Bonum Certa Men Certa

Links 23/12/2018: SuperTux 0.6.0, GCompris 0.95, GDB 8.2.1

GNOME bluefish



Free Software/Open Source

  • Estimate the cost of open source software in 5 practical areas
    The promise of freely available code, coupled with limitless opportunities to change and build a tool to fit specific needs, makes open source software a compelling force for enterprise IT shops.

    Open source products enable organizations to shed onerous licensing fees, as well as the sizable annual maintenance charges that come with enterprise-grade software. But the cost of open source software is not always cheap, and its tantalizing benefits often impose added expenses.

    Evaluate open source offerings against commercial products, including enterprise versions of open source technologies, to select a tool that both performs as expected and drops no surprises on the IT budget or operations team.

  • Softiron, a proprietary ARM hardware company, loves open source Ceph
    Interview Softiron is developing and building its proprietary ARM-powered HyperDrive storage hardware while strongly promoting Ceph open source storage software.

    It seems an unusual combination. Softiron also thinks Ceph will fulfil a Linux-like destiny inD open-source software-defined storage. This is bullish, to say the least.

    Curious about both things, I determined to find out more about Softiron and its Ceph-boosting activities.

    Here is my interview with Jason Van der Schyff, Softiron’s CTO. His answers are edited for brevity.

  • Merry Christmas from the Balkans
    I had dinner with four young women who have become outstanding leaders in the free software movement in the region, Albiona, Elena, Amire and Enkelena.

  • South Africa in Needs for Open Source Skills
    “However, if we consider that our unemployment rate is a combination of deficient demand for labor, due to the increasingly skills-intensive orientation of the South African economy, and substandard supply, programmes that focus on in-demand skills and provide on-the-job learning are critical. And given that technology is mainly driven by open source innovation and software-services provide a massive market opportunity, championing these become critical,” Bennett said.

  • A curl 2018 retrospective
    Another year reaches its calendar end and a new year awaits around the corner. In the curl project we’ve had another busy and event-full year. Here’s a look back at some of the fun we’ve done during 2018.

  • Eighty Percent ownCloud
    Recently the German computer magazin C’t posted an article about file sync solutions (“Unter eigener Regie”, C’t 23, 2018) with native sync clients. The article was pretty positive about the FOSS solution of… Nextcloud! I was wondering why they had not choosen ownCloud’s client as my feeling is that ownCloud is way more busy and innovative developing the desktop client for file synchronization together with community.

  • Release month, Burger Party 1.3.0!
    Another weekend, another release! This one is special. You may remember a few years ago I created a burger game for Android: Burger Party. At that time I had plans to generate some revenue through this game. After investigating the different revenue models, I sadly concluded I would have to include ads.

    That did not work out (surprise!): at its peak Burger Party reached a few thousand installations, which generated a meager $30 of revenue. I guess the reasons for this failure was that: 1. There were not enough ads to make it work: I decided against permanent banners so the game only displayed interstitials between levels, and no more than one ad every two minutes, 2. It did not reach enough installations, marketing is not my forte.


    Here it is: Burger Party, as of 1.3.0, is now ad-free and licensed under GPL-3.0 or later, with some parts under Apache 2.0! And it's back on Google Play!

  • Pseudo-Open Source (Openwashing)

  • BSD


    • GNU World Order 12x52
    • Molly de Blanc: User freedom (n.)
      I talk a lot about user freedom, but have never explained what that actually means. The more I think about user freedom as a term, the less certain I am about what it is. This makes it hard to define. My thoughts on user freedom are the synthesis of about ten years, first thinking about the Good behind developmental models enabled by open source through to today, where I think about the philosophical implications of traffic lights.

      I think I picked up the term from Christopher Lemmer Webber and it’s become integral to how I think and talk about free software and it’s value to society.

      User freedom is based in the idea that we have fundamental rights (I’ll use the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights as my metric*) and that these extend to the digital spaces we inhabit. In order to protect these in a world ruled by software, in order to see them in practice, we need the opportunity (and freedom) to use, examine, modify, and share this software. Software freedom is what happens when our software affords us these freedoms. Free and open source software is the software embodying the spirit of software freedom.

    • GDB 8.2.1 released!

    • GDB 8.2.1 Debugger Brings Support For RISC-V ELF
      GDB 8.2.1 was released today as the newest version of the GNU Debugger For C/C++ as well as Ada, Go, Rust, and other languages.

  • Licensing/Legal

    • Stormy weather: To stop cloud giants, some open-source software firms limit licenses
      A heated debate has erupted in the open-source software world that’s pitting startups against cloud computing giants.

      The furor concerns, of all things, new licensing terms, which software companies are adopting to thwart what they believe is unfair competition from cloud provider in general and Amazon Web Services Inc. in particular.

      It’s the latest development in the ongoing struggle by open-source developers to come up with sustainable business models built upon software that is essentially free. Open source has transformed the software industry, but only a few companies such as Red Hat Inc. — itself likely to be acquired by IBM Corp. in a recently announced deal — are consistently profitable.

    • Parity Introduces Substrate, a Blockchain Building Tool Suite
      The beta version of Substrate is authorized under the GNU General Public License, but the safe storage of the system will be transferred to an Apache 2.0 license to provide utmost developer independence. Parity will also offer professional help to organizations in view of the development of apps with a substratum.

    • Asus to release encrypted kernel sources for their ZenFone Max Pro M1, Max Pro M2 and Max M2
      The Asus ZenFone Max Pro M1 has been one of the more interesting smartphones from the company, especially in the budget segment in the past few years. The phone ticked a lot of boxes in terms of offering probably the best performance in its segment at that time along with a cleaner look with the stock Android. The Asus ZenFone Max Pro M2 follows the path set down by their predecessor and goes on to compete against the Xiaomi Redmi Note 6 Pro overcoming its predecessor’s shortcomings.

  • Openness/Sharing/Collaboration

    • Open Access/Content

      • Max Planck Society Ends Elsevier Subscription

        This move by MPS follows the cancelation of Elsevier subscriptions by nearly 200 German universities and research institutions in the last two years, alongside similar cancellations in Sweden. And it’s in line with Plan S, a requirement by a coalition of research funders, now numbering 13 in Europe and in the US, requiring that starting in 2020, researchers receiving funds from the organizations make their publications open-access, as The Scientist reports. After losing access to journals this July, universities in Germany in Sweden have relied on other means for accessing articles, such as inter-library loan and emailing study authors directly.

    • Open Hardware/Modding

      • What Does the Open Sourcing of MIPS Mean for RISC-V and the Rest of Us?

        The acquisition of the MIPS intellectual property [sic] seems to be part of Wave Computing’s pivot away from the data center, and towards edge computing. Which, of course, is another of the bigger trends we’ve seen during the year. It was also a role reversal of the typical trend we’ve seen over the last few years, with processor manufacturers like Intel buying up machine learning startups.

      • Porting Alpine Linux to RISC-V

        There are two phases to porting an operating system to a new architecture: bootstrapping and, uh, porting. For lack of a better term. As part of bootstrapping, you need to obtain a cross-compiler, port libc, and cross-compile the basics. Bootstrapping ends once the system is self-hosting: able to compile itself. The “porting” process involves compiling all of the packages available for your operating system, which can take a long time and is generally automated.

  • Programming/Development

    • GNU Parallel 20181222 ('Jacob Sparre') released
      GNU Parallel 20181222 ('Jacob Sparre') has been released.

    • Weekly Python StackOverflow Report: (clvii) stackoverflow python report

    • Dynamic function creation at run time with Python's eval built-in

    • Create a thumbnail with pillow

    • My small vim and tmux flow cheatsheet

      I know that there are way too many vim and tmux cheatsheets out there. I want to share mine with a little timeline touch. It tries to capture frequent keys during my whole dev session. Any recommendation is welcome.

    • The Most Important Tip for Beginner Software Engineers Is…

      Work the solution out on paper in steps, then start writing the code for it. Don’t get tangled in the code and software design.

    • Ode to Erlang

      I wrote this blog post for myself. Myself from 10 years ago, to be precise. This is a post I wish I could send back in time and show to myself. I’m sure it would change my direction and career. If you have heard about Erlang but are not sure if it is worth giving it a try…or you just love Erlang and would like to hear my praise for it, please read on. I really hope this will be pleasant and fun read as it was for me writing it.

      I have been professional software developer for a long time now. Double this time for developing for fun, hobby and well… just myself. In a recent years I have questioned myself and have realized that pretty much all of the languages that I used or currently use are imperative ones. That question led to another - why is that so?

    • Debug and run the python code online
      Hello and welcome to another python article, we are going to get some rest for a few days before starting a few examples again for another new python module. In these few days time, we will look at a few useful online programming websites that we can join to improve our python skill. In this article, we will visit OnlineGDB, an online python IDE which allows us to create a python project, saves our work and then embeds our programming code on our own website. Below is a new python generator demo project which I have created on the above-mentioned website, as you can see I have embedded the project on this article with the share feature of OnlineGDB! Click on the run button below this entire python script to see the outcome.


  • Fortnite was 2018’s most important social network

    The game’s real achievement is subtler, though. Epic Games managed to produce a hit, sure, but the genius of it is how it’s rewritten the idea of what hanging out online can be. Fortnite is a game, but it’s also a global living room for millions of people, and a kind of codex for where culture has gone this year — it’s a cultural omnibus that’s absorbed everything from Blocboy JB’s shoot dance to John Wick. It got Ted Danson to learn how to floss. This thing is here to stay, as a new kind of social network.

  • The Problem With Athleisure Overflow

    “Our clothes are falling apart in the wash, and those little bits are going down the drain, into the ocean,” says Rachael Miller, founder of the Rozalia Project, an ocean conservation group, and creator of the Cora Ball, a microfiber-capturing laundry ball.

  • Changes in 2018 (Part III) Social Networking... Not-working
    When I first heard of the shutting down, I explored other possibilities. I tried MeWe and Pluspora. As the former was simply way too Facebooky, I joined the latter, which has a geeky feel to it and where I found some of the people that I follow online.

    And true, Pluspora is not G+. Not for a mile. Yet, it has nice points, as micko explains in full detail here.

    I do not know if I am staying. Maybe I quit those sites for good and keep blogging. That is, unless Google also decides to get rid of Blogger...

  • Science

    • Only Idiots Start Their Day at 4 a.m. by Choice
      But you know who doesn't get up at 4 a.m.? Linus Torvalds, who (in addition to being a nite owl) created Linux, the operating system that runs most of the servers on the Internet and also has the same core (Unix) as MacOS.

  • Health/Nutrition

    • FDA casts shadow on hemp win, calling CBD products illegal

      In a statement following Thursday’s bill signing in Washington, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb restated his agency’s stance that CBD is a drug ingredient and therefore illegal to add to food or health products without approval from his agency.

    • The VA’s Private Care Program Gave Companies Billions and Vets Longer Waits
      For years, conservatives have assailed the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs as a dysfunctional bureaucracy. They said private enterprise would mean better, easier-to-access health care for veterans. President Donald Trump embraced that position, enthusiastically moving to expand the private sector’s role.

      Here’s what has actually happened in the four years since the government began sending more veterans to private care: longer waits for appointments and, a new analysis of VA claims data by ProPublica and PolitiFact shows, higher costs for taxpayers.

      Since 2014, 1.9 million former service members have received private medical care through a program called Veterans Choice. It was supposed to give veterans a way around long wait times in the VA. But their average waits using the Choice Program were still longer than allowed by law, according to examinations by the VA inspector general and the Government Accountability Office. The watchdogs also found widespread blunders, such as booking a veteran in Idaho with a doctor in New York and telling a Florida veteran to see a specialist in California. Once, the VA referred a veteran to the Choice Program to see a urologist, but instead he got an appointment with a neurologist.
    • How We Crunched the Numbers on the VA’s Private Care Program
      Since 2014, Congress has pumped $19.4 billion into the Veterans Choice Program to buy private medical care for veterans. We wanted to know how the money was spent.

      As of Sept. 30, 2018, the program’s expenditures totaled about $12.6 billion, according to a running tally provided to Congress every two weeks. An additional $2.4 billion has been committed but not yet spent, and there was $4.3 billion left over, according to the most recent report. (We’ve posted a simplified version of this report here. You can also read our story about the VA’s private care program.)

      The VA dipped into the Choice program’s funds for $2.3 billion that it needed for other purposes in 2015. So let’s put that aside and focus on the $10.3 billion that’s actually been spent on the Veterans Choice Program.

      The VA spent $311 million to set up the program, according to the biweekly report. That includes about $303.6 million paid to Health Net and TriWest, the two private companies hired to administer the program, according to contracting records.

    • The Truth About Nursing Homes
      Let me say at the outset that I do not regard myself as any kind of “expert” on the subject of nursing homes. I’ve done only scant tangential research, and other than what you’re about to read here, have never published anything on the subject. But that said, I like to think I have gleaned some practical knowledge.

      Some years ago, I was a resident—a highly motivated, cogent, resourceful, and curious resident—for 79 days at a sprawling 200-bed facility in Southern California. After undergoing double knee surgery (don’t ask), and being confined full-time first to a bed, and then to a wheel chair, I had nothing better to do with my time than explore the place, spy on everyone, and enter my observations in a journal.

      Two things aided in that enterprise. (1) Because so many residents were either elderly or severely disabled, the nurses and administrative staff had trained themselves to speak loudly, which allowed me to voyeuristically overhear more than my share of private conversations. And (2) because so many residents were unable or unwilling to converse, I stood out as the shining example of a “motor mouth.” Aristotle was correct. Man is a social animal. Accordingly, everyone was eager to talk to me

    • Someone set fire to a hospital outside Moscow, hours after Navalny published an investigative report about corruption at the clinic
      In the town of Yegoryevsk, outside Moscow, someone set fire to the front door of the Central District Hospital, hours after Alexey Navalny’s live YouTube channel aired an investigative report about the facility.

      According to surveillance camera footage that has appeared online, a hooded individual placed two large bags at the foot of the hospital’s door and then set them ablaze, before running away. No one was injured in the incident, and police have charged the perpetrator with willful property damage.

    • Should Plant-Based Proteins Be Called “Meat”?
      Fried chicken, bacon cheeseburgers and pepperoni pizza aren’t uncommon to see on vegan menus — or even the meat-free freezer section of your local supermarket — but should we be calling these mock meat dishes the same names? A new Missouri law doesn’t think so. The state’s law, which forbids “misrepresenting a product as meat that is not derived from harvested production livestock or poultry,” has led to a contentious ethical, legal and linguistic debate. Four organizations — Tofurky, The Good Food Institute, the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri and the Animal Legal Defense Fund — are now suing the state on the basis that not only is the law against the United States Constitution, but it favors meat producers for unfair market competition.

      While some newly formulated meat-free products, like the plant-based Beyond Burger or its rival the Impossible Burger (the veggie burger that “bleeds”), may be deceptively meat-like, it’s hard to understand how consumers could actually be duped into thinking non-meat products are legitimately meat.

    • 'Not the Kind of Moral Leadership We Need': Critics Pounce After Schumer Refuses to Back Medicare for All
      Pressed by MSNBC's Chuck Todd on whether he thinks it's time for Democrats to unify around Medicare for All—which has the backing of 84 percent of Democratic voters—Schumer dodged, saying, "Look, Democrats are for universal access to healthcare, from one end of the party to the other."

      "We want more people covered, everyone covered; we want better healthcare at a lower cost. People have different views as to how to get there. Many are for Medicare for All, some are for Medicare buy-in, some are Medicare over 55, some are Medicaid buy-in, some are public option," Schumer added. "I'm going to support a plan that can pass, and that can provide the best, cheapest healthcare for all Americans."

    • Big Pharma Fights Proposal to Keep It From Looting Medicare
      The Trump administration has proposed that insurance plans providing drug coverage to Medicare beneficiaries will no longer be forced to cover six hitherto “protected” drug classes. The classes––which include drugs for psychiatric conditions, cancer and immune diseases––are among the priciest of all drugs and account for as much as 33 percent of total outpatient drug spending under Part D of Medicare.

      Under the proposal, Medicare plans could “exclude from their formularies protected class drugs with price increases that are greater than inflation, as well as certain new drug formulations that are not a significant innovation over the original product,” says Seema Verma, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

      In 2014, the Obama administration sought the same “price relief” for Medicare but was defeated by drug industry lobbyists. At the time, 100 pills of the “protected” psychiatric drug Abilify cost $1,644, 100 pills of the “protected” psych drug Geodon cost $958, 100 pills of the “protected” psychiatric drug Invega cost $1,789 and 100 pills of the “protected” psych drug Seroquel cost $2,000. Since then, even pricier psychiatric drugs have emerged as well as 6-digit cancer drugs.

      The Obama proposal was roundly defeated by drug industry funded groups like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). NAMI received $23 million in just two years from drug makers and is heavily financed by them.

  • Security

    • Feds Charge Three in Mass Seizure of Attack-for-hire Services

      Authorities in the United States this week brought criminal hacking charges against three men as part of an unprecedented, international takedown targeting 15 different “booter” or “stresser” sites — attack-for-hire services that helped paying customers launch tens of thousands of digital sieges capable of knocking Web sites and entire network providers offline.

    • How 3ve’s BGP hijackers eluded the Internet—and made $29M

      Late last month came word of a new scheme. In one of the most sophisticated uses of BGP hijacking yet, criminals used the technique to generate $29 million in fraudulent ad revenue, in part by taking control of IP addresses belonging to the US Air Force and other reputable organizations.

      In all, "3ve," as researchers dubbed the ad fraud gang, used BGP attacks to hijack more than 1.5 million IP addresses over a 12-month span beginning in April 2017. The hijacking was notable for the precision and sophistication of the attackers, who clearly had experience with BGP—and a huge amount of patience.

    • Logitech disables local access on Harmony Hubs, breaks automation systems [Update]

      Update, Dec 21, 2:47pm: In response to customers' frustration, Logitech issued another statement today with instructions on how to enable private local API controls. The company created a new XMPP beta program that will give users access to the local controls that were removed in the most recent Harmony Hub firmware update. Logitech plans to release an official firmware update with XMPP controls in January.

    • Russian hacker who once tormented state officials says he's starting his own cybersecurity consultancy
      Vladimir Anikeev, the former leader of the hacktivist group “Anonymous International” (better known in Russia as “Shaltai Boltai” or “Humpty Dumpty”), has announced that he will form his own cybersecurity consultancy. He told the magazine RBC that he’s even considering keeping the “Shaltai Boltai / Anonymous International” brand name.

      Anikeev went free from prison in August 2018 after serving two years for the felony crime of unauthorized data access. He spent less than two years behind bars thanks to Russia's new incarceration rules that weigh days spent in pretrial detention as 1.5 days in a standard prison.

    • Create a Backdoor with Cryptcat

  • Defence/Aggression

    • Nearly one year after Hawaii missile fiasco, emergency reforms are still on the table

      When a false missile alert was sent to residents in Hawaii in January, it caused a massive panic. In the immediate aftermath, the message — which warned of an incoming missile attack — drove a news cycle, led to serious criticism of state officials, and raised questions about safeguards in place to prevent similar mishaps in the future. As the one-year anniversary of the alert approaches, there have been some reforms to the system, but others are still only being handled now.

    • The Case that Dare Not Speak Its Name: the Conviction of Cardinal Pell
      It had been shrouded in secrecy akin to the deepest conspiracy, but the trial of Cardinal George Pell, while not letting much in the way of publicity in Australia, was always going to interest beyond the walls of the Victorian County Court. This was the legal system of a country, and more accurately a state of that country, glancing into the workings of the world’s first global corporation and its unsavoury practices. The Catholic Church, in other words, had been subjected to a stringent analysis, notably regarding the past behaviour of one of its anointed sons.

      Cardinal Pell, a high-ranking official of the Catholic Church and financial grand wizard of the Vatican, was found guilty on December 11 of historical child sexual abuses pertaining to two choir boys from the 1990s. But details remain sketchy. We know, for instance, that the number of charges was five, and that the trial has been designated “the cathedral trial”. We also know that a first trial failed to reach a verdict.

      Scrutiny from the Australian press gallery and those who had been victims of sexual abuse at the hands of priests over the years, was limited for reasons peculiar to this country’s ambivalence to open discourse. They were told that would be so.

    • 'Wanting to Kiss and Hold Her Son One Last Time,' Public Pressure Wins Yemeni Mother Waiver to Trump's Cruel Muslim Ban
      The toddler, Abdullah Hassan, was born in Yemen, nearly two years after that country's civil war began. Abdullah was born with hypomyelination, a rare brain disease, and was brought to Stockton, California by his father Ali Hassan, a U.S. citizen, five months ago to receive treatment. His mother, Shaima Swileh, was forced to remain in Egypt awaiting approval of her visa.

      "My wife is calling me every day, wanting to kiss and hold her son for one last time," the 22-year-old Hassan said as he broke down in tears during a recent interview on CNN. "Time is running out. Please help us get my family together again."

      Hassan pleaded with the U.S. State Department on Monday to expedite his wife's application for a waiver so she could say goodbye to their dying son. After Hassan appeared on CNN, their story garnered national attention and, under pressure, the State Department responded by issuing a waiver Tuesday morning for Swileh to temporarily travel to the United States, according to officials with the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
    • From Arizona to Yemen: How Bombs Built by Raytheon in Tucson Killed 31 Civilians in Yemeni Village
      In a historic vote, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution on Thursday calling for an end to U.S. military and financial support for the Saudi-led war on Yemen. This represents the first time in U.S. history the Senate has voted to withdraw military forces from an unauthorized war using the War Powers Resolution. The Saudi-led war in Yemen has created what the U.N. calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with 14 million of Yemen’s 28 million people on the brink of famine. A remarkable piece in this week’s New York Times Magazine traces how bombs built by Raytheon in Tucson, Arizona, made its way into the Saudi arsenal and then were dropped on Yemeni villages. The article centers on what happened in the remote village of Arhab when U.S.-backed Saudi warplanes carried out a series of bombings on September 10, 2016. According to Human Rights Watch, at least 31 civilians were killed, three of them children; 42 people were injured. We speak to journalist Jeffrey Stern.

    • Yemen Remains on the Verge of a Large-Scale Famine
      On December 14, Martin Griffiths—the UN Special Envoy for Yemen—briefed the UN Security Council about the talks that had just concluded in Sweden the previous day. Griffiths, sitting before a large UN logo from Jordan, spoke by video to a Council that had not been able to move an effective agenda to end the brutal war on this impoverished country.

      Griffiths, who worked on each failed UN effort on Syria over the past decade, had been appointed to this post only in February, just after Mauritania’s Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed opted out of the impossible job that he had held from April 2015 to February 2018. No amount of talk had been able to bring the parties together. No amount of dialogue had convinced Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to stop the harsh bombardment of the country. And, no amount of pressure had moved the United States and the United Kingdom to stop providing logistical and military assistance to the Saudis and the Emiratis.

      There was no real agreement in Sweden. Inside Yemen, there is bewilderment about what is going on. Haykal Bafana, a lawyer who lives in Sanaa—Yemen’s capital—told me, “It remains unclear to me what the actual terms of the ceasefire agreement are, or even whether an agreement was mutually agreed.” Griffiths told the Security Council much the same, but with language that indicated hope. The agreement does not end the fighting, he said. It is a “humanitarian stopgap to save lives and turn the tide of war towards peace.” One piece of evidence for the “humanitarian stopgap” is that all sides agree to allow humanitarian aid through Yemen’s lifeline—the Hudaydah port. “The ghastly prospect of famine,” Griffiths said, “has made solving Hudaydah urgent and necessary.”

    • Yemen Remains on the Precipice of a Large-Scale Famine
      On December 14, Martin Griffiths—the UN Special Envoy for Yemen—briefed the UN Security Council about the talks that had just concluded in Sweden the previous day. Griffiths, sitting before a large UN logo from Jordan, spoke by video to a Council that had not been able to move an effective agenda to end the brutal war on this impoverished country.

      Griffiths, who worked on each failed UN effort on Syria over the past decade, had been appointed to this post only in February, just after Mauritania’s Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed opted out of the impossible job that he had held from April 2015 to February 2018. No amount of talk had been able to bring the parties together. No amount of dialogue had convinced Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to stop the harsh bombardment of the country. And, no amount of pressure had moved the United States and the United Kingdom to stop providing logistical and military assistance to the Saudis and the Emiratis.

      There was no real agreement in Sweden. Inside Yemen, there is bewilderment about what is going on. Haykal Bafana, a lawyer who lives in Sanaa—Yemen’s capital—told me, “It remains unclear to me what the actual terms of the ceasefire agreement are, or even whether an agreement was mutually agreed.” Griffiths told the Security Council much the same, but with language that indicated hope. The agreement does not end the fighting, he said. It is a “humanitarian stopgap to save lives and turn the tide of war towards peace.” One piece of evidence for the “humanitarian stopgap” is that all sides agree to allow humanitarian aid through Yemen’s lifeline—the Hudaydah port. “The ghastly prospect of famine,” Griffiths said, “has made solving Hudaydah urgent and necessary.”

    • America’s Mixed Messages
      For a century, the U.S. Navy has used hospital ships to bring medical aid to those in need around the globe. In recent years, there have been two such vessels: the USNS Mercy and the USNS Comfort. The last two are still in operation as floating hospitals,

    • Have the Russian Military Aircrafts in Venezuela Breached the Door to “America’s Backyard”?
      At an international media conference last December 12 in Caracas Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro referred emphatically to knowledge, that his government had acquired through its intelligence services, of preparations to destabilize Venezuela.

      That in itself is major news but it is noticeable that his denunciation only two days after the well-publicized landing of Russian military aircrafts at Venezuela’s international Simon Bolivar airport of Maiquetía as part of Russia-Venezuela joint military exercises and training. This is not the first occurrence of military cooperation between Russia and Venezuela but this seems to be the first time such news has had enough impact on Washington to prompt a strong and undiplomatic reaction from the U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo who referred to the two countries as “two corrupt governments squandering public fund” in a tweet.

      Is Russia putting a major gaping hole into “America’s backyard” with the help of Venezuela? It appears to be so, and certainly Venezuela is quite a wide door in geopolitical terms capable of countering the political reversals of some countries in the region surrendering to neoliberal ideology.

      Russia’s display of support for Venezuela is not totally surprising for two reasons. First, the U.S. government has had a very aggressive policy against Russia by pushing the NATO military coalition to the doorsteps of Russia’s front yard despite the “iron clad guarantee” given by the U.S. administration in February 1990 to the then Soviet president Gorbachev that “NATO will not expand one inch.” The aggression continues today with the possibility of including Ukraine and Belarus in the NATO military alliance. Moscow indicates that it has the willingness and the capability to match Washington’s military threat in its own turf.

      Second, in addition to military threats to both countries, the Trump administration has slapped sanctions against Russia and Venezuela, which also brings them closer as victims of economic warfare. The military threats against Venezuela are much more menacing therefore a balancing assistance from a more powerful friend is welcome.

    • DeVos' Solution to Mass School Shootings? Scrap the Rules Designed to End Discrimination Against Students of Color
      The highly anticipated Final Report (pdf) from the Federal Commission on School Safety, led by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, was released Tuesday—and includes a long-rumored recommendation that is alarming civil rights advocates: to rescind Obama-era policies crafted to end racial disparities in school disciplinary practices.

      Formed after 17 people were gunned down at a Florida high school in February, the commission "took a horrendous year of school shooting tragedies and produced a report with a smorgasbord of recommendations—some of which we have championed for years—aimed at making our schools safer," said American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten. "Unfortunately, the report doesn't address the root causes of the gun violence epidemic: too many guns in our communities and not enough investment in addressing the social-emotional health of our kids."

      "But most curious and disappointing is the report's use of the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School to push an anti-civil rights agenda that won't keep schools safe," she added. Noting that the Obama-era measures "intended to help prevent the disproportionate suspension and expulsion of students of color, students with disabilities, and LGBTQ youth," she also pointed out that the Stoneman Douglas shooter "had in fact been expelled and reported to law enforcement; rescinding discipline guidance and kicking kids out of school doesn't prevent school shootings."

    • “Alexa, Launch Our Nukes!”
      There could be no more consequential decision than launching atomic weapons and possibly triggering a nuclear holocaust. President John F. Kennedy faced just such a moment during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 and, after envisioning the catastrophic outcome of a U.S.-Soviet nuclear exchange, he came to the conclusion that the atomic powers should impose tough barriers on the precipitous use of such weaponry. Among the measures he and other global leaders adopted were guidelines requiring that senior officials, not just military personnel, have a role in any nuclear-launch decision.

      That was then, of course, and this is now. And what a now it is! With artificial intelligence, or AI, soon to play an ever-increasing role in military affairs, as in virtually everything else in our lives, the role of humans, even in nuclear decision-making, is likely to be progressively diminished. In fact, in some future AI-saturated world, it could disappear entirely, leaving machines to determine humanity’s fate.

    • WaPo: Trump Needs to Destroy Venezuela to Save It
      Tamara Taraciuk Broner of Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Johns Hopkins professor Kathleen Page took to the pages of the Washington Post (11/26/18) to whitewash Donald Trump’s successful efforts to make Venezuela’s economic crisis much worse. Appropriately enough, at the end of the piece, the Post recommended four other articles (11/23/18, 9/11/18, 6/20/18, 8/21/18) that either attacked Venezuela’s government or stayed conspicuously silent about the impact of US economic sanctions.

      Propaganda works primarily through repetition. The vilification of Venezuela’s government in the Western media has been relentless for the past 17 years, as Alan MacLeod pointed out in his book Bad News From Venezuela.

      NGOs like HRW play an important role in framing the Western imperial agenda from a supposedly “independent” and “humanitarian” perspective, as dramatically illustrated after the death of Sen. John McCain (, 8/31/18) when several HRW officials joined the US media in sanctifying an overtly racist warmonger. In contrast, a few hours after Hugo Chavez’s death in 2013, HRW rushed out a statement vilifying Chavez’s years in office, displaying total indifference to his achievements in reducing poverty and improving health outcomes, despite the violent, scorched-earth tactics of his US-backed opponents to prevent this from happening. No such statement was rushed out by HRW to attack George H.W. Bush—the recently departed butcher of Panama and initiator of the decades-long mass slaughter in Iraq, to mention only a few of his crimes.

    • The Pentagon Failed Its Audit Amid a $21 Trillion Scandal (Yes, Trillion)
      New York Congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was ruthlessly attacked recently, and I feel a bit responsible. I might have accidentally tainted her Twitter feed with truth serum.

      But that sounds weird—so let me back up.

      A few months ago, I covered the story of the $21 trillion that has gone unaccounted for at the Pentagon. That’s right—trillion with a T—an amount of money you can’t possibly come to terms with, so stop trying. Seriously, stop. It’s like trying to comprehend the age of the earth.

      (The earth is 4.5 billion years old. To put that into context, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says we have 11 years left to completely change our ways or climate change will make the earth uninhabitable. If you were to take the age of the earth and lay it out on the span of a calendar year, this means we would have less than a millisecond left on Dec. 31 to utterly change our ways or all is lost.)

      Anyway, the $21 trillion includes $6.5 trillion unaccounted for at the Pentagon in 2015 ALONE. When I covered all this a few months ago, very few people were talking about it. David Degraw investigated it for his website (which has since been destroyed by hackers), and Mark Skidmore, the economist who discovered the unaccounted adjustments, co-authored a single Forbes article on the subject. And by “discovered,” I don’t mean that Skidmore found a dusty shoebox in Donald Rumsfeld’s desk underneath the standard pile of baby skeletons. I mean that he took a minute to look at the Defense Department’s own inspector general’s report. So really he just bothered to look at the thing that was designed for the public to look at.

    • Tribals, Missionaries and Hindutva
      Although there is no evidence to suggest that John Allen Chau, an American adventure enthusiast and Jesus lover, had achieved any success in converting people to his faith or threatened them into doing so, he is being portrayed as a missionary who deserved to die.

      He was reportedly murdered on November 17 by the North Sentinel tribesmen when he approached them for a third time in as many days. The island forms part of the archipelago of 29 islands in the Andaman and Nicobar. It is among the most vulnerable and protected.

      His body has not been found, but public debate in India has demonised him as a Christian missionary looking for a kill. This works well for the rightwing. The sudden interest in the preservation of tribal culture is a strategy that justifies their call for a return to Hindu cultural purity as a matter of national urgency.

    • Russophobia and the Specter of War
      Could global warming pose the greatest threat to the future of life on the planet? Quite possibly, if we believe the international (and scientific) consensus, despite a widening stratum of debunkers, deniers, and skeptics. What about the prospects of thermonuclear war between the United States and Russia, two countries armed to the max and seemingly moving toward the brink of military conflict? Where does that rate? If the question is asked of most any Beltway denizen, the response might be something along lines of “sounds frightening, but right now we have other priorities, and we can’t lose sight of the Russian threat”.

      As American political life continues to deteriorate, matters of war and peace rarely merit attention amidst the sound and fury of manufactured news, moral posturing, personal scandals, and tweeting exchanges. Good for TV ratings and maybe partisan advantage, decidedly less so for addressing issues of political relevance. Now we have two years of frenzied Russiagate and its attendant neo-McCarthyism. That the intensifying hostility directed by one nuclear power toward another might bring the world closer to a war that could end all wars seems bizarrely remote to a political class obsessed with little beyond its own power and wealth, faintly camouflaged by identity politics; the “unthinkable” remains, well, unthinkable.

  • Transparency/Investigative Reporting

    • UN experts urge UK to honour rights obligations over Julian Assange
      United Nations human rights experts have repeated a demand that the UK abides by its international obligations and allows WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to walk free from the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

      He has been living inside the embassy for more than six years, fearing he will be extradited to the United States if he leaves.

      The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD), which concluded three years ago that Mr Assange was being arbitrarily deprived of his freedom and should be released, urged the UK Government to “honour its obligations”.

      In a statement from Geneva, the group said: “States that are based upon and promote the rule of law do not like to be confronted with their own violations of the law, that is understandable.

      “But when they honestly admit these violations, they do honour the very spirit of the rule of law, earn enhanced respect for doing so, and set worldwide commendable examples.

    • Twitter Suddenly Locks @WikiLeaks And Multiple WikiLeaks Staff Accounts
      WikiLeaks staff are unable to access or post from the organization’s primary Twitter account or other accounts used by its staff and legal team, according to WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson.

    • Monster Energy Fails Its Attempt To Claim That Its Beverages Are Indistinguishable From Industrial Paint
      One of the things that's always coaxed a wry laugh from me is when there is some trademark dispute between two entities that results in a claim that customers will be confused between two products which, if that were true, would make the plaintiff's product sound really gross. Examples include that time Benihana suggested the public might eat a rap artist thinking it was their food, or when Makers Mark thought that people might somehow mistake its whiskey for tequila, which doesn't say much for its whiskey. Perhaps Monster Energy saw these and other past examples of this and was all, "Hold my beer.", because it filed a trademark opposition against Monster Dip, which makes industrial paint and coatings.

    • UN group repeats plea for U.K. govt. to allow Assange to leave embassy without arrest
      United Nations experts asked British authorities on Friday to abandon their pursuit of WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange and allow him to safely leave the Ecuadorian Embassy in London without being arrested and extradited to the United States. The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention repeated the request in a statement issued from Geneza, Switzerland, more than three years after the same panel determined that the ongoing impasse surrounding Mr. Assange has deprived him of his liberty in violation of international law. “It is time that Mr. Assange, who has already paid a high price for peacefully exercising his rights to freedom of opinion, expression and information, and to promote the right to truth in the public interest, recovers his freedom,” the working group reiterated.

    • WikiLeaks: US Acquires Forensic Phone Data Kits Through Consulate in Germany
      Earlier WikiLeaks published the "US Embassy Shopping List" database, where it revealed more than 16,000 procurement requests by US embassies around the globe.

      Due to the documents published by WikiLeaks it has become known that among the order requests made by the US diplomatic facilities there is such a device as a Cell Phone Analyzer with specifications that allow its owner to extract and decode all the data from Android, iOS and Windows mobile OS platforms, while "bypassing pattern lock/ password/ PIN". The device was ordered to be delivered to a US diplomatic facility in Yerevan, Armenia.

    • The Laquan McDonald Shooting Keeps Exposing Critical Flaws in Illinois’ Freedom of Information Act
      From the day Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke shot and killed Laquan McDonald in 2014, city officials have worked to keep records from the shooting secret.

      Yet when journalists and other citizens sought help from the office of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan — which is responsible for interpreting and enforcing the state’s Freedom of Information Act — the agency did little to ensure the materials were released to the public.

      Over the last four years, reporters and citizen activists have filed at least 10 appeals with the attorney general’s office after Chicago officials blocked their requests for video, police reports, emails and other materials tied to the shooting, according to documents maintained by the office.


      By then, other journalists were trying to get copies of the dashcam video, especially after city officials discussed it before the City Council signed off on a $5 million settlement with McDonald’s family.

      In May 2015, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal requested the video and reports from the shooting. Police officials waited six days to respond even though the denial letter was almost identical to those sent to MSNBC and others seeking the records.

  • Environment/Energy/Wildlife/Nature

    • Despite US, Russian & Saudi Opposition, Climate Summit Reaffirms Paris Goals
      The Climate Summit at Kotwice, Poland, ended on a positive note, with the 195 countries present committing themselves to financing instruments in a quest to cut carbon dioxide emissions and keep global heating to 1.5 degrees C. (2.7 degrees F.). Given that so many countries are producing so much CO2, that goal may not be practical. The next best thing would be to stop heating at 2 degrees C. (3.6 degrees F.)

      Apparently one of the positive achievements of the summit was agreements on contributions by rich countries like Germany to funds that will help soften the blow to poorer countries of the global south in having to get off cheap coal and invest in solar and wind infrastructure. (They’ll save money over the long run by doing this, but may not have the up front investment money lying around).

      The agreements reached are wholly inadequate and do not reflect the urgency of the climate crisis we are in. But they might have a positive psychological effect, in keeping the Paris goals alive and encouraging governments to encourage companies and consumers to take action.

    • Making Trump and Other Climate Criminals Pay
      Warnings from climate scientists and climate monitoring organizations are growing progressively more dire, frightening and depressing. There is new evidence that the melt rate of Greenland’s mile-thick ice cover is starting to happen at a “runaway” pace — one that could end up raising sea levels by some 23 feet. New evidence too that Western Antarctica, with enough ice to raise sea levels by 65 feet or more is starting to melt, joining Eastern Antarctica which has already been melting rapidly. There are also increasing fear among scientists that massive deposits of methane clathrates, a kind of ice composed of methane and water ice, lying just beneath the bottom of the shallow Arctic Ocean off the coast of Siberia and North America, are starting to boil up through the warming sea bottom, threatening to burst in a series of gigantic methane “burps” into the atmosphere, which would add immeasurably to greenhouse gasses (methane is anywhere from 26 – 80 times as potent a greenhouse gas as is CO2).

      Meanwhile, as this crisis grows, we in the US, the second largest contributor of CO2 in the world, are confronted with the criminal negligence and deliberate climate action sabotage of the Trump administration and the Republican majority in Congress (aided by a few key Democrats), who still insist that global heating is a fraud and a conspiracy.

      I think it is time that we as a people, we as human beings watching this insane effort to hasten our and much of the whole global biosphere’s extinction, begin contemplating the kind of punishment that would be appropriate to mete out to the criminal class in Washington, DC, beginning at the top with the execrable Donald Trump, whose own flatulence, courtesy of a diet of deep-fried fast food is probably a significant contributor to global atmospheric methane (and would deem him a threat to homeland security if he ever allowed smokers into the enclosed space of the Oval Office with him).

      A new report by the Union of Concerned Scientists accuses Trump’s Interior Department of “relentless attacks on science ranging from suppressing and sidelining the work of the department’s scientists to systematically refusing to act on climate change.”


      That said, science is needed to help us make sound decisions that compromise between groups with competing values and interests. The government needs to produce, believe, and disseminate science that will allow it to act in the best interests of the American people, and to help the people hold the government accountable. The Trump administration clearly isn’t doing that. According to the LA Times, “Interior isn’t the only science agency that has been turned into a billboard for political and ideological propaganda. The Environmental Protection Agency has been similarly hollowed out, and the Department of Health and Human Services has all but abandoned its duty to advance Americans’ access to affordable healthcare.” There’s another reason why we need solid science within the government: to enable the government to follow its own laws. Trump’s administration is taking a see no evil, hear no evil approach. Without information about how a mining project might impact an endangered species, or human health, or water quality, they’re going to end up enabling projects that violate existing laws. Which is probably the point.

    • COP24: Paris Agreement Rulebook 'Does Not Deliver What The World Needs'
      Following two tension-filled weeks at the UN climate talks in Poland, countries finally agreed on the operating manual to implement the Paris Agreement. While this rulebook is essential to kick-start the agreement in 2020, campaigners and scientists have warned of a stark disconnect between the urgency to prevent climate breakdown and the failed opportunity for radical action.

      The rulebook covers a wide range of issues such as how countries should report their greenhouse gas emission reductions and who should pay what to help developing countries leapfrog fossil fuels and develop sustainably.

      Given the elections of climate deniers Donald Trump in the US and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil and strong obstruction from powerful oil and gas exporting countries such as the US and Saudi Arabia, the talks started in Katowice with low expectations.

      Campaigners have accused the rulebook of being a compromise favouring corporate interests and countries which have been the most obstructive in the negotiation process.

      Vitumbiko Chinoko, from CARE — an international humanitarian agency — in Southern Africa, accused “a few powerful countries” of holding multilateralism “hostage” during the conference.

    • Atlantic seismic testing permits granted amid surge in industry lobbying
      Though communities along the Atlantic Coast have expressed overwhelming opposition to seismic testing for offshore oil and gas reserves, and scientists have warned that the deafeningly loud technology threatens the critically endangered right whale, the Trump administration last week issued a notice that it would allow five companies to conduct seismic surveys in an area stretching from New Jersey to Florida.

    • As Cuomo Touts Green New Deal for New York, Critics Warn 'Empty Rhetoric' Just as 'Dangerous as Inaction'
      The governor's office claimed that by making the state's electricity carbon neutral by 2040, "New York will be the most progressive state in the nation in moving to renewables and growing the new sustainable green economy," but green groups say that's not nearly detailed or ambitious enough.

      "Cuomo calls the climate crisis a matter of life and death, but unfortunately his policies don't match the lofty rhetoric," Food & Water Watch Northeast region director Alex Beauchamp declared in a statement. "A vague pledge of carbon neutrality by the year 2040 is not the bold action necessary to move New York off fossil fuels."

      Betámia Coronel, a native New Yorker and U.S. national organizer, concurred—warning that "empty rhetoric and lip service is as dangerous as inaction."

      "Cuomo must go much bigger," Beauchamp said. "A true Green New Deal for New York must include a moratorium on all new fossil fuel infrastructure and a commitment to transition New York to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030."

    • 12 Reasons Labor Should Demand a Green New Deal
      Workers have gotten a raw deal. Employers and their Republican allies are trying to eliminate workers’ rights both in the workplace and at the ballot box. But even when Democrats controlled the presidency and both houses of Congress, they did little to protect, let alone expand, the rights of working people. Workers need a new deal.

      Now, an alliance of social movements and members of Congress are proposing a Green New Deal to create millions of jobs by putting Americans to work making a climate-safe economy. This program meets the needs of—and has the potential to unite—the labor movement, environmentalists, and all those who have been the victims of inequality, discrimination, racism and, now, climate change.

      In the week following the 2018 midterm elections, a group of 150 protesters led by young people with the Sunrise Movement occupied the office of likely Democratic House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi, urging her to support a Green New Deal. Newly-elected House Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) joined the protest with a resolution in hand to establish a Select Committee for a Green New Deal. The proposal has since amassed growing support among Congressional representatives, progressive organizations and young people across the country.

    • The Depressing Numbers Behind the GOP's Climate Denialism
      “Climate change is the defining issue of our time,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres declared in September. In October, a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a U.N.-convened group, described “a world of worsening food shortages and wildfires, and a mass die-off of coral reefs as soon as 2040,” according to The New York Times. And in a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, Americans are beginning to heed these warnings, with 66 percent of respondents saying there is enough evidence to convince them that action is needed, up from 51 percent in 1998. Forty-five percent of them believe that action should taken immediately.

      Among the 66 percent of concerned respondents are Democrats and independents. Notably missing in the growing consensus on climate change are significant numbers of Republicans.

    • California Knew the Carr Wildfire Could Happen. It Failed to Prevent it.
      On the afternoon of July 23, a tire on a recreational trailer blew apart on the pavement of State Route 299 about 15 miles northwest of Redding, California. The couple towing the Grey Wolf Select trailer couldn’t immediately pull it out of traffic. As they dragged it to a safe turnout, sparks arced from the tire’s steel rim. Three reached the nearby grass and shrubs; two along the highway’s south shoulder, the third on the north. Each of the sparks ignited what at first seemed like commonplace brush fires.

      But if the sparking of the brush fires was an unpredictable accident, what happened next was not. Fire jumped from the roadside into the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, a 42,000-acre unit of the National Park Service. There, it gained size and velocity, and took off for the outskirts of Redding. The fire burned for 39 days and charred over 229,000 acres, and when the last embers died on Aug. 30, the fight to contain it had cost $162 million, an average of $4.15 million a day. Almost 1,100 homes were lost. Eight people died, four of them first responders.

      Dozens of interviews and a review of local, state and federal records show that virtually every aspect of what came to be known as the Carr Fire — where it ignited; how and where it exploded in dimension and ferocity; the toll in private property — had been forecast and worried over for years. Every level of government understood the dangers and took few, if any, of the steps needed to prevent catastrophe. This account of how much was left undone, and why, comes at a moment of serious reassessment in California about how to protect millions of people living in vulnerable areas from a new phenomenon: Firestorms whose speed and ferocity surpass any feasible evacuation plans.

    • Where No Corn Has Grown Before: Better Living Through Climate Change?
      “Today, the U.S. corn belt is in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana,” Cargill CEO David MacLennan said in a 2016 interview. “In 50 years, it may be in Hudson Bay, Canada.”

      As for regions where corn has traditionally been grown, they’re seeing bigger harvests. “Warming has helped increase U.S. corn harvests, delivering more than one-quarter of the yield growth across Corn Belt states since 1981….”

      All this is great news, right? Yet there is a down side. To its credit, the Journal admits that bigger harvests may be harder to sustain as temperatures increase further, and climate shifts already are working against yields in some corn-producing regions…. Overall, climate change-driven heat, droughts and soil erosion will likely diminish U.S. agricultural production, according to the latest installment of the U.S. National Climate Assessment, issued Friday [Nov. 23]” (my italics).

      At Jake Vermeer’s farm southeast of Edmonton, Alberta, the growing season is now 17 days longer. However, warmer temperatures also bring “unusually long dry spells and harsher storms” which make farming “more uncertain.” The Journalnotes that “Near La Crete, an early frost struck Mr. Driedger’s cornfields in early September, cutting short its growth and diminishing this winter’s feed supply for his cattle.”

      Troubling developments, to be sure, but you can relax. There’s a techno-fix.

    • Is COP24 One More Big Bust?
      Two hundred nations at Katowice COP24 Poland just wrapped up two-weeks of climate meetings. If history is a guide, CO2 emissions will continue to accelerate until COP25 next year in Chile. Still, the delegates did adopt a rulebook to put Paris ’15 into action, Ahem!

      But, hark! There’s a ray of sunshine peering out from behind the Katowice coal-clouded skyline because big money interests may be altering the landscape for combating global warming.

      According to reports out of Katowice, e.g., Damian Carrington’s The Guardian article d/d Dec. 9, 2018: “Tackle Climate or Face Financial Crash, Say World’s Biggest Investors,” global investors managing $32T issued a “stark warning” that the world faces financial Armageddon worse than 2008 if carbon emissions are not cut, including a phase-out of coal. Wow!

      That sets the stage for proving/disproving the old maxim “money talks.” If it does, there’s a glimmer of hope for Miami’s survival.

    • Updated: 'Draft Beto' Campaign Launches Just as O'Rourke Taken Off 'No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge' List
      In order to better clarify why Oil Change USA removed Beto O'Rourke from its list of candidates committed to the "No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge," strategic communications director David Turnbull has emphasized his group's belief that the Texas Democrat did not fully understand that he was vowing to reject individual donations from executives who work in the fossil fuel industry, in addition to PAC money from the oil and gas industry.

      "It appears that when Beto signed this 'pledge' he actually pledged something similar but not fully the same as our No Fossil Fuel Money pledge," Turnbull explained to Common Dreams. "What he and his campaign believed he was signing was a pledge not to take fossil fuel PAC contributions. That is definitely not the same as the full No Fossil Fuel Money pledge, which includes PACs but also contributions over $200 from executives of fossil fuel companies."

      Turnbull went on to stress that O'Rourke must take the next step of totally rejecting donations from fossil fuel executives in order to be a true climate leader and stand up to "the full extent" of the oil and gas industry's influence on the American political system.

    • Fracking in 2018: Another Year of Pretending to Make Money
      2018 was the year the oil and gas industry promised that its darling, the shale fracking revolution, would stop focusing on endless production and instead turn a profit for its investors. But as the year winds to a close, it's clear that hasn't happened.

      Instead, the fracking industry has helped set new records for U.S. oil production while continuing to lose huge amounts of money — and that was before the recent crash in oil prices.

      But plenty of people in the industry and media make it sound like a much different, and more profitable, story.

    • The Impact of OPEC on Climate Change
      It is accepted that the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is a cartel that restrains oil production and keeps prices higher than they would otherwise be. Indeed, this is the premise behind the “OPEC Accountability Act of 2018” in the US Senate. This bill would address high and rising oil prices by trying to break OPEC. US pressure on OPEC — particularly on friendly governments such as Saudi Arabia that are seen as leaders in the organization — to “open the spigots” is not new. Nor is the control of oil exports by producing countries for political purposes. However, the environmental impact of high oil prices is only lightly considered.

      There is little debate that motor vehicle industry changes to increase fuel efficiency were a historic and significant environmental advance. When OPEC action has led to increased prices, the quantity of oil in demand has fallen. This was starkly demonstrated when the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC) — founded in 1968 — flexed its price-making muscles in the 1970s. Production cuts and an embargo against sale of oil to several countries raised the spot price of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude from $3.56 per barrel in mid-1973 to $4.31 later in the year to $10.11 in January. By the time President Jimmy Carter famously suggested we all turn down our thermostats, the price of WTI crude had reached $14.85 per barrel. The price finally peaked in mid-1980 at $39.50 — a 1000 percent increase in seven years. The price of gasoline more than tripled. In response, we got the Department of Energy, the Chevy Citation, and more fuel-efficient Japanese and German automobile imports.

    • Big Oil Hired Jerry Brown’s Close Friend to Lobby Him For Years — With Results
      Despite his reputation as a leader on climate policy, California Governor Jerry Brown has been criticized for making major concessions to the oil industry — which, along with other fossil fuels, is a key driver of the global climate crisis.

      Our new report sheds light on a previously unknown channel through which Big Oil sought influence over Brown: a handsomely-paid lobbyist who is a longtime friend, advisor, and former staffer of Brown’s.

      Lucie Gikovich, a principal of the Crane Group, has been the top-paid California lobbyist for Phillips 66 since late 2012 — they have paid her $937,500 in fees and retainers to lobby in California, where they own two major refineries. Gikovich has also lobbied Brown’s office for Halliburton, SoCalGas, and other clients.

      Gikovich and Brown have been very close friends and colleagues for decades. She was a top aide during Brown’s first stint as California Governor from 1975 to 1983, and she was his press secretary during his failed 1982 U.S. senate run. While Brown was mayor of Oakland, the city paid Gikovich $780,000 to serve as a registered federal lobbyist. Gikovich and her firm gave Brown $114,500 between 2005 and 2010, with most of it going to his 2010 gubernatorial run. On election night in 2010, Gikovich celebrated Brown’s victory at his campaign headquarters in Oakland.

  • Finance

    • Swedish bank Nordea accused of money laundering after Danske Bank scandal

      Sweden's financial crime unit said on Wednesday it had received a complaint against Scandinavia's biggest bank, Nordea, for alleged money laundering following on from a massive scandal engulfing Danske Bank.

    • Zynga to acquire Finland’s Small Giant Games for €610m

      Zynga, an American developer of social games, announced yesterday it has entered into an agreement to pay 560 million US dollars to acquire 80 per cent of the common stock of Small Giant Games, a mobile games studio based in Helsinki, Finland.

      The transaction is expected to close on 1 January 2019.

    • Kushner-Linked Firm Targets Richer Areas in Program for Poor
      A real estate investment firm co-founded by President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, is betting big on the administration’s Opportunity Zone tax breaks but isn’t that interested in steering its investors to the poorest, most-downtrodden areas that the program seeks to revitalize.

      New York-based Cadre, in which Kushner still holds at least a $25 million passive stake, made it clear to potential investors in recent marketing materials that it doesn’t plan to look for development deals in most of those zones because of their “unfavorable growth prospects.”
    • After Historic Union-Backed Strike, Chicago Charter School Teachers Celebrate New Contract as Win for Students
      "This is a victory for every educator who sees children getting short-changed by privatization and charter operators putting their business models over the needs of our students," said Chris Baehrend, chair of the CTU's Charter Division. With this strike, he added, the union "members have demonstrated their resolve to do what it takes to hold the charter industry accountable and put public dollars where they belong—into the classrooms and educations of our students."

      While the initial strike day was on December 4, it took five days of rolling walkouts and tense negotiations before a tentative contract deal was reached on December 9.

      The union members who engaged in the strike work at schools operted by the Acero charter company, one of the largest in the country, which operates 15 schools in Chicago. Of the 485 union members who cast votes—both teachers and educational paraprofessionals—474 voted yes.
    • Amazon Employees Praised for Using Shareholder Status to Demand Comprehensive Climate Plan
      A small group of Amazon workers is receiving big praise for their efforts to force their employer to be a better steward of the planet.

      More than a dozen employees of the online retail behemoth who have received stock as part of their compensation are, as the New York Times reports, "starting to use those shares to turn the tables on their employers" by putting forth shareholder petitions demanding that the trillion-dollar e-commerce company craft a comprehensive plan to address the global climate crisis.
    • Robert Reich: Workers Can Still Take the Economy Back From Corporations
      Charles E. Wilson, the CEO of General Motors in the middle part of the last century, reputedly once said that “what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa.”

      The idea was that large corporations had a duty not just to their shareholders, but also to their employees, customers, and community. What was good for all of these stakeholders was inseparable from what was good for large corporations like GM.

      But in the 1980’s, this shifted. The only goal of large corporations goal became maximizing profits and returns for shareholders.

      Corporate profits are now a higher share of the economy than they were for most of the past century, and workers’ share of the total economy is the lowest.

    • Support Our New Series On Chicago’s Fight For A People’s Agenda After Rahm Emanuel
      With your help, Aaron will produce a six-part series that digs into what is at stake in the election and how it presents a major opportunity to move away from the destructive neoliberal politics of Rahm Emanuel’s administration.

      Aaron has developed respect among organizers in Chicago, frequently showing up to cover the latest developments in movement struggles. He has a keen understanding of the issues facing poor, working class, and middle class Chicagoans, especially non-white residents on the west and south side who are consistently neglected by city officials.

    • 'Time for a Jubilee!': US Student Loan Debt Hits Record $1.46 Trillion. Funny, That's More Than GOP's Corporate-Friendly Tax Giveaway
      It's been almost a year since the Republican Party and President Donald Trump delivered their behemoth giveaway to the nation's corporations and wealthiest individuals by passing a $1.5 trillion controversial tax bill that will ultimately blow a $5 trillion hole—or larger—in the nation's budget.

      On Monday morning, Bloomberg reported that the amount of U.S. student loan debt has more than doubled since 2009 and now sits at a record $1.47 trillion.

    • Are You Ready for an Epoch Fail?
      You know the story: the globalists want your guns. They want your democracy. They’re hovering just beyond the horizon in those black helicopters. They control the media and Wall Street. They’ve burrowed into a deep state that stretches like a vast tectonic plate beneath America’s fragile government institutions. They want to replace the United States with the United Nations, erase national borders, and create one huge, malevolent international order.

      The only thing that stands in their way is -- take your pick -- the Second Amendment, Twitter, or Donald Trump.

      Conspiracy theorists have, in fact, been warning about just such a New World Order for decades, going all the way back to the isolationist critics of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and to fears about the United Nations in the post-World War II moment. During the Cold War, the John Birch Society and fringe elements of the Republican Party nurtured just such anti-globalist sentiments, but they never made much headway in the mainstream world. As the Cold War ended, however, the anti-globalist virus began to spread again, this time more rapidly, and it’s threatening to become a pandemic.

    • Ivy Leagues Are Handing Out Millions in Fees to Hedge Fund Managers
      Many of the richest people in the country make their fortune in the financial sector. While it is surely the case that many of the high rollers in the financial sector are hard working and intelligent, these traits are not the key to getting really rich in the modern economy. As has always been the case, nothing can beat being well connected.

      The latest tale of the well-connected rich is a study, by Markov Processes International, of the 10-year returns of the endowments of the eight Ivy League schools. The study found that all eight endowments had lower returns than a simple mix of 60 percent stock index funds and 40 percent bonds. In some cases the gap was substantial. Harvard set the mark with its annual returns lagging a simple 60-40 portfolio by more than 3 percentage points.

      This dismal track record is a big deal because these endowments invest heavily in what is called “alternative investments,” primarily hedge funds and private equity funds. The people who run these funds often make tens of millions a year, in some cases hundreds of millions a year.

      The rationale for these astronomical salaries is supposed to be their ability to produce outsized returns. The partners in these funds claim that they can earn far more for endowments and other investors than simple investment strategies, like buying index funds.

      This analysis shows that high returns have not been the story in the last decade. While the people managing these funds pocketed huge salaries, they had nothing to show for it in terms of performance. In fact, they actually cost the schools money. Harvard, Yale and the rest of this elite set were paying millions of dollars to hedge fund managers who were losing the schools’ money.

    • On Tax Scam Anniversary, Paul Ryan Promotes Documentary Hailing His Crowning Achievement: 'Handing Rich People Truckloads of Money'
      Titled "Decades in the Making" and set to air for the first time on Tuesday, the docu-series will reportedly focus "on Ryan's years-long effort to pass tax reform," which culminated in a deeply unpopular $1.5 trillion bill that delivered massive gains to the ultra-wealthy, Wall Street, Walmart, and other corporate behemoths while predictably doing almost nothing for working-class Americans.

    • Arizona Public School System Denied Potential Tax Revenue Funds
      On August 29, 2018, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled to exclude an educational funding proposal from the state’s November ballot. According to the Arizona Daily Star, the “Invest In Ed” initiative proposed to provide the public education system with an estimated $690 million through a 3-4% increase in income tax on earners of more than $250,000 per year and on couples with a combined income of $500,000 or more. The court stated that the language of the proposal was unclear about whether the new tax brackets would take into account inflation, and therefore opposed the measure. The initiative had been supported by 270,000 registered voters who signed the petition to include it on the November ballot, as well as the Arizona Education Association, which consists of Arizona’s public school educators and staff, who hoped the bill would draw people to the polls to vote for candidates that backed public education.

    • Wall Street Thrives and Working People Struggle as GOP Tax Cut Turns One
      The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 — the only major piece of legislation passed by the Trump administration — turns one year old this week. The law’s advocates promised it would create an economic bonanza for working people. Instead, its biggest corporate backers have laid off employees and offshored jobs while the promised investment boom is nowhere to be found. And for all of the talk about rising GDP and a tight labor market, millions are still barely making ends meet.

      But that’s not all. As critics warned when the bill was being drafted, the legislation gave disproportionate benefits to one massive, reviled industry: Wall Street. The nation’s six biggest banks enjoyed estimated $14 billion in tax cuts this year — enough to give every teacher in America a $4,000 raise. The banking industry also saw a record $62 billion in profit in the third quarter of 2018, thanks in large part to the tax cuts.

      If any industry benefited from the law, it was banking. So, has Wall Street behaved as promised, and invested in American prosperity? Of course not. Wall Street has reinvested in Wall Street.

    • China Will ‘Never Seek Hegemony,’ Xi Says in Reform Speech
      China’s expanding footprint worldwide — from Asia-Pacific to Africa and beyond through a broad network of infrastructure projects called the Belt and Road Initiative — has led some nations to raise the alarm over what they call China’s long arm of influence, which has been criticized for being political as well as economic.

      While Xi said China is “increasingly approaching the center of the world stage,” he also noted that the country pursues a defensive national defense policy.

    • Jeff Bezos Has Enough!
      For Republican members of Congress and cable news pundits, a cap on the earnings of the super rich might sound like a dystopian nightmare. Yet, as author Sam Pizzigati argues in his new book, The Case for a Maximum Wage, those who are not ardent free marketeers should give the idea some serious consideration—not only as a desirable policy, but also one that might be more practical than some imagine. In 2010, trade union leaders presented elites at Davos with a proposal for a ratio-based maximum wage—something proposed in the United States by Amalgamated Transit Union President Larry Hanley. Hanley’s version would mandate that a top executive’s pay be no more than 100 times the salary of the company’s lowest-paid worker. In other words, if the receptionist or janitor makes $35,000 per year, the CEO would take home no more than $3.5 million. To raise his or her pay further, the boss would have to bring up the bottom as well.

    • 'Being People-Funded Frees Me to Put People First': Ocasio-Cortez Touts Highest Portion of 2018 Small-Dollar Donors
      Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest congresswoman ever elected, has been making national headlines since even before her stunning primary defeat of long-time Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley in June. A champion of Medicare for All and a Green New Deal, she has publicly challenged the leaders of the Democratic Party—including presumptive House Speaker Nancy Pelosi—to embrace bold and increasingly popular progressive policies.

      Her advocacy for more ambitious and leftist measures—as she and other political commentators noted Tuesday—is enabled in part by her refusal to cozy up to big business or accept any corporate PAC money.

    • 'Turns Out,' Says Ocasio-Cortez, 'Everyday People Like It When We Fight for Everyday People'
      Citing a new poll that revealed 81 percent of people overall support the idea of a bold and ambitious 'Green New Deal,' Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez celebrated the simple political concept that when you push for policies that are good for a majority of people, a majority of people like it.

      "Turns out," the Democrat from New York declared in a Monday night tweet, "everyday people like it when we fight for everyday people!"

      The tweet included a link to a story published by Earther earlier in the day highlighting a poll by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and George Mason University showing that more than 8 out of 10 respondents from "across the political spectrum support the progressive plan to combat climate change by rapidly weaning the U.S. off fossil fuels."

    • America Has the Highly Combustible Economy It Deserves
      It’s part of the American experience to find yourself in an elevator, in an airplane terminal, or at home, looking at a screen with stock numbers whizzing by, and people yammering about how America is somewhere on the spectrum between wonderful or about to disintegrate because of a 5 percent swing in Boeing or Microsoft stock. How did we get to a national economic conversation that is dominated by chatter on the rise and fall of stocks, when it’s just a small part of economic life for most of the 300 million people who live in this country?

      American-style shareholder capitalism, with its incessant focus on maximizing stock value, started gaining primacy over European/Japanese-style stakeholder capitalism in the 1980s. It was premised on a notion best epitomized by Milton Friedman that the only social responsibility of a corporation is to increase its profits, laying the groundwork for the idea that shareholders, being the owners and the main risk-bearing participants, ought therefore to receive the biggest rewards. Profits therefore should be generated first and foremost with a view toward maximizing the interests of shareholders, not the executives or managers who (according to the theory) were spending too much of their time, and the shareholders’ money, worrying about employees, customers, and the community at large. The economists who built on Friedman’s work, along with increasingly aggressive institutional investors, devised solutions to ensure the primacy of enhancing shareholder value, via the advocacy of hostile takeovers, the promotion of massive stock buybacks or repurchases (which increased the stock value), higher dividend payouts and, most importantly, the introduction of stock-based pay for top executives in order to align their interests to those of the shareholders. These ideas were influenced by the idea that corporate efficiency and profitability were impinged upon by archaic regulation and unionization, which, according to the theory, precluded the ability to compete globally.

    • AMLO Goes Full Throttle Against Neoliberalism—But What About NAFTA?
      I had the great fortune to attend the inauguration of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (or AMLO, as he is known) as the 58th Mexican president on December 1. The atmosphere at the Legislative Palace was electric with the knowledge that Mexico would be beginning its “Fourth Transformation” — following its 1810 independence, the 1855 reformation, and the 1910 revolution — with the first left-wing presidency in its history.

      It was AMLO’s third attempt at the office. In 2006 Felipe Calderón orchestrated a cyber fraud that gave him a slim advantage over AMLO. And in order to win in 2012, outgoing president Enrique Peña Nieto engaged in tricks like giving away cash-loaded bank cards.

      When AMLO arrives following his 2018 victory, his supporters chanted Si se pudo: “Yes we could!”

      AMLO started his speech off by going full throttle against neoliberalism and corruption in Mexico, both of which he’s fought for decades. He said the crisis in Mexico originated not only because of the failure of the neoliberal economic model, but also because of the “deep predominance during this period of the dirtiest display of public and private corruption.”

  • AstroTurf/Lobbying/Politics

    • It’s Time for Fact-Checkers to Face the Facts

      No matter how ridiculous their claims about the media’s “liberal bias,” conservatives never stop working the refs. It doesn’t matter how powerful or wealthy the owner of any given media institution may be: Accuse him—and it’s always a him—of being biased against conservatives, and the next thing you know, he’s offering back rubs and foot massages to people who claim that Sandy Hook was a hoax and that Hillary Clinton ran a pizza parlor for pedophiles. It worked with Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. It worked with Twitter’s Jack Dorsey. And now we’ve learned that it also worked with Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google. According to a report by Wired’s Nitasha Tiku, Adam Kovacevich, Google’s director of public policy, stated at an internal meeting: “I think one of the directives we’ve gotten very clearly from Sundar…is to build deeper relationships with conservatives. I think we’ve recognized that the company is generally seen as liberal by policymakers.”

    • Institute for Statecraft slams door in Labour MP’s face

      Chris Williamson MP visited the alleged ‘psyops‘ organisation the Institute for Statecraft (at The Temple, near London’s Embankment) on the morning of 19 December 2018. Statecraft is funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and Ministry of Defence (MOD).


      Upon arriving at the offices of Statecraft, Williamson knocked on the door. A young man answered, and once he confirmed that he was with Statecraft, Williamson identified himself as the Labour MP for Derby North. The young man said he would get the director, “Dan”, and closed the door. A few moments later, “Dan” opened the door. But when Williamson started to identify himself, “Dan” then slammed the door in his face, without saying anything.
    • Trump, the Quintessential American
      Donald Trump is part of the peculiar breed Herman Melville described in his novel “The Confidence-Man,” in which the main character uses protean personas, flattery and lies to gain the confidence of his fellow passengers to fleece them on a Mississippi River steamboat. “Confidence men,” as Melville understood, are an inevitable product of the amorality of capitalism and the insatiable lust for wealth, power and empire that infects American society. Trump’s narcissism, his celebration of ignorance—which he like all confidence men confuses with innocence—his megalomania and his lack of empathy are pathologies nurtured by the American landscape. They embody the American belief, one that Mark Twain parodied in “Pudd’nhead Wilson,” F. Scott Fitzgerald excoriated in “The Great Gatsby” and William Faulkner portrayed in the depraved Snopes clan, that it does not matter in the crass commercialism of American society how you obtain wealth and power. They are their own justifications.

      American culture is built on a willful duplicity, a vision we hold of ourselves that bears little resemblance to reality. Malcolm Bradbury wrote “that in America imposture is identity; that values are not beliefs but the product of occasions; and that social identity is virtually an arbitrary matter, depending not on character nor an appearance but on the chance definition of one’s nature or colour.” We founded the nation on genocide and slavery, ravage the globe with endless wars and the theft of its resources, enrich an oligarchic elite at the expense of the citizenry, empower police to gun down unarmed citizens in the streets, and lock up a quarter of the world’s prison population while wallowing in the supposed moral superiority of American white supremacy. The more debased the nation becomes, the more it seeks the reassurance of oily con artists to mask truth with lies.

      Trump, like most con artists, is skilled at manufacturing self-serving news and a fictional persona that feed the magical aura of his celebrity. The showman P.T. Barnum is the prototype of this strain of Americanism. In the 1830s, he exhibited Joice Heth, an elderly African-American slave who he claimed was the 161-year-old former nurse of George Washington. When Heth lost her novelty, Barnum announced that what he had been displaying was a robot. “The fact is, Joice Heth is not a human being,” he wrote to a Boston newspaper, “… simply a curiously constructed automation, made up of whalebone, india-rubber, and numerous springs ingeniously put together and made to move at the slightest touch, according to the will of the operator. The operator is a ventriloquist.” The crowds, which at their height had collectively paid $1,500 a week (then a huge sum) to see Heth, returned in droves to see the supposed machine. After Heth died in 1836 at age 79 or 80, Barnum sold tickets to her autopsy, which was viewed by 1,500 paying customers.

    • The Australian Prime Minister’s Rapture for Jerusalem
      Why the sudden Australian foreign policy shift on the matter of Jerusalem?

      Initially PM Scott Morrison’s captain’s call to move the Australian embassy to Jerusalem was a desperate ploy to garner the Jewish vote in the October Wentworth by-election. The Morrison government was then warned against changes to Australia’s status on Jerusalem by its own Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Defence Department and ASIO.

      The largest Muslim nation, Indonesia, Australia’s neighbour and largest trading partner, expressed its objection indicating the bilateral defence cooperation commitment may be threatened as well as $16.5 billion free trade (trade with Israel is worth $1.5 billion) agreement under negotiation.

      At the East Asia Summit in Singapore, Malaysian PM Dr Mahathir’s reasonable prediction that an Australian embassy move was “adding to the cause for terrorism” was met by virulent condemnations of antisemitism by Australia’s Jewish treasurer, Josh Frydenberg.
    • Viktor Orban, Trump and the Populist Battle Over Public Space
      Almost a year after President Trump assured a stricken nation that there were “very fine people on both sides” of the Charlottesville riots, a law banning homeless people from public spaces went into effect in Hungary. At first glance, the two events seem connected only by the similarities of the populists–Viktor Orban and Donald Trump–who presided over them. They are also, however, united by the effects they produced: the politicization of public space. The Hungarian legislation and the turmoil caused by Trump’s moral equivalencies reveal how politicized space is not a distracting side effect of populist politics; rather, public space treated as a symbol of national identity is a defining characteristic of populism.
    • The End of Rolling Thunder? We Can Only Hope So!
      The news media inform us that Rolling Thunder (always described in the press as a veterans’ advocacy group or some other such positive term) will run its final annual Memorial Day weekend motorcycle rally in Washington, D.C., in 2019. The organizers reportedly do not have the money to pay for security, logistics, and cleanup. This is an eventuality devoutly to be wished.

      In their usual stab at upbeatness with a matter-of-fact tone, the media invariably cover these yearly events in the same manner they would report on some legitimate service organization, like the American Cancer Society, holding a convention in the nation’s capital. Advocacy for veterans: who could be against that? The truth is less savory, revealing our nation’s propensity to wallow in lunatic conspiracy theories while succumbing to hucksterism, misplaced guilt, and culture war agendas.

      It’s all right there in Rolling Thunder’s mission statement: “The major function of Rolling Thunder€®, Inc. is to publicize the POW-MIA issue: To educate the public that many American Prisoners of War were left behind after all previous wars and to help correct the past and to protect future Veterans from being left behind should they become Prisoners of War-Missing In Action.” Helping veterans also gets a subsidiary mention, but the major purpose of the organization is advocacy on behalf of the POW-MIA issue. Well, so what?

    • Civil Rights Group Says Senate Report on Election Interference Shows Russia 'Taking a Page Out of the US Voter Suppression Playbook'
      Russia is being accused of "taking a page out of the U.S. voter suppression playbook" on Monday after a Senate Intelligence Committee-commissioned report found that the country's far-reaching campaign to meddle in the 2016 election through social media giants including Facebook and Instagram included efforts to specifically target African-Americans.

      "This report makes clear that racism and discrimination are national security threats to the United States," said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, in reference to the new reporting on the efforts by the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency (IRA), which is owned by an ally of President Vladimir Putin, to boost Donald Trump presidential chances and weaken those of Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.

      Senators received two analyses on IRA's influencing campaign. One was a joint report from Oxford University's Computational Propaganda Project and Graphika. The second was from New Knowledge, a cybersecurity firm.

      "Very real racial tensions and feelings of alienation exist in America, and have for decades," Renee DiResta, director of research at New Knowledge and an author of its report, told the New York Times. "The I.R.A. didn't create them. It exploits them."
    • Make America Grate Again
      Because that’s what Imperial government is all about: the remorseless extraction of wealth, substance, and self-respect from a whole people mesmerized by relentless, mind-blitzing bullshit. The truly infernal capacity of the owners and operators of Big Bro’s Bullhorn, the MSM–from those sanctified pornographers, the NYT and WaPo, (pornographein in ancient Greek means “whore writing”) to Facebog and the rest of complicit “social media”, to the Vast Human Waste Dump of tv of all sorts–to render a whole nation drooling dim and braindead, is the surpassing wonder of our era.

      Item: A united phalanx of red and blue yokels, parochials, and throwbacks ok’d a $700 billion military budget just as the Pentagon admitted it had mislaid $21 trillion it couldn’t account for. A bookkeeping error, no doubt.

      Item: The Crone and Geezer Dem Honchos, along with certifiable Snopes-in-a-Suit Lindsay Graham pitched a fit over Jamal Khashoggi’s killing but remained untroubled by the psychotic murder of hundreds of thousands of kids in Yemen, Iraq, Libya, and Palestine they’ve blithely done to death.

      Item: Neither party permits consideration of an honest Medicare For All proposal but both enthusiastically gave their owners, the Royals of Corporate Capitalism, the greatest stealth tax break payola in our history.
    • Corporate Advertisers Slowly Back Away From Tucker Carlson
      Corporate advertisers are jumping ship from Tucker Carlson Tonight, the Fox News show hosted by the right-wing xenophobe, but Carlson appears to welcome the controversy sparked by recent comments that immigrants make the United States a “poorer and dirtier” country.

      While the number of sponsors who have been pressured to suspend their campaigns on the show grows, Carlson on Monday night vowed not to be intimidated and declared his intention “to say what’s true until the last day.”

      According to Buzzfeed, at least five companies have pulled their ads since Carlson’s remarks last week caused a firestorm of criticism.

      Writing for ThinkProgress, Frank Dale details how Carlson has long been “a favorite of white supremacists” and in recent years “has used his Fox News platform to claim that immigration advocates want to ‘change your country forever,’ advocate for excluding Latinx people from the U.S. to preserve the country’s white identity, complain about how difficult it is to be a white man, promote a social media site frequented by white nationalists, and defend a white nationalist Pizzagate conspiracy theorist.”

    • Charged With 'Shocking Pattern of Illegality,' Trump Foundation Agrees to Dissolve
      The Trump family's charity, the Trump Foundation, agreed to dissolve Tuesday amid a lawsuit filed by New York State which accuses the organization of a "shocking pattern of illegality"—but the Trumps' legal troubles won't end with the dissolution.

      New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood filed a lawsuit against the Trump Foundation last June, accusing the Trump family of using the charity for immense "personal and political gain." Underwood will continue to pursue her suit against the foundation, seeking $2.8 million in restitution and a court order banning Trump and his three eldest children from serving on the boards of any New York charities in the future.

      "This is an important victory for the rule of law, making clear that there is one set of rules for everyone," Underwood said in a statement. "We'll continue to move our suit forward to ensure that the Trump Foundation and its directors are held to account for their clear and repeated violations of state and federal law."

    • Trump is on the Ropes, But the Pillage of Natural Resources Continues
      Few presidents have had a worse week than Donald Trump had last week. The wheels are coming off his presidency while a tidal wave of legal problems washes over him, his family and the White House as former associates continue to spill their guts about his corruption to federal and state prosecutors in attempts to get leniency for crimes committed on Trump’s behalf. Perhaps sensing that their time in power is coming to an end, this most corrupt administration in recent history is rushing to pillage what’s left of our nation’s dwindling natural resources by leasing huge plots of public lands to resource extraction industries.

      It’s worth noting that the old and worn excuse of national “energy independence,” the myth used for so long to justify opening public lands to drilling and mining, is no longer even marginally credible. Why? Because the U.S. just became a “net exporter” of oil and gas. That’s right — not only do we have enough energy resources to fuel our domestic needs, the ever-greedy energy corporations are now sucking those resources down to ship publicly owned resources overseas — including to our primary economic competitors in the global marketplace.

      Does this make any sense for America’s present and future generations? Well, it does if you own an energy mega-corporation, since that’s where the profits go, but for those who cherish what’s left of the incredible natural legacy with which our nation was blessed it provides only loss, not gain.

    • Trouncing Biden and Beto, Bernie Sanders Emerges as Clear Frontrunner in 2020 Straw Poll
      While an outsized chunk of the corporate media's early 2020 coverage has been centered on the speculation and big donor enthusiasm surrounding centrist Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke's possible White House bid, a new straw poll released on Tuesday found that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is far and away the leading presidential choice among progressives eager to take down President Donald Trump and forge ahead with a bold agenda.

    • Beto, We Hardly Knew Ye
      Cruz had to sweat it out on election night and won by only 2.6 percent, a slim margin in such a conservative state. Since then, publicity about Beto O’Rourke potentially running for president has mushroomed, with corporate news outlets portraying him as a progressive.

      Released a week ago, the much-publicized results of a poll that MoveOn conducted of people on its email list found O’Rourke in first place, neck-and-neck with Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. Media spin intensified, portraying Beto as a challenge to Bernie.
    • How Come So Many Bernie Bros Are Women and People of Color?
      A recent CNN poll shows that among potential Democratic candidates in Iowa caucuses Senator Bernie Sanders has the highest approval rating from people of color. And the diversity of the Sanders-inspired left was on display at the Sanders Institute Gathering in Burlington Vermont earlier this month, which I covered on my podcast, The Katie Halper Show.

      But empirical evidence has not stopped much of the corporate press—including many "liberal" or "progressive" outlets and commentators—from condemning the senator as having "a race problem."

      Over the past week we saw Jonathan Martin of the New York Times (who happens to be white) claim that Sanders "has done little to broaden his political circle and has struggled to expand his appeal beyond his base of primarily white supporters." Meanwhile, Clara Jeffery, the editor-in-chief of Mother Jones (also white), recently presented not only Sanders' supporters but the left movement in general as white. Linking to a written exchange between two Splinter journalists about Sanders, she tweeted, "In which white lefties have a debate that somehow does not discuss the fact that Bernie has no real purchase among the POC base of the Democratic party. And that problem has not improved for him, if anything it seems larger…"
    • Moscow's man triumphs in Russia's Far East How the Kremlin took back Primorye's gubernatorial election
      On December 16, Russia’s Primorsky Krai held another gubernatorial election. This was the third vote in the past four months: officials threw out the last results due to mass falsification in favor of United Russia’s candidate, then acting Governor Andrey Tarasenko, who was promptly replaced with Oleg Kozhemyako. Incidentally, that's who won Monday’s election, receiving a healthy 60 percent of the vote. Communist Party candidate Andrey Ishchenko, who narrowly lost to Tarasenko in September, wasn’t allowed to participate this time. In a report for Meduza, special correspondent Ilya Zhegulev traveled to Vladivostok and learned how Kozhemyako cruised to victory with the help of political strategists from Moscow and financial investments from the federal government.

    • “To the Ramparts”: Ralph Nader on How Bush & Obama Paved the Way for the Trump Presidency
      A new book by longtime consumer advocate, corporate critic and former presidential hopeful Ralph Nader links the criminality of the Trump administration to the unchecked power of previous U.S. presidents, including Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. In “To the Ramparts: How Bush and Obama Paved the Way for the Trump Presidency, and Why It Isn’t Too Late to Reverse Course,” Nader argues that the U.S. federal government is fundamentally corrupt, warmongering and owned by corporations—but he also issues a call for members of the public to hold their representatives and senators accountable, including by building local Congress watchdog groups across the country and utilizing “citizens summons” to force members of Congress to appear before residents of their districts.

    • Why Trump’s Private Transactions are Terrifying
      Trump has described the payments his bag man, Michael Cohen, made to two women during the 2016 campaign so they wouldn’t discuss their alleged affairs with him, as “a simple private transaction.”

      Last Saturday, when ABC’s George Stephanopoulos asked Cohen if Trump knew the payments were wrong and were made to help his election, Cohen replied “Of course … . He was very concerned about how this would affect the election.”

      Even if Trump intended that the payments aid his presidential bid, it doesn’t necessarily follow that he knew they were wrong.

      Trump might have reasoned that a deal is a deal: The women got hundreds of thousands of dollars in return for agreeing not to talk about his affairs with them. So where’s the harm?

      After two years of Trump we may have overlooked the essence of his insanity: His brain sees only private interests transacting. It doesn’t comprehend the public interest.

    • To Build Party That Fights for People, 'Not Big Corporate Donors,' Campaign Pushes Pelosi to Put Progressives on Key Committees
      In a bid to shift the balance of power in the next Congress away from Wall Street Democrats and toward lawmakers committed to delivering the bold healthcare, economic, and environmental change that the public is demanding, Justice Democrats on Monday launched a pressure campaign aimed at pushing likely House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to elevate progressives to seats on the most powerful congressional committees.

    • By Attacking Obamacare, GOP Harms Itself
      On Friday, US District Court Judge Reed O’Connor — a George W. Bush appointee already infamous for his far-right decisions — ruled the entire Affordable Care Act (ACA) unconstitutional and struck it down in a case titled Texas v. Azar that was brought by a clutch of Republican state attorneys general and two GOP governors. Notably, Judge O’Connor did not issue an injunction to immediately halt the operation of the law, as that would have hurled the entire US health care industry into chaos.

      The ruling — deliberately timed to coincide with the deadline for ACA sign-ups, which has typically been the peak period for new user activity — sowed massive confusion. The case will now wend its way through the judicial system, likely all the way to the Supreme Court itself.

      The larger significance of this ruling may not be immediate — the ACA is still in effect — but is nonetheless profound. The ACA, for all its flaws and shortcomings, has been a boon to many. Young people who can stay on their parent’s health insurance until they are 26, and the millions with pre-existing conditions who might otherwise find themselves priced out of the health insurance market entirely, are just some of its beneficiaries. Millions of previously uninsured people now have basic health insurance. It is not single-payer health care or Medicare for All by a long chalk, and is rife with its own problems, but it is a far sight better than the shabby, disorganized “system” it replaced.

      That, right there, is why the GOP feels obligated to destroy it. For Republicans, the ACA represents a profound philosophical and existential threat. Philosophically, the GOP cannot allow the ACA to succeed because that would prove that sometimes, government actually works, and since “government doesn’t work” is at the beating core of their message, the ACA must be sabotaged to prove that government doesn’t work. The Republican Party rarely lets facts interfere with its binding ideologies these days.

    • The Waters of American Democracy
      Trump, a hotel and gulf-course businessman, has been spearheading the schism in America. It’s as if he welcomes confrontation and controversy. His connections with Russia, China, the immigrants, the media, North Korea, and his staff at the White House and the government are generating enormous corruption and chaos.

      Trump caters to interest groups like the Evangelicals, pistol-carrying NRA enthusiasts, impoverished and confused coal miners, and, of course, registered Republicans and the very wealthy.

      In fact, the tax cut he engineered earlier this year bribed the largest corporations and the very rich, sealing the class war he is heading. In addition, he filled the Supreme Court and is stacking the lower courts with judges who share his oligarchic politics.

      The fact Trump was elected president shows the precarious and hazardous nature of American political institutions. They resemble those of the Roman empire, which was governed by emperors with absolute power. Some of those emperors grabbed power through civil wars. Occasionally, monsters like Caligula, Nero, Commodus, and Caracalla run Rome.

    • Slate’s Readers May Be Liberal, but Its Labor Politics Are Kochian
      While successful unionization drives and contract settlements have been common in the digital media-sphere for the last several years, the sector just may see its first strike. Union members at Slate, represented by the Writers Guild of America East, voted 52 to 1 last week to authorize a strike (Bloomberg, 12/11/18), and the sticking point is an interesting one: The company refuses to back down from its demand that a contract make union fees optional, creating a so-called “right-to-work” environment that unions regard as union-busting.

      It’s common for employers to press for things like management flexibility in directing employees, or limiting how much investment will have to made into salary increases or benefits, but Slate has made a peculiar demand that it govern how the union does its business—and, worse, it is insisting that the bargaining unit exist in a position of weakness and division.

      Imposing “right-to-work,” or the option for workers in a unionized workplace to opt out of the union without paying union dues or agency shop fees, has long been a campaign of the US right. These “right-to-work” laws are on the books in more than half the states, and as of this summer, they apply to all public-sector unions, thanks to the Supreme Court decision Janus v. AFSCME, which overturned a four-decade old precedent.

      In Washington, DC, where the Slate Group is based (it’s controlled by the Graham family, which used to own the Washington Post), there are no “right-to-work” laws for the private sector, but Slate is trying impose them through bargaining. That WGAE members are threatening a strike over this says how much of an affront to union power such a demand is.

    • One of the Russian parliament’s most outspoken critics of the West has a fancy London restaurant in his son’s name and a Miami apartment in his niece’s name
      Alexey Chepa used to run a business in Africa and owned the Russky Mir television station. Today he serves as a deputy in Russia’s State Duma, where he’s a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and is an outspoken critic of Great Britain and the United States. In the 1990s, Chepa managed the Friendship and Cooperation Foundation with the Republic of Angola and ran a business that was especially active in Africa. The newspaper Vedomosti has called Chepa a former Russian intelligence agent, and journalists say he has ties to Arkady Gaidamak, an Israeli businessman convicted in France in 2009 of illegally supplying weapons to Angola between 1993 and 1998. (Gaidamak says the French courts are persecuting him for political reasons.)

      In the early 2000s, Chepa started acquiring media assets, such as the television stations Nostalgiya and Russky Mir (which air in the United States for an audience of Russian immigrants). It was in these years when Chepa entered politics, first as one of the leaders and sponsors of the Agrarian Party of Russia, which he left in 2005 after a conflict with the party’s chairman, Mikhail Lapshin. Two years later, Chepa joined the Just Russia party, and in 2011 he was elected to the State Duma.

    • May Days in Britain
      It is hard to envisage sympathy for a person who made a name as a home secretary (prisons, detentions, security and such) taking the mast and banner of her country before hopeless odds, but inadequate opponents will do that to you. Vicious, venal and underdone, the enemies from within Theresa May’s own Tory ranks resemble the lazily angry, the fumingly indulgent. These are the same men, and a few women, who managed to derive enormous satisfaction from a Britain pampered and spoiled by EU largesse but questioning of its bureaucracy and demands. Patriotism has an odd habit of making one jaundiced, but manic self-interest will also do that to you.

      May remains British prime minister after a botched effort to overthrow her within conservative party ranks. She faced the unenviable situation of being stonewalled in Europe and by Parliament itself. President of the European Council Donald Tusk assured May that the deal for the UK leaving the EU is not up for renegotiation, “including the backstop”.

      The border with Ireland – soft, hard, or middling – is proving to be a rattling affair. Should it go “hard”, Britain will find itself trapped. As The Irish Times noted, “It evokes genuine fear, not least in those who live near the Border or rely on trade for their livelihoods or count themselves among the silenced majority in Northern Ireland who voted Remain.”

      As for Parliament, May has ducked and weaved in putting the deal to its irritable members, thereby depriving MPs a hack at sinking it. May fears, rightly, defeat over a proposal that has satisfied few. What is now being run in certain circles is the idea of “indicative votes”, which might throw up various Brexit models (Canada-styled; Norwegian adapted).

      The May plotters, however, showed the skills and talents of marksmen who end up shooting themselves in a fit of drunken enthusiasm on a poorly planned hunt. The leadership challenge on December 12 served to demonstrate a good level of incompetence, amplified by the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson.


      Brexit is the great exercise of imperfection, an experiment that the EU would like to quash just as many in the UK would like to see reversed. It has been disheartening and cruel; it has divided and disturbed. It has also demonstrated levels of marked mendacity fitting for countries British citizens tend to mock. Facts have become fictions; fictions have been paraded as exemplars of truth. The dark spirits have been released, and there are not going to be bottled any time soon.

  • Censorship/Free Speech

    • Pakistan’s army is behind an unprecedented clampdown on the media

      All is not what it seems, however. For a start a fiscal crisis has walloped the media, which rely on advertising from government agencies and state-owned companies. Owners talk of the pain of having to fire journalists and cut operations. “We are all paring ourselves to the bone just to survive,” says one. “Every day the challenge is just to put out the paper.”

      Worse, the army is using the crisis to reinforce an even more disturbing trend: its tendency to strong-arm journalists and bloggers, behind the scenes, to suppress all criticism, not just of the armed forces directly, but also of the policies they hold dear. [...]

    • Bank account of Azerbaijani journalist Khadija Ismayilova frozen

      Her account was frozen right before she was due to receive compensation from the government for unjust persecution

    • Chelyabinsk locals declare boycott after state TV network covers up environmentalist protest at City Hall
      People living in Chelyabinsk have declared a boycott against the state television network Rossiya 1, following a recent broadcast of the debate show “60 Minutes,” where the hosts denied evidence of a protest against the city’s smog. According to a local environmentalist community on Vkontakte, Chelyabinsk residents are complaining on social media that the channel reports lies, vowing not to tuned in any longer.

      On December 12, environmentalists assembled at Chelyabinsk City Hall to discuss the city’s ecological crisis with acting Mayor Vladimir Elistratov. According to various estimates, between 50 and 200 people entered the building, waiting roughly an hour to speak to Elistratov. Local news outlets reported that the activists “stormed” and “attacked” City Hall, but video footage from the protest suggests that the demonstrators mostly just stood around and argued with the mayor’s staff.

    • The Russian federal official who wants to beat Alexey Navalny to a pulp has messed up the paperwork in his defamation lawsuit against Navalny
      Moscow’s Lublin District Court has delayed the hearing of a defamation lawsuit brought by National Guard chief Viktor Zolotov against anti-corruption activist Alexey Navalny, finding that Zolotov’s paperwork is incomplete. The pugilistic federal official has until January 9 to fill in the blanks, or the court will throw out the case.

    • Anti-BDS Laws Challenged as Unconstitutional After Speech Pathologist Loses Job at Texas School for Refusing to Sign Pro-Israel Pledge
      Texas officials are facing an onslaught of criticism after a speech pathologist lost her job at an elementary school for refusing to sign a pro-Israel pledge mandated by state law—a case that has cast a spotlight on efforts to neutralize the global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which opposes Israel's oppression and slaughter of Palestinians.

    • New Hampshire Police Arrested a Man for Being Mean to Them on the Internet
      Should it be a crime to call public officials corrupt? Yes, according to the police in Exeter, New Hampshire. Earlier this year, they arrested a local man for writing a comment on a news website accusing Police Chief William Shupe of covering for a corrupt officer.

      Robert Frese was accused of violating New Hampshire’s criminal defamation law, which makes it a misdemeanor to intentionally and falsely disparage another person. New Hampshire’s law — and others like it in 24 other states around the country — literally make it a crime to say mean things about people.

      These laws have no place in modern American democracy. That’s why we filed a lawsuit Tuesday in New Hampshire federal court arguing that criminal defamation laws violate the First Amendment.
    • Report: UK Internet Regulation – Part I: Internet Censorship in the UK today
      This report looks at current Internet censorship, including copyright injunctions, BBFC blocking powers, Nominet domain suspensions, CTIRU takedown requests and the Internet Watch Foundation.

    • Meet the Texas Speech Pathologist Who Lost School Job for Refusing to Sign Pro-Israel, Anti-BDS Oath
      A Palestinian-American speech pathologist in Austin, Texas, has filed a federal lawsuit for losing her job after refusing to sign a pro-Israel oath. Bahia Amawi is an Arabic-speaking child language specialist who had worked for nine years in the Pflugerville Independent School District. But she lost her job last year after she declined to sign a pledge that she would “not boycott Israel during the term of the contract” and that she would not take any action that is “intended to penalize, inflict economic harm on, or limit commercial relations with Israel.” We speak with Bahia Amawi and Gadeir Abbas, senior litigation attorney with the Council on American-Islamic Relations. He is representing Amawi in her lawsuit against the Pflugerville Independent School District and the state of Texas.

    • Glenn Greenwald: Congress Is Trying to Make It a Federal Crime to Participate in Boycott of Israel
      Twenty-six states have laws preventing state agencies from contracting with companies or individuals aligned with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. BDS is an international campaign to pressure Israel to comply with international law and respect Palestinian rights. However, its opponents say BDS is a thinly disguised anti-Semitic attempt to debilitate or even destroy Israel. We speak with Glenn Greenwald, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and one of the founding editors of The Intercept. His latest piece is headlined “A Texas Elementary School Speech Pathologist Refused to Sign a Pro-Israel Oath, Now Mandatory in Many States—So She Lost Her Job.”

    • Chinese Government Reopens Video Game Approval Process
      A few months, the Chinese government halted the issuance of video game licenses. Before a game was approved for release in the country, it had to go through a testing phase. The hiatus of the approval process meant bad things for the future of video games in China. Recently, the approval process of video games was resumed, and the stock market has reacted accordingly.

    • Moscow court formally blocks Alexey Navalny's online project to defeat United Russia in regional elections
      Moscow Tagansky District Court judge Olga Sinelnikova has ruled against Alexey Navalny’s “Smart Vote” website, siding with Roskomnadzor and finding that Smart Vote violates Russia’s regulations on personal data storage. The information of people who register with the website is processed through the service Google Analytics, which is based in the United States. Sinelnikova ruled that this data legally needs to be stored on servers in Russia, and determined that Smart Vote prompts users to share their bank account information to purchase merchandise without disclosing how it handles the information.

      Sinelnikova blocked not only the website, but also its mirror websites. The portal itself has been inaccessible to most Internet users in Russia since December 7, when Sinelnikova approved a preliminary block as an interim measure.

    • Disgruntled driver attacks ‘Ekho Moskvy’ deputy chief editor, putting a gun to his head
      Someone grabbed Ekho Moskvy deputy chief editor Sergey Buntman and put a gun to his head, after the journalist caught his coat on the bumper of the man’s parked car. The incident took place on the evening of December 18, outside the “Shinok” restaurant near the Ulitsa 1905 Goda subway station in Moscow, where friends celebrated Ekho Moskvy chief editor Alexey Venediktov’s birthday.

      According to a Facebook post by Buntman’s wife, Lidiya Skryabina, an unidentified passerby intervened and saved him by chasing away the attacker. Skryabina also shared a photograph of the attacker’s car, which the website Open Media says is registered to Mikhail Gusman, the deputy CEO of the news agency TASS.

    • YouTube's $100 Million Upload Filter Failures Demonstrate What A Disaster Article 13 Will Be For The Internet
      In case you haven't followed it, the idea of the "value gap" is that (1) YouTube pays less to musicians record labels than Spotify and Apple Music do for streams. (2) YouTube's general purpose video hosting platform is protected by intermediary protection laws (DMCA 512 in the US, Article 14 of the E-Commerce Directive in the EU) allowing users to upload whatever they want, and YouTube only has to takedown infringing works upon notice. (3) Services like Spotify and Apple Music license all their works. (4) The "lower rates" that YouTube pays must be the result of the safe harbor, and the difference in payments is the "value gap." Article 13, then, is supposed to "fix" the value gap by completely removing any notice-and-takedown safe harbor for copyright-covered works.

      Of course, almost all of this is bullshit. YouTube is used in very, very different ways from Spotify and Apple Music. While YouTube does have a competing music streaming service that is similar to Spotify/Apple Music, its payment rates there are equivalent. But on the general open platform, the rates are different. This is not because of the safe harbors, but because people use the platforms very, very differently. People use Spotify/Apple Music almost like radio -- to put on music that is constantly streaming playlists of songs. YouTube has all sorts of content, most of it not music, and while some may use it as a radio-style experience, that is fairly rare. And the recording industry has always received different rates based on different platforms and different kinds of usage.

    • Eleanor Goldfield and the Need for an Alternative to Facebook

  • Privacy/Surveillance

    • Privacy & Security Reading List
      If you’re traveling this weekend, nestled in front of the fire, or just trying to offset the effect of sugar-coated holiday specials, we’ve got a reading list for you. These picks were recommended by team members at Purism and reflect our dedication to digital privacy, security, and freedom. With daily headlines about Big Tech scandals like Facebook’s clandestine data-sharing, there’s no better time to read up on these topics.

      The choices below are listed in no particular order and, wherever possible, we link to author websites and privacy-respecting sources.
    • How Amazon Alexa User Received 1,700 Voice Recordings Of A Total Stranger
      An Amazon Alexa user from Germany decided to exercise his rights under the EU’s GDPR and demanded his personal data recorded by the company. Instead, he received 1,700 audio recordings of someone else he doesn’t know.

      The man demanded a copy of all the data Amazon has on him. Two months later he received a 100MB file which contained some of his own data related to the Amazon searches he made.

    • EFF to Appellate Court: Protect Biometric Privacy
      Big tech companies are surveilling your face for profit. Fortunately, Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA) prohibits companies from harvesting and monetizing your biometrics, including a scan of your face measurements, without your informed opt-in consent. But now Facebook is asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to defang BIPA, by narrowly interpreting its enforcement tool and thus depriving injured parties of their day in court.

      EFF has joined an amicus curiae brief urging the Ninth Circuit to properly interpret BIPA to provide strong protection of biometric privacy. Our fellow amici are ACLU, CDT, and PIRG.

      The case on appeal is In re Facebook Biometric Information Privacy Litigation, which is sometimes called Patel v. Facebook. The plaintiffs challenge Facebook’s “tag suggestions” feature, which uses powerful face recognition technology to identify the people in images uploaded to the platform. Facebook then suggests that the people who uploaded the images tag the people in the images with those identities. The plaintiffs allege that this feature violates BIPA, by conducting face surveillance absent informed opt-in consent. The federal trial court certified a class of people allegedly harmed by this feature, and the Ninth Circuit granted an immediate appeal of whether the class was properly certified.

      In deciding the class appeal, the Ninth Circuit may rule on the effectiveness of BIPA’s enforcement tool. BIPA provides that “any person aggrieved by a violation of this Act” may bring an action against the company that violated the Act. An important issue is whether a person is “aggrieved,” and may sue, based solely on the collection of their biometric information without their consent, or whether a person must also show some additional injury. The answer to this question may determine whether the members of the class suffered a common injury, and thus whether the class was properly certified.
    • People Should Be Allowed to Sue Facebook If It Violates Law on Face Recognition Privacy
      We filed a court brief opposing Facebook’s effort to make it harder to enforce a pro-privacy law. Ten years ago, Illinois enacted a law that imposes important protections against companies collecting and storing our biometric information — including using facial recognition— without our knowledge and consent. The law is called the Biometric Information Privacy Act. Although facial recognition was relatively crude when it was passed, the wisdom of Illinois’ decision has been borne out over the last decade, as facial recognition and other biometric collection has developed and spread.

      On Monday, the ACLU filed a friend-of-the-court brief in federal appeals court defending the Illinois law against arguments advanced by Facebook trying to remove the law’s pro-privacy teeth. (The brief was filed along with ACLU affiliates in Illinois and California as well as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Center for Democracy & Technology, and Illinois PIRG).

      Under the law, a company may collect a person’s biometric identifiers — like fingerprints or data from a person’s face or iris — only if it first obtains informed consent from that person. In the case now pending in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Facebook users in Illinois have alleged that the company violated their rights under the law by using facial recognition technology to identify them in digital images uploaded to the site without disclosing its use of facial recognition or obtaining consent.

      One of Facebook’s arguments in the case is that people should not have an automatic right to sue when their biometric information has been collected in violation of the law. Rather, they must prove that they have suffered monetary or other damages. As we explain in our brief, however, that runs counter to the Illinois Legislature’s intent, which was to provide strong, enforceable protection against surreptitious collection of sensitive biometric data.

    • The World Google Controls and Surveillance Capitalism
      I have been following the scandal of the UK’s Investigatory Powers Act (also known as the Snoopers’ Charter) and Holland’s Sleepwet and their relationship to the encroaching government powers over private data, privacy, data collection, surveillance, and free speech for several years now. And very much related to these bills created ostensibly to protest us from “terrorism,” is Google’s encroaching powers over our lives, to include the freedom of expression protected by most national laws, not to mention EU and UN Charters, around the planet today.

      When the Internet became a tool for communication and research in the late1980s (usually through universities and research institutes) and later rrendered public through commercial Internet service providers (ISPs) in 1991, most people were slow to catch on. Initially, I was inculcated into Internet culture by virtue of being a graduate student at New York University where I came to depend on their computer labs to churn out papers when not using friends’ computers. I still remember Archie, Telnet, and line mode browsers before the release of ViolaWWW. By the mid 1990s students were curious about hypertext through Memex and Xanada while many others made their personal webpage which they would write in html with the help of on- or off-line instructions. The concept of a free website builder had not yet emerged and everything was very much ad hoc, individuals figuring out how to fiddle with html as if a late 20th century Mini Cooper under whose hood the user would play around. And yes, the flashing bright lights that every webpage seemed to embrace as if a will to trigger everyone visiting their page an epileptic seizure.
    • As facial recognition systems continue to spread, so do concerns about their deployment
      The honey-pot approach – offering something that is likely to attract people so that their faces can be scanned and compared with a watchlist – could easily be adapted for use in other situations. Although it’s a clever trick, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)) points out that the technique raises a number of important issues.

      For example, it seems that people were not told that a facial recognition system would be used in this way. The ACLU asks whether the images taken were saved, or shared with anyone else. Did security at the event use them to track individuals they regarded as “suspicious” at the concert? Facial recognition systems still have problems with accuracy, so that raises the question of how people who were flagged up as potentially a known stalker were approached and treated. Did the security people assume they were guilty until proven innocent, or did they carry out further checks? The ACLU points out that the approach adopted at Taylor Swift’s concert only works if there is an existing watchlist of people. That, in its turn, raises important questions about how such watchlists are created, whether they are fair or biased, and what can be done to be taken off them.

    • [Joke] Canadian GoFundMe Raises $6B In Two Hours To Pay For Privacy Hedge Along Entire US Border
      In a stunning rebuke of the 46th best president in American history, the United States’ northern neighbour shattered numerous crowdsourcing records today, when it raised billions and billions and billions of dollars to plant and maintain a living barrier between themselves and the adjacent idiocracy.

      “We’d heard that a bunch of people down in the You-Ess-of-Eh had decided to empty their wallets out for a wall that won’t block anything other than half of all escape routes, when their dirty bomb of a president melts through his retaining barrier,” explains the man who started the campaign, Tom Candy, of Fewmarket, Ontario.

      “So naturally our first thought was: how can we best deal with this shitshow as it unfolds directly beside us, and add a little ever-greenery to a world which, it has to be said, is looking a little bleak right now? The answer was, of course, legalizing marijuana. But with that already having been done, our next thought was: let’s plant a privacy hedge.”

      The campaign started with the modest goal of raising $250,000, which was estimated to be enough to pay for an ad on Fox & Friends asking Americans to help Canada secure its border against the dreaded MAGA-16 gang.
    • Mark Zuckerberg ridiculed by The Guardian in a mock 'Year in Review' video charting Facebook’s disastrous 12 months

    • ACLU to feds: Your “hacking presents a unique threat to individual privacy”

      The American Civil Liberties Union, along with Privacy International, a similar organization based in the United Kingdom, have now sued 11 federal agencies, demanding records about how those agencies engage in what is often called "lawful hacking."

      The activist groups filed Freedom of Information Act requests to the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Agency, and nine others. None responded in a substantive way.

    • We Should Replace Facebook With Personal Websites

      Personal websites and email can replace most of what people like about Facebook—namely the urge to post about their lives online.

    • If your privacy is the hands of others alone, you don’t have any

      We must crank up agency on the individual’s side. We did it with the standards and protocols that gave us the Net, the Web, email and too little else. And we need it here too. Soon.

      This is why we (a few colleagues and I) co-founded Customer Commons as a place for terms that individuals can proffer as first parties, just by pointing at them. (Much as licenses at Creative Commons can be pointed at. Sites and services can agree too those terms, and both can keep records and follow audit trails.

      And there are some good signs that this will happen. For example, the IEEE approached Customer Commons last year with the suggestion that they help its community by creating a working group for machine readable personal privacy terms. It’s called P7012. If you’d like to join, please do.

      Without work like this, privacy will remain an empty promise by a legion of violators.

    • Calculating Facebook's value by figuring out how much you'd have to pay users to quit

      The corollary of network effects is sudden collapse. As people leave the service, the value of the service steeply declines (you might only use FB to communicate with your kid's soccer team, so leaving FB is the same as pulling your kid out of soccer and that's worth a lot to you -- but if the team leaves FB, then there's no reason to use FB, and the value of FB to you falls to $0.

      So when the authors assume that FB's worth is $1000/user, they're assuming stable values. But FB is more like a social ponzi scheme: once people start leaving, the "asset" of your FB social graph becomes a worthless abstraction.

  • Civil Rights/Policing

    • No Space to Be Human

      The relentless weight of ruthlessly measured time also begins to take its toll. When she first accepts the job, Geissler reassures herself that she is merely a journalist at work, “a book person…perfectly within your rights to be interested in the company for research purposes.” But just a few pages later, she knows better: “You’re at their disposal from the very beginning. You’re an item on a list.” Although she seems to believe at times that she or other people like her—the educated, the literary, the culturally bourgeois—are the only ones resistant to such a reduction of individuality, more often she recognizes that the imposition of such demeaning work is “essentially rotten,” something against whose effects no one can be immune. “It’s almost impossible not to be forced to your knees and into defiance by this job,” she writes.

    • The scale of abuse against women on Twitter is shocking

      We found that 12 percent of the tweets mentioning the 778 women in our sample were either “abusive” or “problematic”. Extrapolating from our findings and using cutting-edge data science, Element AI calculated that this amounts to 1.1 million tweets over the course of the year. This is horrifying, but sadly not much of a surprise. In fact, many of our findings corroborate what women have been telling us for years about their experiences on Twitter.

    • Why Hondurans See Migration as an Act of Civil Disobedience
      A singular image is said to have sparked this latest migrant caravan. Set against a bold, red background, it features a figure, arms outstretched like a cross, with a backpack flying the Honduran flag. Contained in the message across the top: “We aren’t leaving because we want to; violence and poverty expel us.”

      The image expresses the generalized frustration regarding the current social, political, and economic state of Honduras and proposes migration as a challenge to that reality. The typical Honduran sees the caravan movement for what is: an outright act of civil disobedience. People are walking out of their own countries, the subconscious protest of a frustrated people. It is a bold protest by Hondurans against their president and corruption within their government and a challenge to the U.S. to reckon with the regional crisis its foreign policies have created.

      I remember an article from a 1980s Mexican magazine promoting migration to the U.S. as a means of calming popular discontent around a range of social injustices. Instead of using organized protest to demand change, people could be encouraged to seek the American Dream, quelling the problem of popular uprisings at the root.

    • South Korea Continues To Criminalize Behavior Around Online Gaming At The Behest Of Video Game Industry
      While we've spent some time here talking about the emergence of eSports and online gaming generally, it's safe to say that South Korea was one of the trailblazers in this space. This has led to a remarkable ecosystem in the country for online gaming and competitive gaming. But it's also led to South Korea introducing some fairly problematic laws at the request of the gaming industry. For instance, criminalizing cheating in online gaming is very much a thing in South Korea, though this is actually done by making it illegal to break a game's ToS, which nobody reads.

      Now, however, South Korea is going a much more targeted and direct route by criminalizing "boosting", the practice of experienced players of a particular game contracting their services to help less-able gamers to climb the level ranks.

    • After Enabling Trump's Anti-Immigration Policies, Paul Ryan Makes Exception for Immigrants From His Own Homeland
      After spending much of the past two years enabling President Donald Trump's hard-line immigration policy and blocking the House from voting on bipartisan legislation to protect young immigrants, outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) is showing recent enthusiasm for welcoming a select group of immigrants—not the thousands of Central Americans who are in a camp in Tijuana, Mexico, waiting to seek asylum in the U.S., but people from his family's own homeland.

      Ryan pushed through a bill that passed in the House late last month, giving thousands of E-3 work visas to Irish nationals. The bill is expected to pass in the Senate this week.

    • Russian foreign minister says Maria Butina was ‘tortured’ into cooperating with U.S. law enforcement
      Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has commented on Maria Butina’s cooperation with American law enforcement, claiming that she was subjected to “a kind of torture.”

      “I understand this woman. She finds herself in extreme conditions, and for months on end they’ve been subjecting her to a kind of torture: taking her for walks in the middle of the night, forcibly interrupting her sleep, throwing her in solitary confinement, and a whole lot more,” Lavrov explained on Friday, arguing that U.S. authorities did what was necessary to “break her” and force her to confess to crimes she did not commit. “But I repeat: this is her fate and her decision. We will do everything to ensure that our citizen’s rights are ensured so that she may return home as soon as possible.”

    • Russia's prison population is now lower than at any point in modern history
      The prison population in Russia is lower than at any point in modern history, according to new figures released by the Federal Penitentiary Service. There are currently 467,724 inmates in Russia today. For comparison, the prison population was 588,000 people in January 2013 and 497,000 in January 2018.

      Russia partly owes its falling incarcerations to prison reforms adopted earlier this year that weigh days spent in pretrial detention as 1.5 days in a standard prison. According to estimates, the new policy instantly freed roughly 14,000 people and made early parole available to nearly 100,000 inmates.

    • Mexico Heeds Trump’s Gag Order on Immigration Communications
      Many in the US are reflecting on the country’s collective values after images of children running to escape clouds of tear gas fired by US border agents came to light. What remains unseen, however, is the stealth effort by the Trump administration to pressure the incoming Mexican administration to help carry out US border and immigration policies that grow more draconian by the day.

      The ongoing secrecy behind the agents’ use of force has since hindered hopes for accountability, and has shifted the public’s focus toward Mexico’s role in executing President Trump’s plans to fortify the border and overhaul the US asylum process.

      There are conflicting reports about the supposed deal between the two countries to force asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico while their cases wind through US immigration courts. The proposal has drawn condemnation from human rights observers, who say the plan would violate individuals’ rights to seek asylum. Mexico’s President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador says there is no such agreement, but the tradition of covert negotiations between the two countries threatens to block the public from knowing the truth.

    • Corporate Elites’ Malfeasance Is Thwarting Human Rights in Africa
      The Universal Declaration of Human Rights turned 70 on December 10. Governments and civil society organizations around the world commemorated the day with a range of activities.

      Over the years, the Declaration has been a global beacon for Africans fighting against colonialism and for inclusive economic equality and sustainable development. Its provisions stand as aspirational goals for nations, and standards that nations are duty-bound to uphold and promote.

      But what if despite your country’s commitment to uphold these and other fundamental freedoms, every year it was robbed of the financial resources necessary to promote and protect rights?

      This is the case for most nations in Africa, where illicit financial flows (IFFs) rob countries of $60-100 billion each year — losses in many countries that exceed foreign direct investments and development assistance. Funds that could be used to secure basic economic and social rights — for example the rights to social security, decent work, and human dignity — are instead held in secret tax havens for the benefit of corporate elites.

    • Trump Bullies Asian Countries Into Accepting Deported Refugees Who Fled After Vietnam War
      Nam Nguyen came to the United States as a refugee in 1985. He was 9 years old and an unaccompanied minor.

      Orphaned in the wake of the Vietnam War, Nguyen left the country on a boat in 1984 for an Indonesia refugee camp, where the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees sponsored his asylum request.

      Under a 2008 agreement between the Vietnam and the U.S., Nguyen is protected from deportation along with any other Vietnam refugees, who entered the U.S. prior to 1995. (This is when diplomatic relations between the two countries were restored.)

      Vietnam has faced pressure to change the agreement under President Donald Trump’s administration, placing individuals like Nguyen at risk for deportation.

      “I’m the main person who supports my family, so if I ever get deported, it will be hell for them,” Nguyen said. “I don’t think the Trump policy is fair. I’m worried, scared, nervous, depressed. My wife and I don’t talk about this immigration stuff because every time we talk about it, she cries. She doesn’t know if I’m going to be taken away from the family and who will pay the bills.”

    • 181 Nations Just Voted to Help Refugees. Only the Far-Right United States and Hungary Voted "No"
      The United States was a near global outlier Monday at the United Nations General Assembly in rejecting a framework to bolster international cooperation on refugees.

      Only Hungary—headed by far-right Prime Minister Viktor Orban, whose administration has been accused of carrying out "a full-frontal assault on migrants and refugees"—joined the U.S. in voting "no" on the Global Compact on Refugees (pdf). One hundred eighty-one nations voted to approve it, while three—the Dominican Republic, Eritrea, and Libya—abstained.

      "The U.S. said recently that it backed most of the refugee pact, but not the part aimed at limiting detentions of asylum seekers," Agence France-Presse reported. The international agreement states: "The development of non-custodial and community-based alternatives to detention, particularly for children, will also be supported."

    • Joe Bryan in His Own Words: On Being Convicted With Expert Testimony That Turned Out to Be Wrong
      This summer and fall, as Joe Bryan’s attorneys argued that he deserved a new trial, Bryan watched in silence. Although he was at the center of the evidentiary hearing in Comanche, Texas, he was never afforded a chance to speak. Dressed in a black-and-white-striped jail jumpsuit, he sat beside his defense attorneys, listening intently to each witness, a finger usually pressed to his temple in concentration. I often wondered what he was thinking.

      Bryan has twice been convicted of the 1985 murder of his wife, Mickey, an elementary school teacher, in their Clifton, Texas, home. Bryan, then a beloved high school principal, had been attending an education conference in Austin, 120 miles away, in the days surrounding the murder. He has always maintained that he was asleep in his hotel room at the time of the crime. At the hearing in Comanche, compelling evidence was presented that the forensic testimony used to convict him was erroneous.

    • Russian lawmakers pass draft legislation that could jail people for 30 days if they invite minors to unpermitted protests
      The State Duma has adopted the third and final reading of legislation that imposes extra penalties on people who encourage minors to attend unpermitted demonstrations. Three hundred and forty-two deputies voted for the bill, and just 42 voted against it.

      “We can’t ignore the actions of those who incite our youth and our children to commit illegal acts and break the law,” said United Russia deputy Evgeny Revenko, who helped write the legislation. He argued that the law isn’t aimed at parents, and minors are still welcome to attend sanctioned demonstrations.

      Communist Party deputy Alexey Kurinny, who opposed the bill, warned that it is open to “very broad interpretations” and “selective enforcement.”

    • Confirming Women's Experience of Harassment, 'Troll Patrol' Study Reveals Twitter Flooded With Misogyny and Abuse
      A crowd-sourced study by a leading humanitarian group and global artificial intelligence company confirms that women around the world face abuse when using Twitter—and that without the social media platform's commitment to combating such treatment, pervasive online abuse will continue to have the effect of harming and silencing women, particularly women of color.

      With the help of the artificial intelligence software company Element AI and 6,500 volunteers who sifted through more than 200,000 tweets sent to women in 2017, Amnesty International reported in their study, entitled "Troll Patrol," that women were mentioned in 1.1 million abusive or problematic tweets last year.

    • Austin Closes A High Number Of Its Rape Cases Without Arrests. The State’s Investigating Why.
      The Austin Police Department has asked the Texas Department of Public Safety to audit the way it processes and clears sexual assault cases following an investigation by Newsy, Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting and ProPublica.

      The investigation, Case Cleared, revealed that Austin police and dozens of law enforcement agencies across the country are making it appear as though they have solved a significant share of their rape cases when they have simply closed them without making an arrest, using a process known as exceptional clearance.

      Advocates and rape survivors demanded change at an Austin City Council meeting last month, days after the investigative report was released.

      “We have a serious problem with the way that rapes are handled in Austin and Travis County, and this is an opportunity to do something about it,” said Rebecca Bernhardt of the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault.

    • Investigation Finds Philly PD Officers Bought Forfeited Houses Seized During Drug Arrests
      Philadelphia's asset forfeiture programs have subjected the city's residents to all sorts of abuse. Cops have taken cars away from their owners because a child, relative, or friend was arrested while driving the vehicle. Law enforcement has tried to take entire homes away from grandmothers because their kid sold $140-worth of marijuana to an undercover cop.

      A recent court settlement is reforming the program -- something the city's legislators have had zero success doing. Cash under the amount of $250 can no longer be forfeited. Seizures under $1000 need to be accompanied by an arrest and charges. The city's law enforcement has been flexing its creativity, using the new arrest requirement to seize vehicles as "evidence" and hoping the wheels of justice grind slowly enough it would be cheaper to relinquish ownership than pay to get the car out of the impound lot.

      We know cops directly profit from asset forfeiture, but when we say that we generally mean their agencies get new toys, vehicles, and other niceties by converting other people's property into discretionary spending. But there's an actual personal profit angle to forfeiture that hasn't been discussed. An investigation by PlanPhilly shows police officers have personally and directly benefited from property seizures tied to drug enforcement efforts.

    • Voice For the Voiceless
      The non-binding Global Compact on Refugees they were marking at the U.N., the result of two years of negotiations, is being touted as a "historic" effort to share responsibility for supporting the world's 25-million-plus refugees, over 85% of whom are hosted by poor countries. The compact's measures will aid those host nations, whose public services often struggle to support newcomers. The pact was approved 181-2, with the Dominican Republic, Eritrea and Libya abstaining. The 2 votes against came from Hungary and, yes, the U.S., which is currently run by racist monsters and which opposed a call to limit detentions of asylum seekers. Another new global compact to support migrants is expected to be endorsed by the General Assembly on Wednesday; it was earlier approved by most of the U.N.'s 193 members over fierce opposition from the U.S. What we wish, devoutly: When Trump dies, hopefully in prison, may he return in his next life as a migrant or refugee.

    • Despite Intimidation Tactics, Mom and Kids Tear-Gassed at US Border Finally Allowed to File for Asylum
      A group of migrants—including a Honduran mother and her children who were photographed being sprayed with tear gas at the border last month—was allowed to apply for asylum on Tuesday after camping out on U.S. soil near the Otay Mesa port of entry in San Diego, California for hours with two members of Congress who documented the experience, which featured intimidation tactics by federal agents, on social media.

    • The First Step Act Opens the Door to Digital Incarceration
      The recent debates over the First Step Act and California’s SB-10 — two bills that attempt to address the overuse of incarceration in the US — have thrown the complexities of “criminal justice system reform” into the spotlight. Most attention has focused on sentencing reform and ending cash bail. But the struggles over these bills have brought another issue front and center that will be extremely critical in the long run: electronic monitoring. Both these laws, if enacted, (and many more to come) would precipitate a much wider use of e-carceration — the deprivation of liberty by means of technologies such as ankle monitors.

      I have campaigned against the use of electronic monitors for many years, after spending a year on one myself. Fortunately, an increasing number of people are reaching the obvious conclusion: Electronic monitoring is not an alternative to incarceration but an alternative form of incarceration. With the monitor, our homes become our jails; our loved ones become our jailers. While this is an important realization, we need to dig deeper in responding to electronic monitors. As much as some of us may want them to go away, they are here and are going to be with us for a good while.

      The United States has about 200,000 people on these devices right now with the numbers, especially among immigrants, steadily rising. Even the hinterlands are busting out e-shackles. Indianapolis seems to lead the nation’s cities in electronic monitoring with more than 4,000 people forced to wear ankle monitors. Those of us who oppose mass incarceration, especially if we adopt an abolitionist perspective, must respond to ankle monitors like we respond to prisons. Abolitionists oppose adding more prisons, push for people to be freed from them and try to close them down. When we can’t do any of that, we fight to reduce the harm by opposing torturous practices like solitary confinement, mandatory minimums and shackling mothers who are giving birth. To similarly oppose electronic monitors — which many activists call “digital prisons” — we must oppose new shackles, try to reduce the number in operation and reduce the harm being done by monitors.
    • Global Peasant Declaration Represents Huge Advance for Human Rights
      Later this month, the United Nations General Assembly is expected to pass a new Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and other People Working in Rural Areas, following more than a decade of work by La Via Campesina, or “the peasant’s way” and other social movements. Via Campesina came together in the early 1990s to address the problems economic globalization brought for small-scale farmers. Today, it represents around 300 million small farmers across five continents. The UN Declaration reflects an important—arguably revolutionary—development in international human rights law. It seeks to protect the rights of rural populations, and also has implications for the fight against climate change and for the protection of biodiversity(See Via Campesina).

    • Private Construction-Waste Truck Hits Man Outside de Blasio Event
      A private construction-waste truck struck and injured a pedestrian in Manhattan on Tuesday morning, the second crash for the vehicle’s owner in 2018.

      The crash occurred outside an event in Chinatown attended by Mayor Bill de Blasio, and a member of his security detail helped the injured pedestrian in the minutes before an ambulance arrived, according to the mayor’s press secretary. The unidentified pedestrian, a 60-year-old man, was taken to Bellevue Hospital, where he was listed in critical condition.

      De Blasio has touted pedestrian safety as a core aim of his mayoralty, and the crash comes as his administration is pushing a major reform that it says will improve the safety records of the army of private commercial garbage trucks that crisscross the city’s streets. The proposed plan from the Department of Sanitation calls for dividing the city into zones, with only three to five trash companies in each, and legislation could be introduced in the City Council as early as spring 2019.

    • Elkhart’s Mayor Says He Won’t Run for Re-election, Amid Revelations of Misconduct in the Police Ranks
      Tim Neese, the mayor of Elkhart, Indiana, abandoned his re-election campaign Tuesday following revelations of misconduct in the city’s Police Department, including a video showing two officers beating a handcuffed man.

      A news release, issued by Neese’s office, did not provide a reason for the mayor’s decision not to run again in 2019, when his term expires. Early Tuesday, Neese’s campaign website still appeared to signal plans for a second term, promising updates on “the many things going on during my 2019 Elkhart Mayor re-election campaign.” The site also showed Neese had raised campaign money at a Sept. 25 golf outing. By Tuesday evening, the site had been taken down.

      “Serving as mayor of the City of Elkhart has been a great honor,” Neese said in the news release. “Each day presents a new opportunity to make a positive difference in the lives of others. That has been my number one priority since the day I decided to run for mayor. My greatest achievement, however, has always been my family. The titles of dad and grandpa are more important than the title of mayor.”

  • Internet Policy/Net Neutrality

    • The state of RPKI: Q4 2018
      In the fall I did a blog post and talk on RPKI about how the current methods of measuring RPKI deployment are broken because they do not take into account network operators actually verifying their imported routes.

    • Based on new draft legislation, here’s how Russia would actually build its own, autonomous Internet
      Under the law, Russia would create a national domain name system and develop special rules for Internet traffic routing. Having its own domain name system (which translates more easily memorized domain names to resources' numerical IP addresses) is supposed to guard against the potential seizure of Russia’s .ru and .рф domains, and developing its own routing system would protect Internet providers against the seizure of the IP-address blocks allocated to them.

    • FCC's O'Rielly Keeps Claiming, With Zero Evidence, That Community Broadband Is An 'Ominous' Threat To Free Speech
      O'Rielly's right on one point: some fully government-owned community ISPs could face legal challenge for trying, as government operators, to censor hate speech via mouse print. As government operators, community ISPs actually have a greater Constitutional burden to avoid censoring content online than their private counterparts (a major reason, you'll note, that none have actually tried). That said, as local operations that have to be voter approved, community ISPs also have more direct accountability to the communities they serve. Certainly more than a company like Comcast or AT&T.

      O'Rielly's problem is he then takes his core tenet to make a false claim: that because some community ISP mouse print isn't legally sound, allowing community broadband to exist threatens free speech. Recall, O'Rielly's original speech argued that these ISPs have "have engaged in significant First Amendment mischief." And again, that never happened. It might also be worth noting that one of the ISPs O'Rielly singled out was Chattanooga's EPB, the government utility and broadband ISP Consumer Reports just rated the best broadband provider in America. Throughout eighteen paragraphs, O'Rielly still can't provide a single instance of hard evidence to support his original claim.

      There's also a lot of components to the community broadband conversation O'Rielly's rambling post makes it clear he'd rather not talk about.

    • Mystery Lobbying Group Using Huawei Security Hysteria To Target Sprint, T-Mobile Merger
      So a few months back, a group mysteriously calling itself "Protect Amerca's Wireless" popped up on the internet and began attacking the Sprint, T-Mobile merger. The campaign, which has all the usual signs of astroturf, takes particular aim at both companies' use of Huawei network hardware -- gear that the organization insists "could give countries like Saudi Arabia, China, Germany, and Japan direct access to our networks through the use of foreign-made networking equipment and billions of foreign money."

      In short, the mystery group is piggybacking on the recent hysteria surrounding Huawei to try and scuttle the merger, which is certainly a problematic merger, but largely for employment and competition reasons.

    • Bahnhof Now Facing Net Neutrality Investigation Over Its 'Protest' Blocking Of Elsevier
      Last month we wrote about the Swedish ISP, Bahnhof, and its decision to stage a bit of an online protest by putting up a "block" page for publisher Elsevier and a local court, after Elsevier pushed the court to force Bahnhof to block Sci-Hub over infringement claims. As we noted in our post, many people we know cheered on this kind of "protest," but I wrote that we should not, as it appeared to be a clear net neutrality violation.

      I understand why many people celebrated this. Elsevier is a terrible, terrible company that gets free academic labor (often supported by taxpayer dollars) and then locks up the results of their research, takes the copyright, and only allows universities paying subscription fees that run in the 10s of thousands of dollars to get access. And then they whine about piracy? Especially against a site like Sci-Hub whose entire existence is premised on academics being able to better share knowledge? It's not hard to see who's the villain here, and its name starts with an Else and ends in a vier.

      And Bahnhof's "protest" felt karmic. Elsevier wants Bahnhof to block access to Sci-Hub? Well, fine, now Bahnhof will throw up a large (temporary, easily clicked through) "block" page on Elsevier's site (and the site of the court reviewing the case).

  • DRM

    • Study Shows That No, Netflix Isn't Killing Movie Theaters
      It's odd how conventional wisdom usually isn't all that wise. For example the entertainment industry for years has proclaimed that piracy was killing numerous business models, despite record profits and a steady parade of studies showing that pirates routinely buy more legit content than their non copyright-infringing counterparts. The entertainment industry willfully ignored for years (and often still does) that many of these users were engaging in copyright infringement because owners and distributors were failing to provide this content at a reasonable price via legitimate means.

      The chicken-little argument then mutated over the years to imply that streaming services like Netflix were also killing traditional brick and mortar movie theater attendance. That, too, simply isn't true.

  • Intellectual Monopolies

    • The Opinion of the Advocate General in the case C-443/17 (Abraxis case). A lost case for second medical indication SPCs?
      The High Court of Justice (UK) asked the CJEU for an interpretation of Article 3(d) of Regulation (EC) No 469/2009 ("Article 3(d)") concerning the supplementary protection certificate for medicinal products. The dispute was between Abraxis and the Comptroller General of Patents, Designs and Trademarks. The Comptroller rejected the SPC application filed by Abraxis for a combination of substances containing the active ingredient paclitaxel, marketed under the name Abraxane. Abraxane is a medicinal product indicated for the treatment of certain breast, pancreatic and lung cancers. Paclitaxel has been previously marketed under other brand names pursuant to other marketing authorizations. Abraxane is more efficient and presents better patient tolerance. Its development has been the result of both costly and lengthy research.

    • German Court prohibits sale of certain iPhone models
      Qualcomm and Apple have been litigating back and forth for some time, with the former obtaining a victoryin China a few weeks ago. Now the District Court of Munich has hit Apple with two permanent injunctions affecting all iPhone models form the 7, 8 and X series (case No. 7 O 10495/17 and 7 O 10496/17). The judgment effectively prohibits the sale of all iPhones from these series in Germany and also finds Apple liable for damages.

    • Apple’s Older iPhones Not For Sale In Germany Over Patent Breaches
      A useful reminder of the importance of intellectual property in this modern world – Apple’s older iPhones have been withdrawn from sale in Germany over allegations of breaches of Qualcomm’s patents. That this might be getting a little absurd could be true but it’s very useful proof that intellectual property isn’t just a method of tax dodging as more than one tax campaigner insists.

    • The FTC Must Join The Fight Against Patent Bullies
      Sometimes, firms can simply use litigation or the threat of litigation to induce cross licensing or to divvy up the market. For example, in 2015, Google and Microsoft entered a Patent Truce, and Apple and Samsung did the same this summer. And just this last October, Microsoft joined the Open Innovation Network, a "patent nonaggression community" which includes companies as diverse as Red Hat and General Motors. All members of this community agree not to file suit on each other’s Linux projects.

    • USPTO to Remain Open during Government Shutdown -- but December 24 Now Considered Federal Holiday (for 2018)
      As reported by numerous media outlets (see "Partial government shutdown likely to continue until after Christmas"), the U.S. Senate adjourned this afternoon without coming to an agreement on a continuing resolution to fund the United States Government. The government shutdown is the third shutdown of the federal government this year. While the shutdown could end as soon as Monday, when the Senate has a pro forma session scheduled, the shutdown could continue past the next actual session of the Senate on Thursday, December 27. The shutdown is the result of a debate over $5.7 billion dollars in funding for a border wall.

      Regardless of when the shutdown ends, however, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has indicated in a short notice posted on its website that the Office will remain "open for business as normal" -- at least during the first "few weeks" of the shutdown (were the shutdown to last that long). The USPTO is able to stay open because of its "access to prior-year fee collections."

    • Trademarks

      • Oxford University Gets Opposition To Its Attempt To Trademark 'Oxford' For All The Things
        It would be nice if the UK IPO could handle this better than the EU, actually, and recognize the problems of granting a trademark for a school that itself is named after the town in which it resides.

        For its part, Oxford University is making a lot of noise about its promise not to keep people from using the term "Oxford" and to only go after other entities that are "infringing on its rights." That's the whole rub, of course, in that after the trademark is granted, legal teams far too often err on the side of protectionism, including in cases where protectionism isn't warranted.

        The EU got this one right with St. Andrews. Hopefully the UK gets it right as well.

      • Politician Who Tried To Hijack Critic's Blog Via Trademark Applications Agrees To Never Pull This Bullshit Again
        In one of the more blatant attempts at censorship we've witnessed, a Minnesota politician tried to trademark the name of a politically-focused blog that often criticized her. Tax board member Carol Becker tried to take the name "Wedge LIVE!" away from its owner, John Edwards, who had been using the name for years to cover local politics. Becker first claimed she thought of the name herself, which she thought would be perfect for her yet-unrealized podcast covering… local politics.

        After receiving a bit of heat from Tony Webster, John Edwards, and Edward's supporters, Becker finally admitted she was attempting to take the name away from her critic, who had built his unregistered brand over the past several years. After more backlash, she decided to withdraw her trademark applications but warned she would try again in six months if Edwards didn't register them first.

    • Copyrights

      • Game Developer Admits It Filed Bogus Copyright Claims, But Says It Had No Other Way To Silence A Critic
        If you can't stand the heat, whip out the DMCA notices, I guess. Earlier this week, in response to criticism, a game developer hit a YouTuber with dozens of bogus DMCA claims. "Eroktic," who has posted several videos of him playing Battlestate Games' multiplayer shooter "Escape from Tarkov," was on the receiving end of nearly 50 claims.

        Rather than pretend this is about copyright by claiming it didn't give Eroktic permission to use footage of its game, the Russian developer has been surprisingly open about its abuse of the DMCA system. Comments given to Polygon's Charlie Hall show Battlestate is well aware it's misusing YouTube's copyright claim process, but says that's the only way it can protect its good name.
      • FBI Swept Up Info About Aaron Swartz While Pursuing An Al-Qaeda Investigation
        The FBI has the power to collect massive amounts of data and communications during its investigations. This power periodically ingests NATSEC steroids, pumping the FBI's data stores full of stuff not relevant to the NSA's work, but possibly relevant to the FBI's crime-fighting duties.

        You would think the FBI would toss anything not relevant to an investigation. Just in terms of storage and haystack-sorting, it would only make sense to discard data/communications not needed for ongoing investigations. But you'd be wrong. The FBI holds on to everything it gets because you never know: the irrelevancies you hoovered up yesterday might be useful today.
      • Want A Box At The Grammies With Two Bigshot Congressmen? That'll Be $5,000 (Entertainment Lobbyists Only)
        We've talked a lot in the past about the concept of soft corruption. These are the kinds of practices that are most likely legal, and possibly even common among the political class, but which absolutely stink of corruption to the average American. And that's a huge problem, not just because of the general ethical questions raised by such soft corruption, but because it creates a cynical American public that does not trust politicians to adequately represent their interests.

      • Hollywood Asks Court to Halt ‘Pirate Box’ Whac-a-Mole

        'Dragon Box' has changed its business model a few times this year. Facing a lawsuit from the major Hollywood studios, Netflix, and Amazon, the streaming box supplier switched to a new subscription service twice already. However, these alternatives are still unlawful according to the movie companies, which hope to put an end to the whac-a-mole in court.

      • Vodafone Blocks Two Pirate Streaming Sites Without a Court Order

        ISP Vodafone has begun blocking a pair of illicit streaming portals in unusual circumstances. Burning Series and Serial Stream were rendered inaccessible on Tuesday, but not as the result of a specific blocking injunction. The ISP says that following a decision by the Federal Court of Justice in the summer, it felt compelled to block the sites following a request from a copyright holder.

      • YouTube’s Copyright Protection System is a Total Mess, Can it Be Fixed?

        YouTube users are becoming increasingly frustrated with the platform's handling of copyright complaints. Legitimate videos are being claimed or removed based on false claims, either by automated mistakes or intentional abuse. Perhaps it's time for YouTube to hold 'abusive' copyright holders responsible for their actions?

      • Court Returns Seized Laptops to Accused GTA V Cheat Developer

        An Australian man who's accused of developing the "Infamous" cheat for GTA V had some of his personal belongings returned this week. The items were seized following a complaint from Rockstar Games and Take-Two Interactive Software. The case remains ongoing and the defendant was told that he has to present a defense on or before February 1st, 2019.

Recent Techrights' Posts

Girlfriends, Sex, Prostitution & Debian at DebConf22, Prizren, Kosovo
Reprinted with permission from
Martina Ferrari & Debian, DebConf room list: who sleeps with who?
Reprinted with permission from Daniel Pocock
Europe Won't be Safe From Russia Until the Last Windows PC is Turned Off (or Switched to BSDs and GNU/Linux)
Lives are at stake
[Video] IBM's Poor Results Reinforce the Idea of Mass Layoffs on the Way (Just Like at Microsoft)
it seems likely Red Hat layoffs are in the making
Ulrike Uhlig & Debian, the $200,000 woman who quit
Reprinted with permission from
IRC Proceedings: Wednesday, April 24, 2024
IRC logs for Wednesday, April 24, 2024
Over at Tux Machines...
GNU/Linux news for the past day
Links 24/04/2024: Layoffs and Shutdowns at Microsoft, Apple Sales in China Have Collapsed
Links for the day
Sexism processing travel reimbursement
Reprinted with permission from
Microsoft is Shutting Down Offices and Studios (Microsoft Layoffs Every Month This Year, Media Barely Mentions These)
Microsoft shutting down more offices (there have been layoffs every month this year)
Balkan women & Debian sexism, WeBoob leaks
Reprinted with permission from
Links 24/04/2024: Advances in TikTok Ban, Microsoft Lacks Security Incentives (It Profits From Breaches)
Links for the day
Gemini Links 24/04/2024: People Returning to Gemlogs, Stateless Workstations
Links for the day
Meike Reichle & Debian Dating
Reprinted with permission from
Over at Tux Machines...
GNU/Linux news for the past day
IRC Proceedings: Tuesday, April 23, 2024
IRC logs for Tuesday, April 23, 2024
[Meme] EPO: Breaking the Law as a Business Model
Total disregard for the EPO to sell more monopolies in Europe (to companies that are seldom European and in need of monopoly)
The EPO's Central Staff Committee (CSC) on New Ways of Working (NWoW) and “Bringing Teams Together” (BTT)
The latest publication from the Central Staff Committee (CSC)
Volunteers wanted: Unknown Suspects team
Reprinted with permission from Daniel Pocock
Debian trademark: where does the value come from?
Reprinted with permission from Daniel Pocock
Detecting suspicious transactions in the Wikimedia grants process
Reprinted with permission from Daniel Pocock
Links 23/04/2024: US Doubles Down on Patent Obviousness, North Korea Practices Nuclear Conflict
Links for the day
Stardust Nightclub Tragedy, Unlawful killing, Censorship & Debian Scapegoating
Reprinted with permission from Daniel Pocock
Gunnar Wolf & Debian Modern Slavery punishments
Reprinted with permission from Daniel Pocock
On DebConf and Debian 'Bedroom Nepotism' (Connected to Canonical, Red Hat, and Google)
Why the public must know suppressed facts (which women themselves are voicing concerns about; some men muzzle them to save face)
Several Years After Vista 11 Came Out Few People in Africa Use It, Its Relative Share Declines (People Delete It and Move to BSD/GNU/Linux?)
These trends are worth discussing
Canonical, Ubuntu & Debian DebConf19 Diversity Girls email
Reprinted with permission from
Links 23/04/2024: Escalations Around Poland, Microsoft Shares Dumped
Links for the day
Gemini Links 23/04/2024: Offline PSP Media Player and OpenBSD on ThinkPad
Links for the day
Amaya Rodrigo Sastre, Holger Levsen & Debian DebConf6 fight
Reprinted with permission from
DebConf8: who slept with who? Rooming list leaked
Reprinted with permission from
Bruce Perens & Debian: swiping the Open Source trademark
Reprinted with permission from
Ean Schuessler & Debian SPI OSI trademark disputes
Reprinted with permission from
Windows in Sudan: From 99.15% to 2.12%
With conflict in Sudan, plus the occasional escalation/s, buying a laptop with Vista 11 isn't a high priority
Anatomy of a Cancel Mob Campaign
how they go about
[Meme] The 'Cancel Culture' and Its 'Hit List'
organisers are being contacted by the 'cancel mob'
Richard Stallman's Next Public Talk is on Friday, 17:30 in Córdoba (Spain), FSF Cannot Mention It
Any attempt to marginalise founders isn't unprecedented as a strategy
IRC Proceedings: Monday, April 22, 2024
IRC logs for Monday, April 22, 2024
Over at Tux Machines...
GNU/Linux news for the past day
Don't trust me. Trust the voters.
Reprinted with permission from Daniel Pocock
Chris Lamb & Debian demanded Ubuntu censor my blog
Reprinted with permission from
Ean Schuessler, Branden Robinson & Debian SPI accounting crisis
Reprinted with permission from
William Lee Irwin III, Michael Schultheiss & Debian, Oracle, Russian kernel scandal
Reprinted with permission from