28 June 2006
Wise Woman's Words
[Jone Johnson Lewis. "Hannah Arendt Quotes." About Women's History. URL: http://womenshistory.about.com/cs/quotes/hannah_arendt.htm . Date accessed: 06/28/2006. ]
Is It Time for Cynicism yet?
This Spring the Bush Junta made a coordinated, visible change in the roles of key personnel: specifically, the reassignment of Karl Rove, a new Chief of Staff and a new Administration spokesman (with disappearing hairpiece) to replace Scott McLellan. These are tactical moves to restore George Bush's flagging public opinion numbers. Rove is heating up the anti-gay marriage and parenting zealots to divert public attention from the demonstrated incompetency and corrupt nature of the Bush administration.
As in the time when the Viet Nam war rendered our cultural norms, a proposal to amend the Constitution to make criminals of anyone perceived to desecrate our national flag. Grand gestures to reform immigration law enabled fiery public debate that took Enron, Katrina and election reform off the front pages and away from CNN News' repetitive microphones.
Suddenly, Condi Rice drops below radar and within two weeks there become public the possibilities of agreement about whom talks might involve and how to begin negotiations with Iran about their nuclear aspirations. Plus, the President changed "portfolio managers", a new Treasury Secrretary to restore solvency without facing the radical accountability of international financial markets and without causing political disaster.
Then GWB flies into the midst of the Iragi miasma he created for a photo op with the Iraqi government the US established to demonstrate a legitimate government is in place. To a public and world desperate to find anything good amidst tragedy, Bush sets the political pilings for a major military redeployment out of Iraq just in time for Republican candidates in their November election campaigns.
I guess it's just easier for us who are onto their games to write in our blogs and letters to the editor from our computers than to engage in any overt, public demonstrations of protest or demands for change, impeach and prosecute under Constitution-based laws. Keyboarding is so much more convenient and less disruptive to the demands on our personal lives. What will it take to get us back in the streets to demonstrate our disgust with George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condolezza Rice and their enablers and co-conspirators in the Congress and in the Judiciary--from the Republicans, Democrats and news media?
Making Our Common Humanity News
So, how many human beings were killed in this assassination by aerial bombs? The others killed or wounded joined the tens of thousands of Iraqis uncounted by the occupation coalition. How many parents, siblings, children and other loved ones have lost someone in this war and occupation? Who here in America considers this tragedy when reading statistics of this war in our media?
If anyone knows, please post a comment containing this information about the killing of Zarkawi.
Death, well, I hear that none of us gets out of this life alive. For every loved one of the 2,500+ killed and 10,000+wounded U.S. military men and women in Iraq, grief and mourning does not differ for the loved ones of a terrorist, a suicide, an insurgent or innocent victim in war.
Perhaps our personal efforts to have life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness should encompass equal sense of entitlement to these same values for our known enemies and for those persons we do not know at all.
07 June 2006
So, What Do We Get for $907 million?
At least Prop 82 has been rejected by the voters. No free preschool in a proposal to offer free preschooling to all children, a target of 70 percent participation (up from the current level of 62 percent.
Maybe gay marriage is the only issue people feel they can engage--we have no say or control in everything else.
05 June 2006
Latest Reality Show Pales Survivor's Challenges
There's a new reality game going on backstage at the GOP. Fierce competition among the heavyweights is going on for the ultimate prize of the "Soul of the GOP." Three primary factions are competing with each faction having a fourth complexion of being incumbent politicians wanting to keep their day jobs.
Tomorrow's election (June 6--D-Day could gain new meaning!) will fuel the internecine struggle rather then resolve it. The three factions are: 1) incumbent office holders, including the President and his Administration, following an evangelical, Christianist (Andrew Sullivan's word) agenda; 2) the historically conservative GOP who have Barry Goldwater for inspiration; and 3) Former Governor Christy Whitman of New Jersey trying to wrest back control of the GOP to the political center, the idealized, mythical GOP of Everett Dirkson and Warren Rudman.
Let's see, remember when all the front page articles were about the Bush Administration's ineptitude and his own plummeting approval ratings? What happened next? Karl Rove moved to the GOP campaign headquarters for formulating the GOP's platform in the mid-term elections: Put GOP fannies in the chairs of Congress, state government and elected judiciary. The White House replaced Scott McClellan and the Chief of Staff. Yet another Secretary of the Treasury departed to be replaced by a star of the investment world from Goldman Sachs. Tom "The Hammer" DeLay's departed from the House and Speaker Hassert took over the limelight for the GOP. Senate leadership did not change, so they must be viewed as part of the solution. In other words, there were significant realignments of White House staff focus and discipline. The scandal-ridden Congress muted its firebrand, evangelical approach for getting legislation through the House and Senate.
The real action nowadays has fallen to the GOP-dominated Conference Committee as it develops a single bill out of the bills passed by the House and the Senate. How many opponents of the original bills vote to pass a Conference Committee product, rather than voting against it? Our representatives tell us how they voted on the House or Senate bill, but I don't recall ever hearing from them how they voted on the final legislation derived from Conference Committee negotiations. It is the latter version that becomes law if signed by the President. Check it out. I've seen Senate bills that passed by less than five votes, after sincere statements of hyperbole by each senator, perhaps a vote of cloture had to be passed because the Democrats were beginning a filibuster to prevent a vote by the full Senate. When the Conference Committee bill was sent to each chamber for confirmation, some of these highly contested pieces of legislation passed by almost unanimous vote. A 51-50 GOP victory in the Senate's original bill becomes a 95-5 approval vote for the bill created by the Conference Committee. I keep meaning to write to Senators Feinstein and Boxer about some of their votes on the second and final version being sent to the President.
Isn't it odd that this Conference Committee's proceedings are not broadcast on C-SPAN or discussed by journalists in TV, radio and newspaper. Someone should review the fate of the legislation sent back to the House and Senate for voting from the Conference Committee. Further, it might be interesting to see how many of the bills were vetoed when offered to the Presidents despite almost unanimous approval by Congress. I suppose we also should illuminate the Signing Statements that Presidents have attached to bills they sign to see how Administrations intend to act on bills signed into law. Is the agenda of one faction of the Majority Party enabled or mitigated by Presidential Signing Statements, an agenda unable to get acceptance by either House of Congress? For however long this signing statement process has been going on, what caused them to rise to public consciousness in the current Bush Administration?
In March and April 2006, during the time of personnel changes, a major lightning rod--Immigration Reform--suddenly became the topic of Congressional and public debate. Only the Enron convictions could draw more journalistic and talk show interest than did the conjoining of The War on Terror (tie back to 9/11), Homeland Security and Illegal immigrants into a single thematic thrust. Immigration Reform took off the front pages of newspapers and magazines the ongoing revelations of illegal activities, corruption, inept disaster response and the dispensing of Constitutional checks and balances by the George W. Bush/Dick Cheney Administration. Only the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continued to compete with immigration reform's hold on the public's attention. Since this weekend, the official GOP rallying cry has changed to Gay Marriage. No one is making news talking about immigration reform.
It seems like the Press and broadcast media consider Donald Rumsfeld gone from this Administration. Rumsfeld is blamed--as if fact, not partisan politics--for the failure to give the leadership and support our military requires in combat and as a "nation-building, occupying force." (My words.) The Press also seems to have concluded that US forces will be withdrawn from Iraq sooner rather than later. But--nothing really has changed in the Department of Defense or in the passive-aggressive combat roles Rumsfeld's leadership imposes on our military forces.
The second and third tactics used to distract the public from its scrutiny of the Bush Administration failures, corruption and ineptness are these: 1) a shamefully disingenuous acknowledging of mistakes in judgment prior to and during the Iraqi conflagration, and 2) Karl Rove bringing Gay Marriage back as a banner behind which the GOP might retain control of Congress.
The manner of his delivery and body language of George Bush's words, intended to mollify his critics domestic and foreign, revealed to me that he was forced to hold that press conference with Tony Blair to make what some would take as an apology or acknowledgement of mistakes in the Iraqi war. George really did not want to make that statement about mistakes the World sees but he doesn't. He took direction from the true core of the Republican Party who remain nameless and invisible. The group of people who brought the Evangelical Christian bias into control of the GOP after Newt Gingrich failed to prevent Bill Clinton's victory in 1992. Someone made up the acronym to describe the people who are the ultimate source of authority and power of the GOP as the O.W.N.E.R.S.--Old, White, New England RepublicanS. I can't think of a different set of persons who could weild ultimate market and political power in these United States. The OWNERS control all the money nationally and, with like-minded foreign elites, internationally. This international group uses temporary themes to manipulate public opinion, to frame election issues or governing strategies, and to control the global financial markets that feed currency to intercontinental or global marketplaces.
So, does this blog make it easier for you to vote tomorrow? I made up my mind 23 months ago. I must have been psychic or at least prescient.
Don't Tread on Us or our Constitution!
04 June 2006
Measure B for School Facilities Improvements
Property owners, whether condo, single family home, duplex to commercial enterprises, will be assessed approximate $45 per $100,000 propert valuation per year. That means the property tax on a $400,000 condo, house or lot will be $180 more each year. If the property is worth $1 million, then the owner will pay an additional $450 per year in taxes.
Unless the property owner passes on to tenants all of the additional amount in increased rents, which is unlikely in a competitive, rent-controlled market, there is no downside for renters who vote in favor of this measure. I don't think that is right for our community and society. Like the tax discrimination in Prop 82, putting all of the tax burden on only a portion of the community is a slippery slope to punitive taxation. At least it seems so to me.
One of the official proponents of Measure B recalls the investment Californians made in the 1950's and 1960's for public education. The rate of public spending and resultant tax increases led to a severe backlash epitomized by Prop 13. What Prop 13 felt like to those of us opposing it was a meanness, a slashing of excellent public programs affecting our well-being. We felt proud of our schools, public parks and recreation and our roads. Somewhere along the line, a majority of the voters lost faith that their tax monies were being spent efficiently and effectively. Somewhere along the line, those taxpayers with fixed incomes could not endure tax rate increases without end. Howard Jarvis saw his chance and offered up a meat cleaver tax reform initiative called Proposition 13. It passed and since then the tensions between programs and budgets have become the stuff of nightmares. In its budgeting choices, the Oakland Unified School District chose to spend money on things other than physical plant maintenance and upgrading to meet the teachers' needs for better learning environments and resources. Measure B, in my view, is there because the school district did not plan its use of its resources well. It would seem that the state education authorities felt the same way when the state took over management of the district.
Measure B is too much to afford at this time. Give us a specific, multi-year, comprehensive facilities plan to fund rather than ask for funds with which to begin planning.
I'm concerned that the bond issues and selective tax increases are heading in toward the same kind of Prop 13 catastrophe again. I don't have any answers but I wish someone would begin a serious attempt to find one or two.
In the first place, all public education programs should be part of the state's Education budget and future plans. If preschooling is so vital to improving our children's learning abilities, then it should be as much of the Education budget that the K-12 programs are. So, instead of spending less in the K-12 programs, Prop 82 calls for additional income taxes on a particular group of Californians. To me, this proposition has to meet the requirements of Prop 13 for success. The official literature does not state that 60 percent of the voters must approve this tax increase. Further, this initiative will affect only the most wealthy tax payors. So, why would those people who already can afford preschooling want to pay more taxes so that the state can provide this program for their children? In addition, the opponents of Prop 82 state that 62 percent of all the target children are in preschooling now. Proponents do not deny this. The stated objective is for 70 percent of resident 4 year olds to have free preschool available in proximity to their homes. A lot of money to reach a goal or outcome of an additional 6-8 percent of 4 year-olds in preschool.
California under-funds its K-12 Education programs already. California pays approximately $4,000 per child per year for education. This is smaller than several other states. Prop 82 bases its program on approximately $6,000 per child per year and temporarily up to $8,000 per year. Granted, that amount is still half the tuition at private elementary schools in the Bay Area. Does this mean that home schoolers will be reimbursed by the state for preschoolers taught in approved home schools? If the teacher is a parent, will that parent be paid according to the salary requirements established for public preschool programs? If you think these numbers are wild guesses, your absolutely entitled to think they are. Just reading through the law's detail I could see the administrative burden created by having the teachers, facilities and students qualified, tracked and maintained. Maybe I'm just feeling resentful because my parents paid for my preschooling. Of course, my being in preschool allowed my parents to have jobs without worrying about my whereabouts. What a relief for them!
Finally, in principle I believe that taxes should be paid by everyone based on their ability to pay or to earn income. To single out the most wealthy is a cop-out politically, in my opinion. By raising the state income taxes for this subsection of our state's wage earners, one can deduct more from gross income for federal income taxes. Our federal revenues will go down at a time when the national debt is at its historical high. It's as bad as giving this group of very wealthy people a tax cut at the federal level. Hmm. I wonder if the proponents for Prop 82's tax scheme also support President Bush's reducing income taxes for the very rich.
I just can't get to "yes" on this one either.
The Should Be Another Tea Party in California
My journey into heresy began as I prepared my 2005 income tax forms for California and for the federal government. I rarely examine my property tax detail except at income tax time. This year I noticed that I was paying almost 25 percent more than my assessed rate, about $600 for separate bonds I'd voted for, tax initiatives I'd voted for and all for these lofty ideals of supporting and improving the education resources for our community. In essence, I have taxed myself extra amounts for each of these good ideas and plans.
Then along come Prop. 81 and Measure B. For Proposition 81, section 20042 of this law within the State's Education Code requires additional revenues (viz. taxes) to pay the annual principal and interest expense for the bonds this measure establishes. Section 20048 states that the debt service on the bonds is not the "proceeds of taxes" as defined by the state constitution. Clever. We pay more income taxes into a dedicated Prop. 81 fund but the fund only reimburses the General Fund for the amounts paid out of the General Funds to service this debt.
For those unfamiliar with fund accounting, will not see this reported as one expects a business to show debt service as an expense item deducted from income. This method of fund accounting for bond revenues and expense--a well-established standard of accounting for non-profit and governmental organizations--would not stand up in court if I paid Sally so that she could pay the same amount to someone to commit a crime on my behalf. "Sally" is the fund transfer between the tax revenues to the Library/Prop 81 Fund and the General Fund that disburses the money needed for debt service, principal and interest.
So, we voters are being asked to authorize the state to incur additional debt for which the General Fund will be reimbursed in equal amount by the Prop 81 Fund--that receives its revenues from state income taxes and sales taxes. So either something in the current budget gets dumped so the state can pay the debt service annually--estimated at $40 million per year--or the legislature will have to pass a law to increase income taxes. Any guesses which alternative is the "safe" one for politicians?
Well, enough on Prop 81's cost to be paid out the General Fund, I'll go to the next tax increase measures in separate posts. By the way, in case you hadn't noticed, 35 percent of total costs for Prop 81 projects must come from local resources: the cities and counties. In other words, if the state controls the project budget, then the state only has to pay 65% of $40 million or $26 million. Our local resources, who must have cash just waiting to be spent, must pony up the $14 million to the state's General Fund. This is not a one-time burden; this obligation is for 30 years. And no local control because the state has all the money.