Somebody give Attorney General Jeff Sessions a copy of the Constitution.
And while you’re at it, get a copy to President Trump, too.
In fact, you might want to share a copy with the nation’s police officers, as well.
I have my doubts that any of these individuals—all of whom swore to uphold and defend the Constitution—have ever read any of the nation’s founding documents.
Had they actually read and understood the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights, there would be no militarized police, no mass surveillance, no police shootings of unarmed individuals, no SWAT team raids, no tasering of children, no asset forfeiture schemes or any of the other government-sanctioned abuses that get passed off as law and order these days.
Just take the policing crisis in this country, for instance.
Sessions—the chief lawyer for the government and the head of the Justice Department, which is entrusted with ensuring that the nation’s laws are faithfully carried out and holding government officials accountable to abiding by their oaths of office to “uphold and defend the Constitution”—doesn’t think we’ve got a policing problem in America.
In fact, Sessions thinks the police are doing a great job (apart from “the individual misdeeds of bad actors,” that is).
For that matter, so does Trump.
Really, really great.
Indeed, Sessions thinks the nation’s police forces are doing such a great job that they should be rewarded with more military toys (weapons, gear, equipment) and less oversight by the Justice Department.
Excuse me for a moment while I flush what remains of the Constitution down the toilet.
Clearly, Sessions has not been briefed on the fact that it has never been safer to be a cop in America. According to Newsweek, “It’s safer to be a cop than it is to be a fisher, logger, pilot, roofer, miner, trucker or taxi driver.”
You know what’s dangerous?
Being a citizen of the American police state.
Treating cops as deserving of greater protections than their fellow citizens.
And training cops to think and act like they’re soldiers on a battlefield.
As journalist Daniel Bier warns, “If you tell cops over and over that they’re in a war, they’re under siege, they’re under attack, and that citizens are the enemy—instead of the people they’re supposed to protect—you’re going to create an atmosphere of fear, tension, and hostility that can only end badly, as it has for so many people.”
Frankly, if there’s a war taking place in this country, it’s a war on the American people.
After all, we’re the ones being shot at and tasered and tracked and beaten and intimidated and threatened and invaded and probed.
And what is the government doing to fix this policing crisis that threatens the safety of every man, woman and child in this country?
Not a damn thing.
Incredibly, according to a study by the American Medical Association, police-inflicted injuries send more than 50,000 Americans to hospital emergency rooms every year.
Yet as Slate warns, if you even dare to criticize a police officer let alone challenge the myth of the hero cop—a myth “used to legitimize brutality as necessary, justify policies that favor the police, and punish anyone who dares to question police tactics or oppose the unions’ agendas”— you will be roundly denounced “as disloyal, un-American, and dangerous.”
As reporter David Feige concludes, “We should appreciate the value and sacrifice of those who choose to serve and protect. But that appreciation should not constitute a get-out-of-jail-free card for the vast army of 800,000 people granted general arrest powers and increasingly armed with automatic weapons and armored vehicles.”
The fact that police are choosing to fatally resolve encounters with their fellow citizens by using their guns speaks volumes about what is wrong with policing in America today, where police officers are being dressed in the trappings of war, drilled in the deadly art of combat, and trained to look upon “every individual they interact with as an armed threat and every situation as a deadly force encounter in the making.”
Mind you, the federal government is the one responsible for turning our police into extensions of the military, having previously distributed billions of dollars’ worth of military equipment to local police agencies, including high-powered weapons, assault vehicles, drones, tactical gear, body armor, weapon scopes, infrared imaging systems and night-vision goggles—equipment intended for use on the battlefield—not to mention federal grants for militarized training and SWAT teams.
Thus, despite what Attorney General Sessions wants you to believe, the daily shootings, beatings and roadside strip searches (in some cases, rape) of American citizens by police are not random occurrences, accidents or isolated, anecdotal examples of a few bad actors.
Rather, as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, this is what happens when you allow so-called “law and order” to matter more than justice: corruption flourishes, injustice reigns and tyranny takes hold.
Yet no matter what Trump and Session seem to believe, nowhere in the Constitution does it say that Americans must obey the government.
Despite the corruption of Congress and the complicity of the courts, nowhere does the Constitution require absolute subservience to the government’s dictates.
And despite what most police officers seem to believe, nowhere does the Constitution state that Americans must comply with a police order.
To suggest otherwise is authoritarianism.
This is also, as abolitionist Frederick Douglass noted, the definition of slavery: “I didn’t know I was a slave until I found out I couldn’t do the things I wanted.”
You want to know what it means to be a slave in the American police state?
It means being obedient, compliant and Sieg Heil!-ing every government agent armed with a weapon. If you believe otherwise, try standing up for your rights, being vocal about your freedoms, or just challenging a government dictate, and see how long you last before you’re staring down the barrel of a loaded government-issued gun.The Iron Jaws of the Police State was first posted on April 26, 2017 at 1:38 am.
The dire situation in Venezuela holds valuable lessons for the American people.
The first lesson involves Venezuela’s economic system, which is based on socialism and interventionism. It has produced nothing but chaos, crisis, misery, conflict, discord, and poverty. That’s what socialism does. As an economic system, it is a total failure.
Why is that a valuable lesson for Americans? Because the welfare state economic system that Americans adopted in the 1930s is a variation of socialism. That’s what such programs as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, subsidies, public schooling, the postal service, Amtrak, immigration controls, the Federal Reserve, and progressive income taxation are all about. They are based either on the socialist concept of taking money from those who own it and give to people who don’t own it or the socialist concept of central planning. That’s precisely why all these programs have produced chaos, crisis, misery, conflict, discord, and poverty. The only reason that things are not as bad here as they are in Venezuela is because Venezuelan public officials have embraced socialist principles to a greater degree than U.S. officials have.
Second, the ongoing economic chaos and crises in Venezuela have led to greater and greater government control over people’s economic activities, to such a point that the nation is now living under a democratically elected authoritarian police state. That’s because, as Ludwig von Mises pointed out, each economic intervention inevitably leads to more interventions to fix the crises caused by previous interventions. As the interventions add up, the result tends toward a complete government takeover of economic activity, which inevitably is enforced with brutal police-state measures.
We especially see this phenomenon here in the United States in three areas — healthcare, drug laws, and immigration controls.Venezuela’s Lessons for America was first posted on April 26, 2017 at 1:30 am.
“Two corrupt cops from the NYPD licensing division were plied with strippers, wined, dined and taken on lavish vacations to Mexico and the Bahamas,” reports the New York Daily News. Why? Because in return for nice things, they were allegedly willing to “expedite” the process of applying for and receiving gun permits.
Left unmentioned in the story is the other why. Why would someone be willing to blow that kind of money on gun permits?
Simple: Because New York City’s government requires such permits, then makes the process for getting them long (3-6 months), tedious (in addition to the application, up to nine pieces of paperwork and one or more “personal interviews”), expensive (a non-refundable application fee of $340, plus $87 for a fingerprint check) and, worst of all, discretionary. After rolling around in all that red tape, maybe the police bureaucrat “assisting” you doesn’t like the way you look that day and it turns out you just wasted a bunch of time and money.
It’s unsurprising that a secondary industry would spring up to make the application process easier (although obviously more expensive). It’s equally unsurprising that people with more money than time would farm out their permit needs to that industry. And it’s not surprising at all that that industry would, if necessary, resort to bribery to deliver the goods.
The US Constitution is crystal clear on the subject at hand: “[T]he right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
Legally conditioning exercise of that right on possession of a permit is most manifestly an infringement.
Additionally, leaving issuance of permits under the clearly unconstitutional scheme to the discretion of bureaucrats is a recipe for both tyranny and corruption.
Finally, as a practical matter, the permit scheme only wastes the time and money — and places at risk the lives — of those who choose to be “law-abiding.” Criminals who want to carry guns don’t apply for permits to do so. They’re criminals, remember? They don’t care if they’re breaking laws, nor do they want their identities tied to the guns they use in the commission of their crimes.
It might be going a bit far to describe cops who “expedite” gun permits in return for cash bribes or favors as heroes. But they’re not nearly as corrupt as the system they’re accused of subverting. New York City needs to abandon its evil and unconstitutional “gun control” schemes.
The post NYC Gun Permit Scandal: Graft is Inevitable in a Corrupt System appeared first on The Libertarian Institute.NYC Gun Permit Scandal: Graft is Inevitable in a Corrupt System was first posted on April 26, 2017 at 1:26 am.
Neil deGrasse Tyson has released a new video aimed at a what he sees as a growing anti-intellectualism problem in the United States. It was released at the same time as the March for Science and many Earth Day demonstrations. He reflects on what he thinks made America great and what’s stalling progress today. Science used to be respected, but today, there is a growing crowd of science-deniers who threaten our “informed democracy.”
The real anti-intellectual move, however, is conflating science, the scientific method, and truth to be one and the same. Fundamentally, science is any human attempt at discovering truth. What is true exists independently from what humans believe to be true or how humans arrive at truth claims. The scientific method, the process of using repeated experiments in an attempt to validate or falsify the conclusions of previous experiments, is but one way humans attempt to discover truth.
The purpose of the video was to call out the obstinate, ignorant voters who deny what many regard as certain truths handed to them by a body of elite, trustworthy scientists. Yet Tyson and the marchers border on an equally dangerous view: scientism.Scientism isn’t scientific
Scientism is the over-reliance on or over-application of the scientific method. Scientism has many forms, one of which is the use of empirical methods to do economic science, or the dismissal of claims not based on experiment results that question other claims that are based on experiment results. Mises dealt with scientism repeatedly, and closely guarded the boundary between economics and other sciences.
The scientific method is not universally appropriate. Consider an extreme case: if you measured a few right triangles and observed that the sides did not correspond to what the Pythagorean theorem says, would you toss the Pythagorean theorem, or would you reexamine your measurement method? Would you dismiss the logical geometric relation in favor of the scientific method?
The scientific method is particularly suited for the natural sciences. It’s hard to recommend a different method than experimentation and observation to answer questions about chemical reactions, astrophysics, quantum mechanics, and biology.
The scientific method is unnecessary or even ill-suited in other areas, however. Consider these questions, and what sort of approach is appropriate to answer them: What is 17 divided by 3? All else held equal, what are the effects of an increase in demand for blue jeans? Who should I invite to my party? What are the effects of expansionary monetary policy on employment, prices, incomes, production, consumption, and borrowing? How should I treat people?
Of course, Neil deGrasse Tyson wouldn’t recommend using the scientific method to answer all of these questions (hopefully), but the point is that empiricism and experimentation are limited in their appropriate applications. The scientific method does not have a monopoly on truth.Always open to falsification
The scientific method has another large limitation: conclusions derived solely by experimentation are always susceptible to falsification by just one aberrant observation. For this reason and others, even wide consensus among scientists should be met with at least some skepticism before the heavy hand of the government gets involved.
In 1992, the government, backed by the scientific community, told you that you needed 6-11 daily servings of bread, cereal, rice, and/or pasta to maintain good nutrition (and that saturated and animal fats are to be avoided). Many government policies and public school food offerings were based on this recommendation, including, suspiciously, agricultural subsidies and import tariffs. But then, years later, new information revealed this to be terrible advice, after a big jump in diabetes diagnoses and obesity rates.
Or, consider the government’s attempts at alleviating malaria. The National Malaria Eradication Program sprayed DDT in 4,650,000 homes and overhead by aircraft. Later, it was realized that DDT is carcinogenic and the spraying had a severe effect on the environment and wildlife, birds in particular. Birds of prey like the bald eagle are not considered endangered species anymore, and the ban on DDT is considered a major factor in their recovery. Even this conclusion is in question, including whether or not DDT is carcinogenic for humans, but the point is that the government itself backtracked on its own science-based solution to a problem. It banned a chemical it once sprayed indiscriminately.
Since the climate is such an important issue for Tyson, consider also the claims and predictions of various scientists around 1970. Earth Day had just started, and scientists were predicting rather apocalyptic scenarios, similar to what we are hearing today from climate scientists. To be clear, just because these predictions turned out to be “spectacularly wrong”, it doesn’t necessarily mean that modern claims are wrong. But it might explain a lot about the modern layperson’s skepticism, as opposed to sheer stupidity as Tyson suggests.
Sites like retractionwatch.com document the increasingly frequent cases in which academic journals must retract published research because the peer review process was a sham or when other fraudulent activity comes to light. A recent entry reports that Springer had to retract 107 papers on cancer due to fake peer reviews. Surprisingly, retraction doesn’t always mean fewer citations, as this top 10 list of most highly cited retracted papers demonstrates.Skepticism and science are good friends
These examples reveal another larger issue with Tyson’s argument. Tyson says, “every minute one is in denial, you are delaying the political solution.” The problem is that sometimes delays and denial are exactly what is needed. The scientific method requires time and attempts at falsification.
There is an inherent contradiction and arrogance in Tyson’s video. In one breath he is praising science and the way the scientific method works: “I get a result. A rival of mine double checks it, because they think I might be wrong.” But in the next breath, he declares to the doubter who also thinks some scientific conclusion might be wrong: “You don’t have that option! When you have an established, scientific emergent truth, it is true whether or not you believe in it.”
So the rival scientist is allowed to question the conclusions of other scientists because the conclusions might not be true, but nobody else is. We may not all be equipped with a laboratory, but we are all equipped with reason, experience, preferences, common sense (some more than others), gut instincts, some ideas about what is morally right and what is morally wrong, and our own areas of expertise. Surely these are not meaningless when it comes to judging the claims of a politically-connected technocratic elite and their policy recommendations.Political connections bias science
Like the food pyramid, political interference in the scientific process led to terrible consequences in scheduling various drugs. Marijuana, which is now widely accepted to be virtually harmless, is still scheduled with heroin and ecstasy, and higher than cocaine and methamphetamines. Yet researchers and agencies produced enough of Tyson’s “emergent truths” (which we are not to doubt) over the years to keep it that way. The effects of this prohibition have been devastating, including a prison system bursting at the seams, militarized local police, violent organized crime (legal and illegal), and more deaths than marijuana itself could ever cause on its own.
Indeed, when the government does or funds research, it seems to always arrive at the conclusions which involve the government getting larger in size and scope. To question these expansions is to question the science, and to question the science is to mark oneself a stubborn idiot.
Tyson is trying to convince these stubborn idiots to learn some science. Only then, he says, will they become the informed citizens this democracy needs. But what if the skeptics aren’t stupid? What if their skepticism is due to the perceived track record of the scientific community over the years (especially when the government is in the mix)?
Most of what Tyson perceives as anti-intellectualism may not be a problem with people’s ability to think, but an inability to trust a politically-connected scientific community that has led them astray in the past. Besides, if he really thinks too many Americans are too stupid, then he ought to look no further than the public education system that produced this alleged mass of illiterate science-deniers.Name-calling over debate
But I don’t think Tyson views the American electorate as 51% dumb and 49% smart. I think he knows that there are a few outliers with truly unscientific ideas and who will not be convinced of even the most obviously true scientific conclusions.
The implication in the video is that if you don’t go along with this one idea, you are just like those wacky outliers. Those who have a healthy skepticism of what the government and the intelligentsia claim are lumped together with the outliers as a rhetorical strategy.
In practice, however, even those who are on board with the science but disagree with the government solution to the problem, are also added to the same group of idiots.
It’s a rhetorical strategy that may not work for him. Having been in my fair share of debates, I know that insulting my opponents isn’t the best way to have them see things from my point of view. Suppose I come across a minimum wage proponent. Should I call them an ignorant economic-theory-denier, or should I just keep trying to convince them of the effects of minimum wage legislation? Should I treat them the same way I might treat somebody who holds to the completely debunked labor theory of value or somebody who thinks the economy is subject to the whims of lizard-people?The end goal: bigger government
At the end of the video, Tyson’s real interest becomes apparent. He wants the government to battle with the climate, stick everybody with the same vaccinations, and teach every student a materialistic explanation for the origins of the universe and human and animal life.
Tyson implies that scientific conclusions give way to political solutions, when often what is best is to simply inform the people of some new “emergent truth” and allow individuals and firms to change their behavior in light of and to the extent that they buy in. Top-down, universally enforced “solutions” often cause more problems than they solve and don’t have the flexibility, effectiveness, or economic viability that they need.
In the beginning of the video, Tyson asks, “How did America rise up from a backwoods country to be one of the greatest nations the world has ever known?” I would argue that the impressive accomplishments of the United States are in spite of and not because of government intervention. The economic development of the United States is due to a wide range of factors, including an early adherence to relatively laissez-faire economic policy, the industrial revolution, only the occasional war instead of the state of perpetual war we find ourselves in today, a relatively individualistic culture, an “entrepreneurial spirit”, and abundant natural resources and farmable land.
Certainly scientific and technological innovations played a major role. But my questions for Neil deGrasse Tyson are these: what made those scientific and technological innovations possible? Do you want Americans to be more scientifically literate as an end or as a means to establishing a political agenda? Does the government really need to get involved for us to solve all of our problems? What harm is there in further experimentation and further attempts at convincing the population of your ideas before resorting to silencing the unconvinced by labeling them “science deniers”?
Telling people not to question their government or a politically-connected scientist-class is dangerous. It’s throwing the baby out with the bath water, and it seems to run against his own values. Indeed, Neil deGrasse Tyson is frequently featured on a popular YouTube channel called “Question Everything”. We should encourage a healthy skepticism, especially when the government is involved.
When it comes to political solutions to Tyson’s list of problems, it means scarce resources must be employed toward some goal. This puts him outside of his jurisdiction, natural science, and into my jurisdiction, economics. Dare I tell him to not question my conclusions?Neil Ty, The Scientism Guy was first posted on April 26, 2017 at 1:19 am.
In a photo released by the US Navy, the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson navigates the Indian Ocean on April 15, 2017. The Vinson is now drawing near to the Korean peninsula, even as the USS Michigan submarine has docked in South Korea. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist Third Class Matt Brown / US Navy, via The New York Times)
In line with Vice President Pence's announcement that the "era of strategic patience is over," the Trump administration has deployed a nuclear-powered, guided-missile submarine to the Korean peninsula, heightening tensions in the region. But those familiar with US history question whether amped-up tensions with North Korea are mainly being used as a justification to increase the US military budget.
In a photo released by the US Navy, the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson navigates the Indian Ocean on April 15, 2017. The Vinson is now drawing near to the Korean peninsula, even as the USS Michigan submarine has docked in South Korea. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist Third Class Matt Brown / US Navy, via The New York Times)
Today, the White House is convening a rare briefing for 100 senators on North Korea with Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is planning to chair a special meeting at the UN Security Council on North Korea this Friday.
Given the Trump administration's wide-ranging Korea policy spanning from "maximum pressure" to "engagement," the administration could announce anything from "new" intelligence justifying military action to calling for more sanctions, including placing North Korea back on the US list of state sponsors of terrorism.
What has most people on edge and in a state of alarm is that these briefings take place amid dangerous tensions and brinkmanship on the Korean peninsula. North Korea is conducting live fire drills off its east coast, and some speculate that it may test its sixth nuclear weapon timed with the 85th anniversary of the Korean People's Army. Meanwhile, Washington has deployed the USS Michigan, a Trident submarine and the most destructive nuclear weapon in the arsenal. In short, tensions on the Korean peninsula have reached a boiling point, with many fearing Trump will use military force on North Korea.
The two forces reining in the Trump administration are China and South Korea. In an editorial, the Global Times warned, "The game of chicken between Washington and Pyongyang has come to a breaking point. If North Korea carries out a sixth nuclear test as expected, it is more likely than ever that the situation will cross the point of no return." It called on Pyongyang to "take a small step back" to make the conflict easier to solve, which doesn't "mean being a coward, but being courageous to face the challenge in a different way."
As the ones who would be in the direct line of North Korea's fire, South Koreans were not pleased. "The Security of South Korea is as important as that of the US," reminded Moon Jae-in, the leading South Korean presidential candidate. Even Hong Joon-pyo, the conservative presidential candidate from impeached President Park Geun-hye's party, warned, "If that was a lie, then during Trump's term, South Korea will not trust whatever Trump says."
Given that their country would be in the direct line of North Korean fire, South Koreans, too, are calling for restraint. "There is no South Korean leader who thinks the first strike by the US is okay," said Suh Choo-suk, a Senior Research Fellow at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses.
On April 18, as millions of Americans filed their taxes, MSNBC news host Rachel Maddow covered a Defense News story that the USS Carl Vinson, the nuclear aircraft carrier that the Trump administration allegedly rerouted from Australia to the Korean Peninsula, was in fact "3,000 miles away, steaming south, in the opposite direction." By that time, however, the alleged rerouting of the flotilla had already stoked fears across East Asia that the US was considering a preemptive military strike if North Korea conducted a nuclear test on the 105th birth anniversary of its founder Kim Il Sung.
Whether intended to mislead North Korea into believing the US was preparing for a first strike or the result of a serious internal communications blunder, the incident highlighted how the Trump administration is aggressively pursuing a showdown with North Korea. Such a conflict would threaten not only 22 million North Koreans and the 44 million South Koreans, but could also engulf the United States, Japan, China and Russia in a nuclear war.
In its first 100 days, the Trump administration has deployed Secretary of Defense General Mattis, Secretary of State Tillerson, and now Vice President Pence to South Korea and Japan. Speaking at the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), Pence stated that "the era of strategic patience is over" and threatened that "if China is unable to deal with North Korea, the United States and our allies will."
Yet, by all indications, Trump is continuing strategic patience, which includes the heavy use of sanctions to further isolate the North Korean regime and aggressive military posturing, including US-Republic of Korea military exercises rehearsing the invasion and "decapitation" of North Korea's political leadership. In its spring war games, the Trump administration turned it up a few notches by deploying the team of US Navy SEALS that killed Osama bin Laden.
Contrary to Trump's campaign rhetoric that he "would be very, very cautious" and not be a "happy trigger" compared to Hillary Clinton, the Trump administration has mercilessly and without coherence dropped massive US bombs throughout the Middle East. With regards to Korea, the Trump administration has said that all options are on the table, including military action. Trump announced that the US launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles on Syria over dinner with President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago in a clear message to China that it must either rein in North Korea, or the United States will take unilateral action. It was soon after that Donald Trump told the world that the US was "sending an armada, very powerful" toward North Korea, even though it wasn't.
A Long History of US Military Brutality Against Korea
But North Koreans don't need to look at Syria or Afghanistan, or at Libya or Iraq, to understand the sheer brutality of US military power. They have their own history of surviving indiscriminate US bombing during the Korean War that destroyed 80 percent of North Korean cities and claimed one in four relatives.
More bombs were dropped on Korea than on all of Asia and the Pacific islands during World War II. According to the memoir Soldier by Anthony Herbert, the most decorated veteran of the Korean War, in May 1951, one year into the war, General MacArthur offered this testimony before Congress:
The war in Korea has already almost destroyed that nation of 20,000,000 people. I have never seen such devastation. I have seen, I guess, as much blood and disaster as any living man, and it just curdled my stomach.... After I looked at that wreckage and those thousands of women and children and everything, I vomited.... If you go on indefinitely, you are perpetuating a slaughter such as I have never heard of in the history of mankind.
Curtis LeMay, who took over for MacArthur, later wrote, "We burned down just about every city in North Korea and South Korea both ... we killed off over a million civilian Koreans and drove several million more from their homes."
While all parties to the Korean War, including the North Korean People's Army, committed heinous acts, Americans must remember this tragic history because it very much underlies the North Korean mindset and their enormous will to survive, underscoring how counterproductive "strategic patience" is.
According to Korea expert John DeLury,
Thinking that it's a matter of making North Korea hurt enough, shows a fundamental misunderstanding of a key attribute of the [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] state and society which has an extraordinary capacity to absorb pain. They have maybe suffered more than anyone since 1945. They're like a boxer, they'll never beat you but you can never knock them down. No matter how hard you hit them, they get back up.
And the sober lesson that the Obama, Bush and Clinton administrations ultimately arrived at was that there was no military option. In 1994, President Bill Clinton considered a preemptive strike on North Korea's Yongbyon nuclear reactor, but the Pentagon concluded that even limited action would claim a million lives in the first 24 hours -- and this was well before Pyongyang possessed nuclear weapons. President Obama, too, considered surgical strikes, but as David Sanger reported in the New York Times, obtaining such timely intelligence was nearly impossible and "the risks of missing were tremendous, including renewed war on the Korean peninsula." Any military action by Washington will undoubtedly trigger a counter-reaction from Pyongyang that could instantly kill a third of the South Korean population.
To most Americans, Korea is a problem "over there." It's not. The situation on the Korean Peninsula has for 70 years been dictated by US foreign policy. In 1945, at the end of WWII, the United States, along with the Soviets -- as victors over Japan in the Pacific Theater -- divided the Korean peninsula. Two young officers in the State Department literally tore a page out of the National Geographic and drew a line across the 38th parallel, taking Seoul and giving Pyongyang to the Soviets.
The Korean people, who were preparing for their liberation from 35 years of Japanese colonial rule, had organized one of the most vibrant grassroots democratic people's committees in history. Instead of liberation, they got two military occupations and became the front line of the Cold War. The division of Korea led in 1948 to the creation to two separate states: the Republic of Korea in the south, and the Democratic People's Republic in the north, which ultimately led to the 1950-53 Korean War.
The atrocious war was temporarily halted on July 27, 1953, when US Army Lieutenant General William Harrison, representing the UN Command, and North Korean General Nam Il, representing the Korean People's Army and the Chinese People's Volunteers, signed the Armistice Agreement. Article IV, paragraph 60, called for the official end of the Korean War by replacing the Armistice with a peace treaty.
Hopes for Diplomacy and Peacebuilding
Today, the US still has wartime operational control over South Korea and jurisdiction over half the DMZ. There are 28,500 US troops across South Korea, and it's the US missile defense system, THAAD, which has prompted massive protests across South Korea and is straining Seoul's relations with Beijing. The rapid deployment of THAAD -- ahead of schedule and pushed during the political vacuum in South Korea -- is just the latest example of US intrusion into Korean affairs to further its own geopolitical interests.
But just as the security of Korean peoples is tied to US policy, Korea has very much influenced human security in the United States. Fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. presciently noted, "A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death." In fact, Korea has been the justification for US military expansion in the Asia Pacific, and inaugurated the military-industrial complex and massive spending that has built the greatest war-making force in world history. According to University of Chicago historian Bruce Cumings, "It was the Korean War, not Greece or Turkey, or the Marshall Plan or Vietnam that inaugurated big defense budgets and the national security state that transformed a limited containment doctrine into a global crusade that ignited McCarthyism just as it seemed to fizzle, and thereby gave the Cold War its long run."
Sadly, the conflict with North Korea is being used as further justification to increase the US military budget. In February, President Trump requested an additional $54 billion for the military -- a 10 percent increase -- while making drastic cuts to social welfare programs. This is on top of the already bloated $598 billion US military budget, which is the world's largest and more than the next seven highest-spending countries combined. "The Pentagon spends an estimated $10 billion a year on overseas bases," according to the Los Angeles Times. "More than 70% of the total is spent in Japan, Germany and South Korea, where most US troops abroad are permanently stationed."
The good news is that on May 9, South Korea will be holding a snap presidential election after the impeachment and imprisonment of its corrupt politician Park Geun-hye, whose hardline policy against North Korea strained inter-Korean relations. The leading candidate, Moon Jae-in, has pledged to improve relations with Pyongyang, noting that diplomatic relations are the best bet to ensure South Koreans' security. As South Koreans work to improve peace on the Korean Peninsula, our job here in the United States is to strengthen the connection between the struggles for democracy, justice and liberation throughout the Asia Pacific, including South Korea, Okinawa and the Philippines, which are very much tied to our struggle for a just world built on food, land, water, health care and education.
In this educational video Professor of Economics Emeritus (University of Massachusetts), Marxist economist and founder of Democracy at Work, Richard Wolff, talks about capitalism's current and future state. Prof. Wolff also explains how changes in how the workplace is organized can play a transformative role from capitalism into a more humane and rational system.
The following questions are addressed in this educational video:
- When will capitalism end?
- What condition is capitalism in today and what factors are driving its demise?
- Is there an historical connection between the cutback of social welfare (austerity measures) in Europe and North America today and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 as well as the economic reforms of China that began in the late 1970s?
- How are the wealthiest 1% coping with the decline of capitalism? What techniques are they employing to control policies of the state and what effects does this have on people?
- Can capitalism be saved or reformed? Are there any viable alternatives?
- Why does the Left today have to be critical of the traditional understanding and practice of socialism?
- Why and how do we have to change our workplace in order to make a transformation away from capitalism?
Content Warning: some graphic imagery
The journalistic monitoring group Airwars says 17 civilians, including nine children, reportedly died in US-led coalition airstrikes on the Syrian city of Tabqa in Raqqa province on Monday. The victims reportedly included the 6-month-old baby Abd al-Salam and the toddler Ali Abu Aish, along with their entire family. Meanwhile, two Democratic lawmakers -- Virginia Senator Tim Kaine and California Congressmember Adam Schiff -- sent a letter to the White House Tuesday demanding President Trump provide a legal justification for the US attack on the Shayrat air base earlier this month. On Monday night, Democracy Now!'s Amy Goodman spoke to world-renowned linguist and dissident Noam Chomsky at the First Parish Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and asked him what he thinks the US should do about Syria.
Please check back later for full transcript.
House Speaker Paul Ryan at a news conference following a House Republican Caucus meeting on Capitol Hill, in Washington, DC, April, 26, 2017. With the deadline to avert a government shutdown looming, lawmakers are negotiating a spending bill that would supply no money for a border wall but would increase funding for the military and other border security measures. (Photo: Doug Mills / The New York Times)
Can President Donald J. Trump and the Republicans actually govern? As we near the 100th day mark the answer has been a loud "no." So far. This week the Congress and the president will once again try for wins to fund the government, repeal the Affordable Care Act, extra money for Defense, and to construct a wall on the southern border. A nearly impossible order.
The House of Representatives does not have a governing coalition. There remains, essentially, three parties: Republicans, Democrats, and the Freedom Caucus. Two of these three groups must work together in order to pass any legislation. And to complicate the politics even more, many of the Republican members are already worried about their own re-election, so they might not support their own party's leaders. Especially if that deal is sanctioned by the Freedom Caucus.
Yet Speaker Paul Ryan told his caucus Saturday that funding the government is the priority. The president was equally optimistic. "I think we're in good shape," President Trump said.
There are two budgets at issue. First there is the one proposed by the White House, "America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again." That budget would not begin until October and would result in a dramatic restructuring of the federal government. Many members of Congress have said there is no chance this budget will be enacted as proposed.
But this week there is another budget problem. Congress must pass budget extension for this year by April 29 or there will be another government shutdown.
Shutting the government has become too common: On Indigenous People's Day in 1990 (Ok, back then it was called, Columbus Day) President Bush sent workers home after Congress failed to enact a spending bill. Then during the Clinton years there was a five-day closure in 1995 and another three-week shutdown in 1996. There was a 16-day shutdown in 2013, followed by the double-whammy of sequestration. Tribal governments were impacted almost immediately and had to suspend nutrition programs, foster care, law enforcement, schools and health care. Some tribes had to temporarily layoff workers.
A policy report by the National Congress of American Indians put this in perspective: "For many tribes, a majority of tribal governmental services is financed by federal sources. Tribes lack the tax base and lack parity in tax authority to raise revenue to deliver services. If federal funding is reduced sharply for state and local governments, they may choose between increasing their own taxes and spending for basic services or allowing their services and programs to take the financial hit. On the other hand, many tribes have limited ability to raise substantial new revenue, especially not rapidly enough to cover the reduction in services from the across the board reductions of the FY 2013 sequestration."
That could be the good old days. The prospect of a serious meltdown is a far greater possibility in 2017 than it was four years ago.
First of all the White House is incompetent. Instead of laying out a plan that will lead to a working majority in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate it has offered nonsense. "I think we've made it very clear that we want border wall funding, we want greater latitude to deny federal grants to sanctuary cities," Press Secretary Sean Spicer said last week. "We want hiring of immigration agents, and we want $30 billion to infuse the military budget. Those are our priorities."
That adds up to a blank check for the wall and immigration control, at least $30 billion for Defense, and a cut of at least $18 billion to domestic spending.
Those priorities are not possible without at least a few Democratic votes in the Senate (unless the rules are changed) because it takes 60 votes to approve any new Continuing Resolution. There are only 52 Republicans. So which Democrats are going to favor punishing sanctuary cities? How about none. And that's only point one. Leaders in the House will need nearly every Republican to vote yes as well, something that's always unlikely.
(Building a coalition with Democrats is even more important when you consider that Congress must soon raise the national debt limit, something that many Republicans always oppose without conditions that are unacceptable to Democrats.)
But this week what makes a government shutdown even more likely is that the White House, Republicans, and Democrats, are all staking out claims on a variety of issues.
Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, said he would not vote for another budget extension unless it increases military funding. In the past, Democrats have gone along with that notion as long as there is a mechanism to protect domestic programs budget cuts, including those that serve American Indians and Alaska Natives.
But the Trump administration (here is that competence thing) is already acting if its stingy budget is the law, telling agencies to shrink and reduce the number of federal employees.
An April 12 memo from OMB Director Mick Mulvaney says: "The president's FY 2018 Budget request to Congress will propose decreasing or eliminating funding for many programs across the federal government, and in some cases redefining agency missions. The president's FY 2018 Budget should drive agencies' planning for workforce reductions and inform their Agency Reform Plans, consistent with final 2017 appropriations and current applicable legal requirements. OMB and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) will work with agencies to facilitate reductions in the size of their workforce and monitor progress."
Congress is unlikely to go along with President Trump's budget plan. Unlikely is too strong a word. How about? There is absolutely no way to get 216 votes for such a radical restructuring of the entire federal government. But programs that serve American Indians and Alaska Natives could be hit hard if there is another government shutdown.
Yet there is no way Congress will agree with the restructuring of the federal government as proposed. The votes are not there. But the OMB is basically moving forward anyway, directing agencies to "begin implementing some reforms immediately while others will require congressional action."
The White House message is stick it in your eye, Congress. (Oh, by the way, we still need your votes.)
So how does the White House move the ball forward? By threatening Democrats over the Affordable Care Act by proposing an exchange one dollar of funding for health care for every dollar spent on the wall. That took Democrats a few seconds to well, uh, no.
And coming next week the president said on Twitter that he will announce "big tax reform and tax reduction."
That will subtract a few more votes for everything else that needs to happen this week.
Of course there is a way of out of this mess. The White House could work with Democrats and spend money on their priorities. It's the basic formula that has led to enactments of budgets for the past 8 years. The bargain would mean continued spending for domestic programs as well as add money to the military. The wall? No. Cutting support for Planned Parenthood? Get serious. And health care funding? That's why it's called the art of the deal.
There are three doors on the governing stage. Door number one: An impasse and a government shutdown. Door number two: A deal with Democrats. And door number three: A short-term budget extension so the debate can go on. And on. And on.
A statue of the Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee sits atop a large monument at the center of Lee Circle in the Central Business District of New Orleans, Louisiana. The monument is one of four being removed after years of protest by racial justice activists. (Photo: Mike Ludwig)
New Orleans -- On May 7, 1954, thousands of Black activists, students and teachers in New Orleans boycotted "McDonough Day," an annual dedication to an early patron of the city's public schools. Every year, white students would line up to pay their respects to a statue of the 19th century philanthropist John McDonough while Black students waited to participate in a second ceremony afterward, sometimes waiting hours in the hot southern sun.
In 1954, more than 30,000 Black students refused to show up to McDonough Day, marking one of the first major protests of the civil rights movement. Less than two weeks later, the Supreme Court declared segregation in schools to be unconstitutional, overturning Plessey vs. Ferguson, the famous "separate but equal" case that stemmed from Homer Plessey's act of civil disobedience in New Orleans 60 years earlier.
Malcolm Suber is a longtime activist in New Orleans and a spokesman for Take 'Em Down NOLA, a racial justice group that is pushing the city to remove symbols of white supremacy from public spaces. He says the McDonough Day Boycott marked the birth of a movement that has continued for decades, and that movement is celebrating this week as New Orleans begins the process of removing four monuments dedicated to heroes of Confederate efforts to uphold white supremacy.
"It's big victory for our movement … the Black community has been protesting these white supremacy monuments viscerally since 1954," Suber told Truthout.
The city took down the first of four monuments slated for removal from public spaces early Monday morning. This monument was an obelisk dedicated in 1891 to the Crescent City White League, a group of white supremacists and Confederate veterans who, in 1874, fought the Battle of Liberty Place, a Reconstruction-era insurrection against an integrated city police force and state militia.
Workers removing the monument wore protective vests and masks to conceal their identities. In a statement, Mayor Mitch Landrieu said the city would not be making public its plans for taking down the three remaining monuments because contractors bidding on the work have received death threats.
Both opponents and supporters of removing the monuments are demanding that the city be more transparent. Suber said racial justice activists want the city to make a stronger stand against the racist groups assumed to be behind the threats of violence.
"The mayor has not vigorously denounced these actions from these terrorists," Suber said. "If we on the left had been doing the same thing, they would have come after us and put us in jail, and that's another example of the power of the rich white folks who support the maintenance of these statues."
The obelisk taken down on Monday is steeped in efforts to maintain white supremacy. A plaque added to the monument in 1932 explicitly honored the White League for fighting to preserve "white supremacy in the South," and white supremacist groups have long used it as rallying point. Suber said racial justice activists clashed with Klu Klux Klan members during their annual marches to the monument in the 1980s. Police often stepped in to protect the Klan.
The city tried twice to permanently remove the monument in the 1980s and early 1990s, but agreed to place it behind a mall in the upper corner of the French Quarter, largely out of sight, after facing a legal challenge in 1992.
The removal of the obelisk has faced controversy, but there is greater public opposition to dismantling the remaining monuments that are set to be taken down: three statues dedicated to the Confederate generals Jefferson Davis, P.G.T. Beauregard and Robert E. Lee, which are located at the center of major throughways in the city.
A concrete platform is all that remains at the former site of a monument dedicated to the Crescent City White League, a group of Confederate veterans and white supremacists who fought a Reconstruction-era battle against integrated police forces in 1874. (Photo: Mike Ludwig)
The push to remove Confederate monuments was renewed in 2015 as the Black Lives Matter movement rose and calls to remove public symbols of white supremacy grew, particularly in the wake of the mass murder of Black churchgoers by a racist gunman in Charleston, South Carolina.
The debate over the statues became a divisive one in New Orleans, a majority-Black city with a legacy of white supremacy, challenged first by revolting slaves and later by civil rights activists. As politicians debated the statues, opponents and supporters held regular rallies across the city. When anti-racist graffiti went up on a statue, volunteers bearing Confederate flags would gather to scrub it off. The city council agreed to remove the statues in December 2015, but the work has been delayed by legal challenges.
Outright racists have come to the defense of the statues -- for example, activists faced off with avowed white nationalist David Duke during a protest last year -- but other supporters contend that they are not white supremacists, and are just interested in preserving the monuments' historical value. However, racial justice activists say that, for the city's Black and Brown residents, the statues are a vivid reminder of southern legacies that terrorized their ancestors.
"As long as these statues are allowed to remain in the public square, they are presentations of the continued rule, real and imagined, of white supremacists and the white ruling class," Suber said.
White supremacy is visible in New Orleans, and not just in the symbolic sense portrayed by a Confederate general on a concrete column. For example, David Duke polled well enough in a recent race for US Senate to qualify for a debate held last year at Dillard University, a historically Black college. Several activists were arrested as students attempted to shut the debate down.
Suber pointed to Louisiana's prisons, which are disproportionately filled with Black and Brown people in a state that has the highest rate of incarceration in the country. Many workers live on low wages in the New Orleans tourist economy, and the city's wealthier neighborhoods tend to be much whiter than the rest, many of which are under pressure from gentrification.
Suber said removing symbols of white supremacy from public spaces is part of a natural, democratic progress occurring in a city where Black people are in the majority. He added that another indicator of this progress would be the replacement of Confederate statues with public symbols that "celebrate Black culture and Black freedom and the struggle for democracy in this country."
Suber said Take 'Em Down NOLA's work is far from finished. The group is demanding that the city remove a number of other monuments, including statues dedicated to historic figures that supported slavery or segregation and worked to repress Black political power.
As for the four monuments that are now being removed, they will be put in storage and eventually moved to a museum or similar facility, according to the mayor's office.
Trump has perfected the technique of using libel lawsuits as a tool of repression without ever winning a case. With Supreme Court appointees like Gorsuch, it's quite likely that Trump will succeed in weakening libel law, making timid media corporations even more nervous about critical coverage.
The shadows of President Donald Trump and Tom Price, secretary of health and human services, are cast on a wall as they head to a congressional republicans conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 21, 2017. "Change libel Laws?" President Trump asked in a recent tweet, returning to a favorite theme on the campaign trail. (Photo: Doug Mills / The New York Times)
One of Donald Trump's biggest attacks on civil liberties comes from his regular threats to sue reporters for libel if he doesn't like what they write. Trump has repeatedly promised to use his power as president to suppress the freedom of the press, saying, "We're going to open up those libel laws...." On March 30, Trump reiterated his promise in a tweet attacking the "failing" New York Times that ended with, "Change libel laws?"
Unfortunately, the mainstream media have tended to dismiss Trump's threats as empty rhetoric. Politico reported the view of an ACLU attorney that "there are virtually no steps within the president's power to 'open up libel laws' as Trump has suggested." But in reality, the president has enormous power to change libel laws by appointing Supreme Court judges who can alter constitutional protections.
Callum Borchers of The Washington Post wrote, "Trump's latest suggestion that he might 'change libel laws' might sound good to his supporters, but it's clear from his Supreme Court pick that it is just talk." This view, however, seems overly rosy.
Gorsuch on Libel
Trump's Supreme Court appointee, Neil Gorsuch, has not shown himself to be a strong defender of freedom of the press against libel law. During his Senate hearing, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) asked Gorsuch whether he believes "that the First Amendment would permit public officials to sue the media under any standard less demanding than actual malice." Gorsuch responded, "That's been the law of the land for, gosh, 50, 60 years. I could point you to a case in which I've applied it and I think might give you what you're looking for, Senator, in terms of comfort about how I apply it: Bustos v. A&E Network."
However, Gorsuch's ruling in Bustos v. A&E never mentioned the "actual malice" standard because it didn't involve a public figure. Discussing the age of a precedent in a deceptive answer doesn't mean Gorsuch will support all of it. The ruling in New York Times v. Sullivan established requirements for defamation that the information was false, damaged a reputation, and, for public figures, that it was published with "actual malice" -- "with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not." Gorsuch may not overturn the entire Sullivan precedent, but he could seek to narrow its application to public figures, such as Trump.
In Bustos v. A&E, Gorsuch bent over backward to protect the media, not because he believed in freedom of the press, but instead because he openly disparaged the person who brought the lawsuit claiming that the network had falsely called him a member of the Aryan Brotherhood gang, when in reality, he was a drug dealer who merely conspired with the Aryan Brotherhood in a criminal enterprise.
The fact that Gorsuch ruled against a dubious libel suit from a prisoner does not prove he's a paragon of the First Amendment who will stand up against the interests of powerful politicians like Trump.
In Bustos v. A&E, Gorsuch also espoused an unprecedented "good plaintiff" rule for libel law: "In American law, defamation is not about compensating for damage done to a false reputation by the publication of hidden facts. It's about protecting a good reputation honestly earned."
Gorsuch's belief that the law only protects "good" people reflects the strong prejudices that he generally holds. And it could lead Gorsuch to weaken the Sullivan "public figure" standard with this new "good figure" standard.
One analysis of judges predicts that Gorsuch will be slightly more conservative than Scalia. The Never-Trump National Review praised Gorsuch as "remarkably similar" to Scalia and called him "like Scalia, a textualist and an originalist." Libel law is especially vulnerable to textualists and originalists. There is no evidence that the framers of the Constitution wanted to limit libel law, and the details of the Sullivan ruling were invented by the Supreme Court, rather than being based on the text of a law. In Bustos v. A&E, Gorsuch was very deferential to Colorado's libel laws, which set a high standard. But if Gorsuch defers to state law in conservative states with low standards for libel, it would be a disaster for press freedom.
The plagiarism scandal surrounding Gorsuch shows that he's not much of an original thinker, preferring to cobble together other people's work. Gorsuch praised Scalia as a "lion of the law" and was chosen by Trump explicitly as a follower of Scalia's ideas. And Scalia was the leading jurist in the country to criticize constitutional protections for the press against libel lawsuits.
In 2011, Scalia told the Aspen Institute 2011 Washington Ideas Forum that traditional libel law protected people against false statements, but "New York Times v. Sullivan just cast that aside because the Court thought in modern society, it'd be a good idea if the press could say a lot of stuff about public figures without having to worry."
In 2012, Scalia told Charlie Rose, "One of the evolutionary provisions that I abhor is New York Times v. Sullivan" because "that's not what the people understood when they ratified the First Amendment." According to Scalia, "Nobody thought that libel, even libel of public figures, was permitted, was sanctioned by the First Amendment."
The protections for the press against libel suits in the US seem like a formidable foundation, but they are actually quite imperiled. If the Supreme Court backtracks at all on libel law, then state laws on defamation will prevail, and plaintiffs like Trump, who hate the media, can go venue shopping, finding the most conservative state with the most lenient laws and judges. Gorsuch may be only the first of Trump's judicial appointees who will undermine these protections for freedom of the press.
The most important threat to freedom of the press comes from libel lawsuits, not legal victories, and Trump has perfected the technique of using libel suits as a tool of repression without ever winning one of them.
How Trump Uses Libel
Trump has used the threat of libel suits to intimidate reporters for most of his life. Early in his career, Trump bragged to reporter Wayne Barrett in 1978, "I've broken one writer. You and I've been friends and all, but if your story damages my reputation, I'll sue." In 1984, Trump sued the Chicago Tribune and its architecture critic Paul Gapp for $500 million after Gapp called Trump's plan to build the world's tallest building in Manhattan "one of the silliest things anyone could inflict on New York or any other city."
Trump's reputation for suing anybody who criticizes him has a powerful intimidating effect. When a casino industry analyst publicly stated how unlikely it was for the Taj Mahal to be profitable, Trump threatened "a major lawsuit" and got the analyst fired. Though the analyst was completely right, Trump has the money to pay lawyers for suits designed to silence any critics. It took more than two decades for the critical documentary "Trump: What's the Deal?" to be released because Trump's threat of lawsuits scared away broadcasters.
To Trump, libel lawsuits are simply a tool for negotiating better media coverage. When ABC planned a TV movie about the Trump family, Trump announced he would "definitely" sue before he ever saw it. However, he added, "But as long as it's accurate, I won't be suing them."
Defamation suits are also one of Trump's favorite mechanisms for revenge, since they are the only way he can sue people who haven't signed a contract with him. Trump sued reporter Timothy O'Brien for $5 billion because his 2009 book TrumpNation cited three unnamed sources who estimated Trump's net worth at only $150 million to $250 million. Trump openly explained his approach to libel in one of his books: "I don't need the money from winning the case -- I need to set the record straight and maybe make it harder for other disreputable writers to knock people for the fun or profit of it."
In 2006, Trump threatened to sue Rosie O'Donnell after she said he was bankrupt. Trump also threatened to sue MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell for suggesting he was worth less than $1 billion. Trump threatened to sue USA Today in 2012 because Al Neuharth wrote a column calling Trump a "clown."
Even parodies of Trump can spark legal threats. In 2013, the satirical newspaper The Onion printed a fake opinion piece authored by "Donald Trump" titled, "When You're Feeling Low, Just Remember I'll Be Dead in About 15 or 20 Years." A Trump attorney wrote, "This commentary goes way beyond defamation and if it is not removed I will take all actions to ensure that your actions will not go without consequences. Guide yourself accordingly."
After the Daily Beast published a July 2015 piece accurately reporting that "Ivana Trump once accused the real-estate tycoon of 'rape,' although she later clarified: not in the 'criminal sense,'" Trump lawyer Michael Cohen threatened to sue: "I will take you for every penny you still don't have.... I'm warning you, tread very fucking lightly, because what I'm going to do to you is going to be fucking disgusting.... You write a story that has Mr. Trump's name in it, with the word 'rape,' and I'm going to mess your life up." When the Daily Beast was doing a story about one of his company's bankruptcies, Trump himself threatened them: "If you write this one, I'm suing you." Trump also indicated that he wanted to sue Rolling Stone and The Huffington Post to "put them out of business."
For the Trump family, libel suits have proven to be lucrative and effective. In April 2017, Melania Trump settled a libel suit with the Daily Mail, receiving a retraction and millions of dollars in a settlement after the newspaper claimed that she worked as an escort.
Evan Mascagni, policy director at the Public Participation Project, noted: "Donald Trump has repeatedly attempted to silence his critics over the years through frivolous lawsuits." The status quo of libel law is already a threat to freedom of press, giving rich celebrities the opportunity to punish the press even if few libel verdicts are ever upheld. Trump has mastered the technique of using the threat of libel lawsuits to silence his critics, despite never winning one.
Gorsuch (and the other conservatives who will form a majority on the Supreme Court) may not go as far as Scalia who wanted to overturn Sullivan and open up libel laws. But one Supreme Court decision casting doubt on wide parameters of "actual malice" for public figures could have a devastating effect on freedom of the press in practice. If the Sullivan precedent can be weakened, it would only take one conservative state to pass restrictive libel laws and become a center for "libel tourism."
It won't take a revolution in libel law to create a chilling effect. It will only take a little more legal uncertainty to make timid media corporations even more nervous about critical coverage and investigative reporting. There is no public policy issue where Trump has shown a more consistent and committed position than his desire to suppress freedom of the press by weakening libel law.
Beware of the enemy within. With respect to the US government, the ultimate inside job is well underway. Through key Cabinet appointments, Trump is gutting federal agencies that have improved citizens' daily lives in ways that most Americans will no longer take for granted.
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos
In her confirmation hearing, billionaire Betsy DeVos made the world painfully aware that she isn't an educator or expert in curriculum. She's not familiar with the decades-old Individuals with Disabilities Act, or the fraudulent for-profit colleges and graduate schools that exploit their students. She seems unconcerned about the funding crisis that confronts public education in America. But she has all of the credentials required to serve in the Trump administration: She's a billionaire with a mission to destroy the federal department she now heads.
Keeping Trump controversies in the family, DeVos' brother Erik Prince is the founder of the infamous Blackwater private security firm and was a $250,000 donor to the Trump campaign. In January, Prince met secretly in the Seychelles Islands with a Russian close to Putin. Russia's goal in the meeting, according to The Washington Post, was to establish a back-channel line of communication with the Trump administration.
As a lobbyist through her organization -- the nonprofit American Federation for Children -- DeVos led the effort to privatize public education in Michigan. The result: widespread abuses, dismal performance and no accountability for taxpayer funds flowing into the coffers of for-profit charter schools and management companies. In Michigan, DeVos helped to create a system that "leads the nation in the number of schools operated for profit, while other states have moved to curb the expansion of for-profit charters, or banned them outright," the Detroit Free Press observes. "[Michigan is] a laughingstock in national education circles, and a pariah among reputable charter school operators, who have not opened schools in Detroit because of the wild West nature of the educational landscape here."
Likewise, the Obama administration put pressure on for-profit colleges that exploit students and leave them burdened with debt. Trump, on the other hand, promised to reduce government intrusions and allow schools like Trump University to thrive. After Nov. 8, the stock of for-profit schools soared. DeVos is now fulfilling Trump's campaign promises
Among her advisers is Robert S. Eitel, a lawyer on unpaid leave of absence from his job at Bridgepoint Education, Inc. Bridgepoint, a for-profit college operator whose stock is up 40 percent since Nov. 9, faces multiple government investigations. One ended recently in a $30 million settlement with the federal Consumer Finance Protection Bureau over deceptive student lending.
Another DeVos adviser is Taylor Hansen, a former lobbyist for the for-profit sector's trade association that fought Obama's "gainful employment" rule, which imposes minimal accountability on for-profit colleges. On March 6, 2017, the Education Department delayed the gainful employment rule deadline. Ten days later, DeVos rescinded an Obama administration rule that prevented student guaranty agencies from charging exorbitant interest rates. Until Jan. 1, the largest such guaranty agency was United Student Aid Funds Inc., whose president and chief executive officer is William Hansen, Taylor's father. In a letter to DeVos, Sen. Elizabeth Warren cited ProPublica's report on Taylor's conflicts. On March 17, he resigned.
On April 11, DeVos reversed Obama administration guidelines aimed at protecting student borrowers and penalizing abusive loan servicing companies. Meanwhile, DeVos' agenda to clear the field for private education profiteers revealed itself in Trump's proposed budget: It would reduce Department of Education funding by 14 percent. Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, lamented, "This budget takes a meat cleaver to public education."
Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price
Tom Price is an orthopedic surgeon who seems to have forgotten his profession's seminal creed, "First, do no harm." As a Georgia congressman, Price was among the most prominent critics of Obamacare, which has provided more than 20 million citizens with health insurance that they otherwise would not have. As the Secretary of Health and Human Services, he is now working to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.
On March 7, Price wrote Congress to express support for the Republican repeal effort. By then, Trump's campaign promise of "health insurance for all" had devolved into Rep. Paul Ryan's notion of "universal access" in the form of subsidies that would cover only a fraction of the premium cost for those most in need. (But it did have a nice tax break for the wealthy.) The Congressional Budget Office estimated that under the Ryan/Trump/Price plan, 14 million Americans would lose coverage immediately; by 2026, the total would rise to 24 million.
Trump, Price and Ryan failed in their first assault on the Affordable Care Act, but they'll be back. Watch for Price to issue rules and regulations that try to push Obamacare over a cliff. He'll work at accomplishing administratively what Trump and Ryan could not achieve legislatively. Meanwhile, they and fellow Trump Party members push false narratives about "exploding premiums" when only 3 percent of Americans experience the individual rate increases they cite. They talk about Obamacare's "implosion" due to insurers are leaving markets, but don't mention that the Republicans -- especially Sen. Marco Rubio -- sabotaged the "risk corridor" program that reimbursed insurer losses for high-risk citizens. And they don't acknowledge the latest studies showing that their "death spiral" rhetoric is simply a lie -- unless Trump's policies make it happen.
The Trump/Price impact on women's health issues is becoming clear. On April 13, Trump signed a law aimed at eliminating federal funding for Planned Parenthood (after Vice President Mike Pence had cast the tie-breaking vote in the Senate). As for medical research, forget it. Trump's proposed budget would cut HHS funding (and its National Institutes of Health) by almost 20 percent.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions
Jeff Sessions is just the person to send the federal agency charged with the pursuit of justice on a one-way ride back to a time of unspeakable injustice. In 1985 he led the prosecution of three African-American voter rights activists for voter fraud. As the US attorney for the southern district of Alabama, Sessions lost that case. Ruling that his theory was contrary to election law and the Constitution, the judge threw out many of the counts and a jury acquitted the defendants of everything else. A year later, even the Republican-controlled Senate considered Sessions too racist to become a federal judge after President Reagan nominated him.
In December 2016, a Trump transition team member told The New York Times that if Sessions had it to do over, he'd bring the 1985 voter rights case again. In his January 2017 confirmation hearing, he echoed that sentiment in response to Sen. Al Franken's questions about Trump's bogus voter fraud claims about millions of illegal votes for Hillary Clinton. Sessions equivocated, but the "voter fraud" mantra has now become an excuse for a new round of voter suppression efforts.
Once confirmed, Sessions went to work quickly on his mission to turn back the clock. On Feb. 22, his department coordinated with Devos' to rescind the Obama administration's restroom rule protecting transgender students. Shortly thereafter, the US Supreme Court reversed its earlier decision to hear a case on transgender rights and returned it to the lower courts in light of the Trump administration's new guidance.
On Feb. 23, Sessions issued a memo reversing the Obama administration's directive to phase out privately run prisons. Obama's order had come after a scathing government audit highlighting safety and security problems in private prisons. Sessions's move was good news for the corporations that run those institutions, which have been reliable Republican campaign donors.
On Feb. 27, the Department of Justice reversed the Obama administration's six-year challenge to Texas' voter-ID law. In 2016, a federal appeals court had ruled that the law discriminated against minority voters. But under Sessions, the Justice Department did a 180-degree about-face.
On March 17, the Justice Department filed a brief seeking to restructure the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which secured a $30 million settlement against for-profit college operator Bridgepoint (the same firm whose chief compliance officer is now on unpaid leave as a Betsy DeVos adviser). Trump now seeks unrestricted power to fire the CFPB director.
On March 31, Sessions ordered a review of all reform agreements with troubled police departments nationwide. The Justice Department's former chief of special litigation, which oversaw investigations into 23 police departments including New Orleans, Cleveland, and Ferguson, Missouri, called Sessions' announcement "terrifying" because it raised "the question of whether, under the current attorney general, the Department of Justice is going to walk away from its obligation to ensure that law enforcement across the country is following the Constitution."
On April 11, Sessions declared the dawn of "the Trump era" in immigration. In addition his earlier threat to deprive sanctuary cities of federal funds, he has ordered the hiring of "border security coordinators" for all 94 US attorneys offices, emphasized deportation for non-violent offenses, and promised a surge in the appointment of immigration judges to accelerate the flow of immigrants out of the country. Never mind that fewer than 3 percent of the undocumented have committed felonies -- less than the 6 percent for the overall population.
Most experts agree, despite Trump's promises, that coal-mining jobs are not coming back. Berkeley Energy Group this month announced plans to put coal miners back to work by building the largest solar project in Appalachia on top of a closed mountaintop strip mine near the town of Pikeville.
Workers instal solar panelsin upstate New York, April 7, 2016. (Photo: Stephen Yang / The Solutions Project)
If President Trump wants to earn a rare legislative victory and take political credit for reviving hard-hit regions of rural America, he should take a close look at how one Kentucky coal company is creating jobs.
Berkeley Energy Group this month announced plans to put coal miners back to work by building the largest solar project in Appalachia on top of a closed mountaintop strip mine near the town of Pikeville. The Eastern Kentucky coal company is partnering with the Environmental Defense Fund, which has helped develop 9,000 megawatts of renewable energy, to bring jobs and clean energy to the region.
Mining employment in the area has plummeted from more than 14,000 jobs in 2008 to fewer than 4,000 today, owing to mine automation, competition from natural gas, and environmental controls on dirty coal emissions.
Even if Trump's administration and Congress roll back clean air and water rules, most experts agree that coal-mining jobs are not coming back, particularly in Appalachia where production costs are relatively high.
But there is vast potential for the region to reclaim its ravaged landscapes for use in generating solar energy, if federal policy continues to offer incentives. Solar resources in Kentucky, for instance, are favorable enough to power nearly 1,000 homes for every two acres of solar panels.
Reimagining Coal Country
Writing last year in the Charleston Gazette-Mail, West Virginia solar entrepreneur Dan Conant wrote, "Our people have given sweat, blood, tears and lives to help build and power America. Reimagining ourselves not as a coal state, but as an energy state -- including solar and wind -- is critical if we are going to continue powering America. All we need is imagination (and a little encouragement and support) as millennial West Virginians lead the way into the future."
Such visions are still a tough sell in many conservative communities, but many "red" states, whose politicians disdain environmental protection and deny the threat of global climate disruption, are learning to appreciate solar energy. North Carolina, Arizona, Utah, Georgia and Texas rank among the top 10 states for solar electric capacity. Together, their photovoltaic cells power more than a million homes.
In Florida, the state's largest utility just announced plans to add nearly 2,100 megawatts of new solar capacity over the next seven years while shutting down dirty and expensive coal plants. By 2023, it expects to generate four times more energy from solar than from coal and oil combined.
At the same time, the solar industry is sending out more and more paychecks across rural America. Texas alone supports about 9,400 jobs from its solar industry. Nationally, the solar industry added 51,000 jobs last year and now employs over a quarter million people, more than three times as many as the coal industry. Solar jobs are attractive, paying a median wage of $26 an hour for installers.
Wind Sweeping Down the Plains
Wind energy is another big job engine that appeals to pragmatic conservatives who care more about the economy than the environment. More than three-quarters of Republican congressional districts have operational wind energy projects or active wind-related manufacturing facilities.
Texas, Iowa, and Oklahoma are the three top states for installed wind generation capacity, beating out former industry leader California. Many other red states, like Montana, Nebraska, and Wyoming, have immense untapped potential for low-cost wind generation.
Power Company of Wyoming is building the largest wind project in the country, with a capacity of up to 3,000 megawatts. Montana is also receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in new wind investments. No wonder: a typical wind project in that state supplies electricity at 4.7 cents per kilowatt-hour, compared to 6.8 cents from coal-fired generation.
Rock-ribbed Republican ranchers and farmers enjoy the income they earn from leasing space to turbines while continuing to use their land. In Texas, the wind industry employs more than 22,000 people and pays more than $60 million a year to lease holders. Those facts can be appreciated even by politicians who don't care that Texas wind energy avoids carbon dioxide emissions equal to 8.3 million cars on the road.
Nationwide, employment in the wind industry topped 100,000 for the first time last year. The industry added jobs at nine times the rate of the overall economy. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the fastest growing occupation in the country is wind turbine technician, with a median wage of $51,000 a year.
Wind now supplies 5.5 percent of all electricity in the United States, contrary to President Trump's ill-informed claim that "for the most part they (wind turbines) don't work." Wind is now one of the lowest cost sources of electricity, even without federal subsidies, according to newly released estimates by the Department of Energy.
And contrary to Trump's complaint that solar is "so expensive," energy from the sun is now cheaper than new coal or nuclear power. As a result, nearly two-thirds of new US generation capacity in each of the last two years used renewable technologies.
Clean Jobs for Trump
Even if President Trump doesn't yet get it, his Energy Secretary, former Texas Governor Rick Perry, and his Interior Secretary, former Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke, both seem to quietly appreciate the growing potential of renewable energy. Perhaps they can educate the President, and persuade him to reap big political gains by promoting clean jobs along with clean energy in rural and rust-belt America.
Rather than eliminating funding for the Appalachian Regional Commission, for example, Trump could steer more of its resources into clean energy training and investment programs. A study published last year by scholars at Michigan Technological University and Oregon State University showed that "a relatively minor investment ($180 million to $1.8 billion, based on best and worst case scenarios) in retraining would allow the vast majority of US coal workers to switch to solar-related positions."
Trump could also ramp up funding for the Solar Training Network, established last year by The Solar Foundation with White House support to "improve access to solar training, resources, and careers" and "increase the quality and diversity of the solar workforce and establish nationally consistent training standards."
In line with Trump's commitment to rebuilding US manufacturing and competing with China, he could also redouble successful Energy Department programs to support research and development on cutting-edge technologies for solar and wind generation, energy storage, and power grid management.
Such proposals, coming from President Obama, earned widespread Republican scorn. Coming from Trump, they could create a major realignment in Congress by forging an alliance of Democrats with pragmatic Red State legislators who see where the new jobs are.
It can be done; in conservative Wyoming, a leading coal state, legislators recently crushed proposals to impose higher taxes on wind energy. President Trump just needs to follow through for once on his grand promises to blue-collar voters, rather than continuing to act like just another traditional Republican pawn of the fossil fuel industry.
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In a newsletter published in 1970, economist Murray Rothbard wrote, “It is no crime to be ignorant of economics, which is, after all, a specialized discipline and one that most people consider to be a ‘dismal science.’ But it is totally irresponsible to have a loud and vociferous opinion on economic subjects while remaining in this state of ignorance.”
This is an oft-quoted platitude within circles of libertarian philosophy and Austrian economics.
Today, we are seeing the embodiment of Rothbard’s fears. The woeful state of economic understanding has reached a critical mass. Economics has taken a back seat to issues deemed more important. What’s worse is that when economics is discussed, millennials tend to lean socialist.
I have a vested interest in seeing economics and sound money flourish as I work in the field. Yes, I believe that tying a nation’s currency to gold keeps government spending in check. This is hardly professional bias though, as we all have a vested interest in seeing economics and sound money championed, many just don’t recognize it. This piece is aimed at anyone with a vested interest in maintaining a standard of living higher than that of the depression-era breadline vagabond. Economics transcends race, gender, and political identification.
Let’s begin by examining the first of two reasons that good economics is paramount.
Good Economics Is Important Because We Are Seeing a Rise in Bad Economics
Despite the corruption and backhanded actions of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign to win the Democratic nomination, Bernie Sanders experienced a meteoric rise reminiscent to that of Ron Paul’s, whose 2008 presidential campaign trained his supporters’ focus on economics. Paul championed policies in the spirit of economists that I personally revere: Ludwig von Mises, Murray Rothbard, and Nobel Prize Laureate Friedrich Hayek, among others.
Bernie Sanders’s 2016 campaign had an equal but opposite effect. From teenagers to senior citizens, many loved Sanders’s critique of the broken system that favors the wealthy and stifles the poor. His “solutions” are abysmal, yet despite the countless examples of current (and more importantly, collapsed) socialist-Marxist/Leninist calamities, a self-described socialist found a foothold in the United States.
The revolution inspired by Sanders is anti-intellectual. The “economics” that stemmed out of the Sanders campaign was not economics at all. His school of economics was built on people shouting about their feelings and promoting egalitarianism for the sake of egalitarianism.
Good economics is grounded in axiomatic truths and empirical facts about the world around us. Sound money keeps governments and central banks (called the Federal Reserve in the US) from endless money printing and devastating inflation. Yes, that means the government won’t be able to provide every service that one desires. That is a good thing. Government is the bastion of inefficiency and the epitome of waste. Strictly from an economics standpoint, the market is far better suited at providing products and services.
The espousal of socialist policies in economics is dangerous and irresponsible. Fortunately, it doesn’t take much intellectual firepower to write off socialism as wildly inefficient. But it does take some. Socialism falls apart quickly when one understands the economic calculation problem, which explains the importance of prices based in subjective value in a free market system and explains how centrally planned economies, devoid of market prices, are doomed to suffer from inefficiencies in the form of widespread shortages and surpluses. Without these rudimentary economic blocks, “free college, health care for everyone, and massive taxation on the 1 percent to pay for these policies” sounds desirable.
We must learn, though. We must strive for intellectual growth. We must take the lessons we’ve learned from history and apply them to the word we live in today: socialism does not work. Socialism kills. (Even Scandinavian socialism isn’t as great as socialists say it is).
Socialism has been proven to be a terrible economic policy repeatedly. At some point, the value of human lives outweighs the desire for a politician to conduct a social experiment on how quickly he or she can rid their country of any and all valuable resources. That point is now. We must understand that socialism is an exercise in futility and inefficiency. Understanding good economics kills off the allure of central planning that continues to be peddled by politicians on the left. In fairness, understanding good economics helps wade past the bad economics posited by the right as well.
For a multitude of reasons, it’s a good idea to take a politicians’ statements with grains of salt. As far as economics goes, economist Thomas Sowell said it better than I ever could.
The first lesson of economics is scarcity: there is never enough of anything to fully satisfy all those who want it. The first lesson of politics is to disregard the first lesson of economics.
Sound economics based in sound money policies make it possible to eat reasonably priced meals because inflation tends to be lower in countries that practice these policies. Sound money policies make enacting socialist policies difficult. Understanding fundamental economics is the lynchpin to cultivating an environment conducive to having meaningful debate on other social issues. Which brings us to the second reason why economics is crucial.
Economics Is the Most Important Social Issue of Our Time
We should start by understanding that economics is a social issue. In fact, economics is the social issue. No issue influences individuals (read: all the individuals) within a society more than its economic practices.
Living in the United States in 2017 means exposure to all sorts of social issues including – but not limited to – same sex marriage, police brutality, safe spaces, drug legalization, and firearms ownership. To be sure, these issues are important and should be examined with sober eyes. But the issue of economics supersedes this list and every other list.
I believe consenting individuals should be allowed to do whatever their hearts desire so long as they aren’t violating the rights of another. I stand in solidarity with those who favor legalized same-sex marriages. I stand with those who want to see marijuana legalized nationwide and those who want to own automatic weapons.
But herein lies the danger of ignoring economics at the expense of other issues: Being “allowed” to smoke marijuana legally seems insignificant when a loaf of bread costs a month’s salary and your loved ones are dying of starvation, doesn’t it? I concede the subjective nature of this evaluation, but if I had to choose between the legality of same sex marriages and economic stability, I would choose economic stability without pause. Not because I don’t value personal freedom to do as one wishes, but because I understand that with economic stability comes the ability to fight another day for other issues.
Brazil, according to Bloomberg, was the second-worst economic performer of 2016. The other side of the coin is more uplifting: Brazil recognizes same-sex unions; allows same-sex marriages; allows adoptions by same-sex couples; allows individuals who identify as LGBT to serve in the military; and so on. Brazil’s removal of the proverbial shackles on homosexuals to live as they see fit is a big win for personal liberty, undoubtedly.
But one can’t help but wonder if the married same-sex couple in Brazil suffering from the terrible economic policies enacted by their country thinks, “13.2 percent of our entire country’s population is unemployed. That’s close to what the US faced between 1930-1931 as the Great Depression destroyed their economy. We can’t afford to feed ourselves or our family and we’re subjected to danger and crime as others are desperate to obtain food and money. But hey, at least the government recognizes our marriage!”
Greece is another example of the result of poor economic policies. Riots and crippling tax hikes to pay for irresponsible economic policies are commonplace in Greece, but hey, at least small amounts of cannabis have been decriminalized, right?
I don’t mean to belittle the importance of issues such as these. But as millennials, as members of the citizenry, and as people with a stake in the economic health of the nation we inhabit, our efforts are often misplaced. Sound economic policies should be pursued with at least the same amount of fervor as the myriad issues that don’t potentially end in economic collapse, death, crime, and general hysteria.
America finds itself on the cusp of revolution, but not necessarily the kind you might imagine. The revolution we are headed towards is an intellectual one. Good economics lies at the heart of this revolution.
Without good economics, we are powerless against the abuses of the Federal Reserve, the central bank that intentionally devalues the money in your bank account while it finances foreign wars and domestic programs that the government wouldn’t have the means to pay for otherwise. Without good economics, we are defenseless against the bad economic policies that lead to extreme levels of pillaging that socialists lovingly refer to as taxation. Without good economics, we subject ourselves to tangible, real-life danger and lose the opportunity to bring about the changes we wish to see.Why Good Economics Matters Now More Than Ever was first posted on April 25, 2017 at 10:34 pm.