Feminist, or just fun? 'Ocean's 8' steals Hollywood spotlight

NEW YORK (Reuters) – For some, the female heist caper “Ocean’s 8” is a strike at the heart of male-dominated Hollywood. For others, it’s pure summer escapism, and for a (mostly male) minority it’s the worst idea ever.

Cast members (L to R) Cate Blanchett, Awkwafina, Sarah Paulson, Anne Hathaway, Sandra Bullock, Mindy Kaling, Helena Bonham Carter and Rihanna pose at the world premiere of the film “Ocean’s 8” at Alice Tully Hall in New York City, New York, U.S., June 5, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar

The “Ocean’s 8” cast of Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Rihanna, Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling, Helena Bonham Carter, Sarah Paulson and rising star Awkwafina have four Oscars, two Emmys, nine Grammys and five Golden Globes between them.

Their spin-off version of the 2001 “Ocean’s Eleven” franchise starring George Clooney has raised the stakes for women seeking to reverse power dynamics in Hollywood.

The Warner Bros. movie, opening in U.S. theaters on Friday, tells of Debbie Ocean (Bullock), who upon her release from prison puts together a team of female crooks to steal a $ 150 million necklace during New York City’s annual Met Gala.

The film was conceived long before scores of sexual misconduct allegations against directors, filmmakers and actors roiled Hollywood and spurred a long-standing campaign for better paid and more visible roles for women.

“Warner Brothers made this movie before the whole movement,” Bullock said. “It wasn’t so much eight women, but they said this is a franchise that can keep going. What’s a fresh way of looking at the franchise? It’s with the ladies.”

The movie is expected to take a healthy $ 30-$ 40 million on its opening weekend in North America, according to box office analysts, despite mixed reviews and a social media backlash.

Trailers were met with derisory comments. “How to ruin a classic franchise,” wrote a user called Handsome Stalker on YouTube. “The feminists are taking over,” said user Jamie Vardy

Vulture film critic Emily Yoshidi said that although the movie was seen as “symbolic balm for all the ills of a male-dominated Hollywood,” the finished version “doesn’t feel like much more than a thrown bone.”

Variety’s Owen Gleiberman, by contrast, called it “a gender-flipped sequel that not only works just fine, but renders the whole novelty of the concept a borderline irrelevance.”

Hathaway said she hopes gender politics will not distract audiences.

“The fact that eight women are starring together in a movie feels very big – because it is – and powerful and in some ways political. But the movie is a comedy… And it’s stylish and spirited,” she said.

Working with an all-female cast certainly made an impact on the seasoned actresses. Kaling called the experience “surprising.” Paulson described it as “fun” and Hathaway said it was “about time.”

Reporting by Alicia Powell in New York and Jill Serjeant in Los Angeles; Editing by Michael Perry

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Harsh: Europe’s cannabis died just as the first farmers arrived

Europe had to do without marijuana for millennia

Europe had to do without marijuana for millennia

Matias Planas matiplanas / Alamy Stock Photo

Cannabis – the source of the drug marijuana – grew wild across Europe at the end of the Stone Age, but by the time early farmers reached the continent it was vanishing. It seems Europe’s first farmers just missed out on the opportunity to cultivate cannabis and reap its benefits – including its mind-bending properties.

Researchers often use ancient pollen from archaeological deposits to work out which plants once grew in a place. However, it’s difficult to do this for cannabis, because its pollen …

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New Scientist – Earth

Seattle’s Proposed Employment Tax is Just the City’s Latest Self-Inflicted Wound

As self-inflicted wounds go, Seattle officials seem to have stumbled on a winning formula for tanking their city’s economy and their constituents’ prosperity. All it takes is a deep antipathy for the laws of economics and a series of policies based on the same, culminating in a proposed tax on hours worked by the employees of large companies to fund social programs that are making little if any headway in their supposed missions.

“An employee hours tax is hereby levied upon and shall be collected from every person for the act or privilege of engaging in business activities within the City,” reads the tax bill, which appears to have four of the necessary five city council votes locked up. “The tax shall be measured by the number of employee hours of work conducted within the City during each quarter of the calendar year.”

Every hour worked will bring in $ 0.26 from large employers with revenues of more than $ 20 million, for a grand total expected to tally up to between $ 25 million and $ 75 million. The bulk of that take is earmarked for the city’s years-long campaign against homelessness.

Why the wide range for projected revenue? Well, predicting economic activity is an inexact science at best—especially when the companies you’re planning to soak threaten to go elsewhere and take their jobs with them. Specifically, in response to the proposed employment tax, Amazon paused construction on a downtown office tower and may sublease space in another building rather than use the space itself.

“The company helmed by Jeff Bezos has planned to fill its 17-story ‘Block 18’ tower and the skyscraper being built at Rainier Square with an estimated 7,000 to 8,000 workers,” the Seattle Times reported.

“Jeff Bezos is a bully,” the city council’s resident overt socialist, Kshama Sawant, huffed in response.

But it’s not as if Seattle officials had no warning that Amazon was unhappy with the city’s anti-business rhetoric and its intrusive policies which include high taxes, a soaring minimum wage, a nanny-ish sugar tax, and expensive labor mandates. In setting the expectations for a second headquarters—HQ2—Amazon specified that it was looking for “a stable and business-friendly environment.” Seattle city council members responded just last October with a letter pleading, “[t] o the extent that this decision was based on Amazon feeling unwelcome in Seattle, or not being included in some of our regional decisions, we would like to hit the refresh button.”

And they had good reason to plead. In 2015, the city’s budget department attributed 43 percent of jobs created in the post-Great Recession recovery to Amazon and Boeing, directly and also indirectly through secondary and tertiary effects.

Maybe, just maybe, employers and workers targeted by the proposed employee hours tax might be less resistant to being soaked if the money wasn’t so likely to be unproductively pissed away while homelessness continues to worsen. But this week Seattle residents learned that “KOMO News has obtained an unpublished report that shows how the city spent more than $ 53 million on the homeless in 2017. Although millions have been spent, Seattle’s homeless population continues to rise.”

Apparently, $ 20 million of the money went to emergency and shelter services, and “only six percent of people who use those services were able to find permanent housing.”

The Associated Press noted last year that “while homelessness has decreased nationwide and in many cities, the problem has grown in others, such as Seattle. In 2016, a one-night homeless count found nearly 3,000 people living outside in this city of about 650,000, marking the fourth straight year of increases.”

Even before that, in 2015, the local NPR affiliate found that the city’s 10-year plan to end homelessness was doing nothing of the sort. “[T]he 10-year plan is ending and local homelessness is worse than ever” even though “[t]he ranks of the homeless have declined in Washington state and nationally during that time.”

Then again, part of that homelessness is due to high housing costs fueled by demand from highly paid employees of the sort of large companies targeted by the employee hours tax. Building takes time, so supply can’t immediately catch up to demand—especially when real estate development is regulated by the same city officials doing their best to alienate the city’s large employers. Among other rules, Seattle mandates a minimum number of parking spaces be included in residential construction, and also mandates that developers either include low-cost housing in their plans or else contribute to a housing fund—measures that raise costs.

So chasing big employers out of the city would certainly reduce the demand driving rising housing costs. But that sort of gut-punch to the economy might not be a “solution” that Seattle residents ultimate appreciate.

Of course, Seattle isn’t the only city to try to cripple itself with taxes and regulations. Cities across the country have been hiking minimum wages—an issue on which Seattle is a leader. That’s unfortunate, given the negative impact researchers find the requirement has had on employment there. And Seattle’s real estate red tape has yet to reach the heights of complexity and corruption that, in New York City, requires an industry of middle-men “expediters” to navigate—and has trashed the construction of new housing in San Francisco.

Nobody doubts that in its search for an HQ2 location, Amazon wants a more business-friendly environment. Some cities are basing their pitches on exactly that assumption (they’re also being warned to focus on the tax and regulatory environment, rather than expensive bribes to the company). Locales that want healthy economies will be well-advised to avoid emulating Seattle’s mistake of abusing the businesses that help to create prosperity.

Taxes

Illinois Police Just Claimed if Marijuana is Legalized, They’ll Have to Kill Their Police Dogs

dogs

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Chad Larner,  the training director of the K-9 Training Academy in Macon County, Illinois said in a recent interview that police departments throughout the state may have to euthanize drug dogs if marijuana is legalized. Larner said that it would be abusive to retrain the dogs and that it could even be impossible. He also said that the dogs are trained to not be social because that is what the job requires.

According to The Pantagraph, Because many K-9s are trained not to be social so their work won’t be affected, Larner said a number of dogs would likely have to be euthanized.”

Other police in the state seemed to have similar feelings on the subject.

Assistant Police Chief Steve Petrilli of the Normal Police Department said that it would be “impossible” to retrain the dogs.

“At this point, they’re trained on five different odors. Once they’re programmed with that, you can’t just deprogram them. I think the implications of that would be huge,“ Petrilli said.

However, it is actually possible to retrain the K9s, as many police departments in Washington have shown.

Legalization activist Dan Linn of NORML thinks that the police are just making empty threats to scare the public.

“The idea that legalizing for adults to have an ounce on them will equal … all these dogs being euthanized, that seems kind of ridiculous and hyperbolic,” he said.

Macon County Sheriff Howard Buffett complained that this would make the dogs useless to the department, and would be a victory for drug dealers.

“The biggest thing for law enforcement is, you’re going to have to replace all of your dogs. So to me, it’s a giant step forward for drug dealers, and it’s a giant step backward for law enforcements and the residents of the community,” Buffet said.

In 2016, Buffett’s personal foundation reportedly invested $ 2.2 million in training for K-9 units throughout 33 counties across Illinois.

It is strange that one of the excuses that they have for not wanting to retrain the K9s is that it would be abusive, but to train them to be vicious and keep them as attack dog slaves is extremely abusive in itself. There are likely millions of dog owners, trainers, and rescuers who would be willing to show these animals a loving home so they can grow to be social again.

The use of dogs in police business is inhumane both for the animals, and the suspects who they are often unleashed on. Our society shuns animal abusers and people who raise dogs specifically for fighting, and rightfully so, but how are police dogs any different than an attack dog that a street gang breeds to be as aggressive as possible, for the purpose of winning money in dogfights and intimidating rivals?

In many cases, these animals are often treated as nothing more than disposable weapons by the police that are in charge of caring for them. In fact, it is sadly common for police officers to get accused of animal cruelty for abusing or neglecting their dogs.

Just this we The Free Thought Project reported that an officer was caught on video abusing his own search dog when the animal failed to signal for drugs at a traffic stop. It is also common for police to leave their dogs in hot cars for extended periods of time until they die.

One police officer in Georgia killed three of his dogs, one by leaving it in a hot car, and two others by shooting them. Officer Daniel Peabody of the Cherokee County Marshal’s Office, buried the first two dogs in his yard and was eventually caught when he killed the third.

When police dogs retire from official duty, they are supposed to return home and live with their handlers, but this is not always the case. In the state of Illinois where this controversy has happened, some officers reportedly dropped their dogs off at shelters after they were retired.

If any other organization was caught treating animals like this on such a regular basis and were admittedly raising them to be aggressive, there would be massive public outrage and calls of animal abuse, but the police are allowed to be abusers so situations like this are often overlooked or ignored.

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DASH cryptocurrency and The Free Thought Project have formed a partnership that will continue to spread the ideas of peace and freedom while simultaneously teaching people how to operate outside of the establishment systems of control like using cryptocurrency instead of dollars. Winning this battle is as simple as choosing to abstain from the violent corrupt old system and participating in the new and peaceful system that hands the power back to the people. DASH is this system.

DASH digital cash takes the control the banking elite has over money and gives it back to the people. It is the ultimate weapon in the battle against the money changers and information controllers.

If you’d like to start your own DASH wallet and be a part of this change and battle for peace and freedom, you can start right here. DASH is already accepted by vendors all across the world so you can begin using it immediately.

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The Free Thought Project

The real palm oil problem: it’s not just in your food

forest dead

Growing palm has a huge impact on the Indonesian landscape

Bay Ismoyo/AFP/Getty Images

PALM oil has become a byword for environmental destruction. Found in food and cosmetics, its growing use is destroying rainforests and endangering species like orangutans. In an effort to turn things around, UK supermarket Iceland pledged last month to halt the use of palm oil in its own-brand products. But the real problem isn’t in your kitchen cupboard or bathroom cabinet – it is in your car.

Half of all the palm oil imported by Europe is turned into biodiesel and blended into conventional fuel to power cars …

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New Scientist – Earth

Just as Witnesses Expose Staged Chemical Attack—US Freezes Funding for White Helmets

white helmets

The White Helmets, a Nobel Peace Prize-nominated organization that has been painted as a selfless “humanitarian group” by the media, but caught multiple times aiding terrorists, has just reportedly had their funds frozen by the United States. The move comes just after witnesses of the alleged chemical attack in Douma told reporters at The Hague that the White Helmets video used as a pretext for a US-led strike on Syria was, in fact, staged.

On Thursday, CBS reported that the State Department has put the group’s support “under active review.” Prior to freezing the funds, the US has provided approximately one-third of the groups overall funding. This move serves as a significant blow to the alleged humanitarian group.

“This is a very worrisome development,” said an official from the White Helmets. “Ultimately, this will negatively impact the humanitarian workers ability to save lives.”

As CBS reports, an internal State Department document said that its Near East Bureau needed confirmation from the administration to green light funding for the White Helmets in Syria by April 15th or the department would initiate “shut-down procedures on a rolling basis.”

This green light never came.

The timing of the funds freeze is important to note as it comes amid major controversy after witnesses in Douma have allegedly caught the White Helmets in a lie—selling a fake attack to trick the US into striking their enemies in Syria.

As TFTP reported last month, witnesses have come forward and described how they were given free food to participate in the filming of a fake attack. After this report, witnesses were flown to the Hague to testify against the White Helmets at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

In a press conference following the hearing, hospital staff and one of the children who claims to have been given free food to participate in a staged video said there was never an attack.

The video was the only publicly available “evidence” cited by the West which they used to justify launching a coordinated attack on Syria by the UK, France, and the United States.

If the report from CBS is true, and the US actually froze funding to the White Helmets, this could indicate a significant move from inside Washington to halt funds flowing to terrorists and their supporters.

Although the White Helmets and their supporters claim the group is responsible for saving 70,000 lives, to those paying attention to Syria, the truth appears to be quite the opposite.

A Twitter post from last year by user ‘Walid’ appears to show the famed White Helmets taking care of injured Al-Qaeda fighters who were recently wounded on the Syrian battlefront. This is just one of many in a series of videos, which has served as evidence that the White Helmets are not what they appear.

While helping injured people, regardless of what ‘side’ they are fighting for is noble, it is important to point out that the white helmets reportedly never help those injured by ISIS. Countless Syrian citizens have come forward to expose the group’s utter lack of care for injured men, women, and children alike — while helping only those who are friendly to the resistance.

The first such scandalous revelation came about when a video was uploaded to social media demonstrating the WH staging an attack reportedly carried out by Syrian government forces. When the group discovered their video flub, they quickly stated they were simply carrying out a mannequin challenge. Few bought their explanation, yet their documentary later went on to win an Oscar.

The group also came under fire in June of 2017 when video surfaced that showed members of the White Helmets assisting in disposing of the dead bodies of Syrian soldiers. The US-backed “aid workers” were seen celebrating their kill whilst holding the heads of the dead.

As it stands, the White Helmets are also funded by the U.K., as well as many other international entities. That may be the reason they always worked in rebel-held areas of the greater Syrian conflict. The White Helmets serve as a de facto propaganda wing of the West to sway public opinion into supporting regime change in Syria.

As proof, one only has to look to the story of Omran Daqneesh, a Syrian boy reportedly pulled from the rubble of a bombed out building. Just like Dair, Daqneesh’s image was broadcast around the world and used as a propaganda tool against Syrian President Bashar Al Assad.

The truth was later revealed by The Free Thought Project and others that it is very likely the opposition itself destroyed the very building in which Daqneesh was residing, then used his image to promote the myth he was attacked by Syrian forces.

As TFTP reported:

“But it was a lie — from mass media’s parroted claims the boy had escaped an airstrike within an inch of his life, to bandages eventually wrapped around Omran’s head — virtually none of the narrative stemming from the starkly persistent image bore the weight of truth.”

According to The New York Times, Mr. Daqneesh told the real story of what happened immediately following the bombing. He never supported the opposition and appeared on Syrian state-run media to proclaim his support for Assad. He described how the White Helmets used his son as a propaganda tool without his permission.

”They took Omran, got him to the ambulance, where they filmed him,” Mr. Daqneesh said. “It was against my will. I was still upstairs in the house.”Mr. Daqneesh said he was pressured by opposition activists after Omran was released from the hospital to “talk against the Syrian regime and the state,” adding that he had been offered money to do so, which he refused.”

When they are not being caught on camera participating in terrorism, the White Helmets are allegedly recruiting support from Hollywood using funding from Saudi Arabia.

Last month, the Free Thought Project reported that Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters stopped a concert in Barcelona to warn the crowd about pro-war propaganda that is coming from a group in Syria known as the White Helmets. After that, Waters published emails showing how the group was attempting to recruit him for PR purposes.

The emails showed that Saudi-British billionaire Hani Farsi invited him to a lavish fundraiser that he was holding on behalf of the White Helmet affiliated group “The Syria Campaign.”

It appears that the White Helmets propaganda campaign is finally beginning to break apart thanks to those who are willing to go to Syria and find the truth. Hopefully, this helps to expose more of the atrocities currently being sold to Americans as “humanitarian aid.”

DASH cryptocurrency and The Free Thought Project have formed a partnership that will continue to spread the ideas of peace and freedom while simultaneously teaching people how to operate outside of the establishment systems of control like using cryptocurrency instead of dollars. Winning this battle is as simple as choosing to abstain from the violent corrupt old system and participating in the new and peaceful system that hands the power back to the people. DASH is this system.

DASH digital cash takes the control the banking elite has over money and gives it back to the people. It is the ultimate weapon in the battle against the money changers and information controllers.

If you’d like to start your own DASH wallet and be a part of this change and battle for peace and freedom, you can start right here. DASH is already accepted by vendors all across the world so you can begin using it immediately.

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The Free Thought Project

Just half a degree less global warming would avert food shortage

Farmers gathering potatoes in Bangladesh, a country vulnerable to food insecurity

Farmers gathering potatoes in Bangladesh, a country vulnerable to food insecurity

Zakir Hossain Chowdhury / NurPhoto / via Getty Images

Sometimes it’s good to over-reach – particularly when it comes to stopping climate change. New evidence comparing the impacts of 1.5°C and 2°C rises in temperature reveal the unprecedented food shortages, economic inequality and species loss that will occur if we don’t aim for the more ambitious target.

In 2015, global leaders signed up to the Paris Agreement: a commitment to keep global warming under 2°C and possibly even limit it to 1.5°C …

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New Scientist – Earth

California’s Housing Crisis Is So Bad, Families Are Squatting Abandoned Homes Just to Survive

When I ask Christine Hernandez, a mother of four, slender in stature and bold in manner, how best to scout for abandoned homes—the bleak dwellings with the boarded-up windows and ripped-out drywall, their innards packed with leftover syringes, rotting debris, and the peculiar loot of previous dispossessed tenants—she says it’s best to send someone who won’t draw too much suspicion from cops or neighbors. “I’m a woman, and small,” she notes. “Not super intimidating, you know?”

It was about two years ago when Hernandez, who works at a community development organization, and her husband, Emilio, a painter, were forced to leave their ramshackle home in Oakland, California, after trying to get their landlord to make repairs. They started touring listings and seeking out “For Rent” signs in windows. But in the nutso housing crisis plaguing the Bay Area, where one-bedroom apartments in Oakland rent for more than $ 2,000 a month—never mind a home with space for a family of six—they found themselves, like so many others, hopelessly priced out. What they did notice was a shocking abundance of forsaken properties. They started performing reconnaissance. “A lot of them were already occupied, so, you know, that’s that,” she says. “A lot of them had burn damage, so you can’t really do much with that.”

Fifteen year-old Marcus opens the gate to the Hernandez home. The Hernandez family live behind a locked fence in order to prevent unannounced and potentially unlawful entry by people trying to get them out of the home.

Then on a clear October morning in 2015, they found a three-bedroom, one-bath house that had been a haven for drugs and prostitution. They pried open a section of the chain-link fence surrounding the property, scurried inside, and explored by flashlight. The kitchen had no counter, no sink, no pipes. Burn marks scoured the home. “It was a total mess,” says Hernandez, but a mess could be cleaned up. They got to work.

The right to adequate housing—not just four walls and a roof, but “a safe and secure home and community in which to live in peace and dignity”—is decreed by the United Nations, but you wouldn’t know it by looking around California, where nearly a quarter of the nation’s homeless people live. The housing crisis is often described as a shortage, the only solution being that we build our way out of it. But for every American living on the street, there are 13 empty, off-market units. In Oakland, where buyers routinely offer hundreds of thousands of dollars over asking prices, there are nearly four vacant properties for every homeless person. It’s not so much an issue of scarcity, but of distribution.

A snapshot of Christine Hernandez and her family in West Oakland, California.

Christine Hernandez and her daughter Sofia Lina, 4 years-old, repot plants in their Fruitvale, California backyard.

Emilio Hernadez holds a bullet that entered Madeleine Hernandez’s bedroom.

Squatting, or “occupying,” as its practitioners tend to prefer calling it, is a shaky existence, Hernandez’s family immediately discovered. On their first day, they encountered an outraged neighbor. “She was like, ‘You have kids? You’re going to be living in that filth and squalor?’” The cops came later, walking in on them as they were patching the walls, interrogating them about how they had gotten inside. A nearby house would occasionally host illicit gambling nights that would “inevitably involve gunfire.” Two days before their eldest daughter’s 17th birthday, a bullet entered her bedroom window, bounced around, and slammed a hole in the wall two feet from her head. She still has the slug, a smashed-up metal keepsake, on her dresser.

But the worst was when a representative from a bank busted in. Christine and Emilio arrived home to find the front door smashed and the locks changed. The house was ransacked, their valuable possessions stolen. The water was turned off and the power had been shut down. Flyers from a company called M&M Mortgage Services, which offers “debris removal” and “eviction services,” festooned the house: “This property was found to be vacant and/or unsecured,” they read. “It has been secured against entry by unauthorized persons to prevent possible damage.” The company operatives had let the family’s dog loose and it went missing for days.

Scouring the internet for information on how to fight back, Hernandez came across an organization run by an Oakland man who had used a little-known law called “adverse possession” to gain ownership of a home he’d occupied for more than a decade. Passed down from common law, the legal doctrine varies from state to state, but the basic gist is that anyone can legally claim an abandoned property if he or she occupies it and pays its back taxes for a set time and as long as no one else steps forward and proves ownership.

Outdated electrical wires extend from the walls of renovated squat properties. Legal prosecution and future instability prevent squatters from ongoing renovation investment in properties that they may be forced to vacate in the near future.

Vaughn, Marcus, and Sofia Lina Hernandez (Left to Right) share a birthday breakfast for Emilio in their Fruitvale home.

Christine Hernandez and her daughter Sofia Lina rest on the hammock in their backyard.

The man was Steven DeCaprio, and his organization, called Land Action, was dedicated to helping squatters. Hernandez and her family went off to find him.

DeCaprio is 45 years old, with a salt-and-pepper crew cut and beard. About 15 years ago, unemployed and recently evicted, he was living out of his van when he first saw the home that he now owns—a turn-of-the-century bungalow in a poor West Oakland neighborhood. Plywood stood in for the front door, the back of the house hung off the foundation, the kitchen floor was burned down to charred beams, and an acacia tree had grown through a hole in the roof. The top floor, open to the sky, was littered with animal carcasses.

Steven Dicaprio provides legal and administrative advice from Berkeley, California’s Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute where he is the Executive Director.

He researched property records and learned that the previous owner had died in the 1980s and no one had claimed the house. DeCaprio broke in, and with a crew of friends he started what would become a yearslong process of rehabilitating the property. They added locks, installed a solar power system, drew baths over a propane stove, and had fires in the backyard. “Wild West meets cyberpunk,” he says.

After countless run-ins with the police, DeCaprio finally gained title to the home. In California, adverse possession requires five years of paying taxes and navigating a bureaucratic maze of tax assessors, the courthouse, property records, and in some instances litigation to force a county to accept tax payments. It also requires an extraordinary amount of good fortune: Until they become adverse possessors, squatters are trespassers, subject to criminal charges whether an abandoned property’s owner complains or not.

A light fixture hangs from the ceiling of a renovated squat property.

Steven Dicaprio enters his West Oakland home acquired through persistent, law-abiding squatting.

A cot welcomes guests in the living room of Steven Dicaprio’s West Oakland home.

DeCaprio’s idea to create Land Action came after the Supreme Court’s infamous 2010 Citizens United ruling, when he had an epiphany over the phrase “Corporations are people.” “Homeless people should form a corporation,” he thoughtHe modeled Land Action off a tactic he had seen real estate speculators use: They form a collection of limited liability corporations to act as titleholders to conceal their ownership. Land Action would function as a title holding company to shield squatters until their paperwork cleared.

DeCaprio pursued a law degree through an independent study program and passed the bar exam. The State Bar of California has declined to issue his law license, saying that an old misdemeanor trespass charge may make him ineligible on moral grounds. He is appealing. But with or without the license, he’s become a squatting guru, leading seminars to often desperate people up against eviction.

This activism has come with costs. Not long ago, DeCaprio was facing several years in jail and tens of thousands of dollars in fines for felony conspiracy charges stemming from assisting two Oakland squatters in 2015. When those charges were finally dropped in late 2017, DeCaprio and his colleagues interpreted it as a confirmation that adverse-possession claims might be a viable strategy for housing for at least some of the Bay Area’s burgeoning homeless population.

On a stormy night in January, I tagged along with DeCaprio as he drove to a city commission meeting about a homeless encampment in Berkeley. As he steered through the rainy streets, he said that in his nearly two decades of working on housing rights, he’d “never seen such an acute amount of displacement and homelessness.” The dot-com boom and the foreclosure crisis were nothing compared with the speculation that’s occurring now, “this new real estate bubble that keeps expanding.”

Shown in an upstairs bedroom of his West Oakland home, Steven Dicaprio recounts ongoing legal trials and persecution endured in order to maintain his persistent, law-abiding squatting.

Lasting hints of humor, community spirit, and teamwork essential to renovate Stephen Dicaprio’s West Oakland squat decorate the walls surrounding recently updated electrical wires.

A perimeter fence and large dog named Remus protected Steven DiCaprio from police as well as burglary over the years.

For some squatters, adverse possession is a goal, but it’s not necessarily the goal. “Most of the people I’ve worked with, squatting has been more of a temporary solution to their problems,” says DeCaprio. “You can get a lot accomplished if you have a few months or a few years in a house to get your shit together. When you have no other housing available and you’re squatting, every fucking day is a victory.”

Take Hernandez. After the house was put up for auction, she brainstormed with Land Action and went back armed with a stack of bright yellow notices to hand out to potential bidders: “[This home]…is currently occupied by a family wishing and intending to continue tenancy,” the flyers read. “We know our rights and intend to assert and defend them.”

The place they had called home for the previous two years—the one they had relieved of layers of rotting refuse, and where they had installed appliances, gotten the plumbing and electricity up and humming, won over the neighbors, and planted a garden—was the first property auctioned that day, for one penny over the opening price to a sole bidder who intended to flip it. Soon, an eviction notice arrived.

Hernandez filed a motion to quash, which stated that her family hadn’t been properly served. “A lot of these eviction mill lawyers are not putting the names of the occupants on the complaints,” says DeCaprio. It’s a tactic used to expedite an eviction, he says. “These attorneys are making their money by volume and not really doing their jobs, and actually benefiting the speculators and the developers and the landlords who get these really fast evictions.”

“They know our names,” says Hernandez, when I visit her. “We met the new owner. We sat at this table. I made sure he had an opportunity to see this,” she adds, gesturing around the dining room. On a computer nearby, a slideshow of the house’s transformation plays—holes in walls are patched and painted, plumbing and appliances are installed, burn marks disappear. As she talks, her four-year-old daughter, Sofia Lina, occasionally interrupts with a facetious grin and a whisper, each time bearing new items in her tiny hands. “I want to show you my toys.” “Will you draw a circle on this?” “I want you to hear this song. It’s the Queen of Pony song.”

“But he was, you know, it’s an investment for him,” Christine says. “The longer we’re here, the more it cuts into his potential profit.”

In January, the court granted Hernandez’s motion; the owner will have to restart the eviction process. She’s been preparing a backup plan. “There’s a house that I’m looking at that isn’t occupied, and it has a hole in the roof and some other damage. It has a lot of debris in the yard,” she says. “A person recently inherited the house. I want to reach out to that person and say, ‘We’re happy to completely clean your house. We’ll paint it. We’ll fix your roof. We’ll take care of any business that needs to be taken care of, in exchange for you allowing us to live there for some agreed upon period of time.’”

Hernandez looks up. “We did this because we needed to do it,” she says, “and we do it without apology.”

Christine Hernandez’s youngest daughter Sofia Lina plays on the couch of their Fruitvale home.

Crime and Justice – Mother Jones

Google Just Partnered With Mainstream Media to Wipe Independent Journalism Off the Map

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MOUNTAIN VIEW, CALIFORNIA – (MPN) Search engine and advertising monolith Google continued to press its offensive against alternative media this week with an announcement unveiling a new $ 300 million project called the Google News Initiative.

The initiative encompasses a range of new projects announced by the tech giant, which has long been accused of enjoying a monopoly position and of siphoning off digital advertising revenue from traditional news publishers.

Google sees it differently, however, and asserted in a press statement announcing the initiative that it “paid $ 12.6 billion to partners” while driving “10 billion clicks a month to publishers’ websites for free.” The company is now promising to continue working “with publishers to elevate accurate, quality content and stem the flow of misinformation and disinformation.”

The move will likely drive the stake further into the heart of independent media while merging Silicon Valley with mainstream publishers traded on Wall Street and aligned with the agendas of beltway politicians in Washington.

The Washington Post's Don Graham, left, Berkshire Hathaway's Warren Buffett and Google's Eric Schmidt, right, chat during the annual Allen and Co.'s conference, July 7, 2005, in Sun Valley, Idaho. (AP/Douglas C. Pizac)

The Washington Post’s Don Graham, Billionaire Warren Buffett and Google’s Eric Schmidt chat at the annual Allen and Co.’s conference, July 7, 2005. (AP/Douglas C. Pizac)

According to Google:

The commitments we’re making through the Google News Initiative demonstrate that news and quality journalism is [sic] a top priority for Google. We know that success can only be achieved by working together, and we look forward to collaborating with the news industry to build a stronger future for journalism.”

Launched in a partnership with a range of traditional corporate media giants – including The Washington PostThe New York TimesFinancial Times, and U.S. newspaper giant Gannett – the project promises to combat so-called “fake news” and misinformation. Many reasonably fear, based on recent trends, that this will mean the further marginalization of non-hegemonic left-wing and conservative media — as well as a sort of “death by algorithm” for already-struggling publishers who once flourished, prior to the hysteria over alleged “Russian interference” and propaganda in the 2016 elections.

GoogleWeb

Anders Nienstaedt for MintPress News.

The initiative will include a new lab to analyze and parse out what is deemed “mis- and disinformation during elections and breaking news moments;” a fact-checking partnership with Stanford University and corporate media non-profit groups like the Local Media Association and the Poynter Institute; and a new service meant to expedite reader subscriptions to pay-gated news websites, among other new projects.

In the past decade, companies that enjoyed a monopoly in the U.S. media market — such as Gannett, Hearst, and The Times — saw their readership base, as well as the advertising revenue on which they depend, largely evaporate in the face of the rise in online news outlets. Such new competition included state-funded broadcasters like Al-JazeeraPressTV and RT, as well as dissident voices at smaller news sites offering original journalism, like MintPress NewsTruthoutMonthly Review, the World Socialist Website, and a range of alternative and volunteer-based journalism outfits across the globe.

Last April, Google clamped down on alternative media with new structural changes to its algorithms — accompanying the change with an announcement tarring alternative media with the broad black brush of “misleading information, unexpected offensive results, hoaxes and unsupported conspiracy theories” as opposed to what it called “authoritative content.”

As a result, organic search-engine traffic to these sites uniformly plummeted to less than half of what it had previously been, devastating many publishers.

Staving off regulation

Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Alphabet, Inc., stands in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York, Jan. 12, 2017. (AP/Evan Vucci)

Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Alphabet, Inc., stands in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York, Jan. 12, 2017. (AP/Evan Vucci)

Google parent company, Alphabet Inc., has seen its stock dive this week amid a broader selloff of tech stocks resulting from the Cambridge Analytica controversy embroilingFacebook.

While former Google and Alphabet Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt once argued that “policymakers should work with the grain of the internet rather than against it [and] allow innovation to flourish,” tech platforms have faced mounting pressure from governments across the globe, which are constant threats to step in and regulate the lawlessness that once reigned across the world wide web.

Indeed, companies from the same corporate-media roster with which Google is now partnering have been leading the charge calling for regulation, arguing that the tech giant failed to protect users from alleged abuse in the form of false information spread by Russian operatives.

By last November, Schmidt was already caving in to pressure on the company resulting from the hue and cry over “Kremlin meddling” in the U.S. electoral process.

Arguing that he was opposed to censorship, the Google leader nonetheless announced that the company would begin to purposefully reduce the presence of “misinformation” sites, like Russian government-owned Sputnik and RT, on Google News by “deranking” the sites in news search results and “trying to engineer the systems” to prevent the classification of “propaganda” as legitimate news.

Facebook, which is witnessing a PR meltdown after the revelation that it allowed the data of 50 million users to be misused by right-wing political operatives, is also undertaking measures to prioritize content from mainstream outlets like The Times while using the fact-checking services of corporate nonprofits and wire agencies like Associated Press.

An algorithmic gag to silence the people

As the share prices of corporate media outlets and Silicon Valley alike begin to tumble and the rise of anti-systemic social movements, anti-capitalist perspectives and opposition voices continues unabated, it’s become a matter of consensus for politicians, billionaire tech geeks and media moguls alike that the internet must be policed in a stricter manner.

The “new media” monopolists of Silicon Valley and the once-dominant traditional print media have clearly agreed that the “fake news” frenzy is a convenient pretext to step up their censorship of the internet through new algorithms, allowing them to boost their profit margins and silence opposition through a new framework of “algorithmic censorship.”

This new model overwhelmingly favors those who see information and journalism as an article of commerce alone. It poses a stark threat not only to internet users’ ability to access information, but to the ability of citizens and social movements that hope to interact with, participate in, and wield influence over the political and economic activities that determine our lives and the fate of communities across the world.

Elliott Gabriel is a former staff writer for teleSUR English and a MintPress News contributor based in Quito, Ecuador. He has taken extensive part in advocacy and organizing in the pro-labor, migrant justice and police accountability movements of Southern California and the state’s Central Coast.

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