23 June 2011

Some bits and pieces from here and there:

  • Obama said he plans to slowly withdraw the “surge” boost of U.S. troops from Afghanistan over the next year, as he’d hinted he would when he promoted the surge idea in . That will still leave tens of thousands of U.S. troops behind (more than twice as many as were occupying the country when Obama became Commander-in-Chief), with no end in sight. To give you some idea of what sized hole the U.S. has dug themselves there, read this quote from a recent Associated Press report: “The World Bank found that a whopping 97 percent of the gross domestic product in Afghanistan is linked to spending by the international military and donor community.”
  • Edward Gresser, of Progressive Economy, takes a look at U.S. tariffs on imported goods and hopes for a rebirth of progressive free-trade populism, noting that these tariffs are “America’s most regressive tax”: imported leather dress shoes are taxed at 8.5% while cheap sneakers are taxed at 48%; fancy cashmere sweaters are taxed at 4% while their acrylic cousins are taxed at 32%; and the same down the line for shirts, bras, handbags, bedware, dinnerware, jewelry, etc. — luxury items have tiny tariffs, while inexpensive mass-market items are hit with huge rates. These tariffs raised about $26 billion for the U.S. government last year. This seems like an area where the Grover Norquist anti-tax conservatives, the aid-the-poor progressives, and the free-trade libertarians could and should come together.
  • Speaking of free trade, here’s another reason why you can’t trust governments to bring it about. Check out this crazy story: The U.S. props up its cotton industry with subsidies. Brazil complained that this violates international free trade agreements. So the World Trade Organization ruled that the U.S. must stop these subsidies. The U.S. refused. So the WTO said Brazil was entitled to penalize the U.S. by disregarding U.S. intellectual property rights (in other words, they could pirate or duplicate things that were copyrighted or patented by U.S. people or companies without penalty). Did this make the U.S. back down? Not quite. Instead of ending subsidies to U.S. cotton, the U.S. government decided to extend these subsidies to Brazilian cotton manufacturers to mollify the Brazilians! So American taxpayers are paying Brazilian cotton manufacturers so that American politicians don’t have to cut off illegal subsidies to American cotton manufacturers.
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