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The Great Depression Lesson About ‘Trade Wars’

March 5, 2018 in History

By Becky Little

A political cartoon showing President Herbert Hoover explaining his farm relief program to a farmer. The relief program is shown as a straw scarecrow scaring off hard times depicted as birds. (Credit: MPI/Getty Images)

On March 1, President Donald Trump unexpectedly announced that he would dramatically increase tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. The next day, he defended his controversial decision to tax steel imports at 25 percent and aluminum ones at 10 percent, tweeting that “trade wars are good, and easy to win.”

Since then, many economists have publicly disagreed that raising tariffs so sharply will improve the economy, as Trump asserts it will. In particular, experts have pointed to the failure of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, passed in June 1930, to protect U.S. industries with tariff increases.

Although this came several months after the stock market crash of 1929, the U.S. hadn’t yet entered “the full onset of the Great Depression,” says Claude Barfield, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. The thinking among Congress and President Herbert Hoover was that by raising taxes on thousands of imports no matter what country they came from, the act would protect American farmers and secure the nation’s economy. But experts disagreed.

A political cartoon showing President Herbert Hoover explaining his farm relief program to a farmer. The relief program is shown as a straw scarecrow scaring off hard times depicted as birds. (Credit: MPI/Getty Images)

“Economists around the country argued to the Republican Congress that this would only hurt the world economy, and the United States economy,” Barfield says. (Before the political parties realigned in the mid-20th century, the Democrats were the “free trade” party.)

And they were right. Although it did not cause the onset of the Great Depression, it did help extend it. Other countries responded to the United States’ tariffs by putting up their restrictions on international trade, which just made it harder for the United States to pull itself out of its depression.

In effect, the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act “prolonged [the depression] and possibly deepened it around the world, not just in the United States but for other countries,” he says.

Ultimately, this influenced the country’s long-term trade policies. Beginning with the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act of 1934, and continuing with other acts throughout the century, the United States began to negotiate trade policies individually with countries, instead of imposing unilateral tariffs across the board.


Ffloor traders checking the stock prices on ticker tape at the …read more

Source: HISTORY

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For Atheists, #MeToo Might Be Too Little, Too Late

March 5, 2018 in Blogs

By Amanda Marcotte, Salon

Atheists spoke out about sexual harassment years ago, to no avail.


In mid-February, #MeToo came to the community of activist atheists and science promoters, known as skeptics, a vibrant if somewhat insular subculture of the non-faithful. Buzzfeed published an expose of Lawrence Krauss, a physicist who became a minor celebrity due in part to his outspoken atheism, in which multiple women shared tales of his alleged sexual abusiveness. Krauss denies the multiple, separate accounts painstakingly detailed by Buzzfeed's reporters. However, Krauss is still facing a litany of professional repercussions: cancelled appearancesdisavowals (most prominently by the American Humanist Association) and investigations into the accusations.

But for many in the skeptic movement, Krauss's reckoning, while welcome, feels like too little, too late. For years, these activists told Salon, they've been agitating against sexual harassment in the community and trying to expose the abusive behaviors of many prominent figures. For their efforts, they have been harassed, demoralized and often shunned — while the accused, including Krauss, continue to enjoy honored status in the community. Some of these atheists hope that Krauss' outing represents a turning point in their movement, but others worry that the hostility towards women speaking out is calcified and nothing substantial will change.

The conglomeration of humanist organizations and superstition debunkers going under the name “skeptics” has existed for decades, but in the mid-2000s, there was an explosion of interest from people ready to agitate for a more secular society. Inspired by Richard Dawkins's 2006 bestseller “The God Delusion” and disgust with the Bush administration's repeated attacks on religious freedom, this new influx of humanists brought a new spark and aggressiveness, an eagerness not just to defend secularism, but to argue for the rightness of atheism and create a community of fellow travelers.

“It got rid of the crushing feeling of loneliness I had,” Heina Dadabhoy, a blogger and outspoken atheist activist, recalled. 

“When I left Islam, I felt I did an impossible thing,” Dadabhoy said, adding that the community led her to meet “former religionists of other religions” and eventually even to connect with other ex-Muslims. 

“I had a very difficult, very abusive upbringing in a …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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Former Campaign Aide Admits Trump May Have Colluded with Russia

March 5, 2018 in Blogs

By Noor Al-Sibai, Raw Story

Sam Nunberg lets it rip in a bizarre new interview.


After forwarding a subpoena from special counsel Robert Mueller to the Washington Post, former Trump campaign aide Sam Nunberg gave MSNBC a freewheeling interview that included his belief that his onetime boss may be guilty of collusion with the Russians.

After admitting to host Katy Tur that he’d been interviewed by Mueller’s investigators, the host asked Nunberg if he believes the special counsel “has anything” on Trump.

“I think they may,” the ex-aide responded. “I think he may have done something during the election. But I don’t know that for sure.” 

This isn’t the first time Nunberg’s given a rambling MSNBC interview. Last week, he called presidential adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner a “weak link” who has done “nefarious things,” and earlier this year, called Trump an “idiot” and a “complete pain in the ass to work for.” In the latter interview, which was conducted by host Joy Ann Reid, many noted that Nunberg appeared to be intoxicated.

Watch below, via MSNBC:

Related Stories

…read more

Source: ALTERNET

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The Drug Test-Free Workplace: 7 Occupations That Don't Require You to Pee in a Bottle to Get Hired

March 5, 2018 in Blogs

By Phillip Smith, AlterNet

If you're not interested in pre-employment drug testing, go here.


Widespread workplace drug testing—a uniquely American phenomenon—has generated controversy ever since Ronald Reagan pushed hard for it back in the 1980s. On the one hand, opponents see it as an invasion of workers' privacy protections; on the other, advocates believe it is the best means of preventing injuries that might occur when a worker is intoxicated.

Although workplace drug testing was rare prior to Reagan, 56% of all employers now require pre-employment drug tests, according to Statistic Brain. Some of this is mandated by law: Truck drivers, airline pilots and some other public transport positions face federal drug-testing requirements. But much pre-employment drug testing and random, suspicionless drug testing is not required by law; it is instead the employers' choice.

High levels of drug testing are to be found in industries such as health care, heavy manufacturing and construction, where being impaired on the job can lead to loss of life or limb or endanger the health and well-being of others. But drug testing is also popular in industries with no such apparent risk, such as retail. Whether that guy at the camera counter at Walmart smoked a joint over the weekend probably has no discernible impact on public safety.

Speaking of smoking joints, marijuana is by far the most commonly used illicit drug (though it's now legal in nine states). Positive workplace drug tests for marijuana are on the rise, reflecting broader popular acceptance of the drug, which is also leading some companies to quit testing for pot. In a low unemployment economy, employers may be increasingly reluctant to lose potential workers over a positive test for marijuana.

And some potential workers are reluctant to seek employment at places that are going to subject them to drug testing. Fortunately for them, there are some economic sectors where facing a pre-employment or random at-work drug test is not a real risk—in fact, it's a rarity. But most of these jobs require a university degree. Like so many things in America, drug testing is a class thing.

That said, if …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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How the Media Helped Trump Push Through His Disastrous Tax Cuts

March 5, 2018 in Blogs

By Adam Johnson, FAIR

They might as well be reprinting Trump administration press releases.


A New York Times/Survey Monkey poll last week revealed that, for the first time, a slim majority of Americans support last December’s Republican tax cuts—cuts that disproportionately benefit the rich, redistributing money from the poor to the wealthiest Americans.

How was the impressive feat of reality-inversion achieved? How did a tax cut that, once it’s all said and done, mainly benefits a small group of top earners become broadly popular? One reason is the nonstop deluge of stories over the past two months, cheerleading alleged “tax cut bonuses” from large corporations.

Democratic-leaning cable network MSNBC and its colleagues NBC, it should be noted, have mostly been the exception, avoiding the talking point for the most part.  But Fox News, CNBC, Fox Business, CNN and dozens of local media outlets joined the messaging charge, singing the bill’s money-saving praises. Here is just a small sample:

  • AT&T, Comcast Say GOP Tax Bill Will Mean $1,000 Bonuses for Employees (Washington Post, 12/20/17)
  • AT&T to Pay $1,000 Bonus Due to Tax Cuts (BBC, 12/20/17)
  • AT&T Giving $1,000 Bonus to Every Employee in the US When Trump Signs Tax Bill Into Law (Dallas Morning News, 12/20/17)
  • AT&T Is Handing Out $1,000 Bonuses to Its Employees After Tax Bill Passes (Forbes, 12/20/17)
  • The Best Way to Use a Tax Bill Bonus (CNBC, 12/22/17)
  • Bank of America Is Giving Some Employees a $1,000 Bonus, Citing Tax Bill (CNBC, 12/22/17)
  • American Airlines to Give Employees $1,000 Bonus to Share Tax Reform Benefit (Dallas Morning News, 1/2/18)
  • American and Southwest Airlines Promise ‘Tax Bill Bonus’ for Employees (Fortune, 1/3/18)
  • Alaska Air Employees Will Get $1,000 Bonus Due to Tax Overhaul (Seattle Times, 1/5/18)
  • List of Companies That Paid Bonuses or Boosted Pay Since Tax Bill Passed (USA Today, 1/11/18)
  • Some of the Companies Giving Out Raises and Bonuses Because of Tax Reform (CNN, 1/11/18)
  • Home Depot to Give Hourly Workers One-Time Bonus of Up to $1,000 in Cash (AP, 1/25/18)
  • Lowe’s to Pay US Staff $1,000 Bonus Following Tax Reform (Reuters, 2/1/18)

The degree to which congressional Republicans and business leaders coordinated on this messaging—either directly or through trade organizations like the Chamber of Commerce—is unknown. But every element of the rollout reeks …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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Why the Civil War Actually Ended 16 Months After Lee Surrendered

March 5, 2018 in History

By Sarah Pruitt

Union General William Tecumseh Sherman, left, meeting General Joseph E. Johnston to discuss terms of surrender of Confederate forces in North Carolina. (Credit: Universal History Archive/Getty Images)

On April 9, 1865, General Robert E. Lee surrendered his Confederate troops to the Union’s Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, marking the beginning of the end of the grinding four-year-long American Civil War. But it would be more than 16 months before President Andrew Johnson would declare a formal end to the conflict in August 1866.

Appomattox was undoubtedly a decisive victory for the Union, and Grant’s peace agreement with Lee would provide a blueprint for other generals around the country. So why did it take so long for the war to officially end after that?

Union General William Tecumseh Sherman, left, meeting General Joseph E. Johnston to discuss terms of surrender of Confederate forces in North Carolina. (Credit: Universal History Archive/Getty Images)

The Next to Fall

For one thing, Lee had surrendered only his Army of Northern Virginia to Grant. A number of other Confederate forces still remained active, starting with Gen. Joseph E. Johnston’s Army of Tennessee, the second-largest Confederate army after Lee’s.

On April 12 in North Carolina, Johnston and his men received news of Lee’s surrender. The next day, Gen. William T. Sherman’s Union cavalry captured Raleigh, pushing Johnston’s forces westward. Under relentless pressure from Sherman, Johnston reached out to discuss peace terms. After the newly sworn-in President Johnson and his cabinet rejected an initial accord which gave generous political concessions to the South, Confederate President Jefferson Davis ordered Johnston to resume fighting. Johnston, knowing his back was to the wall, refused. On April 26, Sherman and Johnston signed a new surrender agreement, along the same lines as Grant and Lee’s Appomattox accord.

In the biggest surrender of the Civil War, Johnston gave up around 90,000 soldiers in all—virtually all remaining Confederate troops in the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida. When news of Johnston’s surrender reached Alabama, the next domino fell: Lt. Gen. Richard Taylor, the son of President Zachary Taylor and commander of some 10,000 Confederate men, concluded a similar peace with his Union counterpart in the region and surrendered his army on May 4.

Several days later, Nathan Bedford Forrest gave up his cavalry corps at Gainesville, Alabama, telling his men: “That we are beaten is a self-evident fact, and any further resistance on our part would justly be regarded as the …read more

Source: HISTORY

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A Market-Regulated Economy Is Far a ‘Mad Max’ Dystopia

March 5, 2018 in Economics

By Ryan Bourne

Ryan Bourne

Why are even supporters of free markets so apologetic about
them? I ask after coming late to Brexit Secretary David Davis’s
speech in Vienna 10 days ago, which sadly amplified Left-wing
stereotypes about a market economy.

The purpose of Davis’s intervention, of course, was to signal
that post-Brexit Britain would dovetail with EU regulations and
competition law to facilitate a “deep” and
“comprehensive” new partnership. Yet Davis actually went
much further, seemingly making a virtue of more state regulation
under the synonym of “high standards”.

Alluding to an alternative world of deregulated markets as
“an — Anglo-Saxon race to the bottom” and “a
Mad Max-style world borrowed from dystopian fiction,” he was
doing the work of anti-capitalists for them. Unwittingly he was
lending credence to a flawed state-socialist idea — that
anything not controlled by government amounts to dangerous
disorder.

Nobody believes all state regulation is useless, of course.
Sometimes markets do fail. Global standards can facilitate trade.
EU rules which prevent state subsidies (despite the Corbynistas’
wailing) are a blessing for UK consumers and taxpayers too, rather
than a curse. But does the UK government really believe the EU is
the pinnacle of economic dynamism and there are no areas where
deregulation is appropriate?

There is tons of evidence
markets deliver regulatory structures that enhance customer welfare
without the need for government oversight.

Dieter Helm’s government Cost of Energy Review explained how
Brexit could allow ways to hit carbon targets at much lower cost.
The Conservative Party itself campaigned for years on repatriating
social and employment legislation from Brussels, presumably to
change it. The EU’s regulatory approach on agriculture is widely
acknowledged to curb innovation, too. Even the Governor of the Bank
of England Mark Carney (no Brexiteer) has said the cap on bankers’
bonuses, some insurance regulation and rules on challenger banks
and building societies could be rolled back after Brexit without
ill effects. Indeed, the Governor went out of his way to explain
such actions would not constitute a “race to the bottom”,
because the rules were unnecessary.

Why then would a government be so dismissive of deregulating or
imply that their intention was to simply entrench and extend
regulation? With this and increasing calls for a customs union, our
politicians seem determined to tie our hands against using any
repatriated powers in a pro-growth way.

If Davis’s speech is genuinely reflective of how Conservatives
now think about regulation, then Brexit is the least of our
problems. When Jeremy Corbyn says the fact we all have one
letterbox is justification for zero competition in the postal
service, a regulatory arms race with Labour is not something
Conservatives can win. In fact, …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Death of the Dinosaurs

March 5, 2018 in Economics

By Alberto Mingardi

Alberto Mingardi

MILAN — Italy’s election results are being hailed as a
victory for the populists. But more than anything, the vote is the
failure of the country’s establishment.

Matteo Renzi’s ability to destroy political capital has been
astonishing. The former prime minister compounded one mistake after
another, and became odious to most Italians, only 19 percent of
whom voted for his Democratic Party on Sunday. Moreover, as he
abandons his party’s leadership, it’s not improbably that it will
end up somehow supporting a government led by the Euroskeptic
5Stars Movement.

Renzi left office after the constitutional reform he promoted
was rejected in a referendum. That ballot became less about the
proposed constitutional changes — hardly a subject that
excites the masses — than about his persona and his tenure. A
vast majority of Italians didn’t like either, as a result of a long
series of tactical mistakes.

Italy’s election results
are being hailed as a victory for the populists. But more than
anything, the vote is the failure of the country’s
establishment.

Renzi consistently adopted an electoral rhetoric that appeared
like a water-down version of his opponents’ populism. He longed for
budget deficits (though, smaller ones than those promised by his
opponents), chastised the European Union (though with far more
sober words than his opponents), and forgot all the supply-side
reforms he himself had promised.

Meanwhile, his opponent on the center right, former Prime
Minister Silvio Berlusconi fought his last electoral campaign with
gallant enthusiasm. He used all his repertoire of tax reforms and
televised charm.

In a mad, sometimes violent campaign, he stood out as being calm and wise, and
smoothed the edges of his coalition partners’ most anti-European
proposals. But for all his charisma, Sunday’s vote showed his
legendary ability to charm millions is gone. He was never a genuine
orchestra conductor, but virtuoso too eager to play all the
instruments by himself.

Berlusconi’s failure is not a failure of execution: It is a
failure of longer term vision. In 24 years in politics, Berlusconi
did not father a single potential successor. His candidates were
only fragile ornaments of his larger-than-life persona.

Confronted with younger, telegenic opponents — such as
League leader Matteo Salvini or the 5Stars’
soft spoken and well-mannered Luigi Di Maio – Berlusconi, for
the truly first time, appeared an old man.

His greatest accomplishment, since 1994, was his ability to win
both in the north and south of the country. That, too, is gone.
This election showed a stark polarization: The north turned to the
right, while the south voted overwhelmingly for the 5Stars.

Both Renzi’s and Berlusconi’s …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Why We Need a Smart Balanced Budget Rule

March 5, 2018 in Economics

By Ryan Bourne

Ryan Bourne

No sooner had Republicans passed much needed tax reform than
they agreed to an awful budget deal that will undermine it.

Government spending is the true long-term tax burden of
government activity. So, to sustain a new, more competitive tax
code, which cuts rates, Republicans should have made spending cuts.
This was the perfect opportunity to balance the budget and lock in
reform. Instead, Republicans did the opposite: trading their
favored huge defense spending increases for Democrats’ desired
hikes in other areas. As a result, a deficit already forecast to
widen substantially will blow up much sooner, putting the gains
from tax reform in jeopardy.

Annual borrowing is now expected to bust $1.2 trillion by 2019. If tax cuts and the
budget deal are both made permanent, the Committee for a
Responsible Federal Budget estimates that number will rise to $2.1
trillion by 2027, pushing the debt-to-GDP ratio to well over
100 percent of GDP. This is the opposite of
what we should be doing after a sustained period of growth.

Rather than asking
politicians to vote to finance spending commitments they have
already made, as the debt ceiling does, we need a rule that binds
their hands in the first place and explicitly shows the trade-offs
associated with new spending before they vote for it.

What can be done? A prerequisite for reversing this mistake
requires Republicans and Democrats concerned with the
nation’s fiscal health to make the case for near-term fiscal
restraint and long-term entitlement reform. But evidence from
around the world shows that effective balanced budget rules can be
part of a solution too, helping politicians overcome their inherent
“deficit bias”.

The case for overall restraint should be obvious. At 77
percent
of GDP, federal debt held by the public in 2016 was at
its highest level since just after World War II, and way above its
40
percent
post-war average. Unlike that post-war period —
when military spending cuts, sustained growth, and high inflation
eroded the debt burden — projections now show debt ballooning
to over 150 percent of GDP over the next three decades.
The cause? Ever-rising Social Security and Medicare spending.

Such rising debt levels are not sustainable. They would leave
the federal finances dangerously exposed to negative shocks and
slow economic growth. Moreover, every year this fiscal reality is
ignored, doing something about it gets harder. Last year, the
Congressional Budget Office estimated that getting the debt-to-GDP
ratio back to its historic average of 40 percent of GDP over three
decades would require permanent spending cuts equal to 3.1 percent …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Will the Thaw in Relations Between the Two Koreas Prevent a New War?

March 5, 2018 in Economics

By Ted Galen Carpenter

Ted Galen Carpenter

The recent reduction in tensions between the Republic of Korea
(ROK) and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is
almost palpable. That thaw was especially evident with the cordial
atmosphere at the Winter Olympics. Not only did Pyongyang send a
team to participate in the games, and march into the stadium along
with the South Korean team under a special joint flag during the
opening ceremonies, but North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un’s
sister, Kim Jo Yong, was an honored guest in the dignitaries box. During
the proceedings, the North Korean government invited South Korean
President Moon Jae-in to visit Pyongyang, and there are now prospects
for bilateral talks to reopen the joint economic complex at
Kaesong. Even before the Olympics, a warming relationship between
the two Koreas was apparent, as Moon sought to defuse the worrisome
tensions on the Peninsula.

China and others have welcomed the thaw in
relations between the two Koreas and hope that it will become the
foundation for progress in reducing the danger of war.
Unfortunately, improved inter-Korean relations do little to resolve
the core issue in the ongoing North Korea crisis: the impasse
between the United States and the DPRK over the latter’s
nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Moreover, the Trump
administration does not seem entirely pleased with the embryonic
rapprochement between the two Koreas. Vice President Mike Pence
ostentatiously snubbed Kim Yo Jong during the
opening ceremonies at the Olympics, even though she was seated
barely three feet away from him. And although the administration
indicated a willingness to consider participating in preliminary talks with North Korea, there
was little evidence of enthusiasm for that step.

Indeed, Washington appears firmly committed to maintaining an
uncompromising stance regarding the issue of Pyongyang’s
nuclear and missile ambitions. In early February, U.S. special
envoy Joseph Yun reiterated that all options
(implicitly including military force) remain on the
table—although he did state his belief that peaceful options
were not yet on the brink of exhaustion. More ominous was the
comment of a senior member of Congress that Secretary of State Rex
Tillerson might have only 8
to 10 months
to resolve the North Korea crisis through
diplomacy.

Improved inter-Korean
relations do little to resolve the core issue in the ongoing North
Korea crisis: the impasse between the United States and the DPRK
over the latter’s nuclear and ballistic missile
programs.

The crucial point is that Washington, not Seoul, controls the
decision regarding war or peace toward North Korea. ROK leaders are
either oblivious to that reality or refuse to acknowledge its
potentially horrific …read more

Source: OP-EDS