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The GOP Tax Bill Rammed Through Congress on Tuesday Paves the Way to Defund and Dismantle Federal Government

December 20, 2017 in Blogs

By Steven Rosenfeld, AlterNet

Financial experts call it unworkable—and that's what many Republicans want.


As the GOP tax bill raced through both chambers of Congress Tuesday, hurtling like a runaway train toward President Trump’s desk, Americans should see this GOP effort for what it is in the sweep of history—the Republican dismantling of federal government.

The tax bill’s specifics, with almost all of the benefits going to the very rich, confirm that the GOP’s lock on federal power is as bad as many predicted before the 2016 election. But the tax bill is also Republicans’ opening move to defund government—apart from national security, the military, infrastructure, and corporate welfare.

“The United States Senate should be doing more than providing 83 percent of the benefits in a tax bill to the top 1 percent,” Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT, said during the Senate debate Tuesday. “We cannot go home unless we address the very serious crises facing the working families and the middle class of this country.”

Sanders cited a long list of ignored crises—including some intentionally created by President Trump and the red-run Congress—that show the GOP is bent on destroying social safety nets. That unfinished business includes legalizing 800,000 Dreamers, or young people raised here who are the sons and daughters of non-citizens; funding community health centers that serve 27 million people; funding the Children’s Health Insurance Program serving 9 million children; real disaster relief for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands; fixing a multi-employer pension fund that has 1.5 million retirees at risk of losing 60 percent of their anticipated income; reforming student loan debt for 40 million people; addressing a nationwide opioid epidemic; filling 30,000 vacancies in the Veterans Administration; and funding the Social Security Administration (in 2016, 10,000 people with disabilities died while awaiting review of their benefit applications).  

“And on and on it goes,” Sanders said, without citing specifics from the tax bill, such as how its cost, triggering past legislation controlling spending, will cut Medicare’s budget by 4 percent. (Congress still has to pass a 2018 federal budget, which envisions cuts to social welfare programs, science and the environment.)

The thread …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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Watching The Crown? Here Are the Real Facts You Need to Know

December 20, 2017 in History

By Brynn Holland

Prime Minister Anthony Eden (on the left, depicted by Jeremy Northam in The Crown) shown during the aftermath of the Suez Crisis. (Credit: Alex Bailey/Netflix & Haywood Magee/Getty Images)

Netflix’s hit TV series The Crown, which goes deep inside the private world of Queen Elizabeth II and Britain’s royal family, chronicles their lives within the sweep of global events during and after World War II—from the Suez Crisis to John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Below, our guide to the history behind some of the show’s biggest season-two plotlines.

SPOILER ALERT: Major season two spoilers ahead. Read with care.

Prime Minister Anthony Eden (on the left, depicted by Jeremy Northam in The Crown) shown during the aftermath of the Suez Crisis. (Credit: Alex Bailey/Netflix & Haywood Magee/Getty Images)

THE SUEZ CRISIS
(Episode 1: Misadventure & Episode 2: A Company of Men)

On October 29, 1956, Israeli armed forces pushed into Egypt toward the Suez Canal three months after Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the canal to help fund a dam across the Nile River, initiating the Suez Crisis.

Nasser’s move dealt a harsh blow to the British. The 120-mile canal, a commercial shipping hub connecting the Mediterranean and Red Seas, was crucial to English economic interests, particularly since it facilitated the all-important flow of oil. Originally opened in 1869, it had been jointly controlled by Britain and France—even after Egypt gained independence in 1922. The British were loathe to lose it, and the international influence it signaled.

While it initially appeared that French and British forces joined the Israelis two days after their incursion, it was later revealed that the three powers had met and planned the attack altogether. This crisis put a significant strain on the relationship between these three countries and the United States. President Dwight D. Eisenhower was upset with the British, in particular, for not keeping the U.S. informed about their intentions. The U.S. threatened all three nations with economic sanctions if they persisted in their attack, and the United Nations passed a resolution calling for a cease-fire. The threats worked. The British and French forces withdrew by December; with Israel finally bowing to U.S. pressure in March 1957.

This crisis was not only seen as a complete failure, one that weakened the influence of Britain and France worldwide, but it was also a turning point in the career of Conservative Prime Minister Anthony Eden, who resigned two months later. While his official reason was “ill health,” it has long been assumed the worldwide …read more

Source: HISTORY

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Wilkinson on the Tax Bill

December 20, 2017 in Economics

By David Gordon By: David Gordon

Will Wilkinson, the vice president for policy at the Niskanen Center, does not like the tax bill just passed by Congress. Writing in The New York Times, he finds the legislation “notably generous to corporations, high earners, inheritors of large estates and the owners of private jets.”

Wilkinson has discovered a surprising source for the legislation he dislikes so much. It is none other than the libertarian idea, promoted by Murray Rothbard and Ayn Rand, that taxation is theft. Under their theory of “absolute” property rights, taxation was “morally criminalized.” Democratic majorities, in this view, cannot override property rights.

Wilkinson rejects this account. “The idea that there is an inherent tension between democracy and the integrity of property rights is wildly misguided.” Democracy is a means for the poor and middle class to protect themselves from exploitative elites. Democracy is a relatively recent innovation; in pre-democratic states, ruling elites exploited the “lower orders.” Those not in the ruling elite need the redistributive democratic state for protection.

The fault is no doubt mine, but I find Wilkinson’s line of thought difficult to follow. How does the thought that taxation is morally wrong underlie a tax bill? If you reject taxation, would you not oppose taxes rather than enact new taxes? Perhaps what Wilkinson has in mind is this: in present circumstances, Republicans under nefarious libertarian influence could not proceed all the way to abolition of taxation. The best they could manage is not to tax the well-off as much as Wilkinson thinks appropriate.

If this is Wilkinson’s idea, though, the question arises: What is supposed to be the way in which the rich elites are exploiting the poor in the tax bill? One gathers that it is, as already suggested, by not subjecting themselves to as high taxes as Wilkinson wants. In addition, the deficit that will result from the bill may lead to cuts in redistributive programs like “Medicare and other social safety net programs.”

It is no doubt true that many government programs, such as bank bailouts, farm subsidies, and protective tariffs, favor the well off. But giving “tax breaks” is not exploitation: it is letting people keep their own money. Further, redistributing money to the poor is not a way to protect the integrity of property rights: it is a violation of these rights. Of course, Wilkinson would respond that he rejects …read more

Source: MISES INSTITUTE

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This Visionary Sci-Fi Author Sees the Destruction of Human Civilization: Predatory Capitalism

December 20, 2017 in Blogs

By Jacob Sugarman, AlterNet

Ted Chiang examines how Silicon Valley has become its own worst nightmare.


The political theorist Frederic Jameson once observed that “it has become easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.” But what if predatory capitalism finally destroys life on earth? That's the question posed by science fiction writer Ted Chiang, who argues that in “superintelligent AI,” Silicon Valley capitalists have “unconsciously created a devil in their own image, a boogeyman whose excesses are precisely their own.”

In a new essay for Buzzfeed, part of a series about the forces shaping our lives in 2017, the acclaimed author of “Arrival” (Stories of Your Life and Others) deconstructs our fear of artificial intelligence; specifically, that of tech titans like Tesla founder Elon Musk. For Musk, the real threat is not a malevolent computer program rising up against its creator like Skynet in the Terminator films as much as AI destroying humanity by accident. In a recent interview with Vanity Fair, Musk imagines a mechanized strawberry picker wiping out the species simply as a means of maximizing its production.

“This scenario sounds absurd to most people, yet there are a surprising number of technologists who think it illustrates a real danger. Why?” Chiang wonders. “Perhaps it’s because they’re already accustomed to entities that operate this way: Silicon Valley tech companies.”

In Musk's hypothetical, the destruction of human civilization follows the logic of the free market.

“Consider: Who pursues their goals with monomaniacal focus, oblivious to the possibility of negative consequences? Who adopts a scorched-earth approach to increasing market share?” Chiang continues. “[The] strawberry-picking AI does what every tech startup wishes it could do—grows at an exponential rate and destroys its competitors until it’s achieved an absolute monopoly.”

Ultimately, the catastrophe Musk and others foretell has already arrived in the form of “no-holds-barred capitalism.”

“We are already surrounded by machines that demonstrate a complete lack of insight, we just call them corporations,” Chiang continues. “Corporations don’t operate autonomously, of course, and the humans in charge of them are presumably capable of insight, but capitalism doesn’t reward them for using it. On the …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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'Whoa, Whoa': Fox Panel Goes off the Rails After Guest Suggests FBI Plotted to Assassinate Trump

December 20, 2017 in Blogs

By Brad Reed, Raw Story

The right-wing media has lost its mind.


Fox News contributor on Tuesday said that it was possible that the FBI had plotted to assassinate President Donald Trump — although he quickly backed off when “Outnumbered” host Harris Faulkner expressed alarm at his baseless speculation.

Appearing on “Outnumbered,” guest Kevin Jackson said that Congressional Republicans need to get to the bottom of what FBI agent Peter Strzok meant when he said that there needed to be an “insurance policy” in the event that Trump got elected.

Even though the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that Strzok’s “insurance policy” quote referred to his sincere belief in the need to investigate Trump because he was possibly compromised by Russian intelligence services, Jackson immediately went off the deep end and suggested much darker motives.

“What was his intent, right?” Jackson asked. “Because that’s exactly what FBI Director, former FBI Director [James] Comey said when he was letting Hillary Clinton off the hook. And his intent, regardless of whether it was an assassination attempt or whatever, it was definitely something…”

At this point, a surprised Faulkner interjected and said, “Whoa, whoa!” Jackson then responded by toning his rhetoric down a notch.

“Well, I’m just saying, we don’t know what it was,” Jackson said. “When you say, ‘we’ve got to make sure that this guy doesn’t get in at all cost,’ what does that mean? So I’m saying there’s a spectrum of what does it mean, but one thing that we know for sure, is that he was plotting in an election against a candidate, and there’s FBI fingerprints all over this.”

Later in the segment, Jackson admitted that everything he has heard about FBI plots to kill Trump has come from social media accounts that were “nothing credible.”

Watch the video, via Media Matters, below.

Related Stories

…read more

Source: ALTERNET

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The Tyranny of the Econocracy

December 20, 2017 in Economics

By Matthew McCaffrey

The-Econocracy-Cover.jpg

By: Matthew McCaffrey

The Econocracy: The Perils of Leaving Economics to the Experts. By Joe Earle, Cahal Moran, and Zach Ward-Perkins. Manchester University Press, 2017. Xix + 212 pages.

The global financial crisis of ten years ago had a profound effect on the general public’s perception of the economics profession. Prior to the crisis, most people seemed only dimly aware that the profession existed at all, much less that it had any influence over their lives. Yet ever since, the ideas and institutions surrounding mainstream economics have been vilified, while economists themselves have been blamed for failing to predict disaster, or even helping to encourage it.

But perhaps most important, the crisis revealed a deep and growing rift between the economics profession and the general public. The old image of economists as a sort of slightly-more-interesting version of accountants has given way to a view of them as a priestly class helping governments to divine policy, but whose obscure wisdom and arcane rituals are closed to the general public.

The Econocracy is a study of the economics profession and how it came to monopolize the sphere of expert opinion in politics. There is much that could be said about this book, so here I’ll limit myself to a few general points (you can see a fuller review here). Its main thesis is that economics is no longer a diverse community of inquiry, but a detached profession that sees the world only in light of its own tools and goals. In fact, according to the authors, the world is fast heading toward “econocracy,” defined as, “A society in which political goals are defined in terms of their effect on the economy, which is believed to be a distinct system with its own logic that requires experts to manage it” (p. 7). The idea is that economists have made themselves an indispensable part of the political process, which they manage by defining its political and social goals (which are usually economic goals, such as increased growth), crafting the policies to attain them, and shutting out competing views.

In this setting, economics is for most people a foreign language in which the important business of society and politics is conducted. This barrier to understanding increases economists’ influence in the political process, and works like most other barriers to entry. For example, without economic training, most people are unable to engage critically with …read more

Source: MISES INSTITUTE

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Leonard Read Explains What it Means To Be a Liberal

December 20, 2017 in Economics

By Gary Galles

read.PNG

By: Gary Galles

Most people who have been trying to advance liberty for some time know of Leonard Read. Creator of the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) in 1946, and bedrock of the first libertarian think-tank, he thought, talked and wrote about it for decades. Yet because he was so closely associated with FEE, and published his many books through it, his first book, The Romance of Reality (1937) published before FEE, has gone largely unnoticed.

That is a shame, as there is much to be gleaned from Read’s first book. In particular, given the ubiquitous labeling, name-calling, guilt-by-ism, innuendo, and association and invective-laced public discourse Americans must endure, The Romance of Reality’s opening chapter, “Debunking the Labels,” offers some very useful wisdom for us today.

For its 80th anniversary, it is well worth considering some of the many insights he explores in the book:

No sober discussion of public questions is possible at this time without first clearing the thinking atmosphere of…politically managed labels.

Few thoughts of others are accepted without first comparing colors, labels or isms. If these do not match, then the projector of a thought is obviously steeped in prejudice…a tool of the “interests.” By their opponents, New Dealers are called socialistic…radical…They call themselves liberal, progressive…To a New Dealer, an anti-New Deal Republican is at best a reactionary, shrinking from there…so low as to be termed a “tool of entrenched greed.”

What chance has logic against these head-winds of hate? To criticize…is to invite oneself before the firing squads of the literary mercenaries. To sponsor or defend an economic principle to which current passions may be opposed is to ask for…an odious label.

Conclusion: we are the dupes of a politically managed glossary.

Who likes to be called a REACTIONARY? And to be dubbed a CONSERVATIVE has sadly become just a shade less nocuous. But to be called a LIBERAL is glorious!

The core problem with such labels is that “conservative,” “liberal,” “progressive,” etc., are adjectives that have been converted into nouns—isms–for political purposes. But adjectives are not self-defined; they modify something else. The consequence is that crucial questions such as “What is being conserved?”, “In what ways are we liberal?” and “What do we consider progress?” are cloaked from consideration. But Leonard Read was already thinking carefully about them.

Liberalism…was born of an era when governments were characterized by their despotism and economic practices lived under feudalism. This liberal movement [was] …read more

Source: MISES INSTITUTE

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This King Hated Coffee So Much He Tried to Kill Someone With It

December 20, 2017 in History

By Erin Blakemore

Portrait of Adolf Frederick of Sweden. (Credit: DeAgostini/Getty Images)

There are 92 references to coffee in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, whose protagonist, Lisbeth Salander, wreaks bloody revenge in Stieg Larsson’s Swedish crime thrillers. Indeed, people in the Scandinavian country drink the equivalent of 18 pounds of coffee every year, making Sweden the world’s sixth most caffeinated nation.

But the country’s coffee habit hasn’t always been a given. Starting in the 18th century, Sweden’s leaders tried to ban the beloved caffeine source. And one Swedish king hated coffee so much, he pitted two murderers against one another to prove how deadly the drink was.

Coffee made its way to Sweden in the 17th century as world trade opened up, and Swedes immediately took to the drink. But their monarchs did not, believing that coffee made people behave badly. Starting in 1756, during the reign of Adolf Frederick, the country began to impose a heavy tax on coffee imports and consumption as a result of the “misuse of tea and coffee drinking.” Those who insisted on drinking coffee without paying the tax were punished by having their cups and saucers confiscated.

Later that year, coffee was banned altogether. Royal officials tried to paint coffee as an un-Swedish move and encouraged Swedes to enjoy other drinks instead. Swedes, especially upper-class ones who could afford the precious beans, shrugged and kept on drinking coffee despite the ban. A flourishing bootlegging trade made the beverage widely available.

Portrait of Adolf Frederick of Sweden. (Credit: DeAgostini/Getty Images)

Then Gustav III came to power. The son of the king who originally banned coffee, he was disgusted by coffee and convinced it had bad effects on one’s health. He was so against the bitter brew that he decided to use science—or what passed for it—to prove to his subjects that they should give up coffee once and for all.

In a move that would make modern scientists’ jaws drop, Gustav enlisted prisoners for a scientific experiment. He found two convicted murderers on whom to conduct his experiment—an early example of a controlled study. The men had been sentenced to death, so the king offered them life in prison instead if they’d participate.

Some versions of the story say that the men were identical twins; …read more

Source: HISTORY

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The Risks and Rewards of Welfare Reform

December 20, 2017 in Economics

By Michael D. Tanner

Michael D. Tanner

With tax reform finally behind us, President Trump has been
dropping hints that welfare reform might be the administration’s
next big undertaking.

Few areas of government are as ripe for reform as our bloated,
inefficient, and ineffective welfare system. The United States has
spent more than $23 trillion fighting poverty, roughly $1 trillion
last year alone. Yet all this spending has bought us surprisingly
little. Although far from conclusive, the evidence suggests that
our welfare system has marginally reduced the number of people
living in poverty, while helping to reduce its deprivations for
millions of others. This shouldn’t be a big surprise. No matter how
dim a view one takes of governmental competence in general, it
would be virtually impossible for the government to spend $23
trillion on welfare without helping at least some poor people.

But by the broader and more important benchmark — enabling
people to rise above poverty, to become self-sufficient and able to
care for their families, to achieve all that they can achieve
— welfare has clearly failed.

The War on Poverty was launched, in the words of President
Johnson, not only to “relieve the symptom of poverty, but to cure
it and, above all, to prevent it.” Yes, Johnson sought to meet the
“basic needs” of those in poverty, but also to “replace despair
with opportunity.” But walk through poor communities today, from
Baltimore’s “Sandtown” to Owsley, Ky., and it becomes increasingly
difficult to pretend that people are flourishing in any meaningful
sense.

Of course, many of the answers to poverty —
criminal-justice reform, school choice, occupational-licensing
reform, the elimination of other barriers that prevent the poor
from participating in a growing economy, and efforts to fight
systemic racism and sexism — lie outside the welfare system.
And, of course, simply increasing economic growth will do more to
relieve poverty than any government program ever could. But there
should be no doubt that we can also do better when it comes to
welfare.

If done right, it could
be a huge win for President Trump and the nation. If done wrong,
well …

For instance, our current welfare system is a bureaucratic
nightmare. There are at least 70 different programs that provide
benefits to individuals and more than 30 other anti-poverty
programs, all with different rules, eligibility requirements,
management, and oversight. At the same time, the system
increasingly provides payments not to the poor themselves, but to
an industry of landlords, doctors, grocers, and others who serve
the poor. Only about 21 cents of every dollar spent on welfare is
actually paid in cash to recipients. It is almost as if the system
was set …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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The Pottawatomie Massacre

December 20, 2017 in Economics

By Chris Calton

Historical Controversies Podcast: Season 2

By: Chris Calton

In response to the Sack of Lawrence and the Caning of Charles Sumner, radical John Brown took matters into his own hands by murdering five pro-slavery settlers. With this, Brown ushered in the wave of violence Kansas would see in the summer of 1856.

Chris Calton gives a revisionist look at the antebellum period leading up to the Civil War. This is the eighth episode in the second season of Historical Controversies.

…read more

Source: MISES INSTITUTE