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The Koch Brothers Are Plotting a Right-Wing Takeover of America's Judicial System

January 31, 2018 in Blogs

By Jacob Sugarman, AlterNet

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The billionaire magnates have their eyes on the Supreme Court, and that's not all.

Between Donald Trump's historic unpopularity and an unprecedented number of resignations in the House and Senate, this year's midterm elections could prove to be a blue wave for Democrats, even with much of the congressional map gerrymandered against them. If so, the Koch brothers appear to have missed the memo.

According to CBS, the right-wing billionaires are “all in” for 2018, planning to spend as much as $400 million on political candidates across the country. But it's not just Congress they hope to reshape in their own image. The Washington Post reports the oil magnates have their sights set on the next Supreme Court vacancy, and that their political advocacy group, Americans for Prosperity, is “expanding its portfolio into the judicial branch.”

“In 2017, the network’s activists worked phones and knocked on doors, urging voters to push their senators to confirm Neil M. Gorsuch to fill the Supreme Court seat vacated by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia,” writes the Post's Michelle Ye Hee Lee. “The new effort will build on the 2017 work, led by Concerned Veterans for America, which network officials viewed as an indication of how much energy activists will bring to the new judicial campaign.”

As part of their latest push, the Kochs announced Sunday that they have hired Sarah Field as vice president of judicial strategy. Field previously worked for the Federalist Society, an ultra-conservative pressure group that has helped Trump stack the courts with any number of far-right ideologues, including Gorsuch

The Kochs' active involvement in the nomination process speaks to their burgeoning alliance with the Trump administration. While the avowed libertarians refused to endorse Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign, they have found common …read more


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The Real State of the Union: America Has a Huge Political Vacuum

January 31, 2018 in Blogs

By Steven Rosenfeld, AlterNet

Trump's debut SOTU speech and critics' responses highlight a growing void in the political landscape.

Has there ever been a more predictable and less meaningful State of the Union speech than President Trump’s debut performance on Tuesday night?

What will Trump say that Americans haven't already heard or already know, personally and politically? Next to nothing, I’d suggest.

Every adjective that can describe his manner, priorities, delivery, habits and abilities has been beaten to death in the past year. Every statement he’s likely to mouth has been vetted by speechwriters whose talents include turning meaningful words into mush.

And yet, almost everything that comes from critics, both on the political left and the right, seems only to fortify the convictions of the minority of Americans who voted for him. (The Electoral College math giving him the presidency is a topic for another time.)

Anything that feeds the media circus elevates Trump. This dynamic is not new. Luigi Zingales, a professor of entrepreneurship and finance at the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago, said a similar turbulence marked Silvio Berlusconi’s tenure as Italy’s prime minister.

“Mr. Berlusconi was able to govern Italy for as long as he did mostly thanks to the incompetence of his opposition,” he wrote in a New York Times commentary in mid-November 2016. “It was so rabidly obsessed with his personality that any substantive political debate disappeared; it focused only on personal attacks, the effect of which was to increase Mr. Berlusconi’s popularity. His secret was an ability to set off a Pavlovian reaction among his leftist opponents, which engendered instantaneous sympathy in most moderate voters. Mr. Trump is no different.”

One year into Trump’s presidency, Zingales’ words resonate. His suggestion for Democrats and other critics is to treat Trump like the bungling and vindictive politician that he has since proved to be—and not allow him to wiggle out by defending himself as a “political outsider” or blaming career politicians, even elected Republicans, from thwarting him.

Obviously, that hasn’t happened. Democrats, whether progressives or centrists, universally despise Trump and have seized every opportunity to say so. But …read more


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The ‘Holy Grail’ of Dinosaurs Discovered in the Sahara

January 31, 2018 in History

By Ryan Mattimore

The lower jaw bone of the new dinosaur as it was found in rock of the Upper Cretaceous-aged (approximately 80 million-year-old) Quseir Formation of the Dakhla Oasis, Egypt. (Credit: Hesham Sallam/Mansoura University)

Paleontologists piece together our planet’s past, but even they admit that they’re assembling a puzzle without knowing where all the pieces are hidden. So any time a major piece is unearthed —like in the recent discovery of a unique new dinosaur in the Egyptian desert—there is understandably a lot of excitement.

Scientists are now raising a glass to what paleontologist Matthew Lamanna calls “the holy grail of dinosaurs”: a specimen known as Mansourasaurus shahinae. The dinosaur’s discovery in the Sahara upends long-held theories about the dinosaurs that roamed Africa millions of years ago.

What makes this find so notable? Well, it shines a light on what was previously a mysterious period in Africa’s paleontological record, and demonstrates that some dinosaurs moved between southern Europe and North Africa at the end of the Mesozoic Era. Until Mansourasaurus shahinae’s discovery by paleontologists from Egypt’s Mansoura University, the fossil record for Africa during the Cretaceous period—the final chapter of the age of dinosaurs—was very sparse. Scientists were unclear about which dinosaurs lived on the African continent and how they may have mixed with dinosaurs who inhabited other land masses at the time.

The lower jaw bone of the new dinosaur as it was found in rock of the Upper Cretaceous-aged (approximately 80 million-year-old) Quseir Formation of the Dakhla Oasis, Egypt. (Credit: Hesham Sallam/Mansoura University)

A recent paper cataloging the new species in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution reveals that Mansourasaurus sahinae has more in common with European and Asian dinosaurs than with South American and southern African dinosaurs, which disproves previous theories that Africa’s dinosaur fauna existed in isolation.

The Mansourasaurus shahinae lived about 66 to 80 million years ago. It was around 33 feet long and weighed 5.5 tons, the size of a school bus and roughly the weight of an adult African bull elephant. It belongs to a group of animals called Titanasaurs, which included some of the largest land animals to ever walk the earth (Mansourasaurus pales in comparison to other titanosaurs like the Dreadnoughtus, which weighed a whopping 65 tons.)

Skeletal reconstruction of the new titanosaurian dinosaur Mansourasaurus found in Egypt. Bones shown in color are those that are …read more


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U.S.-South Korea Alliance Is Unhealthy for Both Countries

January 31, 2018 in Economics

By Ted Galen Carpenter

Ted Galen Carpenter

During the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, worries proliferated
both in the United States and its alliance partners that Donald
Trump’s election would signal the resurgence of American
“isolationism.” Trump’s statements certainly
indicated that some major changes in Washington’s alliance
policies would be forthcoming. His denunciations of the lack of burden sharing on the part of U.S.
allies in East Asia, Europe, and the Middle East often were quite
pointed. Although most of his complaints were directed against NATO
members, Japan, and other allies, they also applied to South

Fears that a Trump administration would repudiate
America’s security alliances proved to be overblown. The new
president and his advisors quickly made statements confirming that
all of Washington’s commitments remained intact. The
president also sent Secretary of Defense James Mattis on a
“reassurance tour” to Japan and South Korea. Mattis
assured the South Koreans that the United States remained determined to protect their country, even as
the so-called Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North
Korea) continued to build its ballistic missile and nuclear-weapons

Nevertheless, the U.S.-South Korea alliance is in trouble
— and for reasons that go well beyond standard burden-sharing
controversies. The alliance no longer serves the best interests of
either country. Indeed, it has the perverse effect of increasing
dangers to both parties.

Washington should
reconsider whether perpetuating a Cold War-era alliance is worth
putting the United States on the front lines of crises that would
otherwise have only marginal relevance to America.

The accelerating pace of the DPRK’s nuclear and ballistic
missile programs highlights the growing risk to America that
Washington’s security commitment to South Korea entails.
North Korea’s most recent nuclear test was much larger than
previous versions. Some experts even tend to believe
Pyongyang’s claim that it was a hydrogen bombrather than an atomic bomb
— which would be a major leap in capabilities. The
DPRK’s numerous missile tests over the past year likewise
suggest growing mastery of that technology. The progress has been
so pronounced that most experts conclude that North Korea now has
the ability to strike the U.S. west coast. Following the test in
late November, some experts speculate that Kim Jong-un’s
missiles can reach targets throughout the United States.

Those developments dramatically increase the risks associated
with Washington’s defense commitment to South Korea. It was
one thing to provide such protection when North Korea had no
nuclear capability and the range of its conventional weapons,
including missiles, was decidedly limited. It is quite another
consideration when the American homeland could be vulnerable. A
particularly odd feature of the periodic crises involving North
Korea is that the …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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China's Great Migration

January 31, 2018 in Economics

By Paul F. Gentle

Hong Kong

By: Paul F. Gentle

Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics 20, no. 3 (Fall 2017)

China’s Great Migration by Bradley M. Gardner, Independent Institute, 2017

Bradley Gardner is a research fellow at the Independent Institute and Foreign Service officer with the U.S. State Department. Prior assignments include Research Analyst with the China office of The Economist Intelligence Unit; Managing Editor of China International Business and Editor-in-Chief for China Offshore /Invest In; and writer for Czech Business Weekly. He earned a B.A. in Chinese from the University of Southern California and an M.A. in Humanities from the University of Chicago.

This book has forty pages of endnotes and bibliography. Since I spent about a dozen years as a faculty member and researcher in China, I read this book carefully. There is a lot of detail here, and a style of writing we would expect in periodicals, instead of being the style of an economist. Indeed, the author’s education is not in economics. The major theme explored is how a very large migration of people came from the Middle and Western China to more industrial and urban areas, especially in East China, where their labor was used more productively. Without the capital and entrepreneurship factors of production, none of this would have happened, but the author seldom uses economic terminology. China’s economic transformation included the state’s share of employment dropping from 60.5 percent in 1998 to 19.4 percent (Gardner, 2017, p. 2). China does not have the perfect public policy, as no nation does. Yet there were some matters that China had right, which allowed hundreds of millions of people to substantially improve their lives, in a relatively brief time span (p. 3).

This book has been written for the Chinese who have migrated to places of greater opportunity, compared to the migrants’ former lives as farmers. Some of the foreign-owned major factories have taken “nearly every employee willing to work for the sum they’re willing to pay” (p. 5). Between 1978 and 2012, “more than 260 million economic migrants” moved to urban centers (p. 5). China’s national government has loosened up legal requirements about where Chinese citizens can move. The provision of schools, health care and other basic amenities for migrant families has been slow in coming sometimes, but it has come. Yet, “migration is by no means the only reason for the Chinese economic miracle,” though it does give an insight into how …read more


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Trump Official Considered Using Controversial ‘Abortion Reversal’ Treatment on Pregnant Undocumented Teen

January 31, 2018 in Blogs

By Liz Posner, AlterNet

They’ll stop at nothing to push their religious agenda.

Trump government appointees are well-known for imposing their regressive beliefs on others. This includes Scott Lloyd, the anti-abortion crusader who recently tried to prevent a 17-year-old undocumented rape victim from proceeding with her abortion. Lloyd has allegedly tried to stop four such abortions by imposing bureaucratic red tape in front of young undocumented women this year. Now, there’s proof that Lloyd’s pro-life mania goes further: a compelling report by Vice News shows that Lloyd, who heads the Office of Refugee Resettlement, discussed with his staff using a controversial, scientifically unproven procedure to reverse one of these teen's abortions midway through.

Lloyd himself revealed this during a deposition he is currently involved in as part of a lawsuit filed by the ACLU. The abortion “reversal” treatment involves using the hormone progesterone, which can be administered after the second abortion pill (two pills are taken in a medical abortion) to women who’ve changed their minds. Vice notes that “there is no credible medical evidence that such a procedure works, and the mainstream medical community worries that using it amounts to experimentation on women.” It also points out that “the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists doesn’t recommend trying to ‘reverse’ a medication abortion in progress.”

Like many Trump appointees, Lloyd has been criticized for lacking the necessary expertise to run his department. He does not have experience in resettlement work, for one. On the other hand, he’s pushed his pro-life agenda for decades. As the Washington Post points out, “he wrote an essay for Ethika Politika, an online journal affiliated with the Center for Morality in Public Life, arguing that ‘contraceptives are the cause of abortion’ while attacking Planned Parenthood and ‘other population control entities’ for spreading misinformation.”

Read the Vice News report here.

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Why Special Interests Try to Take Control of Governments

January 31, 2018 in Economics

By Hunter Lewis


By: Hunter Lewis

George Monbiot, popular Guardian columnist, beacon light of global environmentalism, is also the kind of progressive who insists on seeing the world as he wishes it were and not as it really is. Wearing these kind of blinders will not help us get a better environment or better world.

In his latest column, Monbiot states that: “The forces that threaten to destroy our wellbeing are… the same everywhere: primarily the lobbying power of big business and big money, which perceive the administrative state as an impediment to their immediate interests.”

This is nonsense. Big business and big money, along with other special interests, such as Big labor and Big law and Big education, and all the other “ Bigs” absolutely love the “administrative state” because they have learned how to control it and use it for their own self-interest.

This is the “ progressive paradox” that Monbiot resolutely ignores: the more the state increases its powers over the economy, the more motivated special interests become to take control of the state in order to thwart genuine market competition. The resulting corruption just gets worse and worse.

Has Monbiot ever considered what persuaded enough voters to hold their noses and choose Trump? It was not that the administrative state provided honest government under the prior administration. Nor was the prior administration making any effort to hold back the power of special interests in Washington.

Two examples will suffice. In the “fiscal cliff” bill, President Obama achieved his long sought objective of increasing taxes on the rich. But in the same bill, passed at midnight, he snuck in subsidies for his own corporate supporters. These subsidies added up to more money than the additional taxes on the rich could possibly generate. In total, taxes on the rich did not really go up. It is just that some money was extracted from some rich people and more was given to others. The green energy subsidies in the Stimulus Bill were similar; they went largely to campaign donors.

Monbiot does not trouble himself with any of this. In his worldview, more government is always better and always better for the environment. What he does not consider is that if progressives had delivered honest government for the past few decades of economic and environmental bubble and bust, Trump would never have been elected, and the particular special interests cheering his dismantlement of environmental protections would never …read more


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A Questionable Trade Policy Narrative Deserves Meaningful Debate

January 31, 2018 in Economics

By Daniel J. Ikenson

Daniel J. Ikenson

Trade policy is complex and nuanced, which makes it fertile
ground for spinning narratives. Since the beginning of the Trump
administration, the establishment trade policy narrative has been
shaped considerably by the words and opinions of a Peterson
Institute scholar named Chad Bown. Mr. Bown is an economist and
former college professor, who has studied and written extensively
about U.S. trade laws. He also served on President Obama’s
Council of Economic Advisers.

Since the 2016 election, Mr. Bown—like myself, my Cato
colleagues, and many other trade policy analysts—has taken
exception to the Trump administration’s “America First”
rhetoric, explaining why their diagnoses are wrong and how
operationalizing their protectionist solutions would be bad for the
U.S. economy and America’s standing in the world.

But, somewhere along the way, Bown’s objections to
Trump’s trade views seem to have morphed into a
pseudo-religious mission to scapegoat the president for everything
that is wrong, has ever been wrong, or could possibly go wrong with
U.S. trade policy. Putting Trump at the center of everything that
is aggressive or contentious about U.S. trade policy may feed a
narrative the media grasps and embraces (and Trump likely
welcomes), but it obscures the real source of the problems.

The U.S. trade remedy laws, which predate Trump by a century,
are the problem. How the laws are written; how the regulations are
administered; how the status quo is defended are all at the root of
the problem. But Bown’s narrative implies that once Trump is
gone, U.S. trade policy will reclaim its exalted international
status as a beacon of fairness and humility, treading lightly and
rocking no boats. Please, Chad.

Putting Trump at the
center of everything that is aggressive or contentious about U.S.
trade policy may feed a narrative the media grasps and embraces
(and Trump likely welcomes), but it obscures the real source of the

Consider this Bown piece, published
yesterday on the Washington Post’s “Monkey
Cage.” Ostensibly, the article is about the Canadian
government’s submission to the World Trade Organization of a
“request for consultations” with the U.S. government
over various U.S. trade law practices that Canada believes violate
U.S. WTO obligations.

There was nothing especially noteworthy about the Canadian
government’s complaint, except that it came at a particularly
testy time in bilateral trade relations—less than two weeks
before the struggling NAFTA negotiations were to resume. The
complaint focuses on several very technical U.S. trade law
procedures having to do with the calculation and application of
duty rates in antidumping and countervailing duty cases, and it
takes aim at the U.S. rules by which domestic industries are found
to be “materially injured” or “threatened”
with …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Secession Movements in Mexico Challenge Federal Power

January 31, 2018 in Economics

By Ryan McMaken


By: Ryan McMaken

Earlier this month, The New York Times reported on a remarkable development in Mexico. In an article titled “Losing Faith in the State, Some Mexican Towns Quietly Break Away” we discover that some municipalities in Mexico are turning to de facto secession in order to put a stop to the rampant drug-cartel violence that has become so problematic:

Tancítaro represents a quiet but telling trend in Mexico, where a handful of towns and cities are effectively seceding, partly or in whole. These are acts of desperation, revealing the degree to which Mexico’s police and politicians are seen as part of the threat.

Visit three such enclaves — Tancítaro; Monterrey, a rich commercial city; and Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl, just outside the capital — and you will find a pattern. Each is a haven of relative safety amid violence, suggesting that their diagnosis of the problem was correct. 

But why have these areas become safer? 

All three of these areas are dealing with the problem of organized crime and corruption in slightly different ways. But all of the solutions involve working around the established political systems. 

In the cases of Tancítaro and Monterrey, private owners stepped in to provide security in places where crime had run out of control:

[In Tancítaro it] began with an uprising. Townspeople formed militias to eject both the cartel, which effectively controlled much of Michoacán, and the local police, who were seen as complicit. Orchard owners, whose families and businesses faced growing extortion threats, bankrolled the revolt.

This left Tancítaro without police or a government, whose officials had fled. Power accumulated to the militias that controlled the streets and to their backers, an organization of wealthy avocado growers known as the Junta de Sanidad Vegetal, or Plant Health Council. Citizens sometimes call it the Junta.

Nearly four years in, long after other militia-run towns in Michoacán collapsed into violence, the streets remain safe and tidy.

The reform has also been largely a byproduct of private interests in Monterrey as well: 

If Tancítaro seceded with a gun, then the city of Monterrey, home to many top Mexican corporations, did it with a Rolodex and a handshake.

Rather than ejecting institutions, Monterrey’s business elite quietly took them over — all with the blessing of their friends and golf partners in public office.

[Local business owners] hired a consultant, who advised top-to-bottom changes and replaced nearly half the officers. They hired lawyers to rewrite kidnapping laws and began to coordinate between the police and the families of victims.

When the governor later announced an ambitious plan for a new …read more


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You Needn't Be Catholic to Learn the Lesson of Catholic Schools Week

January 31, 2018 in Economics

By Neal McCluskey

Neal McCluskey

It is Catholic Schools Week , when the
nation’s 6,429 Roman Catholic schools discuss their
reason for existence, and try to attract attention—and
students—as many struggle to survive against
“free” public schools. But you don’t have to be
Catholic—or Christian, or religious at all—to learn
from Catholic schools. You only have to care about equality and

Catholic schools exist, quite simply, because public schools
cannot treat all, diverse people equally. Catholics felt compelled
to set up a system that taught their children beliefs and
identities they believed were essential—and sometimes to
escape outright abuse—even though it meant sacrificing their
public schooling tax dollars to do it.

As envisioned by Horace Mann, the “Father of the Common
School,” and other 19th Century public schooling champions, a
primary mission of the nascent system was to shape proper,
virtuous, American citizens. Probably the large majority of early
Americans sincerely believed that meant being Protestant, and
Catholics were considered almost the antithesis of this, both for
theological and political reasons. Rather than voting as
free-thinking people, many Protestants feared that Catholics would
vote according to the bidding of their Vatican-controlled Church,
threatening control of America by the Pope himself. And certainly,
the Church had a track record of exerting power in Europe.

Instead of setting up
pitched battles to control a single school system, attach money to
children, give educators autonomy to teach what and how they see
fit, and let diverse people freely choose what their kids will

With the conviction that “American” was synonymous
with “Protestant,” many public schools were de facto
Protestant institutions. Students read from the King James
Bible—unacceptable to Catholics, especially because it lacked
official Church interpretations—said Protestant prayers, and
learned lessons containing anti-Catholic invective. The Protestant
flavor was not always enforced on Catholics, but other times it was
brutally so. In 1859 Boston, for instance, a Catholic boy was
whipped for refusing to recite the Protestant form of the Ten
Commandments, and many sympathizing students were expelled.

As Catholic numbers grew, and requests for accommodations were
repeatedly rejected, Catholics concluded that they had no choice
but to establish their own schools, lest their children be
repeatedly subjected to teaching they found immoral, and even
official abuse for their beliefs. By their peak in 1965, Catholic
schools educated almost 12 percent of all school-aged

Why is this an important lesson for everyone? Catholics
established the largest set of parallel schools and are the most
visible group to have been treated unequally for their beliefs by
the public schools. But such inequality for countless groups is
inescapable in a system in which the people are diverse, but single
governments …read more

Source: OP-EDS