Sunday, November 19, 2017

Report Reveals More About the Great American Tax Cut Swindle

© occupywallst
On November 18, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) explained the “revised Senate Plan would raise taxes on at least 29% of Americans and cause the populations of 19 states to pay more in federal taxes in 2027 than they do today.”

Here are the lowlights of the Senate Finance Committee’s tax cut swindle:

Among the bottom three-fifths of US households, nearly one-third will pay higher federal taxes than currently in 2027.

The top 40% will get a tax cut, the top 1% a huge one.

“(T)he share of taxpayers with a tax hike is likely to be greater than what is estimated here,” said ITEP.

Its estimates don’t factor in Medicaid cuts and higher insurance premiums.

Many low and middle-income households will be worse off than its report estimates.

Corporate tax cuts mostly or entirely benefit owners of common stocks.

“Even in 2019, the Senate plan is not designed to benefit the American middle class,” ITEP explained.

Trump’s proclaimed “middle class miracle” is one of his many Big Lies – championing a plan scamming most Americans, especially its most vulnerable.

Deficit neutrality is out-the-window. It’ll rise substantially.

Foreign investors in US equities will benefit more than most Americans. They own about one-third of US common stock shares. They’ll benefit at the expense of tax increases on most US households, including fewer Americans with health insurance.

“(T)he average net effect for US households would be a tax cut of $8 billion, which is much smaller than the $22 billion benefit to foreign investors,” ITEP explained.

In 2027, America’s top 1% will get an average tax cut of over $9,000.

On average, the bottom 60% of US households will pay around $160 more annually by 2027.

In high tax states like California and New York, low and middle-income households will pay more federal taxes than others in low-tax states.

The Senate measure cuts hundreds of billions of dollars in federal healthcare spending – including repeal of the individual mandate, causing about 13 million households to lose coverage.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, premiums will rise at least 10% more than otherwise for households in non-group health insurance markets.

The Senate bill includes permanent corporate tax cuts, temporary individual ones expiring after 2025 – to comply with budget rules they routinely ignore, why annual deficits increase the national debt each year.

ITEP explained the following:

“(R)econciliation rules allow this bill to increase the deficit by $1.5 trillion over a decade, as set out in a budget resolution already approved by Congress, but this is not sufficient to allow all the tax cuts in the bill.”

“So the Finance Committee senators made some tax cuts temporary and added a provision to cut the federal government’s spending on health care by repealing the health insurance mandate” – uninsured qualifying households no longer getting tax credits to help pay for coverage.

House and Senate bills are designed to benefit corporate predators and super-rich households at the expense of most others.

It’ll continue transferring the nation’s wealth from ordinary Americans, struggling to get by, to its privileged class – a colossal swindle.

VISIT MY NEW WEB SITE: (Home – Stephen Lendman). Contact at

My newest book as editor and contributor is titled “Flashpoint in Ukraine: How the US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III.”


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Genetically Engineering the Natural World, it Turns Out, Could Be a Disaster

Gizmodo | Nov 17, 2017 | Kristen V Brown

A Takahe, a native New Zealand flightless bird which is threatened with extinction, seeks out food at the Zealandia wildlife sanctuary in Wellington, New Zealand. (Image: AP)
For the native species of New Zealand, European settlement was particularly cruel. The country has no endemic land predators, so many of its birds evolved without the typical avian aptitude for flight. Then came Western settlers, and along with them rats, mice, opossums, stoats, cats, and the occasional misbehaving dog. For these invaders, New Zealand’s flightless birds were a veritable feast. Numbers dwindled. Despite conservation efforts, the country still loses about 20 of its namesake kiwi birds every week.

Then, in 2014, a young Harvard scientist published a paper that caught the attention of conservationists around the world, New Zealand included. Using the genetic engineering technique CRISPR, he suggested that scientists could create something called a gene drive to override natural selection’s typical 50-50 mix. Among other things, this technique might be used to engineer invasive pests to breed themselves out of existence. No kiwi-killing stoats. Presto.

Earlier this year, typically GMO-wary New Zealand signaled it was interested in giving gene drives a whirl. Now, a pair of papers published Thursday suggest there’s just one potentially significant hitch: Gene drives do not appear to be safe to use for conservation—at least not yet.

The problem, it turns out, is that gene drives might actually work a little too well.

“Our models show that standard drive systems are highly invasive,” Kevin Esvelt, the synthetic biologist who published the original CRISPR gene drive paper back in 2014, told Gizmodo.

Gene drives thwart natural selection by creating a “selfish gene” that gets passed down to offspring with more consistency than the rules of inheritance typically allow, eventually—in theory—spreading through an entire population. If New Zealand decided to use a gene drive to rid itself of rats, for example, it’s possible that those genetically altered rats would eventually make their way to other unintended locations, either by stowing away on ships like they did to get to New Zealand in the first place or by other humans not-so-keen on their own rat populations purposefully moving them.

“[Modified organisms] probably can’t be safely tested in the field because they’re likely to spread to most populations of the target species throughout the world,” Esvelt said.
As you might imagine, genetically altering the world’s entire rat population might wind up being a pretty big problem.

The notion of using genetic engineering to thwart natural selection was first proposed in 2003, but it was with the advent of CRISPR and Esvelt’s 2014 paper that the prospect of gene drives seemed within the realm of possibility.

The 2014 paper inspired a rush of enthusiasm and fear within the broader public, and spurred a heated debate within the scientific community about whether it would really work. Ever since first putting the idea out there, Esvelt has worked hard to warn the world just how dangerous it might be. He occupies a weird space: a scientist at the forefront of genetic engineering who is also probably the foremost critic of technology he creates.

Esvelt, who now has his own lab at MIT, said that the pair of papers published Thursday—one in PLoS, the other as a preprint on bioRxiv—amount to a “mea culpa” of sorts.

He said his original paper made a compelling case for all of the potential benefits of gene drives—conservation! eradicating disease!—without spelling out the risks and challenges clearly.

New Zealand is not the first place to get excited about gene drives for conservation. In Hawaii, for one, the idea has been floated as a solution to the disease-carrying mosquitoes that threaten native bird populations. Last year, the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity rejected calls for a global moratorium on gene drives, concluding that the potential benefits are too great to not proceed with “carefully controlled field trials.” A report from the National Academies of Sciences gave a cautious go-ahead to gene drives as well.

“I badly misled many conservationists who are desperately in need of hope,” Esvelt said. “My mistake was in miserably failing to communicate clearly.”

In A, an organism carryingonecopy of an altered gene only passes it along to half of its offspring. In B, using a gene drive, nearly all offspring receive the altered gene. Image: Wyss Institute at Harvard
Some recent research has suggested that wild populations will naturally develop resistance to lab-engineered modifications before a gene drive really has a chance to work its magic. In one 2015 study, researchers reported a CRISPR gene drive had allowed an infertility mutation in female mosquitoes to be passed on to all offspring, but as the mutation increased in frequency over several generations, resistance to the gene drive also emerged, making it unlikely for the mosquitoes to invade wild populations. But Esvelt has floated potential ways around this problem, such as inserting the gene drive gene at several important places in a species’ genome so that it’s unlikely to develop resistance. Even with an inefficient gene drive though, the bioRxiv paper suggests a model in which a small number of altered species could spread to unintended populations.

“This is part of an ongoing conversation about the balances of risk and benefits of gene drive technology,” said Jason Delborne, a scientist who works on gene drives at North Carolina State University who was not involved in the recent work. “These new papers signal that we should be even more cautious about gene drive technology.”

The PLoS paper, an opinion piece co-authored with New Zealand geneticist Neil Gemmell, warns that releasing a standard gene-drive is “likely equivalent to creating a new, highly invasive species.” In other words: It could be very, very bad.

“There are these natural mutations that will cause gene drive to stop working, that’s true. But the reason we’re concerned is people are already figuring out solutions to those natural mutations,” Gemmell said. “If you do that, then how do you stop it?”

Even experimenting in a contained lab could be dangerous. For example, if an engineered lab mouse escaped and that lab was in the vicinity of other mice it might breed with, the gene drive could spread accidentally. (An exception to all this, Esvelt said, might be engineering malaria-resistant mosquitoes, which most of the world might agree to even if there was a potential for the engineered mosquitoes to spread globally.)

“As it stands, there’s still a very large gap in understanding between gene drives in the lab and gene drives in the field, and of course field trials are complicated by substantial ethical and political issues,” Gabriel Zentner, a scientist at Indiana University, told Gizmodo. “The article states that ‘now is the time to be bold in our caution,’ and I tend to agree.

None of this means anyone is giving up hope on using gene drives as a tool for conservation. It’s just that excitement over the technology got a little ahead of the technology itself.

Esvelt and other scientists are working on developing systems that could limit the spread of a gene drive. One potential solution, proposed by Esvelt, creates limits to the number of generations that inherit an engineered trait. Another being developed by a group called the Genetic Biocontrol of Invasive Rodent’s Partnership seeks to find and target genetic sequences unique to a desired population so that the gene could not spread beyond it.

The hope is that these new papers move more scientists to focus efforts on designing localized or self-limiting drives that might one day actually have real-world applications, rather than experiment with standard drives that might be too dangerous to ever deploy.

“I think some of my colleagues think we just shot them in the foot. We’re still excited about what gene drive has to offer,” Gemmell said. “But the tools we have right now are not optimal. We need something you can turn on and off or has a finite life.”

In New Zealand, the gene drive is being considered as part of a bold plan announced in 2015 by the New Zealand government to eradicate all wild predators by 2050. Gemmell is part of the team of scientists exploring the use of the technology in New Zealand, and he said the early research can still proceed as planned, alongside work to develop a safer gene drive. There is currently no concrete plan to deploy a drive. Early stage research alone is likely to take years.

But, the PLoS paper points out, if any gene drive is ever to be deployed at all, transparent conversations about gene drive technology and its potential consequences need to happen with the public now.

In New Zealand, at least, that work has already begun. Predator-Free 2050, a company funded by the New Zealand government, has begun to fund social research into gene drives. The first results were published this week, finding that 32 percent of the 8,000 New Zealanders surveyed were comfortable gene drives, while 18 percent felt they should never be used, and 50 percent were undecided.

“This is a technology that socially and ethically we’re unprepared for, but technologically, we can do,” Gemmell said. “That’s disturbing. These conversations are overdue.”

[PLoS, bioRxiv]


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Syrian Army ends Ahrar Al Sham's dreams in Damascus countryside, destroys Al Nusra hideouts in Hama

Fort Russ | Nov 19, 2017 | Samer Hussein

DAMASCUS, Syria. Syrian military sources have officially confirmed that the 105th Brigade of the Syrian Army re-established control over its command post near the town of Harasta, located in the eastern countryside of Damascus, following fierce clashes with terrorists.

This marks the end of the Erdogan-regime backed Ahrar Al Sham's offensive in the eastern countryside of Damascus.

Meanwhile, Syrian Army regained control over the villages of Haran and Hardaneh, located in the northeastern countryside of Hama province.

According to the field reports, army units carried out a precise military operation against the positions of Hay’at Tahrir Al Sham (Al Nusra Front) hideouts in the two villages, killing a whole bunch of terrorists and destroying several of their hideouts in the process.

The army units are currently pursuing  the terrorists who managed to flee.


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Mapping functional diversity of forests with remote sensing

The Watchers | Nov 19, 2017 | Steven Young

Productivity and stability of forest ecosystems strongly depend on the functional diversity of plant communities. UZH researchers have developed a new method to measure and map functional diversity of forests at different scales – from individual trees to whole communities – using remote sensing by aircraft. Their work paves the way for future airborne and satellite missions to monitor global plant functional diversity.

Ecological studies have demonstrated positive relationships between plant diversity and ecosystem functioning. Forests with higher functional diversity are generally more productive and stable over long timescales than less diverse forests. Diverse plant communities show increased resource use efficiency and utilization, enhanced ecosystem productivity and stability and can better cope with changing environmental conditions - an insurance effect of biodiversity. They are also less vulnerable to diseases, insect attacks, fire and storms.

New method to study whole forest ecosystems from above

Plant functional diversity can directly be measured by mapping selected morphological and physiological traits of a forest from above. In the past, functional traits of plants had to be measured by very labor-intensive fieldwork on the ground. This fieldwork was either limited to very few measurable traits on larger plots or many traits on very small plots or single trees. Researchers from the UZH and the California Institute of Technology / NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory have now developed a new remote-sensing method to map functional diversity of forests from small to large scales, independent of any predefined vegetation units or species information and without the need for ground-based calibration.

The research team applied their methods on the Laegern mountain, a temperate mixed forest ecosystem located near Zurich, Switzerland. "With remote sensing, we have the unique opportunity to study whole forest ecosystems by continuously mapping their functional traits looking from above on the leaves of the forest canopy over very large areas," says Michael Schaepman from the Remote Sensing Laboratories of the Department of Geography.

Spatial composition of the physiological traits leaf chlorophyll, carotenoids and water content. The color composite shows the relative abundance of the three traits at each pixel of 6x6 m. Credit: UZH
Spatial composition of the morphological traits canopy height, density and layering. The colour composite shows the relative abundance of the three traits at each pixel of 6x6m. Credit: UZH

Functional traits indicate activity and health status of trees

With airborne laser scanning, the scientists measured morphological characteristics of the forest canopy such as canopy height, foliage and branch densities. These measurements indicate how the sunlight is taken up by the canopy to assimilate carbon dioxide from the air and use the carbon to grow. In a canopy with a more diverse structure, light can better spread between different vertical canopy layers and among individual tree crowns, allowing for a more efficient capture of light. The researchers also characterized the forest with regards to its biochemical properties using airborne imaging spectroscopy. By measuring how leaves reflect the light in many spectral bands, they were able to derive physiological traits such as the content of leaf pigments (chlorophylls, carotenoids) and leaf water content. "These physiological traits provide information about the activity and health status of the trees. We can see, for example, if a tree is suffering water stress, and what resource allocation strategy a tree is following or how it adapts to the environment," Schaepman adds.

Observed diversity patterns consistent with topography and soil

The researchers validated their method by comparing the results with leaf-level field measurements, species-level plot inventory data and databases providing functional trait values. Using computer modeling, they were able to assess diversity patterns of morphological and physiological traits at a whole range of scales, from local diversity between individual trees to large-scale patterns of plant communities following environmental gradients. The team found a strong relationship between the observed functional diversity patterns and environmental factors such as soil and topography, with lower diversity on the mountain ridge under harsher environmental conditions, where the trees adapted to the dry, steep, shallow and rocky soils.

Diversity in physiological traits (leaf chlorophyll, carotenoids, and water content) of the forest as functional richness at a radial neighborhood of 90 m. Credit: UZH
Diversity in morphological traits (canopy height, density and layering) of the forest as functional richness at a radial neighborhood of 90 m. Credit: UZH

Potential to assess functional diversity from space

"With remote sensing, we are now able to measure and monitor the diversity of forests, allowing us to observe changes at large scales and providing spatial information for nature conservation and climate change mitigation strategies," Michael Schaepman emphasizes. Since the methodology is only limited by the availability of advanced technological sensors, this work paves the way for future airborne and satellite missions aiming at monitoring global plant functional diversity from space.

Featured image: Due to the harsher environmental conditions, plant diversity is lower (blue/purple) on top of the mountain ridge and higher (yellow/orange) at lower altitudes. Credit: UZH


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15 prisoners have convictions thrown out in Chicago over crooked cops

RT | Nov 19, 2017

Fifteen men who were framed by a corrupt team of cops in Chicago have had their convictions thrown out en masse, leading to calls for hundreds of other cases linked to the team led by disgraced former officer Ronald Watts to be investigated.

The 15 had their convictions quashed Thursday, and hours later, seven cops allegedly part of Watts’ team that terrorized the Ida B. Wells housing projects in Chicago for over a decade” were removed from street duties while their conduct is under investigation, the Chicago Tribune reports.

Following the mass exonerations, believed to be the first of its kind in the history of the Windy City, Joshua Tepfer, lead attorney for the 15 vowed to review as many as 500 other convictions linked to the crooked squad.

“It needs to be investigated and vetted about how many of those are appropriate to overturn,” Tepler said. “We are very much in the process of doing that.”

In addition, five other Watts-related convictions had already been thrown out earlier, bringing the total number, so far, to 20.

Further to these, two other men walked free both having served lengthy sentences and both for double murders they had not committed. These were not linked to Watts and his crew but because of alleged misconduct by the force.

Sixty-six-year-old Arthur Brown was released on Tuesday, having served 29 years, while on Wednesday, Jose Maysonet, 49, was released after serving 27 years.

Watts and his team acted with impunity for years despite being repeatedly accused of forcing residents and drug dealers to pay a protection tax. If anyone refused, Watt simply framed them.

As Leonard Gipson, one of the men stitched up by Watts recounts to the Tribune, he filed a complaint with Chicago Police in 2003, alleging that Watts had framed him on a drugs charge for failing to pay protection money. His complaint went unheeded.

When Gipson came across Watts again, four months later with his drug charge pending, the then sergeant said: “Let me see if you can bond off on this,” before slapping the cuffs on and planting 28 grams of heroin on him.

On the advice of his attorney, who said it was his word against the cops, Gipson pleaded guilty to the charge. On Thursday he had three convictions thrown out. “Watts always told me, ‘If you’re not going to pay me, I’m going to get you,’” Gipson said. “And every time I ran into him, he’d put drugs on me. Every time.”

In 2007, Chicago officers Shannon Spalding and Daniel Echeverria were allegedly told by their superiors to ignore evidence of criminal wrongdoing by Sergeant Ronald Watts, but the two reported it to the FBI all the same.

What the officers thought would end in a simple meeting turned into “Operation Brass Tacks.” Their involvement in the FBI’s investigation into Watts eventually became a full-time job, so they were forced to inform CPD internal affairs.

The whistleblowers ended up spending two years on the case, resulting in a 22-month prison term being handed down to Watts in October 2013.


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VIDEO: Police SUV Mows Down Mom & 2 Kids as He Sped Through Neighborhood

Los Angeles, CA — Two children were killed and their mother severely injured Thursday night when a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy plowed them down on the sidewalk after he lost control while responding to a call.

The three-car crash occurred about 7:30 p.m. in the 800 block of South Indiana Street in Boyle Heights. The impact thrust the sheriff’s vehicle onto the sidewalk, where it ran into a mother and her two children, ages 7 and 9, said Los Angeles police Officer Drake Madison, an LAPD spokesman, according to the LA Times.

According to the report in the Times:
A security video obtained by The Times from Green Mill Liquor Store shows the moments after a sheriff’s SUV drove onto the sidewalk and hit the pedestrians.

The clip shows the sheriff’s SUV after it had already struck at least two people. The vehicle appears in the frame from the side of a building. The video shows the split second after the front of the SUV – with its emergency lights on – hit a trash can. A person rolls into the frame on the sidewalk. Because the video has no audio, it’s unclear if the cruiser’s sirens were on.

Just moments before, the video shows a man walking through a parking lot next to the building abruptly turning and running toward the street just as the SUV appears, apparently reacting to the sound of the crash.

The clip is about eight seconds long.

Images from the scene show the crumpled right front side of the SUV and the tire folded under its mangled frame.

One child died at the scene, and one died at a hospital, he said. The mother is in critical condition, Madison said.
The crash severely injured seven other people as well. According to Madison, in addition to two deputies and three pedestrians, someone from one of the other two cars was transported to a hospital.

Although police have yet to claim who is at fault in the crash, we can assume that the officer was travelling at a high rate of speed through the area on his way to the call.

Video in tweeted article below.

Police car crashes are an unfortunately common reality. In fact, just one day prior, in a separate incident in Perris, a girl was killed Wednesday night after a collision with a Riverside sheriff’s car near Perris Boulevard and Nuevo Road.

The deputy hit the pedestrian while responding to an unrelated call, said Riverside Sheriff’s Deputy Mike Vasquez. He would not release the girl’s name or age, saying only that she was a juvenile and that the deputy inside the patrol unit was unharmed, reports the Times.

As TFTP reported last month, Joan Raye, 78, is lucky to be alive after a Franklin County Sheriff’s made the dangerous decision to speed over 80 mph through a neighborhood and plowed into her vehicle. In spite of the fact that the deputy hit her, however, this poor elderly woman is now being charged with a crime for his negligence.

As TFTP previously reported, a shocking report showed just how dangerous being an innocent bystander can be when there is a police chase going on.

On average, according to the report, one person every day is killed during a high-speed chase.

To put this into perspective, that’s larger than the number of people killed by floods, tornadoes, lightning and hurricanes — combined.

Contrary to popular thinking, high-speed chases aren’t only dangerous for those involved. Innocent bystanders are all too often the victims of these reckless pursuits.

According to the report, more than 5,000 bystanders and passengers have been killed in police car chases since 1979. Tens of thousands more were injured as officers repeatedly pursued drivers at high speeds and in hazardous conditions.

Aside from the 5,000 completely innocent lives lost, an additional 6,300 fleeing ‘suspects’ were also killed, bringing the total to 11,506 dead since 1979. Even this shockingly large number is likely an understatement, according to the report. The Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) uses police reports to determine if a crash is chase related, and many of the reports do not disclose that a chase had occurred at all.


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