Fear of Recession Abounds as the Stock Market Plunges

By Stefan M. Kløvning

The American stock market faced a bleak downturn this Tuesday as major indices plunged. The three biggest, Dow Jones Industrial Average, S&P 500 and Nasdaq have all fallen over 3%, with Nasdaq at the biggest loss of 3.8%.

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Indices in Europe and Asia also fell quite a bit, albeit to a smaller degree.

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Mark DeCambre of MarketWatch has attributed this downturn to a “yield curve inversion”, meaning that the short-term return on treasury bonds has risen faster than the long-term return. He writes that this feature is “signaling a breakdown in the natural order of bonds.”

Howard Schneider and Jonathan Spicer of Reuters claim that such a yield-curve inversion “has been a reliable predictor of recession, though sometimes several months later, as confidence in the economic future erodes.” A colleague of theirs points out that “It is not a sure indicator, however, with an inversion in 1966 and a very flat curve in 1998 failing to lead to recessions.” Despite the uncertainty, Federal Reserve officials are still “unfazed” by the downturn, as Schneider and Spicer put it, as they believe it may just reflect

long-term shifts in global capital flows, or the fact that all interest rates are lower and more compressed together than they used to be. The central bank’s own large balance sheet may even be a culprit, by helping hold down long-term rates.

The New York Fed President John Williams even claimed that the economy remains strong and that the federal funds rate is set to be increased through 2019. He further said that “Sometimes there will be market reactions or interpretations of things that move around. But I think I’m focused on our goals and getting the policy right.”

Analysts at Capital Economics have a different outlook, claiming that there’s no reason why this yield-curve inversion should be judged differently from the recession predictor it has been in the past. This inversion, they say, “is mainly indicative of worries about how long growth in the U.S. can remain so strong.”

This is not the first indicator that a recession may be upcoming, however. As Visual Capitalist reported in November, FAANG stocks (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Alphabet Inc.) have all entered bear markets, falling between 20% and 40%.

Visualizing the Bear Market in FAANG Stocks

Other tech companies have also fallen significantly.

Some of those who accurately predicted the Great Recession of 2008, foresee another recession approaching the horizon. Peter Schiff, the CEO of Euro Pacific Capital, for instance, believes that the recent economic boom is just a massive bubble, and during the recession claimed that the Great Recession only was the beginning and that the main impact had yet to come. Now that the Federal Reserve is starting to increase the federal funds rate more after keeping the federal funds rate artificially low for many years since the last recession (see chart below), capital allocated in long-term malinvestments under the bull market may finally be able to readjust (i.e. overvalued stocks fall to their opportunity cost and undervalued ones rise to theirs) under such a recession.

United States Fed Funds Rate

The Federal Reserve, however, sees no such recession upcoming and may react in the same manner that they did under the last one, as a case in point that nothing had been learned.


Update: Schiff’s take.

 

Wikileaks Prepares to Sue The Guardian for Fabricating Assange-Manafort Meetings Story

By Stefan M. Kløvning

Wikileaks set up a GoFundMe campaign on Tuesday to get fundraising to sue the Guardian over a story they released earlier that day, entitled “Manafort held secret talks with Assange in Ecuadorian embassy, sources say.” Wikileaks claims that this story is “entirely fabricated” and that it is “time the Guardian paid a price for fabricating news.”

 

 

The fundraiser aims for $300,000 and has already gathered over 11% of its goal after two days.

According to the Guardian report,

Sources have said Manafort went to see Assange in 2013, 2015 and in spring 2016 – during the period when he was made a key figure in Trump’s push for the White House.

In their fundraiser, Wikileaks charges back pointing out that the story is completely based upon anonymous sources, and that the Embassy’s visit logs, which are maintained by Equador, show no such visits, “since they did not occur.”

Paul Manafort issued a statement through his spokeperson Jason Maloni where he denied all allegations of collusions presented in the story:

This story is totally false and deliberately libelous. I have never met Julian Assange or anyone connected to him. I have never been contacted by anyone connected to Wikileaks, either directly or indirectly. I have never reached out to Assange or Wikileaks on any matter. We are considering all legal options against the Guardian who proceeded with this story even after being notified by my representatives that it was false.

The Guardian has softened on its story since its publication, 90 minutes after which they added “sources say” to their title.

Wikileaks archived the story and asserted confidently on Twitter,

 

Pentagon Halts Further Aircraft Supplies to Saudi Arabia Following Khashoggi Scandal

By Stefan M. Kløvning

National Security – Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis confirmed Pentagon’s decision to halt further refueling warplanes to Saudi Arabia on Friday. The move has been lauded by opponents of the Yemeni Civil War fueled by a Saudi Arabia-led coalition starting in 2015, where weaponry supplied by the United States have been used to target civilians as late as August this year. Forty children and eleven adults were killed as the U.S.-supplied bomb to Saudi Arabia hit a Yemeni school bus. From here on, according to Mattis, they must “use the Coalition’s own military capabilities to conduct inflight refueling in support of its operations in Yemen.” The reactions and actions by the United States government to the activities of Saudi Arabia, however, has come only after Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist critical of the Saudi government, was brutally murdered and dismembered at the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Turkey on 2. October as he was trying to get a document so he could marry his financée.

Opponents of Saudi Arabia see the aircraft halt to be a good step in the right direction, but also call for further reductions in the supply of arms and ending sharing targeted information to further disassociate the U.S. military from the conflict in Yemen. Connecticut Democratic Senator Chris Murphy, one of the first members to stand out in opposition against U.S. backing of the Saudi-led coalition, asserted that “By finally ending refueling missions for Saudi bombers, the Trump administration is admitting our joint operation in Yemen has been a disaster.” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) further called the move a “major victory”, and called for Congress to pass a resolution to “ensure that all U.S. involvement is shut off.”

The Saudi government, however, claimed that it had requested the halt themselves as the coalition had developed the ability to resupply more warplanes themselves. According to a public statement,

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and the member countries of the Coalition to Support legitimacy in Yemen, continually pursue improvements to military professionalism and self-sufficiency. Recently the Kingdom and the Coalition has increased its capability to independently conduct inflight refueling in Yemen. As a result, in consultation with the United States, the Coalition has requested cessation of inflight refueling support for it’s operations in Yemen.

That the Saudis and their coalition may be becoming self-sufficient could appear concerning for those who worry about the future of Yemen, but from what the coalition’s opponents can do, the goal is to fully exclude the United States from the conflict. Senator Murphy said further that

For years, the United States has sold weapons to Saudi Arabia and offered targeting and refueling assistance as American-made bombs were sent to kill thousands of innocent people, including children. The U.S. has radicalized entire generations because there was an American imprint on every civilian murdered there.

Why are we still helping the Saudis with targeting? Why are we still selling them the bombs at a discount?

A senior scholar at the think tank Defense Priorities, Benjamin Friedman, pointed blame to former president Barack Obama for having started the military support of the Saudi-led coalition and said that the campaign “is a humanitarian disaster that does nothing to advance U.S. security—if anything it undermines it. The United States should end the other forms of intelligence and logistical support provided to the Saudis, including the arms sales aiding their bombing campaign.”

In his statement on Friday, Jim Mattis proclaimed that it was necessary to find a diplomatic solution to the conflict.

We are all focused on supporting resolution of the conflict. The U.S. and the Coalition are planning to collaborate on building up legitimate Yemeni forces to defend the Yemeni people, secure their country’s borders, and contribute to counter Al Qaeda and ISIS efforts in Yemen and the region. The U.S. will also continue working with the Coalition and Yemen to minimize civilian casualties and expand urgent humanitarian efforts throughout the country.

He also called for all parties to “support the United Nations’ ongoing efforts on this new phase in Yemen.”  The Saudis claimed they were seeking the same outcome.

The Coalition Command expresses its hope that the upcoming UN sponsored negotiations in a third country will lead to a negotiated settlement in accordance to UNSCR 2216 and see an end to the aggression by the Iranian backed Houthi militias’ against the Yemeni people and countries in the region.

What Are The Odds for Libertarians and Independents in the Mid-Terms?

By Stefan M. Kløvning

For most of American history, there have been few alternatives of parties to support besides the Democrats and Republicans with any chance of obtaining power. All presidents since Franklin Pierce became the president in 1853 have had to be on either side, to the peril of voters sometimes only having the option to choose the “lesser evil”, as was commonly talked about in the 2016 Presidential election. Many voters appear to have started to start looking for alternatives as the support for Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson increased from 1,275,971 in 2012 to 4,488,931 in 2016. The Libertarian cause came especially to light in the mainstream political debate when the Tea Party started to gain traction under the Obama presidency and in the so-called “Ron Paul Revolution.” In anticipation of the upcoming mid-term elections on Tuesday, 6th November, there have been a lot of speculation and talk about whether the Republicans or the Democrats will take the majority of seats in the House of Representatives or the Senate, but what does these elections have to offer for the growing Libertarian movement and other Independents?

On the outside, there doesn’t seem to be any Congressmen straying from the Democrat-Republican dichotomy beside Angus King in Maine and Bernie Sanders in Vermont (both registered Independents) but there are some who stray from the dichotomy but register as members of the closest party to increase their chances. Most notably did the Libertarian icon Ron Paul seek the Republican nomination for president in 2008 and 2012 and was registered under the same party when he was a member of the House of Representative from 1997 to 2013. Similarly today there are also self-proclaimed “liberty Conservatives” like Eric Brakey of Maine who try to attain office as Republicans. On the other side of politics, there are people like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America with the Democratic nomination as Representative of the 14th congressional district of New York.

It means a great deal whether the Republicans or Democrats attain the majority in either house of Congress, but the variation of candidates, as shown above, makes it important to look at the different candidates as they are in a nuanced way rather than homogenous groups. Some are openly Libertarians and register themselves with the same party like Larry Sharpe running for governor in New York, but others think the safer route is to play the two-party game and rather sneak in some alternative ideas with them.

In terms of what’s on stake this election in the two-party game, the Republicans have 9 seats in the Senate up for election as opposed to 24 Democrat seats. The Democrats only need four more seats in the Senate to attain a majority, but therefore also needs to be defending far more seats than the Republicans to have any chance in doing so. In the House of Representatives, the Democrats need to gain 25 more seats to attain a majority, but a recent poll has shown that 50% of likely voters across 69 congressional districts will vote Democrat, as opposed to 46% Republicans. However, the poll’s margin of error is 3.5 points, making the significance of the divide much less certain. “But”, as John Cassidy of the New Yorker points out, “if 2016 taught us anything, it’s that we should be cautious in making predictions, particularly when so many districts are being hotly contested.”

So, out of the contenders, who are likely or have big chances to win, who are more nuanced and who appear more or less to converge with the established party lines?

A detailed analysis of all the candidates lies outside the scope of this article, so here I’ll rather stick to pointing out certain candidates which in some respects seem to stand out from the established two-party politics running for Senate. Mar

  • Chris Murphy is the Senator of Connecticut and are running for re-election as a Democrat. He was one of the first members of Congress to stand out in opposition against U.S. backing of the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen and has suggested to halt U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Libertarians would laud this anti-war stance, but most wouldn’t support him given that voted to extend provisions of the Patriot Act, has been a leading advocate of the Affordable Care Act, has proposed free tuition for certain colleges and that he is a strong advocate of gun control.
  • Bill Nelson is the Democratic nominee for Senator of Florida. He has several times voted to reduce or eliminate the estate tax, but has voted against the Republican plan to increase the Bush tax cuts to all Americans. In the tax reforms he suggests one must take into account “simplicity, fairness, and economic growth.” Other than that, he voted to increase the debt ceiling in 2011, voted for the invasion of Iraq in 2002 and is a strong advocate of gun regulations.
  • Rick Scott is the Republican nominee for Senator of Florida. He and Nelson is in a close call in most polls. Scott has an A+ rating by the National Rifle Association for his support of gun rights. They said he has “signed more pro-gun bills into law – in one term – than any other Governor in Florida history.” He has also supported private and charter schools as Guvernor of Florida. He has received criticism on voting rights, however, as he has tried to create barriers to registering new voters, limited early voting, restricted the ability of ex-felons to restore their voting rights, etc.
  • Joe Donelly is the Senator of Indiana running for reelection as a Democrat. He is considered a moderate or conservative Democrat who, according to Politico, “is constantly dogged by Republicans aiming to unseat him while also facing disgruntled Democrats who think he’s far too conservative.” The National Journal gave him a score of 52% Conservative and 48% Liberal. He has voted with President Trump’s position 54.5% of the time according to FiveThirtyEight and 62% according to Congressional Quarterly. Donelly on economic policy: “Given our continued economic challenges. Now is the time to keep tax rates low. … We need to create jobs, we need to help the middle class and support small businesses, and we need to avoid partisan bickering and delay.” In 2012 he voted in favor of the Federal Reserve Transparency Act, sponsored by Ron Paul, which suggested a full audit of the Federal Reserve, the Federal Reserve Board of Governors and Federal reserve banks by the Comptroller General. It was passed in the House of Representatives but didn’t get through the Senate. He also broke with the Democrat majority in his decision to support the deregulation of commercial banks. However good this may sound to Libertarians, he also co-sponsored a bill in 2007 to increase the federal minimum wage from $5.15/h to $7.25/h and voted in favor of the Affordable Care Act. His 2012 opponent wondered: “Joe Donnelly wants to pick apart Obamacare, but that begs the question: Why didn’t he just hold out and not vote for it?” He voted for the intervention in Libya in 2011 and against an accelarated withdrawal from Afghanistan the same year, but voted against the Iraq troop surge of 2007. He was also rated “D” by the National Rifle Association for his vote to “to criminalize the private transfer of firearms between close friends and some family members, which according to the Obama Justice Department, is only enforceable through a federal firearms registry. Donnelly also supports ammunition restrictions on law-abiding citizens.”
  • Independent Angus King running for reelection in Maine favors the continuation of tariffs against Vietnam, but has introduced legislation to lift the embargo against Cuba. He has voted to arm Syrian rebels fighting the leader Bashar Al-Assad or ISIL. He has otherwise supported the Affordable Care Act and leans Democrat on most issues.
  • Josh Hawley is the Republican nominee for Senator of Missouri. As Attorny General of Missouri he joined 20 other Republican states in February for a lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act as unconstitutional. He supported Trump’s imposition of tariffs but has hoped they will only be temporary.
  • Deb Fischer is the Republican nominee for Senator of Nebraska. She has declared that “the EPA must be reformed and possibly eliminated.” She has an A+ rating from the NRA and has stated that she “would vote to fully repeal Obamacare.” She has also stated that there should be a life-time ban on Congressmen from becoming federally registered lobbyists, and has expressed support for an amendment to the Constitution to restrict term-limits of Senators to two six-year terms and Representatives to three two-year terms. She has pledged that she herself will stick to two terms, the latter which she is currently running for and seem very likely to win.
  • Marsha Blackburn is the Republican nominee for Senator of Tennesse and has been described as a “Tea Party Republican”. With the passing of the Affordable Care Act she said that “freedom dies a little bit today” and has described net neutrality as “socialistic”. She’s rated 100% by the American Conservative Union, has opposed both abortion and same-sex marriage, and has rejected the scientific consensus on climate change.
  • Joe Manchin is the Democratic nominee for Senator of West Virginia. He held a speech before the Senate in 2011 calling for a “substantial and responsible reduction in the United States’ military presence in Afghanistan. We can no longer afford to rebuild Afghanistan and America. We must choose. And I choose America.” He met one-on-one with all his Senate colleagues in his first year to get to know them better. He has, however, sought to restrict Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies and been strict on drug crimes. He also voted against a resolution disapproving of the arms sales to Saudi Arabia in 2017.

From the Senate, at least, there doesn’t seem to be many politicians to back for Libertarians in these elections, but with some of them there are certain stances Libertarians can get behind, like Chris Murphy’s opposition to U.S. aid of Saudi Arabia; Bill Nelson’s efforts to eliminate the estate tax; Rick Scott’s support of private and charter schools; Joe Donelly’s support for small businesses, keeping taxes low and keeping the Federal Reserve in check; Josh Hawley and Marsha Blackburn’s stance against the Affordable Care Act; Deb Fischer calling for the EPA to be abolished and seeking to implement time-limits for Congressmen and banning them from becoming lobbyists; and Blackburn’s opposition to net neutrality.

Libertarians have a long way to go to get more representation in Congress with more politicians consistent in maintaining their principles like Ron Paul. Though there may be some admirable qualities with some of them, I think Libertarians will see most of them as representatives of their respective interest groups rather than their geographical area, and that most of them just seek to increase state power for their own benefit. If the Libertarian Party and Libertarians continue to work hard and expand their reach like Gary Johnson did between 2012 and 2016 and that New York gubernatorial candidate Larry Sharpe did when he was the only one to visit every single district in New York, they might, a step at a time, find their way into the system, and start setting it back to the way the founders intended.

Google Covered Up Sexual Assault Allegations Against Android Creator, Handed Him $90m After Resignation

By Stefan M. Kløvning

In an exposé released on Thursday, the New York Times reported that Google had kept silent about allegations of sexual assault against Android creator Andy Rubin. Since he resigned in October 2014 the company has also handed him a $90 million exit package of $2.5 million a month over the first two years and $1.25 million a month the last two years, the last payment of which is scheduled for next month. The writers of the report criticized the move as they opined that Google “could have fired Mr. Rubin and paid him little to nothing on the way out.”

According to two Google executives knowledgeable about the incident, a woman Mr. Rubin had had an extramarital relationship with claimed that he had coerced her into performing oral sex in a hotel room in 2013. They said that Google had conducted an investigation into her claims and found them to be credible and that Mr. Rubin resigned soon after being notified about the allegations and the investigation. A spokesman for Rubin, Sam Singer, in contrast, disputed that Mr. Rubin had been told of any such misconduct allegation and that he had left the company of his own accord. Then-CEO Larry Page later said in a public statement that “I want to wish Andy all the best with what’s next. With Android he created something truly remarkable – with a billion-plus happy users.” In later years he has said that he felt Mr. Rubin was “never properly compensated for his contribution to Android,” despite the exit package and the fact that Google has invested millions of dollars in his next venture.

In a statement made after the publication of the NYT article, Mr. Rubin claimed that

The New York Times story contains numerous inaccuracies about my employment at Google and wild exaggerations about my compensation. Specifically, I never coerced a woman to have sex in a hotel room. These false allegations are part of a smear campaign by my ex-wife to disparage me during a divorce and custody battle.

However, the story also describes that security staff had found videos of bondage sex on Mr. Rubin’s computer and that he regularly berated his subordinates as stupid or incompetent, according to some of his former colleagues. Mr. Singer denied the allegations and further claimed that Mr. Rubin was “known to be transparent and forthcoming with his feedback,” and that he never called anyone incompetent. According to Mr. Rubin’s ex-wife Rie Rubin, he additionally had multiple “ownership relationships” with other women during their marriage, and that he paid them hundreds of thousands of dollars. In the divorce between Rie and Andy in August this year, a screenshot of an email from Mr. Rubin to a woman in August 2015 showed him writing that “You will be happy being taken care of. Being owned is kinda like you are my property, and I can loan you to other people.”

Google has also protected two other executives accused of sexual misconduct in the past decade. NYT writes that “In two instances, it ousted senior executives, but softened the blow by paying them millions of dollars as they departed, even though it had no legal obligation to do so. In a third, the executive remained in a highly compensated post at the company. Each time Google stayed silent about the accusations against the men.” They further claimed that in two of the instances Google mostly did so to protect their own interests by avoiding legal fights and to keep them from working for competitors.

Eileen Naughton, Google’s vice president for people’s operations, claimed, however, that the company reviews every complaint and takes harassment seriously. She further said that 48 people had been fired the past two years for sexual harassment and that none of them had received any compensation.

We investigate and take action, including termination. In recent years, we’ve taken a particularly hard line on inappropriate conduct by people in positions of authority. We’re working hard to keep improving how we handle this type of behavior.

Sundar Pichai, the current CEO of Google, further wrote that

We are committed to ensuring that Google is a workplace where you can feel safe to do your best work, and where there are serious consequences for anyone who behaves inappropriately.

Some Google employees, however, claim that the efforts of the company are insufficient. Liz Fong-Jones, a Google engineer for over ten years and an activist on workplace issues, asserted that “When Google covers up harassment and passes the trash, it contributes to an environment where people don’t feel safe reporting misconduct. They suspect that nothing will happen or, worse, that the men will be paid and the women will be pushed aside.”

The NYT writers went so far as to claim that Google has “fostered a permissive workplace culture from the start” of the company in 1998. To defend this claim, they argue that

  • Co-founder Larry Page had dated one of the company’s first engineers;
  • Former Google CEO Erich Schmidt “once retained a mistress to work as a company consultant”;
  • Second co-founder Sergey Brin along with Mr. Page had a consensual extramarital affair with an employee in 2014; and
  • General counsel since 2002 David Drummond had an extramarital relationship with a senior contract manager in the legal department, Jennifer Blakely.

The last couple started dating in 2004 and had a child in 2007 after Mr. Drummond had made the company aware of the relationship. According to Mrs. Blakely, the then-head of human resources Stacy Sullivan told her that the company discouraged managers from having relationships with subordinates. Blakely said that “One of us would have to leave the legal department. It was clear it would not be David.” Mr. Drummond has since become the chief legal officer of Google’s parent company Alphabet and a chairman of Google’s venture capital fund CapitalG, and has, according to company filings obtained by the NYT, “reaped about $190 million from stock options and awards since 2011 and could make more than $200 million on other options and equity awards.” Mrs. Blakely, in comparison, was transferred to sales in 2007 and left the company a year later. Mr. Drummond left her in late 2008 and they later had a custody battle for their son which Mrs. Blakely won. She claimed that how he was treated by the company “amplifies the message that for a select few, there are no consequences. Google felt like I was the liability.”

In another event, the director of Google X – the research and development branch – Richard DeVaul, had told hardware engineer Star Simpson during a job interview that he and his wife were “polyamorous” (referring to having an open marriage) and invited her to an annual festival the following week. Ms. Simpson claims to have brought “conservative clothes suitable for a professional meeting” to the festival where she thought she would have an opportunity to talk to him about the job. What happened instead, she said, was that Mr. DeVaul asked her to remove her shirt and had offered her a backrub. After refusing, she eventually relented as he instead insisted on a neck rub. “I didn’t have enough spine or backbone to shut that down as a 24-year-old,” she recalled. Google sent her a notice a few weeks later to inform her that she did not get the job, without explaining why. After waiting two years to report the incident to the company, a human resources official told her that her account was “more likely than not” true and that “appropriate action” was taken. Ms. Simpson claimed that the official told her to stay quiet about the complaint, which she did until DeVaul’s public figure inflated with articles in the NYT and the Atlantic. Head of human resources at Google X, Chelsea Bay, defended the department by claiming that “We would never tell a complainant to stay quiet,” and asserted that they had investigated and taken “appropriate corrective action”, without details as she cited employee confidentiality. Mr. DeVaul later said in a statement that he had made an “error in judgment” and that he should not have invited her to the festival as he had already decided that she would not get the job. According to the NYT, he also claimed to “not realize she had not been informed.”

Similar to the case with Mr. Rubin, senior vice president Amit Singhal also received millions of dollars as he resigned from the company after allegedly having groped an employee in 2015 at a boozy off-site event. Google found her claims credible though they during an investigation found that Mr. Singhal was inebriated and that there were no witnesses, but still didn’t decide to fire him. However, they accepted his resignation and paid him millions to keep him from working for their competitors. Singhal said in 2016 that he wanted to focus more on his family and on philanthropy. He became the head of engineering at Uber less than a year later but was dismissed when they obtained knowledge of the misconduct accusation he had failed to inform them about. Mr. Singhal still emphatically denies the allegation.

Discontent towards Google after the release of such exposés doesn’t seem to be significantly reflected in their stock value, but considering the reactions by the Progressive #MeToo movement to allegations against Harvey Weinstein and Brett Kavanaugh, it is highly possible that also Democrats will become less favorable to Google. Republicans have lately been skeptical to Google considering that their algorithms may potentially be programmed in a biased manner against conservatives as 94% of their 2016 election campaign donations went to Democrats. This concern is especially grounded in the already perceived bias of large social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Many have also been convinced by a misleading Breitbart article to believe that an internal Google report called “The Good Censor”, “advises tech companies to move away from the ‘American tradition’ of free speech if they wish to attract advertising revenue and continue global expansion,” while the report, meanwhile, actually warned that it was becoming a trend rather than advocating it to do so.

The bottom line, either way, appears to be that a certain common distrust against big tech firms may be forming across the political spectrum, though for bias among conservatives and for social injustices among progressives. The common distrust is especially reflected in an agreement in a recent debate at Politicon between progressive host of The Young Turks show Cenk Uyghur and Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson that tech firms has become too powerful, two popular figures who otherwise vehemently disagree on a number of topics.

 

 

 

Facebook Purged 810 Accounts and Pages for Spam and Profit-Driven Campaigning, Including Large Alternative Media Sites

By Stefan M. Kløvning

Facebook announced on Thursday that they would be removing 559 pages and 251 accounts that “have consistently broken our rules against spam and coordinated inauthentic behavior.” The operation has since been highly criticized for reasons like disproportionately targeting Conservatives and Libertarians and for not having issued a warning before effecting what many have labeled as a “purge.”

Following the coordinated efforts by Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Apple and Spotify to remove Alex Jones from their platforms, and undercover videos by the Veritas Project showing Twitter employees admit to targeting Conservatives in the practice of “shadow-banning”, many have interpreted this new purge just to be another leap towards them being systemically silenced. A poll conducted by Pew in June showed that 72% of Americans thought it was “somewhat likely” or “very likely” that social media platforms censor political viewpoints, with a twenty percentage point deviation between Republicans and Democrats.

In the announcement, Facebook specified what kind of activities were targeted during the purge,

The people behind it create networks of Pages using fake accounts or multiple accounts with the same names. They post clickbait posts on these Pages to drive people to websites that are entirely separate from Facebook and seem legitimate, but are actually ad farms. The people behind the activity also post the same clickbait posts in dozens of Facebook Groups, often hundreds of times in a short period, to drum up traffic for their websites. And they often use their fake accounts to generate fake likes and shares. This artificially inflates engagement for their inauthentic Pages and the posts they share, misleading people about their popularity and improving their ranking in News Feed. This activity goes against what people expect on Facebook, and it violates our policies against spam.

Many people who got their accounts and pages banned turned to Twitter to inform about what had happened, sharing pictures such as these,

These pictures have been pointed out to work against them because they show that single individuals administer a whole myriad of accounts and pages, which they could potentially use to mass-share pictures and articles.

Some of the people banned, however, have said that they were doing so as a result of competitors using the tactic, and that they didn’t know it was against the rules. The publisher of the now-banned left-leaning page “Reasonable People Unite”, Chris Metcalf, for instance, told the Washington Post that “I would gladly abide by Facebook’s terms if I understood what they were. I am a legitimate political activist. I don’t have a clickbait blog. I don’t have a fake news website. And I haven’t been doing anything that all the other pages in this space aren’t doing.” A co-founder of Reverb Press, James Reader, whose site has also been unpublished, claimed that Facebook were “changing the rules as they went,” and, although he professed himself to be a Progressive, accused the site of being unfair to the conservative sites that were taken down. “This is what the First Amendment is all about. It should be a fair, equal playing field, that’s all we ever asked for.” Both of the operators also said that a reason they were using multiple profiles was “in part to avoid what they perceived as an arbitrary crackdown on their organizing by the social network.”

Journalist Tim Pool argued in a recent video that Facebook should have given the relevant people and sites a warning that they had been breaking community guidelines first, to make aware those who did not know that they had been doing so, before banning them from the site with no bargaining power to counter with.

In their announcement, Facebook conceded that “there are legitimate reasons that accounts and Pages coordinate with each other — it’s the bedrock of fundraising campaigns and grassroots organizations.” But the difference, they proclaim, “is that these groups are upfront about who they are, and what they’re up to.” They did not provide examples, however, of where the line goes between sufficient and insufficient information about who they are and what they’re doing, or how that is not clear from their public activities or Facebook’s monitoring thereof.

Washington Post reporters Elizabeth Dwoskin and Tony Romm also identified another problem with the purge:

In short, the question is whether – or to what degree – Facebook should work as a judge of what is and is not “legitimate” political influence on the upcoming mid-term elections in November. Conservatives and Libertarians especially, worry that the worldview of Facebook staff members may affect this judgement, especially as the majority of political donations from Silicon Valley during the 2016 election went to Hillary Clinton, most notably 94% by Alphabet Inc., the parent corporation of Google. Former Facebook workers also told Gizmodo in 2016 that they had routinely suppressed stories about CPAC gatherings, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, and other conservative topics from appearing in the “highly-influential” section, a tendency which it’s unlikely they’ve decided to stop with since.

Nicholas Bernabe, the founder of The Anti-Media, a highly popular site which was unpublished both on Facebook and Twitter during the purge, said “Our approach generally is to cover stories and angles that corporate media underreport or misreport and to amplify activist and anti-war voices and stories. All of our content is professionally fact-checked and edited. I can only speculate that these suspensions were a coordinated effort to stifle our message ahead of the coming elections.” Free Thought Project co-founder Jason Bassler and RT American reporter Rachel Blevins also denied Facebook’s allegations of inauthentic behavior.

Twitter has also appeared to be coordinating with Facebook, as many sites and users informing about the Facebook purge have since also been banned there. Administrators of pages such as “Anti-Media” and “The Free Thought Project”, each of which had millions of followers before they were banned, were among people who received a message like this about their ban, saying they had been “suspended for violating the Twitter rules. Specifically for:”, without listing anything afterwards.

Independent journalist John Vibes, a contributor to The Free Thought Project, argued that this was an effort to reclaim the monopoly that cable news had before the advent of the internet.

This signifies a re-consolidation of the media. Cable news media controlled the narrative for most of modern history, but the internet has lowered that barrier to entry and allowed the average person to become the media themselves. This obviously took market share and influence away from the traditional media, and it has allowed for a more diverse public conversation. Now it seems the platforms that have monopolized the industry are favoring mainstream sources and silencing alternative voices. So now, instead of allowing more people to have a voice, these platforms are creating an atmosphere where only powerful media organizations are welcome, just as we had on cable news.

People think that we are just providing an activist spin on the news, but they don’t see the families struggling to have their voice heard. For example, when someone is shot by police, mainstream media sources often just republish the press release from the police department, without presenting the victim’s side of the story. We give the victims and their families a voice, which is essential to keep power in check. This also goes for bigger issues like foreign policy as well; multiple full-scale invasions of Syria have been prevented because of information that the alternative media made viral.

British Teacher Issued Detention to 15 y/o Students for Supporting UKIP

LBC host Nick Ferrari received a call on air by a Paul in Loughton on Friday, who informed that his son and two other students had been issued detention for saying they’d vote UKIP under a classroom debate during the 2016 general election.

Paul told Nick,

One boy said he’d vote for UKIP and the teacher said that ‘all UKIP voters are racist’. So my boy came in and said ‘I’d vote for UKIP and I’m not racist’. He was given a detention, the three boys that said it, and when he come home and told me I didn’t believe him.

He later called the school and told them about the incident, and the Head of Year issued a full apology and the detention was scrapped.

Another student, 17-year-old Alissa Cook-Gray, had a similar experience. During a political debate in Crewe, she claims to have been told by a teacher, “Get out, we don’t want people with your views” for voicing support for Tommy Robinson. She subsequently quit her college course after her tutor warned her she was “too right wing” due to this position.

UKIP leader Gerard Batten issued a statement soon after the LBC podcast was published, condemning the teacher’s use of punishment to promote his political agenda. “This kind of thing used to happen in Nazi Germany,” he insisted, “when Jewish children were singled out for vilification. It’s happening because the teaching profession is under the domination of the extreme left who are the real fascists in modern Britain.”

He further said that this was not a lone incident, as he claims to have heard many similar incidences by UKIP members. Teachers had told students that their parents “belong to a Nazi party,” according to his informants. Batten asserted that “Parents must insist the law is upheld in schools and teachers are not allowed to promote political agendas.”

By Stefan M. Kløvning

 

Double Standards in the Kavanaugh Debate

By Stefan M. Kløvning

The hearings of Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations and SCOTUS Justice Nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s defence on Friday begot a political debate that could not have been more politically polarized. Many Democrats believe Mrs Ford speaks the truth and that Kavanaugh is lying, and many Republicans believe the opposite. With such conflicting viewpoints and the firm stances by both Mrs Ford and Mr Kavanaugh, journalist and documentarian Tim Pool opined that the tweets about the event “show that we live in different realities.”

For others, however, their views on the matter appears to be more neutral. Even President Trump, for instance, said that he thought Mrs Ford appeared credible, but that he had no intentions of replacing Mr Kavanaugh with another nominee, presumably following other’s line of thought (such as Kavanaugh’s own) that they don’t dispute Mrs Ford was sexually assaulted at some point, but that it may have been a case of remembering the wrong identity of the assaulter after the 36 years that have passed since the alleged incident.

Notwithstanding the fact that the allegation concerns an incident almost four decades ago, there are many problems with the narrative of Mr Kavanaugh sexually assaulting anyone at that time.

  1. None of her alleged witnesses (Leland Ingham, P.J. Smyth and Mark Judge) recall the event. Mrs Ford said that she doesn’t “expect that P.J. and Leland would remember this evening. It was a very unremarkable party … And Mr Judge is a different story. I would expect that he would remember that this happened.” That none of them recalls the gathering or such behaviour by Kavanaugh as Ford describes, doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen, but it does mean that she has no evidence to corroborate her claim and that we must solely rely on her testimony. What’s more is that not even the person who drove her home that night has yet come forward.
  2. 87 women who have known Mr Kavanaugh during his time in high school, college and/or career have come forward in support of Kavanaugh, claiming that the allegations against him are radically inconsistent with their experience with Kavanaugh. From their perspective, he “treated women with nothing but total respect and decency,” “is one of the most decent, honorable, good-hearted people I know” and “is a man of high integrity and character. I’ve never seen him be anything but a true gentleman in all aspects of his life.” Again, all these women’s experience doesn’t deny the possibility of a one-time or few-times incidences of sexual assault, but it would be quite strange and incomprehensible if one disrespected another woman (or several women) so much that he would do something like this, and yet having respect for other women to the degree that they admire him enough to say statements such as quoted above. Additionally, as Kavanaugh pointed out in his opening statement, they did so to protect his reputation despite being fully aware that they were going to be ridiculed and targeted for it.

These are perhaps the two biggest problems with the narrative, though there are more, but for the unconvinced, let’s temporarily set the rule of “believe women” with the accuser’s testimony being the only “evidence” necessary. We can now do a test to see if the people currently outraged against Kavanaugh are politically motivated or not.

If you’re outraged against Kavanaugh now, are you also outraged against

  • Former President Bill Clinton, who was accused of sexual assault by Juanita Broaddrick in 1999, and of sexual harrassment by Paula Jones;
  • Current New Jersey Democratic Senator Cory Booker, who admitted to having groped an “intoxicated female friend” in high school in 1984;
  • Democrat MN Representative Keith Ellison, who was accused by Amy Louise Alexander and Karen Monahan of domestic abuse;
  • Former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, though further back in time is currently by many considered to be a favorite U.S. President or at least on the top of the list, who appointed Hugo Black, a former Ku Klux Klan member, as SCOTUS Justice in 1937, and later justified his decision by opining that “a man’s private life is supposed to be his private life.”

If you aren’t, have you considered the reason why these should get special treatment? Why they shouldn’t be subjected to the same rules and principles that is now used against Mr Kavanaugh? But the Progressive Democrats didn’t seem to care so much about the revelations of Cory Booker and Keith Ellison’s behaviors as with him. It would be politically inconvenient to do so, because they believe them to have the morally correct political stances. Political convenience appears to be the main reason of the major spectacle against Kavanaugh, especially considering how they ignored his calendar as an alibi and rather fixated on the mysterious term “alumnus” used about another girl, and is now ignoring his points in his opening statements on Friday and rather fixating on the tone he used. His tone may have legitimately sounded inadequate for many concerning a nominee as Supreme Court Justice, but one must remember that this is after (1) being accused of being a rapist and an irresponsible heavy drinker, (2) having half the country turn against him after decades of public service, and (3) himself and his family receiving threats on a regular basis.

It’s now decided that a full FBI investigation into the allegations will be performed over the next week, which the Democrats proclaim Republicans should be open to if they want to “clear his name.” One may wonder if they are going to find anything more than they did the last six background checks. Many Republicans claim that this is merely an effort to extend the nomination process as long as possible. For instance, the FBI expected it to take about a year to finish the report on the Las Vegas shooting on Oct. 18 2017. “Now that’s a long time for some people, but speaking for the FBI, that’s light speed, all right?” Special Agent in Charge Aaron Rouse said. One may say there’s a difference between the two, and they’d be right. The shooting was investigated soon after it happened, and the incidence occurred in public; the alleged sexual assault is being investigated 36 years later and (if true) occurred in private. Former FBI Assistant Director Bill Gavin said, however, that it was plausible that the investigation could be finished by the end of the week if the case were solely limited to investigating Mrs Ford and Mr Kavanaugh. Still, if they’re the only participants, he expected them to stand by their statements and would not get much more information to light than already is. He also said it was unlikely that they would come to a conclusion of who is being more likely to tell the truth, and that the FBI doesn’t clear any names, it just presents the information they find.

Is fear of automation merely neo-Luddite sentiment or legitimate concern?

By Stefan M. Kløvning

Insight – Pew Research published new findings on Thursday about public expectations for automation by computers and robots on the future job market in ten countries across the world. The countries investigated were Greece, Italy, Poland and Hungary in Europe; Canada and the U.S. in North America; Brazil and Argentina in South America; and South Africa and Japan in Africa and Asia respectively.

Chart showing that most think robots and computers will take over many jobs now done by humans

On the question of whether they expected robots and computers to take over many jobs during the next fifty years, US citizens were the most optimistic, with only 65% saying it would “probably” or “definitively” happen. On the top, we find Greece, Japan and Canada with 91%, 89% and 84% respectively. Greeks and South Africans were the most certain, at 52% and 45% of their populations respectively who claimed that such a transformation would definitely happen.

For most asked during the polling in almost all countries, the downsides significantly outweighed the upsides. They were presented with two potential downsides and two upsides: (1) people would have a harder time finding jobs, (2) the [wealth] inequality between rich and poor would be much worse than it is today, (3) the economy would be more efficient and (4) there would be new, better-paying jobs.

An average of 80% thought the first scenario was likely, with only 17 percentage points between the highest (Greece – 91%) and the lowest (Japan and Hungary – 74%). The second had a bit more differentiation, with only 63% of Italians and up to 87% of Greeks believing wealth inequality would worsen with automation. Still, almost 77% of citizens across the ten countries thought on average that this would be an important factor in the trend.

Far less had confidence in the propositions in (3) and (4). 74% and 61% of Japanese people and Poles, respectively, thought it was likely that the economy would become more efficient with automation, but this confidence wasn’t commonplace in other countries. 6 countries had less than 50% of its citizens thinking this was likely to happen, whereof 3 had less than 40%. Least confident were Italians, with only 33% thinking it was probable. People were even more pessimistic about the last scenario, with no country having more than 47% believing it was likely that automation would bring new and better-paying jobs to the market. Here, again, Italians are the least confident, with only 24%, but the Americans aren’t much different, with 25%. The only country with more confidence than Brazil and Poland, both with 37%, is Canada, at 47%.

Charts showing that publics are more convinced of the downsides than potential upsides of job automation

Richard Wike and Bruce Stokes, the authors of the report, also showed that whether the person asked believes the current economic situation is good or bad is a statistically Chart showing that those satisfied with current economy are more likely to have a positive view of job automationsignificant factor in the results.

The findings, overall, however, appears to be that people generally believe the downsides outweigh the upsides with automation, which begs the question: Will it?

To answer this key question, we must first look at whether this threat has at any time appeared before. Indeed, it did quite much so during the peak of the industrial revolution in England.

The latter half of the 18th century saw great technological innovation: the water wheel, the spinning jenny, the steam engine, etc. This was the beginning of what would eventually become part of the cause of increased economic prosperity and life expectancy rates. But this did not occur instantly. The English working class suffered under the transition, though, according to some historians, it was largely due to the Napoleonic wars, with food getting scarcer and more costly (Sidenote: just the conditions needed for Marx to get people to buy into his doctrine). Even under these poor conditions, some people still worried that machines could make it even worse as they would put them out of a job. The group known to be most serious about this threat were the Luddites. The Luddites was a radical group of textile workers and weavers, most active between 1811 and 1817, who destroyed weaving machinery as a form of protest. They had to fight against the British Army several times, but one time it got so far that there were more soldiers fighting the Luddites and other domestic protesters than Napoleon at the Iberian peninsula. The time they used to learn the skills necessary for their jobs, they thought, would go to waste as machinery would replace their role.

They were right, of course, but I don’t think many today would with hindsight say the downsides of the industrial revolution exceeded the upsides. After all, the life expectancy rate in the United Kingdom has doubled from 40 in 1800 to 81.2 today, a trend with most other countries following suit.

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The key to understanding this phenomenon is what is often termed as “creative destruction.” Creative destruction, first described by Joseph Schumpeter in 1942, is the “process of industrial mutation that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one.” This happens when an innovation changes the traditional arrangements and frees resources to be used elsewhere. The labour and resources would no longer be useful in one arena and thus transferred to another where they are more needed. However, this redeployment will not happen immediately after they’re put out of work, which makes rapid automation a legitimate concern.

David Rotman delineates the parallel for Technology Review:

At least since the Industrial Revolution began in the 1700s, improvements in technology have changed the nature of work and destroyed some types of jobs in the process. In 1900, 41 percent of Americans worked in agriculture; by 2000, it was only 2 percent. Likewise, the proportion of Americans employed in manufacturing has dropped from 30 percent in the post–World War II years to around 10 percent today—partly because of increasing automation, especially during the 1980s.

However, he quotes Lawrence Katz, a Harvard economist who has done extensive research into how technological advances have affected jobs over the last decades, claims that there is no historical pattern which suggests that it leads to a net decrease in jobs over an extended period of time. “While it can take decades for workers to acquire the expertise needed for new types of employment,” he says, “we never have run out of jobs. There is no long-term trend of eliminating work for people. Over the long term, employment rates are fairly stable. People have always been able to create new jobs. People come up with new things to do.” Katz expects this trend to follow in the future but concedes that there is something different about today’s digital technologies that could potentially affect a broader range of work. “If technology disrupts enough, who knows what will happen?” Rotman rhetorically asks in his reportage, “Will the job disruptions caused by technology be temporary as the workforce adapts, or will we see a science-fiction scenario in which automated processes and robots with superhuman skills take over a broad swath of human tasks?” Thus we’re back to where we started. Will it?

Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee claim to have proof that the current technological advance does, in fact, destroy jobs faster than it is creating them. The two infographics pages to the right illustrate the problem. The first graph shows that U.S. productivity and employment have been more or less congruent during the 20th century, but diverged in the 2000s, what they call “the great decoupling.” Brynjolfsson is certain that this is because of technological change, but there’s no consensus among economists as to the cause of this great decoupling.

We can see an even greater divergence between U.S. GDP per capita and household income. For those who don’t know, GDP per capita means total output (the value of all finished goods and services) divided by the number of citizens in the country. Its divergence from average household income can easily be explained by technological advance making the economy more efficient but doesn’t say as much as the former graph about the degree to which jobs are being replaced. This should, however, disprove the claim that automation doesn’t lead to the economy being more efficient, point (3) in the Pew poll.

The second page tells us a bit more. Workers in the first and last percentile of skill have increased most in the change in share of employment, with .2% and .3%, respectively. The middle, however, doesn’t appear to have changed much. Those from 50 to 80 in the skill percentile have barely increased their shares at all, and those from 10 to 50 have seen their share decreased.

On the right on the page, we also see an overview of the vulnerable and fastest growing jobs. 8/10 of the fastest-growing jobs have to do with computer systems, networks, and software, showing the bright side of creative destruction, but again, we have to recall their argument that jobs are being depleted faster than they are created.

We’ll conclude by looking over the legitimacy of the four propositions laid out in the Pew poll but in opposite order.

  1. There would be new, better-paying jobs.
    • On the table with the fastest-growing jobs, we see that most of them are caused by technological advance, working the wonders of creative destruction. To figure out whether these are better-paying jobs than the ones who are being replaced would require its own thorough analysis, which is beyond the scope of this study. In other words, there will be new jobs, but whether these are better-paying is uncertain.
  2. The economy would be more efficient.
    • Brynjolffson and McAfee’s statistics indicate that technological advances increase productivity, especially in the 2000s, though the latest decoupling has split the line between that and employment. An increase in productivity is a strong indicator of the economy as a whole getting more efficient.
  3. The [wealth] inequality between rich and poor would be much worse than it is today.
    • There’s been a great amount of talk about inequality lately, especially since Piketty’s publication of Capital in the 21st Century in 2011. His research had great influence on the attention of the entire economist community on the trend, but he also received a lot of critiques (see: Anti-Piketty). If we accept his proposition of growing inequality, however, how does technology work as a factor? Rotman writes in another Technology Review article connecting the lines between Piketty’s and Brynjolfsson’s work:

      Brynjolfsson lists several ways that technological changes can contribute to inequality: robots and automation, for example, are eliminating some routine jobs while requiring new skills in others (see “How Technology is Destroying Jobs”). But the biggest factor, he says, is that the technology-driven economy greatly favors a small group of successful individuals by amplifying their talent and luck, and dramatically increasing their rewards.

      Brynjolfsson argues that these people are benefiting from a winner-take-all effect originally described by Sherwin Rosen in a 1981 paper called “The Economics of Superstars.” Rosen said that such breakthroughs as motion pictures, radio, and TV had greatly broadened the audiences—and hence the rewards—for those in show business and sports. Thirty years later, Brynjolfsson sees a similar effect for high-tech entrepreneurs, whose ideas and products can be widely distributed and produced thanks to software and other digital technologies. Why hire a local tax consultant when you can use a cheap, state-of-the-art program that is constantly being updated and refined? Likewise, why buy a second-best program or app? The ability to copy software and distribute digital products anywhere means customers will buy the top one. Why use a search engine that is almost as good as Google? Such economic logic now rules a growing share of the marketplace; it is, according to Brynjolfsson, an increasingly important reason why a few entrepreneurs, including the founders of such startups as Instagram, are growing rich at a staggering rate.

      The distinction between Piketty’s supermanagers and Brynjolfsson’s superstars is critical: the latter derive their high incomes directly from the effects of technology. As machines increasingly substitute for labor and building a business becomes less capital-intensive—you don’t need a printing plant to produce an online news site, or large investments to create an app—the biggest economic winners will not be those owning conventional capital but, instead, those with the ideas behind innovative new products and successful business models.

      This appears to indicate an increase in inequality, but the exact impact technology has on it calls for its own study, and is not certain based on the citations from Brynjolffson. Daron Acemoglu wrote a paper for the NBER in 2003, saying “This consensus is built on the notion of technology-skill complementarity: technical change favors more skilled (educated) workers, replaces tasks previously performed by the unskilled, and increases the demand for skills. Consequently, many commentators see a direct causal relationship between technological changes and these radical shifts in the distribution of wages taking place in the U.S. economy. … These considerations imply that technical change that increases the demand for skills can have much amplified effects on inequality, because it also will change labor market institutions and preferences towards redistribution.” As Acemoglu argues against other factors, such as globalization, I’ll judge this fear legitimate, though I think fiscal policy will have an influence on its significance (P.S. The degree to which inequality as such is bad de facto is also up for debate).

  4.  People would have a harder time finding jobs:
    • This is the million dollar question. In making such a forecast we can not say anything for certain, we can only think in probabilities. According to Brynjolfsson, the jobs are running out faster than they are creating because of the technological impact delineated in his and Acemoglu’s work. On the other hand, Katz expects things to go alright as it has before. Brynjolfsson and Acemoglu make a strong case for why creative destruction, as a result of technological advance, might, in this case, be leading to more jobs being replaced than created. High-skill work and creativity is in high demand and appears to only get more so as manufacturing jobs get automized. A net decrease in work will make it more difficult to find a job, but the different kinds of work demanded also calls for a reform in what is taught and how in the education system, though that’s a topic of study on its own. Anyway, as the job market changes, the education system must adapt accordingly.

We’ve here seen that much of the concern about the downsides of automation have proven more or less legitimate, that the current situation is significantly different from that during the industrial revolution, and that the economic upsides have been underestimated. Creative destruction has produced great benefits in the aftermath of the first industrial revolution, but today jobs seem to disappear faster than they are created. The technological change has increased economic output but at expense of an increase in wealth inequality by especially targetting low-skilled jobs, and increases the demand for high-skill labour. Between 1980 and 2005, the share of employment by the most low-skilled employees still increased, indicating a feud between theory and data, but the statistics still show that much of low-skilled labour is on the decline. If there were only the market involved in the process, it would be simpler to make a forecast on what would happen in the future, but as the government intervenes, for the better or worse, the trend could go a lot of different ways depending on what incentives are put in place and which legislation is passed to address the issue. Should we trust Congress to act fairly and effectively? Despite being constantly pushed by lobbyists for this and that, we should hope so, and have a debate about what suggestions could work and should be set in place, and advocate them to be instated.

Legal or Not Legal, That is the Question: A Case for Legalizing Marijuana Federally

By Stefan M. Kløvning

OPINION – Elon Musk, the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Telsa and SpaceX, ranked 25th on Forbes list of the World’s Most Powerful People, received extensive coverage after infamously smoking marijuana during a two-and-a-half-hour-long interview with stand-up comedian Joe Rogan on Friday. Tesla stocks dropped by 6.3% in the aftermath of the interview, which is ironic considering Rogan pondered before handing Musk the joint, “you probably can’t do that ’cause of the stockholders right?” It was a risk, but since 2016 recreational use of marijuana has been legal in California. So what’s the big deal? Why are so many newspapers running amok about it?

The truth is, it’s not completely legal. The Supreme Court upheld in Gonzales v. Raich (2005) that the federal government has the constitutional authority to prohibit marihuana for all purposes, creating conflict between state and federal law. This does not overturn state legislation ipso facto, but it leaves the decision of prosecution to the federal government. During the second term of the Obama administration, then-Deputy Attorney General James Cole eased the regulations on the production and distribution of marihuana in 2014. On January 6 2018, however, the U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rolled back on the so-called “Cole memo,” again restricting the influence of state legislation on the issue. This has caused CNBC to argue that Musk was under influence of “illegal drugs” while at work, as “One could argue Musk was representing Tesla as its CEO during the interview,” despite the fact that most of the interview wasn’t about Tesla at all.

What is it that has caused marihuana to be so regulated? From reportedly being used as far back as by Emperor Shen Nung in 2737 B.C. to Elon Musk today, why is it that this plant has been deemed so dangerous? Dr Lester Grinspoon, Associate Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, writes that “Marihuana was a subject of extravagant social controversy even in ancient times: there were those who warned that the hemp plant lined the road to Hades and those who thought it led to paradise.” Such it seems to remain, though now more metaphorically. Despite being used for over four thousand years, it wasn’t widely used in the United States before the 1920s. Its regulation began already in 1906, i.e. by being labelled as “poison” and being restricted on a state-to-state basis, but the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 became the first national regulation of the drug, signed into law by Franklin Delano Roosevelt. This, Grinspoon asserts, “completed its medical demise”.

Even in the 1970s, it was reported that “It is accepted widely that the physiologic effects of smoking marihuana are not well known, despite an acknowledged high incidence of usage.” President Nixon thus called for a major effort to study drug effects in a scientific manner and appointed the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse to do so. This might sound strange to many a reader familiar to Nixon’s policies, especially as his second most notorious legacy was his drug-war, which according to his former aide John Ehrlichman was meant to target the “anti-war left and black people.” Setting up the commission, however, appears only to have been a cover, as the NCMDA was ignored by the White House after issuing a report on its findings in 1972 calling for the decriminalization of marijuana possession in the United States. They were already well aware of the facts. Ehrlichman reportedly told a journalist in 1994, “Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

So, what were some of the findings the NCMDA presented in its 1972 report?

  • There is little proven danger of physical or psychological harm from the experimental or intermittent use of the natural preparations of cannabis, including the resinous mixtures commonly used in this country. The risk of harm lies instead in the heavy, long-term use of the drug, particularly of the most potent preparations.
  • The experimenter and the intermittent users develop little or no psychological dependence on the drug. … Prolonged duration of use does increase the probability of some behavioral and organic consequences including the possible shift to a heavy use pattern. 
  • No organ injury is demonstrable.
  • In many cases, the adults are still influenced by the myths of an earlier period which overstated the dangers of the drug. At a time of great social change and turbulence, the tendency to depend on the “traditional wisdom,” and its moral justification, is a strong one.
  • When the issue of marihuana use is placed in this context of society’s larger concerns, marihuana does not emerge as a major issue or threat to the social order. Rather, it is most appropriately viewed as a part of the whole of society’s concerns about the growth and development of its young people.
  • From what is now known about the effects of marihuana, its use at the present level does not constitute a major threat to public health.
  • The clinical findings of impaired psychological function, carefully documented by medical specialists, legitimately arouse concern. … Unfortunately, these marijuana-related problems, which occur only in heavy, long-term users, have been over-generalized and overdramatized.

They conclude,

[All highlights are mine]
In this Chapter, we have carefully considered the spectrum of social and legal policy alternatives. On the basis of our findings, discussed in previous Chapters, we have concluded that society should seek to discourage use, while concentrating its attention on the prevention and treatment of heavy and very heavy use. The Commission feels that the criminalization of possession of marihuana for personal use is socially self-defeating as a means of achieving this objective [highlight mine]. We have attempted to balance individual freedom on one hand and the obligation of the state to consider the wider social good on the other. We believe our recommended scheme will permit society to exercise its control and influence in ways most useful and efficient, meanwhile reserving to the individual American his sense of privacy, his sense of individuality, and, within the context of ail interacting and interdependent society, his options to select his own life style, values, goals and opportunities.

The Commission sincerely hopes that the tone of cautious restraint sounded in this Report will be perpetuated in the debate which will follow it. For those who feel we have not proceeded far enough, we are reminded of Thomas Jefferson’s advice to George Washington that “Delay is preferable to error.” For those who argue we have gone too far, we note Roscoe Pound’s statement, “The law must be stable, but it must not stand still.”

We have carefully analyzed the interrelationship between marihuana the drug, marihuana use as a behavior, and marihuana as a social problem. Recognizing the extensive degree of misinformation about marihuana as a drug, we have tried to demythologize it. Viewing the use of marihuana in its wider social context, we have tried to desymbolize it.

Considering the range of social concerns in contemporary America, marihuana does not, in our considered judgment, rank very high. We would deemphasize marihuana as a problem.

The existing social and legal policy is out of proportion to the individual and social harm engendered by the use of the drug. To replace it, we have attempted to design a suitable social policy, which we believe is fair, cautious and attuned to the social realities of our time.

If only there weren’t political points to score by perpetuating the myth! But that’s unfortunately not how things work in Washington. Sessions may be ousted as Attorney General soon after the mid-term elections, but that shouldn’t be a reason to celebrate that the Cole-memo will magically be revived again, not to mention leading to an eventual federal decriminalization. Despite promising to “hire the best people”, Trump has had trouble with many people in his administration since he was elected. Finding a “better” Attorney General than Jeff Sessions depends therefore on what standards Trump sees to be fit for the position. Thus what the new Attorney General will be like is a mystery, but we ought to have learned by now that change doesn’t appear out of nowhere. This isn’t the French or Bolshevik revolution, but an effort to revive the values of the American one, the constitution of which is now being misinterpreted so far as to justify federal prohibition of not only smoking a plant but also using it for medical purposes. What’s in swearing to uphold the constitution for a Congressman or a Judge if he doesn’t really know what it says?

Trump Calls For Firing Heads of CNN, NBC News in Tweetstorm Against Media

By Stefan M. Kløvning

Washington D.C., Domestic Affairs – It’s not unusual to see President Trump speak out against news organizations like CNN or NBC News on Twitter and in rallies, but after having called for the AT&T, the world’s largest telecommunications company, to fire “little Jeff Z[ucker]”, President of CNN, and Andy Lack, Chairman of NBC News and MSNBC on Thursday, even Conservative commentators who generally defend his rants have said he has crossed the line.

The tweets follow CNN’s response to earlier backlash from Trump: “Make no mistake, Mr President, CNN does not lie. We report the news. And we report when people in power tell lies. CNN stands by our reporting and our reporters.” This defence comes in spite of them refusing to correct or clarify their story claiming that Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal attorney, was ready to tell prosecutors that the president knew in advance of the Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer after Cohen’s lawyer Lanny Davis called the account false.

Trump worked together with Zucker, then the CEO and President of NBC News, back when he cast ‘The Apprentice’ on the platform, and has since developed a “special resentment” against him.

Writing for Fox News on Friday, Howard Kurtz wrote the following about the tweets,

I have said since Donald Trump got into the campaign that he has every right to hit back at the media that he believes covers him unfairly.

I have said after each controversial story and each attack that while the president’s language is occasionally too harsh, the relentlessly negative coverage is fair game for his counterpunching approach.

But the president crossed a line yesterday that he should not have crossed in calling for the heads of two major networks to be fired.

He also pointed out that “if President Obama had urged Fox News to fire Roger Ailes, [former CEO and Chairman of Fox News] there would have been an explosion on the right.”

In the same tweetstorm, Trump also doubled down on calling “much of the media” for “the enemy of the people,” a term highly criticized (here & here) for its historical connotations when he first started using it last year. Last year, however, he specifically wrote “The FAKE NEWS media … is the enemy of the American people,” while on Thursday, he wrote “much of the media.”

Perhaps even more problematic about the term is that employees of Boston Globe received death threats in calls from a Robert Chain calling them “enemies of the people” on the same day, 16. August, that they published an editorial opining that a “central pillar of President Trump’s politics is a sustained assault on the free press … which has dangerous consequences.” The incident has been interpreted as a confirmation of the claim that his rhetoric encourages censorship against news sites unfavourable to the President.

Censorship can go both ways, as Trump himself has said at a recent rally. “I’d rather have fake news like CNN, than have anybody, including liberals, socialists, anything, than have anybody stopped and censored. We gotta live with it. … You can’t have censorship. You can’t pick one person and say ‘well, we don’t like what he’s been saying, he’s out.’ So, we’ll live with fake news, and I hate to say it, but we have no choice cause that’s by far the better alternative. Because you know why? It can turn around. It can be them next.”

Trump’s rhetoric tends to be a more common topic of discussion these days than his policies, and he has yet to introduce any kind of legislation suppressing negative coverage of him, which would’ve been both authoritarian and hypocritical of him to do, but his intimidation tactics on Twitter and at rallies have journalists worried how he’s influencing public’s attitudes towards the media, and encourage more individuals like Chain to silence the press as a third party. Critical thinking to what you’re reading, no matter the news organization the writer may represent, is key in separating fake and real news, and the nuances inbetween. It’s not the news organization per se that are right or wrong, it’s the claims they put forth, which may either be produced on ideological or truthseeking grounds.

DNC Starkly Reduces Superdelegate Nomination Power in Efforts to Strengthen Party for Mid-Terms and 2020 Elections

Washington D.C., Domestic Affairs – The Democratic National Convention voted on Saturday to decrease the influence of superdelegates in the party, curbing the ability of 15% of its members to vote for any candidates in the presidential election regardless of the results of party primaries and caucuses. NBC News reports the change as “the most consequential reforms to the party’s nominating process since the 1980s,” when superdelegates first became a part of the DNC. Union president Lee Saunders  of AFSCME recalled the change coming as a result of the topic being debated “ad nauseam,” and asserted that “Our job as the Democratic Party is to get Democrats elected, so let’s start that right now.”

The real criticism against superdelegates within the DNC didn’t commence before the primary election in 2016. As late as February 2016, the then-chairwoman Debbie Wassermann Schultz gave a clear defence for superdelegates in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper. When he asked “What do you tell voters who are new to the process who say this makes them feel like it’s all rigged?”, she proclaimed that “Unpledged delegates exist really to make sure that party leaders and elected officials don’t have to be in a position where they are running against grass-roots activists.” However many members of her party agreed with her then, when the primaries started firing up between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders later that year, supporters of the latter came to vehemently oppose the concept and privileges of superdelegates considering they overwhelmingly sided with Clinton. According to a Pew poll published on May 5 2016, 500 superdelegates backed Clinton, and only 42 supported Sanders. Sanders supported thus made efforts to lobby and petition superdelegates to reflect the popular vote rather than the sentiment of party elites.

Unsurprisingly, Bernie Sanders lauded the decision Twitter on Saturday, finally achieving his goal after a “long and arduous process”, having pushed for total elimination of superdelegates for the superdelegate reform in July 2016.

Tom Perez, the current Chairman of the DNC, spoke to grassroots activists in the party after the vote, announcing, “Today we demonstrated the values of the Democratic Party. We trust you, we want you to join the party. We will listen to you, we want you to have a seat at the table.” He also asserted in a statement that “Today is a historic day for our party. We passed major reforms that will not only put our next presidential nominee in the strongest position possible, but will help us elect Democrats up and down the ballot, across the country.”

Even some super-delegates, like Howard Dean, a former DNC chairman, supports the change as in the country’s best interests despite himself losing privileges by it. In an e-mail to fellow DNC members, he wrote that “We need to unify around our shared values, inspire trust in voters, and energize the grassroots. And one of the best ways we can do that is by reassuring our voters that this is their party. This is the party of the people.” William Owens, a DNC member from Tennessee, said he was sceptical of the proposal, but claimed to be a team player and that “the most important thing we can do is elect Democrats this fall and in 2020.” According to the NBC, he was choking back tears as he said it, himself conceding that “I’m trying to say this without crying.”

However, the vote hasn’t been exempt from criticism. Some argue that the change will negatively affect the representation and influence of African Americans in the party, some of whom have used decades of hard work “climbing in the halls of power,” as Huffington Post described it. DNC Committee CEO Leah Daughtry and former DNC Chairwoman Donna Brazile argue that through this hard work and diligence, “Black Americans enjoy stronger representation among the ranks of superdelegates than ever before.” Most notably Karen Carter Peterson, an African American superdelegate and DNC vice chairwoman in Louisiana, who told fellow party members in frustration that “Are you telling me that after my 30 years of blood, sweat, and tears for this party, that you’re going to take away my right to appease a group of people?”

Proponents of the reform have responded with claims that the pledged members are more “diverse” – that is, includes a higher percentile of African-Americans and other minorities – with 25% of pledged delegates being black as opposed to 20% superdelegates. According to Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa, “The greater diversity among pledged convention delegates simply reflects the fact that even in the Democratic Party, the racial makeup of elected officials has yet to completely reflect the diversity of the party’s voters.” He also added that “The rule strengthens minority and ethnic groups’ position in our party.”

According to Huffington Post, however, this isn’t a split between white and black Democrats so much as a disagreement along generational lines. Minnesota DNC member Ron Harris, a younger DNC member in the party, for instance, publically supported the change, arguing that “The grassroots are more diverse. And more participation from the grassroots would mean more diversity at the convention.”

 

FARAGE IS BACK: What will his return entail for the future of Brexit?

By Stefan M. Kløvning

Britain, Brexit – Nigel Farage announced his return to British politics on Friday in a Telegraph article entitled “The time has come to teach the political class a lesson: I’m back fighting for a real Brexit,” where he pledged “to give Leave Means Leave my absolute and total support. I will help them to raise funds and will go back on the road to campaign once again.” In the article, he also labelled the Chequers statement as a “betrayal”, a document delineating Conservative PM Theresa May’s suggestions for the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union.

Farage is especially known for his Euroscepticism, having left the Conservative party in 1992 after they signed the Maastricht Treaty, and becoming a founding member of the United Kingdom Independence Party. In 1999, he was elected as a Member of European Parliament (MEP) and was subsequently reelected in 2004, 2009 and 2014, causing countless controversies in the parliament through his numerous rants about the flaws of the EU. He summarized his views on the EU as follows:

Post-1949, there was some sensible ideas put together, namely, the Council of Europe. Let’s have a Europe where we sit down together, where we have a free-trade agreement, minimum standards on work, on the environment… We can do all of these things without a European Commission, without a European Parliament, and without a European Court of Justice. Yes, it’ll mean you’ll lose your job, Mr Barosso [11th President of the European Commission], but apart from that, why can’t we do things as mature democracies? Yes, I want you sacked Mr Schultz as well, I want you all fired. We can do those things, and that is a positive way forward. Taking away from people the ability to govern themselves, and transferring that power to the European Commission, we’re headed for a Europe of rebellion and violence. Let’s take the democratic route.

After 52% of Brits voted to leave the European Union in 2016, he spoke before the European Commission again, asserting “Isn’t it funny, that when I came here seventeen years ago, and I said that I wanted to lead a campaign to get Britain to leave the European Union, you all laughed at me! Well, I have to say, you’re not laughing now, are you?” Farage has thereby been perceived as having had a large impact on the results in 2016, ranked 2nd “most influential Right-winger” by the Telegraph in October 2013, and named “Briton of the Year” in 2014. After he resigned as leader of UKIP in 2016, he hasn’t been particularly influential in British politics, outside of his op-eds and podcast/radio show on London Broadcasting Corporation. In 2017, he also became a contributor on Fox News, where he additionally comments on American issues, promoting Trump and was in July one of the proponents of him earning the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to bring better relations between North- and South Korea. Yesterday, he asserted he’s coming back to British politics:

Over the last few months, and particularly since the Chequers betrayal, scores of people have stopped me in the street to ask: “When are you coming back?”

Well now you have your answer: I’m back.

Back in the game of British politics, ready to make an influence on Britain to move it back in the right direction for a “real” Brexit. But whither does this direction lead? What will his return entail for the future of Brexit?

Farage describes the organizers of Leave Means Leave, Richard Tice and John Longworth to be “principled businessmen” who see “Brexit as the ultimate opportunity to regain some national self-confidence, to restore our democracy and to make us all richer and more successful by going global. They want to encourage the entrepreneurial spirit that burns so brightly in millions of men and women.” On their website, they assert that “Unequivocally, Leave means leaving the Single Market, leaving the customs union and UK courts no longer being subservient to the European Court of Justice.” Chequers do not mean Brexit, they say, for its suggestions do not meet these criteria.

Leave Means Leave was established in July 2016 in the aftermath of the Brexit vote as a political pressure group campaigning and lobbying for “a clean Brexit.” “This week,” says Farage, “it declared plans to re-launch the referendum campaign up and down the country.” The founders explained on Thursday,

When we set up Leave Means Leave after the referendum, we thought it might be needed for six months. We hoped that we could trust the Government to do the job they had been instructed to do by the British people. People knew what they were voting for. They dismissed the ridiculous scaremongering of Project Fear and voted in the largest numbers ever to leave the EU.

None of us imagined that, two years on, we would have to refight the battle. We never dreamt that we would have to attack some desperate “Chequers” proposal from the Prime Minister, which led to the resignation of two of the most influential Brexit-supporting Cabinet ministers [David Davis and Boris Johnson]. None of us feared being let down by other Cabinet Brexiteers, who we thought we could trust. Today, they are trying to sell thin gruel to Brexit voters as if it were some sort of delicacy. It is a con, and must be exposed as such.

Crucially, this will be a nationwide effort, not an intellectual exercise from air-conditioned offices in London. We want to take our campaign to the people. So many ordinary voters feel let down by their MPs.

The next six months will determine the future direction of our country. It is nothing less than a Battle for Britain. Do we want to remain handcuffed to an outdated, protectionist bullying bureaucracy as a vassal state? Or do we want to be a bold, ambitious trading nation, retaking our rightful place on the global stage as a strong independent country, enjoying the significant economic benefits that flow from a proper Brexit?

With Farage’s “absolute and total support,” Leave Means Leave is sure to get a boost of influence considering his reach and reputation (for instance, he has 68 times as many followers on Twitter as them), but is the British public open to their message? According to the latest annual British Social Attitudes report by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen Social Research), the party most against “allowing free movement of people in return for free trade in the EU” is, unsurprisingly, UKIP, at 67%, but they also have a large minority of 40% in the Conservative Party to appeal to, though its leader was the architect of the Chequers Statement.

Leave Means Leave know their base, and what they stand for, but as they weren’t sufficient in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum, is it reasonable to expect that things will now turn out differently? Is Farage the steroid they need to win the race for the future of Brexit, and can he make them sufficient for achieving this goal? Or will they again be overhauled by the political establishment they consider to be indifferent to the wishes of the British majority?


More by Goldfire Media:

Nigel Farage Threaten Return as UKIP Leader if Theresa May Continues “Brexit Betrayal”

Both Tories and EU Diplomats Skeptical to May’s Forced Soft Brexit Blueprint

Jeremy Corbyn Pictured Commemorating Palestinian Terrorists Responsible for Assassinating Jordanian PM and 11 Israeli Athletes

A Case for Leaving the Left-Right Axis as a Model for Political Analysis

Investigative Journalist Assaulted By Security and Banned from UN for Covering $6-Billion Budget Meeting

 

 

Jeremy Corbyn Pictured Commemorating Palestinian Terrorists in Tunisia Responsible for Assassinating the Jordanian PM and 11 Israeli Athletes

By Stefan M. Kløvning

Britain, Politics – Images revealed by the Daily Mail on Friday shows Jeremy Corbyn holding a wreath and participating in an Islamic prayer in a cemetery in Tunisia in 2014.

In a piece for the Morning Star, Corbyn clarified that the wreaths and mourning were for “those who died on that day and on the graves of others killed by Mossad agents in Paris in 1991.” The day he refers to is October 1, 1985, when Israel, in what has been called “Operation Wooden Leg”, held airstrikes against the headquarters of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in Hamman Chott, 20 km from Tunis, Tunisia. PLO claimed 67 people died in the event, 45 Palestinians and 22 Tunisians, but according to hospital sources, it was closer to 47 dead and 65 wounded.

When the Daily Mail visited the cemetery last week, however, they found that the image above was taken 13 meters from the plaque commemorating those who died in the attack. Rather, they stood in front of plaque beside the graves of the founder and members of the Palestinian terrorist organization Black September, who was responsible for the assassination of the Jordanian Prime Minister Wasfi Al-Tal in 1971 and the murder of 11 Israeli athletes during the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, as well as various other attacks against Israeli and Jordanian officials between 1970 and 1973. The plaque commemorated Salah Kalaf, the founder of Black September, his key aide Fakhri al-Omari and Hayel Abdel-Hamid, PLO chief of security and close advisor to Khalaf. The three were shot in the home of Abdel-Hamid in Tunis in 1991. The intentions and background of the gunman have been left up to speculation, leading some to believe it was an Israeli agent from Mossad, the national intelligence agency of Israel, while others think was from a rival Palestinian faction such as the Abu Nidal Organization, whose leader was a bitter enemy of Mr Kalaf. Corbyn made clear in his article that he is a proponent for the former hypothesis, without a single time mentioning Black September or the Munich massacre.

Corbyn has been very vocal about his pro-Palestine stance and criticism of Israel in the past. In 2011, for instance, he suggested that the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) had a “bias towards saying that Israel is a democracy in the Middle East, Israel has a right to exist, Israel has its security concerns.” In a talk to the Palestinian Return Center (PRC) in 2013, he compared Israeli occupation of the West Bank to the Nazi invasion of Europe in WWII. For this he has been criticized for “soft-core Holocaust denial” for completely disregarding the historical context of the establishment of the state of Israel:

The blogger, known as “The Golem”, also pointed out the PRC’s links to the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, quoting a 2015 Telegraph piece proclaiming it to be “the Brotherhood campaign group with the closest links to mainstream politics.” As proof for this, the writer states that they are “sharing directors with the Muslim Association of Britain, the Brotherhood’s main declared British affiliate.” The Israeli government has called it “Hamas’ organizational branch in Europe,” which they have denied, but have still regularly hosted Hamas leaders, such as Ismail Haniyeh, to their annual events.

Corbyn also described members of Hezbollah and Hamas as “friends” during a parliamentary hearing in 2009, which he later regretted, and insisted that “The language I used at that meeting was actually here in parliament and it was about encouraging the meeting to go ahead, encouraging there to be a discussion about the peace process.” However, even when pushed to denounce them, he refused, according to the Telegraph.

Both Corbyn and Labour at large have been labelled anti-Semitic on grounds like these. “At the heart of Labour’s anti-Semitism crisis,” the Times of Israel proclaims, “is the party’s refusal to adopt in full the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism, instead of leaving out four of the 11 examples included in the definition. All four relate to unfair singling out of Israel or questioning the loyalty of Jews who support Israel.”

Jennifer Gerber, the head of Labour Friends of Israel, took a firm stance against Corbyn, stating that

In these deplorable remarks, not only does Jeremy Corbyn use another appearance on Iranian state TV [in 2011] to engage in further wild conspiracy theories about Israel, he also questions the Jewish state’s right to exist. Is it any wonder he has resisted so hard adopting the full IHRA definition of antisemitism?

The Labour party is now defending Jeremy Corbyn peddling wild conspiracy theories and questioning Israel’s right to exist on Iranian state TV. Let’s be clear: for a party which aspires to be in government, this is not normal behavior.

Simon Johnson, the head of the Jewish Leadership Council, echoed Gerber but stated that he perceived Corbyn’s statements to differ from Labour policy.

On July 17, after Labour had changed their Code of Conduct on anti-Semitism, Former Labour MP Margaret Hodge condemned Corbyn in a parliament hearing, claiming that “You have proved you don’t want people like me [Jews] in the party.” He reportedly responded that “I’m sorry you feel like that,” to which she followed up with asserting that “It is not what you say but what you do, and by your actions, you have shown you are an anti-Semitic racist.”

Sajid Javid, the British Home Secretary, suggested on Sunday that Corbyn should step down as Labour leader following the controversy of his visit to Tunisia in 2014. “If this was the leader of any other major political party, he or she would be gone by now,” he tweeted on Sunday.

According to a recent ComRes poll, 29% of Labour voters agree with the statement “Jeremy Corbyn is letting the Labour Party down by failing to tackle antisemitism within some parts of the Party,” but 35% believe he’s handling it well. Amidst calls for his acquittal, therefore, the party appears split on whether his leadership is good for the party, and whether or not he soon ought to be replaced.

NAFTA Negotiations Expected Settled Between U.S. and Mexico Before Mid-Term Elections

 By Stefan M. Kløvning

International Relations, U.S.-Mexico – U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted late Friday that a “deal with Mexico is coming along nicely,” as North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) negotiations between Mexico and the United States has been announced to continue next week.

After the tweet, Canada quickly responded in a statement asserting that “Our focus is unchanged. We’ll keep standing up for Canadian interests as we work toward a modernized trilateral NAFTA agreement.” A spokesman for the Canadian Foreign Minister also said that “We’re glad Mexico and the U.S. continue to work out their bilateral issues. It’s the only way we’ll get to a deal.”

Trump has been highly critical of NAFTA, calling it the “worst deal ever made”, and suggested its termination on Twitter last year. Before becoming president, he even said that he would withdraw the U.S. from the agreement when elected if they didn’t agree to a renegotiation. In a campaign speech, he announced that he is going to “tell our NAFTA partners that I intend to immediately renegotiate the terms of that agreement to get a better deal for our workers. And I don’t mean just a little bit better, I mean a lot better.”

Having withdrawn the country both from the Iran Nuclear Agreement and the Paris Climate Accord, Trump has proven himself to be serious about threats of leaving international treaties if they aren’t renegotiated satisfactorily. After infamously making a scene at the G7 meeting, he’s now pushing hard to modernize the 1994 deal with Mexico, having Canada wait in the back of the queue, and potentially instating a tax against their cars in retaliation.

According to Investing.com, auto industry officials familiar with the talks between Mexico and the U.S. about the future of NAFTA revealed that Mexico’s currently existing auto plants will be exempted from any “Section 232” (aluminium and steel) tariffs Trump may impose, but that new auto plants would be discouraged from the U.S. market, facing a potential 25% tax. The U.S. has also sought to discourage its factories and jobs from moving to Mexico for cheaper labour. The Commerce Department investigated in May whether imports of cars, trucks and auto parts could be seen as a national security threat, invoking the 1962 trade law used to justify broad tariffs on steel and aluminium, which Trump first instated after calls for trade wars at the beginning of March.

Negotiators are also reported to be preparing for a showdown over the suggestion of including a sunset clause in the agreement by the Trump administration, ending the agreement unless its participants agree to continue it every five years. Mexico’s Economy Finance Minister, Ildefonso Guajardo, said that this would be one of the difficult issues that would have to be resolved at the end of the agreement. He told reporters it was still possible that a deal could be settled by the end of the month, but that “We still have a lot of work to do.”

We are working like we’ve been doing for the last three weeks and making a lot of advancements. We are coming back next week. But as I said before: nothing is closed until everything is closed

According to Reuters, Guajardo also said on Thursday that “There are a lot of things, at least 20 items, that have been worked through, and there is very good advancement in all of them.”

Mexican officials have called the sunset clause redundant as members already have the option of withdrawing from the agreement on a 6-months notice. Guajardo suggested that its results could be evaluated by its three members (U.S., Canada and Mexico) instead of setting it up to automatically expire.

Moises Kalach, the trade head for the Mexican business chamber CCE, told interviewers last week that “A free-trade agreement is supposed to provide certainty, and this [sunset clause] would hurt investment in Mexico and the competitiveness of North America. It’s not something we can work with.”

New hopes for an agreement between Mexico and U.S. has risen since the election of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on July 1, as their interests conflate in the goal to raise wages for automotive workers.

A Case for Leaving the Left-Right Axis as a Model for Political Analysis

By Stefan M. Kløvning

OPINION – The United States has a concerning problem with political polarization. That proposition shouldn’t surprise anyone at this point. Polls by Pew reveal that the general population has become increasingly polarized between 1994 and 2017, towards more people consistently holding convictions within their respective ideologies (Liberal/Conservative).

Now, having ideological diversity within the debate of how the country ought to be governed isn’t a problem with political polarization by itself. It can actually be an advantage. The problem is intolerance between those of different ideological convictions. Both groups appear to find the other side intolerant in some way. Conservatives often point out the intolerance of Liberals to the degree that they shut down or cancel Conservative speakers from campus (i.e. Mac Donald, Shapiro, Peterson, Yiannopoulus, Murray and many others). Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell opined in 2016, “Today’s students are indeed both more left wing and more openly hostile to free speech than earlier generations of collegians,” and quoted polls from the Higher Education Research Institute which found that 43% of students believe colleges have the right to ban speakers they consider extreme. Liberals, however, seem to look at intolerance by Conservatives against the rights of women, African-Americans, people in the LGBT community, etc. and respond with more intolerance (whether or not these Conservative speakers actually hold these kinds of biases towards these groups). This conception is likely the reason why 30% of Democratic women have blocked, unfriended or stopped following someone on social media because of their political views, as opposed to just 10% of Republican women. In this sense, intolerance begets more intolerance, which leads to further political polarization. This was the theme in Jonah Goldberg’s recent piece for the National Review, called “Why Racism Begets More Racism”, whose underlining point was that intolerance towards another person’s skin color, i.e. addressing someone with a negative connotation as “white” or “black” make them think of themselves in terms of race, which triggers a group-based threat in one’s sub-conscious that’s evolved for tribal conditions for a very long time, making oneself identify more with that in-group, and thereby causing the subject to become more racist. This feature of the sub-conscious doesn’t make many exceptions and is easy to observe in the modern political polarization regarding differences in ideologies.

My main proposition for this essay is that using the Left-Right axis as a mental model for understanding political issues exacerbates this group-based subconscious feature to think more in favour of your in-group and more against your out-group, and justifies strawman-ing entire ideologies by careless comparisons of ideologies on the same side of the axis.

The political connotations of “Left and Right” originated in the French revolution of 1789, where the supporters of the revolution stood to the president’s left, and the supporters of the king to the right. This explains why those considered on the Right politically today, are often considered to value tradition and being careful with proposals of great societal change, as opposed to those on the Left who are considered to be more eager to try and experiment with new ideas like UBI and M4A to ensure everyone in the country can have a dignified life. The Left-Right model might seem like a harmless tool for conceiving of political differences in this sense, but the devil lies in the details. For what, exactly, of one’s tradition, is it one seek to preserve when one considers oneself on the right? As D’Souza points out, the United States has never had a monarchy, there isn’t any monarchy for American Conservatives to preserve. For D’Souza, some of the main traditions American Conservatives want to preserve is the Constitution and the founders’ determination of every American having the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The real problem with the Left-Right model is that it allows for poorly based comparisons between different political ideologies which appear to be on the same side of the spectrum. “Nazis and Fascists were right-wing, alas the right is the wrong side to be on!” “Communism was left-wing, alas the left is the wrong side to be on!” Though these are exaggerations, one tends to see these kinds of comparisons come up from time to time, especially the former, with the news not seldom refer to Conservative and Libertarian figures as “alt-right”, “Nazi”, “Fascist” without quoting what kind of ideas that belong to these political doctrines, whose careless application of language implicitly holds the kind of logic delineated above. These vile comparisons create a justification for ourselves to shut down discussion with the other side even before we know their opinions or reasons for holding them. When these discussions across the political divide are thereby shut down, they get more intolerant to one another proportionally to how little they understand each other. As a psychological model for understanding how politics work, therefore, it appears more like a burden than a contribution.

Stephen Hicks, for instance, pointed out, “where do you place George Washington on this scale”, where do you place the Whigs or the Federalists, etc? Based on your conception of the model, you can probably place them somewhere according to your knowledge of these groups, but the problem with that is that you’re analyzing foreign political ideologies through the lens of your understanding of the ideologies of the Conservatives and Liberals and the differences between them (which the Left-Right spectrum is in most cases directly associated with), instead of regarding “Conservatism”, “Progressivism (or Modern Liberalism)” and “Federalism” as distinct categories that ought to be analyzed from the bottom-up based on their own principles and ideas, and compared with each other through differences and similarities in these rather than using the Left-Right model as a medium, which so often ends in misleading or straight out wrong conclusions.

Leaving the Left-Right spectrum as a model for political analysis might be an inconvenience at first, considering that most people you know likely use it in their everyday vocabulary about political matters, but in the long run, I think it will overall be better for the mind and the political climate more generally without the logical fallacies that come along with using it as a medium of comparing ideologies. To straw-man an entire political ideology, pretty much the simplest thing you can do today is to use the Left-Right spectrum as a medium, and few on your side of the aisle will raise an eyebrow. The majority of people today would agree that the Nazis and the Fascists had heinous faults in their policies, ideas, and principles, and sometimes one can reasonably compare certain policies, ideas and principles that come up today with those that they espoused. But lest these comparisons become so carelessly thrown around that they become useless, which many Conservatives and Libertarians already consider the case, leaving the medium of irrational political comparisons and rather start addressing the distinct political categories appropriately according to their self-professed ideas, principles and policies, is an option I consider having the merit of reducing the intolerance that’s currently plaguing the polarized American political climate. If we want our own ideas to be properly understood, we should also have the humility to try to understand those we try to convince.