Monday, May 21, 2018

As if?

Elizabeth Warren Boldly Pledges to Never Take Money from a Group that Has Never Donated to Her
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the Native American* Democrat from Massachusetts, has boldly pledged to refuse to accept donations from the National Rifle Association. Which really does not change anything because, according to OpenSecrets.org, the NRA has never donated to Sen. Warren in the first place. 
Still, Sen. Warren is being praised for this decision announced via NowthisNews.com in which she proudly proclaims, "It's time we strip the NRA of its stranglehold over our children's lives." She is technically the first Senator to refuse to accept NRA money. 
Sen. Warren has never really been a fan of the NRA. In February, she promised to fight the NRA at every turn. 
That should be a pretty obvious sign that she was not going to be getting any money from them in the future. So, Sen. Warren declaring that she refuses to accept their money is a little bit laughable. It is purely a symbolic move for the Democratic base. It kind of comes across a little desperate. Sen. Warren is akin to the mean kid in high school who was not invited to hang out and then declares, "Well, I didn't want to hang out with you anyways." 
*She has never actually proven that she is a Native American aside from saying that it is part of her family folkore

States Get A Windfall From GOP Tax Cuts, But Will They Return The Money To Taxpayers?

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States Get A Windfall From GOP Tax Cuts, But Will They Return The Money To Taxpayers? 

Tax Cuts: When Republicans were putting together their tax reform plan last year, a chorus of critics warned that it would devastate state budgets. Like so many other claims, this turned out to be false.
The New York Times reported in November, for example, that "state and local officials in high-tax states like New York, New Jersey and California are warning the tax plan will strain state budgets."
A "news analysis" in the Washington Post said the tax law would make "it harder for states and cities to pay their bills."
A widely cited National Education Association report claimed the GOP tax bill would "blow a nearly $250 billion hole in state and local revenue" that would put "nearly 250,000 educationjobs at risk."
But once President Trump signed the tax reform into law, state budget officials started reporting that revenues will actually increase because of it.
New York's Department of Taxation and Finance, for example, reported in January that it expects tax revenues to go up by $1.1 billion in 2019 because of the tax law. This is a state, mind you, whose governor, Andrew Cuomo, described the tax bill as a "missile of destruction … aimed at New York."
Michigan figures revenues will be $1.7 billion higher in 2019. Georgia calculates that state revenues will climb by $5.2 billion over five years. Pennsylvania expects a $340 million bump over the next two years.
The Tax Foundation, which has been collecting this data, reports that 18 states so far say they expect at least a modest boost in revenues as result of the Republican tax plan.
The reason for this windfall is that the tax bill expanded the tax base — by limiting or ending deductions — in exchange for lower income tax rates. In states that rely on federal tax law for their own income taxes, this can result in extra revenue if those states keep their income tax rates the same. (States could also get more tax revenue as tax reform boosts economic growth.)

Will States Cut Taxes?

To some extent, then, the tax cuts shifted a bit of the tax burden to the states. Is that a bad thing? Not if the states use the windfall to cut their own tax rates or reform their tax code.
Three states — George, Idaho and Iowa — have already done so. Iowa's bill, passed this month, will cut taxes by $2 billion over six years. Republicans in Minnesota — which expects to get a $416 million bump in 2019 — are pushing the state to cut tax rates for the first time since 2000. (There's been no word yet if Gov. Cuomo will return New York's windfall to its taxpayers.)
"The federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act gives states an unexpected chance to improve their competitiveness," noted Jonathan Williams, chief economist at the American Legislative Exchange Council. "That is the untold story of federal tax reform."
Given the amount of other misinformation peddled by critics of the GOP tax cuts, we're not surprised that nobody knows about this fact, either.

How Democracies End: A Bureaucratic Whimper

How Democracies End: A Bureaucratic Whimper

By | May 21st, 2018
This is the way the world endsNot with a bang but a whimper.         ― T.S. Eliot
One strange trait of the die hard NeverTrump Republicans and progressives is their charge that Donald Trump poses an existential threat to democracy. Trump, as is his wont, says a lot of outrageous and weird things. But it is hard in his 16 months of rule to find any proof that Trump has subverted the rule of law.
Most of the furor is over what we are told what Trump might do, or what Trump has said, or which unsavory character in Europe likes Trump. These could be legitimate worries if they were followed by Trump’s anti-democratic concrete subversions. But so far, we have not seen them. And there has certainly been nothing yet in this administration comparable to the Obama-era efforts to curb civil liberties. 
While we understand those on the left refuse to believe that a constitutional “legal scholar” like Obama would even think of allowing the executive branch to go rogue, it is indeed strange that in almost every NeverTrump attack on Trump’s conduct, there is almost no recognition or indeed worry that we have been living through one of the great challenges to constitutional government in our history. 
Does anyone remember that the Obama Administration allowed Lois Lerner (“Not a smidgen of corruption”) more or less to weaponize the IRS to help the Obama 2012 reelection effort? Does anyone remember Eric Holder’s surveillance of the Associated Press journalists and Fox News’s James Rosen? Why have conservative constitutionalists focused on what Trump has said rather than the strange treatment accorded to investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson by U.S. intelligence and investigatory agencies? Do we even remember the Benghazi pseudo-video narrative and the strange jailing of Nakoula Basseley Nakoula
Is there even curiosity about why and how the departing Obama Administration suddenly and vastly expanded the number of agencies that could have access to classified surveillance in its aftermath? Do we remember the more than 20 times Obama warned before reelection that he was not a “king” and, as a constitutional scholar, could not by fiat offer blanket amnesties? Do the authorities in California realize that they are resorting to the extralegal states-rights arguments that South Carolina on the eve of the Civil War and Alabama in the early 1960s used to nullify federal laws?
But stranger still is what we already know of the 2016 election, and the lack of outrage from constitutionalists, who daily warn us of what Trump might do—when we already know what the U.S. government has done in violation of civil rights, constitutional principles, and likely federal laws. So far there is no information that Stephen Bannon ordered taps on reporters, or that Nigel Farage was hired by Trump to find Russian dirt on Hillary Clinton, or that Stephen Miller requested the unmasking of surveilled names associated with the Clinton campaign and then leaked them to the press.
But we do know that U.S. officials, including the head of the FBI and chief deputies in the Justice Department, misled a FISA court to obtain intelligence surveillance on U.S. citizens, by providing information that they knew at the time, but did not disclose to the court, was by their own private admission unverified, compiled by a foreign national whom they had used and fired as an unreliable informant, paid for by the Clinton campaign, and served as the basis for news accounts that were used in circular fashion to verify to the court the dossier’s contents.
We do know that members of the Obama intelligence and national security teams—Susan Rice and Samantha Power among others—requested the names of American citizens surveilled (likely obtained through improperly obtained FISA warrants) to be unmasked. Then someone illegally leaked their names to the press to damage the Trump campaign and his presidential transition.
We do know that FBI Director James Comey, in succession, has admitted that he in singular fashion took notes of a confidential one-on-one meeting with the president, briefed him on the existence of a campaign dossier on him, did not disclose that it was purchased by the Clinton campaign, assured him that he was not the subject of a FBI investigation at a time either he or his subordinates were leaking the opposite to the media, and then, after being fired, leaked those memos (at least one of which was classified) to the media to ensure the appointment of a special counsel to investigate the president, who turned out to be a friend of Comey’s, Robert Mueller. Comey by his own admission has also stated that he calibrated the FBI investigation of Hillary Clinton to the likelihood of her election to the presidency. FBI directors in a lawful society are not supposed to do such things.
We do know that the FBI placed some sort of an informant in the camp of Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign in association with gathering information about data used by a foreign national and a paid operative of the Clinton campaign, Christopher Steele, in his effort to collude with Russians against the campaign efforts of Donald Trump.
We do know that the deputy director of the FBI is currently under investigation for lying to federal investigators, on at least four occasions, about his own conduct in investigating candidate Hillary Clinton—at a time not long after Clinton-related political action committees gave several hundred thousand dollars to the political campaign of his wife.
We do know now that both James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, and John Brennan, head of the CIA, knowingly gave false testimony under oath to Congress. Clapper has previously lied about the surveillance of American citizens; he has lied about his knowledge of the Steele dossier, and likely also lied about leaking its contents. Brennan had lied under oath to Congress about the U.S. drone assassination program, lied about CIA surveillance of computers used by U.S. Senate staff, lied about leaking the existence and promulgation of the Steele dossier, and lied yet again to Congress that the dossier was not used to prompt a CIA investigation into so-called collusion. 
Again, the government’s two highest intelligence officials did not tell the full truth about their knowledge of the Steele dossier or their own roles in promulgating its contents. In a constitutional republic both such reprehensible officials who betrayed the public trust would be subject to criminal investigations for knowingly lying under oath to Congress and undermining the sinews of constitutional government.
We do know that senior Justice Department official Bruce Ohr met with the architects of the Steele dossier and that at the time his wife was working on the Clinton-purchased Fusion/GPS Steele dossier, information not disclosed as required by the law on a federal form.
Mueller’s special investigatory team, the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, and the media have not yet found any credible evidence of Trump-Russian collusion. Indeed, it is more likely that the indictments and confessions of some Trump campaign officials and Michael Flynn, on counts having nothing to do with collusion, either will be dropped, retracted, or will not lead to convictions, given much of the information used against them was obtained by misleading a FISA court judge and through improper conduct at the highest level of the FBI.
There is a reason why over a half-dozen top FBI officials either have been fired, reassigned, resigned, or retired. We have not yet seen the inspector general’s full report, but its publication may lead to more departures from both the FBI and the Justice Department, if not to criminal prosecutions. 
If the present constitutional crisis really involves high federal officials and former federal officials who were colluding with foreign governments, then we have ample evidence that 1) Bill Clinton and the Clinton Foundation received large sums of money from Russian-related interests in association with ongoing requests to buy into companies that might control North American uranium stocks; that 2) John Kerry has met clandestinely with members and former members of the Iranian government to craft joint strategies to save the so-called Iran Deal, from which the president of the United States just withdrew; and that 3) Hillary Clinton’s campaign hired a foreign national to use sources from other foreign nationals to help subvert the campaign of her 2016 opponent.
We are all worried, on occasion, by nationalist and anti-democratic movements abroad in former democratic countries. We all sometimes wish Donald Trump would ignore personal spats and curb his tweeting and thus let his considerable accomplishments speak for themselves. 
But that said, the current and chief threats to Western constitutional government are not originating from loud right-wing populists in Eastern Europe, or from Trump wailing like Ajax about the rigged deep state. 
Rather, the threat to our civil liberties is coming from supposedly sanctimonious and allegedly judicious career FBI, Justice Department, and intelligence agency officials, progressive and self-described idealistic former members of the Obama national security team, and anti-Trump fervent campaign operatives, all of whom felt that they could break the law—including but not limited to illegally monitoring American citizens, and seeking to warp federal courts and even the presidential election because such unsavory and anti-constitutional means were felt necessary and justified to prevent and then subvert the presidency of Donald J. Trump.   
It is willful blindness for progressives and NeverTrump Republicans to overlook what has happened only to damn what has not happened. The dangers in America are not from transparent right-wing authoritarians (who are easily spotted in their clumsiness), but from mellifluous self-styled constitutionalists, whose facades and professions of legality mask their rank efforts to use any anti-constitutional means necessary to achieve their supposedly noble egalitarian ends.
This is the way democracies end—not with a loud boisterous bang, but with insidious and self-righteous whimpers.
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Another blow to Cuban tourism

Another blow to Cuban tourism




Back in December 1972, Nicaragua was hit by a horrible earthquake.  It killed 10,000 people, devastated villages, and may have been the beginning of the end of Somoza's reign.  The damage exposed the corruption and inefficiencies of the regime.
A couple of days ago, an air crash in Cuba killed 100 people and exposed some serious problems in the Castro regime.
My good Cuban friend, Dr. Carlos Eire, brought this item to my attention:
Cuba's problems have gotten so bad that, a few weeks ago, the country grounded most of its domestic flights because of safety concerns over its fleet. 
To continue flying, officials have been forced to lease planes from foreign outfits that sometimes use decades-old planes, like the one that crashed and burned right after takeoff on Friday, killing nearly everyone on board.
The old Boeing 737 had been leased to Cubana de Aviación, the state airline, by a relatively unknown Mexican company with just three aircraft in its fleet. 
Some aviation industry analysts were taken aback at the plane's advanced age.
"That's one of the oldest passenger jets I have heard of that is still in service," said Richard Aboulafia, vice president of the Teal Group, an aviation and aerospace consulting company in Fairfax, Va.
"Whether the airline is going to survive is an open question," said George Farinas, a retired Delta pilot who works as a civil aviation inspector and is writing a book about the history of Cubana de Aviación.  "They are in a major crisis right now."
No kidding.
Let me add a couple of personal references.
A few years ago, I was in Mexico for Christmas and met a man who flew commercial flights.  He told me that many Mexicans refuse to work for "Cubana," the once private airline and now another state company.  He said Cuba is not up to date on maintenance.
Just yesterday, a Canadian friend, who is familiar with Cuba, told me it's the end of tourism.  "What foreigner is going to fly on a Cuban domestic flight?" he said.
We don't want to politicize a terrible tragedy, and we pray for the families.  Nevertheless, there is a legitimate question: can Cuba maintain commercial flights?  The answer is, not well enough to get on a plane.
Update (hat tip: Bryan Demko) from ABC News:
The Mexican charter company whose 39-year-old plane crashed in Havana had been the subject of two serious complaints about its crews' performance over the last decade, according to authorities in Guyana and a retired pilot for Cuba's national airline.
Mexico's government said late Saturday that its National Civil Aviation Authority will carry out an operational audit of Damojh airlines to see if its "current operating conditions continue meeting regulations" and to help collect information for the investigation into Friday's crash in Cuba that left 110 dead.
The plane that crashed, a Boeing 737, was barred from Guyanese airspace last year after authorities discovered that its crew had been allowing dangerous overloading of luggage on flights to Cuba, Guyanese Civil Aviation Director Capt. Egbert Field told The Associated Press on Saturday.
The plane and crew were being rented from Mexico City-based Damojh by EasySky, a Honduras-based low-cost airline.  Cuba's national carrier, Cubana de Aviacion, was also renting the plane and crew in a similar arrangement known as a "wet lease" before the aircraft veered on takeoff to the eastern Cuban city of Holguin and crashed into a field just after noon Friday, according to Mexican aviation authorities.
PS: You can listen to my show (Canto Talk) and follow me on Twitter.
Back in December 1972, Nicaragua was hit by a horrible earthquake.  It killed 10,000 people, devastated villages, and may have been the beginning of the end of Somoza's reign.  The damage exposed the corruption and inefficiencies of the regime.
A couple of days ago, an air crash in Cuba killed 100 people and exposed some serious problems in the Castro regime.

When you live on government rationed food you are not free.








CARACAS/BARINAS, Venezuela (Reuters) - Poor Venezuelans scanned state-issued “fatherland cards” at red tents after voting on Sunday in hope of receiving a prize promised by President Nicolas Maduro, a practice opponents said was akin to vote-buying. 

Venezuelan citizens check in at a "Red Point," an area set up by President Nicolas Maduro's party, to verify that they cast their votes during the presidential election in Barquisimeto, Venezuela, May 20, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso
Leftist Maduro was expected to cruise to victory thanks to the heavy use of state resources, a ban on two of his most popular rivals, and a loyalist electoral council. 
Maduro looked set to be re-elected to a six-year term in an election boycotted by the opposition and condemned by foes as the “coronation” of a dictator. Results are expected by late Sunday evening. 
Maduro’s critics said the scheme was aimed at driving up the turnout by frightening hungry Venezuelans into thinking that if they do not vote, they could lose out on food rations and money transfers they depend on as hyperinflation and shortages have millions living hand-to-mouth. 

A Venezuelan citizens has her id checked at a "Red Point," an area set up by President Nicolas Maduro's party to verify that people cast their votes during the presidential election in Caracas, Venezuela, May 20, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bello
Those benefits typically come via the fatherland cards. 
A former bus driver, Maduro describes himself as Venezuela’s “worker president” and says initiatives like the fatherland card show he is trying to protect the country’s poor in the face of what he says is an “economic war” waged by right-wing rivals. 
“This didn’t exist before, but I do it now because of the help I get,” said Jose Torres, 77, flashing an image of the late president, Hugo Chavez, that he keeps in his wallet after scanning his card at a “red point” in Lara state. 
The opposition Democratic Unity coalition said the red points were stationed outside 80 percent of polling stations. Electoral Council President Tibisay Lucena had said the tents must be at least 200 meters (655 feet) from polling stations and that Maduro had assured her no cards would be scanned. 
But Reuters witnesses saw cards being scanned and several red points located much closer - with one inside the school where Maduro voted at dawn. 
Henri Falcon, a former soldier and state governor who defied the boycott to challenge Maduro, said his team had registered around 900 complaints about the red points. 

Venezuelan citizens wait to check in at a "Red Point," an area set up by President Nicolas Maduro's party, to verify that they cast their votes during the presidential election in Maracaibo, Venezuela, May 20, 2018. REUTERS/Isaac Urrutia Jose Bula
“The buying of votes, toying with people’s dignity, cannot continue,” said Falcon after voting in Lara. 
During the campaign, Maduro had promised that voters who showed their fatherland cards at the polls would receive a “really good prize.” 
It was not immediately clear what that was, but Falcon said he heard it was 10 million bolivars - a mere $13 at the black market rate, but about 10 times the monthly minimum wage. 
Construction worker Josue Valecillos, 54, in Chavez’s home state of Barinas said volunteers scanned his card on a phone and vowed a quick transfer. “They offered me 10 million bolivars,” said Maduro supporter Valecillos. 
Party volunteers pushed back at accusations of blackmail even as some acknowledged those who signed up would receive money. Volunteer Ruben Vega, who was manning a red point in the Caracas neighborhood of San Bernardino, said voters who scanned their cards “could” get a bank transfer of “a few million” bolivars. 
“The point of the bonus is to encourage people to vote for the candidate they want,” said Vega, 55. “We are ‘Chavistas’, but what we want is that many people go out and vote, for whoever.” 

Starbucks: this policy is incompatible with snowflake customers


HOLLYWOOD (CBSLA) — Everyone is welcome at your neighborhood Starbucks. This includes just hanging out or using the bathroom.
The policy change comes five weeks after two black men who did not purchase anything were arrested at a Philadelphia Starbucks.CBSLA’s Chris Holmstrom headed to Hollywood Boulevard to get local reactions to the policy change.
“I’ve definitely done it. So I don’t see a problem with it,” said Nicole McDonald.
“I think it should have always been that way, especially because of the way racism is you know,” said Desiree Mollere.
But some customers have other concerns.
“If you go into a business and you just sit there and you don’t buy anything you are taking up space at the table,” said Melrose Larry Green.
“You could end up having a squatters problem where you just have people coming and staying. I mean if they are going to do that they need to limit how long people can stay in there,” said Joe Selva.
The story is getting a lot of traction on the CBSLA Facebook page.
One viewer said “it will be a homeless camp. At least we won’t have to deal with them on the street.”
That is a concern some employees have.
“We get attacked a lot. Hollywood Boulevard. So I feel like obviously if you get attacked then we have the right to say no. We have the right to say no and call the police,” said Starbucks employee Ayumi.
The changes were hinted at earlier this month. Starbucks Executive Chairman Howard Schultz said:
“We don’t want to become a public bathroom, but we’re going to make the right decision 100% of the time and give people the key, because we don’t want anyone at Starbucks to feel as if we are not giving access to use the bathroom.”
Something one family interviewed by Holmstrom can get behind, especially after a busy day on Hollywood Boulevard.
“Bathroom and sit,” said Dolores Charles. “Sometimes you don’t feel like drinking the coffee or something and they let you stay then I think that’s good.”