General Information

Cyber sales tax long overdue in Florida

On Cyber Monday, the online retailers’ version of Black Friday, consumers were predicted to have spent $2 billion on that single day, having spent an estimated $1 billion online on Black Friday. If you live in Florida, you were able to make your purchases and generally evade paying any sales tax at the time of sale (unless the retailer is based in Florida).

While Florida has bled red ink from its state budget for years, slashing spending for everything from education to health care to environment, one of the major sources of state revenue – the sales tax – has failed to collect anything near the amount possible from online sales.

Few states have taken the steps needed to collect sales tax from online purchases.

A leading opponent of any online sales tax has been giant online retailer Amazon has been playing ‘let’s make a deal’ with state legislatures for years, offering to build facilities, make capital investments, and bring new jobs in exchange for forgoing or delaying imposition of any online sales tax, like in Tennessee, for example. The delaying tactic is in the expectation that Congress will institute national guidelines for online sales taxation. Apparently Amazon and their online retailing cohorts like eBay and have not considered Congress’s grinding dysfunction to do anything about taxes, tax codes, or tax anything.

These tactics by Amazon are a marked change from its earlier bullying, like in Colorado in 2010 and Illinois in early 2011 where it fired its in-state associate retailers in retaliation for the states’ imposing the sales tax. The idea was to deny sales through any state-based associates; no in-state sales, no sales tax collection. When you’re Amazon, you don’t mind taking a loss to deliver a black eye to an opponent.

There has also been the tactic of rewarding those who give Amazon what it wants, like in Arizona, where new distribution centers are being sited as long as there is no hint of any online sales tax.

Here is how the map looked in late 2011 as Amazon did its wheeling and dealing, published by


States like budget-crunched California began collecting the online sales tax despite Amazon’s determined efforts to forestall it in this huge consumer state.

Amazon has decided to face the music as its tax firewall crumbles, exposing it to myriad state and local sales taxation rates and destinations. Given Amazon’s ability to handle retail traffic, it doesn’t seem like processing sales tax collections should be such a struggle. It seems more likely that Amazon (a) doesn’t want the added cost of doing such tax processing, but moreover (b) doesn’t want to lose the pricing advantage it has always enjoyed over brick-and-mortar “Main Street” retailers who have always had to collect and remit sales taxes, and have always had those taxes built into their pricing which adds 6%-9% to the cost.

You can watch Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos swallow really hard and often, blink a lot, and tell a CNN/Money interviewer last month that Amazon has always supported a federal rule on state collection of online sales taxes and thinks it will happen soon.

So, I know you’re wondering where Florida fits into the picture, being a major retail state with significant budgetary needs. Haven’t heard anything? Well, you haven’t missed anything; there is no talk of going anywhere near collecting an online sales tax in the Sunshine State.

This is pretty remarkable since heavy hitting, right wing, pro-corporate lobbyists like Florida Chamber of Commerce, Associated Industries of Florida, and Florida Retail Federation actually support a Florida online sales tax, or at least they say they do. The Chamber estimates that Florida will fail to collect about $450 million in sales tax revenue this year.

Since these lobbying groups typically can buy their way to the souls of GOP legislators, what’s the hold up? Usually, it’s idiot ideology rearing its ugly head – yes, I mean you, Tea Partiers. While the Chamber and their corpo cronies point out that it would simply be the collection of an existing tax, not the imposition of a new tax, we still have had dim-witted responses like this one from former Senate President Mike Haridopolos in October, 2011:

“I think we made a pretty firm statement as far as sales taxes are concerned or tax increases, that there would not be an increase in taxes,” Haridopolos told reporters … “If there were any adjustments, we’d have to see an equal reduction somewhere else … The income revenue from increased taxes would not be passing the Senate, and it would not pass the House,” he added. “And if somehow it passed both chambers – which I consider the likelihood zero – the governor would surely veto it, if it was a revenue enhancement.”

In true anti-government mindlessness, Haridopolos would have required reduced government spending to offset the addition of new tax revenue. It makes absolutely no sense, except as ideological flatulence. Gov. Scott follows similar logic, unsurprisingly given his historic proclivity for Tea.

This needs to be remembered when the next budget proposal gets kicked around in Tallahassee this spring. These clowns cry about the state’s lack of funds and insist that the skinny people tighten their belts further while the fat cats let their belts out with tax breaks and privileged treatment. These same GOP clowns won’t lift a finger to act intelligently and take the steps needed to begin collecting the cyber sales tax.

That $450 million would surely help, but first Florida needs worthy leaders.

Hostess doomed by management, not unions

 Many in the media have been slavishly reproducing Hostess management’s line of blaming its Bakery union for its liquidation rather than doing a smidgen of research and realizing that this company has been a long term mess, for which (mis-)management is more responsible than any other entity. More stories are appearing that provide better analysis, but this is a long, complex story.

The poverty of Hostess management can be dated to 1999 at least when then-CEO Charles Sullivan dumped his corporate stock during a false reporting of excellent earnings which was later amended to show the company in dire fiscal straits. Oops. Sullivan took the money and ran, until he was invited back as a consultant during bankruptcy – which is why “run government like a business” is a real head scratcher.

The best article on the company’s woeful history was produced by David Kaplan and posted by CNN/Fortune last August, Hostess Is Bankrupt … Again. He traces the company’s history from its beginning into its current predicament with a (now sidelined) private equity firm, Ripplewood Holdings, watching its investment spin down the bowl as two hedge funds call the shots in their losing gambit.

Ripplewood Holdings’ CEO is Tim Collins who parlayed his connections as a major Democrat. He used former Dem Congressional leader Dick Gephardt’s labor ties in his efforts to right a sinking ship which possessed an array of classic brands with the seeming potential to succeed once again. Collins had stunning success (Long-Term Credit Bank of Japan) and also stunning failure (Reader’s Digest) in his portfolio.

Ripplewood’s investment of $130 million and the unions’ sacrifice of $110 million in jobs, pay, and benefit concessions, as well as the cooperation of other creditors, enabled Hostess to emerge from bankruptcy (filed in 2004) in 2009 with a lot of hope.

The major creditors were two big hedge funds, Silver Point Capital and Monarch Alternative Capital. They had bought Hostess debt at a fire sale discount and hoped to reap a windfall by getting the company turned around, even willing to make more hefty investments:

To allow Hostess to emerge from bankruptcy in 2009, Silver Point, Monarch, and the other lenders agreed to provide a new secured loan of about $360 million. They also forgave half of the existing $450 million of debt and exchanged the other half — $225 million — for payment-in-kind loans, a kind of financing typically used in high-risk situations. The loans had relatively high interest rates of 8% and 5% (reflecting Hostess’s above-average default risk after bankruptcy). Thus, at the end of the first bankruptcy, Hostess came away not only with concessions from both lenders and unions but with $490 million of fresh capital ($360 million plus Ripplewood’s $130 million).

The idea was to use this capital to invest in cost savings, improved marketing, etc., relying on strong managers. But Ripplewood had the same team that got Hostess into bankruptcy leading its future direction out of bankruptcy. Asks Kaplan, “What could possibly go wrong?”

[Hostess] tried a limited-edition return of original banana-cream Twinkies and published The Twinkies Cookbook, which included such half-baked epicurean delights as Twinkie Sushi and Pigs in a Twinkie. But ancient delivery trucks and plant equipment didn’t get replaced. The company’s pricing often didn’t keep pace with that of competitors. And Hostess still had ludicrous work rules: The Teamsters had separate drivers for deliveries of such goodies as Yankee Doodles and Nature’s Pride Nutty Oat.

Not to mention that consumers were becoming health conscious about their eating, and Hostess products were known as the opposite of healthy.

By January, 2012, Hostess had been so ineptly managed that it filed once again for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. As an example of how management overstuffed its Twinkie, it gave fat raises to the management team in July, 2011, just six months before its Chapter 11 filing:

Brian Driscoll, CEO, from around $750,000 to $2,550,000

Gary Wandscheider, EVP, $500,000 to $900,000

John Stewart, EVP, $400,000 to $700,000

David Loeser, EVP, $375,000 to $656,256

Kent Magill, EVP, $375,000 to $656,256

Richard Seban, EVP, $375,00o to $656,256

John Akeson, SVP, $300,000 to $480,000

Steven Birgfeld,  SVP, $240,000 to $360,000

Martha Ross, SVP, $240,000 to $360,000

Rob Kissick, SVP, $182,000 t0 $273,008

You get the idea. These management clowns were the real Ding Dongs, not the pastry made by Hostess. The unions had sacrificed plenty in a shared effort to make the company profitable, with the Teamsters even gaining a substantial investor interest. They had done their part, but management blew it, big time.

A fast forward to recent events shows management once again demanding union concessions. “Management” is a bit inaccurate since hedge funds Silver Point and Monarch are really calling the shots since their investment position has been reclassified as debtor-in-possession (DIP), meaning they have the priority claim to Hostess’ assets in a liquidation in order to repay the debt that they hold. Ripplewood is simply a loser.

Yes, the Teamsters narrowly agreed to further concessions as the bankruptcy court had insisted, and they publicly urged the Bakers Union (Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Union=BCTGM) to negotiate a similar accommodation.

(For a comprehensive and heavily detailed history of the bankruptcy proceedings and court decisions, click here.)

The BCTGM rejected further concessions, realizing that management was proven incompetent and would only squander its resources again, that Hostess was going down regardless – its debt was nearly double its value, and the best hopes for the product and production lay in its purchase by a competitor.

Here is how one union worker described the concessions and the options in a Daily Kos post:

1) 8% hourly pay cut in year 1 with additional cuts totaling 27% over 5 years. Currently, I make $16.12 an hour at TOP rate of pay in the bakery. I would drop to $11.26 in 5 years.

 2) They get to keep our $3+ an hour forever.

 3) Doubling of weekly insurance premium.

 4) Lowering of overall quality of insurance plan.

 5) TOTAL withdrawal from ALL pensions. If you don’t have it now, then you never will.

Remember how I said I made $48,000 in 2005 and $34,000 last year? I would make $25,000 in 5 years if I took their offer.

It will be hard to replace the job I had, but it will be easy to replace the job they were trying to give me.

The management line, echoed pathetically by the media, is that the unions – specifically the Bakers – were to blame for Hostess’s liquidation and the loss of over 18,000 jobs. Hardly.

While it may have been the final straw for the hedge funds, the unions had a significant role in keeping Hostess alive. Sadly, their cooperation had simply given management the opportunity to prove its incompetence anew. Having been burned badly, it’s hard to blame them for their recent decisions. To blame the unions is just plain wrong.

GOP Debate: 5 Favorite Servings from the “Buffet of Crazy and Inane Comments”

It is the morning after. Ow, my head. In service to my loyal readers – yes, I mean both of you – my completion of a test of uncommon mental duress by watching 90 minutes of GOP debate Wednesday night was a sumptuous feast at the “buffet of crazy and inane comments,” borrowing gratefully from the remarks of Jon Huntsman’s chief of staff John Weaver (pictured left). My agony is the price.

To make matters worse, selecting just 5 from the array of nuttery is an effort worthy of a medal. May you appreciate this challenge. Onward….

5. Without a wall at the Mexican border, we will yield our national sovereignty to narco-terrorists – Michele Bachmann

This was a tough one because the current Tea Queen intensely angst-ifies before the camera at every occasion, like when claiming that health care reform’s pending implementation was keeping employers from hiring minority youth, and hence responsible for unemployment and the economy’s near-recession state.

My preference was for the anguished spector of narco-terrorists surging across the naked border. All of the sampled candidates wanted more fence or total fence (Romney), and more Border Patrol agents, National Guard, 1,000 now … and Predator drones (Perry), and machine guns (Paul) too, although Papa Paul said we were being fenced in and that was wrong. See, doesn’t your head hurt? Mama mia!

She jumped then to Miami and visiting with Cubans who apparently had no problem cutting Mexicans off from anything and everything. I know, I was shocked, too.

Anyway, it’s all here – 10 minutes.

4. Texans don’t want Massachusetts-style health care reform/Federal government responsible for Texas having the highest number of uninsured – Rick Perry

This is cheating abit, but Perry managed to couple two whoppers into this response. He started by making it sound like Texans didn’t even want health insurance, and certainly not from some government plan. Of course, the consequence of his remark was that Texans would indeed rather have no insurance than government-mandated insurance.

When pressed in a follow-up to explain why Texas had the greatest number of uninsured citizens, Perry blamed the feds. Somehow, if the feds granted waivers on Medicaid and let Texas do whatever it wanted with the money, Texas wouldn’t have so many uninsured. In one of those miracles of Republican faux-logic, the feds – who pay half the cost of Medicaid – should get out of the way and let Texans work their private marketplace magic. HMOs would be thrilled to have a Texas-sized profit bonanza.

Also be sure to watch from 10:00 in the video – click here, it loads reasonably fast – so you watch the latest Romney dance around the question of an insurance mandate. This has become the most delicious part of the GOP debates; the Romney squirm when asked the question. He can make it as smooth as silk and not one Tea-stained kook will buy it.

3. Social Security is a Ponzi scheme, a monstrous lie for young people – Rick Perry

Yes, you’ve heard this before, and TX Gov. Perry insisted on this language even though former MA Gov. Mitt Romney decried the claim along with Karl Rove and Dick Cheney apparently. Perry’s insistence on such terms gives all GOP candidates some hope.

Perry has tried to nuance his comments, but not with much success. The thin shred of truth; left untouched, the Social Security Trust Fund will ultimately run out of money and be unable to pay its beneficiaries. In fact, this shortage could have happened in the past. Shocking, I know. Who would have thunk it? As if by divine intervention, sane people made adjustments to the Social Security contribution levels and enabled it to continue as the most successful government program ever. In Rick Perry’s flat world, change doesn’t happen in the federal government.

2. Democrats will support eliminating the corporate income tax – Rick Santorum

Given Santorum’s track record of batty jabber, and having produced several gems just in this debate, and given the rich environment overall, this one seemed to cause bruising on my forehead from repeated wall banging.

Eliminating the corporate income tax was a doozy for starters. Imagining that ending the corporate income tax would cause businesses to bring jobs back to the USA was a stretch, assuming you didn’t ask what kind of jobs or at what wage.

Then he said this would build middle America and presumably middle (class?) Americans. If businesses could pay Bangladeshi wages and have Nigerian environmental regulations and government oversight like Somalia (they have a government?), they might make the move.

Contorting logic into a pretzel on steroids was bad enough, but he wasn’t done. Oh, no. The suggestion that industrial state Democratic congressmen would readily agree to such an arrangement exceeded all bounds of credulity. He simply couldn’t leave wacko alone and he had to go for bat-shit crazy. Congrats, Rick Santorum – you made the list. We knew you would.

1. Ending the minimum wage will help poor people who need a job – Ron Paul

The nation’s minimum wage is an obscenity, not because it exists as Paul would assert, but because it is so paltry. Some progressive folks talk about “a living wage” which would have to be more than twice the current minimum wage of $7.25/hr.

Ron Paul’s proposal is to eliminate the minimum wage. Just get rid of it. It stands in the way of his libertarian ideology that has deified idiocy. To get rated this highly, the comment would have to go further than ending the minimum wage; Herman Cain wouldn’t be the only one on stage willing to go along with that.

That it would help poor people gave the ridiculous proposal that extra push over the boundary into the avenues of the bizarrio, a familiar neighborhood for Papa Paul.

In his libertarian narcosis, poor people will be delighted to have a job paying $5/hr or $3/hr. Having that kind of job sure beats hunger and homelessness, right?

Well, even though you still can’t afford housing or food or health care or transportation or a pot in which to pee, and probably don’t qualify for TANF because you earn too much, you have self-respect. And you can take that to the bank. Never mind; the bank has no use for self-respect.

[Note: A very close Ron Paul comment was that the terrorist attacks on 9-11 succeeded due to federal government regulations that prevented people from resisting. And yet another was that we ought to privatize everything because lobbyists write the laws anyway. Like I said, it was very close and a very rich selection. Go ahead, call me crazy.]

—— —— ——

It is doubtful that this effort at watching GOP debates can be replicated much more. The recovery from 90 minutes of this mental abuse takes longer each time. Sorry, but you may have to watch it yourself. Drink heavily beforehand, my friend.

How Are Floridians Doing? Five Reasons to Keep Your Lifejackets On!

While Wall Street markets swirl in turmoil and Washington politics cripples any hope of forward motion out of the recession-like conditions, we know things are tough all over. For Floridians though, it’s tougher than other locales in the USA.

1. Job prospects suck.

Not exactly news, jobs are scarce and the picture is not improving. Subjects in Floridastan may be tired of hearing double-talk from local economists like this:

Sandro Andrade, assistant professor of finance at the University of Miami, thinks there is an exaggerated fear that companies becoming more efficient will eliminate some jobs. “If a company has learned to be more efficient with fewer jobs, if it has learned to burn off fat during the recession, those jobs will not come back,” Andrade said. “But I think, in most cases, people were laid off because the amount of goods and services in demand is less. The unemployment we are seeing, in most cases, is not structural. When the economy comes back, many of those jobs will come back.”

Dear professor, if the failure to produce new jobs amid abundant corporate profits isn’t structural, what the hell is it? And how is ‘the economy going to come back’ if there are no jobs? Don’t we already have an economy that’s ‘come back’ without jobs?

With thousands of state and local workers including teachers losing their jobs due to budget gutting by legislators and a governor intent on enhancing corporate profits and protecting wealthy pockets, prospects continue to worsen no matter what the official unemployment rate indicates.

2. Paychecks at “Scottie jobs” suck, too.

Governor Scott promised 700,000 new jobs over 7 years, that’s above and beyond the normal job growth Florida would experience anyway. Scott has already made it clear that state-funded jobs are not what he was talking about, laying off thousands of state employees. Turning away billions in federal funding for construction and tens of millions more for health care and other programs, Scott also seems determined to deprive citizens of anything federally-funded, i.e. stuff for which his subjects have already paid taxes. Scott only likes the jobs that fit his peculiar, inscrutable criteria.

“Scottie jobs” don’t pay squat, but they are the kind of jobs Scott likes. Low wages (like low taxes) will attract employers, right? And those employers who are attracted will bring low wage jobs, right? With all of those low wage jobs, people will always be looking for another job, right? All of those people looking for another crappy job to supplement their other crappy job will ensure lots of low wage workers for low wage employers, attracting even more low wage employers to Scott’s Floridastan. See, it all makes sense after all.

3. Florida metros areas lead the nation in foreclosures.

You thought vacant houses in your community were decreasing? Check again. Headline: Florida is now epicenter of the foreclosure crisis. Floridastan is an exceptional leader again. Our state is special:

“While data found a correlation between unemployment and serious mortgage delinquency rates nationally, many Florida metro areas are experiencing serious delinquency at rates much higher even than the state’s above-average unemployment figures would suggest,” the report noted.

Whatever the bad news nationally, we’re outperforming the bad news with worse news.

At our house in Ocala, we’re eagerly awaiting this year’s TRIM notice from the county appraiser’s office, the annual estimation of property taxes based on a new property appraisal. Having purchased our place for $150,000 in 2005, our 2011 TRIM valued this “asset” at $111,000. Prediction: under $100,000 for 2012.

4. Floridians can’t repay their debt.

The rest of the nation has improved its credit card delinquency status, but Floridastan remains a national leader (again!), this time third behind Nevada and neighbor Georgia, in having one of the highest credit card delinquency rates. This rate is complimentary to its high rate of mortgage delinquency, also among the nation’s leaders. This may be (just may be) due to high unemployment, low paying jobs, vanished assets, decreased services, higher costs, etc., all prices we pay to live in paradise.

5. Gov. Scott thinks we’re doing great.

Ever estranged from reality, Gov. Scott seems delighted by the way things are progressing. His poll numbers indicate that his opinion likely represents the minority viewpoint. Despite what the majority of Floridians may think, there is no indication that Scott will be altering any of his plans or practices.

He seemed pleased by the S&P upgrade of Florida’s credit rating while S&P had lowered the federal credit rating. His exuberance was quite unwarranted by the facts. He even believes that the state’s credit rating will somehow be appealing to employers who might come to Florida. Really?

He also forgot how his own budget proposal six months ago provoked a warning from the credit raters because his slashing of taxes to fund corporate giveaways would have crippled the ability of Florida agencies, like public school systems, to manage their debt repayments. He continued to display a stunning ignorance of credit ratings and their impact when the federal debt ceiling fiasco was being played out, saying he wouldn’t raise it, denying any possible impact on Florida’s rating, and displaying his abysmal opinion for a national audience on CNN. Lately, he has shown his satisfaction about the credit downgrade of South Florida Water Management District and the layoff of over a hundred agency workers which enabled a property tax decrease that should enable each grateful property owner to pocket between $5 and $7 … a year. A y-e-a-r. Yeah.

Trying to be like one of his subjects in Floridastan, the governor also tried out a “Scottie job” for himself, doughnut clerk, except he talked like he was the store manager – he just loves to play CEO. From some of this subjects, Scott got protested and pink-slipped, the same treatment he’s given state workers.

There is no sugar-coating what Floridians face; a very long haul ahead with nothing to cheer on the horizon. Sorry.



Chamber’s “Fears” Reveal Rank Ineptitude, Again

The Florida Chamber of Commerce, advocate of corporate welfare and worker servitude, announced it has introduced paid security guards to its headquarters in Tallahassee because of scary protesters, particularly citing Susannah Randolph, a well known progressive organizer who is about 5 feet 3 inches tall. To further heighten the threat, it is believed that Randolph works out.

In its effort to make monsters and thugs out of the moms and dads, grannies and grampas who protested at the highly successful Awake the State rallies on Tuesday, the Chamber is trying to project fear. This, from a grown man with at least a six figure salary:

“We’ve been picketed by ACORN before,” [pictured, Chamber CEO Mark] Wilson noted. “They brought people in on buses and pushed open our front door a few years ago.”

Boy, I’m sure you can understand his concern. Who wants people pushing open front doors? Like, it doesn’t happen every day. Like coming in and … and … stuff … and going out.

Meanwhile, Awake the State participants are still wondering who will protect them from the Florida Chamber whose “jobs agenda” includes attacking working families and collecting cash at the state treasury for its big business sponsors.

The hired off-duty Tallahassee police will be guarding the parking lot and its many valuable spaces with painted lines, and communicating security “threat” levels; Red, Orange, or Yellow. Seriously. Stop laughing!

The Chamber clearly took its cue from a bloated, cash sucking, ineffective, Republican federal bureaucracy called the US Department of Homeland Security that has specialized in boring the fear of colors from the nation, for good. The Chamber has revived what Americans had thought passed into history like George W. Bush and other national kidney stones. Well done, Chamber.

Chamber pal Barney Bishop, president of Associated Industries, a similar lobbying leech on the state treasury’s teat for its corporate backers and no friend of working families, doesn’t share Wilson’s insecurity. Perhaps this is because it is absolutely baseless. Or perhaps he isn’t familiar with that 110 pound gorilla, Susannah Randolph who likely works out, or at least walks briskly.

Communications seem to be a challenge for the Chamber. Board Chairman and former Florida House Speaker Allen Bense never got the memo. He was unaware of the new need for security at the office, saying:

“I was never worried about it, but it’s a different world out there now,” Bense said.

Nice recovery, Allen. Yes, it’s true that it’s a meaner and uglier world for working families since the Chamber, Associated Industries, the Retail Federation and their buds have gained full control of the legislature and cabinet, and if current House Speaker Dean Cannon has his way, the courts, too. (When you’re done as Speaker, Dean, we know where you can get an awesome paycheck for doing diddly.)

Former House Speaker and Marion County’s own Larry Cretul, chairman of a Chamber Board of Governors whose very existence remains unproven, said:

“I knew they were doing Boy Scout stuff, being prepared. But that’s the mother ship, I’m just at the base camp down here in Ocala.”

Larry didn’t make that snappy recovery like Bense. In fact, Larry even forgot to appear to be w-o-r-k-i-n-g. What do you do all those days between paychecks? And just what is that Board of Governors thing again?

This is the Florida Chamber’s second act in a truly uninspired opera trying desperately to orchestrate fear, like real, sweaty fear with color codey threats and everything. A previous attempt at portraying an invasion of union thugs was mocked not only by this writer, but also earned a Liar, Liar, “Pants on Fire” rating from PolitiFact Florida.

This just in: Susannah Randolph is known to be able to pick up small children. Threat level: RED! RED! RED!

Mismanaging Government: Local School Board Opts for Meddling

Was the so-called “mandate” from voters in the last election for less government? Was it to make things work better? Not judging from the way some Marion County School Board members are acting.

The Ocala Star Banner reported that at Tuesday night’s meeting, the Marion School Board opted to micromanage the district maintenance budget in the future.

[Picture shows from left:  Zanetti, Porter, James, Boynton, Crawford]

Due to shifting priorities, prior plans for scheduled maintenance can change; something breaks down, something less urgent must wait, changes need to be made. In the past, these shifts in already approved budget expenses were routine. No longer.

Following longtime Board member Ron Crawford’s complaint that north Marion schools often face delays in getting maintenance done (Crawford’s district includes north Marion),  first term Board member Jackie Porter and newly elected Board member Angie Boynton joined in requiring the Board to review and approve each shifted priority. Warned by administrative staff that this could delay projects and cause a variety of problems, and that capital funds are often restricted for capital expenses only, these three Board members formed the majority in approving a micro-managing plan for the Board.

While School Board members are elected on a non-partisan basis, their political affiliations are well known. All five are Republicans, but two have had experience in the schools, Bobby James, a retired teacher and principal, and Judi Zanetti, a former teacher. These tend to be the moderate and sensible voices on the Board.

Ron Crawford has long been an often shrill voice on spending matters, narrowly winning re-election in 2010. He has alienated some Republican support for his vocal condemnation of the Republican-dominated state legislature’s habit of unfunded mandates, requiring local districts to produce programs and make changes without funds to enable them.

Angie Boynton is a former vice-chair of the local Republican Executive Committee and a darling of the local TEA Party which also supports Jackie Porter, a millionaire who had previously owned the Porter’s Nursery chain of stores. As a School Board member, Porter quickly became known as a shameless self-promoter and grandstander. A reasonable expectation for the future is that Boynton will be following Porter’s lead as seen Tuesday night.

Porter has made scrutinizing district spending her obsession, often leading her to concoct convoluted or contrived conspiracy theories. This is delightful entertainment for local TEA Partiers, confirming their own conspiratorial mindset about government. However, Porter’s escapades have yet to substantially offer anything more than a toxic relationship between Porter and the administrative staff.

With Boynton now at her side, Porter may feel empowered to cook up new dramatic examples of wasteful excess and reckless spending. As just stated, the results are unlikely to matter, except to enhance Porter’s penchant for political theater in playing to her TEA Party fans.

Judi Zanetti was right when she stated that students would be the ones to suffer.

Micro-management of pre-approved budget amounts ultimately makes government wasteful and inefficient. Are they proving that government doesn’t work, or are they ensuring government doesn’t work by their own efforts?

Ideologues don’t govern. They preach their credo, make it policy, and having dispensed with sound and rational process, create a colossal mess for someone else to clean up.

Banishing A Darkness Devoid Of Stars

I thought this quote from Martin Luther King, Jr., whose birthday will be celebrated next Monday, is very appropriate right now considering what happened in Arizona yesterday. May every American and human being take it to heart:

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. … Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.