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The Main Blog of Independent Institute

Failed Fannie Mae Lobbyist Orchestrated Biden’s Takeover of U.S. Policy on China
Wednesday January 20, 2021 | K. Lloyd Billingsley

In 1988, a lawyer named Thomas Donilon advised Sen. Joseph Biden’s presidential bid and then served as senior counsel on President Bill Clinton’s 1992 transition team. Donilon became Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs and participated in the expansion of NATO and relations between the U.S. and China.  From 1995 to 2005, Donilon served as chief lobbyist of the Federal National Mortgage Association, better known as Fannie Mae. As CNN reported, Donilon left the government-sponsored enterprise before it imploded and “was forced to pay $400 million to the federal government for misstated earnings during his time there.” Donilon also attempted to interfere with an audit by the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight and tried to launch a separate investigation into the OFHEO itself.  (more…)

2020 Festivus Grievances: $54 Billion in Waste
Wednesday January 20, 2021 | Craig Eyermann

For those of us who pay attention to government spending, the week between Christmas and New Years is a busy time. It’s never pretty, because this is when a lot of wasteful spending is forced through by logrolling politicians. But that doesn’t mean we can’t laugh at them and their wasteful spending priorities. That’s why the holiday-timed arrival of Senator Rand Paul’s annual Festivus Report is such a pleasure. Its arrival begins with the Senator’s announcement of the traditional Festivus airing of grievances via Twitter. (more…)

California Already Showcases Chinese Infrastructure Influence, and a Lot More
Tuesday January 19, 2021 | K. Lloyd Billingsley

Last February in Charleston, South Carolina, presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, Michael Bloomberg, and Joe Biden all said they would not allow Chinese companies to build critical infrastructure in the United States. Nobody noticed that China is already a player on critical infrastructure in California. For the new span of the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge, California turned down federal funding and used Chinese steel. The bridge came in $5 billion over budget, 10 years late, and as hearings in 2014 revealed, riddled with safety issues. Expert witnesses testified that the Chinese steel was too brittle and many welds by Chinese workers were defective and had to be done over. One whistleblower called for a criminal investigation but none took place.  (more…)

Free Speech Is Hard. Its Alternative Is Worse.
Sunday January 17, 2021 | Mary L. G. Theroux

It’s hard to hear ideologues spouting ideas you know are fully wrong, even harder when you know that the implementation of such ideas would hurt people, including you. Hardest is listening to a message full of hate, vitriol, and name-calling, especially when it’s directed against you personally. It’s therefore natural to declare that there is no place in a civil society for such ideas, and shut them out for our own and others’ protection. Yet America’s Founders, having just concluded a contentious, violent, and most uncivil revolutionary war, marked by high feelings and powerful propaganda on both sides, recognized the power of their superior ideas in building support for their cause, and concluded that suppression of free association and free speech poses an existential danger for a free society. They thus enshrined protection of both in the First Amendment that was a necessary condition of the ratification of a Constitution conferring powers in government—therein also ranking an armed citizenry as the second-best defense against tyranny. Yet, as Judge Napolitano observed in his recent column “Trump’s Speech Is Protected Speech,” even these men fell prey, just ten years later, to our natural inclination to silence those by whom we feel threatened. Congress in 1798 passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, among which

made it a crime to utter ‘false, scandalous, or malicious’ speech against the government or the president, or to utter speech in opposition to the government’s efforts to shore up defenses from a war with France that never came about.
Subsequently fearing that their political opponents might use the Acts against them, Congress repealed them before Jefferson took office. (Today’s statesmen might take heed that power granted to your friends remains available for the use of your foes, and think twice before granting sweeping new powers to rulers.) Fast forward to the midst of World War I, and Congress’ passage of the Espionage Act. It was brought to bear against five Russian anarchists living in New York who had published and distributed anti-capitalist pamphlets—the Facebook and Twitter of the day—exhorting workers in armaments factories to lay down their tools, and for the American public to withdraw their support of the war. Convicted, the men appealed to the Supreme Court on the basis of Free Speech. The court upheld the conviction in Abrams et al. v. United States, observing
the plain purpose of their propaganda was to excite, at the supreme crisis of the war, disaffection, sedition, riots, and, as they hoped, revolution, in this country for the purpose of embarrassing and if possible defeating the military plans of the government in Europe.
In his dissent, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote:
the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out.
And therein lies the rub: while we all enjoy the benefits of competition, letting us choose what we like best among many alternatives, we don’t much like it for ourselves. It’s so much nicer not to have to face the threat of someone else being chosen for our job; someone else coming along with a product that people like better than our own; and worst of all, the pain of hearing hateful or dangerous ideas antithetical to ours. Protecting against each threat means having to work harder: making sure we stay on top of current knowledge and training to perform our jobs as best possible, paying attention to our customers to make sure we continue to meet their needs well, and honing our own thoughts and expression of our ideas in compelling and effective means. Writing about today’s college “cancel” culture, ACLU Senior Staff Attorney Lee Rowland observes in “We All Need to Defend Speech We Hate“:
Our Constitution protects hateful speech, yes—but on the theory that truly free speech means the best ideas will win out. We need students trained to really listen to ideas they hate—and respond with better ones.
Today’s suppression of social media accounts, and threat of legislation that would censor the expression of ideas deemed “dangerous” and the people who hold them are nothing but the result of decades of Americans too lazy to study and defend—or deprived of a proper educational grounding in—the principles and ideas of a free society. As Benjamin Franklin observed and has been oft repeated, especially in our 21st century aftermath of the USA PATRIOT Act:
They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.
Glenn Greenwald, among others, is sounding the alarm against today’s calls to deplatform Trump and other “ideologues,” pointing out that in the aftermath of the Capitol incursion, “every War on Terror rhetorical tactic to justify civil liberties erosions is now being invoked in the name of combatting Trumpism.” Further:
That is because the dominant strain of American liberalism is not economic socialism but political authoritarianism. Liberals now want to use the force of corporate power to silence those with different ideologies. They are eager for tech monopolies not just to ban accounts they dislike but to remove entire platforms from the internet. They want to imprison people they believe helped their party lose elections, such as Julian Assange, even if it means creating precedents to criminalize journalism.
Our best defense against such authoritarianism is codified in our very First Amendment. Free speech for all is our most essential liberty. Suppressing it secures only those who feel superior to and thus want to be unaccountable to us: Politicians and their Big Tech bedfellows.

The Jim Crow Legacy of Southern Military Bases
Friday January 15, 2021 | Samuel R. Staley

The U.S. Congress passed a military defense spending bill with a veto proof majority in December. Yet, President Trump has vetoed the bill setting up a to-the-wire showdown with Congress. Trump’s objections included a provision in the bill to rename U.S. military bases honoring confederate generals. While Congress overrode Trump’s veto – its first – on New Year’s Day, the fact Trump and other Republicans considered base renaming initiative a political loyalty test is both significant and unfortunate. Yet, the so-called heritage critics of base renaming want to protect is probably not the heritage Republicans want to claim, unless they favor a return to Jim Crow America. The main public objection to bases carrying the names of ex-confederates is that U.S. military bases shouldn’t be named after traitors. These are men who took up arms against the government. There is, however, perhaps a more sinister motivation behind the nomination of the particular generals at the time these bases were established. (more…)

Venezuela Goes Digital–It Won’t Fix the Problem
Friday January 15, 2021 | Abigail R. Hall Blanco

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro recently announced that the country will be moving toward a “fully digital” economy. The South American nation has struggled in recent years with rampant shortages of staple goods, civil unrest, and hyperinflation. According to the opposition-controlled National Assembly, consumer prices rose more than 65 percent in November, placing the interannual inflation rate up over 4,000 percent. (The Maduro regime stopped publishing official data.) (more…)

Federal Burden of Regulation to Increase
Thursday January 14, 2021 | Craig Eyermann

Next week, Joe Biden will be sworn in as the next President of the United States. With the Congress narrowly divided, his supporters don’t expect much of his policy agenda to gain traction. But he can follow the example of President Obama, who used his pen and phone to bypass the Congress and put many of his policies into effect. For Obama, that meant using federal regulations to achieve in fact what he could not achieve through legislation. That is unfortunate for American businesses and for citizens, because federal regulations impose a heavy burden. (more…)

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