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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

Source: ALTERNET

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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

Source: ALTERNET

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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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Source: ALTERNET

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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

Source: ALTERNET

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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
article
, 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
peace.

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
plans.

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
transactions.

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