Friday, February 20, 2004

Kingfishery & Kingcakery: Happy Mardi Gras! - As the Big Easy winds its way down to another festive Fat Tuesday, I wish all of you a safe and happy Mardi Gras. Have fun, but be smart. As for me, I'll be doing my own little Social Justice trip down to El Salvador to expose a group of my students to the realities and consequences of the injustices that the majority of the people of El Salvador face as a result of the brutal civil war that gripped that country throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Que les vaya bien y que tengan buen carnaval!

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Lagniappe: Outsourcing!! - Best comment I've read yet on the whole subject of outsourcing. Reprinted in full from the "Letters to the Editor" Section of the New Orleans Times-Picayune for your convenient review. [Original can be accessed at the following link.]

"Let's outsource the politicos"

Tuesday February 17, 2004

I was stunned by the comments of Gregory Mankiw, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, on the "offshoring" of U.S. service jobs.

"Outsourcing is just a new way of doing international trade," he told reporters. "More things are tradable than were tradable, in the past and that's a good thing."

After considering this for awhile and allowing myself to calm down, I realized that there were many places where we could save money. Take, for instance, the government.

Chirac of France makes about $117,000 a year, Blair from England makes about $122,000 a year. The U.S. president pulls in $200,000. Salaries for representatives are proportionally cheaper in other countries as well. We could save significant bucks by hiring an overseas president, perhaps one from India or China.

Our sons and daughters need decent jobs and a chance at being a stakeholder in this great country. The gentleman who made that calloused comment should have earned a trip to the proverbial woodshed.

John Sarradet

I love it! Unrestricted and unmitigated Free Trade at work!! Viva el Mercado Libre! Viva! Viva!

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

The 'Weak' in (National) Review: John Derbyshire's Trillion Dollar Deficit Blame Game - So, here's what apparently passes as an equal opportunity critique of federal government spending. That is, when looking at the Congressional Budget Office's adjusted forecast of a trillion dollar deficit over the 2003-2014 decade, Derbyshire seems to be implying that his criticism is of GOP and Democratic big-spenders in Washington. But I just want to point out an interesting little observation. In the entire piece, the only Republican legislator that Derbyshire mentions is Newt Gingrich. On the flip side, Derbyshire peppers his rant with references to a multitude of Democrats. What one gets out of this is that Derbyshire's frustration with the CURRENT GOP administration and GOP-controlled Congress's fiscal recklessness is taken out on the powerless Democrats. He can't bring himself to name GOP names as part of this irresponsibility, though ostensibly that is what one thinks he is also implying. Derbyshire needs to grow some balls. If he's going to bring MINORITY Sen. Kerry, MINORITY Rep. Kucinich, MINORITY Sen. Edwards, MINORITY Sen. Kennedy, and WASHED-UP Presidential hopeful Wesley Clark in the fray by name, where are the likes of PRESIDENT Bush, SENATE MAJORITY LEADER Frist, VICE-PRESIDENT AND FORMER SENATOR Cheney, and SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE Hastert? Why can't he bring himself to call out these folks on the carpet by name - you know, the ones ACTUALLY with the POWER to curb spending and support a balanced budget? Well, I think it is so for two reasons: (1) Derbyshire's simply blinded by his partisan loyalty and cowed by his political cowardice to take similar direct shots at his own; and (2) he can't fathom a world where the democrats may really be better deficit hawks than republicans. I just can't help but think this guy is nutty and imbalanced. I feel sorry for the guy's children, who will have to live with their dad's embarrassing and wierd eccentricities.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Liberal Lighthouse: MoDo's MoJo - Maureen Dowd's latest column is another testament to her absolute genius as a writer. She can be acerbic and she is certainly unabashedly partisan and anti-Bush; but one has to admit that she is as clever, sharpwitted, and funny as they come. I just loved this short little introduction of her piece:

I think President Bush has cleared up everything now.

The U.S. invaded Iraq, which turned out not to have what our pals in Pakistan did have and were giving out willy-nilly to all the bad guys except Iraq, which wouldn't take it.
And the rest of the piece follows suit. It's classic MoDo ... brilliant and a pure pleasure to read.

Cuaderno Latinoamericano: Here We Go Again ... Bush and the Anti-Democracy Agenda in Latin America - Well, there are some signals that the U.S. government is positioning itself to support another anti-democracy coup in that troubled Republic of Haiti. First, it was the ill-advised U.S. support for the undemocratic ouster of democratically-elected demagogue and populist Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. Now, the U.S. appears to be heading in the same direction in Haiti ... only this time, appearing ready and willing to support the ouster of the man we almost invaded Haiti to restore to office after another military coup kicked him out of the country.

Cuaderno Latinoamericano: Mexican Maritocracy? - Andres Oppenheimer has an interesting take on Mexico's trading of the authoritarian process of the current President hand-picking his successor. Apparently there's talk about Mexican President Vicente Fox's wife running for President. Is maritocracy what we'd call a successful Hillary Clinton run for the Presidency in 2008?

Sunday, February 08, 2004

Lagniappe: One Soul with Two Heads? Or Two Souls Sharing One Body? - This story about a little baby girl born with two heads is sad and tragic. Although the story of this person has reached its sad conclusion with the baby's post-surgery death, I just can't get the picture of the abnormality out of my mind and I wonder if this is a case not of one baby with two heads, but rather two babies, two souls, sharing one body. The implications that such a determination would have on the ethics of performing surgery to remove the not-fully-developed "twin" are baffling. What would pro-lifers think about this situation? I'm not predisposed to make a judgment in any particular direction, but I am curious to hear what people think of the ethical/moral dimensions of this situation.

Saturday, February 07, 2004

Lagniappe: Bush's BIGGEST Deception -- and it ain't WMD claims! - Well, I'm working on my tax return right now and I must say that the supposed "child tax credit" refund that we received over last summer was more a farce than an actual return of my hard-earned income to my own bank account. I consider myself to be a pretty bright fellow and fairly well-attuned to debates in Washington about tax relief plans, so if I was caught by surprise by the way this tax refund actually works, I can only imagine how those who just normally go with the flow will react. And I know for a fact that all of my siblings with kids were caught by surprise, too. Bush will have a heavy price to pay for this misleading tax refund plan. What am I talking about? Well, let me try to explain ...

Last summer, after the big budget battle in Washington in which President Bush seemed to have won his tax cut/tax relief plan, all we kept hearing was that if we had earned over a certain amount of income and if we had children/dependents in our household, then we were likely to get a refund in the amount of $400 per child/dependent. And sure enough, we received a letter stating as much which was followed shortly thereafter by a check from the US Treasury in the amount of $800 ($400 for each of my two children). It was also my understanding that this was a retroactive refund of what we had already previously paid in higher taxes before the tax relief plan went into effect. But how misleading this was. Apparently, this was merely an advance on our upcoming tax return to be filed for 2003. This advance effectively negated the supposed refund that we received.

By my calculations, there was indeed some tax relief, but not as much as was sold to us. If I've done the math right, this is what I come up with. The child tax credit for 2002 was $600 per child. This was increased to $1000 per child over the course of 2003, and the $400 difference between what we claimed in 2002, and what the 2003 plan called for, as I understood it, was to be remitted over the summer of 2003. So, what we were seeing when we received our $800 check in the summer was, so we thought, an augmented refund of $800 on our 2002 tax return. And our thinking was that when we filed for 2003, we would be able to take the full $1000 per child tax credit against our 2003 earnings. But, not in the deceptive world of George W. Bush. No way. That $800 which we received in the summer of 2003 was simply an advance on our 2003 tax return. So, when I sit down now, in February of 2004, to calculate my tax return, I am surprised with the need to count the $800 against 2003's tax return. So, in essence, my effective per child tax credit for 2003 is still only $600 per child after the $400 per child refund is deducted from the new higher $1000 per child tax credit. Next year, presumably, I'll be able to take the full $1000 per child tax credit without having to deduct any previous refund amount. So, I understand that the tax credit is real and will have an positive impact on the amount of money I'll end up keeping in my own pocket; but that doesn't remove the feeling that I was somehow duped into thinking that the refund was for 2002 instead of 2003. Many people spent their refund over the summer under the false assumption that they would still be able to take the higher per child tax credit when filing their 2003 taxes. And the fact that this isn't the case will, I think, make a lot of people upset just becuase they will feel misled and caught unawares after having prepared for a bigger refund check or a smaller tax liability that just isn't going to materialize. Now, in fairness, both democrats and republicans alike in Washington, DC, bear some responsibility for not adequately clearing up this misunderstanding that many people had in their minds about the nature of this summer child tax refund; but George Bush is the most visible target and he will bear the brunt of whatever misgruntled ill-will that is generated. And, I must say, it comes at a very, very bad time for Bush, given that this year is an election year and we won't have the opportunity to knowlingly feel the benefits of the larger child tax credit until next February, by which time the Presidential election would be long behind us.

It's sneaky and deceptive and will hit people hard and shockingly; and in this economic/electoral environment, Bush can't be having his tax-cut-loving, middle-class, suburban families feel misled and somehow bamboozled without paying, I think, a high price.

I can't say that I'm all that disappointed because I want to see Bush go down to defeat in November; and I really can't see how we can end the out-of-control deficit-spending without rolling back some major parts of his tax cut program; but, man, this was a stupid move on Bush's part. If I were a democrat who can't be tarred with supporting this last tax plan, I'd make this a central issue of my campaign, and I'd start hammering this point home right now.

This is the real scandal of the election year, and the most potent weapon against Bush that the democrats can mount. I hope it doesn't escape notice.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

Kingfishery and Kingcakery: The Times-Picayune on Wes Mix's Racism - Good for the Times-Picayune's Editorial Crew. They end their criticism of the unconscionable treatment of a female Iraqi high school student by her world cultures (world cultures, of all things!) teacher with:

Students of all backgrounds deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. Someone who can't at least treat a member of another faith -- or anyone else who is different -- decently shouldn't be teaching children.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Kingfishery and Kingcakery: Unabashed Racism in Jefferson Parish - An astounding article in the Times-Picayune about a teacher's abuse of a female Iraqi muslim high school student. You've got to read it to believe it. Here's part of it:

Sitting in Wes Mix's 10th-grade world history class at West Jefferson High School in Harvey, Maryam Motar said she had become used to the "jokes."

First, there were the times when she said her teacher thought she was of Indian descent and called her "Little Curry One."

Then came jabs about how Motar, an Iraqi, hailed from a Third World country, she said. Thursday's tease, the 17-year-old sophomore said, was about how she would "bomb us" if she ever went back to her country.

Motar said the final straw came Friday as Mix was passing out tests. After pulling back her religiously mandated head scarf, or hijab, Motar said Mix told her, "I hope God punishes you. No, I'm sorry, I hope Allah punishes you."

Motar said the teacher later told her, "I didn't know you had hair under there."
Read the whole thing. What to make of this? I don't know. But, I DO know that Jefferson Parish is a Republican bastion - home of David Vitter and Bob Livingston - with sympaties for the likes of David Duke. You make up your own mind.

Lagniappe: Democratic Primaries - Post-Tuesday Predictions - Kerry looks strong and likely to win the nomination. Dean is toast. Edwards has some surprising life. I'm pleased on the whole. My thinking is that we'll have a Kerry/Edwards ticket.

If this comes to pass, conservatives should be worried. Gore lost the last election partially because he couldn't carry his home state of Tennessee. Edwards has proven his mettle in the South. If he's on the ticket, he'll carry the two Carolinas plus a couple of other Southern states that have a strange tendency to tilt democratic under the right conditions (maybe Arkansas and Louisiana). We folks in the South like the young, folksy, good-looking, and populist-leaning-but-moderate types of politicians like Edwards. This profile worked well for Bush in the South during the last election to a degree. Gore, in spite of his Tennessee roots, didn't fit the mold. But Edwards most certainly does.

Kerry is a lock on the liberal Northeast. And I would venture that a Kerry/Edwards ticket would suffice in the traditionally liberal west coast enclaves - which I would imagine find more connection with Dean. And the working-class and protectionist tendencies of Edwards will sit well in the midwest motor states.

I've been a pessimist about democratic chances this fall; but I can feel the liberal base energizing while the conservative base is lethargic (at least in Louisiana), if not disillusioned with Bush's performance on the domestic front. It strikes me as very bad timing for Bush that the Conservative Blogosphere is going negative on Bush and his recent domestic agenda. Even the most die-hard of Bush fans on the right are more prone to speak critically of Bush these days than supportive of him. And this observation leads me to think that Bush is more vulnerable than I thought.

A Kerry/Edwards ticket will resonate among the wide variation of liberals in this country -- Moderate/Conservative Southern Democrats, ethnic minorities, union workers, social and enviro liberals, and even military moderates because of Kerry's experience, etc. Conservatives better look out for this combination.