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The New Wilsonians

They light their cigars with $10,000 bills. Plus much, much more, including fresh love/hate mail.

2.22.05

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BAD TIME FOR GONZO
Re: Jed Babbin's Dubya Goes Euro-Stroking:

Given the recent tragic passing of Hunter S. Thompson, there is only one phrase I can think of that's fully descriptive of the almost palpable paranoia in Secretary Babbin's piece.

Gonzo neoconservatism.
-- Martin Kelly
Glasgow, Scotland

Jed Babbin left the most important reason President Bush wasted time in Europe: domestic consumption. The President offers an olive branch and probably more in the future. The branch gets mulched and President Bush can claim he tried. His overtures might claim some political victories which will add to his efforts to soften the Republican Party image that took a beating these last couple of years in time for the 2008 feel good elections. The effect is to neuter loser Kerry and contender Mrs. Clinton because they will be very vocal when they kick off their 2008 presidential runs. The Democrats will whine about how the President has not done enough and claim it was their idea all along to mend fences, but they will come off as they have been for years: unreasonable and childish. The Dean machine will see to that.
-- Diamon Sforza
San Diego, California

WHO'S NEXT?
Re: Tina Norwood's letter (under "Retire That Ad") in Reader Mail's Straight From the Heart:

Wow Tina! This administration hates the military? Better check your medication!
-- Greg Goff
Casper, Wyoming

Regarding your advertisement, since pulled, for USA Next:

"Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?" Joseph Welch to Sen. Joseph McCarthy, June 9, 1954.
-- J. N. Webb
Nashville, Tennessee

CONCORD GRAPES
Re: William Tucker's Democratic Moderates in Exile:

William Tucker's article, "Democratic Moderates in Exile," rests on an embarrassingly poor appreciation of the budget deficit. There is no need to view Bush's deficit crisis as the result of an untenable level of Social Security claims. After all, money is fungible within the budget. Why not blame foolish programs and policies like SDI and agricultural subsidies that cost hundreds of billions and make the country (and the world) worse off. And if you must blame anti-poverty programs, why not finger Medicare (whose extension seems to cost more every month just from putting new OMB accountants on the case)? Tucker's attempt to blame Democrats for the deficit crisis accordingly rings hollow. Democrats have opposed such wasteful spending consistently, but have been overridden by the loose-walleted GOP majority. (Does anybody at your outfit remember the Clinton surplus?)

Meanwhile, Tucker's cheap-shot at Dean is also misguided. Dean has better Concord Coalition credentials than 90% of the Republicans on the Hill (probably 98% if you take away the New England, blue state GOP contingent). His accurate criticisms of the costly and unnecessary Iraq War may have earned him the permanent ire of the Right Wing Press, but he is essentially a New England moderate cut from the Tsongas-Rudman cloth. Those who adhere to the Concord Coalition's ideals should root (or pray, if that's more one's approach) for Dean's success.
-- David Simon
New Haven, Connecticut

THE NEW BIG SPENDER
Re: Patrick O'Hannigan's What I'd Say:

A pop singer's portrait on the ten-dollar bill? That's just silly. Ronald Reagan belongs on the face of the tenner, and a nice Western landscape belongs on the back.

Alexander Hamilton, despite his many contributions, nevertheless was a man who died because he lost a gunfight. Hardly the sort we want America's youth to emulate.
-- Doug Welty
Arlington, Virginia

I'm sure you recall that Woodrow Wilson was, in fact, pictured on a bill: the $100,000 bill, only used between Fed Banks in the early 20th century.

Not "pedestrian," perhaps; actually, the ultimate denomination ever printed of "novelty money."
-- Mitch Manthey
Green Bay, WI

First of all, I believe Wilson ended up on a $100,000 Treasury note of some kind. (Although it was not a dollar bill, so the point remains.)

More importantly, all those possibilities and you couldn't even mention Louis Armstrong? (OK, how about we drop McKinley from the $500 and put it back into circulation with Satchmo's picture?)
-- John Hasley

As charming an article as this is, it contains one grave factual error:

Woodrow Wilson is indeed on a greenback. In fact, he’s on the biggest, baddest of them all: the $ 100,000 bill. Hence the term "Wilsonmobile" for a very expensive car.

Money's a serious issue. Don't mess with it.
-- Dan Kjerulf
Copenhagen, Denmark

I would offer just a slight correction to Patrick O'Hannigan's "What I'd Say" article. Woodrow Wilson's portrait does, in fact, adorn a greenback -- albeit hardly a pedestrian one: the $100,000 note.
-- Nick Hauser

Patrick O'Hannigan replies:
Re: "What I'd Say," several sharp readers (does this website have any other kind?) have pointed out that while Woodrow Wilson's portrait is not on what you'd call a pedestrian denomination, it can indeed be found on the $100,000 bill.

I've never seen one of those. And in my defense, a quote from the Secret Service web site linked in my piece:

"Notes of the $500, $1,000, $5,000, and $10,000 denominations have not been printed for many years and are being withdrawn from circulation."

The Secret Service "Know Your Money" website does not even bother to discuss the "biggest, baddest greenback of them all," which suggests that my original point remains valid. It was an aside, to be sure, but one might even say it has been reinforced, in that it had to do with Wilson's idealism, and if there isn't something of a Platonic ideal in a note for $100,000, then Scrooge McDuck, Bill Gates, and my college philosophy professors have more to answer for than I thought.

A denomination seen less frequently than the Loch Ness Monster is a denomination that can be ignored for rhetorical purposes.

TAKE THE FORK IN THE ROAD
Re: Patrick Hynes's CPAC Riding High:

"Time was, political cliché held that 'liberals were for change, conservatives are for the status quo.' I kind of liked that. I don't think the government has ever touched something and not cheapened or ruined it."

These two sentences are flatly contradictory. The status quo is that the government is touching, and cheapening, all kinds of things. If you're for the status quo, you're for that situation. If not, you have a "legislative agenda" and you're "for change." One or the other.
-- Roy Koczela

THANKS A LOTT
Re: John Carlisle's Slave Disclosure Shakedowns:

John Carlisle is missing an important point -- if anyone should be held personally accountable for slavery it is the former Democratic Party, now known as the Republicans. After civil rights legislation was enacted in the south, every bigoted racist pig of a Democrat left the party in a huff to join the Republican Party, because the Democratic Party no longer supported their views. After all, what fun is being a Democrat if you can't sport lynch someone for being the wrong color? Don't know the answer to that, but you might ask Trent Lott for starters.
-- Michael Gronewaller

WHO CARES?
Re: Benjamin J. Stein's One of Them:

As much as I have admired your fine magazine over the years, I was immensely disappointed at the dumb article penned by a Ben Stein regarding the late, great Arthur Miller. While neither he (nor I) may have agreed with him on much politically, no honest person could help but admire the great playwright's genius.

Stein hammered away at him for supporting the system of Stalin, and sending one of his children to an institution, and allegedly never visiting. I couldn't verify the accuracy of either of those statements, by the way, but in the big picture, who really cares at this time anyway? I'm not saying that these matters shouldn't be discussed, but couldn't B.S. have waited until the last pile of dirt was thrown on first.

At any rate, I suspect that people will still be reading Arthur Miller's writings long after Ben Stein has ceased to be the answer to stupid trivia questions.
-- A. Freiwald Loewy

I WANT MY MONEY BACK
Re: R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr.'s Retire the Depression:

The real problem with Social Security is that Congress has "borrowed" $5.7 trillion from the Trust Fund. They should pay it back, with interest of 5%, retroactive. This money then should be put in a private trust which the government could not touch. The fund could then be invested to provide benefits for the next 50 years. The FERC fund has averaged over 12% per annum, imagine what a good fund manager could do with $5.7 trillion.
-- C.Baker

SECURITY EXCHANGE
Re: David Hogberg's Small Business Buster:

In the article Small Business Buster, I have a few questions/comments:

First, you put a quote by Molly Ivins which says that (1) There is no crisis in Social Security (accuses Bush of lying); (2) Social Security will stop paying full promised benefits in 2052 unless the payroll cap is lifted above $90,000

But then David Hogberg's response to these accusations is "you should put no credence in that." So I'm just wondering why David took the time to paste that quote from Molly Ivins without taking the time to put specific information about why she is wrong?

In the next paragraph, David says "The tax will hit a lot of small businesses, which are the job-creation engine of our economy."

I fail to see how applying the Social Security tax to personal income over $90,000 would have any effect on small businesses or jobs. You didn't provide any backing to your assertions that taxing income over $90,000 would somehow hurt jobs.

David says, "If even half of the owners of those businesses make more than $90,000, then busting the tax cap will have serious wealth-destroying effects."

If your average American weighs what's more important:

(1) A rich person's wealth, or
(2) Receiving social security and having nice retirement,

What do you think they'll pick? Remember, less than .1% of the country makes over $90,000 per year. Why should a rich person getting slightly richer be a reasonable barrier to Social Security solvency?

Later on in your article, you say:

'Finally, there is the issue of fairness. Many of the people who would be affected by busting the tax cap would get nothing in return. As free-market economist Peter Ferrara states, "People in their fifties who are earning six-figure salaries won't be eligible for a personal account, but will have to pay a much higher tax in their peak earning years."

Why are you bringing up the issue of fairness? In what way is it fair not to apply the social security tax to income over $90,000? Can't someone making that much money more easily afford to pay it than someone making $30,000, who has 100% of their income subject to social security tax?

Why should someone in their 60's, or any age, making a six figure salary get social security benefits? Social security is there for people who need it, not for rich people to get slightly richer right before they die.
-- Jesse

David Hogberg replies:
I guess I'm a bit perplexed by this objection since I did take the time to explain why Ms. Ivins was wrong about saying that busting the tax cap would fix Social Security. That's why I included the link to the Social Security Actuaries' memo on the subject and explained the memo in the remainder of the paragraph. I included the larger Ivins quote, including the "there is no crisis" argument, because the later sentence about busting the tax cap didn't make any sense without the rest of the paragraph. I have, however, dealt with the "there is no crisis" argument here.

It's simple supply-side economics. Higher taxes effect economic growth, including job growth. If the government taxes away 12.4% of income, that is money that business do not have to invest, to create new services and technologies, and, ultimately, new jobs. It's especially bad for economic growth to put a whopping tax increase on higher incomes, as busting the tax cap would do, since it is the top marginal tax rate on income that would have the biggest effect on economic growth. The reason is that those people with higher incomes are often either the entrepreneurs who create jobs, or they invest a good chunk of their income in capital markets, which also results in the creation of new jobs. Richard Vedder has done a review of the tax research at this link, if you are interested.

First, I don't know where you got the .1% figure for those make over $90,000. A look at the most recent table from the Census Bureau and doing the math shows that of those of working age (15 and older) 4.3% make over $90,000. If you include the entire population, including children, the number is still about 3.3%. The remainder of that passage assumes that it is okay for the rest of America to levy a heavy tax on a minority. Why does anyone else have a right to live off of the income of anyone else? It's the responsibility of the individual to provide for his own retirement, not to expect the "rich" to provide it for him.

And two things about your question "Why should a rich person getting slightly more rich be a reasonable barrier to Social Security solvency?" First, it could be rephrased, "why let higher economic growth and job creation be a reasonable barrier to Social Security solvency?" since raising taxes that much will have a major negative impact on economic growth. In your view, if I understand it correctly, raising taxes on people making over $90,000 will only have an effect on those people making over $90,000. The real world doesn't work that way: raising taxes that much will have a big ripple effect in the economy, hurting many if not all of us. And those who suffer the most won't be the "rich," but the poor who will find it harder to obtain employment. Second, as I noted in the article, busting the tax cap will not restore the system to solvency, since the taxpayer will still have to start shelling out more money to pay the bonds in the trust fund beginning in 2025.

Actually, Social Security is there for all people who pay into the system, not just those who need it. It has always been thus. The current system is wage indexed, which means that the benefits you receive are based on the wages you earned in your last five years of employment. Your benefit gets bigger the more you earned in those last five years. We could talk about making Social Security just for those who need it, means-testing, etc., all the live long day, but those proposals never go anywhere because: 1. Those close to retirement are, as a group, some of the most well off in our nation and would be negatively impacted by such a change; and 2. Other than seniors who are already retired, those close to retirement vote more than just about any other group and will exact serious consequences for any politician who tries to propose such changes.

As for the fairness issue, what you are suggesting is that we change the rules of the game for those making over $90,000 who are near retirement. They've paid into the system their entire working lives, have expected to get a certain amount of Social Security in return, and now we are going to hit them with a major tax increase before they retire. What's more, they are going to get nothing in exchange for that huge increase. There are a lot of ways to describe that. "Fair" is not one of them. -30-

I absolutely loved David Hogberg's line about not putting any credence into anything Molly Ivins says, "including 'and' and 'the.'" Ouch!
-- Jenny Woodward

Great article David! One thing never mentioned is that income taxes apply to the income which funds FICA. This means that FICA is a 20% burden on a small businessman when the IRS take is factored in, and then there are taxes on all the rest of his income, State, City, and Federal! For a $90,000 earner, his FICA will actually cost him $17,600.
-- G.B. Hall
Marietta, Georgia

Mr. Hogberg takes obvious glee in dispelling some of Molly Ivins's misinformation, but then immediately creates an untruth of his own. Even with the $90,000 payroll cap completely busted, Mr. Hogberg writes, Social Security actuaries predict that benefits will begin outweighing payroll contributions in 2025. That's a modest improvement on the status quo (under current taxation that date is 2018), but it is far from the magic bullet that Ms. Ivins envisions. Mr. Hogberg then asserts that "Social Security begins tapping the trust fund in that year, which means the taxpayers will have to pony up additional dollars," which is flatly untrue. Yes, benefits will begin drawing on the trust fund in that year, but only in 2042, under the most gloomy of predictions, will the trust fund be dry, requiring any sort of "ponying up." Is Mr. Hogberg ill-informed on the mechanics of the trust fund or is he just willing to engage in the same kind of smokescreen tactics that he derides in Ms. Ivins?
-- Adam Swinson
Brockton, Massachusetts

David Hogberg replies:
It is True with a capital "T" that the taxpayers will have to pony up extra dollars when Social Security begins tapping the trust fund. The trust fund only contains government bonds, which are claims on future tax revenue. Once the trust fund begins redeeming those bonds to pay for benefits, taxpayers will have to come up with the money to pay them off.

Sorry, but the trust fund isn't a free lunch as Molly Ivins, Paul Krugman, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, AARP, and many others would like you to believe.

EX POST HASTE
Re: Michael McCanles's letter (under "Party to Slavery") in Reader Mail's Straight From The Heart:

Regarding the thanksgiving of one Michael McCanles: "So glad that someone has finally discovered the relevance of the First Amendment clause that forbids attempts to enforce ex post facto laws. Now how about looking into the relevance of the same clause as it forbids bills of attainder?"

I must have a different version of the Constitution. The First Amendment in my copy makes no mention of enforcement of ex post facto laws. However, in the third clause of Article I, Section IX, one finds that Congress is prohibited from passing either ex post facto laws or bills of attainder… which, of course, didn't prevent it from passing Frank Lautenberg's Amendment in 1996 -- law which is, at once, both a bill of attainder and an ex post facto law.
-- David Gonzalez
Wheeling, Illinois

THE INDEPENDENT SPECTATOR
After skimming through your articles, it is obvious that the radical conservative rhetoric for which you have become known is more rabid than ever. One could almost imagine that there, in the heart of your establishment, lies the birthplace of bias. No scolding or indignity on my part, or the part of any other independent thinker, would make a difference to your squad, but it does feel necessary to let you know that there are those of us who occasionally read your venomous outpourings hoping that, since the last time, perhaps some tiny ray of light might have permeated your thick, greedy shells. Not so. It is, at the very least, as bad as ever. This should make you happy -- to know that you have never flinched from your distorted, destructive tactics. Not once. I will wait a long time to peruse your writings again, hoping that, somehow, the truth will someday set you free from your hateful observations.
--Joy Losee

DONKEY DEAN
Re: George Neumayr's The Great Con:

Lord knows what our beaten down and desperate brethren of the Donkey have up their sleeve, but one thing they don't have to worry about is "Dean for President" in 2008.
--unsigned

As newly elected chairman of the DNC, Howard Dean allowed as how he "hated Republicans and everything they stand for." As a Republican, it occurred to me that this lofty sentiment cried out for poetic expression. Since Dr. Dean is probably too occupied with other concerns to set his mind to versifying, I decided to help him. I came up with the following:

ODE TO INCLUSIVENEES
Republicans, I hate them all.
I hate them short. I hate them tall.
I hate them in the morning light.
I hate them in the dark of night.
I hate their dogs. I hate their cats.
I hate their sniveling Nazi brats.
With righteous anger I do seethe.
I hate the very air they breathe.
But most of all. I hate like sin
The many elections that they win.
-- Arlene N. Heath
Seattle, Washington

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