Monday, May 21, 2007

Fairness is in the ear of the listener

There’s plenty of hot airtime on several political talk shows over this “Fairness Doctrine” thing. Apparently, some of the more conservative hosts are just a tad miffed that a move seems to be afoot in the Congress to demand of major media outlets that equal time be given “all points of view” which, naturally, means those on the left side of the political spectrum aren’t happy with the popularity of shows which tilt to the political right.
If there’s a real problem with fairness, we must believe — in all fairness — that those who take to the airwaves with political philosophies which lean left just don’t seem to be able to attract a sizeable audience. Air America, that great progressive radio experiment, has dipped its wings before dropping like bomb, and to the great consternation of progressives, Limbaugh, Hannity, O’Reilly and a number of others seem to be merrily soaring on the updraft of the political right.
One is hopefully forgiven for believing that the major difference is that most Americans — politically speaking — seem to be more conservative and moderate than liberal. We know that’s a bitter pill for George Soros to swallow, but the primary backer of and left enough candidates needs to understand that fact. Even we who claim the Democrat donkey as a part of our logo life often find ourselves at odds with the party leadership which wants us all to believe that “moderate” is the most acceptable political tag in this country.
Current Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, one individual whose voting record speaks for itself, continues to dispute the “liberal” tag when applied to her. During an interview with Tim Russert, Pelosi was quick to discount the dreaded L-word, claiming she is a “moderate” in the classical sense. We admire Ms. Pelosi (forget the cards and letters, please), but the classical sense of which the good lady speaks is classically off base.
Returning to the fairness question...our little radio talk show has apparently stepped on the nerve of some listeners who don’t believe fairness is extended to all. The irony of that claim is evident by a couple which we would love to mention (names withheld to protect the guilty).
One, from a Republican friend, points out that we “...seem to take great pleasure in bashing our President and any other member of his administration. Don’t you find it a bit strange that Democrats can find nothing good about Republicans and nothing bad about their own. Even when discussing the Louisiana legislature, it’s apparent that you Democrats believe Republicans are the problem even though they are not the majority which has given us poor roads, high taxes, an educational system that’s in disarray, a healthcare system that’s unhealthy and insurance problems no other state ever dreamed of.”
Then, we have this from a fellow Democrat. “I wonder if you really are a Democrat when I hear all the things you say about you own party. If I hear correctly, the national party has no conscience and the state party has neither a plan nor the guts to try and find one.”
Apparently we’re doing something right if both sides believe we’re picking on them. Now that’s what we consider a Fairness Doctrine.
Seriously, though, we’re watching with caution what’s coming from the national scene where talk radio is concerned. It would be a really nasty thing, indeed, if talk radio found its voice censored to the point that independent thought and natural disagreement found itself the baby which happened to be thrown out with the wash.
Liberals and conservatives need to be heard. It’s no one’s fault but their own if marketability is more attainable for one than another. Maybe some talkers should listen as much as they move their lips. Those who want a genuinely honest discourse on the major issues facing our states and nation are the ones who should be making the noise if “fairness” is disappearing from the airwaves.
We find it more than a little ironic that it’s those who listen least to the people are the ones who are attempting to take steps to mandate what the people hear.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

This legislature: reform minded or reelection driven?

There’s more than a little talk of reform now that the fiscal session of Louisiana’s legislature is in high gear, but some around the state are wondering whether the reform is genuine or if it’s more likely fodder for the cannons of lawmakers who will soon find themselves embroiled in reelection campaigns.
As of Friday, more than 900 bills had been introduced in the House, while Senators had marched to the calendar to mark 328 pieces of legislation. That’s a hefty number to be sure, but so many more will be coming that the previously mentioned numbers will soon seem insignificant. So far — the dreaded Stelly Plan excluded — few have been targeting what some good government types might consider real reform.
Speaking of Stelly, it seems a slight bit ironic that the bill’s originator — former state Rep. Vic Stelly of Lake Charles — apparently has been heard denying his “plan” was ever designed to be revenue neutral. That, of course, has caused some who remember the drumbeat of the 2002 stump campaign across the state hyping the “nothing but neutral” constitutional amendment. Even a larger dose of irony — Stelly was an alleged tax-hating Republican when he authored, advanced and actively campaigned for the “tax exchange.”
When adopted by the state’s voters in ‘02, the plan eliminated the state’s 3.9 percent sales tax on groceries for the masses and residential utilities. Certain tax filers also saw the rate drop on the first $25,000 of their reported income. Taxes were raised by reducing the following tax bracket to cover more income at six percent rather than four, and it stopped excess itemized deductions on state income tax forms. Hardest hit by the “revenue neutral” plan were those families with more than $50,000 gross income and a mortgage with interest payments.
Several polls have indicated that state voters are more than a little miffed about the Stelly Plan, and would love to see major provisions, including the “tax swap” features, eliminated or seriously overhauled. In fact, some of those who voted for Stelly reportedly have been targeted by prospective challengers. In our little corner of the world, Billy Montgomery has been identified in both political ads and by one columnist as “the deciding vote” in moving the Stelly Plan into law.
One may be forgiven for reminding some that Montgomery’s vote was only one of the two-thirds needed in the House to allow the voters to decide in November, 2002. One truth, however, is that the largest majority of that two-thirds told constituents that Stelly would benefit the largest percentage of the state’s households. Today, that story is changing as campaigns for the Legislature begin to take shape.
Bills to alter Stelly have been filed and will soon be hitting Taylor Townsend’s committee (Ways and Means) where the the chairman (Townsend) has promised to make sure the baby isn’t thrown out with the wash. Translation: We may overhaul the taxing structure, but not at the expense of all that nice revenue which has found its way into the state’s funding mechanisms.
And, it will be interesting to listen to debate on the revised Stelly as legislators attempt to strike a balance between cutting into the surplus (estimated around $2 billion in some circles) and giving something back to those who give most...the great unwashed who will soon be casting those dirty ballots.
It is, also, a shame that Stelly’s parts are now undergoing a scrubbing only because of the aforementioned surplus. One would hope that plans by several Republicans which have been seeing a goodly portion of ink would have been offered simply because Stelly wasn’t exactly all it was hyped to be. If it’s a little bad now that we have lots of money, wonder how it would be at all bad if our budget was “revenue neutral.”
The giving back is significant in some of the bills filed. A pair of Republicans (Michael Walsworth and Jim Tucker) suggest allowing itemized deductions on state income tax forms to the tune of a $270 million give-back to state filers. Another piece by (Republicans, again) Tim Burns and Gordon Dove would revert to pre-Stelly tax brackets at a return-to-giver windfall of $320 million. And, legislation offered by new Republican Billy Montgomery would make both changes at a return to the state taxpayers of $546 million. Tidy sums, all. Mayhaps the authors are trying to make up for the sins of one former Republican lawmaker.
Whether the legislature goes along with the public’s wish for “reform” will be determined by the shape of the Stelly give-backs. And, we can watch the campaign ads of the future to determine just who we can thank for getting us a little of our money back...for now.