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International Public Broadcasting Can Come Home, But Do We Need It at All?

July 17, 2013 in Economics

By Trevor Burrus

Trevor Burrus

This month, due to a little-known provision of the National Defense Authorization Act, government-funded international media agencies, such as Voice of America, Alhurra, and Radio Free Asia, can broadcast domestically for the first time in 40 years. Some have called it an open invitation for unlimited propagandizing of American citizens. They argue that subjecting Americans to our own international propaganda will fill domestic airwaves with blatantly nationalistic content resembling the state-funded efforts of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.

The truth is more nuanced. While we should be concerned with how government funding can sway and distort media, allowing those international media agencies to broadcast domestically is a sensible adjustment to an antiquated law. Rather than focusing on which state-funded media Americans are allowed to view, we should focus on whether we need these media organizations in the first place.

In 1948, the Smith-Mundt Act established U.S. government-produced international broadcasting (USIB) agencies. USIBs support U.S. interests abroad in order to “create a better understanding of our nation with a foreign populace as a whole by providing them access to American culture, history, law, society, art, and music that might not be otherwise available through standard local media outlets.” During the Cold War, U.S.-funded media outlets, such as Radio Free Europe, helped get messages of freedom through the Iron Curtain. Today, the USIB television network Alhurra is broadcast in 22 Arab countries.

Rather than focusing on which state-funded media Americans are allowed to view, we should focus on whether we need these media organizations in the first place.”

Yet until this month, Alhurra could not broadcast domestically. Oddly, Al-Jazeera, which is largely funded by Qatar, broadcasts domestically, as does Russia Today, which is funded by the Russian government.

Americans can watch foreign government-funded media, but we cannot watch our own government-funded media. Except, of course, PBS.

On Voice of America’s website, you can listen to live streams of their broadcasts, as well as peruse the site’s content. Voice of America is not any more — or less — propagandistic than PBS. Yet by banning domestic broadcasts, Congress told the world that VOA and other USIBs are so full of lies that not even the American people are allowed to hear them. This has understandably hurt the reputations of USIBs abroad.

Now that such domestic broadcasts are allowed, Americans can finally hear, watch, and judge for ourselves. Congress has tried to …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Washington Post: Watch him pull a USDA-mandated rabbit disaster plan out of his hat

July 17, 2013 in Politics & Elections

In OZARK, Mo. – This summer, Marty the Magician got a letter from the U.S. government. It began with six ominous words: ‘Dear Members of Our Regulated Community . . .’
Washington had questions about his rabbit. Again.
Marty Hahne, 54, does magic shows for kids in southern Missouri. For his big finale, he pulls a rabbit out of a hat. Or out of a picnic basket. Or out of a tiny library, if he’s doing his routine about reading being magical.
To do that, Hahne has an official U.S. government license. Not for the magic. For the rabbit.
The Agriculture Department requires it, citing a decades-old law that was intended to regulate zoos and circuses. Today, the USDA also uses it to regulate much smaller ‘animal exhibitors,’ even the humble one-bunny magician.
That was what the letter was about. The government had a new rule. To keep his rabbit license, Hahne needed to write a rabbit disaster plan.
‘Fire. Flood. Tornado. Air conditioning going out. Ice storm. Power failures,’ Hahne said, listing a few of the calamities for which he needed a plan to save the rabbit.
Or maybe not. Late Tuesday, after a Washington Post article on Hahne was posted online, the Agriculture Department announced that the disaster-plan rule would be reexamined.
‘Secretary [Tom] Vilsack asked that this be reviewed immediately and common sense be applied,’ department spokeswoman Courtney Rowe said in an e-mail message.
Rowe said that Vilsack had ordered the review ‘earlier this week.’ But it was not announced until 9:30 p.m. Tuesday. Just hours before – at 5:50 p.m. – the department had been vigorously defending the rule, with another spokeswoman praising its ‘flexibility,’ saying it was designed to accommodate even a small-time operation such as a magician and a rabbit.
For Hahne, the saga has provided a lesson in one of Washington’s bad old habits – the tendency to pile new rules on top of old ones, with officials using good intentions and vague laws to expand the reach of the federal bureaucracy.
In this case, Washington’s reach extended into a place that – as far as the audience knows – does not exist. That would be the hidden ‘load chamber’ inside Marty the Magician’s hat. Where Casey the licensed rabbit waits for his cue.
‘Our country’s broke,’ Hahne said. ‘And yet they have money and time to harass somebody about a rabbit.’
Hahne is a slight man with the stage persona of an exuberant doofus – he seems …read more

Source: RAND PAUL

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Politico Op-Ed: Aid to unknown rebels in Syria carries U.S. threat

July 17, 2013 in Politics & Elections

Americans would probably be surprised to learn that their government was arming affiliates of Al Qaeda. But this is essentially what President Barack Obama is about to do.
Syria’s Bashar Assad has carried out unspeakable violence, with as many as 100,000 dead, if not more. There currently are at least 17 armed jihadist groups rebelling against the Syrian regime, including Jabhat al Nusra, an Al Qaeda affiliate ‘that has emerged as one of the most effective rebel factions in Syria,’ according to The Associated Press.
And yet the White House has signaled that it is moving toward arming the Syrian rebels.

We have received no public details on how the administration intends to fund arms to these rebels, the vetting criteria U.S. officials will use to distribute weapons or how it intends to monitor the chain of custody over these weapons to assure they do not end up in the wrong hands.

Congress cannot provide its oversight function without making these key details public. The Intelligence Committee’s concerns over how these weapons might be misused have slowed their deployment in a further indication of how treacherous this effort is.

Most important – if the Constitution still matters – the president needed to ask Congress for authorization to arm these rebels. He did not.

We’ve seen this movie before. As The New York Times reported in December 2012: ‘The Obama administration secretly gave its blessing to arms shipments to Libyan rebels from Qatar last year, but American officials later grew alarmed as evidence grew that Qatar was turning some of the weapons over to Islamic militants. … The experience in Libya has taken on new urgency as the administration considers whether to play a direct role in arming rebels in Syria, where weapons are flowing in from Qatar and other countries.’

Any attempt to aid the Syrian rebels would be complicated and dangerous, precisely because we don’t know who these people are. To the degree that we do know who they are, we know that significant numbers of them are associated with Al Qaeda – as many as 10,000 fighters, by some estimates.

If the United States wants to choose a side in Syria, there is no clear moral choice. More important, there is no clear U.S. national interest in Syria.

There is also the question of what happens to Syria’s 2 million Christians. As a minority, these Christians have generally been protected by Assad’s regime, but have been targeted …read more

Source: RAND PAUL

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Chika's Favorite AMERICAN EXPERIENCE Film: Freedom Riders

July 17, 2013 in History

July 17, 2013 10:44 a.m.

When my colleagues asked me to write about my favorite AMERICAN EXPERIENCE, I was kind of shocked. I mean, I’m sort of the new kid on the team, having joined the production in March as the marketing account manager. Before March, I was more like most of you — longtime viewer and living room commenter. Over the years, this series has blown my mind and tugged at my heart strings, raised my blood pressure and caused me to sob uncontrollably with stories that I never knew, or knew enough of. None had moved me more than the 2010 film Freedom Riders.

Freedom Riders tells the story of the 1961 Freedom Rides, an integrated, non-violent campaign to end segregation of interstate transit stations in the American South. For six months, over 400 Black and White Americans, most of them college-age young adults, risked their lives by traveling by Greyhound bus through the Deep South, bringing national and international attention to the racism that had long been an intrinsic part of Southern life. As an African American, I’d long known the history of segregation and racism that the South had been notorious for, but this film helped me understand that so many things about the onset of the Civil Rights Movement of Sixties. I had no idea how much of a political hot potato enforcing civil rights in the South was for President Kennedy‘s administration. I had no idea how defiant the states could be and were once the Federal Government felt compelled to protect the Freedom Riders on their dangerous crusade. More than anything, though, I was completely moved by these brave teenagers and young adults, who SIGNED DEATH WAIVERS to participate in these rides. Seeing the images of the severe beatings, the angry mobs laying in wait with dogs and gasoline, and hearing the first hand accounts of the riders who survived scared me in a way that I’d never be scared before. I could see myself, my brothers, sister and friends in their faces. They could have been me…

Or could it? Could I have gotten on the bus? I don’t think so. My self-preservation gene would have kicked in once that clipboard with a death waiver got passed to me at an orientation meeting. Yet, here I am, fifty …read more

Source: AMERICAN EXPERIENCE

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AMERICAN EXPERIENCE Receives Two Emmy Nominations

July 17, 2013 in History

July 17, 2013 10:03 a.m.

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE has been honored with two nominations for the 65th annual Primetime Emmy Awards. Announced this morning, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences nominated the series’ films Death and the Civil War for “Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Special,” and The Abolitionists for “Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Series.”

Death and the Civil War examines the many ways the staggering death tolls of the Civil War permanently altered the character of the republic, and the psyche of the American people. The work of contending with death on an unprecedented scale propelled extraordinary changes in the inner and outer life of Americans – posing challenges for which there were no ready answers when the war began – challenges that called forth remarkable and eventually heroic efforts as Americans worked to improvise new solutions, new institutions, new ways of coping with death on an unimaginable scale.

Bringing to life the intertwined stories of Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Angelina Grimké, Harriet Beecher Stowe and John Brown, The Abolitionists takes place during some of the most violent and contentious decades in American history, amid white-hot religious passions that set souls on fire, and bitter debates over the meaning of the Constitution and the nature of race. The documentary reveals how ordinary individuals with extraordinary passion turned a despised fringe movement against chattel slavery into a force that literally changed the nation.

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE is currently in its 25th season and has received over 290 awards including recognition from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science, International Documentary Association, Organization of American Historians, Writers Guild, Television Critics Association, National Education Association, Sundance Film Festival and Tribeca Film Festival.

The Emmy Awards will air live from the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles on Sunday, September 22nd at 8pm ET on NBC.

Casey Davis is the Special Projects Assistant for AMERICAN EXPERIENCE.

…read more

Source: AMERICAN EXPERIENCE

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Second American Revolution Underway

July 17, 2013 in Economics

By Nat Hentoff

Nat Hentoff

The Declaration of Independence pledges Americans’ “unalienable Rights” through Governments “deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed …

“Whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it …”

More and more of us are determined to alter our government by denying our consent to President Barack Obama’s continuous discarding of our individual constitutional liberties, as I’ve demonstrated in recent columns.

But the most starkly lucid reasons for this looming Second American Revolution have been detailed by Randy E. Barnett, a Georgetown University professor of constitutional law and author of the book Restoring the Lost Constitution: The Presumption of Liberty (Princeton University Press, 2005).

In a recent column for The Wall Street Journal, Barnett provides a message of salvation to all Americans, regardless of political party. It is a model of unavoidable clarity defining who we are:

“In a republican government based on popular sovereignty, the people are the principals or masters and those in government are merely their agents or servants” (“The NSA’s Surveillance Is Unconstitutional,” Barnett, The Wall Street Journal, July 12).

Furthermore, he explains, “for the people to control their servants (in Government), however, they must know what their servants are doing.”

This proved essential over time for the first American Revolution to succeed (due to the efforts of Samuel Adams, the Sons of Liberty and the Committees of Correspondence).

Barnett writes: “Relying solely on internal governmental checks violates the fundamental constitutional principle that the sovereign people must be the ultimate external judge of their servants’ conduct in office.

“Yet such judgment and control is impossible without the information that such secret programs conceal,” Barnett continues. “Had it not been for the recent leaks, (much of) the American public would have no idea of the existence of these programs, and we still cannot be certain of their scope.”

He then gets to the ever-more pervasive and powerful Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Once again, through the media, Americans now know of the court’s existence, but hardly anything else about how this secret institution still enables the National Security Agency to do its work unknown to us.

Barnett’s solution: “Congress or the courts must put a stop to these unreasonable blanket seizures of data and end the jurisdiction of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to secretly adjudicate the constitutionality of surveillance programs.”

I, too, think that in view of its record through the years, …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Mechanism Design in the Venetian Republic

July 17, 2013 in Economics

By Dalibor Rohac

Dalibor Rohac

In recorded human history, no set of political institutions have outlived those of the Venetian Republic. Founded in the ashes of the Roman Empire, it survived as an independent republic until it was captured by Napoleon in 1797. Throughout its existence, it displayed a remarkable degree of political stability; furthermore, it was a place of relative prosperity and a hub of Mediterranean trade. In the 17th century, the nominal wages of unskilled laborers in Venice were higher than anywhere else in Europe, with the exception of Spain, which was coping with the inflow of specie from the New World.

One reason for Venice’s political exceptionalism, according to the historian Thomas Madden, was that Venice “lacked inalienable land. Instead, it was a city of liquid wealth and commerce.” Mr. Madden, a professor of medieval history at St. Louis University, recently wrote an authoritative history of Venice, focusing in great detail on the political environment of the city-state.

Over time, intricate political institutions developed, which not only ensured peaceful transfers of power but also restricted the power of the executive and created a climate conducive to business. Because Venice had no land and no natural resources, there was no point in setting up extractive feudal institutions, which were pervasive in Europe at that time. Instead, its institutions emerged to protect commerce, rather than extract resources—although evidence suggests that the capture of the government by the merchants later contributed to the economic stagnation of the city-state.

At any rate, some of the quirks of the Venetian political system seem to be prescient institutional inventions. Probably the best illustration is the procedure used to elect the chief magistrate, the Doge, which combined several elements that might improve the functioning of our contemporary political systems.

The study of Venice’s peculiar political institutions is valuable for our thinking about reform of Western political institutions.”

On the morning after a Doge’s death the members of the “Maggior Consiglio,” the council representing the freemen of the city, convened to first select by lot 30 of its members older than 30 years, who were designated as “electors.” But if—perhaps by analogy to the U.S. Electoral College—you think that the 30 then simply elected the Doge, you’re mistaken.

Those 30 were reduced to 9 by lot. The 9 then designated a group of 40, each of whom needed 7 approval votes out of the 9 members of the committee. …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Obamacare Gets Worse for Workers

July 17, 2013 in Economics

By Michael D. Tanner

Michael D. Tanner

This week the House of Representatives will vote, almost precisely along party lines, to postpone Obamacare’s individual mandate. Like the 37 earlier votes to repeal the entire health care law, this bill will then move to the Senate, never to be heard from again. This, despite the fact that by a two-to-one margin (56 percent to 26 percent, according to Rasmussen) voters want to delay implementation of the individual mandate.

Now that the Obama administration has unilaterally decided to postpone the law’s employer mandate, workers may now face a situation where they will be legally required to purchase their own insurance or pay a penalty because their employers take advantage of the delay and don’t provide coverage.

The delay to the employer mandate adds to the manifold problems they already face.”

It’s not just workers whose employers don’t currently provide coverage who may be affected. Many employers, especially small businesses, may look at rising insurance costs and decide to stop providing coverage. Even before the administration delayed the employer mandate, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that as many as 11 million workers could be dumped by employers who choose to pay the penalty rather than the cost of insurance. Others’ estimates, such as one from the American Action Forum, suggested that number could be as high as 35 million. With no penalty at all, at least for a year, we can expect even more employers to decide it makes sense to drop coverage.

But those workers will still be on the hook for either the cost of insurance or a fine … er … tax.

That hardly seems fair, especially given how expensive that insurance is likely to be. A study by the benefits-consulting firm Milliman found that premiums in the individual market — where those uninsured workers will have to shop — could increase by as much as 50 percent. The young and healthy could face especially large premium hikes, with the Wall Street Journal reporting that they “could see insurance rates double or even triple when they look for individual coverage under the federal health law later this year.”

Of course, if they purchase insurance through the exchanges, subsidies are supposed to offset at least part of this increased cost (shifting the cost onto the backs of taxpayers). This, however, assumes that the exchanges will be fully operational before the mandate kicks in, something which the Governmental Accounting Office warns is by …read more

Source: OP-EDS