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marmar's Journal
marmar's Journal
May 22, 2015

The Brownback Disaster

(Salon) Way back in 2012, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and supply-side alchemist Art Laffer were positively giddy about the economic miracle they had in store for Kansas. With Laffer’s assistance, Brownback had crafted a tax package that was the living embodiment of conservative economic fantasy – slashed income tax rates across the board, especially deep cuts for top earners, and elimination of taxes on small businesses. It was a “pro-growth” vision that was supposed to send Kansas’ economy into overdrive, make it the envy of all surrounding states, and provide irrefutable proof that tax cuts truly were an economic panacea.

The tax cuts would be “like shooting adrenaline into the heart of growing the economy,” Brownback said at an April 2012 economic conference. “Cutting taxes can have a near immediate and permanent impact,” Laffer wrote in September 2012, “which is why we have advised Oklahoma, Kansas, and other states to cut their income tax rates if they want the most effective immediate and lasting boost to their states’ economies.”

Two years later, in 2014, the promised economic benefits hadn’t arrived – in fact, Kansas was lagging badly in job growth, bleeding money and slashing spending to try to make up for the losses. But Brownback wasn’t deterred. After having promised and failed-to-deliver adrenaline to Kansas’ economic heart, he started preaching patience. “It takes some time,” Brownback told CBN in October 2014. “Tax policy takes some time for it to work.” Laffer also changed up his story – he’d guaranteed an “immediate and lasting” economic boost, but in January 2015 he urged Kansans to wait. “You have to view this over 10 years,” he told the Kansas City Star. “It will work in Kansas.”

Will it, though? According to the Kansas Legislative Research Department: no. Not in the next few years, at least. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities points out, the non-partisan organization just released new economic projections that show personal incomes in Kansas growing more slowly than the national average through 2017. “Serious academic literature typically finds little relationship between a state’s tax levels and its economic performance,” CBPP notes. “So there’s no reason to think that the tax cuts will cause Kansas’ economy to boom in the future.” ................(more)


May 21, 2015

If Trade Is War, It’s Time We Fought Back

from truthdig:

If Trade Is War, It’s Time We Fought Back
Posted on May 21, 2015

By Sonali Kolhatkar

It is not often that members of Congress get the opportunity to weigh in on international trade. But negotiations over fast-track authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in recent months have given elected representatives the chance to voice their opinions on how the government should engage with other countries financially. For example, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., released a report this week highlighting various promises that presidents have made over the years as they touted the labor benefits of so-called free-trade pacts like NAFTA, and pointing out how they fell flat in living up to those promises.

But Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders (a Vermont independent who is a presidential candidate) are among a tiny handful of lawmakers who are openly skeptical of the TPP. The battle lines over the secretive multilateral trade pact pit Warren and Sanders against President Obama, as well as most Republicans and Democrats. A day after dozens of Senate Democrats blocked debate on fast-track authority, most capitulated with a little arm-twisting and deal-making from Obama, and they voted to move forward with the debate.

For decades now, we have heard the claim that free trade is equivalent to freedom in general, that if corporations were allowed to freely do business around the world without having to contend with tariffs, regulations and other so-called trade barriers, it would naturally result in an equal playing field and prosperity for all.

But in fact, the rich have gotten richer, the poor poorer, and the planet has been thrown into peril. And while international trade does not manifest in lethal bombs, its impact on communities is similar to that of war, as detailed in a new book by Yash Tandon titled “Trade Is War: The West’s War on the World.” Tandon, who has decades of experience as a high-level negotiator at the World Trade Organization (WTO), said in an interview on “Uprising” that he agrees with Warren, and that she is “on the right side” on the TPP. .........................(more)


May 20, 2015

When The Gang-bangers Are White Guys

from the Marshall Project:

When The Gang-bangers Are White Guys
“If these biker gangs were non-white, we’d have a national freakout.”


If you thought violent biker gangs were a relic of the Altamont era, Sunday’s shootout at a Waco, Texas restaurant might have come as a shock. A long simmering beef between the Bandidos and Cossacks boiled over into gunfire. When police arrived at the scene, gang members shot at them, too, leaving nine bikers dead, 18 people injured, and 170 suspects in police custody. Over 100 weapons have been confiscated.

The scale of this incident dwarfs a typical urban gang confrontation, says Harold Pollack, co-director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab and an expert on gangs and guns. We talked to Pollack about why biker gang violence typically gets so little attention. He believes the Waco incident confounds our expectations regarding the race and geographic location of people who perpetrate crime, causing us to see biker gangs as more of a “curiosity” than a threat.

How does the shootout in Waco differ from the gang violence you study in Chicago?

I have never encountered a gang incident in Chicago remotely like this. The number of perpetrators involved — not to mention the nine deaths — far exceed the typical urban gang-related shooting. Maybe there was some gang incident in Chicago like this decades ago. But this sort of pitched battle? I’ve never heard of anything like it. If these biker gang members were non-white, I think this would cause a national freak out.

One of the shocking parts of this incident is that after the police arrived, there was a gunfight between the gang members and the authorities.

Urban gangs and criminal organizations very rarely get into gun battles with police. They certainly have access to powerful weaponry. Police around the country periodically capture large caches of AR-15s and other weapons in cities. Yet when they break down the door to a gang safe house or a drug location in a city, whatever weapons might be piled on a mattress in the adjoining room are left where they are. They aren’t picked up and used to attack the police. The people who do attack police are typically cornered individuals or people with serious mental health problems.

These biker gangs have a long history in organized crime. They began with restless, traumatized veterans returning home after World War II. Today, biker gangs still act as a sort of private militia that police can’t always control, patrolling festivals and other events. Why don’t we pay more attention to them?

Geography may be part of the answer. There are not a lot of outlaw biker gangs in gentrifying Brooklyn and other key media centers. Of course, the number of deaths is lower overall with these groups. You don’t have the daily deluge of homicides the way we would in Chicago. But I do think that our views about urban crime are so framed by race and inequality in a variety of ways. When criminal activity seems unrelated to these factors, it doesn’t hit our national dopamine receptors in quite the same way. People tend to view these motorcycle gangs as a kind of curiosity. ...................(more)


May 20, 2015

New 1,080-Calorie Burger Comes Topped With Hot Dogs, Chips

Carl’s Jr. began selling a 1,080-calorie burger Wednesday that it hopes appeals to Americans’ patriotic spirit, along with their appetites.

The Most American Thickburger features a beef patty topped with hot dogs and a layer of potato chips, combining three Fourth of July barbecue staples in a creation aimed squarely at the fast-food chain’s core customers: “young, hungry guys.”

“People love these big, juicy, indulgent burgers,” said Andy Puzder, the chief executive officer of closely held CKE Restaurants, the parent company of Carl’s Jr. and its companion chain Hardee’s. “We know who we are and we know how to appeal to our customers.”

The idea for the burger has been percolating inside the Carpinteria, California-based company for almost five years, Puzder said. The chain toyed with including french fries on the burger, but found they wouldn’t hold up against the moisture inside the sandwich. They got too soggy. The same was true of regular potato chips, so Carl’s Jr. settled on kettle-cooked chips that are a bit hardier. .................(more)


May 20, 2015

On Iraq/Torture, Still in Denial

from Consortium News:

On Iraq/Torture, Still in Denial
May 19, 2015

Ex-senior CIA official Michael Morell is making the rounds promoting a new book and recycling old excuses about the Bush administration’s innocence in invading Iraq (just bad intel, you know) and torturing prisoners (the lawyers said it was okay) – and dodging pointed questions, as Sam Husseini discovered.

By Sam Husseini

On Monday, I questioned former acting CIA director Michael Morell about the lies leading up to the Iraq War and their relation to torture. He’s been making the rounds on talk shows and started the talk by speaking about the alleged “failures” of the “pre-war Iraq intelligence,” echoing a frequent mantra. The claim is that somehow the Bush administration and others didn’t engage in propaganda and deceit to sell the Iraq War, but rather, were themselves victims of bad intelligence.

So I cited a claim by the Bush administration made during the run-up to the Iraq War that was provably false. On Sept. 7, 2002, President George W. Bush held a news conference with then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Bush claimed there was an International Atomic Energy Agency report that claimed Iraq was “six months away from developing a weapon. I don’t know what more evidence we need.”

John R. MacArthur, author of Second Front: Censorship and Propaganda in the Gulf War, highlighted — at the time that, when questioned, “the IAEA responded that not only was there no new report, ‘there’s never been a report’ asserting that Iraq was six months away from constructing a nuclear weapon.”

When I confronted Morell — who was Bush’s briefer — about Bush’s statement he took no responsibility at all. “So, you know you have to ask him. You have to ask him,” Morell said.

I found it so laughable that he would say this instead of directly responding to the false statement that my initial reaction was not to bother following up on this. If he’s not going take any responsibility for Bush’s false public claims, what’s the point? ............(more)


May 20, 2015

Are America’s Small Businesses Finally Realizing That They’re Being Screwed by Big Business?

by Robert Reich

The Revolt of Small Business Republicans
MONDAY, MAY 18, 2015

Can it be that America’s small businesses are finally waking up to the fact they’re being screwed by big businesses?

For years, small-business groups such as the National Federation of Independent Businesses have lined up behind big businesses lobbies.

They’ve contributed to the same Republican candidates and committees favored by big business.

And they’ve eagerly connected the Republican Party in Washington to its local business base. Retailers, building contractors, franchisees, wholesalers, and restaurant owners are the bedrock of local Republican politics. .................(more)


May 20, 2015

Graduating Class of 2015 Most Debt Burden in History

Published on May 18, 2015

43 Million people carrying $1.3 Trillion in student debt, what can we do about it? Our panel with Josh Hoxie & Mayra Guizar examines the options on the table

May 20, 2015

Another right-wing whackjob climbs down from the trees......

On Sunday, over 190 members of a biker gang were arrested after a bloody shootout in Waco, Texas, that left nine people dead. Waco Police Sgt. Patrick Swanton said the scene was "probably one of the most gruesome crime scenes I've ever seen in my 34 years of law enforcement."

But Sandy Rios, governmental affairs director for the conservative American Family Association, sees potential in these men to put their talents to good use.

“Police have their hands full fighting our real enemies -- the cartels, the Islamists -- and now they’re fighting motorcycle gangs?” Rios said during her radio show on Monday. “I find myself thinking, let’s have a little retraining for motorcycle gangs and put them on our side fighting our enemies. That’s what we really need.”

It might be tough to get these gangs to start combating drug cartels, since they themselves are drug cartels. Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs, according to the 2013 report from the FBI's National Gang Intelligence Center, are "highly structured criminal organizations whose members engage in criminal activities such as violent crime, weapons trafficking, and drug trafficking." ............(more)


May 19, 2015

NY: MTA Bus Ridership Plummeting, Statistics Show

May 17--New Yorkers aren't bussing it as they once did, as ridership drops on lines around the city, even on the speedier Select Bus Service, according to MTA statistics.

The drop off in riders in most of the boroughs, attributed by transit officials to traffic congestion and fare hikes, is a stark contrast to record subway ridership that has the MTA and an aging system struggling to keep up.

There were 162,385 fewer daily bus riders in the city last year compared to 2009, when average weekday ridership was 2.2 million a day. Tens of thousands have been ditching the bus in Brooklyn and Manhattan, while there were modest gains on Bronx and Staten Island routes; Queens had a small decline in ridership, according to the MTA figures.

"The traffic makes it worse," said Arnelio Cortes, 59, from Washington Heights. ..............(more)


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