Russiagate Might Be Dead, but Big Tech Censorship Is Here to Stay

I have certain rules I live by. My first rule: I don’t believe anything the government tells me. Nothing. Zero.

– George Carlin

Let me tell you, you take on the intelligence community and they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you.

– Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in a 2017 interview on MSNBC

As someone whose website was slandered by the earliest manifestations of the hysterical Russiagate mob, I could go on and on now that’s the whole spectacle’s been disproven, but I’m not going to do that. Rather, I want to highlight how despite the whole thing blowing up, we’ll be living with severe direct consequences for years to come.

First, it’s important to point out that none of Russiagate’s most irresponsible grifters will face any serious repercussions for wasting the country’s time, money and energy on a fake story for the past two years. Russiagate was as much a business model as it was a conspiracy theory, and some of it’s most shameless peddlers made out like bandits over the past couple of years.

As Glenn Greenwald noted:

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Israeli Airstrikes Rock Gaza, Target Hamas Command, After Netanyahu Cut Short US Trip

As predicted, a major Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip is underway after an early Monday morning long-range rocket launch from the strip scored a direct hit on a home in central Israel. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) struck targets across the strip throughout the evening Monday, and targeted the offices of Hamas’ supreme leader, though there were no early reports of fatalities, but Gaza’s Health Ministry cited at least seven wounded in the campaign. 

Israel says it’s responding to an early Monday morning rocket launch from Gaza which destroyed a residential home in Mishmeret, an agricultural town north of Tel Aviv, which reportedly left at least seven Israelis injured, including children, after the family was able to escape the flaming building.



Buildings ablaze in Gaza City during reported Israeli strikes on March 25, 2019, via AFP

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced in the immediate aftermath of the prior Hamas attack that he would be returning to Tel Aviv from a visit to the United States, cutting short his trip to Washington, saying he would “respond forcefully” to the rocket attack, on the same morning President Trump signed an order officially recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights, seized from Syria in 1967, in a move which Netanyahu also welcomed as “historic”. 

“The [Israeli Defense Forces] has begun striking Hamas terror targets throughout the Gaza Strip,” the IDF confirmed in a statement.

Amidst the Israeli onslaught on Gaza, Israel opened public bomb shelters throughout most major cities, and its ‘Iron Dome’ missile defense systems appeared busy as Hamas responded to the Israeli assault with its own rockets. According to the AP, by Monday evening Hamas had fired at least ten rockets since the IDF aerial attack began. 

“Israel will not tolerate this. I will not tolerate this,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said while meeting with Trump at the White House moments before he departed for Tel Aviv. “Israel is responding forcefully to this wanton aggression,” he said. “We will do whatever we must do to defend our people and defend our state.”

Hamas leadership has been widely reported to be hiding in anticipation of the strikes. According to the AP, the IDF is now especially going after Hamas military commanders

Several airstrikes rocked Gaza, including an explosion that destroyed the office of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. The Israeli military issued a statement confirming it bombed the building, which had “served as an office for many military meetings.” An earlier blast destroyed a multistory building in Gaza City that Israel said had served as a Hamas military intelligence headquarters.

It is expected that the IDF will lead a “strong Israeli military retaliation” especially as it comes just two weeks ahead of Netanyahu’s most high pressure reelection campaign of his career, and as the prime minister faces down indictments related to multiple corruption charges and a rising opposition.

Monday’s attack came less than two weeks after rockets were fired from Gaza toward Tel Aviv, resulting in a large-scale Israeli air attack on Gaza, after which Hamas leaders claimed the initial rocket launch was “accidental”. 

With that prior incident, alongside increasingly violent clashes along the Israeli-Gaza border fence connected with ongoing “Great March of Return” protests, observers have noted the two sides appear to be hurtling toward another confrontation. 

As of late in the evening on Monday local Middle East time, Hamas media began reporting unconfirmed statements that Egypt has successfully negotiated a cease-fire between Israel and the Gaza factions, though it’s unclear if or when the IDF will end its military operations. 

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Anti-Straw Activists Are Now Trying to Get Rid of Plastic Straw Emojis

If you’re experiencing extreme nausea, it’s possible you’ve drunk a little too much Bacardi rum. Alternatively, you might have just stumbled across Bacardi’s new campaign to eliminate the drinking straw from your favorite emojis.

On Friday, Bacardi, along with anti-straw activist group Lonely Whale, launched their new “The Future Doesn’t Suck” campaign, with the goal of eliminating a billion plastic straws by the year 2020.

The first stop toward achieving this goal is apparently to ditch those little cocktail emojis that, very problematically, also depict the now verboten drinking utensil.

To that end, Bacardi has released a “cease and de-sip” letter written from the perspective of Sydney the Sea Turtle to the Unicode Consortium—a nonprofit that helps to standardize graphic displays of characters and symbols across different operating systems—asking that the two straw-depicting emojis included in the current Unicode (“Tropical Drink” and “Cup With Straw”) be axed.

“Listen, big fan of the diverse ocean life representation in emojis—but we need to talk. The thing is, everyone below sea level thinks you guys suck,” writes Sydney in an emoji-peppered message. “I’m sure you know that in America alone, millions of single-use plastic straws are used every day and most of those end up in my backyard. Outside of the fact that they’re taking up valuable real estate down here, they are also—quite literally—killing us.”

Bacardi and Lonely Whale also released a video version of this letter read by comedian Daniel Franzese, as well as the new hashtag #thefuturedoesntsuck.

The celebrity endorsement and hashtag campaign are typical of previous Lonely Whale-backed efforts. Notably missing is the statistic the group once frequently touted about Americans using 500 million straws a day. That’s been replaced by a less specific “millions” a day.

That figure—which has appeared in news reports, advertising campaigns, federal government press releases, and municipal straw ban legislation—has mercifully started to fall out of circulation after the reliability of its source (a phone survey by a 9-year-old) was called into question.

(It’s still possible that Americans use 500 million straw emojis a day, though.)

Bacardi and Lonely Whale’s campaign is obviously meant to be playful and funny, so one shouldn’t judge its ridiculousness too harshly. Nevertheless, its very existence seems to refute one of the major justifications for banning plastic straws in the first place.

One study estimated that straws are about .02 percent of annual marine plastic waste. Getting rid of them will do almost nothing to solve the admittedly very serious problem of marine plastic pollution. That would seem to make the focus on the plastic suckers a bit silly.

Not so, says Lonely Whale, which often argues that plastic straws are a “gateway plastic“—an item so ubiquitous yet inessential that their elimination will be impossible to ignore but be neither irritating nor inconveniencing. Their noticeable disappearance (either through private pressure campaigns or public prohibition) will then inspire people to cut more plastic out of their lives, and think more seriously about other ways they might address the problem of global plastic pollution.

Instead, what the campaign to eliminate straw emojis suggests is that the focus on banning plastic straws is actually just getting dumber over time, as activist groups focus on even less consequential things to eliminate.

Indeed, I’m not even sure the anti-emoji campaign works as symbolism, as there’s really no reason to assume that the emojis Lonely Whale and Bacardi are calling out depict problematic plastic straws. A little creative reimagining, and we could just pretend that these emojis have been using paper straws all along.

That wouldn’t necessarily be less stupid, but it would be less effort. It would also have the exact same effect on the world’s plastic-filled oceans.

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How Ocasio-Cortez Branded Herself Into A Weaponized Media Darling

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez may not be the most seasoned politician on the hill, and she may have a few tax issues and transparency issues to address, but the 29-year-old media darling from New York has captured the hearts and minds of progressive Democrats – in no small part because of her effective use of branding and social media. 

The freshman Congresswoman has teamed up with a subsidiary of Discovery, Inc., digital-media firm NowThis – which carefully curates footage of AOC at her best, then shoots it over for her to amplify over her large and growing social media footprint, according to Bloomberg

Shortly after U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez schooled witnesses in a Congressional hearing on campaign-finance laws, the editors at NowThis sprang into action.

The digital-media company, which makes short videos for social networks, took her remarks, added captions and its logo, and posted them on Twitter. Ocasio-Cortez retweeted the video twice to her 3 million-plus followers, and with more than 40 million views, it’s the most popular Twitter clip ever for NowThis. –Bloomberg

AOC’s rise has also been a godsend to establishment media outlets, who have been in desperate need of a new Democratic hero ever since Hillary Clinton was exposed as a mercenary and dethroned. As Bloomberg notes, “Young, charismatic and armed with provocative ideas, she’s garnered widespread coverage — on podcasts, magazine covers, including the latest Time magazine, late-night talk shows and Twitch streams.

And it isn’t just the left – Fox News brings up AOC almost nightly, far more than rivals MSNBC and CNN, suggesting that “she’s a ratings magnet for the opposition media, too.” 

“Media brands court her. They want her to retweet them,” said Emily Bell, director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University. “She has become a platform for some media brands rather than the other way around.”

One company that has benefited is CBS Corp., owner of the CBS and Showtime networks. Her February interview on Showtime’s “Desus & Mero,” the program’s debut after its move from Viceland, drew about 40 percent more viewers than average. Her January appearance on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” produced one of its biggest Mondays ever.

The number of articles about Ocasio-Cortez has surged in recent months, according to Chartbeat, a publishing analytics company. The average article about her gets 1,300 page views, or roughly double what typical political articles generate, the firm found. –Bloomberg

When Time Magazine did a cover story on AOC, it generated 270,000 unique visitors in 24 hours to their website, around 55% more than the average cover story

NowThis, which is partly owned by cable programmer Discovery Inc., covers Ocasio-Cortez because she speaks about issues its audience cares about, like climate change and income inequality, not simply because she’s popular, Stephanopoulos said. Still, Ocasio-Cortez is the youngest-ever congresswoman, and videos and articles about her tend to get more views because her fans are also young and engaged with social media. –Bloomberg

 

“With some of these young elected officials who are more socially savvy, when you cover them it gets more traction,” says NowThis president Athan Stephanopoulos. “A lot of their followers are sharing it, and it gets into the digital-media ecosystem faster.”

According to Huffington Post’s head of audience, Mike Barry, “We do see a strong interest from our readers regarding Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez,” adding “Her background and path to becoming a candidate is fascinating, relevant and newsworthy for HuffPost’s audience.”

HuffPo, a subsidiary of Verizon, has published at least 68 articles with AOC’s name in the headline this year. The media outlet uses audience data to see what’s resonating with readers, “and often commissions work that reflects those insights,” according to Barry. “There is a big segment of the overall population interested in her.” 

And not just among fans who share her politics. Ocasio-Cortez describes herself as a “democratic socialist,” which can be a hot-button term for Republicans.

Ocasio-Cortez has received extensive coverage in parts of Rupert Murdoch’s empire, which includes News Corp. and Fox Corp. As Vanity Fair noted, Murdoch’s New York Post recently published 24 articles about her on its website over a six-day period. Fox News discusses her so often that Ocasio-Cortez has complained the channel “has turned into ‘AOC TMZ,’” referring to the celebrity-news website that traffics in gossip.

On Feb. 14, for instance, Amazon scrapped plans to open a new headquarters in New York City, a project that Ocasio-Cortez had opposed. The next day, her name was mentioned 38 times on Fox News and 29 times on the Fox Business Network, compared with seven times on CNN and six on MSNBC, according to TVEyes, a media-monitoring firm. –Bloomberg

In short, AOC is a bona fide media darling – drawing positive attention from both liberals and the likes of Sean Hannity, who described her as “the new leader of the Democratic party,” adding that the Green New Deal she introduced “will destroy the lifeblood of our economy.” 

A representative of Fox News noted that some hosts on the network have had positive things to say about AOC, with Laura Ingraham, for example, calling her “impressive.” 

“At Fox, she plays into their need for a villain now that Hillary Clinton is no longer relevant,” said Bell.

A Kardashian who speaks likes Bernie Sanders is an incredible combination.” 

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“The Narrative Is Dead! Long Live The Narrative!”

Authored by James Howard Kunstler via Kunstler.com,

Buyer’s Remorse

The Narrative is dead! Long live The Narrative!

That’s what played on CNN, NBC, and The New York Times yesterday as they struggled to digest the parting meal Robert Mueller served to the RussiaGate lynch mob: a nothingburger with a side of crow-flavored fries. Mr. Mueller was careful, though, to leave a nice red poison cherry on top with his statement that “…while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

Mr. Mueller, who ought to know better, could not be more in error on that too-fine-a-point. The official finding that no crime was committed is, ipso facto, an exoneration, and to impute otherwise is a serious breach of his role in this legal melodrama. Prosecutors are expressly forbidden to traffic in defamation, aspersion, and innuendo in the absence of formal charges. So, it will be interesting to hear what Mr. Mueller has to say when Jerrold Nadler reels him into the House Judiciary Committee, as inevitably he will, to do to some ‘splainin.’

What actually happened with RussiaGate? A cabal of government officials colluded with the Hillary Clinton campaign to interfere in the 2016 election and, failing to achieve their desired outcome, engineered a two-years-plus formal inquisition to deflect attention from their own misconduct and attempt to overthrow the election result.

The Cable News characters, quite a few of them lawyers, were litigating the living shit out of the story on Sunday night in their usual spirit of obdurate rank dishonesty. For instance, Jeffrey Toobin, who plays Attorney General on CNN, went off on the infamous 2016 Trump Tower Meeting in which the president’s son, Donald, Jr., met with Russian lawyer Natalia V. Veselnitskaya. Toobin omitted to mention that Ms. Veselnitskaya was, at that very time, on the payroll of Fusion GPS, Hillary Clinton’s “oppo” research contractor. In other words, Trump Junior was set up.

That was characteristic of the collusion that actually occurred between the Hillary campaign, the FBI, the DOJ, the CIA, the NSA, the UK’s MI6 intel agency, and the Obama White House, striving to prevent the election of a TV reality show star, and to disable him afterwards — also of the news media’s role in the whole interminable scam of RussiaGate. Their fury and despair were as vivid the night of March 24, 2019, as on November 8, 2016. And now they will attempt to spark off a sequel.

Rachel Maddow, for instance, struggling to maintain her dignity after two years playing Madame DeFarge on MSNBC, tried to console her fans with the prospect of Mr. Trump getting raked over the coals by the DOJ’s Southern District of NY prosecutors for crimes as yet unpredicted — really, whatever they might find if they turn over enough rocks in Manhattan. Perhaps she doesn’t know how the justice system actually works in this country: we prosecute crimes not persons. In places like Stalin’s Soviet Union and Hitler’s Germany, you first choose a person to eliminate and then fit them to a crime. If no crime can be found, one is easily manufactured. In the USA, a predicate crime is required before you can launch a prosecution. Perhaps the actual Attorney General, Mr. Barr, will advise the avid staff of the Southern District of NY how this works.

There remains also, the rather sweeping panorama of misconduct and probable crime among the government (and former government) players in the agencies mentioned above. Does the full Mueller Report mention, for instance, that the animating document claiming that Trump colludedwith Russia was manufactured by Mrs. Clinton’s employees? And that this document was used time and again improperly and illegally to prolong the inquisition? How could Mr. Mueller notacknowledge that? And if not, what sort of investigation was this?

You are forced to ask: did Mr. Mueller play an honorable role in this epic, multilayered scandal? And is Mr. Mueller himself an honorable character, or something less than that? I believe we’ll find out. The other team is coming to bat now — and just in time for MLB’s opening day, too. The Mueller report has been a shocking disappointment to the so-called “resistance,” but what about the as-yet-unreleased DOJ Inspector General’s report on these very matters? Or the parallel investigation of federal prosecutor John Huber, who is charged specifically with looking into the malfeasance of the RussiaGate investigators? Or whatever action the Attorney General himself launches in the wake of all this? Or whether Mr. Trump finally declassifies the mountains of documents behind the simple failure to find him guilty of any crime?

My favorite college professor and mentor, David Hamilton, once put a curious question to us when we were vexing him for some reason now forgotten: “Why,” he asked, “Did Achilles drag Hector around the city of Troy three times?”

We twiddled our cigarettes and pulled our chins.

“Because he was just that pissed,” he said.

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S&P Swings Wildly After Breaching 2800 Support As Yield Curve Crashes

On the same day the MSCI Asia index posted its worst daily drop for 2019 as Asian markets caught up with Friday’s US pounding, it was another ugly day for US stocks which spent most of the day in the red, with the S&P breaching the 2,800 support level, although the Emini failed to drop below 2790 which has emerged as a new key resistance level.

One possible reason for the solid defense: as Nomura’s Charlie McElligott explained earlier, if and when the S&P dips below the “gamma” threshold sell level which is around 2777, both dealers and CTAs would see a pick up in selling, which would then make the market new “default” direction lower and potentially leading to a retest of the December lows.

Curiously, despite the Russell 2000 CTAs, which as McElligott noted earlier are currently 50.4% long, and would sell and flip to short under 1536.21 to get to -100% short, the small-cap index held on, and after some initial weakness, managed to stage a sharp rally into the European close, and successfully remained in the green as institutional buying appeared to offset systematic selling.

The Nasdaq closed just barely in the red, and even though most FAANG stocks were green, Apple disappointed, sliding after its major new services unveiling – including a new credit card, streaming video and a video game offering – disappointed traders, with the stock closing 1.3% lower.

But despite the sharp, if contained gyrations in US equities,the big action was in rates, where earlier today the 10Y yield plunged to the lowest level since 2017 shortly after 2pm, sliding below the effective fed funds rate of 2.40%, only to stage a modest rebound into the close.

Earlier in the session, Australia’s 10-year bond yield dropped to an all-time low and Japan’s hit the lowest since September 2016.

More concerning was the ongoing slide in the 3 Month-10 Year spread – the Fed’s favorite recession indicator – which briefly plunged as much as -7bps before recovering the drop to just -3bps.

It wasn’t clear what precipitated today’s aggressive buying across the curve, although according to Bloomberg’s Edward Bollingbroke, a reason for the move may have been convexity flows (as convexity hedging occurs as mortgage rates fall, making borrowers more likely to refinance; higher expected prepay rates reduce MBS duration, which portfolio managers can then offset via receiving in swaps. It was also a driver behind Friday’s Treasuries rally).

Whatever the reason for the aggressive purchases, the US Treasury “curve” is now anything but…

… and in fact looks like the infamous Nike swoosh, which itself was in the news today when it first Tumbled after Michael Avenatti tweeted he would hold a presser exposing criminality at the sport shoemaker, then quickly rebounded on news that the “creepy porn lawyer” had hoped to extort millions of dollars from the company, only to be arrested shortly after his tweet in the latest vindication for Donald Trump.

There were far less fireworks in the FX space today: after plunging the most since last summary, on Monday the turkish lira staged a powerful bounce as the USDTRY tumbled the most in almost a year, one day after Turkey threatened to probe JPM for its short lira recommendation and warned manipulators it would go after them personally.

The pound retreated as May said she doesn’t yet have enough support to put her Brexit deal to a vote in Parliament and will continue to try to convince MPs to back it. As lawmakers try to take control of the process, she’s wielding the threat of a long extension if her deal isn’t passed.

Meanwhile, the British pound retreated after fluctuating in early trading in the latest daily stop hunt, as Theresa May said she doesn’t yet have enough support to put her Brexit deal to a vote in Parliament and will continue to try to convince MPs to back it. As lawmakers try to take control of the process, she’s wielding the threat of a long extension if her deal isn’t passed. Yet while a plunge in the sterling would be welcome for May to reinforce the gravity of the situation, FX traders are increasingly ignoring the latest day to day developments in the neverending saga and instead focused on inflicting max pain to both longs and shorts.

Looking ahead the question is: will Asia continue its selling as the US bond market now screams global recession, and will the S&P finally breakdown as it breaches the next support level of 2,777 and if so, will it retest the December lows over 400 points lower, as so many bears have recently predicted.

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Beto Offers Democrats a Blend of Old and New: New at Reason

The conclusion of Robert Mueller’s investigation means that if the Democrats are going to defeat President Trump, they’ll have to do it not in court with a prosecutor, but in an election, with a politician.

The process of choosing a nominee is getting under way already in the Granite State, where a former congressman from Texas, Beto O’Rourke, recently made his first campaign visit as a presidential candidate.

O’Rourke, 46, is a generation younger than Senator Bernie Sanders, Vice President Biden, or Trump himself.

But despite his youth and his informal appearance—Banana Republic khakis, shirt open at the collar, driving himself around the state in a minivan—O’Rourke’s speaking style is oddly old-fashioned and formal. He talks about “the opportunities to which we aspire.” He eschews contractions. “I do not care if you are a Republican or Democrat,” he says a lot, but never “I don’t care.” He does, though, frequently sprinkle in the Spanish: “no me importa.”

Sometimes it seems as if it’s not only O’Rourke’s speaking style that’s stuck in the past but also the policy substance, writes Ira Stoll.

View this article.

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Venmo Is Sending Customers To Collections For As Little As $7

Venmo is ramping up its collection efforts on users that owe the company money due to transactions “going awry”, according to a new Wall Street Journal article

The company is now threatening users who carry negative balances with debt collectors. The company also recently amended its user agreement to allow it to seize users’ PayPal accounts in order to collect money it is owed. The company says it can refer customers to collections for amounts as high as $3000 and as low as $7.

In December, the company put in its user agreement that it may “engage in collection and other efforts to recover [money owed to Venmo] from you.” Venmo is telling its delinquent users that by “not paying, you run the risk of being reported to a collection agency.” The company didn’t comment to the WSJ about the number of times it will warn a user about collections, nor did it comment about how many times it actually follows through on collection threats. 

“These changes, which have been a PayPal policy for a while, are a result of our efforts to drive policy consistency across platforms,” a Venmo spokeswoman said. 

The difficulty in turning Venmo into a profit center for PayPal is a microcosm of the larger problem banks face with trying to make finance quicker, yet still profitable. 

Over the past year and a half, PayPal has rolled out several different attempts to try and monetize Venmo better, including debit cards and allowing people to buy online using the service. Venmo is on pace to bring in more than $200 million in revenue in 2019, according to CEO Dan Schulman’s comments on a January conference call.

The majority of the $62 billion in volume Venmo processed last year came from transfers where Venmo charges no fees and bears the cost to process them. As money transfers to and from Venmo accounts instantly, and it sometimes can take a day or two for banks to catch up, people can wind up owing Venmo money, resulting in them having a negative account balance. 

The article also highlights a couple named Jordan and Emily Cole, who wound up getting scammed out of $281 for concert tickets they tried to buy off of Craigslist. Despite the seller never delivering the tickets, going silent and absconding with their money, Venmo said they were on the hook for the money. After about a month, they got a letter from Venmo’s collections department. 

“We sympathize that you were a victim of a scam. But you do make these transactions at your own risk and Venmo is not liable or responsible for any loss that comes from violating our user agreement,” the company wrote to the Coles. 

After Mr. Cole spoke to Wells Fargo, PayPal and (more importantly, we’re sure) a reporter about their story, Venmo dropped its demands. 

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The Mueller Media Hall of Shame: Podcast

Just asking questions! ||| New York magazine“While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime,” Robert Mueller’s long-awaited homework stated, according to Atttorney General William Barr, “it also does not exonerate him.” To which Donald Trump has predictably responded: “Total exoneration!

The president may stand out from the crowd in the amount of power he wields, but he’s hardly alone in talking bollocks about the Trump/Russia investigation, as we discuss on today’s Editors’ Roundtable edition of the Reason Podcast. Nick Gillespie, Peter Suderman, me, and special guest star Elizabeth Nolan Brown each make their own nominations for the Mueller media Hall of Shame, track how the #Resistance goalposts keep shifting, and ding the president’s own (non-criminal) behavior. Along the way, we hear the latest in the non-sex-trafficking case of New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, do a little oh-yeah-that about the record-breaking budget deficit, and dissect the C.H.U.D.ian subtexts of Us.

Subscribe, rate, and review our podcast at iTunes. Listen at SoundCloud below:

Audio production by Ian Keyser.

‘See You Soon’ by Borrtex is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0

Relevant links from the show:

The President Isn’t a Russian Spy. Resistance Media Will Keep Freaking Out Anyway,” by Elizabeth Nolan Brown

Mueller’s Conclusion: No Coordination Between Trump Campaign and Russia,” by Scott Shackford

As the Mueller Report Drops, a Transparency Fight Begins,” by Scott Shackford

Stop Waiting for the Trump/Russia Smoking Gun,” by Matt Welch

Roger Stone Indictment Describes a Cover-Up of a Nonexistent Crime,” by Jacob Sullum

The Deep State Liars of the #Resistance,” by Matt Welch

Homeland Security and Florida Cops Spied on Chinese Massage Workers for Months but Still Couldn’t Find Evidence of Human Trafficking,” by Elizabeth Nolan Brown

The Truth About the Biggest U.S. Sex Trafficking Story of the Year,” by Elizabeth Nolan Brown

Movie Review: Us,” by Kurt Loder

Don’t miss a single Reason Podcast! (Archive here.)

Subscribe at Apple Podcasts.

Follow us at SoundCloud.

Subscribe at YouTube.

Like us on Facebook.

Follow us on Twitter.

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Dozens Of Tankers Stranded In Houston Ship Channel After Chemical Leak Contamination

The Houston Ship Channel already closed for days since last Friday afternoon a large-scale contamination of leaked chemicals from the Intercontinental Terminals Co. (ITC) fire spilled Benzene and other dangerous chemicals into and over waterway (especially via toxic smoke clouds could remain shut to regular through traffic for several more days, the Coast Guard has confirmed, trapping dozens of inbound and outbound oil and LPG tankers.

At the end of last week’s days-long massive fire engulfing multiple petrochemical tanks at the oil facility, emergency crews led by the Coast Guard noticed elevated Benzene levels in the area, and even what was described as a “benzene plume” hovering above the water. This as Deer Park area residents complained of illnesses ranging from nausea to headaches to irritation and burning in the skin, eyes, nose and throat from the disaster which began on March 17. 

And though the ship channel is not a source for drinking water, the stretch of a roughly 2-mile-long no-go zone near the ITC facility had been shut down to boat traffic due to the potential danger to crew members from a cloud of cancer-causing benzene from the onshore tank fire, per Bloomberg:

The U.S. Coast Guard is forbidding vessel traffic on a stretch of the key industrial shipping route after a wall collapse and fire at Intercontinental Terminals Co.’s already-damaged chemical storage complex on Friday. A mix of toxic gasoline ingredients, firefighting foam and dirty water flowed from the site into the channel, and a benzene plume above the water poses a threat to ship crews, said Coast Guard Capt. Kevin Oditt.

Fox Business has quoted a Coast Guard official who said Monday morning it could be “several more days” before a key section of the Houston Ship Channel will be opened up amid continuing clean up efforts. 

The Coast Guard says it’s currently testing the possibility that a limited number of ships could be let through if they undergo a decontamination process

The vessels are being decontaminated as they move through the roughly seven-mile portion of the Houston Ship Channel near the Lynchburg Ferry, extending from Tucker Bayou, where the ITC facility is located, to Houston Ship Channel light 116.

It’s a test to see when the Houston Ship Channel could be reopened.

Local sources cited that roughly half of the Ship Channel, vital to multiple industrial and energy sectors, was cut off from the Gulf of Mexico and Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, leaving some 31 ships stranded and waiting to move into or past the affected area as of Monday morning. 

Later into the afternoon on Monday reports counted some 60 ships as blocked from getting through by emergency management operations. 



Houston ship channel near the ITC facility in Deer Park. Image source: Houston Chronicle via AP

The Houston Chronicle reports that “due to the closure’s central location, and no detours around it, roughly half of the Steel and energy companies are among those likely to be affected.”

Days into last week’s blaze which sent a plume of smoke a half mile into the air, city officials had released a statement alerting the public to elevated levels of benzene, described as “a colorless, sweet-smelling chemical that can be derived from natural gas, crude oil or coal, can cause cancer, infertility and birth defects in the developing fetus of pregnant women among other things” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Benzene is a known carcinogen which can cause devastating health effects based on various levels of exposure. Residents have become increasingly anxious and angry with ITC company representatives over what the Houston Chronicle described as “volatile compounds sitting in damaged tanks at the petroleum storage facility or streaming into nearby waterways.”



The week long blaze released elevated Benzene levels into the air, via the AP

It is as yet unclear the full economic impact of the ship channel’s closure, as Claims Journal notes of one major logistics company, “LyondellBasell Industries N.V.’s Channelview and Bayport chemical facilities are experiencing constrained barge and vessel logistics because of the closure but are operating, spokesman Chevalier Gray said in an email. The company is evaluating the event’s effect on production.”

As of Monday afternoon, shipping agency Moran Shipping summarized the following while noting outbound ships could start to move first

Vessel traffic has begun to loosen up slightly today. One ship has moved through the spill area inbound today, while another has been boarded inbound, according to shipping agency Moran Shipping. Another vessel sailed outbound, passed the spill area, and headed to a decontamination berth. By around 3:30pm ET ships with freshwater drafts under 34ft will start moving outbound, but will be inspected for contamination before being allowed to continue, according to Moran.

Oil facilities inside the spill area include Houston Fuel Oil, Jacintoport, Vopak, and ITC. The Houston Pilots plan to prioritize outbound sailings from the port, once ships are deemed able to move through the spill area without contamination, said Moran.

ITC response crews are still working on pumping thousands of barrels worth of benzene-laced refining byproduct and other chemical compounds out of the breached and damaged storage tanks since the fire was finally extinguished by the weekend. 

via ZeroHedge News https://ift.tt/2FmtToM Tyler Durden