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Union Support Grows For Task Force To Scrutinize Developer Tax Breaks




One of Maryland’s most powerful unions has urged legislators to pass a bill aimed at tallying the costs and benefits of tax breaks used to spur development within the state.

AFSCME, which represents 45,000 government workers across the state, submitted written testimony supporting SB 733, Task Force to Study Transparency in Tax Incentives. The bill would authorize a state body to analyze a variety of tax incentives and subsidies that have been used extensively to lure developers to build across the state. 

“Tax incentives are a significant tool used by governments to promote economic development and attract investment. However, without proper oversight and transparency measures, there is a risk of misuse or ineffectiveness,” the union wrote.

“Establishing a task force will help ensure that tax incentives are administered accountability and in the best interest of the public.”

AFSCME is the third major union to back the legislation. Previously both the Maryland AFL-CIO and the SEIU, which represents hospital workers, expressed support for the measure.

The bill passed the senate with a 47-0 vote and is now set to go before the Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday. Committee Chair Delegate Vanessa Atterbeary did not respond to a request for comment on if she plans to support the measure. 

SB 733 was introduced by State Senator Jill Carter. The bill would authorize a task force to gather data and recommend processes to increase transparency and accountability for how tax breaks are used. It would also seek ways to measure how effective the subsidies are and if they deliver equitable—or even quantifiable—outcomes.

Carter said the growing support from unions is a recognition that transparency regarding tax incentives has been lacking. 

“If you want to give a tax break to working people, it’s unaffordable,” Carter told TRNN. “But if it’s a developer, there seems to be no issue.”

“We have a moral imperative to do better.” 

The incentives in question include a variety of tax breaks with innocuous sounding acronyms like TIF and PILOT. TIFs (Tax Increment Finance) allow developers to invest up to 30 years of future property taxes into construction costs and infrastructure rather than these taxes being paid to the city. PILOTs (Payment In Lieu of Taxes) phase in taxes over time, offering a discounted rate for anywhere between 10 to 25 years.

Both are responsible for incentivizing the bulk of new development in Baltimore.

But the city also must, in part, pay for breaks tied to an array of state programs. Among those are the Brownfields Revitalization credit, which offers incentives to rehabilitate environmentally degraded property, and Enterprise Zone credits, which award breaks to businesses that add jobs and build in impoverished neighborhoods.

This report is part of our ongoing investigative series which delves into the use of tax breaks to subsidize development in Baltimore and beyond. The centerpiece of this series is the documentary, Tax Broke, a film that revealed Baltimore city has granted hundreds of millions of tax breaks to spur growth without requisite transparency.

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Australian National Review – North Korea Releases New Song Celebrating ‘friendly Father’ Kim Jong-Un




Key Points
  • A song celebrating Kim Jong-un and his leadership was performed at a ceremony in Pyongyang on Tuesday.
  • Titled Friendly Father, the song declares that North Korean people believe in Kim and will follow him “united”.
  • The song and its accompanying music video follow recent attempts to promote Kim’s cult of personality.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has been celebrated as the nation’s “friendly father” in a new song broadcast on state television this week.
The song was first performed live to celebrate the opening of a new 10,000-home development in Pyongyang on Tuesday, which Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said was finished “at the highest level” within a 14-month period.
The housing completion ceremony featured a large-scale concert with jet flyovers and a live performance by some of the nation’s top singers, who unveiled the new song in tribute to North Korea’s supreme leader.

Titled Friendly Father, the track praises Kim for delivering a “brighter future” for North Korea and declares that “the people believe and will follow united”. An accompanying music video released on Wednesday shows workers, defence personnel and everyday citizens cheering, dancing and punching the air as they proclaim their love for Kim.

A man in a black leather jacket and dark trousers salutes as he walks down a red carpet past saluting soldiers in uniform

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un visiting the Kim Jong-il University of Military and Politics in Pyongyang, North Korea last week in a photo released by the official North Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). Credit: KCNA/EPA

The song is the latest in a string of recent attempts to bolster Kim’s cult of personality. Between 2022 and 2023, Kim approved a series of large-scale murals showing him shovelling dirt, visiting a medical factory and surrounded by plants in a greenhouse.

In July 2023, a series of paintings showing Kim engaged in activities such as riding a horse, meeting with school children and standing atop North Korea’s “holy” Mount Paektu were unveiled at an art exhibition. Months later, in November, reports claimed that a song titled the Hymn of General Kim Jong-un had become the official song at state events.

“Our general is the wisest of 10 million,” the hymn proclaims. “Our general cultivates the best paradise with the power of love for our everlasting happiness. His name is General Kim Jong-un!”

Kim arrived at the housing completion ceremony on Tuesday in an armoured limousine gifted to him by Russian leader Vladimir Putin. He and his entourage of top officials sat atop a building during the ceremony, while the singers performed for him on an opposite rooftop.

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Australian National Review – Gympie Region People Set To Fight Massive Wind Farm Project At Curra Meeting –





PEOPLE in the Burnett, Bundaberg and Fraser Coast council areas are urged to attend a meeting at Curra this Saturday (April 20) to protest and plan a strategy against the Forest Wind Project which proposes to install 226 wind turbines between Maryborough and Gympie.

Meeting organisers say the turbines will run right through Australia’s largest exotic pine plantation.

The meeting is at the Curra Community Hall at 3pm. Guest speakers are Katy McCallum from the Kilkivan Action Group and Jim Willmott, chairman of Property Rights Australia.

“If you live in South Burnett, North Burnett, Bundy & Fraser Coast Regional Council areas it’s time to get informed and stand up,” organisers said. They are encouraged by the recent successful community opposition to a wind farm near Allora on the Southern Downs, plans for which have been dropped.

Wind Prospect Pty Ltd had been looking into the possible creation of a wind farm in the Goomburra district, east of Allora, but abandoned further action on the matter following a public meeting in Allora attended by about 300 people.

The Curra meeting organisers said the Forest Wind Project was just one of thousands of unreliable and environmentally unfriendly “renewable energy” projects bound for Queensland and Australia.

They say the Queensland Government, through their Wide Bay Burnett Regional Plan 2023, have conspired with Powerlink to compulsorily acquire, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, many acres of prime productive land in South and North Burnett.

“The majority of our regions are to be dedicated as Green Zones and will be littered with millions of solar panels, thousands of wind turbines, thousands of kilometres of transmission lines and battery storage facilities right through the guts of our region,” they said.

“This threatens the existence of every person and property (both rural and residential) plus our remarkable landscape and unique wildlife. We ask everyone from Gympie to Maryborough, Tin Can Bay, Cooloola Cove, Poona, Bauple, Gunalda and Glenwood to attend this very important meeting.”

Organisers said people would learn what the state government’s so-called “vision for our future” really looks like and the consequences it holds for towns, farms, families, businesses, local economy, environment and wildlife.

Attendees are asked to bring their own chair and tea, coffee and cake will be available for purchase with all proceeds going towards helping to pay the guest speakers’ travel costs. A gold coin donation will be taken at the door to cover hall hire costs. Curra is on the Bruce Highway 15 minutes north of Gympie.

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Australian National Review – Congressman Introduces Bill To Stop Cobalt Mined By Child Exploitation And Forced Labor From Entering US Market





Cobalt is a key natural resource used to power electric vehicles, solar panels, and other purportedly “green” products. Around 90 percent of it originates from

New legislation has been introduced to stop cobalt, which is extracted or processed with the use of child or forced labor in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), from entering the U.S. market.

The legislation, HR 7891, was introduced on April 16 by Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ), who is also the Chair of the House Global Human Rights Subcommittee.

Cobalt is a key natural resource used to power electric vehicles, solar panels, and other purportedly “green” products. Around 90 percent of it originates from CCP-owned mines in the DRC.

“The Communist Chinese government—which has gained almost full dominance of every single step of the cobalt supply chain—profits from child and forced labor used to extract cobalt in the Democratic Republic of Congo and power our so-called ‘green economy,’” according to an April 16 press release by Mr. Smith’s office.

Mr. Smith, who also serves as Chair of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China and Co-Chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, said that the United States must end child exploitation in mines and vastly reduce its dependency on the Chinese regime.

“The United States must stop aiding and abetting Communist China’s egregious exploitation of children—some as young as six years old—and start becoming less dependent on Xi Jinping’s brutal dictatorship,” said Mr. Smith.

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HR 7891—also known as the “Stop China’s Exploitation of Congolese Children and Adult Forced Labor through Cobalt Mining Act”—is specifically aimed at establishing the extent to which forced and child labor is utilized in the cobalt mining industry of the DRC, via a comprehensive investigation by the U.S. Forced Labor Enforcement Task Force.

Furthermore, it serves to implement new strategies to ensure that cobalt mined by forced labor does not enter the U.S. market.

Chairman Rep. Jason Smith (R-Mo.) of the House Ways and Means Committee has offered extensive input on the proposed legislation. His committee, which has jurisdiction over it, is seeking to fast-track a vote on April 17.

“America has long fought to end child and adult forced labor, yet the cobalt vital to the batteries in our technology is unethically mined with the use of forced labor under Chinese control,” he said.

“This legislation is a critical step to blocking material tainted by these inhumane labor practices from entering this country. I am thankful to Rep. Chris Smith for introducing this legislation to stop these dangerous practices.”

The legislation was conceived partly from testimony provided at a congressional hearing in November last year, which Mr. Smith chaired. The hearing “exposed the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) egregious exploitation of Congolese children and forced laborers, who toil in hazardous conditions to extract cobalt from unsafe mines including artisanal mines in the DRC,” according to the April 16 press release.
Previous testimony provided at a hearing by Fr. Rigobert Minani Bihuzo, a Catholic priest from the DRC, provided a basis for November’s hearing.

“The number of artisanal and small-scale mining sites from the Ituri region to Lake Tanganyika is estimated to be 1,000 and the number of artisanal miners to be 200,000 people, among them thousands of children and pregnant women,” stated Mr. Bihuzo.

“The artisanal mines “are often no more than narrow shafts dug into the ground, which is why children are recruited—and in many cases forced—to descend into them, using only their hands or rudimentary tools without any protective equipment, to extract cobalt and other minerals,” according to Mr. Smith.

The congressman went on to state that those benefiting most from cobalt mining are also those who choose to remain silent on the issue and are unwilling to face the inconvenient truth that the entire cobalt industry is built on a system of extortion, cruelty, and corruption.

Mr. Smith has been an outspoken critic of the CCP’s inhumane approach to global trade, having previously authored the China Trade Relations Act (HR638), which stipulates that China must end its abominable human rights violations if it wishes to enjoy normal trade relations with the United States.

The CCP has been utilizing slave and forced labor not only abroad but also within its own boundaries.

For decades, the CCP has been imprisoning ethnic minority groups such as Uyghur Muslims, as well as persecuting House Christians and Falun Gong practitioners for their faiths. Many of the imprisoned end up in labor camps, where they are forced to work under dire conditions in excess of 15 hours a day.

Many adherents of Falun Gong, a peaceful spiritual practice that promotes Truthfulness, Compassion, and Forbearance, have also been subjected to torture and live organ harvesting for the purposes of profit by the CCP.

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