Texas governor warms up to some gun control legislation after meeting on school safety

AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Wednesday he could support stronger regulations for gun storage and quicker reporting to law enforcement when a court has determined someone is mentally ill in order to keep them from having weapons. Abbott …

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Gun-control group releases documentary on students affected by shootings

One of the teenagers hid behind a desk while a gunman shot four students inside a classroom at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Her friend, who was in another building at the school, huddled in a closet for more than two hours. A third …

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‘Almost No One Agrees With Us’: For Rural Students, Gun Control Can Be a Lonely Cause

BENTON, Ky. — The teenagers in rural Kentucky decided they were fed up after a 15-year-old with a handgun turned their high school into another killing ground, murdering two classmates. Like so many other students, they wrote speeches and op-ed essays …

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Amnesty Accuses Nigerian Army of Raping Women and Girls Rescued from Boko Haram

Thousands of brave women and girls who survived Boko Haram’s brutal rule while kept captive by the militant Islamist group have been raped by Nigerian soldiers who claim to be rescuing them, Amnesty International has revealed.

The human rights organisation has today urged Nigeria to act on claims that soldiers and members of the civilian militia have raped women and girls in remote camps for people displaced by Boko Haram.

Amnesty said it had gathered multiple testimonies about alleged abuse by the security forces, including claims that soldiers coerced vulnerable survivors into having sex in exchange for food.

Its report, ‘They betrayed us’, is the result of a two-year investigation, based on interviews with more than 250 people affected by the situation in north-east Nigeria.

The findings explain what happened to the hundreds of thousands of people, particularly women, who fled or were forced from areas controlled by Boko Haram. The Nigerian military ordered those it was ‘freeing’ to satellite camps, where various abuses, and even deaths, are alleged to have occurred.

The Nigerian military and Civilian Joint Task Force, a militia working alongside it, have carried out systematic patterns of violence and abuse, according to the report.

Women told Amnesty how they have been raped in exchange for food, and thousands of people, including children, have starved to death in the camps since 2015, it adds.

Security officials are alleged to have beaten women, and labelled them ‘Boko Haram wives’ when they complained about their treatment.

Women and girls, many of whom have been separated from their families, are vulnerable to sexual abuse and say rape is widespread both in and outside the camps, according to aid agencies.

Some non-profit organisations run family planning clinics, providing contraception, and say there are high numbers of sexually transmitted infections, abortions and unwanted pregnancies.

‘Scores’ of women told Amnesty that soldiers and civilian militia members coerced them into becoming ‘girlfriends’, which meant them being available for sex.

Sexual exploitation was at an ‘alarming level, as women remain desperate to access sufficient food and livelihood opportunities’, the human rights watchdog added.

Amnesty’s Nigeria director, Osai Ojigho, said: ‘Sex in these highly coercive circumstances is always rape, even when physical force is not used, and Nigerian soldiers and (militia) members have been getting away with it.’

He said it was time for President Muhammadu Buhari ‘to demonstrate his frequently-expressed commitment to protect the human rights of displaced people in northeast Nigeria.

‘The only way to end these horrific violations is by ending the climate of impunity in the region and ensuring that no-one can get away with rape or murder,’ he added.

But the government said the organisation was repeating false accusations.

‘This … is just a wild goose chase report, in essence … the report seemed like the one in 2015, and the one in 2016, and the one after that year, the same things being recycled again and again,’ presidential spokesman Garba Shehu said.

In November 2016, police vowed to look into allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation in the camps but several months later, the military rejected the allegations.

However, ‘it is not always clear if these investigations were carried out and no reports have been made public,’ the London-based human rights group said in a statement.

Nearly 1.8 million people have been displaced within Nigeria by the Boko Haram insurgency, which has killed at least 20,000 since 2009, according to the latest available figures to April 30.

When including statistics from neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger, the number of people forced to flee their homes by the violence reaches nearly 2.25 million, says the UN refugee agency UNHCR.

Military gains have wrested back control of areas previously held by the Islamist militants, laying bare the extent of the damage to farming and fishing on which most locals depend.

By the end of March, 3.5 million people were in need of humanitarian assistance, the UN said. Malnutrition cases with medical complications are expected to rise in the upcoming rainy season.

The post Amnesty Accuses Nigerian Army of Raping Women and Girls Rescued from Boko Haram appeared first on American Renaissance.

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Mulvaney Loves Running Agency He Detests

Bloomberg: “Along with reshuffling its initials, he’s reviewing its enforcement, supervisory, and rule-making functions. He’s frozen data collection in the name of security, dropped enforcement cases, and directed staff to slash next year’s budget. He also wants to curb the agency’s independence by giving Congress—rather than the Federal Reserve—control of its spending, and replace the powerful director position he fills with a five-person commission.”

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After mass shootings, National Rifle Association pins blame on familiar list

WASHINGTON (AP) (5/23/2018) – In the aftermath of recent school shootings, a familiar pattern has played out in the debate over guns. Gun-control advocates push for tougher laws, including universal background checks to prohibiting the sale and possession …

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California’s ‘Taxpayer Transparency and Fairness Act’ Resulted in Less Transparency, Fairness for Taxpayers

It’s a rule of thumb. One should always expect the opposite result of whatever any government agency promises. The War on Poverty created a permanent underclass that perpetuated poverty throughout generations. The War on Drugs did much to erode our civil liberties, but mainly has emboldened the drug cartel. The examples go on and on.

That brings us to California’s taxing authorities. After scandals at the Board of Equalization—the Orwellian-named agency that had collected sales, use and special taxes—the Legislature gutted it and largely replaced its functions with two new bureaucracies. The 2017 legislation was called the Taxpayer Transparency and Fairness Act. As you might have guessed, since its implementation a few months ago, the state’s tax proceedings have become less transparent and less fair to taxpayers.

The BOE, which dates back to the second California Constitution in 1879, is the only tax-collection agency in the nation that’s administered by elected officials. It is run by four elected board members plus the state controller. After last year’s law, the four elected officials no longer have much to do even though the board still has a few functions.

As with any elected body, it has for decades been plagued by scandals ranging from allegations of nepotism to accusations of misspending. Governors from both parties have for years tried to gut the agency. Expressing a common sentiment, columnist Dan Walters complained that the “agency has become steadily more politicized, with the board’s four directly elected seats treated as either well-paid sinecures or stepping stones to higher office.” Controversies including elected officials “interfering with pending tax cases” have been going on for decades, he wrote.

Those criticisms have some validity. But isn’t it a good thing that politicians get involved given that they typically intervene to help the taxpayer? There’s no reason that the state couldn’t have audited the agency and implemented reforms. Every agency (even the Legislature itself) has controversies. Instead, the Legislature gutted the board and the results are discouraging.

Let’s look at taxpayer “fairness.” Since the new process has gone into effect, not one of the more than 20 income-tax-appeal cases has gotten a single vote in the taxpayers’ favor. The BOE used to hear 10 to 20 sales- and use- and special-tax appeals at each board meeting, but the new Office of Tax Appeals has yet to hear any of those tax cases. The Legislature hammered the BOE for its backlog, but now it’s worse. The BOE would make a decision the same day by vote. Now it can take up to 100 days while interest and penalties add up.

How about transparency? The old Board of Equalization would televise its hearings and archive them so anyone can view the proceedings. That way everyone, including reporters, can see whether a business is being treated fairly or getting the bureaucratic back of the hand. Those proceedings can also be used if the case ends up in court. The new tax-appeal agency posts transcripts, but has yet to televise or archive the hearings, so it’s no longer fully transparent.

There are many stories of business owners who felt like they were getting a raw deal or being treated in a heavy-handed manner by the board, yet who were able to get help from their elected representative on the BOE. That was a reasonable way to level the playing field.

The Board of Equalization also had the incentive to solve vexing tax-policy problems. For instance, legal marijuana dispensaries are required to pay taxes, but because of federal laws they are not allowed to have bank accounts. But they weren’t typically allowed to haul sacks of cash into BOE offices, either. BOE’s officials worked with the dispensaries to help them safely pay their bills in cash. These practical solutions are more likely to be driven by an elected board with constituents than a bureaucracy with subjects.

The main reason the BOE had been a target is obvious. State officials are tasked with maximizing revenue to assure that tax collections match state spending. Anything that reduces that tax flow is a bad thing, from their perspective. Because elected officials need votes and often have their eyes on higher office, they have an incentive to help taxpayers, which means that sometimes the board would reduce the size of the tax payments.

By the way, the new tax authorities have significantly increased their own administrative budgets from the old BOE days. The Department of Finance gives reasonable explanations for some of the growth (standard increases in pay and benefits, new IT and other start-up costs, artificially deflated final year spending for the BOE as its powers were reduced), but we see the spending trajectory. It’s going up, now that the administrators are in charge.

Bottom line: A reform designed to boost transparency and taxpayer fairness has reduced both of those things. No one should be surprised.

Steven Greenhut is Western region director for the R Street Institute. He was a Register editorial writer from 1998-2009. Write to him at [email protected]. This column was first published in the Orange County Register.

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Rent Control Feeds Inequality in San Francisco

San Francisco is famously America’s most expensive city. That means there’s all kinds of political agitation for rent regulations and other affordable housing mandates. But a new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research finds that the city’s rent control laws help a certain set of haves while costing a larger set of have-nots.

In 1994, the City by the Bay imposed rent regulations via ballot initiative on “small multifamily housing built prior to 1980.” This allowed Stanford researchers to compare units constructed before and after that year. As might be expected, rent control helped keep people where they already were, with “the beneficiaries of rent control…between 10 and 20 [percent] more likely to remain at their 1994 address relative to the control group.” The longer you’ve been stationary and the older you are, the stronger that effect.

That’s the sort of result fans want to see—keeping people in their homes!—but the economists also find that for shorter-term tenants, “the impact of rent control can be negative.” Since the policy allows rents to reset to higher rates when people move out, many landlords have an incentive to do whatever they can to get rid of their residents. Rent-controlled buildings were 10 percent more likely to convert to condos or another legal form that allows for booting tenants.

Rent control in this case (and most cases) is politically appealing, as the winners are concentrated and visible, while the losers are widely dispersed and also not likely to recognize the law as the architect of their sorrow. The study concludes that “rent control offered large benefits to impacted tenants during the 1995–2012 period, averaging between $2300 and $6600 per person each year, with aggregate benefits totaling over $214 million annually and $2.9 billion present discounted value terms.”

But because of the supply restrictions that followed—when rents are held down artificially, the incentive to be a landlord fades; this study found San Francisco’s rent control reduced the rental housing stock by 15 percent—the rest of the city faced a rent increase of 5.1 percent. That’s the equivalent of $2.9 billion in additional costs to other tenants—a total wash in direct costs and benefits to residents inside or outside rent control’s “protection.” The overall effect, the researchers found, was more gentrification and “a higher level of income inequality in the city overall.”

The authors, for some reason still amenable to public action on the problem of San Francisco housing costs being too high, suggest government social insurance against large rent increases as a less costly solution than rent control.

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