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Trump's Supreme Court Pick Isn't Planning on Recusing Himself from Russia Probe Cases: Report

August 31, 2018 in Blogs

By Cody Fenwick, AlterNet

Brett Kavanaugh's views favor an expansive approach to executive power.

Judge Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump's pick to be the next Supreme Court Justice, will not tell Congress that he plans on recusing himself from cases involving the president or the ongoing Russia investigation, according to a new report from ABC News.

The report comes ahead of Kavanaugh Senate hearings, where his relationship to Trump and the dark cloud of the Russia investigation is expected to be a major focus. Many have expressed concern about Trump being able to nominate a Supreme Court Justice amidst while he appears to face serious legal jeopardy.

Any serious questions regarding the president's standing with regard to criminal investigations or prosecutions may eventually find its way before the Supreme Court — and critics of the president say appointing Kavanaugh essentially lets him choose the judge in his own case.

The issue is particularly relevant in the case of Kavanaugh, who has espoused views that are very favorable to the executive branch and the power of the presidency.

Some have suggested, therefore, that it would be both prudent and morally right for Kavanaugh to pledge to recuse from any cases involving the investigation that has hung over the period of his nomination process. These calls gained steam last week when Michael Cohen, the president's former lawyer, implicated him in campaign finance crimes while pleading guilty in federal court.

ABC News reports:

Kavanaugh will “pledge to be independent-minded in the event he has to make such a consideration, as all justices do,” a White House official involved with the process told ABC News. It's unlikely such an assurance will placate Democrats' concerns, though their ability to block the nomination remains limited.

Supreme Court nominees don’t typically engage in hypothetical scenarios, and it is not entirely surprising that Kavanaugh would decline to offer a firm pledge to recuse himself in any case, although other nominees have done so on specific matters. But Democrats will no doubt seize on such a moment in the hearings to try to validate their claims that Trump picked Kavanaugh with an expectation he would protect him from …read more


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Here's Why Canadians Pay Little Attention to Their Military

August 31, 2018 in Blogs

By The Conversation

There's a strategic reason behind the phenomenon.

Canadians are in a sleepy state when it comes to their military according to a column earlier this summer by the CBC’s Murray Brewster, who reported on the results of a poll by the Earnscliffe Strategy Group.

The poll found that awareness of, and familiarity with, the Canadian Armed Forces was generally very low, and virtually non-existent among younger Canadians.

None of this should come as a surprise to those who study Canadian military history and civil-military relations in Canada.

About the only foreign war Canada has fought in the past 120 years that did not create significant political tensions for a Canadian government was the Korean War.

Every other conflict raised serious questions about Canadian unity, Canadians’ level of comfort with their nation at war and serious social and political issues about the way Canadian governments have run the wars they have led their country into.

The South African War of 1899-1902, also known as the Boer War, badly divided the country along linguistic lines.

Canada was not yet a constitutionally independent country. It was in the process of searching for ways to reconcile the strong imperial feelings of many Canadians who saw their identity as directly linked to the growing power of the British Empire, and those who wished to strike out on their own to find a path to equality within the empire. Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier was among those hoping for a more autonomous path, if not eventual independence.

Yet suddenly Canada was dragged into a war a half a world away and became a nation willing to shed blood to serve her imperial master.

Initial Quebec support

The First World War seemed at first to unite Canadians, especially when Laurier, now leader of the opposition, pledged to support the war against imperial Germany. Even French-Canadian nationalist leader Henri Bourassa was initially willing to endorse Canadian participation.

But in reality, this was a war that pitted committed British Canadian nationalists against Canadians who saw nothing but another imperial adventure sucking in Canadian blood and treasure. The 1917 Conscription Crisis left at …read more


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Neo-Nazis Send Racist Robocalls to Voters About Florida's Black Gubernatorial Candidate Andrew Gillum

August 31, 2018 in Blogs

By Matthew Chapman, AlterNet

The robocalls follow a string of controversies about Republican candidate Ron DeSantis.

In a campaign already marked with racial controversies, a white supremacist group is targeting Florida Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum with robocalls.

According to Gillum's hometown paper, the Tallahassee Democrat, the calls feature an actor, posing as Gillum, “using an exaggerated minstrel dialect with jungle noises in the background.” A disclaimer in the calls states they are paid for by The Road to Power, a white supremacist, anti-Semitic group led by Idaho-based neo-Nazi Scott Rhodes, who has also paid for robocalls in Oregon, California, and Charlottesville, Virginia.

Neither the Tallahassee Democrat nor Politico, which also obtained the audio, will be releasing it, in keeping with the Gillum campaign's wishes that the robocall and its senders should not be given “undeserved attention.”

Gillum, a staunch progressive who overcame numerous polls and conventional wisdom to win an upset victory in the Democratic primary on Tuesday, is the first African-American to be nominated by a major political party for governor of Florida.

A spokesman for Gillum's Republican opponent, pro-Trump House Freedom Caucus member Ron DeSantis, condemned the robocalls, saying, “This is absolutely appalling and disgusting — and hopefully whoever is behind this has to answer for this despicable action.”

But DeSantis also faces sharp questioning for his own racist behavior. On Wednesday, he sparked outrage by saying on Fox News that Gillum should not be allowed to “monkey up” Florida's finances. He also withdrew from his role as administrator for a Facebook Tea Party group known for virulent racism, Islamophobia and conspiracy theories, although he insists he was added to the group without his knowledge.

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This 'Breaking Bad' Candy Shaped Like the Show's Blue Meth Is a Really Bad Idea

August 31, 2018 in Blogs

By Phillip Smith, Independent Media Institute

The sugary tribute to Walter White is raising eyebrows.

A shop in Provo, Utah—of all places—has been outed for selling packages of rock candy marketed as the infamous “Blue Sky” methamphetamine cooked up by chemistry teacher turned meth maker Walter White in the hit TV series “Breaking Bad.”

The series, which aired for five seasons on AMC, told the story of White, an Albuquerque high school teacher who turned his talents to the lucrative task of manufacturing meth after he was diagnosed with lung cancer.

The item spoofs the nearly pure blue meth White cooked up in the show, complete with the “Breaking Bad” logo and an image of White as his clandestine alter ego Heisenberg superimposed over a glass beaker.

The rock candy was on sale at the FYE (For Your Entertainment) shop in Provo but apparently is no longer. It was also for sale on the on the store’s website, but as of today, “this item is currently not available,” the website says.

“Ever want to own a street-legal package of Heisenberg’s infamous “Blue Sky” product? Now you can with Breaking Bad Blue Sky Rock Candy Crystals, a package of deliciously addicting blueberry-flavored rock candy,” reads the product description on the FYE site.

It is still available on eBay, but only at the collector's price of $24.50 a bag. (It was going for $4.99 on the FYE site.)  Amazon and other websites sell blue rock candy without the methy marketing, andrecipes for “Breaking Bad” rock candy are also all over the Internet.

Selling meth-marketed candy broke bad for FYE this past week when one of their customers took notice and then took umbrage. Customer Parker Twede posted a photo of the package to his Instagram page (he made his page profile private on Wednesday, so the rock candy pic is no longer available there).

“Just when I thought I had seen it all. Seriously?” Twede captioned the photo.

Twede was also happy to talk to local media about his concerns, racking up at least two …read more


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Welcome American Friends to Glorious North Korea

August 31, 2018 in Economics

By Doug Bandow

Doug Bandow

Otto Warmbier, the University of Virginia student who died
tragically after being imprisoned by North Korea, was once
President Donald Trump’s poster child for the U.S. administration’s
policy of maximum pressure. Trump even invited Warmbier’s parents
to the State of the Union speech, and his death became another
argument for sanctions and threats of war.

But angry jibes at North Korean brutality disappeared once the
president planned a summit with the North’s leader, Kim Jong Un. At
that meeting, Trump lavished praise on his counterpart. Warmbier,
dead and buried, was a forgotten embarrassment.

Alas, the travel ban triggered by his death lives on, and the
administration has just announced that it’ll be extended for
another year. It has become one more unnecessary obstacle to a
peaceful solution to the North Korean problem. Americans are not
allowed to visit North Korea, the only nation that has such an
absolute ban. (Financial restrictions affect travelers to some
other states, such as Cuba.) Exemptions are available for
humanitarian, journalistic, and other purposes considered to be in
the “national interest,” but most contacts are barred.

Warmbier’s case was perplexing, since Pyongyang always had
wanted its Americans alive, enhancing their trade value. In a
recent GQ magazine
, Doug Bock Clark added to earlier statements from
Warmbier’s doctors and coroner to report that there was no evidence
the student was tortured. Experts interviewed by Clark suggested
that Warmbier may have suffered an adverse allergic reaction.
Whatever the cause of his death, the North does not make a regular
habit of kidnapping U.S. tourists. Over the last two decades or so,
17 Americans have been detained. Only five were tourists, one of
whom, Matthew Miller, purposely went out of his way to get
arrested. Others were charged with illegal entry, religious
activities, or other crimes in North Korea’s view.

Letting U.S. tourists
back into the country would be a small but potent move toward

The ban on visiting the North is twinned with the
administration’s bizarre prohibition on North Koreans entering
America. The restriction grew out of Trump’s botched Muslim ban.
Apparently to demonstrate that his ire was not limited to
Muslim-majority countries, the executive order’s third iteration
added North Korea and Venezuela to the list of forbidden nations.
The administration may have hoped to enhance its policy of maximum
pressure, even though the restriction only affected a handful of
defectors, who should be warmly welcomed, and government officials,
who should be engaged, albeit less warmly. There are no North
Korean tourists to forbid.

The administration should reopen the borders both ways.

Trump has discovered that his June 12 agreement with Kim —
which essentially commits …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Cuomo’s Doing Nothing about the Burdens That Drive People to Flee New York

August 31, 2018 in Economics

By William Ruger, Jason Sorens

William Ruger and Jason Sorens

Making a case for a third term, Gov. Cuomo argued Wednesday that
New York “has
always been the progressive capital
” of the nation and the
alternative to President Trump’s conservative policies. Indeed,
Cuomo himself has worked from the progressive rulebook, as when he
pushed for a $15 minimum wage, paid family leave or more
restrictions on gun rights.

And he has been largely successful in making New York more
progressive. Unfortunately, that may be precisely why so many New
Yorkers are leaving. From January 2000 to July 2016, the latest
available data, New York lost a net 14.1 percent of its population
to other states — the biggest loss in the country.

To hear Cuomo tell it, the biggest problem with New York is
wasteful local government, and his solution is centralizing power
in Albany and dishing out more corporate welfare. There may be a
kernel of truth in that, but it misses the bigger picture.

New York has the highest local-tax burden in the country, an
incredible 8.5 percent of income on average. If you live in Erie
County, you can easily pay 4 percent of your home value in annual
property taxes, plus an 8.75 percent sales tax, plus New York’s
progressive income tax (over 6 percent for most families), plus
high gas taxes and tolls on I-90 and an assortment of minor taxes
and fees.

To make New York a great
place to live, not leave, Cuomo ought to focus on cutting tax
rates, easing regulations and allowing more freedom.

No wonder so many New Yorkers have fled. One of us moved to New
Hampshire after living in Buffalo for eight years. In New
Hampshire, you might pay a similar property-tax rate in some areas,
but you have no broad-based income tax or general sales tax.

There, counties subsist on a sliver of property-tax revenue,
while state government gets the bulk of its revenue from business
taxes and rooms and meals taxes. Meanwhile, schools and roads seem
every bit as good in New Hampshire as New York, and the poverty
rate is lower.

Why are local governments so expensive to run in New York? It’s
actually not their fault, for the most part.

State government hobbles localities with costly, pro-union
policies like the prevailing-wage law, which requires governments
to pay a significantly above-market wage for construction projects,
and the Taylor Law, which sharply restricts municipalities’ ability
to limit collectively bargained benefits for their workers.

Municipalities also can’t control pension liabilities by
requiring defined-contribution rather than defined-benefit

The solution to the astronomical local-tax burden is to give
municipalities more control over their own spending, …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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When It Comes to the VAT Base, the Freedom to Narrow Is Best Ignored

August 31, 2018 in Economics

By Ryan Bourne

Ryan Bourne

The temptation is near irresistible. Brexiteers want
“wins” from freshly repatriated policy freedoms. One
tax-related power we get back upon EU exit is determining the
structure of VAT.

Those dastardly Brussels menaces have long constrained
governments’ desires to slash rates on certain products.
Freed from their obstinance, some Leavers want Philip Hammond to
deliver popular rate cuts on products such as women’s
sanitary products and domestic fuel.

The Chancellor, in this case, must resist Brexiteer demands.
Further complications of our dysfunctional tax code should be no
Brexit priority. Carve-outs of products from the VAT base will jack
up compliance and administrative burdens, distort consumer choices,
necessitate higher, more damaging taxes elsewhere and deliver
relief for its supposed beneficiaries in a maddeningly inefficient
manner. Worse, it will open the floodgates to a baying mob of
vested interests encircling the Treasury.

During the referendum campaign, Vote Leave advocated reducing
the VAT rate on household gas and electricity to zero. Brexiteers
jumped too upon the bandwagon of zero-rating the “tampon
tax” – the 5pc VAT currently imposed on sanitary products.
The EU has since ceded this, albeit kicking the can for
countries’ ability to zero-rate women’s sanitary
products to 2022.

UKIP, laughably, pledged last year to scrap VAT on fish and
chips. A long-running holiday industry campaign wants VAT on
domestic tourism to be jettisoned. Now, with this ever-loudening
hum of demands and buoyed by rhetoric against online corporations,
the property consultancy Colliers International has suggested a
two-tier VAT system across business types, with a 15pc rate for
purchases in stores and a much higher 22.5pc VAT for online

No wonder all sense an opportunity. VAT is one of very few taxes
almost entirely overseen by Brussels. EU rules make VAT compulsory,
set a minimum main rate of 15pc, and restrict us from expanding the
list of zero-rated items. The rationale is to stop back-door
protectionism through zero-rating items produced at home and
applying full rating to types of goods imported. After Brexit, we
are at liberty to change all that.

But change we must not. At least, not in the proposed direction.
We Brexiteers might be loath to admit it, but in this area the EU
has generally pushed us towards economic literacy. Broad bases and
low tax rates are the goal. We shouldn’t be discriminating
between activities or products.

These new suggestions would complicate an already infuriatingly
daft system. The UK VAT exempts entirely sports activities, most
gambling and museums. It zero-rates most food, books,
children’s clothes and newspapers. A lower rate of 5pc is set
for energy, sanitary products and much more.

The estimated lost revenue of major reliefs alone stands at
£52bn, according to HMRC. That’s a …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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'He's Turned the White House into an Alternative Fox Show': Fox News Host Says the Network 'Radicalized' Trump

August 30, 2018 in Blogs

By Matthew Chapman, AlterNet

Fox News host Greg Gutfeld said what everyone already knows about his network's relationship with the president.

It is increasingly clear that President Donald Trump is marching to the drumbeat of Fox News. And people at the network know it.

In an interesting moment of candor, Fox News Host Greg Gutfeld laid out just what role his network has played in enabling and bolstering Trump's behavior.

“You know what it is? Trump was radicalized by something, okay?” said Gutfeld on “The Five” on Tuesday. “Because he was a Democrat for a long time, he was pro-choice, liberal in many things. He was radicalized. What was he radicalized by? Us. Fox News. When Fox News happened he watches Fox, and the world starts to make sense to him, and then — so all he's doing, Juan, is what we do, which is, we bash the media!

“So he's just doing — he's turned the White House into kind of, like, an alternative Fox show where he sits there and he rips the media,” Gutfeld continued, roaring with laughter. “It's kind of refreshing.”

Gutfeld, as a Fox commentator, may find that “refreshing,” but it is in fact deeply disturbing. Fox News has long operated as an echo chamber for right-wing ideologues who want to promote themselves free from fact-checking — at least one study has found Fox News viewers are less informed on politics than people who don't watch any news at all.

Trump, moreover, has gotten numerous toxic falsehoods from Fox, from the idea that South African farm attacks are a conspiracy to expropriate land from white people, to the idea that Google is censoring conservative search results. …read more


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Legal Experts Say Trump Is Already Obstructing of Justice in the Case Against Paul Manafort

August 30, 2018 in Blogs

By Cody Fenwick, AlterNet

“There is very little doubt what signal the president is sending his longtime associate and former campaign chairman.”

Even President Donald Trump's allies in Congress have warned him that pardoning Paul Manafort, his former campaign chairman who has been convicted of eight counts of bank and tax fraud, would be a “bridge too far.”

But the president and his lawyers still have made it clear that they are willing to consider a pardon for Manafort — though they have said it will wait until after special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation wraps up.

In a new op-ed for the New York Times, to law professors Alex Whiting and Ryan Goodman argued Thursday that despite the fact that Trump hasn't yet tried to actually pardon Manafort, his involvement in the case against his former campaign chairman already constitutes obstruction of justice. President Richard Nixon, they note, was accused of similar behavior in the articles of impeachment adopted by the House of Representatives.

“Mr. Trump appears to be trying to have it all: dangling a pardon down the line to keep Mr. Manafort quiet, giving the president the benefits of a pardon without requiring him to pay substantial political costs,” they wrote. “That requires assuring Mr. Manafort that a pardon will very likely come, and Mr. Giuliani has obliged, telling reporters that Mr. Trump himself raised the subject of a Manafort pardon.”

They continue: “Whether and when he acts, it appears that Mr. Trump has already embarked on a strategy of using his pardon power to silence witnesses in the Mueller investigation. In other words, at this point, dangling the prospect of a pardon or going ahead and exercising it amounts to the same thing: obstruction of justice.”

Trump could have avoided all of this, they argued, if he had just kept his mouth shut about pardons. 

Citing the articles of impeachment against Nixon, they say that Trump has engaged in some of the conduct the former president — who ultimately resigned instead of being forcibly removed from office — carried out, specifically: “Endeavoring to cause prospective defendants, and individuals duly tried and convicted, to expect favored treatment and consideration …read more


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Conservative Magazine Pathetically Tries to Argue that Trump and Tucker Carlson Aren't Racists

August 30, 2018 in Blogs

By Cody Fenwick, AlterNet

“There are people with far, far more offensive racial views than Donald Trump or Tucker Carlson,” the magazine said.

Evidence that President Donald Trump is racist emerges so frequently and consistently that credible commentators on American politics no longer even doubt the fundamental fact of his bigotry.

But of course, many of the president's defenders — and even conservative critics of the president — do their best to argue that Trump is the farthest thing from being racist.

The latest in this sad genre comes from The American Conservative, a right-wing magazine. In a new article, Jack Hunter argues that despite what many in the media say, Trump isn't racist. He even argues that claiming Trump is a white supremacist only empowers the “real” racists. 

And yet despite this sweeping claim, Hunter engages with very little of the extensive arguments put forth that document decades worth of the president' racism. Instead, he focuses on a single recent event that many critics of the president cited as an embodiment of his white supremacist worldview: Trump's tweet about Fox News' Tucker Carlson, who devoted a segment of his show to discussing South African policy toward white farmers. This issue has been seized upon by white supremacists trying to portray themselves as victims.

Hunter argues that because there are legitimate concerns regarding this issues — the idea of land expropriation has proved disastrous in the past, and there have indeed been some apparent murders of white farmers — the incident cannot be evidence of Trump's racism.

“That Trump and Carlson are taking their talking points from neo-Nazis seems absurd once one takes into account the full circumstances of what occurred, something most mainstream outlets have not done in their eagerness to tag both men as racists,” Hunter wrote. “Though South Africa’s complicated history and politics should be included in this discussion, Carlson is not wrong.”

If you squint and tilt your head, Hunter might seem to have a point. But the problem is that he ignores the entire context in which this event occurred.

Trump's presidency has promoted racist bans on Muslim travel and vicious policies toward immigrant …read more