You are browsing the archive for 2019 May.

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How Ambiguity on Brexit Is Hurting Britain’s Main Political Parties

May 28, 2019 in Economics

By Ryan Bourne

Ryan Bourne

A tumultuous few days in British politics ended over the weekend
with another political earthquake.

Nigel Farage’s new Brexit Party was declared victorious in the
country’s European Parliament elections, winning 31.6 percent of the vote and 29 of the 73 available
. A concurrent revival of the overtly anti-Brexit Liberal
Democrats (20.3 percent) saw the two traditional parties —
Labour and the Conservatives — trailing in third and fifth
place, respectively.

Alongside Theresa May’s recent resignation as Conservative leader and prime
, one might be tempted to conclude that an unexpected
political revolution is upon us. But the results were not novel.
They simply reflect Westminster’s main parties’ continuing
divisions from the 2016 referendum.

Leaving the European Union is now the central cleavage of U.K.
politics. Yet neither of the main parties has swung unequivocally
to represent either Leavers or Remainers. In making E.U. exit
conditional on a withdrawal deal passing Parliament (the
Conservative government) or not fully committing to a second
referendum to reverse Brexit (Labour), the old parties are getting
steamrollered by those with less ambiguous pro-Brexit or pro-Remain

Behind the headlines, the public is still split. Though it’s
dangerous to aggregate vote shares for multi-issue elections,
around 44 percent of voters backed parties wanting to deliver some
form of Brexit, while just over 40 percent supported parties
willing to abandon it (how Labour’s 14.1 percent vote share should
be considered is anybody’s guess, given the party’s unclear Brexit
position). The key insight from party results, though, is that
trying to straddle any sort of “middle-way” coalition is costly

The Conservatives’ collapse was the most dramatic, plummeting to
a pathetic 9.1 percent vote share and losing 15 of the 19 E.U.
Parliament seats won in 2014.

The reason is obvious. The Tories’ polling numbers collapsed in early March when it
became clear they wouldn’t deliver Brexit on time, having failed to
obtain parliamentary approval for the E.U. withdrawal treaty that
the government had negotiated.

May concluded that leaving without a deal on the scheduled March
29 deadline would be so disastrous that delaying exit until October
was preferable. Her hope was to win over more members of Parliament
in the interim.

That decision backfired spectacularly. Ex-UKIP leader Farage
reentered politics bemoaning Conservative betrayal. With vocal
Brexiteers in her party seething, May pivoted to seek Labour votes
to get her unpopular treaty through Parliament. Her concessions to
win them over hemorrhaged 42 Conservative MPs, who publicly switched to
oppose her deal
. She eventually realized what most had known
for months: There was no route to her delivering Brexit.

These results will therefore embolden Conservatives who believe
the …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Questionable Alliances: Why America Needs to Reexamine Its International Relationships

May 28, 2019 in Economics

By Doug Bandow

Doug Bandow

Modern circumstances continue to bear out the prescience of
America’s founders. Especially George Washington’s
warning against “entangling alliances.”

In contrast, U.S. policymakers today treat military allies like
Facebook friends, the more the merrier, something to brag about.
However, most of Washington’s existing alliances are harmful,
expensive commitments with little relevance to American security.
Indeed, a couple are strikingly dangerous, even risking conflict
with nuclear armed powers. A good place to start with an
“America First” foreign policy would be to turn allies
into friends, cooperating when in both nations’ interests but
no longer treating foreign governments as defense dependents.

Early America used its relative geographic isolation to avoid
“entangling alliances.” The colonies relied on
France’s aid to defeat Great Britain, but that reflected the
exigencies of war. Paris was not particularly interested in
empowering the new democratic republic once peace negotiations
began. And the value of the French connection to America as a
permanent alliance plummeted when Paris was taken over by brutal
revolutionaries; the relationship cratered when Napoleon Bonaparte
gained control and engaged in a “quasi-war” against
American shipping.

It was a century before Washington joined another alliance. And
in World War I, America technically fought as an
“associated” rather than allied power. Woodrow Wilson,
who with a touch of megalomania desired to reorder the globe,
imagined that quasi-independence would enable him to pose as the
representative of mankind.

Most of Washington’s
existing alliances are harmful, expensive commitments with little
relevance to American security.

The United States had nothing significant at stake in the
conflict between the competing imperial powers. Washington should
have left the participants to settle their imperial slugfest on
their own.

Under those circumstances, a divided, exhausted Europe might
have ended the war early, preserving the monarchies and avoiding
Nazism, fascism, and communism. Instead, America’s
intervention turned a possible compromise peace into a one-sided
allied victory, loosing multiple totalitarian furies.
Wilson’s fabled “14 Points” largely disappeared
as participants at the Versailles conference fought over
territorial plunder. The result unfortunately planted the seeds for
the next conflict. France’s Marshal Ferdinand Foch observed:
This is not a peace. It is an armistice for twenty years.

Arguments that the United States should have remained involved
in Europe—presumably with multiple military garrisons, like
after World War II—made no sense. With Germany disarmed, the
victorious Europeans possessed the means to enforce Versailles. But
they lacked the will, which America could not instill. While the
French and Belgians wanted their respective pounds of flesh, Great
Britain came to believe that conciliation offered a better response
than repression. Either a ruthless Carthaginian peace or genuine
accommodation might have worked, but not the inconsistent
compromise course chosen.

In fighting World War II, Washington sensibly …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Waiting on the Court

May 25, 2019 in Economics

By Walter Olson

Walter Olson

Some time between now and the end of June the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule in Lamone v. Benisek, the case challenging the gerrymander of Maryland’s Sixth Congressional District, which includes Frederick. Here’s a quick guide to what to expect.

When will we know? The Justices heard argument March 26. Typically it takes the Court more than two months to decide a case: as of this week it has ruled on only one case each from its February and March sittings. If that pattern holds up, it will decide this case in June, the last month of its term.

One reason to think the decision might come late in June rather than early: when the Court has a case it knows will be highly controversial, it often tends to hold its release until the final days of its term.

If it reverses the lower court and upholds the existing map. Three conservative Justices have taken the view that federal courts lack the power to remedy partisan gerrymanders. Should newcomers Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh agree, the lawsuit probably ends and the existing map stays in place for the 2020 election. That doesn’t mean gerrymandering won’t be be back in the news before long, since the upcoming Census will set in motion a new required cycle of map-drawing nationwide.

If it upholds the lower court and rules the map unlawful. The case then goes back to the three-judge federal panel to order a remedy. Note that the court ruled on the lawfulness of only one Maryland district, the Sixth. That’s not because others such as the Third, Fourth, and Seventh aren’t gerrymandered just as weirdly. But the litigation as it went along got narrowed down to challenge only the one district that changed partisan hands as a result of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s map, which was the Sixth.

When courts find just one district unlawful, they tend to favor a remedy that tinkers no more than necessary with other districts. At one point, the court suggested it would be amenable to a plan that swapped territory between the Sixth and the adjacent Eighth, amounting to minimally invasive surgery.

Who would devise a new plan? If it chooses, the legislature could come back into session to adopt a map it hopes the court might accept. Or Attorney General Brian Frosh, who has defended the gerrymander each step of the way, could do so.

In its November ruling, …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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One of the Earliest Memorial Day Ceremonies Was Held by Freed Slaves

May 24, 2019 in History

By Dave Roos

At the close of the Civil War, freed slaves in Charleston honored fallen Union soldiers.

Memorial Day was born out of necessity. After the American Civil War, a battered United States was faced with the task of burying and honoring the 600,000 to 800,000 Union and Confederate soldiers who had died in the single bloodiest military conflict in American history. The first national commemoration of Memorial Day was held in Arlington National Cemetery on May 30, 1868, where both Union and Confederate soldiers are buried.

Several towns and cities across America claim to have observed their own earlier versions of Memorial Day or “Decoration Day” as early as 1866. (The earlier name is derived from the fact that decorating graves was and remains a central activity of Memorial Day.) But it wasn’t until a remarkable discovery in a dusty Harvard University archive the late 1990s that historians learned about a Memorial Day commemoration organized by a group of freed black slaves less than a month after the Confederacy surrendered in 1865.

Back in 1996, David Blight, a professor of American History at Yale University, was researching a book on the Civil War when he had one of those once-in-a-career eureka moments. A curator at Harvard’s Haughton Library asked if he wanted to look through two boxes of unsorted material from Union veterans.

“There was a file labeled ‘First Decoration Day,’” remembers Blight, still amazed at his good fortune. “And inside on a piece of cardboard was a narrative handwritten by an old veteran, plus a date referencing an article in The New York Tribune. That narrative told the essence of the story that I ended up telling in my book, of this march on the race track in 1865.”

The clubhouse at the Charleston racetrack where the 1865 Memorial Day events took place.

The race track in question was the Washington Race Course and Jockey Club in Charleston, South Carolina. In the late stages of the Civil War, the Confederate army transformed the formerly posh country club into a makeshift prison for Union captives. More than 260 Union soldiers died from disease and exposure while being held in the race track’s open-air infield. Their bodies were hastily buried in a mass grave behind the grandstands.

READ MORE: 8 Things You May Not Know About Memorial Day

When Charleston fell and Confederate troops evacuated …read more


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Ally Angst: Why America's Iran Policy Doesn't Have International Support

May 24, 2019 in Economics

By Ted Galen Carpenter

Ted Galen Carpenter

Washington’s NATO allies are openly balking at the Trump
administration’s increasingly belligerent policy toward Iran. Even
the British government, which can normally be counted upon to be a
loyal U.S. junior partner during international crises, has shown no
enthusiasm for the latest confrontation. In a small but symbolic
gesture, Spain has now pulled a warship it had contributed to a
U.S.-led naval group in the Persian Gulf that was there ostensibly
to mark a historic seafaring anniversary. Spanish officials noted
that the mission now seemed focused on alleged threats from Iran.
Acting Defense Minister Margarita Robles stated tartly
that the U.S. government “has taken a decision outside of the
framework of what had been agreed with the Spanish Navy.”

Other NATO governments are uneasy about Washington’s decision to
deploy B-52 bombers and take other steps in response to
Israeli-provided intelligence that Tehran was planning attacks on
U.S. forces in the Middle East. The Trump administration’s latest
move has brought simmering U.S.-European disagreements about Iran
policy to a boil. Washington’s withdrawal last year from the Joint
Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) regarding Tehran’s nuclear
program generated noticeable pushback from the other signatories to
the agreement, including Britain, France, and Germany. All three
countries made it clear that they would not
 the United States in reimposing economic sanctions
on Tehran. Indeed, they and other European Union (EU) members
openly sought ways that they could cushion Iran (and their own
businesses) from the worst effects of the U.S. action.

The allies were annoyed again this year when the administration
continued to insist that the European signatories withdraw from the
JCPOA. Germany and other countries flatly refused. Last
month, Washington exacerbated already serious transatlantic
frictions when it eliminated some of the boycott waivers it had
granted to EU firms. Allied governments sharply
that step and Washington’s other moves to tighten
sanctions. Iran soon stated that it would no longer abide by some
JCPOA provisions and would resume enriching
. News about the Israeli intelligence
 about planned Iranian attacks broke at roughly the
same time, heightening the crisis atmosphere.

European allies are
grappling with mounting disagreements over foreign policy and
growing irritated with Washington’s arrogant leadership

European leaders are clearly not pleased by Washington’s
increasingly confrontational policy toward Iran. When Secretary of
State Mike Pompeo made a surprise visit to Brussels in early May as
EU foreign ministers met to discuss the escalating crisis about the
Iran nuclear agreement, his
 was midpoint between cool
…read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Wreckage of the Last U.S. Slave Ship Is Finally Identified in Alabama

May 23, 2019 in History

By Becky Little

It was torched and then sunk to the bottom of a river, but historians say they have now identified the remains of the last ship to carry slaves to the U.S.

After much searching, researchers have finally located the last U.S. slave ship, the Clotilda, at the bottom of the Mobile River in Alabama. The announcement comes one year after the publication of Zora Neale Hurston’s lost interview with a survivor of that ship, and just a month after a scholar discovered the last Clotilda survivor lived until 1937. It holds special significance for the residents of Africatown, Alabama, many of whom are descended from the Africans illegally trafficked on the Clotilda in 1860.

“It’s a wonderful discovery,” says Sylviane A. Diouf, a visiting scholar at Brown University’s Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice and author of Dreams of Africa in Alabama: The Slave Ship Clotilda and the Story of the Last Africans Brought to America. “This is the only one so far that has been found which came directly from Africa to the Americas with people on board.” (The recently-discovered São José was on its way to Brazil but crashed in South Africa near Cape Town.)

Life Aboard a Slave Ship (TV-PG; 4:02)

The discovery is also significant because the Clotilda is already the most well-documented slave ship story in the Americas. “If it had only been a ship without the story, then that’s interesting,” Diouf says. “But we have the entire story. So this is the first time that we have the entire story of what happened to the people who were on the ship and we have the ship as well.”

The research initiative that found the Clotilda was partly motivated by the discovery of another ship in January 2018 that some thought might have been the Clotlida. Afterward, the Alabama Historical Commission funded further efforts to find the the Clotilda, which a slave trader had burned and then sunk to the bottom of the river to hide the evidence of its illegal journey.

Excavators ended up combing through a section of the Mobile River that had never been dredged before. Among the many sunken ships there, they found one that historians could confidently say matched the description of the Clotilda.

On January 2, 2018, in Mobile County, Alabama, remains of a ship were found that were originally …read more


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Butchery's Long History: From Carving Giant Sloths to Ancient Roman Hatchets

May 23, 2019 in History

By Sarah Pruitt

From the Ice Age to ancient Rome to Medieval England, humans have refined their butchery skills over thousands of years.

For thousands of years, starting with the earliest hunter-gatherer tribes, butchers have served as highly valued members of human societies. With the domestication of livestock and the improvement of tool-making techniques, butchery developed into a skilled and respected trade that would endure over the centuries.

As late as the 1920s, local butcher shops were a fixture in most communities in the meat-loving United States. Though the noble history of butchery took a hit after many Americans began buying their meat pre-cut and pre-packaged at the grocery store, the growing interest in high-quality meat in recent years means butchers have been making a comeback.

From our primitive ancestors to the most recent revival, these are just a few important milestones in the history of butchery.

3.4 Million Years Ago: Prehistoric Ancestors Butcher With Stone Tools

A display of Australopithecus’ eating meat.

Researchers in the Afar region of Ethiopia announced in 2010 that they had uncovered the bones of two ancient animals—one cow-sized and one goat-sized—dating to nearly 3.4 million years ago and bearing cut marks indicating both flesh removal and bone marrow extraction. , as white settlers pushed Native Americans ever deeper into the frontier.

1865: Chicago’s Union Stock Yard Opens

Livestock pens and workers herding sheep at the Chicago Union Stock Yard, circa 1910.

Though the earliest meatpacking plants had been established in New England during the colonial period, by the mid-19th century Midwestern cities had come to dominate the nation’s growing meat industry. In 1865, Chicago saw the opening of the vast Union Stock Yard, which processed 3 million cattle and hogs in 1870 and 12 million in 1890. With advances in refrigeration technology in the early 1900s, Chicago meatpackers were able to efficiently ship fresh-chilled beef and pork via railroad all the way to the East Coast.

Late 20th-early 21st centuries: Butchers Make a Comeback

A butcher working in a slaughterhouse at a small organic farm.

As late as the 1920s, most Americans continued to do their shopping as previous generations had, picking up their dry goods at one store, fruits and vegetables at another, and their meat at the local butcher shop. But with the rise of chain grocery stores like the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company (better known as A&P) and their …read more


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On War With Iran, It’s Trump Versus the Founding Fathers

May 23, 2019 in Economics

By Doug Bandow

Doug Bandow

War between the United States and Iran looms, even though the
latter poses no threat to the former. President Donald Trump says
he doesn’t want war but for the Iranians to call him. Perhaps his
entire campaign is an elaborate effort to scare Tehran to the
negotiating table. Or perhaps he hopes to win political support by
fomenting a foreign crisis. How ironic that would be: in 2011,
Trump warned via tweet that “Barack Obama will attack Iran in the
not too distant future because it will help him win the

However, the president already ran against the Islamic Republic,
in 2016. Moreover, his words have been incendiary, threatening “the
official end of Iran.” Although U.S. intelligence officials admit
that Tehran’s confrontational rhetoric is largely a response to
Washington’s aggression, the administration’s military moves are
sharply increasing tensions as well as the possibility of a costly
mistake or misjudgment.

The War Party is active again in the Imperial City. Before
joining the administration, National Security Advisor John Bolton
forthrightly called for an attack on the Islamic Republic.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also demanded regime change in Iran.
More recently, he admitted that sanctions were intended to induce
the Iranian people to “change the government.” While claiming not
to seek war, he threatened retaliation for any attack by Iranian
“proxy forces” and on “American interests.”

Tehran has long been a favorite target of influential
neoconservatives and ultra-hawks. The invasion of Iraq almost
immediately led to calls for a turn to Tehran. Several years ago,
Patrick Clawson of the Washington Institute of Near East Policy
suggested staging a false flag operation: if “the Iranians aren’t
going to compromise,” he said, “it would be best if somebody else
started the war.” Today, Senator Tom Cotton predicts an easy
American victory.

The Saudis also openly favor an American war against Iran.
(Defense Secretary Robert Gates once quipped that Riyadh would
fight Iran “to the last American.”) A newspaper owned by the royal
family last week called on Washington to “hit hard.” Israeli
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has worked tirelessly to inflate
the Iranian “threat” and told a TV interviewer that he’d convinced
Trump to abandon the nuclear deal.

Yet conflict with Iran would be a disaster, far worse than with
Iraq. Even the Council on Foreign Relations’ Max Boot, a vocal
neoconservative and uber-hawk, has warned against this. And
Americans would not be the only casualties. Jason Rezaian, The
Washington Post
reporter who spent more than a year in an
Iranian prison, observed: “those who will suffer most have little
say in the matter. It’s the Iranian people who have borne the brunt
of 40 years of enmity …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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China's U.S. Debt Portfolio Will Not Be Weaponized for the Trade War

May 22, 2019 in Economics

By Daniel J. Ikenson

Daniel J. Ikenson

The U.S.-China trade war has reignited debate over the question
of whether Chinese ownership of U.S. government debt is an asset
that Beijing will weaponize. In other words, is the possibility
that the Chinese could sell off large swaths of their $1.1 trillion
holdings of U.S. treasury securities, causing bond prices to fall
and interest rates to rise, something that should concern U.S.
policymakers? Although profligate spending and an accumulating
national debt may well be the toxins that eventually destroy the
U.S. economy, the fact that the Chinese own some of that debt
neither gives Beijing leverage over U.S. policy nor does it present
a threat to the U.S. economy.

The fact that the Chinese
own U.S. government debt neither gives Beijing leverage over U.S.
policy nor does it present a threat to the U.S. economy.

For starters, consider why the Chinese buy U.S. debt in the
first place. For two decades, the Chinese have been purchasing U.S.
treasuries not as a favor to the citizens of the United States, but
because it has been in China’s interest to do so. Nobody in
Washington forces or begs the Chinese to buy U.S. debt. All by
themselves, the Chinese (like investors at home and across the
globe) see the value proposition. It just so happens that U.S.
government-issued debt securities are considered the least risky
investments in the world. Investors know their assets are safe,
accessible, and guaranteed to be repaid virtually on demand.

That’s not to say Americans haven’t benefited handsomely from
China’s investment decisions. The inflow of Chinese (and other
foreign) capital to U.S. debt and equity markets has helped keep
interest rates well below historical averages, effectively serving
to subsidize U.S. consumption, which, in turn, has kept Chinese
factories—as well as factory workers, software engineers,
designers, accountants, and sales representative in other countries
(including the United States)—humming along for decades.

Another reason for China’s appetite for U.S. treasuries is that
purchasing dollar-denominated assets helps prop up the value of the
dollar, which is an outcome that has been favorable to Beijing from
an exporting perspective because U.S. demand for Chinese goods
tends to rise with the value of the dollar. Meanwhile, over the
years, a strong or strengthening dollar has helped preserve the
value of China’s existing portfolio of U.S. debt and other
dollar-denominated assets.

In summary, U.S. treasuries are attractive investments to the
Chinese because of their limited risk, relative liquidity, impact
on U.S. interest rates (i.e. demand for Chinese goods), and impact
on the value of the dollar (i.e., demand for Chinese goods; value
of Chinese-owned U.S. asset portfolios).

Second, even if China did want …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Trump on Tariffs: Consistent, and Consistently Wrong

May 22, 2019 in Economics

By Simon Lester

Simon Lester

Recently, a decades-old video of Donald Trump on
“Oprah” circulated, in which Trump offered up all the
same trade policy views he holds today: Our trading partners are
cheating us, bilateral trade deficits are hurting the U.S. economy,
U.S. negotiators have done a bad job with trade deals, and higher
tariffs would help the U.S. economy.

Politicians often get criticized for flip-flopping, as they
change their policy positions over time in an attempt to please
voters or interest groups. On tariffs, Donald Trump has not flipped
or flopped at all. As president, he is implementing the exact same
policies he has talked about for years. Unfortunately, they are bad
policies, based on a misreading of history and a misunderstanding
of economics.

Trump may be looking at U.S. tariff history in the following
way. In the 1800s, the United States had relatively high tariffs.
Also in the 1800s, the United States experienced strong economic
growth and industrialization. Therefore, tariffs always lead to a
good economy.

Many people —
inside and outside the administration — have explained to
Trump why he is wrong about tariffs and trade, but he does not want
to hear about it.

The reality is that economic cause and effect is much more
complicated. The telegraph also played a big role in the 1800s, but
bringing back the telegraph today would not be a boon to the
economy. In the 1800s, governments used tariffs as a primary source
of revenue. Administratively, it was easiest to collect taxes on
products as they entered a country, so for most countries tariffs
were a main source of government funding. However, over the years
governments found other alternatives, and tariffs as revenue became
less important.

Tariffs were also used to protect domestic industries. In this
way, they were the original “swamp” policy. The
Constitution gives Congress power of tariffs, and during this
period companies that wanted protection from foreign competition
would go to their member of Congress and ask them to push for
tariffs on the products of their competitors. An individual tariff
could cause harm to consumers in other districts, but all those
seeking protection would join forces: All the members looking for
protection would support each other’s tariff requests, so
that they could all deliver for the interest groups they

Of course, other groups were hurt by this: U.S. consumers, who
paid higher prices; and U.S. exporters, who were hit with
retaliatory tariffs imposed by our trading partners. But this kind
of “log-rolling” was able to generate the majority needed for
Congress to pass high tariffs.

This approach culminated in the infamous Smoot-Hawley tariffs
just after the start of the Great Depression. …read more

Source: OP-EDS