Saturday, April 28, 2012

Gentle breezes . . .

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

I texted some friends yesterday just because I could.

I woke up early this morning and walked outside. The early morning sky was grey, but there was nothing but cool gentle breezes stirring the branches of the trees. The Alabama air smelled like it is supposed to this time of the year, sweet with honeysuckle, privet, magnolia and other unidentified blossoms.  I took a walk. I made pictures.

Magnolia trees are symbolic of the south.  The heavy lemony sweet smell, the huge, porcelain white blossoms.  And, for those who only read about such things in romantic novels, the magnolia tree is an excellent climbing tree, especially for the beginner. The branches start low on the trunk, and are spaced as if the master creator envisioned a natural playground, the low heavy leaves creating the perfect hideout. And the seed cones are perfectly designed for throwing at any adversary that might come along. And magnolias predated bees. They were designed to be pollinated by beetles.

And then there is the honeysuckle, a main ingredient of such aromatic mornings. The honeysuckle is confidently capable of claiming and holding its own ground, but with southern discretion. Honeysuckle is not nearly so pushy or insistent as the invasive kudzu vine, which, while flourishing, has not yet learned southern manners. Again, for those who know honeysuckle only from a book, it too creates cavernous rooms within its vines, perfect for a comfortable hide and seek location.  And one could, I suspect, sustain one's energy for quite a while by sucking the nectar from the snipped end of the honeysuckle bloom. Try it if you haven't . . .or if you haven't for awhile.  Pick the bloom, pinch off the end where it attached to the vine, and pull the white threadlike stem backward through the narrow end of the bloom. A little drop of sweet nectar will appear. Drink it. It's gotta be good for you.

And then there's privet. Most of the time privet is my nemesis. It grows everywhere  you let it, elbowing its way into spaces meant for other plants, creating a never ending battle up on my hillside.  But in the spring, the runaway privet blooms profusely, adding to the intoxicating atmosphere of early mornings and late evenings. Don't get confused and try to suck the nectar out of a privet bloom, or eat its berries.  It's a little bit poisonous.  But it sure smells good. I admire and appreciate it much like I do a skilled adversary.

I am thankful for gentle breezes this morning.  Breezes not filled with the strong scents of broken pine, or rain drenched soil from a recently exposed root ball from an uprooted tree, or the distinct smell of electrical fire.

But gentle breezes heavy with wonderful aromas from spring blooms, the harbinger of new, promising life.

Here's wishing us all nothing but gentle breezes this year.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Thurvey 4/26/2012

Thurvey.   What are you thinking this Thursday?  The Thurvey questions allow plenty of room for you to give an answer which has nothing to do with the question, a prevalent quality during this political year.  To answer or skillfully evade answering one or all of the questions, simply enter your answers in the comment box below, include your name or pseudonym if you want to be known or mysterious, click on the "comment as" drop down menu, choose "anonymous", and click "publish."  If the comment box does not appear below this post, click on the little "comments" word below this post and the box should appear.  If it doesn't, blame whatever governmental agency you wish if it makes you feel better.

#1  Summer vacation time is almost here.  When I was young, my family went to Panama City Beach every year.  I developed a deep and abiding love for the beauty of the natural surroundings .  .  . and tacky souvenir shops.  Depending on your mood, describe your favorite memory, or anticipation, of the natural wonder of the beach (or the mountains, whatever your favorite destination) or your favorite tacky merchandise or attraction that is always on the way or close by.

#2  It has become popular, almost trite at this point, for news pundits to claim that someone is waging war on something.  You've heard it.  War on Women.  War on freedom.  War on capitalism. I don't think this is very helpful due to a lack of specificity.  I, for instance, would like to declare a War on Cereal Box Bags that are Impossible to Open Without Exploding Them and Scattering Cereal Across the Kitchen.  What specific thing would you like to wage a war upon?  (stupid Thurvey questions is not an appropriate response)

#3   The State of Alabama  continues to suffer from the same problems that it has for decades, yet nothing seems to change.  Those of us who live here know that we have wonderful resources, including our citizens. In fact, from a natural resource and environment perspective, Alabama should be a leader economically and in quality of life, and yet we can't seem to make improvements.  What is holding Alabama back?  Who controls the politics of Alabama?  What progress would you like to see for Alabama?  What problems do you believe are most pressing?  What are Alabama's strengths?

#4   There are riots in the streets of London this morning as a result of the "austerity budget" that has been in place for a couple of years, which made dramatic cuts in government spending in an effort to address Great Britain's economic woes.  Is there a lesson in this experience for the U. S.?

#5  What question do you want answered this week?


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Job Creation Theory . . .

Job creators.

The phrase which probably had its origins in the "creators" of Ayn Rand's Conservative Testament, Atlas Shrugged,  has been used for decades by those who have opposed tax increases on the rich.  Newt Gingrich used it in the early nineties.  It was used widely in the rhetoric of the opposition to the Clinton tax increases which were supposed to doom the economy, which then boomed for 116 consecutive months and led to a federal surplus. It was again popularized by George W. Bush to gain support for his tax cuts for the rich of 2003, a  move which was supposed to free up the "job creators" to provide even more prosperity as they  would have even more money freed up to trickle on the rest of us.  The only thing that trickled down is the national debt created by such a reckless policy, and as we know, it hasn't been a trickle, it has been a flood. And it ran the economy into the ground.  If you enjoyed that, you will need to vote for Mitt Romney. He is proposing the same policy.  But I digress.

Job creators.  It makes me sick.

Not because I don't appreciate those innovative individuals who work and sweat and take personal risks to create businesses that give other folks opportunities to work at a good job.  I know plenty of those folks.  They are the ones that still go to their business and work, hands on, who sometimes give more to a retiring employee because it is the right and good thing to do.  These are the ones who figure out how to leave an employee on the health plan a little longer than required because not to do so would be inhumane. These are the folks who know what it is like to pay the employees at the end of the week and go home wondering how his or her own monthly bills are going to get paid. These are the folks who might mortgage their home to invest in an idea they believe in and for which they will work.  These folks are the real job creators.  Some of them are rich, some are not rich, but doing okay, and some just make a living.  These are the real job creators.

But these are not the "job creators" that we hear about on the news.

Job creators.

Like a cross held up to a vampire, the holy words ward off any bloodsuckers who might suggest that the very wealthy among us pay more taxes.  Job creators, a noble moniker, has now been co-opted by the spin doctors, and devolved into a euphemism for super rich.

I would prefer it if no one had to pay higher taxes, wealthy or not.

What makes me sick is the insinuation that a class of wealthy individuals who contribute little or no meaningful labor or work are somehow more valuable, or even as valuable, to the economy, or society,  as the people who actually do the labor,  the work, or take real risks to build something.

We worry a lot about the rich and what higher taxes would do to them, and thus to their philanthropic ability or desire to invest in the rest of us.  If one played the drinking game while watching the news channels, and the trigger phrase was "job creators,"  one would  be too drunk to go to work.  If one was watching FOX news, one would die of alcohol poisoning.  It makes it seem that "job creators" are an endangered species.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  They have thrived since the Bush administration cut their taxes to a fifty year low in 2003. Many thrived even while the rest of the country fell into an economic abyss.

Jobs are created when it is profitable for a business to hire another employee. That is to say, when a business gets to the point that the addition of an employee will make it more profitable, it will begin to hire. In most businesses, that means that there must be more customers with money, ready to buy.

Jobs are created by a healthy, vital middle class with money to spend.

The super rich need no more breaks.  A majority are subject to a significantly lower effective tax rate than most of the middle class.  That's just crap, Bob, you might be saying.  But it's true.  Mitt Romney's effective tax rate is less than 15 percent on multi-millions of annual income.  Barack Obama's tax rate is in the low twenties on a million or two of income.  And they are not the exception.

I don't know about you, buy my income is far less than that, and my tax rate is higher.

The logic is that the super rich provide the capital that creates jobs with the wealth that they have accumulated through investments, so it should spur the economy to keep the taxes low on that kind of investment income.  This post is getting too long so that subject will be the topic of a later, and even more wonky post. I would direct you to the policies of 2000-2008 as homework.

I don't want the rich to be treated unfairly.

But, I don't understand why there is not as much conversation about giving tax breaks and value to the working class, to the laborers, and to the small businesses.

These are the real job creators.  These are the wealth producers.

Isn't that ironic?


Thursday, April 19, 2012

Thurvey 4/19/2012 Veggies, capital expense, summer break, and Sumatanga

Thursday has rolled around again and the anticipation becomes reality.  Yes, dear readers, it is Thurvey time. Time see check the pulse of the people before our focus on the weekend puts our brains on idle.  I must say, it is time for more of you readers to become writers.  The Thurvey is a highly visited post (compared to my other posts, not compared to sites like ""  (not a real website. in fact it appears the address is available for the right price)).  So, readership to the Thurvey is up, but writership has not kept up.  Anyway, if you find yourself just itching to respond, you may have spent too much time in my yard among the poison oak, or it may be that you are allergic to the lack of wisdom in the marketplace of ideas and your body is responding appropriately. To scratch that itch, enter your response to the Thurvey in the comment box below, click on the "comment as" drop down menu, click on "anonymous," and click on publish.  If the comment box does not appear, click on "comments" below the Thurvey and the box should appear.

#1  I bought strawberries from Whited's strawberry kiosk (or tent) on Mainstreet, Oneonta, a couple of days ago.  I ate most of them before I got home that night.  I love this time of year when fresh fruits and vegetables become available and abundant.  What fruit or vegetable are you happiest to see again each year?  Why?  Do you have a particular market, neighbor, or friend that is you favorite supplier?  Give them a plug, or a thank you.

#2  In a post this week I floated the idea that the State of Alabama could easily and immediately save several million dollars each year by abolishing the death penalty.  Opinions?

#3  Spring breaks happened last month.  Summer break is coming in a month or so.  The Alabama legislature is considering legislation requiring the school summer break to be at least two and a half months in the summer, locking in the traditional schedule, and precluding local school board discretion..  Do you favor the traditional long summer break, or a year round school calendar with smaller breaks between sessions, or something else? Why?

#4   Sounds of Sumatanga, (fourth annual) is happening this Saturday at Camp Sumatanga.   It will be a great day of music and fun down by the lake.  Or inside if it rains.  Check the website for details.  Do you have any memories of Camp Sumatanga to share?  Feel free.   If not, come Saturday and make some.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Legislative update . . .

I took a little time this evening to check on what the Alabama legislature is up to.  After last year's Beason Hammon Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act, which passed with little public outcry that came far too late,  it just seems like a prudent thing to do.

HB 658 is the proposed "re-write" of last years immigration law.  There have been a few changes, most having to do with contractors and business transactions.  In response to the concerns of those people interested in assisting, in ministry or morality, illegal immigrants, there are no real changes.

Except, in last year's bill you had to assist ten illegal aliens before being charged with a felony.

In a show of compassion and compromise,  HB 658 allows the good Samaritan to achieve felony status by assisting only five. And I was afraid that the legislature wouldn't listen to the voices of concern.

Cuts to medicaid are threatening the health of our poor and elderly. Schools are suffering from lack of funds. Roads are in disrepair. Long lines for driver's exams and vehicle tags are common. Saving money by delaying unemployment compensation for a week.  I imagine Governor Bentley wonders why he moved from the Promised Land to a place with so little promise.

We are out of money.  And we refuse to raise taxes.  The seemingly endless (actually only a thousand or two) list of bills and commendations of good people and sports teams don't hold any promise for addressing the immediate woes of our state. (except for one tax bill which has no chance of passing, and even if it did, it would fail in a state wide vote as we the people choose fiscal euthanasia).

As I was scrolling through the bills before the legislature, looking for something interesting, I found another one that has no chance of passing, but if it did, would immediately save the State millions of dollars each year. It would cost nothing to implement except for the ink from the Governor's pen.

Abolish the death penalty.

I hate it when spiritual and moral issues come down to such base considerations, but, if it works, I'll take it.

SB 392.  It will save us millions of dollars.

And perhaps a little of our souls.



Saturday, April 14, 2012

Stress interrupted

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

I've been all het up lately.  Politics. Religion. Economics. Justice. Messed up toenail. Poison oak everywhere. Truck won't start.  I get this way sometimes. I turn into an auger, boring myself into the ground. The harder and faster I spin the more solidly I get stuck in the muck.

An intervention is appropriate.

And that intervening grace (I'm sure this is already a theological term, but I didn't look it up) comes in a variety of ways, thank goodness.

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee. is the intervening grace appointment on my calendar.  Lately I have not protected this moment, and have replaced it with things that had to be done. I need to quit doing that.

Intervening grace can be gentle, almost imperceptible. A soothing, warm breeze. An old melody that brings forgotten memories.  Gentle chuckles that grow into belly laughs.  It can be forceful, practically irresistible.  A firm grip on the arm when one is about to step in front of an oncoming bus. A friend stealing the keys from hands under the influence.  Loss of electricity.  It comes in the form that is needed.

I had a meeting yesterday afternoon.  Normally that would not be grace.  A meeting on Friday afternoon at four o'clock?  That seems more like a hellish notion.  But the meeting was at Camp Sumatanga.  The sun was sinking low, the breeze was cool, and Greasy Cove was brilliant with the water color palette of spring. The talk around the supper table journeyed through the past at Camp. Everyone had their own. It was grace when it happened way back when.  It was grace in the remembrance.  I felt different when I left Sumatanga.  But that's not unusual.  It is the most grace-full place I know.  You can enjoy some of that grace, or remember past grace-full Sumatanga times next Friday and Saturday during the Sounds of Sumatanga.  I love Sumatanga. I love music. So it's a no-brainer for me. Here is a moment of intervening grace for me from Sounds of Sumatanga 2008.  I may wear the same shirt next week-end if I can find it.  I am afraid some of my family may have hidden it as a means of intervening grace.  Seriously. Come to Sumatanga next Saturday.

This morning I was looking at facebook. There was a post from Kristine Praulina, which included a link to some songs she has recorded recently.  I met Kristine at Wesley Camp, the Methodist camp a short drive (if you know how to get there) from Liepaja, Latvia.   At the end of a couple of days of workshopping, our group was whipped, mostly because we Americans forgot that the sun did not set until after midnight and bounced right back up shortly thereafter.  Everything was quiet. The sun was bright outside and a cool breeze blew through the Alabama room, which is a finished out gigantic hay loft, the assembly hall of Wesley Camp.  As the rest of us simultaneously began a siesta, a single voice gently began to cover us like a warm blanket. It was Kristine.

It was grace, intervening. Then, and now.




Thursday, April 12, 2012

Thurvey 4/12/2012

Thursday survey.  Thurvey.  Time for you to express your opinion on the Thurvey questions of the week.  The world yearns for your opinions on the crushing issues of the day . . . but why don't you answer these questions first as a warm-up.  To respond to the Thurvey, simply type your comment in the comment box below, click on the drop down menu below the box and click on "anonymous", and then click on "publish."  Include your name with your response if you do not wish to be anonymous.  If no box appears below then click on the tiny  "comments" word below this post and the box should appear.  

#1    Vacation time is closing in upon us.  For many, a book or two, a movie or TV series, and a soundtrack of favorite tunes are necessary equipment for a successful rest.  Share your "must pack" list of such diversions with those of us who may not have been paying attention lately.

#2   The State of Alabama government is under ten percent budget proration.  Obviously, the State needs to cut some programs, or raise more money.  It is also obvious that the legislature will not raise taxes, so what other options for revenue would be successful in Alabama?   This is not a serious question, unless you have a really good serious idea.  Otherwise, I would be  looking more for ideas like fruitcake sales.  I chose fruitcake sales because I didn't want to take any of the ideas some of you might want to use that are more closely tied to Alabama culture.  Be creative.  Alabama needs you.  All ideas will be immediately reviewed by Robert Bentley.

#3    Who did you want Mitt Romney to select for his Vice-President running mate?  Why?   And if VP Biden decided to sit this election out, who would you like to see President Obama choose to replace him on the ticket?

#4  What question do you want answered this week? (Your opportunity to free-lance)

Monday, April 9, 2012

Pilate Gas

Pilate washed his hands of the whole thing.  He tried for a while to do the right thing. He listened to the facts. He sought a second opinion.  But he quickly found out he was dealing with a bunch of crazies.  Reasoning with them did no good.  The truth did not  matter.  It was just an obstacle to be avoided. He threw up his clean hands in surrender:

"What is truth?"

If Pilate held American political office today I suspect he would quickly make an announcement that he was returning home to spend more time with his family.

Truth is weakness, a liability.  The crazies have taken over.

I hesitate to bring up specifics because I have come to believe it does no good. In fact, it seems to be harmful. Those who want to believe lies will believe lies. They circle the wagons against the arrows of truth and hide in the imagined safety of ignorance.   But, just to continue the discussion: 

"President Obama is at fault for high gasoline prices".  All Republican candidates and talking heads are pumping from the same tank on this one and expect to get a lot of mileage out of it.  There are two options here.  Either they are too stupid to hold positions of authority, or they are willfully lying for personal gain.

The truth is that fluctuation in gasoline prices depends almost entirely on the price of crude oil.  The price of crude oil depends in part on simple supply and demand.  In America, supply is up, and demand is down. So the traditional rules of economics would say that the price of oil should be down.  But, the most significant pressure on oil prices now is the upward pressure on prices created by the  international futures markets.  If more investors believe the price of oil will go up, they will pump more money into futures, and the price will continue to go up, creating a price bubble, regardless of a plentiful supply.  This is happening now.  It is not President Obama's fault.  It is a by-product of a free market.

Another upward pressure on gasoline prices is the decline of the value of the dollar versus other currencies.  Between 2002 and 2008, during the Bush administration's reign,  the dollar lost 40 percent of its value against the Euro. It has held relatively steady since then.  This might be a President's fault, but not President Obama's.

Another upward pressure on oil prices and oil futures is uncertainty regarding the security of oil producing countries, like Iran.  Saber rattling by Republican neo-cons and ill-informed candidates (including, unfortunately, the apparent nominee), as well as by Israel, are the primary sources of international uncertainty about security for Iran's oil production, as well as other middle-eastern oil sources that may suffer collateral damage in a conflict..  President Obama has been a voice of reason rather than a source of blame.

And the price of gasoline is affected by refinery capacity.  There is plenty of oil.  But oil companies are closing American refineries, and not replacing them.  Less capacity for refining oil into gasoline diminishes the supply of gasoline and drives the price up.  One might think that the big oil companies would have used a lot of their billions and billions of dollars of record profits to invest in new, more efficient refineries, especially being the job-creators that they surely must be.  But that would cut into profits, and might bring the price of gasoline down, further cutting into their profits.  So it isn't happening.  That is not President Obama's fault.  It is a product of the free market.

The problem with the truth is that it isn't as easy as a lie.  My amateur attempt at summarizing the reasons for high gasoline prices may have been a bit lengthy and boring, but let me assure you, a real expert would have gone on for pages, maybe even volumes.  

It is much easier and more satisfying to close your eyes and click your heels and say "It is President Obama's fault."

Wonder where I can get a Barabbas bumper sticker?


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