You are browsing the archive for 2015 January 07.

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Let’s Abolish West Point: Military Academies Serve No One, Squander Millions of Tax Dollars

January 7, 2015 in Blogs

By Bruce Fleming, Salon

The service academies are the vanity projects of the brass who went there.


Many pundits have suggested that the Republicans’ midterm gains were fueled by discontent not merely with the president or with the (improving) state of the economy, but with government in general and the need to fund its programs with taxes.  Indeed, the Republican Party of recent decades, inspired by Ronald Reagan’s exhortation to “starve the [government] beast,” has been anti-tax and anti-government. Government programs, as many of their thinkers note, primarily exist to perpetuate their own existence. At the very least, they have to justify that existence.

In the spirit of hands across the aisle, I’d like to suggest that the first thing the new Republican majority devote itself to is not, say, the repeal of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), but to converting the four hugely expensive and underproductive U.S. service academies (Navy, Army, Air Force and Coast Guard) — taxpayer-funded undergraduate institutions whose products all become officers in the military — to more modest and functional schools for short-term military training programs, as the British have repurposed Sandhurst.

Training is something the military does—education, certainly, is not. Indeed, undergraduate education of officers has already largely been outsourced, since most new officers come from the much cheaper Reserve Officer Training Corps programs at civilian universities (at one-quarter the cost of the academies), or from the several months of Officer Training Corps (one-eighth the cost) that follows either an enlisted career, or college. By all standards, these officers are just as good as those who come from the service academies, which now produce under 20 percent of U.S. officers.

The service academies once had a purpose: when they were founded in the 19th century (the Air Force split off from Army after World War II), college was classics and religion for gentlemen, so it made sense to have technical training institutes for people who would be in charge of increasingly technical warfare.  All the service academies have now to justify their cost and their pretensions, it seems, is their once-illustrious history, and the club of “tradition,” which they wield …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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The Dangers of Defending an Open Society Against Ideological Murderers

January 7, 2015 in Blogs

By AlterNet Editorial Staff, AlterNet

A mass murder underscores the need for alternative news.


Editor's note: Read responses to the killings from other journalists and cartoonists here. 

On Wednesday in Paris, France, masked gunmen attacked the offices of a satirical newspaper that had drawn threats for lampooning Islam, killing 12 people and setting off a wide manhunt for the killers.

The newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, was a kindred spirit to AlterNet, daring to speak uncomfortable truths about people, beliefs and institutions that were intolerant, driven by right-wing values, and did not hesitate to impose their views on others who did not share them. This deadly attack was not just on journalists but on ideas, competing perspectives and beliefs, and on the premise that democratic societies can sustain and respect differences.    

These kinds of violent outbursts against journalists, especially in Europe, are not new. They always do more harm than good in ways that the fundamentalists and their gunmen never seem to understand. They ignite prejudice and racial profiling against all members of the Islamic faith, whether moderate or conservative. They lead to police crackdowns, more intolerance, less dialogue, less of everything that lowers the temperature in the room, if you will, to de-escalate conflict.

More than anything, masked gunmen—hiding their faces and shouting “God is great”—show the appalling lack of confidence in their ideas, their ability to participate in public debates, to stand by their arguments, and return to the political process day after day if they suffer setbacks. This is why they are cowards, bullies, killers and yes, evil. This is one version of what evil looks like today.

The U.S. is not immune from this kind of intolerant violence, although the media has not been the target. Abortion providers in red states like Kansas have been threatened, targeted and murdered by religious fundamentalists.

There’s also a concurrent trend among America’s political conservatives to mask their identity while waging vicious political campaigns. That can be seen in all the so-called “dark money” political campaigns, where rich donors don’t hesitate to throw mud but don’t have the confidence to indentify themselves in public.

In France today, thousands of people …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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FOMC Statement: Evidence of Policy Communications Failure

January 7, 2015 in Economics

By William Poole

William Poole

At 2:09 PM December 17, a few minutes after the FOMC released its policy statement, the Wall Street Journal had this report on its website: “The Fed is a patient dove. U.S. stocks surged…after the Federal Reserve issued an especially dovish policy statement at the conclusion of the FOMC meeting….Equities were flying. The Dow surged more than 300 points….The sharp move in the equity market very likely illustrated the surprise at the more-dovish statement….Of course, the market’s going to have enough on its hands just figuring out what signals the central bank is sending.”

Is a positive surprise a positive omen? No. It is, instead, evidence of policy communications failure. I suspect (but do not know) that the Fed leadership did not intend to deliver a positive surprise. Although market commentary focused on the Committee’s substitution of “patient” for “considerable time,” the market probably reacted less to any particular wording in the statement than to its overall tone of “not yet.” Janet Yellen, in her press conference, emphasized that the substitution was not meant to signal a change in policy. The surprise, then, may have been inadvertent rather than deliberate. An inadvertent surprise is no more an advertisement for orderly policy than is a deliberate surprise.

Conditions for stable policy regime

Stable policy requires that two conditions be met. One is that the economy behaves as the Federal Reserve expects. How can the Fed know what to do if this condition is not met?

At some point, when it is important for the FOMC to be clear about a change in policy direction, clarity will be impossible.”

Second, the Federal Reserve must behave as the market expects. How can markets, of all types, determine sensible prices if this condition is not met?

The surge in equity prices shows that these two conditions are far from met. The Fed is making a huge mistake by continuing to treat the economy as if it is in a fragile state. It is not. Anyone who follows the data can count the ways.

Why surprises matter

Suppose your property tax assessor were to assess property values according to his view as to what was “fair.” Besides creating an opportunity for corruption, uncertainty over assessments would interfere with a properly functioning property market. When the law requires that assessments be at fair market value, property owners have a good idea about their tax bills and an avenue of legal …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Blasphemy Is at the Front Lines of Free Speech Today

January 7, 2015 in Economics

By Walter Olson

Walter Olson

If you defend freedom of speech today, realize that “blasphemy” is its front line, in Paris and the world.

There is no middle ground, no soft compromise available to keep everyone happy–not after the murders at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. Either we resolve to defend the liberty of all who write, draw, type, and think–not just even when they deny the truth of a religion or poke fun at it, but especially then–or that liberty will endure only at the sufferance of fanatical Islamists in our midst. And this dark moment for the cause of intellectual freedom will be followed by many more.

Can anyone who has paid attention truly say they were surprised by the Paris attack? The French satirical magazine had long been high on a list of presumed Islamist targets. In 2011—to world outrage that was transient, at best—fanatics firebombed its offices over its printing of cartoons. Nor was that anything new. In 2006, the Danish cartoonists of Jyllands-Posten had to go into hiding for the same category of offense, as had author Salman Rushdie before them.

There is no middle ground, no soft compromise available to keep everyone happy.”

In a new book entitled The Tyranny of Silence: How One Cartoon Ignited a Global Debate on the Future of Free Speech, journalist Flemming Rose, who was at the center of the Danish cartoon controversy, traces its grim aftermath in the self-silencing of Western opinion. Most of the prestige Western press dodged the running of the cartoons, and beneath the talk of sensitivity was often simple fear. As journalist Josh Barro noted today on Twitter, “Islamists have by and large succeeded in intimidating western media out of publishing images of Muhammad.”

That fear has been felt in the United States as well. Yale’s university press, in publishing a book on the Muhammad cartoons controversy, chose to omit printing the cartoons themselves, on the grounds that doing so “ran a serious risk of instigating violence.” (The late Christopher Hitchens brilliantly assailed the press for its lack of courage.)

As for elected leaders, they were hardly better. The French government repeatedly pressured Charlie Hebdo not to go so far in giving offense. The government of Jacques Chirac stood by at, or by some accounts even encouraged, a court action aimed at fining the magazine for having offended some Muslims. Then-British foreign minister Jack Straw, representing the nation that gave the world John …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Sen. Paul Urges General Assembly to Pass Amendment to Restore Voting Rights in Kentucky

January 7, 2015 in Politics & Elections

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Sen. Rand Paul today urged the Kentucky General Assembly to pass a constitutional amendment to restore the right to vote for many nonviolent felons in the Commonwealth who have completed their sentences. ‘The right to vote is among the most important rights that we have,’ said Sen. Paul. ‘No one should lose this right for life because they spent time in jail for a nonviolent crime. Restoring voting rights for those who have repaid their debt to society is simply the right thing to do. I urge the Kentucky General Assembly to continue moving this issue forward and place an amendment on the ballot.’ Over the past several years, the Kentucky House of Representatives has repeatedly approved measures restoring the right to vote for many Kentuckians. In 2014, the Kentucky House passed House Bill 70, a proposed constitutional amendment dealing with the restoration of voting rights, by a vote of 82-12. The Kentucky Senate advanced the issue for the first time in 2014, passing a different version of HB 70 by a 34-4 margin. Sen. Paul has also introduced legislation in the U.S. Senate that would restore voting rights in federal elections for non-violent offenders who have completed their sentences.
### …read more

Source: RAND PAUL

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The Tyranny of Silence: How One Cartoon Ignited a Global Debate on the Future of Free Speech

January 7, 2015 in Economics

With the tragedy at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris, issues of self-censorship in the face of intimidation and the nature of free speech have rapidly moved again to the forefront of public debate. No one knows this debate better than Flemming Rose, the editor at the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten who in 2005 published cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, inciting a worldwide firestorm. In his new book, The Tyranny of Silence, published by the Cato Institute, Rose not only recounts that story, but takes a hard look at attempts to limit free speech….offering an extraordinarily authentic perspective that can be fully applied to the debate now raging over a motion picture, threats of violence, and what it means to live in a multireligious, culturally borderless world.

…read more

Source: CATO HEADLINES

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Many People Use Drugs, So Why Don't Most Become Addicts?

January 7, 2015 in Blogs

By Paul Hayes, The Conversation

The prevailing narrative is that drug users “spiral out of control” into addiction. Yet most don't. Here's why.


 

Drug use is common, drug addiction is rare. About one adult in three will use an illegal drug in their lifetime and just under 3m people will do so this year in England and Wales alone. Most will suffer no long-term harm.

There are immediate risks from overdose and intoxication, and longer-term health risks associated with heavy or prolonged use; damage to lungs from smoking cannabis or the bladder from ketamine for example. However most people will either pass unscathed through a short period of experimentation or learn to accommodate their drug use into their lifestyle, adjusting patterns of use to their social and domestic circumstances, as they do with alcohol.

Compared to the 3m currently using illegal drugs there are around 300,000 heroin and/or crack addicts while around 30,000 were successfully treated for dependency on drugs in England in 2011-12, typically cannabis, or powder cocaine.

A powerful cultural narrative focusing on the power of illegal drugs to disrupt otherwise stable, happy lives dominates our media and political discourse, and shapes policy responses. Drug use is deemed to “spiral out of control”, destroying an individual’s ability to earn their living or care for their children, transforming honest productive citizens into welfare dependent, criminal “families from hell”.

This is a key component of the Broken Britain critique of welfare and social policy advanced by the Centre for Social Justice and pursued in government by the CSJ’s founder Iain Duncan Smith in his role as secretary of state for work and pensions. However, the narrative has resonance far beyond the political arena and underpins most media coverage of drug addiction and the drug storylines of popular culture.

Most drug users are ..?

In reality the likelihood of individuals without pre-existing vulnerabilities succumbing to long-term addiction is slim. Heroin and crack addicts are not a random sub set of England’s 3m current drug users.

Addiction, unlike use, is heavily concentrated in our poorest communities – and within those communities it is the …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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The Right-Wing Terror Plot You Didn't Hear About This Week

January 7, 2015 in Blogs

By Zaid Jilani, AlterNet

Members of a right-wing militia in Georgia plotted to attack police and other government agents.


Following the murder of two NYPD officers in New York City, much of the political right moved to blame Mayor de Blasio and other progressive critics of police brutality for inciting the violence, claiming that the mentally ill man who was apparently behind the attack was motivated by left-wing rhetoric.

That narrative doesn't jar very well with a terror case brought this week by the FBI against three Georgia men, all members of a right-wing militia that plotted to attack police and others. Yesterday, Terry Peace, Brian Cannon and Cory Williamson pleaded not guilty to a charge of domestic terrorism, as well as charges of conspiring to defraud the government. Northwest Georgia News explains:

Peace, Cannon and Williamson — all members of a militia in Georgia — participated in online chat discussions between Jan. 23 and Feb. 15, 2014, that were monitored by the FBI.

During the conversations online, they discussed using guerilla war tactics and planned to launch attacks against a metro Atlanta police station and several government agencies in February 2014.

The three men attempted to “recruit other individuals to join them and to carry out similar operations in those individuals’ home states.”

Peace allegedly told other militia members to choose targets including “road blocks, TSA checkpoints, sheriffs/police conducting operations outside the Constitution” as well as to participate in the “removal of government people who support extra-Constitutional activities.”

In other words, the men plotted to launch large-scale explosive attacks against local government and police that, if successfully carried out, would have been the largest terror attacks on U.S. soil since 9/11.

Only two news outlets, the Rome News-Tribune and Northwest Georgia News, have reported the charges. 

 

Related Stories

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Source: ALTERNET

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Of Snow Jobs and Global Warming: How Confirmation Bias Caused DC's Traffic Jams

January 7, 2015 in Economics

By Patrick J. Michaels

Patrick J. Michaels

Despite a blizzard of evidence that things were going to be bad, Washington DC just experienced its biggest snow-related fiasco since the infamous Commuteaggedon of January 2011. Largely to blame is the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), which inexplicably did not delay the opening of the Federal Government, flooding the roadways with hundreds of thousands of very grumpy drivers. Given that most local employers and many school districts follow OPM’s lead, those commuters were not confined to federal workers.

DC’s morning headache is a direct result of “confirmation bias,” the all-too-human proclivity to hang on to a busting  forecast, be it for tomorrow’s snowstorm or the global temperature in 2050, and a close examination of what is going on at both time scales provides a lesson for us all.

In weather-world, the view on the street was that a decent snowstorm in the Midwest was going to weaken in the 12-odd hours it took to get from central Illinois to the swamp on the Potomac, reducing local totals to the 1-2 inch range, with the District likely to be on the low, southern end.

Witness the power of confirmation bias.”

Nonetheless, as the night before the storm wore on, evidence began to mount that neither were true. A band of decent snow, extending from south of Chicago to northeast of Cincinnati, was holding itself together and tracking directly for DC, instead of the more climatologically favored Charm City to our North.

What is really odd is the inaction of OMB, which consults with the National Weather Service local forecast office in Sterling, out by Dulles Airport.  Their decision probably means that in their private consultations, the NWS discounted even their own forecast, because everyone with any experience in this area knows that even an inch of snow on a very cold surface — which we certainly were going to have — will  create a  hellacious snarl if it just happens to coincide with the beginning of a commute.

The District of Columbia did the same. Their usual response to even the threat of a dusting is to paint the streets white with chemicals, but last night, not a truck was to be seen, even in the hilly neighborhoods. The only explanation, again, is that our “official” forecasters unofficially poo-poohed their own public prognostication. The same thing happened in Virginia, which is purported to use a private forecasting firm.

Why didn’t folks listen to …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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How Fox News and Tucker Carlson Distort 'White Privilege'

January 7, 2015 in Blogs

By Brittney Cooper, Salon

The Fox & Friends host recently said that talking about white privilege is 'openly bigoted, openly racist.'


If we hope in 2015 to make any changes that will shift the dismal trajectory of our national record on race, perhaps we should begin by clarifying a definition of racism that is not so utterly elementary and reactionary as that which Tucker Carlson offered recently on “Fox and Friends.” Tucker Carlson defines white privilege as “attacking people based on their skin color.” He further says, “That’s not moral. It’s wrong. And it shouldn’t be allowed.” That racism is immoral and wrong is a fact on which we can agree.

But our agreements stop here. Have any of you ever heard any person say racism is right?

I haven’t. Even the most strident white supremacist won’t argue that “racism is right.” Our national issue is not about the rightness of racism. It is about the fact that we actually care more about not being called racist, than about not being racist. And in the land of Tucker Carlson, a land that far too many white people inhabit, racism refers to the act of calling out systems of white supremacy and acts of white privilege. For white people who believe this is the definition of racism, they are really saying that racism is anything that makes white people feel bad about being white. Racism is anything that makes white people aware of all the ways that whiteness shapes their movement through space.

For white people, to be called out for white privilege is to have to grapple with the possible notion that you are implicated in systems of white supremacy even if you don’t hate people of color and even when you aren’t trying to be.  If white privilege exists, that means white people have to grapple with the fact that the potentially negative impacts of their whiteness under a regime of white supremacy will always exceed the best of their anti-racist intentions.

Since this is the time of year when people set their intentions for moving forward in the New Year, I think it is important to apply one of those fluffy …read more

Source: ALTERNET