Doomed to repeat history: Funding Syrian rebels could create another Libya-like foreign policy crisis

Originally posted here.

Watching history repeat itself was not enough for Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY).

The senator from Kentucky took the stage yesterday morning and didn’t stop talking until he made sure the public and the empty chamber had listened to his concerns.

During his remarks on the floor of the Senate, Paul highlighted his reasons to oppose the amendment authorizing president Obama’s plan to provide training and arms to what he calls moderate rebels in Syria. The plan passed both the House and the Senate as an amendment to the continuing resolution funding the government until December 11.

Before the vote, however, Paul raised and urged the empty chamber to put an end to Obama’s plan of arming fighters in Syria who have not proven to be fundamentally opposed to ISIS. “We gave 600 tons of weapons to the Syrian rebels in 2013 alone,” Paul said as he urged his colleagues to keep in mind that the United States is not the only country providing weapons to the rebels.

According to Paul, a Wall Street Journal report detailed “millions of dollars in direct US aid to rebels” from “nearly 8 months ago or more.” As the aid continues to be funneled to rebels in Syria, Paul claims that “no one really knows where that all ended up: Jane’s Terrorism Center noted, the transfer of Quatari arms to targeted groups has the same practical effect as shipping them to Al Nusra, a violent jihadist force.”

By not knowing where these weapons are going and who’s actually making use of the military training, Paul believes passing a resolution that will fund this operation abroad in the hopes that that it might deter ISIS is ludicrous:

“The rebels have been all over the map. There are said to be 1500 different rebel groups. The largest coalition other than ISIS, Al Quada and Al Nusra, all jihadist extremists, is the FSA— which has three people who claim to be the leader.”

Before Congress could have voted consciously on authorizing President Obama’s plan to arm and train anybody in the Middle East — Paul rightly pointed out — certain questions must be answered.

If now ISIS is a threat, he reminded his colleagues that “[t]his administration and its allies on both sides of the aisle in seeking perpetual war, last year wanted the United States to join this war on the side of ISIS, against the Assad regime.” The group that claims to be fighting on our side now might be the group fighting us in the future should we continue to interfere with a civil war that is not ours to fight.

While making his point, Paul took those listening to a brief walk down memory lane, reminding us that “if there is one theme that connects the dots in the Middle East, it is that chaos breeds terrorism.” He continued:

“What much of the foreign policy elite fails to grasp is that intervention to topple secular dictators has been the prime source of that chaos. From Hussein to Assad to Ghaddafi we have the same history.”

We are getting entangled in a conflict that has nothing to do with fighting terrorism and Obama “now wishes to bomb ISIS and arm their Islamic allies in Syria.” Paul is right, the Emperor has no clothes, and as usual, only few can see it.

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More hypocrisy: Senate opens debate on amendment to partially repeal the First Amendment while taking corporate cash

Originally posted here.

Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM)’s S.J. Res. 19, the constitutional amendment proposal that would severely handicap our First Amendment political speech protections, has just been pushed forward in the Senate.

The Hill reports that early on Monday, the Senate advanced the amendment proposal after 20 Republicans voted with Democrats. The amendment, which would reverse the Supreme Court’s decision inCitizens United v. Federal Election Commission, has been worded to restrict the work performed by issue-focused nonprofit organizations and political action committees. It would also target corporations, which is the reason why this amendment is being so widely supported by liberals.

While most Republicans originally stood against boosting the regulatory burden on political speech, Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL), John McCain (R-AZ), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) – among others – voted to push the motion forward. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), among others, voted against the proposal.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has claimed he will spend as much time as Republicans need to debate the issue. To him, campaign spending reform is necessary to curb the easy flow of what he calls “dark money” in politics. According to Reid, “this constitutional amendment is what we need to bring sanity back to elections and restore Americans’ confidence in our democracy.”

While Sen. Reid’s stance on this issue may have a lot to do with the overwhelming support he receives from lobbying groups such as the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC), which invests a substantial amount of money in funding Democratic candidates, reverting the SCOTUS decision will require great support in the House of Representatives where it would have to be ratified by two-thirds of the states.

To Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), little will come out of the effort to push the amendment forward, considering its potentially short life was meant to work as a political stunt that would boost Democrats ahead of midterm elections.

The rhetoric may seem inflammatory enough to instill a sense of pride among passionate progressives but would they support those who are pushing this amendment through Congress if they learned where campaign money for Sen. Reid came from?

Had SCOTUS not acted on striking restrictions that kept corporations and unions from putting money from their general treasury funds into political campaigns, Sen. Reid would have never been able to win elections, considering the substantial financial support he has been receiving from big corporations for so long.

Thought Police alert: federal government dedicates $1 million to wage a war on memes

Originally posted here.

It’s never too late to wage a war on something you deem terrifying – if you’re the government. A recent report has highlighted the obvious: Washington has no idea of what to do with all the easy taxpayer cash it has access to.

It’s almost as if bureaucrats aren’t good at spending your money wisely!

According to The Week, the federal government is using a grant offered to the National Science Foundation to target memes. That’s right; Washington has used about $1 million of your money to finance a database of memes they deem suspicious. Officials, following instructions that tell them to single out any “suspicious memes” or any “false and misleading” political ideas that may have turned into memes, hunt for these images by browsing through social media websites.

The Indiana University is the official headquarters for the special “war on memes” department. The official title of the program is “Truthy.” It’s reportedly inspired on Stephen Colbert’s “truthiness” concept.

And what do officials do while browsing for potentially life-threatening memes?

They look for the origin of the memes so they may identify the source as a professional political activist or just a good old Internet user like you, for an instance.

While the program seems harmless enough on the surface, one million dollars thrown at an effort to catalog memes and identify their sources so that the federal government can put up a web service offering the public info on suspicious meme trends seems eerily close to what a thought police would look like. Or am I just seeing things here?

According to the National Science Foundation, the service “could mitigate the diffusion of false and misleading ideas, detect hate speech and subversive propaganda, and assist in the preservation of an open debate.”

Right.

Could this be another way the government has found to target political dissent? I’ll leave the answer up to you.

Uber learns its lesson: In Washington, you only go legit when you go full crony

Originally posted here.

Before Catherine Ann Novelli, Apple’s VP for “global government affairs,” was nominated as the Obama administration’s under secretary for economic growth, energy, and the environment, Congress used the excuse Apple moved money around to reduce its owed taxes while simply following the tax code to grill its CEO Tim Cook.

Politicians who were angry Apple didn’t use its influence to gain some leverage with lawmakers by creating political action committees used this official investigation to serve as a way to teach Apple – and other companies – just how they must proceed to be allowed to play the game.

The message was clear: either ramp up your lobbying and spend more of your hard-earned money on political campaign efforts, or be prepared for a major Beltway shakedown.

Unlike Apple, Uber – the transportation company that was recently under the spotlight for being threatened by the Taxi cartel – did not wait until a shakedown was put in place to act; the company has recently hiredPresident Obama’s former campaign manager and White House adviser David Plouffe as a senior vice president of policy and strategy.

What does that mean? That his influence in Washington will help assure Uber’s strong ties with government are in place, helping sustain the company’s dominance over the industry.

Unfortunately, that’s the system in Washington; once you hit a political wall, all you need is a strong lobbying presence. As we know, small businesses don’t have the money to pay to play so they are left with only one option: following the rules the big guys write alongside lawmakers.

There’s nothing fair about picking favorites and in Washington, you only go legit when you go full crony. Unfortunately, Uber is going legit and is kicking its competition to the curb in the process.

 

Ex-Im officials have blown through their travel, lobbying budget as they scramble to save the crony Bank

Originally posted here.

 

Export-Import Bank officials have been playing lobbyists not only to U.S. lawmakers, but also to business owners. According to Washington Examiner’s Tim Carney, serving a dual purpose is far from cheap to the taxpayers sustaining the agency.

While rallying Congress to renewal the Ex-Im Bank’s charter, officials have been traveling all over the country to recruit businesses. According to a press release from the Export-Import Bank published last week, “[O]fficials from the Export-Import Bank of the U.S. (Ex-Im Bank) will hold a series of forums, discussions, and small-business stops to increase awareness among American small businesses of how the Export-Import Bank can help them boost their exports abroad, while creating jobs here at home.”

The travels may seem of little importance to supporters of the Ex-Im Bank, but the problem lies elsewhere; during 2012, for an instance, Ex-Im spent $2.7 million in travel expenses while budgeting $1.7 million.

During the next fiscal year, the agency budgeted $1.2 million and spent $2.2 million, but the year of 2014 has been just as concerning. According to The Hill, Ex-Im budgeted $1.3 million, but has already estimated that the total spending may reach the $2.3 million mark.

Officials attempting to boost the public support of the bank and encourage businesses to lobby for subsidies are the ones doing most of the traveling, which is essentially creating a vicious cycle.

So the agency is able to carry its deals, it requires more companies to ask for subsidies, which requires more taxpayer money. By claiming the bank creates jobs at home, Ex-Im Bank officials urge the public and lawmakers to offer their support. But how can that be since taxpayers are really being asked to subsidize businesses abroad?

This is all just a mad display of men in suits talking gibberish on our dime at this point.

Meet Arturo Alas: A free market-minded, Constitution-loving Republican taking on a big government House Democrat in California

Originally posted here.

 

During Arturo Alas’ congressional campaign HQ grand opening in Covina, California, I had the opportunity to chat with the Republican candidate running against Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-CA) to represent California’s 32nd congressional district. After a surprising top-two primary win, Art Alas hopes to win in November with his free market and constitution-loving message.

The incumbent, Grace Napolitano, has been in Congress since 1999, and many in her district appear to disagree with her on several important issues such as the U.S. role in the Syrian civil war. Could the residents of Covina be persuaded to give a Republican a try? The last Republican politician to have represented the district was Craig Hosmer, who left office in 1974.

United Liberty: What motivated you to run for Congress?

Art Alas: The very first thing that motivated me was taxes. I was younger, although I’d like to think I’m still young! But when I was much younger, in my early 20s, I didn’t pay attention to politics, was a very happy-go-lucky guy, so I decided to start a business. I started buying my own properties, fixing them, selling them, and then all of a sudden I got this huge tax bill. After one year, I had worked hard, I made a lot of money, I did well, and my reward was this very big tax bill at the end of the year. My reaction was: where did my money go? That motivated me to begin to investigate more. What is the government doing with my money? It’s like I opened a can of worms because the more I looked into it the less I liked it. I didn’t realize my government was doing so many things that I was not in agreement with. Once you see these things, you can’t just not want to do something about it.

UL: Your parents are immigrants. Have they ever felt that way? Did they ever feel let down with the taxation system here? Did you guys ever talk about politics?

Alas: No. I mean, we never really talked much about it [politics]. I remember that my mom, at a younger age, worked for a non-profit, and I remember that people she worked with were very liberal but I felt like I never really agreed with their point of view a lot of times, not because I was politically savvy, but because the position that they took always seemed to make other people victims. They always wanted to show this victimhood mentality, “oh, we must help them because they are victims,” they would say. In reality, I never felt like a victim, I feel like a person who can do whatever I want to do in life as long as I go after it. I feel like everybody should be treated with that sense of dignity.

UL: Very good. How about your campaign? You got a very positive response during the top two primary. Were you expecting that result? How excited were you?

Alas: I was very excited! We had been working pretty hard, this is my first campaign and I really didn’t know what to expect. But I was happy with what we got, based on what we spent and how much time and money was invested, I felt that the result was a good indicator of where we were at, and where we needed to be. Now, we have a more clear direction, we know where we need to go. I see everyone in my team stepping up the effort so, yes, the result was definitely positive.

UL: Being a Democrat, Representative Grace Napolitano is expected to have wide support in your district due to its Democratic alignment. Do you believe things have changed recently? Do voters now find it easier to pick their candidates based on issues rather than party preferences?

Alas: You know, I think so. I think just in general, as we look at voter registration records, the number one growing party right now is the independents. People are upset with democrats just as much as they are with republicans. Ultimately, whenever they get into a position of power, things don’t really change, we don’t see the difference. One is opposite of the other when the other is in power, but once they get there, they both work to grow the government. They both put more restrictions on our freedoms, and make it harder on us. When I go and talk to people, I can tell they are fed up, and I think they are looking for an alternative. They want someone to actually represent them. Right now, we have a lot of corporate representatives, lawmakers who represent crony capitalists, and Grace Napolitano is no exception.

UL: Agreed. Napolitano has recently voted to allow the federal government to provide weapons to Syrian rebels. Both Reps. Justin Amash and Thomas Massie voted against that amendment. What is your position when it comes to the U.S. involvement in the Middle East?

Alas: I definitely would have voted that down. To get involved in another country’s civil war should never really be our position. Again, it’s our government intervening in places they shouldn’t be. And the results? The same people that we back in Syria will soon be fighting us and are already fighting another countries in the Middle East. It’s just another result of misguided foreign policy. They just want to get involved in everybody’s business, just like they are trying to do here at home with all of us.

UL: How would you describe the relationship between your district’s residents and the National Security Agency’s intrusive surveillance programs? Do you feel that they don’t care about it, or are they worried about their privacy? Where do they stand?

Alas: When I first heard about it I had already researched it and already had a feeling that this was happening. When [Edward] Snowden came out with the revelations, I got a huge confirmation of my early suspicions and of what I had been talking about so when I go out to talk to the community and I mention the NSA [surveillance programs] because it’s at the forefront of my message, I see a lot of people who feel the same way. They feel like the government was abusing their power and they were using it against us, but I also feel that some never wanted to doubt the government. They will say “well, you know, let’s give them the benefit of the doubt, let’s assume that they are doing the best they can,” but I think that now, more than ever, we need to start paying a lot more attention and I think people are starting to because they were lied to, so now they feel betrayed. People don’t like to be lied to by people who are taking their money and mismanaging it. They are essentially spending your money on tools to spy on you.

UL: One of the latest blog posts on your site is about Covina installing cameras around downtown. Napolitano has recently voted in support of allowing the federal government to provide funds to states wanting to acquire new traffic cameras. I think that kind of position clashes with what you appeared to support in your post. Do you find her stance on this issue consistent with your district’s views on the federal government’s place when it comes to the privacy of citizens?

Alas: I don’t think it’s consistent with my district; it’s consistent with Grace. My district is more consistently aligned with my views on this subject. The more I talk to people, again, the more I see they value their privacy, and they feel that this is a complete violation of their privacy. Again, this is consistent with Grace’s view and her big government policies.

UL: So, I see that immigration is a major issue for you and your campaign. How do you define your approach to immigration reform? What do you think would be the first thing, policy wise, that you would do to help fix our immigration system?

Alas: I think we do have to secure the border. It’s not because of lack of resources [that the border is not secure] but a mismanagement issue. The Department of Homeland security gets $60 billion a year to manage the border, but they are obviously not doing their job. They have created all these agencies and, to me, they are much more focused on us, on legal residents and citizens as opposed to the border. So we need to have a secure system there but at the same time, we also need to look at our policies on how many visas we allow for people who want to come to this country, we also need to look at the amount of money and time that costs to come here legally.

UL: Do you think that working on changing the work visa system would be a good approach?

Alas: I think so. I think we need to look at an economic approach. We need to look at what are the needs of industries, and of agriculture. If there’s a willing employee and a willing employer, who are we, as the government, to get in the way of that? Let’s let them connect. Let’s provide a legal structure so that they can come here in a legal fashion so we don’t fuel this crisis.

UL: Cronyism. Let’s talk about that. The recent debate over the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank has been striking a cord with the grassroots and the liberty movement. Many libertarian-conservatives and other consistent conservatives have voiced their opposition to the reauthorization of the bank. There are two bills that deal with this issue, one that was introduced by Republicans wants to diminish the Ex-Im Bank’s vital role but keep it going for a few more years but other Republicans want to put an end to it. The other bill introduced by a Democrat wants to expand the bank’s role. So here’s my question: what is your position?

Alas: I would end it. In my opinion, this is another way for politicians to sell power. It’s another tool for crony capitalists. They give loans to their friends, people that they know, donors, and so on. It’s just another tool that politicians use to benefit themselves and to maintain themselves in power and benefit their friends. So, in my opinion, we need to get rid of it. We can’t keep having these crony capitalist tendencies, we need to move back towards the free market. The free market doesn’t say to give loans to some people but not to others, the free market says to let the individual, or groups of individuals, try to make something of themselves and if they succeed, it’s because the market said that they offered a good product or service, not because the government lent them money and picked them over somebody else.

UL: After all, the government can’t speak for every single one of us, how do they know who to choose, right?

Alas: That’s exactly right.

UL: ObamaCare just got hit recently with a huge blow after a three-judge panel of the DC Circuit Court of Appeals claimed that millions of Americans in certain states would not be able to rely on subsidies due to the way the law is written. Because of this, millions of Americans who bought their insurance plans through the federal Exchange might see a major rise in their premiums. Plans were already more expensive to everyone, whether they were getting subsidies or not, after ObamaCare was enacted. Do you think the Obama administration acted insensibly to Americans and their true needs when it claimed it would make health care plans affordable by simply issuing mandate after mandate? Do you think the administration ever had the best interest of Americans in mind at all?

Alas: I think that if the intention was to reduce the cost of insurance, I don’t think so. For me it’s simple, when you centralize a service, you monopolize that industry, and then ultimately they end up controlling the prices. Prices go up when people have less control. What I would have loved to see from President Obama if he wanted to reform the health care [system] is a much more free market approach, where people could have bought insurance from across state lines, not from a few companies that are designated to you within your state, which was the system beforehand. I would have loved to have seen a system where people can buy policies across state lines and even internationally. Let’s open up the market because once the market is open, that’s when insurance companies would have to compete for your business. Before, and especially now, it’s like you don’t have a choice. These are your only options so they are going to offer you whatever they want to offer you. That’s when we begin to limit ourselves, when we should be giving ourselves more options. Seems like a logical solution.

UL: Common Core. Many different groups across the country have spoken out against it, especially parents and teachers. So, what is your stance on the Common Core State Standards initiative?

Alas: I am not for that. I am not for Common Core. Again, it’s [the government] trying to centralize a certain curriculum for the whole of America. Again, it’s those bureaucrats who think that they know more than everybody else and they can dictate and manipulate and plan other people’s lives. We are a nation of individuals, each one of us is special and we have different talents. What I would love to see is decentralization of education, I would love to see young people and families have opportunities to pursue different routes, and different ways. I would be in favor of a voucher system and let people make a decision on their own as to what type of education they would like to see for their kids and I think that, ultimately, nobody’s going to care more about the education of their kids than their parents.

UL: State rights. There’s an ongoing movement pushing states to simply stand up against federal laws or federal programs they do not agree with or do not want to comply with, such as the NSA surveillance programs, ObamaCare, drug policies, etc. Do you support that movement?

Alas: I fully support state rights because I feel that at the very minimum, with state rights, people have the opportunity to vote with their feet, at the worst case. But when the federal government takes on policy and they try to mandate everybody to be under this policy, people have nowhere to go. Where do U.S. citizens have to go? That’s why state rights are so important, because it gives people, again, options. If they don’t like a law, or policies in California, well, they can move to Nevada. They can choose other policies they can live under, and they have different options.

UL: It’s a free market of states!

Alas: It’s a free market system, it’s just about freedom at this point.

UL: Very good! That’s all I have for you today, thank you so much.

Alas: Thank you very much.

Militarized police supporters in Congress such as Nancy Pelosi get big bucks from defense contractors

Originally posted here.

 

The recent stories coming from Ferguson, Missouri have stirred the police militarization debate by putting the spotlight on the police’s use of “surplus” war gear to contain a mass of protestors in the suburbs of St. Louis.

The protests followed the killing of Michael Brown, and while most are peaceful, local police — and now the National Guard — have proceeded to use rubber bullets, tear gas and other aggressive methods such ascurfews to fight locals and even journalists covering the events.

Without proper coverage, it’s nearly impossible to know what is truly going on in Ferguson, especially because the Federal Aviation Administration banned helicopters to fly below 3,000 feet over the region as soon as the unrest began. News crews often use helicopters to cover live events, but with the ban, law enforcement agents on the ground have a free pass to act according to their understanding of the situation.

No accountability.

One essential piece of this equation, however, is missing from the public debate; lawmakers who support the government’s program allowing the distribution of leftover war gear and weapons to local police departments are also the same lawmakers who receive a considerable amount of financial support from defense contractors.

The Section 1033 program was first created in 1993. The original program, Section 1208, was part of the National Defense Authorization Act, and its intent was to offer local police departments gear that would allegedly help them to fight the drug war. Because of the 1033 program, enforcement agencies in several towns across America have purchased several devices used only by the army such as mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles, night-vision rifle scopes, Humvees, camouflage fatigues, and even grenade launchers.

Back in June, Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) introduced a bill that would defund the 1033 program. As House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) voted against defunding 1033, the bill received the support of Reps. Justin Amash (R-MI), Thomas Massie (R-KY), and Mark Sanford (R-SC).

According to Maplight, representatives “voting to continue funding the 1033 Programs have received, on average, 73 percent more money from the defense industry than representatives voting to defund it.”

Local police officers should have the ability to fight real crime by protecting the residents’ property and life, but in Ferguson, protesters have been standing in front of businesses to keep looters from destroying private property while the police aims its rifles at protesters and journalists.

There’s something very wrong with that picture, especially if you consider the proper role of the police. If policy has perverted many officers’ intent to the extend that, to them, anybody is considered an enemy, it’s time to address this issue in full, before the situation in Ferguson transcends into what one may call a civil war.

The debate over Ex-Im is a decisive moment for conservatives: Democrats are feverishly working to save the crony Bank

Originally published here.

 

As usual, Washington is trying to play politics instead of looking at the long-term consequences of bad policies, putting what they see as the most appropriate short-term solution ahead of what would, in the long run, provide a more just scenario to business owners across the board, while relieving taxpayers in the process.

The debate surrounding the Export-Import Bank could represent a decisive moment for small-government Republicans who oppose corporate welfare, considering their anti-cronyism positions have been adamantly opposed to what the Democrats consider being “pro-business.”

The two parties have their own solutions to the Ex-Im Bank.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) has introduced a proposal legislation that would keep the Export-Import Bank running for five more years. His bill, however, would increase the bank’s borrowing capacities, making it effectively capable of loaning more subsidies to major companies that, obviously, need absolutely no help to do their business abroad, especially if that help comes from hard working taxpayers. The transfer of subsidies, and favoritism games play extremely important roles in the process, and that does not seem to faze the Democrat – or his supporters.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), for an instance, has come out in support of the bank.

But to make sure his reauthorization effort is successful, Sen. Manchin decided to add another provision to the bill. The language, which was meant to attract gullible Republicans willing to trade votes for a quick coal fix, would roll back any Ex-Im Bank restrictions regarding subsidies to foreign coal firms. In other words, if this bill were to pass, the bank would obtain more leeway to provide subsidies to foreign coal plants.

Guess who felt 100 percent compelled to join the Democrat? You guessed it: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

But he’s not alone. Sens. Mark Kirk (R-IL), Mike Johanns (R-NE), and Roy Blunt (R-MO) have all joined Manchin.

In response, Rep. John Campbell (R-CA) has introduced a counter-proposal that, unlike the Democrat’s version, would reportedly diminish the Export-Import Bank’s vital role, which is undoubtedly its capacity to loan money.

While Democrats vow to fight the pro-coal language in Manchin’s bill while supporting the Export-Import Bank, and Campbell tries to pass a bill that reauthorizes the bank while allegedly shrinking its influence, the Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) are pushing to put an end to the 80-year-old crony agency.

McCarthy and Hensarling, who called the Export-Import Bank “the face of cronyism,” have both cast some doubts over Campbell’s bill. Considering its language does not resemble, in any way, a small government narrative, if it were to pass, the Ex-Im Bank would continue getting what it requires: the green light from the federal government to continue picking winners and losers at the expense of taxpayers.

Campbell has dismissed the criticism by saying that most lawmakers favor the Bank’s doing, but would only go along with the reauthorization if deep reforms were adopted.

Intervention comes in all shapes and sizes: U.S. spent over $32 million in failed soy farms in Afghanistan

Originally posted here.

 

Interventionism is pretty bad. Disguising it as economical jumpstart measures with honorable goals is just as bad.

You might be used to referring to intervention solely as policies related to military involvement overseas, but often enough, the U.S. government involvement in the economical lives of other nations is linked to what the government officials, not entrepreneurs or seasonal investors, see as a viable project.

Because knowledge regarding prices and production is dispersed, meaning that not all agents are fully aware of all conditions signaling when it’s time to invest and produce, and when it’s time to lay low, government officials often miss the mark in a big way when attempting to determine what kind of interventionist policy they want to embrace next.

The United States government has ignored these lessons too many times in the past, but most recently, its brutally foolish assertiveness has cost taxpayers $34 million.

Over the past four years, the U.S. has been investing in a campaign to change how Afghans eat, and a major part of the project is associated with aiding the country by helping its farmers to grow soy.

Top taxpayer dollars were used to sustain an effort that involved getting the U.S. into growing soybeans in Afghanistan in the hopes that the crops were a viable commercial crop that would also help Afghans to fight some of its malnourishment issues. Soybeans, some U.S. officials thought, will raise the level of protein in their diets and lead to an agricultural jumpstart, helping the struggling country’s economy to flourish.

Unfortunately, the project was doomed from day one. The first 2011 crop failed. Any other harvest after that also failed to produce enough soybeans, making the project impossible to be carried out.

The failure caused local farmers to abandon the project quickly, leaving the single factory in the region dedicated to processing the beans with the task of dealing with the 4,000 metric tons of soybeans imported from America. The importing of the soybeans alone cost taxpayers $2 million, which is part of the list of botched $120 billion U.S. reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan.

The United States effectively ignored not only the agricultural aspect of this endeavor by ignoring how well the crop would have survived in the region’s climate, it also ignored locals’ traditions.

There is absolutely no demand for soy-processed foods in Afghanistan, no matter how hard the United States tries, the demand for the product is not there.

One of the project’s managers was quoted by Foreign Policy as referring to this endeavor as an honorable, in spite of its risky factors, project, but no venture should be started only because its goals are honorable.

Only financially viable institutions survive.

If a company, whether it’s a shoe factory or a soybean farm, does not turn a profit, its insolvency will keep it from operating in the future, but U.S. officials weren’t investing their money on a well-researched project, they were investing your money instead, making it all the easier to throw dollars into the matter without actually analyzing its costs potential.

Up to this day, it has been impossible for officials to calculate precisely just how much the U.S. has spent in reconstruction efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, but official reports indicate President Obama may have wasted about $7 billion in the reconstruction drive in Afghanistan during his first five years as the president.

Image credit: Soygrowers.org

Shattering conventional wisdom: Venture capitalists are teaching Detroit not to rely on a corrupt, crony local government

Originally posted here.

 

The aging, inactive population of Detroit couldn’t have guessed what would happen once the city’s government announced its insolvency. By 2011, the city’s retirement system had been overwhelmed with the pensions of a crushing majority of workers who were, by then, retired, leaving only 39 percent of its working age population left to foot for the city’s ever-increasing bills.

By then, the city’s $3.5 billion in unfunded pension liability and its nearly $3 billion in government debt had put a strain on the city’s relationship with its residents, a relationship that has never been anything close to candid.

The habit of crony deal-making and the city’s never-ending list of stifling regulations, have slowed down its habitants and kept them from creating opportunities for others by making it hard for entrepreneurs to pursue their own interests. City residents who were often under-skilled – a result of the government’s botched educational system – were left with fewer options as many fled town in fear that their livelihood, businesses and savings would soon be eaten up by the toxic environment Detroit’s disregard for freedom had fostered.

Some of the few companies that stayed, such as Quicken Loans, have been able to bring about a different color to central Detroit. Its CEO, Dan Gilbert, along with other visionary individuals, have launched Detroit Venture Partners, a venture capital firm in the heart of Detroit’s downtown that is currently responsible for helping to kick start about 20 local businesses. All of these firms are start-ups that found fertile grounds amidst Detroit’s rubble.

During a conversation a group of bloggers and I had with Detroit Venture Partners’ Jake Cohen, I found it hard not to feel excited about the company’s successes, which are easily measurable once you step into the firm’s main working space. The creative atmosphere is inviting, which is why the many start-ups working from the firm’s main offices appear to have a hard time leaving.

They are working hard, exchanging a huge deal of aspirations and successes with others, and learning how good it feels to run a business that makes a profit.

The possibilities now seem endless precisely because they are in Detroit. The city where once hope was tied to the residents’ expectations of government is where entrepreneurs now rely only on their own will and hard work to build something new. Without expecting much from city officials, not even protection, individuals learn to love freedom and take the responsibility that comes with it.

Their dependency on government could be finally dying out.

While talking to the partners of the start-ups Detroit Venture Partners helped to launch, I couldn’t help but notice the main difference between what those men and women were doing that were causing them to achieve more success than others who, in the past, had attempted and failed at maintaining a successful business in Detroit. What seemed obvious to me may not be a rational factor for them, at least not just yet, but to me, it is crystal clear: the notion that they are responsible for their success alone promotes their success.

And how did I get to that conclusion?

Talking to business owners around town.

Those who ran restaurants, bars, taverns and liquor stores – which accounted for most of the open businesses around downtown – were always either very comfortable with the idea of having to deal with the downfalls of responding to the government regularly or simply sick and tired of depending on the government’s compassion to get things done.

Those working out of Detroit Venture Partners’ headquarters, however, never mentioned particular issues with the local government, but most importantly, never mentioned any particular hopes related to the government either.