TBR News December 25, 2017

Dec 25 2017

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C., December 25, 2017: “Merry Christmas!”
Table of Contents

  • Britain Has a Delusional View of Itself on the Global Stage
  • As American Statecraft Crumbles into Dangerous Incoherence, Where is the Senate?
  • New Zealand singer Lorde scraps show in Israel after fan pressure
  • Robot growing pains: Two U.S. factories show tensions of going digital
  • Palestinian Christian leaders denounce Trump’s decision
  • Real price of bitcoin could be $0.00, warns Morgan Stanley
  • Bundesbank says no euro zone cryptocurrency in sight
  • What everyone gets wrong about ‘millennial snowflakes’
  • Mexico records most violent year in decades
  • Treasury Secretary Mnuchin was sent gift-wrapped box of horse manure: reports
  • The Falsification of the Gospels      



Britain Has a Delusional View of Itself on the Global Stage

December 23, 2017

by Patrick Cockburn

The Unz Review

A single stupid remark by a political leader can suddenly illuminate deep and destructive ignorance about important issues. This has happened to me twice recently, the first time during the confrontation between Britain and the EU about the status of Northern Ireland and the Irish border after Brexit. I saw prominent Brexiteer Iain Duncan Smith explaining that the Irish government was hanging tough on negotiations because “the presidential election is coming up”. This caused hilarity in Ireland because there is no presidential election in the offing there. The rest of his analysis of what was happening in Ireland, delivered in a self-confident and patronising tone, was equally ill-informed.

Duncan Smith’s remarks were significant because they showed that the Brexiteers knew as much about Ireland as they did about Samoa. It never figured in their referendum campaign in 2016 and they have not thought much about it since. For all their supposed devotion to British history, they have forgotten, if they ever knew, that the Irish question has been a central preoccupation of modern British governments from 1880 to 1922 and again from 1968 to 2007. Already there were signs that this issue – the cause of the bloodiest and longest guerrilla war in Western Europe since the Second World War – beginning to re-emerge when Theresa May did a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to give her a majority after the general election. She casually abandoned the British government’s neutrality between unionists and nationalists in Northern Ireland, which was essential to its role as a mediator between the two sides.

There is a flippancy about the way in which the Brexiteers saw through branches, both Irish and European, on which Britain is sitting. A striking feature of Duncan Smith’s ill-informed words was not just his ignorance of the facts, but the tell-you-a-thing-or-two-old-boy tone in which they were uttered. A conservative historian, Sir Lewis Namier, once wrote that “strictly logical conclusions based on insufficient data are a deadly danger, especially when pride is taken in the performance.” This is very much the stance of the proponents of Brexit who dispose of uncomfortable facts as if they were so many English archers shooting down French knights at Agincourt.

The dispute with Ireland and the EU appeared to disappear when agreement was reached on moving on from the present phase of Brexit in December. But this only happened because Britain has issued post-dated political cheques to the EU, Irish government and nationalists and unionists in Northern Ireland that cannot all be honoured. If Britain does not want a hard border, then it will have to stay within the single market and customs union and vice versa. Presumably, the Brexiteers acclaimed a series of climb-downs because they do not intend to stick to the agreement and want to get to Brexit day on 29 March 2019 without their project going visibly on the rocks. Britain will then be free of the shackles of the EU and able to ignore past promises as it makes its way in the wider world.

But the advocates of Brexit have made extraordinarily little effort to find out what this wider world is like. On the contrary, their view of it is constructed out of gobbets of propaganda and wishful thinking, which make it impossible to have any realistic view of Britain’s real strengths and weaknesses. There is nothing wrong with any nation seeking self-determination or greater control of its future, but the leaders of such a movement owe it to their followers to get their calculations right.

Since I write mostly about the Middle East I am very conspicuous of how British failures there since 2003 have been rooted in a refusal to view the political landscape objectively. This lack of knowledge was crystallized for me recently by a remark by the new Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson which does not, at first, look as if it has much to do with Britain’s international status.

He said in an interview that British terrorists should be hunted down and killed on the grounds that “a dead terrorist can’t cause any harm to Britain”. But who does he think decides who is a terrorist in Syria and Iraq? Does he imagine that there is some fair-minded judicial process before “terrorist” suspects are jailed, tortured, shot in the head or tossed off the top of the nearest tall building? His words could be dismissed as a crude bit of bombast by a politician demonstrating that he is tough on terrorists. But what he is really doing is giving license to the lynching of anybody with a British passport or with even the most remote British connections in the vast war zone that stretches from the western frontier of Iran to the Mediterranean and from Turkey to Yemen. There are far more innocent but vulnerable Britons in this area than there are British Isis fighters. Declaring open season on them is cruel and irresponsible.

Possibly Williamson imagines that “terrorists” will be identified and hunted down by British forces in Iraq, Syria or Afghanistan, but the picture he paints of Britain’s role in these conflicts is exaggerated to the point of fantasy. Such pretensions are the province not just of the Conservative right, but of British politicians and pundits in general. Remember the great debate in Parliament in 2015 about British military intervention in Syria in which Hilary Benn won Tory cheers by comparing British intervention to 1940 and other iconic periods in British history?

This was nonsense: nine months later it emerged that the RAF had carried out just 65 air strikes on the ground in Syria because we had no allies on the ground though David Cameron had claimed that there were as many as 70,000 moderate fighters on our side. This was admitted by General Mark Carleton-Smith, Deputy Chief of Defence Staff who said that in Syria the UK was “marginally engaged, from the air only, across a much less homogenous battlefield, where the identification of the multifaceted parties, agencies and militias is much more difficult to determine.” In other words we can’t tell friend from foe, yet in this chaotic battlefield Gavin Williamson believes that British Isis fighters can be identified and eliminated.

Britain is a minor player in Syria and the major player in Northern Ireland, but makes similar mistakes in both places. This is why the off-the-cuff remarks of senior politicians like Williamson and Iain Duncan Smith are significant. In both cases there is the same unblushing ignorance of the facts. This is compounded by an exaggerated idea of Britain’s real power and influence.

This does not mean that Britain is becoming a failed state. “There is a great deal of ruin in a nation,” as Adam Smith famously pointed out. But nations do fail all the same if they consistently misjudge their place in the world around them.


As American Statecraft Crumbles into Dangerous Incoherence, Where is the Senate?

How senators of both parties have made themselves complicit in the unfolding folly of Trump’s foreign policy

December 16, 2017

by Andrew Bacevich

Los Angeles Times

Where is J. William Fulbright when we need him? Or if not Fulbright, perhaps Robert M. La Follette or George W. Norris. Personally, I’d even settle for William Borah or Burton K. Wheeler.

During the 20th century, each of these now largely forgotten barons of the U.S. Senate served the nation with distinction. Their chief contribution? On matters related to war and peace, they declined to kowtow to whoever happened to occupy the office of commander in chief. On issues involving the safety and security of the American people, they challenged presidents, insisting that the Congress should play a central role in formulating basic policy. With the floor of the Senate as their bully pulpit, they questioned, provoked and thereby captured public attention.

A century ago, La Follette of Wisconsin and Norris of Nebraska, both progressive Republicans, spoke eloquently and at length in opposition to President Woodrow Wilson’s insistence that the United States should go to war with Germany. Following the World War I armistice, Borah, a Republican from Idaho, emerged as an uncompromising critic of the Versailles Treaty that Wilson negotiated in Paris. During the late 1930s, having concluded that U.S. participation in that earlier European war had been a huge error, Borah and Wheeler, a Democrat from Montana, sought to prevent President Franklin D. Roosevelt from repeating Wilson’s mistakes. Three decades later, Fulbright, a Democrat from Arkansas and the influential chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, became a thorn in Lyndon B. Johnson’s side as a sharp critic of the Vietnam War.

In opposing presidents whom they saw as too eager to wage war or too certain that they alone understood the prerequisites of peace, these senators were not necessarily correct in their judgments. Yet by drawing widespread public attention to foreign policy issues of first-order importance, they obliged their adversaries in the White House to make their case to the American people

Whatever the issue — sending Americans to fight on the Western Front, joining the League of Nations, rescuing Great Britain from Hitler or defending South Vietnam — the back and forth between presidents and prominent Senate critics provided a means of vetting assumptions, assessing potential risks and debating possible consequences. In each instance, American citizens gained a clearer picture of what their president was intent on doing and why. The president became accountable.

Contrast that with our situation today. Donald Trump came to office almost entirely ignorant of statecraft. Rather than a considered worldview, he offers slogans and sound bites. As Trump approaches the first anniversary of his inauguration, we can say this about U.S. foreign policy: It has ceased to exist.

Any policy worthy of the name requires principles. Trump has none. So U.S. behavior on the world stage today consists of little more than random and often contradictory impulses. For recent examples, consider the inflammatory rhetoric directed at North Korea, stealth increases in U.S. troop contingents in Syria and Afghanistan, the inauguration of a U.S. bombing campaign in Somalia and recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. In each instance, the president acted without making the slightest pretense of consulting anyone outside a small circle of White House advisors. None of these decisions, to put it mildly, will Make America Great Again.

As American statecraft succumbs to incoherence, where is the Senate? Somewhere between missing in action and too preoccupied with partisan and parochial considerations to take notice. As a body, the Senate has done nothing to restrain Trump or to enlighten the American people regarding the erratic course on which the president has embarked. Occasional complaints registered by a handful of senators, such as the ailing John McCain, amount to little more than catcalls from the bleachers. In effect, senators of both parties have made themselves complicit in the unfolding folly.


New Zealand singer Lorde scraps show in Israel after fan pressure

Young New Zealand star Lorde has canceled a concert in Tel Aviv amid calls to boycott Israel for its treatment of Palestinians. The singer said she made the call after “an overwhelming number of messages & letters.”

December 25, 2017


The 21-year-old singer and songwriter Lorde, who gained worldwide fame with her 2013 hit “Rulers,” axed the planned June performance in Tel Aviv. The concert was originally to serve as a finale of her 2018 tour.

Lorde announced the move in a statement sent to concert organizers in Israel on Sunday. The news was first reported by the Jerusalem Post journalist Amy Spiro. While the singer does not directly state reasons for her decision, the statement alludes to pressure from fans to boycott Israel over the Palestinian conflict.

“I pride myself on being an informed young citizen, and I had done a lot of reading and sought a lot of opinions before deciding to book a show in Tel Aviv but I’m not too proud to admit I didn’t make the right call on this one,” she told the organizers.


Robot growing pains: Two U.S. factories show tensions of going digital

December 22, 2017

by Timothy Aeppel


COLUMBUS, Ind. (Reuters) – When Sandy Vierling took a job at a new robot-packed factory her company built just a few miles from an older plant where she made automotive exhaust systems, she crossed into the future of manufacturing in the United States.

She didn’t like it at all.

Auto supplier Faurecia SA’s (EPED.PA) new plant – dubbed Columbus South to distinguish it from the older operation known as Gladstone – is glistening clean and the physical work is lighter. But the 57-year-old found her new job had long hours and was monotonous – loading parts onto conveyors that fed robots all day. She also missed the interaction with coworkers she had at Gladstone.

Other workers at the new plant complain that they do not get to fix machines when they jam. Technicians swoop in to do that.

“I was stressed all the time,” she said.

President Donald Trump has put bringing manufacturing jobs back to the United States at the center of his economic and trade agenda. But when jobs actually come – as they have here in southern Indiana – many factory workers are not prepared for them, and employers are having trouble hiring people with the needed skills.

U.S. manufacturing job openings stand near a 15 year high and factories are hiring workers at the fastest clip since 2014, with many employers saying the hardest-to-fill jobs are those that involve technical skills that command top pay.

In 2000, over half of U.S. manufacturing workers had only high school degrees or less, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Today, 57 percent of manufacturing workers have technical school training, some college or full college degrees, and nearly a third of workers have bachelors or advanced degrees, up from 22 percent in 2000.

Mark Muro, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said the digitalization sweeping the economy is forcing employers to hunt for a different mix of workers – and pay more in some cases for workers with technical skills.

A new study by Muro found those with the highest digital skills saw average wage growth of 2 percent a year since 2010, while wages for those with medium skills grew by 1.4 percent and those at the bottom by 1.6 percent.


The skills mismatch is playing out at Faurecia’s factories in Columbus.

The company’s older Gladstone plant has 500 production workers and only a handful of robots. The new plant, Columbus South, has about 400 workers and about 100 robots, including 30 automated guided vehicles that move materials instead of human-driven tugs. Both plants make exhaust systems.

Faurecia invested $64 million in its new plant, and invited trained workers from the old plant to apply for jobs in the new one. Many workers, including Vierling, were lured by higher wages. She saw her pay jump from $16.65 an hour to $18.80 at Columbus South. About 150 made the move, according to the union that represents workers in both facilities, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

There’s no plan to shutter the older plant, but rather to introduce automation there in phases as well.

But some said no to the opportunity.

Christina Teltow says she never even considered it. She is 42 years-old, and has spent 22 years at Gladstone. She was recently promoted, but previously worked as “gap leader,” one of the better jobs someone with a high school education can attain at the plant. That job includes overseeing the schedules of workers and monitoring the quality of parts.

The same job at Columbus South requires 16 credit hours from the local technical college in business administration as well as learning to use computers to track production and schedules.

”Here, I get in and work on machinery,“ she said. ”In South, it’s totally different — it’s all robots.”

The company says one reason the new plant needs a lot of robots is because it produces a different kind of product. Gladstone mostly makes exhaust systems for light vehicles, while Columbus South is dedicated to much beefier commercial exhaust systems used mainly on large trucks. One worker can easily lift most of the parts at Gladstone, while some parts at Columbus South weigh up to 260 pounds.

Without robots, the new plant would need many more workers just to move things around, said managers.

Of course, robots have been in factories for decades. The difference now is that the machines are being linked together in networks that allow more oversight and control. At Columbus South, managers and engineers walk around with iPads that allow them to watch production levels in real time and even less-skilled workers have to know the basics of how to use computer drop down screens and entering data.

Leading the way onto the factory floor, manager Mike Galarno points to the front of one of the long production lines dotted with robots to a large video screen that tracks production in real time.

At the old plant, each part of the operation was like an island. If a problem arose, the people working there could sort it out without ever coming to the attention of managers, he said.

“Here, it’s all data – and everyone is looking and reacting to it,” he said.

This type of work requires some workers with skills normally found in high-tech, not in auto parts factories. Drawing those workers to Columbus – and keeping them – has posed another challenge.

One of the first employees hired for Columbus South last year was Chase Chapman, a mathematician and data-management specialist who was finishing a five-year stint in the Navy. The company moved Chapman and his young family from Florida, so he could become the plant’s head of data analytics – a position that doesn’t exist at Gladstone or at any other Faurecia exhaust system factory.

He left in April after only eight months, citing the desire to be closer to his extended family.

The position has now been empty for months as the company tries to recruit someone new.

Another problem became clear after the new plant was up and running. As a start-up operation—with lots of potential for technical glitches in its highly automated systems—many workers at the new plant work 12 hour shifts, often more than five days a week.

Those long hours have worn on workers like Vierling. “I was making all that money, but I had no time to spend it,” she said.

Workers from Gladstone were required to stay at the new plant a year before seeking a transfer back. Last month, Vierling returned to her old workplace. She gave up most of the $2 an hour raise she got for moving, but does not regret it.

“I feel like I’ve gone back home,” she said.

Editing by Joe White and Edward Tobin


Palestinian Christian leaders denounce Trump’s decision

December 24, 2017


Palestinian Christian leaders have rejected US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, calling it “dangerous” and “insulting”.

Trump’s December 6 announcement has sparked protests across the Muslim world and drawn international condemnation.

The US move is offensive to “Christians and Muslims around the world who consider Jerusalem as an incubator of their most sacred, spiritual and national heritage”, Atallah Hanna, the archbishop of Jerusalem’s Greek Orthodox church, said in a statement on Saturday.

“We, Palestinians, Christians and Muslims reject the US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” he added.

“The US gave the occupation what it does not deserve.”

‘Message of unity’

His comments came as Christian Palestinians on Sunday took part in festivities taking place on the eve of Christmas.

Al Jazeera’s Hoda Abdel-Hamid, reporting from Bethlehem, said many Muslims were also attending the annual events in a show of solidarity against Trump’s decision.

“This message of unity is one Palestinians are very adamant to convey, especially while there is this political crisis taking the area by storm,” she said.

Maher Canavati, a member of Bethlehem’s local council, told Al Jazeera the celebrations are intended to deliver “messages of peace, love and understanding”.

“We want peace with our neighbours [but] we need to be able to share Jerusalem and to have easy access to Jerusalem as Palestinians [as well].”

Bethlehem, normally brimming with tourists at this time of year, has been almost empty of visitors in recent days due to nearby confrontations between Israeli forces and Palestinian protesters in the wake of the US decision.

“Unfortunately, after the statement of Donald Trump a lot of people were not sure about the security in this area. Many of those who were in the country did not make it to Bethlehem, they stayed in Jerusalem and in the northern part of the country,” said Canavati.

“But we are here are celebrating, welcoming everybody – it is very important for us that all of the Christians coming to Bethlehem supporting the Muslim and Christian community here are taken care of.”

Life in Gaza a ‘prison’

In the Gaza Strip, Palestinian Christians held a vigil to express their support for Jerusalem as Palestine’s capital.

Al Jazeera’s Malcolm Webb, reporting from the besieged territory, said anger at Trump’s decision is shared among Christians and the majority-Muslim populating living in the besieged territory.

“Everyone we have spoken to here is in opposition to the US move, and they say it only adds to the frustration of life here,” he said.

The Israeli blockade of the occupied Gaza Strip, in its current form, has been in place for more than 10 years.

Gaza’s isolation has devastated its economy, impoverished much of the Strip’s two million people, and left them without adequate electricity, water and health services. Since 2007, Israel has launched three wars against the Hamas-governed Strip.

Some 1,000 Christians live in the Gaza Strip, fewer than half the amount 10 years ago.

According to sociologist Samir Quta, many Christian families have fled Gaza in recent years in search of safety and financial security.

“Christian families in Gaza usually have a high socio-economic level, and the more people have options and money, the more they look for a better life,” he told Al Jazeera.

“This is not available in Gaza. Even with money in Gaza you cannot have a good life.”

Rosette Saygh, a Christian still living in Gaza, told Al Jazeera life in the territory has become like a “prison” for those who have remained behind.

“Life is very difficult in Gaza, we live under siege and we cannot move anywhere … We have witnessed many wars, during the bombing we had to sleep in the church for safety,” she said.


Real price of bitcoin could be $0.00, warns Morgan Stanley

December 25, 2017


Bitcoin could be worth literally nothing, if the cryptocurrency is not recognized as a rival of the US dollar and other fiat currencies, analysts of the banking giant Morgan Stanley have warned.

“If nobody accepts the technology for payment, then the value would be 0,” analyst James Faucette and his team wrote in a note to clients.

Faucette is referring to a list of online retailers who accept bitcoin. The table is titled “Virtually no acceptance and shrinking” and shows the data.

Bitcoin is not like a currency because there is no interest rate associated with bitcoin, the analyst wrote.

It’s not like gold either, as it doesn’t have any intrinsic use like gold.

According to Faucette, bitcoin is tiny compared to traditional financial instruments.

“Bitcoin average daily trading volume of $3 billion (last 30 days) vs. $5.4 trillion in the FX market. Estimated $300 million in daily purchase volume vs. $17 billion for Visa,” he wrote.

Coinmarketcap data says Faucette’s numbers are not correct, as an average daily volume of bitcoin is $11.5 billion. The whole cryptocurrency market’s daily volume is almost $27 billion.

One of the biggest bitcoin bulls, John McAfee of McAfee antivirus, says there is no reason for panic despite the correction in the cryptocurrency market.

Bitcoin has fallen more than 25 percent from its recent all-time highs of $20,000 spurred by futures listings on major derivatives exchanges.

Bitcoin enthusiast, billionaire Michael Novogratz who has also been very bullish on cryptocurrencies, has revised his forecast and said bitcoin could drop to $8,000 by year-end. Previously, he predicted bitcoin would be worth $40,000 by 2019.


Bundesbank says no euro zone cryptocurrency in sight

December 23, 2017


FRANKFURT (Reuters) – Bundesbank board member Carl-Ludwig Thiele has ruled out the introduction of official digital money for the euro zone and warned of losses from investments in cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, according to a German newspaper.

“Digital central bank money analogous to cash is currently not in sight,” Thiele told weekly Euro am Sonntag in an interview published on Saturday.

Digital currencies allow users to make online transactions across borders instantaneously and have surged in popularity this year because of their eye-watering price rises. Bitcoin, the best-known, has increased in price around twentyfold since the start of the year.

But the cryptocurrency plunged by 30 percent to below $12,000 on Friday as investors dumped it after its sharp rise to a peak close to $20,000 prompted warnings by experts of a bubble.

“We are seeing a rapid increase in value, which brings the risk of rapid losses,” Thiele said.

Decentralized digital currencies like bitcoin are still not widely accepted. Critics say they can easily be used for money laundering and the fact that they are unregulated makes them risky to use — hence the idea of an “e-” version of a physical currency that still has a central controlling authority.

The Bank for International Settlements (BIS) said in September it was too soon to determine whether central banks should issue their own cryptocurrencies, as the risks could not yet be fully assessed and the technology underpinning them was still unproven.

Christoph Schmidt, head of Germany’s panel of economic advisers – known as the wise men – warned that private investors’ losses from bitcoin investments could have a ripple effect on financial markets if they were financed with debt.

“If their losses affect others because they were financed with loans, then that would increase the risk of distortions on financial markets,” he told the German daily Rheinische Post.

Some high profile individuals such as Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz have said the cryptocurrency should be outlawed.

Schmidt said he did not favor making crytocurrencies illegal but that potential investors must have detailed information on the risks of investments in bitcoin.

German financial watchdog BaFin president, Felix Hufeld, said that regulators must “stay on the ball” when it comes to cryptocurrencies but that they still had much to learn on the subject.

“We are all working on understanding the topic and building our know-how,” he told the German daily Bild.

Reporting by Maria Sheahan; Editing by Andrew Bolton



What everyone gets wrong about ‘millennial snowflakes’

Maybe many of the assumptions we make about Gen Y aren’t unique to this generation. Maybe they’re specific to young people in general

October 3, 2017

by Amanda Ruggeri

BBC News

I know the ultimate millennial. She owns a bicycle in lieu of a car, goes to yoga class at least twice a week, grows her own bean sprouts and works side-gigs instead of for a full-time employer – she left a budding career as an economist to pursue her dream of being a comedian.

The problem is, she’s not a millennial. She’s a baby boomer in her late 50s.

It’s true that each generation is shaped by demographics, historic events and economic forces. Like, of course, the Great Recession: worldwide, young adults now earn up to 20% below their average compatriot; 30 years ago, they earned more. Or education trends: in the US, Gen Y is more likely to have gone to university – but, as the cost of education has skyrocketed, also to be in massive student debt.

But when it comes to millennials, these analyses often go haywire. Before we know it, we’re not talking about how certain trends are squeezing all of society – and some groups in different ways than others. We’re talking about how millennials are lazy, entitled and really just need to work harder. (Even though, confusingly, they’re also workaholics).

Millennials – defined as those born between 1980 and either the mid- to late 1990s – are the generation that’s fun to hate. And whether it’s a silly trend piece about doorbells or a “generation snowflake” take-down that’s a bit more vicious, there’s often a pattern to the articles written about them.

Step one: take bad data (or no data at all). Forget that what data you can find usually looks at today’s younger cohort in isolation, rather than comparing them to older generations when they were the same age. Step two: ignore – or play down – external factors and demographic changes that may have influenced any differences found. Step three: layer on stereotypes. Step four: wring hands.

For example, are millennials really buying houseplants more than older generations? Even if so, are they really buying more than their grandparents did when they were young and setting up their own households? And if urbanisation is a factor, which the article nods to, could it be because people have fewer outdoor gardens in cities, so plants need to come indoors? Or is it really that millennials living in cities feel rootless, have voids in their hearts and “need something to nurture”?

The trend stories are one thing. (And we’ve all fallen prey to them). But they’re the most harmless thread of a blanket of criticism and concern about Generation Y that extends from the US to Australia to even millennials themselves. According to the theory, people born between 1980 and 1995 may be smart (except when they’re stupid) and digital-minded (except when they’re not). But they’re also killing every industry from diamonds to napkins, wrecking religion and university campuses, ruining the economy in Japan, destroying America and maybe even destabilising China. That’s not to mention how much they’re annoying… everyone.

Result: we think we know a lot about millennials, and about how different they are from any other generation, ever. And those things we think we know about them are so terrible, we hate them for it.

The problem is a lot of that knowledge is a little off.

Tired stereotypes

Many of the stereotypes, and studies, come out of the US, where millennials now make up the largest living generation. (In Europe, on the other hand, they are a minority of all adults). Even within the US, the image of a typical millennial is taken from a narrow slice of the population: think of how Lena Dunham’s show Girls was held up as a send-up of general Generation Y tendencies – despite its narrow portrait of privileged, aimless and almost all white Brooklyn transplants.

But even within the US, where huge research firms like Pew and Gallup often indulge intergenerational fascinations, there’s more to the data than it seems at first glance. Take living arrangements. In the US in 2014, for the first time in 130 years, it became more common for those aged 18-34 to live with their parents than with a spouse or romantic partner. Jobless, lazy, entitled – the statistics fit the stereotype.

But as the data shows, US millennials aren’t actually living with their parents in record numbers. Interestingly, that peak happened in 1940. (Those young people would have been members of what Americans now call the Greatest Generation). And while the economy is a factor, three out of four of those who live with their parents today aren’t “idle”: they have jobs or are in higher education.

The real change? Millennials are marrying later than their parents or grandparents – a trend which has been rising in the US since 1970, and which is shared by nearly every OECD partner state from Iceland to Korea. But it isn’t just marriage. While they are cohabiting more, millennials still are less likely to live with a romantic partner, married or unmarried, than were previous generations.

And although it’s tempting to infer an interpretation about commitment levels in that data (or to write a headline like, “Young Americans are killing marriage”), let’s not forget in the US it is baby boomers who not only have higher current rates of divorce than any other age group right now, but who also got divorced in unprecedented numbers when they were in their 20s and 30s.

Remaining single isn’t the only demographic shift that’s changing how people live in the US. Another is the rising Asian and Hispanic population, which is more likely to live in multigenerational households. In fact, “Adjusted for demographic shifts, the share of young adults living in their parents’ home was actually lower in 2015 than in the pre-bubble years of the late 1990s. In other words, young people today are less likely to live with their parents than young people with the same demographics 20 years ago were,” writes economist Jed Kolko.

The youth of today

Maybe many of the characteristics we like ascribing to millennials aren’t unique to this generation. Maybe they’re specific to young people of any generation. If only there was some way to see what older people had written about young people throughout the years.

Fortunately, of course, there is. As the Atlantic put it a couple of years ago, “Every Every Every Generation Has Been the Me Me Me Generation”. It’s such a favourite trope, we’re even running out of different permutations of generation nicknames. The baby boomers were “the ‘me’ generation”. Millennials? “Generation Me”.

But The Atlantic story barely scratches the surface. Unsurprisingly, older people have been criticising younger people for all of recorded history. More surprising – at least to me – was that many of these decades-old concerns exactly match the same raised today.

“These were the special children of perfect parents, and they’ve had very little practice in dealing with failure or rejection,” US author Susan Littwin told the Toronto Star. “But fate has taken these bright charming middle-class aristocrats and dumped them into a rude, tight-fisted world. They tried independence, it didn’t work, and that sapped their confidence and sent them home crying.”

Sounds just like millennial snowflakes, alright… except that she was speaking in 1989 and the generation she was describing was Gen X (or, as the headline calls them, “The no-name generation group born in the 60s”).

There were so many examples like this, we’ve compiled a list of just a few here.

The trend goes all the way back to the ancient world. Romans in their 20s and 30s were often written about negatively – and older Romans were the ones usually doing the writing, suggest the authors of Youth in the Roman Empire. But it went beyond criticism. “There was a great reluctance to entrust honourable offices and liturgies to young people – even greater than to do so to women, who were strictly forbidden by law to hold any office whatsoever but who nonetheless quite often served”, the historians write.

Family planning

So, what about these much-maligned millennials? (Of which I am, of course, one. After all, I’m clearly oversensitive, and I do like a houseplant!). Are any of their characteristics really generation-related, not age-induced?

One way to tell is to find out whether these characteristics remain the same as millennials age. Now that the older end of Generation Y is setting up camp in their mid-30s, millennials are… acting a lot like previous generations did.

It’s true they’re having families later than in the past – a trend that in many countries has been going on for decades (in the US, for example, since 1976). Though US millennials are still less likely to own a home than previous generations at the same age (partly due to both the rising cost of homes and tougher lending standards), they became the largest single group of homebuyers this year. They’re also moving to the suburbs. They’re buying cars. And they’re saving more money for retirement than their Gen X or baby boomer counterparts – even though they have less money to play with.

If you’re wondering how those kombucha-swigging, selfie-obsessed millennials could have suddenly turned into responsible matriarchs and patriarchs, remember: people don’t just change as we get older. We change so much that, according to one recent long-term study, there is very little correlation at all between 77-year-olds and their teenaged selves.

Bad data

But sometimes, of course, it’s not that millennials are maturing. It’s that the evidence wasn’t so solid to begin with. After all, if you want to focus on millennial trends, you need to get them from studies that compare millennials to other generations – best of all, to other generations when they were the same age.

Here are some of what those types of studies have unearthed:

Those spoiled youngsters are actually… not well-off. In the UK, millennials earned £8,000 less in their 20s than did Gen X. In Australia, households aged between 65 and 74 years old are $200,000 wealthier than their counterparts eight years ago, while households for those aged 25 to 34 actually went backwards in terms of real wealth.

In the US, both Generation X and Y both have amassed less wealth than their parents at the same age and are more likely to be under the poverty line in the US than previous generations.

All three countries fear that millennials will be the first generation to be worse off than their parents – and they aren’t the only ones.

Despite the gig economy (and recession), as we’ve written about before, millennials are actually job-hopping less than their elders – and less than their elders did at the same age. In the UK, workers born in the mid-1980s changed jobs at less than half the rate of those born in the mid-70s at the same age. In the US, millennials are no more likely to job-hop than Gen X did at the same age; if anything, they stay with their employers longer.

When they do change their jobs, an international survey found they do so for the same pragmatic reasons – like making more money or having more responsibility – as Gen Xers and baby boomers. Only one in five millennials (21%) said they’d leave to follow their passion, more than baby boomers (16%) but less than Gen Xers (24%).

US millennials are less likely to take their allotted leave days than their elders (even though, being more junior, they get the least time off).

In the US, Gen Y are even more satisfied with aspects of the workplace – like their training and skills development, or opportunities for promotion – than other generations.

Around the world, millennials are more likely to take a manager’s direction: one study of 25,000 people across 22 countries found that 30% of baby boomers and 30% of Gen Xers agreed that “employees should do what their manager tells them, even when they can’t see the reason for it,” compared to 41% of millennials.

As for needing pats on the back, less than one-third of millennials in IBM’s global survey put “recognises my accomplishments” as one of the top three attributes they prefer in a boss. That slightly edged Gen X (26%) and baby boomers (23%). But baby boomers were as likely as millennials to want hands-on guidance and feedback, and they were more likely than millennials to want a manager who asks for their input.

Meanwhile, an analysis of more than 20 studies on the topic worldwide has found that “meaningful differences probably do not exist” in the workplace.

That being said, are there ways in which millennials are different than other generations? Of course. This infographic of generations in the US suggests each generation has been becoming more metropolitan, better educated and more ethnically diverse, and less likely to be married or to have served in the military, than the last. Other notable findings have been that millennials are having less sex than did their elders at their age; around the world, they have a more global outlook; they’re less likely to participate in organised religion and more likely to live with their partner. But even some of these trends aren’t unique to millennials. Take cohabitation: the number of cohabiting adults over 50 in the US has risen 75% in the last decade.

So basically, millennials are the same as other generations were at their age. Only a little different. More global, maybe. More diverse. More progressive. Definitely poorer. But a unique group of monsters, the entitled wrath of which the world has ever seen before? I’m not so sure. But I’ll get back to you after I’ve taken a few more selfies.


Mexico records most violent year in decades

Most of the more than 23,000 murders in the first 11 months of the year have been blamed on the country’s brutal drug cartels. Violence has worsened over the past decade amid the government’s war on narcotics.

December 25, 2017


Mexico has in 2017 registered its highest murder rate since modern records began, according to official data released on Sunday.

By the end of November, the number of official homicide investigations reached 23,101, surpassing a previous record in 2011 of 22,855.

The data came as a fresh blow to Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, who has prioritized a reduction in narcotic-related violence that has worsened severely during a decade-long war on drug cartels started by his predecessor. Some 190,000 people have died from drug related crimes since then.

Government data showed that in November alone, 2,212 murders were recorded — while 2,380 killings were carried out in October, making it the most violent month since records began in 1997.

Drugs gangs changing

Analysts have described how drug cartels have splintered into smaller, more brutal cells as they fight for territory to grow illegal crops. Others have pointed to a failure of the government’s anti-crime strategy.

Last week, Mexico’s congress approved a controversial internal security law that formalizes the military’s role in domestic security, a move many voters fear will lead to even more violence.

Although Pena Nieto managed to reduce the murder tally during the first two years of his term, it has risen steadily since then.

Pena Nieto’s government’s failure to contain the killings has damaged his credibility and hurt his centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which faces an uphill struggle to hold onto power in the July 2018 presidential election.

The 51-year-old’s popularity is the lowest of any Mexican president in modern history. He is prevented by the constitution from running for a second term and leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has emerged as the front-runner in the election race.

Cartel amnesty mooted

But Lopez’s lead could be eroded after he spoke of offering criminal gangs an amnesty to reduce the violence, a move not popular with Mexican voters.

One opinion poll this month showed that two-thirds of Mexicans reject offering such an amnesty, with less than a quarter in favor

Mexico has faced criticism from the United Nations human rights council, which has decried that more than a decade after the military was deployed to stamp out the country’s drugs cartels, violence continues to rise.

UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein warned in a statement this month that as part of the crackdown “many human rights violations and abuses … continue to be committed by various state and non-state actors.”



Treasury Secretary Mnuchin was sent gift-wrapped box of horse manure: reports

December 24, 2017


(Reuters) – A gift-wrapped package addressed to U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s home in a posh Los Angeles neighborhood that was suspected of being a bomb was instead filled with horse manure, police told local media.

The package was found Saturday evening in a next-door neighbor’s driveway in Bel Air, the Los Angeles Police Department told the Los Angeles Times and KNBC television, the NBC affiliate in Los Angeles. The package also included a Christmas card with negative comments about President Donald Trump and the new U.S. tax law signed by Trump last week.

Reuters could not reach LAPD officials for comment on Sunday.

An LAPD bomb squad X-rayed the package before opening it and found the horse manure inside, police told local media. Aerial footage from KNBC showed officers investigating a large box in wrapping paper, then dumping a large amount of what they later identified as the manure and opening the card that was included inside.

Mnuchin, who KNBC said was not home when the package was discovered, is a former Goldman Sachs Group Inc executive and Hollywood film financier.

A road in Bel Air was closed for about two hours, KNBC reported.

The U.S. Secret Service is also investigating the incident, according to the TV station.

Reporting by Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe


The Falsification of the Gospels 

December 25, 2017

by Harry von Johnston, PhD

The so-called Gospel according to St. Mark is now regarded as the oldest of the gospels, but was not in any case composed before the destruction of Jerusalem, that the alleged author has Jesus predict, which, in other words, had already happened when the author(s)wrote. This Gospel was probably written not less than a half a century after the time assigned for the death of Jesus. The resulting work is obviously the product of a half a century of legend making.

Mark is followed by Luke, then by the so-called Matthew, and last of all by John, the latter appearing for the first time in the middle of the second century, at least a hundred years after the purported birth of Jesus. And it should be noted that the further one advances from the purported period of Jesus’ life and ministry, the more miraculous the gospel stories become. Mark tells of miracles, but they are insignificant ones compared to those that follow.

Take the raising of the dead as an example.

In Mark, Jesus is called to the bedside of Jairus’ daughter, who is at the point of death. Everyone thinks she is dead already, but Jesus says: “the damsel…but sleepeth,” reaches out his hand, and she arises (Mark Chapter 5).

In addition to their credulity, the evangelists were extremely ignorant people, who had thoroughly twisted ideas about many of the things they wrote of. For example,  Luke has Joseph leave Nazareth with Mary on account of a census in the Roman Empire, and go to Bethlehem, where Jesus is born.

But there was no such census under Augustus. Moreover, Judea became a Roman province only after the date given for the birth of Jesus. A census was held in the year 7 CE, but in the places where people lived, and thus did not require the trip to Bethlehem

The most accepted manuscripts of Mark close with the eighth verse of the sixteenth chapter, where the women seek the dead Jesus in the grave, but find a youth in a long white robe instead. Then they left the grave and “were afraid.”

What follows in the traditional editions was added much later. It is impossible that the work ended with this eighth verse. Renan already assumed that the remaining portion had been stricken out in the interests of propaganda, since it contained an account that must have been objectionable to later social attitudes and contrary to period church dogma.

The gospels were in no manner to be considered historical records and they were not written to report how things happened, but were works of religious propaganda.

Everything that the gospels say of Jesus’ first thirty years is totally inaccurate, and everything regarding the following years has been thoroughly proved to have been invented.

For example, the so-called Lord’s Prayer is regarded as a specific product of Jesus. But the German historian Pfleiderer shows that an Aramaic Kaddish prayer going far back into time before Jesus, ended with the words: “Exalted and blessed be His great name in the world He created according to His will. May he set up His kingdom in your lifetime and the lifetime of the whole house of Israel.” so the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer is an imitation.

It is extremely evident that the gospels of the New Testament were not written by the disciples of Christ; they do not reflect the impression made by the person of Christ on the members of the Christian community at the time of their purported writing. Even the strongest impression gained from the writing does not testify to the historical truth of any story. In Judaism, in the centuries directly before and after Jesus, fictitious personalities had tremendous influence when the deeds and doctrines attributed to them corresponded to the deeply felt needs of the Jewish people.

This is shown by example by the figure of the prophet Daniel, of whom the Old Testament book of Daniel reports that he lived under Nebuchadnezzar, Darius and Cyrus, that is in the sixth century BCE, worked the greatest of miracles and made prophecies that were fulfilled later in the most amazing way, ending with the prediction that great afflictions would come to Judaism, out of which a savior would rescue them and raise them to new glory.

This Daniel never existed; the book dealing with him was written about 165 BCE, at the time of the Maccabean uprising; (The Maccabean Revolt was a conflict, lasting from 167 to 160 BC,) and it is no wonder that all the prophecies that the prophet ostensibly made in the sixth century BCE were so strikingly confirmed up to that year, and convinced the pious but ignorant reader that the final prediction of so infallible a prophet must come to pass without fail. The whole book is a bold fabrication and yet had the greatest effect: the belief in the Messiah, the belief in a Savior to come, got its strongest sustenance from it, and it became the model for all future prophecies of a Messiah.

The book of Daniel also shows, however, how casually fraud was, and still is, practiced in pious circles when it was a question of attaining an end. The effect produced by the figure of Jesus is therefore no proof at all of its historical accuracy.

Matters are in no better shape with the rest of early Christian literature. Everything that ostensibly comes from contemporaries of Jesus, as from his apostles for instance, is known to be completely spurious, at least in the sense that it was a production of a much later time.

And as for the letters that are attributed to the apostle Paul, there are none whose authenticity is not in serious dispute, and many of them have been shown by historical analysis to be completely false. The grossest of these forgeries is the second letter to the Thessalonians. In this obviously counterfeit letter the author, using the name of Paul, warns: “That ye be not shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us” (2,2). And at the end the forger adds:  “The salutation of Paul with mine own hand, which is the token in every epistle: so I write.” It was just these words that betrayed the forger.

A number of other letters of Paul are perhaps the earliest literary productions of the Christian movement but about Jesus however they tell us virtually nothing, except that he was alleged to have been crucified and then ascended to heaven. According to the Jewish concept, the Messiah should be of royal lineage. Over and over again he is spoken of as the “Son of David” or “Son of God” which in the Jewish religious system amounted to the same thing. Thus the second book of Samuel represents God as saying to David: “I will be his (your descendants’) father, and he shall be my son” (II Samuel 7, verse 14).

And in the second Psalm the king says; “The Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son: this day have I begotten thee.”

This is why it was necessary to show that Jesus’ father, Joseph, had a long pedigree going back to David, and to have Jesus the Nazarene born in Bethlehem, the city of David. The strangest statements are introduced to make this plausible. Early in the book we referred to the story in Luke (2, verse 1 f):

“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) to be taxed with Mary, his espoused wife, being great with child.”

The author, or authors, of Luke had heard an echo of something in the distant past, and in their ignorance, made complete nonsense of it.

Augustus never ordered a general census of the empire. What is referred to is obviously the census that Quirinius had taken in Judea in the year 7 CE, Judea being then a Roman province.

This was the first census of the sort there.

But this confusion is the least of it. What are we to say of the idea that in a general imperial census, or even in a provincial census everyone must go to his birthplace to be recorded? Even today, in the age of flight, such a decree would lead to the most frightful confusion, only to be surpassed by its uselessness. As a matter of fact every one registered in his dwelling place in a Roman census as well, and only men had to do so in person.

But it would not have suited the pious purpose, if Joseph had gone by himself to the city of David. And so, after inventing the census, they have to invent the regulation that every head of a household must to his native place with his whole tribe, so that Joseph would be forced to drag his wife along despite her advanced state of pregnancy.

The whole labor of partisan invention was in vain, however, and actually caused serious embarrassment for Christian thought as the community outgrew the Jewish community.

For the pagan world, David and his descendants were a matter of complete indifference, and it was not any kind of a recommendation to be a descendant of David. Hellenistic and Roman thinking on the other hand, was quite inclined to take seriously the fatherhood of God, which to the Jews was merely a symbol of royal descent.

It was not unusual for Greeks and Romans to regard a great man as the son of Apollo or some other god.

Yet Christian thought encountered a slight difficulty in its effort thus to raise the Messiah in the eyes of the heathen, namely, the monotheism it had taken over from Judaism. The fact that a god begets a son presents no difficulty to polytheism: there is just one more god. But that God begets a god and there is still but one God, is something not easy to conceive.

The question is not made simpler by going on to separate the generating power that emanated from the Deity as a separate Holy Ghost. All that was needed was to get three persons under one hat. On this task the most sweeping fantasy and acute hair-splitting were wrecked. The Trinity became one of those mysteries that can only be believed, not understood; one that has to be believed precisely because it is absurd.

There is no religion without contradictions. None of them arose in a single mind by a purely logical process; each one is product of manifold social influences, often going back centuries and reflecting very diverse historical situations.

But there is hardly another religion so rich in contradictions and absurdities as the Christian religion, since there was hardly another that grew out of such harsh contradictions: Christianity evolved from Judaism to Romanism, from proletarianism to world domination, from a purely communistic concept to organizing the exploitation of all classes.

Meanwhile, the union of Father and Son in a single person was not the only difficulty for Christian thinking that arose out of the picture of the Messiah as soon as it came under the influence of the non-Jewish environment.

What was to be done about Joseph’s fatherhood? Mary could now no longer have conceived Jesus by her husband. And since God had mated with her not as a man but as spirit, she must have remained a virgin. That was the end of Jesus’ decent from David. Yet so great is the power of tradition in religion that despite everything the beautifully constructed pedigree of Joseph and Jesus’ designation as Son of David continued to be handed down faithfully. Poor Joseph now had the thankless role of living with the Virgin without touching that virginity, and without being in the least disturbed by her pregnancy. And what about Jesus’ two older brothers? Were they, too, the product of Celestial penetration?


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