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Bob Parry RIP: The Reporter Who Broke the Iran-Contra Story

January 30, 2018 in Blogs

By Jefferson Morley, AlterNet

An independent journalist who never got the credit he deserved.

Bob Parry, the veteran journalist who died Saturday at age 68, was a reporter’s reporter, a cheerful, dogged, independent fact-gatherer who didn’t give a damn about respectable Washington. More than any other reporter, Parry uncovered the national scandal that would become known as the Iran-contra affair. Yet he received little credit and no glory for his achievement.

I first met Parry in 1985 when I was an assistant editor at the New Republic (TNR) in search of writers who knew something about the civil wars of Central America. After Congress approved the so-called Boland Amendment in 1984, barring military aid to counterrevolutionary forces in Nicaragua, Reagan administration officials—and their apologists in the press—were open about their intention to flout the law.

Parry and fellow Associated Press reporter Brian Barger were the only journalists writing about a story I heard off the record more than once: that a National Security Council staff member named Oliver North was in charge of arranging “private” funding of the contras. In a string of well-reported AP stories in 1984 and 1985, they illuminated a secret war involving former CIA officials, mercenaries and suspected drug traffickers.

Parry was rare among Washington reporters of that era in that he did not take his cues from the White House or defer to Reagan’s popularity. While others tried to spin U.S. support for death squads as a defense of democracy, Parry penetrated the veil of official secrecy. He became a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 1985 for his exclusive on the CIA's assassination manual for Nicaraguan rebels.

Perils of Access

In early 1986, I asked Parry and Barger if they would pull together their various reports into a single magazine piece. The only reason Parry listened was that I had published a New Republic cover story in 1985 on how the CIA created the contra movement. He liked the idea of publishing in TNR, then at the height of its editorial prestige, but wondered if the magazine would publish it. After all, the once-liberal magazine supported the contra cause, and senior …read more


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Do You Want to Pay a Toll to Private Investors When You Ride Trump's Federal Highways? That's His Infrastructure Pitch

January 30, 2018 in Blogs

By Steven Rosenfeld, AlterNet

$200 billion taken from other programs. Taxpayers borrow $800 billion plus interest. Then come tolls and user fees.

As President Donald Trump delivers his first State of the Union address Tuesday, pay close attention to his next big priority—an infrastructure plan, which over time, could eclipse the trillion-dollar giveaway to the rich in the GOP’s just-passed tax plan.

And track the response from Democrats, who will have to decide if they will back a plan drafted by privatization proponents, or if Democrats will represent the public and say no to years of paying off infrastructure bonds sold by Wall Street—tax free to investors—but eating up future tax revenues while imposing new user fees like highway tolls.

“[The GOP-passed] tax cuts have slowly opened the door to Wall Street, construction giants, and global water companies, who see enormous potential for profits,” wrote Donald Cohen, president of In the Public Interest, an anti-privatization advocacy group. “Some states and local governments have turned to expensive private financing, a.k.a., ‘public-private partnerships,’ and learned the hard way. Private financing often means higher tolls, parking rates, or water fees, lower labor standards, and less public control over decision-making once a project is up and running.”

The stakes are enormous. Pick a state: Few major infrastructure projects have come in on time and on budget. New York City’s newly opened Second Avenue subway was years behind and billions over-budget in that blue state. In red-run Indiana, ex-governor and now Vice President Mike Pence’s signature privatized highway, I-69, is a 21-mile stretch of road that is two years behind and 60 percent built. The vast sums spent by taxpayers are as big as the potential for corruption and outright profiteering.

Why is this pattern so pervasive? In a profile of New York’s billions-over-budget transit projects, Politico noted a widely cited Danish study of global infrastructure projects that observed, “underestimation of costs at the time of decision to build is the rule rather than the exception for transportation infrastructure projects…and we arrive at one of the most basic explanations of lying, and of cost underestimation, that exists: …read more


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Bonkers Poll: 70% of Republicans Think Trump Is a 'Good Role Model for Children'

January 30, 2018 in Blogs

By Kali Holloway, AlterNet

Some party of family values.

Seventy-two percent of Republicans believe that kids should try to follow Donald Trump’s example. That’s neither hyperbolic conjecture nor sarcastic speculation; it’s the truth, according to Republican poll respondents themselves. Between January 19-23, Quinnipiac University asked 1,245 voting-age adults if they think “Trump is a good role model for children,” and nearly three-quarters of self-identified Republicans responded in the affirmative. In essence, when asked whether America needs more racist narcissists with a fondness for bragging about sexual assault, Republicans overwhelmingly answered yes.

No other group so decidedly chose to land on the side of calamity and evil, though results were—as politics always are—tied to race. Overall, 99 percent of Democrats said kids shouldn’t look up to Trump, a man who arbitrarily brought up the size of his penis during a televised political debate and who in 1992 told New York magazine, “Women? You have to treat ’em like shit.” Ninety-seven percent of African Americans felt the prospect of more Trumps-in-training would be a bad thing, and 87 percent of Hispanics agreed with that assessment. But roughly a third of both white men and women, 32 and 37 percent respectively, said Trump is a good role model for America’s future leaders. Among white voters without a college degree, 54 percent see Trump as someone kids should respect and admire.

Those trends presented in other questions as well. Asked if Trump “has good leadership skills,” just 8 percent of black people, 16 percent of Hispanic people and 6 percent of Democrats said yes. In contrast, 46 percent of white people gave a thumbs-up to Trump’s leadership talents.

Hypocrisy once again carried the day, according to the answers given by conservative respondents. For example, 89 percent of Republicans say it is “important to [them] that a president be loyal to their spouse.” Back in 1994, Trump openly referred to the period when he was juggling first wife Ivana and mistress Marla Maples as “a bowl of cherries.” This was years before he allegedly paid porn star Stormy Daniels $130,000 to keep quiet about …read more


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Paul Leroy-Beaulieu: A Warning Voice About the Socialist Tragedy to Come

January 30, 2018 in Economics

By Richard M. Ebeling

Leroy Beaulieu

By: Richard M. Ebeling

The Russian Revolution of November 1917, now being marked by its centenary, ushered in a hundred years of political tyranny and terror, economic suffering, exploitation and corruption, along with unimaginable mass murder, among the tens of millions of people who came under the control and command of Marxist inspired socialist regimes around the world. But before this tragic episode occurred in human history, indeed, decades before Vladimir Lenin and his cohort of communist revolutionaries seized power in Russia, there were clear and insightful critics of socialism who explained much of what was to be in store in any attempt to implement and impose a collectivist utopia on humanity.

One of the leading such anti-socialist voices in the second half of the nineteenth century was the French classical liberal and free market economist, Paul Leroy-Beaulieu (1843–1916). In 1870, Leroy-Beaulieu won several awards for his book on Colonialism and Modern Man. While not openly opposing the French government’s colonial occupation of countries such as Algeria in North Africa, he argued that any colonial power, including France, should follow a policy of free trade within the colonial territories and between those colonies and the rest of the world, since this was the economic policy most likely to benefit the people of France and all those under French colonial administration.  He also stated the longer run goal of colonial policy should be eventual self-government by those initially under the control of those in power in faraway Paris.

In 1872, Leroy-Beaulieu was appointed professor of finance the Paris Institute of Political Studies, and in 1880 he was given a chair in political economy at the College of Paris, one of the oldest and most respected institutions of higher learning in France. True to the classical liberal ideals of the nineteenth century, Leroy-Beaulieu was a strong advocate of international peace, free trade and mutual prosperity among nations. In 1869, he published a study, Contemporary Wars, in which he dissected the financial and human cost of war in the middle decades of the nineteenth century.

The Myth of the State as a Thinking and Willing Entity

In 1889, Leroy-Beaulieu published, The Modern State in Relation to Society and the Individual. He argued against the Hegelian conception of the State as a higher and separate entity, more important that the individuals comprising it, and to which the individual was subservient. He …read more


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Is Trump Slowly Killing Democracy?

January 30, 2018 in Blogs

By Heather Digby Parton, Salon

Trump hasn’t staged a coup, and so far our institutions are holding up. But he’s doing more damage every day.

Last week we learned that months ago President Trump ordered his White House counsel, Don McGahn, to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller. McGahn said he would quit rather than carry out the order, and Trump backed down. Since then there has been a lot of discussion about the president's pattern of obstructing the Russia investigation and his persistent lying and interference. There seems to be a consensus that over the course of the last few months Trump has shown an alarming propensity to abuse his power, but it's still unclear whether there is a clear case that he broke the law. If it can be proven that he has abused his power or broken the law, the one remedy everyone can agree upon — as with any president — is impeachment.

Because the Republican majority in Congress is acting as Trump's accomplices rather than a co-equal branch of government with oversight responsibility and an obligation to defend the Constitution, however, impeachment is highly unlikely. The GOP caucus in both houses is barely keeping up the pretense of investigating Russian interference in the election, and one group of powerful members is trying to create an alternative scandal, accusing top officials at the FBI and the Department of Justice of conspiring to help Hillary Clinton's campaign and destroy the Trump administration. According to The Washington Post, Trump himself has been pushing this operation, telling Chief of Staff John Kelly and supposedly recused Attorney General Jeff Sessions to aid in the effort.

Today those of us who consider ourselves civil libertarians find ourselves in the unusual position of defending law enforcement institutions about which we have deep skepticism, due to their secretiveness and the tremendous power they hold over average Americans. But in this case they're the ones under assault by a rogue group of equally powerful lawmakers and the president of the United States. These elected officials are deeply authoritarian by instinct, ideology and temperament. They are clearly using their authority to undermine the rule of …read more


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Drug Companies Sell Us Remedies for Problems Caused by Their Own Products—And the Federal Government Helps Them

January 30, 2018 in Blogs

By Kate Harveston, AlterNet

This should be a clear violation of antitrust laws.

Like most folks, you dutifully rub shampoo into your hair daily or a few times each week. After it strips out your hair’s natural moisture and liveliness, you apply a conditioner to get that moisture and liveliness back.

Much about modern life seems to follow this general pattern.

Mounting evidence suggests multinational companies negligently sell products to the public that are leading drivers of public health issues, while at the same time another division presents the “remedy” for that same harm. A panacea for their own poison, as it were. In this way, they profit twice: once when they supply the cause of our ailments, and again when we come to them for the cure.

It is clear that all is not well in Big Pharma these days. Americans have yet to coalesce around a plan to impose transparency and integrity on health care and pharmaceutical companies. Meanwhile, mounting evidence suggests the industry persists in the peddling hundreds of products each year with dubious claims and even more dubious real-world effects — all while maintaining stupefyingly high profit margins.

Sick and Getting Sicker

The real topics today are corporate consolidation and corruption. There may be no better figurehead for this problem than everybody’s favorite “family company” (their words), Johnson & Johnson. This is a family of more than 250 subsidiaries.

You will recall that the pharma giant’s talc-based baby powder is now inextricably linked to incidences of ovarian cancer. Websites that concern themselves with preventing this type of cancer specifically recommend omitting talcum powders from your daily constitutionals.

Fortunately for Johnson & Johnson’s bottom line, at least one company from its panoply of subsidiaries — Janssen Pharmaceuticals — charitably offers chemotherapy drugs for ovarian cancer patients for a mere $2,758 per dose. You can recognize it by the marketing-friendly name “Doxil.”

Let’s do another example.

You’re probably familiar with the sugar alternative called Equal. Equal and Canderel represent the Merisant Corporation’s two most common and most profitable sugar substitutes currently on the market. Mind you, such products …read more


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In the 19th Century, the Last Place You Wanted to Go Was the Poorhouse

January 30, 2018 in History

By Erin Blakemore

Homeless men coming for shelter in 19th century London. (Credit: Mansell/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

When Anne Sullivan came to Tewksbury, she wasn’t yet the renowned “miracle worker” who would teach Helen Keller to communicate. It was 1866, and 10-year-old Annie was a blind child living in abject poverty. Her years at the poorhouse—a facility designed to house poor people in a time before social services— were “a crime against childhood,” she later remembered.

Residents at the Massachusetts poorhouse milled about like forgotten animals. As Anne and her brother slept on the institution’s iron cots in a gigantic dormitory, rats ran up and down the spaces between beds.

In 1883, a massive investigation exposed the conditions at Tewksbury—but the institution was far from unique. Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, poorhouses were a reality for society’s most vulnerable people. These locally run institutions filled a need in a time before Social Security, Medicaid and Section 8 housing became a reality. They also exposed the stigma and shame society placed on those who were unable to support themselves.

The concept of the poorhouse originated in England during the 17th century. Municipalities were expected to care for their poor, and made a distinction between people who were old and unable to care for themselves and the able-bodied. People who were able to work were expected to do so—and could be imprisoned if they refused.

Homeless men coming for shelter in 19th century London. (Credit: Mansell/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

They lived in workhouses, bare bones facilities designed to make poverty seem even less attractive. In these facilities, poor people ate thrifty, unpalatable food, slept in crowded, often unsanitary conditions, and were put to work breaking stones, crushing bones, spinning cloth or doing domestic labor, among other jobs.

In the United States, the idea emigrated along with English colonists. In 1660, Boston built its first workhouse—a brick building intended for “dissolute and vagrant persons.” Massachusetts’ poor people had more than the workhouse to fear: Towns could also banish poor people or even auction them off to the lowest bidder. “Warning out” allowed towns to exile poor newcomers or make it clear they were not willing to pay to support them.

The vendue system allowed cities to auction off poor individuals to private bidders. The individual who bought the poor person then put them to work in exchange for reimbursement of what it cost to clothe and feed them. Sometimes, people had another …read more


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Misleading with Numbers: It's Worse When the Government Does It

January 30, 2018 in Economics

By Gary Galles


By: Gary Galles

Major international comparisons have long concluded that Americans’ ability to effectively utilize mathematics is inadequate. Such conclusions divide students, parents, teachers and administrators into camps that share little more than blaming others for the problems. However, it is unclear whether all the finger-pointing indicates a real desire to overcome our innumeracy. In fact, we systematically misuse numbers to distort reality because we want to fool ourselves, making our ineptitude no surprise.

One of today’s most obvious misleading number games is grade inflation. Teachers have accommodated student desires for higher grades to the point that the median GPA of graduating college seniors has risen around a full grade point since it was about 2.2 in 1965. At some schools, almost everyone now gets As and Bs, and who is valedictorian has become a question of how many “perfect” students will share that title. Students have also pushed to allow A+ grades that count more.

High schools have gone even further. Many make advanced placement or community college courses worth an extra grade point. This has created a competition among students to take as many such GPA-padding courses as possible, especially ones they discover are actually easier than the corresponding high school courses. These and other policies (e.g., statewide comparisons crafted to show that, as in Lake Woebegone, all children are above average) have, however, thrown away much of the useful information such evaluations once contained.

Price inflation is another form of ego-building by manipulating comparison numbers. For most of us, if we want to brag that, say, we make more than our parents did, enough years of inflation can make it so. On the other hand, older Americans use it to “prove” how much better things used to be (e.g., “I remember when bread was a nickel” or “I only paid $22,000 for my house”).

Statistics and percentages are subject to the same abuse. Statistics are routinely manipulated, as with attempts to make insignificant changes appear significant. Instead of saying some drug increases the probability of some form of cancer from 0.00001 to 0.00003, reports scream that it triples your risk (from almost zero to almost zero). And “giving it 100%” was once going all out, but that has now frequently been eclipsed by claims of giving it 110%, 150%, 200%, or even 1000%. I’m 1000000% sure such inflated hyperbole is misleading.

We manipulate clothing sizes. Adults want to feel thinner, so …read more


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It’s Time for Broadcasters to Start Confronting Their Anti-Right Bias

January 30, 2018 in Economics

By Ryan Bourne

Ryan Bourne

The psychologist professor Jordan Peterson is being heralded as
one of the world’s most foremost public intellectuals.

But his influence now stems from much more than his own Youtube
lectures or published works.

Upwards of 4.6m people have watched his recent half-hour
interview with Channel 4’s Cathy Newman, in which Peterson expertly
dissects a range of trendy conventional wisdoms in an extensive

But aside from Peterson’s actual arguments about the
gender pay gap or equality of outcome, the interview seems to have
been consequential on another level — it is forcing broadcast
journalists to reconsider their interview techniques and inherent

Newman consistently asserted viewpoints onto Peterson that he
did not hold, oversimplified his arguments, sought to put words
into his mouth, and bluntly restated some of his conclusions absent
context or nuance.

When you have to decide
what stories to choose, which interviewees to select, and how to
interview them, it’s inevitable that your own priors slip

This became obvious not because it was unusual behaviour for
interviewers, but because Peterson himself is so articulate,
careful with words, and quick-on-his-feet. His calm responses
exposed an attitude among broadcasters that is sadly common.

Newman has since become the unlucky fall-guy for a type of bias
you see a lot, when interviewers seem to have some caricatured
preconceived notion of what their guest really believes.

Conservatives and libertarians who regularly appear on TV will
recognise this. It manifests itself in small, subtle biases during
interviews — everything from alluding to ulterior reasons for
your viewpoints, through to differences in how you are presented as
a person.

Let me give you some examples.

First, there’s the use of “health warnings”.
People who believe that the government should be spending less
money, or that economic equality should not be a collective aim, or
a host of other opinions not shared by the majority of broadcast
journalists are labelled before they even get a chance to

In many cases, these introductory labels may even be accurate,
but they are certainly not applied symmetrically.

My own research found that, on the BBC between 2010 and 2015,
the four main think tanks that advocate for free-market policies
were often given ideological warning labels, including
“free-market”, “centre-right”, and
“right-wing” (the Institute of Economic Affairs 22.1
per cent of the time, the Centre for Policy Studies 30.3 per cent,
Policy Exchange 41.7 per cent, and the Adam Smith Institute 59.5
per cent).

In contrast, the New Economics Foundation, probably the most
left-leaning policy think tank in the country, was only once
described as a “sustainability” think tank. Others such
as Demos and the IPPR see labels attached far less frequently.

Then there’s bias …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Why States Don't Require Blood Tests for Marriages Anymore

January 30, 2018 in Economics

By Ryan McMaken


By: Ryan McMaken

In one of her more incoherent columns in 2011, Ann Coulter attacked then-presidential candidate Ron Paul for his laissez-faire position on marriage. Coulter praised government regulations imposed on marriage, stating that Paul’s position is “chicken-s**t” and “[t]here are reasons we have laws governing important institutions, such as marriage. As in landscaping, it’s never a good idea to remove a wall until you know why it was put there.”

Specifically, Coulter praised government mandated blood tests for marrying couples, stating “Under Paul’s plan, siblings could marry one another.” 

This statement was apparently intended as some sort of great “gotcha” comment. “Why, if it weren’t for government, we’d all marry our sisters!” is the implied sentiment. 

Coulter’s comment may seem like ancient history at this point, but her statement’s publication in major media outlets illustrates that even in recent years, many Americans still seem to be under the impression that mandatory blood tests are relatively common in the United States. 

They aren’t. At least, they aren’t anymore. 

Like so many invasive procedures mandated by governments, mandatory blood tests for couples seeking marriage licenses were a product of the age of eugenics and Progressive politics — two things that often go together. 

As Ruth C. Engs notes in The Progressive Era’s Health Reform Movement: “‘Racial improvement’ through positive eugenics, such as marriage to a healthy individual, [and] blood tests for syphilis prior to marriage … were promoted for improving the ‘race,’ thus leading to a healthier nation.”

The rights of individuals to marry whom they wished was thus swept aside in the name of “hygiene” and public health. Blood tests took their place along with prohibitions on interracial marriage as a means of “racial improvement.” 

Today, though, only one state — Montana — continues to require blood tests. Between 1980 and 2008, the remaining requirement for blood tests were abolished as certain elements of the Progressive public health philosophy lost influence, and as the perceived benefits of mandated blood tests were clearly far less than thought. 

Kasey S. Buckles, Melanie Guldi, and Joseph Price provide a concise summary of the movement: 

Historically, many states have required applicants for a marriage license to obtain a blood test. These tests were for venereal diseases (most commonly syphilis), for genetic disorders (such as sickle-cell anemia), or for rubella. The tests for syphilis were part of a broad public health campaign enacted in the late 1930s by U.S. Surgeon General Thomas Parran. Parran argued that premarital testing was necessary to inform …read more