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A Sandy Beach and Constitutional Political Economy

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I normally walk my dogs twice each day along the beach, which gives me an opportunity to ponder, among other things, issues in constitutional political economy. My late friend James Buchanan, one of the deepest thinkers in political economy during the past century, led the development of this field of study in his time. Jim maintained that both for understanding how the political world works and for constructing better institutions to foster freedom and prosperity, one ought to distinguish between the establishment and maintenance of the constitution, on the one hand, and normal politics, on the other. The idea is that the constitution has more durability and sets more binding constraints, whereas normal political action takes place within these bounds, dealing with less fundamental matters and doing so in a more volatile way.
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Why Snowden the Movie Matters

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I’ve reviewed Oliver Stone’s movie Snowden elsewhere, and it’s well worth seeing just as a movie. But of course the issues brought up by Snowden the man, and Snowden the movie, are more complex than fit into two hours.

I had this hit home in a recent discussion with a friend who keeps insisting he has nothing to hide in his emails, phone calls, social media, etc., so why should he care if the NSA looks at all that?

Friend, here’s why:

NSA surveillance is legal.

True, as was slavery in the US, the Holocaust under Nazi Germany, Apartheid in South Africa and so forth. Laws serve higher purposes. They can be manipulated for evil. That’s why we need checks and balances to protect us.

Well, there are checks and balances in the system to protect us.

The king of all checks and balances in this, the Fourth Amendment, has been treated by the government like a used Kleenex.
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Syria — What Cost 'Victory'?

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A deep contradiction lies at the heart of US policy towards the present horrifying conflict in Syria. Which is better? To now reluctantly accept continuation of Bashar al- Assad in power in Damascus for the foreseeable future, thereby hastening the end of the war and the killing? Or to fight till the last Syrian in the belief that an indefinite prolongation of the civil war will somehow bring about a much brighter future for Syria and deal a rebuff to the position of Russia and Iran in Syria? 

The Syrian war represents one of the darkest moments in civil conflicts anywhere in the world in recent years. At this juncture its locus is now in Aleppo, Syria’s second largest city, and an ancient center of Middle Eastern high culture. And this is where the human level of suffering particularly cries out for relief. The number of people who have been killed by bombing—in recent weeks especially by Syrian government forces and Russian air attacks— is horrendous. Fear, starvation and death haunt this once magnificent city.

But there is a decision to be made. Back in 2011 in the midst of the Arab Spring revolutions, there was reason to believe that the Assad regime too, would quickly bite the dust, as did Mubarak in Egypt, Qaddafi in Libya and Bin Ali in Tunisia. But as an early uprising emerged against  Assad, the regime reacted swiftly with harsh reprisals in the belief that a quick putdown would nip it in the bud.
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Free Speech Victory: The 'Ron Paul' Sign Can Stay!

Are laws regulating how long you can keep up a political sign on your property a restriction of free speech? Texas businessman Michael Kleinman thought so after the state told him to remove his "Ron Paul 2012" sign after the election. According to Texas' "beautification" laws, political signs must be removed 10 days after an election and cannot go up more than 60 days before the election. Kleinman was fined by the state but he fought back. For four years. And this summer he finally won. We'll look at his story and free speech in today's Liberty Report...
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Destroying Syria: A Joint Criminal Enterprise

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Everyone claims to want to end the war in Syria and restore peace to the Middle East. 

Well, almost everyone.

 “This is a playoff situation in which you need both teams to lose, but at least you don’t want one to win — we’ll settle for a tie,” said Alon Pinkas, a former Israeli consul general in New York told the New York Times in June 2013. “Let them both bleed, hemorrhage to death: that’s the strategic thinking here.” 


 Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, stressed the same points in August 2016:
The West should seek the further weakening of Islamic State, but not its destruction… Allowing bad guys to kill bad guys sounds very cynical, but it is useful and even moral to do so if it keeps the bad guys busy and less able to harm the good guys… Moreover, instability and crises sometimes contain portents of positive change… The American administration does not appear capable of recognizing the fact that IS can be a useful tool in undermining Tehran’s ambitious plan for domination of the Middle East.
Okay, not exactly everyone.
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VP Debate: Hawk Versus Hawk

Anyone hoping for a sign of change in US foreign policy was surely disappointed by last night's vice presidential candidate debate. Both Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican Mike Pence made their foreign agenda clear: war. From a no fly zone in Syria to punishing "aggressive" Russia, the only disagreement was how on who could be the most warlike. In today's Liberty Report we look at the vice presidency as an institution. It is more important than the "bucket of warm spit" as claimed by former US Vice President John Nance Garner. Eight US presidents have died in office, their vice presidents taking over for them. Significant figures like Theodore Roosevelt, LBJ, Harry Truman. What does it say that the two major party vice presidential candidates are so alike?
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CNN Celebrates Iraqi Housewife Who Beheaded and Then Cooked the Skulls of ISIS fighters

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When Islamic State beheads someone it is terrorism. When an Iraqi housewife beheads an ISIS fighter and cooks his skull, it is freedom. That is the CNN doctrine.

CNN reports the story of 39-year-old Wahida Mohamed aka Um Hanadi, an Iraqi woman who supposedly leads a tribal militia force of around 70 men south of Mosul. She and her band allegedly helped “government forces” drive Islamic State out of a small town.

“I began fighting the terrorists in 2004, working with Iraqi security forces and the coalition,” she told CNN. CNN cites no other source other than Um Hanadi herself and Facebook in its coverage.

As a result, Um Hanadi said, she attracted the wrath of what eventually became al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, which later morphed into ISIS. “I received threats from the top leadership of ISIS, including from Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi himself,” she says. “I’m at the top of their most wanted list, even more than the [Iraqi] Prime Minister.”

Um Hanadi stated al Qaeda/AQI/ISIS planted car bombs outside her home in 2006, 2009, 2010, 2013, and 2014.
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Inside the Shadowy PR Firm That’s Lobbying for Regime Change in Syria

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On September 30, demonstrators gathered in city squares across the West for a "weekend of action” to “stop the bombs” raining down from Syrian government and Russian warplanes on rebel-held eastern Aleppo. Thousands joined the protests, holding signs that read "Topple Assad" and declaring, "Enough With Assad." Few participants likely knew that the actions were organized under the auspices of an opposition-funded public relations company called the Syria Campaign. 

By partnering with local groups like the Syrian civil defense workers popularly known as the White Helmets, and through a vast network of connections in media and centers of political influence, The Syria Campaign has played a crucial role in disseminating images and stories of the horrors visited this month on eastern Aleppo. The group is able to operate within the halls of power in Washington and has the power to mobilize thousands of demonstrators into the streets. Despite its outsized role in shaping how the West sees Syria’s civil war, which is now in its sixth year and entering one of its grisliest phases, this outfit remains virtually unknown to the general public.

The Syria Campaign presents itself as an impartial, non-political voice for ordinary Syrian citizens that is dedicated to civilian protection. “We see ourselves as a solidarity organization,” The Syria Campaign strategy director James Sadri told me. “We’re not being paid by anybody to pursue a particular line. We feel like we’ve done a really good job about finding out who the frontline activists, doctors, humanitarians are and trying to get their word out to the international community.”
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Iraq Will Use Sept 11 Bill To Sue US Government For 2003 Invasion, Demand Compensation

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As reported on Saturday, a September 11 widow was the first American to take advantage of the recently passed Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism (JASTA), aka the "Sept.11" bill courtesy of Congress which for the first time in Obama's tenure overrode his veto, by suing the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Stephanie Ross DeSimone alleged the kingdom provided material support to al-Qaeda and its leader, Osama bin Laden leading to the death of her husband, Navy Commander Patrick Dunn, who was killed at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2009, when Stephanie was two months pregnant at the time with the couple's daughter. Her suit is also filed on behalf of the couple’s daughter. She sued for wrongful death and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

As we said last week, we expect many more such lawsuits to be filed in the coming days now that the "seal has been broken", forcing the Kingdom to defend itself in a court of law, perhaps leading to ever growing displeasure by Riyadh with the US administration, and potentially leading to punitive measures such as selling of US-denominated securities.

However, in an unexpected twist, over the weekend following the passage of JASTA, it was citizens of Iraq who asked their parliament to demand compensation for the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. As Al-Arabiya news channel reported on Saturday, an Iraqi group has requested parliament to prepare a lawsuit seeking compensation from the US for the invasion of Iraq.
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War Profits: PR Firm Gets $500 Million To Spin Iraq War

Thanks to a non-profit investigative journalism organization we now know that the Pentagon paid British PR firm more than half a billion dollars over five years to create false propaganda designed to push the US story line on the Iraq war. How much of it was aimed at the Iraqis and how much came back to propagandize us? We don't know. We do know that war brings fantastic profits to the well-connected. More on this blood money in today's Liberty Report...
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