"The Think Tank" with Garland Robinette
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Garland Robinette

Tune in to "The Think Tank" for independent, intelligent discussions with experts on matters of news, politics, science and much more!

Weekdays 10am-1pm

Twitter: @garlandWWL
Email: garland@wwl.com

Garland: Does Donald Trump's tax plan really add up?

Could Donald Trump’s tax plan get him elected?  "It's a tax reform that I think will make America strong and great again," Trump said Monday. 

Trump’s tax plan calls for the rich to pay more, corporations to pay much less, and some Americans to pay nothing at all.  It offers huge big tax breaks to the middle class.  Can he actually make it happen?  Would it stimulate the economy, help the middle class & make America great again?  And, would it be a catalyst for your vote?

To try to answer some of these questions I invited two experts on to the show today to explain in layman's terms what people could expect from Trump's proposals. The first was Harry Stein, the Director of Fiscal Policy at the Center for American Progress. 

Is it true that Trump's tax reform plan would cost the American government trillions of dollars? "That's definitely true, we've seen already two different analyses of the proposal; one from the Citizens for Tax Justice, which is generally seen as coming from the more liberal side of the spectrum, and the another from the Tax Foundation, which is generally seen as coming from the right side of the spectrum," Mr. Stein told me.

"They both came out with a pretty similar estimate, that the plan will cost about $10 trillion dollars the first ten years in effect. When you look at the Federal government and what that would mean, that's roughly give or take the same amount the Social Security costs. Both the left and right seem to agree that this would blow a huge hole in the Federal budget."

I also spoke to ​Bob Williams, Sol Price Fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center at the Urban Institute and I asked him what he thought about Trump's plan to cut deductions and loopholes for higher income people, but lower earners would keep all or most or their current deductions.

"Trump is very lacking in details on exactly what he would do there," Wiliiams said. "he says he's going to take away tax breaks for the rich but not for the poor, but doesn't give any specification of methodogy. He says he's going to continue to let people deduct their charitable contributions and mortagage interest payments, both of which are big benefits for very wealthy people. They're the ones that give away a lot of money and save a lot of taxes by giving away money and having large mortages.

"It's hard to imagine that taking way the tax breaks he is talking about, that it would be anything but a very large tax cut for people at the top, and would leave a lot of people at the bottom end, the poor, unaffected. It wouldnt really cut their taxes at all in many cases," he continued.

There's a lot more to the conversation - click the link below to hear the full interviews with Harry and Bob.

FULL AUDIO: Garland talks Trump tax reform with fiscal experts
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Garland: Superdome - symbol of Katrina destruction and New Orleans rebirth

In telling the story of the recovery of New Orleans after the biggest disaster in the history of America, we had to talk about the great healer in our community – sports!  The focus of our conversation was a symbol of Katrina destruction, now a signal of New Orleans’ rebirth—the Mercedes Benz Superdome.  We also talked about the economic, social & spiritual impact of Saints football, the expansion of New Orleans sports footprint & NOLA’s return as a concert destination.  Our guests (the father of the rebirth of the dome) Doug Thornton, Executive Vice President of Stadiums & Arenas with SMG...and Jay Cicero, President & CEO of The Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation. 
We also get a different perspective on Katrina, when we visit with BBC reporter Rajini Vaidyanathan.  She gives us to the view across the pond.  The British Broadcasting Corporation tells the Katrina story through the voice of WWL radio. The story, titled “The Hurricane Station,” is a captivating 6-chapter web magazine story - a powerful tribute to the station & its staff that helped save New Orleans when it was down on its knees.  BBC reporter Rajini Vaidyanathan,  @BBCRajiniV ... documents WWL’s coverage in a personal & authentic way, zooming in not only on the station's role as a lifeline to a desperate community, but also exposing the personal impact on journalists covering a monumental disaster, while experiencing the catastrophic affects personally. 
Click below to listen to the podcast:

FULL AUDIO: Garland talks to Doug Thornton, Jay Cicero & Rajini Vaidyanathan
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Garland: If Katrina recovery were a football game, this is halftime

I was back at the Katrina 10 Media Center at the Sheraton this morning with another show full of people I really respect and think have done great work not just for themselves but for the whole city of New Orleans. In one hour today, I spoke to Lt. General Russell Honore, former Mayor Marc Morial and Liberty Bank CEO Alden McDonald.  I didn't know who to call a hero first.

I asked each of them: ten years later, how are we doing?

"We are doing well, but we could do better," General Honore said. "We've gone through ten years of recovery, and that we all need to be proud of. This is a destination city. We gotta make sure the rest of the world knows this place is open of business. On the other hand, we need to do the rest of the work, we've got bout half of it done. It might take us another ten years to get to the rest of the city. Your revocery is measured by how you resolve issues that were going on in the community before it happened. We had significant issues in economic disparityy, education, and infrastructure... and if you were doing well beofre Katrina, you probably did a lot better after, but if you were stuggling, poor, disabled, elderly, its likely the data will show you're not going as well ten years later. We've got to make sure we understand that up to 30% of the city is not participating at the level we need them to."

Former Mayor Marc Morial had this to say: "I view this time as a commemoration and continuation. What people should be proud of is this - when people asked 'should you rebuild New Orleans, should you rebuild this neighborhood,' the citizens rose up with a sense of civic determination, perserverance and pride and said 'we don't care if the govt is stumbling, fumbling, bumbling, we are going to rebuild this city.' Ten years later, continuation is the key word, because of the work yet to be done. We dont have to buy into 'is the job done,' we don't have to buy into 'it's all good.' We have to look at this as halftime, when you take inventory, look at the scoreboard, and ask yourself what is necessary in the second half to make this recovery complete?"

Alden McDonald, who opened his bank at 29 years old as a college dropout, and then rebuilt the whole thing from scratch after the flood, agreed with the metaphor used by Morial. "When you really look at the devastation that took place here, it's really about truly rebuilding a city - we lost everything at Liberty Bank, files, customers, employees. We had to rebuild a bank from ground zero, and New Orleans had to do the same thing, people took the opportunty to work and makes things better. Are we done? No. We're halfway."

It was a great conversation about the future of New Orleans and the work still to do - click the link below to listen.

FULL AUDIO: Garland talks Katrina recovery with Lt. Gen. Russell Honore, Marc Morial, Alden McDonald

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Locations : New Orleans
People : Alden McDonaldMarc MorialRussell Honore


Garland: Recounting Katrina with New Orleans news legends

People hear radio and news people and they think you're in a bubble when you go through something like Katrina. They think these guys are in private jets and limosines. During Katrina, Dennis Woltering, Norman Robinson and Dave Cohen were neither protected nor comfortable.

I asked these men to tell us what it was like for them during and after Katrina hit New Orleans. I started with former WWL-TV anchor Dennis Woltering.

"We started out in the studio, Mike Hoss and I, before we had to move over to the Hyatt, and eventually they said you've got to move out of here. We go to the Hyatt that night and everyone is camped out on the third floor, with sleeping bags... you hear noises outside.. we each had rooms in the Hyatt, and at one point a photographer and I went up to my room. The windows were blown out, and he wanted to go in and get a shot of it. We opened the door and it was like the wind was sucking us out, so I had to hold on to him while he got his shot. It was just unbelievable!"

I asked former WDSU anchor Norman Robinson the same question - what did you go through, trying to manage your personal life and work life at the same time?

"It was surreal Garland. It was like an out-of-body experience... this was an experience for the first time in my life as a journalist where I experienced what everyone else was going through. It got personal immediately. And the trauma kind of set in early, as you could see the storm forming out in the Gulf. It was bigger than the entire Gulf of Mexico, and that's when it became real - this was the one we'd all been afraid of, this was finally going to happen. The most poignant moment of my coverage came during my interview with Max Mayfield, who was the director of the NHC at the time. We were interviewing him in our 10 o clock newscast and asked him, Would you think that this is time to call an evacuation? He said, I cant give you advice because that's outside my purview, but if I were in New Orleans, I would be thinking it. This is the storm we've all feared."

Our own News Director Dave Cohen knew what it was like to have to play a different role than he otherwise might have expected.

"As journalists, our job is to tell the story, to deliver the news, to take a step back and tell people what was going on without being involved - but we were all using words like I and me and our city and us when describing what was happening because we were all living it. To me, the biggest moment when that was so crystal clear was when we had confirmation that the levees had broken and we had just talk to the Corps of Engineers the day before, they had showed us where the water would go if the levees were overtopped or breached. They talked about the toxic soup that would fill the city for six months before they could drain it clean. I remember getting on the radio and begging, pleading for anyone still in New Orleans to get to some elevated roadway and find some way to get to the Crescent City Connection because there was no other way out and we knew the water wasnt going to stop. At that time I wasn't worried about reporting the facts and figures and humanizing the story, I was worried about begging these people to get out before they all died."

Take a listen to the full hour of conversation with Dennis, Norman and Dave - I think you'll hear some stories you've never heard before.

FULL AUDIO: Garland talks Katrina coverage with New Orleans news legends

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Garland: Are we on the brink of World War III?

How close are we to World War III?  More & more foreign policy experts see what Russia is doing in the Ukraine and Baltic States and say it mimics the start of both World Wars. Are Russia and the world miscalculating the danger?

I invited Peter Brookes, a Senior Fellow in National Security Affairs for The Heritage Foundation, to come on and help make sure that any discussion is rooted in fact and not hyperbole. Is there real reason for concern?

"Obviously, our relationship with Russia is of concern. The adminstration started 6 years ago this idea they were going to reset relations with Russia. I think that's pretty much a failure, it's done with. We've gone from reset to regret. There are a lot of Cold War-like tensions with Russia. Russia is a major power and crises can spin out of control and escalate, so I don't think we can write it off... I think anything is possible. We're living in a very difficult security environment so I wouldn't write it off, but nor would I say that war is imminent."

Some studies I'm looking at quote a Russian policy expert who says Putin and the Russian policy makers believe that war is not something that is impossible any more and that they are moving low-yield nuclear weapons to the borders in the Baltic states that would frighten the US into a response and therefore break NATO. Could that happen?

"The Russians have relied on the threat of nuclear weapons for a long time. While war is certainly possible, it's not inevitable, and they're sending signals. They're sending signals; Russia is unhappy about the situation in Ukraine, beyond it's taking of Crimea - Russia really wants Ukraine in their orbit, they consider that to be non-negotiable. They're signaling to the West that they do not want the West to jump in and support Ukraine to the extent that would keep them from coming back into Russia's orbit."

To listen to the full interview, click the link below.

FULL AUDIO: Garland talks US-Russian relations with Peter Brookes

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Topics : War_Conflict
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Locations : Baltic States


Garland: Why are we still debating gun control?

Why is there still a debate on gun control?  It makes NO sense.  Can we not just move on and admit that mass shootings in America are not something we can eliminate?
Consider the numbers.  Americans own between 300 and 310 million firearms. Granted, no organization has a comprehensive number, but the smallest estimate is 270 million weapons - that comes from a 2007 Geneva Small Arms Survey.  

Again, it makes no sense.  How in the world do you seize, buyback or ban hundreds of millions of guns?  If you think the solution is to just pass a law that allows police to enter your home or business and seize the weapons (that you would of course, not hide)… think again.  Take a look at any of these headlines:
Texas bill would block police from enforcing new federal gun laws

Several State Legislators Say No to Federal Gun Control Laws

Bill to Block Any New Federal Gun Control Passes Arizona

Sheriffs Refuse to Enforce Laws on Gun Control

Some will point to Australia as bell-weather proof of gun control that works.  After a 1996 massacre in Tasmania, the federal government banned the importation of all semiautomatic and automatic weapons and anything considered an assault weapon.  National buyback programs were instituted, and states banned the weapons outright.  There was a slight drop in homicides, but researchers labeled that reduction “not statistically significant.”  The only true drop was a lower rate of suicides, not mass slaughter.
Plus, according to Pew Research conducted in 2013, 52% of Americans want to protect their right to own a gun. The numbers began to creep up after the Newtown school slaughter of children.
Even Karl Rove got it wrong.  In a post in the Daily Caller, Rove said, “the only way to stop the violence is to repeal the second amendment.” 
Here’s a crazy idea.  How about instead of planning how to stop the next mass killing, we strategize how to STOP THE CRAZIES!  We used to try to control the mentally ill by building hospitals to house and treat them before they killed us.  Instead of spending $40,000 a year jailing a 3-time pot smoker, how about we spend that money trying to stop the slaughter. 
The sun knows how to produce nuclear fusion.  It works, but we don’t know how to do it. If no one had guns, gun control would work.  It would work, but we don’t know how to do it.
To continue the debate makes no sense.
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Topics : Politics
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Locations : NewtownTasmaniaTexas


Garland: What really happens when a state gets medical marijuana?

Are the big fears about legalizing medical marijuana unfounded?  New studies show legalizing medical marijuana does not increase the use of teens or pose a threat to children. For those of you whoe are opposed to medical pot - does that change your position in any way, knowing that?  

READ MORE: Lancet Psychiatry study shows no increase in teen pot use in states where it's legal

The bill to make medical marijuana legal in Louisiana passed, but is still waiting on the Governor’s desk. To gain a better understanding of what might happen next, I invited Raeford Davis into the Think Tank today... he's a former police officer and spokesperson for LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition). 

LEAP's vision statement says "LEAP envisions a world in which drug policies work for the benefit of society and keep our communities safer. A system of legalization and regulation will end the violence, better protect human rights, safeguard our children, reduce crime and disease, treat drug abusers as patients, reduce addiction, use tax dollars more efficiently, and restore the public’s respect and trust in law enforcement."

I asked Raeford what he thought about the Lancet study.

"It's what we've been predicting would happen! As you legalize marijuana, you can begin to regulate it, and use rates actually go down," he said. "People believe that prohibition is the ultimate level of regulation - it's actually the opposite. Prohibition is the abdication of all regulation. When I was a police officer working in troubled neighborhoods - guess what? Drug dealers don't ID kids. You have to legalize it so you can regulate it, and as the study shows, you're not going to have this huge zombie force of teenagers rushing in and getting their hands on it."

In Louisiana, law enforcement is a very powerful political entity, and a lot of political power here depends on filling up jail cells. So how do we ever get to the point where the war on drugs winds down and marijuana becomes legal?

"We do have a prison and incarceration industry is huge, worth billions of dollars and has perverse incentives to incarcerate and arrest people and give them criminal records. It has nothing to do with justice, and is just a self-perpetuating, socially devastating system that we have. It's actually the enforcement of the prohibition laws, the incarceration, the indirect costs of having a family member incarcerated, and legacy costs, like if your grandparent has been convicted of a felony - that adversely affects your life."

To hear the rest of our conversation about the war on drugs and Louisiana's medical marijuana bill, click the link below.

FULL AUDIO: Garland talks marijuana reform with LEAP spokesman Raeford Davis

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Topics : Law_CrimeSocial Issues
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Locations : Louisiana
People : Raeford Davis


Garland: How much black is too black for art?

Okay, let’s explore the latest issue of the coward commenters.  You know those people…so bored/so idle because they don’t work or have mindless jobs…so on-edge because anger management failed…or so ignorant because they react/never research...follow/never lead…yet THEY decide who, what or which issue “goes viral.” 
Well, this time their target…their MAJOR ISSUE is this year’s Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival poster.  For anybody buried under a rock, or not exposed to the media & social media explosion the past few days, the art depicts two faceless, well-dressed African American children standing…one holding a basket of strawberries.  It’s folk art to some, but an image of racism to the commenters.  Let’s go in a little bit different direction at this point. Let’s say you “CC’s” are right and this art is racist.  That would make you an expert.  And, I (an artist) would like NOT to create racist art.  But, in order to meet your demands, I need some answers.
Should non-African artists not paint black subjects?  If they do, what are the measurements that say “that’s too far, now you’re becoming a racist image maker?”   How much black is too black? Two thirds charcoal, one third brown?  One third cobalt blue; two thirds ivory black?  Give me the formula.  
Non-journalists and professional photographers have been criticized for taking picture of Mardi Gras Indians and black funeral processions.  They’re accused of capitalizing on rather than documenting or celebrating a unique culture.  Should those images not be taken?  And, if some pictures can be taken, how would one identify what is acceptable? Who decides?  How do we get in touch with them?
In the not too distant future this country will be majority Hispanic.  Latinos will have a long history of abuse at the hands of the majority white America.  Should non-Latino artists not paint brown Americans?  And if some paintings would be allowed, how much brown is too much?  Can sombreros be included….tamales…donkeys?
Indians have a long history of suffering at the hands of white Americans.  Should artists ask how far is too far in painting an Indian.  Some Indians wear certain beads, feathers and symbols on their clothing.  Should an artist avoid all Indian paintings that identify a tribe or an individual?  Wouldn’t an artist’s rendering of an Indian be stealing his image?  Do we have to get lawyers involved?
We already know we shouldn’t paint the Muslims’ Mohammed.  Should that apply to all religions and all races?  Artists should only be allowed to paint their own kind?
The basic question seems to be…if an artist begins a painting of a human being, when does he or she reach a point where the image becomes racists, derogatory, or disrespectful?   And, who… under what rules…gives the approval to make those decisions?
Since you are the sentinels at the gates of racism, please let we artists know when we’ve gone too far. Do us this favor…oh wise ones…so that we may not suffer the pains and arrows of “viral crucifixions.”  I know…now come the coward commenters. 

CLICK HERE to view a gallery of work by Kalle’ Siekkinen, the artist behind the poster
Leave your comments and questions below...
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Garland: Is the University Medical Center ready to open, or not?

What happens if New Orleans’ gigantic, billion-dollar hospital (now near completion) doesn’t open? Governor Jindal's budget proposal could leave the University Medical Center millions of dollars short of what's needed to open and stay open.

You can't drive around it without thinking 'this is transformative for New Orleans.' Through the years, as I've been talking about this new hospital with elected officials, business people, legislators... I've always asked "do we have the money to sustain this thing once it's up an running?" and I've never gotten a straight answer.

Now, as we know,  Louisiana is in a real budget pickle with a $1.6 billion dollar deficit. The talk originally was to make big cuts to higher education, and there's also been talk of a $300 million dollar cut to health care. 

Gregory Feirn, CEO of LCMC Health, which runs the state-owned hospital, told the New Orleans Advocate, "If the state does not restore the funding, then the state is deciding not to allow for care for the people of New Orleans, deciding not to open their state-of-the-art facility that is nearly finished and striking a crippling blow to medical education in Louisiana.”

 I asked State Treasurer John Kennedy what he thought about this report. Is that quote correct? Is it hyperbolic?

"It certainly concerns me. Feirn is a very able administrator, and I think they'll be able to manage that facility better than the state could. I and others might have done things differently with some of that money, but it is what it is, we've invested and we've got to make that facility work. We do not have a choice," he told me.

There's no way the hospital doesn't open... right?

To hear my interview with John Kennedy about the future of the hospital, click the link below.

FULL AUDIO: Garland talks to State Treasurer John Kennedy about University Medical

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Locations : LouisianaNew Orleans
People : Gregory FeirnJindalJohn Kennedy


Garland: Obama's budget push may hurt coast efforts

By now you've likely heard that President Obama's new budget contains plans for big new investments in infrastructure to spark new job growth and expand America's middle class. That in itself is not controversial, but I'm reading some articles from leading economists that say infrastructure spending doesn't really create many jobs or sustain local economies. So we don't really know if that's the way to go.

Much more disturbing (and clear for all to see) is that the President, in getting money for those infrastructure investments and for his $4 trillion dollar budget, has a hope to take Louisiana's oil revenue and share it with the entire nation beginning in 2017. He wants to take a big chunk of our states' local economy and give it away to everyone else because he says that coastal waters belong to the whole country and should be owned and experienced by all Americans.

It's the kind of thing that makes you sit up in your chair and say WHAT?!

READ MORE: Republicans will fight the president on oil and gas revenues

I invited Sidney Coffee, Policy Adviser for America's WETLAND Foundation, into "The Think Tank" this morning to help me better understand this. Sidney had previously worked on the legislation that got Louisiana a greater share of oil and gas revenues. 

"We knew, at some point, there was going to be an effort by someone to try to reverse this. These are tremendous sums, up to $500 million a year that would be calculated in 2017 and we would actually being receiving them in 2018. Our Congressional delegation, more unified on this issue than almost any other before or since, they all fought very hard for this. The State did it's part, the Congress did it's part, and now that the money is coming in a few years, and there's a money grab to try to take it back." 

The Coastal Restoration Protection Authority will have to cut funds. So how do we turn to Congress and say 'we said all along that this is about whether or not we survive,' but now coastal restoration is the first thing we cut? I don't get it.

"We don't get it either. The people spoke. They want these funds, these dedicated funds, that could not go to anything more critical right now. What happens on Louisiana's coast affect every single person in this state and in this nation, sometimes in ways we don't even think about. Never has it been more critical that every penny we have goes straight into coastal restoration."

Should we feel better that Congress has a record of getting nothing done? Does this even have the possibility of getting passed?

"One light is probably that Lisa Murkowski of Alaska is chair of the Energy Committee, and her state would be affected by this too. I'm sure that she won't want this legislation to go through her committee!"

In the second half of the show, Congressman Charles Boustany of Lafayette and State Rep. Kirk Talbot of River Ridge joined the conversation. With GOP control of both Houses of Congress, is there a chance this legislation could succeed?

"No, there isn't," Boustany said. "We will block this in the House of Representatives with certainty. This is a grave threat and injustice to Louisiana. Our delegations going well over 50 years back fought to get revenue sharing... I was there in that debate and we were successful. Now for the first time the President, for the first time in six years, puts this in his budget without any real explanation. This is a gross travesty and we will do everything we can to stop it."

"We're all concerned," Kirk agreed, "but the fact that the Republicans have majorities in both Houses, it would take an act of Congress to undo this. Senator Vitter was quotes in the paper as saying this has a zero percent chance of happening. But my concern is that President Obama and his administration will find a way to do an end run around Congress, which he's done on a lot of things. That would be my fear."

To hear the entire conversation, click the link below.

FULL AUDIO: Garland talls with Sidney Coffee, Charles Boustany and Kirk Talbot about revenue sharing

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Locations : Louisiana
People : Obama

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