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Florida Didn't Run Background Checks on Concealed Weapons for a Year for the Most Ridiculous Reason: Report

June 8, 2018 in Blogs

By Cody Fenwick, AlterNet

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam has called himself a proud “NRA sellout.”


Florida gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam oversaw an office that failed to run required background checks on people applying for a concealed weapons permit for over a year because the worker in charge was unable to log in to the system, according to a new report from the Tampa Bay Times.

The Times cited a report from the inspector general that uncovered the problem. It began in February 2016, when the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services ceased accessing the National Instant Criminal Background Check system — meaning that people who were ineligible for such a permit may have been erroneously approved. Records suggest that hundreds of thousands of people applied for permits in this time.

The Times notes that Putnam, who serves as agriculture commissioner, made an effort to “streamline” the approval process for the permits. He is a major defender of access to guns and has declared himself a proud “NRA sellout.”

The story continues:

“The integrity of our department's licensing program is our highest priority,” said Aaron Keller, a department spokesman, when contacted Friday. “As soon as we learned that one employee failed to review applicants' non-criminal disqualifying information, we immediately terminated the employee, thoroughly reviewed every application potentially impacted, and implemented safeguards to prevent this from happening again.”

Keller added that the NICS database is used for “non-criminal disqualifying offenses” and during this time, the department conducted criminal background checks using two other databases, the Florida Crime Information Center database and the National Crime Information Center database.

Read the full report at the Tampa Bay Times.

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Source: ALTERNET

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Democrats' Polling for the Midterms Is Suddenly Looking Much Better—Here's What That Means

June 8, 2018 in Blogs

By Cody Fenwick, AlterNet

You may have heard Democrats' have lost their edge — that's no longer the case.


Some Republicans have been buoyed by a recent polling swing in their party's favor, hoping that a string of improving numbers bode well for their chances at maintaining federal control in the 2018 election. Fox News host Laura Ingraham even recently praised a quite modest uptick in President Donald Trump's poll numbers despite the fact that they are still objectively bad.

But a new round of polls has given Democrats a major advantage once again in any predictions for the midterms, and it's causing some conservative pundits to reevaluate their optimism. RealClearPolitics now reports that Democrats are ahead 7.6 percent in the so-called generic ballot, which a House majority back within reach of the minority party.

So what does it all mean? Not as much as observers would like you to think.

The conservative site Hot Air ran the headline: “Huh: Democrats’ Lead On Generic Ballot Suddenly Doubles, Now Up To Nearly Eight Points Again.”

But there's not really much of a surprise here. We know polling fluctuates — it would be more of a surprise if the generic ballot stayed exactly the same over a long period of time. There may be a clear cause of the latest shift: Trump's attacks on the rule of law, the new tariffs, the North Korea confusion — you name it. But that's always going to be hard to discern a single cause for a significant swing, except in really decisive circumstances — an “Access Hollywood tape” or a “James Comey letter,” for example.

Which is just to say that the apparent shift in favor of Republicans may have occurred for reasons just as nebulous as the apparent shift back toward Democrats. And between now and November, any number of mysterious changes — or decisive ones — may occur, completely undermining our current expectations.

But as best we can tell, the possibility of the much-discussed “blue wave” remains — as does a continuation of the status quo. Barring a major unforeseen event, a “red wave” is even conceivable, though to be sure, quite …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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Venezuela's Inflation Breaches 25,000%

June 8, 2018 in Economics

By Steve H. Hanke

Steve H. Hanke

When it comes to hyperinflation, we can measure it with great
accuracy. But, it is impossible to produce meaningful
hyperinflation forecasts. During episodes of hyperinflation, their
courses and durations change so rapidly, and so dramatically, that
predictions are a fool’s errand. Indeed, hyperinflations are so
unstable and unpredictable that even forecasting the inflation rate
for a coming month with any degree of accuracy is impossible.
However, this has not deterred the International Monetary Fund
(IMF).

The IMF repeatedly produces forecasts (read: finger in the wind
guesses) of Venezuela’s inflation rate. These guesses appear
regularly in the
IMF’s bi-annual World Economic Outlooks (WEO)
. What does not
appear in the WEO reports, however, are inflation measurements.

Just how looney are the IMF’s guesses? To answer that question,
consider that the IMF forecast for Venezuela’s 2018 year-end annual
inflation rate is 12,874.6%. On May 30th, I accurately measured
Venezuela’s annual inflation rate, and for the first time, it

breached 25,000%
, and today, May 31st, it sits at 27,364% (see
chart below). That’s more than double the IMF’s year-end inflation
forecast, and there are still seven months left to go until
year-end.

And this is only one example of the IMF’s carelessness. In
the same April 2018 WEO report, the IMF forecasts that
Venezuela’s inflation rate at the end of 2019 will be exactly
the same as the IMF estimate for the end of 2018, namely 12,874.6%.
And when I say “exactly,” I mean “exactly.”
Down to the last decimal point. Talk about spurious accuracy.

Why does the IMF’s carelessness matter? After all, who
cares if the IMF is delivering faulty forecasts? Well, the
financial press should care. The Central Bank of Venezuela no
longer reports annual inflation rates. So, there is no official
Venezuelan source for information on what is, in fact, currently
the world’s highest inflation rate. So where can the
financial press turn for an “official” number? As is
often the case, the press turns to the IMF. The problem is that the
press, for the most part, merely reports the IMF’s forecasts,
without so much as a mention of the fact that inflation forecasts
during an episode of hyperinflation are nonsense.

So, where can we find accurate measurements of Venezuela’s
hyperinflation? There are two ways to measure inflation during
episodes of hyperinflation. One way, which is practical, accurate,
and cost-effective, is to employ Purchasing Power Parity (PPP)
theory. That’s what I do. Using high-frequency, black-market
exchange rate data, I am able to calculate an implied annual
inflation rate for Venezuela on a daily basis. The PPP approach has
time and again proven to be extremely accurate <a target=_blank href="http://sites.krieger.jhu.edu/iae/files/2018/02/Hanke-Bushnell_Venezuela.pdf" …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Wall Street Journal Demands GOP 'Rein' Trump In on Trade Before He Ruins the Country

June 8, 2018 in Blogs

By The New Civil Rights Movement

'Mr. Trump Might Rage on Twitter, but Congress Needs to Send Him a Message That His Protectionism Isn’t Cost-Free'


According to the editorial board of the conservative Wall Street Journal, Republicans must band together and strip President Donald Trump of some of his trade powers before he does irreparable damage to the U.S. economy.

Under the headline, Congress vs. Trump on Tariffs, the board blamed Democrats for the laws that have allowed the President to impose tariffs — citing national security — before saying the GOP needs to “rein” Trump in.

“Republicans have complained for years that the executive has encroached on the powers of the legislature, but the GOP hasn’t done much to stop the invasion. This week a bipartisan coalition in the Senate is finally rebelling against the Trump Administration’s unilateral trade war, and we’re glad to see it,” the editors wrote, adding that they are encouraged by push-back from Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker (R).

Noting that U.S. presidents were granted additional constitutional authority on trade dating back to the “Smoot-Hawley tariffs in 1929 that kicked off a global trade war and contributed to the Great Depression,” the journal said that Trump is now misusing them.

“The long-time assumption was that while Congress represented parochial or regional interests, a President would act in the national interest to expand trade. And for decades executives of both parties did. George H.W. Bush negotiated Nafta, while Bill Clinton pushed it through Congress. Free-trade Republicans in Congress passed bilateral trade deals under both Democratic and GOP Presidents,” the opinion piece read.

“Enter Donald Trump, who has now taken that authority and is using it for protectionist, rather than trade-opening, ends. It’s no accident he’s using Section 232, which gives him enormous latitude to define a national-security trade threat and virtually unlimited authority to impose a tariff or quota remedy,” it continued. “For the first time in nearly a century, a President is more protectionist than Congress, and Congress needs to rein him in.”

“Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is saying the Corker bill would be ‘an exercise in futility’ because either the House or Senate might …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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Former Prosecutor: 'If Trump's Campaign Chair Conspiring with a Suspected Russian Operative Isn't 'Collusion,' What Is?'

June 8, 2018 in Blogs

By Cody Fenwick, AlterNet

“This should force the Trump team and the media to change their narrative regarding 'collusion.'”


President Donald Trump frequently insists that there was “no collusion” between his associates and Russia, but a new indictment from special counsel Robert Mueller makes that talking point completely futile now, as former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti explained Friday.

Paul Manafort, Trump's campaign manager during a crucial portion of the campaign, had already been charged with several counts of money laundering, tax evasion, and failing to register as a foreign agent. But the new allegations in Mueller's indictment on Friday show a direct link to an individual, Konstantin Kilimnik, believed to have ties to Russian intelligence.

“This 'superseding' indictment replaces the D.C. indictment and adds new charges against Manafort,” Mariotti explained on Twitter. “Specifically it adds charges that Manafort and Kilimnik conspired to obstruct justice by working together to tamper with witnesses.”

He added: “That evidence would likely be extremely damaging to Manafort at trial–if he was innocent, why would he try to engage in witness tampering?”

These new charges suggest Manafort is under even more pressure than he was before, raising the likelihood that he could begin cooperating with Mueller. But beyond the direct effects this indictment will have on Manafort, Mariotti argued that it had wider implications for the Russia investigation as a whole.

“The indictment is more significant from a broader perspective. It is Mueller's first indictment charging an American and a Russian for working together to commit a crime. He charged the former chair of Trump's campaign and a suspected Russian intel operative with conspiracy,” he said.

“'Collusion' is not a legal term,” Mariotti continued. “Conspiracy is. But if Trump's campaign chair conspiring with a suspected Russian operative isn't 'collusion,' what is? This should force the Trump team and the media to change their narrative regarding 'collusion.'”

 

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As Fentanyl Floods the Streets, Don't Blame Doctors, Patients

June 8, 2018 in Economics

By Jeffrey A. Singer

Jeffrey A. Singer

U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb
announced a one-day “Online Opioid Summit” to be held
in June to discuss “the compelling ease with which average
Americans can now purchase illicit opioids online.” According
to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, while Mexican
cartels play a role by using its well-established heroin and
methamphetamine distribution networks, most of the fentanyl comes
into the U.S. from China.

The overdose crisis has always been primarily due to nonmedical
users accessing drugs in the dangerous black market that results
from drug prohibition. While some unethical and unscrupulous
doctors used their medical degrees to disguise their drug dealing
operations in the form of “pill mills,” these were
extreme exceptions to how doctors practice medicine and have been
largely eradicated. Yet their behavior played into the false
narrative to which misguided policymakers stubbornly cling.

For nearly 10 years, policymakers have been deluded into
thinking that reducing prescriptions will reduce overdose deaths.
State-based prescription drug monitoring programs already
contributed to reducing the prescription of high-dose opioids by
over 41 percent since 2010, the peak year of opioid prescribing.
And opioid production quotas, set by the DEA, were cut 25 percent
last year and another 20 percent this year. It was hoped that
reducing the number of opioids in circulation would leave less
available for diversion into the black market.

Fighting the war on drugs
is like playing a game of Whac-A-Mole. Doctors and patients are the
wrong targets.

The prescription cutdown has made many pain patients suffer
needlessly and cruelly. Some have turned to suicide. Others access
the black market for substitutes like heroin or fentanyl. As is
always the case with prohibition, purveyors of illicit substances
find new ways to satisfy market demand. Sometimes that involves
substituting old drugs with new, more powerful ones. This was seen
during alcohol prohibition as well, when bootleggers pushed whiskey
over beer and wine. And so the overdose rate continues to
climb.

Dealers are responding to market forces. Online distributors
throughout China frequently sell fentanyl over the “dark
web,” often shipping the products to the U.S. via the U.S.
Postal Service or United Parcel Service. This is the way most
fentanyl makes it on to the street, according to the DEA. The U.S.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports fentanyl caused
26,000 overdose deaths in 2017. For the past few years, fentanyl
and heroin have been the major causes of opioid overdose deaths.
The National Survey on Drug Use and Health reports nonmedical use
of prescription opioids peaked in 2012, and total prescription
opioid use in 2014 was lower than in 2012.

Last week, Nebraska State Patrol confirmed its spectacular …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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U.N. Human-Rights Dissonance: From Religious Freedom to Criminalizing Blasphemy

June 8, 2018 in Economics

By Aaron Rhodes, Roger Pilon

Aaron Rhodes and Roger Pilon

When Secretary of State Mike Pompeo released the State
Department’s International Religious Freedom Report for 2017
last week, he announced that in July he will host a meeting of
“like-minded” foreign ministers to discuss ways to
“push back” against countries engaged in religious
persecution. That’s good news, but the initiative itself may
get pushback from the international human-rights establishment,
several of whose members he plans also to invite.

It took no time for a taste of that to emerge. Sarah Margon, for
example, the Washington director at Human Rights Watch, is reported to have cautioned that elevating
the importance of religious freedom could be positive “as
long as doing so does not minimize other rights concerns,”
such as those of the LGBT community, and doing so “truly
protects victims of all religious persecution,” not just
Christians and Jews in Muslim countries.

Such concerns are not entirely unfounded. Both Secretary Pompeo
and former Kansas governor Sam Brownback, now U.S.
ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, belong to
Christian denominations that opposed same-sex marriage. And
President Trump’s oft-stated comments on Muslims give pause
to many about the possibility of selective attention to religious
persecution.

In international-affairs
parlance, ‘rights’ has a very different meaning from the one we
know.

But a much broader pushback lies ahead, and it undercuts
religious liberty. Pompeo invoked the natural-rights tradition that
America’s Declaration of Independence rests on, finding
religious freedom “in the American bloodstream.” By
contrast, the modern human-rights movement rests on the
U.N.’s 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Arising
from political compromises between post-war progressives and some
of the world’s worst tyrannies, the UDHR bows simply to
“inherent dignity,” making no mention of natural law or
natural rights. To be sure, it lists rights in that tradition. But
it goes on with a list of so-called economic and social rights
— to jobs, housing, “periodic holidays with pay”
— which today dominate human-rights debate and practice.

Unlike natural rights to freedom, which require only that we be
left alone, these economic and social rights, if rights at all, are
not universalizable. They’re created by legislatures,
requiring endless redistributive schemes. And as demand for them
grows, governments grow and liberty yields. More sinister still,
the original compromises that elevated these rights to the status
of human rights have enabled totalitarian regimes to sit at the
human-rights table. After 70 years, a toxic hypocrisy poisons the
debate. Russia, China, Cuba, Islamic theocracies, even North Korea
boast about their often illusory economic and social programs as
evidence of human-rights compliance and their own legitimacy.

For a time before the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, Soviet and …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Children May Be Eating Cereal Laced With Monsanto's Toxic Weed Killer

June 8, 2018 in Blogs

By Caroline Cox, Independent Media Institute

The probable carcinogen glyphosate has been detected in popular cereals, but the EPA is ready to approve its use for 15 more years.


Quaker Oats “Life” and “Squares” cereals. Gerber and Beechnut baby oatmeal. Cheerios. Store brand “O” cereals from Target, Safeway, Walmart, Trader Joe’s and Kroger. All those products were contaminated with glyphosate (often sold as Roundup) in

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Source: ALTERNET