Thursday, February 27, 2003

LANDIS GOES ONE FOR FOUR ON 775

Sing, O Muse, the anger of Landis, senator from Lincoln, and his struggle with the Revenue Committee in his attempt to revise the provisions of LB 775, which enriches the pockets of the business of Nebraska and impoverishes the coffers of the state.

The Revenue Committee met in executive session today to discuss several bills that Dave Landis had proposed to amend LB 775. The Nebraska Chamber of Commerce, a number of large corporations including Con Agra and Union Pacific, and a multitude of lobbyists for "Nebraska entrepreneurs" had lobbied the committee hard to prevent LB 775 from being changed. At stake were the following proposals:

- A surcharge on tax credits and rebates to businesses under the bill

- A provision to disclose which businesses receive tax credits and how much they receive

- A minimum wage for businesses who get tax credits and rebates

- Other minor tweaking of the bill

Dave's priority was to get disclosure of the payments under the bill. I have to confess that when I learned this originally three months ago I thought he had abandoned the real fight, which ought to be to eliminate this tax kickback scheme altogether. But tonight as we sat over drinks, he talked about what really happened in the executive session:

"Those fuckers in the Chamber of Commerce blocked me," he said. "They wouldn't let me get disclosure." He was proud of what he had accomplished today: the minimum wage provision will go to the floor, and an exemption will be added to exempt meatpacking plants from LB775 (more on that in a moment). On the other hand, he didn't get his surcharge. And he was righteously angry about the blockage on disclosure.

You see, he wants the people of this state to know how much is being paid to these businesses under this ridiculous corporate welfare scheme. Once that cat is out of the bag, he is savvy enough to know that Nebraskans won't stand for it. That's why he didn't execute a frontal attack on the bill. He figured out that once the peepul learn the truth, we'll howl for Con Agra's head.

As for the exemption for meatpacking plants, I have a bit of a conflict on it. On the one hand, anything that hurts IBP or Excel is fine with me. But when I got to thinking about the reasoning behind the exemption, I got mad. You see, the purpose of LB 775 is allegedly to create good jobs for Nebraskans. Now think: who works in the meatpacking plants? Latino immigrants, both legal and illegal. There are damned few Anglos working ass-deep in cow blood for eight bucks and hour, sixty hours a week. If IBP or Excel pull out of Nebraska, who will get hurt? The Latinos who are here -- and if they leave, there are a lot of white Nebraskans who would be delighted.

Something about it makes me feel not very good. Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but I don't think so.

But the bottom line is this: Dave Landis is not at all happy with big businesses and he has enough experience and clout that it may come back to haunt them. I hope so.

This will all be reported in the newspaper tomorrow morning, and I'll add a link then.

FURTHER ANALYSIS REVEALS

The article on this appearing in this morning's Journal Star fills in some details on what was worked out in committee yesterday:

A smaller "incentive" program passed in 1987 would be eliminated. The program is known by its bill number, LB270, and is a supplement to the original "Job Creation Act" known as LB775. "Landis said LB270 has no incentive value. If the business grows, and a good accountant knows about the incentive, the tax credit will be taken, he said."

More specifics about the changes to LB775:
Other parts of the bill created by the committee would require that workers added to an LB775-qualifying project be paid at least $8.70 an hour if they have health insurance and $9.57 an hour if they do not.

In addition to barring any casinos or new slaughterhouses from qualifying for the tax breaks, the committee's bill would not allow ethanol plants to claim credits under both LB775 and another state incentive program known as the Invest Nebraska Act.

The new rural tier for LB775 created under the bill would require a minimum investment of $3 million and the creation of 20 jobs. The projects could only locate in counties with less than 20,000 people.

The proposal also would require information about qualifying companies now kept secret by the state Revenue Department to be shared with the Legislature's Fiscal Office for use in economic models, but not to be released to anyone else, including senators and news media.

Additionally, the number of employees working at a qualifying project would have to be released.
Now let's talk about the exemption for casinos and slaughterhouses.

One might argue that casinos aren't "good" jobs -- they are, after all, the wages of sin, as it were. But as it stands now, one version of the proposal for casinos in Nebraska will grant permission for Native Americans to run casinos on reservation lands in the state. Who will work in these casinos?

Indians.

And who does most of the work in the slaughterhouses?

Latinos.

It looks to me like these exemptions will have a discriminatory effect on Latinos and Native Americans and job creation in areas where they are to be found. If we're going to bribe businesses to come to Nebraska, shouldn't we bribe people to come where all Nebraskans are, not just where the white folks are?
LITERATURE NOT FIT FOR YOUTH

The following is quoted verbatim from Mark A.R. Kleiman, a blogger whom I admire greatly because he writes seriously, thoughtfully, and as you will see here, occasionally very, very, dryly:
EARLY GANGBANGER FICTION

Just finished reading (re-reading, actually) a book about a young man who starts out in life with almost no money, no job or job-relevant education, a deadly weapon, and a determination that anyone who fails to treat him with what he considers proper respect will pay for it in blood. Eager to achieve membership in one of the two gangs of armed thugs who between them terrorize the peaceful citizens of a great city, he challenges three of its respected members to fight to the death. When their affray is interrupted by members of the rival gang, he joins with the three he was about to fight, and together they kill one of their assailants and leave three others seriously wounded. That makes the four of them inseparable friends from then on.

The rest of the book is largely a description of their cheerful conversation and their murderous and erotic exploits. Eschewing any actual work as socially degrading, the protagonist and his three friends live mainly off the money they get from various lady-loves. The story ends with the ritualized killing of the former wife of one of the four (who, in the narrative past of the book, had already strangled her and left her for dead but apparently had failed to complete the job) in revenge for her having poisoned the young protagonist’s favorite among his girlfriends (who is also the wife of his landlord).

As a measure of how far moral degradation can go, the author presents the four central characters as charming, brave, and admired, encouraging the reader to identify with them without at all concealing the reality of their mercenary promiscuity and their commitment to violence as a way of life. I expect William Bennett to have a word or two to say to the author, whose delicate ear for dialogue and superb narrative gifts cannot conceal the ethical rottenness that lies at the heart of The Three Musketeers. I suppose we should have expected nothing better from the ancestor of cheese-eating surrender monkeys, but M. Dumas should be ashamed of himself.
I can't add anything to that.

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

WITH THE ZEAL OF THE CONVERTED

Can any of my loyal readers please refer me to good current books about the philosophy of American empire or "Pax Americana," especially as it relates to the Iraq war and beyond. Please leave a comment below. Thanks in advance.

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

SO THE POT SAYS TO THE KETTLE...

It would appear that the United States has "'serious concerns'" about Egypt's extension of emergency laws which allow it to detain suspects without charge and try civilians in military courts." (BBC News World Edition 25 Feb 2003).

Er...guys..." [s]ince 11 September 2001, the US has itself made extensive use of emergency powers to detain without charge and hold military tribunals against civilians in its "war on terror"." (Id.).

"He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone. . . ." (John 8:7)

Thanks to The Daily Kos for the tip.
AN HONEST POLITICIAN

An honest politician, wrote Robert Heinlein through his alter-ego Jubal Harshaw, is one who, once bought, stays bought. No doubt the GOP and USA Outdoor Advertising think that State Senator Joel Johnson of Minden is not an honest politician.

By my standards, however, he is a helluva guy. Here's why, based on facts according to the Journal Star.

Seems he had been lobbied by the Chairman of the State GOP, one David Kramer by name, to introduce a bill relaxing standards for billboards along Interstate 80 in Nebraska. Kramer, in turn, was hired by USA Outdoor Advertising to the tune of $26,000 a year to do nothing but lobby in the legislature. USA Outdoor is a big contributor to the GOP -- $8,400 to Gov. Mike Johanns' re-election campaign last year. Its owner, Russ Hilliard, probably wields a big stick in the party.

Nothing unusual so far. Sen. Johnson introduced his bill, LB712, during this legislative session. It was scheduled for hearings on Monday the 24th. But some time last week, Mr. Kramer -- did I mention he's the chair of the state GOP? -- and two employees of the state Dept. of Roads (which in every other state is called the Department of Transportation) went in to the office of the Drafter of Bills (who is the only person who can draft bills and amendments) and implied to her (or so she says) that they were there with the senator's blessing to draft an amendment. For some reason or other, she checked with Sen. Johnson, who told her that he had authorized no such thing.

Here's where I applaud Johnson. He was so upset with Kramer (who, as I may have mentioned, is the chair of the state GOP) that he withdrew the bill altogether:
"I never talked with Mr. Kramer - either on the phone or in person," Johnson said. "They had set about crafting an amendment that we did not know about."

Johnson, a Republican, was appointed to the nonpartisan Legislature last year by Republican Gov. Mike Johanns to replace Speaker Doug Kristensen of Minden, who resigned.

Johnson told The Associated Press that he believed that Kramer assumed he would introduce the amendment if it were drafted.

"The presumption was ... that they were just going to present that to me and say `There you go,'" he said. "I think they have become confused as to who the senator from the 37th District is." (emphasis mine)
Of course there will be repercussions for this bit of political maverickism:
Hilliard said . . . that Johnson's decision would cost the senator "a lot of power.

"Joel Johnson just hurt himself politically," Hilliard said. "It's a sad tale."
If the voters of Johnson's district are interested in having a real honest senator, instead of one who is bought, it sounds to me like they couldn't do better than Joel Johnson.

Good job, Senator. We on the barricades doff our liberty caps in salute to an honest man.


MY DAD REALLY WAS RIGHT!

After I wrote that article a couple of days ago about my dad's economic analysis of the war in Iraq, I've been inundated with e-mail from others basically saying one of two things: 1) "How horrible, that we could go to war to conquer the world for economics" or 2) "WELL, DUH!"

Okay, I'm slow, but I eventually figure things out.

Perhaps one of the more cogent commentaries I got came from Christopher Albritton, a Canadian journalist who operates Back to Iraq, a blog that relates his experiences as a journalist in Iraq. I know little of his credibility; I see no reason not to accept his statements at anything less than face value.

Seems Christopher said many of the same things I tried so inarticulately to say a few days ago. His comments can be read here. He also links to the infamous National Security Strategy of the United States of America which I believe is a blueprint for the strategy behind the war not only in Iraq but the follow-up and possible wars to come. Please read it: it may affect our country and your travel throughout the world for many years.

Okay, I see that we are going to war in Iraq not to "free" the Iraqis; not to eliminate a threat to the U.S.; not to secure peace in the Middle East, but to further our aims for US security and trade policy. I still don't like using war as a primary instrument of global policy. It should be a last, not a first, instrument.

I just don't like it.
LITTLE SCHOOLHOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE AN ENDANGERED SPECIES?

Our legislature is considering school consolidation again. What to anyone east of the Mississippi seems perfectly reasonable is absolutely taboo out here where the buffalo used to roam. Here's how the Journal-Star put it:
Some small school districts' demise may be inevitable, but they would rather die another day.


Alice Heckman, administrator of a K-8 school near Holdrege, likened the closing of small school districts to a grandmother dying.


If Grandma dies naturally at age 87, relatives would miss her but would be happy she'd lived a long life. If she is killed at age 54 by a drunken driver, people are angry, Heckman said.

"I think having the Legislature say, `OK, consolidate schools,' is a little bit similar to having Grandma hit by a drunk driver," she said.
Rural Nebraskans -- those outside any city bigger than ten thousand people -- love their schools. The school is the center of life in the community. Teachers are still respected in and out of the community; parents still take part in the school's activities. The smaller the school district, the truer this sage observation is. Trust me, I know this: I spent my two years as a law student clerking for one of the pre-eminent attorneys who represents small school districts in the state.

Nebraska is one of the few states which still has the "little red schoolhouse" with mixed grades in one or two rooms and one teacher. We have school districts which only teach kindergarten through eighth grade, and have as few as twenty students, often dispersed over a hundred square miles of prairie. Every schoolhouse, it seems, has to have its own school board, school district, superintendent, principal -- and taxing authority withal.

But we are jealous of those school districts. Consolidation -- the idea of combining resources for efficiency and cost effectiveness in tough economic times -- is anathema in this state west of Lincoln. I've heard of fistfights and even gunfights breaking out over school board meetings where consolidation is discussed. I've heard of engagements broken and decades-long feuds erupting. We want local control of those schools. We don't want some sumbitch from the other part of the county -- often twenty miles away -- telling us how our property is going to be taxed.

This is the dilemma facing the folks out in Greater Nebraska (a.k.a. "outstate," a.k.a. "the rest of the state"). Lots of little school districts have taxing authority, which means farmers get taxed by a lot of school districts, which means they pay more in property taxes. Of course, no one likes that. But by God they don't want to give up local control of their schools.

And there's another factor: small towns in Nebraska are dying. That's a fact. If the schools go, won't that be a symbol that the death of the towns is irreversible?

Monday, February 24, 2003

GUNFIGHT AT THE AL-QAEDA CORRAL

Saddam wants to debate Bush. God, that would be funny. One is a big, loud, obnoxious bully who has to have a ton of his henchmen around him to feel effective, the other is a spoiled, whiny brat incapable of putting an intelligent sentence together.

I'll leave you to sort out which is which.

I have a better idea: Let's give each of them two revolvers and a gunbelt, Old West style, set them down in a neutral desert (say, somewhere on the Pampas) at high noon, and let them shoot it out. That sounds like a win/win situation to me.

On the other hand, Saddam continues to act like my idiotic client. We won't even think about destroying these missiles that Blix says are outside the rules, Saddam says. In other words, come shoot me, Georgie Boy.

Let's get on with it and get it over with. Enough is enough.
OVER THE RAINBOW, PART II: THE DEATH PENALTY ON THE BARRICADES

This item from the New York Times, tipped off by the omniscient Atrios, got me to thinking about what will happen to the death penalty when we on the Barricades take over the world.

I am not against the death penalty as such. It is a terrible penalty; an ultimate penalty, and ought to be reserved for the most heinous of offenses and should be imposed only with the most serious of consideration and when there is no other remedy or retribution that will fit the crime. It also ought never to be imposed when there is a scintilla of doubt as to whether the defendant is guilty.

What kinds of crimes would we on the barricades sentence someone to the guillotine for? Mass murder: murder of a large number of people (how many is "a large number," Counselor? ). Murder in an incredibly horrific way, i.e., to cause the victim terrible pain for a long period of time (e.g., torture murder). Murder by a large entity with deliberate disregard to known consequences (e.g., a corporate executive who authorizes the release of toxic waste into a water supply that immediately kills hundreds, when the exec knows the waste will kill).

The second part, being certain of your defendant, of course is virtually impossible unless everyone on the jury saw it happen. Even then, not everyone will agree to what they saw. But our standard from the barricades would be this: for the jury to impose the death penalty, it must decide that the defendant is guilty to a mathematical certainty. Even one scintilla of doubt would be sufficient to fall short of this standard.

Let's go one step farther: not only must the jury unanimously find to a mathematical certainly that he is guilty, all jurors must reassemble the day of his execution and at the time of his execution, must unanimously (and anonymously) vote again to execute. If one juror votes no, his sentence is commuted to life without parole.

The idea here is that one can lose one's life for a murder (and only a murder, by the way), but it has to be so horrific and guilt must be so clear that the sentence is carried out only in the most extreme of circumstances.

Otherwise, I'd make life without parole (and I mean without parole, not "I was young and want parole now that I'm ten years older") the sentence for murder.

But that's my fantasy.

Sunday, February 23, 2003

IS SADDAM SUICIDAL?

I once had a client, gay, who was charged with possession of meth. He was probably guilty. He claimed that he was being persecuted because he was gay, and truth to tell, he probably was. I told him he was correct, but he shouldn't make it any easier for the cops: stay away from drugs. Two weeks later he invited a stranger to a meth party who -- you guessed it -- turned out to be a nark. He got busted a second time and we had to do some fancy plea bargaining to keep his sentence under two years.

Saddam Hussein is acting like that client. Here he has the sympathy of the world not for him necessarily, but against the US and all he has to do to keep it up is play nice with the UN inspectors. What does he do? Starts d*cking around with whether he will destroy missiles that everyone -- including Hans Blix, one of his best advocates -- agrees are in violation of his surrender terms. My bet is that he will hem and haw until just before the UN Security Council meets, then decide to destroy the missiles. That kind of crap will cost the patience of everyone but the French.

He's going to play chicken once too often and then the US will have its credible reason to act, with or without the French.