Nut job squared!

What happens when you take a tax evader and sprinkle in a good dose of religious nuttery?  You get, Robert Beale.

Apparently tax evader (not simple protester), Robert Beale is charged,

In a new complaint unsealed Monday, the former North Oaks executive was charged with conspiracy to prevent U.S. District Judge Ann Montgomery from overseeing his trial.

“Once I take down Ann Montgomery, no judge in the whole court will have anything to do with me,” Beale said in a tape-recorded phone call from jail.

I don’t know about you, but when I think of white collar crime, like tax evasion, I don’t think of more violent actions like attempts to knock off the judge.  But it gets more bizarre, because it is based on some faith,

Beale is a “member/leader” of what’s known among certain groups as an extra-judicial “Common Law Court” in Ramsey County. The lengthy title of this specific “court” indicates a religious undercurrent, including a reference to “a superior court for the People, original jurisdiction under Almighty Yahweh exclusive jurisdiction in and for confederation-government United States of America.”

I wonder exactly where in the judicial system that falls?  Between District Court and Court of Appeals?  Maybe we should get Alberto Gonzalez involved, I hear he is looking for work.  But see, it isn’t just this secret court that Beale believes in, God also has some specific plans for the judge,

Snell said that Beale told his common-law wife, Mun Suk Kim, in an April 3 conversation that God wants him to “destroy the judge. That judge is evil. He wants me to get rid of her.”

Wow, that must be some God, if Beale was polytheistic, maybe the God against the tax oppression?  Now apparently Beale’s God has conveyed some special powers.

Beale also told Pelton that “God needs us to be like Gideon against the Mennonites– 300 vs. 120,000 men. We rise up and God will take care of us.”

But if his God will take care of him,

His trial was initially scheduled for August 2006. But he fled Minnesota before his trial could be held and was arrested Nov. 1 in Orlando, Fla., after spending 14 months as a fugitive.

why did he need to flee, and why was he caught?  Sounds like Beale’s God is not taking care of him.

This is a man accused of evading over $1.6 million in taxes, and uses some bizarre form of religion to justify this.  He is not making a strong case to us non-believers.

“I thought everybody should be doing what I was doing,” he said. “I wasn’t hiding anything. I wanted to be a hero. But a lot of people who try to do that end up in jail, just like me.”

Hero or criminal on the tax issue, that could be a point of debate for some people.  But when it extends to killing a judge in the name of God, well it sure will be hard make that hero claim.

-Josh

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Confuse and mislead on progressive taxation

So I was watching Chris Wallace grill Dick Durbin (Obama’s proxy) on Fox News Sunday this morning. This is really about framing an issue in such a way as to achieve your objective by presenting the language in a favorable, or more generally acceptable way.

The frame:

  • An increase in capital gains taxes, which Obama is proposing to increase from 15% to 28%, will impact the middle class, considering that almost 50% of the tax returns that list capital gains taxes make less than $50,000.

I am going to pick on a piece by Larry Kudlow at the National Review Online on this issue, because that way I can quote what he is writing, plus I am certain this is part of the right wing echo machine that I have said I am fighting, the echo ends here!

The Wall Street Journal’s Steve Moore points out that in 2005, almost half of all tax returns reporting capital gains came from households with incomes under $50,000, while more than three-quarters came from households earning less than $100,000.

The first hint that an attempt is being made to confuse us is that we talk about the number of returns, not the percentage of capital gains tax paid. See, I did my taxes earlier this week. I make less than $50,000 and I paid capital gains taxes on my dividends from one stock, that one stock gained me a total of $4.52 in dividends, so at 15% I paid 68 cents and at 28% I would pay $1.27, or a tax increase of 59 cents. So yes, I would be one of these masses that would face a tax increase, but I would be okay with it.

But my point still stands, so I went looking for information on percentages by income of the capital gains tax paid, not just number of returns. I found this from Citizens for Tax Justice (pdf),

Looks like under $46,000 paid 0.4% of all of the capital gains taxes paid, and under $110,00 paid 5.7%. Once again, this an example of conservatives, co-opting the “looking out for the middle class” to protect a reduced tax rate that primarily benefits those at the top of the income scale. You will not see this similar behavior, this concern for middle and low income voters when we talk about preserving (when cuts are proposed) or expanding social programs, just on the revenue end of things.

Now Kudlow has some questionable arguments against other aspects of Obama’s proposed tax policy.

Obama also proposed uncapping the payroll tax, another blunder that will hit people up and down the income ladder. While Obama pledges tax hikes only for folks earning more that $200,000 a year, his tax hike on payrolls would actually slam middle-income earners. The cap on wages subject to the payroll tax is presently $102,000. By eliminating that cap Obama will be soaking veteran firemen, cops, teachers, and health-service workers, along with a variety of other occupations.

In fact, in America’s largest cities, a firefighter married to a school teacher can earn close to $200,000 filing jointly. So not only will each spouse separately pay more for Social Security and health care under Obama’s plan, together they’ll also be slammed by Obama’s cap-gains tax increase.

This is a lot of confusion being thrown about to make Obama look bad.

Who down the ladder will this impact, if you make under $102,000 a year, no tax increase. It is that simple and begins to unravel the lie.

What is middle class, maybe in the Boston to Washington DC supercity, $200,000 is considered middle class in that subset of the US population. But if you look at the raw number in the chart above, $200,000 is clearly in the top 5 percent for the whole US. This increase only effects those that are in the top 20% nationally and mostly those in the top 10%.

Now lets say we breakdown his example of a firefighter married to a school worker making $200,000 a year. Lets say the firefighter makes $130,000 and the school teacher makes $70,000. A big omission, is that the cap is per person, not per family. So the school teacher who makes less than $102,000 will not see any increase to their payroll taxes. So the fire fighter would for the $28,000 income that currently is not subject to the social security pay roll tax. That tax is 6.2% off of the pay check and then another 6.2% from the employer. So $28,000 times 6.2% is an increase of $1,762. That is a real increase, but Kudlow is trying to confuse, because in a scenario where both wage earners earn $100,000, then they would face no increase to the payroll tax. But he wants you to think that the total increase would be $98,000 times 6.2% or $6,076.

That is how it would effect his middle class in his example. But what about a person that earns $1 million. Well that additional $898,000 of their income that would be subjected to the 6.2% social security tax would increase their tax by $55,676. That is a big amount, clearly more than I make in a year, but why should only lower income, those of us under $102,000 in income pay 6.2% on ALL of our income. Currently anyone that makes $102,000 or more pays at total of $6,324 in payroll taxes for social security. So for that person making a cool million, they are paying an effective tax rate to social security of 0.63% or one tenth the tax rate we middle and lower class people are making.

Now after this, if you are confused, you may now question the thinking that Larry Kudlow is looking out of the middle class, and this reinforces that doubt. He has been a staunch defender of preserving the capital gains rate of 15% for the hedge funder managers,

The latest assault comes courtesy of House Democrat Sander Levin. Late last week, he introduced a bill that essentially would abolish the 15 percent capital-gains tax preference for risk investing, and raise it by 20 percentage points to the 35 percent corporate and personal rate. This goes beyond an earlier tax attack on a public offering by the Blackstone Group, and would slam into all private partnerships, including buyout funds, hedge funds, venture-capital firms, real estate partnerships, and oil-and-gas deals.

Taxing income at 35% versus the 15%, what does that mean to tax revenue for the country? Well for one manager in 2007,

One manager — John Paulson of Paulson & Co. — earned $3.7 billion last year, which management consultant Peter Cohan pointed out means Paulson in 2007 made 30 times in one hour what the median family made all year.

So what would John Paulson pay in taxes on that $3.7 billion.

  • 15% equals $555 million
  • 28% equals $1.036 billion
  • 35% equals $1.295 billion

Even at 35% he would have $2.4 billion in take home income, I know that must be a hardship, after all he could (and probably did) taken home $3.1 billion.

Ironically, that June 27, 2007 post where he argues against raising the tax rate for hedge fund managers, he mentions this,

But plain ol’ income this is not. The recent crack up of two Bear Stearns sub-prime-mortgage hedge funds shows just how risky these ventures can be.

Well they aren’t THAT risky if the government is going to bail you out, and what was his take on that bailout for Bear Stearns?

But speaking for himself, Kudlow, a contributor to Buckley’s National Review who worked for Bear Stearns for eight years, defended the bailout. He said that Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Fed chairman Ben Bernanke “have done exactly the right thing.” But it wasn’t the conservative thing to do. It wasn’t consistent with the conservative and free market principles in the Sharon Statement.

Well I have gotten a bit off topic here, so I will summarize.

  • Conservative pundits are trying to co-opt the progressive message of protecting middle class from tax increases. They do this by using numbers of people who file capital gains in their returns, not the amount of the capital gains they claim as a percentage of all capital gains claimed to inflate the impact on the middle class.
  • Conservatives worry about the lifting the cap on income subjected to the payroll tax for social security, while clearly this only would impact those in the top 20% nationally.
  • When talking about the capital gains taxes and how they must be kept low, they have defended the right for people like John Paulson to only pay 15% on his $3.7 billion income in 2007, not a higher 28% (proposed increase to capital gains tax rate) or 35% rate (top income tax rate).
  • Larry Kudlow justified this lower rate because of the associated risk that hedge fund managers have, but did not have an issue when the government bailed out Bear Stearns, in other words government taking on the risk that hedge managers were apparently being rewarded for taking with a lower tax rate.

So when the right wing pundits carry the water for the investor class to punch holes in Obama’s plan for more equitable taxation, they are only crying crocodile’s tears for the middle class.

-Josh

Governor Pawlenty is looking more like the veep for McCain

Watching ABC’s This Week, John McCain was being grilled by George Stephanopoulos on tax increases or cuts.  Finally McCain fell back on the tired mantra we are so familiar with in Minnesota, the problem is not government revenue (reason not to raise taxes) but a spending problem.  We have been hearing this from Minnesota Republicans for a couple of years now.  Maybe McCain spent too much time hanging out with Tim Pawlenty.

On medical care, McCain spewed the typically right wing talking points, attacking Canada’s system.  He talked about health care decisions should be made by people, not government, but as usual, what about private insurance companies.  They make a majority of the decisions for Americans these days, just a bit of an omission.

-Josh

MN Opera performs Rusalka

This week the Minnesota Opera has been performing Rusalka by Dvorak.  The plot is adapted from the Little Mermaid, although not with a Disney ending.

The overall story is a little light, and a bit bizarre, but the music is outstanding.

Coming from my worldview of an atheist, I found it interesting that in the opening act, that Rusalka wants to be human, become mortal so her soul can go to heaven when she dies.  Not sure if that is the original translation or just the translation that we saw, but it strikes of trying to convert people to Christianity from a pagan belief system.

We also have the prince falling for the mute (just to humans) Rusalka in less than a week, and then falling for the more passionate foreign princess.  Rusalka’s dress in this second act was well designed to convey the image of being a fish, but the red color, which looked very nice, didn’t match the words or concept of her being cold and that being the reason the prince left her for this foreign princess.

At the very end, the prince commits suicide, basically sacrificing himself for the curse that befell Rusalka when he rejected her.  I wonder how that balances out theologically and ethically, I mean he isn’t really sacrificing himself as much to help Rusalka as to get over his guilt.

The set was really nice, it worked well, especially with the projected images.  Other than the red dress for Rusalka in the second act, I really thought the costumes fit well with the theme of the opera and the set.  The chorus was pretty minimal, but the use of dancers was really nice and enhanced the production.

I really enjoyed the signing and I thought all the roles were well sung.

I brought my friend Egil, who really enjoyed it.  He thought there was a lot of Wagner in this opera.  He also shouted out a lot of bravos and bravas, and got thumbs up from some of  the cast as they walked on stage, so clearly they appreciated his enthusiasm.  I know that staff at the Minnesota Opera know of him as bravo guy, and last year I talked to one that wondered what had happened to him as he hasn’t been able to go for the past few years, they will know that he is back now.

There are two performances left, Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.  I would highly recommend them if you are free.

-Josh

Want deals, get on e-mail lists

As I have previously mentioned, Club 2030 with the SPCO is a great deal. SPCO is not the only good deal in town and I will list a few more.

If you know of other good ones, post them in the comment section.

Last night I had a 2 for 1 offer from Dakota to see the Somi who isn’t well known. They are trying to fill the house.

Tuesday, Landmark Theater had a free preview offer for Young @ Heart for Wednesday.

I saw the Dale Barltrop recital as part of the Club 2030 program and have had offer for 2 for 1, not often, through the general e-mail program for SPCO.

Guthrie will often give you discounts for mid week shows.

Riverview Theater doesn’t really have deals, unless you count it a deal every time you go like I do. But if you like the theater, which I do a lot, then it is great way to get information about upcoming schedule. They also use it to ask for advice on things like showing Tour de France and World Cup, or to let you buy their old seats (last December) as they replaced them (new ones are nice).

So if you like good deals, get on these lists. I am on all of them so I speak from experience.

-Josh

Free e-file for federal tax return

I prefer paper, but I also prefer getting my refund sooner.  So I took advantage of free e-filing since I qualified based on my income.

Are you trying to file a 2007 tax return?

If your adjusted gross income was $54,000 or less in 2007, you can use Free File to prepare and e-file your taxes online. If you need more time to file your return, some companies also offer free preparation and e-filing for Extensions (Form 4868).

I started the process by letting the IRS page select a service that would let me e-file my state return (for a fee) also.  Overall the process took longer than by paper, but was pretty painless.

The only two issues I had,

  1. For the adoption tax credit (work interest) there was no mention of special needs adoption not needing to document expenses.
  2. It didn’t ask about the mortgage credit I have.  I was able to check for credits and it was one of the options.  Once I started that process, it was quite painless, and accurate.

The whole process was accurate, and I decided to spend the $13.95 so that I could e-file my state return.  At the end of the process, the service generated a pdf of each return that I could print and review.

Overall, I would recommend checking these services out.

-Josh

Abstinence, everyone is doing it!

I mean think about it, if you aren’t having sex right this minute, than aren’t you abstaining from it? I know that isn’t what is generally thought of when we talk about abstinence (although one study referred to 3 months without sex as abstinence). In fact, if you read Katherine Kersten’s latest column, you would understand that is the permissive, if not encouraging attitudes of adults are the biggest threat to abstinence in unmarried youth and adults. Of course, as a column it takes a while to get there!

Minnesota’s soaring rate of sexually transmitted disease [STD] is in the news again.

I am with her, let’s combat the STDs.

The solution? Enlightened folks tell us it’s more sex education, counseling and treatment. They call for more tax-funded initiatives such as a $1.3 million bill for screening and public education recently considered by the Minnesota Legislature.

But few are talking about the real reason for the epidemic: too many kids are having sex at too young an age.

Isn’t public health a role of government?? Well not if you are a conservative, spending money on screening and education. Screening, what is the point of screening, oh yeah, to catch people with an STD so that it can be treated and precautions taken to prevent the spread of it. It really is pretty basic concept, that has served societies well, SARS anyone? I don’t even want to know what Kersten hopes the government should do if we flu epidemic.

But is sex among teens the main reason for more teens having STDs? Well, yes, you really need to have some sexual contact, not necessarily intercourse, to transmit the STD to your partner. So abstinence can be a solution.

Sure, a little abstinence education never hurt anyone, the common wisdom goes, but we all know — wink, wink — that kids are going to “do it.”

This idea is one of the biggest cons of our generation. At least one group understands this — the 53 percent of high school students who reported that they had never had sexual intercourse in a 2005 survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Empowering? Give me a break.

So Kersten starts by dismissing abstinence plus, which is abstinence plus comprehensive sex-ed.  Then she goes on to say that abstinence is working, after all 53% is enough to win an election (and more than George W Bush or Tim Pawlenty ever received for their current executive office), but that leaves 47% who are doing it!  And if they are doing it, lets educate them.  Besides, much of the abstinence only programs are a little inaccurate on the effectiveness of safe sex methods according to Congress,

The report finds that over 80% of the abstinence-only curricula, used by over two-thirds of SPRANS grantees in 2003, contain false, misleading, or distorted information about reproductive health.

Now Kersten goes off using one person’s personal experience to carry the story,

But her experience at the U reveals one reason it’s hard to keep such vows. The adults in authority there — far from supporting her — are undercutting her and other young people who have opted for sexual self-discipline and true love.

I don’t know about you, but if a youth has made the choice to abstain till marriage, the open acceptance by the adults in authority, shouldn’t be a problem.  Is giving options, not putting shame to pre-marital sex, the same as encouraging the behavior?  Maybe if you have low level of convictions, but this teen will probably face more pressure from her peers than her accepting administrators.  Doesn’t this seem a bit nanny state-ish, we must protect her because she is unable to be uninfluenced by adults.

And what the fuck is this concept of sexual self-discipline EQUALS true love.  There are lot of marriages that never meet the “true love” standard, maybe in Kersten’s worldview they all do (what does she think of the Clintons?), but there are.  And lets face it, the legal commitment, let alone the possible religious commitment, that is marriage is not a pre-requisite for true love.

Ross cites a skit she saw at the U of M orientation in June. It portrayed a guy and a girl who get involved in sex shortly after their relationship begins. “The focus was supposed to be ‘safe sex,'” Ross says. “But the underlying message to students was that sex is inevitable, no big deal — everyone is doing it.”

Maybe the message is that if you have sex, be safe about it.  Especially in light of the fact that people my have had multiple partners in their past.  Oh, and if we are against screening for STDs, then your potential sex partner may not even know they got an STD.

Ross may be projecting her own insecurity about her choice to be abstinent in a hyper sexualized culture to see this skit as challenging her choice.

Ross says: “They see the harm that sex can do, and quite a few regret the choices they’ve made.”

Research confirms that premarital sex puts young women at significant risk, not only for pregnancy and STDs, but also for related problems like infertility. They also risk psychological harm such as depression, suicidal thoughts and what Ross calls “the feeling of worthlessness that comes after being around the block a few times.”

A question I have for Ross, do these people regret having sex at all, or do they have regrets about some of their partners and how it changed the relationship.  I remember seeing a woman at our campus Pub who would take advantage of a very drunk man, that man may have regretted choosing sexual partners while the beer goggles are on.

Now on the issue of regretting, and the psychological damage from premarital sex, well I think that is really part of our society’s bi-polar approach to sex.  Sex sells, so we live in a hyper sexualized society, yet we still have high numbers of church goers many who have more conservative views on sex.  These two issues can pull at young people and can be magnified if they are with partners that treat them poorly.  Don’t worry, those problems can come in marriage too.

Now for a science check!  How exactly does premarital sex cause infertility as opposed to waiting for marriage?  The only thing that makes sense is an STD causing infertility, but just leave it at STD, and work on preventing them!

I think there are some kernels of truth the closing, but it still too far right for me,

Not surprisingly, young women often believe that they need to be “sexually active” if they want to be normal, to fit in. “Many women long for real intimacy, and they want to nab a guy,” Ross says. “If you feel some deep connection through sex, you think the guy would feel that, too.”

But sex without commitment is not erotic. In fact, it can be numbing, and it’s caustic to human dignity. That’s why, in surveys, it’s monogamous married women — not swingers — who report the highest sexual satisfaction.

I worry that many women will be sexually active, or promiscuous, to help with self-esteem issues.  If a person has low self-esteem, especially tied to body image, they may seek validation by nabbing a partner, and to either validate (or act out) that intimacy or to keep that partner, they may sexualize the relationship.

But to extend that to commitment of marriage is the only way to sexual happiness is not a leap of faith I would ever take.

And what about all our good friends that are not allowed to marry, you know my gay and lesbian friends, are they never to know the special intimacy that is part of love because society discriminates against them.

-Josh

Dale Barltrop recital

It was a dark and stormy night, well really more depressing and gloomy than stormy, and it really was the afternoon, but I was lucky, I was hearing some great music for free.

See the SPCO is really supportive of their musicians, and they were hosting a recital by Dale Barltrop at the SPCO Center. He performed three pieces with Mary Jo Gothmann accompanying him on piano.

  • Tartini-Violin Sonata in G Minor, The Devil’s Trill arranged by Kreisler
  • Ravel-Sonata for Violin and Piano
  • Beethoven-Sonata for Piano and Violin, No. 7 in C Minor, Op. 3 No. 2

I learned of this recital as a member of Club 2030, which is still the best deal in town. Remember this will allow someone who is between 20 and 39 years old to purchase up to two tickets for SPCO concerts at the Ordway for the low cost of $10 per ticket for best seat available. Obviously, this week, we saw another benefit of it, a chance to get free tickets to this recital.

At the concert we learned that the two target groups were Club 2030 and long time subscribers, I am not sure about the threshold to be targeted as a long time subscriber (I am probably in the 10-11 year range) because I didn’t hear of it that way. I did notice a number younger people in the audience, which is good, as we need to develop the connections and relationships so they will become the future concert-goers. It was nice of Dale to refer to the long time subscribers as friends and family, and I really think that the SPCO has that feel with its more intimate presence, Daryl Skobba’s farewell concert was a great example of it as I have written before.

Now onto the recital, the first piece, The Devil’s Trill was so enjoyable. It is a very fast paced piece and Dale and Mary Jo played it very well. I have seen this piece earlier this year when Joshua Bell played it for his Schubert Club recital.

The Ravel sonata was very nice also, but my friends and I agreed, that the piano part of the sonata was more enjoyable than the violin component. This is not a critique of Dale’s playing, just how the piece is written. There are jazz elements to this piece and they are especially notable coming from the piano in the 2nd and 3rd movements.

After intermission, the Beethoven sonata was another very good piece, but a little more serious and somber than the earlier two, but it has me considering looking into maybe picking up these sonatas on CD.

We did get one encore, I didn’t quite catch the name of it, something with Slide in it. Dale said he didn’t want the recital to end on such a serious piece, so he played this very energetic and enjoyable piece.

Mary Jo Gothmann has played in the chamber series before, I think just before Christmas, maybe even on a Ravel piece, and after that concert I remember Dale raving about her skill then. I think they make a good team.

But wait, there is more! Not only did we get to hear this lovely recital on a gloomy afternoon, but there was a reception afterwards. We got some small desserts and punch, plus a chance to chat with the musicians. Dale was the man of the hour, very much in demand, always a line to talk with him.

He really is a good ambassador, as are most the musicians I have chatted with over the years, as he took time to talk with everyone and thank them for coming. I find that ironic as we were the ones that should have been thanking him for allowing us to see such a good recital.

I did learn two things, one that Dale is 27 years old, the e-mail to Club 2030 mentioned his youth. Which means that he was 22 or 23 years old when he joined the SPCO in the 2003-2004 season. The other thing I learned is they have selected the violist to sit in the Alice Preves Viola Chair, the name he mentioned was Maiya, since I didn’t ask for last name, I have to guess that she is the Maiya Papich who has performed with the orchestra occasionally this season.

If you want to listen to The Devil’s Trill you can buy it at Amazon, Great Recordings of the Century with David Oistrakh on violin and Vladimir Yampolsky on piano is very affordable at $7.97. Or better yet, you can go see Dale perform it May 1-3rd. It will be a little different than what I saw, as they will play an arrangement that is for violin and orchestra. I will be at one of those concerts.

me and Dale

-Josh

SPCO review, Dawn Upshaw and 20th century music

This weekend the SPCO had two concerts at the Ordway with Dawn Upshaw as soloist and a program entirely of 20th century music.

  • Stravinsky-Concerto in E-flat for Chamber Orchestra, Dumbarton Oaks
  • Hindemith-Chamber Music No. 1 for 12 Solo Instruments, Op. 24
  • Schoenberg-Four Brettl-Lieder (Cabaret Songs) arranged by Patrick Davin
    Dawn Upshaw, soprano
  • Revueltas-Homage to Federico Garcia Lorca
  • Berio-Folk Songs for Voice and Chamber Ensemble
    Dawn Upshaw, soprano

In the concert going world, there are many people who will run away from some of these modern composers, especially Hindemith and Schoenberg.  In my own personal world of speculation, I suspect that this program may have included all these modern pieces so that concert-goers could avoid one concert, rather than have modern pieces sprinkled throughout a number of concert programs.  However, the reduced size of the orchestra for each piece (especially in strings), giving many members the night off, could have shaped the programming just as easily.

As a reminder, I am not a tough critic.  I couldn’t discern between on musician’s playing of a piece and another, my brain just doesn’t work that way.  So my reviews are really about did I like this music or not.

I liked the Stravinsky, it was really nice.  I was surprised by the Hindemith, I enjoyed it, not all of it, but it would not scare me from seeing it again.  No, I didn’t like the Revueltas, it was pretty strange, and I just didn’t get in to it.  The history behind it was pretty fascinating, and because of that, I am glad that I learned about some history that I had no idea of, here is the program notes on that history,

The bullets that killed him were scarcely fired before the death of Federico Garcia Lorca in 1936 became a potent and enduring symbol of the horror of political oppression.  Even those who might have found Lorca’s unapologetic homosexuality a problem were horrified at the brutal execution of so great and prominent an artist.  It only added to the world’s outrage that his body had been tossed into an unmarked grave.  Expressions of grief were heard worldwide, above all in Spanish-speaking countries.  Many new works of art were created in his memory–this piece was among the very first, written within three months of the poet’s death.

As you may have noticed, I skipped the Schoenberg piece, that is because I wanted to group Dawn Upshaw’s performances together.  The Schoenberg is not what you normally think of Schoenberg, as a Cabaret, this piece was very entertaining and Dawn Upshaw sang wonderfully.

While the Schoenberg was enjoyable, the Folk Songs were great,

  • Black in Color (USA)
  • I wonder as I wander (USA)
  • Loosin yelav (Armenia)
  • Rossignolet du bois (France)
  • A la femminisca (Sicily)
  • La donna ideale (Italy)
  • Ballo (Italy)
  • Motettu de tristura (Sardinia)
  • Malurous qu’o uno fenno (France)
  • Lo fiolaire (Auvergne, France)
  • Azerbaijan love song (Azerbaijan)

I really liked all of the songs, most of them I really liked, with a few, enjoyable enough, but not spectacular.  What was spectacular was Dawn Upshaw’s singing.  Her voice made all of these songs a joy to listen to.  And look at that list, at least 5 languages plus many dialects, I have no idea how she learned them, let alone kept them all straight, but she did.

All in all, it was a night of 20th century music that was well worth listening to.  I will be a little less scared when I hear Hindemith is on the program after this concert.

-Josh

Republicans are often so wrong!

This is topic that I was going to get to eventually, but a letter to the editor in the Strib has prodded to write about it, here is the letter in its entirety.

GAS PRICES
Blame the Democrats
During the hearings on gas prices being conducted by our illustrious House of Representatives, maybe the oil companies should have pointed out the real reason for the high prices: The U.S. government, namely the liberal Democrats, has stopped them from building the necessary refineries to refine the oil to gasoline and diesel fuel and from drilling new oil wells.
HAROLD OLSON, MINNEAPOLIS

Okay, Olson, you lay the blame on a bottleneck in refinery capacity as the reason for higher gas prices. On this, you and I are in 100% agreement. However, you blame environmentalists and their hold on Democrats, which is pretty predictable for a Republican. I, on the other hand blame the corporations that I think are gaming the system by creating artificial shortfalls to increase the prices.

Clearly, these are two very different reasons for a reduced (or limited) refining capacity, but which is true? Maybe some of both?

Well unfortunately for Olson, he is wrong, so very very wrong! These two quotes come from oil company internal memos, and are documented in June 14, 2001 report (pdf) by Senator Ron Wyden,

“As observed over the last few years and as projected well into the future, the most critical factor facing the refining industry on the West Coast is the surplus refining capacity, and the surplus gasoline production capacity. The same situation exists for the entire U.S. refining industry. Supply significantly exceeds demand year-round. This results in very poor refinery margins, and very poor refinery financial results. Significant events need to occur to assist in reducing supplies and/or increasing the demand for gasoline.”
Internal Texaco document, March 7, 1996 (pdf of memo)

“A senior energy analyst at the recent API (American Petroleum Institute) convention warned that if the U.S. petroleum industry doesn’t reduce its refining capacity, it will never see any substantial increase in refining margins…However, refining utilization has been rising, sustaining high levels of operations, thereby keeping prices low.”
Internal Chevron document, November 30, 1995 (pdf of memo)

I think the introduction to the report really explains the situation, and the argument that even 7 years later is still being rolled out by Republicans,

America is indeed facing an energy crunch. For much of the year, gas prices have soared and supply has trailed demand.

During the course of my ongoing investigation into potential anti-competitive and anti consumer practices by the oil industry, I have obtained documents that raise serious questions about the circumstances leading to limited gas supply and high prices.

The oil industry and its allies would have the public believe that insufficient refining capacity, restrictive environmental standards, growing gasoline demand and OPEC production cutbacks are the primary reasons for the current oil and gas supply problem.

However, the record shows – supported by documents I have obtained – that there is more to the story. Specifically, the documents suggest that major oil companies pursued efforts to curtail refinery capacity as a strategy for improving profit margins; that competing oil companies worked together to subvert supply; that refinery closures inhibited supply; and that oil companies are reaping record profits, yet may benefit from a proposed national energy policy that would offer financial incentives to expand refinery capacity.

For the last several months limited domestic refinery capacity has taken center stage as the purported reason for insufficient domestic gasoline supply and higher prices.

In the mid-1990s too much refining capacity, not too little, concerned the nation’s major oil companies. At that time, the oil and gas industry faced what they termed “excess refining capacity,” a circumstance they viewed as a financial liability that drove down overall profit margins. The industry reduced the total amount of potential supply by closing down more than 50 refineries in the past decade. Since 1995 alone, 24 refinery closings have taken nearly 830,000 barrels of oil per day.

Well, that sure proves my point.

-Josh

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