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Living in a Wes Anderson House: Chasing Moksha Part 1- Tax Credits

2012-05-08-moonrise_kingdom

Wes Anderson on set of Moonrise Kingdom

New Orleans    We may think of the film industry as Hollywood, Bollywood, and many other localized markets from country to country whether Nigeria, Italy, or even Poland, recently winning its first Oscar in the foreign film category. In reality, the film industry is a floating crap game that knows no country and whose only motto is something on the order of “globalization rocks!” For all of the Clint Eastwood, Will Smith, Brad Pitt, and other films that make goo-gobs of money, there are the thousands and thousands of films that barely breakeven or exist only as tax shelters for investors and producers.

Filmmakers for all the talk of art and culture on awards night live from film to film on whether or not they can finish this project and finance the next.  The search for tax credits in the United States has become the search for the holy grail of where they can shoot a film, and over the last decade a favored location has been Louisiana and even New Orleans.  Think HBO’s “True Blood,” “True Detectives,” and “Treme.”   Think hundreds of movies and even the new top ranked NCIS spinoff, “NCIS – New Orleans.”   The reason is simple.   The state legislature in 2002 passed something called the Louisiana Motion Picture Tax Incentive Act, quickly making the state the number one film location in the USA, because they had just created the biggest tax giveaway in the country.   We might be a poor, broke-ass state, but that didn’t mean that we couldn’t give away the store to anyone who would even pretend to offer us a little something something.

The package was a rich one, resembling an everyday “gift bag” for the stars and wannabes. It’s a long list: 30% investor tax credit for all productions with over a $300,000 budget to be spent in Louisiana; 25% tax credit for digital media; 25% for sound recording; 25% for historic preservation, if they bother; and 10 to 25% for any live entertainment.   Across the nation there has been a gold rush for the film industry as states have competed with who can give away the most, but as state revenues get shakier some, like North Carolina, are taking some of the breaks back, and, even in Louisiana there are clouds forming over the gravy train.

Oh, and at the bottom of the barrel the state even gave a 5% credit for any Louisiana employee that happened to be hired.   The Debbie Downers that can add simple sums or are professors and study these things are pretty critical about the fact that the state may get a lot of publicity, but darned few jobs. There seems little doubt that these tax credits are at best a lost leader.

Living in New Orleans, especially in an older neighborhood along the Mississippi River, like Bywater, we have gotten used to film trucks and crews taking the parking on our street and operating 24/7 along our blocks.  The chase scene in Treme was the most dramatic excitement, but mostly it’s just “life in the city.”

Nonetheless, a couple of weeks ago when a location scout put his card in our mailbox, I was curious enough to get up close and personal and see this film stuff from the inside, so I called and said, “come on by.”   Turned out they were scouting for a Malayalam-language movie from Kerala in south India called Chasing Moksha. The scout was from Jersey with roots in Jamaica, the scene designer was from Monterrey, Mexico, now living in New York City, the director was from Kerala with the main actors flying over from India, and the rest of the crew was a hodgepodge. Strangely they liked our house for part of the filming, describing it as reminding them of a Wes Anderson set, which I guess was meant as a compliment, but it’s hard to tell.   More surprisingly they met every condition my companera demanded of them, as did I, so in our ongoing quest for knowledge and battle against boredom, we will soon embark on a crash course in learning way more about filmmaking than any of us might have imagined and doing so first hand over the coming days.

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Please enjoy Jenny Lewis “She’s Not Me” - Thanks KABF.

Privatizing State Universities? Start with the Football Team!

privatizationNew Orleans       Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s quixotic quest for the Republican nomination for President has pretty much disappeared in the throes of his budget and taxes regime over two terms that has virtually bankrupted the state in general and almost decimated the public higher education facilities in Louisiana.  He is not alone, since the same playbook has been used in Wisconsin, Kansas, and other states practicing the same no-tax-and-burn strategy against the public good.  The whole mess has gotten so ridiculous that one of the State Board of Regents, theoretically the governing board for state system, though usually little more than puppets playing out their terms for their gubernatorial sponsor, has now proposed a uniquely bizarre privatization “solution,” of carving out some pieces of the public universities and making them private colleges without state support.  The headline hit the newspapers to competition with another headline that the generally well regarded private university in New Orleans, Tulane, wanted to finally deal with a problem they had of falling $20 million short annually in their budgeting.

Let’s not waste time with how crazy this latest privatization notion is other than listing some of the obvious problems.  Would the almost bankrupt state pitch in an endowment?  Who would be the big bucks that would pony up for the new outfit?  Why would students or professors migrate over to the supposedly “best” pieces of the public system and pay more tuition to do so, and what would happen to the public system when they lost their crown jewels.  My breakfast partner mentioned that they must assume they could sell real estate, but the state owns the real estate, so would that be gifted over, and if so, where would they house the new whatever you might call it.  The list of “cons” for such a notion is endless.

Let’s be honest the only thing that the state system could privatize that could stand on its own, survive, and maybe generate a profit back to the mother ship either in Louisiana or anywhere in the South Eastern Conference would be let the football team go private and be seen as the pros they already are, since it’s virtually a matter of degree without a difference.   We’ve already had to stop pretending that the myth of a student-athlete at this level is anything but that as both the players, the universities, and the multi-billion dollar NCAA virtually concede the boys should be paid somehow someway.  The infrastructure is already in place.  The stadiums have been built.  The CEOs, or coaches as they call them, are already paid in the millions every year with scores of staff, a recruiting system, and everything else.  Right now the LSU team, always highly ranked and sometimes a national championship winner, delivers millions to the bottom line at LSU.  Let’s just unleash all of the pretense and shackles so that we can get big time investors in the team and distribute the profits to LSU and the rest of the system.

The door has been opened and the same thing would work in Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Florida and maybe even South Carolina.  In Kentucky maybe they could privatize the “one-and-done” basketball team.

Clearly the Republicans don’t give a hoot about public higher education, but maybe they would still cheer and lay out the bucks for the teams.

Visiting with the Old Hands: Sue Hanna Marquess and Melva Harmon

Quick reunion with veterans of ACORN's early years when they were VISTA volunteers working as ACORN organizers, Melva Harmon and Sue Hanna Marquess, in Little Rock at Community Bakery.

Quick reunion with veterans of ACORN’s early years when they were VISTA volunteers working as ACORN organizers, Melva Harmon and Sue Hanna Marquess, in Little Rock at Community Bakery.

New Orleans     For a couple hours it was a stroll down memory lane, first with lawyers from legal services in Arkansas where I had poached some of my first support from the idealistic and committed VISTA and Reginald Heber Smith lawyers there, and then with two of the VISTA women I had repurposed to work for welfare rights and ACORN in 1970, Sue Hanna and Melva Harmon. Appropriately, we met at Joe Fox and Lia Lent’s Community Bakery in Little Rock, since both of them had been ACORN veterans from several years later in the 1970s.

Sue and Melva were kicks!  I was about 15 minutes late, having dealt with a family problem before running in late, but Sue sharply quipped that it didn’t matter, it “wasn’t a staff meeting” after all, needling me about my perpetual pestering about starting every staff meeting punctually at 8 PM on Wednesdays back in the day.  We reminisced about the old crew.  Where was Carolyn Carr, who had worked with me for nigh on 37 years at ACORN?  Best we knew she had retired to San Diego where one of her kids had kids.  They were in pursuit, no one having heard from her in recent years.  How about Donna Parciak?  There we had all struck out, even failing to find her over the years with the help of Google. Last we knew she had returned to Connecticut where she was from.  Mary Jo Kitchen who had come a little later was still in touch with Sue and had gone back to Johnstown, New York, but her brother, Billy, who knows…it had been a long time.  Kaye Jaeger was an RN in Syracuse now.  Fred Dorsey, who had been one of the first men to stick for a while, best we knew had passed away though I had met his daughter in New Orleans after Katrina.  How about Steve Kest, who had worked one summer when they were there and came back later for several decades?  Yes, he had been lost, but now found, but his brother, Jon, too soon gone.  It went like this so long that we had to start reminding ourselves to stop talking about people dying too soon!  Names, people, laughter, and old stories spewed out of us like lava from the volcano of our memories.

And, Melva?  Well, Melva had gone to law school after her ACORN time and was still practicing though not at quite the same feverish pace.  She had been counsel to the Teamsters local in Arkansas for almost 30 years, and a labor lawyer for longer than that.  She still handled arbitrations, some EEOC work in north Louisiana, and this and that with the labor movement, or as she said of unions, “I’ve been with them this long time, so I’m sticking with them to the end.”  Turned out she had been married again and spent more than 25 years with a labor lawyer in Little Rock who I had also talked to from time to time for advice on this, that, and the other, but he had also passed away.  She was from Terrell, Texas, and might someday move closer to Dallas, but for no good reason probably.  One of her sisters had taught Jamie Foxx in school there.

And, Sue?  Sue was still a rolling stone.  She had been a couple of years older than us in our very early 20’s then and before VISTA and ACORN, a dental hygienist.  Now she bounced between New York, where she hailed from Rochester, and Florida where a lot of her family lived now, and even Little Rock where coincidentally she now had a cousin. She quipped that when she showed up at their door, “family can’t say no.” She had spent 13-years in a collective in Hartford that had been an amazing experience she had loved.  She had done several years with the Catholic Workers somewhere else.  She had been to Cuba with MADRE. She had been asked in recent years if she still believed in ACORN and had answered sharply, “Why wouldn’t I?”

These were the women warriors of their generation, full of idealism as they straddled the changing times between their mothers’ worlds and the brave new worlds of women and work that feminism had brought in.  My small insight had been understanding in 1970 and afterwards that change had come and more was coming, and all of these women were huge untapped resources, filled with anger and dreams, and ready to work to see something different happen.

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War on the Workers by Anne Feeney

Arkansas at the Bottom of the Barrel for Tenants

tenantsNew Orleans        Reading the press release from the Arkansas Legal Services Partnership, there was no doubt that a significant victory for tenants had finally been won.  Arkansas had long been the only state that still criminalized evictions for tenants.In other words you could be evicted by the landlord filing criminal charges on you for not paying your rent and using the police and public apparatus to evict you. I had three lawyers, Stacy Fletcher and Dustin Duke from their Little Rock office and Jason Auer from Jonesboro on “Wade’s World” on KABF/FM 88.3  to talk about, and, as it turned out, tell us the “rest of the story.

Trying to remember the first name of Hobson Mahon who ran the Pulaski County Legal Aid in 1970, and agreed at the request of Jay Lipner, a VISTA lawyer at the time and Steve Herman, a Reginald Heber Smith fellow, to let me squat in the office for a month or so when I was first founding ACORN in Arkansas, I have always had a soft spot in my heart for the local legal services.The article I found on Mahon covered the fact that in 1973 legal aid was fighting against this same criminal eviction statute.  So, yes, this victory was sweet and hard won over many decades, but as it turned out it was a victory only in one circuit court’s jurisdiction for Pulaski and Perry County.With no appeal to the Arkansas Supreme Court, they would have to continue to look for cases to challenge elsewhere throughout the state.In truth very few tenants go to jail for nonpayment, but it is a big stick wielded by the landlords and depending on how they strike with it one of the lawyers explained how a tenant could end up with a class misdemeanor serious enough drag on credit ratings and impact job applications.

So what does a tenant do when the landlord won’t make needed repairs?  Stacy Fletcher explained that there was an eye in the needle a tenant might be able to crawl through to withhold rent by paying for the repair themselves but it was only good for one month, and the repair were often greater than that sum, and of course there were risks.  The risks being the fact that the tenant could end up with a criminal eviction if they didn’t dot every “i” and cross every “t” correctly in
fix the problem.

Landlords can get away with all of tenant abuse in Arkansas because it is the only state in the United States that does NOT have an “implied warrant of habitability,” meaning that there is no assumption that the landlord is providing housing as a spoken or unspoken part of lease where it is decent enough for people to live.  Yes, you understand this perfectly. A landlord can get away with collecting rent for a place with no heat, no utilities, no running water, and even no toilet.  Unbelievable in the 21st  Century in the United Sates.   Arkansas essentially is OK running slums on the order of Korogochu in Nairobi or Dharavi in
Mumbai!Arkansas could still legally rent the managers of Biblical times.  And, there’s no shame about it either.  Stacy related one sad tale of a landlord in Pulaski with over 100 properties complaining that now he was going to have to get a lawyer or something to evict tenants rather than have the taxpayers do it for him.

A bill seems to have been submitted in the state legislature to finally allow Arkansas not to be the last state without a warrant of habitability.  Republicans or Democrats or whatever, surely they can agree it’s past time to allow tenants to have some basic human rights even if they don’t have anything like tenant’s rights in the state.  If not, we need to talk about all tenants declaring a rent jubilee until we can put an end to both the criminal evictions and legalized slum housing forever.

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Please enjoy Answer by They Might be Giants,  Thanks to KABF.

Nonprofit Hospitals Are Going to Have to Prove They are Not Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing

medical-bills1-660x330Little Rock     For many top executives and CEO’s it easy to imagine that running a big urban nonprofit hospital has been a sweet gig.  Looking at some of the 990’s that all nonprofits submit to the IRS annually, salaries in the millions are not unusual at some of these big hospitals and many make millions all down the corporate flow chart. They are big whoops in their local communities with thousands of jobs and money to spend and, hey, for all that the regular folks out there know — they’re doing fine, while doing good. Luckily for their patients and the whole community, their world is going to have to change.

Modern Healthcare, the industry’s bellwether magazine, reported recently on the shivers running through many nonprofit hospital CEO’s spines as they absorbed the new world in which the courts and the Federal Trade Commission are no longer willing to take their word for it when they say that mergers and consolidations in their markets will just mean better patient care, when it is clear that they will also create healthcare monopolies able to charge escalating prices on a captive market. A federal appeals court has ordered St. Luke’s Hospital in Bosie, Idaho to unwind their purchase of a major area medical practice, the Nampa, Idaho-based Saltzer Medical Group.  The court essentially said that they could hear St. Luke’s saying it would be better for the community and patient care, but in fact St. Luke’s would have to prove that it wasn’t really much more than an attempt to build a health care monopoly with no price controls.  The FTC had earlier delivered a similar blow to an Ohio hospital, and the head of the FTC has been speaking loudly and clearly in recent months about the agency’s skepticism towards healthcare mergers now.And, then of course you have the fact that nonprofit hospitals are going to have to toe the line because of the new rules from Treasury and the IRS being implemented under the Affordable Care Act. As we assemble our “volunteer army” to look at the 990s for nonprofit hospitals in Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana, we’re already seeing enough to turn our stomachs.  A billion dollar children’s hospital that claims to spend only $6 million in charity care and some of that is suspect, along with huge fundraising efforts that seem mainly about politics, public relations, and marketing and in fact lose money at year’s end. So-called “community benefit” items included under charity care by other nonprofits that are also in many cases simply marketing efforts dropped into the category.  Many are simply self-serving like one outfit that put the cost of training its doctors as a community benefit under charity care.  I get the feeling when Local 100 finishes pulling all of these pieces together it’s going to make our hair burn and our hearts’ hurt.St. Luke’s in Idaho is a bit far out of our range, but looking at their particular cut on the twisted reality of all of these matters gives me a feeling that they also are going to have many lessons to learn. In their Q&A section they are careful to point out that they are nonprofit and exempted from some taxes, and in their view that requires them to invest in expansion and new services. How about charity? No mention of that. In fact in their self-presentation they have a unique way of describing for their whole hospital system how they see charity. Here’s how they explain their munificence when it comes to handling Medicaid:

The amount of money St. Luke’s receives from Medicaid is an indication that St. Luke’s provides care to a large number of Medicaid patients. In fact, St. Luke’s provides more care to patients covered by Medicaid than any other health care provider in the state.  Medicaid pays hospitals well below the cost of providing care to Medicaid patients.  The costs that count for Medicaid purposes do not include all of the hospitals costs, so the reimbursement is even less on a percentage basis than it would appear.  Because Medicaid pays below cost, a higher volume of Medicaid funding results in lower net revenue for the hospital.  In other words, on balance, St. Luke’s pays to see Medicaid patients because we spend more on the care of the patient than we receive in payment for the care we provide.

What a unique argument!  St. Luke’s “pays” to see the poor, because they believe that Medicaid reimbursement rates are low compared to their view
of their market pricing.

In a similar bit of double-speak, St. Luke’s communicates in totally imperial and oblique terms their collection policy for the poor Idahoan
that cannot pay the sticker price.

If a patient has difficulty paying their medical expenses, St. Luke’s Patient Financial Services works with them to determine what options are available for assistance, including a possible payment plan.  If it is determined that a patient can pay all, or a portion, of their medical bills but chooses not to do so, St. Luke’s refers those accounts to a collection agency to help collect payment from patients. St. Luke’s may charge interest on outstanding accounts depending on the circumstances.

“Chooses” not to do so?”Interesting.  Probably the same way they “choose” to be poor or unemployed or even for that matter, sick and in the hospital in the first place.  It doesn’t take much imagination to believe that St. Luke’s is taking a page out of the now notorious Heartland Hospital’s playbook in St. Joseph, Missouri.We’re doing the work, but we can already tell even as we get started that we are not going to like what we find, but neither are some of these nonprofit hospitals, because change is coming. There are way too many wolves in sheep’s clothing seeing nonprofit status not as a mission but as a tax dodge.
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Please enjoy Modern Times by Dropkick Murphys