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TBR News November 10, 2017

Nov 10 2017

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C., November 10, 2017:”The so-called Social Media is becoming so pervasive and influential in the spreading of false news, that one hears from friends inside the Beltway that action will be taken to reduce their power and their numbers. The addiction to many Americans to their cellphones and to social networks is a very serious matter, Literacy in America is rapidly dropping due mainly to the constant use of electronic toys and also to the poor quality of the educational system. If Congress and the Administration were not so self-absorbed, perhaps the trillions of dollars in tax revenues might be better spent than to give most of it to business entities and the rest to official pocket-stuffing.”

 

 

Table of Contents

  • The Trump Effect
  • Saudi says 208 questioned in graft probe, at least $100 billion stolen
  • Kingdom of fear: Saudi Arabia on lockdown
  • Facebook was built to exploit ‘psychological vulnerability’ – founding pres.
  • Facebook is bad for you: Get a life!
  • 7 Ways Facebook Is Bad for Your Mental Health
  • Cell-Phone Addiction
  • How did the news go ‘fake’? When the media went social
  • Republican panic builds as Roy Moore defiant over sexual abuse allegations
  • Bitcoin slides by over $1000 in less than 48 hours
  • Background to Terror
  • The Oil and Gas Wars in Central Asia
  • Retracing the Steps of Isis’s Worst-Ever Atrocity
  • Paradise Looted: How Sicily Became Ungovernable

 

 

The Trump Effect

November 10, 2017

by Justin Raimondo

AntiWar

This is what I love about the presidency of Donald J. Trump – this news story: “CIA director met with DNC Hack Conspiracy Theorist at Trump’s Urging.” Isn’t it magical how a 40-year veteran of the National Security Agency, formerly head of its World Geopolitical and Military Analysis Reporting Group, a whistle-blower who exposed Agency abuses long before Edward Snowden hit puberty, can be reduced to a mere “conspiracy theorist” at a headline-writers’ whim?

The media is aghast at this intrusion of a competing conspiracy theory into the “Russia-gate” debate: there’s only room enough for the Official Story, which is that Russian state actors were deployed to capture the DNC/Podesta communications and hand them over to WikiLeaks. No evidence has ever been provided by the US government or its corporate contractors to make a convincing case for this scenario. Indeed, there’s been lots of talk about Russian bots” somehow hypnotizing the US voting population into pushing the lever for Trump, but very little “forensic” evidence that shows a Russian handprint on the WikiLeaks materials.

Binney and a growing number of technical co-thinkers are challenging the Official Story by revealing that internal evidence points to the fact that the data was physically downloaded onto a handheld device of some kind. There was no “hack” of the DNC: an insider copied the files and handed them over, probably on a thumb drive.

Now I don’t know whether this theory is correct, or if it will be later disproved when new evidence comes in. Yet I think you’ll notice the hysterical tone that Binney’s appearance on the scene has provoked from the President’s enemies: isn’t it just a bit over the top to call a longtime NSA employee with a distinguished service record a “conspiracy theorist”? Well, no, not when it’s a matter of religious dogma that must be defended at all costs: the DNC “hack” couldn’t have been an inside job because that would undermine the public pronouncements of every Democratic party official since Election Day, 2016.

How dare CIA Director Pompeo meet with Binney! Why, he’s not a Approved Expert – and it’s not really that he’s a conspiracy theorist. I mean, who isn’t, these days? It’s just that he doesn’t believe in the right conspiracy theories, So, instead of reading from the FBI/CIA made-for-tv-cold war era script, Binney and a team of technical experts are looking at the real forensic evidence in the documents themselves – and it tells quite a different story than we are used to hearing.

This could only have happened in the era of Trump.

Looking at it in the aftermath of the election, in which Democrats are now turning on each other in a vicious “blame game,” with all the backbiting, charges of “sexism,” and any number of other hate crimes, the Binney narrative – the “hack” was the work of an embittered insider – seems all the more credible. With all the seething internal antagonisms, as revealed not only by Donna Brazile but also by Hillary herself, the addition of an extra layer of conspiracy theorizing – Russian computer hackers – is simply overdoing it. It looks to me like any number of insiders would have gladly exposed Hillary’s secrets for free (or, at least, at a good price).

Oh, but we aren’t allowed to look in that direction, because it contradicts the Official Story as promulgated by that priesthood of perfect knowledge, the Intelligence Community. Except this President isn’t buying it, and neither is his CIA Director – and that is precisely why they hate him and all his works,. Dissident ideas, the complaints and heretical theories of whistle-blowers, concepts that would normally be dismissed out of hand are infiltrating the corridors of power. Ingrown Washington, D.C., a fortress of groupthink, most often misplaced, is outraged that it’s being invaded by outside forces with the wrong views and the wrong credentials.

Hark! It’s the Trump Effect!

I don’t care what they say about him –he’s crazy! He’s dangerous! He’s this! He’s that! As long the Trump Effect lasts, I’m going to sit back and enjoy the scene.

 

 

Saudi says 208 questioned in graft probe, at least $100 billion stolen

November 9, 2017

Reuters

DUBAI (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s attorney-general said on Thursday that 208 people have been called in for questioning in a sweeping anti-corruption investigation, and seven of them had been released without charge.

“Based on our investigations over the past three years, we estimate that at least $100 billion has been misused through systematic corruption and embezzlement over several decades,” Sheikh Saud al-Mojeb said in a statement.

He repeated statements by other top officials that normal commercial activity had not been affected by the crackdown, and that only personal bank accounts had been frozen, not corporate accounts. “Companies and banks are free to continue with transactions as usual.”

Reporting by Andrew Torchia; editing by Mark Heinrich

 

Kingdom of fear: Saudi Arabia on lockdown

November 10, 2017

RT

Events in Saudi Arabia are unfolding at a blinding pace, with a radical shift taking place within the upper echelons of government.

Last weekend, King Salman announced the set-up of a special anti-corruption force that wasted no time in rounding up more than a dozen government officials—both former and current—five members of the royal family, and several businessmen. Since then, the list has been growing, to more than 60 as of today.

The Crown Prince is also the driving force behind the Aramco IPO, which should provide the funds for the reform program. Now, for the IPO to be as successful as Prince Mohammed wants it to be, global oil prices need to be high, perhaps higher than they are now.

Any political instability in the Kingdom is naturally fueling bullish sentiment. Now there are reports that some royals fleeing prosecution from the new anti-corruption agency have been offered asylum in Yemen by the Houthi rebels that are backed by Saudi Arabia’s arch-enemy, Iran. This is nothing short of astounding, since Saudi Arabia has been at war with the Houthis for two years now, with Prince Mohammed at the spearhead of the conflict.

Earlier this week, Saudi Arabia accused Iran of direct aggression, citing the missile attack the Houthis launched on Riyadh, which was intercepted by the Kingdom’s defense system.

It is difficult to predict where all this will lead. Some, like Dennis Gartman, warn that although the immediate impact of the latest Saudi events is positive for prices, it will turn negative in the longer run as this sort of instability is unsustainable. Others, such as Morgan Stanley’s commodity analysts, are revising upwards their oil price forecasts, encouraged by these same events. OPEC’s Vienna meeting, where the cartel will discuss the extension of the oil production cut it agreed almost a year ago, is less than a month away. There are voices suggesting that Saudi Arabia could make a U-turn on its support for the deal in light of the now higher prices resulting from its internal tumult and the spike in tensions with Iran.

In the meantime, the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh is fully booked until February, as per the hotel’s website, and all guests were asked to leave or had their reservations cancelled

 

 

Facebook was built to exploit ‘psychological vulnerability’ – founding pres.

November 10, 2017

RT

Sean Parker, the founding president of Facebook, says the company was designed to “consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible” and warns the platform could affect developing minds in negative ways.

At an Axios event Wednesday, Parker, 38, the billionaire co-founder of Napster and an early investor in Facebook, confessed that he has become “something of a conscientious objector” to social media, despite the fact that he made most of his $2.6 billion fortune from Facebook.

Parker, who was portrayed by Justin Timberlake in the 2010 movie ‘The Social Network,’ said when he was helping build the company, he knew people would get hooked.

“I had these people who would come up to me and they would say, ‘I’m not on social media.’ And I would say, ‘OK. You know, you will be.’ And then they would say, ‘No, no, no. I value my real-life interactions. I value the moment. I value presence. I value intimacy.’ And I would say, ‘Well, you’re a conscientious objector, you don’t have to participate, but, you know, we’ll get you eventually,’” Parker recalled.

Facebook is “exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology” by giving users “a little dopamine hit every once in awhile” in the form of likes, comments and shares.

If a user posts content that garners likes, Parker said the founders knew it would “get you to contribute more content, and that’s going to get you more likes and comments.”

Parker explained that Facebook uses likes, comments and shares to create a “social-validation feedback loop” that keeps users addicted to the platform.

“The inventors, creators — it’s me, it’s Mark [Zuckerberg], it’s Kevin Systrom on Instagram, it’s all of these people — understood this consciously,” Parker said. “And we did it anyway.”

Five months ago, Mark Zuckerberg, the President and CEO of Facebook, announced there were 2 billion monthly active users, making it the world’s number one social network.

Parker says he is now concerned about the “unintended consequences” the social media giant could have on users, especially children.

Parker pointed to surveys that have shown a “huge rise in anxiety” among young adults in recent years and said that Facebook “interferes with productivity in weird ways” and “literally changes your relationship with society.”

“God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains,” Parker said.

In 2011, Zuckerberg told Forbes that Parker was “pivotal in helping Facebook transform from a college project into a real company.”

Parker concluded by jokingly stating that Zuckerberg would probably end up blocking his Facebook page as a result of his comments.

Parker, now the founder and chair of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, was at the event to discuss advances in cancer research.

 

 

Facebook is bad for you: Get a life!

Using the social network seems to make people more miserable

August 16, 2017

The Economist

Those who have resisted the urge to join Facebook will surely feel vindicated when they read the latest research. A study just published by the Public Library of Science, conducted by Ethan Kross of the University of Michigan and Philippe Verduyn of Leuven University in Belgium, has shown that the more someone uses Facebook, the less satisfied he is with life.

Past investigations have found that using Facebook is associated with jealousy, social tension, isolation and depression. But these studies have all been “cross-sectional”—in other words, snapshots in time. As such, they risk confusing correlation with causation: perhaps those who spend more time on social media are more prone to negative emotions in the first place. The study conducted by Dr Kross and Dr Verduyn is the first to follow Facebook users for an extended period, to track how their emotions change.

The researchers recruited 82 Facebookers for their study. These volunteers, in their late teens or early 20s, agreed to have their Facebook activity observed for two weeks and to report, five times a day, on their state of mind and their direct social contacts (phone calls and meetings in person with other people). These reports were prompted by text messages, sent between 10am and midnight, asking them to complete a short questionnaire.

When the researchers analysed the results, they found that the more a volunteer used Facebook in the period between two questionnaires, the worse he reported feeling the next time he filled in a questionnaire. Volunteers were also asked to rate their satisfaction with life at the start and the end of the study. Those who used Facebook a lot were more likely to report a decline in satisfaction than those who visited the site infrequently. In contrast, there was a positive association between the amount of direct social contact a volunteer had and how positive he felt. In other words, the more volunteers socialised in the real world, the more positive they reported feeling the next time they filled in the questionnaire.

A volunteer’s sex had no influence on these findings; nor did the size of his (or her) social network, his stated motivation for using Facebook, his level of loneliness or depression or his self-esteem. Dr Kross and Dr Verduyn therefore conclude that, rather than enhancing well-being, Facebook undermines it.

Their study does not tease out why socialising on Facebook has a different effect from socialising in person. But an earlier investigation, conducted by social scientists at Humboldt University and Darmstadt’s Technical University, both in Germany, may have found the root cause. These researchers, who presented their findings at a conference in Leipzig in February, surveyed 584 users of Facebook aged mostly in their 20s. They found that the most common emotion aroused by using Facebook is envy. Endlessly comparing themselves with peers who have doctored their photographs, amplified their achievements and plagiarised their bons mots can leave Facebook’s users more than a little green-eyed. Real-life encounters, by contrast, are more WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get).

What neither study proves is whether all this is true only for younger users of Facebook. Older ones may be more mellow, and thus less begrudging of their friends’ successes, counterfeit or real. Maybe.

 

7 Ways Facebook Is Bad for Your Mental Health

How ‘staying in touch’ may be driving you nuts

April 11, 2014

by Douglas T. Kenrick Ph.D. andJessica E. Bodford

Psychology Today

Facebook’s meteoric rise in popularity suggests that it offers us something we’ve always wanted. It allows us to simultaneously keep in touch with long-lost cousin Annabelle in Baton Rouge, best friend Percival from the first grade at St. Mary’s School, as well as 491 other assorted friends, relatives, and acquaintances—all at once, instantaneously, no trips to the post office necessary. With the click of a button we can see what Percival’s cute little daughter had for breakfast this morning, or what Annabelle’s pet dog wore to last year’s Halloween party.

But like all benefits in life, Facebook comes with its psychological costs—many of them invisible. Indeed, a recent study found that heavy Facebook users experience decreases in subjective well-being over time (Kross et al., 2013). Below we review some research suggesting 7 ways that Facebook may be hurting you.

1 .It can make you feel like your life isn’t as cool as everyone else’s. Social psychologist Leon Festinger observed that people are naturally inclined to engage in social comparison. To answer a question like “Am I doing better or worse than average?” you need to check out other people like you. Facebook is a quick, effortless way to engage in social comparison, but with even one glance through your News Feed you might see pictures of your friends enjoying a mouth-watering dinner at Chez Panisse, or perhaps winning the Professor of the Year award at Yale University. Indeed, a study by Chou and Edge (2012) found that chronic Facebook users tend to think that other people lead happier lives than their own, leading them to feel that life is less fair.

  1. It can lead you to envy your friends’ successes. Did cousin Annabelle announce a nice new promotion last month, a new car last week, and send a photo from her cruise vacation to Aruba this morning? Not only can Facebook make you feel like you aren’t sharing in your friends’ happiness, but it can also make you feel envious of their happy lives. Buxmann and Krasnova (2013) have found that seeing others’ highlights on your News Feed can make you envious of friends’ travels, successes, and appearances. Additional findings suggest that the negative psychological impact of passively following others on Facebook is driven by the feelings of envy that stem from passively skimming your News Feed.
  2. It can lead to a sense of false consensus. Sit next to a friend while you each search for the same thing on Google. Eli Pariser, author of The Filter Bubble (2012), can promise you won’t see the same search results. Not only have your Internet searches grown more personalized, so have social networking sites. Facebook’s sorting function places posts higher in your News Feed if they’re from like-minded friends—which may distort your view of the world (Constine, 2012). This can lead you to believe that your favorite political candidate is a shoe-in for the upcoming election, even though many of your friends are saying otherwise…you just won’t hear them.
  3. It can keep you in touch with people you’d really rather forget. Want to know what your ex is up to? You can…and that might not be a good thing. Facebook stalking has made it harder to let go of past relationships. Does she seem as miserable as I am? Is that ambiguous post directed at me? Has she started dating that guy from trivia night? These questions might better remain unanswered; indeed, Marshall (2012) found that Facebook users who reported visiting their former partner’s page experienced disrupted post-breakup emotional recovery and higher levels of distress. Even if you still run into your ex in daily life, the effects of online surveillance were significantly worse than those of offline contact.
  4. It can make you jealous of your current partner. Facebook stalking doesn’t only apply to your ex. Who is this Stacy LaRue, and why is she constantly “liking” my husband’s Facebook posts?   Krafsky and Krafsky, authors of Facebook and Your Marriage (2010), address many common concerns in relationships that stem from Facebook use. “Checking up on” your partner’s page can often lead to jealousy and even unwarranted suspicion, particularly if your husband’s exes frequently come into the picture. Krafsky and Krafsky recommend talking with your partner about behaviors that you both consider safe and trustworthy on Facebook, and setting boundaries where you don’t feel comfortable.
  5. It can reveal information you might not want to share with potential employers. Do you really want a potential employer to know about how drunk you got at last week’s kegger…or the interesting wild night that followed with the girl in the blue bikini? Peluchette and Karl (2010) found that 40% of users mention alcohol use on their Facebook page, and 20% mention sexual activities. We often think these posts are safe from prying eyes, but that might not be the case. While 89% of jobseekers use social networking sites, 37% of potential employers do, as well—and are actively looking into their potential hires (Smith, 2013). If you’re on the job market, make sure to check your privacy settings and restrict any risqué content to “Friends Only”, if you don’t wish to delete it entirely.
  6. It can become addictive. Think society’s most common addictive substances are coffee, cigarettes, and alcohol? Think again. The DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) includes a new diagnosis that has stirred controversy: a series of items gauging Internet Addiction. Since then, Facebook addiction has gathered attention from both popular media and empirical journals, leading to the creation of a Facebook addiction scale (Paddock, 2012; see below for items). To explore the seriousness of this addiction, Hofmann and colleagues (2012) randomly texted participants over the course of a week to ask what they most desired at that particular moment. They found that among their participants, social media use was craved even more than tobacco and alcohol.

Of course, the news isn’t all that bad.  Some research finds Facebook may decrease loneliness when used to keep up to date—and keep in touch with—others. Fenne Deters and Matthias Mehl (2012) randomly assigned participants to post more status updates than they typically did per week, and found that this led to increased feelings of social connectedness, and lower levels of loneliness.  In the end, Facebook is probably a lot like other technological advances, such as the automobile – whether or not it hurts you or cousin Annabelle depends on where y’all drive, and how frequently y’all get behind the wheel.

 

 

Cell-Phone Addiction

by José De-Sola Gutiérrez,, Fernando Rodríguez de Fonseca, and Gabriel Rubio

ncbi

In April 2015, the number of cell-phone lines exceeded 53.6 million in Spain, which was1.4% higher than that of the previous year, with a penetration of 108.5% [National Commission of Markets and Competence]. This amounts to slightly greater than one cell phone per person, and 81% of these cell-phone lines were associated with smartphones in 2014 [Telephonic Foundation ]. The age of cell phone initiation is becoming increasingly younger: 30% of 10-year-old Spanish children have a cell phone; the rate increases to nearly 70% at age 12 and 83% at age 14. Furthermore, starting at the age of 2–3 years, Spanish children habitually access their parents’ devices .

These data imply that the cell phone enables behavioral problems and disorders, particularly in adolescents. This fact has become more and more evident in communications media, inspiring new pathologies, such as “Nomophobia” (No-Mobile-Phobia), “FOMO” (Fear Of Missing Out) – the fear of being without a cell phone, disconnected or off the Internet, “Textaphrenia” and “Ringxiety” – the false sensation of having received a text message or call that leads to constantly checking the device, and “Textiety” – the anxiety of receiving and responding immediately to text messages.

Physical and psychological problems have reportedly resulted from cell-phone abuse, including rigidity and muscle pain, ocular afflictions resulting from Computer Vision Syndrome reflected in fatigue, dryness, blurry vision, irritation, or ocular redness, auditory and tactile illusions – the sensation of having heard a ring or felt a vibration of a cell phone, and pain and weakness in the thumbs and wrists leading to an increased number of cases of de Quervain’s tenosynovitis.

In broader behavioral terms, the following problematic manifestations have also been noted, frequently compared to and corroborated by the diagnostic criteria of the DSM:

– Problematic and conscious use in dangerous situations or prohibited contexts with social and familial conflicts and confrontations, as well as loss of interest in other activities. A continuation of the behavior is observed despite the negative effects or the personal malaise caused.

“Nomophobia” (No-Mobile-Phobia), “FOMO” (Fear Of Missing Out) – the fear of being without a cell phone, disconnected or off the Internet, “Textaphrenia” and “Ringxiety” – the false sensation of having received a text message or call that leads to constantly checking the device, and “Textiety” – the anxiety of receiving and responding immediately to text messages.

Physical and psychological problems have reportedly resulted from cell-phone abuse, including rigidity and muscle pain, ocular afflictions resulting from Computer Vision Syndrome reflected in fatigue, dryness, blurry vision, irritation, or ocular redness, auditory and tactile illusions – the sensation of having heard a ring or felt a vibration of a cell phone, and pain and weakness in the thumbs and wrists leading to an increased number of cases of de Quervain’s tenosynovitis.

In broader behavioral terms, the following problematic manifestations have also been noted, frequently compared to and corroborated by the diagnostic criteria of the DSM:

– Problematic and conscious use in dangerous situations or prohibited contexts with social and familial conflicts and confrontations, as well as loss of interest in other activities. A continuation of the behavior is observed despite the negative effects or the personal malaise caused.

– Harm, repeated physical, mental, social, work, or familial interruptions, preferring the cell phone to personal contact; frequent and constant consultations in brief periods with insomnia and sleep disturbances.

– Excessive use, urgency, abstinence, tolerance, dependence, difficulty controlling, craving, increasing use to achieve satisfaction or relaxation or to counteract a dysphoric mood , the need to be connected, feelings of irritability or of being lost if separated from the phone or of sending and viewing messages with feelings of unease when unable to use it.

– Anxiety and loneliness when unable to send a message or receive an immediate response; stress and changes in mood due to the need to respond immediately to messages.

– Harm, repeated physical, mental, social, work, or familial interruptions, preferring the cell phone to personal contact; frequent and constant consultations in brief periods with insomnia and sleep disturbances,

– Excessive use, urgency, abstinence, tolerance, dependence, difficulty controlling, craving, increasing use to achieve satisfaction or relaxation or to counteract a dysphoric mood, the need to be connected, feelings of irritability or of being lost if separated from the phone or of sending and viewing messages with feelings of unease when unable to use it.

– Anxiety and loneliness when unable to send a message or receive an immediate response; stress and changes in mood due to the need to respond immediately to messages .

 

How did the news go ‘fake’? When the media went social

In all the fuss over misinformation, one crucial aspect is ignored: the way people now perform their relationship with news in order to win the approval of others

November 10, 2017

by Claire Wardle and Hossein Derakhshan

The Guardian

The Collins Dictionary word of the year for 2017 is, disappointingly, “fake news”. We say disappointingly, because the ubiquity of that phrase among journalists, academics and policymakers is partly why the debate around this issue is so simplistic. The phrase is grossly inadequate to explain the nature and scale of the problem. (Were those Russian ads displayed at the congressional hearings last week news, for example?) But what’s more troubling, and the reason that we simply cannot use the phrase any more, is that it is being used by politicians around the world as a weapon against the fourth estate and an excuse to censor free speech.

Definitions matter. Take, for example, the question of why this type of content is created in the first place. There are four distinct motivations for why people do this: political, financial, psychological (for personal satisfaction) and social (to reinforce our belonging to communities or “tribes”). If we’re serious about tackling mis- and disinformation, we need to address these motivations separately. And we think it’s time to give much more serious consideration to the social element.

Social media force us to live our lives in public, positioned centre-stage in our very own daily performances. Erving Goffman, the American sociologist, articulated the idea of “life as theatre” in his 1956 book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, and while the book was published more than half a century ago, the concept is even more relevant today. It is increasingly difficult to live a private life, in terms not just of keeping our personal data away from governments or corporations, but also of keeping our movements, interests and, most worryingly, information consumption habits from the wider world.

The social networks are engineered so that we are constantly assessing others – and being assessed ourselves. In fact our “selves” are scattered across different platforms, and our decisions, which are public or semi-public performances, are driven by our desire to make a good impression on our audiences, imagined and actual.

We grudgingly accept these public performances when it comes to our travels, shopping, dating, and dining. We know the deal. The online tools that we use are free in return for us giving up our data, and we understand that they need us to publicly share our lifestyle decisions to encourage people in our network to join, connect and purchase.

But, critically, the same forces have impacted the way we consume news and information. Before our media became “social”, only our closest family or friends knew what we read or watched, and if we wanted to keep our guilty pleasures secret, we could. Now, for those of us who consume news via the social networks, what we “like” and what we follow is visible to many – or, in Twitter’s case, to all, unless we are in that small minority of users who protect their tweets. Consumption of the news has become a performance that can’t be solely about seeking information or even entertainment. What we choose to “like” or follow is part of our identity, an indication of our social class and status, and most frequently our political persuasion.

When we try to understand why people are sharing misleading, manipulated and fabricated information, we need to appreciate that those shares and retweets are playing an incredibly important function, which is less about their veracity or truth. The act of sharing is often about signalling to others that we agree with the sentiment of the message, or that even if we don’t agree, we recognise it as important and worth paying attention to. We want to feel connected to others, and these mini-performances allow us to do that.

Understanding this is easier if we read the work of media scholar James Carey. He argued that the dominant lens through which we understand communication is a “transmission model”, with a focus simply on the mechanics through which a message is transmitted from Sender A to Receiver B. However, he said, we should actually view communication through the lens of ritual if we want to understand why people seek out, consume and make sense of information. From this vantage point, Carey argued: “News is not information, it is drama.” A ritual view of communication views “reading a newspaper less as sending or gaining information and more as attending a mass”, where “a particular view of the world is portrayed and confirmed”.

When we consider many of the solutions being proposed to tackle the spread of disinformation, it certainly seems that the focus is on this transmission model. Ideas such as flagging disputed content are founded on the idea that information consumption is rational. If we are serious about slowing down the dissemination of mis- and disinformation, we need to start recognising the emotional and social drivers that shape people’s relationship with information.

There has been much discussion over the past year about the need for us to pop our filter bubbles, to follow a much more diverse set of people and accounts. But how do we do this when those actions are public? Do we need to explain to our network why we are following that hyper-partisan Facebook page that sits at the opposite end of the political spectrum from our own views? And how to “heart” a tweet to go back to later for research when that action is public? Seeing Twitter tell you that your most ardent Trump-hating friend just “liked” one of his tweets can be jarring.

As a French thinker of the 1960s, Guy Debord, would second, we’ve evolved from being informed to having information in order to appear informed. While the architecture of the platforms isn’t the root cause of why mis- and disinformation are being created on the scale we’re now seeing, these features are a significant reason that they are being disseminated. And when the algorithms that power these networks are designed to capitalise on our emotional responses, but proposed solutions require rational responses. Unfortunately, no significant change is likely.

 

Republican panic builds as Roy Moore defiant over sexual abuse allegations

It is too late to remove the Senate candidate from ballots. The question now facing the party: will the accusations change Alabama voters’ minds?

November 9, 2017

by Ed Pilkington in New York

The Guardian

The explosive allegations of sexual abuse against a minor that have been leveled against Roy Moore present the GOP leadership with a tricky political crisis.

On Thursday evening, hours after the Washington Post reported allegations that he instigated improper sexual contact with a 14-year-old girl in 1979, when he was 32, Moore, who in less than five weeks is set to stand as Republican candidate in Alabama’s special US Senate election, appeared to be digging in for a fight.

In an indication of how the firebrand and former judge intends to handle the storm, he has begun fundraising on the back of it, accusing the Post, whose claims he denied, of a “vicious and nasty” attack. “The forces of evil are on the march,” he said before appealing for campaign donations.

Such defiance is nothing new for Moore. His outsider’s bid for the Republican nomination in Alabama and his subsequent victory in September over Luther Strange, who had been backed by the party establishment, including Donald Trump, was in itself an act of supreme defiance.

Before that he had shown defiance – bordering on disdain – towards the US constitution and the Supreme Court in his approach to the Ten Commandments and gay marriage.

But should he continue to doggedly refuse to step aside, as seems more than likely, the Republican leadership in the US senate could find itself in a bind as it seeks to hang on to the party’s slender majority. The Democrats, whose sails have been filled by resounding victories across the country on Tuesday, are only three seats away from regaining control of the chamber in next year’s midterm elections, and are already eyeing Arizona and Nevada as potential targets.

Should Moore’s travails cost the Republicans as reliable a seat as Alabama on 12 December,  that could open up for the Democrats a credible path to the majority.

The sense of panic setting in for top Republicans could be sensed almost the moment the Washington Post story broke. Numerous prominent figures lined up to cast Moore into the wilderness, most using the same formula of words: “If these allegations are true, he must step aside.”

Subscribers to that phrase included the majority leader, Mitch McConnell; the senior senator from Alabama, Richard Shelby; Senator Ted Cruz of Texas; and Susan Collins, senator from Maine. John McCain went further, saying there was no need for deliberation over veracity – Moore should go now.

Senior Republicans have already begun studying Alabama electoral law to work out what options they might have in terms of ousting a recalcitrant candidate, and what they will have discovered will provide precious little comfort. State rules say that Moore could decide to stand down of his own volition or he could be pushed by the local party, but in either case 76 days’ notice has to be given, and that deadline has already passed.

Whatever happens in the ensuing days, the name Roy Moore will appear on the ballot. Indeed, it is already on ballots that have started to be posted out to absentee voters.

That leaves the party with the choice of opting for a write-in candidate, but with just a month to go to election day, that would be a high-stakes strategy.

“Roy Moore was already a big problem, and now in the short term he is going to be an even bigger problem,” said John Weaver, John Kasich’s chief strategist in the 2016 presidential primaries. “The race in Alabama was closer than people thought even before this news happened.”

The billion dollar question now is: what would Alabama voters make of child sexual abuse allegations relating to a man who is asking to be sent to Washington?

At face value, that would seem to be a simple question to answer. Deep south Alabama is one of the most religious states

in the Union – with 82% of adults saying they believe in God with absolute certainty and almost half the population being active evangelical Christians, according to the Pew Research Center.

On the other hand, this was the state that voted for Trump over Hillary Clinton by a factor of two to one. Trump’s remarks bragging about grabbing women by the genitals did not appear to faze this electorate.

Judging from the comments of Moore’s supporters in Alabama on Thursday, a similar insouciance over alleged sexual abuse, in this case of a child, appears to be in play. Jim Ziegler, Alabama’s state auditor, put an interesting twist on the story given the profound religiosity of the area.

“Take the Bible,” Ziegler told the Washington Examiner, before going on to reference the relationship between Mary and Joseph. “Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus. There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here, maybe just a little bit unusual.”

 

 

Bitcoin slides by over $1000 in less than 48 hours

November 10, 2017

Reuters

LONDON (Reuters) – Bitcoin dropped below $7,000 on Friday to trade more than 5 percent down on the day, having fallen by well over $1,000 since hitting an all-time high on Wednesday. Bitcoin dropped to $6,800 on the Luxembourg-based Bitstamp exchange BTC=BTSP by 1200 GMT, before recovering a little to $6,870 just over 20 minutes later.

On Wednesday around 1800 GMT, it had touched $7,888 after a software upgrade planned for next week that could have split the cryptocurrency in two was suspended.

As bitcoin fell, Bitcoin Cash – a clone of the original that was generated from another split on Aug.1 – surged, trading up as much as 35 percent on the day at around $850, according to industry website Coinmarketcap.

Despite losing almost 7 percent this week, bitcoin is still up more than 600 percent so far this year.

Reporting by Jemima Kelly, Editing by Abhinav Ramnarayan

 

Background to Terror

November 10, 2017

by Christian Jürs

If there is anything like veracity about the twisting and manipulations of major events, one must look at some of the attending circumstances behind the Saudi terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Now it is time to outline what lay behind the actual attack. High level people in the government are laboring under the misapprehension that they are speaking over secured telephone lines or email or faxing over other secure services but in the main, they are living in a fool’s paradise.

The President does have very secure lines of communications but neither Cheney nor Rove did. Not only can our very own NSA listen in to conversations held from Cheney’s “Secret Command Post” but so can others, to include the British and Russian intelligence agencies. Our Army has been reading top secret Israeli diplomatic, military and intelligence messages for some time

And even the PRC and the French are not without success in pulling messages off the air and breaking even the most complicated algorithmic encryption. It is from these sources that it has been possible to put together a plot that not even the most creative of the bloggers could possibly have imagined.

It is well-known that the far right wing of the Republican party was determined to get control of the White House just as they then had control of Congress. They were well on their way to stacking the third branch of our government, the judicial. The main architect of this ambitious plan was Karl Rove. Very intelligent but totally amoral and personally vicious, Rove was a powerful influence over George Bush, converting him to a form of aggressive Evangelical Christianity and getting him elected to the Governorship of Texas. Rove was instrumental in convincing the power elite of the time to support Bush as the Republican candidate for President in 2000 and the manipulations to put the colorless Bush into the Oval Office have been covered extensively in the media and on the Internet. There were deliberate voter frauds including fixed voting machines,  machines made and controlled by a strong Bush supporter. There was obvious and deliberate voter fraud in Florida, a state run by Bush’s brother and Rove had seen to it that there was a bare majority of the Supreme Court to, in effect, job Bush straight into the White House.

Now, the plotters reasoned, they had control of the executive, the legislative and the judicial. There was only one more factor to take into account in the final securing of absolute power and that was the American public.

Not even the most accomplished of the watchers can say with certainty when the final chapter was first broached but enough has been pieced together to make a thoroughly believable scenario. In all probability it was Rove, a man with a good understanding of history, who realized that a so-called wartime President could gather unto himself, and his supporters, almost unlimited powers and among these was the power to frighten the public into obeying his dictates and the excuse for establish these dictates in the first place.

During the First World War, Woodrow Wilson set up a virtual dictatorship in the United States during his war with Germany and, of course, there was the seizure of power by Hitler in 1933 after he had been appointed a Chancellor with limited powers. Coupled with this burning desire for long-term, if not permanent, political control in the United States, there was also the issue of economic control but with a cowed public and control over all three branches of government, economic control would be a very easy matter to accomplish.

It was well-known that the United States was in growing need of natural gas and, most especially oil. It was also less well known that the once-enormous Saudi fields were running dry and that Iraq had more oil than Saudi Arabia. Also, the Iraqi dictator, Hussein, had physically bombarded Israel during the Gulf War and he was viewed by that country as a great menace.

The strong, overly strong many asserted, influence Israel and its organs in the United States had was another factor in the plan. It was the gradual inclusion of top Israeli political and military leaders in the plan that allowed the Russian GRU to discover it.

Rove saw a brief, Bismarckian campaign against Iraq that would gain the United States access to that country’s oil and to establish even stronger ties with Israel and its domestic support of Republican policies. What was lacking was a casus belli, a cause for war. It was in this area that Bush and Cheney had excellent prospects.

Osama bin Ladin was the son of a very powerful Saudi businessman who had the highest level connections in his country and whose family activities were well-known to Cheney because of his tenure as head of Halliburton. The bin Ladins also had very good connections with George Bush and had invested heavily in his company, Arbusto.

Certain favors could then certainly be asked and, if everyone could see profit in them, granted. It is known that the great bulk of the actual 9/11 terrorists were Saudi citizens (1 Egyptian, two UAE, 1 Lebanese and 15 Saudis) and ordering them to attack the United States, again (there had been one unsuccessful attack on the WTC in 1993.

 

The Oil and Gas Wars in Central Asia

November 10, 2017

by Gregory Douglas

The overriding factor in current global politics is achieving energy security.

In Central Asia, this is called The Great Game, which comes from the writings of the British writer, Rudyard Kipling, who used this term in his 19th century novels about the British raj in India. At that time,

The Great Game was the struggle between the British and Russian empires for control of the Indian sub-continent.

The British had been quite successful in conquering and economically exploiting India but when the invaded neighboring Afghanistan, they became engaged in a series of wars with the indigenous tribes, wars which they lost three times and with heavy casualties. The tribal organizations of Afghanistan are such as to pose very dangerous threats to any invader, from Alexander the Great to the United States.

The current (2009 ed.) primary concerns for the United States vis a vis Afghanistan are with a projected Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline that has been projected to move 33 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year 1,680 kilometers  from the Dauletabad natural gas field in southeast Turkmenstan through southern Afghanistan, to Pakistan and terminating in Fazikka, India. This natural gas is intended for use by both Pakistan and India and Afghanistan will also use a smaller share

The search for reliable sources of oil, gas and electricity is one of the highest level priorities for much of the industrialized world and the chief beneficiary of such sources is the United States.

The old economic and military rivalries between Russia and the United States have reemerged in this struggle for oil and gas, The United States is no longer a major producer of these projects and Russia is now developing what is felt are huge sources. Also, fractional strife in Iraq, a potential source, and a strident, anti-American government in Iran, another source, are added to the fact that the once-enormous Saudi fields are rapidly being diminished.

From a geographic standpoint, Afghanistan between Pakistan and India makes it a natural link between the two while on its northern borders, Afghanistan connects with three of the five oil producing areas once under the control of the Soviet Union and who are now the scenes of a power struggle between the United States and Russia.

The Agency was successful, in its so-called “Orange Revolution,” in separating the energy-rich Ukraine from Russian control but the recent change of government in the United States has made this country vulnerable to on-going efforts on the part of Vladimir Putin to bring the Ukraine back into the Russian fold.

Turkmenstan’s gas reserves amount to approximately 8 trillion cubic meters of natural gas. Up to the present, Russia has been Turkmenstan’s main purchaser but attempts are now underway to convince the leaders of that country to shift their sales to the south; to India and Pakisatan.

For at least fifteen years, the Agency, under the direction of various Presidential orders, had been involved in getting a pipeline agreement in place that would move Turkmenstan’s natural gas to the south, away from Russia.

The current American military actions in Afghanistan are almost solely the strong desire to pacify that country to permit the construction of the vital pipeline. Both the Indian and Pakstani governments have expressed strong concerns about the security of the pipeline, given the active and very aggressive presence of the Taliban. Once thought to be greatly reduced in power due to American military actions, the withdrawal of American troops, never offset by the presence of token NATO forces, to fight in Iraq emboldened the Taliban which was partially based, tacitly, in Pakistan’s Northwest Provinces, and their return has presented serious problems about the future of this vital pipeline.

The removal of our man, Pervez Musharraf, from his strong control of the Pakistani military has, most unfortunately, given the Taliban the incentive to not only strengthen their hand against American forces but also, and most regrettably, to permit them to move into Pakistan itself and jeopardize the stability of that country.

While the Taliban was in control of Afghanistan, there were two major factors in the projected pipeline project. These were the American Unocal consortium and the Argentinian firm of Bridas. The United States, and the Agency, were in full support of Unocal and had been unofficially negotiating with the Taliban from 1997 to August of 2001.

Whereas the Bush administration saw the Taliban as a “natural and stable” partner for the pipeline, Bridas was negotiating with various local Afghanistan tribal entities.

When the U.S.negotiations with the Taliban broke down in August of 2001, the Saudi-based attacks of Deptember 11 caued a breakdown of the negotiations and using military force, the United States forced the Taliban out of power in Afghanistan and replaced them with Ganud Karzai, with the understanding that he would undertake to stabilize the Afghanistani political situation and permit the pipeline project to advance.

Karzai, a former consultant for Unocal, was duly elected the President of Afghanistan in 2004 but his government was largely ineffective and viewed by most Afghanistans as hopelessly corrupt and “a tool of the Americans.”

 

Retracing the Steps of Isis’s Worst-Ever Atrocity

November 7, 2017

by Patrick Cockburn

the Unz Review

It is one of the most shocking of many sadistic videos shot and publicised by Isis in which its gunmen are seen executing their victims. It shows scenes from the Camp Speicher massacre on 12 June 2014 when Isis murdered 1,700 army recruits in a former palace compound of Saddam Hussein on the banks of the Tigris river near Tikrit.

Columns of terrified young men are filmed being driven at gunpoint by masked Isis gunmen dressed in black towards mass graves which the victims can see are already filled with bodies. Others are beaten as they stumble down stone steps onto a small dock under a bridge on the Tigris. As each one is dragged forward by a guard, he is shot in the head by a man with a pistol so he falls into the water. The ground where the killings are taking place is covered in blood.

It is worth forcing oneself to look at this disgusting video again as Isis is driven by Iraqi security forces out of its last strongholds in the deserts of western Iraq. The movement, now defeated and almost eliminated, revelled in its cruelty and boasted of its mass killings in order to terrorise its opponents. The Camp Speicher massacre was its worst single atrocity in Iraq or Syria.

The slaughter of the young recruits happened a few days after Isis had unexpectedly captured Mosul; its militarily units were racing south towards Baghdad against little opposition as the Iraqi army disintegrated. Its gunmen were greeted by many Sunni as liberators in places like Tikrit, the city near which Saddam Hussein was born and grew up. It was here that as many as 10,000 army recruits were being trained at an air force academy. They were told to go home by their commanders who themselves fled in circumstances that still cause controversy and anger. The young men, who were from all over Iraq, changed into civilian clothes and those carrying weapons were told to leave them behind at the camp.

Isis gunmen captured many of the recruits as they walked along the roads heading home and divided them into Shia and Sunni before loading the Shia into trucks. It is not known when they realised they were going to die because many were told at first that they would be let go where they could get transport to Baghdad. Instead, they were taken to an area where Saddam Hussein had built several palaces where he and his family could enjoy a fine view across the Tigris. Some of the palaces were in ruins, shattered by US bombing, and the rest were abandoned.

The site of the killings may have been chosen because of its associations with Saddam Hussein. Hayder al-Baldawi, a member of a committee commemorating the massacre, says: “It was an act of revenge for the execution of Saddam and the fall of his regime. Many of the killers were identified later as coming from Tikrit, Baath party members and people from Saddam’s Albu Nasr tribe and other pro-Saddam tribes, who joined up with Isis.”

There are many massacre sites: on the flat ground by the river large pits have been excavated where the recruits were killed and their bodies covered with earth and stones. At one place, they were shot on top of a low cliff so the bodies fell in a heap on ground below. Another site is some way away, high up on a bluff overlooking the river, near Saddam Hussein’s giant ruined Salahudin palace, where today there is a stretch of rough ground and a deep hole with a tree in the middle distance on the edge of a cliff. We compared this to a still from the Isis propaganda video that shows the same tree, but the foreground is carpeted in dead bodies so numerous that one cannot see the ground. Many of the dead have their hands tied behind their backs and there is a black Isis flag in one corner of the picture.

A watchman pointed to a rock where he had just found a bit of blood-matted hair stuck to the side of a rock which he believed must date from the massacre.

It is not clear how many died: Isis claimed that it had killed 1,700, though the number of bodies so far identified is lower. Mr Baldawi says that “the Ministry of Health does not have enough money to pay for DNA kits, so bodies can be identified for certain”. He puts the number of dead at 1,935, of which 994 bodies have been found and, of these, 527 have been identified and 467 are under medical examination. In addition, some 941 are still missing, though these figures are difficult to verify because the search for the bodies only began in March 2015, eight months after the killings, when government forces recaptured Tikrit.

The search for the perpetrators of the massacre has gone on ever since with 36 alleged killers executed in August 2016 amid allegations that they had not received a fair trial. Defence lawyers were not able to speak to the accused and walked out. The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) issued a negative report on the conduct of the trial, saying that there had been a “failure to investigate allegations of torture”. Nevertheless, there have been no counter-massacres and the government and NGOs have made concerted efforts to get the Tikrit Sunni tribes to reconcile with the families of the victims.

Tribal leaders said that individuals from tribes had taken part in the massacre, but denied it was a communal Sunni attack on the Shia. They said that Sunni officials from Tikrit had also been targeted and killed by Isis. Some Sunni had helped Shia escape. Reconciliation is helped because Tikrit is wholly Sunni and members of the two sects are not intermingled as they are in other parts of Iraq, where neighbourhood revenge killings have been frequent. Tikrit, with a population of 160,000, looks relaxed and suffered only limited damage during its recapture compared to other Sunni cities like Ramadi and Mosul.

Identifying who on the government side was responsible for allowing so many unarmed Shia recruits to be captured remains a divisive political issue. Victims’ families want to know who were the senior officers who ran away, leaving their sons to be murdered by Isis. This is not just an issue between Shia and Sunni, but between Shia and Kurd, relations between the latter being particularly fraught in the wake of the government reoccupation in September of Kirkukand the disputed territories.

Nouri al-Maliki, the Prime Minister at the time of the killings, said in an interview with The Independent that he has a simple explanation for what happened: “In fact, the Speicher massacre occurred because the commander there was a Kurd and he received orders from [then-Kurdish President] Masoud Barzani to withdraw with his [Kurdish] men and they left everything in chaos and disorder and the massacre happened.”

This account has the advantage of excusing Mr Maliki and his government for any responsibility for the collapse of the Iraqi armed forces in the area which enabled Isis to slaughter so many young men.

 

Paradise Looted: How Sicily Became Ungovernable

Italy’s poorest region, Sicily, is the country’s problem child. Now it has elected a new government. To fix the island, it will have to overcome corruption and widespread Mafia control – and figure out how to convince its population not to leave.

November 10, 2017

by Walter Mayr

Spiegel

This land, a place where lemon trees bloom four times a year, is blessed with abundance — of sunshine, world cultural heritage sites, Greek temples, Byzantine frescoes, Arab art, sandy beaches and Michelin star

Sicily, a slice of paradise

But then come the statistics. More than one in five members of the working-age population is unemployed, and almost half of all island residents are either poor or at risk of poverty. Sicily seems wealthy, and yet is falling further and further behind, not just in comparison with industrialized northern Italy, but with the rest of the Mezzogiorno. The partially autonomous island, which was part of the “Magna Grecia” in ancient times, is now viewed as “Italy’s Greece,” the nation’s problem child.

Sicilians voted for a new regional government on Sunday Nov. 5, handing the victory to center-right candidate Nello Musumeci, who was backed by a coalition of three parties, including former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia. The anti-establishment Five-Star Movement came second, while the center-left Democratic Party, the party of former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, came in third – a bad omen for its results in next spring’s national elections.

But according to writer Pietrangelo Buttafuoco, it doesn’t matter who manages Sicily’s misery in the future. Buttafuoco claims the region, “with its budget deficit, high unemployment, exodus of young people and value creation lower than in the post-war period, not to mention corruption, crime and hunger,” is no longer governable. “It has to go into forced administration.”

And indeed, anyone who visits Sicily these days can see that Palermo’s splendid palaces barely conceal bitter poverty elsewhere in the city, or notice the slums of corrugated-metal huts in Messina and the dying cities in the interior. On the island, the main causes of a crisis that has gripped large parts of Italy are magnified.

In the Land of the Mafia

Sicily is Mafia country, and no one is more aware of this than Nino Di Matteo. The 56-year-old public prosecutor is Italy’s most endangered man. Because the Cosa Nostra wants to see him dead, Di Matteo has had around-the-clock protection for the last 23 years, with 42 officers working in shifts to provide his security in Palermo. With submachine guns over their shoulders, they follow Di Matteo wherever he goes. He also has bodyguards in Rome, where he was transferred in the summer, but he still spends his weekends in Sicily. And more importantly, he remains the prosecutor in a trial here intended to clarify the extent to which the government accommodated members of the Mafia in the 1990s, a case to which he is especially devoted.

This afternoon he is traveling in a convoy on his way to Palermo. An advance guard checks the scheduled route, to be followed a few minutes later by three Jeeps and Di Matteo’s armored limousine. The car has a feature usually seen only in war-torn regions: a jamming transmitter to prevent remote-controlled detonations. Top Mafia leaders have supposedly taken out several contracts to kill the prosecutor. According to wiretapped conversations, they want to see him slaughtered “like tuna” and “taken around the corner.” Some 150 kilograms of explosives have reportedly been delivered to Palermo already.

“I have been deprived of all freedom in my life,” says the prosecutor, after reaching his office in the palace of justice. “I have to notify my escort before I open the door of my house in the morning. I feel as if I can’t breathe. I would so much like to take a walk alone.” He lives like a hardened criminal with a bounty on his head.

Although the days when blood-soaked bodies lay in the streets of Palermo are gone, the fight against the Mafia is far from won. The Sicilian Cosa Nostra is merely pursuing a different strategy. Instead of fighting the government with weapons, it is infiltrating it. As it invests money in the legitimate economy, it makes greater inroads into society.

“The Mafia has its roots here in the south, but it is eating its fill in the north,” says Leoluca Orlando. The large man, a lawyer who is now mayor of Palermo, was in the same position in the 1980s as Di Matteo is today: at the top of the Cosa Nostra’s hit list. It’s been 32 years since he was first elected mayor of the city, but Orlando is still fighting for a different Palermo – for transparency, public spirit and resistance to organized crime. He had a banner attached to the city hall that, to this day, reads: “Palermo Supports Di Matteo.” It’s a courageous move in a city where keeping quiet improves one’s chances of survival.

The Sicilian metropolis is “a Middle Eastern city on European soil, more Tripoli than Frankfurt,” says Orlando, sitting in his office. But the mayor, who studied in Heidelberg and has lived in Paris, wants to change that. He ran for reelection in the summer with that goal – and won. He wants Palermo to become “an island on the island,” an exception to the Sicilian rule calling as few changes as possible, says Orlando. “This is our only chance to survive.”

The combined revenues of all Italian Mafia organizations are estimated at about a tenth of the country’s gross domestic product. Now that prostitution and the drug trade are also counted as part of GDP, the Mafia’s share is likely to be even bigger. Organized crime is more entrenched than ever in society and the local economy. The Cosa Nostra even makes money on the rental cars used by crews shooting films about the Mafia in Sicily, as well as the sandwiches the film workers eat.

“I see the Mafia as Italy’s cardinal problem, even without the bodies,” says prosecutor Di Matteo. “The expansion of their methods and money into the legal economy harms our democracy.”

The prosecutor witnesses this outside his own front door in downtown Palermo, where his house is as heavily protected as a foreign embassy in terror-ravaged cities like Baghdad or Kabul. Di Matteo’s neighborhood belongs to the territory of a Mafia family that smoothly communicates its demands for protection money known to business owners, with the following message: “If it suits you, at Easter or Christmas, I will send someone to visit you and you, within your means, may make him a small gift.”

For a bar owner in Di Matteo’s neighborhood, this “gift” amounts to a 6,000-euro (6,960-dollar) reduction in annual profits. Many businesses are no longer able to pay the protection money, some are now unwilling to do so. Stickers from the Addiopizzo organization are now displayed in more than 1,000 shop windows in and around Palermo. The organization encourages consumers to shop in businesses that refuse to pay the “pizzo,” or protection money.

The struggle against organized crime in Sicily invokes some important role models. May marked the 25th anniversary of the deadly bombing attack on public prosecutor Giovanni Falcone. Falcone and his colleague Paolo Borsellino, who was later murdered, and at whose coffin Di Matteo held a vigil, pushed ahead with trials that eventually brought hundreds of Mafia bosses a combined 2,665 years in prison.

Since 2013, Di Matteo has been fighting the battle of his life in the same “bunker” where the trials were then held under the tightest possible security. He and his colleagues are prosecuting a spectacular case in which the Italian government is essentially taking itself to court. The goal is to prove that, starting in 1992, politicians and civil servants made concessions to the Mafia in an effort to put an end to the bloodshed.

In other words, that the proud Repubblica Italiana gave in to mass murderers.

Di Matteo is convinced that there was an agreement between Mafia bosses like Totò Riina and government representatives, and that this original sin of the republic should be atoned for. “If politicians and members of the police or intelligence services served as go-betweens to the Mafia and passed on their extortion attempts,” he says, the public, and particularly the family members of those who were murdered, have a right to learn the truth.

Di Matteo, a hero and source of hope for many Sicilians, is clearly an irritation to those in power. Sometimes, when the surveillance cameras are switched off, unwanted mail is delivered directly to his desk, including “threatening letters intended to show that they know exactly where I am.”

Di Matteo’s home address in Palermo, where he is protected by 42 bodyguards, is in the phone book. No one felt it necessary to delete the entry.

Imperative Emigration

Sicily is a land of emigrants. The island has the highest emigration rate in Italy, with one in seven Sicilians now living abroad. Agrigent Province is the most strongly affected. It is home to the Valley of Temples, a site near the sea with 2,500-year-old sanctuaries from the Greek period, one of five UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Sicily.

But business from foreign tourists has recently declined by more than a third. Sicily is a jewel that needs to be dusted off, says Giuseppe Parello, director of the archeology park in the Valley of Temples. In 2016, he had a Google Camp built at the base of the Concordia Temple, a luxury workshop for business executives and guests like the queen of Jordan and actress Angelina Jolie.

As he stands there and talks about his plans, an elegant man standing among the ruins of a monumental Doric temple, Parello offers an unusually large number of ideas by Sicilian standards. “In an industrial desert like Sicily, we need to give young people the opportunities to stay here,” he says. “We Sicilians are very attached to our soil.”

But with youth unemployment on the island at 57 percent, something has to happen. Since assuming his position, Parello has doubled the park’s revenues and generated new income by selling local products like wine, olives and almonds. According to the director, the “fast-food tourism” that has afflicted Sicily until now merely dooms the island’s world heritage sites to remain what they are today: “Cathedrals in the desert.”

With those words, he gets into his car and drives into the industrial wasteland outside Agrigent, a landscape of warehouses and abandoned factories, practically devoid of people. After 15 kilometers, Parello stops the car in Aragona, where he lives.

Aragona, formerly a city of sulfur workers, has been more severely affected by emigration than any other city in Italy. Of the official population of 17,954, about half now live abroad. Guest workers used to send home money to add additional floors to their homes, but many of those buildings are now fully or partially empty. In good times, residents built their homes with one floor per child. But the children are no longer returning to Aragona. Sicily has little to offer them. Today the ground floors of houses are occupied by old people, with pigeons on the upper floors.

The city has a middle school, three pharmacies and a handful of bars, and one restaurant on Via Roma. Dozens of refugees from sub-Saharan Africa are housed in the old palace of the Duke of Naselli on the piazza.

Nino Seviroli serves as the memory of this dying city. The singer, actor, anarchist and philanthropist is the city’s librarian. His songs are about the history of Aragona. It is sad when someone has no choice but to emigrate, but not every change is a loss, says Seviroli, as he drives his Fiat toward the rust-colored slag heaps of the sulfur mines, empty furnaces and blasting towers high above the city.

When the last mines were closed in the 1960s and the miners moved on to the coal fields of northern Europe, Seviroli took his guitar and left, too. He made music with Jacques Brel in Belgium, acted under the direction of Andrea Camilleri in Rome and got to know another part of the world. Since then, he has been more critical than ever of the slow pace of change in Sicily.

“We have sulfur mines, conservation areas, Nobel laureates and Greek temples. We have something to show for ourselves, and yet what happens? Practically nothing,” says Seviroli. “This city will cease to exist, because for anyone with any skills at all, emigrating is not a choice but an imperative.”

Paradise Looted

Sicily may be the land of the Mafia and emigration, but it’s also a land of milk and honey. At least for politicians like Francantonio Genovese, nicknamed the “King of Messina.” In January, he was sentenced to 11 years in prison for forming a criminal organization, money laundering and fraud. Genovese, together with his wife, brother-in-law and sister-in-law, allegedly collected millions in EU funds earmarked for vocational training programs. The indictment mentions “completely fabricated services and overinflated invoices,” as well as an unprecedented lack of remorse. “They considered themselves immune,” the prosecutors write.

Genovese’s story says a lot about Sicily, and about the ways in which this “paradise” is being looted. It illustrates the impotence of ordinary people, the greed of the political class and the power of dynasties. Genovese’s father was a senator and an uncle served eight terms as a cabinet minister in Rome. Genovese himself was a member of the Italian parliament’s commission of inquiry into the Mafia. “There is no area, no space, no corner in the administration or in the corridors of power” where the Genoveses did not exert control, the prosecutors write in their indictment.

But Francantonio Genovese isn’t locked up in the Gazzi Prison in Messina, where he was confined before his trial. In fact, he is currently standing at the counter of the bar in the Italian parliament, where he has ordered tea, a croissant and a glass of orange juice, sustenance for another day as a representative of the people. Genovese has changed parties seven times and recently left Renzi’s Democratic Party to join the Berlusconi camp. He is permitted to occupy seat number 536 at the Palazzo Montecitorio, which houses the Italian chamber of deputies, participate in debates and collect his parliamentary salary until his appeal trial is over. By the time a final judgement is handed down in Italy, corruption offenses have almost always reached the statute of limitations.

It is hard to say if Genovese feels guilty, or plans to give up his seat in parliament. He refuses to answer questions, in person, by telephone or in writing.

The politician is accused of tax evasion to the tune of 16 million euros. Tax evasion is a Sicilian national sport. The tax authorities have amassed 52 billion euros in outstanding tax receivables since 2006, a sum that would cover the island’s budget for three years. In a major raid, investigators seized the following luxury vehicles from the tax evaders: 33 Ferraris, 119 Porsches, 49 Jaguars, 17 Maseratis, 2 Rolls-Royces, 3 Cadillacs, 4 Hummers – and one private jet.

In addition to lacking revenues, Sicily also faces inflated government spending. The island spends six times as much on its public servants as the larger and much wealthier Lombardy region. Sicily, which has enjoyed a special status since 1948, receives generous subsidies from Rome and enjoys extensive political, cultural and economic autonomy. This has resulted in a bloated bureaucracy and politicians enjoying generous benefits. After attending only five sessions of the local parliament, a lawmaker in Palermo has already earned the right to a monthly salary of 2,000 euros for the rest of his or her life. Sicily’s special status in debt-ridden Italy is a constitutionally watertight encouragement to do nothing.

Politician Genovese, who denies all allegations, is currently facing new charges of having developed a Mafia-like system in his hometown of Messina, where minor public contracts were traded for votes. Three-month contracts were allegedly awarded in exchange for 10 votes for Genovese and his people.

In the Giostra district, where the descendants of victims of a 1908 earthquake live in miserable shacks surrounded by stables and Madonna shrines, the Genovese camp received an above-average share of the vote. According to the prosecution, some voters were “so desperate that a bag of groceries” was enough to buy their vote. In the primary elections for the Democratic Party in 2012, Genovese was the candidate with the highest share of votes in all of Italy. From his luxury beachfront estate north of Messina, the lawmaker enjoys a view of the mainland across the water. A mega project, the 3.3-kilometer “ponte sullo stretto” bridge which would tie eccentric Sicily more closely to the mainland, across straits shrouded in legend since the days of Homer, would extend from the mainland to somewhere near Genovese’s estate.

There is talk of 8 billion euros in construction costs and a deeply symbolic bridging of the gap to the “continent,” as the Sicilians call it. But the project, a topic of discussion for the last century and a half and approved by the parliament in 1971, is not making any progress. Genovese, the “King of Messina,” doesn’t mind. His family holding company earns millions from ferry operations across the Strait of Messina. But it would also benefit greatly from a suspension bridge project worth billions.

Arrangements have even been made for the unlikely event that Genovese is sent to prison. On Nov. 5 his 21-year-old son Luigi was elected to the Sicilian parliament, representing the Berlusconi camp. In his first major appearance, the young Genovese said that he was proud of his father, and that he intended to continue in his footsteps.

 

 

 

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