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Flat Truths

Re: Peter Hannaford’s The Road to Hell:

Peter Hannaford’s piece on the President’s Panel on Tax Reform bought tears of delight to my eyes. While I consider myself a C-Span fan, programs having to do with tax reform glue me to the screen. Why? Well, we all need some form of escapism, and if anyone doubts that ten years from now the IRS code will not have metastasized from nine million to fifteen million words I admit you have more faith than me. The modern flat tax is simply an economic version of a modern hunting rifle — it enables those competing with the U.S. for monetary game to collect more in an efficient and fair manner. Instead of that, the Congress has elected to stick with the proverbial 19th-century flintlock, making changes to the lock mechanism, changing the size of the flint, the caliber of the ball, and manipulating the size and length of the barrel and stock in order to placate the whims of those who build and service the device. Meanwhile, our competitors bring home more game. Congress is too politically short-sighted and economically retarded to do anything more than tinker meaninglessly. The flat tax remains the third rail of 21st century tax reform — still, if President Bush survived raising the subject about that other third rail, Social Security, perhaps all we need is time.
Daniel Frater
Kew Gardens, New York

The current tax system is, as Mr. Hannaford pointed out, screwed up. The President’s advisory panel on our tax problems is a corrupt group of panderers to accountants and power hungry politicians and bureaucrats. I can think of no other reason for their stance on tax reform. The Flat Tax would be a great improvement over our current system.

However, compared to the Fair Tax, the Flat Tax just plain sucks. The Flat Tax still gives the federal government my money before I get the chance to invest it. Even worse, the Flat Tax still gives the government information on how much I make and how. In light of the Supreme Court’s decision on eminent domain, I don’t want a group of bureaucrats so contemptuous of private property rights holding any information on my income. The Fair Tax does not give the government any information on me other than the number of dependents in my household. The Fair Tax allows me to invest my money before they confiscate it without me having to jump through hoops asking them to extend to me the favor of allowing me to invest some of it tax-free. Under the Fair Tax, I don’t get taxed until I spend. To support the Flat Tax over the Fair Tax is to surrender (a French word meaning, “to wuss out”) to the types of wishy-washy, sorta kinda, low-octane wimps that make up way too much of the Republican Party right now. Anything worth doing is worth doing well. Wouldn’t fighting for something be a nice change in the “strategy” pursued by Republicans since 1994?
Mark Stewart
Jacksonville, Florida

Peter Hannaford’s article on the futility of the President’s tax reform panel makes the case for what he calls a “flat tax.” That allows opponents to raise the hoary old issue of the rich not paying their fair share — a real concern even under the existing complicated tax system. (I am still trying to understand how Mrs. Heinz-Kerry paid only 15% tax on her reported plutocrat’s income.)

However, the tax proposal that Mr. Hannaford favors is not “flat.” It has two rates — 0% below some limit and 17% above. The important point is that the “flat” tax proposal is simple, not that it is flat. The advantage lies in the elimination of all those complex tax provisions aimed at social engineering, not in the elimination of so-called progressivity in tax rates.

A practical approach to build wide support might be to focus on a “simple” tax instead of a “flat” tax, continuing with the several levels of tax rates as in the current scheme. Allow individuals the choice of continuing to be taxed according to the current code for, say, the next ten years (to protect those who have allowed themselves to be socially engineered) or of switching to the new “simple” tax.
Gavin Longmuir
Stanley, New Mexico

As a far into middle age semi-professional, and a student of both American history and current events, I can honestly say that no matter whom I speak to about the federal income tax code, that person, love it or hate it, is forced to admit that a flat tax system, almost ANY flat tax system, is easier, fairer, and more effective than that which we now have. Those who want to tinker with the present system always use the excuse that it would be “impossible” to drop what we have and switch to another system. Those who believe that our present system is grossly unfair usually surrender to the “impossible” argument.

I think that there are too many gored oxen, too much bubbling graft, and too many people paying nothing for the system to be changed. If you think that we are on the way to becoming a welfare state, then think again! We are one! If you don’t believe me, look at the statistics on who pays federal income tax, how much they pay, and how it is collected. Look at the enforcement arm of the IRS. Look at the filing forms. If you can lift it, look at the book of tax law. A second term president might be able to get the ball rolling, but I don’ t suppose that it will happen in my lifetime. Above all, take a good look at the Federal Budget. Welfare, Schmelfare, we are as socialistic as any of our European friends. We are just in clinical denial. A flat tax would be a giant step away from this situation.
Joseph Baum
Garrettsville, Ohio

Neal Boortz and his fair tax is much simpler and fairer then the complicated flat tax of Forbes.
William T. Mason

Are you kidding? The flat tax is way too simple to be
approved in America. Not enough double speak for the pols. If it makes sense and is easier, it will never pass through Congress.
Elaine Kyle

Re: R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr.’s Include Me Out:

Happy days are here again. Whoever would have thought an internecine dispute within the Republican ranks over a Supreme Court nominee would pop up and restore the Democrats to control of the White House, the Congress and, oh yes, the Supreme Court itself? Miffed conservatives now hate George W. Bush and will sit out the upcoming elections. And then, President Clinton and Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Leahy can fill the inevitable high court vacancies with their cronies. Real smart!
Sarsfield Matthews

I rarely write editors, having been one myself and therefore knowing it to be an exercise in futility. Also, I cannot remember ever disagreeing with Mr. Tyrrell on any important issue. It is therefore with profound regret that I must take him to task for “Include Me Out” on all points, one of which I shall make here emphatically: Whatever else motivates conservative opposition to Ms. Miers’s nomination, in this time of global war and natural disaster it surely cannot be boredom.
David Adrian
Pontiac, Michigan

About Mr. Tyrrell’s final question: “Was it not general boredom that accounted for the election of Bill Clinton over the perfectly normal President George H. W. Bush?”

Sorry, ’twas not boredom that did in George Bush I, nor is it boredom that threatens to undo Bush II. In both cases, it was the sudden realization on the part of the Republican base that the men to whom they had given the benefit of so many doubts are far less than the sum of their few parts.

In 2000, I remembered the matter of David Souter, and seethed over it, but voted for George Bush, largely because he was not Al Gore. In 2004, I remembered the No Child Left Behind frippery, the crazed spending and assorted other blows to the body politic, but voted for Bush because he was not John Kerry. Now, after five years of struggling to remember how much worse it could have been, I discover that although Mr. Bush is neither of his erstwhile opponents, he is both Lyndon Johnson and Hillary Clinton.

The reason so many of us have put up with the feckless record of the incumbent president is that he was destined to fill important vacancies on the court, and that only a new court can undo all the wrong that the old court has done these past 40 years. We have assumed that so much of what Mr. Bush has said, and done, and been, was simply the price paid to keep him electable, and popular enough to win a court fight with Senate Democrats. Now we discover that he just doesn’t know what he’s doing.

This nomination should have been the decision that proved George Bush to be a man with the wisdom to nominate the bet possible candidate for a seat on the court, regardless of gender, race or any other specious concern, and the courage to do what it takes to get his nominee confirmed. (Choke off filibuster? Hell, yes!) That’s not how history will remember Harriet Miers, or, should her nomination be allowed to stand, MFEMFE Bush.

If he pursues this folly, in the face of significant conservative opposition, it will be what the Iranian hostage crisis was to Jimmy Carter — stunning and conclusive evidence that he is a dink, and that it is time for his party to make other arrangements.
Edmund Dantes

It was so great to read your article. I received it off of the Hugh Hewitt blog, where are all the people in defense of this nomination? I am furious at what the anti-Miers people are doing. The press and media love it. We are playing right into their hands. It is almost like they are doing the dirty work for the Democrats — Kristol, Krauthammer, George Will, Laura Ingraham, John Fund, and David Frum among others have been relentless. I was so happy to know you are at least giving her a chance. I trust the President. He was the best governor here in Texas and his word was gold. I wish someone would tell them to shut up!
Sandra Cristantielli

I have read with interest your gradual flip flop from a group that was suspicious of the Miers nomination to one that has — ostensibly on the merits of one NYT editorial — adopted a wait and see attitude. I was curious if you had seen the National Review‘s new editorial calling on Ms. Miers to withdraw from consideration? In the absence of compelling empirical evidence to the contrary (i.e. an actual paper record to consider), I was pleased to note NRO’s steadfast commitment to core conservative principles. The “Trust Me” argument is no more compelling when it comes from a speech writer than when it comes from the President, particularly when one considers the large number of people that were so confident in their appraisals of O’Connor and Souter during their respective confirmation hearings. Party should not come before principle when core values are at stake, and ensuring that the Supreme Court returns to an era of unambiguous and incisive decision making grounded in consideration of the Constitution’s actual text is too important to trust to gut instincts. It is the President that is tearing the party apart by shattering straightforward campaign promises, not the base for expecting him to be true to his word. I for one have stood by President Bush even as he expanded federal entitlement programs and began spending like LBJ, but conservatives should not cave on this issue as well. No amount of political pressure is worth a guilty conscience — least of all pressure borne out of blind party allegiance.
Jay Sexton

Conservatives and libertarians expected one thing of George W. Bush: to end the stalemate on the U.S. Supreme Court. With Roberts and Miers the stalemate will persist (perhaps even tilt more leftward). Bush has sold out the people that put him in office. This is unexcusable.
Christopher Orlet
Columbia, Illinois

Re: David Haddon’s Child-on-Child Crime:

David Haddon is a remarkable human being. Raised perhaps in a bubble or maybe by kind aliens on another planet, he has problems with the fights, bloodshed, and vicious behavior of the boys in Harry Potter’s world. As the mother of three sons I had to laugh at the offense Mr. Haddon takes at a fictional world where boys actually fight with each other and sometimes drip blood. Oh, my, the horror! Our boys adore the Harry Potter books because boys act like boys. Harry gives as well as he gets and what Mr. Haddon calls a “thirst for revenge” is simply the real way that young boys act while they are learning to be men. My husband and I celebrate the Harry Potter books with our sons to teach them the traits of courage, honor, and character. Mr. Haddon, thanks for a laugh. Now I have to go staunch a bloody nose, repair a shredded knee, and perhaps get more stitches in various limbs…
Bonnie Ramthun
Erie, Colorado

I think you should be ashamed of yourself! Printing an article like that! Besides, if you used your eyes, you could see that Harry did all those things for SELF DEFENSE! DUH! And, almost everything in that article was inaccurate!

First off, Harry used Sectasempra for, once again, SELF DEFENSE! And, he didn’t know what it did, it was printed in the spell book, so it’s not Harry’s fault.

Draco Malfoy immobilizes Harry with the Petrificus curse and then stomps his face, bloodying and breaking his nose (pp. 153-54). Harry lies there paralyzed by the curse, with his own blood dripping into his mouth and his long-held hatred for Draco peaking. What is that!! Rubbish, that’s what it is! First of all, J.K. NEVER, I repeat, NEVER said: “Harry lies there paralyzed by the curse, with his own blood dripping into his mouth and his long-held hatred for Draco peaking.” Rubbish! She said: Draco Malfoy immobilizes Harry with the Petrificus curse and then stomps his face, and breaking his nose. She says how Harry wonders when someone will find him, and if he did plot revenge I would blame him ONE BIT! Quite frankly, Draco DESERVED sectumsempra!

And as for the lies, well, everyone lies from time to time, and I wouldn’t be complaining, since your whole article is a big lie!

And Harry’s thirst for revenge against his child peers has been a major theme of the series from that moment early in the first book when Harry arrives at Flourish and Blotts, the magic book store, and dives into a book of curses to find one with which to avenge himself on his bullying cousin Dudley Dursely (Sorcerer’s Stone, p. 80). Oh, yeah right, Harry was only kidding about doing any of that.

J.K. Rowling’s attitude towards this theme of child-on-child revenge is illuminated by a 1999 interview. She said that Harry “wants to get back at Dudley…and we the readers want him to get back at Dudley. And in the long term, trust me, he will” (“Talking with J. K. Rowling,” BookLinks, July 1999, emphasis added). Thus, Rowling shamelessly admits that she nurtures in her heroes and child readers a desire for revenge and then fulfills it. Do you have any PROOF that she said that? NO!

And as for every thing else you said in that article of yours? You make it sound worse than it is, and I happened to notice you didn’t mention anything Malfoy did wrong! Suspicious. Anyway, If J.K. Rowling’s book was all rainbows and ponies, not even a 100th of the amount of people would even bother reading it! Shame on you! Soiling good Harry Potter fans with those little lies of yours!

Yours UNtruly,
Katie O’Brien

I think any story about people under limited and ineffectual supervision sparks human interest. This is especially true if children are given the chance to develop great power that mysteriously seems to simultaneously satisfy self and group needs with little or no consequences. Rowling’s true talent is to get people to buy her books when the same thing can be had by watching C-Span.
Danny L. Newton
Cookeville, Tennessee

You guys are the Spectator are shrewd, using irony to prove the value of the Harry Potter novels! It’s even better the author is unaware of the whole scheme.
Doug Gibson
Ogden, Utah

Re: John Connly Walsh’s The Referendum Shutdown:

First, I nearly fell off my chair when Walsh let slip he’s 73 years old. I salute him — his writing, attitudes, vigor, and intrepidness had me thinking he’s a young rascal in his 30s. Mr. Walsh, I think a column, perhaps in Life Extension Magazine, would be a swell contribution to your readership.

Second, my two cents on the Iraqi referendum is this: they do seem to take their Constitution very seriously, which bodes well for it actually being followed. After all, the intensity with which a man bargains is a measure of his intent to perform.
Paul Kotik
Plantation, Florida

Re: Patrick Hynes’s Gospel Democrats:

I just read the article “Gospel Democrats” by Patrick Hynes, published 10/7/05. I love the title, and I confess that I am one of them!

The article refers to the American tradition of rugged individualism. But that is only one part of the American tradition. An equally important part is caring about our neighbors. E.g., in a bygone century, farmers helped one another with “barn-raisings.” Lots of examples could be given of that spirit, such as the recent outpouring of aid to victims of recent natural disasters, in the U.S., Pakistan, and other countries.

I’m sure that you have no problem with such voluntary aid. The water, of course, gets murkier when we talk about tax-supported aid. For me, personally, it is no problem to see a large share of my taxes used for humanitarian aid, but I realize that it could be a problem for some people. I would much prefer to see my tax money used in that endeavor rather than fighting an unjustified and poorly managed war in Iraq.

The problem of poverty in America is a stubborn problem. You refer to the trillions of dollars that have failed to solve it. I don’t think that there is any “magic bullet” that is going to solve it. But I do think it is a legitimate role of government to alleviate poverty’s
effects, especially upon those who sincerely want to work and carry their own weight, and especially upon the innocents (children) who go hungry in this land of plenty.

While the problem is huge, I think that some progress was made under Clinton’s plan to “end welfare as we know it.” My confidence that the current administration has any deep or abiding interest in alleviating poverty and getting at the root causes is very small. Yes, Mr. Bush has promised the citizens of the Gulf Coast that the government will rebuild
their cities. And his proposal for raising money to offset some of the costs is to cut current programs benefiting the poor.

Mr. Bush’s promised “compassionate conservatism” has been hard to see. As you know, his conservatism is under heavy suspicion from conservatives at the present time. His “compassion” has mainly been for the corporations who, through their lobbyists, are effectively in control of our government.

And when you want to talk about morality, what kind of morality is it to cut taxes in war time and pile up a national debt at a horrendous rate? Yes, I personally have benefited from the tax cuts, but I would much rather be paying more now than to be shoving the debt off onto (who knows how many?) generations of children yet unborn.

Thanks for “listening.”
Jerry G. Elliott

Just a minute ago I read your article on the Sojourners website. In point number 4 you say:

Which ought to explain something to the political Left that we on the Right have accepted as a given for decades now: government-run social welfare programs don’t benefit the poor; they suspend them in penury.

After several years of assisting elderly poor with their tax returns at our local senior center it is easy for me to see that without Social Security, many elderly would be destitute or worse. I disagree with your point that social welfare programs don’t help the poor. The trillions spent over the last few decades was money well spent, at least in the case of Social Security.
Sam Hollar

Re: Eric Peters’s Diesel Deliverance:

I enjoyed Eric Peters’s article about the low popularity of diesel-powered cars in America. Perhaps I can jump in here with one last attempt at an explanation.

Why aren’t diesels more popular in America? First, they’re more expensive. Depending on the vehicle, if one checks the “diesel” box on the options list of a new car or truck, you add from three to ten thousand dollars to the purchase price. One will have to put tens of thousands of miles on a vehicle for the initial investment to pay off in fuel savings. And that brings me to my second point. Diesel engines are different from gasoline engines in very many ways. Diesel fuel contains about twelve percent more energy in BTUs per unit volume than does gasoline. It’s an unfair fight from the get-go. Diesel engines have no throttle that restricts air flow. The cylinders are always gulping a full charge of air when the engine is running. All diesel engines are (by virtue of their design) fuel-injected. Diesel engines (not counting the disastrous General Motors “diesel” engines of the late seventies, early eighties, which were merely badly converted gasoline V-8s) are way more robustly built than gasoline engines. They have to be to withstand the very high compression ratios that diesel engines must have to generate the heat necessary to ignite the injected fuel. Most diesel engines will, by virtue of their stout design & build, deliver greater service life between overhauls. And don’t underestimate the negative effect that the GM diesel fiasco has had on the American market. Those engines were legendary boat anchors that forever besmirched the diesel name in this country.

Here’s an observation: Does one ever see or hear of a large class 8 semi with a gasoline engine? Big dump truck? Even mid-size delivery trucks too are dominated by diesels. If gasoline engines were so wonderful it seems as if, just by the luck of the draw, some of these trucks would have ’em. Okay, granted, some do — but I’ll bet that whoever pays the fuel bill wishes that they were diesel. How about heavy equipment? Diesels have dominated since the thirties. So why the big truck and heavy equipment domination? A characteristic of diesel engines is that their torque curve is very flat. That means that if one were to observe a graph of the revolutions per minute of the engine on the “X” or horizontal axis versus the torque output of the engine on the “Y” or vertical axis, there would be very little rise or fall of the torque level across a broad range of engine RPM’s. That’s important for tasks which require “lugging” an engine — like climbing hills and pushing piles of dirt with a bulldozer. So for big trucks and heavy equipment, diesels rule without a doubt. I have a mid-sized truck and two bulldozers — diesels all. I’ll never own another non-diesel truck and as far as heavy equipment goes you’re not going to find one with a gasoline engine anyway.

So in America we have medium sized pickup trucks with a pretty good representation of diesels — Ford, Chevy, and Dodge all offer well-developed diesel engine options. One can get a diesel powered Volkswagen Passat or Jetta and they’re great cars. Even the trendy new Beetle has a diesel option. I love diesels, most people don’t, and the market takes care of itself. I can’t for the life of me figure out though, why someone doesn’t start selling a humongous Checker cab with a Ford Powerstroke diesel engine in it. That would have to be one awesome taxi!
Bryan Frymire
Louisville, Kentucky

Re: Fr. Chifley’s letter (under “Calling All Language Scholars”) in Reader Mail’s The Tide Turns:

Aramaic is the language of the Talmud. All its students are familiar with the language, not in speaking but in reading and translation. Aramaic was the lingua franca of its day and the rabbis didn’t teach their students in Hebrew. Hebrew was reserved for prayer and the language of the Bible. And “Al” in Aramaic is just a corruption of the Hebrew “El” for God. Is it odd that Arabs, being Semites, use a different pronunciation for a Semitic denotation of a supreme being? Still, I don’t see “allah” anywhere in a suicide belt, do you?
Wolf Terner
Fair Lawn, New Jersey

Re: John Ellis’s letter (“McCarthy Mania”) in Reader Mail’s The New Inclusiveness:

Your October 14, mail included a letter from John Ellis that demands a response. Ellis gives Joe McCarthy credit for leading a “witch hunt” that forever marked an era. I remind him that the House Committee on Un-American Activities began its “witch hunt” in 1938, the year it was created. The Smith Act of 1940 made possible the trials of the leaders of the Communist Party in the late ’40s. It was Truman’s Loyalty Order that subjected two million government employees to investigation and loyalty oaths. Truman was still president when Congress passed The Subversive Activities Control Act of 1950 that required registration of Communist organizations. Joe McCarthy made his appearance in 1950. Ellis gives him too much credit. Finally, there were no witches in Salem but the presence in Washington of Harry Dexter White, Lauchlin Currie, Lawrence Duggan, and Alger Hiss, high officials in the Roosevelt administration and Soviet agents proves that there were witches in the U.S. in that era. Many other U.S. citizens engaged in espionage for the USSR. Too many Americans still accept old liberal myths — read what Venona and Soviet intelligence archives have revealed. It is time for Mr. Ellis to update his facts.
M.H. Rodriguez
Burbank, California

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