Reader Mail

Your Tax Dollars at Work

Government guzzles gasoline taxes. Also: Reviving dead rock -- save the summer fun Beach Boys! Panther divisions. Neopaleoconservatism. Black and White periods. Plus much more...including a few closing Ben Stein tributes.

3.16.06

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LETTERS TO HOME
Re: Shawn Macomber's Iraq reporting:

While he was in Iraq, Shawn Macomber interviewed my husband, MAJ Darrell Green, who is an active duty soldier working with the Iraqi Special Police Commandos. Ever since then, I have read everything he has written. He truly has a gift of painting a picture with his words and I can "see" parts of Iraq through his writing (I think that his articles on Kuwait and riding the Rhino were my favorite). I just wanted to take a minute and let you know that I truly appreciate everything that you have posted by Shawn on Iraq. He did a great thing by being there...at least for one Army wife in Texas! I just thought you should know how much his work is appreciated!
-- Jeanne Green

PAVED WITH BAD INTENTIONS
Re: Eric Peters's The Real Gas Price Gouger:

Here in Wisconsin we frequently see stickers on the gas pumps that draw a motorists attention to exactly what the taxes are on each gallon of the currently $2.49 fuel he or she is purchasing. I think those notices should be larger and more prominent on the pump. Since he is a writer in the automotive field and has brought up this particularly outlandish tax level, I would ask Mr. Peters to consider compiling an "Owners Guide to tax expense on your next vehicle." Take a new Buick LaCrosse or BMW 5 Series and show us all how much money, cents per mile, the new owner can expect to leave on the roadway as he or she drives through Wisconsin, Connecticut, New York or all 50 states, as that vehicle travels along getting the EPA advertised mileage. My bet is it will make some toll roads look almost attractive.

Thanks for the great article.
-- Roger Ross
Tomahawk, Wisconsin

I agree with the author (Eric Peters) that gas taxes are ridiculously too high, but do not agree with his analogy of gas and food. Gas taxes are supposed to pay for the roads we drive and there is no such requirement for food and therefore no food tax has been proposed. But I am waiting for a "fat tax" to fund unconstitutional health care related to it.
-- James W. Clark, CPA
Greenville, North Carolina

Mr. Peters does an excellent job of articulating a point that has bugged the whatever out of me for longer than I care to remember -- or at least articulating one part of the economic point. I am afraid that most folks have simply come to think of the taxes as something that they can do nothing about, therefore why even think about it. I also find it odd how many folks think that the taxes on automotive fuel are no larger percentage of the price than for any other product -- they got to be in la-la land with that.

There is, however, another huge part of the problem that Mr. Peters does not address. Every -- yes, every -- product that we buy has imbedded in its price the cost of transportation to market. Every product that we buy -- yes, every one -- at some point in the chain is transported by a wheeled motor vehicle. So the cost of a gallon of milk is overly inflated by the exorbitant taxes on the diesel fuel for the truck to haul it from farm to bottler, and again from bottler to distributor, and again from distributor to retail store. Now if a gallon of milk costs in excess of $2.00 -- which it does -- how much of that price represents an overcharge because of fuel taxes. Seems to me that milk could be priced at the $1.00 to $1.50 without any loss of profit to anyone -- except for the taxes imposed on the transportation segment of the product cost.

None of this even touches the same exorbitant taxation rates for those who heat their homes and/or cook with oil or gas. None of this touches on the taxation rate on fuel for boats/ships for both pleasure and commerce that do not use the roads, or the airplanes that fill our skies, or the trains that are run with diesel fuel. This also does not address the double taxation cause by the transportation tax costs driving up the retail price of the produce, resulting in higher than otherwise sales tax -- in states that have such.

Then there is the petroleum tax driven cost to produce and market a gallon of ethanol -- the so called petroleum free, renewable resource. I have seen a creditable estimate that it takes over a gallon of petroleum to produce one gallon of corn derived ethanol.

A good case can be made that the taxes imposed by government, at all levels, on petroleum and its products are the most pernicious taxes levied on the American public, albeit in a relatively hidden manner. One might argue that the governmental units look at this tax as a "sin tax." The sin being the usage of petroleum in any of its forms.

End of rant.
-- Ken Shreve

Normally I would emphatically agree with the theme of this essay. However, I believe that the price mechanism should be used to depress vehicular (specifically automotive) fuel demand and force the country to do what CAFE did in the late '70s/early '80s and what the country should do today (if it were not for lobbyists and related special interests).

The expanded revenues either could be a "profit" which, one would hope, would stimulate more exploration and production (E&P) or a tax. However, if one believes even remotely in "peak-oil," then the expanded E&P may not result in significantly expanded production -- at least in areas of the world not generally hostile to the U.S.

Perhaps tax increases is the better way to depress demand with the following caveat -- the increased cash-flow DOES NOT end up in the General Revenues but, rather, is spent on technologies that will quickly generate petroleum substitutes. For example, technologies presently exist to convert coal to vehicular fuels. South Africa has done this for more than half a century and the Germans did it in WWII. NOTE: the U.S. is the "Saudi Arabia" of coal.

Beyond that are the tremendous oil-shale resources that presently are problematic for conversion to vehicular fuels but represent a resource second only to uranium and thorium in terms of US reserves. Profit-driven effort could bring shale "oil" to the market with appropriate attention to environmental concerns.

In recognition that there are those who believe in global climate change, CO2 generation in these conversion processes should be minimized and that which is produced should be sequestered, preferably in connection with EOR.

Who should do the necessary and tertiary development and deployment? The private sector with carefully tailored support from the appropriate Department of Energy National Laboratories (whose particular missions are energy in general and fossil energy specifically).

Eventually, maybe, cellulosic alcohol may make a modest contribution, but certainly in my lifetime. Notwithstanding the current planning of the Government which, in all likelihood will emphasize something different in only a few years (there is considerable historical evidence for this pessimistic assertion).
-- S. Locke Bogart

CHECK THE DIAL
Re: R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr.'s Dead Rock:

Oh my, might be bad for me to be suggesting this but there are several reasons that music radio and rock and roll particularly are dying:

1) Bad product. The likes of Sony, Universal, etc. have really not produced a decent product in almost 10 years. It's pretty bad when I get to the point of now considering Madonna "not bad" in relation to some of the new talent coming on stream.

2) Technology, Napster presaged the coming radio change, iPods doomed it. Just prior to iPods, typical radio was sliced at about 40min play time and 20min commercials and DJ blather. If I am a consumer, plunk down $299 and get back 20min and my own selection of music that doomed any version of Top 40 programming in any genre you can think of.

3) Fragmentation. You alluded to it, but the markets are so diverse now that it is hard to capture a viable market share that can support the legacy costs of music stations. The technology does not help. So many artists now publish under their own label, not wanting to deal with the "Man." That becomes a nightmare for the next item.

4) Programming. Slicing and dicing a music mix to fit 40 minutes, inserting the commercial spots, etc. takes considerable efforts even with MP3 platforms and computers. Compare that to the live host just cutting his speaker short at the 15min interval and returning to the subject 5min later. Piece of cake. No worries about content management, royalty agreements, etc with live talk.

There can never be another Beatles or Rolling Stones that pop on the music scene and grab a mass audience. The mechanisms to do so are wilting away under the internet/iPod onslaught. Nor are the follow on generations after the Boomers as large or of a single focus locked to the television age that most of the old rockers took advantage of.

But man if was fun while it lasted!
-- John McGinnis
Arlington, Texas

Ummm, Emmett, I don't know how to tell you this but the reason music has disappeared from AM radio is it sounds so much better on FM. If your car or radio was made in the last 40 years it should be able to receive FM too. Ask a teenager to show you how.
-- Scott Gibson

As usual, Mr. Tyrrell is right on the mark with his column. But a very disturbing trend is occurring. The Johnny no-notes of Rock and Roll are supplementing their Social Security checks by recording (and destroying ) George & Ira Gershwin and Cole Porter lyrics. This is an outrage! For instance, Rod Stewart released a CD with his Mr. Ed impersonations (my apologies to the late Mr. Ed) of the American Songbook. Any male who sang publicly (or privately), "Do ya want my body, do ya think I'm sexy" should be convicted by a U.N. International Tribunal for crimes against humanity, forced to wear a burqa for life and banned from singing. Some people have no shame.
-- Joe Weldon
Juno Beach, Florida

Bob's right, rock and roll radio is dead, but you kind of forgot about a lot of contributing factors. MTV preempted the DJ as a vehicle to get new talent introduced to the world. Now that MTV has transformed into an endless stream of debauchery-based reality shows the kiddies have gone elsewhere. The Internet is the hot new frontier for rock and roll keeping talent in touch with their patrons. Back in the '80s I never would have dreamed of Christian music being a viable alternative to support a commercial radio station but they are popping up everywhere now. I guess the conservatives are advancing. Even here in the secular paradise of the Pacific Northwest.
-- Paul Petersen
Hillsboro, Oregon

I wouldn't write rock music off quite yet. I would write off "rock radio," however. The over commercialized, talked over, tired FM DJ's used to be the radicals anonymously giving their contest winners 5 lb. bags of weed back in the early '70s. But along the way management realized that in order to compete and keep the lights on, they had to advertise. Advertisers and the advertisements civilized commercial rock, and the ad cycles clipped the artistry of the "long play" (LP).

The kind of commercial rock being produced these days is also turning away large segments of the young populace. We adults have all heard enough Zeppelin and Stones, but it's still popular because the young kids find it preferable to the navel-gazing introspective, dour musings of bands like Green Day and Staind. These days, modern rock music, like a lot of Hollywood, is producing "heavy Trips" instead of entertainment. They cannot blame piracy or Chinese knock-offs for a lackluster product. I'll buy it if I dig it. But what I dig ain't what they're tying their broadcasting successes to these days.

Some here may remember the Sex Pistols recently flipping off the "Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame" induction ceremony in "their" honor. When groups like the Sex Pistols and the Ramones where saving rock music from its Southern California malaise of the late '70s, commercial FM ignored them, the major recording industries wished they would go away. Eventually, they had to play catch up with lame imitations (see Hollywood remakes article) in hopes of getting in on some of the action.

Mr. Tyrrell may also recall an old Spectator article, (I forget the author's name) about veterans protesting draft-dodging Bill Clinton's speech at the Vietnam Memorial in D.C. early in his presidency. The author, a veteran himself, waxed an epiphany that the protesters of the liberals' savior, Bill Clinton, were the "new libertarians" or new radical protesters and that liberals now represented the crusty establishment "status quo." All the while Rush Limbaugh had turned the corner on immortalizing AM as the new underground hideout of the conservative think tank. Thus saving AM radio for the free thinkers and leaving FM to the "establishment."
-- P. Aaron Jones
Huntington Woods, Michigan

Mr. Tyrrell -- I usually love all of your pieces and I even love the one you just wrote on Rock and Roll. However, I gotta tell you one thing. The Beach Boys may have a lot of social/mental/emotional problems but one thing they will always have is their "SUMMER" music.

If you are married or have a daughter they can tell you. When spring approaches summer you can tell it is time to choose a few new items for your wardrobe because whatever women's retail store you enter you will hear the refrains of "Ba Ba Ba Barbara Ann" or "California Girls" followed by "Surfing U.S.A"! It works -- as a mom of three daughters now almost all grown, I know.
So, we can't really group them in with just any old Rock and Roll.

God Bless You and Keep The Faith!
-- Therese Hagee

True, the rock that Mr. Tyrrell describes may well be dead. However, the rock of the new generation is gaining momentum. Gone are the Beach Boys and the Beatles, but bands like Incubus, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Weezer and Dave Matthews Band are taking the same place in our hearts. The punk/emo rock culture is also gaining popularity, almost to the point of overtaking rap and pop for the size and dedication of the following.

The bands are changing, and their broadcasts have moved from the radio to the Internet, but rock is still going strong.
-- Julian Lizzio
Freshman, University of Michigan

FAKING FUNNY
Re: Pia de Solenni's Adult Humor:

The reason Hollywood and/or the film industry's remakes flop these days is that all the creativity is discarded in search of "the money shot": the one clip or series of clips that can sell or hype the movie. Today's moviemakers seem uninterested in crafting a story, even a remake needs one. They're seemingly hoping to merely generate some coin on the coattails of something they can't create, or are afraid to risk creating.

If there's one constant coming out of the overt commercial-filmmaking industry, it's that a good idea immediately launches a series of lackluster sequels, or the industry goes the way of the remake.

Now and then, the industry gets all hopped up over a Brokeback Mountain or a Crash. But those are "heavy trips" films, which few want to see. Movies used to be fun, or at least inane, but nowadays it's just a cut-out bin industry. Kinda like the Democrat Party.
-- P. Aaron Jones
Huntington Woods, Michigan

Your timely "Adult Humor" article actually reflects on a great many things in our present culture that are but fatuous imitations of the great originals. In the case of The Pink Panther's originals, Peter Sellers did not need a line or a complex situation to be immensely comic, though he was more than up to the moment in all. For Sellers' Clouseau, a mere look, a reaction, a small attitude, and the house came a'tumbling down. And there could only be ONE Chief Inspector Dreyfus: Herbert Lom, he of the murderously psychotic laugh and blinking eye. He and Sellers are now engaged in a Higher Theatre where you actually have to have talent and then be able to write, produce and perform in order to get lasting recognition. Meanwhile, Steve Martin's Mad Dentist in The Little Shop of Horrors buys him a pass on this one...but watch it, baby...
-- Gene Wright
Clouseau Lives in Laguna Niguel, California

Pia is right on with her critique of the remake, specifically, of The Pink Panther, and of remakes in general. Remakes, or "sublime recapitulation" as the old abbot said in Umberto Eco's Name of the Rose, are the mark of a stagnant or degenerate culture -- a dark age -- betraying a lack of creativity at the very least. One need not go far to see the truth of those words, not only in film, but also in theater, music, the arts in general. In fact, it is my observation that my sons' generation is eschewing the imitators and going back to the originals, not knowing that, for example, Carlos Santana was one of the top musicians in my high school and college days. I shun all of it -- roughly 98% of what passes for art (cinema, theater, etc.) these days and enjoy the original classics. Money speaks louder than words. Perhaps when enough of us quit patronizing this trash (which also wastes the talent of actors such as Steve Martin, as Pia hints), then maybe we may get something better.
-- Daniel A. Moroco, Jr.
Colonel, United States Marine Corps Reserve (Ret.)
Fredericksburg, Virginia

The best parts of the new Pink Panther film are what you see in the previews. So save your money.
-- Elaine Kyle

NEOPALEO
Re: Steven M. Warshawsky's Apparently I'm a Paleocon:

Since the word "paleocon" is simply a 1980s rhetorical ploy meant to marginalize traditional conservatives -- used by Uncle Irving's former liberals, social democrats and others like Barnes now calling themselves "neocons" to advance themselves -- it really should in every conservative's mental stylebook not to allow the word to pass unchallenged. Ditto "neo."

"Paleo" is not only not a word in the American vernacular -- hence someone calling himself that will be regarded by Everyman as cultish -- but it also has defeat (aka "dinosaur") written all over it.

The Greeks taught that he who defines the terms of an argument -- or words allowed in an argument -- usually wins. Think of the enviros' rhetorical brilliance in naming "the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge" -- a wasteland populated with non-endangered mosquitoes and black flies and occasional non-endangered infrequently visiting caribou and wolves ... drilling oil in a place so named would seem ludicrous to Everyman. (It should be called "the so-called ANWR.")

Ditto with accepting "paleo" to describe ourselves. Unlike big government, social-engineering neocons, we are American conservatives rooted in American history (the Declaration, the Constitution) and received wisdom from Adam Smith libertarianism and Judeo-Christian traditionalism, each in codependence with each other -- a worldview far newer than the elitist, feudal worldview of the so-called neocons.
-- Jameson Campaigne
Ottawa, Illinois

TV TRASH, COLOR ASIDE
Re: J. Peter Freire's Not Black and White Enough:

I saw the ads for this show and thought it was an SNL remake of a skit Eddie Murphy did.
-- Jim
New Providence, Pennsylvania

Bravo! I watched this program last night out of curiosity. I was torn by the whole concept. I am white and believe I could never really understand how it would be to live in a black world. I was brought up very poor and lived in a mixed neighborhood. We were all needy and we all helped each other. I can say honestly that in our community there wasn't an issue of color, all our issues were survival and helping each other out. Bottom line: we need to relate as individual humans. Instead of dividing ourselves by our differences we should be sharing what we have in common. Color is relative; it's how individuals experience others that is important. I know this sounds very simplistic and it is, but if you think about it life is simple. It's the individual who makes it complicated.

A great guru one stated: No one can move forward in life if they continually approach new experiences based on the past. I could write a book proving this statement -- we all could.

Black or white, we are all human beings, and we should care for and about each other. Let's not put on airs…we need to leave the trash at the garbage dump and move on. "Black. White." has the look and smell of trash.

Thanks for the editorial.
-- Renna D. Killian

Can any white person know what it is to be black and vice versa? I don't think so. But maybe there are things to be learned that may improve inter-racial communication and understanding.

In a recent interview on "Inside the Actors Studio," black comedian Dave Chappelle talked about and actually demonstrated the two voices he said blacks do or need to have. One was for and within their community; the other was for the "business" world. It was impossible not to laugh when he vocally demonstrated both languages. Even his body language shifted as he spoke them. What Chappelle did was genuinely honest and insightful.

So to at least hear what may concern others who are different and to observe how we tailor ourselves to audiences that may have visible or perceived biases--maybe that's the worth of taking a look-see at "Black. White."
-- C. Kenna Amos Jr.
Princeton, West Virginia

J. Peter Freire replies:
What's problematic here is that Dave Chappelle's approach recognized the need for improvement. Such an admission is a necessity omitted by the Sparks family, who make it clear that they want to help white people figure out what it's like to be black. Strangely, the Wurgels are just as keen on learning, although they have yet to tell the Sparks family how to be more white. In short, it's a one-sided experiment, which, if you've ever been to a diversity seminar, has simply been another way of making white people feel bad.

The show has the potential to be very good, but the dialogue smacks too much of cocktail hour philosophy. Thanks for your input!

MR. HILLYER GOES TO WASHINGTON
Re: Quin Hillyer's Judges Judging Judges, Quite Judiciously:

Losing you at the Mobile Register was a great loss, indeed. Even more, it was a great loss to the state! But, our loss is The American Spectator's gain.

I was happy to see your column highlighted on the Real Clear Politics site, where I go daily for political news and highlights. Of course, it was a great column with great insight. I had read Justice O'Conner's remarks to my dismay. So glad you addressed them!

Congratulations on your career move upwards. The sky is the limit.
-- Becky Tucker
Mobile, Alabama

Bravo for this excellent, well-timed article by Quin Hillyer!

It is heartening to know that there are still judges out there who care about the rule of law. As for judges who make up the law as they go along, we should rein them in. In Hillyer's words, "Judges such as Sandra Day O'Connor who ignore those warnings deserve to get their feelings hurt, and their wings clipped, by politicians who criticize the judges' hubris."

Should there be another Supreme Court vacancy in the next two years, I hope that President Bush puts Edith Jones and Diane Sykes high on his list.

Sadly, good judges like Jones and Sykes are ignored in favor of Justices O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. As reported by the Associated Press, these two have received death threats from fringe groups. Of course, this is a terrible thing, and should not be tolerated.

But the story doesn't end there: according to the Associated Press these fringe elements making these threats were "apparently spurred by Republican criticism of the high court."

Ginsburg herself was quoted as saying, "It is disquieting that they have attracted sizable support. And one not-so-small concern -- they fuel the irrational fringe."

To whom does she refer as "they"? Apparently, Republicans. The previous paragraph in the AP reads, "Ginsburg said the Web threat was apparently prompted by proposals in Congress, filed by Republicans, that tell judges to stop relying on foreign laws or court decisions."

Assuming that Ginsburg was in fact referring to congressional Republicans, and assuming that her comments were not taken out of context, this is an incredible slander. In fact, it is reminiscent of the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, when liberals blamed it on conservative "hate" radio.

The illicit claim by the AP story is also a non sequitur: it does not follow that conservative complaints about justices who overstep their constitutional bounds inevitably leads to death threats in chat rooms.
-- Greg Hoadley
Boca Raton, Florida

DEMS' SLOW BOAT TO OBSCURITY
Re: Lisa Fabrizio's Selectively Faithful:

I believe the last true Democrat was Harry Truman. Both he and FDR had an agenda to help the "common man" out of poverty land then allow the "common man" to direct his or her own life. Along came the "social worker democrats. Kennedy, Johnson, and above all the two Clintons. They pushed the secularist-homosexual agenda on us. No school prayer, the creche verboten at Christmas etc, etc, etc. Well, well, well we the "common man" have pushed back. We became and are becoming (I think it is the black peoples' turn now) Republicans. We are going to be "free at last." Social workers should take a hint from Eisenhower's favorite song "A Slow Boat to China." So-long.
-- Annette Cwik

THE MOST POPULAR CONSERVATIVE IN HOLLYWOOD
Re: Ben Stein's Missed Tributes:

It's been heartening to see how much Ben Stein's sentiments touched an American nerve. Now if Tinsel Town was just part of that same social and patriotic physiology.
-- C. Kenna Amos Jr.
Princeton, West Virginia

My hat's off to Mr. Stein, who obviously understands the difference between the MEN of yesteryear and the WUSSES of today that infect a once wonderful industry. I look at pictures of Gable, Stewart, and others of their caliber, and wonder what has happened to us as a society that can faint with desire at the sight of a Clooney and his fellows. Not I! I'm too old to change my stripes and the gorgeous creatures of 60 years ago, men and women, who had looks and more importantly talent will keep me up for the late show every time. These other doofuses are unworthy of anyone's attention.

Ben Stein rocks!
-- Mary Martin
St. George, Utah

SORE WINNER
Re: Michael Tomlinson's letter (under "Lefty Race Fantasies") in Reader Mail's The Democrat 55:

Oh how I love the revisionists of American history. The South shall always be remembered as the pariah of U.S. society. Consistently unable to appreciate the dominant industrial power of the North, the intellectual and scientific powerhouses of its institutions and the fact that it was, and still is today, about 100 years ahead of their brothers from the South. While the South was content to destroy the U.S. because of its selfish and dangerous obsessions, the North tried to save it. While the South sought to divide the U.S., the North set out to unify it, and to this day, those in the North patiently wait for the South to drag themselves into the 20th century so as we may attempt then to help them fly through to the 21st.
-- Nathan Maskiell

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