Monday, December 24, 2012

"Song of Perfect Propriety" by Dorothy Parker

Oh, I should like to ride the seas,
A roaring buccaneer;
A cutlass banging at my knees,
A dirk behind my ear.
And when my captives' chains would clank
I'd howl with glee and drink,
And then fling out the quivering plank
DBE by Tom Howe

And watch the beggars sink.
DBE by Alan Dyson
I'd like to straddle gory decks,
And dig in laden sands,
And know the feel of throbbing necks
Between my knotted hands.
Oh, I should like to strut and curse
Among my blackguard crew....
But I am writing little verse,
As little ladies do.

Oh, I should like to dance and laugh
And pose and preen and sway,
And rip the hearts of men in half,
And toss the bits away.
I'd like to view the reeling years
Through unastonished eyes,
And dip my finger-tips in tears,
And give my smiles for sighs.



I'd stroll beyond the ancient bounds,
And tap at fastened gates,
And hear the prettiest of sound-
The clink of shattered fates.
My slaves I'd like to bind with thongs
That cut and burn and chill....
But I am writing little songs,
As little ladies will.

Four Courageous Teachers in Louisiana


Last spring, four teachers in Calcasieu Parish in Louisiana decided “enough is enough” when Governor Bobby Jindal rushed through his legislation targeting teachers and attacking public education.

They decided they would launch a campaign to recall Jindal and House Speaker Chuck Kleckley. None had ever been politically active before.

You have to understand that Bobby Jindal–at this moment in time–owns Louisiana politics, lock, stock, and barrel. The teachers’ campaign was akin to a petition drive against the emperor of Rome.

Their campaign didn’t get very far. They didn’t have an organization or money, and they didn’t collect enough signatures to get on the ballot.

“The petitions required signatures from at least one-third of the registered voters in an election district. In the case of Jindal, it would have been about 965,000 signatures statewide. For Kleckley, it was roughly 9,000 signatures.

In each case the required reports were filed 56 days late. When they were filed, the reports reflected little financial activity.

The Jindal recall campaign showed $525 in receipts and no disbursement.

The Kleckley effort showed $1,600 in receipts and no disbursements.”

The Republican party spent $100,000 to quash the recall effort, and it filed a complaint with the state Ethics Board because the teachers did not file their campaign disclosure documents in the required 45 day period; they were 11 days late.

The two teachers who led the effort, such as it was, were fined $1,000 each.

I had planned to ask readers of this blog to raise the money to pay their fines, but an anonymous donor in Louisiana has already stepped up and done it.

The teachers were acting on their own, as citizens in a democracy. I would have gladly shown my support for them.

This is the same Ethics Board that ruled a few weeks ago that it was no conflict of interest for a member of the State Board of Education to award a contract to a business that had given him or her a campaign contribution.

Source:  http://dianeravitch.net/2012/12/24/four-courageous-teachers-in-louisiana/

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Let's talk about Facebook censorship.

Yesterday a friend and I were censored by the fine folks at Facebook.

Several weeks ago, I was involved in an online debate with local Tea Party Congressman and Onion enthusiast, Rep. Dr. John Fleming (R-LA).  The conversation began on our local newspaper website, and was connected to Facebook via the online sign-in mechanism.

Rep. Dr. John Fleming (R-LA)
After a prolonged and heated conversation with Rep. Fleming, we constituents came to the painful realization that Rep. Fleming was (1) blatantly bullying us in a public forum, (2) refusing to answer basic public policy questions, and (3) resorting to canned Tea Party talking points when responding to our sincere concerns.

Yesterday, several weeks after the online conversation ended, Facebook informed me that: 

"We removed content you posted.  We removed the following content you posted or were the admin of because it violates Facebook's Statement of Rights and Responsibilities:  'Fleming is no servant leader. He should read Robert Greenleaf and get a clue.'"

After analyzing this incident, I have come to the following conclusions: 

1.  Facebook is not a democracy.

2.  Facebook is a privately-owned corporation with its own set of ethics and standards.

3.  Freedom of speech laws apply to us as individual citizens (allegedly).  However, as contract-signing users of a privately-owned product, we are obligated to abide by the owner's rules & regulations. 

4.  Tea Party Republicans, including Rep. John Fleming, have not disappeared - they've just become more subversive and pissed off since the Presidential election.

5.  A narcissistic, ineffective Tea Party Congressman unable to converse intelligently with his own constituents re: public policy in an open forum is VERY likely to stoop to dictating his paranoid demands to the corporation that hosts that forum, rather than educating himself and thoughtfully considering the demands of the voters.

6.  If that corporation is spineless - and we all know it is - then said corporation will likely bend to his will to avoid losing profits gained thru tax loopholes, political favors, and potential government-imposed sanctions or shut-down.

7.  Syria. Egypt.  Other governments have forcefully shut down public access to the internet in order to control the people & suppress their voices.  Do we really believe that extremist Tea Party politicians here in the U.S. wouldn't LOVE to keep intelligent folks from sharing intelligent ideas via the internet?  Censorship is how they begin that process.

8.  Facebook refuses to delete anti-Muslim hate speech on Tea Party-related pages.  I reported several online statements made by members of the Red River Tea Party and the "We The People - Shreveport" Facebook page; however, Facebook replied that these venomous remarks "didn't meet their standards" for removal.  Any reasonable person could see that the remarks are without doubt hate speech, but that doesn't matter to Facebook admins.  But my mention of servant leadership, Robert Greenleaf and Fleming in the same sentence DOES merit censorship based on Facebook's unpublished rules.

8.  I don't have to volunteer to be oppressed.  It's my decision whether to keep subscribing to a privately-owned service that will arbitrarily censor me.  Now, I have to make a decision based on what I know. 

We all have to make a decision.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Bobby Jindal: Bring the Rhetoric Home!

Source:  Louisiana Progress - Dec. 7, 2012

Gov. Jindal called for Republicans to rethink their approach to the so-called "fiscal cliff" negotiations and instead fight for structural reforms, such as instituting a federal balanced budget amendment, requiring a super majority to raise taxes or creating term limits.
 
While he didn't suggest that Republicans should drop their opposition to tax increases on the wealthy, he argued that the party's focus should be elsewhere.
 
Jindal wrote in an op-ed published in Politico, "[I]n the negotiations, Republicans certainly should fight to at least get something done that will matter. At present, any reading of the headlines over the past week indicates that Republicans are fighting to protect the rich and cut benefits for seniors. It may be possible to have worse political positioning than that, but I’m not sure how."
 
Pot Meet Kettle… 
 
Clearly the reinvention of Governor Bobby Jindal and his national political rhetoric has skewed his reality.   
 
Back in the Real World of Louisiana: 
 
Louisiana has not had a balanced budget in the five years of the Jindal Administration.  Every year, the budget is patched together with one-time money and massive mid-year budget cuts.  In fact, a group of Republican legislators have revolted against the Governor over his poor fiscal management.
 
Louisiana continues to eviscerate higher education, social services, health care and public education, but finds the money to give away massive tax breaks to out of state corporations.
 
Big Business Tax Breaks 
 
As Jindal continues to tout his ever changing personality as the kinder and gentler Republican, Louisiana Budget Project estimates that, "Louisiana spends at least $1.79 billion a year on corporate subsidies and incentive programs at the state and local level, which comes to $394 for every man, woman and child in the state.”
 
LBP’s analysis of Louisiana’s tax exemptions found that the cost of “tax incentives and exemption contracts administered by the Department of Economic Development climbed from $59 million in 2001 to nearly $400 million a decade later—a 573% increase.”
 
The state capital outlay budget is always over subscribed to available funding and managing debt is a principal function of the state budget.
 
Dismantling Services to Children, Seniors and Disadvantaged
 
There is always enough money for big out of state businesses, but no money for the people--funding for schools has been frozen, public hospital are shuttered and the average working family still struggles to make ends meet.
 
Meanwhile, the schools are crumbling, the universities are withering, the public hospitals are being sold at bargain prices.
 
Louisiana would rather make out of state national health care and insurance conglomerates rich, rather than focusing on providing adequate access to health care to Louisiana citizens.
 
The impact of political rhetoric and positioning on the national stage….
  • How about refusing to cover the 124,000 children and 771,000 adults (20% of Louisiana) who are uninsured through the Affordable Care Act?
  • How about denying the citizens of Louisiana the opportunity to create a health insurance exchange and design our own package of Essential Health Benefits?
What is the Impact of National Political Positioning?
 
Governor Jindal considers himself a possible 2016 presidential contender and has embarked on a campaign to rebrand himself and his party since the election. Last month, Jindal told Politico, “We’ve got to make sure that we are not the party of big business, big banks, big Wall Street bailouts, big corporate loopholes, big anything. We cannot be, we must not be, the party that simply protects the rich so they get to keep their toys.”
 
It is clear that the political rhetoric from Governor Jindal gives on the national level does not match the actions here in Louisiana. If being Governor of Louisiana is the job he wants, as he always says, then maybe he should fix the mess in Louisiana. 
 
Out of state, out of touch and out of ideas…

Friday, November 30, 2012

They Fired the First Shot 2012: An Observation

Image:  Amazon.com
It appears that extremist, fundamentalist Tea Party-types have discovered a new book that absolutely fascinates them. 

It's title:  They Fired the First Shot 2012

It's author: "A Friend of Medjugorje."

What are Tea Partiers saying about this book?  

Red River Tea Party spokesperson, Laura Bilderback, wrote the following:  

"
If you have not read They Fired The First Shot 2012, you need to read it. There are several themes. A review from Amazon: I got a pre-release copy of this book and after reading the back cover first - which asks not to thumb through the book but start from the first page on - I lived an emotional roller coaster. I kept thinking there is no way the author found an answer - BUT HE DID. AND not just one answer but several. I have never ever been so excited about a book because it gave me a game plan. Something "I" could do. So many other books talk about their answer but it's too overwhelming. This author has made some astounding discoveries and when pieced all together in a time line, your jaw will drop. You have got to read what 'the powers to be' are planning for our youth - it will make you sick! Don't just buy one copy, buy several and get everyone reading them at the same time so you can gather later and start making plans. Things are in place NOW for these solutions to work - you need to get this book in everyone's hands."

This vivid description prompted me to further investigate the book. 

Amazon.com offers the following synopsis of They Fired the First Shot 2012:

"
August 25, 2012 - Chinese warrior, Sun-tzu, taught that in order to win every battle, you must know yourself and you must know your enemy. We know that the United States of America is facing an attack unlike anything it has ever experienced in its history. Why are we losing battle after battle in the face of an all-advancing evil? It s because we don t know ourselves and we don t know our enemy. After reading They Fired the First Shot 2012, you will learn how to know yourself, you will learn how to know your enemy, and you will know what to do. But will you do what this book shows you to do? After reading They Fired the First Shot 2012, you will not be able to keep yourself from following the directives contained within. You will read and learn many new thoughts and truths that will have an atomic bomb effect on your thinking. What you abided by before is not what you will continue to abide by. They Fired the First Shot 2012 is not just another book telling you what is going on. It is the only book that is a complete book, showing you the first step to the last step of what to do to protect yourself, your family and save our nation. As you set out upon the path this book will lead you on prepare to be stunned, then shocked; prepare to feel helpless, then hopeless, moved to the edge of despair, then seeing a turn-around that maybe there s a way out, growing hopeful, to full confidence, to feeling the impulse to begin formulating your own personal plan and finally, taking action that grows into a full-scale reaction of having your future placed back into your own hands again. This book will become your cause to act, to spread, to promote, with all your effort, with all your being to save our nation. It is the solution that no one else has. Most importantly, do not look through this book. It must unfold for you starting at page one, reading page by page. If there ever was a read not to peek through, this is it. You will ruin the impact of the book in how you will graduate from page to page in understanding the next page. Do not even look at the chapter titles in the beginning. Just start reading...from page one (after reading the foreword)."

This description did not strike me as a standard Amazon.com book synopsis. 

These facts became evident as I was reading the online book description:
  • The summary, as written, contains many, many basic grammar errors
  • Rather than summarizing the content of the book, the author of this synopsis dictates to the reader what he/she will think and feel while reading the book, implying a schizophrenic-like change in mood during the physical reading process
  • The author of this synopsis claims that this is "the only book" that can "protect" and "save" the reader, the reader's family, and the United States of America
  • The author appears to have made important decisions for the reader regarding "all-advancing evil" and the reader's "enemies" 
  • The author insists that the reader does not know him/herself
  • The author gives specific warnings to the reader regarding the exact, literal manner in which the book is to be read, and provides specific "directives" to be followed by the reader
I thought I had misread the synopsis, so I read it again.  And again.  Shocked, I finally had to admit that it reads like the incoherent ramblings of a cult leader. 
 
I thought about the number of Congresspeople, state legislators, governors and local leaders who subscribe to the Tea Party's ideology regarding our American and world governments...

 
Thankfully, there are a few sane comments/warnings on the website for potential buyers of this unsettling book.  They are designated as "one-star" reviews.  I'll leave you with the lucid, succinct, well-researched book reviews here.
 
As one commenter stated: "It's disturbing, misleading, and a source of great misinformation. If you have it, I would dispose of it."


Thursday, November 29, 2012

10 Ways to Avoid the Fiscal Cliff

By | Wed Nov. 28, 2012 3:03 AM PST

Obama and Boehner
Although you might never know it from listening to the pundits, America isn't broke. We have plenty of money to pay for government programs—we've just gradually lost our ability to collect it.

Here are 10 ways, most of them long favored by liberal economists, that politicians could avoid the fiscal cliff's $1.2 trillion in trigger cuts. While these ideas alone won't immediately eliminate the budget deficit, they will, combined with expected growth, point the nation towards a sustainable fiscal path.

Stop giving investors a sweetheart deal
Additional revenue: $533 billion over 10 years
Low tax rates on capital gains are the main reason that billionaire investment guru Warren Buffett pays a smaller percentage of his income in taxes than his secretary does. In 2003, Congress capped the rate on capital gains (investment income) at 15 percent—far less than the 35 percent that people pay on their salaries. Tax hawks like to argue that raising the capital gains tax will stifle investment, but that argument isn't supported by the evidence. (Just ask Buffett.) Taxing capital gains as ordinary income—just like the IRS treats the investment gains from your 401(k)—would have the added benefit of undermining "carried interest." That, you may recall, is the ludicrous accounting trick that allows big fund managers (think Mitt Romney) to pass off their management fees as investment income, thereby avoiding the higher tax rates paid by their receptionists and janitors.

Quit subsidizing mansions and vacation homes
Additional revenue: $214.6 billion over 10 years
The popular mortgage interest deduction subsidizes home ownership but it also distorts the real estate market and favors the wealthy. That's because people are allowed to deduct interest paid on mortgage debt up to $1.1 million—which in effect means that taxpayers are helping rich Americans pay for mansions and vacation properties. Eliminating the deduction entirely would likely yield the revenue gains listed above, but also make things tougher on middle-class homeowners. For a more palatable alternative, Congress could lower that $1.1 million cap to, say, half a million bucks and limit the deduction to loans on primary residences.

End the "step up" giveaway on inherited stocks
Additional revenue: $764 billion over 10 years
Suppose your Aunt Mildred bought stock in Acme Widgets back in 1940 for $10 a share and has watched it appreciate to $100 a share. If she sells it now, she'll pay capital gains taxes on her $90-per-share profit. But if Mildred wills you the stock, you'll miraculously forego taxes on her gains. To put it in accounting terms, Mildred's $10-per-share "cost basis" will instantly "step up" to the stock price on the day you inherit it. So if she dies today, and you later sell your inherited Acme stock at $105, you only pay taxes on $5 per share. But eliminating this massive loophole would throw a wrench in the estate planning of lots of rich and powerful families, so don't get your hopes up.

Revitalize the "death tax"
Additional revenue: $432 billion over 10 years
If you're old and rich and had the choice, this would be a pretty good year to die. That's because, unless Congress extends its Bush-era cuts to the federal estate tax (foes call it the "death tax"), the levy on inheritances will to revert to its old top rate of 55 percent and the exempt, nontaxable portion will go back to $1 million per individual beneficiary, down from about $5.1 million now. Even so, thanks to special breaks for family farms, businesses, and all but the largest holdings, the estate tax has never affected many households. In 2003, before cuts to the tax began taking effect, only 1.3 percent of deaths resulted in any federal estate-tax liability.

Heed America's favorite investment guru
Additional revenue: $171 billion over 10 years
Asking people with taxable earnings of more than $1 million to pay an income tax rate of at least 30 percent, as Buffett proposes, would act as a bulwark against the armies of well-paid accountants and lawyers that aim to punch holes in the tax code. The so-called Buffett Rule wouldn't raise as much money as repealing specific tax breaks that skew toward the top earners, but it would help ensure that their minions can't just concoct a bunch of clever new ways to stiff Uncle Sam—not easily, anyway.

Reset back to Clinton-era tax rates for upper incomes
Additional revenue: $442 billion over 10 years
Despite a sharp increase in income inequality in recent decades (see our awesome charts), America's top earners now pay nearly the lowest average tax rate in 50 years. So it doesn't seem like too much to ask them to pay what they did during the Clinton years—remember budget surpluses and a healthy economy? Back then, people paid a top marginal tax rate of 39.6 percent on incomes exceeding $380,000. It's worth emphasizing that marginal rates only apply to what you make in excess of a given income threshold; everything up to that point is taxed at a lower rate.

Take agribusiness giants off the federal teat
Additional revenue: $112 billion over 10 years
Contrary to the nonsensical rhetoric we hear from politicians every time Congress reconsiders the farm bill, agricultural subsidies do little to help struggling family farmers. If helping the little guy was the goal, the government could guarantee every full-time farmer a solidly middle-class income for about $4 billion—about half of what farm subsidies now cost us. Instead, the majority of subsidies go to farms with average earnings of $200,000; the biggest welfare recipients tend to be enormous corporate conglomerates that produce huge amounts of nutritionally vapid corn. Eliminating these corporate subsidies has proved politically impossible, however, given that agribusiness has a lock on farm state legislators from both major parties. And we've all witnessed Iowa's outsized role in culling our presidential choices.

End oil and gas drilling in Washington, DC
Additional revenue: $158 billion over 10 years
Technological advances in hydraulic fracturing have set off the largest domestic oil boom in decades and minted plenty of new petro-billionaires. And the oil giants were pulling in mind-boggling profits well before the current boom began. In any case, their windfall makes it hard to justify the sweetheart subsidies enjoyed by the oil and gas industry. Among the breaks is the ability to write off almost all expenses nearly immediately, to deduct from their taxable income a flat percentage of revenue on all oil sales (known as "percentage depletion"), and to essentially take foreign tax credits even when they aren't paying taxes abroad. Oil and gas companies also receive federal loan guarantees and qualify for a tax deduction for "domestic manufacturing." The list goes on.

Forget cap and trade: Impose a carbon tax instead
Additional revenue: $1.25 trillion over 10 years
Climate change is already a sort of tax on carbon, one we all pay for with extinctions, plagues, wars, droughts, superstorms (hello, Sandy), and rising seas. Taxing carbon emissions, however politically fraught, is more efficient than cap and trade (which California just launched, by the way) as a way to force polluters to cover a portion of the massive environmental and health costs they impose on the public, and give the worst ones a big incentive to clean up their act.

Stop giving corporations an excuse to hide profits and send jobs abroad
Additional revenue: $583 billion over 10 years
Americans corporations are allowed to defer paying taxes on the profits of their offshore subsidiaries until that money is transferred back to the parent company. This rule gives companies an incentive to outsource jobs to low-tax jurisdictions abroad and to disguise domestic profits as foreign ones by, for example, transferring intellectual property such as software code to a subsidiary in a foreign tax haven and then paying the subsidiary royalties for the right to use it. Repealing "deferral," as this loophole is called, wouldn't cripple American competitiveness: US companies could still deduct taxes paid abroad from their federal taxable income.

Revenue as a Percent of 2012 Budget Deficit



Also read "Fiscal Therapy," wherein Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Cay Johnston fleshes out similar ideas that could not only repair the budget, but heal American democracy in the process.