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Filibuster in Nicaragua, Part 1: William Walker’s First Failure

January 31, 2018 in Economics

By Chris Calton

Historical Controversies Podcast: Season 2

By: Chris Calton

Looking for adventure and glory, William Walker leads a group of Americans into Nicaragua to join the country’s civil war, with the hope of “Americanizing” Latin America. This episode is the Part 1 of 6 of the story of William Walker’s attempt at establishing his own Republic of Nicaragua.

…read more


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Net Neutrality Advocates are Asking the Wrong Questions

January 31, 2018 in Economics

By Adam De Gree


By: Adam De Gree

The World Wide Web was born in Geneva, Switzerland, in December of 1990. It went live on (now Sir) Tim Berners-Lee’s desktop and promised to provide his organization, CERN, with a non-hierarchical information sharing system.

To Berners-Lee, the web serves as a space for unlimited communication with transformational potential. Yet according to him, it also should remain “open,” a term that has come to mean ‘regulated at the national level.’ Berners-Lee is active in writing and speaking about the dangers of leaving internet service providers free to conduct business as they see fit.

His worries concern the immense power that ISPs have over the web and its users. Many Americans share a fear of these corporations and their alleged plans to play favorites among websites.

Net neutrality advocates typically take the size of ISPs as a given and proceed to argue for their regulation as a way to limit their power. Yet no one questions how these mammoth companies came to be in the first place.

As with many American industries, a handful of ISPs dominate the market, so much so that 67% of American households have two or fewer options when it comes to purchasing internet service, and nearly a third only have one option.

How is it that a few corporations have gained such a high market share within 30 years of Tim Berners-Lee’s invention?

Startup ISPs face significant regulatory burdens. Any company that wants to install cable throughout a city or county has to deal with loads of red tape, construction permits, and even FCC regulations on the type of cabling used. ISPs also face reporting requirements that can burden small providers with costs amounting to $40,000 per year.

Most of the regulatory burden originates at the local level, though. ISPs have to negotiate access to public utilities and pay “pole attachment” fees before doing any construction. Local governments see this as a revenue stream, but the inevitable result is higher prices and less competition.

When Kansas City was chosen as the first location for Google Fiber, some scratched their heads. Why not Silicon Valley? The explanation came straight from Google’s Vice President of Access Services in his Congressional testimony: “It’s clear that investment flows into areas that are less affected by regulation than areas that are dominated by it.” Unlike their Californian counterparts, Kansas City officials simply got out of the way.

That’s not to …read more


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Government Cannot Solve Every Societal Problem

January 31, 2018 in Economics

By Michael D. Tanner

Michael D. Tanner

The Western world can breathe easy. British prime minister
Theresa May has solved one of the great crises of our time: She has
appointed a Minister of Loneliness. Tracey Crouch, who is currently
the Tory undersecretary for Sports and Civil Society, will be
charged with leading a government-wide effort to “develop a
strategy” for ending “loneliness and social isolation” among

It is easy to have a laugh at the expense of the Brits, of
course, although just last year President Obama’s surgeon general,
Dr. Vivek Murthy, wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review
arguing that the societal problem of loneliness needs more
attention from business and government. But there is something
bigger at work here. There is now a general belief, one
increasingly shared by politicians and voters of both parties, that
every problem, large or small, can only be solved by the

The Declaration of Independence says that governments are
instituted among men to secure our unalienable rights to life,
liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Today, too many people see
government as the solution to whatever ails us.

Expecting it to do so is
a recipe for disaster.

Obesity a problem? We need the government to regulate what we
eat. Wages too low? The government should set them. Are people
doing things that you think are immoral? Criminalize those things.
“There ought to be a law” has become the all-purpose political
rallying cry.

And while omnipresent government may be the ethos of modern
politics, it does not come without a cost.

The most obvious one, of course, is the modern leviathan state.
We have a federal government that spends more than $4 trillion per
year, is $20 trillion in debt, and regulates nearly every aspect of
our lives. State and local governments follow suit. From our
bedrooms to our businesses, there seems no area of our lives that
lawmakers don’t believe it is their job to oversee, restrict,
subsidize, or otherwise intrude upon.

This leaves us poorer, of course, but it also leaves us less
free. In the most recent Human Freedom Index, which looks at both
economic and personal liberties, the United States ranks 17th. As
Gerald Ford once said, “A government big enough to give you
everything you want is big enough to take away everything you

Moreover, those who rely on government to solve all problems
will likely be disappointed. Most government programs are at best a
failure and at worst do active harm to society and the people they
purport to help. As Milton Friedman once put it, “If you put the
federal government in charge of the Sahara Desert, …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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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