NOLA Notes

Relative Blessings

The old adage is that everything is relative. And I know I tend to be a half-empty kinda person. I drive a 14 year old car by choice, but there are times I admit that I am shied by a fellow Mom in a BMW SUV: That I will be judged and found wanting because I don’t care that my car isn’t new and shiny. Or my house bigger. Or the number of my children higher. Or that I dare to have a career.

But this past week has been one, for reasons I can’t exactly pin down, of feeling quite Goldilocks-like. This life I’ve carved out for myself, had the audacity, even, to plan, certainly isn’t one that would be a right fit for everyone, but it fits damn near perfectly for me.

Blessings, I’ve got them. And it’s not always in my vision to see them. And that’s a pestering problem in my life. But as of now, this moment, this past week, I see clearly all the gifts my life offers me. And new ones presenting themselves daily if I but look.

A new friend said to me of her life with her husband of 20 years and their four children: “Life is better every day. Every single day.”

And if you but allow it to be so, it is. And it’s my singular goal now to harness this vision. To share it with Sun and CS. And to allow this just-right life to be just-enough even when shied by shiny baubles others possess.

In the End

In the beginning
There was my career.
Then there was a baby.
But even then it was
My career and my child.
Or is it
My child and my career?
I love both.
I need both.
And the one makes
the other all the more
appreciated.
Especially the days
I get to bring my child
to my office
then leave early
to play in the sun.

Stand Your Ground, Round Two

My last post lead me to the conclusion that Louisiana’s Stand Your Ground law was likely not the same as Florida’s. Turns out, that was an understatement. To understand how this Stand Your Ground law works in Louisiana, and likely other Stand Your Ground States, click here. Bottom-line: It’s an “affirmative defense” that the shooter can use at trial to mitigate the crime for which he is charged. It is not something that is weighed and determined at the police level.

Here’s the entirety of the applicable Florida statutes. I’ve highlighted the portions that are discussed below.

Florida Statutes, Chapter 776 JUSTIFIABLE USE OF FORCE

776.012 Use of force in defense of person.—A person is justified in using force, except deadly force, against another when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to defend himself or herself or another against the other’s imminent use of unlawful force. However, a person is justified in the use of deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat if:

(1) He or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony; or
(2) Under those circumstances permitted pursuant to s. 776.013.

776.013 Home protection; use of deadly force; presumption of fear of death or great bodily harm.—

(1) A person is presumed to have held a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another when using defensive force that is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm to another if:

(a) The person against whom the defensive force was used was in the process of unlawfully and forcefully entering, or had unlawfully and forcibly entered, a dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle, or if that person had removed or was attempting to remove another against that person’s will from the dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle; and
(b) The person who uses defensive force knew or had reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry or unlawful and forcible act was occurring or had occurred.

(2) The presumption set forth in subsection (1) does not apply if:

(a) The person against whom the defensive force is used has the right to be in or is a lawful resident of the dwelling, residence, or vehicle, such as an owner, lessee, or titleholder, and there is not an injunction for protection from domestic violence or a written pretrial supervision order of no contact against that person; or
(b) The person or persons sought to be removed is a child or grandchild, or is otherwise in the lawful custody or under the lawful guardianship of, the person against whom the defensive force is used; or
(c) The person who uses defensive force is engaged in an unlawful activity or is using the dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle to further an unlawful activity; or
(d) The person against whom the defensive force is used is a law enforcement officer, as defined in s. 943.10(14), who enters or attempts to enter a dwelling, residence, or vehicle in the performance of his or her official duties and the officer identified himself or herself in accordance with any applicable law or the person using force knew or reasonably should have known that the person entering or attempting to enter was a law enforcement officer.

(3) A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.

(4) A person who unlawfully and by force enters or attempts to enter a person’s dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle is presumed to be doing so with the intent to commit an unlawful act involving force or violence.

(5) As used in this section, the term:

(a) “Dwelling” means a building or conveyance of any kind, including any attached porch, whether the building or conveyance is temporary or permanent, mobile or immobile, which has a roof over it, including a tent, and is designed to be occupied by people lodging therein at night.
(b) “Residence” means a dwelling in which a person resides either temporarily or permanently or is visiting as an invited guest.
(c) “Vehicle” means a conveyance of any kind, whether or not motorized, which is designed to transport people or property.

776.032 Immunity from criminal prosecution and civil action for justifiable use of force.

(1) A person who uses force as permitted in s. 776.012, s. 776.013, or s. 776.031 is justified in using such force and is immune from criminal prosecution and civil action for the use of such force, unless the person against whom force was used is a law enforcement officer, as defined in s. 943.10(14), who was acting in the performance of his or her official duties and the officer identified himself or herself in accordance with any applicable law or the person using force knew or reasonably should have known that the person was a law enforcement officer. As used in this subsection, the term “criminal prosecution” includes arresting, detaining in custody, and charging or prosecuting the defendant.

(2) A law enforcement agency may use standard procedures for investigating the use of force as described in subsection (1), but the agency may not arrest the person for using force unless it determines that there is probable cause that the force that was used was unlawful.

(3) The court shall award reasonable attorney’s fees, court costs, compensation for loss of income, and all expenses incurred by the defendant in defense of any civil action brought by a plaintiff if the court finds that the defendant is immune from prosecution as provided in subsection (1).

776.041 Use of force by aggressor. —The justification described in the preceding sections of this chapter is not available to a person who:

(1) Is attempting to commit, committing, or escaping after the commission of, a forcible felony; or

(2) Initially provokes the use of force against himself or herself, unless:

(a) Such force is so great that the person reasonably believes that he or she is in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm and that he or she has exhausted every reasonable means to escape such danger other than the use of force which is likely to cause death or great bodily harm to the assailant; or

(b) In good faith, the person withdraws from physical contact with the assailant and indicates clearly to the assailant that he or she desires to withdraw and terminate the use of force, but the assailant continues or resumes the use of force.

Here’s how it breaks down:

In Florida, the Stand Your Ground law is raised to a higher level than an “affirmative defense” that can be used by a shooter at trial to lessen his crime. When asserted by a shooter and there’s no evidence to contest it, the cops CANNOT ARREST the shooter. (“A person who uses force as permitted . . . is justified in using such force and is immune from criminal prosecution and civil action for the use of such force. . . . The term “criminal prosecution” includes arresting, detaining in custody, and charging or prosecuting the defendant.” See 776.032(1).) If the cops DO arrest the shooter, then, according to the Sandford Florida City Manager, “the officer MUST swear and affirm that he/she is making the arrest in good faith and with probable cause. If the arrest is done maliciously and in bad faith, the officer and the City may be held liable.” In other words, the police department may have to pay the shooter for the act of having arrested him.

But, wait; there’s more. As if the cops’ hands being tied in merely arresting a shooter isn’t bad enough (such that the case never gets to a D.A., let alone a court), and oh, it is quite plenty bad enough, the law goes further to protect the shooter: The family of the one shot CANNOT civilly sue for Wrongful Death (think of Ron Goldman’s family’s civil suit against OJ Simpson after OJ’s criminal acquittal). And if the family DOES SUE, in addition to not having a case, they are charged for the shooter’s expenses, including lost wages, in defending the suit. (“The court shall award reasonable attorney’s fees, court costs, compensation for loss of income, and all expenses incurred by the defendant in defense of any civil action brought by a plaintiff if the court finds that the defendant is immune from prosecution as provided in subsection (1).” See 776.032(3).)

The law does provide that if the shooter is the aggressor, he cannot invoke this self-defense immunity. But in cases where the shooter not only shoots but kills, well, we all know Dead Men Tell No Tales. Nor do they refute allegations of self-defense. Further, this aggressor/shooter limitation on the immunity isn’t applicable (this is to say that the shooter WILL be granted immunity for self-defense) when “[s]uch force is so great that the [shooter] reasonably believes that he or she is in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm and that he or she has exhausted every reasonable means to escape such danger other than the use of force which is likely to cause death or great bodily harm to the assailant; or (b) In good faith, the [shooter] withdraws from physical contact with the assailant and indicates clearly to the assailant that he or she desires to withdraw and terminate the use of force, but the assailant continues or resumes the use of force.” See 776.041(2). Again, it’d be hard to refute the shooter’s allegations if the only witness is dead by the shooter’s hand.

It is clear, however, in cases where the shooter is the aggressor, the self-defense immunity is not intended to extend when the person pursued by the aggressor/shooter is armed with no weapon at all. Rather, the immunity for an aggressor is only intended to apply when the person pursued presents “imminent danger of death or great bodily harm.” This is NOT generally going to exist in cases where the person pursued by the aggressor is armed with nothing more than his fists. Unless, for example, those fists are of a prize fighter or a ninja or are holding a lead pipe, candlestick or revolver.

What a tragic mess of a law. And it seems to me that its fundamental flaw is rather apparent: It ignores that with rights come responsibilities. Yes, the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution grants Americans the right to bear arms. But no rights granted under our Constitution come unfettered. What this law has done has stripped that responsibility from the right. So instead of a person exercising a right and thus having the responsibility of having to account for its legal and responsible exercise, Florida’s Stand Your Ground law has turned that responsibility on its head—it has turned it on he who is shot (and may himself not have been armed and thus was exercising no right at all, well, other than the right to life, etc.) and it has turned it on the police and the judicial system. The shooter gets the benefit of the presumptions under this law and the person shot, the police, the D.A., and the courts get the obligations of having to prove it wasn’t self-defense and financially recompensing the shooter if unable to do so.

The Florida law has shifted the obligation of establishing the burden of proof from he who exercised the right, the shooter (who, in other Stand Your Ground States that use the law as an affirmative defense, is squarely placed with said burden of proof), to the police (and in cases where arrests ARE made, to the D.A.). The law has shifted the weighing of the evidence of the crime against the evidence of the defense from the D.A. (who decides whether to prosecute or not) to the police. The police! And the courts don’t even get involved unless the police actually arrest a shooter (and remember, an arrest for which self-defense exists gives rise to a cause of action by the shooter against the police). So, the police, absent an arrest, are also the triers of fact. Judge, Jury and Executioner. Or, as has been the case in Florida since this law has been enacted, The People Who Decide Not To Risk Financial Liability to Their Employer and Single-Handedly Decide Self-Defense is Warranted Without Needing the Involvement of the D.A. or Courts of Law.

If ever there was a travesty in the law, this is it. And it seems to me the NRA and its members would use the Martin-Zimmerman case to show their support of responsible gun ownership. But oddly, the members of the NRA I know are using their energies to besmirch Martin’s character as they build up Zimmerman’s. Why? Is Zimmerman really who they’d pick as the poster-boy for the NRA? What are they afraid of by having Zimmerman held responsible for having exercised his right? Mind you, I did not say found guilty of murder; rather, I said “held responsible for having exercised his right,” and by that I mean processed through the system of the D.A. and the courts to determine whether self-defense was at play here or not. All I can think is that gun owners fear a conviction against Zimmerman is a conviction against guns and such conviction would erode their right to bear arms, and thus they want to have this case disappear as quickly and quietly as possible without it making it to trial. And if that IS what is keeping gun owners from wanting Zimmerman to be held responsible to account for his exercise of his right in bearing arms, well, that’s as much a travesty as this unjust law.

Note: I am aware that the police have turned this case over to a grand jury to determine whether probable cause exists such that the police are warranted to arrest Zimmerman. To my knowledge, this is the first such use of the grand jury in a self-defense killing case since this law was passed in 2005, and it is the result of the high level of coverage this case has garnered. It does not change my analysis. The police are not obligated to take these self-defense killings to the grand jury and are doing so in this case, as best I can discern, in an attempt to alleviate potential liability for an arrest in the event a conviction at trial is not obtained. In prior incidents during the time from when this law was enacted and Martin was killed, arrests simply have not been made. 

I am neither a criminal attorney nor one licensed to practice in Florida. The opinions expressed herein are my own and are not intended to be conclusive on this area of law. It is expressed solely for the purpose of discussion and debate.

Stand Your Ground

As the facts of what happened between Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman finally get the investigation they deserved a month ago, there’s been much divided talk on the internet about whether Trayvon was an “innocent kid” or “aggressive thug” and whether Zimmerman acted as an aggressor or in self defense.

I won’t speculate on the events of that night or what my “feelings” are as to what happened. I don’t “hope” for one set of facts to emerge over another. I’d really just like the truth, and at this late stage, I think expecting truth is pie-in-the-sky, to be frank.

But there’s a dialog NOT being had as those on the Left and the Right double-down on their staunch positions on the Second Amendment.

It’s no secret that I am not a fan of guns. This is NOT to say that I believe guns should be made illegal and stripped from American citizens. Let me repeat that, because what I say next always gets heard as saying just the opposite: I DO NOT BELIEVE GUNS SHOULD BE MADE ILLEGAL AND STRIPPED FROM AMERICAN CITIZENS.

I believe that America should have fair, just laws about guns—what it takes to own one, and accountability for responsible use (whether legally owned or not)—and that the laws we currently have relating to gun control should be rigidly enforced. I’d also like to believe that gun advocates want the same thing.

Guns are inherently dangerous. It’s my opinion that if you are going to own a gun, then you should be held to a standard of accountability in responsibly using it. Period.

Florida has a “Stand Your Ground” law. Generally, this means that a person may use deadly force in self-defense when there is reasonable belief of a threat, without an obligation to retreat first.

Now, I am a lawyer but not a criminal one, and not a Florida one. Louisiana has its own Stand Your Ground law. Here it is:

Louisiana Revised Statute 14:20, Justifiable homicide

A.  A homicide is justifiable:

(1)  When committed in self-defense by one who reasonably believes that he is in imminent danger of losing his life or receiving great bodily harm and that the killing is necessary to save himself from that danger.

(2)  When committed for the purpose of preventing a violent or forcible felony involving danger to life or of great bodily harm by one who reasonably believes that such an offense is about to be committed and that such action is necessary for its prevention.  The circumstances must be sufficient to excite the fear of a reasonable person that there would be serious danger to his own life or person if he attempted to prevent the felony without the killing.

(3)  When committed against a person whom one reasonably believes to be likely to use any unlawful force against a person present in a dwelling or a place of business, or when committed against a person whom one reasonably believes is attempting to use any unlawful force against a person present in a motor vehicle as defined in R.S. 32:1(40), while committing or attempting to commit a burglary or robbery of such dwelling, business, or motor vehicle.

(4)(a)  When committed by a person lawfully inside a dwelling, a place of business, or a motor vehicle as defined in R.S. 32:1(40), against a person who is attempting to make an unlawful entry into the dwelling, place of business, or motor vehicle, or who has made an unlawful entry into the dwelling, place of business, or motor vehicle, and the person committing the homicide reasonably believes that the use of deadly force is necessary to prevent the entry or to compel the intruder to leave the premises or motor vehicle.

(b)  The provisions of this Paragraph shall not apply when the person committing the homicide is engaged, at the time of the homicide, in the acquisition of, the distribution of, or possession of, with intent to distribute a controlled dangerous substance in violation of the provisions of the Uniform Controlled Dangerous Substances Law.

B.  For the purposes of this Section, there shall be a presumption that a person lawfully inside a dwelling, place of business, or motor vehicle held a reasonable belief that the use of deadly force was necessary to prevent unlawful entry thereto, or to compel an unlawful intruder to leave the premises or motor vehicle, if both of the following occur:

(1)  The person against whom deadly force was used was in the process of unlawfully and forcibly entering or had unlawfully and forcibly entered the dwelling, place of business, or motor vehicle.

(2)  The person who used deadly force knew or had reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry was occurring or had occurred.

C.  A person who is not engaged in unlawful activity and who is in a place where he or she has a right to be shall have no duty to retreat before using deadly force as provided for in this Section, and may stand his or her ground and meet force with force.

D.  No finder of fact shall be permitted to consider the possibility of retreat as a factor in determining whether or not the person who used deadly force had a reasonable belief that deadly force was reasonable and apparently necessary to prevent a violent or forcible felony involving life or great bodily harm or to prevent the unlawful entry.

(Emphasis added.)

In Louisiana, this statute provides a defense to a crime. This is important. It means that if you shoot someone, you get arrested. The DA then reviews the evidence and decides to prosecute or not. If he does decide to prosecute, you go to court. And the trier of fact (judge or jury) can take into consideration whether you acted in such a way as to give rise to a legal defense such that even though you shot someone, such shooting is legally permitted.

Think about a killing that’s “in the heat of blood”—that’s a lesser offense than a killing “in cold blood.” If I am arguing with you and we get so heated that I see red and pick up the first thing I see (a gun, frozen turkey, whatever) and use it to kill you, the law goes easier on me than when I plot and plan and lay in wait to take you out. My “heated blood” is a defense. To a crime. That’s tried in court after a DA decides he has the goods to prosecute me. After I am arrested.

This law being a “defense” is also important as it relates to the job of the police. In such cases where legal defenses are permitted to mitigate a crime, the job of the police is to seek out the crime, not the defense. It’s then the job of the DA to decide to prosecute, weighing the existence (or not) of any and all defenses. If the DA feels he has a strong enough case, it goes to trial. It is NOT the job of the police to weigh the defense in deciding whether a crime was committed.

I lay all this out because it seems Florida has a different law than Louisiana, or is not following it as intended. In Louisiana, I’m pretty sure Zimmerman would have been arrested on the spot. And at his trial, the issue of his standing his ground (or not) would be evaluated and decided by the trier of fact. In fact, Yoshihiro Hattori‘s case out of Baton Rouge in 1992 suggests just this. I implore you to click that link and read Yoshi’s story. It’s an important one that we should never forget.

So what’s really sticking in my craw about the Martin case is that many of the folks I know that are proponents of guns have already decided that Zimmerman was within the Florida Stand Your Ground law and this case should be over and done with. They, like, apparently, the Florida police, don’t see the need to arrest Zimmerman, to try him for his admitted shooting, and to allow the defense to be presented at trial.

What happened to law and order in America? Heck, although I’d like stricter laws relating to guns in this country (for both criminals and law-abiding gun owners), I’d settle for enforcement of the ones we have on our books. And I would expect pro-gun Americans to rally that call. If you own a gun and are responsible with your use of it, don’t you want others to be as well? Don’t you want those that are irresponsible to be held accountable so that your use may continue unfettered?

I don’t know whether, in fact, Zimmerman acted in self defense in shooting Martin such as to give rise to a defense to the crime. He may have. But shouldn’t the DA and the courts be hashing that out and not the police? It seems gun advocates are suggesting that this case be dropped at the police level. Don’t hassle Zimmerman with a trial if he the police believe he acted in self defense. But that level of accountability I spoke of earlier? It’s here: Having folks that have used inherently dangerous weapons in such a way as to have caused harm (or death) be held accountable with the process of  determining whether that use gave rise to a legal defense.

Here’s a good article written by Times Picayune’s Jarvis DeBerry discussing the differences between Louisiana’s Stand Your Ground law and Florida’s. Thinking any trip to Disney is on perpetual hold until Florida decides to bring justice back to its laws.

St. Joseph Altars, 2012

This year Sun and I headed out just the two of us to view a few St. Joseph altars. We started at St. Joseph’s Church. They had volunteers giving mini tours to explain various aspects of the altars. I opted to send up a petition for my grandmother. I don’t know what comes over my non-religious heart in these settings; but if anyone would appreciate a petition given at the foot of a table lushly set, it’d be Sunshine. It made me smile and frown at the same time. Upon leaving with a goodie bag in hand, Sun asked what was in them. “Cookies,” I answered. “You KNEW that?” She responded, apparently boogled by the thought that I didn’t take more goodie bags. That’s my girl!

Then we visited one I haven’t before: St. Stephen’s. We caught the very tale end of the mass as the school children passed before the altar and received their goodie bags. Those well-behaved children; the sad history of the closing of St. Henry’s to merge with St. Stephen’s; the state of decline of the church; the amazingly detailed items on this altar. I have to admit it got to me. Here’s what has come to be what I see of the Catholic Church at its worst: Poorly executed decisions from up high that impact parishioners in the name of numbers — dollars and parishioners. Then the Church leaders getting their way and STILL not sending money to allow for even as much as fixing the peeling paint in this church. But go down the street to the affluent church and marvel at the loveliness. And here I thought the Church was supposed to be about helping its most needy parishioners.

But I digress.

Onward to St. Francis Xavier. This one was the largest we saw today. They also offer lunch. And they sell a St. Joseph altar cookbook (my weakness!). The sheer number of hours that go into their altar, all the altars, really, is stunning. And it all shows in these altars. You can see, feel, that these cakes and artichokes and breads and fishes, they aren’t just to look good. They are prepared for none other than St. Joseph popping in for a bite. And the altars ARE dismantled and used to feed parishioners; homeless shelters; and what’s not able to be given away or is no longer fit for human consumption, they must dispose of in an appropriate way since the food is blessed. And in New Orleans, that means a trip to dump the unfit food in the Mississippi River. So even our fish benefit.

Finally, we rounded off the tour with a visit to Angelo Brocato’s. Their Sicilian roots show in their own small altar. It had my favorite lamb cake I’ve ever seen. Then a woman came in that a clerk knew. “Oh, Julie, you married yet?” she asked. “No,” Julie answered, “working on it!” “Girl, you need to go get altar lemons! You KNOW dem altar lemons mean that the girl that gets one will be the next one married, right?” “No; let me go get one!” Julie exclaimed. The clerk was sure to point out that the girl “has to be ready” to be married or the lemons won’t work. “Oh, I’m ready!” Julie quickly added.

And then I was just happy Sun had to bring LIMES for her school’s altar and didn’t DARE ask what the clerk knew of THEIR meaning.

Thornton Dial’s Hard Truths

NOMA has a next exhibit, and it’s one that appeals to me a lot. It’s Thornton Dial’s “Hard Truths.”  There’s sculpture and paintings; drawings and large wall pieces. Dial uses layers of materials and you can lose yourself in those layers. And you can find the truth in those layers too, even hard truths. Get to NOMA and enjoy this exhibit. It’s here through May 20.

 

Rendered Speechless. Well, Not Completely…

I was asked to serve and was honored for the asking.
Then I was asked to lead and was stunned by the confidence had in me.
I was asked to write and was honored for the asking.
Then I got busy learning so that my writing would be of value.
I was asked to speak and was honored for the asking.
Then I became friends with someone I’ve known for years but only met today.

Now, basking in the glow of my life’s decisions,
I learn of yet another offer that itself is an honor.

And then I just scratch my head at the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart.

All Quiet on a Saturday Night

I recall the weekend evenings prior to meeting CS as oftentimes quiet. Sure, I’d go out with friends and do the normal stuff single folks do. But more often, I’d stay home and watch rented movies or read a book. CS is a pretty quiet kinda fella. So when we married, the quietness of my life remained. In fact, one of the biggest worries I had about marrying anyone was the whole living-under-one-roof-thing. I CRAVE quiet. I need it like a flower needs sun. As it turned out, CS and I are quite live-together-compatible.

Then we had the bright idea to have a baby. And I KNEW, KNEW, KNEW things would be sacrificed. That I’d have to cross my fingers that this new human would somehow become live-together-compatible with us too. That going out to hear a band or tool around the Quarter would become a rare event; that eating out would become a new, less exciting experience; that long-distance traveling would be cut down until Sun was beyond an age of needing to be carried when she tires; that after-work drinks decided on the spot would cease entirely. All those things left my life with nothing but a whimper. And what we got in exchange—a life with Sun—was ever so worth it all.

However.

The biggest casualty of having Sun enter my life is that quiet has all but exited it. I love that kid of mine. And as far as kids go, she’s on the quiet side. And she listens pretty well too. But, yanno, she’s FOUR and in the evenings she kinda never shuts the hell up for more than, hmmm, four minutes. And usually this talking is TO someone besides herself and 50% of the time that SOMEONE is me. And I LOVE her conversation. I swear, I do. Just, sometimes I wish it were just, well, QUIET.

Thus lending to tonight’s rare gift: the house, entirely empty but for me, for over 12 hours. CS is out of town for work and Sun is with my sister. Both return tomorrow. I get the TV (turned off)! Bed (and comfy pillow pet Sun received for Christmas)! ENTIRE HOUSE!!! All. To. Myself. And all the quiet it has to offer. And, boy, it offers a lot of it!

So here I sit on my sofa. All alone. Waxing philosophic about all the things I can get done in all this quiet.

And dammit. All I can think about are Sun and CS. And hearing them tell me of their traverses.

What’s Wrong with Romney’s Tax Returns

Mitt Romney is releasing his tax returns today, literally reams of paper to cover two tax years. Why hundreds of pages for just two tax years? Well, taking advantage of every loophole in the Tax Code requires many forms to be completed. What Romney risks with showing his return is NOT that we learn he is Richie Rich-rich. We arleady KNOW that. And it’s NOT that we learn he committed tax fraud or did anything illegal, immoral or unethical. I’d bet the farm he did not.

What we will learn, if we but take the time to really pay attention, is just how broken our American tax system is. What we already know, and what much more to-do will be made in the coming days, is just HOW LITTLE income tax Romney has paid, legally and within the rules of the laws now written: tax rates that were put into place under Bush and extended under Obama.

What’s happened is this. Mitt Romney worked in a field where his income was largely in cash and stock. In the year he earned that income, I will assume his tax rate was 35% (although I am curious to see if that is the case or if he found a loophole even for that). In the following years, when he had large amounts of that income still on hand, he invested it. And those investments earned income—dividends and interest. And the income on those investments are taxed at 15%

And here’s the problem: Most middle class Americans (and poor Americans) earn more in “earned income,” ie, from your job, than from “passive income,” ie, investments. Rich folks, on the other hand, often earn much more in passive income than earned income. And the end result is that the middle class ends up paying a higher rate of tax than the rich. And this is juuuust the way many in Congress want it. Why? Because much of what they themselves earn is passive. Duh.

A close look at the Tax Code reveals just how conduct-driven our tax system is. Here’s one example that’s the most obvious: Congress deems buying a home more worthwhile than buying a car. How do I know this? Because the Tax Code allows you to deduct from your income the mortgage interest but not the car loan interest. Who DOESN’T own a home? Generally folks who can’t afford one—the poor and lower middle class. But what DO the poor and middle class have that the rich don’t? Credit card debt. If I own my own home, I can take out a home equity line of credit. And THAT interest is deductible. But interest on my credit card? Nope. And so the divide grows between the way the rich get better tax treatment in this country than the middle class. Making, of course, the rich richer by allowing them to keep more of their assets than the middle class.

I would like nothing more than for Romney’s releasing of his tax returns to stir up Americans—wake them up—to the disparity of the Tax Code in favor of the rich and to demand our Congressmen to make real changes to the system that results is better equality. What I expect, in fact, is nothing but left and right spin to follow with no focus on the real issue: tax reform. In the end, it will be that Romney is rich and followed the law and gosh darn it don’t hate him for being a success. After all, EVERYONE is taxed at 15% for unearned income. Not just the rich. And if you achieve the American Dream, don’t you want the benefit of a lower tax rate on those investments?

I don’t hate Romney for being a success or for following the law and paying a lower overall tax rate on his earnings than me. But I do hold it against Congress. And the Americans who support the current tax system.

Dim Sum and Dragons Too

We returned today with friends to get dim sum at Panda King in Gretna. This was my third visit. The thing about dim sum is that being little dishes, you want to taste a little of everything. But once you have been once or twice, there are some dishes you simply MUST HAVE at each subsequent visit. These are the ones that you will come to crave and have to return for time and again. Then at each new visit, you can get as adventurous on new tasting as you like.

We started with one of the MUST HAVES, Pork Buns. These are sweet and savory and I have it on good authority they are laced with crack.

Pork Buns

Sun got her MUST HAVE dish, stir-fried noodles with vegetables. These are wonderful, and they fully and completely satisfied Sun.

Noodles

 

Then we ate some shrimp in tofu that was not as warm as it should have been and totally disappointed. For even more adventure, we opted for the pigs’ feet. My friend LOVED these. Had her boyfriend not been present, I secretly think she’d have married these feet. I did not share her love. So I leave it to you to try it yourself and settle the tie. I found the flavor not well pleasing and worse was the gelatinous texture. Not a good combo in my mouth.

Pigs' Feet

CS got the scallop dish. And DID NOT SHARE IT. So I’ll take that as a Yes, Please, More.

Scallops

Then, to counter the all-too-bad-taste left in my mouth from the pigs’ feet, I went with my other friend’s recommendation, the custard bun. This oddly reminded me of a stuffed king cake, a really, really GOOD stuffed king cake. Added to my always-growing MUST HAVE list. *Sigh*

Custard Buns

Then we had more mainstream dishes, pork puff pastries, sesame buns (yum!), snails (I admit I wasn’t up for these today but the two that ate them enjoyed them), and my favorite: steamed rice wrapped in a lotus leaf.

Pork Puff Pastry

 

Sesame Buns

 

Snails

 

Rice wrapped in Lotus Leaf

 

And as we were sitting in our respective food comas, enjoying the afterglow of a nice meal spent with good company, the sound of a distant drum was heard. It grew louder and louder and lo! a Dragon Dance had begun to celebrate the Chinese New Year!

They spilled out into the parking area and a crowd formed. Then streamers were pulled. It. Was. AWESOME. We topped it all of with a trip to the Hong Kong Food Market.

Though this requires a trip across the river (and for us, sadly, it also meant the need to use Garmin), it is well worth it.