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Who Needs Judges? Progressives Discover the Virtues of Democracy!

December 31, 2019 in Economics

By Doug Bandow

Doug Bandow

Washington is convulsed by politics these days. The presidential election is less than a year away. The House is moving forward on impeaching President Donald Trump. And there is widespread preparation for a possible Supreme Court confirmation battle.

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Of course, the last is largely hidden from public view, since there is no vacancy … yet. It is morbid but inevitable business: across the spectrum, officials and activists alike are considering the likely progression of pancreatic cancer in Associate Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. No one wishes her ill, but an election-year nomination would trigger an extraordinarily bitter, high-stakes battle. So everyone wants to be ready.

Long committed to result-oriented jurisprudence, the Left fears that it faces payback from conservative jurists after years of unconstitutional judicial activism. AlterNet’s Jake Johnson warned that “Progressive advocacy groups and legal experts have warned that these right-wing judges will have the power to shape U.S. law on climate, reproductive rights, and other major areas for decades to come.” Just like the lefties did who long dominated the federal bench. But they now fear the end is nigh!

Progressive activists are pushing for “reform,” which means filling the courts with robed legislators. Emma Janger of the People’s Parity Project argued, “Without a meaningful plan for court reform any presidential attempts to make needed change will simply be blocked by the courts.” Listen to progressive activists and you hear an echo of Teddy Roosevelt’s famous declaration at the 1912 Republican Party convention that “We stand at Armageddon, and we battle for the Lord.” Yet it is the Left that long ago politicized the judiciary, hijacking the legal process and turning court appointments into brutal political battles.

As originally conceived, the judicial role was important. Alexander Hamilton explained in Federalist No. 78,

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The independence of the judges is equally requisite to guard the Constitution and the rights of individuals from the effect of those ill humors, which the arts of designing men, or the influence of particular conjunctures [circumstances], sometimes disseminate among the people themselves, and which, though they speedily give place to better information and more deliberate reflection, have a tendency, in the meantime, to occasion dangerous innovations in the government, and serious …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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The Rise and Fall of Nicolae Ceausescu, “the Romanian Fuehrer”

December 31, 2019 in Economics

By Doug Bandow

Doug Bandow

Traditionally, Christmas is a time of peaceful reflection and restful appreciation of the fast disappearing year. In 1989, there was much to contemplate.

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The most dramatic symbol of totalitarian tyranny, the Berlin Wall, fell dramatically. The Evil Empire, as Ronald Reagan memorably described the Soviet Union, was dissolving. The Soviet satellites were gone: Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, and Bulgaria all defenestrated their communist rulers. Even the Soviet republics were restless, headed out of the Russian-dominated union. Indeed, Lithuania was just a couple months away from declaring independence.

Even the ruthless totalitarian state created by Romania’s dictator and dictatress, Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu, was gone. And they were subjected to justice after 24 years in power. It was imperfect, but it was justice nonetheless.

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The Rise of Ceausescu

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Nicolae was a member of the communist youth movement. He was arrested and imprisoned multiple times. His 1936 mugshot at age 18 still haunts the internet. His country passed from traditional monarchy to troubled democracy to royal dictatorship to military control to occupied territory. In World War I, Bucharest had gained territory seized from the disintegrating Austro-Hungarian and Russian Empires. As World War II approached, Romania lost those lands. First allied with the Nazis, Bucharest switched sides in 1944 but was still dominated by the conquering Soviet Union, which established a communist government.

Ceausescu rose within the system, becoming party general secretary in 1965 and president in 1967. He trended liberal at first, easing censorship and denouncing the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia. But by 1971, he had shifted back, mimicking the Chinese communists by issuing “July Theses” and imposing “Socialist Humanism,” the ultimate oxymoron.

He vied with Albania’s Enver Hoxha to establish the most totalitarian European communist state, while maintaining independence from Moscow. In fact, Ceausescu became the West’s favorite communist, despite the devastation that he wreaked on his own people.

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Thirty years have passed, but it is important never to forget the evil that men and women can commit.

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His …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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India’s Dark Path To Hindu Nationalism

December 31, 2019 in Economics

By Doug Bandow

Doug Bandow

India is being convulsed by mass demonstrations against a new citizenship law that places special disabilities on Muslims. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has responded with force, leading to more deaths in a couple weeks than during months of protests in Hong Kong.

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Some Western policymakers once saw India as the great democratic hope for confronting communist China. Indian economic growth was poised to spurt past that of the PRC. When Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won a majority in the 2014 election, he was compared to America’s Ronald Reagan, expected to free India’s hobbled economy and unleash his people’s productivity. Charismatic and determined, Modi seemed destined to turn his nation into a weltmacht whose interests had to be respected.

However, he proved to be more pro-business than pro-market, favoring stronger state control over the economy to support his political objectives. First-term reforms were slow and tentative. He sought to squeeze cash out of the economy, enhancing the government’s power while starving small businesses of liquidity. The result was slower growth—last quarter saw the slowest expansion in six years. Thus, when the BJP sought reelection this year, it talked less about its disappointing economic record than about religious nationalism, especially the continuing conflict with Pakistan over majority-Muslim but India-administered Jammu and Kashmir.

The emphasis on Hindu nationalism should have surprised no one. Modi’s career saw him rise through the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or RSS, a paramilitary Hindu nationalist organization that promotes Hindutva, or Hindu supremacy. In 2002, as head of Gujarat State, he presided over—and, some charged, encouraged—riots that led to the deaths of hundreds and even thousands of Muslims. He described his reaction to those killings as similar to witnessing the death of a puppy.

Although Hindu violence and persecution has most often been directed at Muslims, Christians, who make up a much smaller portion of the population, also are frequent targets. Widespread rioting in Orissa (or Odisha) State in August 2008 left scores dead, thousands injured, tens of thousands displaced, hundreds of churches destroyed, and thousands of homes wrecked. Christians, who often minister to Dalits (formerly called “untouchables”), still badly mistreated by traditional Indian Hindu culture, are routinely targeted by anti-conversion laws. And mobs, often at the behest of “cow protection” activists, have increasingly targeted Christians who deal in cattle. Sharad Sharma, …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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To Reduce Vaping Illness, Legalize Marijuana

December 31, 2019 in Economics

By Jeffrey Miron, J.J. Rich

Jeffrey Miron and J.J. Rich

States that permit recreational marijuana sales tend to have lower rates of vaping-related hospitalizations, according to data published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC has linked vitamin E acetate, an adulterant typically reserved to the black market, to 48 of the 51 hospitalized patients it has examined. Governments have often responded to these contaminations by enacting bans on e-cigarettes and other vaping products, but the CDC data suggest they should take the opposite approach.

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As with prohibitions throughout history, these bans are misguided. They would push consumers to black markets, where vaping products are more dangerous. In fact, despite the disproportionate popularity of nicotine vaporizers, of the 1,782 hospitalized patients who were asked what type of product they were using, 80 percent reported use of vaporizers containing THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. And due to marijuana’s illegality, this figure is likely an underestimate, as patients are likely underreporting THC use to avoid potential prosecution.

The CDC has also found THC in the majority of lung fluid samples it has tested in conjunction with contaminates like vitamin E acetate, coconut oil, and limonene, while acknowledging that THC wouldn’t necessarily remain in the lungs. But this strong relationship is not because THC is more dangerous to vaporize than nicotine, but because THC vapor fluids are typically purchased on the black market.

Vaping first emerged in U.S. markets in 2007 as a safer alternative to cigarettes—it provides nicotine without the harmful tar in burned tobacco. Critics cite the possible adverse effects of nicotine, especially for teens, while harm reduction groups point to potential health benefits of vaping over smoking traditional cigarettes and their carcinogenic tar.

Until recently, the consensus supported smokers switching to e-cigarettes. Last March, however, reports of lung illnesses and deaths from vaping began to emerge, with 2,506 hospitalizations and 54 deaths reported to the CDC so far this year. In September, the CDC initially advised consumers of all vaping products to stop use immediately. But at the end of October, CDC Director Robert Redfield warned that THC products, particularly those purchased from “informal sources,” seemed to be playing a major role in the lung injury outbreak. Redfield added that users …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Does Congress Hate America?

December 30, 2019 in Economics

By Doug Bandow

Doug Bandow

President Donald Trump promised to put America first in his foreign policy. He hasn’t had much success—U.S. forces are still fighting every “endless war” he promised to stop—but at least he theoretically has his priorities right.

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In contrast, Congress appears to hate America. Legislators of both parties consistently put other nations first.

There are occasional exceptions, such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey, when the president acts on behalf of foreign governments while Congress targets regimes fundamentally hostile to American interests and values. In most cases, however, it is the legislative branch that acts as if it believes its duty is to represent other countries.

For instance, Congress has consistently acted as the first-line defense for antiquated, Cold War alliances. The latest National Defense Authorization Act would bar the use of funds to withdraw from NATO and set a minimum U.S. garrison of 22,500 troops in South Korea.

The transatlantic alliance and the faux “mutual” defense treaties with Japan and Republic of Korea made sense after World War II and the Korean War. Friendly states had been ravaged by war and were threatened by aggressive authoritarian adversaries. America’s protection allowed them to revive and rebuild.

Today, however, Europe enjoys an equivalent economy and a larger population than the U.S. The continent has ten times the economic and three times the population strength of Russia. Italy’s economy alone matches Russia’s. Japan long possessed the world’s second-largest economy. The South has roughly 53 times the GDP and twice the population of North Korea.

Yet proposals that Washington shift rather than share defense burdens cause hawkish legislators to run screaming from their respective chambers. Rather than expect allies to learn self-reliance, members maintain the Pentagon as a welfare agency. Horrified that foreign defense dependents might fear being cut off, legislators rush overseas to “reassure” alliance partners. A few years back Congress even approved a “reassurance initiative” increasing America’s financial and troop commitment to the continent. No wonder most European states don’t take defense seriously: they would be fools to do so when Washington is determined to handle it for them.

So, too, the determination to preserve security guarantees and troops deployments in Asia. Seoul long has been able to defend itself. Why should Americans continue to foot the bill?

Tokyo has enjoyed saving money at Washington’s expense by pointing to the U.S.-imposed …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Media Elites to Assange: Fight for Your Own Hide

December 26, 2019 in Economics

By Ted Galen Carpenter

Ted Galen Carpenter

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange languishes in a British prison awaiting probable extradition to the United States to stand trial for violating the Espionage Act of 1917. Ironically, he is serving jail time for jumping bail on trumped-up sex crime charges in Sweden that even the Swedish government has now abandoned. Most Western, especially American, mainstream journalists, though, have expressed at most tepid opposition to the persecution of Assange, even as reports mount that his health has deteriorated to an alarming extent.

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This is shameful and jeopardizes the news media’s own long-term interests.

The worst thing about such conduct is that so many reporters have bought into the Justice Department’s insistence that Assange is not a “legitimate” journalist. John Demers, the DOJ’s assistant attorney general for national security, bluntly stated the government’s thesis earlier this year. “Julian Assange,” Demers said, “is no journalist,” since he engaged in “explicit solicitation of classified information.”

Other Trump administration officials have conducted a similar campaign to delegitimize Assange’s status as a journalist, thereby justifying his prosecution for espionage. “WikiLeaks walks like a hostile intelligence service and talks like a hostile intelligence service,” CIA Director Mike Pompeo said in April 2017 during his first public speech as head of the agency. “Assange and his ilk,” Pompeo charged, seek “personal self-aggrandizement through the destruction of Western values.”

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The Committee to Protect Journalists mimics the government and drops the jailed Wikileaks founder like a hot potato.

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Unfortunately, much of the U.S. press seems eager to exclude Assange from its ranks. A decision by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in early December underscored the mainstream media’s willingness to disown Assange. The CPJ refused to include him on its annual list of journalists jailed throughout the world. CPJ Deputy Executive Director Robert Mahoney’s attempt to explain the decision was an exercise in painful linguistic contortions. His December 11 blog post on the CPJ website used the unequivocal title, “For the sake of press freedom, Julian Assange must be defended.”

Much of the substance of the post, though, pointed to the opposite conclusion. “WikiLeaks’s practice of dumping huge loads of data on the …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Progressives, Beware of Julius Caesar's Fate

December 25, 2019 in Economics

By Steve H. Hanke, Joshua Blustein

Steve H. Hanke and Joshua Blustein

As we consider the manifestos of today’s progressives, we should ask: What can we learn from the reign of Julius Caesar? Julius Caesar established the Roman Empire and crowned himself dictator perpetuo — “dictator for life.” Just how did he become so powerful? Caesar promised the Romans everything under the sun — everything that they would not have to pay for.

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If this story rings a bell, it’s because Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and today’s progressives are doing the same thing. They are proposing Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, free college, student-debt cancellation and an ever-expanding laundry list of “free” programs. We should all ponder what Cato the Younger and Cicero pondered: How is all of this going to be paid for? As it turned out in Caesar’s case, he relied on an aggressive “squeeze-the-rich” strategy. Does this sound familiar?

Julius Caesar was Rome’s greatest popularis, a man of the people. Appian of Alexandria described Caesar as wanting to introduce “laws to better the condition of the poor,” with the goal of the gradual equalization of the classes through a broad program of redistribution. He engaged in a legislative frenzy, pushing many bills and laws. He penned a land reform bill with the goal of — as Plutarch explained — dividing land “among the poor and the needy.” He spent exorbitant sums on public works to help ease unemployment.

He remitted a whole year of rent for poor tenants and ordered — in effect — as Suetonius reckons, the cancellation of one-fourth of all outstanding debt. He instituted rent controls and gave handouts of 100 denarii to each pleb. Furthermore, public entertainment was frequent, and it was free. After crossing the Rubicon and enduring years of war, the people deserved, according to Caesar, to be rewarded for their resilience. For example, in 46 B.C., Caesar hosted enormous festivals, parades and gladiatorial games — often lasting weeks. Showered with all of these “freebies,” the public adored Caesar.

How did this “free-for-all” strategy work out? Led by Cato, opposition to Caesar’s policies was fierce in the Roman Senate from the very beginning. The Senate managed to kill Caesar’s land bill, with Cicero calling the proposed law “a plot against liberty,” warning that Caesar’s rhetoric would lead to an “an …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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A New Secularism Is Appearing in Islam

December 23, 2019 in Economics

By Mustafa Akyol

Mustafa Akyol

For decades, social scientists studying Islam discussed whether this second biggest religion of the world would go through the major transformation that the biggest one, Christianity, went through: secularization. Would Islam also lose its hegemony over public life, to become a mere one among various voices, not the dominant one, in Muslim societies?

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Many Westerners gave a negative answer, thinking Islam is just too rigid and absolutist to secularize. Many Muslims also gave a negative answer, but proudly so: Our true faith would not go down the erroneous path of the godless West.

The rise of Islamism, a highly politicized interpretation of Islam, since the 1970s only seemed to confirm the same view: that “Islam is resistant to secularization,” as Shadi Hamid, a prominent thinker on religion and politics, observed in his 2016 book, Islamic Exceptionalism.

Yet nothing in human history is set in stone. And there are now signs of a new secular wave breeding in the Muslim world.

Some of those signs are captured by Arab Barometer, a research network based at Princeton and the University of Michigan whose opinion surveys map a drift away from Islamism — and even Islam itself. The network’s pollsters recently found that in the last five years, in six pivotal Arab countries, “trust in Islamist parties” and “trust in religious leaders” have declined, as well as attendance in mosques.

Granted, the trend isn’t huge. Arabs who describe themselves as “not religious” were 8 percent of those polled in 2013, and have risen to only 13 percent in 2018. So some experts on the region, like Hisham A. Hellyer, an Egyptian-British scholar, advises caution.

Yet others, like the Lebanese-born popular Middle East commentator Karl Sharro, think there is really something going on. “It is true to a certain extent, and you can feel it in many places including the Gulf,” he said regarding the secular wave. “It’s the beginning of something that will take a long time.”

What is the cause? “It is mainly Islamist politics and some of the social and political manifestations of the Islamic awakening,” Mr. Sharro argued. These include, he said, “disappointment with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the shock of ISIS, fatigue with sectarian parties in Iraq and Lebanon, anger at the Islamist regime in …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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A Better Way to Bring Lending to the Underserved

December 23, 2019 in Economics

By Diego Zuluaga

Diego Zuluaga

Regulations aimed at increasing low-income Americans’ access to credit are getting a long-overdue revamp. Two of the three agencies responsible for enforcement of the Community Reinvestment Act issued a proposal earlier this month to change the way they assess how banks lend to underserved communities. The proposal is modest, but it includes some important changes to CRA regulations that will focus on lending to low-income households and recognize that banks are increasingly going branchless.

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The CRA, enacted in 1977, applies to banks but not credit unions or fintech lenders. It requires banking regulators — the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Federal Reserve Board — to ensure banks “meet the credit needs” of the communities where they operate, without sacrificing bank safety and soundness. Regulators give banks a rating based on their performance. If banks do not perform well, regulators may block their future expansion and merger.

When the CRA came into being, competition between banks was limited: most states prohibited branching and no states allowed out-of-state banks to enter their markets. The Fed also capped interest on deposits, giving banks cheap access to funds. These barriers to competition have gradually disappeared since the 1980s, ushering in rapid consolidation, a near-doubling of the number of bank offices, and a wider set of banking options for consumers.

At the same time, non-banks such as Quicken and Kabbage have taken up a growing share of the mortgage and small-business lending markets on which the CRA focuses. These non-banks often lend to low-income communities as much as or more than banks.

It has long been time to update CRA regulations to reflect these structural changes to the U.S. banking landscape. Yet the CRA has not undergone meaningful change for nearly 25 years. That’s why the OCC and FDIC reform proposal, without being ambitious, can better address the credit needs of vulnerable households.

For example, under the proposal, loans to high-income borrowers would no longer earn banks CRA points. By counting both loans to low-income borrowers and loans made in low-income areas toward their CRA evaluations, regulators presently reward banks for extending mortgages to prosperous professionals who do not need help from the government. My research shows that, from 2012 to 2017, between 65 and …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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How Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland Became a Part of the U.K.

December 20, 2019 in History

By Becky Little

It’s a story of conquest and political union.

The United Kingdom is made up of four constituent states: England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. But there have long been tensions between England and the other three U.K. states, in part because England has always been the dominant political power among them. England brought all the states together through conquest and political union. Here’s how that happened.

England Annexes Wales, Fails to Conquer Scotland

Robert the Bruce reviewing his troops before the Battle of Bannockburn, a decisive battle in the First War of Scottish Independence.

The Kingdom of England, formed in 927, gained the first U.K. state other than itself through invasion. In the late 13th century, King Edward I conquered the western Principality of Wales, claiming it as a territory of England. Next, he invaded the northern Kingdom of Scotland, kicking off the ).

There were several reasons for this union, says Christopher A. Whatley, a professor of Scottish history at the University of Dundee and author of The Scots and the Union: Then and Now. One was the fact that Scotland was in debt after trying to establish a colonial empire in the Americas the same way that England, Portugal and Spain had done.

“The Scots recognized that the Realpolitik, if you like, of the situation was that if they were to establish markets overseas, contacts overseas, they needed the support of a stronger maritime power, which was England,” he says.

Many Scots also saw the union as a way of preventing the Catholic Stuarts from reinstating an absolute monarchy, and securing Scotland’s future under a Protestant constitutional monarchy. For England, there was concern that if it didn’t unite with Scotland, the country might side against England with France in the War of the Spanish Succession. So in 1707, England agreed to give Scotland money to pay off its debts, and both countries’ parliaments passed the Acts of Union to become one nation.

Great Britain Forms Union with Ireland, then Southern Ireland Leaves


Map of the United Kingdom.

Remember how King James IV of Scotland was also King James I of England? Well, he was actually King James I of Ireland, too. Back in the 1540s, Ireland become a dependent kingdom of England, and the 1542 Crown of Ireland Act mandated that the king of England was now also the king of Ireland. The first person to hold …read more

Source: HISTORY