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Vietnam War at 50: Have We Learned Nothing?

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Last week Defense Secretary Ashton Carter laid a wreath at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington in commemoration of the "50th anniversary" of that war. The date is confusing, as the war started earlier and ended far later than 1966. But the Vietnam War at 50 commemoration presents a good opportunity to reflect on the war and whether we have learned anything from it.

Some 60,000 Americans were killed fighting in that war more than 8,000 miles away. More than a million Vietnamese military and civilians also lost their lives. The US government did not accept that it had pursued a bad policy in Vietnam until the bitter end. But in the end the war was lost and we went home, leaving the destruction of the war behind. For the many who survived on both sides, the war would continue to haunt them.
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A European PATRIOT Act Will Not Keep People Safe

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It was not long after last week’s horrifying bombings in Brussels that the so-called security experts were out warning that Europeans must give up more of their liberty so government can keep them secure from terrorism. I guess people are not supposed to notice that every terrorist attack represents a major government failure and that rewarding failure with more of the same policies only invites more failure.

I am sure a frightened population will find government promises of perfect security attractive and may be willing to allow more surveillance of their personal lives. They should pause a little beforehand and consider what their governments have done so far to keep them “safe.”
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Beltway Conservative Budget Plans Are Big Spending and Anti-Liberty

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According to a recent poll, 73 percent of all Americans oppose increases in federal spending. Since this anti-government spending sentiment is a major reason Republicans control the House and Senate, one would expect the Republican Congress to hold the line on, or even cut, government spending. Yet, despite the Republican leadership’s rhetoric about "fiscal responsibility," this year’s House Republican budget spends $104 billion more than the GOP’s 2013 budget.

Some conservatives, most notably the Heritage Foundation, have criticized the GOP budget. Heritage and the conservative House Republican Study Committee (RSC) have both prepared conservative alternatives to the official Republican budgets. Unfortunately, neither the Heritage nor the RSC budgets meaningfully reduce federal spending.
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Loretta Lynch and the Government War on Free Speech

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During her appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, Attorney General Loretta Lynch admitted that she asked the FBI to examine whether the federal government should take legal action against so-called climate change deniers. Attorney General Lynch is not responding to any criminal acts committed by climate change skeptics. Instead, she is responding to requests from those frustrated that dissenters from the alleged climate change consensuses have successfully blocked attempts to create new government programs to fight climate change.

These climate change censors claim that the argument over climate change is settled and the deniers’ success in blocking congressional action is harming the public. Therefore, the government must disregard the First Amendment and silence anyone who dares question the reigning climate change dogma. This argument ignores the many reputable scientists who have questioned the magnitude, effects, and role of human action in causing climate change.
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Do We Need To 'Rebuild The Military'?

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The Republican presidential debates have become so heated and filled with insults, it almost seems we are watching a pro wrestling match. There is no civility, and I wonder whether the candidates are about to come to blows. But despite what appears to be total disagreement among them, there is one area where they all agree. They all promise that if elected they will “rebuild the military.”

What does “rebuild the military” mean? Has the budget been gutted? Have the useless weapons programs like the F-35 finally been shut down? No, the United States still spends more on its military than the next 14 countries combined. And the official military budget is only part of the story. The total spending on the US empire is well over one trillion dollars per year. Under the Obama Administration the military budget is still 41 percent more than it was in 2001, and seven percent higher than at the peak of the Cold War.
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First They Came For the iPhones...

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The FBI tells us that its demand for a back door into the iPhone is all about fighting terrorism, and that it is essential to break in just this one time to find out more about the San Bernardino attack last December. But the truth is they had long sought a way to break Apple’s iPhone encryption and, like 9/11 and the PATRIOT Act, a mass murder provided just the pretext needed. After all, they say, if we are going to be protected from terrorism we have to give up a little of our privacy and liberty. Never mind that government spying on us has not prevented one terrorist attack.

Apple has so far stood up to a federal government's demand that it force its employees to write a computer program to break into its own product. No doubt Apple CEO Tim Cook understands the damage it would do to his company for the world to know that the US government has a key to supposedly secure iPhones. But the principles at stake are even higher. We have a fundamental right to privacy. We have a fundamental right to go about our daily life without the threat of government surveillance of our activities. We are not East Germany.
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Intervention Fail: Back to Libya

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The use of the US military overseas seems to have become so commonplace that the Obama Administration can bomb a country with no Congressional input and very little media interest at all. Such was the case on Friday, when the US military killed some 49 people in a bombing run near Tripoli, Libya.

We had to bomb Libya, we are told, because Libya has become a hotbed of ISIS activity. The group moving training facilities into the country, taking advantage of the chaos. Ironically, it was five years ago this week that the “Arab Spring” uprising began in Libya -- an uprising that was supported by US military force and led to the overthrow of the Libyan government and the murder of its leader, Gaddafi.
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Mandatory Depression Screening is A Depressing Thought

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The United States Preventive Services Task Force recently recommended mandatory depression screening for all Americans. The task force wants to force health insurance companies to pay for the screening. Basic economics, as well as the Obamacare disaster, should have shown this task force that government health insurance mandates harm Americans.

Government health insurance mandates raise the price of health insurance. Consumers will respond to this increase by either choosing to not carry health insurance or by reducing their consumption of other goods and services. Imposing new health insurance mandates will thus make consumers, many of whom are already suffering from Obamacare’s costly mandates, worse off by forcing them to deviate from their preferred consumption patterns.
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Is Congress Declaring War on ISIS…or on You?

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Passage of Senator Mitch McConnell’s authorization for war against ISIS will not only lead to perpetual US wars across the globe, it will also endanger our civil and economic liberties. The measure allows the president to place troops anywhere he determines ISIS is operating. Therefore, it could be used to justify using military force against United States citizens on US territory. It may even be used to justify imposing martial law in America.

The President does not have to deploy the US military to turn America into a militarized police state, however. He can use his unlimited authority to expand programs that turn local police forces into adjuncts of the US military, and send them increasing amounts of military equipment. Using the threat of ISIS to justify increased police militarization will be enthusiastically supported by police unions, local officials, and, of course, politically-powerful defense contractors. The only opposition will come from citizens whose rights have been violated by a militarized police force that views the people as the enemy.
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Congress is Writing the President a Blank Check for War

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While the Washington snowstorm dominated news coverage this week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was operating behind the scenes to rush through the Senate what may be the most massive transfer of power from the Legislative to the Executive branch in our history. The senior Senator from Kentucky is scheming, along with Sen. Lindsey Graham, to bypass normal Senate procedure to fast-track legislation to grant the president the authority to wage unlimited war for as long as he or his successors may wish.

The legislation makes the unconstitutional Iraq War authorization of 2002 look like a walk in the park. It will allow this president and future presidents to wage war against ISIS without restrictions on time, geographic scope, or the use of ground troops. It is a completely open-ended authorization for the president to use the military as he wishes for as long as he (or she) wishes. Even President Obama has expressed concern over how willing Congress is to hand him unlimited power to wage war.
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