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Russia's Middle Eastern drive could dilute Europe's East-South divide

MiddleEasteye - Thu, 12/22/2016 - 12:43

Russia's return to the Middle East has made Europe take a more integrated view of relations with its neighbours

Michigan governor expects no charges over Flint crisis: newspaper

Reuters US Politics - Thu, 12/22/2016 - 12:21
(Reuters) - Michigan Governor Rick Snyder said he had "no reason to be concerned" he would be charged in connection with the Flint drinking water crisis that exposed city residents to high levels of lead, the Detroit Free Press reported on Thursday.

Former Kuwaiti MP sentences to 10 in prison for insulting Saudi Arabia

MiddleEasteye - Thu, 12/22/2016 - 11:33
Language Undefined

A former Kuwaiti lawmaker is now facing a total of more than 42 years in prison for making 'offensive' comments about Saudi Arabia and Bahrain

Biggest Nuclear Cheat / Bill Clinton Lost the Election?/ And More

Who What Why - Thu, 12/22/2016 - 11:08

PICKS are stories from many sources, selected by our editors or recommended by our readers because they are important, surprising, troubling, enlightening, inspiring, or amusing. They appear on our site and in our daily newsletter. Please send suggested articles, videos, podcasts, etc. to picks@whowhatwhy.org.

Oliver Stone and Kevin Costner Talk ‘JFK’ 25 Years Later (Russ)

The director and lead actor of the film reminisce and discuss new revelations about the late president

Executions Hit 25-Year Low and Support Is Falling (Trevin)

2016 death sentences were lowest since 1972, and general support for capital punishment is down, continuing a trend that began in the ’90s.

What the Assassination Portends for Erdogan, Turkey (Dan)

Speculation over how and why the killing of the Russian ambassador occurred has plagued Turkey since the event. A deeper question, however, is what does this say about security in post-coup Turkey?

Bill Clinton, Not James Comey, May Have Cost the Election (Jimmy)

The chorus has gone out that FBI director James Comey cost Hillary Clinton the election by his “interference”. But Michael Daly argues that it was Bill Clinton’s abrupt meeting with AG Loretta Lynch on her plane, during the ongoing email server investigation, that compelled Comey to address the public.

Interview: Whistleblower John Kiriakou on CIA Behaviour Post-Election (Jimmy)

John Kiriakou was a 15-year CIA veteran who spent nearly two years in federal prison for blowing the whistle on the CIA torture program. In this TruthDig interview, he discusses recent allegations of Russian hacking, US foreign election interference, Trump’s intelligence briefings, and more.

The post Biggest Nuclear Cheat / Bill Clinton Lost the Election?/ And More appeared first on WhoWhatWhy.

U.S. formally ends controversial registry program for visitors

Top Reuters News - Thu, 12/22/2016 - 11:01
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said on Thursday it is canceling an inactive registry program for visitors from countries where extremist groups are operating, a plan similar to a Muslim registry considered by President-elect Donald Trump.

SEC, DOJ fine Teva Pharmaceutical $519 million to settle foreign bribery charges

MarketWatch Market Pulse - Thu, 12/22/2016 - 10:55

The Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of Justice jointly fined Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Limited , the largest generic drug manufacturer in the world, $519 million on Thursday to settle parallel civil and criminal charges that it allegedly violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act when it paid bribes to foreign government officials in Russia, Ukraine, and Mexico between 2002 and 2012. Teva made more than $214 million in illicit profits, according to the SEC, by bribing officials to increase its market share, obtain regulatory approvals and gain favorable drug purchase and prescription decisions. Teva will enter into a deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice. The company must also retain an independent corporate monitor for at least three years.

Market Pulse Stories are Rapid-fire, short news bursts on stocks and markets as they move. Visit MarketWatch.com for more information on this news.

Turkey's war in Syria: 47 killed in Turkish strikes after Islamic State captures tanks

MiddleEasteye - Thu, 12/22/2016 - 10:51
Language Undefined

Around 14 Turkish troops were killed in an Islamic State attack on Wednesday

Obama's Permanent Atlantic Drilling Ban Excludes Most of the Southeast Coast

Truth-Out - Thu, 12/22/2016 - 10:21

This week President Obama made a long-anticipated announcement that he was imposing a permanent ban on offshore oil and gas drilling in parts of the Arctic and the Atlantic -- but the protected area in the Atlantic excludes much of the Southeast coast.

On Tuesday, Obama announced he was withdrawing 5,990 square miles in the north and mid-Atlantic from future drilling, protecting 31 ecologically sensitive undersea canyons that extend from the Heezen Canyon off the New England coast to the Norfolk Canyon about 70 miles off the coast of Virginia near the Maryland border. The move builds on Obama's creation of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument protecting over 4,900 square miles of marine ecosystems southeast of Cape Cod.

"The President's bold action recognizes the vulnerable marine environments in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans, their critical and irreplaceable ecological value, as well as the unique role that commercial fishing and subsistence use plays in the regions' economies and cultures," said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, whose department oversees offshore drilling.

However, Obama did not extend permanent protections to much of the Outer Continental Shelf off the Virginia coast, or to areas off the coasts of the other Southeastern states. An earlier administration proposal had considered offering drilling leases in an area extending from Virginia to Georgia for the 2017-2022 planning period. But after an outpouring of opposition from environmentalists, the fishing industry, tourism businesses, and coastal communities, the administration withdrew that proposal earlier this year.

Dustin Cranor, a spokesperson for Oceana, a national conservation group that was involved in organizing opposition to Atlantic drilling, acknowledged that much of the Southeastern coast was left out of the permanent protections. But he said efforts to block drilling there would continue.

"Coastal opposition remains committed to ensuring that offshore drilling activities never take place in the Atlantic Ocean, including off North Carolina's coast," he told Facing South.

The movement against Atlantic drilling will face tougher odds under the administration of Donald Trump, who's been a staunch advocate of expanding domestic fossil fuel production. Trump is also staffing his new administration with like-minded people, including his pick of Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson for secretary of state.

Obama declared the permanent drilling ban under Section 12(a) of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, which allows the president to "withdraw from disposition" any area of the Outer Continental Shelf that hasn't already been leased for oil or gas drilling. While the provision allows presidents to create protected areas, legal experts say it does not authorize them to reverse such protections, which would have to be done by Congress.

Snowden continues contacts with Russian intel services: report

Top Reuters News - Thu, 12/22/2016 - 10:18
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden "has had and continues to have contact" with Russian intelligence services, according to newly declassified portions of a House Intelligence Committee report released on Thursday.

Trump, Netanyahu urge Obama to veto U.N. resolution on settlements

Top Reuters News - Thu, 12/22/2016 - 10:17
JERUSALEM/UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.S. President-elect Donald Trump echoed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in urging the Obama administration on Thursday to veto a U.N. Security Council draft resolution that calls for an immediate halt to settlement building on occupied land Palestinians seek for a state.

Dystopian Donald: The Future According to Trump

Truth-Out - Thu, 12/22/2016 - 10:10

Can you doubt that we're in a dystopian age, even if we're still four weeks from Donald Trump entering the Oval Office? Never in our lifetimes have we experienced such vivid previews of what unfettered capitalism is likely to mean in an ever more unequal country, now that its version of 1% politics has elevated to the pinnacle of power a bizarre billionaire and his "basket of deplorables." I'm referring, of course, not to his followers but to his picks for the highest posts in the land. These include a series of generals ready to lead us into a new set of crusades and a crew of billionaires and multimillionaires prepared to make America theirs again.

It's already a stunningly depressing moment -- and it hasn't even begun. At the very least, it calls upon the rest of us to rise to the occasion. That means mustering a dystopian imagination that matches the era to come.

I have no doubt that you're as capable as I am of creating bleak scenarios for the future of this country (not to speak of the planet). But just to get the ball rolling on the eve of the holidays, let me offer you a couple of my own dystopian fantasies, focused on the potential actions of President Donald Trump.

There is already an enormous literature -- practically a library -- of writings on our unique president-elect's potential conflicts of interests. He does, after all, own, or lease his name to, various towers, elite golf courses, clubs, hotels, condos, residences, and who knows what else in at least 18 to 20 countries. That name of his, invariably in impressive gold lettering, soars to striking heights in foreign skies across the planet. These days, in fact, the Trump brand and its conflicts are hard to escape, from Bali, the Philippines, and Dubai to Scotland, India, and the very heart of Manhattan Island. There, in my own hometown, at a cost to local taxpayers like me of more than a million bucks a day, the police are protecting him big time, while the Secret Service and the military add their heft to the growing armed camp in mid-Manhattan. They are, of course, defending the Trump Tower -- the very one in which, in June 2015, to Neil Young's "Rockin' in the Free World," he rode that escalator directly into the presidential campaign, promising to build a "great wall," lock out all Mexican "rapists," and "make America great again."

That tower on busy Fifth Avenue is now fronted by dump trucks filled with sand ("to help protect the Republican presidential nominee from potentially explosive attacks") and, with the safety of the president and his family in mind, the Secret Service is reportedly considering renting out a couple of floors of the building at a cost to the American taxpayer of $3 million annually, which would, of course, go directly into the coffers of a Trump company. (Hey, no conflict of interest there and don't even mention the word "kleptocracy"!) All of this will undoubtedly ensure that New York's most Trump-worthy building, aka the White House North, will be kept reasonably safe from intruders, attackers, suicide bombers, and the like. But much of the imperial Trump brand around the world may not be quite so lucky. Elsewhere, guards will generally be private hires, not government employees, and the money available for any security plans will, as a result, be far more modest.

With rare exceptions, the attention of the media has focused on only one aspect of Donald Trump's conflict-of-interest issues (and they are rampant), not to speak of his urge to duck what he might do about them, or dodge and weave to avoid a promised news conference to discuss them and the role of his children in his presidency and his businesses. The emphasis has generally been on the kinds of problems that would arise from a businessman with a branded name coming to power and profiting from, or making decisions based on the money to be made off of, his presidency. Media reports have generally zeroed in, for instance, on how foreign leaders and others might affect national policy by essentially promising to enrich Trump or his children. They report on diplomats who feel obliged to stay at his new hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue just down the street from the White House; or foreign heads of state reaching out to him via his business partners in their lands; or Trump brand deals that are now going through in various countries thanks to his election victory.

The focus is almost invariably on how to cope with a president who, for at least the next four years, could stand to profit in mind-boggling ways from his various acts in office (or simply from the position he holds, even if he does nothing). And make no mistake, that issue might indeed edge Trump's presidency into the truly dodgy, not to say paradigm breaking, when it comes to the history of the White House. But don't call that dystopian.

What few people (the Secret Service aside) are thinking about is the ways in which conflicts of interest could consume the new president by threatening not to enrich, but impoverish him (and his children). Head down that path and believe me you're instantly in dystopian territory.

Here's a scenario for you:

It's April 1, 2017. Donald J. Trump has been in office for less than two and a half months when a nattily dressed "businessman" manages to enter Trump Towers Istanbul, which soars into the skyline of the Turkish capital with the name of the new American president impressively done up in gold letters atop one of its towers. Once in the lobby, that man, a messenger from the Islamic State who made it through the complex's private security screening with a suicide vest strapped to his body, blows himself up, killing a doorman, a security screener, and a number of residents, while wounding a dozen others.

Of course, I've never been to Trump Towers Istanbul, so I don't really know what security measures are in place there in the heart of that already explosive capital, but given the Trump projects scattered around the world, feel free to pick your own branded building, resort, or hotel. And that initial explosion would just be a start. Don't forget that it only cost Osama bin Laden a reported $400,000 to stage the 9/11 attacks and lure the Bush administration into a set of trillion-dollar failed wars that would help spread terror movements across the Greater Middle East and Africa. So don't for a second imagine that the leadership of ISIS (or similar groups) won't see the advantages of sending such messengers on the cheap to get under the oh-so-thin-skin of the new American president and embroil him in god knows what.

Imagine this as well: it's 2018. China and the US are at loggerheads across the Taiwan strait, pressures and emotions are rising again in northern Africa, where continuing American military assaults in Libya and Somalia have only increased the pre-Trumpian chaos, as well as in the heartlands of the Middle East where, despite massive American bombing campaigns, ISIS, once again a guerilla group without territory, is causing chaos. In addition, in Afghanistan, 17 years after America's second Afghan War began, the US-backed government in Kabul is tottering in the face of new Taliban, ISIS, and al-Qaeda offensives. Massive waves of immigrants from all these unsettled lands continue to head for Europe, and everywhere anti-Americanism is on the rise, not in a generalized sense, but focused in fury on the American president and his much-beloved brand.

Imagine as well for a moment growing demonstrations, protests, and the like, all aimed at various towers, clubs, resorts, and condominiums in the Trump stable. And consider just what a combination of threatened terror attacks and roiling demonstrations, as well as increasing anger over the Trump name across the Islamic world and elsewhere, might mean to the profitability of the president's brand. Now, think about the Trump towers in Pune, India, or the 75-story tower in Mumbai, or the "six-star" luxury resort in Bali, or the tower going up in Manila's Century City (each a high-end Trump-labeled project expected to come online in the near future and all, except Pune, at past sites of devastating terror bombings). What will their owners do if prospective buyers, fearing for their comfort, health, or even lives, begin to flee? What happens when the hotels can't keep their rooms filled, the condominiums lose their bidders, and the Trump brand suddenly begins to empty out?

There is, of course, no guarantee that such a thing will happen, but if you stop to consider the possibility, it's not hard to imagine. Next, take into account what you already know about Donald Trump, a man inordinately proud of his brand and hypersensitive beyond belief. Now, try to imagine -- and in Trumpian terms we're talking about a truly dystopian world here -- what American foreign policy might look like if, amid the fears of resort-goers, golfers, business types, and the like, that brand began to tank internationally, if raising those giant gold letters over any city immediately ensured either mind-boggling problems or staggering security costs (and, at a minimum, a life of TSA-style lines for consumers).

Don't for a second doubt that, under such circumstances, American foreign and military policy would end up being focused on saving the Trump brand, which, in turn, would be a nightmare to behold. Speaking of past controversies over presidential appointments -- okay, I know we weren't, but humor me here -- in 1953, President Dwight Eisenhower had his own Rex Tillerson-style moment and picked Charles Wilson, the CEO of industrial giant General Motors, to be his secretary of defense. At his confirmation hearings, Wilson infamously offered this formula for success, "I thought what was good for the country was good for General Motors and vice versa." If the State Department and the military were indeed tasked with digging out the Trump brand, you would need to turn that comment upside down and inside out: "I thought what was bad for the Trump brand was bad for America, and vice versa."

Indeed, if the Trump brand starts to go belly up, knowing what we do about the president-elect, we would be almost certain to see a foreign policy increasingly devoted to saving his brand and under those circumstances -- in the words of former State Department official Peter Van Buren -- what could possibly go wrong?

Now, that is dystopian territory.


Let me add another dystopian fantasy to what obviously could be an endless string of them. For a moment, let's think about the topic of presidential assassinations. By that I don't mean assassinated presidents like Lincoln, McKinley, or Kennedy. What I have in mind is the modern presidential urge to assassinate others.

Since at least Dwight Eisenhower, American presidents have been in the camp of the assassins. With Eisenhower, it was the CIA's plot against Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba; with John Kennedy (and his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy), it was Cuba's Fidel Castro; with Richard Nixon (and his Secretary of State Henry Kissinger), it was the killing of Chilean President Salvador Allende in a US-backed military coup, which was also the first 9/11 attack (September 11, 1973).

In 1976, in the wake of Watergate, President Gerald Ford would outlaw political assassination by executive order, a ban reaffirmed by subsequent presidents (although Ronald Reagan did direct US Air Force planes to bomb Libyan autocrat Muammar Gaddafi's home). As this new century began, however, the sexiest high-tech killer around, the appropriately named Predator drone, would be armed with Hellfire missiles and sent into action in the war on terror, creating the possibility of presidential assassinations on a scale never before imagined. Its subsequent missions threatened to create a Terminator version of our world.

At the behest of two presidents, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, a fleet of such robotic assassins would enter historically unique terrain as global hunter-killers outside official American war zones. They and their successors, Reaper drones (as in the Grim Reaper), would be dispatched on mass assassination sprees that have yet to end and that were largely organized in the White House itself based on a regularly updated, presidentially approved "kill list." 

In this way, the president, his aides, and his advisers became judge, jury, and executioner for "terror suspects" (though often enough any man, woman, or child who happened to be in the vicinity) halfway around the world. As I wrote back in 2012, in the process, the commander-in-chief became a permanent assassin-in-chief. Now, presidents were tasked with overseeing the elimination of hundreds of people in other lands with a sense of "legality" granted them in secret memos by the lawyers of their own Justice Department. Talk about dystopian! George Orwell would have been awed.

So when it comes to assassinations, we were already on bad terrain before Donald Trump ever thought about running for president. But give the man his due. Little noticed by anyone, he may already be developing the potential for a new style of presidential assassination -- not in distant lands but right here at home. Start with his remarkable tweeting skills and the staggering 17.2 million followers of whatever he tweets, including numerous members of what's politely referred to as the alt-right. And believe me, that's one hell of an audience to stir up, something The Donald has shown that he can do with alacrity.

In a sense, you could already think of him as a kind of Twitter hit man. Certainly, his power to lash out in 140 characters is no small thing. Recently, for instance, he suddenly tweeted a criticism of arms-maker Lockheed-Martin for producing the most expensive weapons system in history, the F-35 fighter jet. ("The F-35 program and cost is out of control. Billions of dollars can and will be saved on military [and other] purchases after January 20th.") The company's stock value promptly took a $4 billion hit -- which, I must admit, I found amusing, not dystopian.

He also seems to have been irritated by a Chicago Tribune column that focused on Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg's criticisms of his comments on international trade and China, where that company does significant business. Muilenburg suggested, mildly enough, that he "back off from the 2016 anti-trade rhetoric and perceived threats to punish other countries with higher tariffs or fees." In response, The Donald promptly took out after the company, calling for the cancellation of a Boeing contract for a new high-tech version of Air Force One, the president's plane. ("Boeing is building a brand new 747 Air Force One for future presidents, but costs are out of control, more than $4 billion. Cancel order!") That company's stock similarly took a hit.

But giant military-industrial corporations can, of course, defend themselves. So no pity there. When it comes to regular citizens, however, it's another matter. Take Chuck Jones, president of an Indiana United Steelworkers local. He disputed Trump on how many jobs the president-elect had recently saved at Carrier Corporation. Significantly less, he insisted (quite accurately), than Trump claimed. That clearly bruised the president-elect's giant but remarkably fragile ego. Before he knew what hit him, Jones found himself the object of a typical Trumpian twitter barrage. ("Chuck Jones, who is President of United Steelworkers 1999, has done a terrible job representing workers. No wonder companies flee country!") The next thing he knew, abusive and threatening calls were pouring in -- things like "we're coming for you" or, as Jones explained it, "Nothing that says they're gonna kill me, but, you know, you better keep your eye on your kids. We know what car you drive. Things along those lines."

A year ago, an 18-year-old college student had a similar experience after getting up at a campaign event and telling Trump that he was no "friend to women." The candidate promptly went on the Twitter attack, labelling her "arrogant," and the next thing she knew, as The Washington Post described it, "her phone began ringing with callers leaving threatening messages that were often sexual in nature. Her Facebook and email inboxes filled with similar messages. As her addresses circulated on social media and her photo flashed on the news, she fled home to hide."

On this basis, it's not hard to make a prediction. One of these days in Trump's presidency, he will strike out by tweet at a private citizen ("Sad!") who got under his skin. In response, some unhinged member of what might be thought of as his future alt-drone force will pick up a gun (of which so many more will be so much closer at hand in the NRA-ascendant age of Trump). Then, in the fashion of the fellow who decided to "self-investigate" the pizza shop in Washington that -- thank you, "fake news" -- was supposed to be the center of a Hillary Clinton child-sex-slave ring, he will go self-investigate in person and armed. In "Pizzagate," the fellow, now under arrest, fired his assault rifle harmlessly in that restaurant, whose owner had already received more than his share of abusive phone messages and death threats. It's easy enough to imagine, however, quite another result of such an event. In that case, Donald Trump will have given assassination by drone a new meaning. And should that happen, what will be the consequences of the first presidential Twitter "hit" job in our history?

Don't forget, of course, that, thanks to George W. Bush and Barack Obama, Trump will also have all those CIA drones to use as he wishes to knock off whomever he chooses in distant lands. But as a potential Twitter assassin, rousing his alt-drones to the attack, he would achieve quite another kind of American first.

A Message for Planet Earth

And that's just to edge my way into the future universe of Donald Trump, which is, of course, about to become all our universes. I suspect that his will turn out to be the screw-you presidency of all time. And believe me, that will prove to be dystopian beyond compare -- or do I mean beyond despair?

Take the most dystopian issue of all: climate change. In recent weeks, Trump has mumbled sweet nothings to the assembled New York Times staff, swearing that he's keeping an "open mind" when it comes to the link between humanity and a warming planet. He's also sweet-talked Al Gore right in the heart of Trump Tower. ("I had a lengthy and very productive session with the president-elect," said Gore afterward. "It was a sincere search for areas of common ground... I found it an extremely interesting conversation, and to be continued.") Whatever else Donald Trump may be, he is, first and foremost, a salesman, which means he knows how to sell anything and charm just about anyone, when needed, and reality be damned.

If, however, you want to gauge his actual feelings on the subject, those outer borough sentiments of his youthful years when he evidently grew up feeling one-down to New York's elite, then pay no attention to what he's saying and take a look at what he's doing. On climate change, it's screw-you devastating all the way and visible payback to the many greens, liberals, and those simply worried about the fate of the Earth for their grandchildren who didn't vote for or support him.

The Guardian recently did a rundown on his choices for both his transition team and key posts in his administration having anything to do with energy or the warming of the planet. It found climate deniers and so-called skeptics everywhere. In fact, "at least nine senior members" of his transition team, reported Oliver Milman of that paper, "deny basic scientific understanding that the planet is warming due to the burning of carbon and other human activity."

Combine this with the president-elect's urge to release American fossil fuels in a way no one previously has and you have a message that couldn't be clearer or more devastating for the future of a livable planet. Think of it as so dystopian, so potentially post-apocalyptic, that it makes 1984 look like a nursery tale.

The message couldn't be clearer. If I had to put it in just five words, they would be:

Trump to Earth: Drop Dead.

And oh yes, happy holidays!

The Invisible Men not Seen by Government or Media

LibertarianInstitute - Thu, 12/22/2016 - 10:08

Note:  This commentary was first published on Nov. 9, 2013, long before the so-called invisible white working man voted Donald Trump into office. I find upon a later reading that a lot of my writing is crap, but I think this piece is an exception and hope you agree.


Tens of thousands of workers in one of the few remaining free-market industries in America can be seen crisscrossing my hometown of metro Phoenix each day in trucks of every description.  I can see them, but they are invisible to the media, politicians, regulators, and the Chamber of Commerce, even though they comprise one of the largest industries in town.

They are invisible to the establishment because they operate in a free market.  Unlike just about every other American worker, they are not part of an organized special-interest group, guild, union, trade association, or large corporation.  They don’t have the political power to obtain work, subsidies, contracts, protective tariffs, rents, and other competitive advantages from the government.  Nor do they need political power to defend themselves from government regulators and apparatchiks, because their industry is unregulated and unlicensed.

The government and its grant-seeking lackeys in academia don’t even know how many invisible men work in the industry, what their average income is, what their accident and injury rates are, or any of the other data that are maintained and scrutinized on workers in other industries.  Yet the prices they charge can be easily discovered, because the prices are open, highly competitive, and not distorted by the government—unlike prices in industries long controlled by the government, such as medical care and education.

The invisible men don’t employ lobbyists, lawyers, public relations people, high-paid specialists in regulations, or low-paid handlers of government paperwork.  Nor do they issue press releases that the lazy media regurgitate.  And when they die on the job, there is no headline coverage, no wailing by the public, no exaggerated claims that they were heroes, no funds established to help their families, no statues erected in the public square, and no parades of police cars and fire trucks as they are driven to the cemetery.

Paradoxically, such fawning is reserved for those with government sinecure, privileges, and generous death benefits and pensions, not for those who have fended for themselves.  It’s a strange world in which those who are protected the most from the vagaries of the free market get the most sympathy from the public and the press—a press that prides itself and lies to itself that the primary mission of the press is to look out for the little guy.

The most politically powerful groups in just about every state are teacher unions, other public-sector unions, realtors, insurance brokers, municipal bond bankers, car dealers, lawyers, and sports barons.  By contrast, the invisible men have no political power.

Unlike unionized public school teachers, who use the ploy of “It’s for the children” to extract more money from gullible taxpayers, the invisible men only get more money by working harder and providing better service.  Unlike realtors, they are not allowed to restrict competition through licensing or to put advertising signs (aka for-sale signs) on street corners and front yards. Unlike car dealers, they do not use government regulations to restrict how their products can be sold so their profits can be higher.  Unlike sports barons, they don’t use taxpayer-funded facilities to line their own pockets.  Unlike the drivers of public buses and light-rail trains, they can’t threaten to strike and leave their customers stranded in order to get richer pay and pensions.

The invisible men also have no political power at the national level.  Unlike farmers, they get no subsidies.  Unlike milk and sugar producers, they get no protective quotas and tariffs.  Unlike auto companies and banks, they get no bailouts.  Unlike solar companies, they get no political patronage.  Unlike banks, they do not have a valuable franchise from the government and Federal Reserve that virtually guarantees high profits. And unlike loafers, they get no unemployment pay, no handouts, no unwarranted disability payments, and no other incentives for not working.

Who are the invisible men?  They are landscapers.  They are the hard-working men (virtually all of them are men) who do gardening, lawn cutting, tree trimming, and irrigation repairs.  This is a big industry in a desert metropolis like Phoenix, where vegetation grows year-round and needs to be trimmed year-round, where non-native shrubs and trees have to be irrigated and fertilized, where winter lawns have to be seeded, and where summer lawns have to be de-thatched, aerated, and sprayed with herbicides.  The work is difficult, hot, dirty and dangerous.

One of the most dangerous and exhausting jobs of the invisible men is climbing 40-foot palm trees with saws hanging from belts to cut off dead fronds.  The typical price is $30 per tree for about an hour’s work.  After hauling the fronds to dumps and paying dump fees, the invisible men keep what is left to support their families.  The most ambitious of them work seven days a week.  One has to wonder what they think when they hear public-sector workers sniveling about how they are underpaid and overworked.

Most of the invisible men are of Mexican descent, and most of them are living the American dream, the dream of working hard so that the next generation can have it better than they have.  It’s as fascinating to watch them slowly climb the socioeconomic ladder as it is to watch them climb a palm tree.  They start out with a beater of a pick-up truck and a few manually-operated tools.  A year or so later, they add a trailer and power tools.  Still later, they buy a new truck and chrome wheels.  Along the way they increase their value by learning about horticulture and by obtaining the skills to install and repair irrigation timers, valves, and pipes.  Those who are the most ambitious, personable, articulate, and presentable become business owners, who hire and train other invisible men, invest in additional trucks and equipment, and expand their business beyond residences to large commercial properties.

Yes, many of them are in the USA illegally.  Yes, many of them put a drain on schools, social services, and the justice system.  Yes, they come from a culture that doesn’t put a high value on formal education.  And yes, they tend to depress wages for native-born Americans.

Of course this in nothing new in America.  After all, the first immigrants were white Europeans who crossed the Atlantic, took the land of Native Americans, and granted themselves de facto amnesty.  Their descendants would later import Africans into slavery to toil at zero wages.  Still later, Chinese workers were imported to build railroads at low pay, to the chagrin of Irish railroad workers.  At about the same time, slave owners instigated a war with Mexico in order to extend slavery (cheap labor) into Texas and, they hoped, further west into Mexican territory. And in the mid-19th century and early 20th century, industrialists imported millions of poorly educated Irish and Southern Europeans as cheap labor for factories.

Now Mexicans are doing something similar to the Gringos, and, understandably, white men don’t like it.

Strangely, black Americans are noticeably missing from the landscaping industry, including in states with a large unemployed black population.  If Mexicans can make a harrowing trip across the border to find work in a country where they don’t even speak the language, why can’t native-born blacks travel a few miles to do the same?  Is this due to the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow, or is it due to the harmful effects of welfare?

This is such a politically-loaded question that if it were ever run through the machinery of political correctness and racial sensitivities in think tanks and universities, the question would no longer be recognizable and the answer could not be trusted.

I hope that this commentary does not result in the invisible men becoming visible.  If that were to happen, they would be extorted by politicians and harassed by bureaucrats and regulators until they organized to defend themselves.  Eventually, they would use their political power to obtain government-granted privileges.  At that point, like so many other Americans and American industries, they would no longer operate in a free market.  Then, when landscaping prices inevitably increase while work quality declines, the media, do-gooders, and other illiterates in economics will claim that the fault lies with the free market and demand a socialistic solution.  Eventually, there would be Obama Lawn Care for all.

The post The Invisible Men not Seen by Government or Media appeared first on The Libertarian Institute.

The Invisible Men not Seen by Government or Media was first posted on December 22, 2016 at 9:08 am.

BRIEF-Rockwell Automation CEO Blake Moret's FY 2016 total compensation was $3.86 mln

Reuters Us Markets - Thu, 12/22/2016 - 10:07
* CEO Blake Moret's FY 2016 total compensation $3.86 million versus $2.96 million in FY 2015 - sec filing

U.S. capital goods orders rise solidly; GDP revised up

Top Reuters News - Thu, 12/22/2016 - 10:05
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - New orders for U.S.-made capital goods rose more than expected in November amid strong demand for machinery and primary metals, suggesting some of the oil-related drag on manufacturing was starting to fade.

U.N. envoy says Idlib could become the next Aleppo

Top Reuters News - Thu, 12/22/2016 - 10:03
GENEVA/AMMAN (Reuters) - A senior United Nations official warned on Thursday that thousands of people evacuated from rebel-held areas of Aleppo after a crushing government offensive could suffer the same fate in their new place of refuge outside the city.

Will Trump Still End the Johnson Amendment?

Truth-Out - Thu, 12/22/2016 - 10:03

President-elect Donald Trump is just weeks from being sworn into office, and many pundits argue that it was a final push by the Evangelical Right that gave him the boost in the election that he needed to get to this moment.

He made big promises to the religious right in exchange for their support: promises to choose judges that would overturn Roe v. Wade, agreements to protect their "religious liberty" by championing expanded conscience objections to LGBT discrimination accusations, an attempt to funnel more federal education dollar to vouchers that can be used for religious schools.

A peek at his future administration shows he plans to follow through on all of these promises, offering a number of positions to well-known Evangelical politicians dedicated to these issues. But will he still agree to repeal the Johnson Amendment? That's still up in the air.

The Johnson Amendment is the 1954 law that forbids churches from specifically speaking in favor of or against a candidate from the pulpit, ruling that as long as religious houses are exempt from paying taxes, they must refrain from getting involved in partisan political campaigns.

In practice it hasn't had a massive amount of effect in restraining churches, who instead comment on and campaign for or against ballot initiatives or tell their parishioners to "vote for life" in upcoming races, or even allow candidates to come speak about their faith in a tactic endorsement.

Still, that minimal restriction has rankled reverends and priests, and many are eager to see it go. And in exchange for their support, Trump vowed on the trail to make that happen.

"The Johnson Amendment has blocked our pastors and ministers and others from speaking their minds from their own pulpits," Trump told the 2016 Values Voters summit as he stumped for their support. "If they want to talk about Christianity, if they want to preach, if they want to talk about politics, they are unable to do so. If they want to do it, they take a tremendous risk, that they lose their tax-exempt status. All religious leaders should be able to freely express their thoughts and feelings on religious matters. And I will repeal the Johnson Amendment if I am elected your president. I promise. So important. Thank you. So important."

After the election -- but before his nomination to be the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Republican Ben Carson reportedly told participants of a "Salt and Light Lecture" conference call that, "'If we get the Johnson Amendment rescinded, pastors can have fiery sermons and talk about what's right and what's wrong (again),'" according to Charisma News, adding that, "'If we rescind the Johnson Amendment and people are not afraid of losing their tax (status), then we will see Donald Trump be vigorous,' and Judeo-Christian values return to the American forefront."

Of course for Trump, this isn't as much about unshackling the religious right from any alleged curtailing of their free speech. To him, it is more a business transaction, a repayment for their work on his campaign. And maybe even a little bit of a payoff to God to make up for any bad things he may have done in the past.

According to Politico:

[D]uring a call with his evangelical advisory council, he drew rebukes from members of the board when he got transactional -- about going to heaven.

"He said, 'the only way I'm going to get to heaven is by repealing the Johnson amendment,'" which restricts tax-exempt churches from engaging in political activity, Land recalled. "Immediately, one of our people on the call said, 'No, sir, the only way you're going to get to heaven is by trusting Jesus Christ as your personal savior.' Mr. Trump said, 'Thank you for reminding me.'"

Will Trump follow through with his promise to the religious right? If so, he may be in for quite the backlash from the rest of the country -- including church attendees themselves.

"Polls show that most Americans dislike pulpit politicking; they don't want their pastors telling them how to vote," writes Americans United for the Separating of Church and State. "A September report by LifeWay Research showed that 79 percent of Americans believe it's inappropriate for a cleric to endorse a candidate during a religious service, while 75 percent are against their houses of worship endorsing a candidate under any circumstances. Americans look to houses of worship as places to rise above the partisan divide. LifeWay Research's Executive Director Scott McConnell noted, 'Americans already argue about politics enough outside the church. They don't want pastors bringing those arguments into worship.'"

Leading indicators flat in November

MarketWatch Market Pulse - Thu, 12/22/2016 - 10:02

WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) -- The Conference Board's leading economic indicators were flat in November. "The underlying trends in the LEI suggest that the economy will continue expanding into the first half of 2017, but it's unlikely to considerably accelerate," said Ataman Ozyildirim, director of business cycles and growth research at The Conference Board. Industrial and construction indicators weighed on the index, though the weakness was offset by improvements in the interest rate spread, initial unemployment insurance claims, and stock prices.

Market Pulse Stories are Rapid-fire, short news bursts on stocks and markets as they move. Visit MarketWatch.com for more information on this news.

EMERGING MARKETS-Brazil rate futures flat after central bank inflation report

Reuters Us Markets - Thu, 12/22/2016 - 10:01
SAO PAULO, Dec 22 (Reuters) - Yields paid on Brazilian interest rate future contracts were flat on Thursday after the central bank signaled it would likely accelerate the pace of rate cuts next...

US STOCKS-Wall St weighed down by Apple

Reuters Us Markets - Thu, 12/22/2016 - 10:00
* Indexes down: Dow 0.13 pct, S&P 0.22 pct, Nasdaq 0.26 pct (Updates to open)

Teva to pay US government $519 mln over foreign bribery charges

Reuters Us Markets - Thu, 12/22/2016 - 09:57
Dec 22 (Reuters) - Israel's Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd , said on Thursday it had agreed to pay $519 million to resolve charges related to the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.