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In Africa, Ending a Despot Doesn't End Despotism

December 30, 2017 in Economics

By Ilana Mercer


By: Ilana Mercer

In the tradition of dimming debate, the chattering class has reduced systemic corruption in South Africa and the near collapse in Zimbabwe, respectively, to the shenanigans of two men: Jacob Zuma and Robert Mugabe.

Zuma, the President of South Africa, currently faces possible impeachment for corruption, while Robert Mugabe has now been forcibly “retired” after 30 years as President.

Surely by now, though, it should be common knowledge that in Africa, if you replace a despot, but not despotism, you only oust a tyrant, and not tyranny.

How Kleptocracy Works

Emblematic of this is a thematically confused article in The Economist, offering a description of the dynamics set in motion by the Zuma dynasty's capture of the state.

At first, the magazine explains the concept of “state capture” as “private actors [having] subverted the state to steal public money.”

Later, the concept is more candidly refined: “The nub of the state capture argument is that Mr. Zuma and his friends are putting state-owned enterprises and other governmental institutions in the hands of people who are allowing them to loot public funds.”

Indeed. Corruption invariably flows from state to society.

And, “state capture” is quite common across Africa, even if “unfamiliar elsewhere in the world,” which is all the “context” The Economist is willing to provide.

“To avoid a dire, two-decade dynasty of dysfunction, South Africa’s ruling African National Congress should ditch the Zumas,” the magazine concludes.

That's it? If only.

The Corruption of South Africa,” courtesy of The Economist, hurtles between being an excellent exposé, yet providing nothing more than reportorial reductionism.

Continental context, if you will, is essential if one is to shed light on the “Dark Continent.”

To wit, the seductive narrative about the ANC's new boss — and the man put forward as Zuma’s replacement — Cyril Ramaphosa, gets this much right: There is nothing new about the meaningless game of musical chairs enacted throughout Africa like clockwork. The Big Man is overthrown or demoted; another Alpha Male jockeys his way into his predecessor’s position and asserts his primacy over the people and their property.

Elections across Africa have traditionally followed a familiar pattern: Radical black nationalist movements like the ANC take power everywhere, then elections cease. “One man, one vote, one time,” to quote the book, “Into the Cannibal’s Pot: Lessons for America From Post-Apartheid South Africa.” Or, if elections do repeatedly take place, as they do in South Africa, …read more


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Neighbors to Mike Pence’s Christmas Vacation Home in Aspen Greeted Him with a Big ‘Make America Gay Again’ Banner

December 30, 2017 in Blogs

By Bob Brigham, Raw Story

Neighbors hung the bright rainbow banner for Pence to see.

Vice President Mike Pence’s Christmas vacation in Aspen was protested by the neighbors next to the private home in which he was staying.

A rainbow flag with the words “Make America Gay Again” was posted at the end of the driveway to both houses, the Aspen Times reports.

The banner was hung by the daughters of the homeowners — and one of their girlfriends.

“You couldn’t miss it,” Pitkin County Sheriff’s Deputy Michael Buglione explained.

Deputy Buglione explained the homeowners brought chili and corn muffins to the deputies and Secret Service agents who were posted.

“They’ve been really nice to us,” Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo.


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The Myth of Insufficient Demand

December 30, 2017 in Economics

By Frank Shostak


By: Frank Shostak

Following the ideas of Keynes and Friedman, most mainstream economists associate economic growth with increases in the demand for goods and services.

Both Keynes and Friedman felt that The Great Depression of the 1930’s was due to an insufficiency of aggregate demand and thus the way to fix the problem is to boost aggregate demand.

For Keynes, this was achieved by having the federal government borrow more money and spend it when the private sector would not. Friedman advocated that the Federal Reserve pump more money to revive demand.

There is never such a thing as insufficient demand as such, however. An individual’s demand is constrained by his ability to produce goods. The more goods that an individual can produce the more goods he can demand, and thus acquire.

Note that the production of one individual enables him to pay for the production of the other individual. (The more goods an individual produces the more of other goods he can secure for himself. An individual’s demand therefore is constrained by his production of goods).

Note again demand cannot stand by itself and be independent – it is limited by production. Hence, what drives the economy is not demand as such but the production of goods and services.

In this sense, producers and not consumers are the engine of economic growth. Obviously, if he wants to succeed then a producer must produce goods and services in line with what other producers require.

According to James Mill,

When goods are carried to market what is wanted is somebody to buy. But to buy, one must have the wherewithal to pay. It is obviously therefore the collective means of payment which exist in the whole nation constitute the entire market of the nation. But wherein consist the collective means of payment of the whole nation? Do they not consist in its annual produce, in the annual revenue of the general mass of inhabitants? But if a nation's power of purchasing is exactly measured by its annual produce, as it undoubtedly is; the more you increase the annual produce, the more by that very act you extend the national market, the power of purchasing and the actual purchases of the nation…. Thus it appears that the demand of a nation is always equal to the produce of a nation. This indeed must be so; for what is the demand of a nation? The demand of a nation …read more


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Will Uterus Transplants Change the Way We Perceive Gender?

December 30, 2017 in Blogs

By Chris Sosa, AlterNet

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The medical viability of uterine transplantation is challenging long-held notions about our bodies.

This year, the United States passed a medical milestone: the first baby in the nation born through a transplanted uterus. Reports on the specific number of successful births via transplanted uterus vary, but all place the count at fewer than 30 births.

However, the number is expected to rise exponentially in the immediate future.

“We’re hoping that in a decade or so, this will become mainstream,” Dr. Zaraq Khan, a Mayo Clinic reproductive endocrinologist and infertility surgeon, told HuffPost.

The procedure is currently limited to a specific set of patients who fit narrow medical criteria for eligibility.

“As of right now, when uterus transplantation is still in its infancy, it will be limited to patients with absolute uterine factor infertility,” Khan said. This excludes women who, for example, are able to conceive but routinely miscarry.

While bioethical questions remain, some wonder if the technology may one day allow men to eventually carry and birth children.

Dr. Richard Paulson, the outgoing president of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, believes such procedures are already within the scope of immediate possibility for transgendered women.

“You could do it tomorrow. There would be additional challenges, but I don't see any obvious problem that would preclude it,” Paulson told the Telegraph. “I personally suspect there are going to be trans women who are going to want to have a uterus and will likely get the transplant.”

But Arthur Caplan, a professor of bioethics and head of the Division of Medical Ethics at New York University's School of Medicine, told LiveScience that performing such a procedure now would violate ethical standards.

“Surgically, could you put [a uterus] in a man tomorrow? Yeah, …read more


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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: The Top 10 U.S. Drug Policy Stories of 2017

December 29, 2017 in Blogs

By Phillip Smith, AlterNet

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Let's put the year to bed.

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. Tens of thousands died of drug overdoses, hundreds of thousands were arrested for drugs, yet marijuana is seeing boom times. As we bid adieu to 2017, here are the year's drug policy highlights.

1. The Opioid Crisis Deepens, With Overdose Deaths at an All-Time High

The country's opioid crisis showed no signs of abating in 2017, with the Centers for Disease Control estimating 66,000 overdose deaths this year, up from 63,000 in 2016. To be clear, only about two-thirds of fatal drug overdoses are linked to heroin and prescription opioids, but opioid overdoses surged in 2016 by 28%. It's too early for final data on 2017 overdoses, but there is little reason to doubt that opioids were driving the increase this year. The high levels of overdose deaths have led to a fall in US life expectancy for the past two years, only the third time that has happened in the past century.

2. Fentanyl Is Killing More and More People

The powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl and its analogs are implicated in an increasingly large number of opioid overdose deaths. While deaths involving prescription opioids are decreasing, fentanyl-related deaths have increased by an average of 88% a year since 2013. Illicitly imported fentanyl from labs in China or Mexico is mixed with heroin with lethal results: Half of the increase in heroin-related overdose deaths is attributable to heroin cut with fentanyl, the CDC reported in September. There were nearly 20,000 deaths attributable to fentanyl and other illicit opioids in 2016; the 2017 numbers are likely to be even worse.

3. Key Federal Drug Policy Positions Remain Unfilled, and Kellyanne Is in Charge

The Trump administration has not nominated anyone …read more


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America's Imperial Decline Might Be Our Last, Best Hope to Salvage Our Democracy

December 29, 2017 in Blogs

By Jacob Bacharach, AlterNet

Painful as it will be, it's a necessary precondition to creating a more just country.

When the United States vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution asking nations not to build any more diplomatic missions in Jerusalem only to be drubbed 128-9 in the General Assembly, which voted on a similar non-binding resolution last week, America’s ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, loudly proclaimed that the United States would be “taking names.” Her warning fell on deaf ears, although the U.S. and Israel did manage to cajole that titan of geopolitics, Guatemala, to come around to the American view.

The whole pitiful episode merely confirmed what the Trump administration has made readily apparent: Haley, like the president, has internalized the same impossible tale conservatives have been selling to Fox News grandmas for decades now: that the U.S. is a font of beneficent foreign aid; that the State Department outspends the Pentagon; and that billions and trillions in cash flow ever outward from our vaults and into the greedy hands of ungrateful minor nations that would sink without it. They think, in other words, that we have leverage where we do not.

When the UN announced a reduction in its budget for next fiscal year—something commonplace and long in the works—the U.S. government crowed that this was its doing. No one cared. But in an odd way, combative and stupid as they are, Trump and his circle intuitively grasp something that the mandarins of America’s post-war foreign policy consensus either won't or can't: that the institutions the United States built in order to camouflage and maintain its worldwide empire are increasingly unresponsive to the imperial will. In this respect, their strident nationalism is partially, if accidentally, correct. We ain’t what we used to be.

While our commuter trains leap from their aging tracks, tactical victories in the so-called war on terror produce not a glimpse of distant victory but only the enervating glimmer of a long-strategic defeat. The already barely tolerable oligarchy of late 20th-century capitalism has given way to a high-tech feudalism of the darkest speculative fiction, ruled by a tiny …read more


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Bob Murphy on the Culture Wars

December 29, 2017 in Economics

By Jeff Deist, Robert P. Murphy

Mises Weekends with Jeff Deist

By: Jeff Deist, Robert P. Murphy

Our final show of the year features a talk given by Dr. Bob Murphy at a recent Mises Institute event in Orlando. His topic is the culture wars– and if you think America is divided now, just wait until we have another crash like '08. But Bob is ready with a prescription: less politics & smaller polities. It's time to stop hating each other and start reducing the political power wielded over us, as Bob conveys in his own unique and humorous style.

Listen to Jeff's talk from the event here.

…read more


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How a Postal Strike Became a National Emergency for Richard Nixon

December 29, 2017 in History

By Erin Blakemore

Post Office workers on strike at Tenafly, 1970. (Credit: Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)

In early 1970, National Guardsmen were spotted walking from door to door in neighborhoods throughout the United States. They weren’t conducting a military operation or helping clean up after a natural disaster—they were delivering the mail in the midst of a postal strike that almost brought the United States to a halt.

The eight-day strike of some 150,000 letter carriers in 30 cities took the nation by surprise, but for many in the U.S. Postal Department (forerunner of today’s USPS) it was a long time coming.

At the time, pay raises for postal workers were almost unheard of: After 21 years on the job, noted The New York Times, a letter carrier would only earn $2,266 more than their starting salary. Though unionized, postal workers were forbidden from negotiating for pay raises due to cost of living. There was no chance to earn overtime, and many workers had to find a second job to make ends meet.

To top it off, life as a letter carrier was unforgiving. The work was physically demanding, and even experienced employees had no idea how many hours they would work. They waited in break rooms for long periods, hoping to be called for a few hours of delivering the mail. By 1970, their turnover rate was 23 percent.

Post Office workers on strike at Tenafly, 1970. (Credit: Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)

Tensions boiled over when Congress proposed raising their own salaries by 41 percent in early 1970—but only offered postal employees a 5.4 percent raise. Furious letter carriers in New York called a meeting of the local branch of the National Association of Letter Carriers union on March 17, 1970 to demand a strike.

But the union refused to strike. Union leaders agreed there were legitimate problems, but pointed out that it was illegal for federal workers to strike. (It still is.) Members took a vote. It was close—1,555 for a strike, 1,055 against. However, a group of pro-strike workers led by Vincent Sombrotto defied their union and decided to stop work the next morning.

This “wildcat” strike—one that goes against the wishes of the union—meant that Sombrotto and his colleagues lacked official support for their actions. But they had many supporters elsewhere: other discontented letter carriers from coast to coast.

As letter carriers took to the streets of Manhattan and stopped delivering mail, others joined in. Thirty other cities’ workers walked out, too, and soon <a target=_blank …read more


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Evangelical Christianity Is Facing a Political Crisis: It Will Need More Than a Makeover

December 29, 2017 in Blogs

By Valerie Tarico, AlterNet

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The Christian faith was the real loser in the Roy Moore campaign.

Ok, evangelicals do have a brand problem—but they also have a major product problem.

Bible-believing born-again Christians, aka evangelicals, have had a brand problem since Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority sold the born-again movement to the Republican party in exchange for political power a generation ago, forging the religious right.

The Republican party has been using Christianity’s good name to cover bad deeds ever since, all the while tapping evangelical media empires and churches as communications and organizing platforms to bring ordinary believers along with the merger. Having become true-believers themselves, Evangelical leaders have offered themselves up as trusted messengers for this New-and-Improved political gospel project.

And it has worked.

Born-again Christians haven’t given up their core beliefs: that the Bible is the literally perfect word of God, Jesus died for their sins, and folks who don’t accept this gift will burn forever in Hell. Rather, most white evangelicals (and a number of blacks and Hispanics) have appended parts of the Republican policy agenda and the underlying conceptual framework to this list. Religious beliefs and political beliefs have become, for many evangelicals, indistinguishable objects of devotion, beyond question. Political tribe and religious tribe now have the same boundaries.

When I outlined evangelicalism’s brand problem in early 2016, few of us had any idea how bad it could get. Now the world associates the term Evangelical with the Trump election—over 80 percent of evangelicals gave him their vote—and with the candidacy of theocrat, Roy Moore, who despite credible allegations that he pursued and pawed young teens while an assistant district attorney, received comparable support from white Alabama evangelicals.

In the aftermath of Moore’s campaign and (merciful) defeat, the minority of Evangelical Christians who found him horrifying are doing some public soul searching—well, …read more


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What #MeToo Can Teach the Labor Movement

December 29, 2017 in Blogs

By Jane McAlevey, In These Times

If we focus on the power analysis, the answer is staring us in the face.

My first #MeToo memory is from the kitchen of the Red Eagle Diner on Route 59 in Rockland County, N.Y. I was 16 years old, had moved out of my home, and was financially on my own. The senior waitresses in this classic Greek-owned diner schooled me fast. They explained that my best route to maximum cash was the weekend graveyard shift. “People are hungry and drunk after the bars close, and the tips are great,” one said.

That first waitressing job would be short-lived, because I didn’t heed a crucial warning. Watch out for Christos, a hot-headed cook and relative of the owner. The night I physically rebuffed his obnoxious and forceful groping, it took all the busboys holding him back as he waved a cleaver at me, red-faced and screaming in Greek that he was going to kill me. The other waitress held the door open as I fled to my car and sped off without even getting my last paycheck. I was trembling.

Although there were plenty of other incidents in between, the next time I found myself that shaken by a sexual assault threat, I was 33 and in a Manhattan cab with a high-up official in the national AFL-CIO. He had structural power over me, as well as my paycheck and the campaign I was running. He was nearly twice my age and size. After offering to give me a lift in the cab so I could avoid the pelting rain walking to the subway, he quickly slid all the way over to my side, pinned me to the door, grabbed me with both arms and began forcibly kissing me on the lips. After a determined push, and before getting the driver to stop and let me out, I told the AFL-CIO official that if he ever did it again I’d call his wife in a nanosecond.

These two examples underscore that behind today’s harassment headlines is a deeper crisis: pernicious sexism, misogyny and contempt for women. Whether in our …read more