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Ask Kady Anything debuts: Parliament’s weird dress code, passing laws, Doctor Who

VICE News - 11 hours 35 min ago

Greetings, VICE readers!

My name is Kady O’Malley and I spend my days (and too many nights) wandering the parliamentary precinct in search of stuff I figure the public either has a right to know, or might just want to know, because it’s interesting or horrifying or hilarious or otherwise worthy of note.

To submit a question, tweet me @kady or @vicecanada

Let’s start with a query that goes right to the heart of what I’m hoping to do here at VICE News: namely, dispel the notion that our parliamentary democracy is hard to follow.

@vicecanada @kady @vicenews what’s the process for an idea to turn into a law. it seems complicated. like can the ndp pass a law?

— Rodrigo (@rcokting) March 16, 2017

I’m going to assume, for the purposes of this answer, that we’re talking about passing a law within the current parliamentary configuration, since if the New Democrats actually managed to win a majority of seats and formed government, there wouldn’t be much doubt on whether they could pass a law.

I’m also going to assume that you’re all at least reasonably familiar with the basics on how a bill becomes a law: that it gets tabled in the House, and goes through the various stages – first and second reading, committee, report and third reading.

With those contextifiers out of the way, let’s get to the heart of what I think you really want to know: Can an opposition party like the NDP actually get legislation through the House?
The answer: Yes, although it would be framed as a private members’ bill, which means it would technically be sponsored by an individual New Democrat MP, and not the party as an entity.

That MP would take his or her idea – tightening the rules on shark finning, let’s say – and put it into legislative format, either as proposed changes or additions to an existing law, or a whole new one.

They would then have to wait until their spot in the private members’ priority list comes up – which is assigned by lottery, and, depending on where our MP landed, could happen anytime between a few months away to a couple of years.

After two rounds of debate, it would go to a vote, and with the blessing of a majority of members, it would proceed to committee, where it may or may not be amended before coming back to the House, where it may eventually be adopted at third reading and sent to the Senate.

To make it any further, the New Democrat sponsor would have to find a senator willing to push it through the Upper House, which also has the power to reject bills outright, or amend them and send them back to the House.

There are also fairly strict limits on what kind of bill can even be put forward by a rank-and-file MP without the formal support of the government: it can’t impose a tax on the treasury, nor can it clearly violate the constitution, or deal with a matter already decided by that particular parliament.

Given all that — and given the regrettable tendency of governments to use their majorities to kill off private members’ bills that they don’t support – it’s a frustratingly rare occurrence for a backbencher of any party to successfully change or create a law, but it is absolutely possible.

Let’s move on to a pair of separate but related questions on the House Commons and specifically, the public galleries that overlook the Chamber itself.

@kady but can’t a man toss his tie just as easily as a woman can toss her scarf? Why the double standard in parliament? 2/2

— Rachel C (@chertky) March 16, 2017

For context, here’s a quick rundown on the overall protocol: According to the parliamentary website, “visitors are welcome” to watch the proceedings. They undergo two levels of screening and there’s a long list of items that they can’t bring in with them, most of which are pretty self-explanatory: cameras, tape recorders, umbrellas, purses and overcoats.
There is also a dress code of sorts, although it is spectacularly unhelpful: “At minimum,” it states, “visitors must wear casual dress and footwear.” (The rules actually mention the need for footwear in two separate items, which makes one wonder whether there was some sort of standoff over the issue in the past.)

“Clothing with visible political messages” is also forbidden, as it is viewed as participating in a form of demonstration – as, incidentally, is applauding, although it does occasionally break out without rousing a response from security.

So, to answer your question, Rachel: It doesn’t seem as though it is – not in all circumstances, at least.

There is an explicit exception for “recognized traditional dress,” both “native and religious,” and no explicit prohibition against scarves. However, as it generally falls to the security officers on duty to make the final call, it seems plausible that such haberdashery may often be viewed as ‘outerwear’ – like a topcoat, say – and is disallowed on those grounds.

On a more existential note, Miled Hill wants to know:

@kady does the public gallery count as inside the House Chamber?

— Miled Hill (@miledhill) March 16, 2017

After researching the issue, I can answer with a confident “not really, but sort of-ish.” Under Commons rules, the only persons permitted on the floor are MPs and House officials. Everyone else – including spectators in the galleries are considered to be “strangers,” and are permitted to observe the proceedings only under the authority of the House, which can, at least in theory, be withdrawn at any time, at which point the House would order security to clear the galleries.

For the most part, though, MPs conduct their business without acknowledging, in any way, the presence of those watching from above, with the one exception being the speaker’s power to recognize visiting dignitaries seated in the speaker’s gallery, which is separate from the public benches.

But as far as it goes, the galleries can’t be considered to be inside the chamber for the purposes of, say, exercising parliamentary privilege to speak freely without fear of being sued for libel. That privilege applies only to MPs, and not those in the balconies.

Meanwhile, @MarkHorseman asks:

@kady Have you noticed any discernible change in decorum during QP over the last year as compared to years gone past?

— Mark Horseman (@MarkHorseman) March 16, 2017

Aside from far less outbursts of applause on the government side of the House, I’d have to say no, not really. There’s still the more-than-occasional bit of heckling and cross-aisle off-mic bickering, and every now and then, there’s a flare-up, like that near-punch-up over the prime minister’s ostensibly accidental elbowing of an MP during a vote last spring.

More frustratingly, although not remotely surprisingly, is the eerie similarity in the repetitive non-answers from the current crop of ministers. You could blame it on the often hyper-partisan, equally repetitive and, in most cases, rhetorical questions, but that’s not going to do much to improve the situation, is it? (This, by the way, is why I encourage anyone who is able to do so to drop by to watch a debate from the galleries — so they all know you’re out there.)

Finally, because I did, perhaps foolishly, challenge you to ask me anything:

@kady Who was The Doctor’s greatest Companion so far, and why? @vicecanada

— Ian Alexander Martin (@IanAMartin) March 16, 2017

Although part of me will forever say “Rose,” the rest of me can’t help pointing out that she really did bring more than her fair share of drama into (and out of) the TARDIS, so I’m going to risk censure by the true fans (as opposed to the NuWhovians) and say – Rory and Amy. Not just Amy – really, I can’t stress that enough, it was the three-way dynamic that worked so well. And for the record, I reserve the right to change to the reanimated Nardole, who is doing just a fine job so far, and may eventually make the top slot.

(Editor’s Note on the above: Huh?)

Trump tells many falsehoods in an interview about telling the truth

VICE News - 12 hours 9 min ago

For this week’s TIME cover story, “Is Truth Dead?”, Washington Bureau Chief Michael Scherer interviewed President Trump about his relationship with the truth. In the lengthy piece, Trump repeated several falsehoods, including those about alleged wiretaps on Trump Tower, the millions of people he said voted illegally, and Sen. Ted Cruz’s father’s ties to Lee Harvey Oswald.

Despite challenges to his assertions, Trump was defiant, saying, “The country believes me.” And yet that, too, could be false: Two polls released last month both showed that less than half of the country trusts Trump over the media.

Here’s a brief fact-check:

  1. “Sweden. I make the statement, everyone goes crazy. The next day they have a massive riot, and death, and problems.”
    Reality: Trump said in February that there were attacks “last night in Sweden” ( there were none) after misunderstanding a Fox News segment he’d seen the night before. There were indeed riots two days after Trump made this claim but no deaths.
  2. “NATO, obsolete, because it doesn’t cover terrorism. They fixed that.”
    Reality: There have been entire books written on NATO confronting terrorism, especially post-9/11. The only time NATO has invoked its collective defense clause was after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
  3. Also on NATO: “I said that the allies must pay. Nobody knew that they weren’t paying. I did. I figured it.”
    Reality: President Obama publicly criticized NATO allies for not paying the 2 percent of GDP required on defense in April of 2016.  
  4. “Brexit, I predicted Brexit, you remember that, the day before the event. I said, no, Brexit is going to happen, and everybody laughed, and Brexit happened. Many, many things. They turn out to be right.”
    Reality: The day before the Brexit vote last June, Trump told Fox Business Network: “I don’t think anybody should listen to me because I haven’t really focused on it very much.” Weeks before that, Trump appeared to not know what Brexit was in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter.
  5. That 3 million to 5 million people voted illegally: “Well, now, if you take a look at the votes, when I say that, I mean mostly they register wrong, in other words, for the votes, they register incorrectly, and/or illegally. And they then vote. You have tremendous numbers of people.”
    Reality: Despite his roundabout answer here, Trump was unambiguous in November when he tweeted “I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” He has repeated this claim to lawmakers.  There is no evidence of voter fraud on this scale. There are millions of people registered in two places but no evidence that millions voted twice.
  6. That Ted Cruz’s father was with Lee Harvey Oswald: “Well that was in a newspaper. No, no, I like Ted Cruz, he’s a friend of mine. But that was in the newspaper. I wasn’t, I didn’t say that. I was referring to a newspaper. A Ted Cruz article referred to a newspaper story with, had a picture of Ted Cruz, his father, and Lee Harvey Oswald, having breakfast.”
    Reality: The “newspaper” was The National Enquirer and no other media outlet has corroborated its “reporting.”
  7. That Obama wiretapped him during the campaign: “And the New York Times had a front-page story, which they actually reduced, they took it, they took the word wiretapping out of the title, but its first story in the front page of the paper was wiretapping.”
    Reality: The New York Times frequently has different headlines for its print and online editions. The paper did not take “wiretap” out of the headline and the story itself does not support Trump’s claims.

Israeli-American teenager arrested for making Jewish community center bomb threats

VICE News - 12 hours 37 min ago

Israeli authorities have arrested a suspect in the investigation of the dozens of bomb threats received by Jewish synagogues and community centers in the U.S. over the past few months.

The suspect, not yet identified by officials, is reportedly a 19-year-old who holds both Israeli and American citizenship. Investigators believe that this arrest is separate from that of the St. Louis man in early March who allegedly attempted to frame an ex-girlfriend for making some of the bomb threats.

In a statement, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions praised the work of both FBI and Israeli police in locating and arresting the suspect.

“Today’s arrest in Israel is the culmination of a large-scale investigation spanning multiple continents for hate crimes against Jewish communities across our country,” Sessions said Thursday. “The Department of Justice is committed to protecting the civil rights of all Americans, and we will not tolerate the targeting of any community in this country on the basis of their religious beliefs.”

Though authorities have not yet shared any information about the suspect aside from his citizenship status and age, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports that he was deemed unfit for service in the Israeli military (which is mandatory for all 18-year-olds in the country).

The suspect, according to Haaretz, has declined to cooperate with investigators, who believe that he attempted to extort money from the victims of the bomb threats. Over the last two years, FBI data show that crimes perpetrated against Jews and Muslims on the basis of religion have risen sharply.

Ex-Russian lawmaker who compared Putin’s Russia to Nazi Germany killed in Kiev

VICE News - 12 hours 47 min ago

A former Russian lawmaker and well-known critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin was shot dead in broad daylight outside a hotel in Kiev on Thursday.

Denis Voronenkov had played a critical role in Ukrainian prosecutors’ high treason case against Viktor Yanukovich, Ukraine’s former president who has been living in exile in Russia since he was removed from power three years ago. Voronenkov told Radio Free Europe in February that he had been helping prosecutors build a case against the deposed Ukrainian president. “I will talk about criminal deeds of the former president, which led to the ongoing bloodshed in Donetsk and Luhansk regions,” he said.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko described Voronenkov’s murder as an act of Russian “state terrorism.” And Ukraine’s General Prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko described it as a “cynical murder.”

“This was a typical shoe execution of a witness by the Kremlin,” Lutsenko told Reuters.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, however, pushed back against allegations that Russia was involved in Voronenkov’s death. “We believe that all speculations about a Russian connection are absurd,” Peskov told Russian news media. He added that perhaps Ukraine had failed to provide Voronenkov with sufficient security protection.

Voronenkov — a member of the Communist party in Russia’s lower house before he fled to Ukraine in 2016 — was an unabashed critic of Putin’s policies in recent years. In the same interview with Radio Free Europe in February, he called Russia’s annexation of Crimea a “mistake” and likened the mood and political process in Russia to Nazi Germany.

“People are behaving in a pseudo-patriotic frenzy,” he said.

The controversial lawmaker left Russia for Ukraine in 2016 after losing his parliamentary re-election bid and amid accusations of fraud, which he said were the machinations of his political opponents. In February, Russia formally charged him in absentia with fraud.

Voronenkov is hardly the first Putin or Kremlin critic to meet an untimely demise. Just this week, a Moscow-based lawyer who represents the family of a deceased Russian whistleblower incurred severe injuries after he was thrown out of a fourth-story building — one day before he was scheduled to appear in court. In February, Evgenia Kara-Murza, a Russian activist and Kremlin critic, was poisoned for the second time, and nearly died, during a trip to Moscow.

Rick Perry says Texas A&M handed student election to a gay man because of “diversity”

VICE News - 12 hours 55 min ago

Rick Perry took a break from his job as U.S. Secretary of Energy Wednesday to criticize his alma mater’s election of its first openly gay student body president, suggesting that the victory was “stolen.”

Texas A&M University handed Bobby Brooks, a gay man, the student body presidency in an election last month. However, Brooks didn’t actually get the most votes; that would be Robert McIntosh, who was disqualified for voter intimidation and for failure to report a campaign expense on glow sticks, according to the student newspaper, The Battalion. A student judicial court later cleared McIntosh of the former charge but not the latter, so Brooks kept the presidency.

“Now, Brooks’ presidency is being treated as a victory for ‘diversity,’” Perry wrote in a Wednesday op-ed in the Houston Chronicle. “It is difficult to escape the perception that this quest for ‘diversity’ is the real reason the election outcome was overturned. Does the principle of ‘diversity’ override and supersede all other values of our Aggie Honor Code?”

When the school’s election commission disqualified McIntosh, they “at best — made a mockery of due process and transparency,” wrote Perry, Texas’ longest-serving governor and the first to graduate from A&M, a public university about 90 miles from Houston with more than 60,000 students. “At worst, [they] allowed an election to be stolen outright.”

Perry went on to speculate that if McIntosh “had been a minority student instead of a white male,” Brooks might not still be president, because the A&M administrators and students — known as “Aggies” — would not have allowed racial or sexual minorities to be treated in this way.

“The outcome would have been different if the victim was different,” Perry wrote. While diversity should be pursued, he said, administrators must explain their decision to A&M students and alumni.

The Houston Chronicle was evidently surprised that Perry took the time to write the op-ed, calling it an “extraordinary submission.” University officials were also caught off guard by the op-ed, the Texas Tribune reported, and said Perry did not reach out to them prior to publication.

“Honestly, we were just surprised to see that the secretary of energy would take the time to weigh in in detail, and we respectfully disagree with his assessment of what happened,” Amy Smith, A&M’s senior vice president of marketing and communications, told the Texas Tribune.

Smith added that students, not administrators, run the student body election, and that the decision to uphold McIntosh’s disqualification was unanimous. “His understanding of the election rules of student body president elections doesn’t reflect the facts,” Smith said of Perry.

Brooks will take over as A&M’s student body president next month.

A Vermont mayor’s last day in office after being voted out for pledging to welcome refugees

VICE News - 13 hours 5 min ago

This segment originally aired March 14, 2017 on VICE News Tonight on HBO. 

The mayor of Rutland, Vermont’s worst case scenario has become a reality. Chris Louras, the outgoing mayor, pledged to open his small town to refugees from Syria when VICE News spoke to him last year. Now he’s packing up, voted out of office.

His stance on refugees was presented as both a moral imperative and a key step in revitalizing Rutland’s dwindling economy. With the assumption that his community was behind him, he campaigned with confidence that the support dwarfed the opposition which, he assumed, must just be a loud minority. He realized he miscalculated the situation when, as a five-time incumbent, he lost re-election with only 34% of the vote.

VICE News Tonight’s Josh Hersh reports from Rutland’s City Hall while Louras clears out his office, acknowledging the complexity of the issue and his incompetency to solve it. Regardless, he stands by his position and believes it was the right thing to do – even if it wasn’t the right thing to do for re-election

Is Trump right about free trade? We asked an expert

VICE News - 13 hours 26 min ago

Donald Trump ran for the presidency on a chaotic cocktail of issues: xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment, a rejection of the political class embodied by Hillary Clinton, and doses of nostalgia for the bygone glory days of U.S. manufacturing. And possibly most important to his victory, he served up heaping portions of anti-trade rhetoric directed at both the North American Free Trade Agreement and Barack Obama’s now dead Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Trump wasn’t the only presidential campaign upstart who saw anti-trade sentiment as a rich vein to mine for potential votes. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’s improbable bid for the Democratic nomination was also fueled in part by negative feelings about trade. And it’s no secret why.

A recent Bureau of Economic Research paper has confirmed what communities hard hit by globalization have known for years: that American industrial areas particularly exposed to the consequences of Chinese trade have suffered — and continue to suffer — high unemployment and sharp declines in earnings.

“The effects are very concentrated and very visible locally,” said MIT economist David Autor, one of the authors of the paper, which has prompted a rethink about the long-standing conventional wisdom that the benefits of trade almost always outweigh the costs.

In his new book, “Failure to Adjust,” Edward Alden makes the case that while trade has brought enormous benefits to the U.S. economy — and particularly to U.S. multinational corporations — it has also produced significant pain in the form of job losses and dislocation for communities around the country.

The failure of the U.S. political system to find ways to cushion those blows explains why Trump’s anti-trade stance proved so alluring to voters. So was Trump right? Has free trade been a bad deal for the U.S.? We asked Alden to tell us more on a Random Walk, our intermittent series of discussions on economics.

ISIS claims responsibility for deadly terror attack in London

VICE News - 14 hours 43 min ago

The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the terror attack outside the U.K. Parliament in London on Wednesday that left three people dead and 29 injured. In a statement, a spokesperson for the terrorist group said the perpetrator was “a soldier of the Islamic State.” 

More details emerged Thursday morning about the man who carried out the car and knife attack. Prime Minister Theresa May confirmed the suspect was a British citizen who was known to the intelligence services but not thought to be a serious threat.

The nature of the #IS claim frames the attack as *inspired* not *directed* – this distinction is hugely important.

— Charlie Winter (@charliewinter) March 23, 2017

As the investigation into the attack continues, police confirmed that they carried out raids on houses in London and Birmingham overnight, arresting eight people in connection with the incident.

Breaking: #ISIS' Amaq claims London #ParliamentAttack was carried out by "Soldier of the Caliphate" pic.twitter.com/XQTpvonp6k

— Rita Katz (@Rita_Katz) March 23, 2017

Mark Rowley, acting deputy commissioner at the Metropolitan police, revised the total number of fatalities to three, after authorities initially stated that four victims had died from the attack.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • May told Parliament that the attacker “acted alone,” and there was no reason to believe there would be imminent further attacks. The suspect had been investigated by MI5 “some years ago” for violent extremism, but May added: “He was a peripheral figure. The case is historic and he was not part of the current intelligence picture.”

British Prime Minister Theresa May: "It is in millions of acts of normality that we find the best response to terrorism" pic.twitter.com/8CYmMKOPQ1

— CNN (@CNN) March 23, 2017

  • May added that the threat level in the U.K. would not be raised from “severe” after the attack. In a powerful statement, May said, “We are not afraid and our resolve will never waiver in the face of terrorism…. It is in millions of acts of normality that we find the best response to terrorism.”
  • The attacker drove a car at high speed across Westminster Bridge in central London, mounting the pavement, killing and injuring pedestrians who couldn’t get out of his way in time. The car then rammed into the fence surrounding government buildings and the attacker ran toward the gate, fatally stabbing one police officer before armed police shot him dead on the grounds of the Parliament.

Londoners will never be cowed by terrorism. pic.twitter.com/SidIuIztvu

— Mayor of London (@MayorofLondon) March 22, 2017

  • 29 people remain in hospital, with seven of those said to be in a critical condition.
  • Among those injured in the attack were 12 Britons, three French children, two Romanians, four South Koreans, two Greeks, and one person each from Germany, Poland, Ireland, China, Italy, and the United States. Three police officers were also injured — two of them seriously.
  • Overnight, police forces across the country made eight arrests following raids on homes in London, Birmingham and other parts of the country. According to the BBC, four of the arrests occurred at a single flat in Birmingham on Wednesday night.
  • The identities of some of those killed are being made public. Keith Palmer, 48, was the policeman stabbed to death by the attacker at the gates to Westminster. Palmer, a married father, was a member of the Met’s parliamentary and diplomatic protection command with 15 years of service as a police officer. May said he was “every inch a hero.” Aysha Frade, a teacher and mother of two, died after being struck by the attacker’s car on Westminster Bridge while she was walking home from school.
  • A man from Utah celebrating his 25th wedding anniversary in London has also been confirmed dead. A spokesperson for the family of Kurt Cochran said: “Our family is heartbroken to learn of the death of our son-in-law, Kurt W. Cochran, who was a victim of Wednesday’s terrorist attack in London.”
  • The attacker was shot and killed by an armed policeman. 

Officials say the FBI has information suggesting Trump aides worked with Russia to hurt Clinton

VICE News - 16 hours 6 min ago

The FBI has information suggesting that President Donald Trump’s associates had contacts with suspected Russian agents, possibly to arrange the leak of hacked information harmful to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, CNN reported Thursday, in the latest explosive claims surrounding Trump’s alleged ties to Russia.

Citing unnamed U.S. officials, the CNN report said the information suggesting collusion included accounts of meetings between individuals – as well as phone, travel and business records. These, along with human intelligence, raised the suspicions of FBI investigators. This information is now a large focus of the official investigation, CNN’s sources said.

While officials said the information was not conclusive, the report is an indication of the potential lines of inquiry being pursued by the FBI, following Director James Comey’s bombshell announcement before Congress Monday.

Comey revealed that his agency is investigating whether members of Trump’s campaign team coordinated with Russian operatives, as part of a broader investigation into whether Russia interfered with the election. He declined to provide further details, as the investigation is ongoing and involves classified information.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov rubbished the claims on Thursday, saying they were “not deserving of being commented on.”

Here’s what we know so far:

  •  CNN reported one unnamed official as saying that the information suggested people associated with Trump’s campaign were “giving the thumb’s up” to release information – but other sources cautioned it was too early to say that given that the current information is “circumstantial.”
  •  Neither the White House nor the FBI have commented on CNN’s report, although on Monday White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer denied any collusion had taken place.
  •  Comey revealed Monday that the FBI’s investigation into alleged Russian interference started in July 2016, when U.S. intelligence agencies say their Russian counterparts began orchestrating the release of hacked emails stolen from Democratic-affiliated organizations and Clinton campaign officials.
  • This revelation raised questions as to why the investigation into Trump’s campaign was kept secret ahead of the election, while the FBI went public just days before the vote with the news it had found more emails in its probe into Clinton’s communications – an extraordinary intervention widely seen as having hurt her campaign.
  •  Four former Trump campaign figures – Michael Flynn, Roger Stone, Paul Manafort and Carter Page – have been under FBI investigation for contacts with Russians. Each has denied having any untoward contacts with the Russians.
  • CNN also reported that the FBI investigation was not using material from a dossier of documents circulated by a former British intelligence official that claims the Kremlin has compromising material on President-elect Donald Trump, and alleged collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russian operatives.

CNN: Trump Team Gave Russians "Thumbs Up" to Release Hillary Smears

Mother Jones - March 22, 2017 - 8:22pm

CNN has some breaking news:

The FBI has information that indicates associates of President Donald Trump communicated with suspected Russian operatives to possibly coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton's campaign, US officials told CNN....The FBI is now reviewing that information, which includes human intelligence, travel, business and phone records and accounts of in-person meetings.

....One law enforcement official said the information in hand suggests "people connected to the campaign were in contact and it appeared they were giving the thumbs up to release information when it was ready." But other U.S. officials who spoke to CNN say it's premature to draw that inference from the information gathered so far since it's largely circumstantial.

Apparently this is all "raising suspicions" among counterintelligence officers about ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.

If everything we've heard today is true, members of the Trump team were (a) in frequent contact with the Russians to coordinate the release of smears against Hillary Clinton, and (b) in frequent contact with some other group of people who were under surveillance for...something. What busy beavers!

Meanwhile, Devin Nunes is pretending to be shocked that the NSA does stuff that everyone on the planet knows the NSA does. I can only assume he was hoping to distract everyone from what's really going on, the way Trump does with his tweets. But Trump is a master, and Nunes is apparently an idiot. His attempt at misdirection was so barefaced and hamhanded that he probably just made things worse.

It’s allegedly dirt-cheap to bribe Philadelphia’s district attorney

VICE News - March 22, 2017 - 6:13pm

A few thousand dollars worth of bribes, including a Louis Vuitton tie, a used Jaguar, and a trip to an all-inclusive Dominican Republic resort, were all it took to bribe the Philadelphia district attorney, federal prosecutors say.

Seth Williams, who spent two terms as the city’s D.A., was indicted Tuesday on 11 counts of wire fraud, 10 counts of bribery, and two counts of extortion following a two-year federal investigation into his finances. The 50-page indictment reveals a low-level bribery scheme, primarily arranged through text messages, in which Williams agreed to do several favors in exchange for a series of gifts. He also stole money from a relative in a nursing home, the indictment alleges.

Prosecutors say Williams helped a phone card salesman identified as Mohammed N. Ali by arranging for him to avoid secondary customs screenings at Philadelphia International Airport and by attempting to intervene in the criminal prosecutions of at least two of Ali’s man’s friends.

For these alleged efforts, prosecutors say, Williams received:

• A $205 Louis Vuitton tie

• A $300 iPad

• A trip with to an all-inclusive resort in the Dominican Republic with first class airfare worth about $4,805

• A custom-made $3,212 sofa

• A $502 dinner

• A $7,000 check

• $2,000 in cash

• A Burberry watch and purse

• “Meals and other valuable items.”

According to text messages, Ali allegedly gave Williams the trip in exchange for Williams helping a friend of Ali’s avoid a jail sentence. After another request involving a friend who had or was about to plead guilty to a criminal offense, Williams advised Ali to give him more time to arrange favors going forward.

“In the future always give me at least a week to help a friend… I have no problem looking into anything,” Williams allegedly wrote in a text message. “I can’t promise I will drastically change anything once it has gotten to the trial stage but I can always look into it.”

“You know I was hesitating to ask!!!,” Ali allegedly wrote back. “I know you would help me but I wasn’t sure if it’s something that can bring suspicion, and this is the last thing I want To do to a friend like you Seth! I care about you, I want to see you the next mayor and the next governor and maybe the next president :)”

Prosecutors say Williams earned the $7,000 for helping Ali with airport customs.

“Give me the information of the Homeland Security folks that were running the investigation so I can send a letter,” Williams allegedly wrote in a subsequent text. “I want there to be a letter in your file from the D.A. of Philadelphia.”

It was not clear what the investigation to which he referred was about.

Williams is also charged with helping a second businessman identified as Michael Weiss get a special advisory position with the D.A.’s office, a liquor license, and a copy of an official police report for a car accident. He did all this, prosecutors say, in exchange for about $9,000 worth of plane tickets, a used $4,160 Jaguar XK8, and $900 in cash.

Prosecutors say that just a few months after Williams arranged for Weiss’s advisory appointment, he sent a series of texts asking for favors and trips, alluding to money problems.

“Dude….I never want to feel like a drag on your wallet…but we are ALWAYS ready for an adventure,” he allegedly wrote.

Williams did not list any of the enumerated gifts on disclosure forms until well after he knew he was the target of a federal investigation. He paid a $62,000 fine in January for failing to report more than $175,000 in gifts during his time in office; that included $45,000 in home repairs and Eagles sideline tickets that were not included in the indictment.

In all, prosecutors say Williams, who earned $170,000 a year as district attorney, sold his influence to the two businessmen for $54,465.48.

He pleaded not guilty Wednesday.

Devin Nunes Is Playing a Familiar Republican Game Today

Mother Jones - March 22, 2017 - 5:58pm

When a big story breaks while I'm at lunch, it can be a real pain in the ass. Instead of following it in real time, I have to rush around later trying to piece together what's happened. On the other hand, sometimes this is a blessing, because by the time I get to the story it's clearer what the real issue is. I think today is an example of the latter.

For starters, here's a nutshell summary of what happened. Devin Nunes, the Republican chair of the House Intelligence Committee, took the stage a few hours ago to declare himself "alarmed." He believes that some of Donald Trump's transition team might have been "incidentally" recorded during surveillance of foreign nationals. He won't say who. Nor will he say who the foreign nationals were, other than "not Russian." And as soon as he was done with his press conference, he trotted off to the White House to brief President Trump.

There are several problems here. First, Nunes didn't share any of this with Democrats on the committee. Second, incidental collection is both routine and inevitable in foreign surveillance. Congress has had ample opportunity to rein it in if they wanted to, and they never have. Third, if this was part of a criminal investigation, Nunes may have jeopardized it by going public. Fourth, the chair of the Intelligence Committee isn't supposed to be briefing the president on the status of an investigation into the president's activities.

This is plenty to embarrass the great state of California, from which Nunes hails. But for what it's worth, I don't think any of this is the biggest issue. This one is:

He claims to have gotten the information personally from an unspecified source, and had not yet met with FBI Director James Comey to review the raw intelligence intercepts he was provided. Why would he go public without first consulting spies to see if what he had was actually worth sharing with the public?

Oh. This is one of those deals where the Republican chair of a committee gets some information; releases a tiny snippet that makes Republicans look good; and then eventually is forced to release the entire transcript, which turns out to be nothing at all like the snippet. We've seen this gong show a dozen times in the past few years.

My advice: ignore everything Nunes said. He's obviously carrying water for Trump, hoping to drive headlines that vaguely suggest the Obama administration really was listening in on Trump's phone calls. I gather that he's succeeded on that score. For now, though, there's no telling what this raw intel really says. Eventually the intelligence community will provide analysis, and committee Democrats will get to see the transcripts too. Then we'll have a fighting chance of knowing whether it's important or not. In the meantime, everything Nunes said is literally worthless. He's not "probably right" or "probably wrong." He's nothing.

The Republican in Charge of the Trump-Russia Probe Just Pulled a Crazy Political Stunt

Mother Jones - March 22, 2017 - 5:37pm

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the lawmaker overseeing one of the main investigations of the Trump-Russia scandal, went rogue on Wednesday when he told reporters that a source had provided him information that indicates that the US intelligence community collected intelligence on Trump associates—possibly Donald Trump himself—in the course of authorized surveillance aimed at other targets. Nunes, who chairs the House intelligence committee, said this happened during the transition period and was unrelated Russia's meddling in the 2016 campaign or to Trump associates' connections to Russia. Without revealing any real evidence of wrongdoing, Nunes suggested that something amiss had occurred when the identity of these Trump-related people were noted in reports disseminated in intelligence channels.

Nunes' theatrical press conferences—not one but two!—indicated he was perhaps more concerned about politics than national security and the protection of civil liberties. At his first presser, held in the Capitol, Nunes described the materials he had been given as "normal incidental collection" and "all legally collected foreign intelligence." Nonetheless, he said, he was "alarmed" by the fact that some of the Trump associates had been "unmasked" in the reports. ("Incidental collection" refers to Americans whose communications are monitored not because they are the target of the surveillance, but because the person they are communicating with is the target. The identities of these non-targeted Americans generally are supposed to remain hidden in intelligence reports, but there are rules that allow their identities to be unmasked in such reports when that provides needed context.)

Still, Nunes said he was rushing to the White House—without even having spoken to the Democratic members of his committee about this—to brief Trump immediately. "They need to see it," Nunes told reporters before he dashed off to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

But when asked whether Trump was specifically and intentionally targeted—a sensational claim that would bolster Trump's widely debunked March 4 tweets accusing former President Barack Obama of "wire tapping"—Nunes said he wasn't sure. In fact, nothing Nunes said would back up Trump's tweets. He was referring to legally authorized surveillance conducted under a court order that targeted a foreign intelligence source but that happened to also pick up Americans—not an uncommon occurrence.

At his White House press conference—following his meeting with Trump—a reporter asked, "But just to clarify, this is not intentional spying on Donald Trump?"

"I have no idea," Nunes replied. "We won't know that until we get to the bottom of: Did people ask for the unmasking of additional names within the president-elect's transition team?"

This was a disingenuous response. Nunes had earlier acknowledged he was only referring to officially authorized surveillance, which could not be ordered by a president. (There's a whole process through which the FBI and other intelligence agencies go to a special court to receive permission to conduct surveillance.) Yet here was Nunes slyly hinting that well, just maybe, this would back up Trump's fact-free charge. This was the tell. If he were only concerned with the unmasking of Americans caught up in incidental collection, Nunes could have instructed his committee staff to examine the matter and worked with Democrats on the committee on how best to handle the matter. Instead, he ran to the White House to share his information with the fellow who is the subject of an investigation Nunes is overseeing. Nunes was pulling a political stunt to provide Trump some cover.

And Trump took the cover. After Nunes' briefing, the president told reporters that he felt "somewhat" vindicated by what Nunes reported to the public on Wednesday. "I very much appreciated the fact that they found what they found." The revelations, though, don't vindicate Trump at all; he accused President Obama of directing the phones in Trump Tower to be tapped in October. Nunes' new information refers to incidental collection after the election. Trump compared the situation to "Nixon/Watergate," and called Obama a "Bad (or sick) guy!" Nunes made clear the surveillance was legal. Trump suggested Obama had somehow broken the law.

Adding to the political nature of what Nunes did is the fact that he didn't consult with Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House committee, before he briefed Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan, reporters (twice), and the White House.

"I'm going to be meeting with Mr. Schiff at some point to talk about where we go with this investigation," Nunes told reporters when the issue came up after he briefed the president. "I had to brief the speaker first, then I had to talk to the CIA director, the NSA director, and I'm waiting to talk to the FBI director…Then I went and talked to all of you…and then I voted, and then I said I was coming here to brief the president, and then I'll be glad to talk to others later."

Schiff issued a statement Wednesday afternoon slamming Nunes' actions.

"This information should have been shared with members of the committee, but it has not been," Schiff said. "Indeed it appears that committee members only learned about this when [Nunes] discussed the matter this afternoon with the press. [Nunes] also shared this information with the White House before providing it to the committee, another profound irregularity, given that the matter is currently under investigation. I have expressed my grave concerns with [Nunes] that a credible investigation cannot be conducted this way."

Schiff added that Nunes told him that most of the names within the intelligence reports were, in fact, masked, "but that he could still figure out the probable identity of the parties." This means that the intelligence agencies followed the law, Schiff said, and "moreover, the unmasking of a US Person's name is fully appropriate when it is necessary to understand the context of collected foreign intelligence information."

Sen. Ron Wyden, (D-Ore.), accused Nunes of leaking classified information.

Senate Intel Cmte member Ron Wyden says Nunes may have revealed classified info today. pic.twitter.com/kT9VZ52rqY

— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) March 22, 2017

Jeremy Bash, who formerly served as chief counsel for the Democrats on the committee, said Wednesday that what Nunes did was unprecedented and very concerning.

"I don't think in the 40 years of the committee's existence, since the post-Watergate-era reforms, with the Church and Pike committees that emerged from those scandals, I have never heard of a chairman of an oversight committee going to brief the president of the United States about concerns he has about things he's read in intelligence reports," Bash told MSNBC Wednesday afternoon. "The job of the committee is to do oversight of the executive branch, not to bring them into their investigation or tip them off to things they may be looking at. I've got to believe that other members of the committee are horrified at what they just witnessed."

Ex-House Intel counsel: Nunes briefing Trump is a “breakdown in the entire oversight process,” other committee members likely “horrified” pic.twitter.com/aRn8dB3Ia6

— Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) March 22, 2017

A Recently Bankrupt Coal Company Is Being Honored at Mar-a Lago

Mother Jones - March 22, 2017 - 5:36pm

President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort will host the opening reception Wednesday evening for a conference where a recently bankrupt coal company will be a guest of honor. The annual Distressed Investing Summit will bestow one of its "Restructuring Deal of the Year" awards to Arch Coal for clearing $5 billion in debt after it filed for bankruptcy in 2016.

"They emerged from bankruptcy in 2016 after shedding huge amount of debt, obligations to workers, and environmental cleanup," Sierra Club's Beyond Coal director Mary Anne Hitt says. "When a company is in bankruptcy, you don’t have a lot of leverage in there with all the lawyers and stakeholders. To have them feted at Mar-a-Lago as a turnaround is salt in the wound for workers and people representing the public interest."

The summit, hosted by financial company The M&A Advisor, has held its opening cocktail reception at Mar-a-Lago for the past two years, ever since Trump emerged as a serious contender for president. In its invitation email, M&A Advisor names Arch Coal as one of its winners alongside a number of other firms, including energy companies Alpha Natural Resources, Midstates Petroleum Company, and Venoco, an oil and gas development company.

Here's how the invitation describes Mar-a-Lago, "the new Winter White House":

The agenda for roundtables that are held at a nearby hotel reads like a laundry list of Trump's campaign themes: "Making America Great Again," "Informing and Silencing The Media," and the "Art of Dealmaking: Getting Deals Done In The New Economic Order."

Not everyone agrees that Arch Coal's 2016 bankruptcy deal warrants celebration. During the bankruptcy proceedings, environmental opposition forced the company to abandon its proposal that taxpayers should foot the entire bill to clean up its abandoned mines. The company also laid off hundreds of its miners that same year.

In the years before bankruptcy, United Mine Workers of America complained that Arch Coal moved 40 percent of its employees' health care coverage to Patriot Coal, a volatile offshoot company. When Patriot went under, those health benefits were at risk and continue to be because of Arch Coal's bankruptcy. Patriot and Arch Coal are only two examples of a larger problem. The union shop has been pressing Congress for a long-term solution for 22,000 miners' benefits in jeopardy because of coal bankruptcies—an issue that won't go away no matter what happens to federal environmental regulations.

The idea that the coal industry can recover is a cherished narrative for Trump. Earlier this week, at a campaign-style rally in Kentucky, the president claimed that he will "save our coal industry" and put miners back to work with executive orders that are expected any day. Trump likes to blame "terrible job-killing" regulations, but there are other pressures beyond federal regulation driving coal out of business, namely competitive natural gas.

Nonetheless, on Wednesday evening, a coal turnaround will be celebrated. Even though it might only be, as the Sierra Club's Hitt notes, "one of many of the alternative facts they like to celebrate at Mar-a-Lago."

Childhood lead poisoning in 29 California neighborhoods found to rival levels in Flint

VICE News - March 22, 2017 - 5:27pm

More than two dozen communities in California have experienced recent rates of childhood lead poisoning rivaling or exceeding those in Flint, Michigan, according to data collected by Reuters and detailed in a report published Wednesday.  

Following an article in December documenting nearly 3,000 towns, cities, and neighborhoods nationwide that have lead poisoning rates double those found in 2016 along the Flint River in Michigan, Reuters’ data-gathering uncovered 29 California neighborhoods where children have elevated rates of lead; there were particularly high rates of exposure in the Bay Area and downtown Los Angeles. In one Fresno County zip code, 13.6 percent of blood tests on children under 6 came back high for lead, compared to 5 percent across the city of Flint during its recent water contamination crisis. In nine other zip code areas in Fresno County, lead levels in children’s blood were similar to the levels found in Flint.    

Once a common ingredient in household paint, gasoline, and plumbing systems, lead is a neurotoxin that causes irreparable health effects, like cognitive deficiency and attention disorders in young children. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says any lead level over 5 micrograms per deciliter is considered elevated for children under 6.

According to California’s Public Health Department, the state tests only at-risk children, which includes those enrolled in Medicaid or living in older housing. This selective type of testing results in a higher percentage of children showing lead exposure in California compared to states where all children are tested. To address the broader problem, California Assemblyman Bill Quirk, who chairs the state legislature’s committee on Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials, introduced a bill that would require blood lead screening for all children.

The tests don’t indicate the source of the lead exposure, but some common potential sources include crumbling old paint, contaminated soil, and tainted drinking water.

Seven things you might have missed in Canada’s 2017 budget

VICE News - March 22, 2017 - 4:18pm

Sprinkled throughout Justin Trudeau’s second budget as prime minister, there’s new money for a special LGBTQ2 advisor, tax breaks for overdose kits, and financial support for Indigenous languages.

What’s missing, however, is just as interesting, as Canada’s nearly-overloaded court system sees scant additional funding, money gets pushed further into the future for the Canadian Armed Forces, and the country’s national security system — and the offices who watch over it — receive nary a mention in the whole document.

Here’s what you need to know about what’s between the covers on the 2017 federal budget.

Drugs, courts, and prisons

On the campaign trail, Trudeau vowed to undo his predecessor’s tough-on-crime agenda, reverse his war-on-drugs policing strategy, and improve Canada’s criminal justice system. Since taking office, his government has been hit with an opioid crisis that has killed thousands, and a rising prison population that has led to over-crowding and concerns about abuse inside Canada’s jails.

The 2017 budget has taken aim at each of those concerns in different ways.

To speed up the criminal justice system — a priority, since a 2016 Supreme Court case set new limits on how long criminal cases can be delayed — the government is kicking some $10 million to create 28 new judge positions on the bench.

To tackle the over-representation of Indigenous peoples in prison, there is $13 million per year for restorative justice programs designed to decrease recidivism and help with community re-integration.

There’s also roughly $12 million per year to improve mental health support for federal inmates. Beyond that, though, there’s little new money to improve conditions in Canadian prisons.

When it comes to the Liberal plan to legalize and regulate marijuana, Ottawa has continued its practice of not accounting for possible government revenue that would come from taxing the drug, meaning that the federal government may yet see a windfall that could make up some of its annual budgetary deficit. The only mention of the plan in this budget is a program, which will run at less than a million dollars a year, to fund “public education programming and surveillance activities” for marijuana, once it becomes legal.

Last year, in a bid to address the growing opioid epidemic, Ottawa removed the need for a prescription for Naloxone — a drug that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose and, often, save lives. In providing the drug over-the-counter, it became subject to the harmonized sales tax. The 2017 budget specifically removes that tax, making the life-saving drug more affordable.

Refugees

Given an influx of border-crossing asylum seekers entering Canada from the United States, especially since immigration-skeptic Donald Trump has entered the White House, figuring out how to deal with those refugees has been top-of-mind.

The 2017 budget does two things: First, it actually beefs up Ottawa’s ability to reject refugee claimants by kicking in nearly $6 million a year “to intervene during asylum hearings in order to ensure the integrity and credibility of the information provided” with an eye of sussing out “fraudulent claims.”

On the other side, the budget also contributes more than $12.5 million to provide legal aid to would-be refugees who are filing a claim.

Defence spending

In the 2016 budget, the Trudeau government took more than $3.5 billion dollars from the short-term defence budget, and moved it past 2021. This time around, Ottawa is earmarking nearly $8.5 billion in spending for the Canadian Armed Forces and pushing it past 2036.

The government has been adamant that this is not a cut — it’s a “reallocation.”  There is no new funding for the military at all.

That money was largely marked for large-scale acquisition projects, including for many programs that have been delayed or restarted, from the plan to buy a new fleet of next-generation fighter jets to replace the aging CF-18 jets, a major shipbuilding program, new light-armored vehicles, and a plan to acquire new fixed-wing search-and-rescue aircraft, amongst other programs. The government contends that the money that had been set aside for those projects is being pushed further into the future.

But now there is special attention being paid to exactly how much Ottawa allocates to its military, given that President Trump has repeatedly emphasized that America’s NATO allies need to start ponying up cash. Washington wants members to spend two percent of their GDP on military. Canada, as of last year, spent just 0.99 percent.

With this budget, that number may slip even lower.

Asked what his government will say to Washington at the next NATO meeting, Morneau told VICE News at a Wednesday afternoon press conference that his government believes in a well-equipped military — but did not address the deferred spending.

Morneau did say to expect more announcements from the forthcoming defence policy review, which consulted the public and industry on military spending and procurement.

Indigenous spending

Trudeau has repeatedly insisted that he’s looking to build a new relationship with Indigenous people, vowing to work on reconciliation, improve economic opportunities on reserves, and provide clean drinking water to every Indigenous community.

The budget provides for a variety of education programs for Indigenous youth on reserve, First Nations communities in the North, and expanding post-secondary and skills training for First Nations communities.

It also provides $30 million per year to promote, preserve, and expand the use of Indigenous languages that have become more rare over the last century. The budget also provides funding to develop “information technology to preserve oral histories by converting speech to text, and creating other interactive educational materials.”

Conspicuously missing, however, is any new funding to tackle the lack of clean drinking water for First Nations communities. While last year’s budget kicked in some $1.8 billion over five years to help end boil water advisories for Indigenous communities, many said the cost would likely be much larger — and while the 2017 budget insists Ottawa is “on track” to eliminate more than 60 percent of those advisories within three years, but human rights groups have previously said it is not on track to fulfill its five-year commitment. 

Friday night

While the Liberals haven’t announced a new tax on streaming services like Netflix, as many predicted they would, they are taking aim at one digital disruptor: Uber.

The budget would add the federal sales tax to the rideshare service, meaning that the cost of a ride could soon go up by 13 percent in Toronto and Vancouver — and seven percent in Montreal and Edmonton, which have already tried applying sales taxes to the rideshare app.

The budget also hikes the excise tax by two percent on alcohol and tobacco, which will likely lead to a two-percent price hike on both vices.

The alcohol tax would also be pegged to inflation, meaning that booze prices could climb by two to three percent for the foreseeable future. The budget hints that a similar tax scheme might be adopted for legal marijuana.

LGBTQ2

Scattered throughout the budget are some small initiatives to advance equality for sexual minorities in Canada.

Down the street from the prime minister’s own office, the government will be creating an LGBTQ2 Secretariat, led by the prime minister’s hand-picked advisor Randy Boissonnault, With its $1 million yearly budget, the office is tasked with “engaging with LGBTQ2 organizations from across the country to promote equality, protect the rights of LGBTQ2 Canadians and address discrimination against them—both historical and current.”

Also in the budget is a new measure that will expand a medical expense tax credit to parents who need help conceiving a child but who do not have a “medical infertility condition” — a move obviously targeted a gay couples looking to become parents.

National security, oversight, and transparency

Despite the government announcing that an update to Canada’s anti-terrorism act would be coming in the spring, there is no new money for any of the federal policing or spy agencies — or the watchdogs who oversee them.

The government did opt to make the Parliamentary Budget Officer, who costs government proposals and programs and tests their effectiveness, a formal officer of Parliament — giving it more independence and freedom.

But when it comes to the Security Intelligence Review Committee, the Communications Security Establishment Commissioner, the Information Commissioner, the Privacy Commissioner, or any other oversight body — including the ones that don’t yet exist, like the proposed watchdog for the Canadian Border Services Agency — there is not a single dollar.

Asked directly by VICE News why his budget didn’t touch on any of those issues, Morneau didn’t answer. Instead, he iterated that his government believed in transparency.

Congressional Black Caucus Shows Trump Its Policy Vision for Black America

Mother Jones - March 22, 2017 - 4:15pm

In the lead-up to their meeting today with President Donald Trump, Congressional Black Caucus leaders said they would focus on explaining what African Americans stand to lose under a Trump presidency. Now, the caucus has shared its vision for black America in a new document released this afternoon.

Shortly after the meeting with the president ended, the CBC released "We Have a Lot to Lose: Solutions to Advance Black Families in the 21st Century," a 130-page policy document drafted by the caucus in response to a question frequently posed by the president ("What do you have to lose?") when he addressed black voters on the campaign trail. During the campaign, Trump was frequently criticized for characterizing black America as being uniformly decimated by crime and violence.

"We honor this opportunity to enlighten President Trump on the history and diversity of African Americans and offer bold policy solutions to advance our communities, and all Americans, in the 21st century," the document says, adding, "If President Trump is sincere in his interest in advancing the Black community, this document should be the guiding post of his Administration." A copy of the document was delivered to the president during the meeting.

"There were many areas where we disagreed with the policy solutions, but it was a meeting where both sides listened and where we were candid about disagreements," Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) the caucus chair, said at a press conference after the meeting. Richmond said members shared their concerns about how Trump has discussed black communities in the past, but that there was agreement on some issues, like the need for improved infrastructure.

"He listened," Richmond said of Trump.

According to an excerpt sent to Mother Jones ahead of the meeting, the policy document highlights several areas that the CBC wants the president to focus on—including voting rights, the economy, health care, environmental justice, and rural America—and offers detailed solutions. In a section on criminal justice, for example, the document notes that in contrast to Trump's emphasis on adopting "tough-on-crime" policies, the caucus would rather see an end to racial profiling, continued federal oversight of police departments, and reforms to the corrections system. "Taxpayer money would be better spent on the front end of the criminal justice system to prevent crimes from occurring in the first place," the document states.

To solve these problems, the caucus suggests things like de-prioritizing arresting non-violent drug offenders and establishing a permanent White House commission aimed at addressing the needs of black men and boys. The CBC also suggests permanently authorizing and funding the Second Chance Act, a law that provides federal grants for state and local programs aimed at improving reentry into society from prison.

The CBC also delivered letters from several caucus members addressed to the president and members of his Cabinet. In a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Richmond and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) write that "the first several weeks under your tenure have given us many causes for concern." The congressmen note that they are particularly worried about the fate of criminal justice reform, racial profiling, voting rights, and policing under a Sessions' Justice Department. In January, Richmond and other members of the CBC testified against Sessions' nomination for attorney general, citing his history on racial controversies.

In a letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Richmond and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) cite their concerns with the administration's focus on school choice vouchers, arguing that diverting funds to private schools will further endanger public schools and leave "the most disadvantaged students with the fewest resources." The letter also notes that despite a highly publicized meeting between the Trump administration and the leaders of historically black colleges and universities, the president's proposed budget offers little insight into how it will address educational institutions specifically aimed at helping minorities.

During the meeting, Trump said he would work to help the black community. "Throughout my campaign, I pledged to focus on improving conditions for African American citizens," he said at the beginning of the meeting. "This means more to me than anybody would understand or know."

The CBC says it will continue to push its agenda and stand against the president when necessary. "We're going to keep advocating," Richmond said as the press conference came to a close. "We're not called the 'conscience of the Congress' for nothing."

Canada’s first Trump-era budget tries to hit all the notes that Trump isn’t

VICE News - March 22, 2017 - 3:56pm

The Trudeau government’s second budget hits all the Liberal Party’s campaign notes, but it is a much more tame than last year’s ambitious spending plan.

In the run up to the release of the Liberals’ plan, government staffers spun the document as focused on innovation, adding that it would be the first Canadian budget with a specific gender lens built in. Although long priorities for the Liberals, the 2017 document has the Donald Trump effect written all over it. 

In his speech unveiling the budget, Finance Minister Bill Morneau harkened to “everyday folks” who are “worried that rapid technological change, the seemingly never-ending need for new skills, and growing demands on our time will mean that their kids won’t have the same opportunities that they had.”

The second budget disperses nearly $30 billion in new funding over the next four years, without doing much to raise taxes or close loopholes.

“And who can blame them?” Morneau added.

The second budget disperses nearly $30 billion in new funding over the next four years, without doing much to raise taxes or close loopholes.

Spending on so-called innovation — which includes an attempt to link Canada to advancing economies in Asia and Europe, attract high-skill workers from abroad, and boost research and development in green technology — comes as President Trump’s brand of hard nationalism spooks big technology players worldwide.

Attracting high-skill workers, and recognizing foreign credentials, has long been a preoccupation for Ottawa, but that priority, too, has taken on a new prominence thanks to Trump, who has already blunted the flow of foreign students into the United States and prompted fears of brain drain.

Budget 2017 is proposing some $1.4 billion over five years to immigration programs to bring foreign workers of various skill levels into Canada. That includes nearly $8 million in funding, over two years, for the “global talent stream,” which aims at creating an expanded visa and work permit programs to allow for more high-skill talent in Canada.

It throws another $1 billion over five years into supporting ‘superclusters’ — cities or regions with a high number of technology companies and start-ups.

Follow VICE Money, VICE News, and Motherboard for updates on the Canadian federal budget.

In a clear tip-of-the-hat to the uncertainty enrapturing the world, the budget contains an entire a section tackling the “Canada-United States relationship.”

The 2017 budget is the first federal budget to come with a gender-based analysis, which analyzes how each commitment could impact women and men separately.

“The Government of Canada has also reorganized some internal operations and deployed new resources to cross-border files,” the budget reads. “Our whole-of-government approach is founded on a commitment to free, fair trade, protecting Canadians’ economic interests and upholding Canadian values. “

The concern with advancing women in the domestic and global economy has, meanwhile, given Trump and Trudeau a joint project, which even earned the Canadian prime minister a shout-out in Trump’s state of the union address.

The 2017 budget is the first federal budget to come with a gender-based analysis, which analyzes how each commitment could impact women and men separately. Something, as Morneau put it, “should have been done long ago.”

The budget has already received some skepticism from all sides.

James Moore, former Industry Minister under the previous Conservative government and currently a senior advisor at the Denton’s law firm, says that, two years on, Trudeau doesn’t have much to show for some quickly-stacking budgets. He adds that, for all of the spending laid out in 2016, much of it hasn’t actually been spent — such as the funding for superclusters, which was announced last year but only launched with Wednesday’s budget.

The real question is what to do with the blue and white-collar workers that might not have the skills to enter into the high-skill sectors.

“Get on with it,” Moore told VICE News.

Angela MacEwen, senior economist at the Canadian Labour Congress, praised the effort to boost various skills development programs funded under the budget, but says the government has still fundamentally failed to look into exactly what ‘skills gap’ exists in Canada. And while the budget’s focus has been on high-skill, high-tech jobs, the real question is what to do with the blue and white-collar workers that might not have the skills to enter into the high-skill sectors.

“It’s not about teaching kids to code, it’s about teaching them how to use fractions,” MacEwen says.

She adds: “They haven’t fully identified the real problem.”

A number of policies in the budget took specific aim at tackling issues women in Canada face — from tinkering with the Labour Code to allow for more flexible work arrangements or telecommuniting, initiatives, which are aimed at helping with women children stay in the workforce or return faster after their pregnancy.  The budget also carries more than $20 million a year to establish a national strategy to address gender-based violence, which would include LGBTQ2 minorities.

The budget posts the same large deficits Trudeau acknowledged he’d rack up before taking office, but trims the projected overall addition to Canada’s national debt by just shy of $2 billion. The deficit hawks, including Conservative Party frontrunner Kevin O’Leary, will likely be obsessed with the new spending, honing in on a variety of assumptions rife in the budget that may yet balloon — or shrink — the actual deficit.

“It’s not about teaching kids to code, it’s about teaching them how to use fractions.”

The government is counting on the Canadian economy to grow slightly less than they anticipated this time last year — staying at or below two percent GDP growth from now until 2020. They expect interest rates will be kept internationally low, too, meaning their debt charges will be less than anticipated.

One priority that Trudeau has advanced since hitting the campaign trail in 2015 is boosting infrastructure spending as a way to kick-start an economy still hobbled by the 2008 financial crisis.

In the 2017 budget, the government of Canada is funding a previously-announced Canada Infrastructure Bank, which is designed to provide cities a cheap way to borrow money to underwrite large-scale projects, including public transit.

If you’re a millennial, here’s how Budget 2017 will affect you

VICE News - March 22, 2017 - 3:46pm

In their second budget, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau have focused on skills training, innovation, and the digital economy as a way to kick-start the Canadian economy.

That means new initiatives to help youth learn code, get young workers into skills training, and to provide funding for tech start-ups. It also means the cost of your Uber ride, bottle of wine, and pack of cigarettes are going up.

Student loans and grants

Last year’s budget pumped money into Canada Student Grants and Canada Student Loans. This year’s budget expands on that, with a plan to raise the income threshold to qualify for a federal loan or grant if you’re a part-time student, meaning more students will qualify.

The idea behind this is to ensure that part-time jobs holders or young adults with kids who need to go back to school to equip themselves with new skills don’t find the idea of signing up for part-time courses so financially daunting.

That’s going to cost $59.8 million over four years, starting in the 2018-19 academic year, but the government is projecting that 10,000 additional part-time students will benefit from Canada Student Grants and Loans.

Studying and Claiming Employment Insurance

If you’re unemployed and claiming employment insurance from the government to help fund day-to-day costs of living until you find a full-time job, there’s good news in this budget.

Right now, if you sign up for school, and that takes up more than 14 hours of your week, you’ll lose your employment insurance benefits. That’s a problem, especially if you’re looking to transition from one field to another.

This year’s budget plans to provide $132 million over the course of the next four years, to allow unemployed Canadians to go back to school to retrain themselves and receive EI benefits at the same time.

Flexi Hours and Unpaid Internships

The government is instituting two interesting changes to the Canada Labour Code.

First, federally regulated employees — those working in crown corporations, banks, the telecommunications sector, mining, airlines, and a handful of other industries —  will now have more ability to request flexible work arrangements, meaning you can adjust your start and finish times and work from home more frequently, or work from home.

Second, the government is limiting unpaid internships in federally regulated sectors, except if that internship is part of a formal education program. Morneau’s budget calls unpaid internships “unfair and exploitative”, and is pledging to ensure that any kind of unpaid internship will be regulated by labour standard protections like maximum hours of work and vacation time.

“These are small improvements, which are definitely not bad,” Alexandre Laurin, Director of the C.D. Howe Institute told VICE Money. “But none of these measures help people who don’t have a university degree to enroll in school. There isn’t anything bold in this budget that will actually help close the skills gap.”

Booze, Cigarettes & Uber

If you think you’re paying a lot for alcohol in Canada, you’re about to pay more. Excise duty rates on alcohol will be increased by two percent, effective March 23rd, 2017 — they’ve apparently not changed since the mid 1980s, so you can say this was a long time coming. Because excise levies are paid by the manufacturer or importer, expect to see this tax increase translate into prices at the store.

Those taxes will be pegged to inflation from here on out, meaning they will climb year-over-year.

The story is similar with cigarettes. Budget 2017 will raise excise duty rates on cigarettes and any other kind of tobacco products, albeit slightly ($21.03 to $21.56 per 200 cigarettes). It will also, interestingly enough eliminate the 10.5 percent surcharge tax on tobacco company profits, perhaps because as cigarette sales go down, the government isn’t getting much in the way of revenue from this tax.

In a blow to ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft, the government is proposing that ride-sharing providers register for the GST/HST and charge tax on their fares the same way that regular taxi providers do. So expect your monthly Uber costs to go up by roughly 13 percent.

Public Transit

The much-loved (at least by me) public transit credit of 15 percent, has been eliminated in Budget 2017.  No longer will you be able to gather your monthly transit passes and get back a couple of hundred dollars when you file your annual tax returns.

This is indeed puzzling, considering the government’s rhetoric on “creating a greener Canada,” but turns out, the incentive system behind the public transit credit, that is, to get more people to use public transportation, was not working. It is estimated that the government will save a whopping $1 billion by getting rid of this tax credit.

Public transit is still a Liberal priority — after announcing a $3.4 billion investment in transit in 2016, the government has pledged to pump $20.1 billion over 11 years to fund transit projects in Ottawa, Calgary, Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver.

It’s a better allocation of spending. If you don’t pay taxes, you don’t get money from that. Funding better transit helps everyone.

Affordable housing & Foreign ownership of Canadian homes

And finally, housing. Acknowledging the complete and utter lack of data related to exactly how many foreigners are buying Canadian homes, the government will be introducing a new Housing Statistics Framework, that will provide $39.9 million to Statistics Canada over the next five years, to develop methods to gather data on foreign buyers. You can expect the first set of results from Stats Can this coming fall.

The government will also establish a National Housing Fund to address the need for affordable housing across Canada — that fund is going to get $5 billion over the next 11 years.

“I’m glad they are not pulling back on funding affordable housing. But overall, we’d would like to see measures in the budget that focus on training apprentices so the ability of lower income people to afford housing will only increase,” Angela MacEwen, Senior Economist at the Canadian Labour Congress told VICE Money.
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Trump’s Supreme Court Nominee Has Little in Common With Most Americans

Mother Jones - March 22, 2017 - 3:06pm

One of the main jobs of Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee this week has been to deflect attacks on Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch by Democrats, who are trying to paint him as a tool of corporations and a foe of the little guy. To that end, Republicans have tried both to humanize the federal judge and to highlight the parts of his background that might make him more relatable to the average American. They've got him talking about the Denver rodeo and mutton bustin' and quoting David Foster Wallace.

But those humanizing efforts are falling a bit flat. That's largely because when it comes to demonstrating all that he has in common with the regular folks who might come before the court, Gorsuch is his own worst enemy. A graduate of Georgetown Prep, Columbia University, Harvard Law School, and Oxford, Gorsuch is the son of Ronald Reagan's Environmental Protection Agency chief and spent most of his formative years inside the Beltway, including a stint as a clerk on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals. His nomination to the 10th Circuit Court was championed by the secretive billionaire Phillip Anschutz, his former client, and Gorsuch co-owns a Colorado mountain cabin with two of Anschutz's top deputies.

On Tuesday night, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) asked Gorsuch about how he "liked to get his hands dirty." If Flake was hoping to reveal a nominee who subscribes to Family Handyman and loves power tools, he was disappointed. The judge responded by reminding the committee how much he loves to ski. (Gorsuch was on the slopes when he learned about the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, whose seat he's been nominated to fill.) "I always say the family that skis together stays together," Gorsuch had said earlier in the hearing. Gorsuch told Flake that his daughters were "ferocious double-black-diamond skiers," and at that very moment, one of them was doing some backcountry skiing near Telluride. 

The exchange was unlikely to help most Americans relate to the judge. Today, skiing is largely a sport of the wealthy. A one-day lift ticket at Winter Park, the Colorado resort where Gorsuch said he liked to go, costs $144. A single day of skiing for a family of four could cost nearly $600, not including all the gear and lunch at the lodge. And teaching kids to ski so they can become "ferocious double-black-diamond skiers" is an enormous investment. A single day in the Winter Park ski school will set you back $189 for one child, not including equipment rentals. For most of the country, even with discounts for locals, those costs put skiing largely out of reach.

Earlier in the hearing, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) had asked Gorsuch about his experience in politics. "Are you a lawmaker?" Lee asked. "Have you ever held a position as a state legislator? Have you ever held a position as a member of Congress?" Gorsuch responded with a chuckle, "I've served on my kid's school board."

The following day, Flake asked Gorsuch about his civic involvement outside of the court, mentioning his school board service. "Boy, that I found taxing, and loved every minute of it," Gorsuch said. Flake nodded appreciatively, telling Gorsuch, "That typifies the West. People get along. They have to. On a school board there's no passing the buck there. You've gotta make decisions. Local government is like that."

What Flake seemed to have missed, though, is that Gorsuch never served on a public school board. He was on the board of the Boulder Country Day School, a small private school with tuition that runs from $15,000 to $20,000 a year. That's a big difference from serving on a public, elected school board just about anywhere in the country.

In fact, Gorsuch is among the most privileged individuals to be nominated to the Supreme Court in recent memory. Justice Clarence Thomas grew up poor in Pinpoint, Georgia, speaking Gullah. His idea of a good time is camping in a Walmart parking lot in his RV en route to a NASCAR race. Sonia Sotomayor hails from a Puerto Rican family and grew up with a single mom in a South Bronx tenement. Samuel Alito is a Jersey boy, the son of Italian immigrant teachers, who graduated from a public high school. At first glance, Gorsuch's background somewhat resembles that of Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., who likewise comes from a tony private-school background—except that Roberts worked summers in a steel mill to pay his way through Harvard.

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