New Documentary Shows A Devastated Ben Rhodes Trying To Process Hillary’s Loss; Then Came The Remixes

A video clip from a new HBO documentary The Final Year has been making its way around the internet, showing a completely devastated Ben Rhodes beside himself as he tried to “process” Hillary Clinton’s historic loss in the 2016 U.S. election.

Rhodes, Obama’s former deputy national security advisor for strategic communications, dons a thousand-yard-stare. “I came outside just to process all this,” Rhodes says, beside himself. “I can’t even…ah, uh…I can’t…I mean I, I, I, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t put it into words, I don’t know what the words are.” 

And then came the remixes… 



Rhodes, like so many others, were convinced Hillary was going to win and that it was #HerTurn. Alas, despite wildly inaccurate polls and an overconfident Clinton, her victory was not to be. 

Of course, let us all remember that it wasn’t her fault – nothing ever is, and that had a laundry list of other people not interfered, she would have won the election. 

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The Vatican’s Latest Anti-Capitalist Paper Calls for More Government Regulation

Authored by Ryan McMaken via The Mises Institute,

In the classic 1966 film, A Man for All Seasons, the family of Thomas More – chancellor of England and eventual Catholic saint –counsels Thomas to arrest power-mad Richard Rich because they suspect (correctly) Rich will betray Thomas and because “that man’s bad.” To this, More replies “there’s no law against that.” Another family member retorts: “yes there is – God law.” More answers with: “then God can arrest him.”

Robert Bolt, the learned atheist who penned A Man for All Seasons knew enough about Catholic philosophy to communicate important Catholic concepts with this scene.

Among these is the fact that, in the Catholic view, as voiced by Bolt’s Thomas More, not every sin, moral defect, or character flaw justifies intervention by the state. The fact that Richard Rich was a betrayer and liar was not sufficient, More understood, to apply More’s police powers as Chancellor of England. After all, for centuries, many Church leaders had long agreed that applying state coercion to cure every social ill was often a cure that was worse than the disease. As Thomas Aquinas notes: “Accordingly in human government also, those who are in authority rightly tolerate certain evils, lest certain goods be lost, or certain evils be incurred.”

Moreover in response to the retort that “God’s law” demands action, Aquinas notes that even God himself is tolerant of moral defects:

Human government is derived from the Divine government, and should imitate it. Now although God is all-powerful and supremely good, nevertheless He allows certain evils to take place in the universe, which He might prevent, lest, without them, greater goods might be forfeited, or greater evils ensue.

So, when More jokes that “God can arrest” Rich if He sees fit, More is giving voice to an already established strain of thought in Catholic thinking.

Moreover, Aquinas’s views toward the state are relatively benign compared to others — Augustine, for instance — who viewed the state as a necessary but violent evil to be tolerated only because it might restrain the excesses of even worse criminals.

The Modern Preference for State Action on Everything

Needless to say, these ideas of a barely-tolerated and restrained state are long gone in the current crop of modern European bishops who rarely meet a new government program they don’t like.

The latest case in point on this interventionist enthusiasm is this month’s anti-market missive titled “Oeconomicae et pecuniariae quaestiones (“Considerations for an ethical discernment regarding some aspects of the present economic-financial system”).

Although often attributed in the media to the current Pope, this document really issues forth from the bowels of the Vatican bureaucracy and reflects not merely the Pope’s thinking but a more general attitude among the European intellectual classes who compose such documents which are read by few, and quickly forgotten.

Nevertheless, the document is worth noting because it highlights the ongoing current trend during this Pontificate toward calling for state action under the cover of a discussion that is ostensibly only about ethical and moral issues.

Kept strictly to the moral and ethical realm of course, such a document would be purely within the competence of bishops who might raise a number of questions as to the moral legitimacy of an individual’s actions within the current economic and financial system. 

Nowadays, however, beneath this surface bubbles a constant assumption that coercive action by states is the proper way of dealing with moral shortcomings among individuals.

“Oeconomicae et pecuniariae” contains numerous statements that betray this preference for state action. For instance, the document calls for state regulation of credit instruments, concluding there is a

need for a public regulation, and an appraisal super partes of the work of the rating agencies of credit, becomes all the more urgent, with legal instruments that make it possible to sanction the distorted actions and to prevent the creation of a dangerous oligopoly on the part of a few.

And also:

an imposition of the taxes, when it is equal, performs a fundamental function of equalization and redistribution of the wealth not only in favor of those who need appropriate subsidies, but it also supports the investments and the growth of the actual economy.

And then there is:

it was calculated that a minimum tax on the transactions accomplished offshorewould be sufficient to resolve a large part of the problem of hunger in the world: why can’t we undertake courageously the way of a similar initiative?

At nearly 10,000 words, this is a long and detailed document which describes at length any number of perceived problems in the current economic system.

At many points the document comes to conclusions not supported by the economic data, of course, and one wonders if the world really needs a mid-level Vatican bureaucrat’s take on credit-default swaps, as is given in the text. Perhaps most tellingly, this document, which purports to offer solutions to economic cycles, makes no mention of central banks. 

Given the flawed economic analysis — issued by writers in a role not exactly imbued with qualification to comment on such matters — it’s not even clear that the proposed legal sanctions would even solve the stated problems. Nevertheless, it is clear that the authors are attempting to cure a problem of greed through robust state action. They advocate for a number of new taxes and regulations to be implemented within the financial sector by states and their agents — all in the name of expunging vices that were once considered incurable by state intervention. 

Ultimately, the authors — as is now common practice — fall back on a concept known as the “universal destination of goods” which correctly — from the Catholic perspective — draws attention to the fact that charity dictates that one always be open to generously and voluntarily sharing one’s possessions with the poor. Ambrose of Milan summed it up in the 4th century:

You are not making a gift of what is yours to the poor man, but you are giving him back what is his. You have been appropriating things that are meant to be for the common use of everyone. The earth belongs to everyone, not to the rich.1

But how shall this be accomplished? Shall the state be employed to coercively wrest wealth from the hands of “the rich” through threats of violence in order to redistribute it? That is, after all, what taxation is. If so, how can this be called charity, since it is involuntary?

Apparently, in the minds of many modern bishops, this is, in fact, a perfectly legitimate function of the state — and it can then in the minds of advocates be termed “charity” or a matter of “the common good.”

An earlier view, however, regarded charity quite differently.

Augustine, in his letter to a wealthy woman named Proba, admonishes her to be charitable:

Many holy men and women, using every precaution against those pleasures in which she that lives, cleaving to them, and dwelling in them as her heart’s delight, is dead while she lives, have cast from them that which is as it were the mother of pleasures, by distributing theirwealth among the poor, and so have stored it in the safer keeping of the treasury of heaven.

But, Augustine notes, this act of redistribution must be up to the wealthy person herself, since:

If you are hindered from doing this by some consideration of duty to your family, you know yourself what account you can give to God of your use of riches. For no one knows what passes within a man, but the spirit of the man which is in him.” We ought not to judge anything  before the time until the Lord come who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts, and then shall every man have praise of God.

In this view, not even a bishop is in a position to determine the extent to which a wealthy person needs his or her possessions. How much more ridiculous would it be, then, to claim that civil authorities ought to be in the position of redistributing wealth to “equalize” incomes and punish those who are insufficiently “charitable?”

Note that Augustine — unlike his modern episcopal brethren — does not wax philosophical about the 5th-century version of credit-default swaps, or lecture Proba on whether or not she should be employing tax shelters.

Yes, it’s true that the economies of the late Roman Empire were far less sophisticated that those of today. But had Augustine taken his cues from a 21st century Vatican bureaucrat, he surely could have come up with a variety of ways to “suggest” specific regulations and taxes on the part of local civil authorities.

Fortunately, however, Augustine busies himself to matters more appropriate to a bishop, and fails to issue a discourse on the economic science of offshore tax havens or the need for an international bureaucracy to manage carbon emissions.

In the modern world, one could imagine that scene with Thomas More playing out quite differently. “Arrest that man” would rarely be met with a retort of “there’s no law against that.” Instead, we’d hear endless demands for states to arrest, reform, and impose virtue on hapless citizens who happen to invest in the “wrong” investment instruments, or purchase the “wrong” goods. If it is “God’s law” that the wealthy give freely to the poor, then why rely merely on admonition and moral suasion? Why not force on them an economic system where “charity” is mandatory under penalty of a lengthy prison sentence? Indeed, when we have such a powerful state at our fingertips, why tolerate any deviation at all?

Sure, Aquinas might have insisted that God tolerates countless shortcomings and vices in people in order to avoid other evils — such as those of an unrestrained state. But Aquinas didn’t have a modern bureaucratic state at his disposal. We do. And surely, we know better.

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Trump Expecting Letter From Kim Jong Un After Pompeo Meets With Top North Korean Officials

President Trump is expecting a Friday delegation from North Korea to deliver a letter from leader Kim Jong Un, two days after Kim’s right-hand man, Kim Yong-chol, met with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for two days of discussions as the two nations attempt to salvage their planned nuclear summit. 

Yong-chol was blacklisted from visiting the United States until recently.


In comments to reporters Thursday before boarding Air Force One for a trip to meet with families affected by a school shooting earlier this month, President Trump said that talks between US and North Korean diplomats were going “very well.”

“They’re going to be coming down to Washington on Friday. And a letter is going to be delivered to me from Kim Jong Un,” he said.

Trump said that while he’s not sure if an agreement is taking shape, the negotiations “are in good hands” after the he pulled out of talks amid heightened rhetoric from Kim’s government over their nuclear ambitions and comments made about Vice President Mike Pence. 

Hours later, Trump indicated he was still open to meeting with Kim – penning a letter to the North Korean leader which reads in part: 

I was very much looking forward to being there with you. Sadly, based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it is inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting. Therefore, please let this letter serve to represent that the Singapore summit, for the good of both parties, but to the detriment of the world, will not take place. You talk about your nuclear capabilities, but ours are so massive and powerful that I pray to God they will never have to be used.

I felt a wonderful dialogue was building up between you and me, and ultimately, it is only that dialogue that matters. Some day, I look very much forward to meeting you. In the meantime, I want to thank you for the release of the hostages who are now home with their families. That was a beautiful gesture and was very much appreciated.

Meanwhile a senior State Department official tells the BBC that Pompeo and Kim Yong-chol have been trying to get to know each other better after initial meetings in Pyongyang earlier in the year – however they needed to close the gap in understanding between the extent and pace of North Korean nuclear disarmament before the summit with Trump could proceed. 

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Rickards: The Threat Of Contagion “Is Now More Dangerous Than Ever”

Authored by James Rickards via The Daily Reckoning,

Each crisis is bigger than the one before. In complex dynamic systems such as capital markets, risk is an exponential function of system scale. Increasing market scale correlates with exponentially larger market collapses.

This means that the larger size of the system implies a future global liquidity crisis and market panic far larger than the Panic of 2008.

Today, systemic risk is more dangerous than ever.

Too-big-to-fail banks are bigger than ever, have a larger percentage of the total assets of the banking system and have much larger derivatives books.

To understand the risk of contagion, you can think of the marlin in Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea. The marlin started out as a prize catch lashed to the side of the fisherman Santiago’s boat.

But, once there was blood in the water, every shark within miles descended on the marlin and devoured it. By the time Santiago got to shore, there was nothing left of the marlin but the bill, the tail and some bones.

An even greater danger for markets is when these two kinds of contagion converge. This happens when market losses spillover into broader markets, then those losses give rise to systematic trading against a particular instrument or hedge fund.

When the targeted instrument or fund is driven under, credit losses spread to a wider group of fund counterparts who then fall under suspicion themselves. Soon a market-wide liquidity panic emerges in which, “everybody wants his money back.”

This is exactly what happened during the Russia-Long Term Capital Management (LTCM) crisis in 1998. The month of August 1998 was a liquidity crisis involving broad classes of instruments. But, the month of September was systematically aimed at LTCM.

I was right in the middle of that crash. It was an international monetary crisis that started in Thailand in June of 1997, spread to Indonesia and Korea, and then finally Russia by August of ’98. It was exactly like dominoes falling.

LTCM wasn’t a country, although it was a hedge fund big as a country in terms of its financial footings.

I was the general counsel of that firm. I negotiated that bailout.  The importance of that role is that I had a front-row seat.

I’m in the conference room, in the deal room, at a big New York law firm. There were hundreds of lawyers. There were 14 banks in the LTCM bailout fund. There were 19 other banks in a one billion dollar unsecured credit facility. Included were Treasury officials, Federal Reserve officials, other government officials, Long-Term Capital, our partners.

It was a thundering herd of lawyers, but I was on point for one side of the deal and had to coordinate all that.

It was a 4 billion dollar all-cash deal, which we put together in 72 hours with no due diligence. Anyone who’s raised money for his or her company, or done deals can think about that and imagine how difficult it would be to get a group of banks to write you a check for 4 billion dollars in 3 days.

Systematic pressure on LTCM persisted until the fund was almost broke. As Wall Street attacked the fund, they missed the fact that they were the creditors of the fund. By breaking LTCM, they were breaking themselves. That’s when the Fed intervened and forced Wall Street to bail out the fund.

Those involved can say they bailed out Long-Term capital. But if Long-Term Capital had failed, and it was on the way to failure, 1.3 trillion dollars of derivatives would’ve been flipped back to Wall Street.

In reality, Wall Street bailed out itself.

The panic of 2008 was an even more extreme version of 1998. We were days, if not hours, from the sequential collapse of every major bank in the world. Of course, the 2008 panic had its roots in sub-prime mortgages, but quickly spread to debt obligations of all kinds especially money market funds and European bank commercial paper.

Think of the dominoes again. What had happened there? You had a banking crisis.

Except in 2008, Wall Street did not bail out a hedge fund; instead the central banks bailed out Wall Street.

And as I mentioned earlier, today systemic risk is more dangerous than ever. Each crisis is bigger than the one before.Too-big-to-fail banks are bigger than ever, have a larger percentage of the total assets of the banking system, and have much larger derivatives books.

The next crisis could well begin in the private bank debt market. The specific culprit is a kind of debt called “contingent convertible” debt or CoCos.

These bonds start out like ordinary debt, but a bank in distress could convert them to equity to improve its capital ratios. The problem is that bondholders know this and start dumping the bonds before the bank can pull the trigger on the conversion clause. This can cause a run on the bank and trigger cross default clauses in other bonds. Far from adding safety to bank capital structures, CoCos can make banks more unstable by igniting panics.

This is just one more example of capital market complexity and it signals the fact that the next crisis will be worse than the last.

Also. new automated trading algorithms like high-frequency trading techniques used in stock markets could add to liquidity in normal times, but the liquidity could disappear instantly in times of market stress. And when the catalyst is triggered and panic commences, impersonal dynamics take on a life of their own.

These kinds of sudden, unexpected crashes that seems to emerge from nowhere are entirely consistent with the predictions of complexity theory.

In complex dynamic systems such as capital markets, risk is an exponential function of system scale. Increasing market scale correlates with exponentially larger market collapses. This means that the larger size of the system implies a future global liquidity crisis and market panic far larger than the Panic of 2008.

The ability of central banks to deal with a new crisis is highly constrained by low interest rates and bloated balance sheets, which despite some movement in that direction, still have not been normalized since the last crisis.

For now, it’s not clear which way things will break next. Markets are still in a precarious position and volatility has returned. Regardless of which direction markets go from here, yesterday’s threat of contagion is a scary reminder of the hidden linkages in modern capital markets.

Next time we may not be so lucky.

We’ve already had a correction this year. But the next correction could turn into a 30% or 40% crash.

The conditions are in place. But you can’t wait for the shock to occur because by then it will be too late. You won’t be able to get your money out of the market in time because it’ll be a mad rush to the exits.

The solution for investors is to have some assets outside the traditional markets and outside the banking system.

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Starbucks Quietly Walks Back “Homeless Shelter” Bathroom Policy In New “Color Brave” Employee Manual

Starbucks has quietly walked back their “all inclusive” bathroom policy, perhaps after realizing that their employees and customers alike weren’t responding well to the prospect of vagrants using their stores as a homeless shelter.

As part of their new “Third Place Policy” which the company shuttered 8,000 stores to pound into employees heads on Tuesday, Starbucks says “We want our stores to be the third place, a warm and welcoming environment where customers can gather and connect. Any customer is welcome to use Starbucks spaces, including our restrooms, cafes and patios, regardless of whether they make a purchase.”

Ok – so far so good for homeless people looking to catch some free air conditioning this summer or simply drop that massive cabbage dump that’s been brewing. 

But wait – what’s this? Starbucks’ new Third Place Policy also reads: 

When using a Starbucks space, we respectfully request that customers behave in a manner that maintains a warm and welcoming environment by:

Using spaces as intended

Being considerate of others

Communicating with respect

Acting responsibly

Uh oh, this isn’t looking good for those looking to take a sink-bath while breathing in freshly brewed coffee…

On occasion, the circumstances of a customer’s disruptive behavior may make it necessary to prohibit that customer from returning to our stores.

Excuse us?

In these situations, Starbucks partners should follow “Requesting A Customer Restrictionprocedure for U.S. company-operated stores.

Starbucks Executive Vice President Rossann Williams gave an example of how an employee should approach a “disruptive” customer using foul language:

“You are in our store every day, and we love that this is your third place, but from one human to another human, the language that you are using is making other customers uncomfortable. So either you have to change your behavior, and stay and be a part of our third place, or I’m going to have to ask you to leave, and you can come back at a later time, when you feel like you can be a part of our third place. And in fact if you want to go have a seat, I’ll bring you over a cup of water, just to make sure that it’s a great rest of your day.”

Not so inclusive now, are we Starbucks? Sure, the marginally diverse group of well dressed customers pictured below might be able to enjoy using the facilities at Starbucks, but what about the differently housed? What constitutes a “disruption?”

The new 68-page employee guidebook and over a dozen videos shown during the Tuesday training session included racial bias training, with much of the coffee seller’s new ethos focused on teaching employees to be “color brave” – reminding everyone that institutional racism permeates society.

“Here’s my belief: Growing up, there was a term called ‘color blind,’ which described a learning behavior of pretending not to notice race — that doesn’t even make sense,” said CEO Kevin Johnson. “So today we are starting a new journey, talking about race directly — what my friend and Starbucks board member Mellody Hobson calls being ‘color brave.’”

The training also focuses on prejudices in public spaces, complete with a documentary which focuses on the history of prejudice. Employees were given little notebooks to record their “private thoughts,” and were instructed to keep a diary about how they feel about such things as “what makes me, me? And you, you?” and “In your life, where do you feel a sense of belonging?” 

All this because one manager at a Philadelphia Starbucks called the cops on two black men, Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, who were waiting for a friend without having ordered anything. 

The manager was fired, and Starbucks then committed to this “homeless shelter” outreach in a desperate act of damage control… which they’ve now just walked back. 

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“Prepare For Action” – Cryptic Emergency Alert Sparks Panic For Oregon Residents

Yet another glitch in the government’s emergency alert systems sent out a cryptic warning to residents living in Salem, Oregon, and surrounding areas.

As SHTFplan.com’s Mac Slavo details, the head of Oregon’s emergency management agency has since apologized, but that was too little too late after many were left in a state of panic.

A cryptic emergency alert was forced out to cellphones in and around Oregon’s capital city, displaying the words “Civil Emergency” and “Prepare for Action,” but carrying little other information. 

Andrew Phelps said late Tuesday that a technical glitch had cut off the crucial information in the alert. There were elevated levels of a natural toxin in a local reservoir. Children and people with compromised immune systems have been told not to drink tap water in the Salem, Oregon, area after an algae bloom caused the spike.

“The integrated public alert warning system inadvertently defaulted to a generic message,” Phelps said in a video posted on the social media by the Office of Emergency Management. 

“I apologize for the confusion and the anxiety this incomplete message has caused.”

Wednesday morning Cole Mahaffey, a Salem resident, set down a case of bottled water he was carrying down the sidewalk and described the uneasy feeling of seeing the first alert arrive on his phone, with an ominous warning but no other information.

“It almost made me not want to go outside,” Mahaffey said, adding that the alert caught him at the gym and that he had interrupted his exercise routine to ask the staff at the front desk if they knew what it was about.

“I didn’t know if there was something going on in the area, or if there was a shooter, you just had no way of knowing.”

Following a false alarm sent out by Hawaii officials in January warning of an incoming ballistic missile, the incident marked a high-profile glitch in government authorities’ use of emergency alert systems. Phelps said Oregon’s cryptic message had also been broadcast via local television stations, likely heightening the panic.

The government’s emergency alert systems are capable of pushing messages directly to every cellphone in a given area even if users haven’t subscribed or downloaded an app.

Officials sent a second message 31 minutes later with more information about the contaminated water and a link to a municipal website, which briefly crashed under the stressful load of people desperately looking for information.

Water is now selling out in supermarkets in Oregon as a result of the algae in the government’s water system.

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Samantha Bee Apologizes for Insulting Ivanka Trump After Right and Left Play ‘We’re Offended’ Tit-for-Tat

Sam BeeComedian Samantha Bee has apologized for calling Ivanka Trump a “feckless cunt” on her TBS show, Full Frontal With Samantha Bee. A TBS spokesperson said Bee was right to apologize, tweeting, “Those words should not have been aired. It was our mistake too, and we regret it.”

The apology comes in the midst of considerable conservative outrage over a perceived double standard: ABC canceled Roseanne earlier this week after Roseanne Barr said a vile, racist thing about former Obama White House aide Valerie Jarrett, but TBS has not cancelled Full Frontal in the wake of Bee’s crude, sexist jab at Ivanka. The implication, of course, is that Barr, a Trump supporter, can be fired for insulting a liberal, while liberals are happy to let one of their own off the hook for insulting a Trump family member (and staffer).

Conservatives came away from the Roseanne incident eager to identify somebody on the left who had committed comparable crimes. Their first scapegoat was Bill Maher, host of HBO’s Real Time With Bill Maher, who once compared Trump to an orangutan. Yet Maher, who frequently bashes political correctness and mocks easily offended college students, is no longer in good standing with the left, and plenty of liberals would be glad to see him go. Maher is one of the few TV hosts who invites people from all sides of the political spectrum to debate each other in segments that last longer than five seconds, and getting his show yanked from the air would be one of the most self-destructive things the right could do.

One of the biggest reasons I expressed concern about the hasty decision to can Roseanne is that it seemed like all too many people on the right would use it as a pretext to demand private censorship of speech that offends them. And hey, there’s plenty of that.

“Liberals will come for your career for wrong-think,” wrote conservative pundit Jesse Kelly on Twitter. “People on the Right have had about enough of it and will start returning the favor. I don’t want liberals punished for what they think. I don’t [want] conservatives punished for what they think. It’s a free country. But if we’re coming for people’s livelihoods, then screw it. Let’s come for people’s livelihoods.”

I think Kelly speaks for many conservatives. “Make the enemy live up to its own rule book,” was No. 4 on leftist activist Saul Alinsky’s notorious 12 Rules for Radicals, but I have rarely, if ever, heard this rule invoked by an actual leftist. In my experience, this rule is beloved by conservatives. If liberals want people fired for saying something offensive, well, there are lot of people who offend a lot of conservatives.

TBS and ABC are both private companies, and neither of them has to give a platform to Barr or Bee. Nobody owes Kathy Griffin a New Year’s Eve show, either. But the “I’m offended” arms race might end up serving the interests of some very powerful people if it causes critics of the White House to self-censor. I don’t want comedians to be afraid of slamming the president’s daughter, who doubles as an important policy adviser. Holding the reins of power and sitting idly by while our broken immigration system separates families and destroys lives is a far bigger moral failing than using some really bad words.

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Here Are The 500 Million Real Reasons Why Italian 2-Year Bond Yields Plunged Today

In case you were wondering what really prompted the 65bps collapse in 2Y Italian bond yields today – since we now know that Salvini’s bait-and-switch leaves the newly formed government with even more euroskeptical and anti-immigrant officials than Mattarella originally refused?

Then look no further than the  Italian Ministry of Finance

They decided today was the day to buy EUR 500 million of two-year BTPs…this was not previously announced.

The Ministry of Economy and Finance announces that, today, a government bond purchase operation was carried out through the assignment of mandates to intermediaries identified among the Specialists in Government Bonds, using the Treasury availability account balances .
 
The subject of the purchase transaction were the following titles:

Artificially supporting the market and signaling to the world that ‘Italy is fixed’…

Who needs Mario and The ECB?!!

Is there any doubt this whole charade is rigged now?

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How the Right Abandoned Free Speech in Europe

It’s been a contentious day/week/month/year/decade/century for the exercise of free speech. What better time to check in with Danish activist Jacob Mchangama, host of the great new podcast Clear and Present Danger: A History of Free Speech (which Eugene Volokh recommended here)?

On this week’s episode of The Fifth Column, which was taped last Friday, Mchangma, who got into the free speech business after the Danish cartoon controversies of 2005-2006, gave Kmele Foster, Michael C. Moynihan, and me a sobering update on the state of European law. “During the cartoon affair it was mostly the center-right in Denmark that sort of said, ‘Free speech is absolute, we can’t compromise on free speech, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a minority or majority,'” he told us. “But then, in the past couple of years, we’ve had a center-right government in Denmark that has passed more laws restricting free speech than at any other time since the Second World War. And all those laws are basically aimed at Muslims who engage in extreme speech.”

It’s a wide-ranging conversation, touching on the NFL national anthem controversy, hate speech crackdowns in England, publishing cowardice in the U.S., and the history of blasphemy. You can listen to the whole thing here:

Here’s a partial transcript, mostly covering the European component of the conversation:

Kmele Foster: You are the host of A Clear and Present Danger: A History of Free Speech, which is a podcast that you’re producing for FIRE for a limited engagement, a very good podcast. Could you give folks some context….what it is all about, and why you embarked on this journey to come across the pond to hang out here?

Jacob Mchangama: So I was born and raised in cozy, liberal, Denmark, where nothing much happens, and I’m very much a child of the cartoon affair. A Danish newspaper [Jyllands-Posten] published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, [and] the whole world went batshit crazy, or at least certain parts of the world. And I was living in a country where there’d been a long-established tradition of writers, cartoonists being able to poke fun at Christianity and religion in general. And then suddenly I see Danish flags are burning, I suddenly see the cultural elite and lots of politicians saying, “Yeah, well, free speech is important, but we shouldn’t offend….” These were people who made a living—their whole livelihood depended on them being able to enjoy free speech. And suddenly they were saying, “Jyllands-Posten, as bad as the Islam is, there are extremists on both sides.”…

So during the cartoon affair it was mostly the center-right in Denmark that sort of said, “Free speech is absolute, we can’t compromise on free speech, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a minority or majority.” And I was very much on board with that. But then, in the past couple of years, we’ve had a center-right government in Denmark that has passed more laws restricting free speech than at any other time since the Second World War. And all those laws are basically aimed at Muslims who engage in extreme speech.

And then suddenly all of those on the center-right who had been [saying] “free speech is absolute” during the cartoon crisis turned around and basically made the exact same arguments that the left had made with the cartoons. Only this time it came to, “Yeah, free speech is important, but we can’t have people defending Sharia Law,” or can’t have imams saying this or that.

To me it was just depressing. And I found that discussions over free speech in Denmark—but also here in the States very much, basically across the board—were so captivated by tribalism, and very few arguments had much substance, including my own. A lot of what I wrote was very abstract things, and I thought: OK, if free speech is important, why not delve into the history? Why is it important? Is it important? Where does it come from? What have the red lines been throughout the ages? What can we learn from the past, if anything?

So I decided to stop and go all the way back to ancient Athens as the first episode, and right now I’ve worked my way into the Middle Ages. At some point I’ll end up with artificial intelligence, I don’t know….

Michael Moynihan: To be clear here—and this is an important thing that I think that probably no one knew at the time, and no one outside of Denmark knew—is that Denmark had blasphemy laws.

Mchangama: Yeah. I think when I retire one day, what I can be happy about saying is that my organization actually played a very crucial role in defeating the blasphemy law. There was a Muslim organization that reported Jyllands-Posten to the police, and the prosecutor decided not to press charges against it. But we had a blasphemy law, and it was actually revived.

So even though we’ve had a guy—and this says a lot about how much fear since the cartoon crisis has affected Denmark—so we’ve had a guy in the ’90s, he burns the Bible on national TV. Then we have a guy in 2015, somewhere in the north of Denmark, who burns the Koran, puts it up on YouTube. Fifty people and their dogs watch it. And the guy ends up being charged for blasphemy.

And that’s when the whole ball started rolling. This was too obvious, that it was basically the jihad is veto. Meaning that Islamists get to determine the red lines.

Foster: Threats of violence carry the day….

Mchangama: And what’s interesting is we had artists who in the ’60s and ’70s made art that offended Christians—and at the time it was very much the left that sort of said “free speech!” These are the guys that would defend the Piss Christ here in the U.S. [They] said, “Yeah, you can make fun of Christianity, but don’t go after the brown Muslims, because they’re a minority.”

And what got lost in all this is the countries that put pressure on Denmark and for Jyllands-Posten to apologize were Muslim-majority countries where you could go to jail if you offended the majority religion. So it was just sucked up into contemporary identity politics with very little understanding of the principles that were at stake.

For a long time freedom of speech had not really been top of the agenda in Denmark, because no one felt threatened; you could basically say anything. And then once we were put to the test, a very important segment of those who were supposed to be manning the barricades just…said, “Those who want to kill you might have a point. They might be a bit too extreme, but…”

Moynihan: Why do you think that happened?…There’s obviously kind of a double standard here, isn’t there?

Mchangama: There is a huge double standard. I think one thing has to do with a perception that Muslims are a vulnerable minority, or a visible minority, and therefore different rules should apply to them. You shouldn’t gratuitously offend their feelings because you’re using your power to punch down. I hate that expression, “punching down,” but you saw the same arguments with Charlie Hebdo, the French magazine, where a number of journalists were butchered by jihadists—and by the way which had been one of the few publications that had supported Jyllands-Posten by publishing the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed…

Matt Welch: And was firebombed as a result…

Mchangama: Yeah, and this is one of the interesting things from doing the History of Free Speech podcast, where I actually did an episode called “The Caliphate,” where I go back in time. These were rules developed in Medieval Islam where people, apostates and blasphemers, could be killed for saying the wrong thing. This was not about protecting vulnerable people…[It was] a religious state executing people for transgressing the red lines.

And these are basically religious norms that people that happen to be a minority are trying to enforce in Western Europe. And I don’t think it should matter what the color of your skin, your religion. If you try to enforce religious rules through violence, people have to stand together and say, “We are not going to accept that, this is completely beyond the pale, and it doesn’t matter how much we disagree with whatever might provoke you, you’ve got to show solidarity.”

Foster: But they didn’t.

Mchangama: A lot of people, they didn’t….

Welch: Is it fair to say that in the historical research that you’re doing right now, that the vast majority of blasphemy laws are written by the power structure against the comparatively powerless minority populations? Is that a fair characterization of the history of blasphemy laws?

Mchangama: Very much so. The last episode I did was on heresy and the Inquisition, where you had the Catholic Church being very concerned about heterodox beliefs. So they start a Crusade, it doesn’t help, and then they sent inquisitors out into Europe that questioned people, and ultimately it was a minority who were burned. That was ultimately what could happen if you were a heretic.

So very much, blasphemy laws have traditionally been an instrument to consolidate power…of secular rulers, but also of religious rulers. It’s a completely ahistorical idea that blasphemy laws should protect minorities….There are now, I think, 13 Muslim-majority countries where you have formally the death penalty for blasphemy or apostasy.

The interesting thing is, if you go back in time to the 10th century, you actually had some really interesting free thinkers in Medieval Islam who basically rejected the authority of the Koran. You had a time where in the Abbasid Caliphate you translated almost all Greek signs, and philosophy, including Aristotle, and you had some of the most powerful intellectuals, philosophers, of the time. But some of that clearly has been lost, and some of the things that were written, I think in the ninth and the 10th century, would probably send you to jail today in Saudi Arabia or places like that. It’s a real shame….

Moynihan: It’s good to have Jacob here because of the differences between how we’ve used free speech in the United States and in Europe, where we kind of conflated these things for so long. This idea of hate crimes, which we do indeed have in the United States, and hate speech, which I’m increasingly hearing thrown around just lazily in America. In Europe that’s an actual category, and most places in Europe, one can be prosecuted, one can be hauled in front of a court for an errant tweet, or an offensive tweet. We don’t have that so much here.

My worry, and I’d love to hear Jacob on this, is that as we enter this era of hyper-identity politics, and these ideas which I hear from young people constantly and hear amongst colleagues, of “it’s hate speech,” which we don’t have as an actual legal category—that we are lurching slightly more towards the European model on this….

Jacob, this is a different kind of world that you live in in Europe. The enlightened Europe, that we wish that we were more like in the United States, has kind of backwards laws on such things, don’t you?…

Mchangama: I think there’s been a shift in values in the West towards seeing free speech as a zero-sum game, meaning free speech is about winning….So free speech means my views, and they have to be protected absolutely, but those that threaten my worldview should not enjoy the same protection, maybe no protection at all. And I think it comes from the left, and it comes from the right as well….

So I think the NFL, because it’s not a legal issue so much here, it becomes very much a cultural issue in the U.S. I think the NFL issue is the mirror image of conservatives crying about social justice warriors at universities and so on.

Foster: The James Damore firing at Google.

Mchangama: Yeah, exactly. And the NFL thing is precisely the same. The national anthem, you know, national symbols—that’s something conservatives care deeply about, you cannot profane that. And so mentally, you’re just able to convince yourself that this has nothing to do with free speech, because this is something special.

If you are on the left, you have different sincere beliefs that makes you able to justify why this restriction on free speech really is not a real restriction, or this is justified.

But in the U.K., there were at least 3,300 cases of people being detained and questioned for quote unquote, “grossly offensive posts on social media.”…

Moynihan: [The argument that some people make], and I’m particularly interested in hearing Jacob talk about this if this has happened in the scope of free speech history, is that words are dangerous.

Foster: Words are violence.

Moynihan: They’re violence, they can injure people….I asked somebody in [a recent Vice] piece, “Do you believe a joke can be harmful?” and then she says, “Yes, it can.” What do you guys think about this?…

Welch: I am interested in the words-as-violence thing. Is that new?

Mchangama: It’s a pervasive idea, I would say so. Take the trial of Socrates. So there are different accounts of why he was condemned to death, but one of them was that he didn’t respect the religious traditions of the Athenians, the idea being that if you upset the gods they’re going to punish you, and the Athenians had had a lot of bad shit happening to them, they’ve lost some wars, and so he was condemned.

And you see it very much in Christianity, you know, why did the Catholic Church go after heretics? It’s not because the inquisitors were evil and they enjoyed burning people—they didn’t at all. They actually really wanted to save people from being condemned, and in their view heretical ideas would spread, infect, and ultimately you would risk the punishment of God; God would inflict punishment upon you. And if you were convinced that wrong belief would incur the punishment of God, then you can understand why it would be the less evil to ultimately burn someone, because you’re saving everyone else, you’re saving society from being contaminated.

So in that sense, it’s a very old idea that words have very serious consequences if they breach the fundamental values. Religion actually comes from the—OK, I’m getting really geeky here—but it comes from the Latin word religare, which means binding together. So religion binds society together, and so if you untie those bonds, everything is going to go to hell. Literally.

Welch: And maybe on the flip side, there’s a piece by [John McWhorter] called “The Great Awokening”…that puts that kind of identity politics, that fervor, into a religious context.

Foster: Not the first time he’s done that.

Welch: And so maybe that’s what this is on some level.

Mchangama: Yeah, and I think it shows why we should leave that behind.

I think this is one of the crucial things about free speech that I think we have to address: Is free speech a threat to minorities, or is it a safeguard for minorities? And my thinking on it is very much that free speech is extremely important for minorities.

Take my own country, Denmark. So, like I said, the center-right used to be pro-free speech with the cartoons. But now…There was this documentary showing some imams instructing their congregations in really hardcore Shariah Law, and so we had politicians go out, and we have now a law which [says] that if you are explicitly condoning certain illegal acts as part of religious training, you can go to jail for three years. So if you’re an imam, and you’re standing in a mosque, and you say, “Islam allows polygamy, and it’s a great thing,” you could potentially go to prison for three years.

Muslims in Denmark, if they had in general said, “We really don’t like the cartoons, but we understand that living in a secular democracy you have to put up with shit like that,” then I don’t think these laws would have returned. But when you’re a minority, you are very vulnerable, you basically say, “OK, let’s use the law against someone.” But then when things turn, you’re going to be the one that gets hit the hardest.

And so it’s a really, really dangerous game for minorities to try and get laws to be used against speech that they don’t like, because it is basically freedom of expression, freedom of religion, that allows minorities to live within secular democracies. Once you undermine that, you basically undermine your own freedom and safety and security. And I see that happening, and no one stands up.

Flemming Rose, who published the cartoons, he’s also been very [supportive], but all of those that we stood together with during the cartoon crisis, all of them have basically—not all of them, but a lot of them—have drifted away. No one would stand up for fundamentalists, Islamists, on principle. It just couldn’t be done. So we’re looking around: Where are all our allies, you know?

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London’s Bicyclists Have a Diversity Problem, City Officials Say

London’s cycling commissioner, Will Norman, is dismayed at the demographic makeup of the city’s bikers, finding them to be too white, too male, and too middle class. “It touches on something which is a real challenge for London cycling, which is diversity,” Norman told The Independent. “Even when we have seen the growth in the number of cyclists, we haven’t seen that diversity.”

London has been doing its level best to boost the number of people biking around the city. Mayor Sadiq Khan, who pledged to be the “the most pro-cycling mayor London has ever had,” has committed to spending £770 million ($1 billion) over his term on biking infrastructure. That’s about twice what his equally pro-bike predecessor, Boris Johnson, spent to build the city’s Cycle Superhighway network. Khan has promised to triple the network’s size from 12 to 36 kilometers.

The effect of all this investment has been to increase cycling’s share of trips taken from 1 percent to 2 percent. In addition to pissing off drivers, who blame the new bike lanes for increased traffic congestion, the heavy investment in cycling has created equity concerns, since the people who use the network the most tend to be privileged white men.

To remedy this problem, Norman floated the idea of diversity targets for London’s cycling population. That would complement Khan’s current diversity-boosting efforts, which include diversifying the board of Transport for London (the city’s transportation department) and awarding grants to community organizations representing deaf people, Orthodox Jews, and other demographics that do not bike as much as the city thinks they should.

These equity concerns start to look more like paternalistic nitpicking when you realize that London’s ethnic minorities are just as likely to bike as WASPs. They just tend to do it less often.

A 2016 Transport for London survey found that 13 percent of nonwhite residents were regular cyclists (defined as people who bike at least once a week), compared to 14 percent of white residents. But nonwhite cyclists bike less frequently, accounting for about 15 percent of all cycling trips despite making up 40 percent of London’s population. Accomplishing the city’s cycling equity goals therefore is less about getting more minority residents into cycling and more about prodding those who already bike into mimicking the government-approved transportation habits of their white counterparts.

Transport for London and Khan are far less concerned about the racially disproportionate impact of transportation policies that discriminate against modes of travel they don’t like. Last September, Transport for London stripped the ride-sharing company Uber of its license, ostensibly because of safety concerns. The decision provoked anger and charges of hypocrisy from many of the 40,000 Uber drivers in the city, the vast majority of whom are nonwhite. Khan applauded the move in a Guardian op-ed piece.

The more London spends on bike paths, the more it exacerbates another kind of inequity: forcing motorists and public transit commuters to pay for cycling lanes they don’t use. More than 80 percent of Londoners of all colors and creeds don’t bike anywhere, and most of those who are identified as cyclists in surveys don’t bike very much. Half of “regular cyclists” ride a bike no more than two days a week. Only 2 percent of Londoners bike five or more days a week.

Khan’s plans nevertheless call for spending some 5.5 percent of Transport for London’s budget on cycling. Expanding bike infrastructure often means converting all-vehicle lanes into bike-only lanes, meaning motorists and bus riders are being asked to pay for making their own commutes worse.

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