems in our food system," she and many others expressed relief that it "does not include many of the horrible provisions from the House bill that would have gutted the safety net provided by SNAP."

      The USDA's new proposed rule is supposedly a trade-off for President Donald Trump's support of the Farm Bill, which he is expected to sign as early as Thursday. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue reportedly said on a press call that "the president has directed me to propose regulatory reforms to ensure those who are able to work do so in exchange for their benefits."

      Under current SNAP policy, although able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) can only receive three months of food benefits within three years if they don't work at least 20 hours per week, states with high rates of unemployment can waive those restrictions and grant extensions to 15 percent of the ABAWD population. Unused exemptions can be saved for later.

    • At Last, a Good First Step Toward Public Pharmaceuticals
      Public production of essential medicines is an idea whose time has come. Broad-based support for taking this step has been growing, and on Tuesday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Jan Schakowsky introduced a bill that would create the public Office of Drug Manufacturing (ODM) to do just that.

      The bill proposes the creation of the ODM within the Department of Health and Human Services with a mandate to produce generic drugs in cases of drug shortages, limited competition and where prices have spiked. It stipulates that the ODM would produce or procure at least 15 applicable drugs (including insulin) in its first year and offer them at a “fair price.” As Dr. Adam Gaffney, President of Physicians for a National Health Program said of the bill, “By creating a public drug manufacturer, Warren and Schakowsky’s bill could help address both problems [access and shortages], producing inexpensive drugs that will bring down costs, expand access, and shore up the drug supply chain—ensuring that every American can get the medicines they need.”

    • Why the Texas ruling on Obamacare is on shaky legal ground
      A Texas judge has ruled that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional. For now, his decision has no immediate effect except to toss another fire bomb at a law that has helped 20-plus million people gain insurance and expanded insurance for almost all Americans by such things as requiring insurers to cover pre-existing conditions.

      Based on our expertise as health policy scholars, we argue that the ACA is well-settled law by now. This ruling will likely not undo the law. It does, however, add more uncertainty to the ACA while also showing how much Republicans continue to be willing to fight to destroy the law.

    • Advocates Call on Jayapal to Release Draft Text of House Single Payer Bill
      Jayapal is the new lead sponsor of HR 676, which for the past fifteen years was sponsored by former Congressman John Conyers (D-Michigan).

      “Some of your public statements recently have caused concern,” the single payer advocates wrote in a letter to Jayapal. “In particular, statements about your desire to align the text with the Senate bill, S 1804, which is inferior to HR 676. Indeed, the Senate Bill is so deficient that many in the single payer movement cannot support it unless it is significantly revised. We want the House Bill to remain strong and fully supported by the entire single payer movement as the gold standard that the Senate must measure up to.”

      “We urge you to release a draft copy of the new legislation before the end of the year so people can have input before it is made final,” they wrote. “We are being asked to mobilize support for the new HR 676, but we cannot support a bill we have not seen.”

      “We understand that you are rewriting HR 676 before you introduce it in 2019. It is important to us that HR 676 not be weakened in this process, but be made stronger. We ask that you release a draft of the text of the revised HR 676 so that longtime single payer advocates can read it and share our views with you before the bill is introduced.”

    • How We Define ‘Cheapest Health Care’ Radically Shapes Policy Discussions
      On “Meet the Press,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer dodged a question on Medicare for All by saying he will support “a plan that can pass and that can provide the best, cheapest health care for all Americans.”

      This non-answer shows that the battle to define what “cheapest” means in the context of health care is going to shape the entire agenda of the Democratic Party in the coming years.

      In health care, “best” is an inescapably nebulous term around which there will never be agreement. There are hundreds of different ways to define and measure it. But in health care policy, “cheapest” can only really be interpreted four ways: cheapest for the government, cheapest for the country as a whole, cheapest as in most cost-effective, and cheapest for regular individuals.

      How “cheapest” is defined has radically shaped health care policy in the past and will shape it in the future.

    • Trump and the GOP Will Live to Regret the Obamacare Repeal Ruling
      Sooner or later, like a broken clock that’s right twice a day, our 45th and very broken and prevaricating president manages to tell the truth. So it was last month, when Donald Trump and Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts got into a war of words over whether judges adhere to the ideological views of the presidents who nominate them.

      The heated exchange erupted after federal District Judge Jon Tigar, an Obama appointee who sits in San Francisco, issued a temporary restraining order that blocked Trump’s controversial plan to force undocumented immigrants to file applications for political asylum before entering the country. Current policy, consistent with international human rights law, permits asylees to submit applications after crossing the border.

      Trump blasted Tigar, both on Twitter and in an impromptu televised interview, as an “Obama judge.” In response, Roberts released an unusual public rebuke, insisting: “We do not have Obama judges, Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges. What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them. An independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for.”

    • Is the Apple Watch Causing a Run on Emergency Rooms?
      Some doctors have reported hearing from patients in the middle of the night who were concerned about results they didn't understand. This raises the potential that misreading the app or misunderstanding the findings of the ECG function will result in unnecessary and potentially expensive trips to the doctor's office, urgent care, or emergency room for otherwise healthy users. It could also induce higher levels of anxiety for those who receive a correct diagnosis, particularly in those cases when the prescribed treatment is merely to keep an eye on the condition.

      Physicians are also concerned that some healthy patients -- armed with data from devices like the Apple Watch -- will insist on tests and procedures that the doctor might otherwise deem unnecessary, while also taking time away from patients with more-serious conditions.

      Finally, even after clearance from the Food and Drug Administration and testing that found the device to be 99.6% effective in correctly classifying sinus rhythm and 98.3% effective in detecting AFib, some physicians worry that a false positive -- a report that shows AFib when none is present -- could send people scurrying needlessly in search of care.

    • The bad economics of PAYGO swamp any strategic gain from adopting it
      The obscure Congressional budget rule known as PAYGO (“pay as you go”) has burst into the news lately. A PAYGO rule means that any tax cut or spending increase passed into law needs to be offset in the same spending cycle with tax increases or spending cuts elsewhere in the budget. Incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has indicated that the House of Representatives will abide by PAYGO in the next Congress, and this decision has sparked much controversy.

      Many Washington insiders assert forcefully that committing to PAYGO rules in the House for the next Congress is good politics. The argument is that it assuages fears of politicians who believe they must make public commitments to lower deficits to avoid being punished by voters who care deeply about this issue. If voters do indeed have strong preferences for reducing deficits, then policymakers—even those who want to use fiscal policy to reduce inequality by expanding public spending and investment—must first commit to PAYGO to convince these voters that budget measures can both reduce inequality and be fiscally “responsible.”

      The strength of evidence supporting this political claim is debatable. What’s less debatable is that PAYGO really has hindered progressive policymaking in the not-so-recent past. For example, it was commitments to adhere to PAYGO that led to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) having underpowered subsidies for purchasing insurance and, even more importantly, having a long lag in implementation; the law passed in January 2010 yet the exchanges with subsidies only were up and running by 2014. This implementation lag meant that the ACA’s benefits were not as sunk into Americans’ economic lives by the time a hostile Republican Congress and administration began launching attacks on it following the 2016 elections. It is a real testament to how much better the ACA made life for Americans that it has been stubbornly resistant to these attacks. But it would have been helpful to have a couple more years to have it running smoothly, but that didn’t happen largely because the ACA’s architects wanted to meet PAYGO rules over the 10-year budget window.

  • Security

    • Open Source Security Podcast: 2018 Christmas Special - Is Santa GDPR compliant?
      Josh and Kurt talk about which articles of the GDPR apply to Santa, and if he's following the rules the way he should be (spoiler, he's probably not). Should Santa be on his own naughty list? We also create a new holiday character - George the DPO Elf!
    • Amnesty International reveals how 2FA is being bypassed automatically

      But a new report from Amnesty International has highlighted how hackers in the Middle East and Africa have automated the process to a degree where your 2FA can be cracked in seconds. Essentially, both your password and your 2FA code is phished automatically giving hackers access to your seemingly impenetrable accounts.

    • When Best Practice Isn’t Good Enough: Large Campaigns of Phishing Attacks in Middle East and North Africa Target Privacy-Conscious Users

      We have identified several campaigns of credentials phishing, likely operated by the same attackers, targeting hundreds of individuals spread across the Middle East and North Africa.

      In one campaign, the attackers were particularly going after accounts on popular self-described “secure email” services, such as Tutanota and ProtonMail.

      In another campaign, the attackers have been targeting hundreds of Google and Yahoo accounts, successfully bypassing common forms of two-factor authentication.

    • Fortnite’s paid outfits, dances have made it a target for lucrative account theft

      The report begins with a teenaged Fortnite fan speaking to the BBC via webcam with his identity hidden. He got into the Fortnite-theft game inadvertently, he claims, by starting as a victim. The bad news began when he received email alerts from Epic Games—one saying his account's email address had been changed, and another saying that two-factor authentication (2FA) had been turned on (and attached to a phone number that wasn't his). His original account was totally lost as a result, the teen alleged.

      After taking to Twitter to publicly complain about his inability to reclaim the account and its paid content (including "battle pass" purchases and cosmetic items), the unidentified teen noticed something: other Fortnite accounts for sale. These offered all manner of in-game loot (particularly outfits and emotes) for much less than those items would cost via Epic's official store.

    • Over 19,000 Orange modems are leaking WiFi credentials
      Troy Mursch, co-founder of Bad Packets LLC, says his company's honeypots have detected at least one threat actor scanning heavily for Orange modems. Scans started Friday, December 21, Mursch said.

      The attacker is exploiting a vulnerability affecting Orange LiveBox devices (CVE-2018-20377) that was first described in 2012. The vulnerability allows a remote attacker to obtain the WiFi password and network ID (SSID) for the modem's internal WiFi network just by accessing the modem's get_getnetworkconf.cgi.

    • Researcher Shows How Facebook Worm Attack Can Spam Your Wall
      A security researcher has published the proof-of-concept code which demonstrates how to create a fully functional Facebook worm.

      It’s a clickjack bomb that can spam your wall by exploiting a vulnerability on Facebook. The researcher, who works under the pseudonym of Lasq, says he has seen this flaw getting abused on the platform by a Facebook spammer group.

    • 5G: Huawei India CEO says open to provide source code for screening to allay security concerns
      Chinese telecom gear maker Huawei said that it is actively engaged with the Indian government and telecom operators, and is ready to put up its “source code” for screening and testing to allay security concerns.

      “In the UK, the government had set up a test center, and we had put original source code in that center for full screening and testing. In 2010, there were security concerns in India, and we had given committed to the Indian government to put our source code. We were the only one to do that. We are ready to do that now,” Jay Chen, Huawei chief executive officer in India said.

    • Security updates for Monday

    • Top 5 Cold Wallets To Safeguard Your Cryptocurrencies in 2019

  • Defence/Aggression

    • Russia's Attorney General says it's never been asked to investigate an infamous mercenary group, but oh it has
      In August 2016, the magazine RBC published an investigative report by Ilya Rozhdestvensky about the Wagner PMC’s operations. Now a journalist at the website Proekt, Rozhdestvensky told Meduza that at least one man formally appealed to the Attorney General’s Office after the article was published. In the letter (a copy of which Meduza has obtained), the man says the RBC report describes illegal mercenary activity, and asks the agency to investigate the claims in the text and prosecute the author for making false allegations, if the information proves to be inaccurate.

      Two official stamps on the document (one on August 31, 2016, and another on September 6, 2016) prove that it reached the Attorney General’s Office. On October 12, 2016, the appeal was referred to the Moscow District Attorney’s Office.

    • Green Party responds to rise in arms sales to human rights abusers
      “It is a stain on our national conscience that Britain is arming human rights abusers. The Government cannot keep turning a blind eye to the fact British weapons are fuelling despicable wars and being used to target civilians in violation of the rules of war. It is rank hypocrisy that Britain championed the Arms Trade Treaty yet seems content to ignore the clear risk of selling weapons into conflict zones - violating that very treaty. It is time for the cosy relationship with despotic regimes like Riyadh in Saudi Arabia to end. I appeal to the Prime Minister to immediately stop arms sales where there are risks of human rights abuses.”

    • The Kosovo Blunder: Moving Towards a Standing Army
      The current Kosovo Security Force of 3,000 lightly armed personnel is to become somewhat more formidable: 5,000 active troops backed by 3,000 reservists in the next decade.

    • Trump’s African Pivot: Another Swipe at China
      This week the Trump administration unveiled a “new” strategy for Africa, designed to counter China’s growing influence on that continent.

      John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, said the US would spend more money on and pay greater attention to African countries, making it clear that the decision was motivated by concerns about the American lag in its global economic competition with China.

      In his speech to the Heritage Foundation, Bolton said the greatest threat in Africa came not from poverty or Islamist extremism but from China (and to a lesser extent Russia). Bolton announced a new initiative– “Prosper Africa” — to promote American investment in African countries.

    • 1968: The Year That Will Not Go Away
      Few days remain in 2018 to celebrate and recall all the events on the 50th anniversary of 1968. Comparisons with the “gilets jaunes” in France have evoked some of the memories, but for those who lived through 1968 as students there are events permanently etched in our psyches that will not go away. For Millennials and the X Generation, 1968 is pre-history, ancient dinosaur time. For those who experienced 1968, it was a year of rupture and transformation.

      A brief review of the major events: The Tet offensive began on January 31, leading to the first breach of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon by the Viet Cong. The February photo of the chief of the national police shooting a suspected Viet Cong officer on a Saigon street or the 1972 photo of the young girl screaming in pain from napalm consolidated in images all that was wrong with the U.S. presence in Vietnam.

    • A Canadian Yemeni’s Struggle to Shed Light on the War on Yemen
      As leader of the Yemeni Community in Canada, he has helped organize protests, spoken at local colleges and universities, passed out pamphlets, and advocated for an end to the Canadian-Saudi arms deal, particularly in the wake of journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s brutal murder and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s willingness to freeze armored vehicle exports to Saudi Arabia. Shaiban explains that Canada should not depend on a country like Saudi Arabia, especially with a leader as unpredictable as Mohammed bin Salman. Earlier this year, following a tweet from Canada’s foreign minister calling for the release of jailed human rights activists in Saudi Arabia, bin Salman withdrew more than 15,000 government-funded Saudi students from Canada, imposed economic sanctions and severed diplomatic ties with the country.

    • Cambodians Who Fled War, U.S. Bombs and Genocide Now Face ICE Raids and Deportations Under Trump
      Cambodians are being deported from the U.S. at record numbers, including many who have been living in the U.S. for decades after fleeing war, U.S. bombings and genocide under the Khmer Rouge. On Monday, an Omni Air flight departed from El Paso, Texas, with 36 Cambodians on board. They were deported to the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh. Attorneys believe it to be one of the largest deportation flights to Cambodia yet under the Trump administration. We speak with Kevin Lo, staff attorney in the Immigrant Rights Program at Asian Americans Advancing Justice–Asian Law Caucus. He has been working with Cambodians living in the U.S. who are facing deportation.

    • Trump’s Border Wall is Built on Lies About Immigrants
      “Yes, if we don’t get what we want, one way or the other … I will shut down the government,” said President Trump to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi, referring to his demand for $5 billion to build his border wall.

      If Trump insists, a good portion of the government will be shut down on Friday over his wall.

      Trump festooned his demand with his customary lies, claiming that much of the wall has already been built (it hasn’t), that immigrants are spreading disease (they aren’t), that border agents recently detained “10 terrorists in a short period of time” (they didn’t). In reality, illegal immigration has been declining, not rising.

      This isn’t a crisis; it’s a political ploy designed to fan fear and division.

      The Bible teaches us to “love your neighbor as yourself.” We will be judged by how we treat the least of these. In Luke, chapter 10, Jesus tells the story of the stranger on the Jericho Road, who was robbed, stripped and beaten by a band of thieves. He is ignored by a priest and a religious official. He is saved by a Samaritan — a people who were widely despised at the time — who binds his wounds, takes him to an inn and pays his fare. “Go and do likewise,” Jesus instructs.

    • Justice for Jakelin: Lawmakers Demand Answers in Death of 7-Year-Old Girl in Border Patrol Custody
      Outrage is mounting over the death of a 7-year-old indigenous Guatemalan girl in Border Patrol custody, as lawmakers demand answers for the conditions that led Jakelin Caal Maquín to die after being detained at the U.S.-Mexico border. Maquin died on December 8, two days after she and her father presented themselves at the border alongside 161 other Central American asylum seekers. She had been held in detention for more than eight hours when she began to have seizures. Border Patrol agents brought the girl to the hospital after her body temperature spiked to 105.7 degrees. The 7-year-old died of dehydration, shock and liver failure at an El Paso hospital less than 24 hours later. We speak with Clara Long, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch.

    • Mental Health Experts Demand Corporate Media Keep Trump's "Massive Human Tragedy"—Child Separations—in Public Eye
      A new interview highlights a call made by a coalition of human rights advocates and mental health professionals for major corporate news outlets to keep in constant public view an ongoing "massive human tragedy"—the Trump administration's immigration policies that have included ripping children away from their parents crossing the Southern border, roughly 140 of whom are still not reunited with their families.

      "We are calling on American news media outlets to begin announcing the number of days these children have been separated," said (pdf) Harvard psychologist Dr. Paula J. Caplan, who's leading the call. "It's time news outlets repeated what CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite did during the Iran hostage crisis, when he ended his broadcasts by stating how many days the 52 hostages had been held."

      The call, whose endorsers include the Association for Women in Psychology, the National Association for Rights Protection and Advocacy, and Veterans for Peace co-founder Douglas Rawlings, was first announced Dec. 10—Human Rights Day—and is joined by a companion Care2 petition to be sent to media outlets. As of this writing, it has gathered over 450 signatures.

    • How one woman is mapping femicides in Mexico
      Whenever María Salguero, 40, has a moment to herself, she sifts through her Google Alerts and the local news in Mexico for reports of femicides.

      This unusual pastime began in 2016 when Salguero, a human rights activist and geophysical engineer by training, decided to build a map tracking cases of femicide, and filling in the gaps left by official data, in her spare time.

      Femicide (also referred to as feminicide) is the deliberate killing of a woman or girl because of their gender. UN Women, the United Nations’ gender equality organisation, notes that these gender-related murders may follow other violent acts including domestic abuse, describing the context in Latin America as one of “high tolerance” towards such “normalised” attacks.

      In a café in central Mexico City earlier this year, Salguero told me that she “had already worked on a map of people who are disappeared [in Mexico]”, referring to the tens of thousands of missing women, men and children in the country, believed to have been abducted and likely tortured or killed. In 2018, the government’s own figures counted more than 37,000 ‘desaparecidos’.

    • Trump’s Wall Crumbles, Government Stays Open
      “Build that Wall!” was the theme of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Along with his supporters’ chants of “Lock Her Up!,” his promise to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border defined his candidacy in 2016.

      But now, thanks to Democratic opposition and Republican indifference in Congress, Trump’s wall is crumbling. Despite the President’s grandstanding on television that he would be “proud” to shut down the government unless Congress gave him $5 billion for the wall, Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has quietly engineered a plan to keep the government open, and has kicked the debate over funding the wall to the next session of Congress, when Democrats will take control of the House.

    • In Immigrant Children’s Shelters, Sexual Assault Cases Are Open and Shut
      A World Cup soccer match was playing on the shelter’s TV when the two older teenagers tackled Alex on July 1 and dragged him into the empty bedroom. Wrestling him onto his stomach, one of them, a tattoo on his forearm, got on top. As Alex struggled to move, he said he could feel the teen’s penis grinding against his butt.

      “Take off his shorts!” he heard the other teen, who’d bragged he’d been a gang member in Honduras, shout. “Let’s get him naked!”

      Just 10 days earlier, Alex, 13, had been caught by the Border Patrol after traveling from Honduras with his 17-year-old sister and 5-year-old stepbrother, to flee the country’s gang violence. Now, they were being held at Boystown outside Miami, one of more than 100 youth shelters in the government’s sprawling system meant to provide a temporary haven for migrant children caught crossing the border.

      The two teens had been taunting Alex since he’d arrived at the shelter, making crude sexual jokes about his pregnant sister. Now, in the bedroom, Alex said, they yanked down the front of his shorts.

    • Trump Suffers Another Big Defeat on Immigration
      President Donald Trump has just lost another political battle on immigration, having been forced to back down on his threat to initiate a partial government shutdown over funding for his symbolic border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. Early on Tuesday, he was busy pushing on Twitter anti-immigrant propaganda, claiming without evidence that “Illegal immigration costs the United States more than 200 Billion Dollars a year. How was this allowed to happen?”

      But soon after, the first indications of a political concession came from White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who suggested on Fox News that there might be other ways to obtain funding for Trump’s border wall than by threatening a partial government shutdown. Only a week earlier, Trump had met Democratic congressional leaders Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer in a televised meeting in which he assumed responsibility for a government shutdown if it were to happen, going as far as saying, “I am proud to shut down the government for border security.”

    • Syrian Schooling Part of Broader Attacks on Education Globally
      On World Refugee Day, June 20, 2018, the Middle East Monitor featured an article documenting how, in many war-torn places, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Palestine, Nigeria, and Yemen, education is inaccessible to students due to violence. Between 2013 and 2017, more than 2,700 attacks on education, harming more than 21,000 students, have taken place, according to a 2018 report, titled “Global Education Under Attack,” published by the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA).

      As conflicts persist in much of the Middle East, the GCPEA highlighted how violent conflicts repeatedly deny education to students. School dropout rates in countries with conflict have skyrocketed, causing many schools to close their doors. When schools are in such close proximity to war zones, parents must decide if they are willing put their children in danger for an education. Syria is a significant example, as conflict there has destroyed much of its national education system, resulting in a total of over three million dropouts since 2015, according to the GCPEA report.

      As of 2018, over forty percent of the schools in Syria are damaged, and many children have resorted to going to school in provisional underground schools, according to a report by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), which works to ensure that Syrian children receive the educations that they deserve. The NRC reported that, before conflict began there, an estimated 97 per cent of Syrian children attended primary school and 67 per cent of secondary aged youth attended secondary school. As a result, Syria proudly maintained a literacy rate of 90% among both men and women. Now, due to conflict, “large numbers of children unable to access education opportunities are at risk of becoming illiterate,” the NRC reported.

    • Anti-War Voices: Of Course Trump Should Withdraw US Troops From Syria... and Afghanistan and Yemen and Iraq and...
      Even as the Pentagon stammered and the retired generals, ex-CIA chiefs, and war hawks from both major political parties took to the cable news to warn against the prospect of less war—or at least U.S. involvement in them—peace groups on Wednesday afternoon applauded news reporting that President Donald Trump has ordered the withdrawal of U.S. ground forces from Syria.

      "President Trump is absolutely right to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria," said Paul Kawika Martin, senior director for policy and political affairs at Peace Action, in response to reporting from the New York Times and others.

      "President Obama deployed U.S. soldiers to Syria in violation of international law," he said, "and the ongoing U.S. presence there only serves to prolong the war and fuel the risk of confrontation with Russia, Iran, and other parties to the conflict."

    • Former Blackwater Security Guard Found Guilty of First-Degree Murder in Third Trial for Nisour Square Massacre
      Nicholas Slatten, a 35-year old former security guard for the private mercenary firm Blackwater, was found guilty of first-degree murder on Wednesday in the third trial stemming from his role in the notorious 2007 Nisour Square massacre in Baghdad, Iraq that left 14 Iraqi civilians dead and another 17 injured.

      The jury's verdict on Wednesday came after a three-judge federal appeals court panel ordered a retrial for Slatten and resentencing for three of his Blackwater colleagues—Dustin Heard, Evan Liberty, and Paul Slough—in August of 2017. Slatten's second murder trial ended in a mistrial in September. While no sentencing date has been set, the murder charge means he faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison.


      Slatten is being held until he is sentenced by Judge Royce C. Lamberth, according to the U.S. Attorney's office—which added that "Slough, Liberty, and Heard remain in custody and their re-sentencing proceedings remain pending before Judge Lamberth." Meanwhile, Blackwater's infamous former CEO, Erik Prince, has yet to face any consequences for incident.

    • Continued American Occupation of the Middle East Does Not Suppress Terrorism, It Causes It
      Even the neo-con warmongers’ house journal The Guardian, furious at Trump’s attempts to pull US troops out of Syria, in producing a map to illustrate its point, could only produce one single, uncertain, very short pen stroke to describe the minute strip of territory it claims ISIS still control on the Iraqi border.

      Of course, the Guardian produces the argument that continued US military presence is necessary to ensure that ISIS does not spring back to life in Syria. The fallacy of that argument can be easily demonstrated. In Afghanistan, the USA has managed to drag out the long process of humiliating defeat in war even further than it did in Vietnam. It is plain as a pikestaff that the presence of US occupation troops is itself the best recruiting sergeant for resistance. In Sikunder Burnes I trace how the battle lines of tribal alliances there today are precisely the same ones the British faced in 1841. We just attach labels like Taliban to hide the fact that invaders face national resistance.

      The secret to ending the strength of ISIS in Syria is not the continued presence of American troops. It is for America’s ever closer allies in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf to cut off the major artery of money and arms, which we should never forget in origin and for a long time had a strong US component. The US/Saudi/Israeli alliance against Iran is the most important geo-political factor in the region today. It is high time this alliance stopped both funding ISIS and pretending to fight it; schizophrenia is not a foreign policy stance.

    • We Won! And That's the Way We Want It! And They're All Coming Back! And I Have No Idea What I'm Talking About! Like, None!
      By all means, bring U.S. troops back from Syria and all the other war-torn countries where they shouldn't be - shall we start with Afghanistan? - in a rational, informed way. But Trump precipitously, unilaterally, incoherently declaring victory over ISIS, "who hurts the world,” isn't it. Never mind that officials knew nothing about a seat-of-the-pants whim with global implications and it's today's gift to Vlad and it could just be a P.R. ploy by a grifter eager for distraction and we'd bet a donation to the ACLU he can't find Syria on a map and ISIS is by all accounts still about 30,000 strong, which makes these supposed "historic victories," like so much else, a fiction.

      His bonkers video further proves this is no way to run a country, or a Walmart. He blathers, "We've really stepped it up, and we have won against ISIS. We've beaten them, and we've beaten them badly, and we've taken back the land." He shouts: “These are heroes of the world. Because they’ve fought for us. But they’ve killed ISIS...So they're all coming back now." He points to the sky, where dead soldiers talk to him, which is deemed "sick": "They’re up there looking down on us, and there is nobody happier or more proud of their families to put them in a position where they’ve done such good for so many people (sic)...We won, and that’s the way we want it, and that’s the way they want it.” What the ever-loving fuck. The way we want it: To have our country back.

    • Bloodstain Analysis Convinced a Jury She Stabbed Her 10-Year-Old Son. Now, Even Freedom Can’t Give Her Back Her Life.
      The story remains, still, almost unspeakable. In the early morning hours of Oct. 13, 1997, Rea was jolted awake by a scream. She discovered an intruder, but saw no sign of her son, in her Lawrenceville, Illinois, home. She told police that she struggled with the man, who fled. Then ran for help. But it was too late. Her son, 10-year-old Joel Kirkpatrick, had been stabbed to death.

      At the time of the murder, Rea was a single mother working toward a doctorate in educational psychology. She had divorced Joel’s father three years earlier and was leading a quiet, uneventful life in the wake of a turbulent marriage. The mild-mannered daughter of missionaries, Rea had devoted herself to her bright, inquisitive son.

      But in 2000, after a protracted and deeply flawed investigation, Rea was charged with killing Joel.

      “Surviving your child’s murder, only to find out that you’re being accused of murdering your child, is a kind of trauma that I wouldn’t wish on any living being,” said Rea, now 50. “I wouldn’t wish it on a snake.”

    • Putin says Russian private military companies have ‘the right’ to operate ‘anywhere the world’ (though they're technically unconstitutional in Russia)
      During his annual end-of-the-year press conference, Vladimir Putin was asked to comment on the activities of Evgeny Prigozhin’s “Wagner” private military company. “All my cooks are Federal Protective Service agents,” the president said about Prigozhin, a catering magnate. “I don’t have any other cooks.”

    • A New Middle East: Winners and Losers from Trump’s Abrupt Syria Withdrawal
      Trump shook up the Washington establishment and Middle Eastern and world politics on Wednesday by abruptly announcing by Tweet a full and immediate withdrawal of US military forces from northeast Syria.

      Trump’s motives for what he does are never easy to fathom. He may have been driven by a desire to please his base, which has been shaken this fall by a massive blue wave in the House midterms and a series of legal scandals sending members of Trump’s circle to prison and threatening Trump and his family members themselves. Trump campaigned in 2016 on contradictory principles, but one of his planks was to “give Syria to Putin” if the latter would defeat ISIL (the so-called Islamic State Group).

      In recent weeks, Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan has been threatening to invade Manbij, a Syrian city that the Kurds and the US took from ISIL, but which lies west of the Euphrates and so in what Erdogan considers a Turkish security zone. US troops regularly patrol Manbij and are embedded among allied Kurdish troops there, so that the possibility of a military clash between NATO allies was looming.

    • The Bombings Will Continue: Phyllis Bennis Warns U.S. Military Role in Syria Is Not Actually Ending
      President Trump has announced that the U.S. will withdraw troops from Syria, in a move that has been praised by some in the American peace movement and some progressive lawmakers, as well as anti-interventionist Republicans, including Senators Rand Paul and Mike Lee. We speak with Phyllis Bennis, fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, who warns that the U.S. warplanes and drones will continue to bomb the country. ”ISIS has not been 'defeated,' and the U.S. should not remain in Syria militarily,” Bennis says. “You cannot defeat terrorism militarily. Terrorism is a phenomenon that emerges out of social and economic and national and all kinds of crises, in all kinds of countries. And stopping it doesn’t mean playing whack-a-mole with your military.”

    • Will the Government Shut Down Over Trump’s $5 Billion Border Wall?
      If Congress doesn’t reach a deal on a government spending bill by midnight on December 21, one-quarter of the federal government will shut down. At issue is $5 billion in funding for a border wall that President Trump demanded and Democrats insisted was not forthcoming. Recent reports indicate that the president may back down, but no deal has yet been reached.

      Congress has been working to pass legislation funding the federal government for months. In late September, they passed a bill for $854 billion to fund many of the biggest federal government agencies. But with the entire discretionary federal budget (the portion of the budget that’s at stake) in the range of $1.2 trillion, more than $300 billion in spending decisions were postponed with temporary funding bills, the most recent of which ends at midnight on Friday.

      The result may be a government shutdown that harms federal employees and the economy during the holidays over an amount of money that, while small in federal government terms, would have a big impact on immigrants and for countless other government programs that do a lot with small budgets.

    • 'The Logical Conclusion of This Entire Con': Seems That American Right-Winger's GoFundMe Page, Not Mexico, Will Pay for Trump's Wall
      President Donald Trump said Mexico would pay for the wall. He promised the American people that lots of times.

      Mexico said... "No." They said it several times and in different ways. And they meant it.

      Then Trump tried to get the American people to pay for it, even though it was clear from experts and critics that it was "ridiculous" to want the "stupid, dumb" wall in the first place.

      Congress, including members from both major parties, said "No."

      So who is gonna pay for the wall?

      Apparently, 37-year-old right-winger Brian Kolfage—who has a "verified blue check facebook page"—and a bunch of online allies ready to spend their own hard-earned cash to fund Trump's promise. In just three days, the page has raised more than $3 million of its $1 billion goal. Currently $1 billion is the GoGundMe limit, but Kolfage told Politico he his working on getting that ceiling raised.

    • Is Yemen Our Future?
      “They must kill and continue to kill, strange as it may seem, in order not to know that they are killing.” — Rene Girard, Things Hidden since the Foundation of the World

      Socially sanctioned killing is called war. The word “war” may be the most powerful word in human history, because it creates a mask of respectability for — that is, it conceals — the dehumanization and mass slaughter of a designated enemy, along with limitless environmental contamination. When we’re “waging war,” we have given ourselves permission not to know what we are doing, even if what we’re doing is putting life on Planet Earth in danger of extinction.

    • Khashoggi Case Puts Light on Yemen’s Plight
      The murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October ironically put the spotlight on millions of Yemenis who have suffered throughout a four-year bloody and destructive war.

      In particular, the U.S. media has boosted its scrutiny of Saudi and Emirati atrocities in Yemen. The media—as well as U.S. think tanks—have placed the murder in the overall context of Mohammed bin Salman’s excesses in the Middle East.

      Media attention played a significant role in the rebuke the U.S. Senate recently delivered to President Trump, whose policy is to stand by the Saudis. The Senate passed a resolution Dec. 13 to end U.S. military support for Saudi Arabia in Yemen and also blamed Salman, the Saudi crown prince, for the killing of Khashoggi.

      The Senate resolution isn’t expected to pass in the House, but the vote was still welcome news to many in Yemen. “This is an overdue vote,” says Sarah Ahmed, a humanitarian worker in the capital city of Sana’a. “It’s been absolutely cruel for President Trump’s administration to assist a military operation, despite all evidence of the humanitarian catastrophe and war crimes committed in Yemen.”

    • The Self-Psychoanalysis of the American Liberal
      She said President Obama was wrong not to launch missile strikes on Syria in 2013.

      She pushed hard for the overthrow of Qadaffi in 2011.

      She supported the coup government in Honduras in 2009. (Where do those refugees come from, again?)

      She long backed escalation and prolongation of war in Afghanistan.

      She voted for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

      She skillfully promoted the White House justification for the war on Iraq.

      She did not hesitate to back the use of drones for targeted killing.

      She consistently backed the military initiatives of Israel.

      She was not ashamed to laugh at the killing of Qadaffi.

      She did not hesitate to warn that she could obliterate Iran.

      She was not afraid to antagonize Russia.

      She helped facilitate a military coup in Ukraine.

      She had the financial support of the arms makers and many of their foreign customers.

    • Putin Issues Chilling Warning on Rising Threat of Nuclear War
      Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a chilling warning Thursday about the rising threat of a nuclear war, saying “it could lead to the destruction of civilization as a whole and maybe even our planet” — and putting the blame squarely on the U.S.

      Speaking at his annual news conference, Putin scoffed at Western claims he wants to dominate the world and said Western countries are antagonizing Russia for their own domestic reasons, and at their own peril. He dismissed claims of Russian interference abroad, from a nerve agent poisoning in Britain to an alleged effort to infiltrate the U.S. National Rifle Association.

      Instead he sought to paint himself as the world’s protector. Pointing at the U.S. intention to withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces, or INF, Treaty, Putin warned that if the U.S. puts intermediate-range missiles in Europe, Russia will be forced to take countermeasures.

    • 'Disgusting!' Outrage as US Teams Up With Saudis to Undermine UN Resolution Endorsing Yemen Ceasefire
      "The U.S. should be doing everything we can to support the ceasefire, not undermining it. Disgusting!"

      That was how Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) responded to news on Thursday that the Trump administration teamed up with Saudi Arabia to delay a United Nations Security Council resolution endorsing the Hodeidah ceasefire agreement reached last week.

      Arguing that the beseiged people of Yemen can't afford any more delays, Sanders noted that "85,000 children have already starved to death" and "millions more face the prospect of famine and death" due to the years-long U.S.-backed Saudi assault.

  • Transparency/Investigative Reporting

    • VIDEO: Pilger Says Assange Denies Meeting Manafort
      WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange has vehemently denied that he ever met Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, according to journalist and filmmaker John Pilger, who met with Assange at Ecuador’s embassy in London last week.

      Pilger said Assange told him the story published by The Guardian on Nov. 27 was a “total fabrication.” Pilger told Consortium News in an interview for the Unity4J vigil on Friday that “I personally can confirm that did not happen. He said it was a fabrication. It was not possible. The way internal security works at that embassy, it was not possible.”

      Pilger called The Guardian story “an indication of a kind of degradation of the media today and especially of the ‘respectable’ media. We discussed that a great deal.”

    • Julian Assange undergoes medical tests at Ecuador's request as part of new rules to stay at London embassy
      Julian Assange has undergone a series of medical exams as part of a new set of rules he has to follow to claim asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.

      The WikiLeaks founder was put through tests by doctors he 'trusted' out of respect for his privacy, the country's top attorney said.

      Assange has been in London's Ecuador embassy since 2012, fearing extradition to the United States if he leaves.

    • China Demands Explanation From US on Embassies Buying Spy Equipment
      The statement comes after papers released by WikiLeaks exposed the "US Embassy Shopping List" database with more than 16,000 procurement requests by US embassies around the globe, including those related to spying equipment.

      Beijing is surprised about WikiLeaks-released information on US embassies purchasing spying tools and wants Washington to explain the matter, according to Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying.
    • U.S. Charged to Come Clean Over Spying Equipment
      China on Monday urged the United States to offer clear explanations to the international community about why its overseas embassies had purchased spying equipment, as revealed by WikiLeaks.

      Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying made the remarks in response to documents made public by WikiLeaks last Friday showing that U.S. embassies in countries including El Salvador and Ukraine had purchased spying equipment.

      “Just a few days ago, the United States has mustered several of its allies to accuse China of undermining cybersecurity of the U.S. side over a long time,” Hua said. “The batch of documents made public by WikiLeaks serves as proof that the U.S. side may have self-directed a drama of blame-shifting again.”

    • U.S. owes explanation on overseas embassy spying equipment: FM spokesperson
      The spying equipment purchased by the United States, as made public by WikiLeaks, include recorders, hidden radio equipment and night-vision cameras to set in cars.

      "We'd also like to remind those allies of the United States that on the issue of cybersecurity, never forget the pain once the wound is healed," Hua added.

    • U.S. owes explanation on overseas embassy spying equipment: FM spokesperson
      China on Monday urged the United States to offer clear explanations to the international community about why its overseas embassies had purchased spying equipment, as revealed by WikiLeaks.

      Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying made the remarks in response to documents made public by WikiLeaks last Friday showing that U.S. embassies in countries including El Salvador and Ukraine had purchased spying equipment.

      "Just a few days ago, the United States has mustered several of its allies to accuse China of undermining cybersecurity of the U.S. side over a long time," Hua said. "The batch of documents made public by WikiLeaks serves as proof that the U.S. side may have self-directed a drama of blame-shifting again."

    • WikiLeaks: U.S. Embassy in Armenia ordered a mobile forensics device
      WikiLeaks has recently published the "U.S. Embassy Shopping List" database, according to which a mobile forensics device called Cell Phone Analyzer has been ordered to be delivered to a U.S. diplomatic facility in Yerevan, Armenia. The papers revealed more than 16,000 procurement requests by U.S. embassies around the globe. ​​According to a purchase request made in April 2016 from the American Consulate General in Frankfurt am Main, the device ordered for Armenia is able to decode "apps data, passwords, emails, call history, SMS, contacts, calendar, media files, location information, etc.", as well as can perform "foreign — language translation of content from extraction". Also, the Cell Phone Analyzer can get "access to locked devices by bypassing, revealing or disabling the user lock code."

    • UN Tells Britain to Let Assange Leave Ecuador Embassy
      U.N. rights experts called on British authorities Friday to allow WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to leave the Ecuador embassy in London without fear of arrest...

    • European expert: Assange’s last chance to avoid extradition to the US
      The founder of the portal WikiLeaks Julian Assange, who is temporarily in the territory of Embassy of Ecuador in London, last chance to avoid extradition to the US, where he is accused of divulging state secrets.

      Comments about this correspondent of ГолосUA said European political columnist Marie Pudemo.

      As noted by an analyst, the controversial journalist may officially appeal for help to the United Nations, the structure of which is entitled to issue a document of the stateless person – a stateless person under the protection of the UN Security Council.

    • Simonyan on The Times' List, Photos of Sputnik Employees: Happy Upcoming 1933
      Margarita Simonyan, the editor-in-chief of RT broadcaster and Sputnik news agency, on Monday congratulated the United Kingdom on the "upcoming 1933" as a response to the recent publication of a list of employees of Sputnik's UK bureau in The Times newspaper.

    • The Guardian’s fake scoop
      In November 2018, the US Department of Justice accidentally revealed that it had filed sealed charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2012. Assange has said for some years that he is in danger of being extradited to the US, where he fears being given a life term for espionage, or worse (1). In a scoop on 27 November, the Guardian revealed that Paul Manafort, chairman of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, had met Assange in London three times: in 2013, 2015 and 2016.

      The news was all the more sensational as in 2013 Trump had not yet declared his candidacy for US president. CNN, MSNBC and the New York Times licked their chops. They suspected Assange of having collaborated with the Russian authorities in disseminating information embarrassing to Hillary Clinton, and saw his interviews with a close ally of Trump as confirming a long-term collusion between the US president and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, in which Assange had acted as liaison agent.

      But had Manafort’s three meetings with Assange really taken place? At first glance, there could be no doubt: the Guardian is respected around the world, and leads in the denunciation of fake news. And the article presented the story as an unqualified fact. So the proof was there: the meetings had definitely happened.

  • Environment/Energy/Wildlife/Nature

    • Studies Warn of Increasing Sea Level Rise
      The most recent gathering of scientists at the American Geophysical Union in Washington, DC, brought deeply troubling news about the Antarctic.

      Jeremy Shakun, a paleoclimatologist at Boston College, told Science that the large increase in the loss of ice mass in Antarctica in the last decade or two could already be the beginning stage of the process of collapse of the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet.

      Ice loss in the Antarctic has tripled in just the last decade alone, and is currently losing 219 billion metric tons of ice annually. That number is up from 73 billion metric tons per year as of a decade ago.

      “The big uptick in mass loss observed there in the past decade or two is perhaps the start of” the larger-scale collapse of the glaciers, Shakun told Science.

      If that is the case, the world must begin preparations immediately for sea levels that will rise far more abruptly than previously expected, with ocean waters rising as fast as 2.5 meters every one hundred years.

    • Louisiana Offers Fossil Fuel Exporter 'Single Largest' Local Tax Giveaway in American History
      Louisiana plans to collect no industrial property tax from the $15.2 billion Driftwood liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminal planned for its southwest corner, state officials announced last week.

      Critics say this tax break is worth $1.4 to $2.4 billion, making it one of the largest local corporate tax exemptions in American history — even larger than those offered to Amazon for its much sought-after second headquarters.

      Proposed by the natural gas firm Tellurian, the Driftwood terminal, which would liquefy and export 4 billion cubic feet of natural gas a day, is one of over a dozen gas export terminals proposed around the U.S. and fueled by a glut of shale gas released by fracking. The final investment decision for Driftwood is expected in early 2019, as are decisions on two other proposed Gulf Coast export terminals.

      The move comes as a group of investors and insurers have called on the U.S. and all other G20 nations to end fossil fuel subsidies entirely by 2020, citing the risk that climate change poses to the global economy.

      From 2012 to 2016, fossil fuel subsidies were slashed in half, falling from a peak of nearly $500 billion, according to the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook 2018. However, in 2017, global subsidies began to rise again, edging up to $300 billion. (The IEA report looked only at subsidies for energy consumption and left out the costs borne by the public of health impacts and environmental harms.)

    • 'Significant First Blow to Plastic Pollution Monster' as EU Reaches Landmark Deal on Single-Use Products
      In a landmark deal celebrated by campaigners as "a significant first blow to the plastic pollution monster," the European Union (EU) on Wednesday reached an agreement to dramatically scale back single-use plastics across the continent.

      "Citizens across Europe want to see an end to our throwaway culture and politicians have taken the first step," Meadhbh Bolger, a resource justice campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, said on behalf of the Rethink Plastic alliance. "The time is ripe for Europe to transition away from single-use plastics to reusables."

    • Global warming ‘pause’ never happened
      Yet another team of researchers has concluded that the much-debated global warming ‘pause’ which preoccupied climate science around the turn of the century simply did not happen.

      If their work continues to win support from other researchers, it will leave those who have argued that the pause was real with some explaining to do.

      Some scientists have argued that there was a pause, or hiatus, in the rate of global warming recorded from 1998 to 2013, and that this cast doubt on the conclusion of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that the available evidence showed the world had continued to warm.

    • Developing Country Issues at COP24 … and a Bit of Good News for Solar Power and Carbon Capture
      We humans are an interesting species … instead of seeing eye-to-eye, we are inclined to see eye-to-nose. We focus on the present and ourselves, particularly where our comfort is concerned, no matter how dire the predictions for the future.

      Although these are now over, such has been evident at the climate change talks in Katowice, Poland. An effort to mandate the Paris agreement, in light of the dire 1.5C report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has been stymied repeatedly by Saudi Arabia, the US, Russia and Kuwait. Particularly disturbed are island countries like the Maldives that are literally disappearing with sea-level rise. One of the last spats was on the word “welcoming” as in welcoming the IPCC 1.5C report. It has been changed to “welcomes the timely completion of … ” in the final draft thereby not endorsing its conclusions, stark warnings or more ambitious goals.

      The serious sticking point has been Article 6. It deals with country plans and is of special concern to the poorer countries promised financial support. But to obtain it Measuring, Reporting and Verification (MRV) of carbon emissions reduction is sought by donor agencies and private sector groups.

      Thus Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) is an international organization promoting balanced economic growth, that is without harming the environment. It can help prepare a low emissions development strategy by assisting in developing viable MRV schemes. It has for Colombia, Fiji and Mongolia, and is pursuing the same for others like Laos, Mozambique, Nepal and Senegal among others, Sri Lanka, a vulnerable island nation, has prepared MRV systems for energy and transportation but requires help in other areas like agriculture, animal husbandry and industrial emissions.

    • An Economy That Does Not Consider Ecology Is Not Sustainable
      Have you ever noticed that economics dominates our news? All day long we hear reports on the Dow and NASDAQ. There are business sections of newspapers. Television and radio news includes market reports, financial reports, and money reports. Segments of major news programs are dedicated to economics and finance. We even have individual news programs and networks solely devoted to the discussion of money matters. Indeed, economics permeates the discourse on nearly every matter presented to the public. Stories may cover politics, human affairs, entertainment, art, health, and science, but in the end most foundationally concern money.


      But even the more enlightened economists rarely include environmental concerns in their economic analyses. There is a glaring disconnect between the reality of our environmental predicament and our constant fixation with economics (particularly in the consumer realm). As a general rule, production and consumption are viewed as inevitable and beneficial, when both are wholly environmentally unsustainable. Exploitation of the environment through over-extraction of resources and toxic pollution are externalities that are rarely discussed in the context of “the market” or economic growth. Frankly, this omission of the ecological repercussion of economic endeavors renders most economic analysis moot. At this point in time, it is clear to anyone remotely schooled in natural science that our global ecosystem is on the decline, to put it mildly. In the broadest sense, toxic substances in our air, water, and products, overuse of resources, pollution, and fossil-fuel generated climate change comprise the main issues that imperil life on the planet. Much of what economists predict and propose would have very little - or at least, much less - relevance if they were to fully incorporate these environmental realities into their equations, which is probably why they do not.

    • Depressed and Then Diagnosed With Autism, Greta Thunberg Explains Why Hope Cannot Save Planet But Bold Climate Action Still Can
      As youth climate campaigners in the U.S. city of Brooklyn on Wednesday plan to continue a climate strike at least partly inspired by the ongoing vigil begun by 15-year-old Greta Thunberg in Sweden earlier this year, a new TEDx Talk released this week reveals that what inspired the Swedish teenager to take action was as simple as it was profound: she fell into sadness as she saw the leaders of the world—even those who admitted human-caused global warming was an "existential crisis"—continue to act and make policy decisions as though no emergency existed.


      As a key part of the talk, Thunberg describes how at the age of eleven, several years after learning about the concept of climate change for the first time, she fell into a depression and became ill. "I stopped talking. I stopped eating," she explains. "In two months, I lost about ten kilos of weight. Later on I was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, OCD, and selective mutism—that basically means I only speak when I think it's necessary."

    • 'Deep Lack of Moral Clarity and Courage': Pelosi Accused of Moving to Kill Green New Deal Committee

    • “Green New Deal” in US “must be mirrored by a Global Green Deal”
      n mid-November, some 200 young climate activists from the Sunrise movement joined Representative-elect, the New York Democrat, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, in a sit in at the office of the House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi, demanding what is known as a Green New Deal. Over fifty kids were arrested in the protest.

      The Green New Deal is a modification of the Roosevelt administration’s original New Deal, and asks Congress to authorise a radical plan to tackle climate change by ushering in a renewable revolution.

      The plan includes producing 100 per cent of US energy by renewables within 10 years, tackling social and racial inequality, upgrading the nation’s energy grid and transportation infrastructure, increasing energy efficiency and providing a huge training programme for green jobs.

      On her website, Ocasio-Cortez further outlines her thinking:

      “It’s time to shift course and implement a Green New Deal – a transformation that implements structural changes to our political and financial systems in order to alter the trajectory of our environment.”

    • Powerless
      What it looks and sounds like when a gas driller overruns your land.

    • Progressives Accuse Steny Hoyer of Trying to Kneecap Green New Deal Committee to Shield Fossil Fuel Execs
      In what critics denounced as a blatant attempt to shield fossil fuel executives and cripple Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's (D-N.Y.) proposed Green New Deal Select Committee before it even gets off the ground, incoming House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters on Wednesday that—unlike other congressional committees—the new panel "will not have subpoena power" and will serve as a mere "recommendatory committee."

      Hoyer's remarks immediately sparked fury from progressives, including Ocasio-Cortez herself, who noted that while the Select Committee isn't "our ultimate end goal," a "weak committee misses the point and endangers people."

    • Trump Admin Charges Ahead With 'Reckless' Plan to Turn Over Arctic Wildlife Refuge to Fossil Fuel Industry
      "Nothing could be more reckless than drilling for oil in a wildlife refuge," declared Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) executive director Kieran Suckling, responding to the release. "Once we industrialize our last great Alaskan wilderness areas, there's no going back."

      "This is a land grab, pure and simple, and the individuals responsible care little about impacts to wildlife or the damage they would be inflicting on Alaska Native people whose subsistence depends on the Arctic Refuge," Adam Kolton, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League, told the Anchorage Daily News.

      While Democrats as well as environmental and indigenous leaders have fought against drilling in the area for decades, many of Alaska's Republican politicians—including Gov. Mike Dunleavy and Sen. Lisa Murkowski—are backing the administration's efforts.

      Since Republicans used last year's GOP tax scam to expose ANWR to fossil fuel exploration, the Interior Department under President Donald Trump has sought to expedite the grant-issuing process. The new impact statement, prepared by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), features four potential proposals for which parts of ANWR could be opened up to drilling—and kicks off a 45-day public comment period, after which BLM is set to select one of the plans.

  • Finance

    • Why It's Hard to Escape Amazon's Long Reach

      Amazon employees are paid far less than other tech workers. In its annual filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission in February, Amazon said its median worker earned $28,446 in 2017 (it says that number jumps to $34,123 for full-time US workers). Facebook’s median salary in 2017, by contrast, was over $240,000.

      A bit of context: It helps to know how Amazon makes money. While its retail business is the most visible to consumers, the cloud computing arm, Amazon Web Services, is the cash cow. AWS has significantly higher profit margins than other parts of the company. In the third quarter, Amazon generated $3.7 billion in operating income (before taxes). More than half of the total, $2.1 billon, came from AWS, on just 12 percent of Amazon’s total revenue. Amazon can use its cloud cash to subsidize the goods it ships to customers, helping to undercut retail competitors who don’t have similar adjunct revenue streams.

    • Facebook could be building a cryptocurrency for WhatsApp

      Earlier in 2018, amid widespread bitcoin and crypto hype, the Silicon Valley tech giant announced it was launching a blockchain group. The team, helmed by former PayPal and Facebook Messenger boss David Marcus, has since stayed mum about its goals, despite widespread speculation on what it might be up to.

    • Facebook Is Developing a Cryptocurrency for WhatsApp Transfers, Sources Say

      Facebook Inc. is working on making a cryptocurrency that will let users transfer money on its WhatsApp messaging app, focusing first on the remittances market in India, according to people familiar with the matter.

      The company is developing a stablecoin -- a type of digital currency pegged to the U.S. dollar -- to minimize volatility, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing internal plans. Facebook is far from releasing the coin, because it’s still working on the strategy, including a plan for custody assets, or regular currencies that would be held to protect the value of the stablecoin, the people said.

    • Why economics Nobel prize winner Paul Romer fears the China trade war
      When Paul Romer sees the world's two biggest economies locked in a trade war, his thoughts turn to robots.
    • More worrying than a US-China trade war is the risk of a hot one

      Part of the problem is the way that China’s armed forces work. The Communist Party is present throughout the military hierarchy. Its political commissars often wield as much power as commanders who are genuine soldiers. Especially at higher levels, Chinese officers can move only at the speed of a committee. But that is no excuse for China’s habit of unplugging the phone. Swift communication may not end a crisis, but it can certainly reduce the danger of tensions flaring up over a misunderstanding.

    • Apple just entered a death cross, and Wall Street should 'prepare for the worst'

      A death cross is formed when a stock's 50-day moving average crosses below its 200-day moving average. The bearish technical move implies the rapid deterioration of a stock's upward momentum.

    • American Universities’ China Problem

      Ten years later, fear of offending the Communist regime has spread to American campuses Some of the blame belongs with China, but much of it belongs with the US universities themselves. By becoming ever more reliant on Chinese money they have placed themselves in a profound conflict of interest: adhere to academic freedom or please Beijing. Economic reliance on China has increased vastly in the last decade. Universities recruited Chinese students in record numbers. Enrollments soared by 400 percent. Chinese pay tuition worth an estimated $12 billion per year, according to the US Department of Commerce.

    • South Africa Searches for a Financial Parachute, Now That a $170 Billion Foreign Debt Cliff Looms
      This week’s hush-hush visit by International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde to Pretoria (between stops in Accra and Luanda) will raise eyebrows. In contrast to last week’s IMF press briefing claim – “Madame Lagarde will hold meetings with the authorities, as well as fairly extensive meetings with the private sector, civil society, academia, women leaders, and of course the media” – there’s a complete information void, and no public events scheduled.

      An open, frank public discussion about the IMF’s regrettable history and current agenda is sorely needed, in a context here in South Africa where a few honest politicians and officials are belatedly struggling to reverse what is termed “state capture,” and return stolen funds to the taxpayer. Undoing a decade of looting by former President Jacob Zuma and the Gupta empire (three immigrant brothers plus hundreds of hangers-on) he protected is no small task.
    • Trade for Hostages? Trump’s New Approach to China
      “What we do at the Justice Department is law enforcement. We don’t do trade,” he added. But a trade-off is exactly how it looks in Beijing.

      Both sides appear guilty of what amounts, in effect, to hostage-taking. Breaching Iran sanctions, imposed by the US, is what Meng is being held for but the background is pertinent. Huawei is the world’s largest supplier of telecommunications network equipment and second-biggest maker of smartphones. It is considered an agent of the Chinese state. But is the US blameless in this regard? “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist.” So warned Eisenhower just before leaving the White House in January, 1961.

      Hostage taking seems to be an intricate part in the art of the deal.

    • At Current Rate, Study Shows, Women Will Continue To Be Paid Less Than Men For Another 200 Years
      At the current rate of progress—or lack thereof—the global gender pay gap would take more than 200 years to close, according to a new report by the World Economic Forum (WEF).

      The 2018 Global Gender Gap Report examined women's earning potential and political involvement in comparison to that—given the current rate—women will continue to earn less than their male counterparts until at least the year 2220.

      "The overall picture is that gender equality has stalled," Saadia Zahidi, head of social and economic agendas for the WEF, told the Guardian.
    • As Tax Scam Turns One, Critics Say Law Is 'One of the Biggest Transfers of Wealth to Richest 1% in US History'
      Massive corporations are "flush with leftover cash" and Wall Street banks are raking in enormous profits. CEOs and the wealthiest Americans are getting even richer. Average workers are seeing crumbs.

      That is the state of the American economy on the one-year anniversary of the passage of the GOP's $1.5 trillion dollar tax scam, which Americans for Tax Fairness said on Tuesday will go down as "one of the biggest transfers of wealth to the richest one percent in U.S. history."

    • Watch Your Wallets
      The problem with the Fed hiking rates now is that Trump has already stressed the paychecks of most Americans. The rate hike will make matters worse.

      Most Americans are still living in the shadow of the Great Recession that started in December 2007 and officially ended in June 2009. More Americans have jobs, but their pay has barely risen when adjusted for inflation.

      Many are worse off due to the escalating costs of housing, healthcare, and education. And the value of whatever assets they own is less than in 2007.

      Trump has added to their burden by undermining the Affordable Care Act, rolling back overtime pay, hobbling labor organizing, reducing taxes on corporations and the wealthy but not on most workers, allowing states to cut Medicaid, and imposing tariffs that increase the prices of many goods.

    • As Paul Ryan Says Goodbye, Progressives Say 'Good Riddance' to 'Coward Who Sold Our Economy to Highest Bidders'
      "Paul Ryan does not deserve the courtesy of this kind of rose-colored glasses treatment," GQ's Jay Willis wrote of Ryan's documentary. "He is a political opportunist who spent two disgraceful years tolerating Donald Trump's corruption and enabling Donald Trump's malevolence, because he knew it was his best chance to enact a policy that enjoyed the support of his megadonors and no one else."

    • Paul Ryan Only Ever Cared About the Rich
      It feels like a million years have passed since Paul Ryan was Mitt Romney’s vice presidential candidate. But a story from back then speaks volumes about his legacy today.

      On the campaign trail, Ryan took some heat for “ramrodding” his way into an Ohio soup kitchen — without permission — for a staged photo op. All the patrons had been served and the kitchen had been cleaned, so the Romney team snapped some pictures of Ryan washing a couple dishes. They left after 15 minutes.

      There’s no better anecdote to sum up Paul Ryan’s career in politics — masquerade as an advocate for poor people for the chance to pass policies that would hurt them most.

      Still, Ryan managed to cement a reputation as a “deficit hawk,” as an earnest but ultimately compassionate policy wonk making the shrewd budget choices that would allow people across the country to prosper. But nothing could be farther from the truth.

      Ryan managed to cement a reputation as a “deficit hawk,” as an earnest but ultimately compassionate policy wonk making the shrewd budget choices that would allow people across the country to prosper. But nothing could be farther from the truth.

    • Stocks Skid to 15-Month Low After Fed Raises Rates Again
      Facebook lost 7.2 percent to $133.25. It’s down 39 percent since late July on concerns about a slowdown in user growth, multiple privacy and safety scandals, as well as the possibility of increased regulation in the future.

    • How to Use the Ticket Trap, Our New Database That Lets You Explore How Chicago Tickets Motorists and Collects Debt
      This week, we published a new database that lets you explore how ticketing, debt and the rates at which people appeal their tickets compare across Chicago’s 50 wards. We call it The Ticket Trap. Why? Because as our reporting over the past year has shown, thousands of Chicago motorists — particularly residents of low-income and black neighborhoods — lose their right to drive or lose their vehicles. Many file for bankruptcy as a way out.

      Here are some of the ways we think you can use The Ticket Trap. I hope you play around with it, tell us what you did and what more you’d like to be able to do with it.

    • The Ticket Trap
      This interactive database contains more than 54 million parking, standing and vehicle compliance tickets issued since 1996, obtained by ProPublica Illinois in partnership with WBEZ and made public for the first time. You can search for your address and compare your ward with others, and you can see how Chicago’s reliance on ticketing for revenue affects motorists across the city.

    • “Throw Them All Out!” The Yellow Vests Uprising in France
      It is a euphemism to say that the yellow vests movement does not correspond to any other major movement in the history of contemporary France. What has characterized social movements since 1968 was their political legibility. Either they were launched by labour unions and subsequently supported by political parties, or they were the results of spontaneous focused actions (by students, nurses, rail workers) which were quickly supervised by unions and political parties.

      In both cases, they fitted neatly into the game of representative democracy which was born with the establishment and then the progressive extension of universal suffrage. The labour division of representation was clear: unions defended the categorical interests of the workers and political parties formulated these categorical demands into political proposals via the political institutions (parliament, government).

    • Recession Risks for the United States in 2019
      As we reach the end of the year, the economic recovery in the United States is approaching a new record for duration. In June, it will have its tenth birthday, passing the 1990s recovery as the longest one in US history. While recoveries do not die of old age, they do die. The length of this recovery has many looking for recession prospects on the horizon. At the moment, they are not clearly visible.

      Before examining the risks, it is worth saying a bit about the good news. The length of the recovery has allowed the unemployment rate to fall to 3.7 percent, the lowest rate in almost 50 years.

      It is important to remember that many people, including many in policymaking positions at the Federal Reserve Board, did not want the unemployment rate to fall this low. They argued that the inflation rate would begin to spiral upward if the unemployment rate fell below 5.0 percent.

      We hit the 5.0 percent level in September of 2015. The world would look very different today if the inflation hawks had carried the day and the Fed raised interest rates enough to prevent the unemployment rate from dipping below this 5.0 percent mark.

      If we flip the story and looked at employment rates, the employment rate for prime-age workers (ages 25 to 54) was 2.5 percentage points lower in September of 2015 than it is today. That translates into another 3.2 million people with jobs.

    • Groomed to Consume
      Christmas coming up, household consumption will soon hit its yearly peak in many countries. Despite homely pictures of tranquility on mass-produced greeting cards, Christmas is more about frenzied shopping and overspending than peace on earth or quality time with family and friends. As with so much of our lives, the holidays have been hijacked by the idea that satisfaction, even happiness, is only one more purchase away.

      Two generations ago, my Norwegian grandmother was overjoyed as a child when she received one modest gift and tasted an imported orange at Christmastime. In the modern era of long-distance trade and excess consumption, nobody gets even mildly excited by tasting a foreign fruit or receiving a small gift. Instead, adults dive into a cornucopia of global food (typically followed by a period of dieting) while children expect numerous expensive gifts – with designer clothes and electronic toys, games, and gadgets topping the list.

      This comparison is not meant to romanticize the past or demean the present: it’s just a small example of how consumption has come to replace the things that give real meaning to our lives– like creating something with our own hands, or sharing and interacting with others. In the process, we have been robbed of the ability to take pleasure from small wonders.

    • Research Shows Affluent Americans Barely Recognize US Income Gap
      A new report from the Federal Reserve highlights the bleak economic prospects for young Americans, concluding that millennials are in much worse financial shape than earlier generations (at the same age) in terms of their relative income and wealth. These findings are not encouraging for those concerned with the problem of growing inequality.

      Despite the rise of populist anger in President Trump’s USA, inequality received little attention in 2018 from both major parties. But make no mistake, the story of early 21st century US is one of record inequality – and a growing divide between two groups: the haves and the have-nots. Forty percent of Americans hold negative financial wealth, averaging – $8,900 in assets, in the wealthiest country in the world, while another 20 percent hold just 2 percent of wealth. This means that 60 percent of the nation holds virtually no financial assets or holds negative assets in the wealthiest country in human history.

      While nearly 60 percent of Americans agreed in late 2017 that there were “strong” or “very strong conflicts” between the rich and poor, many have long been under-informed about how deep the divide between rich and poor runs. Nowhere is this clearer than in the sentiment – shared by 54 percent of Americans – that the US is not divided between haves and have-nots.

      To better understand the importance of affluence in how we think about inequality, I designed a survey to ask Americans about the extent to which competing factors influence their opinions of the economic divide. The poll, from late November 2018, was conducted by Qualtrics and includes a nationally representative, random sample of 1,132 Americans.

    • Steve Mnuchin’s Path of Destruction Leads From Wall Street to Trump’s Treasury
      In February, two months after the Trump administration pulled off one of the biggest wealth transfers in U.S. history, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin gave a public lecture on economic policy at UCLA. To his apparent surprise, it did not go well.

      Mnuchin was a key architect of the GOP’s $1.5 trillion tax cuts, passed last December, which over the next decade will funnel 83 percent of its benefits to the top 1 percent of U.S. earners—including to himself. With a net worth of half a billion dollars, Mnuchin and his wife are in the top one-one hundredth of one percent.

      Arriving on UCLA’s leafy campus, he was greeted by student protesters who had dressed as Marie Antoinette and were serving cake to passersby. It was a nice touch, but the dramatization was hardly necessary: Mnuchin’s own performance quickly betrayed him as a man as aggressively out of touch with his audience as an 18th-century monarch staring down starving peasants.

      Introduced as a man who is “a financier in his DNA”—a reference to his Goldman Sachs pedigree—Mnuchin looked taken aback when his arrival on stage drew hisses from the audience. “This is a new experience for me,” he said petulantly. “I usually go speak to people who want to listen to me speak.”

    • As Trump Throws Tantrum for Wall Funding, His Christmas Gift to 800,000 Federal Employees: No Paychecks
      In his latest attempt to deliver on his promise to shut down the government if he didn't get money to spend on his deeply unpopular border wall, President Donald Trump refused Thursday to approve the spending bill which passed in the Senate.

      The news came to light when outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) was forced to postpone his final press conference, after Trump told Republican leaders that he would not sign the bill if it crossed his desk because the Senate version, which was passed unanimously on Wednesday, did not include $5 billion for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

      Ryan declared the meeting "productive" after emerging, but admitted that the president's red line was holding up progress. The stopgap bill was intended to keep the government running through February 8. Without the spending bill entering into force, funding for seven agencies and nine departments which make up a quarter of the government could be in jeopardy.

      Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) noted that Trump's refusal to sign the bill also confirms what progressives and other critics knew about the president's priorities long before he took office in 2017—crystallizing his lack of support for working Americans including the 800,000 federal employees who face potential furloughs if the government partially shuts down.

  • AstroTurf/Lobbying/Politics

    • Two Populisms, Not One
      Two very different “populisms” that have arisen in response to neoliberal capitalism in the West.

      A left-leaning social-democratic “progressive populism” targets the capitalist concentration of wealth and power and the unbridled pursuit of private profit as enemies of the people and the common good. This populism is egalitarian and radically democratic. It tends towards socialism. Its attractive policy agenda, supported by working-class majorities, includes the downward distribution of wealth, the expansion of the social safety net, university quality health care, increased minimum wages and union power, public jobs programs, and the protection of livable ecology (a Green New Deal). Its diverse political figureheads include Jeremy Corbyn (leader of the British Labour Party), Jean-Luc Melenchon (head of La France Insoumie), Yanis Varourfakis (leader of the new Progressive International), and even Bernie Sanders.

      Then there’s the reactionary anti-cosmopolitan nationalist “populism” of the right. This unattractive and backwards-looking populism shares some of left populism’s disdain for giant globalist corporations and financial institutions. Still, its ire is aimed primarily at immigrants and racial and ethnic minorities and their perceived liberal and multi-cultural champions in the globalist “elite.” This white-nationalist “populism” (some would say faux-populism) carries no small whiff of fascism. It aligns with noxious politicians like Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen (France), Alexander Gauland (Germany), Matteo Savlini (Italy), Nigel Farage (England), Viktor Orban (Hungary), Geert Wilders (Netherlands), and Jair Bolsonaro (Brazil).

    • Trump 'Temper Tantrum' Continues: Tells McConnell to 'Go Nuclear' or Shutdown Will 'Last Very Long Time'
      That tweet followed several others in which the president warned that "if Democrats do not vote for Border Security"—specifically, funding for his long-promised wall—then "there will be a shutdown that will last for a very long time." Celebrating the House's 217-185 vote on Thursday night in favor of a bill that includes wall money, Trump added, "Senator Mitch McConnell should fight for the Wall and Border Security as hard as he fought for anything."

      The House-approved legislation touted by Trump is at odds with a stopgap spending bill passed by the Senate Wednesday night, which does not include funding for Trump's wall. Before the House voted on Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) likened Trump's behavior to a "temper tantrum" and suggested the House measure has no chance of getting through the upper chamber, declaring, "The bill that's on the floor of the House, everyone knows, will not pass the Senate."

      However, if McConnell follows the president's direction and pursues the so-called nuclear option—which Republican used to force a vote on the confirmation of Trump-appointed Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch last year—the measure with billions allocated toward Trump's wall could make its way to the president's desk. Several political commentators, meanwhile, suggested that McConnell won't make such a move due to concerns about the long-term consequences—specifically, how a Democrat-controlled Senate may use it in the future.

    • In One Wretched Day, All You Need to Know About Donald J. Trump
      Thursday was, as a cabdriver said to me back at the height of the Iranian hostage crisis, a whole lotta chaotic. Yet this seems much, much worse than that disaster. This is a Perfect Storm of ineptitude and malice that is truly frightening. All the grownups have now left the building.

      In the wake of the day’s craziness, the Dow closed down 464 points. The market, it’s said, is headed for the worst December since the Great Depression. But intractable in his ignorance, Trump may go on in this shambles of a presidency for at least another 25 months, unless before its official end, he destroys us all.

      Mueller will issue his final report, Democrats with a new House majority will ratchet up investigations and maybe even impeach. A greater scandal could be revealed that might shake even Trump’s fanatical supporters to the core. But until the next election rolls around or GOP leadership and Senate Republicans suddenly become patriots, renouncing their putrescent Pied Piper and calling for his impeachment and conviction, resignation or invocation of the 25th Amendment, we are in for it.

    • Impeach, Indict, and Sanction
      I still like to start with the words of the Constitution which, being a declaration of the ordinary People, the words have ordinary and usual meaning, not twisted judge/shyster language.

      Art I €§ 3 clause 7 in plain language (the 2 €¶ below) allows indictment, trial, judgment & punishment in addition to impeachment or, it appears, even without impeachment. In other words, it is possible to impeach first, then indict and criminally punish–because the punishment for impeachment is limited to removal and disqualification for “any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States.”

      However, the criminal process is not limited by the express language to after impeachment. Rather I suggest it was to make clear impeachment first does not implicate double jeopardy rights of the accused. Nor is it rational that the Framers thought a person of such dishonor as to be a criminal ought to be the chief law enforcement officer of the US hence–impeach him and remove from office. But, because no onei s above the law, that is not the end, following impeachment criminal prosecution can take place. Nothing in the express language prohibits”Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law” prior to or independent of impeachment.

      The control of the House and the Senate by the President’s “faction” (now known as party) could put him above impeachment, even after the new Congress is sworn in next month. His crimes under state or federal law, however, are not political matters and the full force of the law against criminals ought to attach independent of impeachment, or the very person charged with a duty to “faithfully execute the law” holds others criminally responsible while being criminal himself. Such an outcome is not consistent with an “office of honor,” as the office of the President ought to be.

    • Nancy Pelosi Represents House Democrats, but San Francisco? Not So Much
      Who does Nancy Pelosi represent? The Democratic members of the House of Representatives or the people of San Francisco? New York Congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently voiced the opinion that Pelosi appeared to be the most progressive choice available to lead House Democrats in the upcoming congressional term when the party’s leader will presumably assume the position of Speaker of the House – or re-assume it, in the case of Pelosi. And since no challenger to Pelosi ever actually emerged, it’s hard to fault Ocasio-Cortez’s assessment. On the other hand, Pelosi’s response to President Trump’s recently announced intention to withdraw American troops from Syria is just the latest instance of the House Democrats’ leader taking a foreign policy stance out of sync with the expressed views of her base.

    • Ralph Nader on Single Payer, Climate Devastation

    • Trump’s End
      This morning I phoned my friend, the former Republican member of Congress.

      ME: So, what are you hearing?

      HE: Trump is in deep sh*t.

      ME: Tell me more.

      HE: When it looked like he was backing down on the wall, Rush and the crazies on Fox went ballistic. So he has to do the shutdown to keep the base happy. They’re his insurance policy. They stand between him and impeachment.

      ME: Impeachment? No chance. Senate Republicans would never go along.

      HE (laughing): Don’t be so sure. Corporate and Wall Street are up in arms. Trade war was bad enough. Now, you’ve got Mattis resigning in protest. Trump pulling out of Syria, giving Putin a huge win. This dumbass shutdown. The stock market in free-fall. The economy heading for recession.

    • Federal Workers Not Happy With Their Jobs Under Trump: Survey
      President Donald Trump made shrinking the federal government a cornerstone of his campaign, winning cheers at campaign rallies by promising to “drain the swamp,” his term for the staff of the network of agencies that keep the government functioning. Unlike, say, the wall on the border with Mexico, this is a promise he’s managed to keep. By the end of his first year, The Washington Post reported, all but three agencies—Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs and Interior—had fewer employees than they started with in 2017. By the end of 2018, Trump had changed civil service rules to make it easier to fire federal employees and canceled pay raises for 2 million federal workers.

      Federal government workers are beginning to feel the strain, according to a new survey from the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service and the Boston Consulting Group, and as reported by The Washington Post. Federal job satisfaction “has tumbled,” as “the number of employees who would recommend their agency as a good place to work dropped at 60 percent of federal offices,” the annual Best Places to Work in the Federal Government rankings found.
    • Green Party responds to Government immigration White Paper
      "Confronted with negative headlines, Theresa May has a habit of diverting attention by pointing the finger at migrants.

      "But this latest announcement affects us all - stripping British people of our freedom to live, love, study and work across 27 other countries without needing a visa.
    • Towards a rethinking of journalism on social media
      2018 was the year of the big social media letdown. First came the Facebook algorithm change, which wiped off media pages from people’s newsfeeds. Then the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the #deletefacebook campaign. Not to mention when Facebook was accused of lying about video statistics.

      How about the spread of misinformation on WhatsApp? The Snapchat redesign debacle and the crisis that followed? The Instagram harassment problem? The armies of bots populating Twitter?

      How can social media still be at the center of publishers’ digital strategies after such a terrible year?

      We should have learned the lesson by now. Forecasts about the end of social networks have never proved right. Platforms are here to stay, with all their problems and visible imperfections. The people who own, manage, and shape them might go — but social media are not going away anytime soon. In the best possible scenario, they will evolve by bringing new challenges, problems, and imperfections. To step out of them cannot be an option unless we decide we want to leave millions of people behind, locked out of media outlets’ websites by the new rise of paywalls.
    • Drops and the Dropped: Diversity and the Midterm Elections
      The left professes diversity as its vehicle and goal to expand power and bring more of the deserving into the system but, ironically, it’s one of the reasons why the Democrats fared so poorly in the 2016 election.


      These differences were no minor obstacle. The success of the Sanders campaign challenged the Democratic Party’s established position on who should be included in its coalition. The Democrats have left the lower and working classes behind over the past forty-plus years as they’ve shifted to the right. In the mid-to-late 1970s the Democrats began to embrace identity politics, the special endorsement of racial, ethnic and gendered groups believed to be deprived and deserving of special treatment. As Robert Benn Michaels shows, the energy spent in protecting and elevating these groups consumed the field, leaving the class narrative to lie fallow (“Introduction” to The Trouble with Diversity, 2006). Their love affair with diversity erupted from this shift, replacing the mandate to expunge racism from society that had motored the civil rights movement into the 1970s and the solid support for equality that had been a mainstay of its platform. Though never completely losing the initiative to fight racism and inequality, the focus was on celebrating the differences that people of color brought to the social mix and finding ways to include them more successfully. The working class was and is not all white, of course, but the effect of this shift has been the exclusion of significant numbers of whites, particularly the lower classes. The Democrats and, more broadly, the left, have acted and legislated according to the belief that this approach was a necessary corrective since “white” is synonymous with “privileged.”
    • In Louisiana, More Than a Third of Ex-Lawmakers Continue to Try to Influence Their Old Colleagues
      Louisiana’s nursing homes are among the nation’s worst.

      The state ranked 50th in patient quality of care in a recent AARP report, which noted high rates of pressure sores and antipsychotic medications.

      Elderly citizens widely prefer staying in their homes with help as long as possible, studies show. And advocates for changing the system say that making institutionalization a last resort would save the state money.

      But when legislation was introduced this year to address that imbalance, three prominent former lawmakers helped torpedo it before it could progress.

      Former House Speaker Jim Tucker urged the House Appropriations Committee to kill the proposal. Joe McPherson, the former chair of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, told his onetime colleagues the reform was impractical. And Sherri Buffington, the committee’s former vice chair, watched from the audience.

      Each of them is deeply connected to the nursing home industry, which has strongly opposed the changes.
    • Why Are These Labor Unions Opposing Medicare for All?
      For seven years, healthcare activists in New York have been pushing the New York Health Act, a single-payer bill that would provide statewide universal health coverage. Hopes for the bill’s chances were buoyed this year, as a new class of Democrats won election to the state legislature. But now the plan’s path forward could be called into question, thanks to opposition from labor unions in the state.

      A recent Politico story reports that several New York City municipal unions, part of an umbrella group called the New York City Municipal Labor Committee, have serious qualms about the bill. Together, city unions represent some 380,000 public employees. Meanwhile, a number of more conservative unions—including the The New York State Building & Construction Trades Council and the Uniformed Firefighters Association of Greater New York—are outright opposing the proposal. These unions have joined a new initiative called “Realities of Single Payer”—backed by a coalition of healthcare industry and business groups—that seeks to kill the legislation.

      Such moves reflect a complicated relationship between the labor movement and the fight for Medicare for All, which is playing out in various ways at both the state and national levels.
    • ‘Trump Says…’: The Journalistic Scourge of Echo-Chamber Headlines
      The most basic tenet of professional physicians is the Hippocratic Oath: “First, do no harm.” Its intent is clear, simple: When practicing medicine, the fundamental ethical consideration should be to not make things worse. All decisions on treatment—including whether to treat a patient in the first place—flow from that starting point.

      Journalists, while they take no such professional oath, should be duty-bound to follow a similar principle when reporting the news: “First, do no harm to the truth.” While our internet-era news ecosystem, like modern medicine, suffers from a number of institutional inefficiencies and dubious remedies—from endless horserace poll stories, to scoops that aren’t, to mind-numbingly banal analysis—these editorial efforts should, at the very least, avoid lowering the public’s overall command of the facts and reality. But increasingly, corporate news organizations are failing to clear even that low bar, and it starts—and, just as critically, ends—at their point of first contact with their readers: social media headlines.

      This failure has several causes; some old, some new. The first of these involves the mainstream press’s innate and long-standing deference to authority, which has the effect of warping its news judgment and wrapping its framing solely around the pronouncements of the powerful.

      Another age-old problem is corporate media’s habitual focus on literal, he-said, she-said narratives, rather than illuminating analysis. A more recent contributor: legacy news media’s woefully inconsistent and often downright negligent understanding of how its readers engage with its posts on sites like Facebook and Twitter.
    • Lame-Duck Republicans Are Waging War on Heartland Democracy
      For millions of Americans, there’s no “making it” if you fall beneath a certain social class line. And the Michigan GOP, which was roundly rejected in the last election, is determined to keep it that way. In neighboring Wisconsin, Republicans decided to show voters there that their voices, votes, hardships, and pain don’t matter. They passed a series of lame-duck bills making it all but impossible for newly elected Democrats to implement their agenda. Here in Michigan, the GOP quickly followed suit. Republicans pushed many bills through the legislature in their last days in office that hurt regular folks but benefit the elite, despite election results that show unambiguously what voters want. Among many other things, these egregious bills ignore voter-approved sick leave protections and minimize wage increases, make it more difficult to vote, restrict campaign finance reform measures, and — for good measure — make it harder for voters to get future proposals on the ballot.
    • What the New York Times Has in Common with the National Enquirer
      The National Enquirer is in the news rather than reporting it—not for printing that Elvis is alive and well, but for its alleged role as “a dirty-tricks shop for Donald J. Trump in 2016,” as The New York Times put it in an article that described the supermarket tabloid as “the most powerful print publication in America.” The Enquirer served as a propaganda rag for The Donald, first targeting Ted Cruz during the primaries and then amplifying anti-Hillary conspiracy theories like “PizzaGate,” the ridiculous stories that candidate Clinton was sleeping with Huma Abedin and that she had hired a “hitman” to murder people who annoyed her.

      It paid $150,000 for the story of a former Playboy model who said she had an affair with our current president—so they could bury it. (They call this a “catch-and-kill” deal.)

      Even for the pond-scum standards of the National Enquirer, this is super sleazy. Mainstream media outlets like the Times are pointing out how gross and yucky the Enquirer is and they’re right to do so.

      What these august guardians of the Fourth Estate are not as eager to talk about is how, when it comes to a little-known law with a massive effect on libel and defamation law, respectable print institutions like the New York Times are on the same side as such exemplars of yellow journalism as the National Enquirer.

      Twenty-eight states—including many of the most populous—have “anti-SLAPP” laws ostensibly designed to protect newspapers, radio and television outlets from being sued for libel or defamation.

      Their real purpose is to allow the media to get away with murder.

    • Shine a Light for Immigration Rights in Providence
      Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) is a network of nationwide groups that puts its energy and focus into educating and organizing so-called white people to oppose white supremacy and racism.


      I first got involved with this group of people when it existed in an earlier incarnation and under another name. There are multiple aspects that I value about it, which I won’t elaborate upon here, but there are two that I find particularly valuable.

      The first is the lack of bullshit. In multiple testimonies over the final years of his life, the late Abe Osheroff, a veteran of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade that fought in the Spanish Civil War, compared his time with the old Communist Party in the 1930s with his time, decades later, as one of many who served in supporting roles in the Civil Rights movement. Osheroff was not shy about his annoyance with Marxist-Leninist speechifying from political officers while in Spain, a lot of rhetorical bullshit, to approximate his phrasing. “It has to do with love. In Spain we loved and were beloved by the Spanish people, but inside the Brigades it was ideology, not love which dominated. In Mississippi, we loved and were loved by Black people, and we loved each other in a movement free of ideology,” he told historian Peter Carroll.

      What I find so refreshing about SURJ is that, while we do have a political education element, it exists solely in service of the project at hand, organizing so-called whites to oppose white supremacy. Except for the most die-hard dogmatist, there always exists within activism circles the possibility and chance that ideology will be be prioritized above meaningful on-the-ground action. SURJ doesn’t fall into that trap, which is a true joy for me.

    • Politics in 2019 Will Have a Lot More Backbone
      As I reflect on the controversies that plagued the Trump administration throughout 2018, the unforeseen political power plays that shocked our nation, and the party stalemates that unfolded like a suspense thriller between Democrats and Republicans, I must admit that I’m sitting on the edge of my seat waiting for the finale. Donald Trump will undoubtedly face more scrutiny — and maybe even impeachment — as the Mueller investigation delivers blow after blow. Meanwhile, as a Democratic-led House of Representatives prepares for its first day on the job, the Dems seem ready to rumble — made evident in the testy recent exchange between Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, Democratic Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi, and President Trump in the Oval Office. I must admit that this all makes me a little giddy.

    • Time to Begin Impeachment Process
      Trump’s abuses of power have not been subtle. His criminal enterprises are under investigation in at least three jurisdictions. His obstruction of justice seems to be an almost weekly news item. Indeed, the brazen manner in which he has publicly attacked the various investigations against his campaign and personal enrichment makes one wonder what his henchmen have actually managed to keep hidden. Like the Nixon White House of the early 1970s, the Trump White House believes it is above the law. His actions since the elections have done nothing to disprove this. Indeed, they have further substantiated it.

      The Trump administration’s abuse of power seems equal to that of the Nixon White House. This should be enough to require an impeachment investigation. As it did in the Watergate investigation, the special prosecutor’s office should provide any investigative committee with the evidence it has accumulated on the various criminal actions of Donald Trump and his associates. As the reader knows, the special prosecutor’s investigation has led to the convictions of numerous government and Trump campaign officials. There will probably be more. Trump’s ongoing attempts to intrude and block the investigation means he is obstructing justice. It seems quite likely that his involvement in this growing scandal are enough to make him a co-conspirator. Even though he was not indicted, Richard Nixon was named as such in the special prosecutor’s report in 1973.

    • 'Here We Come!': March on Pelosi's Office by Progressive Coalition Aims to Flex Grassroots Muscle
      Ramping up its campaign to fill powerful committee seats with lawmakers dedicated to fighting for Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, and other bold and popular policies, a coalition of grassroots advocacy groups will march to the office of Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif) Thursday afternoon to make their voices heard.

      "The grassroots progressive movement is flexing more power than ever before," said Waleed Shahid, a spokesman for Justice Democrats, one of the 13 groups taking part in the delivery of over 150,000 petition signatures to Pelosi's Washington, D.C. office. "Now we need to see that energy translated to the most powerful committees in Congress."

    • That Time Democrats Secretly Used Russian Social Media Tactics
      Remember those dubious Twitter and Facebook tactics the Russians reportedly employed to influence the United States’ 2016 election? You know, the ones that Democrats have been railing against for a couple of years. Turns out that the Democratic Party may be furious about their possible impact on American democracy, but isn’t above using them.

      According to The New York Times, “a group of Democratic tech experts” mimicked Russia’s social media tactics in the infamous 2017 Alabama senate race between Republican Roy Moore and Democrat Doug Jones. Jones ultimately beat accused sex offender Moore by a narrow margin, earning Democrats another seat in the Senate.

    • Will Jared Kushner Be the Next Chief of Staff?
      White House Chief of Staff John Kelly is counting the days until he finally can say goodbye to his job in the Trump administration, and that means President Donald Trump should be naming his replacement any day. Unfortunately for the President there appears to be only one enthusiastic contender, and that’s his son-in-law Jared Kushner.

      We’ve already seen a number of potential candidates demurely turn down the President’s overtures when approached about taking over the high stress, low prestige assignment, with leading candidate Nick Ayers even going as far as to quit his own Chief of Staff role with Vice President Mike Pence and leave D.C. to avoid the job. Unlike others, Kushner is clamoring to be the next COS, and he’s not taking no for an answer.

    • Challenging 2020 Hype, Analysis of Beto's Voting Record Shows Texas Dem Often Sided With Trump and GOP
      After brushing aside the frenzied 2020 presidential hype and closely scrutinizing the public voting record of outgoing Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas), Capital & Main investigative journalist David Sirota published a detailed analysis on Thursday showing that the Texas congressman frequently voted to advance President Donald Trump and the GOP's right-wing agenda during his three terms in the House.

      "Amid persistently high economic inequality and a climate change crisis, O'Rourke has voted for GOP bills that his fellow Democratic lawmakers said reinforced Republicans' tax agenda, chipped away at the Affordable Care Act, weakened Wall Street regulations, boosted the fossil fuel industry, and bolstered Trump's immigration policy," Sirota wrote in his report, which was co-published by the Guardian.

      "Consumer, environmental, public health, and civil rights organizations have cast legislation backed by O'Rourke as aiding big banks, undermining the fight against climate change, and supporting Trump's anti-immigrant program," he continued.

      Sirota's in-depth breakdown of O'Rourke's voting record sparked social media outrage from Democratic loyalists, who advanced the familiar claim that critically probing the record of potential Democratic presidential candidates is tantamount to helping Trump win reelection.

    • Russia opens investigation against ‘BBC’ in retaliation for British regulators' case against ‘RT’
      A day after Britain’s broadcasting regulator, Ofcom, accused the Russian state news network RT of violating British rules on impartiality, Russia’s media regulator, Roskomnadzor, retaliated by opening an investigation into the television station BBC World News and the BBC’s website, reviewing the outlets for general compliance with Russian laws. Roskomnadzor openly says its actions are a response to Ofcom’s case against RT.

      On December 20, Ofcom announced that RT “broke broadcasting rules by failing to preserve due impartiality in seven news and current affairs programs over a six-week period, identifying two broadcasts of “Sputnik,” two broadcasts of “News,” and three episodes of the “debate” show “Crosstalk.” Ofcom says RT now has the opportunity to “make representations” to the agency, before it decides how to proceed. Penalties could range from a fine to the revocation of RT’s British broadcasting license.

    • British Government Covert Anti-Russian Propaganda and the Skripal Case
      It is worth starting by noting that a high percentage of the Integrity Initiative archive has been authenticated. The scheme has been admitted by the FCO and defended as legitimate government activity. Individual items like the minutes of the meeting with David Leask are authenticated. Not one of the documents has so far been disproven, or even denied.

      Which tends to obscure some of the difficulties with the material. There is no metadata showing when each document was created, as opposed to when Anonymous made it into a PDF. Anonymous have released it in tranches and made plain there is more to come. The reason for this methodology is left obscure.

    • Banishing Truth
      The investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, in his memoir “Reporter,” describes a moment when as a young reporter he overheard a Chicago cop admit to murdering an African-American man. The murdered man had been falsely described by police as a robbery suspect who had been shot while trying to avoid arrest. Hersh frantically called his editor to ask what to do.

      “The editor urged me to do nothing,” he writes. “It would be my word versus that of all the cops involved, and all would accuse me of lying. The message was clear: I did not have a story. But of course I did.” He describes himself as “full of despair at my weakness and the weakness of a profession that dealt so easily with compromise and self-censorship.”

    • Der Spiegel Shows Danger of Liking Good Stories More Than True Stories
      While Der Spiegel has defended its staff’s inability to notice Relotius’ fabrications on the grounds that they were too difficult to factcheck, many of them should have raised red flags right away. A Syrian war orphan forced to perform child labor who walks down the street singing an old song about war orphans forced to perform child labor? Someone should have at least queried the author to inquire what extraordinarily on-the-nose Syrian tune was involved. A sign at the edge of a small Minnesota town that reads “Welcome to Fergus Falls, home of damn good folks”? That’s unlikely enough to be worth a call to the Fergus Falls visitors’ bureau—or at least a quick scroll through Google Maps.

      For the most part, though, fabricators like Relotius or Stephen Glass survive because they know how to craft prose that sounds like it could have been genuinely reported, even when it wasn’t. Full disclosure: I’m not immune, as I was once duped by a serial fabricator while editing for the Village Voice, who like Relotius turned out to have honed his craft over years.

      But to say that editors (and even factcheckers) are fallible is one thing; to say that editors’ job is to look for good stories, not true stories, is another. That’s especially the case when you consider what kind of stories editors consider “good”: Those that reinforce existing stereotypes (a small Midwestern American town where even the Mexican immigrant restaurant owner is pro-Trump), those that relate unexpected man-bites-dog tales (a Guantánamo detainee so broken that he no longer wants to be released), those that tug at the heart strings (Iraqi children kidnapped by ISIS).

      The job of journalists and editors alike is to tell stories, absolutely—but to tell them in service to the truth, even when it goes against preconceptions or conventional wisdom. (Hence the hoary old journalism maxim, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”) In using the defense that you can’t look a good story in the mouth, Der Spiegel is admitting that it was more interested in telling readers what it thought they wanted to hear than in telling them uncomfortable truths. That’s never a good attitude for a journalist, whether you’re dealing with a fabricating writer or a fabricating president.

    • Social Democracy or Barbarism? Barbarism, Please - Political commentators see AMLO as a bigger threat than Bolsonaro
      One would be hard-pressed to find two newly elected world leaders more different than Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) and Brazilian President-elect Jair Bolsonaro. The former is a moderate social democrat who promises to crack down on corruption and serve as an advocate for his nation’s poor and working people; the latter is a disciple of the military junta that ruled his country from 1964 to 1985, infamous for his racist, misogynist and anti-democracy comments on national television, who promised on the campaign trail, “I will give the police carte blanche to kill.”

  • Censorship/Free Speech

    • Investigative journalist who helped unmask Russian spies is denied access to Putin's end-of-year presser, despite being accredited
      Roman Dobrokhotov, the chief editor of the investigative news website The Insider, was not permitted to attend Vladimir Putin’s annual end-of-the-year press conference on December 20. Roughly 90 minutes before the start of the event, Dobrokhotov announced on Twitter that members of the Federal Protective Service refused to let him into the venue, despite the fact that he received accreditation to attend.

      In 2018, The Insider worked closely with the investigative website Bellingcat, co-publishing several reports about Anatoly Chepiga and Alexander Mishkin, the two Russian military intelligence operatives suspected of carrying out a nerve-agent attack in Salisbury, England, earlier this year.

    • Report: Number of Journalists Killed in Retaliation Nearly Doubles in 2018
      The number of journalists killed in retaliation for their work nearly doubled this year, according to a report released Wednesday by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

      The New York-based organization found that at least 34 journalists were targeted and killed for their work as of Dec. 14. In all, at least 53 died while doing dangerous work. That compares with 18 retaliation killings out of 47 deaths documented by the committee in 2017.

    • Educator Sued Because Of Things A Journalist Wrote Collects $10,000 In Legal Fees From Idiot Plaintiff
      There's finally a bit of a happy ending to one of the more ridiculous defamation lawsuits we've covered. In June 2017, the ousted head of a Tennessee culinary arts programs took umbrage to things written about him by a local journalist. The article in The Tennessean expressed pleasure in seeing Tom Loftis removed from the culinary arts program and replaced by Randy Rayburn, who journalist Jim Myers felt was a positional upgrade.

      Naturally, the ousted Loftis decided to [checks last 18 months of notes] sue his replacement for things a journalist wrote. Tennessee has no anti-SLAPP law, so the lawsuit managed to drag on for well over a year, including one appeal by Loftis after losing the first round.

      The initial court decision should have ended it. The judge found Loftis could not even satisfy the minimal requirements to move it past the first motion to dismiss. The case was dismissed with prejudice and Rayburn awarded legal fees. As Rayburn's lawyer, Daniel Horwitz, pointed out then, the legal system wasn't put in place to "litigate hurt feelings."
    • World's Journalists Have Never Faced 'As Much Violence and Abusive Treatment' as This Year
      The international press freedom group Reporters Without Borders detailed an "unprecedented" level of violence and hostility toward journalists around the world in 2018, with the number of reporters killed and detained while working—or in retaliation for their work—shooting up from the previous year.

      Eighty journalists around the world were killed due to their reporting work from January to November 2018, while 348 were detained and 60 were held hostage, according to the the group's annual "Worldwide Round-up" of dangers faced by journalists.

      "Violence against journalists has reached unprecedented levels this year, and the situation is now critical," said Christophe Deloire, head of Reporters Without Borders, which is also known by its French name, Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF).
    • Russian law enforcement block an article on a news website for glamorizing heroin use
      Russia’s federal censor, Roskomnadzor, has reportedly asked the Interior Ministry to review the legality of an article published on December 18 by the website Batenka, Da Vy Transformer (an eclectic media outlet whose name translates roughly to “Old Chap, You’re a Transformer”). The article in question, written by journalist Nina Abrosimova, is about an attractive woman who has supposedly lived “almost openly” as a functioning heroin addict for the past decade. The website calls the story “the first text in a long-running investigation into heroin’s place in modern Russia.”

      According to Open Media, Roskomnadzor says the article violates Russian laws against propagating illegal drug use. If the Interior Ministry agrees, the agency will have the grounds to block the entire website.

      Russia’s federal censor isn’t the only one criticizing Batenka’s reporting. The website’s own former chief editor, Olga Beshley, complained on Facebook that the story features “poor journalism” that merely offers readers photographs of a “pretty woman” without offering the necessary expert commentary about heroin addiction or its prolonged effects.
    • Leaks and Deplatforming Drive Businesses Away From Web Giants
      Consumers and enterprises are exiting centralized web platforms amid growing concerns over unwarranted data sharing. Loss of privacy and data leakage are the primary drivers leading users away from web giants such as Google and Facebook. In some cases, disaffected users are seeking out decentralized alternatives that facilitate personal data ownership.

    • Sanders, Feinstein Demand Congress Ditch Effort to Criminalize Pro-Palestinian BDS Campaign
      U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) on Wednesday urged congressional leaderships not to include in a must-pass spending bill a measure that would suppress free speech rights by criminalizing boycotts of Israel.

      "While we do not support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, we remain resolved to our constitutional oath to defend the right of every American to express their views peacefully without fear of or actual punishment by the government," the senators wrote (pdf) to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

      The measure is the Israel Anti-Boycott Act (S. 720), a revised version of which is being pushed by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.).

      Kate Ruane, senior legislative counsel at the ACLU, wrote last week that while the new iteration leaves out possible jail time as punishment "for American companies to participate in political boycotts aimed at Israel and its settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories when those boycotts were called for by international governmental organizations like the United Nations," the legislation still represents "a full-scale attack on Americans' First Amendment freedoms," as violators could still face criminal financial penalties of up to $1 million.
    • Russia has ‘decriminalized’ one of its most controversial anti-extremism charges. Here's what that means in practice.
      On December 19, the State Duma adopted a law that will partially decriminalize the controversial Criminal Code Article 282, which courts have increasingly used to prosecute Internet users for “reposts.” First-time offenders will now face only misdemeanor charges, risking a 20,000-ruble ($300) fine or a 15-day jail sentence, instead of felony charges and a prison sentence. Repeated violations within a 12-month period, however, can still lead to a felony charge.

    • ICE Seizes Over 1 Million Websites With No Due Process; Apparently Unaware That Copyright & Trademark Are Different
      Over the years, we've written an awful lot about asset forfeiture and how it is basically the government stealing shit they want with almost no due process. But the reason we started writing about asset forfeiture was when ICE used that process to seize a bunch of websites based entirely on the claims of the RIAA and MPAA that those websites were distributing copyright-infringing material. It turned out those claims were totally bullshit, leading to ICE eventually agreeing to return a blog over a year after it had been seized, and two others after holding them for over five years.

      I'm still perplexed that this story was almost entirely ignored by the media. This was outright censorship by the US government -- the equivalent of seizing a printing press from a publication and holding it based on nothing other than some private party's complaints about the content of their publication.

    • Russian officials blocked an opposition website that commits the same ‘privacy violations’ as the country's parliament, ruling political party, and state news media
      Alexander Litreev, a Russian cybersecurity expert and the founder and director of “Vee Security,” has formally asked Russia’s federal censor to block the websites of the State Duma, the political party United Russia, and the news outlet (a joint project by the state television networks Rossiya 1 and Rossiya 24). Litreev addressed his appeal to Alexander Zharov, the head of Roskomnadzor, arguing that the websites violate Russian privacy laws in the same ways that recently resulted in the blocking of Alexey Navalny’s “Smart Vote” project.

      Moscow Tagansky District Court formally blocked “Smart Vote” on December 19. According to Roskomnadzor, the website violated Russia’s privacy regulations and abused Google Analytics and Yandex Metrics. Officials say Navalny’s team needs to notify users when collecting any personal information, obtaining their consent and providing them with a “published document that states a privacy policy.” In court on December 19, Navalny's representatives acknowledged that Smart Vote might have initially violated Russia's privacy requirements, but argued that the website now features a transparent data-collection agreement and statement of terms.

    • Buzzfeed Wins Defamation Lawsuit Filed Against It Over Publication Of The Steele Dossier
      This was pretty much a foregone conclusion -- but a few different people (including Trump's ex-fixer Michael Cohen) have sued Buzzfeed for publishing the so-called "Steele Dossier," which were a collection of opposition style research put together by Christopher Steele about Donald Trump and his associated. While Cohen dropped his suit once he realized that discovery was about to create a huge, huge mess, another such lawsuit continued -- the one filed by Aleksej Gubarev and some of his companies, complaining about references to himself and his companies in the dossier.

      We noted that this lawsuit was "doomed to fail" and that's exactly what has happened. We expected that it would likely fail because Buzzfeed is, at the very least, the wrong party to sue. They were simply releasing the newsworthy file to discuss what was being passed around Washington DC circles. But they did not produce or write the document.


      Separately, the court agrees with Buzzfeed that it is protected because the published article was "fair and true." That's not saying that the contents of the Steele reports are necessarily "fair" or "true," but rather that it was fair and true that these Steele reports were being passed around DC among politicians and journalists.

    • Law Commission report asks for complete reform of online offensive communications
      In 2019 ORG will be doing more work on the regulation of online content and free expression, as there are various important government initiatives in the area that could impact the rights of internet users. Earlier this year the Law Commission was asked to conduct an analysis of the criminal law in relation to offensive and abusive online communications. It makes some sensible recommendations for thorough reform of the relevant legislation. The government now has to fully respond and agree to move on with more pre-legislative work.

      ORG believes that the current level of online abuse - particularly against vulnerable groups: women, ethnic minorities, migrants, transgender people or those with disabilities, among others - is unacceptable, but we also consider that there are some areas where restrictions on online speech are not consistent and may impinge on free expression. This is a difficult area, and the thorough approach of the Law Commision is welcome. ORG staff met the Law Commissioner for extensive discussions.

    • Facebook Responds to Global Coalition’s Demand That Users Get a Say in Content Removal Decisions
      EFF and more than 100 civil society organizations across the globe wrote directly to Mark Zuckerberg recently demanding greater transparency and accountability for Facebook content moderation practices. A key step, we told Facebook, is implementation of a robust appeals process giving all users the power to challenge and reverse the platform’s content removal decisions.

      Facebook responded earlier this month in a private letter to EFF that we made public this week. In it we see a win for users fighting to get their content back up. Facebook has extended the appeals option to cover almost all categories of speech alleged to be in violation of platform rules, including content deemed to be spam, dangerous, or terrorist propaganda. People who report content that violates Facebook’s community standards but remains on the platform will also get to challenge Facebook’s inaction (although it’s not clear when), according to the letter.

      Facebook said user appeals will be reviewed by people other than those who originally decided to remove content. In addition, Mr. Zuckerberg recently announced plans to launch an “independent body” next year that will hear and decide certain appeals. In its letter to EFF, Facebook said it would consult with stakeholders and external groups, including signatories to the Zuckerberg letter, during the decision-making process about the independent panel. We will hold Facebook to its word to ensure that geographically and culturally diverse voices are heard.

    • Filters Suck Out Loud: Tumblr's Porn Filters Flag Tumblr's Examples Of Allowed Content
      As you'll recall, Tumblr recently decided to go the Puritan route with its platform, announcing that it would begin filtering "porn" from its platform. As we pointed out, this was bound to go hilariously wrong, with plenty of innocent content getting swept up in the auto-filters. There were already examples of this, ranging from pictures of cartoons to what looks to be accidental photos people took on their couches. You may have thought at that time that no better example could be found for how dumb auto-filters like this tend to behave.

      But Tumblr itself accidentally just provided such an example. Seeking to clarify what is and is not allowed, Tumblr posted a GIF of the kinds of images that would be allowed on the site: artwork, educational material, etc. It all went swimmingly... until others tried to post the exact same GIF to see what would happen.

    • Russian state television gets YouTube to block Navalny's broadcast of Putin's press conference because the video includes a question from one of its reporters
      The Russian state-owned television network Pervyi Kanal got YouTube to block Alexey Navalny’s archived live broadcast of Vladimir Putin’s end-of-the-year press conference, which aired on Navalny Live! on December 20 with simultaneous commentary from policy experts on Navalny’s team. The Russian broadcaster reportedly argued that it owns the exclusive rights to the face and voice of anchor Marina Kim, who appeared briefly in the broadcast, when she asked President Putin a question during the four-hour event. (Her question occurs at 3 hours, 21 minutes, 55 seconds into Navalny's broadcast.)

      “I think YouTube will unblock everything, of course. We officially paid for the broadcasting rights, after all,” Navalny explained on Telegram, adding, “But it’s still amusing that they’re so nervous about a simple broadcast with commentary and they’re inventing ways to ban everything.”

    • Slack Banning Random Iranian Ex-Pats Shows Why Making Tech Companies Police The Internet Is Crazy Stupid
      And of course, we're seeing more and more and more of that. FOSTA does that in the US. The GDPR is doing that around the globe. The EU Copyright Directive will do that. The EU Terrorist Content Regulation will do it. And a bunch of other regulations targeting the internet as well. That's why some of us keep warning that these laws are going to lead to widespread censorship and suppression of free speech. Because that's how it always works out. If you threaten internet platforms with huge penalties for failing to block content, but leave the details pretty vague, they're going to make decisions like that and simply kick people off their services entirely, rather than face liability. It's a recipe for disaster -- and one that seems to be favored by tons of clueless regulators, politicians, and plenty of people who just don't realize how much harm they will cause.

  • Privacy/Surveillance

    • Both Things Are True: Press Freakouts Over Facebook's Practices Have Been Misleading & Facebook Has A Privacy Problem
      And so we're back with Facebook Derangement Syndrome. As we've noted a few times in the past, many of the freakouts about Facebook's privacy practices involve completely misunderstanding or exaggerating the nature of what Facebook did -- and presenting things not just in the worst possible light, but in an actively misleading way. This is especially true in the context of privacy questions, where many people seem to interpret Facebook's good decisions not to lock down YOUR OWN access to your own data as a bad thing and then pressure the company to lock up access to your own data, limiting what you can do with it.

      Of course, there is some amount of inherent conflict between open systems and privacy. Indeed, going back eleven years, we had a post highlighting the potential privacy conflicts of Facebook's "open social graph." And, of course, at the time, Facebook was celebrated for being so open and not locking up everyone's data, but enabling it to be used more widely in other systems.

      And that brings us to this week's big NY Times story on Facebook. As we already discussed, what it really highlighted is what a terrible job Facebook does in being open and transparent about how it uses data. But we were also left with some questions about some of the claims in the NYT report, especially regarding the claims that other companies had access to messages.

      As more people have looked at it, it increasingly appears that the NY Times reporting on this was really, really bad and contributed to the hysteria, rather than improving understanding. The companies that had access to Facebook messages involved software integrations where those third party apps allowed you to directly access Facebook Messenger from those apps -- in the same way that if you want to use Facebook Messenger on your mobile phone, you have to give that phone access to your messages so that... you can use FB Messenger.

    • TSA Will No Longer Engage In Suspicionless, Cross-Country Surveillance Of Airplane Passengers
      Earlier this year, news leaked out about an unannounced TSA program. "Quiet Skies" was the TSA's latest boondoggle, one that sent air marshals all over the US, tailing travelers just because. Things as simple as boarding too late/too early or using the restroom at the wrong time were designated suspicious behavior. It's was such a shady program even the air marshals didn't like it. Some felt it was illegal. Others found it ridiculous. But nearly every air marshal who spoke about the program called it as waste of time and money.

      Following the Boston Globe's exposure of the program, the TSA was summoned to a Congressional hearing to answer questions about "Quiet Skies." The TSA admitted the program had caught zero terrorists but had managed to surveil nearly 5,000 individuals en route to this failure. The agency claimed the useless program was subject to "robust oversight" -- a claim hilariously delivered to members of Congress who had first heard about the program from the Boston Globe.
    • Cambridge, MA Joins Growing Ranks of Cities Requiring Civilian Control of Police Surveillance Tech
      Last week, the City of Cambridge, MA became at least the tenth local jurisdiction in the U.S. to adopt a crucial measure enabling civilian control of police surveillance technology at the local level. The measure requires local police to obtain civilian permission before purchasing surveillance equipment, to document the security rationale and privacy impacts of any such purchase, and also to comply with an annual audit to reveal potential misuse or overuse.

      The unanimous vote makes Cambridge the second jurisdiction on the east coast to adopt the reform.

      The City Council’s unanimous vote makes Cambridge the second jurisdiction on the east coast to adopt the reform, alongside nearby Somerville (whose mayor adopted the reform by executive order last year). Others that have adopted similar measures include several cities and regional bodies in the San Francisco bay area (Oakland, Berkeley, Davis, Palo Alto, and Santa Clara County, California, plus the Bay Area Rapid Transit Board), as well as Seattle, Washington, and Nashville, Tennessee.

    • German City Wants Names And Addresses Of Airbnb Hosts; Chinese Province Demands Full Details Of Every Guest Too
      That information provides a very handy way of keeping tabs on people travelling around the province who stay in Airbnb properties and the like. It's yet another example of how the Chinese authorities are forcing digital services to help keep an eye on every aspect of citizens' lives.
    • Before and After: What We Learned About the Hemisphere Program After Suing the DEA
      As the year draws to a close, so has EFF’s long-running Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Drug Enforcement Agency about the mass phone surveillance program infamously known as “Hemisphere.”

      We won our case and freed up tons of records. (So did the Electronic Privacy Information Center.) The government, on the other hand, only succeeded in dragging out the fake secrecy.

      In late 2013, right as the world was already reeling from the Snowden revelations, the New York Times revealed that the AT&T gives federal and local drug enforcement investigators access to a phone records surveillance system that dwarfs the NSA’s. Through this program, code-named Hemisphere, police tap into trillions of of phone records going back decades.

    • Who's watching you from an unmarked van while you shop in London? Cops with facial recog tech
      London cops have been slammed for using unmarked vans to test controversial and inaccurate automated facial recognition technology on Christmas shoppers.

      The Metropolitan Police are deploying the tech today and tomorrow in three of the UK capital's tourist hotspots: Soho, Piccadilly Circus, and Leicester Square.

      The force has employed the tech – which scans people's faces against a list of individuals of interest to the police – on numerous other occasions, including at the Notting Hill Carnival and a shopping centre in Stratford, east London.
    • London Metropolitan Police Deploy Facial Recognition Tech Sporting A 100% Failure Rate
      Facial recognition tech isn't working quite as well as the agencies deploying it have hoped, but failure after failure hasn't stopped them from rolling out the tech just the same. I guess the only way to improve this "product" is to keep testing it on live subjects in the hope that someday it will actually deliver on advertised accuracy.

      The DHS is shoving it into airports -- putting both international and domestic travelers at risk of being deemed terrorists by tech that just isn't quite there yet. In the UK -- the Land of Cameras -- facial recognition tech is simply seen as the logical next step in the nation's sprawling web o' surveillance. And Amazon is hoping US law enforcement wants to make facial rec tech as big a market for it as cloud services and online sales.

      Thanks to its pervasiveness across the pond, the UK is where we're getting most of our data on the tech's successes. Well... we haven't seen many successes. But we are getting the data. And the data indicates a growing threat -- not to the UK public from terrorists or criminals, but to the UK public from its own government.

    • Facebook’s Latest Scandal Shows We Need Stronger Privacy Laws
      Facebook, the world’s largest social media company, has shown yet again that it does not deserve our trust. A New York Times investigation revealed that Facebook shared its users’ private data, without its users’ consent, with other tech giants including Microsoft, Amazon, and Netflix.

      The Times report revealed that Facebook parceled out deeply personal information from its users to other companies without first asking if that was alright. Facebook users’ private messages went to Netflix, Spotify and the Royal Bank of Canada. The names and contact information for their friends went to Sony, Microsoft, and Amazon. Yahoo even got a real-time feed of what users’ friends were up to—without telling either the user or their friends.

      Press investigations have exposed, time and again, that Facebook and other tech companies too often will choose their profits over your privacy. This underscores the need for stronger privacy laws across the country, and for Congress to refrain from preempting the privacy rights that states have granted their own citizens.

      The California Consumer Privacy Act, enacted in June, set a foundation for better privacy law in the United States. It grants the people of California the right to know what information companies have about them, the right to access and delete information, and the option to tell companies not to sell their data. EFF and our allies are working to strengthen this law, and we hope other states will adopt similar laws.
    • Are the Chinese and Russians listening to your phone calls?
      While the press is abuzz with stories of Chinese technology theft and Russian hacking, there is a hole that has gotten too little attention. “When Trump phones friends, the Chinese and the Russians listen and learn,” the New York Times reported, exposing a huge lapse of national security. In fact, those nations are listening in on cell phone calls across the country through cell site simulators, often known as stingrays, dirtboxes, and international mobile subscriber identity catchers that mimic towers to trick cell phones into transmitting information. They are commonly used to identify the location of a cell phone in order to track the owner. They can also be used to eavesdrop on conversations and intercept texts.

      The Homeland Security Department last year found “anomalous activity”€ consistent with use of cell site simulators near the White House and other sensitive buildings. Driving tests suggest that cell site simulators are positioned near the buildings of federal agencies and high technology defense contractors. Foreign intelligence services are presumed to be responsible. Yet the Homeland Security Department said it does not have the technical expertise or resources to find these cell site simulators.

    • Facebook's Latest Privacy Screwup Shows How Facebook's Worst Enemy Is Still Facebook
      There's another Facebook scandal story brewing today and, once again, it appears that Facebook's biggest enemy is the company itself and how it blunders into messes that were totally unnecessary. When the last story broke, we pointed out that much of the reporting was exaggerated, and people seemed to be jumping to conclusions that weren't actually warranted by some internal discussions about Facebook's business modeling. The latest big scandal, courtesy of a big New York Times story, reveals that Facebook agreed to share a lot more information than previously known or reported with a bunch of large companies (though, hilariously, one of those companies is... The NY Times, which The NY Times plays down quite a bit).

    • Sorting the spin from the facts: how big can the surveilling city that Sidewalk Labs plans for Toronto get?

      Now, if you look at the map on page 42 of the Plan Development Agreement (PDA) struck between Sidewalk Labs and Waterfront Toronto, which is the focus of Cory’s Dec. 17 blog post and my research, you'll see the MIDP site. It’s 2,600 acres, stretching over a huge swath of Toronto and including the iconic Air Canada Centre, Union Station and CN Tower -- and also covering a big chunk of real estate, including the Port Lands, that Canadian taxpayers are shelling out billions to flood-protect, beautify and prepare for development.

    • Air Force veteran Reality Winner is serving 5 years for blowing the whistle on Russian election interference, while Trump's Russia-dealing cronies are going free

      In the months since Winner's sentence, her alleged leak has been vindicated again and again, as members of Trump's inner circle have pleaded guilty, or been convicted, of acting as unregistered foreign agents, of secretly arranging Russian payouts, of lying to US law enforcement and Congress.

    • Facebook shelved a feature intended to promote civil political discourse

      The Wall Street Journal reports that Facebook had begun working on a feature that would encourage users of opposing political beliefs to interact in a more positive way. But the project — known as “Common Ground” — was reportedly halted after Facebook’s global head of policy raised concerns that it could lead to accusations that the site was biased against conservatives.

      Sources told the WSJ that the Common Ground project would have brought together several different projects “meant to minimize toxic content and encourage more civil discussion,” which included changes to how the News Feed was ranked, and to de-emphasize “hateful” comments. Kaplan — along with other executives — worried that conservative users would be disproportionately impacted by the changes, and noted that the term “‘common ground’ was patronizing.” The project was reportedly shelved over concerns that it would impact user engagement, although Facebook told the WSJ that it was continuing to study polarization on the site.

    • Why Are We So Surprised by Facebook’s Data Scandals?

      In ways that have long been documented yet are still only partially understood, the [Internet] giants of today have made a substantial amount of their money by monetizing user data. Some, like Facebook and Google and Twitter, sell ads against that data; some, like Amazon and Apple, keep the data to themselves and use it to refine and market more of their products and services to their own users. Others, like Microsoft, do some of both. Free data isn’t the only source of revenue, but for Facebook, it is the lion’s share.

  • Civil Rights/Policing

    • Brutality Against Prisoners Is Often Unseen. In this Virgin Islands Jail, It Was Caught on Video.
      The latest assault follows years of abuse and neglect at the St. Thomas jail. When Benjamin Hodge, who is serving a nine-month sentence at the Criminal Justice Complex on St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, told a corrections officer he had found a cockroach in his food, he did not expect that officer would choke him to near unconsciousness.

      Though the jail’s own chief investigator found that the officer, Jamal Crooke, had used excessive force and lied in his account of the incident, Crooke continues to work at the jail to this day. No criminal investigation was opened into potential assault charges. No known disciplinary action was taken against him.

      That’s particularly stunning given the video footage of the confrontation between Hodge and Crooke. We recently showed the footage in federal court in our longstanding lawsuit against the government challenging the horrific conditions and abuse at the jail.

      It starts innocently enough: Hodge examines his food and finds a cockroach on his chicken patty. He shows the cockroach to his fellow prisoners and requests a new tray from Officer Crooke, which Crooke provides. A few minutes later, video shows Crooke returning to the unit with a cup of water requested by another prisoner.

      As soon as he hands the cup to the prisoner who requested it — and without missing a beat — Crooke launches a ferocious attack on Hodge, who is shown standing nearby, hands by his side. Crooke throws a punch at Hodge with his right arm, and Hodge and Crooke stumble out of view of the camera. Seconds later, they come back on camera, with Officer Crooke using a chokehold — which is prohibited by Virgin Islands Bureau of Corrections policy — to drag Hodge by the neck.

      Hodge later stated that he almost passed out from the chokehold.

    • Federal Judge Blocks Trump’s Policy Gutting Asylum for People Fleeing Domestic and Gang Violence
      Once again, the Trump administration’s attacks on asylum are held unlawful. The Trump administration’s campaign to dismantle our asylum system just suffered another major setback.

      A federal judge in Washington, D.C., permanently blocked a June 2018 “expedited removal” policy that gutted asylum protections for immigrants fleeing domestic violence and gang brutality. Holding that “there is no legal basis for an effective categorical ban on domestic violence and gang-related claims,” Judge Emmet Sullivan struck down the policy for being contrary to the Immigration and Nationality Act, the Refugee Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act. As part of the injunction, the court ordered the government to bring our plaintiffs who were wrongfully removed under this policy back to the United States so that they can pursue their asylum claims. Under the court's order, each of our plaintiffs will receive a new credible fear interview and their expedited removal orders will be canceled.

      The ACLU and the University of California’s Hastings Center for Gender and Refugee Studies brought the lawsuit on Aug. 9 on behalf of 12 adults and children who all had their asylum claims wrongfully rejected at the “credible fear” screening stage based on the unlawful policy.

    • Trump Administration Recommends Slashing Civil Rights Protections for Students of Color
      A federal commission’s post-Parkland recommendations include reversing an Obama-era guidance on racial disparities in school discipline. On Tuesday, the Federal Commission on School Safety issued recommendations that it claims will help makes schools safer following the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida. But at the center of the report is a proposal that will endanger millions of public school students, especially students of color and students with disabilities, by reversing federal guidance intended to address racial disparities in school discipline. Doing away with the guidance will weaken federal civil rights protections at a time when the Government Accountability Office reports that Black K-12 students receive punishments that are overly severe and frequent in schools across the country.

      Following Parkland, the Trump administration faced massive protests from student activists calling for gun control measures. The administration established the Federal Commission on School Safety in response to the demands for action from across the country and appointed Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to chair it. But rather than grapple with students’ demands, the commission has pushed the false narrative that schools can be protected from mass shootings by rolling back civil rights protections for Black and brown students and students with disabilities.

      The commission has placed blame on the school discipline guidance issued by the Departments of Justice and Education under the Obama administration in 2014 to address the nationwide problem of students of color receiving harsher punishments than their white peers for the same infractions. The commission claims that this guidance “endangers student safety,” despite the lack of any evidence linking civil rights protections for students of color to school shootings.

    • DeVos’s Response to School Shootings? Make School More Like Prison
      If you ask the all-white school safety commission established by President Trump in the wake of the deadly mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, earlier this year, there is little evidence that laws restricting guns sales would make public schools safer. Instead, schools and states should “seriously consider the option of partnering with local law enforcement in the training and arming of school personnel,” Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos told reporters on Tuesday.

      The Trump administration is also expected to rescind a landmark 2014 civil rights guidance aimed at protecting students of color and students with disabilities from discrimination when schools dole out disciplinary actions that push children out of the classroom. The Obama-era guidance resulted from years of grassroots organizing against the school-to-prison pipeline.

      That guidance became a target of pro-gun conservatives after the shooting spree at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland left 17 dead in February and sparked a student-led movement for gun control laws. Nikolas Cruz, the man charged in the Parkland shooting, had been expelled from school prior to his rampage and, like the vast majority of mass shooters, is both white and male. The FBI had received a warning about Cruz, and multiple law enforcement officials are under fire from investigators for security lapses and failing to appropriately respond to the shooting.

      “It defies logic for them to go after the guidance in a report that is really called for due to gun violence,” said Tyler Whittenberg, a former educator and the deputy director of the Advancement Project’s initiative for ending the school-to-prison pipeline.

    • Historic Criminal Justice Reform Legislation Signed into Law
      The Senate approved on Tuesday the most substantial criminal justice reform legislation in a generation. The bipartisan bill, known as the FIRST STEP Act, will shorten some unnecessarily long federal prison sentences and enforce rules that will improve conditions for people currently in prison.

      The 87-12 tally included substantial support from both Republicans and Democrats. Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) have been two of the leading advocates in Congress behind the bill. It will now go to the House where it’s expected to pass. President Donald Trump, too, has said he supports the measure.

      “This is a big deal," said Inimai Chettiar, the director of the Brennan Center's Justice program. "Today, the Senate unequivocally spoke out against our country’s addiction to mass incarceration. By passing the FIRST STEP Act, lawmakers are backing long-overdue fixes to some of the most broken parts of our justice system that for too long have been overly-punitive and downright unfair."

    • First Step Act Has Sinister Implications for the Poor and Marginalized
      The Senate passed the First Step Act on Tuesday night in an 87-12 vote after vigorous debate over legislative amendments that would have gutted much of the bill. The legislation now moves to the House for a vote later this week, where it is expected to pass.

      The sentencing reform legislation, shaped in large part by Jared Kushner and Koch Industries attorney Mark Holden, expands job training and other rehabilitation-oriented programming designed to reduce recidivism rates among federal prisoners deemed “low-risk.” It also expands early-release programs and somewhat reins in sentencing laws, including mandatory minimums for drug offenses.

      The legislation’s changes to sentencing laws include allowing judges more flexibility to pass sentences below mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug offenders and reducing mandatory minimums associated with the three-strikes law. The legislation also prohibits the shackling of pregnant prisoners and the use of solitary confinement for juveniles.

      The latest version, which came to the Senate floor via another, unrelated bill, advanced Monday with stripped-down provisions and additional measures demanded by law enforcement groups, including the National Sheriff’s Association and “tough-on-crime” Republicans.

      Senators voted against a set of amendments to the bill Tuesday that reform advocates deemed “poison pill” amendments ahead of the legislation’s passage. Republican Senators Tom Cotton and John Kennedy authored three amendments that advocates say would have unacceptably whittled down the already feeble legislation.
    • After 200 Attempts Over a Century, Senate Makes What 'Should Be an Obvious Choice,' Recognizing Lynching as a Federal Crime
      More than a century after legislation to recognize lynching as a crime was first introduced in Congress, a bill was unanimously passed in the Senate on Wednesday making the brutal method of public execution—which was common throughout the late 19th century and persisted through the civil rights era—as a "federal civil-rights crime."

      Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Tim Scott (R-S.C.) introduced the latest bill to make lynching punishable as a hate crime. The legislation passed unanimously.

      "This is an historic piece of legislation that would criminalize lynching, attempts to lynch, and conspiracy to lynch for the first time in American history," said Harris on the Senate floor ahead of the vote. "Lynching is part of the dark and despicable aspect of our country's history that followed slavery and many other outrages in our country...They were needless and horrendous acts of violence and they were motivated by racism. And we must acknowledge that fact lest we repeat it."
    • Cyntoia Brown Shows Us that Justice is Not Blind
      Jeffrey Epstein was a billionaire serial child sex abuser. Both were convicted and sentenced – in ways that demonstrate the profound inequities of our criminal justice system.
    • Judge Strikes Down Trump DOJ's "Attempt to Obliterate Asylum Protections" for Victims of Domestic and Gang Violence
      In what the ACLU called "another defeat for the Trump administration's all-out assault on the rights of asylum-seekers," a federal judge on Wednesday struck down much of a "horrific" U.S. Justice Department guidance issued by ousted Attorney General Jeff Sessions in June which declared that migrants fleeing domestic abuse or gang violence would no longer automatically qualify for asylum.

    • Border Security?
      It’s the phrase “border security” that freezes my soul every time I hear it uttered, every time I see it in print — so simplistically obvious, the equivalent of keeping your door locked. Did you ever have your cellphone swiped? If you’re careless about this, you’ll pay the price.

      “This is a national emergency,” Donald Trump said. “Drugs are pouring into our country. People with tremendous medical difficulty and medical problems are pouring in, and in many cases it’s contagious. They’re pouring into our country. We have to have border security. We have to have a wall as part of border security.”

      Seal up that border, with rifles and tear gas and concertina wire . . . and The Wall. The alternative, apparently, is an insecure border, wide open and unprotected. This seems to be the entirety of the “debate” over on this side of the border. Trump’s opponents may be horrified by the border patrol’s cruel treatment of asylum seekers — the tear-gassing of toddlers, for God’s sake — but surely everyone understands that the border has to be protected and secured. Right?

      Here’s where I feel a desperate need to intervene, to roll back the debate all the way to wide open borders . . . everywhere. Instead of instantly dismissing this as a prelude to hell on earth, why not, instead, begin by asking: What’s wrong with a planet free of bureaucratic “ownership” lines, the violation of which is cause for war? What’s wrong with a planet as open and borderless (except for natural borders) as it has been for 99.999% of its existence? Why, suddenly, do we live in nations as opposed to cultures? And maybe, most gallingly, why do we care about and feel the need to protect only “American citizens”? Do we possess a collective consciousness too small to embrace all of humanity?

    • Donald Trump’s border wall demand is dressed up with more lies about immigrants
      “Yes, if we don’t get what we want, one way or the other … I will shut down the government,” said President Trump to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi, referring to his demand for $5 billion to build his border wall.

      If Trump insists, a good portion of the government will be shut down on Friday over his wall.

      Trump festooned his demand with his customary lies, claiming that much of the wall has already been built (it hasn’t), that immigrants are spreading disease (they aren’t), that border agents recently detained “10 terrorists in a short period of time” (they didn’t). In reality, illegal immigration has been declining, not rising.

      This isn’t a crisis; it’s a political ploy designed to fan fear and division.
    • Following "First Step" Bill's Passage, Progressives Warn Greater Reforms Needed to Truly "Right the Wrongs" of Mass Incarceration
      The criminal justice reform bill which passed in the Senate Tuesday and is expected to be signed into law in the coming days has been recognized by progressives and prison reform advocates as one of Congress's most far-reaching efforts to fix the federal justice system that currently holds 225,000 Americans in its clutches in decades. But many noted Wednesday that the system's problems are far too vast to be fixed by one piece of legislation reached through bipartisan compromise.

      The First Step Act passed overwhelmingly in the Senate in an 87-12 vote, with a number of Republican amendments, attempting to further limit its scope, being voted down. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) applauded the passage of the bill, which could release from prison thousands who have served years behind bars, but called for reforms that go much further—and fundamentally reframe the purpose of the justice system.

      "We must end cash bail, end private prisons, end mandatory minimums, [and] reinstate the federal parole system," Sanders wrote on Twitter. "Our primary goal must be rehabilitation, not punishment."

    • Hearing Thursday: EFF Asks Court to Require FBI Disclosure of National Security Letter Recipients Who've Been Released From Gag Orders
      San Francisco, California—On Thursday, December 20, at 10 am, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) will urge a federal judge to order the FBI to release the names of national security letter (NSLs) recipients that are no longer under a bureau gag order blocking them from speaking out.

      The hearing is in EFF’s Freedom of Information (FOIA) lawsuit against the Justice Department seeking records that will shed light on whether the FBI is complying with a federal law mandating that it review and lift NSL gag orders that are no longer needed. NSLs are secret, warrantless demands for customer information that gag telecom and Internet providers from telling anyone—customers, the public, or employees—that they have turned over to the government their customers’ personal information, such as phone and email records. Recipients of these highly intrusive demands should not be gagged forever and should be able to talk about their experiences. After EFF challenged the constitutionality of NSL gag orders in court, Congress included in the 2015 USA Freedom Act reforms requiring the FBI to periodically review and terminate gag orders if secrecy is no longer warranted.

    • Congress Just Took a Big Step Toward Ending the Shackling of Pregnant Prisoners
      Passing the First Step Act will be a step toward upholding the rights and protecting the health of pregnant prisoners. Congress on Thursday passed the Senate version of the First Step Act, which is now headed for signature to President Trump. He is expected to sign it on Friday.

      The First Step Act would, in addition to enacting other important criminal justice reforms, prohibit the shackling of pregnant prisoners in federal custody, except in certain cases. This would mark a major milestone in the ongoing battle to end a brutal, inhumane, and unnecessary practice.

      Pregnancy in prison is never easy. In addition to the normal joys, pains, and hormonal fluctuations that all pregnant people experience, pregnant prisoners have to worry about unsympathetic correctional officers blocking their access to healthcare, not having necessary accommodations, being left hungry, and even having to give birth in the prison without proper care.

      This is a travesty, but one that the First Step Act will help mitigate.

      Despite the federal milestone, the practice continues across the country. In addition to the First Step Act, the ACLU has also worked to pass legislation to protect pregnant prisoners in Arizona, Maryland, and Massachusetts, and recently got similar regulations passed in the Virgin Islands.


    • Why Is a Major University Housing Priests Accused of Sex Abuse?
      On the surface, Father James Poole seemed like the cool priest in Nome, Alaska. He founded a Catholic mission radio station that broadcast his Jesuit sermons alongside contemporary pop hits. A 1978 story in People magazine called Poole “Western Alaska’s Hippest DJ … Comin’ at Ya with Rock’n’Roll ’n’ Religion.”

      Behind the radio station’s closed doors, Poole was a serial sexual predator. He abused at least 20 women and girls, according to court documents. At least one was 6 years old.

    • “The Rights of Every Man [Woman] are Diminished When the Rights of One Man [Woman] Are Threatened”
      The killing of seven civilians in Kashmir this week exposes subcontinental democracy as a brutal façade and continues to instigate disgruntlement and antipathy towards democratic procedures and institutions in the state.

      In accounts of insurgency and counter insurgency operations in the J & K, where are the genuine traumas and tribulations of the people? Do we hear of the misery of a father who feels emasculated because he cannot fend for his family? Do we sense the anxiety of parents who are painfully aware that the productive years of their child are going by the wayside while the rest of the world is making strides? Do we hear the wailing of a tender hearted mother whose son was waiting to plunge into life but has now been silenced by militarisation? Do we see the apathy of a young educated person who thought the world was his/ her oyster but now has nothing to look forward to? Are we aware of the frustration of politically savvy people whose opinions are made short shrift of by the powers that be? Do we understand the isolation of cultural and educational institutions? Do we see the erosion of the identity of people whose votes count but whose needs and opinions are overlooked? Do we see the illegitimacy of firing at unarmed protestors?

      Kashmiris are facing untold miseries during the present phase of their history. No progress – economic or political – is possible under such circumstances. Kashmir has become an oozing sore in the body politic of the sub€­continent. It has embittered beyond measure relations between the two countries. The two armies facing each other across the LoC constitute a potential powder magazine which may flare up any time into a devastating war. Its consequences are too grim to imagine.

      Those people in mainstream Indian politics who are attempting to foist a belligerent solution on the people of Kashmir are not doing any good to the country. On the contrary, they are harming it. India will not attain strength by such means. Such a lop-sided Kashmir policy, if persisted in, will cause great harm to the country. Several rational Indians have this realization.

    • Colombia’s Killing Fields
      The election of the fascist Jair Bolsonaro, the man who as candidate promised to open up the Amazon to mining and other environmentally harmful, extractive industries, has sent a very dangerous signal to indigenous and peasant groups in Brazil that the impunity that has long existed will only expand further while their rights are curtailed.

    • 5-Month-Old's Pneumonia Diagnosis Provokes More Condemnation of the 'Ice Boxes' Asylum-Seekers Are Forced Into at Border
      A five-month-old baby's diagnosis of pneumonia is bringing more attention to the conditions in which immigrants are held after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, days after another child died in U.S. custody.

      The news of the baby's illness was met with condemnation by children's rights advocates and other critics of the U.S. government's border policies.
    • The Tragic Lives of the Children Trump's Policies Target
      Maria Meza desperately sought safety for herself and her children. The 39-year-old Honduran mother had trekked northward on the migrant caravan, arriving in Tijuana in November. She and two of her daughters were among hundreds of asylum-seekers tear-gassed by U.S. border agents. A Reuters photo of Maria and her girls fleeing clouds of tear gas went viral, provoking outrage at the administration of President Donald Trump and his draconian anti-immigrant policies. But it also brought Maria unwanted and potentially life-threatening notoriety, as right-wing media outlets like the Fox News Channel fanned the flames of racial hatred day and night. Just this week, she entered the U.S. and applied for asylum, but only when two members of the U.S. Congress camped overnight with her and escorted her with her children through a port of entry near Tijuana.

      Jakelin Caal Maquin did not have congressional protectors. The 7-year-old Mayan girl from Guatemala crossed the border into New Mexico with her father, Nery Caal, seeking asylum with about 160 other migrants. They were taken into custody and, after more than eight hours of detention, Jakelin began having seizures. Her body temperature spiked to 105.7 degrees F. She was taken to a hospital in El Paso, where, on Dec. 8, she died of dehydration, shock and liver failure.

    • Youth Incarceration: We Must Think Outside the (Literal) Box
      This November, youth incarceration reforms may not have been on the ballot, but there’s been forward momentum for a while now in states across the country. In New York, California, Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana and Washington, DC, the rates of juvenile incarceration have decreased through campaigns that have successfully closed youth prisons, enacted state policy reforms and invested in community-based solutions.

      Polls show that 81 percent of Democrats, 83 percent of Independents and 68 percent of Republicans support a major shift in the youth legal system – from a focus on punishment and incarceration to systems advocating for rehabilitation and prevention.

      Clearly, Americans across the political spectrum want drastic changes in how we treat young people who need help getting back on track. As we reimagine our legal system, we should realize we don’t need youth prisons at all. Instead of more lock ups that just warehouse kids behind bars, a far better solution would be investments in community-based solutions.
    • Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez gets it
      Over the next decade at most, if the United States is going to do its part in the international effort to combat the existential risk posed by climate change, it must conduct an all-out crash decarbonization program.

      The biggest obstacle to that objective is the Republican Party. But the second-biggest is the moderate faction of the Democratic Party, which may grudgingly acknowledge climate change — and many other problems only somewhat less important — but is too corrupt and mealy-mouthed to do anything remotely sufficient about it.

      That's why it's so heartening to see leftist champion Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D) considering backing a primary challenge to fellow New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D), who recently beat Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) to become the Democratic caucus chair in the House of Representatives. Nothing short of an all-out political struggle will topple the centrist Democrats — or perhaps convince them to start taking these problems seriously.

      Let's recall some history. Back in 2009, the Democratic Party controlled the presidency, the House, and even had a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate for a few months. For awhile, parts of the party attempted to pass a pitifully weak cap-and-trade plan (like ObamaCare, it was designed to not infuriate too many interested parties) and did get something out of the House. But it died in the Senate on the opposition of moderate Democrats.

    • ‘Domestic Workers Don’t Have Protections Against Discrimination and Harassment’ - CounterSpin interview with Mariana Viturro on Domestic Workers Bill of Rights
      US news media make a lot of rhetorical reference to “family” and to “jobs.” Yet a story, a reality, that occurs at their intersection is somehow in a kind of blind spot. That would be domestic workers, the more than 2 million people—mostly women, mostly women of color—who care for Americans’ children, elders, family members with disabilities, and homes. Domestic workers are a keystone in US society and the economy: Their work makes other work possible. So what has allowed them to work without the rights or basic protections that other workers expect, and what is the plan to change that?

      We’re joined now by Mariana Viturro; she’s deputy director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance. She joins us now by phone from a New York City taxicab. Welcome to CounterSpin, Mariana Viturro.

    • Another Christmas on Death Row (Updated)
      In Part 2 of this two-part interview, death row inmate Kevin Cooper, who once came within four hours of execution, details how he copes with the daily torment of impending death as his legal team fights to prove his innocence with new exonerating evidence Gov. Jerry Brown has refused to allow to be examined.

    • The Death Penalty in 2018: A Punishment on the Decline
      We have much to celebrate in 2018, and much work towards abolition in the years ahead. An annual survey conducted by the Death Penalty Information Center shows a significant decline in 2018 in the use of the death penalty nationwide. This is as it should be — the nation is turning away from the barbaric practice of killing its people as punishment.

      In 2018, 25 people were executed, marking the fourth year in a row the United States has had fewer than 30 executions. That’s down dramatically from the peak of 98 executions we saw in 1999. Death sentencing, too, has followed this downward trend. Just over 40 people were sentenced to death across the country — compared to the record of 315 people sent to death row in 1996.

      The most monumental stride forward transpired in Washington, when the state became the 20th to reject the death penalty outright. The Washington Supreme Court in October ruled that the state’s death penalty was tainted by racial bias and arbitrariness, and thus prohibited under the state constitution.

    • EFF Urges California to Place Meaningful Restrictions on the Use of Pretrial Risk Assessment Tools
      EFF has filed comments on two proposed rules in California regarding the use of pretrial risk assessment tools in courts, urging the Judicial Council to place meaningful restrictions on the use of pretrial risk assessment tools in the state. The California Judicial Council issued the draft rules in accordance with the state’s new bail reform law, S.B. 10, which replaces cash bail with algorithmic pretrial risk assessments. Under the law, each county in California must use some form of pretrial risk assessment to categorize every person arrested as a “low,” “medium,” or “high” risk of failing to appear for court, or committing another crime that poses a risk to public safety in the period before trial. The Judicial Council rules are supposed to guide how courts use pretrial risk assessment information and make detention decisions for individuals assessed as “medium” risk. But just like the statute itself, the Judicial Council’s proposed rules fail to place any meaningful limitations on the use of risk assessment information that would protect against due process violations and unintentional, unfair, biased, or discriminatory outcomes.

      We don’t think actuarial tools should ever be the deciding factor in a decision to detain an individual. For one, they boil a person down to just a few characteristics in order to predict risk and are unlikely to ever be able to capture all of the possible edge cases. Pretrial risk assessment tools can replicate the same sort of outcomes as existing systems that rely on human judgment—and even make new, unexpected errors.

      That’s why real limitations are needed. Below are some of the things EFF is calling for. Please see our full comments for a complete list.
    • Single Moms Get Sucked Into the Cruelest Debtors’ Prison We’ve Ever Seen
      Twanda Marshinda Brown is a single mom in South Carolina who was supporting her children by working at Burger King. In 2016, a court in Lexington County fined her around $2,300 for two traffic offenses. The judge ordered her to make monthly payments of $100, even though she explained she could only afford to pay $50 a month while taking care of her family.

      Brown managed to make five payments. But then her son was hospitalized and several paychecks from her employer bounced. Brown fell behind on payments, and sheriff’s deputies arrested her. Brown was told she had to pay more than $1,900 to avoid being booked in jail. She didn’t have the money.

    • Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Undergoes Surgery for Early-Stage Lung Cancer
      The Supreme Court's public information office announced in a statement that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Friday underwent surgery for early-stage lung cancer, which was discovered incidentally after she fractured three ribs in a fall last month.

      As NPR reported, doctors at Memorial Sloan Kettering hospital in New York removed one of the five lobes of Ginsburg's lung during the operation.

      "According to the thoracic surgeon, Valerie Rusch, both nodules removed during surgery were found to be malignant on initial pathology evaluation," the Supreme Court said in a press release. "Post-surgery, there was no evidence of any remaining disease. Scans performed before surgery indicated no evidence of disease elsewhere in the body. Currently, no further treatment is planned. Justice Ginsburg is resting comfortably and is expected to remain in the hospital for a few days."
    • Ruth Bader Ginsburg Undergoes Cancer Surgery
      Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had surgery Friday to remove two malignant growths in her left lung, the Supreme Court said.

      It is the 85-year-old Ginsburg’s third bout with cancer since joining the court in 1993.

  • Internet Policy/Net Neutrality

    • Broadband ISP CenturyLink Is Blocking Users' Internet Access Just To Show An Ad
      It's worth noting that users on Reddit indicate this wasn't isolated to just this user -- all Utah CenturyLink customers appear to be experiencing this unnecessary, heavy-handed nonsense. Of course this is the kind of ISP behavior net neutrality rules were designed specifically to prevent. And while a few days of press shame may drive Centurylink away from the policy if users are lucky, that's really no substitute for an attentive FCC that actually cares about keeping the internet free from idiotic monopoly ideas exactly like this one.

    • AT&T's 5G 'Arrives,' Quickly Shows Why 5G Won't Be A Panacea For Broadband Competition
      We've talked a lot about how while fifth-generation "5G" wireless will deliver faster and lower latency networks, its role as some kind of broadband panacea has been severely over-hyped. For one, it's going to take years before users actually see a healthy selection of actual 5G devices in the wild (Apple's 5G iPhone won't launch until 2020 or later). And despite carrier promises, deploying these upgrades to traditionally ignored rural and less affluent urban markets will take years.

      Even then, these same companies' monopoly over cell tower connectivity in many areas will only ensure prices remain high. That's all compounded by the looming Sprint, T-Mobile merger, which will reduce the number of overall competitors in wireless from four to three, something that never ends well for price competition should you actually bother to study telecom history (especially US telecom history).

      None of this has stopped wireless carriers, network gear makers, and stenographing news outlets from heralding 5G as an almost mystical panacea. A panacea that's going to single-handedly birth the smart cities and cars of tomorrow and result in us all (I'm told) working four day work weeks. Of course more quietly, even Wall Street has acknowledged that many of these promises are over-hyped as even initial 5G marketing tech demos under deliver on unrealistic industry promises. To be clear 5G is a good thing. But it's not fucking magic.

    • NY's Record $176 Million Settlement With Charter For Crap Broadband Highlights Cable's Growing Monopoly
      The State of New York has struck a landmark settlement with the nation’s second-biggest cable company after it repeatedly failed to deliver the broadband speeds it advertised, and tried to trick regulators into thinking it had.

      Interim New York State Attorney General Barbara Underwood’s office has announced that it has reached a $174.2 million consumer fraud settlement with Charter Communications (Spectrum). As part of that settlement, the cable giant will be required to dole out $62.5 Million in direct refunds to people who paid for speeds the cable giant couldn't actually deliver. Each impacted customer should net around $75 and $150 each, as well as $100 million in premium channel freebies spread among the 2.2 million customers impacted.

    • AT&T Lets Users Avoid Broadband Caps...If They Use AT&T's Own Streaming Service
      So we've long noted how broadband usage caps on fixed-line broadband connections are bullshit. While ISPs used to insist that such limits were necessary to manage "congestion," they've long since been forced to back off those justifications after analysis and their own internal documents showed this wasn't true. For giants like AT&T and Comcast, monthly broadband caps serve two purposes: one, they provide flimsy cover allowing ISPs to further raise rates on what are already some of the highest prices for broadband in the developed world. Two, they can be used anti-competitively to give themselves an unfair advantage.

      Case in point: ISPs will often exempt their own services from these limits while still penalizing competitors like Netflix, something the former Wheeler FCC was just starting to crack down on as an anti-competitive practice before Trump and Ajit Pai rose to power.

  • Intellectual Monopolies

    • The patent defendant's dilemma in Munich: damned if you do, damned if you don't give up your secrets
      The shocking part about last Thursday's Qualcomm v. Apple patent injunction in Munich is not that Qualcomm finally won a case after several trials at which the courts in Mannheim and Munich were rather unconvinced of a valid patent being infringed. Much to the contrary, an analyst asked me a week ago: "How come Qualcomm, with its more than 100,000 patents, hasn't just been able to assert a few strong hardware patents and end the dispute with Apple that way?" I told him that chipset patents, while harder to work around, appear to face many of the same quality issues as software patents.

      It was to be expected that Quinn Emanuel was going to win something at some point.

      The economic implications don't shock me either. All that Qualcomm has to show now, for its north of 100K patents, is an agnostic judgment (the court stressed even in a press release that there may not even be an infringement) affecting older iPhones, and analysts say Apple generates only about 3% of its sales in Germany (which in turn is a significant but far from a huge market for Apple) through its own online shop and the 15 official German Apple Stores.


      It happens again and again, also in connection with antitrust defenses (which are an affirmative defense in Germany only in connection with injunctive relief), that, whenever there is doubt, cases are resolved in favor of patent holders.

      We'll see what the appeals court ("Oberlandesgericht München" = "Munich Higher Regional Court") makes out of this. It would be disastrous if it affirmed the defendant's dilemma doctrine because it would create a whole new incentive for patent holders to sue competitors in Germany.

      Qualcomm's insistence that the chipset schematics be made available to its own engineers or not be considered by the court and the court-appointed expert witness was unreasonable and should have weighed strongly against the credibility of its infringement accusation, including its inherently-unreliable teardown report.

    • USPTO Delays PKI Certificate Termination Date
      Practitioners who have been putting off migrating their current PKI digital certificates to their accounts or sponsoring support staff received an early holiday gift from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Friday (in addition to the Office's designation of Christmas Eve as a "Federal holiday within the District of Columbia"), when the Office announced via a Patent Alert e-mail that it was delaying the date on which PKI certificates would be retired. USPTO Director Andrei Iancu had informed stakeholders in November that "[u]se of PKI certificates may no longer be available after December 31, 2018" (see "USPTO Director Issues Notice on New Authentication System for EFS-Web and Private PAIR"). In the Office's latest word on PKI certificate retirement, however, it has now indicated that "EFS-Web and Private PAIR users will no longer be able to authenticate using PKI certificates as of February 15."

    • Copyrights

      • Copyright Industry Lobbyists Can't Even Get Their Story Straight On Article 13: Does It Expand Copyright Or Keep It The Same?
        Last week, we pointed out that while you might hear copyright industry lobbyists and EU regulators repeatedly insisting that all of the concerns being raised about the EU Copyright Directive are being driven by "big tech" lobbying, the actual data shows that over 80% of the lobbying effort has come from legacy copyright industries, pushing really, really hard for a massive expansion in copyright law that will fundamentally change how the internet works (and not in a good way). It's become clear, watching these lobbyists in action, that they will say absolutely anything, no matter how ridiculous, if they think it will lead to getting their beloved Article 13, where the sole purpose is to fundamentally change the internet from a communications medium, in which anyone can share anything they create, to a fully broadcast medium, where everything must first be licensed. Obviously, the legacy copyright companies want this badly, because they're in the business of licensing. And, if everyone suddenly needs to get licenses, suddenly they become relevant again.

        But, as we mentioned last week, those same lobbyists are freaking out that EU regulators might possibly add a "safe harbor" to Article 13. Even with a safe harbor, Article 13 is a problem, but without a safe harbor it's a disaster. The "safe harbor" would just mean that if internet companies follow specific steps to rid their platforms of infringing works, then they can't get sued. But the copyright players badly want to be able to sue, because that's how they rid the internet of this amateur competition -- by making it too costly to continue to host.
      • Games Workshop Likes A Guy's Warhammer Fanfilms So Much It Hires Him To Do An Official One
        Being fully immersed in an era of copyright protectionism, it seems that we've become numb to the effects of it in many ways. One of those effects is how fans who create content around their favorite franchises are treated. The basic policy of the entertainment industry towards fan-films and similar creations appears to be that they can either bully those projects out of existence, sue them out of existence, or do one or the other even after confusingly giving tacit approval for such projects. Those are the options in full, as far as most entertainment companies are concerned, while the public looks at those actions and shrugs their collective shoulders. You'll even occasionally hear noises such as, "Well, what did these fans expect?" All this, keep in mind, for the crime of trying to express fandom, and free advertising for the franchise they love.

        Well, if you're Games Workshop, the company behind the Warhammer 40k franchise, you react to a dedicated fan who has created great fan-films by hiring him to do his thing professionally.
      • Want More Competition in Tech? Get Rid of Outdated Computer, Copyright, and Contract Rules
        There’s a lot of legitimate concern these days about Internet giants and the lack of competition in the technology sector. It’s still easy and cheap to put up a website, build an app, or organize a group of people online, but a few large corporations have outsized power over the key resources needed to do those things. That, in turn, gives those companies extraordinary power over speech, privacy, and innovation. Indeed, just this week we're learning that Facebook made exclusive data-sharing deals with a few companies, undermining both user privacy and competition in one fell swoop.

        Naturally enough, many have looked to antitrust law to provide the right tools to address this problem—and called for legal reform when they discovered that current antitrust approach may not offer those tools. That’s useful and important work.

        But antitrust isn’t the only area of law that has a role to play here. And it may not be the easiest one to reform. There at least three other legal doctrines that have an powerful but sometimes hidden effect on tech competition: the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), and the unthinking enforcement of so-called “End User License Agreements” that dictate how purchasers can use software.

        Any effort to spur competition needs to include reform of these legal tools. And reform of these tools may help in the short run as we consider longer term strategies like updating the rest of competition law. Let’s break it down.
      • Appeals Court Hands ReDigi Another Loss; Says Reselling Mp3s Violates Copyright Law
        Things were never going to turn out well for mp3 remarketer ReDigi. Its business model -- facilitating third party sales of digital files -- worked better as a rhetorical device. It attempted -- perhaps inadvertently -- to obtain an answer to the eternal question: do you own the stuff you buy? When it comes to digital goods, the answer is almost always "no." Platforms shut down. Rightsholders dissolve contracts. File formats lose support. And DRM is all over everything, frequently making pirated goods superior to those people pay for.

        ReDigi claimed it could harness this untapped market, somehow providing a sales platform for infinite goods that wouldn't allow sellers to sell the same goods infinitely. It claimed it could verify the destruction of the "original" files -- something that could be easily circumvented by storing additional copies where ReDigi couldn't "see" them.

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Where can Microsoft find income rather than losses as its debt continues to grow and layoffs accelerate?
Julian Assange is Still Being Dehumanised in Media Whose Owners Wikileaks Berated (With Underlying Facts or Leaks)
Wikileaks and Free software aren't the same thing. Nevertheless, the tactics used to infiltrate or discredit both ought to be understood.
A Month Later
We're optimistic on many fronts
Links 23/07/2024: Downsizing and Microsoft and Still Damage Control
Links for the day
Gemini Links 23/07/2024: Friends and Solitaire
Links for the day
Why the Media is Dying (It Sucks, No Mentally Healthy People Will Tolerate This for Long)
linking to actual news articles helps fuel the spam, too
Censorship in Eklektix's Linux Weekly News (LWN)
Medieval system of speech, where the monarchs (Linux Foundation) dictate what's permissible to say
10 Years of In-Depth EPO Coverage at Techrights (Many Others Have Abandoned the Topic)
Listen to staff
Over at Tux Machines...
GNU/Linux news for the past day
IRC Proceedings: Monday, July 22, 2024
IRC logs for Monday, July 22, 2024