Extinction Rebellion climate extremists shut down London public transit

In the latest evolution of the far-left’s extremism, April 15 saw the start of three days of protests that ground London to a halt, affecting more than 500,000 people. Over a thousand Extinction Rebellion (XR) campaigners threatened to bring the British capital city of London to a standstill for up to two weeks.

Extinction Rebellion is the latest in vogue protest movement for climate change activists. It has grown into an international movement backed by left-wing celebrities, academics, and writers by calling for “radical change in order to minimise the risk of human extinction and ecological collapse”. Activists in at least 80 cities in more than 33 countries will hold similar demonstrations on environmental issues, campaigners said.

Extinction Rebellion protestors blocked busy London roads and bridges, spray-painted government buildings, glued themselves to a DLR train at Canary Wharf, and chained and glued themselves to buildings, including the gates of Buckingham Palace. Semi-naked activists had previously glued themselves to windows in the public gallery of the House of Commons during a Brexit debate. The following day, two dozen protesters occupied the International Criminal Court in the Hague, in the Netherlands. “Only a peaceful planet-wide mobilisation of the scale of the Second World War will give us a chance to avoid the worst-case scenarios,” and “the world has “run out of the luxury of time to react incrementally” Extinction Rebellion campaigners said.

Police arrested more than 300 Extinction Rebellion protestors while London Mayor Sadiq Khan attempted to ingratiate himself with them, diverting attention from intense and ongoing criticism of his poor response to London’s knife crime epidemic. The former Labour MP and London mayor said that the “climate change emergency” was a “top priority” for City Hall and reiterated his “passion” for peaceful protest as “the cornerstone of our democracy”. West End businesses complained of a GBP 12 million loss in sales while Mayor Khan professed his “full respect” for the anarchists.

Mayor Khan attended last month’s march for a second Brexit referendum, and likened the climate protesters to suffragettes, declaring, “I was at a protest myself a few weeks ago, protesting, campaigning and lobbying on whether the public should have a final say on staying in the union and given the option of what parliament’s voted for.” The upcoming mayoral election takes place in May next year. Mayor Khan’s mayoral rival, Conservative candidate Shaun Bailey, said, “The Mayor is telling law-abiding Londoners their interests come second to those who shout loudest and disrupt the most.

Despite their claims that they are proponents of non-violent civil disobedience, on Monday, Extinction Rebellion protesters vandalised Shell’s headquarters, gluing themselves to windows and smashing glass revolving doors, causing more than GBP 6,000 of damage and enabling them to have a platform in front of a jury trial in Crown Court. Now, according to Extinct Rebellion’s legal advice, some of the protesters will soon be citing Mayor Khan’s “climate change emergency” rhetoric in their defence.

Extinction Rebellion says direct action is needed to force governments to act urgently on climate change and wildlife declines and halt a “sixth mass extinction”. Their demands include the declaration of an ecological emergency, greenhouse gases to be brought to net zero by 2025, and the creation of a citizens’ assembly to lead action on the environment. Extinction Rebellion says the systems propping up “modern consumer-focused lifestyles” will lead to mass water shortages, crop failures, sea level rises, and the displacement of millions. Extinction Rebellion says it wants “ecocide”, the deliberate destruction of the natural environment, to be listed alongside crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide and crimes of aggression.

1,500 people showed up to Extinction Rebellion’s first protest on October 31 last year on Parliament Square in London. The group later claimed that over the next several weeks “Six thousand of us converged on London to peacefully block five major bridges across the Thames.” Extinction Rebellion claims to have chapters in dozens of countries, including the United Kingdom, the United States, the Solomon Islands, Australia, Spain, South Africa, and India.

Extinction Rebellion professes to be about climate change but in reality, is the latest rebranding and marketing campaign of Marxism. Their manifesto, published on their website, gives their game away. The tactics, slogans, and the general behaviour of the Marxist protesters exactly echoes that of the anti-globalisation protests of the early 2000s.

Beyond their climate focus, Extinction Rebellion demands the end of interest-bearing loans and to bring down the global economy with it. They want to disrupt and destroy. global capitalism and know the term ‘Marxism’ isn’t going to get the results they want, so they dress their agenda up as ‘environmentalism’ to tempt useful idiots to join their cause. In fact, Extinction Rebellion don’t admit the obvious fact that renewable energy needs capital and therefore investors who issue interest-bearing loans.

President Trump celebrates his victory with the release of the Mueller Report

After nearly two years of investigation into possible Russian interference in the 2016 United States’ Presidential election the results of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report were made public Thursday morning to Congress and the general public. As Attorney General Bill Barr declared last month, its results show that investigators did not find evidence of collusion between the 2016 Trump campaign and Russia.

 Ahead of the report’s release, President Donald Trump posted a tweet and graphic inspired by Game of Thrones that read “No collusion, no obstruction. For the haters and the radical left Democrats...GAME OVER.” Earlier in the day, he declared the probe to be “The Greatest Political Hoax of all time!

During a press conference ahead of the report's release, Attorney General William Barr told reporters that the Mueller team found no evidence of collusion. "So that is the bottom line," Attorney General Barr said, "After nearly two years of investigation, thousands of subpoenas, and hundreds of warrants and witness interviews, the Special Counsel confirmed that the Russian government sponsored efforts to illegally interfere with the 2016 presidential election but did not find that the Trump campaign or other Americans colluded in those schemes."

The report had looked at ten episodes related to the allegations of obstruction of justice, including: “The campaign's response to reports about Russian support for Trump; Conduct involving FBI Director Comey and Michael Flynn; The President's reaction to the continuing Russia investigation; The President's termination of Comey; The appointment of a Special Counsel and efforts to remove him;  Efforts to Curtail the Special Counsel's investigation; Efforts to prevent public disclosure of evidence; Further efforts to have the Attorney General take control of the investigation; and Conduct toward Flynn, Manafort, [REDACTED]; conduct involving Michael Cohen.

The Justice Department’s public version of the 48-page report included redactions consistent with Attorney General Barr’s plan to black out portions of the document, including grand jury material, information the intelligence community believes would reveal intelligence sources and methods, any material that could interfere with ongoing prosecutions, and information that could implicate the privacy or reputational interests of “peripheral players.” The redactions in the report were color-coded, labeled with the reasoning behind each redaction, with categories including "grand jury material," "personal privacy," "investigative technique," and "harm to ongoing matter."

Although Attorney General Barr's Department of Justice determined they did not have evidence to pursue an obstruction case, the Democrats' demanded to see the unredacted report and have Mr. Mueller testify, citing the section that reads, "[W]hile this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him." House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler tweeted, "This is exactly why we need to hear directly from Special Counsel Mueller and receive the full, unredacted report with the underlying evidence."

Report’s Findings

The Justice Department appointed Mr. Mueller on May 17, 2017 for the investigation that took 675 days, or 22 months, concluding on March 22, 2019. There were 13 Democrats on the Mueller team. Mr. Mueller ultimately indicted, convicted, or got guilty pleas from 34 people and three companies.

The total cost of the investigation is still unknown. So far, Mr. Mueller’s office has released three expenditures statements. Direct and indirect costs totaled USD $25.2 million from May 17, 2017 through September 30, 2018. Mr. Mueller turned in a proposed budget to the Department of Justice in July 2017, but officials declined to make it public, instead committing to releasing reports of the team’s expenditures every six months.

The report said, “[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities,” while also saying there were "links" between the two. “While the investigation identified numerous links between individuals with ties to the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump Campaign, the evidence was not sufficient to support criminal charges. Among other things, the evidence was not sufficient to charge any Campaign official as an unregistered agent of the Russian government or other Russian principal,” the Special Counsel report stated.

Ultimately, the report shows Russian social media interference was limited and not pervasive. The St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency, which is financed by Yevgeny Prigozhin, purchased 3,500 Facebook ads. The expenditure cost the IRA USD $100,000, according to the report. On Twitter, the IRA was responsible for 3,814 accounts, which were responsible for posting about 175,993 tweets before the start of the election. Approximately 84 percent of those tweets were election related. Twitter said it contacted about 1.4 million people who it believed were in contact with the IRA-controlled accounts.

The New Investigations

Former FBI Assistant Director Mark Morgan said he believes the investigation by the Inspector General into the origins of the Russia probe will uncover the motives from past high ranking members of the bureau and it’s something that every American citizen should want to see as well. Mr. Morgan worked in the Bureau for more than 20 years, including a 3-year stint as the Assistant Director to the FBI’s training division. On Thursday, he said that part of the FBI re-building its reputation after the last two years requires going back to see if past leaders had an agenda against President Trump. “We need to look at how this started. We need to look at the actions of these top leaders,” he said, “We need to look at the adequacy of the predication – the motives behind the actors. I mean, we are talking about high powers of position.

From President Trump’s standpoint, the FBI Director and Deputy Director had mishandled the Hillary Clinton email investigation and he saw the same people wasting taxpayer money on a politically-motivated investigation into a baseless conspiracy theory. The report’s findings clarified that Mr. Mueller knew very early on in his investigation that there was no collusion. The remainder of the investigation was essentially spent trying to find a way to frame President Trump’s legitimate outrage over this attempt to nullify his election victory as “obstruction of justice.”

The Democrats who supported the investigation – and continue to press for the unredacted version and testimony from Mr. Mueller – are undermining the legitimacy of American democracy and the public’s faith in democratic institutions. To them, the motivation is not about achieving justice for now-disproven Russian election interference or obstruction of justice, but to politically weaken a democratically elected President by all means necessary.

Former Democratic Senator Bob Kerrey said “delusion” has taken hold of his party and he called the process of crime convictions that arose from the Mr. Mueller probe “tainted,” asserting that the people convicted of those crimes deserve to be pardoned. He further chastised Adam Schiff for politicizing the House Intelligence Committee to keep the hoax going.

Attorney General Barr will now proceed with new investigations behind the Mueller investigation. He will explore the numerous ways that career lawyers at the FBI and Department of Justice, including an interconnected network of external actors, aimed to remove a candidate and sitting President to gain political power.

Accident or attack behind the Notre Dame Cathedral fire?

On April 15th fire rapidly spread from its origins in the attic of the iconic 850-year-old Notre Dame Catholic Cathedral in Paris, France, where restoration work was underway. The fire occurred on the first day of Holy Week celebrations leading to Easter, the main Christian holiday. The Paris prosecutor's office said it is treating the fire as an accident for the time being, ruling out arson and possible terror-related motives, at least for now.

Thousands stood on the banks of the Seine river and in the plaza of the nearby Hôtel de Ville watching in quiet horror, gasping and covering their mouths while wiping away tears, as the fire tore through the cathedral. Until the early morning hours, when the fire was finally declared out, onlookers sang Ave Maria and other hymns as some kneeled and prayed.

The cathedral closes at 18:45 and the fire started 5 or 6 minutes afterwards. French news LCI said two fires were reported. Early testimonies say the fire took in the attic, at the base of the spire that surmounts the transept of the cathedral. The spire, which stands 93 meters high and is made of 500 tons of wood and 250 tons of lead, collapsed with the ceiling. The highest part of the cathedral stands at 295 feet, which made it difficult for firefighters to get high enough to spray water directly at the fire. Adding to the difficulty, a strong westward wind blew, causing the intense core of the fire to blow onto one of the two bell towers – that fire was quickly put out. 400 firefighters were dispatched to save the symbol of Christianity’s beauty and history. No one was killed but a firefighter received serious injury. An eyewitness commented that at one point early on, the smoke was coloured green and yellow.

The Notre Dame is more than a Catholic cathedral, it is one of the world’s greatest pieces of art and architecture that informs European and western culture and heritage. It is a Unesco World Heritage site. Generations upon generations built the Notre Dame over 200 years, beginning in 1180 and completed in 1260. It is a jewel of medieval Gothic architecture that has survived war, weather, and changing trends. It survived the loss of its spire once before, in 1786, after the spire’s supporting structure was so weakened by centuries of weathering that restorers removed and replaced it. Notre Dame witnessed the crowning of Emperor Napoleon. It survived riots from the Huguenots, the French Revolution, and World War II. Pierre Guillaume Bonnet, a 45-year-old marketing director, said, ‘‘It’s really kind of scary. France is not doing very well and it is these symbols we are losing. I am afraid this is a bad sign.”

After many hours, Paris fire brigade chief Jean-Claude Gallet told reporters outside the cathedral, "We can consider that the main structure of Notre-Dame has been saved and preserved." Nearly all artwork and relics, including the Crown of thorns and the tunic of St. Louis, were removed and saved, and the next day showed that the Rose stained glass window had been spared. Many irreplaceable and invaluable items had been removed days earlier, including statues that adorn the rooftop. Photos from the next day showed the restoration scaffolding still largely intact. The fire was fully extinguished Tuesday morning, but the extent of the damage and expected cost of repairs remain unclear. The interior has been largely preserved though there is extensive damage from the water and the spire’s collapse inside the church.

Accident or Arson?

Though mainstream news outlets were quick to report that arson had been conclusively ruled out, which was impossible to know while the blaze burned, the cause of the fire remains undetermined. Independent freelance journalist Sotiri Dimpinoudis spoke with a firefighter who said it was impossible for the fire to spread so fast due to electrical equipment or wires in the wooden space, which were prohibited for fear of sparks. The firefighter said regulations were strictly and always followed by the company, where electrical wires from the construction crew were guided on the side of the building or the cranes whenever used, and these were not in contact with the wooden space. He said the fire could be “sabotage". The Police Nationale’s criminal investigation team will now interrogate more then 200 workers who worked at the renovation site and those who were fired from the company. A firefighter who put out the arson fire last month at the Saint Sulpice church said, "there was a odd smell in the air at the time of the fire" at Notre Dame.

Cathedral staff have reportedly told people they know that the fire was intentional. For example, TIME columnist Christopher J. Hale tweeted, “A Jesuit friend in Paris who works in #NotreDame told me cathedral staff said the fire was intentionally set.” Mr. Hale deleted the tweet within minutes after it attracted attention.

On Tuesday, TVE television news showed footage of a man dressed in what could be described as Islamic dress with a long dark beard, carrying what appeared to be a dark bag, walking on the balcony of one of the two towers shortly after the start of the fire. The individual is clearly not a firefighter or clergyman and French authorities said no workers were present on site that day. Another photo from the public at a further distance shows someone standing on top of the roof as it begins to burn.

The fire occurred exactly one month after the Christchurch, New Zealand terror attack. Terror intelligence researchers at SITE reported that Jihadists celebrated the inferno, calling it “retribution and punishment.” According to the Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium, the ISIS affiliated Al-Muntasir media organisation published a poster online of the Notre Dame ablaze with the word “Its construction began in the year 1163 and ended in 1345. It's time to say goodbye to your oratory polytheism” and accompanied by “Have a good day”. Al-Munatsir has previously shared propaganda rejoicing in Islamic attacks that have terrorized France.

Photos circulated on social media of people of Arabic descent smiling in the crowd outside of the cathedral, along with an April 13 Facebook post written by a ‘Dennis Arends’ that claimed, "Three days from now, The Notre Dame church in France will burn up in flames." Under Facebook videos of Notre Dame burning were hundreds of happy comments and ‘laughing’ face emoticons posted by Arabic names.

In 2016, three young Jihadi women were involved in a foiled plot to blow up a car packed with gas cannisters near the Notre Dame. One of them, Ines Madani, was sentenced yesterday to eight years in prison by a French court following a three-day trial during which she was accused of encouraging would-be jihadists to go to Syria and participate in attacks against France between March 2015 and June 2016. Ms. Madani’s trial for trying to set fire to the car filled with six gas cylinders near Notre Dame will begin on September 23.

Increasing Attacks on Churches

In 2018, 475 Christian churches were vandalized, desecrated, and partially burned across France, and over 20 churches in the past four months alone. Vandals have smashed statues, knocked down tabernacles, scattered or destroyed the Eucharist, and torn down crosses, signalling the rise of anti-Catholic sentiment in the country. Attacks against Jewish symbols have also risen by 74 percent.

Last Sunday, the historic Church of Saint Sulpice in Paris was set on fire just after midday mass on Sunday. Police are still investigating the attack, which firefighters have confidently attributed to arson. Built in the 17th century, Saint Sulpice houses three works by the Romantic painter Eugene de la Croix and was used in the movie adaptation of The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown.

11 French churches were attacked in the two weeks that followed the Christchurch, New Zealand terrorist attack. Last month, at the Saint Nicholas Catholic Church in Houilles, in north-central France, a statue of the Virgin Mary was found smashed and the altar cross had been thrown on the ground, according to La Croix International, a Catholic publication. Also in February, at Saint-Alain Cathedral in south-central France, an altar cloth was burned and crosses and statues of saints were smashed. The attack prompted Lavaur Mayor Bernard Canyon to say in a statement, “God will forgive. Not me.

In the southern city of Nimes, near the Spanish border, vandals looted the altar of the church of Notre-Dame des Enfants (Our Lady of the Children) and smeared a cross with human excrement. Consecrated hosts made from unleavened bread, which Catholics believe to be the body of Jesus Christ, were taken and found scattered among rubbish outside the building. The Tablet reported that in February alone there had been a record 47 documented attacks on churches and religious sites.

The Vienna-based Observatory of Intolerance and Discrimination Against Christians in Europe, which was founded in cooperation with the Council of European Bishops Conferences (CCEE) but is now independent said there had been a 25 percent increase in attacks on Catholic churches in the first two months of the year, compared with the same time last year.

Executive Director Ellen Fantini said, “I think there is a rising hostility in France against the church and its symbols," and that while France had a long tradition of secularism, it was seen as a culturally Christian country, and so any "attack on the church as a symbol of religion was also an attack on authority and patrimony.” Ms. Fantini added, "The pressure is coming from the radical secularists or anti-religion groups as well as feminist activists who tend to target churches as a symbol of the patriarchy that needs to be dismantled.” According to Ms. Fantini, anti-Christian attacks are being minimized despite representing the largest share of hate crimes.

Rebuilding the Cathedral

Pope Francis tweeted, "Today we unite in prayer with the people of France, as we wait for the sorrow inflicted by the serious damage to be transformed into hope with reconstruction. Holy Mary, Our Lady, pray for us."

FRANCE 24 news reported that when French President Emmanuel Macron spoke to reporters inside the Elysee Palace he announced work will immediately begin to rebuild the Notre Dame "in a way consistent with our modern diverse nation," a comment which is unlikely to go over well with Catholics and those who intend to see the cathedral restored to its original design and use.

Prior to the fire, as one of Europe’s most visited sites with about 12 million tourists a year, the Notre Dame was in dire need of repairs. Centuries of weather had worn the stone and fumes from decades of traffic gridlock worsened the damage. Under France’s strict secular laws, the government owns the cathedral and the Catholic archdiocese of Paris uses it permanently for free. The priests believed the government should pay for repairs since it owned the building, but under the terms of the government’s agreement, the archdiocese is responsible for Notre Dame’s upkeep and the Ministry of Culture gives it about 2 million Euro annually for that purpose. However, staff had said that money covers only basic repairs, far short of what is needed.

French billionaires have now stepped up to fund the restoration and rebuild of the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris, which is nearing 1 billion Euros in donations. Bernard Arnault, the richest person in France and third-richest in the world who owns the French luxury conglomerate LVMH, pledged 200 million Euros. François-Henri Pinault and his son William, who own the luxury group Kering and brands including Gucci and Alexander McQueen, will give 100 million Euros. The Bettencourt Meyers family owns the cosmetics company L'Oréal and is the second-richest family in France, pledging 200 million Euros. French oil giant Total pledged 100 million Euros. Crédit Agricole, one of France's biggest banks, pledged 5 million Euros. The New York-based French Heritage Society has also launched a restoration fund for Notre-Dame.

French wood supply companies have announced they will supply and donate Oak trees to rebuild the attic structure, saying they want the cathedral to be rebuilt quickly.

An eyewitness of the fire told reporters that she was at a café later in the day and overheard a group of people who were unconcerned with the cathedral’s destruction because it was “just an old building” and “France is secular, anyway.” This point of view is likely held in the minority, but perhaps an event as tragic as this serves to be transformative for our collective psyche, reminding us of the value that our culture, history, and heritage holds - and the central role Christianity plays in it - before it’s too late.

Ending Factory Farming

While there are causes for optimism, factory farming is still on the rise globally, and we have to understand it to eliminate its harms. In this broad-ranging talk from Effective Altruism Global 2018: San Francisco, Lewis Bollard talks about the situations for various sorts of animal, the efforts to help them, and how different strategies may be helpful in different national contexts. A transcript of Lewis's talk is below.

As effective altruists who care about the wellbeing of individuals, it's natural for us to want to end factory farming, which may be the greatest source of suffering on earth. I think it's also natural for us as optimists and people who believe in technology to think that perhaps the end of factory farming is imminent or even inevitable.

You may have seen headlines recently that clean meat is just around the corner. That US meat consumption is falling, and that that the end of meat is nigh in the world. And while there have certainly been a lot of exciting developments recently, these are all headlines from six to seven years ago. The unfortunate reality that we have to confront is that factory farming is not inevitably going to come to an end. The reality is that right now, factory farming is continuing to grow.

There are more farm animals today in factory farms than ever before in history, and it's continuing to grow at the same rate as it has been for the last 20 years. So what can we do about this? Obviously we need to take a number of approaches to this problem, including ones focused on technology, but I want to focus today on three things that I think have been driving the increase in the number of animals in factory farms, and that I think offer particularly important, tractable and neglected approaches to reducing farm animal suffering.

The Plight of Birds

Over the last 50 years, the number of mammals alive on factory farms globally has barely increased, while the number of chickens alive at any point in time has significantly increased, up to a point of 23 billion alive at any point in time. That equates to over 60 billion slaughtered annually, because most of these chickens are broiler chickens who live short lives. And so when we think about what we can do to improve the plight of birds and particularly chickens, it comes down to two types of these birds. The first, you're probably familiar with, is the plight of layer hens.

We know from preference studies that these birds, given a chance to get to a nesting box, will push through a cage door as hard as they will to get to food after 24 hours of deprivation. So the mere fact that they're not getting access to a nesting box here - and we know there are similar desires to get to perches, to get to dust bathing ability - shows you the degree of behavioral deprivation inflicted on these animals, typically for more than a year at a time.

The good news is that there has been progress. The first progress that we've started to see has been over the last four years, initially in the US, going to corporations and securing pledges to get rid of battery cages. Now up to a point, those pledges, if implemented, will benefit about 275 million hens a year. Those campaigns have now gone international, working in Europe, in Latin America, increasingly in Asia, and have reached a point that those international pledges are set to benefit about 130 million hens a year if implemented. But of course that raises the question of if they will be implemented.

Here's the evidence that we have today; these are the latest figures. As of last month, there were 55 million cage free hens in the US. Now that's a significant increase from a few years ago when there were fewer than 20 million cage free hens in the US, but obviously there's still a lot of work to be done, and so one of the priorities for the movement within affecting layer hens is getting the implementation of these pledges that have already been secured.

The other priority is reaching the other group of chickens, the broiler chickens. So as most of you probably know, broiler chickens are a different strain of chicken that are raised separately from laying hens, and are raised for meat. And as you'll see in this photo that I took of a broiler chicken in India, their problem is less that they're in cages - they're normally not in cages - and more the way that they've been bred in the first place, that they have been bred to suffer. There have been studies done on broiler chickens with leg problems, which is a common ailment amongst chickens, in which they've been offered feed laced with pain relief or feed laced without pain relief, and chickens who don't have these leg problems, who don't have these genetics, show no preference between the two. But the chickens who do have these leg problems, the chickens like this one here, that have been bred to grow too large, too fast, choose the pain relief laced feed, suggesting to us that these birds are in chronic pain. And when we're talking about 16 billion alive at any point in time, about 60 billion a year, given the short lifespan, that's a huge amount of potential suffering.

So what can we do to alleviate it? Obviously one thing is to reduce the amount of chicken that people eat. And I'll talk a little bit about some of the efforts in China on that later on. The other thing we can do is to reduce the suffering of each chicken, and so advocates have been working in the US over the last two years to secure five asks of companies.

The first is to change the breed, to move away from these breeds of birds that are in constant pain. The second is to reduce the overcrowding in chicken barns. The third is to improve living conditions, in particular litter, lighting and enrichment. The fourth is to move to a less cruel method of slaughter. And the fifth to ensure the auditing of those pledges. There's already been significant progress to date: Burger King, Subway, major food service companies in the US have committed to these pledges.

And advocates are right now engaged in the toughest fight of all: the fight to get McDonald's to give up this incredibly cruel system of raising chickens. McDonald's accounts for about three to four percent of the chicken purchased in the US every year. So the decisions they make will have a huge impact directly on chickens, about 270 million chickens a year in their supply chain. But they will also have huge knock-on effects, so it's critical that advocates win this campaign to ensure better conditions for chickens in the US, and I think likely, too, in the future around the world.

The Plight of Fish

This brings us to the second issue, the only group of animals, or vertebrate animals, that's larger than chickens on farms. And that's farmed fish. So this graph shows the increase in the number of farmed fish, individual farmed fish, over time globally. The best estimate now is that at any point in time, there's between 75 billion and 140 billion farmed fish, confined in fish farms globally. The estimate is that there may be another 1 to 2 trillion wild caught fish who are slaughtered globally. Most of them are very small fish.

This graph doesn't quite represent that. This graph shows more the trend line. This is in terms of tonnage rather than in terms of individuals because we don't have good individual data for wild caught fish. But what you can see is the trend over time is one in which wild caught fish is not increasing, while farmed fish is increasing rapidly. So something that's appealing about focusing on farmed fish is not just that they're more directly under our control, and that there's a greater lifespan of chronic suffering to affect, but also the fact that this is a trend line hitting in a very bad direction. So I want to tell you just a little bit about visiting a fish farm in India last year. And to me what was surprising about it was that from a distance, a fish farm really didn't look that bad.

So, all the commercial facilities we visited were like this. Huge ponds the size of multiple football fields. You don't obviously see overcrowding, you don't obviously see incredibly dirty water. We know very little about what these fish are experiencing beneath the surface, but you don't immediately see the problems. But I think somewhere where you do immediately see the problems is when you look at the slaughter of these fish.

At a fish farm, the method of killing fish, both farmed fish and wild caught fish globally, is truly barbaric. So these fish were hauled out of the water. Many of them were crushed to death underneath each other. Some of the other ones were live disemboweled, and the ones that weren't suffocated over the course of several hours. So we followed some of these fish to a live market, where they were still alive hours after they had been caught.

And I think the thing which is most striking with this particular welfare issue is how simply it could be solved. So, technology already exists to stun fish. Electrical stunning technology is relatively cheap. Some European companies like Tesco already require this throughout their supply chain and yet we see that over 90 percent of the fish globally are not stunned prior to slaughter. So in addition, of course, to wanting to reduce the number of fish, there are some really simple things that with a bit of pressure, could reduce a huge amount of chronic suffering, over 100 billion farmed fish a year, potentially over a trillion wild caught fish a year, if we could get stunning technology in place.

The other positive trend on fish recently is the attention that the issue has gotten from the media. So just in the last year, we've seen headlines from the Washington Post in terms of looking at the scientific consensus that fish feel pain, from the Smithsonian magazine, again, talking about fish pain, from the New York Times, talking about fish depression and increasing evidence that fish can feel depression just like we can, and just like we know that mammals and likely birds can too. From NPR, talking about the way that wild caught fish are being treated. And finally from USA Today, talking about progress in Switzerland and potential progress in the UK toward banning the boiling alive of lobsters and crabs.

Farm Animals in China

The third major driver of the increase in the number of farm animals globally is China. So as China has gotten richer over the last 20 or 30 years, we've seen a dramatic increase in the number of farmed animals in China.

This graph shows you the portion of the world's farm animals of each variety that are housed in China currently. And what you see is for chickens, it's about a fifth to a quarter. For pigs it's about half the world's farm animals, for farmed fish, it's over half. And this is not a case of China exporting to the world for the most part, though there's a little bit of that. This is primarily for domestic consumption, and so if you care about the plight of animals on farms, you have to care about China and the trajectory of this issue in China. And I think there are a number of hopeful signs on that.

It may be a little hard to read what this says, but this was a survey done at the end of last year, of 2,000 Chinese consumers. They were asked how often they eat each of these groups. So in blue means they eat this group of food every day and red means a few times a week, green once a week, purple less than once a week and the light blue means they never eat this food. And what you see is, despite some of the headlines you may have seen, there's very little vegetarianism or veganism in China. There were very few people, less than one percent, who said that they never ate pork or never ate other animal products. However, what you also see alongside this, is that the majority of Chinese consumers in this survey said that they don't eat meat every day. In fact, not only do they not eat pork, they don't eat chicken or other types of meat every day, and it's far more common to eat it on a weekly basis.

And you also see that Chinese consumers eat plant protein on a daily basis. So things like mock meats, things like legumes, things like nuts often mixed together with meat dishes. So for instance, a tofu and pork dish is regularly part of the diet. And I think this provides a basis to work from that we don't have in the US, because these alternatives are already readily available, and they're already accepted as part of the Chinese diet.

Here's a graph that shows similar data in another format. So what you see here is in green, plant protein, and in red, animal protein. You can see in the US, we're incredibly dependent on animal protein. About two thirds of our daily protein average intake is coming from animal-based protein. When you look at the rest of the world, that's just far less the case. So the average Chinese person and the average Indian is getting more plant-based protein now than the average American. And what you see particularly when you look at somewhere like India, like the rest of Asia and China, is that the animal protein segment is not as big as it's gotten in the US. It seems like there's the potential to shrink that without people going below the level of daily protein required. So although we obviously want to increase the percentage of plant protein, there's also the potential to simply reduce the percent of animal protein.

And here's two more causes for optimism. So what you see on the first side was, again the same survey, reported changes in consumption, so people everywhere always say they're eating more fruits and vegetables and you can take that with a grain of salt. But the thing that I think is interesting here is that poultry and pork consumption are reported to be down. We're actually seeing that showing up in the national statistics. Now at the same time, fish and seafood consumption is up. So it's not clear that this is totally worked out net positive, but I think there's a positive trend there. I think there's also a positive trend in the increase in plant protein consumption, which sort of goes against the narrative that China is moving away from plant protein and toward animal protein. The other thing you see is a receptiveness to clean meat, which seems to be greater than the receptiveness that we've seen to clean meat - meat grown from cells - in the US. And so if you think that that's likely to be in the future, down the line, it suggests China may be a good market for that.

The one other cause for optimism that I want to highlight is the change within the Chinese government. So something you've seen on a number of social issues in China, for instance, on environmentalism, is that the Chinese government was traditionally silent on the matter, but that once Chinese government officials started talking about it, they legitimized the issue and were able to achieve policy changes far faster than we've achieved them in the US. And my hope is that this is the start of a trend like that.

So what we saw last year was what is to my knowledge, the first time Chinese government official has spoken in favor of animal welfare, and indeed the first time that a Chinese government official has called for animal welfare legislation, which China doesn't yet have. And in fact also in the same speech, called for a set of regulations and technical standards. And so my hope is we'll start to see the dividends of that.


About the Author

Effective Altruism is a project of The Centre for Effective Altruism, a registered charity in England and Wales. Effective altruism is changing the way we do good. Effective altruism is about answering one simple question: how can we use our resources to help others the most? Rather than just doing what feels right, we use evidence and careful analysis to find the very best causes to work on. But it's no use answering the question unless you act on it. Effective altruism is about following through. It's about being generous with your time and your money to do the most good you can.

The Preferred Form of Populism

We hear a lot about “populism” these days. Conservatives often praise it, while liberals call it a threat to democracy.

This debate presupposes a common definition, but is there one? In fact, throughout our history, populism has surfaced in two very different forms.

Today, there is the populism of the Tea Party Movement — generally right and center-right, supporting Donald Trump. It is a populism that rebels against big government. “Leave us alone so that we can succeed (or fail) on our own” is its rallying cry.

The second form of contemporary populism is the populism of the Occupy Wall Street movement and Bernie Sanders voters. It stresses the equality of outcomes, rather than equality of opportunity. It is a populism that looks for handouts, whether it is forgiveness for college loans or reverse discrimination in the form of quotas and set-asides.

Neither of these strains is new, of course. Victor Davis Hanson of Stanford traces both forms back to ancient Greece, then down through the American Revolution (Tea Party) and the French Revolution (Occupy). The question is, why has their age-old clash been sharpened so much of late?

Largely, I believe, because of the vacuum created by the crumbing of the “Liberal International Order.”

And what is the “Liberal International Order?” It was a governing philosophy defined largely by the United States with a broad bipartisan consensus in the years following World War II. It helped guide the U.S. use of power in the broad service of freedom for Americans and for our allies. We shared a common adversary with our allies, a fact that held us together and even enabled others to jointly claim the patrimony of the Liberal International Order.

By 1989, however, with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, the old world came apart. The binding of Allies by the shared enemies of the Cold War disappeared. It was the “end of history.” Within a decade, we could “make the world safe for democracy.”

Alas, it did not turn out that way, at least not all the time: Rwanda (1994) still haunts those who clamor for interventions despite our inability and our unwillingness to intervene in all of them. And when we refused to intervene in any one of them, we were seen as disappointing and disrupting our shared commitment to the Liberal International Order.

Few bothered to examine the real effect of this new version of the Order on the safety and prosperity of America, our allies, and those who wanted to be our allies. At the same time, we were encouraged to “engage” with our adversaries, as if bringing them to the table would automatically cause them to adopt our system and beliefs.

Today, we are seeing the limits of the Liberal International Order which the world has outgrown. Not every nation nor every political entity is ready for admission to this club.

Should we talk with a resurgent Russia? Yes, but we should also realize the role of Russia in territorial expansion beyond its borders (Ukraine), and in areas outside its traditional interests (Syria). And we should recognize what Russia truly is: an economy the size of Spain based on an increasingly competitive international market for energy supplies, with a declining population, a powerful military and a large stockpile of nuclear weapons.

Must we deal with China, an emerging power that is certainly a disrupter to the old Order? Yes, even as we eye warily its “belt and road” efforts to achieve worldwide strategic expansion in economic terms, and as we denounce its bullying claims to the South China Sea as territorial waters in violation of international treaties and obligations of prudent, serious members of the international community, and as we and our ally in Taiwan confront a resurgent PLA Navy in the Taiwan Straits.

In short, the Liberal International Order has outlived its purpose. The world is thrashing around to figure out what will replace it. Small wonder, then, that we find big-thinking, disruptive, unconventional President Trump at the center of these debates.

The question is, whose form of populism will prevail? Judging by the alarm bells being sounded on the left, my bet is on the Tea Party.


About the Author

Edwin J. Feulner is the founder and former president of The Heritage Foundation.

Universities Might Be Ruining Students’ Lives

One of the more interesting books I read in 2018 was Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt’s The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure. It’s a book-length treatment of the ideas they discussed in their provocative and controversial 2015 article in The Atlantic, which blew up in part because of the infamous protests that happened at the University of Missouri, Yale University, and elsewhere a few weeks later.

Lukianoff is President and CEO of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE)—a campus free speech advocacy organization originally established by Alan Charles Kors—and author of Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate (2012) and Freedom From Speech (2014). Haidt is a social psychologist at New York University's Stern School of Business and author of The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom (2006) and The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (2012).

They argue that we are treating students precisely the way we shouldn’t if we are trying to help them become resilient, functioning, and free people and exactly the way we should if we are intent on creating an army of neurotics. They focus on what they call “Three Great Untruths,” which they call "The Untruth of Fragility," "The Untruth of Emotional Reasoning," and "The Untruth of Us Versus Them."

So how do these work and how are they Untruths? The first, “The Untruth of Fragility,” mangles Nietzsche’s maxim “what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger” into “What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Weaker.” It counsels avoidance of the unpleasant, the uncomfortable, and the inconvenient and accomplishes precisely the opposite of what real learning should do.

Learning is supposed to be uncomfortable: we are, in the university, supposedly fixing our ignorance, strengthening our moral fiber, and exchanging falsehood for truth. The authors of the book Make It Stick offer a series of insights that have informed my own teaching: students may not feel like they are learning through (for example) things like what is called “retrieval practice.”

It’s like going to the gym: it’s uncomfortable and unpleasant, and you will be sore afterward. But you are tearing down in order to build up. Of course, “if you are learning, you will be uncomfortable” is not the same thing as “if you are uncomfortable, then you are learning,” but constant affirmations of orthodoxy and fear of challenge is a great way to create mental and emotional weakness.

Think back to college. You probably have a friend or two or three who came from extremely sheltered Christian backgrounds who, upon encountering freedom and license in college went absolutely nuts. By carefully crafting their kids’ worldviews and insulating them from challenges, parents had actually created emotional and intellectual weaklings who could not stand up to challenges. Progressives have done the same if they have brought up children who have gone into college without seriously encountering and considering the idea that (for example) abortion might be wrong—and in this case it is compounded by the fact that they are extremely unlikely to encounter that argument on campus unless they encounter some activists who have a table set up on campus—and even then they aren’t likely to spend sustained time entertaining the possibility that a view they probably don’t question is wrong.

The second untruth, The Untruth of Emotional Reasoning, says “Always Trust Your Feelings.” One of my pet peeves (especially in the classroom) is when people begin sentences with “I feel.” I don’t trust feeling as a way of knowing, and while it’s not strictly true in all cases feeling can be the opposite of thinking.

This is especially dangerous given what we now know about the makeup of the human psyche, which is rife with biases and cognitive distortions documented and discussed in books like Rolf Dobelli’s The Art of Thinking Clearly and Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow.

When we are confronted with something we want to believe, for example, our minds implicitly ask “can I believe this?” When we are confronted with something we don’t want to believe, our minds implicitly ask “must I believe this?” The first embraces what we want to believe and gives it a subtle cognitive pass while the second rejects what we don’t want to believe and gives it a subtle cognitive push.

The third untruth, The Untruth of Us Versus Them, posits that life is a battle between Good People and Evil People. We are the Good People, of course, and They are the Evil People. You see this played out every day in the cesspools that Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and so on can become. But, as Alexandr Solzhenitsyn reminded us, “The line dividing good from evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” Given our tendencies toward bias and cognitive distortion, we probably shouldn’t be as confident as we usually are about which side of the line we’re on.

Lukianoff and Haidt argue that in combination, these Great Untruths are a recipe for failure in life and everything.

The prophets of the Three Great Untruths mean us no ill. Note the subtitle again: “How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure.” People mean well, but their good intentions and bad ideas about what we need to protect kids have created a toxic cognitive stew. Children, they argue, are actually antifragile, which is Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s term for systems like bones and immune systems that get stronger when they are tested.

By doing things like removing free play, scheduling every minute of every day for every kid, and stepping in to resolve every conflict instead of letting the kids work it out for themselves, we have actually done them a disservice by preventing them from using (and testing, and strengthening) the antifragile emotional, physical, and intellectual systems they should be developing.

As they point out, our misled-but-good intentions are a recipe for creating neurosis as kids don’t learn how to navigate a complex and difficult (but, paradoxically, much safer) world.

So what do we do about it?

First, they suggest taking a hard look at how we over-schedule and over-protect our kids. The world is a dangerous place, but it’s not nearly as dangerous a place as TV crime drama and the evening news would have us believe. Remember: “if it bleeds, it leads”—but what makes something newsworthy is that it is out of the ordinary.

Second, drawing on Lukianoff’s experience using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to combat depression, they suggest identifying cognitive distortions—“catastrophizing,” for example, by thinking that everything will fall apart in the event that (say) Donald Trump is reelected in 2020 and using CBT techniques like writing out what caused a certain feeling of distress, how strongly we feel certain emotions, and the cognitive distortions that produced them.

Instead of trying to shield people from fearful ideas and words, we do them a service by teaching them effective ways to identify where they are blowing things out of proportion and take action.

“What is wrong with colleges and universities” is a venerable literary genre, and The Coddling of the American Mind is an important contribution. Haidt and Lukianoff are dedicated to recapturing and reinforcing the telos of the university, which is the search for truth. In the wake of a few years of high-profile campus unrest over ideas students find uncomfortable, we do well to heed their words.


About the Author

Art Carden is a Senior Fellow at the American Institute for Economic Research. He is also an Associate Professor of Economics at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama.

Generation Identity's Response to ‘Generation Hate’

Ever since its inception, Generation Identity has faced fierce hostility from the established press. Continually and deliberately mischaracterising our words and our actions, it has worked tirelessly to undermine our efforts in bringing about a safe and secure Europe. Why has it done so? Because, with the guidance of globalist politicians and their vast wealth, it has identified that our movement is the single greatest threat to their monopoly on power. This is why, even in those countries where our movement is young and relatively small, we’ve received unprecedented coverage.

The latest attack on our movement has come from Al Jazeera, a Qatari propaganda outlet which has incessantly endorsed Islamist ideas and factions. Not satisfied, for instance, with promoting the extremist Muslim Brotherhood it also employs senior figures who praise terrorists as “pan-Arab heroes.” In fact, Al Jazeera has been accused of a number of unpleasant tendencies ranging from overt anti-Semitism to ingrained corruption. Despite this, the enemies of the Identitarian Movement have readily consumed its recent piece ‘Generation Hate’ without scrutiny or debate.

This piece focuses on ‘The Citadel’, a bar in the French city of Lille. This bar isn’t a part of Generation Identitaire but acts as its own, distinct political entity. As is widely known to locals, the bar serves figures and guests from various political backgrounds. Just as any regular pub has no role in monitoring the general conversation of guests and customers, the Citadel is no different; individuals attend privately. The documentary predominately follows the exploits of two figures (neither of whom are activists with Generation Identity). This is telling, for GI in France boasts thousands of members and many more associates. After ‘many months’ of undercover work, it seems that Al Jazeera was only able to pin-down two drunks indulging in nonsensical fantasies. Two instances stand out while this pair are being filmed. The first is a rant about using a vehicle to strike and kill Muslims. The second is a skirmish in the streets as the same individual pushes (and it seems punches) an Arab woman. Both of these acts are reprehensible and do not represent the established views and conduct promoted by Identitarians in France for nearly twenty years. The fact of the matter is that these Old Right hooligans drank at a bar that uses Identitarian iconography; this is the long and short of Al Jazeera’s great efforts to defame the movement.

Everything Generation Identity does is predicated on the notion of metapolitics. This is the theory that before political change can be affected, cultural change must be brought about. Violence of any sort is, as you might expect, totally ineffectual in achieving this. Culture, being a complicated and lived-in thing, must be approached with care and long-term discourses. Thus, before we even consider Generation Identity’s ethical qualms with violence, it’s clear that our worldview has no use for it even in strictly neutral terms. Every branch of Generation Identity carefully vets its applicants. It does so for several reasons. Firstly, it does this because it only wishes to attract intelligent, well-rounded and disciplined personalities. The second reason is to keep any persons harbouring undesirable tendencies away from the movement. This includes anyone who advocates violence, chauvinism or conspiracy theories. Our young branch in the United Kingdom has been exceptionally successful in conducting skillful vetting and immediately removing anyone who slips the net (which, in our case, has consisted of just one individual).

Generation Identity, the Identitarian Movement, is strictly non-violent, non-chauvinist and forward-looking. We reject violence as unethical. Indeed, we invite our fiercest critics to find an example of this within Generation Identity UK and Ireland or any other genuine branch. We hold steadfast to bold and radical ideas, ideas that we believe must be realised if our civilisation and values are to survive. We do so with the absolute belief that we can secure a future for our ethno-cultures peacefully and entirely within the law. While Al Jazeera and Co waste time with drunks in bars, real journalists will be documenting the full extent of Islamist terror throughout Europe which has, and continues, to claim dozens of lives each and every year.


About the Author

Benjamin Jones is Leader of Generation Identity United Kingdom.

Heroes of Progress: Francoise Barre-Sinoussi

Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, a French virologist who discovered that human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is the cause of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). Barre-Sinoussi’s discovery has led to the development of medical treatments that slow the progression of HIV and decrease the risk of HIV's transmission.

Barre-Sinoussi was born July 30, 1947 in Paris, France. From an early age, Barre-Sinoussi showed an interest in science and decided to continue her passion for knowledge at the University of Paris. Initially Barre-Sinoussi wanted to study medicine, but as she came from a humble background, she decided to be pragmatic and study natural science. Natural science was a shorter course than a medical degree, thus saving her family money in tuition and boarding fees.

After studying at the University of Paris for a couple of years, Barre-Sinoussi began working part-time at the Pasteur Institute – a Parisian research center focusing on the study of biology, diseases and vaccines. She soon began working full-time at that institute and would only attend the university to take her exams. Barre-Sinoussi received her PhD in 1975 and after a brief internship in the United States she began working on a group of viruses, known as retroviruses.

During the 1980’s AIDS epidemic, scientists were perplexed as to what was causing the outbreak of the disease and Barre-Sinoussi decided to use her knowledge of retroviruses to experiment on AIDS. In 1983, Barre-Sinoussi and her colleague Luc Montaigner made the groundbreaking discovery that HIV is the cause of AIDS. 

Barre-Sinoussi’s discovery led to many medical breakthroughs that have helped in the fight against AIDS, including numerous HIV testing and diagnosis technologies, and lifesaving antiretroviral therapy.

In 1988, Barre-Sinoussi took charge of her own laboratory at the Pasteur Institute and began intensive research trying to create a HIV vaccine. Although no vaccine has been discovered, her team continues to research different mechanisms to protect people against HIV infections.

In 2008, Barre-Sinoussi and Montagnier were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their work in discovering HIV. Barre-Sinoussi has received a number of awards and honorary doctorates. In 2006, she was named Grand Officier de la Légion d’Honneur - France’s highest order of merit. Between 2012 and 2016, Barre-Sinoussi served as the President for the International AIDS Society. She retired from active research in 2017.

As HumanProgress.org has noted before, thanks to the discovery of HIV, and creation of different treatments, humanity is now winning the war on AIDS. Since the peak of the HIV pandemic in the mid-2000s, when some 1.9 million people died of AIDS each year, less than one million people died from the sickness in 2017. New infections are also down. In the mid-1990s, there were 3.4 million new HIV infections each year but in 2017, there were only 1.8 million new HIV infections. That’s a decline of 47 percent.

Without the contributions of Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, humanity’s crusade against AIDS would not be as advanced or successful as it is today, and millions more people would be dying from the virus each year.


About the Author

Alexander C. R. Hammond is a researcher at a Washington DC think tank.

Einstein’s theory proven as astronomers capture the first photo of a black hole

Introduced in 1915, theoretical physicist Albert Einstein’s revolutionary theory of general relativity explains the laws of gravity and their relation to other natural forces. It says that matter warps or curves the geometry of space-time, and we experience that distortion as gravity. The existence of extremely massive black holes was one of the first predictions of Einstein’s theory, and even Einstein wasn’t sure that they actually existed.

Using a massive telescope network, scientists now have data in hand that could vastly broaden our understanding of gravity. Black holes are the most densely filled objects in the universe, giving them enormous gravitational pull. Stellar black holes, formed from the collapse of giant stars, can compact the mass of ten suns to the size of New York City. Supermassive black holes at the center of galaxies can have the mass of billions of suns. Their origin remains a mystery.

Even if the first images are still crappy and washed out, we can already test for the first time some basic predictions of Einstein's theory of gravity in the extreme environment of a black hole,” says radio astronomer Heino Falcke of Radboud University in Nijmegen in the Netherlands. Astronomers have only circumstantial evidence that black holes lie hidden at the heart of every large galaxy in the universe. “They are the ultimate endpoint of space and time, and may represent the ultimate limit of our knowledge,” says Mr. Falcke.

The first-ever photo of a black hole is a milestone in astrophysics and an achievement that validated the pillar of science put forward by Albert Einstein more than a century ago. The somewhat fuzzy photo of the black hole at the center of Messier 87, or M87, a massive galaxy residing in the center of the relatively nearby Virgo galaxy cluster, shows a glowing ring of red, yellow, and white surrounding a dark center.

The research was conducted by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) project, an international collaboration involving about 200 scientists begun in 2012 to try to directly observe the immediate environment of a black hole. Capturing the photos took years of planning and cooperation between international partners stretching from the tallest mountain in Hawaii to the frozen terrain of the South Pole to create an electronically linked network of eight observatories and a virtual telescope dish as wide as the planet. Known as the Event Horizon Telescope, the radio-dish network opened its eye on the heavens during a 10-day window that started on April 4.

Black holes, phenomenally dense and coming in various sizes, are extraordinarily difficult to observe by their very nature. A black hole's event horizon is the point of no return beyond which anything – stars, planets, gas, dust and all forms of electromagnetic radiation – gets swallowed into oblivion. The telescope zeroed in on two supermassive black holes: a beast as massive as four million suns called Sagittarius A, which lies at the heart of our Milky Way galaxy, and a black hole about 1,500 times heavier at the core of the nearby galaxy M87. The Event Horizon Telescope has probed the neighborhood of each of these behemoths before, but this is the first time the network has included the South Pole telescope and the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), a group of 66 radio dishes in Chile. ALMA sharpens the Event Horizon Telescope’s acuity 10-fold, enabling it to spot objects as small as a golf ball on the moon—and thus image the surprisingly small event horizons of the two black holes.

Brexit delayed again to October … or never?

Once again, British Prime Minister Theresa May has delayed the United Kingdom’s leave from the European Union, this time to October 30. She continues to place the blame on the government and opposition while taking no responsibility herself for the ineptitude the Brexit process has endured. No-deal Brexit plans have been shelved by the Government "with immediate effect." Operation Yellowhammer, which involves "doomsday" contingencies for a no-deal Brexit, is being wound down while other plans remain in place.

Senior Eurosceptic Conservative Members of Parliament (MPs) urged the Prime Minister to resign. On Wednesday, the Prime Minister refused to apologise to the public after EU leaders imposed a six month Article 50 extension on Britain, meaning the UK will almost certainly be forced to participate in European Parliament elections on May 23. A new poll suggests support for the Conservatives has fallen to a similar level as John Major ahead of the landslide defeat by Tony Blair's Labour Government in 1997.

Eurosceptic Conservative MP Crispin Blunt said that the end of no-deal planning represented a "complete betrayal" of the referendum and described the move as a "dereliction of duty". Veteran MP Sir Bill Cash asked, “Does the Prime Minister appreciate the anger that her abject surrender last night has generated across the country, having broken promises 100 times not to extend the time?” Sir Bill, who is the chairman of the Commons EU scrutiny committee, accused the Prime Minister in the House of Commons of breaking her promises and argued the Withdrawal Agreement undermined British democracy and the constitutional status of Northern Ireland, as that it ran contrary to the national interest. He concluded with, “Will she resign?

Fellow Brexiteer Peter Bone, posited, “We now have an extension of October. Prime Minister, how are you going to honour that commitment you gave to the House?” PM May argued she could still honour that commitment if MPs voted for a deal, blaming the extension on MPs for refusing to support her deal. She told the House of Commons to use the 12-day Easter break as an opportunity to "reflect on the decisions that will be made swiftly on our return" though she is expected to go on holiday next week.

Former Brexit secretary David Davis warned PM May that calls for her resignation will “increase dramatically” following last night’s summit in Brussels. He added that the election of a new leader would allow for a “reset” of the Brexit negotiations and would again open up the possibility of renegotiating the Irish backstop widely loathed by Conservative Eurosceptics and the Democratic Unionists.

The 1922 committee of backbench Conservative MPs discussed a timetable for the Prime Minister's departure, of May 22 that would allow for an 11-week leadership contest with her successor in place by August. Since the Conservative caucus wasted the opportunity in December of a non-confidence vote to remove PM May at party leader, the only other option to force her removal, which is a vote of confidence in the Commons, something even Eurosceptics are hesitant to employ. That would involve voting with Labour against the Government and potentially triggering a General Election, which no Conservative MP currently wants with the state of the party being what it is. Senior Conservatives indicated that the Prime Minister will stick to her pledge to stay on until a deal is ratified, which presently appears to be the end of October.

The DUP’s Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson asked PM May, “In these negotiations the EU demanded £39 billion, and got it; an unnecessary Irish backstop, and got it; a withdrawal agreement that would tie our hands in future negotiations, and got it; and extensions that go against commitments given by the Prime Minister, and got it. Can she give us any example of any EU demand that she has actually resisted?” PM May responded, “the European Union has been clear that the withdrawal agreement is not open for renegotiation.

 

WikiLeaks’ Assange arrested in London and facing extradition to the United States

47-year-old Australian-born Julian Assange who founded WikiLeaks in 2006 and has been living at the Ecuadorian embassy in London for the past seven years has been arrested by British police under an extradition treaty between the United States and Britain. He was charged with conspiracy to commit computer intrusion and faces up to five years in prison in the United States, the U.S. Justice Department said in a statement. The arrest makes extradition now possible.

I am sure that the whole House will welcome the news this morning that the Metropolitan Police have arrested Julian Assange,” Prime Minister Theresa May told Parliament, saying “This goes to show that in the United Kingdom no one is above the law.

In July 2010, WikiLeaks released more than 91,000 documents, most of them secret U.S. military reports about the war in Afghanistan. In October of that year, it released another 400,000 classified military files chronicling the war in Iraq from 2004 to 2009. Leading up the 2016 American Presidential election, WikiLeaks revealed Hillary Clinton’s use of an unsecured server to transmit potentially classified information via email.

Mr. Assange’s supporters consider him to be an advocate for free speech who challenges censorship and a hero for exposing what they describe as abuse of power by modern states. “Journalists around the world should be deeply troubled by these unprecedented criminal charges,” said Barry Pollack, a lawyer for Mr. Assange. Another of his lawyers, Jennifer Robinson, said the arrest set a “dangerous precedent” for the media where “This precedent means that any journalist can be extradited for prosecution in the United States for having published truthful information about the United States,” she said.

On Thursday, U.S. prosecutors announced charges against Mr. Assange, accusing him of conspiring with former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, formerly named Bradley Manning, to gain access to a government computer as part of one of the largest compromises of classified information in U.S. history. Ms. Manning was convicted by court-martial in 2013 of espionage and other offenses for furnishing more than 700,000 documents, videos, diplomatic cables, and battlefield accounts to WikiLeaks while she was an intelligence analyst in Iraq. Obama commuted the final 28 years of Manning’s 35-year sentence. The indictment was made secretly last year and unsealed on Thursday. Mr. Assange faces up to five years in prison if convicted, and legal experts anticipate more charges.

In November 2011, London’s High Court said Mr. Assange should be extradited to Sweden for questioning over alleged sex crimes after accusations by two former WikiLeaks volunteers in 2010. After losing an appeal, Mr. Assange took refuge in Ecuador’s embassy in June 2012 to avoid being extradited. He was granted political asylum by the anti-American left-wing former Ecuadorean president Rafael Correa. Mr. Assange remained in the embassy after Sweden dropped the investigation against him in 2017, fearing the U.S. would prosecute him.

In 2017 elections, Mr. Correa was replaced as Ecuadorean President by Lenin Moreno who has since moved Ecuador’s foreign policy to a more U.S.-friendly stance. He has been openly critical of Mr. Assange in recent months, calling him an inherited problem and accusing him of violating the rules of his asylum. President Moreno said the South American country had complied with its duties to Mr. Assange under international law and he accused Wikileaks of repeatedly violating the rules of his asylum, including a provision which was meant to stop him intervening in the internal matters of other countries. A leak of Vatican documents in 2019 was the most recent example of Mr. Assange violating that policy, President Moreno said in a video posted on Twitter.

Italy's Salvini unites a Nationalist Alliance heading into May’s European Parliament election

In Milan on Monday, Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini met with conservative, nationalist parties from across Europe to discuss the formation of a broad international alliance within the European Parliament. The European Union will hold May 26 elections for members of the Parliament. Nationalist parties in Italy, Austria, Poland, and Hungary are expected to do well in the May 26 elections, and Minister Salvini has pledged to bring about a "new European spring."

Minister Salvini also serves as Interior Minister and has been strongly opposed to the illegal migration flooding Italy’s shores, reflecting growing public sentiment.  He said that what the group have in mind is "a new Europe that looks toward the future and to the coming generations" and are working for "a new European dream." The meeting was organized under the slogan of ‘Towards a Europe of Reason’.

"We are not nostalgics or extremists. The only nostalgics in Brussels today are in government. We look to the future. The outdated debate about right and left, fascists and communists does not interest the 500 million citizens in Europe, which we leave to historians," said Minister Salvini, the 46-year-old head of the Lega party. Important concerns of the alliance are the protection of the external borders, fight against smuggling and terrorism, as well as respect for the national identities. Together, they will work toward employment, family policy, safety, environmental protection, and the future of young people.

Attendees included Joerg Meuthen, Chairman of the Alternative for Germany party, Olli Kotro of the Finns Party, and Anders Vistisen of the right-wing Danish People's Party.  Mr. Methuen said the planned bloc would comprise at least 10 nationalist parties from different EU member states. Though absentees included Marine Le Pen of France's Nationalist Rally and Austria’s Heinz-Christian Strache of the Freedom Party (FPÖ), Minister Salvini said he speaks on behalf of other parties, including the FPÖ and the Rassemblement National (RN).

Addressing the media, Minister Salvini said, "The ambitious objective of those present is to create the leading group of the next European Parliament, the largest, most important, most decisive, and most addressed to the future.” He added they will have the newest ideas and hope to be present in nearly all of the European countries that will be voting. "Our goal is to win the EU elections and change the rules of Europe. Other parties will join us," Minister Salvini said. Plans are underway to hold a large gathering for the new Europe in Milan's Piazza Duomo on May 18.

Minister Salvini said talks with Turkey regarding joining the EU, which have been suspended, should be canceled. He said he believes Turkey would be an Islamic influence that is not needed in Europe and that the country is too different culturally.

AfD leader Mr. Meuthen emphasized the need for EU external border protection as important to defend Europe's "rich heritage" saying, "We have to be a European fortress, where we decide who can come and who can not. If (German Chancellor Angela) Merkel claims that this is not possible, we answer that this is feasible with political will, as Salvini and his Lega testify,” said Mr. Meuthen.

Austria threatens to repeat history with its latest condemnation of Millennial patriots

Across Europe, the post-World War II consensus is breaking down as evidence of the European Union’s ineffectual coalition leads to the public’s increasingly clear and growing rejection of globalism. Yet the efforts of Europe’s political leaders to prevent a repeat of the catastrophic wars of the twentieth century are exactly what may cause conflict to return.

In 2017, the Austrian government came to power in the wake of the illegal migrant crisis. Despite being part of the previous government, the pro-EU Sebastian Kurz presented himself during the election as an engine of change for voters disenchanted with the political status quo. Mr. Kurz and his right-wing People’s Party (ÖVP), as well as his coalition government partner the conservative Freedom Party (FPÖ), were elected on a platform of defending Europe's outer borders, tougher immigration controls, quickly deporting asylum-seekers whose requests are denied, and cracking down on radical Islam. The ÖVP received 31.4 percent of the vote, a gain of more than 7 percentage points from the 2013 election, which Mr. Kurz described as the biggest jump in support in the party’s history.

At the informal Salzburg summit of European Union leaders in September 2018, Brexit and migration dominated the discussion. Austria emerged as one of the hard-line voices, rejecting a continental solution to migration as dictated by Brussels. Along with the Visegrád group and several other countries, Austria refused to sign the United Nations’ Global Migrant Compact last year in Marrakesh, which creates open borders and lack of immigration controls among signatory states.

Now, Chancellor Kurz is courting dangerous consequences with his authoritarian response and conflation of a donation made from the New Zealand terrorist to a pan-European, pro-European, and non-violent youth movement Generation Identity (GI). The Identitarian Movement is concerned with the rapid demographic replacement of ethnic Europeans in European nations by Islamic migrants from Africa and the Middle East. Chancellor Kurz doubled down after his public condemnation and a legally questionable search of the home and belongings of the leader of GI’s Austrian branch, Martin Sellner, when he demanded his Freedom Party coalition partners cut all ties they may have with GI and then announced any member or supporter of the Identitarian Movement is prohibited from employment with the civil service, including the military.

If his proposal is successful, entire occupational fields for supporters of the patriotic group would be impossible. For example, a career path in the public teaching profession, as a medical doctor, or in the government’s administration would be denied. Additionally, associations that are suspected of supporting or hosting the Identitarian Movement would receive no funding from the government. A reporting obligation of the state police to the state government is considered a guarantee. Previously, liberal federal Ministers had announced the creation of so-called blocking notices in security-related occupations. A few days ago, Interior Minister Herbert Kickl (FPÖ) announced he wants a closer look at the police to determine whether any members are sympathizers of the Identitarian Movement.

In a letter, Defense Minister Mario Kunasek (FPÖ) wrote that "political and religious extremism, no matter which side" has no place in the army, thus painting the patriotic Identitarian Movement without evidence or justification into the extremist corner. Yet beforehand, federal spokesman Michael Bauer said, "If someone belongs to a criminal organization, criminal offenses sets, then you can set measures. If this is not the case, then there is no legal basis." 

President Alexander van der Bellen, who hails from Austria’s Green Party, said a ban on the Identitarian Movement would not do much if it were even possible and one could only challenge Identitarians through political discussion. Mayor of Graz Mario Eustacchio (FPÖ) said he will only distance himself from the Identitarians "if criminally relevant facts exist". Upon Chancellor Kurz’s insistence, high-ranking FPÖ politicians distanced themselves from the movement and its activists, but Mayor Eustacchio emphasized that he saw "no reason to distance himself" and that the current accusations have "no basis" and therefore he rejects the ubiquitous "hysteria". In particular, he notes, there are no convictions against the group and the "basis of the rule of law" should be respected. The Identitarians were acquitted by the Court of Appeal of Graz in January of the charge of "formation of a criminal organization" so the "legal basis has been eliminated. No reason to distance yourself from something,” said Mr. Bauer.

For years Chancellor Kurz has openly expressed his views that Islam is incompatible with European civilization and his concerns regarding the demographic impact of mass illegal immigration from vastly differing societies in European nations. His latest attacks on a patriotic youth movement that is solely concerned with the preservation of its heritage and culture is a cheap tactic to gain easy favour from a collapsing and undemocratic European Union bureaucracy while ignoring the legitimate concerns of the citizens who elected him.

Chancellor Kurz has wrongly pointed to Identitarians as the villain responsible for the consequences of bad government policy and it has strategically backfired on him. By drawing attention to the Identitarians and their concerns, Generation Identity has now become well-known across Europe and beyond and garnered increased support. Identitarians should be the Chancellor’s natural allies on the migration issue and by attempting to unjustifiably criminalize and marginalize those who voice valid criticisms will only sow further frustration and discontent among Austrians. A conservative politician who showed great promise upon his election should know better than to play the failing censorship games of the left.

The Destruction of Ivory Poaching and the Illegal Wildlife Trade: Part 3

The assumption that animals are without rights, and the illusion that our treatment of them has no moral significance, is a positively outrageous example of crudity and barbarity. Universal compassion is the only guarantee of morality.
— Arthur Schopenhauer

Criminal Profits

Most poachers and African criminal syndicates receive only 5-10 percent of the retail value for the animal parts they poach. Even in destitute parts of Africa and Asia this is little reward for what can be a very risky task of spending days tracking dangerous wildlife in their natural habitat. Coordinated efforts to exterminate rhino and elephants in central Africa, as well as systematic poaching in Southeast Asia and China, have made it easier for criminal syndicates to organize a market for tiger and leopard skins, elephant ivory, and rhino horn. This has provided a channel for low-level poachers and high-level rebel militias to sell their animal parts to middlemen who then smuggle the cargo en mass to destinations around the globe where the items are sold for exorbitant prices.

In 2013, the street-price for rhino horn in Asia was USD $60,000-100,000 per kilogram. At roughly USD $1,700-2,840 per ounce, more than the price of gold, it was believed to be a better investment than real estate and an easy way to show off wealth. According to anti-poaching forces in South Africa, a Mozambican poacher would earn R100,000 (USD $10,000) per hunt or over R200,000 per horn depending on the middleman.

In January of 2015, Ugandan officials seized a shipment of 137 ivory tusks weighing 700 kg and destined for Amsterdam. The ivory in this shipment had an estimated street value of USD $1.5 million or USD $2,142 per kilo or roughly USD $973 per pound. As a result of international pressure to end the illicit ivory trade, as well as other factors impacting legal domestic markets where elephant ivory is still sold, the average price of ivory in China has fallen to USD $730 per kilogram (USD $331 per pound).

India’s diverse ecosystems suffer from the loss of its the native species of Bengal tiger, leopard, Indian rhinoceros, and Asian elephant. In 2009, a single tiger skin smuggled from India would sell for 650,000 rupees in China, approximately USD $134,000 or 91,920 yuan. However, in recent years poaching and wildlife trafficking have received more attention and more poachers and traffickers are being sentenced to jail time for their crimes. 

Who Are the Poachers?

There are many kinds of individuals that illegally hunt animals, illegally fish, or harvest plants or trees that are not their own. Some groups and businesses may even illegally farm public land and destroy natural resources in the process. People commit these crimes for a variety of reasons. As a result, penalties vary from country to country and may result in long jail sentences or simply a small fine based on laws that may be decades old.

However, many non-governmental organizations and government agencies are strengthening anti-poaching and anti-trafficking enforcement in the field and through legislation around the world. They’re also cracking down on illegal poaching of all kinds as well as catching illegal smugglers of plant and animal products.

Wildlife poachers are the people on the ground illegally hunting, fishing, and snaring. Not all illegal hunting is the same and while some groups struggle to survive others are seeking out ways to exploit the environment and profit from it as quickly as possible even at the expense of their community and nation.

Subsistence Poachers and Farmers

Subsistence farmers often live in settled communities that must find ways of coexisting with the wildlife around them. At times this close proximity can lead to conflict between humans and wildlife and there are few governmental and non-governmental organizations that have solutions in place to prevent subsistence farmers from killing wildlife they feel threatened by.

Most subsistence poachers are simply people that live in rural areas that illegally hunt, seeking to put food on their table with game that they have shot, trapped, or foraged and cooked themselves. They are not big-game hunters and do not kill high-value wildlife with the intention of selling their trophies. However, many of these people may be committing crimes by shooting protected wildlife, illegally hunting, or hunting on private or protected land. With few other opportunities for employment or nourishment these individuals may be contributing to substantial losses of non-protected wildlife and in doing so negatively impact the balance of their local ecosystem.

Commercial Poachers

Commercial poachers throughout South America, Asia, and Africa are typically not specialized hunters. They kill local wildlife for their meat to be sold at local or regional markets. Illegal business contributes to the sale of millions of tonnes of bushmeat each year but may be the sole source of high-protein food for many rural people.

Organized Crime and Criminal Syndicates

Criminal syndicates are involved in distributing goods purchased from low-level poachers to national and international buyers. Top syndicates operate ivory and rhino horn trafficking operations at an international level and bribe businesses and government officials at all levels. The knowledge and connections of these syndicates are essential to many kinds of poachers and wildlife traffickers profiting from the illegal wildlife trade.

Rebel and Insurgent Militias

Armed insurgent groups and rebel forces throughout Africa have perpetrated human rights violations, war crimes, and claimed responsibility for terrorist attacks on the people of sovereign nations. Some of these groups are supplementing their income by mining for resources and committing large-scale poaching that is wiping out elephant and rhino populations in West and Central Africa.

Military and Corrupt Officials

Throughout the world there are military leaders, high-ranking officials, and state employees taking advantage of their position to exploit their country. Some choose the low-risk, high-reward illegal wildlife trade as their means of supplementing their income or currying favor with foreign governments.

Wildlife Traffickers and Smugglers

Individuals, regional syndicates, and transnational organizations around the world participate in the trafficking and sale of exotic animals and protected or endangered species without respect to local environmental sustainability, the safety of the animal, or legitimate pet shops and breeders that are forced to compete with poaching which undercuts their business. The United Nations Environment Programme estimates that the global illegal wildlife trade and environmental crimes, including illegal logging, is worth USD $70-213 billion each year. Some of these individuals also engage in cross-over crimes by helping to poach animals, falsify hunting or fishing licenses, traffick drugs, or smuggle undeclared goods. 

Who Are the Buyers of Illicit Wildlife Parts?

People that purchase illegally obtained wildlife parts such as bear paws, lion claws, and leopard skins are not directly poaching, but they may be indirectly contributing to poaching and trafficking of wildlife and their money may be funding organized crime, drug traffickers, and even rebel militias.

Buyers of Bear Parts

Bears feature prominently in many cultures because of their power and sometimes human-like qualities. In some cultures, bear paw is an exotic food dating back thousands of years. In some nations farming bears has become common, not necessarily for their meat, but for their bile which some believe has a medicinal effect.

Buyers of Elephant Ivory

Ivory tusks and worked ivory have been kept as ornamental trophies and a sign of wealth for hundreds of years across a variety of cultures. Ivory found its way into other objects as well and demand from by Japan, Europe, and the United States created a surge in elephant poaching that resulted in hundreds of tonnes of ivory being shipped out of East Africa each year since at least 1932.

Since then, elephant populations in Africa have dropped from millions to historically low levels of 400,000-750,000 based on population estimates carried out by independent organizations. The international ban in the trade of ivory, as well as individual nations banning certain ivory, has attempted to end the illegal hunting and conserve remaining populations of the two African elephant species and the one Asian elephant species. However not all nations are doing their part and illicit ivory is still making its way out of Africa.

Buyers of Rhino Horn

2,100 years ago, rhinoceros horn’s purported medicinal effects were documented in ancient Chinese texts. These purported cures continue to drive a large portion of real rhino horn sales in regions with cultures that believe in Traditional Chinese medicine, but people have found many uses for rhinoceros horn over the centuries. During China’s Tang dynasty (618-907) rhino horns from Africa were carved for the Emperor, a craft that would continue for a thousand years throughout many dynasties. In the 8th century C.E. rhinoceros horn began being used as an exotic material for Yemeni daggers, called janbiya.

While rhino populations during these periods are unknown, it’s presumed that the majority of rhinoceros horn was supplied from Africa because Asia’s rhinoceros were both less numerous and had smaller horns. Due to various methods of over-exploitation an entire rhino species in Africa had been nearly wiped out by 1900. This drastic decline lead to conservation efforts for some of the rhinoceros populations and those protections are responsible for the resurgence of the white rhinoceros in southern Africa. Over the next century demand for rhinoceros horn led to increased poaching, smuggling, and high-level corruption that fed demand even while international trade in rhino horn was being banned. Poaching has not ceased and since 2008 a resurgence of rhino poaching in southern Africa, driven largely by consumer demand from Asia, has left all species of rhinoceros in danger of extinction. Today, weight for weight, rhino horn is worth more than gold.

Buyers of Lion, Tiger, and Leopard Parts

Like bears, lions and tigers play a role in the traditions and cultures of many nations. For some cultures their body parts have come to symbolize strength, power, and even sexual potency, making tiger penis and meat a rare and expensive delicacy in some parts of the world. The skins of tigers are also prized, as are leopard skins which are used both for ornamentation and for traditional clothing in some cultures. The trade in tiger bones, heavily supplemented by lion bones, is used to create traditional folk medicines of dubious efficacy and wines.

Buyers of Pangolin Scales

Pangolins are a unique family of eight mammalian species which primarily eat ants and termites. Across parts of Africa and Asia they have historically been consumed for bushmeat as well as traditional medicines, despite a lack of evidence of any medicinal benefit. A resurgence in the use of traditional folk medicines has resulted in poaching of all pangolin species and an increase in pressure on Asian populations. This has resulted in an intercontinental trade of African pangolins poached primarily for the Asian market where their meat is considered a delicacy and their scales, blood, and other parts are incorporated into both folk remedies and pharmaceutical medicines.

The Jagged Arc of Human Progress

Human progress is dramatic and real. The fundamentals of human wellbeing, including life expectancy, income, nutrition, education and personal safety, have improved dramatically – especially over the last two centuries or so.

The arc of those improvements, however, is jagged, not linear. Occasional backsliding, as the findings of the just-released Human Freedom Index 2018 indicate, is unavoidable.

The Index, which is co-published annually by the Cato Institute, the Fraser Institute, and the Liberales Institut at the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, presents the state of human freedom in the world based on a broad measure that encompasses personal, civil, and economic freedom. As its authors, Ian Vásquez and Tanja Porcnik, note, “Human freedom is a social concept that recognises the dignity of individuals and is defined here as negative liberty or the absence of coercive constraint.”

The data in the Index goes back to 2008. This year’s edition contains 2016 data, covering 162 countries. The Index uses 79 distinct indicators of personal, civil and economic freedom in the following areas: rule of law, security and safety, movement, religion, and association, assembly, and civil society; expression and information, identity and relationships, size of government, legal system and property rights, access to sound money, freedom to trade internationally, and regulation of credit, labour, and business.

Indicators of personal and civil freedoms are weighted at 50 percent, and the indicators of economic freedom are also weighted at 50 percent. Individual countries are rated on a scale from 0 to 10, with higher values representing more freedom.

According to the 2018 Index, the average human freedom rating for 162 countries in 2016 was 6.89. That’s 0.01 less than was the case last year. More specifically, 63 countries increased their ratings and 87 decreased their ratings. Since 2008, the level of global freedom has also decreased by 0.06. During the intervening decade, 56 countries improved their scores and 81 countries saw their scores deteriorate.

The top 10 freest jurisdictions included, in descending order, New Zealand, Switzerland, Hong Kong, Australia, Canada, the Netherlands and Denmark (tied in 6th place), Ireland and the United Kingdom (tied in 8th place), and Finland, Norway, and Taiwan (tied in 10th place). The bottom 10 jurisdictions included, in descending order, Iran, Burundi, Algeria, Egypt, Sudan, Libya, Iraq, Yemen, Venezuela and Syria.

The highest levels of freedom were in North America, Western Europe and Oceania. The lowest levels were in the Middle East and North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

The countries that improved their level of human freedom most from last year were Ukraine (0.44), Iran (0.34), Timor-Leste (0.26), Belize (0.19) and Niger (0.19). The largest deteriorations were in the Seychelles (−0.24), Surinam (−0.23), Turkey (−0.19), Cape Verde (−0.18) and Poland (−0.18).

Since 2008, the countries that have seen the greatest improvement in their human freedom scores include Côte d’Ivoire, Angola, Zimbabwe, Taiwan and Lesotho. The largest deteriorations occurred in Greece, Brazil, Venezuela, Egypt and Syria.

As the authors of the Index note, freedom is good in and of itself. But freedom is also highly correlated with democracy – Hong Kong being the main exception – and with economic wellbeing. In fact, countries in the top quartile (i.e., 25 per cent) of human freedom “enjoy a significantly higher average per capita income ($39,249) than those in other quartiles. The average per capita income in the least-free quartile, for example, is only $12,026.”

The authors of the Index write that “freedom plays an important role in human well-being” and note “the complex ways in which freedom influences, and can be influenced by, political regimes, economic development, and the whole range of indicators of human well-being.” As editor of HumaProgress.org, I can only concur.

The decline in human freedom shows that progress does not take place along all dimensions of human well-being, all of the time. That, as Harvard University psychologist Steven Pinker notes, would not be progress, but a miracle. The findings of the Human Freedom Index 2018 report also remind us that progress is not guaranteed. To live in a better world, all of us have to be on guard and defend the gains that humanity has made.


About the Author

Marian L. Tupy is a senior policy analyst at the Cato Institute and editor of HumanProgress.org

Heroes of Progress: Richard Cobden

Richard Cobden, a 19th century British politician and textile manufacturer. Cobden’s work turned Britain, the global hegemon at the time, into a free trading nation – an act that set in motion global trade liberalization that has lifted millions of people out of poverty.

Richard Cobden was born June 3, 1804, in rural Sussex, England. He was the son of a poor farmer and spent his early years in abject poverty. Cobden received little formal education and, at the age of 14, he became a clerk in a textile factory. In 1828, Cobden and two other young men started a company selling calico prints in London. The business was an immediate success and within a few years he was living an affluent life in Manchester.

In 1833, the now-prosperous Cobden began travelling the world. He visited much of Europe, the United States, and the Middle East. While on his travels in 1835, Cobden wrote an influential pamphlet titled England, Ireland and America. In the pamphlet, he advocated for a new approach to foreign policy based on free-trade, peace and non-interventionism.

Cobden returned to England in 1839 to advocate for the repeal of the Corn Laws. Enacted in 1815, the Corn Laws were tariffs placed on imported food and grain into Britain. They kept grain prices artificially high to favor domestic producers. Cobden argued that these laws raised the price of food and the cost of living for the British public, and hampered the growth of other economic sectors.

In March 1839, Cobden created the Anti-Corn Law League – an organization advocating in favor of the repeal. Cobden, with the support of the talented orator John Bright, spoke to audiences across the country. He presented a petition to Parliament urging the end of protectionism. After it was rejected, Cobden realized that petitions would achieve little. It was direct political action that was needed.

In 1841, Cobden became a Member of Parliament for Stockport. The economic hardship associated with the recession that lasted from 1840 to 1842 pushed more people in favor of free trade and Corn Laws were eventually repealed in 1846.

Prime Minister Robert Peel acknowledged Cobden as the man responsible for enabling those who lived in extreme poverty to access cheaper foodstuffs from abroad. Moreover, the repeal of the Corn Laws forced many of Britain’s colonies to embrace free trade.

In 1859, with tensions between Britain and France high, Michel Chevalier, a French statesman, urged Cobden to persuade the French Emperor Napoleon III about the benefits of free-trade. Cobden, with the blessing of the Chancellor of the Exchequer William Gladstone, met with the Emperor to discuss a potential Anglo-French free trade deal.

The Emperor was receptive to Cobden’s arguments and, on January 23, 1860, Britain and France signed the Cobden-Chevalier Treaty. Princeton University economist Gene Grossman described the treaty as the “first modern trade agreement.” Cobden died in London on April 2, 1865.

Repeal of the Corn Laws marked a fundamental shift of the British Empire toward free-trade. That policy alleviated hunger and suffering of millions of people, and set a precedent for free-trade treaties to follow. Cobden’s influence on the creation of the Cobden-Chevalier treaty laid the foundation for modern trade agreements that continue to shape and enrich the world today.


About the Author

Alexander C. R. Hammond is a researcher at a Washington DC think tank.

Runoff vote for April 21 in Ukraine after a newcomer comedian leads the presidential election

A television comedian with no political experience earned a sizable lead in Ukraine’s Sunday election, over 38 rival candidates. Without a clear first-round victory, Volodymyr Zelenskiy will advance to a runoff vote on April 21 with Petro Poroshenko, the incumbent President.

Mr. Zelenskiy garnered 30 percent of the vote, while incumbent President Poroshenko was a distant second with about 17 percent, and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko with 13 percent to round out the top three. The results closely aligned with a major exit poll.

The country of 44 million people has a struggling economy and the conflict with Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine has killed 13,000 people since 2014. Ukraine suffers from endless endemic corruption, and the strong showing for Mr. Zelenskiy appeared to reflect Ukrainians’ desire for new blood in their political system and a new approach to trying to end the war with Russia-backed separatists in the country’s east that has wracked the country for nearly five years.

Mr. Zelenskiy stars in a TV sitcom about a teacher who becomes president after a video of him denouncing corruption goes viral and his supporters hold out hope that he can fight corruption in real life. As one voter said, “Zelenskiy has shown us on the screen what a real president should be like. He showed what the state leader should aspire for — fight corruption by deeds, not words, help the poor, control the oligarchs.”

There were many allegations of widespread vote buying and police said they had received more than 2,100 complaints of violations on voting day alone, in addition to hundreds of earlier voting fraud claims, including bribery attempts and removing ballots from polling places. Concern about the election’s legitimacy were brought forward by Ukraine’s Interior Minister, who said his department was “showered” with hundreds of claims that supporters of Mr. Poroshenko and Ms. Tymoshenko had offered money in exchange for votes.

Like the popular character he plays, the 41-year-old Mr. Zelenskiy made corruption a central tenant of his candidacy. His lack of political experience helped his popularity with voters amid broad disillusionment with the country’s political elite. During his campaign, Mr. Zelenskiy held no rallies and gave few interviews to the mainstream news media, but his extensive use of social media appealed to younger voters. He proposed a lifetime ban on holding public office for anyone convicted of graft.

Mr. Zelenskiy called for direct negotiations with Russia on ending the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Mr. Zelensky's readiness to speak both Russian and Ukrainian was an asset at a time when language rights are a sensitive topic, lending him support in Ukraine's largely Russian-speaking east.

His potential weakness lies in his relationship with Ukraine's most controversial oligarch, Igor Kolomoisky, who owns the TV channel 1+1 and gave extensive support to Mr. Zelensky. Mr. Kolomoisky lives in self-imposed exile and faces numerous investigations in Ukraine into his business dealings.

53-year-old President Poroshenko is a chocolate tycoon and one of Ukraine’s wealthiest people who was elected five years ago in a snap vote after former pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych was toppled in the February 2014 Maidan Revolution following Russia's annexation of Crimea and a Russian-backed insurgency in the east. He pushed successfully for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to be recognized as self-standing rather than a branch of the Russian church. However, he saw approval of his governing sink amid Ukraine’s economic woes and a sharp plunge in living standards and his campaign has been dogged by corruption allegations, including a scandal over defence procurement, which erupted last month.

“Seriously underqualified” Wilson-Raybould and Philpott kicked out of Trudeau’s caucus

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau removed former Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould and former Treasury Board President Jane Philpott from Liberal caucus this week. The Prime delivered the news to federal MPs on Tuesday afternoon, saying, "The trust that previously existed between these two individuals and our team has been broken. Whether it's taping conversations without consent or repeatedly expressing a lack of confidence in our government and in me personally as a leader, it's become clear that Ms. Wilson-Raybould and Dr. Philpott can no longer remain part of our Liberal team."

Ms. Wilson-Raybould gave the Justice Committee written statements and a 17-minute audio recording of her speaking with outgoing Privy Council Clerk Michael Wernick in the intention of corroborating and elaborating on her February 27 testimony to the committee. In Canada, it is legal to record a conversation as long as one person has knowledge of it. PM Trudeau said it's wrong for a politician to secretly record "a conversation with anyone" and that for an Attorney General to do it with Canada's top bureaucrat was "unconscionable." Ms. Wilson-Raybould replied, “Trust is a two way street… It is unconscionable to tread over the independence of the prosecutor, it is unconscionable not to uphold the rule of law,” adding that she was alarmed that it seemed more people were concerned about the existence of the tape rather than the contents of it.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s close friend and former Principal Secretary Gerald Butts also testified before the committee, on March 6, where he disputed Ms. Wilson-Raybould's recounting of events. This week, Mr. Butts handed over texts and notes to the House of Commons Justice Committee days after new evidence submitted by former Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould was made public. The question is, how did Mr. Butts obtain these texts and notes, which would have been on a government-provided cell phone and supposedly left behind the day he resigned from the Prime Minister’s Office?

Ms. Wilson-Raybould now says that blowback from the affair could have been entirely avoided had PM Trudeau apologized for what she says was political interference in a prosecution. Sources said that after Ms. Wilson-Raybould was shuffled out of her role as Justice Minister in January, she told the Prime Minister she would stay in Cabinet under certain conditions, including firing PM Trudeau’s top adviser Gerald Butts, Privy Council clerk Michael Wernick, and senior legal adviser Mathieu Bouchard. All three were named in her testimony as involved in the sustained and inappropriate pressure she says she faced on the SNC-Lavalin file. Ms. Wilson-Raybould also wanted PM Trudeau to apologize, either publicly or before Cabinet. Finally, she wanted assurances that her replacement as Justice Minister and Attorney General, David Lametti, would be directed to not authorize a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) for SNC-Lavalin.

PM Trudeau removed Ms. Philpott despite the fact that she had nothing to do with Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s audio recording. Following PM Trudeau’s announcement removing the two women from caucus, Ms. Philpott posted a statement on her Facebook page, commenting: “I was accused publicly by people in caucus of not being loyal, of trying to bring down the Prime Minister, of being politically motivated, and of being motivated by my friendship with Jody Wilson-Raybould. These accusations were coupled with public suggestions that I should be forced out of caucus. These attacks were based on inaccuracies and falsehoods. I did not initiate the crisis now facing the party or the Prime Minister. Nor did Jody Wilson-Raybould… On the contrary, I recommended that the government acknowledge what happened in order to move forward. This was an expression of loyalty, not disloyalty — in the same way that Jody Wilson-Raybould attempted to protect the Prime Minister from the obvious short-term and long-term consequences of attempts to interfere with prosecutorial independence — but to no avail.” 

Adding an interesting perspective to the whole affair, the notable Conrad Black wrote the following excerpts in his article for the National Post:

"Wilson-Raybould was seriously underqualified to be minister of justice, a post historically occupied by some of Canada’s leading statesmen, including prime ministers or future prime ministers …

“Wilson-Raybould was a Crown prosecutor for three years and then spent 12 years as a native rights activist-administrator and politician. But she personified the fusion of two groups to which the Justin Trudeau Liberal party and regime prostrated themselves like postulants before Pope Alexander (Borgia) VI (seeking to kiss a foot, nothing so egalitarian as a ring)…

"As a chief commissioner of the British Columbia Treaties Commission, and as regional chief of the Association of First Nations in British Columbia, Wilson-Raybould and her husband authored an 800-page book called the British Columbia Association of First Nations Governance Toolkit — a Guide to Nation-Building. It was a toolkit for the self-emasculation of Canada as a sovereign jurisdiction, and a guide to the jurisdictional destruction of Canada as a nation and its voluntary submission, on grounds of the alleged moral turpitude of the European discoverers and settlers of this country, to the overlordship of the notoriously ragged self-defined communities of partially pre-European descended people in Canada. Her declared objective was to “take back” what the natives had lost...

"Some of us warned where this was going. The prime minister and his senior collaborators, including the former principal secretary (Gerald Butts) and the clerk of the Privy Council (Michael Wernick, a non-political figure and the country’s senior civil servant), finally, after warning signals had become more frequent than a healthy jogger’s heartbeat in mid-run, and louder than the foghorn of R.M.S. Queen Mary, tried to put on the brakes. The prime minister shuffled the justice minister to veteran’s affairs (for which she was even less qualified than she was to be attorney general — I don’t like to imagine what her conception of war veterans was)."

Regulators target social media rules and tech start-ups amid another Facebook privacy leak

A new European Commission research paper titled 'Competition for the Digital Era' says American technology giants should be subject to stricter merger controls where a “heightened degree of control of acquisitions of small start-ups by dominant platforms” will prevent them from purchasing promising European start-ups and stifling competition.

The report suggested a new test could help decide whether mergers should be blocked if they give disproportionate power to the acquiring company over data or prevented the entry of new start-ups. It also suggested changing the revenue threshold for mergers and buyouts of European tech companies so that more deals would be scrutinised by the regulator.

Many of Britain’s hopeful technology start-ups have been bought by Silicon Valley firms, such as Bloomsbury AI bought by Facebook for USD $30 million and artificial intelligence company DeepMind acquired by Google for 400 million GDP in 2014. In the UK, the Government has proposed a new digital tax on the biggest technology firms, while Labour has proposed new regulations such as fines on companies which fail to remove hate speech.

Despite new calls from Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to introduce regulation on social media, the report does not appear to support this. These tech giants continue to be criticized for being platforms that spread misinformation and host discriminatory and abusive content. Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Amazon are among those that have come under increasing attention from regulators and politicians over their use of data and ability to combat harmful content.

The reports authors said treating technology companies like public utilities with strict regulations would not work and would stifle innovation, stating, “We do not envision a new type of 'public utility regulation' to emerge for the digital economy. The risks associated with such a regime – rigidity, lack of flexibility, and risk of capture – are too high.

Mr. Dorsey said, “It’s the job of regulators to ensure protection of the individual and a level playing field." In an opinion piece in the Washington Post last weekend, Mr. Zuckerberg called for government and regulators to have a “more active role.” He called for regulation in harmful content, elections, privacy, and data portability, and said rules should be drawn up to define political advertisements and more countries should adopt rules based on General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Mr. Zuckerberg is currently engaged in a criminal investigation into how political consultants used Facebook's system to improperly harvest data from 87 million people. This was made possible by tasking a developer to create a seemingly harmless personality test app, which when installed by Facebook users was granted access to the Facebook Application Programmer Interface (API) to pool their information, which was later sold to Cambridge Analytica.

Now, in another scandal for the company that has long profited from use of its users’ personal data, cyber security researchers have revealed 540 million Facebook records have been "exposed to the internet". According to Australian IT company UpGuard, two apps that Facebook allowed to access to its users’ data stored personal information on insecure servers without putting security measures in place.

Users’ Facebook IDs, passwords, friend lists, location check-ins, events, comments, likes, reactions, and account names were found on a database uploaded by Mexican digital publisher Cultura Colectiva which was discovered on Amazon Web Service (AWS) cloud servers, a popular storage product. A second database belonging to a now defunct Los Angeles-based social network app called The Pool Party which included names, email addresses, photos, friends lists and likes of 22,000 additional users was also found. Both Cultura Colectiva and At The Pool appear to have used Facebook's API to gather information.

Bezos divorce draws attention to possible Saudi hacking of private devices and personal information

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and wife MacKenzie have finalized their amicable divorce, whereby Mr. Bezos retains control over his USD $890 billion online marketplace. On January 9, Mr. Bezos announced the end of their 25-year marriage, the day before American tabloid the National Enquirer published details of his “months-long affair” with Lauren Sanchez.

Mr. Bezos told his top security chief of 22 years, former CIA and FBI agent Gavin de Becker, to “spend whatever is needed” to find the source who leaked the details of his new relationship. In February, Mr. Bezos published a blog post charging that the tabloid had attempted to blackmail him with intimate photographs that had been taken on his smartphone and allegedly sent to Ms. Sanchez unless the investigation was dropped.

Mr. de Becker’s investigation led him to accuse Saudi Arabia of hacking Mr. Bezos’ phone to obtain private information, including the photos and accompanying texts. “Some Americans will be surprised to learn that the Saudi government has been very intent on harming Jeff Bezos since last October, when the Post began its relentless coverage of Khashoggi’s murder,” Mr. de Becker wrote in an article for the Daily Beast.

After interviews with current and former executives from The National Enquirer’s parent company, American Media Inc (AMI), advisers to American President Donald Trump, associates close to those at the heart of Saudi Arabia's government, Middle East intelligence experts and cyber security specialists, Mr. de Becker concluded the hacking was a “key part of the Saudis’ ‘extensive surveillance efforts’”. Experts told Mr. de Becker about the Saudi government’s capability to “collect vast amounts of previously inaccessible data from smartphones in the air without leaving a trace - including phone calls, texts, emails.

In his article, Mr. de Becker suggested that Mr. Bezos became a target of the Saudi regime after the Washington Post, which he owns, criticized the country after the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. United States intelligence officials said they believed that Mr. Khashoggi's killing, at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, was ordered by the crown prince himself. This allegation was strongly denied by the Saudi government, and the Saudi government’s Minister of State for foreign affairs denied all accusations regarding Mr. Bezos, saying it had “absolutely nothing to do” with the National Enquirer’s story.

Mr. de Becker said some of the methods allegedly employed by the Saudi government to “attack” people, included creating artificially trending hashtags online. He claimed it had also used a “cyberarmy” of bots to attack Mr. Bezos.

The Saudi regime previously sent an operative to work for Twitter to gather information. Twitter later fired the suspected employee and later advised certain users that their accounts may have been targeted by state-sponsored actors.

Evidence from Mr. de Becker’s investigation has been turned over to federal officials, and he notes it is “unclear to what degree” AMI is aware of the Saudi government’s involvement.