You are browsing the archive for 2015 May.

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Alternatives to Central Banking: Toward Free-Market Money

May 29, 2015 in Economics

A limited constitutional government calls for a rules-based, free-market monetary system, not the topsy-turvy fiat dollar that now exists under central banking. The new issue of Cato Journal, based on last year’s Cato Monetary Conference, examines the constitutional basis for alternatives to central banking, the role of gold in a market-based monetary system, the obstacles to fundamental reform and how they might be overcome, and the advent of cryptocurrencies, and the bitcoin revolution.

…read more

Source: CATO HEADLINES

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Hillary Clinton’s Iran-Contra Scandal

May 29, 2015 in Blogs

By Political Zach Foster

Originally published by
Back in the 1980’s, it was revealed to the public that the CIA under the Reagan administration had been selling weapons to the revolutionary Iranian government. The hopes were that the weapons sales would put the radical Islamic regime in a better disposition toward freeing the American hostages. Better yet, the funds generated from those arms sales funded the Contra rebels in their war against the communist regime in Nicaragua.
Judicial Watch published more of their hard-won documents regarding Hillary Clinton’s private Watergate scandal and 18 minutes of missing tape—excuse me, change that to 32,000 missing emails. It turns out the presidential candidate and self-appointed champion of peace and international cooperation has her own Iran-Contra scandal. It turns out that Libya was a stopping point for running guns to Syria!
When being grilled by the Senate for a massive leadership failure resulting in consulate guards and staff being killed, Clinton was asked over and over again to clarify whether it was a protest-turned-mob or an act of terrorism. Her response is infamous: “What does it matter?” Well, Secretary Clinton, what matters is that this is far from the first time lax security has gotten American diplomatic workers killed.
Instead of using U.S. Marines for their historical job of guarding embassies, or even using State Department Diplomatic Security guards, the State Department under Hillary Clinton outsourced consulate security to Libyan locals. It’s a shame that a former Senator who voted to invade Iraq in 2003 never read the 2006 Iraq Study Group Report, a U.S. government investigation that discussed terrorist infiltration of local security forces being a rampant problem in a war zone. “However, because of Libyan political sensitivities,” there were no armed Americans protecting their consulate in a war zone.
Free Syrian Army volunteers
The State Department made it seem like the U.S. government was wholly respecting the sovereignty of the new Libyan government, which issued restrictions on foreigners with guns. It’s astounding that the U.S. government would run guns from Benghazi, Libya, to rebel groups in Banian and Borj Islam, Syria, but it won’t take proper measures to …read more

Source: ZACH FOSTER RANTS

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NSA Surveillance Programs Are a Cancer on the Constitution

May 28, 2015 in Economics

By Patrick G. Eddington

Patrick G. Eddington

The month of June has proven to a notable one for revelations about abuses of government power carried out under the cloak of secrecy. June 1971 brought us the Pentagon Papers case, followed two years later with the Watergate hearings into the break in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters. A generation later, another national security whistleblower—Edward Snowden—revealed in June 2013 a fresh series of government abuses of power in secret.

And now, with some of those abusive powers facing a June 1, 2015 expiration date, Congress faces another moment of truth: Will it act decisively to end unconstitutional executive branch overreach, as it did a generation ago?

One of the most haunting and compelling witnesses at those initial Watergate hearings was former White House Counsel John Dean. In his testimony on June 25, 1973, Dean recounted for the committee how he told President Nixon that the Watergate burglary and subsequent cover up were “a cancer on the Presidency” that threatened to destroy Nixon himself unless all involved came clean immediately. The months of public hearings that followed and the damning revelations about Nixon’s role in the break in and cover up culminated in Congress moving to excise the cancer Dean described through the impeachment process, which led to Nixon’s resignation. 

The documents smuggled out of the National Security Agency (NSA) by Snowden sparked the first real public debate about government surveillance powers employed in the post-9/11 era. But in contrast to Congress’s aggressive and forceful reaction to the Watergate era revelations of executive branch criminality and overreach, the Congressional response to Snowden’s revelations of government surveillance abuse has been dangerously anemic. And in the case of these surveillance abuses, we have a cancer not simply on one institution of government, but on the Constitution itself.

Will Congress act decisively to end unconstitutional executive branch overreach?”

Compare the level of effort Congress expended investigating Watergate and the other surveillance-related scandals of the 1970s with that expended to date on Snowden’s revelations. In the Watergate era, Congress set up entire special committees with literally dozens of staff to investigate not only the Nixon White House but the entire U.S. intelligence community, the latter through the select committee chaired by then-Senator Frank Church of Idaho (i.e., the Church Committee). Those investigations lasted years and included dozens of publicly televised hearings. 

When the House Judiciary Committee considered the USA Freedom Act in May 2015—one of the few bills introduced in …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Wall Street Offers Very Real Benefits

May 27, 2015 in Economics

By Thaya Knight

Thaya Knight

Not every person on Wall Street is a morally corrupt Gordon Gekko. Do Wall Street traders want to make money? Yes. Are they generally people who thrive in a fast-paced, competitive environment? You bet. And that is a good thing.

While the news about corruption, corporate welfare and lawbreaking is very bad, it doesn’t mean the entire industry is rotten.”

At its core, here’s what Wall Street does: It makes sure that companies doing useful things get the money they need to keep doing those things. Do you like your smartphone? Does it make your life easier? The company that made that phone got the money to develop the product and get it into the store where you bought it with the help of Wall Street.

When a company wants to expand, or make a new product, or improve its old products, it needs money, and it often gets that money by selling stock or bonds. That helps those companies, the broader economy and consumers generally.

When we have flashing headlines about Wall Street traders acting badly, as we had last week with news of five major banks pleading guilty to criminal charges, it is very easy to hate Wall Street. But we only hear headlines about the worst behavior.

No one writes news stories about traders who go about their business every day, carefully complying with the many (and there are many) rules and regulations that govern their work. Also, the financial sector, which is usually what people mean when they say “Wall Street,” isn’t only or even mostly the big banks.

There are small firms, banks, funds and advisers that make up a large portion of our financial industry. While the news about corruption, corporate welfare and lawbreaking is very bad, it doesn’t mean the entire industry is rotten. Or, more important, that we don’t need it.

Wall Street could be better. We could eliminate regulations that crowd out competition for the big banks. We could reform the system to do away with “too big to fail,” making it harder for bad traders to get away with bad behavior. Either way, we shouldn’t lose sight of the very real economic and social benefits Wall Street provides.

Thaya Knight is associate director of financial regulation studies at the Cato Institute.

…read more

Source: OP-EDS

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A So-So Republican Budget

May 27, 2015 in Economics

By Michael D. Tanner

Michael D. Tanner

There was none of the sturm und drang that has accompanied past budget battles, but earlier this month the Republican-controlled Congress passed the first fully Republican budget since 2005. A historic event, to be sure, but, given that it has been a decade since Republicans had this ability to shape federal tax and spending policy, it is disappointing that the end result was such mediocre gruel.

First the good news: The budget would spend $6 billion less over the next 10 years than the current baselines, and would, in theory, balance by 2024. The agreement at least ostensibly sticks to the budget caps agreed to under sequestration, although it circumvents them in a way by shifting more funds to “overseas contingency operations” (OCO), which are not subject to the caps.

It contains some positive steps, but also some sleight-of-hand and increased spending.”

Moreover, as valuable as the sequester caps have proven to be in restraining spending, they remain a blunt instrument that allows Congress to avoid truly tough decisions. As one bad sign, the budget agreement takes note of $140 billion in needed health-care savings to offset the cost of the recent “doc fix” agreement, but doesn’t actually propose any specific cuts. On the other hand, the budget resolution establishes a deficit-neutral reserve fund that could allow for some reallocations that would give policymakers flexibility to replace sequestration with other cuts as long as those actions don’t increase the ten-year deficit. We will have to see how this plays out in a practical sense, but if the deficit-neutrality is strict enough, it could potentially be an improvement.

The budget resolution also engages in some serious sleight-of-hand when it comes to defense spending. The resolution keeps the sequester caps on defense in place, but only by shifting some $38 billion in spending for next year to the OCO account, essentially using this war-fighting appropriation as a slush fund. The final budget agreement also removed a Senate provision requiring 60 votes to add future funds to the OCO without offsetting spending cuts.

We should also remember that, while a balanced budget is important, it is not as important as reducing overall levels of federal spending. And the GOP budget envisions spending $1.14 trillion more (in nominal dollars) by 2025. That is not a good thing just because tax revenues will rise fast enough to offset the increases.

The budget’s biggest failing …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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The Ultimate Irony: Is China the 'America' of Asia?

May 27, 2015 in Economics

By Doug Bandow

Doug Bandow

The rising nation was full of self-confidence and determined to expand. Its neighbor refused to negotiate in a bitter territorial dispute, convinced there was no legitimate issue to discuss. The new entrant to the international order also challenged the world’s greatest global power, which was forced to decide whether war could be justified against a country thousands of miles from home. The upstart’s territorial claims were excessive, but no one desired a rerun of past conflicts.

The year was 1845. The United States had absorbed Texas after the latter’s violent secession from Mexico; Washington demanded its neighbor’s acquiescence not only to the errant territory’s annexation but also to a new national boundary set well beyond Anglo settlements. The United States backed its position with provocative military maneuvers, occupying disputed territory. War soon resulted.

Around the same time Washington took an equally truculent position in dealing with Great Britain over the far western boundary between America and Canada. Where prior agreements had left ambiguity, the United States saw certainty. Some Americans proclaimed “54-40 or fight,” wanting to push the Oregon border up to the Russian territory (Alaska) later sold to the United States. The Polk administration took a less extreme position and London accommodated the arrogant juvenile nation, a necessary step in ultimately developing the “special relationship” between onetime enemies.

Today Beijing’s actions in the East Asian waters have a similar feel. The international and regional order is under strain as the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has become an economic colossus with growing military might and diplomatic influence. Control of islands offer resource ownership and maritime primacy, encouraging the PRC to assert territorial claims once considered impractical or worthless.

Beijing’s claims in Asia look extravagant, however, they are as valid as those made by the United States against Mexico and Great Britain in the mid-19th century.”

Although America’s military remains supreme, the U.S. presence no longer intimidates. Beijing has become increasingly assertive, even truculent. Analysts spin scenarios in which America and China end up at war over some “damn fool thing” in the western Pacific rather than the Balkans, as was the case in World War I.

The waters of East Asia are filled with islands, including the Diaoyu/Senkaku, Nansha/Spratly, and Xisha/Paracel Islands, as well as Huangyan Island/Scarborough Reef.  (For simplicity’s sake I will use the latter names, more familiar in the United States)  The PRC claims all …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Designer Drugs: A New, Futile Front in the War on Illegal Drugs

May 27, 2015 in Economics

Even as officials devote billions of dollars each year to enforcing laws against marijuana, cocaine, and other drugs, the market for synthetic equivalents or variations has soared.  In a new paper, Cato scholar Ted Galen Carpenter argues that the problems associated with suppressing the use of designer drugs underscores the inherent futility of the broader War on Drugs. “Instead of persisting in the failed strategy of drug prohibition,” says Carpenter, “policymakers should examine ways to accommodate legal markets in mind-altering substances while promoting public safety by requiring strict production standards to prevent contamination or mislabeling.”

…read more

Source: CATO HEADLINES

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NYT Shows No One Buys Government’s ‘Term of Art’ Argument in King v. Burwell

May 26, 2015 in Economics

By Michael F. Cannon

Michael F. Cannon

The Supreme Court is likely to rule on King v. Burwell by the end of June. The King plaintiffs are four Virginia taxpayers. They claim the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) does not authorize the Internal Revenue Service to issue certain subsidies or impose certain taxes in states like Virginia, whose health-insurance “Exchanges” were established by the federal government rather than the state itself. The challengers argue Congress intentionally authorized those taxes and subsidies only—as the ACA says—”through an Exchange established by the State.” A win for the challengers means: more than 57 million Americans in up to 38 states will be freed from the ACA’s individual and employer mandates, with considerable economic benefits; and perhaps 8 million consumers will see the full cost of their ACA plans. The Obama administration, on behalf of the IRS,argued before the Supreme Court that the statutory phrase “through an Exchange established by the State” is actually “a term of art that includes an Exchange established for the State by HHS.”

Today’s New York Times asks how the phrase “through an Exchange established by the State” got into the ACA’s subsidy-eligibility rules:

The answer, from interviews with more than two dozen Democrats and Republicans involved in writing the law, is that the words were a product of shifting politics and a sloppy merging of different versions. Some described the words as “inadvertent,” “inartful” or “a drafting error.”

A few observations about the Times’ account.

1. Senators and staff involved in the process don’t buy the government’s “term of art” argument.

None of the senators or staffers quoted in the article echoed the government’s argument that the phrase “through an Exchange established by the State” is a “term of art” meant to encompass Exchanges established by the federal government.

This is not too surprising. The government itself didn’t cook up that argument until King reached the Supreme Court. As Jonathan Adler and I explain here, there are reasons to believe the government doesn’t even believe its own “term of art” argument.

While the Times’ sources may have intended to undercut the King challengers’ case, they, like others before them, inadvertently bolstered it.”

Indeed, by describing “through an Exchange established by the State” as “inadvertent,” “inartful,” or “a drafting error,” the senators and staff implicitly acknowledge the phrase clearly does not encompass federal Exchanges. 

2. The ACA’s authors rejected “term of art” language.

The Times explains that Majority …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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‘Tangerines’ anti-war movie review

May 25, 2015 in Blogs

By Political Zach Foster

I had the opportunity to catch a screening of a well-reviewed foreign film, Tangerines(2015). Tangerines tells the story of an Estonian farmer, Ivo, in wartime Abkhazia (northwest Georgia, between Russia and Turkey). Ivo doesn’t care about the war or to take sides; all he wants is to harvest his crop of tangerines and be left alone.
The remote mountain village Ivo shares with his business partner, Margus, is exquisitely beautiful. It could be the scene on the back of a postcard. The village is also a ghost town, as the inhabitants fled in the early days of the war. To Ivo’s horror, the war comes to his doorstep only days before the tangerines are to be harvested!
After a loud firefight rages past the village, Ivo and Margus check the battlefield for survivors. There are two: a Chechen (pro-Russian) mercenary and a Georgian soldier. Both are badly wounded and require medical care, and both are taken to Ivo’s house where they begin their recuperation. Ivo and Margus must then find a way to keep the two warfighters from killing each other while they heal. They must also hide one or the other from enemy troops, depending on what nation’s army or militia passes through the contested area. As if they didn’t have enough problems, they still need to find a way to harvest an entire crop of ripe tangerines!
This movie is delightful and thought-provoking in a variety of ways. For starters, there’s not a whole lot of war violence in this movie. The violence and the impact of the war are mostly implied, so this film is heavily performance-based. I like the lead actor’s performance as Ivo; he’s a stern grandfather who imposes his authority in his own house, but will also surprise people with a subtle-yet-irreverent joke. Ivo comes across as James Stewart in Shenandoah, but with a touch of Denis Leary in The Ref.
Next are Ahmed, the Chechen mercenary, and Niko, the Georgian soldier. Ahmed is an extroverted, often loud-mouthed warrior who often vocalizes his intent to kill Niko. Niko, an introverted intellectual, …read more

Source: ZACH FOSTER RANTS

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Clueless Reporters Get Schooled: 7 Times Famous Women Shut Down Sexist Questions (VIDEO)

May 22, 2015 in Blogs

By Colin Gorenstein, Salon

Melissa McCarthy demanded “Would you do this to a man?” Here are some other great women who are sick of your shit.


Melissa McCarthy sat down with Ellen DeGeneres this week and rehashed a face-to-face encounter she had with a sexist reporter who called her “hideous” in her 2014 film “Tammy.” She turned the tables on him by asking the question “Would you do this to a man?”

If this story sounds at all familiar, it’s probably because it’s a recurring one in pop culture — even in the year 2015: Moderator asks implicitly sexist question. Female public figure calls them out. Story goes viral. Repeat. Hillary Clinton fired back with the same question when she was asked what designers she wore during a panel she was at to speak about Kyrgyzstani issues … just moments after addressing workplace sexism. Keira Knightley proposed the question, too, when she was asked just last year how she was able to juggle her personal life with her career.

Below, we’ve rounded up some of the most notable examples in recent memory, in which female celebs squarely reminded reporters of their implied sexism.

1. Lena Dunham took down a reporter who didn’t “get” the purpose of the nudity in “Girls”

At 2014′s Television Critics Association winter press tour, The Wrap’s Tim Molloy asked Dunham about why there was so much nudity in her show.

Molloy: “I don’t get the purpose of all of the nudity on the show, by you particularly, and I feel like I’m walking into a trap where you go. Nobody complains about the nudity on ‘Game of Thrones,’ but I get why they are doing it. They are doing it to be salacious and, you know, titillate people. And your character is often naked just at random times for no reason.”

Dunham: “It’s because it’s a realistic expression of what it’s like to be alive, and I totally get it. If you are not into me, that’s your problem, and you are going to have to kind of work that out with whatever professionals you’ve hired.”

2. Scarlett Johansson …read more

Source: ALTERNET