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“Bobby Jindal, Crony Capitalist”: Giving A Whole New Meaning To The Term “Corporate Welfare”

As much as I hate entertainment tax credit programs, and as obsessed as I’ve become with the bottomless well of opportunism known as Bobby Jindal, you’d think I would have guessed at the cash nexus underlying the prize endorsement of the Lousiana governor’s proto-presidential candidacy by Duck Dynasty star Willie Robertson. But afraid it took a report from Bloomberg Politics‘ Margaret Newkirk to get me to see the connection:

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, a potential Republican presidential candidate, is trying to close a $1.6 billion budget hole without touching as much as $415,000 per episode in tax breaks that may be due to “Duck Dynasty.”

The A&E television reality show takes part in the nation’s most generous entertainment-tax credit program. Jindal is proposing no changes, arguing that reducing such breaks is tantamount to raising taxes. The state approves enough incentives each year to make up at least $200 million in proposed cuts that led Louisiana State University to say that it may plan for insolvency….

Louisiana, which was the site of the most English-language film productions in the U.S. in 2013, pioneered movie credits, approving the program in 2002. All but 13 states now have such programs, according to Film Production Capital, a New Orleans firm that brokers credits….

Feeding Time Productions LLC, which produces [Duck Dynasty], has submitted expenses for its first four seasons that would qualify it for $11 million in credits once approved, according to state data. That includes $4.6 million for the fourth season, or $415,000 per episode. None have yet been certified.

Louisiana offers movie makers credits for 30 percent of in-state spending and allows them to be sold to brokers.

Film-production companies set up as limited liability companies don’t owe corporate taxes in Louisiana. Most therefore sell their credits to someone that does. They are also allowed to sell them back to the state for 85 cents on the dollar.

That’s right: it’s not enough for Louisiana to let film and TV production companies eliminate their state tax liabilities; the state gives them “transferable” tax credits that can be sold on special markets to companies that do have tax liability, and if that fails the state will buy them back. So this is the corporate version of the “refundable tax credits” poor people get via the EITC.

This makes me kind of ill as an abstract matter, and gives a whole new meaning to the term “corporate welfare.” But it’s especially egregious in a state like Louisiana, with a horrendous budget shortfall, and even violates Jindal’s own principle that cutting back on refundable tax credits (e.g., credits from the business inventory tax) doesn’t violate his no-tax-increase pledge.

I’m not saying Bobby’s taking this inconsistent and politically damaging position strictly out of solicitude for Duck Dynasty; he’s slippery enough that there are usually multiple reasons for every objectionable thing he does. But on the other hand, when Mike Huckabee was going out of his way to pander to the Robertsons in his recent book, he didn’t have tax credits to hand them either, did he?


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, May 4, 2015

May 6, 2015 Posted by | Bobby Jindal, Corporate Welfare, Tax Cuts | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Working Man’s Wingnut”: Huckabee Laid Down Two Markers Directly Across The Class Lines That Divide Rank-And-File Republicans

So Mike Huckabee is “formally announcing his second presidential candidacy this morning from his rather famous home town of Hope, Arkansas. He’s not generally thought to be a threat to win the nomination, partly because his poll ratings in an incredibly crowded field aren’t that impressive, partly because he’s notoriously poor at fundraising, and partly because he has pre-alienated important elements of the Republican Establishment (Grover Norquist) and the conservative movement (the Club for Growth). His other problem is that having won Iowa in 2008, his expectations there are so high that if he fails to win again he may get written off before he reaches the Deep South primaries where he might be able to live off the fat of the land.

More fundamentally (pun intended), Huck’s natural base among white conservative evangelicals is no longer where it was in 2008, when it all but belonged to him after he disposed of Sam Brownback at the Ames Straw Poll. As they recently showed at Ralph Reed’s Iowa cattle call, nearly the entire gigantic 2016 field knows how to pitch the Christian Right, and many of the candidates–viz. Ted Cruz, Scott Walker, Ben Carson, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal and potentially even Jeb Bush–have credentials for appealing to that constituency which rival Huck’s.

What he could bring to the table, however, is sort of a full-spectrum conservative white working class message that transcends the usual cultural issues and spits fire at Republican as well as Democratic elites. He tried that to some extent in 2008, though his “populism” was more rhetorical than substantive. This time around, though, Huck’s laid down two markers directly across the class lines that divide rank-and-file Republicans on the rare occasions their leaders are challenged on them: trade and “entitlement reform.”

Last month in Iowa, Huck attacked free trade agreements with China for depressing U.S. wages, and argued “globalists” had too much power in the GOP. With the Trans-Pacific Partnership drawing a lot of attention right now, it will be interesting to see if Huckabee mentions this topic again in his campaign launch.

Huck got more attention earlier this month for letting it be known he opposed any “entitlement reform” plans that modified Social Security or Medicare for people already paying payroll taxes into the systems for those two programs–in other words, grandfathering current retirees or those very close to retirement, as Paul Ryan’s Medicare proposals do, isn’t enough in Huck’s view. This was taken as an attack on Chris Christie, who had made means-testing of Social Security and Medicare a signature initiative for his doomed proto-candidacy. But Jeb Bush came out about the same time for an increase in the retirement age, and nearly all the GOP candidates have embraced “entitlement reform” in one form or another, if only via serial endorsements of serial Ryan Budgets.

The thing is, “entitlement reform” is very unpopular, not least among white working class voters. So it is the perfect subject for a would-be “populist” conservative.

Huckabee may have competition for this working man’s wingnut approach, notably from the man who inherited a lot of Huck’s 2008 supporters in 2012: Rick Santorum. Santo’s angle seems to be focused on immigration policy rather than trade and entitlements, however. If Huck continues to cover his flanks on immigration by repudiating his earlier openness to comprehensive reform, I think he’s got the broader and more evocative pitch. Even if it doesn’t elevate him into the top tier along with Bush, Walker and Rubio, it will get their attention, and may very well have an impact on Republican fiscal and economic policy.

I said in a piece in the latest issue of WaMo that Huck had more or less appropriated the savage appeal of Sarah Palin, at least in his pre-campaign book, God, Guns, Grits and Gravy. That book is chock full of anti-elite resentment, and implicitly offers Huck’s campaign as an instrument of vengeance for the same kind of working-class conservative activists who lick envelopes for the anti-choice movement, pay attention to Glenn Beck, laugh at the tired jokes about God not creating “Adam and Steve”–and have to worry about their own jobs and retirements and health care.

I don’t know that there’s enough distinctive appeal there to offset Huck’s other handicaps, and other candidates will poach on the same turf. But I wouldn’t write him off just yet.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, May 5, 2015

May 6, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Tragedy Of Ben Carson”: How A Brilliant Doctor Turned Into A Right-Wing Provocateur

The Ben Carson phenomenon is a case lesson in how some really smart, impressive figures in certain fields should never talk about politics.

Carson is now an official presidential candidate, representing a subset of grassroots conservatives who enjoy being played. This is not an insignificant number of people. He is, to the horror of the people who run the Republican party, polling viably. No would-be candidate has a more dedicated corps of volunteers supporting him. Whether it’s CPAC or the First in the Nation Summit in New Hampshire, the Carson people are everywhere, handing out stickers and buttons and t-shirts and assorted other tchochkes from dusk till dawn.

But why? What is it that they like about someone who’s quite obviously trying to separate conservative movementarians from their money?

Carson’s rise to prominence among Tea Party conservatives, or whatever we’re calling that element of the GOP now, should be bizarre to everyone. It’s especially baffling, though, to people like your trusty Salon writer, who grew up in the mid-Atlantic in the 1990s. Most elementary and middle school students from Maryland were at some point assigned to read Ben Carson’s autobiography, Gifted Hands — typically ahead of a visit from the man himself. Carson was raised in Detroit, rising from abject poverty to Yale, eventually becoming the head of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, one of the best medical centers in the world. To children and adults alike, he was the reigning regional saint. (Along with Cal Ripken Jr., who didn’t pull off masterful feats of neurosurgery but did play in thousands of consecutive baseball games.)

Carson launched his second, lucrative career as a conservative movement celebrity at the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast. This is one of those grand annual Washington events, sponsored by a Northern Virginia cult, that merits a visit from the President of the United States. Carson made President Obama sit through a chaotic 27-minute political rant against political correctness, progressive taxation, the national debt, etc., and conservative media went nuts. He went on a vapid spiel to President Obama’s face! He should run for president??

Who knew Carson would actually take them up on this? But here we are, replete with a gospel choir singing Eminem.

It’s sad that such a brilliant surgeon and role model for children has committed himself to a path of spectacular humiliation. Because that same free-flowing style he showed at the National Prayer Breakfast has been subject to diminishing returns in the last two years. The novelty is wearing off, and now he’s in a position where he makes a fool of himself just about every time his mouth opens.

The trademark of Carson’s brief political career is an all-out assault on the common literary devices of metaphor and analogy. Obamacare is slavery, and the United States under President Obama is Nazi Germany. ”I want to be clear and set the record straight: I don’t think Obamacare is worse than 9/11,” Carson found himself compelled to say at one point. He has compared criticizing police to criticizing plumbers.

He knows not one thing about foreign policy but speaks about it anyway. This produces comedy.

He recently opined that being gay is a choice and people become gay when they go to prison.

Carson says that he’s learned over the past couple of years not to “wander off into those extraneous areas that can be exploited” by the gotcha media. The problem here, as with so many other complaints about the gotcha media, is that the media simply transcribes the crazy things that he says. He might think that he has an off switch, but that’s doubtful. People who become conservative media stars become conservative media stars by saying crazy things. It’s part of their nature.

Carson’s legacy will not include a stint as President of the United States. It’s a shame that he’s decided to risk his real legacy, as a brilliant world-renowned doctor who came from nothing, by playing right-wing also-ran in a presidential contest.


By: Jim Newell, Salon, May 4, 2015

May 6, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, GOP Presidential Candidates, Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Golden Parachute Candidate”: Corporate-Jet Conservative Carly Fiorina Wants To Be President, For Some Reason

For reasons that remain unclear, Carly Fiorina is running for president. The former Hewlett-Packard CEO and failed Senate candidate has been teasing a potential run for months now, but this morning she made it official and launched her new official campaign website (which drew almost as much attention as her unofficial campaign website). If you peruse the official site in search of a coherent rationale for why we need a Fiorina presidency, you’ll be left sorely disappointed.

Fiorina’s argument for why she should be president seems to be that she’s not Hillary Clinton. She posted a short video that ostensibly explains why she’s running, and the first image you see is the back of Fiorina’s head as she watches Hillary’s announcement video. (Fiorina clicks off the Hillary video with the remote because SYMBOLISM.) From there she launches into an awkward monologue about how politicians shouldn’t run for political office because that’s not what the American Revolution was about. “Our founders never intended us to have a professional political class,” she says. So vote Fiorina, because that’s what the professional political class that founded the country would want.

But Fiorina’s not arguing for herself here; she’s arguing against “politicians.” And the only reason she can make this argument is that her one attempt at becoming part of the “professional political class” ended with a lopsided defeat in a year when other Republicans across the country surged to victory on an anti-Obama wave. This “I’m not a politician” schtick was the same message Fiorina deployed against “professional politician” Barbara Boxer in 2010, and she lost by 10 points. Carly Fiorina’s not a “politician,” but only because she’s bad at politics. Indeed, if she’s saying that America should flock to someone who’s untainted by politics, then why should they back Fiorina over, say, Ben Carson? He’s making the same “I’m not a politician” pitch, but unlike Fiorina, he doesn’t bear the taint of having previously run for office.

Anyway, for her 2016 run, Fiorina says she’ll put an end to “the sound bites, the vitriol, the pettiness, the egos, [and] the corruption,” which is amusing and also hypocritical. No more sound bites, vitriol, and pettiness sure sounds nice until you remember that much of Fiorina’s 2010 campaign was all about painting Barbara Boxer as an out-of-control egotist. They even produced an extremely weird “movie” that depicted Boxer’s “big head” as a grotesque floating blimp that traveled the country inflicting “sound bites” on the masses. No pettiness or vitriol there! After all, Fiorina’s not a politician.

As for ending “corruption,” well, who could be against that? Under the Fiorina regime, there will be no more hand-outs for the privileged and no more payouts for people who don’t do the job that’s expected of them. On a related note, Carly Fiorina received $21 million (plus $19 million in stock options) for being fired as CEO of Hewlett-Packard in 2005.

Speaking of that Hewlett-Packard experience, running on her tenure as CEO did her little good in 2010, mainly because everyone kept pointing out how many jobs were lost under reign (some 30,000 layoffs) and all the enthusiastic outsourcing she presided over. But she’s going back to the same well for 2016 and offering a highly sanitized retelling of her stewardship of the company. “Carly didn’t always make the most popular decisions at HP,” her website boasts, “but, time and time again, they would prove to be the right ones.” And there’s even a little backbiting at the Hewlett-Packard board for forcing her out:

But even though her record as CEO speaks for itself, Carly faced headwinds from people who did not want to see HP change. They wanted to double-down on a flawed agenda that simply wasn’t sustainable against the new challenges of the 21st Century.

Yes, you can certainly tell that Carly Fiorina hates sound bites and isn’t a “professional politician” – only real, authentic people use phrases like “double-down on a flawed agenda” and “new challenges of the 21st Century [capitalized for some reason].” Fiorina’s list of accomplishments as HP CEO include “doubled revenues” and the fact that they were cranking out “11 patents a day.” She’s clearly hoping that people will confuse “good for a giant tech company’s bottom line” with “good for America.”

So at this moment, there is no real justification for why Carly Fiorina is running for president. At the very least, though, she’s carving out a unique space for herself. While other candidates are scrambling to show off their populist cred and fake concern over income inequality, Fiorina is embracing her legacy as a failed tech CEO gliding along on a golden parachute.


By: Simon Maloy, Salon, May 4, 2015

May 6, 2015 Posted by | Carly Fiorina, GOP Presidential Candidates, Politicians | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Why Freddie Gray Never Had A Chance”: Lead Poisoning Is Killing Inner-City Baltimore

Whenever something like the death of Freddie Gray happens, we usually get around, by the third or fourth day, to the broader poverty discussion. This debate usually boils down to the Great Society programs. Liberals say they worked, and what we need are more of them. Conservatives say they failed and the real answer is found in a sterner moral code.

Between the two, I unsurprisingly endorse the liberal view above (although I don’t think the conservatives have been 100 percent wrong, more on which later). But there’s a more constructive way to talk about poverty than to fight over 50-year-old programs; it’s to use a tragedy like this not just to defend old policies but to promote new ways of understanding poverty and the anti-social behavior that helps keep so many people trapped in it. And Gray’s sad case is a prime example.

Freddie Gray grew up with lead poisoning. A great piece in The Washington Post last week laid out the whole history, Gray’s personally and that of West Baltimore generally. Gray lived in a home where lead paint peeled off the walls.

Now certainly he had other problems—he was born prematurely to a mother who may have been using heroin while pregnant, and he spent the first few months of his life in a hospital. But even at that young age, he was tested for lead, and the tests found unusually high levels in his blood. At one point his family sued a landlord and won an undisclosed settlement. And all over West Baltimore, there were thousands of kids like him, breathing lead paint fumes, swallowing the little chips that got stuck under their fingernails, and so on.

And what did this do to him? Obviously we don’t exactly know in his case. But we’ve known for a long time that lead makes children sick and impairs mental functions. An expert is quoted in that Post piece makes this rather eye-popping assertion—no doubt exaggerating somewhat, but driving home the basic point: “All these kids that grew up in those houses, they all have ADHD.” Also, read this 2013 New York Review of Books piece by Helen Epstein, uncannily prescient today, with its emphasis on Baltimore.

But it’s not just about learning disorders. More recently, research has gone beyond that realm and has been starting to make more direct links between childhood lead poisoning and social dysfunction of the sort Gray exhibited, and even a tendency toward violence and crime.

Kevin Drum of Mother Jones has done a lot of interesting writing on this link in recent years. Research results even have people wondering, as this BBC article notes, whether removing the lead from “petrol” (car gasoline) has been the main reason crime has gone down in the last two decades. The BBC report notes that crime rose and rose across many advanced nations throughout the 20th century, until:

Then, about 20 years ago, the trend reversed—and all the broad measures of key crimes have been falling ever since.

Offending has fallen in nations whose governments have implemented completely different policies to their neighbors.

If your nation locks up more criminals than the average, crime has fallen. If it locks up fewer… crime has fallen. Nobody seems to know for sure why.

But there are some people that believe the removal of lead from petrol was a key factor.

Laugh if you want. The kinds of people who like to laugh at such things once laughed at studies warning about DDT, tobacco, refined sugar, and a hundred other malefactions.

Now let’s bring our Congress into focus. Since the passage of a big lead-reduction law in 1992, Congress has appropriated moneys to the goal of abating lead paint in buildings across the country. Predictably enough, we’ve been pretty successful in neighborhoods that are middle class and up, but not so successful in poor neighborhoods.

Congress has typically funded the lead-abatement program, run by the Centers for Disease Control, inadequately. But in 2011-2012, Congress quadrupled down on inadequate: It cut the funding for the program from $29 million to $2 million. That’s not a typo. This was a result of the sequestration targets imposed on the federal budget, largely forced on us by the Tea Partiers. By last year, cooler heads prevailed and the program got back up to $15 million. But that’s still half what it was when it was merely inadequate. As a result, cities all over the country have had to cut back. Chicago, which got $1.2 million from the feds in 2010, received $347,000 last year.

The one thing I’ll say for conservatism with respect to the poverty debate, and the crime debate, is to remind us that on some level, individuals are responsible for their own actions. If we don’t accept and impose this standard, we have moral chaos. (Of course, we ought to be imposing it on bankers, too.) Social pathologies can explain anti-social behavior but can’t excuse it. We can agree to that, although we can however do without the obnoxious right-wing preaching at poor people that cascades out of certain word processors at times like these.

But no poor person, whether his character is closer to that of Mohandas Gandhi or Charles Manson, can control how much lead is in the paint of the walls of the crappy apartment that he can afford and where he’s trying to raise his little children. Conservatives like to tell us poor people need to make better choices, but how much lead his children breathe in or swallow has nothing to do with any choices he made. It has to do with choices made by others, from his landlord on up to appropriators in Congress.

And what if, 15 or 20 years from now, the science is crystal clear on the connection between lead exposure and the kinds of problems Freddie Gray had? I’ll tell you exactly what. Liberals will say: The scientific verdict is in. Let’s do what we have to do here once and for all.

But conservatives will stand athwart history yelling stop as they always do—the moral scolds will blame single parents, and the ones who just don’t want their tax money spent on the moocher class will whistle up outfits like the Competitive Enterprise Institute to produce alternative “studies” questioning what actual science knows to be obvious, and we will be stalemated. And that will be another “choice” that people poor didn’t make that will help consign their children to society’s margins.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, May 5, 2015

May 6, 2015 Posted by | Freddie Gray, Lead Poisoining, Poverty | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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