Fuel Tax Issue Will Show Republicans Can Lead, or Not

The Governor, Lt. Governor and Legislators started new four-year terms this month. Most are returnees. Most are Republicans. The main difference between now and four years ago is that Republicans now hold “super” majorities in both the House and Senate. That means they can pass revenue, tax, and bond bills (along with general and appropriations bills) with Republican votes only.

Republicans already held a super majority in the Senate, which threw out Republican Sen. Melanie Sojourner’s election challenge, seating former Democratic Sen. Bob Dearing instead.

But they only gained a super majority in the House from a highly political decision to boot out longtime Democrat Rep. Bo Eaton. Eaton had “won” when he pulled the long straw against Republican challenger Mark Tullos after they tied. House members accepted Tullos’ challenge, unseating Eaton.

A special House committee chaired by Rep. Mark Baker of Brandon concluded five affidavit ballots for Eaton should not have been counted. Baker said voters were obligated by law to tell local election officials their new address within 30 days after moving. He said disregarding affidavit votes by people who failed to change their address on election records made Tullos the winner.

This conclusion by the committee contradicted the Secretary of State’s office which had told local election officials to count the affidavit ballots.

It also contradicted House Speaker Philip Gunn, as revealed by Clarion-Ledger writer Geoff Pender:

“In 2003, when he (successfully) challenged his primary loss to incumbent Republican Rep. Jep Barbour, Gunn argued the Hinds County Election Commission was wrong when it threw out seven affidavit ballots for the same reason. In his court filing at the time, Gunn said that, ‘Such an interpretation of this statute is incorrect … one is entitled to vote by affidavit ballot if he has lived in the county for 30 days ,,, There is no provision … that says that one who has moved more than 30 days before the election cannot vote by affidavit.’”

In power politics what’s good for the gander is seldom good for the goose.

So, will now all-powerful Republican legislators show they can provide strong, good government leadership? We’ll learn pretty soon.

As everyone knows, Mississippi has a road and bridge crisis.

“I see first-hand that we are on the verge of losing our competitive edge,” says Joe F. Sanderson, Chairman and CEO of Sanderson Farms and chair of a special Blueprint Mississippi task force. “Roads across our state are beginning to crumble. Bridges aren’t safe.”

The solution is quite simple, as pointed out by the task force, raise user fees and taxes on fuel to provide the money needed to fix our roads and bridges.

But, as everyone knows, the political will among Republican legislators to raise any fees or taxes is virtually non-existent.

If the Republican majority cannot provide the strong leadership needed to resolve this critical infrastructure problem, we can expect many highly political decisions, but few good government decisions from them over the next four years.

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Can America Clean Up Internet Iniquity?

What do you call the great enabler of truth managers? The bastion of scams, shams, and slams? The mother lode of pornography? The apparatus ISIS uses to recruit young people to its jihad? The system scumbags use to hook up with teenage girls for illicit sex?

You call all these things by one name – the Internet.

Designed for science, then, open, worldwide communications, the Internet has transmogrified into the ultimate, unfettered den of iniquity.

In “The Internet’s dark side you don’t use,” USA Today writer Kim Komando writes, “If you want to buy illegal drugs, guns, counterfeit money, stolen items, fake degrees or passports, cloned debit cards, hacking tools, weapons and more, you can.” Then there are web sites that “let you hire a hit man or escort, buy someone’s identity or swap child pornography.”

The dark side of the Internet has been growing exponentially for years. Why, a sane person might ask, does America allow such?

Silly person, our Constitution guarantees free “speech.” And all the stuff on the Internet is classified as “speech.” Thus, government attempts to throttle the terrible stuff on the Internet bump into the courts’ infernal interpretation of “speech.” The Communications Decency Act of 1996 was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court. The 1998 Child Online Protection Act was struck down by the courts. Finally, the narrowly focused Children’s Internet Protection Act of 2000 addressing child Internet access only through schools and libraries was allowed to stand.

So, can America clean up the Internet?

Consider this from “Yes, we can clean up the Web” in England’s Daily Mail by Edward Verity:

“Many obscene sites may be run by anonymous individuals from their bedrooms in far-flung countries, but the Internet, just like global finance, relies on large, respectable – and often highly profitable – companies to make it work.”

“Anyone who has a home computer knows that to access the Internet you need a browser – such as Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. Then you need an Internet Service Provider (Comcast, AT&T, C Spire, etc.) to give you access to the Worldwide Web. To find websites, you use a search engine like Google or Yahoo.

“All these firms are highly respectable, international companies that have the technical skills to weed out the very worst sites, if only they could be made to act. Instead, Google has a picture search facility that spits out images of young girls engaged in sexual acts within seconds.”

“Everyone who sets up a website needs to buy and register an address beginning www. Yet the Web address registrars do nothing to ban obscene names or even stop pornographers pulling tricks such as registering the names of prominent buildings or famous towns to lure innocent browsers to their sites.

“Surely companies could be forced to describe the nature of their sites before they are allowed to buy an address – and refused one if they don’t meet strict guidelines.”

Surely! But too few Americans seem willing to make it happen.

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Informed Citizens Safeguard against Truth Managers

With insidious truth managers dominating social media, the Internet, the blogosphere, talk radio, and cable news, how can the average citizen uncover reality?

Remember, insidious truth managers (an intentionally redundant phrase) are those willing to deliberately tailor “truth” to further their own ends.

With the inundation of information we get from so many sources today, it gets harder and harder to uncover reality. But it’s not impossible. Here are some suggestions.

First, “You can’t handle the truth!”

Remember this line delivered so well by Jack Nicholson in the movie “A Few Good Men?” Citing a study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, a Scientific American article maintained that many people cannot, or will not, handle the truth:

“Psychologists call this reaction belief perseverance: maintaining your original opinions in the face of overwhelming data that contradicts your beliefs. Everyone does it, but we are especially vulnerable when invalidated beliefs form a key part of how we narrate our lives. Researchers have found that stereotypes, religious faiths and even our self-concept are especially vulnerable to belief perseverance.”

A scholarly study of social media entitled “The spreading of misinformation online” had similar findings, saying people mainly share information that confirms their prejudices.

So, to uncover the truth, citizens first have to be willing to accept the truth. Various sources say the key to this is a healthy dose of skepticism… doubt the truth of something unless or until you know its accuracy.

Blogger Brittany Jones in “3 tools for finding truth in a world full of garbage,” starts with “Be a skeptic.” Her other recommendations are “Consider the source” and “Do your research.”

Good suggestions, but where does the average citizen look for search research?

Blogger Thorin Klosowski in “How to Spot Truth in the Sea of Lies, Rumors, and Myths on the Internet” offers four websites for fact checking (mostly oriented to politics and national issues): politicfact.com; factcheck.org; snopes.com; truthorfiction.com.

He also offers three questions to ask to help uncover the truth: “Is it safe to try this? Is the statement coming from a reputable source? Does the person writing (saying) this have anything to gain from their statement?”

Pay attention, in particular, to the last question. When money and influence are involved, the truth is, too often, not.

A final suggestion to consider is, don’t rely on one source or perspective for your information. For example, don’t just rely on sources like Fox News or MSNBC that provide one-sided political perspectives.

In contrast, good newspapers provide multiple perspectives. One day you get Ann Coulter or George Will on national issues, on another Eugene Robinson or Paul Krugman. You get Bill Minor or Charlie Mitchell one day on state issues, on another Sid Salter or Brian Perry.

Considering perspectives you don’t naturally agree with can help you overcome your innate belief perseverance.

Insidious truth managers will rule the day unless average citizens make the effort to become sufficiently informed to see through their deceit.

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Truth Management Skews Reality

Since the earliest days of civilization “truth management” has been practiced by governments and religions to further their own interests. Decades ago, the Soviet Union’s disinformation and revisionist history activities stood out. Today truth management pervades international communications, with Putin’s Russia, Iran, North Korea, and ISIL among the stand outs.

The practice of truth management has proliferated to organizations throughout the United States, too, and now pervades presidential politics.

Envision a persuasion scheme that integrates widespread publicity, rampant disinformation, and tailored “truths.” That’s truth management.

Our Defense Department has long practiced “perception management” and “truth projection” to influence beliefs – usually foreign but not always.

More recently, well-funded national policy institutes and research centers have emerged that propagate research and findings supportive of pre-conceived notions, i.e., they tailor “truth” to fit stipulated concepts. These perverted truths are shared with bloggers, talking heads, publicity organizations, and lobbyists who adeptly use them to manipulate the public, politicians and policy makers into believing and proclaiming such as actual truths.

Consider this excerpt from a study of the tobacco industry published by the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, School of Nursing, University of California:

“This study adds to the growing literature that draws upon previously secret tobacco industry documents to understand the inner workings of the industry. Previous research has, among other things, revealed how the industry has deceived the public and policymakers about the harms of tobacco, manipulated science, used third parties to promote its agenda, targeted vulnerable populations, and interfered with regulatory and public policy processes. These behaviors are not unique to the tobacco industry; research on internal asbestos and chemical industry documents has uncovered similar actions.”

The tobacco companies managed truth by getting institutes and research centers, which they funded directly and indirectly, to publish studies showing tobacco usage to be not very harmful. They then used these deceitful studies and powerful publicity to manipulate users and politicians into believing that smoking was safe.

Today’s institutes and research centers funded by billionaires to further their agendas are expanding this approach. Social media, the Internet, and talk radio thrive on their work product.

Senators, congressmen, and their staffs are too busy to do much research. So, they rely on information from lobbyists who get their information from these biased sources.

Policy institutes and research centers actuated by pre-conceived notions have begun cropping up to shape “truth” at the state level too. Legislators have even less time and resources than congressmen to research complex issues.

Folks, it’s one thing to use facts that support arguments and overlook facts that don’t. It’s quite another to deliberately create and disseminate false truths that skew reality. And that’s what insidious truth managers do.

So, whether it’s Donald Trump or Hilary Clinton, the NRA or the AARP, big business or big government, or a state policy institute, realize their propensity to engage in truth management…for their benefit, not yours.

Don’t be duped. As Ronald Reagan insisted, verify.

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Leaders to Frame Government for New Year

Hopefully our state leaders and legislators have good intentions for the upcoming year. Certainly most do.

But, as 18th Century English essayist, moralist, biographer, and lexicographer Samuel Johnson taught, good intentions alone often beget more hellish than heavenly results.

Witness the way our Legislature works. All know tough decisions must be made. Yet, we often see little consensus, mostly fuss and factionalism.

Makes you wonder if those involved ever step away and observe everyone’s behavior.

In “Leadership Without Easy Answers,” Ron Heifetz urges leaders to periodically “get on the balcony” to overlook the fray. That is about the only way authentic leaders can externalize conflict and see paths to resolution when dealing with difficult problems, he says.

No problem in Mississippi. Our venerable State Capitol has balconies galore.

But visitors to the balcony galleries in the House and Senate seldom walk away having seen resolution built on consensus. Rather, if they walk out to peer over Rotunda balconies, they see lobbyists maneuvering legislators toward actions that favor one special interest or another.

Instead of the broad perspective Heifetz hopes leaders will see, too many of our leaders tend to lock themselves into narrow perspectives. “Reframing Organizations” by Lee G. Bolman and Terrence E. Deal helps us understand. Their study of leaders found tendencies to see the world from one of four frames – factory, family, jungle, or temple. In simple terms, factory folk tie solutions to structure and organization; family folk tie solutions to human needs; for jungle folk it’s all about power; and temple folk focus on inspiration and ritual.

Early in the new legislative session, the vote on whether or not to seat Representative Bo Eaton may suggest how many of our Republican legislators fit the jungle frame. Eaton is the incumbent Democrat who drew the long straw to win over Republican challenger Mark Tullos after the two tied in the general election.

Many see all government decisions as jungle stuff – power games. Power games are real, often spurred on by lobbyists, and do have impact. But, lasting solutions seldom result from crushing the opposition.

Lasting solutions to tough problems, say Heifetz, Bolman and Deal, and other leadership scholars, occur when all factions come together to find common ground. Stephen Covey called this seeking win-win, mutually beneficial solutions.

Presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson seems to get it. “What I try to do is find ways that we can develop common ground,” he says.

Bolman and Deal say lasting solutions result when all four of their frames are pulled together. Decisions that fix structure, address human needs, reconcile power, and inspire action tend to generate lasting solutions.

Sometimes such solutions can be painful at the front end but lay a solid foundation for the future. An example of this would be a solution to our crumbling road and bridge infrastructure.

All eyes will be on our Governor and Legislature this week to see how they frame government for the new year.

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Good Leaders Keep Promises of Government

May the joy and hope of Christmas linger with you through the New Year. Indeed, when things go awry during the coming year, it is the promise of Christmas that can see us through.

Let us hope that our state and legislative leaders will keep the promises of government to see us through the next year.

I left my writing job at Ole Miss 41 years ago this week to become an active “good government” Republican as the first worker in Gil Carmichael’s 1975 race for governor. My thought was that “good leaders” were visionaries able to take on tough, sometimes unpopular, challenges to make government keep its promises in a more efficient and effective manner.

What are the promises of our state government?

Public safety, safe and adequate public schools, safe and functioning public infrastructure (roads, bridges, levees, etc.), and rational regulations are high on the list. We face challenges in all these areas, but I’ll focus on three.

Well operated and secure prisons are a key part of our public safety operations. Corrections Commissioner Marshall Fisher is a determined, visionary public safety officer trying to overcome scandals and lawsuits to make our prison system efficient and effective. He has made it clear that a better trained, better paid prison workforce is absolutely essential to improving prison operations. The Legislature gave him the means to realign his workforce, but not to provide a “livable wage” to the qualified workers he needs to hire and retain. A 47% turnover rate and 21% vacancy rate should be all the evidence needed for good leaders to support his efforts.

Safe roads and bridges are not only important for our driving pleasure but also for economic development, whether it be tourism or industrial recruitment and retention. Ample evidence has been accumulated over the past decade and presented to state leaders that our roads and bridges are deteriorating faster than our Department of Transportation can fix them. The issue is one of resources. The department cannot spend money on maintenance that it doesn’t have. The business-led Mississippi Economic Council has recommended a solution to this crisis (yes it’s a crisis). But it will require good leaders willing to take the unpopular action of raising user-based fuel taxes.

State regulations aligned with federal regulations require Mississippi hospitals to serve everyone who shows up at their emergency rooms, whether they can pay or not. In Mississippi, the number who can pay little or nothing is considerable. Before Obamacare, the state was able to leverage federal funds to provide hospitals with significant reimbursements for this mandated uncompensated care. Now, those funds are drying up, putting more and more hospitals in financial distress. Government requiring free service and not paying for it is not rational, nor is it good government. Good leaders would find a way to fix this before we lose more hospitals.

Our New Year resolutions should include supporting good leaders willing to keep the promises of government.

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Republicans Using La La Land Economics to Justify Tax Cuts

Here we go again, using la la land economics to justify tax cuts.

That’s not to say tax cuts are bad. But tax cuts that aren’t paid for are. And when they jack up the national debt that’s pathetic… far worse when they come from leaders supposedly dedicated to reducing that debt.

You would have thought that congressional Republicans learned a lesson from the 2001 and 2003 Bush Tax cuts. Based on actions last week, they didn’t.

Here’s a primer on la la land economics.

Researchers with the Heritage Foundation in 2001 proclaimed that Bush’s 2001 tax cuts would completely eliminate our $5 trillion national debt by 2010. Instead, over that period, the national debt jumped $7.7 trillion. Of that, about $1.6 trillion came from the unpaid for Bush tax cuts, according to a 2012 Congressional Budget Office report.

Just four months ago, the new Republican-appointed director of the CBO, Keith Hall emasculated la la land economics saying, “The evidence is that tax cuts do not pay for themselves. And our models that we’re doing, our macroeconomic effects, show that.”

Now comes the supposedly conservative, anti-deficit, Republican-controlled House of Representatives passing $650 million in tax perks with no attempt at all to offset the cost.

These unpaid for tax cuts are projected to add another one-half trillion dollars to the national debt.

“Republicans have instituted rules that block such measures unless they’re paid for,” reported Politico.com, “restrictions they will waive for themselves on this particular occasion.”

“Spending and tax cuts shouldn’t be treated differently,” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the bi-partisan Committee for a Responsible Budget, “they should both be paid for.”

But, back in la la land, Texas Congressman Kevin Brady, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said, “This bill serves as a path forward to pro-growth tax reform.”

Here in Mississippi we seem to have more schizophrenic Republican leaders.

On a reality day, they dealt with slow tax revenue growth by cutting the proposed state budget for next fiscal year.

“Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and legislative leaders approved a $6.19 billion budget plan (last week) that cuts state spending by $101.8 million,” reported Bobby Harrison in the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal.

On a la la land day, they proposed, again, eliminating the $260 million business franchise tax.

Reeves, Governor Phil Bryant, and other GOP legislative leaders say “dumping the franchise tax will result in more money to spend and eventually increase state revenue collections,” reported the Mississippi Business Journal’s Ted Carter.

Again, this isn’t to say that eliminating the franchise tax is a bad. Pretending such a tax cut won’t slam state revenue is. Lucid leaders would pay for such tax cuts with spending cuts or other revenue adjustments.

FYI, “la la land” refers to “a state of mind synonymous with Hollywood that is out of touch with reality, focusing on dreams, fantasies or frivolous endeavors” – the Urban Dictionary.

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