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A Sliver of Hope for Gun Control: States Are Starting to Take Them Away From Abusers

February 1, 2018 in Blogs

By Amanda Marcotte, Salon

Despite the NRA’s power, legislators in many states are working to disarm men with domestic violence records.

A minor miracle happened on Tuesday in Annapolis, Maryland. About 200 activists with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense were rallying in the state capital to support the passage of a restriction on gun ownership, and they were met with resistance by counter-protesters from the NRA. At first, things were tense between the two groups, but, in a surprising twist for our hyper-partisan times, the NRA protesters, upon learning what the bill is about — taking guns away from people convicted of domestic abuse — decided to switch sides, throwing their support behind the bill instead.

It was a small sign of something that gun safety advocates have been saying for years: Changing  gun laws is not as impossible as many believe. When it comes to legislation aimed at making it harder for domestic abusers to get their hands on guns, in fact, activists and legislators are quietly securing political victories across the nation.

“Reporters are constantly asking me, 'Do you think Americans are numb?'” Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action, told Salon. “That makes it appear that there’s no work being done.

“The domestic gun violence bills that disarm domestic abusers have passed in 25 states and the District of Columbia,” Watts added. We’re getting ready to do it in Maryland, maybe Pennsylvania.” In five years of existence, her organization has helped secure a remarkable series of victories. 

“I’ve been able to heal and overcome and survive by helping others and being a voice,” said Giovanna Rodriguez, a Rhode Island activist who helped pass a bill in September in her state that requires those under a protective order to surrender their firearms. She became an activist after escaping a marriage she describes as physically and emotionally abusive. 

“What was part of our daily lives was the gun that was the centerpiece on our table,” she described. “That’s where he put it as a constant reminder that if things were not done his way, when he wanted how he wanted, that would be the consequence.

“It got to the …read more


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Wall Street Made Bank on Trump in 2017

February 1, 2018 in Blogs

By Porter McConnell, Luísa Galvão,

A tax cut bonanza for the finance industry.

It’s been a very good year for Wall Street. The S&P 500 reached record highs week after week, and analysts are upgrading U.S. profit estimates at a brisk pace. The finance industry spent nearly twice the amount of any other industry on campaign contributions in the 2017-2018 electoral cycle so far, and their investment in Trump and the GOP is clearly paying off. The Wall Street wins since Trump took office are almost too numerous to count, but we’ve cataloged them in our new report. Here are some of the lowlights:

Candidate Donald Trump referred to Wall Street as a cabal of global financiers who had robbed the working class, but instead of “draining the swamp,” the Trump administration filled top positions in the White House with former Goldman Sachs insiders.

In 17 out of 20 broad policy areas, the Treasury proposals released after the inauguration mirrored those of The Clearing House, the trade association for the country’s biggest banks.

Last summer, House Republicans passed the Financial CHOICE Act, a radical bill that would repeal all manner of Dodd-Frank rules that make finance safer and less abusive.

Just since October, the House Financial Services Committee has passed over 50 bills that either benefit Wall Street directly or weaken consumer or investor protections, paving the way for future Wall Street profits.

A Penn/Wharton Business School study revealed that the finance industry is the largest long-term beneficiary of corporate tax cuts, and is expected to gain $250 billion over the next decade from tax cuts for “C corporations” alone.

JPMorgan and Wells Fargo’s tax cuts will total $7 billion in the first year alone. Private equity funds stand to rake in $19 billion over 10 years from the carried interest loophole remaining intact.

Big banks have no current plans to share this windfall with employees or consumers. Bank of America’s bonuses will cost it roughly $145 million — only four percent of the $3.5 billion the bank will receive from the tax cut. Worse still — soon after it announced bonuses, it also laid out plans to start charging fees for checking accounts …read more


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Swearing in Your Sleep Might Help Protect You in Waking Life

February 1, 2018 in Blogs

By Kali Holloway, AlterNet

One theory suggests vulgar sleep-talk toughens you up for reality.

If you talk in your sleep, you’re probably unwittingly working blue, as they say. Researchers find that most people who talk in their sleep tend to utter more curse words and negative phrases than while they’re awake. It turns out that sleep-swearing and the like may actually have real benefit. A new French study suggests all that salty talk could be nature’s way of helping us prepare for the trials and tribulations of waking life.

French scientists from multiple educational, medical and speech-focused institutions recruited 232 study subjects aged 29 to 69, then observed their sleep chatter over two nights. The researchers recorded 883 “speech episodes,” the bulk of which were nonverbal: laughter, whispers, shouts and yells. But among the sizeable sample of intelligible words, they found a notable number of negative ones, particularly when compared with non-sleeping utterances.

The most frequent word was 'no,'” study authors note, pointing out that “negations represented 21.4 percent of clauses.” Nearly 10 percent of utterances included swear words, with the f-word making an appearance at “a rate of more than 800 times than what was spoken while awake,” per Live Science. There was also a preponderance of “verbal abuse” by the somniloquists, “mostly directed toward insulting or condemning someone.” Men spoke in their sleep more often in general than women, and also used a greater number of swear words.

Interestingly, even as they employed menacing and NSFW language, study subjects kept things clean where grammar was concerned. Researchers write that “sleep talking parallels awake talking for syntax [and] semantics… suggesting that the sleeping brain can function at a high level.” They also noticed that while many subjects seemed to be engaged in tense conversations, they still minded their manners to some extent. In the midst of those thorny exchanges, “apparent turn-taking in the conversation respected the usual language gaps.”

Live Science connects these findings to “threat simulation theory,” an evolutionary psychology idea developed by Finnish neuroscientist Antti Revonsuo in 2000. The theory posits that bad dreams and nightmares essentially serve as …read more


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Was the Real Lone Ranger a Black Man?

February 1, 2018 in History

By Thad Morgan

Bass Reeves. (Credit: Public Domain)

On a riverbank in Texas, a master of disguise waited patiently with his accomplice, hoping that his target, an infamous horse thief, would show himself on the trail. After four days, the hunch paid off, when the bandit unwittingly walked towards the man who haunted the outlaws of the Old West. Springing from the bushes, the cowboy confronted his frightened mark with a warrant. As the desperado reached for his weapon as a last ditch effort, the lawman shot him down before his gun could leave his side.

Though the quick-draw tale may sound like an adventure of the Lone Ranger, this was no fictional event. In fact, it was one of many feats of Bass Reeves, a legendary lawman of the Wild West—a man whose true adventures rivaled those of the outlaw-wrangling masked character. Reeves was a real-life African-American cowboy who one historian has proposed may have inspired the Lone Ranger.

In 1838—nearly a century before the Lone Ranger was introduced to the public—Bass Reeves was born a slave in the Arkansas household of William S. Reeves, who relocated to Paris, Texas, in 1846. It was in Texas, during the Civil War, that William made Bass accompany his son, George Reeves, to fight for the Confederacy.

While serving George, Bass escaped to Indian Territory under the cover of the night. The Indian Territory, known today as Oklahoma, was a region ruled by five Native American tribes—Cherokee, Seminole, Creek, Choctaw and Chickasaw—who were forced from their homelands due to the Indian Removal Act of 1830. While the community was governed through a system of tribal courts, the courts’ jurisdiction only extended to members of the five major tribes. That meant anyone who wasn’t part of those tribes—from escaped slaves to petty criminals—could only be pursued on a federal level within its boundaries. It was against the backdrop of the lawless Old West that Bass would earn his formidable reputation.

Upon arriving in the Indian Territory, Bass learned the landscape and the customs of the Seminole and Creek tribes, even learning to speak their languages. After the 13th Amendment was passed in 1865, abolishing slavery, Bass, now formally a free man, returned to Arkansas, where he married and went on to have 11 children.

Bass Reeves. (Credit: Public Domain)

After a decade of freedom, Bass returned to the Indian Territory when U.S. Marshal James Fagan recruited …read more


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Why Intellectuals Fall for Socialism

February 1, 2018 in Economics

By Friedrich A. Hayek


By: Friedrich A. Hayek

In all democratic countries, in the United States even more than elsewhere, a strong belief prevails that the influence of the intellectuals on politics is negligible. This is no doubt true of the power of intellectuals to make their peculiar opinions of the moment influence decisions, of the extent to which they can sway the popular vote on questions on which they differ from the current views of the masses. Yet over somewhat longer periods they have probably never exercised so great an influence as they do today in those countries. This power they wield by shaping public opinion.

In the light of recent history it is somewhat curious that this decisive power of the professional secondhand dealers in ideas should not yet be more generally recognized. The political development of the Western World during the last hundred years furnishes the clearest demonstration. Socialism has never and nowhere been at first a working-class movement. It is by no means an obvious remedy for the obvious evil which the interests of that class will necessarily demand. It is a construction of theorists, deriving from certain tendencies of abstract thought with which for a long time only the intellectuals were familiar; and it required long efforts by the intellectuals before the working classes could be persuaded to adopt it as their program.

In every country that has moved toward socialism, the phase of the development in which socialism becomes a determining influence on politics has been preceded for many years by a period during which socialist ideals governed the thinking of the more active intellectuals. In Germany this stage had been reached toward the end of the last century; in England and France, about the time of the first World War. To the casual observer it would seem as if the United States had reached this phase after World War II and that the attraction of a planned and directed economic system is now as strong among the American intellectuals as it ever was among their German or English fellows. Experience suggests that, once this phase has been reached, it is merely a question of time until the views now held by the intellectuals become the governing force of politics.

The character of the process by which the views of the intellectuals influence the politics of tomorrow is therefore of much more than academic interest. Whether we merely wish to …read more


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Restrictionists Are Misleading You about Immigrant Crime Rates

February 1, 2018 in Economics

By Alex Nowrasteh

Alex Nowrasteh

President Donald Trump never misses an opportunity to depict
unauthorized immigrants—especially of the Hispanic
variety—as “rapists and criminals.” He did it again in his
State of the Union address when he drew attention to two Long
Island teenage girls killed by the El Salvadorian gang MS13. Those
deaths are tragic, but they don’t say much one way or the other
about the propensity of these immigrants to commit crimes.

You wouldn’t, however, know that from restrictionist pundits who
are working overtime to sell the “illegal immigrants are criminals”
narrative. A case in point is former US Civil Rights Commission member Peter
recent piece in National Review purporting
to show that these immigrants are more likely to commit crimes than
the native born. But Kirsanow uses incomplete and cherry-picked
data—and makes rookie mistakes in interpreting it to
boot—that eviscerate the credibility of his case.

Kirsanow is correct that most of the disagreements over the
criminality of undocumented immigrants could be resolved by better
data. But that doesn’t absolve us from accurately reading the data
we do have. Kirsanow, however, does not. His entire case is based
on a gross misreading of the 2011 Government Accountability Office
(GAO) report on the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program
(SCAAP), a federal program that partially reimburses states and
localities for the cost of incarcerating certain criminal

Taking amateur analyses
or government spin at face value will hurt peaceful and hardworking
immigrants without making Americans safer.

The SCAAP report shows that in 2009, there were 295,959 criminal
aliens incarcerated in state and local prisons at any given time
that year. From this number, he subtracts those in the country
legally and assumes that the balance gives one the total number of
illegal immigrants incarcerated that year. He compares that number
with the population of illegals in various states to estimate their
crime rates. Then he compares that rate with the crime rate of
citizens to come up with a massively inflated “incarceration rate”
of these aliens.

But here’s the problem with his analysis:

Kirsanow assumed, as some others before him with only a passing
familiarity with these databases, that the 295,959 figure refers to
the number of individuals incarcerated. In fact, it is the total
number of incarcerations. In other words, if a criminal alien was
incarcerated for 10 short sentences, released after each one, and
then re-incarcerated, then that single alien would account for 10
incarcerations under the SCAAP figure for that year. But Kirsnaow
counts that as 10 individuals.

However, when it comes to estimating the incarceration rate of
natives, Kirsanow compares the number of individuals incarcerated
with …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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How Bobby Kennedy Started the War on Gangs

February 1, 2018 in History

By Becky Little

FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, accompanied by Attorney General Robert Kennedy, chatting with President John F. Kennedy. (Credit: Bettmann Archive/Getty Images)

In his 2018 State of the Union speech, Donald Trump repeatedly referenced a specific gang, MS-13, by name. These mentions were intended to justify his administration’s anti-immigration policies. Though MS-13 originated among Salvadoran immigrant communities in L.A., most of its members are now concentrated in Central America, particularly El Salvador. The group is relatively small: Of the 1.4 million gang members the FBI estimates are in the U.S., less than one percent of them belong to MS-13.

To most Americans, it makes sense that the federal government might target a large organization that commits crimes nationally. But before Robert F. Kennedy’s term as Attorney General from 1961 to ‘63, the federal government—as well as many Americans—didn’t really understand the concept of “organized crime.”

When Kennedy arrived at the Department of Justice, its organized crime and racketeering section “was just two or three lawyers reading files,” says Ronald Goldfarb, a lawyer who worked in the section under Kennedy and wrote a book about the subject titled Perfect Villains, Imperfect Heroes. “[Kennedy] enlivened it so that it quickly grew to about 60 lawyers, and it was the department’s priority.”

FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, accompanied by Attorney General Robert Kennedy, chatting with President John F. Kennedy. (Credit: Bettmann Archive/Getty Images)

Admittedly, Kennedy only gained control of the DOJ because his older brother, John F. Kennedy, was president. At 35 years old, Robert Kennedy had no experience for the job, and JFK acknowledged this by saying that his brother “needs some solid legal experience and this job should provide it.” (Goldfarb says the quip is an example of JFK’s wry humor, but it was also kind of true.)

Despite his lack of experience, Goldfarb maintains that Robert Kennedy rose to the occasion. Under Kennedy, one of the DOJ’s main focuses became the Mafia, which by the mid-20th century had an estimated 5,000 members and thousands of associates across the country. Previously, individual gang members had been investigated for crimes, but this was the first time the government had attempted to take on a whole criminal organization.

Kennedy was the first Attorney General to encourage the government’s investigative agencies—the DOJ, the FBI, the IRS …read more


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Why Perfect Competition Is not So Perfect

February 1, 2018 in Economics

By Frank Shostak


By: Frank Shostak

According to the popular view, a proper competitive environment must emulate the perfect competition model.

In the world of perfect competition, a market is characterized by the following features:

  • There are many buyers and sellers on the market
  • Homogeneous products are traded
  • Buyers and sellers are perfectly informed
  • There are no obstacles or barriers to enter the market

Moreover, buyers and sellers have no control over the price of the product. They are price takers.

No Room for Entrepreneurs

The assumption of perfect information and perfect certainty implies that there is no room left for entrepreneurial activity. For in the world of certainty there are no risks and therefore no need for entrepreneurs.

However, if this is so, who then introduces new products and how? According to the proponents of the perfect competition model, any real situation in a market that deviates from this model is regarded as sub-optimal to consumers’ well-being.

It is recommended that the government intervene whenever such deviation occurs in order to again impose a competitive model closer to a state of perfect competition.

Also according to the popular view, the government must intervene to prevent the emergence of a situation where a producer dominates or monopolizes a market and sets the price above the truly competitive level. This, it is held undermines consumers’ well-being.

Not Even Potential Monopolists Can Charge Any Price They Want

In real life, though, the ability of a producer to monopolize a market is limited by several factors. 

First, we must note that the goal of the typical business is to make profits. This however, cannot be achieved without offering consumers a suitable price.

It is in the interest of every businessman to secure a price where the quantity that is produced could be sold at a profit. In setting this price the producer entrepreneur will have to consider how much money consumers are likely to spend on the product. He will have to consider the prices of various competitive products. He will also have to consider his production costs.

Any attempt on behalf of the alleged dominant producer to disregard these facts will cause him to suffer losses. Further to this, how can government officials establish whether the price of a product charged by a dominant producer is above the so-called competitive level?

How can they know what the competitive price is supposed to be? According to Murray Rothbard,

There is no way to define “monopoly price” because there is also no way of …read more


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A New Balance on the Supreme Court Won’t Be the End of American Democracy

February 1, 2018 in Economics

By Reilly Stephens

Reilly Stephens

Realities both political and actuarial fuel speculation about
when Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy — for more than a
decade the deciding vote on issues from abortion and gay marriage
to campaign-finance regulation and gun rights — might hang up
his robe. Conservatives hope that a Trump-appointed replacement
might roll back decisions such as Obergefell v. Hodges and
Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Progressives, for the same
reason, root for him to keep at it till at least January 20,

Here at National Review,
Michael Brendan Dougherty comes to a dire
conclusion on the matter: “Anthony Kennedy Can’t Be Allowed to
Die.” Kennedy, Dougherty believes, is more or less the last rivet
keeping the wings on our political 747 attached. The Supreme
Court’s role has evolved from simply deciding cases; it now must
“moderate and restrain the ambitions of each party.” On this view,
the fact that Kennedy “swings” from right to left from case to case
keeps each side on board. And since any replacement would probably
conform more closely to one faction or the other, “if the Court
soon consolidates to the left or the right, partisans on the losing
end of that bargain will swiftly lose faith in democracy itself.”
In our current hour of political craziness, the Court must keep
swinging, the way kids must clap to sustain Tinker Bell.

The good news is that there are reasons to doubt this prognosis.
To begin with, it does not address how the Court functions in
practice: There is always a median justice, so the effect
of any change is felt on that margin. Justice Sonia Sotomayor is a
far more solid progressive vote than was Justice David Souter, but
her appointment merely shored up the outer flank of that coalition.
Chief Justice John Roberts is a more reliably conservative vote
than was Chief Justice William Rehnquist, but this difference was
dwarfed from the beginning by the gap between Justice Samuel Alito
and the justice he replaced, Sandra Day O’Connor (Kennedy’s
predecessor as median vote).

How will Kennedy’s
would-be replacement adjust the Court’s equilibrium?

So how will Kennedy’s would-be replacement adjust the Court’s
equilibrium? If President Trump replaces Kennedy with someone on
the model of Neil Gorsuch, then the most likely applicant for
median-vote status would become the chief. A few years from now,
the sort of replacement one would expect from President Oprah
Winfrey would shift the center to Justice Kagan (or perhaps Breyer,
or his replacement) in the same manner.

The latter scenario represents a greater “swing” in the
equilibrium, but the system would also adjust dynamically: What
cases are brought depend in …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Nunes’s Memo Is a Stunt, but Surveillance Does Need More Scrutiny

February 1, 2018 in Economics

By Julian Sanchez

Julian Sanchez

Of the many strange inversions the Trump era has produced, few
are as jarring as the flip in Republican orthodoxy about the
federal intelligence and law enforcement communities.
Law and order” conservatives who, a few
years ago, treated skepticism about the Patriot Act as a
blasphemous insult to the integrity of American intelligence
professionals now routinely traffic in talk of “deep state” conspiracies to abuse
surveillance powers.

That was thrown into relief Wednesday, when the FBI traded
brickbats with Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), chair of the House
Intelligence Committee. In an unusually public rebuke, the FBI condemned the imminent release of a memo
produced by committee staffers alleging misconduct by bureau
officials. Nunes quickly returned fire, accusing the FBI —
headed by President’s Trump appointee, Christopher A. Wray
— of having “stonewalled Congress’ demands for
information.” The memo may reportedly be released soon.

Democrats, stepping into the role Republicans had shed, have
sided with the intelligence community, invoking the need to protect
classified sources and methods. And it’s not hard to see why:
Nearly everything about Nunes’s reinvention as a champion of
privacy and civil liberties reeks of disingenuousness.

There are legitimate concerns about the Foreign Intelligence
Surveillance Court and the myriad means — not all requiring
warrants — by which law enforcement gets access to private
conversations involving U.S. citizens. But the fervor around the
memo means that these serious policy debates will follow so many
others into the maw of Trump-driven partisanship and that the
broader questions of how our national security state operates
— questions more about legal and institutional design than
the motives of individual FBI agents — will go

Nunes, along with many of the allies who joined him in whipping
up a public outcry to #ReleaseTheMemo, voted last month to reauthorize a
controversial warrantless spying authority known as Section 702.
Bipartisan efforts to add privacy safeguards for Americans’
communications were swatted down with confident assertions that
there had been no recorded abuses of such surveillance — an
assessment it seems odd to make at the same time as one is alleging
a systematic effort by senior intelligence officials to deceive
overseers and conceal egregious misconduct.

The overarching narrative
that the Nunes memo apparently seeks to build — a story of
rabid partisans within the Obama administration cooking up a bogus
Russia investigation to use as a weapon against Trump — is
almost certainly nonsense.

The manner in which Nunes’s hermetically sealed concerns about
misuse of spying powers have been pursued is unprecedented. The
House Intelligence Committee, which has historically been
discomfitingly cozy with the agencies it oversees, made …read more

Source: OP-EDS