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No. 966: July 2018 Retail Sales, Industrial Production, Housing Starts, Building Permits, Freight

(SGS Subscription required) • Recent Sizzle Has Fizzled
• Financial-Market and Economic Prospects Remain Far Shy of the Hype and Headlines, Amidst Tanking Consumer Optimism and Negative Revisions to Recent Reporting
• July 2018 Real Retail Sales Unchanged Net of Downside Revisions to May and June
• July Housing Starts and Components Revised Lower, with Deepening Downtrends and Quarterly Contractions
• New Residential Construction Activity Held Shy of Recovering Pre-Recession Highs: July Housing Starts by 49.1% (-49.1%), Single-Unit Starts by 53.2% (-53.2%), Multiple-Unit Starts by 32.4% (-32.4%), Building Permits by 42.1% (-42.1%)
• July Manufacturing Showed a Modest Increase on Top of Upside Revisions, Still Holding Shy by 5.0% (-5.0%) of Recovering Its Pre-Recession Peak, Setting a Record 127-Consecutive Months of Economic Non-Expansion
• Common Experience and Realistic Estimates Show the Is Not Exploding, Holding Well Shy of Recovering Its 2007 Peak
• Nonetheless, Real Aggregate Activity Remains Off Its 2009 Bottom, Growing Both Quarter-to-Quarter and Year-to-Year, Since Second-Quarter 2017
• Deteriorating Consumer and Systemic Liquidity, Intensify Economic Risks; Federal Reserve Tightening Policies and Oil-Driven Inflation Threaten a Fragile, Nascent Recovery

This Week Showed Internet Censorship Is As Much A Threat To The Left As The Right

Authored by Danielle Ryan via,

The banning of right wing controversialist Alex Jones from multiple social media platforms last week was a cause of celebration for many liberals, but should those on the left really be so complacent about creeping censorship?

So far, the evidence suggest that there is indeed plenty for the left to worry about when it comes to corporations like Facebook and Twitter and their alliances with government censors.

1. Facebook censorship of Venezuelan news

In May, Facebook partnered with the Atlantic Council in an effort to weed out “inauthentic content” on the platform. This organization is funded by various NATO governments and a slew of arms manufacturers like Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. Its board includes names like Henry Kissinger and former CIA director Michael Hayden — and it has consistently lobbied for regime change in Syria and, you guessed it, Venezuela, where it has funnelled large amounts of money into pro-opposition groups for years.

So, it’s no surprise that weeks after Facebook partnered up with this less-than-objective group, it deleted from its platform the page belonging to top English-language, left-leaning Latin American news outlet Telesur without any explanation at all. The page was restored two days later, with Facebook citing vague “instability on the platform” as the cause of the block.

Telesur just so happens to be one of the only major outlets reporting on events in Venezuela in a manner that goes against the US government position and US mainstream media perspective — so obviously, out with Alex Jones it must go.

It wasn’t just Telesur, though. Facebook deleted the pages belonging to independent grassroots Venezuela Analysis and Haiti Analysis, which are also leftist websites highly critical of US foreign policy in Latin America and the Caribbean region.

Facebook’s shuttering of @telesurenglish ‘s page comes days after it did the same to @venanalysis page w/o explanation. The latest outgrowth of FB’s Orwellian partnership w/ the Atlantic Council. ICMYI, @MaxBlumenthal discussed it w/ me on @TheRealNews :

— Aaron Maté (@aaronjmate) August 14, 2018

2. Facebook complying with Israeli deletion orders

Last year, journalist Glenn Greenwald reported that Facebook met with Israeli government officials to determine which Palestinian activists should have their accounts deleted. The Israeli government threatened to enact laws forcing Facebook to comply with its deletion orders if it did not do so voluntarily.

Of course, Facebook capitulated immediately and set about deleting accounts owned by Palestinian activists. Of some 158 requests submitted (over just four months) by Tel Aviv to Facebook asking for the removal of Palestinian content, 95 percent of them were granted. According to the same Intercept report,  Facebook hasn’t been overly concerned about what Israelis themselves are saying on Facebook and even calls for murder can be ignored by the social media giant.

3. Google and Facebook censorship of left/socialist websites

The World Socialist Web Site reported last year that changes to Google’s algorithms had seriously negatively impacted left-wing socialist and anti-war websites. An analysis by WSWS found that 13 such websites had seen their traffic plunge by a whopping 55 percent in the six months since Google had changed its algorithms. WSWS itself experienced a 74 percent drop in traffic between April and July last year. The changes also affected sites like Alternet, which saw its traffic plunge by 71 percent between April and September, Democracy Now (50 percent drop) and (49 percent drop).

Similarly, Police the Police (a page dedicated to exposing US police brutality) and the Free Thought Project (which focuses on government transparency) also saw their Facebook page traffic tank in 2018 after Facebook made changes to its newsfeed and search algorithms in an effort to combat “fake news”. PTP traffic dropped from between 12-15 million people per week to about 4 million — and the website had to fire its writing staff as a result. “The left is cheering this on, when historically the left is usually the side cheering for free speech,” PTP founder Jason Bassler told Mic.

Amidst all of the celebration over the banning of Jones, some on the left cautioned that in fact, the left may indeed be the“real target” in all of this — and that those celebrating while people like Jones are banned are in fact being “conditioned”into accepting further censorship down the road.

As we have been trying to tell you the real target for neoliberal corporate censorship was always the left. Now that they have conditioned public to accept it as a result of Russiagate, the left is in their crosshairs.

— Ajamu Baraka (@ajamubaraka) August 13, 2018

4. Legitimate left-wing protests targeted?

A particularly strange example of Facebook’s commitment to banning “fake news” and promoting a nice, cozy atmosphere for everyone online is its decision to delete event pages for anti-racist and anti-fascist protests happening in Washington D.C.

The “No Unite the Right 2-DC” event (a counter-rally against a previous white nationalist event in the city) was taken down after Facebook decided it displayed some “coordinated inauthentic behavior” (the kind of random phrase that can no doubt be arbitrarily applied to anything without explanation).

The event organizer said in a statement: “This is a real protest in Washington, D.C. It is not George Soros. It is not Russia. It is just us.”

5. Twitter suspending and banning anti-war activists

Twitter has come under fire recently for “shadowbanning” conservative accounts, making them harder to find on the platform and having their tweets appear less prominently in people’s feeds in an effort to limit their audience. But again, it’s not just the right.

Twitter recently suspended the accounts of Daniel McAdams, the executive director of the libertarian and antiwar Ron Paul Institute and Scott Horton, the editor of the website. Explaining what happened, McAdams said that he and Horton were suspended after defending former US diplomat Peter Van Buren who had just been banned permanently from Twitter after heated exchanges with journalist Jonathan M. Katz over what Van Buren said was his “unwillingness to challenge government lies”. In one of his tweets to Katz, Buren sarcastically commented: “I hope a MAGA guy eats your face”. Katz reported him for “promoting violence” and Twitter later caved and removed Buren’s account.

A note from Peter Van Buren @wemeantwell and a screenshot of the boo hoo little bitch who tattled on him.

— Scott Horton (@scotthortonshow) August 6, 2018

In explaining his suspension, Twitter told McAdams that he could not “promote violence against, threaten, or harass other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or serious disease” — none of which he accepts that he did.

*  *  *

Perhaps the really amazing thing about all of this is that it is happening in front of our eyes and the powers that be are not even bothering to lie about it. Elected US officials are openly promoting this kind of censorship as a way to prevent the“sowing of discord” among populations. At a Senate Judiciary Committee last year about “Extremist Content and Russian Disinformation Online,” Democratic Hawaii Senator Mazie Hirono called on social media platforms to prove their commitment to preventing “the fomenting of discord” online.

Working hand-in-glove with governments, corporations like Facebook have been handed enormous power to decide what constitutes free speech and which opinions are worthy of being heard. How long will it be before people realize banning Alex Jones wasn’t really a victory at all?

Danielle Ryan

How The Hell Did A Teenager Hack Apple’s Secured Servers?

An Australian teenager whose name has been withheld is facing serious charges by authorities over massive data breach of Apple’s secured network.

Apple said on Friday no customer information was compromised after Australian media reported a boy, 16, from the southern city of Melbourne, hacked into the world’s most valuable company from his parent’s basement many times over the last year, The Age newspaper reported, citing statements by the teenager’s lawyer in Children’s Court. He was summoned to a Melbourne court on Thursday.

Apple contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation which launched a major international investigation, The Age said, quoting statements made in court. The FBI then passed the case to the Australian Federal Police (AFP), where they later tracked down the teen and found software that had enabled the hacking.

The AFP raided the teen’s family home in Melbourne and seized two laptops, a mobile phone, and a hard drive. Court documents said the teenage hacker stored 90 gigabytes of Apple secured files and customer accounts in a folder titled “hacky hack hack,” the newspaper said. Authorities also said he readily spoke about his illegal activities on Facebook-owned instant messenger WhatsApp.

Here is what the court heard:

“Two Apple laptops were seized and the serial numbers matched the serial numbers of the devices which accessed the internal systems,” a prosecutor said.

“A mobile phone and hard drive were also seized and the IP address … matched the intrusions into the organization.

“The purpose was to connect remotely to the company’s internal systems.”

The teen’s lawyer told the courtroom his client had become so popular in the international hacking community that even mentioning the case in detail could expose him and his family to unwanted risk.

Crown Prosecutors also acknowledged that Apple was “very sensitive about publicity,” as it seems the story has not been widely reported.

An Apple spokesman said this in a statement to Guardian Australia:

“At Apple, we vigilantly protect our networks and have dedicated teams of information security professionals that work to detect and respond to threats,” said the spokesman.

“In this case, our teams discovered the unauthorized access, contained it, and reported the incident to law enforcement. We regard the data security of our users as one of our greatest responsibilities and want to assure our customers that at no point during this incident was their personal data compromised.”

Dr. Suelette Dreyfus, a expert from the University of Melbourne’s school of computing and information systems, urged against jailtime. “I have researched a number of teen hacker cases internationally,” Dreyfus told Guardian Australia.

“Almost all these teens grew out of the technology boundary-pushing of their youth, and then went on to live useful lives and contributing to society. Putting them in prison is often a waste of that potential. “Young people often make mistakes when they are exploring and rule-breaking especially online – including boasting about their exploits. It’s not right, but for tech teens, it can be a part of growing up … there’s usually a really worried teen and family at the end of this sort of court case.”

Both AFP and Melbourne court declined to comment on the matter when asked by Guardian Australia. Reports indicate the teenager would be sentenced next month on September 20.

So we ask a difficult question: How the hell did a teenager hack the world’s most valuable company and steal customer data? Apple has a lot of explaining to do…

How US Sugar Subsidies Bring A ‘Red Tide’ Of Algae To Florida’s Shores

Authored by Mark Thornton via The Mises Institute,

ABC News reports that “Toxic red tide blooms are creeping up Florida’s west coast, killing marine life and irritating humans.” The red (or maroonish) tide is truly a nasty problem that I have experienced first-hand in the form of a ruined vacation.

It is a potentially toxic algae to wildlife when it occurs in high concentrations. The Karenia brevis algae can be a threat to fish, birds, and even manatee. At least 92 manatees have been killed so far and at least one whale shark! This creates conditions at the beach of discolored water, dead fish, and a horrible smell. Tourists are adversely affected as well as local businesses.

The algae are a natural phenomenon that has been known of for almost two centuries. However, the harmful “blooms” have occurred much more often and in more places in recent decades. More recently, it has been plaguing southwest Florida beaches since November 2017 and is now particularly bad over a larger area.

I was recently attacked on Facebook for explaining all the benefits we would receive if we reduced the number of regulators and their budgets, i.e., fewer unnecessary regulatory restrictions on businesses and resource owners, less spending and taxes, more resources in the productive economy, and more entrepreneurship to name the primary ones.

My “friend” wrote that if we reduced the number of regulators, who would protect him from all the various perceived evils, including the red tide at the Florida coast. I replied to him, in part, that we pay for over 100,000 regulators for financial markets and they did not protect us from the financial crisis, that BP’s deep-water oil rigs are extremely highly regulated (in fact they would not be drilling in deep water at all if not for regulations!), and in fact, EPA rules and regulators are there to protect the interests of polluters and to block citizens from protecting themselves in court. That was the end of the conversation.

Back to the story. Actually, this is an old story that I most recently I wrote about 4 ½ years ago. There is an easy answer to why this red tide problem is growing increasingly worse, as well as having an easy solution. There is no need to create a Red Tide Project to do declare a War on Red Tide.

The Red Tide starts as natural growth of the “bad algae” dozens of miles off shore near the continental shelf. That algae can then drift toward shore and enter brackish water inlets. The blooms are not stimulated in open circulating waters. However, they are stimulated to grow and get bigger in the presence of manmade nutrients, such as fertilizers that have run into water sources from agricultural production all over the Gulf of Mexico.

In contrast, if the water in the Gulf is circulating well, then it brings more natural nutrients to the coastline. These nutrients feed other types of green “good algae” which keeps the Red Tide in check. In other words, mother nature can keep the problem in check.

However, when water circulation is down and fertilizer runoff is in play, you have a problem. A multi-billion-dollar problem.

Though other factors play a role in the algae bloom crises, one of the most significant involves the sugar industry. A combination of federal sugar subsidies, federal regulations on pollution, and federal control of Lake Okeechobee (a giant lake in southern Florida) runoff guidelines has created a recipe for disaster.

The federal sugar subsidy prevents Americans from buying sugar from Cuba and other sources. This means that we have to produce our own sugar and that we pay the world’s highest price for sugar. It also means that we grow sugar and sugar substitutes in a high-cost fashion using a lot of fertilizer!

According to ABC News:

Once the red tide is inshore, the algae can grow even more using man-made nutrients, such as fertilizer.

“The increase in runoff may likely exacerbate an existing bloom,” Weisberg said.

Earlier this week, Florida Gov. Rick Scott called for the FWC and FDEP to “mobilize all available resources” to address the impacts of the red tide.

On Friday, Scott blamed the cause of the blooms on “the federal government releasing water from Lake Okeechobee.”

“For too long, Floridians have had to deal with harmful algal blooms caused by the federal government releasing water from Lake Okeechobee into our rivers and coastal estuaries,” Scott said in a press release.

So, there you have it. Federal rules, regulations, and regulators are the cause. The federal sugar subsidy has created a massive increase in fertilizer use in agriculture in southern Florida and in other states, such as Louisiana. The EPA protects farmers and others who dump chemicals into the water by setting protection “limits,” and then federal officials dump excessive pollutants into our water ways and we have no recourse against them.

I think the solutions are simple and straightforward. End the sugar subsidies and the EPA and its protection limits. Restore the right of the people to sue polluters that cause demonstrable harm.

Not The Onion: Southwest To Allow Miniature Horses As ‘Emotional Support Animals’

Southwest Airlines has revamped their policy for travelers who need to fly with unconventional “emotional support animals,” following similar moves by JetBlue, United, American and Delta – which have all cracked down on those traveling with everything from motherfu*king therapy snakes, to supportive spiders, to peacocks trained to stow one’s emotional baggage. Cats and dogs are still allowed. 

One animal Southwest hasn’t restricted, however, is miniature horses. Because why not? 

Each passenger will be allowed one Emotional Support Animal (ESA) – which we imagine will be the ultimate Sophie’s Choice for those hoping to smuggle their emotional ant farms past security. Also, a note from a licensed medical doctor or mental health professional will be required on the day of departure. 

For everyone not bringing an emotional support cat, dog, or miniature horse – looks like you’re just going to have to go to your happy place – or take a road trip.