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“Behold, The ‘Laffering Laughing’ Stock”: The Remarkable Persistence Of Crackpot Economics In The GOP

The most horrifying article you can read today is not about Ayatollah Khamenei’s troubling comments on the Iran nuclear deal, it’s this piece from Jim Tankersley of The Washington Post about how all the GOP presidential candidates are lining up to receive the wisdom of Arthur Laffer as they formulate their economic plans. This is the rough equivalent of doctors seeking to lead the American College of Pediatricians competing to see which one can win the favor of Jenny McCarthy. Behold:

As the 2016 GOP primary season takes off, Laffer is more in demand than ever before, with Republican candidates embracing tax-cut-for-the-rich policies even as they bemoan economic inequality. Candidates have been meeting with him in recent weeks, and on Friday in Nashville, he says, his schedule includes Rick Perry at 10 a.m., Ben Carson at noon, Jeb Bush at 1:15 p.m. and Bobby Jindal at 5. Dinner is scheduled with Ted Cruz. He has already met at least once with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. …

Some time ago, Laffer recounted, he sat down with Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who was hoping the economist would bless his flat-tax plan. Laffer critiqued it instead as having too many complicated, economy-distorting features. He recalled Paul expressing disappointment he couldn’t endorse it.

After that sit-down, Paul’s advisers kept calling Laffer, he said. When Paul announced his presidential run this week, he touted a tax plan far more in line with Laffer’s vision.

Laffer’s theory is that cutting taxes for the wealthy not only brings an explosion of economic growth but pays for itself; give millionaires and billionaires a break, and the resulting economic activity will be so spectacular that more revenue will come in despite the lower rates. Laffer reduced this idea to the famous “Laffer curve,” which he supposedly sketched on a napkin in 1974 and thereby seduced generations of Republican politicians. It took the perfectly sensible idea that if all income was taxed at 100 percent then no one would have any incentive to work, and turned that into a claim that virtually any reduction in the top rate will increase revenues—and the converse as well, that increasing the top rate will always reduce revenues and stifle growth.

If that were true, then the Clinton years would have been a period of dismal economic doldrums, followed by the glorious George W. Bush boom. In fact, Laffer’s theory has been as thoroughly disproven as phrenology or the notion that the stars are pinholes in the blanket Zeus laid across the sky; Republican economist Greg Mankiw famously referred to those who believe Laffer as “charlatans and cranks.” But in a world where Mike Huckabee convinces people that the Bible contains a secret cancer cure and baseball players wear titanium necklaces in the belief that doing so will align their humours or some such nonsense, there will always be a market for crackpottery, particularly the kind that offers a justification for the thing you already want to do.

And this is why Republicans continue to seek Arthur Laffer’s wisdom and repeat the completely, thoroughly, 100 percent false claim that cutting taxes for the wealthy will always increase revenue. They want those tax cuts for ideological and moral reasons, and when someone with a claim to expertise tells them that not only is there no cost but that such cuts will actually help the little people too, well that’s just too seductive for words. When the world shows them that cutting taxes on the wealthy actually reduces revenue, it doesn’t make them revise their belief that doing so is right and just, because that belief isn’t subject to the test of evidence.

Candidates get a lot of flack for having advisers or supporters who have committed various sins, even if there was no reasonable way the candidate could have been expected to know about or approve those sins, and they won’t have any impact on what the candidate would do if elected. We’ll spend days hounding a candidate because some consultant he hired sent out some offensive tweets five years ago, or because someone who endorsed him said something outrageous at a rally. But here we have a case in which candidates are voluntarily and knowingly asking for the advice and approval of one of America’s foremost economic quacks, specifically for the purposes of formulating policy that would affect every American’s life. Is anybody going to ask them what the hell they’re doing?


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, April 10, 2015

April 13, 2015 Posted by | Arthur Laffer, Economic Policy, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Acknowledging Our History In Negotiations With Iran”: Avoiding Repeats Of The Past, A Stunningly “BFD”

This was a pretty stunning statement coming from the President of the United States.

Clearly, he added, “part of the psychology of Iran is rooted in past experiences, the sense that their country was undermined, that the United States or the West meddled in first their democracy and then in supporting the Shah and then in supporting Iraq and Saddam during that extremely brutal war. So part of what I’ve told my team is we have to distinguish between the ideologically driven, offensive Iran and the defensive Iran that feels vulnerable and sometimes may be reacting because they perceive that as the only way that they can avoid repeats of the past.”

In case you don’t know what he’s talking about, in 1953 the United States and Britain coordinated a coup against Iran’s democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh after their parliament voted to nationalize Iran’s oil industry. Mohammad-Reza Shah Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran, was set up to effectively rule the country as an absolute monarch. It was the brutality of the Shah, supported every step of the way by the United States, that led to the 1979 Iranian Revolution and set up the theocratic Islamic State.

The involvement of the United States in the 1953 coup is not simply the stuff of leftist conspiracy theorists. Less than two years ago, the documents describing what happened were declassified.

On the 60th anniversary of an event often invoked by Iranians as evidence of western meddling, the US national security archive at George Washington University published a series of declassified CIA documents.

“The military coup that overthrew Mosaddeq and his National Front cabinet was carried out under CIA direction as an act of US foreign policy, conceived and approved at the highest levels of government,” reads a previously excised section of an internal CIA history titled The Battle for Iran.

None of this is meant to justify the behavior of Iran’s current leadership. But do you think that perhaps when the West comes marching in talking about nuclear programs this time instead of oil – maybe they’d have reason to be a bit cautious?

For President Obama to not only talk openly about these events and Iran’s reaction to them (as he did previously in his 2009 speech in Cairo) – but to instruct his negotiating team to keep those concerns in mind strikes me as a stunningly BFD. Therefore, I’ve been surprised that at this point I can find no one who has commented on it.

It is the contention of many of us on the left that this kind of covert meddling in other countries around the globe contributed to much of the unrest we’re witnessing today. Now we have a President who is not only acknowledging those mistakes, he is doing so publicly as he attempts to heal some of those wounds. I’d suggest that it’s time we noticed.


By: Nancy LeTournea, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 11, 2015

April 13, 2015 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Iran, Middle East | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Enough Is Enough”: Walter Scott’s Death Should End Public’s Denial Of Police Victimization Of Blacks

There is a phenomenon in the United States which most of the public is unwilling or unable to fully acknowledge. The killings by police of unarmed black men and boys is akin to climate change – for many, seemingly no evidence will convince them that there is a relationship between race and police violence. The justifiably outraged reaction to the apparent murder of Walter Scott suggests that the denial may be finally wearing off. Now is the time to confront that denial and ask whether the reforms that are typically called for are sufficient to combat an obvious disparate impact on black Americans.

For years black Americans and their allies have been saying that officers are killing blacks with impunity. The common reaction is to dissect each fatal encounter and explain what the deceased did to justify being killed. This allowed the majority of the public to disengage from the conversation and write off each death as the deceased’s fault. What the shooting of Walter Scott tore off was any pretense of a legal justification that he was posing an imminent threat to officer Michael T. Slager.

What is still missing is any evidence of racial motivation. The circumstantial evidence, though, is strong because each questionable death seems to occur when the civilian is black or brown be it on a New York City sidewalk, the back corner of a suburban Walmart, a park in Cleveland or a field in South Carolina. The recent President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing addressed racial bias and recommended better collection of demographic data of police encounters and the racial composition of police departments and adoption and of policies prohibiting racial profiling. Those recommendations have to be expanded upon and implemented.

First and foremost, the dearth of data surrounding lethal use of force must be eliminated. Lawmakers have to force police departments to adopt a culture of transparency where a range of data including the use of force, traffic stops and complaints are made public.

Second, de-escalation tactics must always precede the use of force. The current legal justification for using both lethal and non-lethal force is very broad. As long as an officer can demonstrate that he feared an imminent threat of harm and it appears reasonable, he is not subject to any discipline for the use of force.

Third, addressing implicit bias through training may not be enough. What the Department of Justice investigation of Ferguson, Mo. clearly showed is that the bias can be very explicit. Departments have to adopt zero tolerance for racial bias and dishonesty and remove any officers from their forces when racial motivations or lying is uncovered.

Finally, investigations of deadly force incidents must be far more robust. In far too many troubling shootings, investigators are not willing to ask the officers the tough questions they would ask in any other homicide that did not involve cops but instead let them off the hook with softball questions.

There are no easy answers but the killing of Walter Scott demonstrates once and for all that some cops lie and murder and think they can get away with it. As long as the public was in denial that approach worked, now the burden is on all of us, police departments and their political leadership to say “enough is enough.”


By: Walter Katz, a former public defender, was part of a task force that challenged convictions in cases brought by corrupt Los Angeles Police Officers in the Ramparts case; Opinion Pages, Room for Debate, The New York Times, April 9, 2015

April 13, 2015 Posted by | Police Abuse, Police Shootings, Walter Scott | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Iran Deal Is About Restraining A Barbaric Regime”: It Neither Legitimizes Nor Appeases That Regime

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, writing about Iran in the New Jersey Jewish Standard on April 1, sought to alter perspectives on that country with some speculation about race. “Imagine if Ayatollah Ali [Khamenei] was threatening to murder all blacks in the Middle East,” he wrote. “What if he tweeted regularly that people of dark skin are of the devil and must be annihilated. Would the American government be negotiating with him?”

Boteach suggested that a U.S. administration would face “international opprobrium for legitimizing a government with racist, genocidal intent against an identifiable ethnic group.” He asked, “Why is it that threatening to murder the Jews is acceptable?”

Boteach referred to President Obama as “a historic figure, the first African-American president” and said that he didn’t doubt that Obama “is a friend of the Jewish people.” But, he added, “We are witnesses to the world’s foremost republic and sole superpower negotiating with a government with a clearly defined agenda of carrying out a second holocaust.”

Boteach declared of Obama: “We need him to stand up for us.”

Boteach, an author, TV host and self-described “America’s Rabbi,” recently took out full-page ads in The Post and the New York Times to tell Obama that any pact that allows Iran to retain a significant nuclear infrastructure will make him an appeaser on par with Neville Chamberlain.

I have no idea how Obama might respond to Boteach’s fantasized Khamenei with murderous intent against blacks. Neither can I presume to speak for other African Americans. For my part, were my family and I in the Middle East and faced with such a threat, I would want my government to take all necessary steps to cut off every pathway that such a racist leader could take to develop a nuclear weapon.

Which brings me to the recently negotiated framework with Iran.

If there happens to be a way to create a comprehensive, long-term oversight effort that includes robust and intrusive inspections of that country’s nuclear program, I say do it.

If my government can deny a genocidal leader the plutonium necessary to build a bomb, go for it.

If my government, working with other world powers, can shut down Iran’s path to a bomb using enriched uranium, that’s a good thing.

Should this president, working with world leaders, get Iran to: agree not to stockpile materials needed to build a weapon, give international inspectors unprecedented access to its nuclear program, set strict limits on its program for more than a decade and impose unprecedented transparency measures that will last 20 years or more, then I say hooray. And, of course, economic sanctions should not be lifted until Iran complies with terms of the final agreement.

Because if a fantasy Iran were to aim to liquidate all blacks in the Middle East or elsewhere, just as the real-life Iran has threatened to annihilate millions of Jews in Israel, I wouldn’t ever want it to become a nuclear power capable of delivering on its threats.

Locking down a barbaric country in an internationally enforced agreement is a start. It neither legitimizes nor appeases that regime.

And it’s something any U.S. president should try to do, not just on behalf of Jewish people, with their long and painful history, or African Americans with painful experiences of our own, but for the sake of all Americans as well as all those worldwide who could be threatened.

Iran is everybody’s business. Or it ought to be.

Yet, it doesn’t — or shouldn’t — follow that U.S. policy toward Iran can be dictated from anywhere other than the United States.

It was, therefore, shocking to read a National Review article titled “Netanyahu, Not Obama, Speaks for Us,” which was posted online March 2.

Who is writer Quin Hillyer referring to when he says Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and not the president, speaks “for you and for me”?

Obama speaks on the world stage for this country and its values. He has more than demonstrated a willingness to exercise American power in defense of our national interests. (Ask Osama bin Laden.) To suggest that this president is less diligent in the safeguarding of our civilization, more deficient in moral courage and less likely to pursue justice on our behalf than a foreign leader is as absurd as it sounds.

I also happen to believe that Obama promotes equality, justice and dignity for all, and not because he is black or because he views the world through any racial or religious prism.


By: Colbert I. King, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, April 10, 2015

April 13, 2015 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Iran | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Expansive ‘Warrior’ Mindset”: Police Shouldn’t Ask If A Shooting Is Justified, But If It’s Avoidable

Every time a police shooting gets national attention, the difference in the conflicting attitudes that civilians and law enforcement have toward the use of force is glaring. That conflict drives much of the tension between police agencies and the communities they serve.

When cops evaluate a use-of-force incident, they ask whether it was justified, focusing on the legal rule set by the Supreme Court in the 1989 case Graham v. Connor. The Court held that officers may use force so long as it is “objectively reasonable.” To determine whether a particular action was objectively reasonable, the Court held, judges must view the situation through the deferential lens of “a reasonable officer on the scene.”

When civilians evaluate a use-of-force incident, they ask whether it was avoidable. They want to know whether the officer could have done something—anything—else.

The tragic shooting of Tamir Rice last November puts the difference between “justified” and “avoidable” in stark contrast. Officers responding to call that there was a “man with a gun” in a park drove to within about ten feet of their suspect. One officer jumped out of the car and, within two seconds, fatally shot the 12-year-old. Was it justified? Probably, if one narrowly considers the officers proximity to an apparently armed man. Was it avoidable? Almost certainly, when one acknowledges that the officers could have—and should have—parked at a safe distance and approached cautiously by using cover, concealment, and communication.

Why do most officers, charged with serving and protecting their communities, persist in asking whether a use of force was justified rather than necessary? I put a great deal of blame on the expansive “warrior mindset” that has become so highly esteemed in the law enforcement community. To protect themselves, to even survive, officers are taught to be ever-vigilant. Enemies abound, and the job of the Warrior is to fight and vanquish those enemies.

That’s not the right attitude for police. Our officers should be, must be, guardians, not warriors. The goal of the Guardian isn’t to defeat an enemy, it is to protect the community to the extent possible, including the community member that is resisting the officer’s attempt to arrest them. For the guardian, the use of avoidable violence is a failure, even if it satisfies the legal standard.

Society invests a tremendous amount of trust and responsibility into our police officers. Policing is a difficult job, not least because of the potential for violence that cannot be predicted or, in many cases, prevented.

But in the long run, it would be safer for everyone if officers saw their role as guarding the community, not defeating enemies.


By: Seth Stoughton, Professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law affiliated with the Rule of Law Collaborative. He served as a city police officer and state investigator: Opinion Pages, Room for Debate, The New York Times, April 9, 2015

April 13, 2015 Posted by | Justifiable Homicide, Police Shootings, Police Violence | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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