Sneaking Suspicions
 
Archives-- January 14-27, 2007


This page includes posts from January 14-27, 2007 in the usual reverse order. Each posting on the home page is perma-linked to these archive pages.

January 27, 2007
If that’s what it takes

I have been really struck by a short piece by the National Review’s Jay Nordlinger that Glenn Reynolds noted, which I repost here:

I have a friend who, in a phone conversation last weekend, said the unsayable. Come to think of it, this friend makes a specialty of saying the unsayable. That is one reason he is invaluable.

He said, “The Democrats have to win in 2008 — I mean, the whole enchilada: House, Senate, and presidency.” You ought to know that my friend is a staunch conservative Republican. “Why?” I said. “Why do they have to win?” He answered, “Because that’s the only way they will be fully onboard the War on Terror. They won’t fully support it otherwise, because they will always be trying to trip up the Republicans. If you want the Democrats onboard the War on Terror, they have to be in charge. Period.”

Reynolds then cited Ruth Marcus and how she described the character of the current Democratic Party leadership at the national level, in a WaPo article aptly titled “The Knee-Jerk Opposition”:

If George W. Bush proposes something, it must be bad. Such is the knee-jerk state of partisan suspiciousness that when the president actually endorses a tax increase -- a tax increase that would primarily hit the well-off, no less -- Democrats still howl.

Such is the level of distrust that when the president finally disavows the free lunch and comes up with a program not financed with deficit spending -- indeed, one that would actually bring in extra revenue as the years go on -- Democrats still howl.

Listening to Democratic reaction to Bush's new health insurance proposal, you get the sense that if Bush picked a plank right out of the Democratic platform -- if he introduced Hillarycare itself -- and stuck it in his State of the Union address, Democrats would churn out press releases denouncing it.

She’s right about that. Nonetheless, I think she’s wrong when she describes the likely cause:

This sad situation is largely of Bush's own making. He is reaping the poisonous state of affairs that he helped sow for six years. So many of the president's policies have been dishonest and wrongheaded, so much of his politics has been slashingly partisan, Democrats would be crazy if their instinctive reaction to a Bush plan for fill-in-the-blank wasn't intense distrust.

I suggest the problem goes back farther than the Bush presidency, although the current Administration certainly bears a lot of responsibility for the difficulties we now face.

In fact, the situation calls to mind an aphorism that I sometimes find applicable while advising my clients: “Self-inflicted wounds are usually the most painful.”

Here’s how I reach this point.

The Democrats’ big mistake was in not removing former President Clinton from office for lying under oath (speaking of self-inflicted wounds—geeez).

I don’t believe the Democrats who held their noses and fought and voted to retain Clinton had a real clue about the lasting damage to their own party that they caused by making that choice.

For myself and, I believe, many other registered Democrats, the impeachment vote was a watershed moment, and certainly not a pleasant one. The evidence of Clinton’s unfitness for office was perfectly obvious, and yet the Democrats’ apparent interest in retaining the status quo out-pointed the need to do the right thing.

As a result, I believe a startling number of folks who felt as I did about the impeachment decided to respond to their sense of betrayal at the next opportunity—the 2000 election.

Lots of folks did not believe that George Bush could beat Al Gore. I was among them. Nonetheless, I voted for Bush as a protest vote, never once assuming that he’d actually win—but he did.

I now think that a critical mass of similarly disaffected Democrats provided the tiny margin of victory for the Republicans.

Since that time, the national Democratic leadership has yet to come to grips with losing to a candidate whom they so openly treated as their intellectual and political inferior. Many of these Democrats have been in some kind of state of denial ever since. 

I now think that this is the real cause for the Democrats’ knee-jerk opposition to Bush that has been on near-constant display since the 2000 election, and especially after the invasion of Iraq as part of the war on Islamofascism.

So when Nordlinger quoted his Republican friend's troubling statement about the Democrats and the war, it resonated with what’s been bugging me about the national Democratic leadership for the last several years.

I think this anonymous analyst is probably right, sad to say.

But if that’s what it takes to continue the war against those who seek our deaths because their twisted worldview demands it, well, fine. Bush will be gone, so the lingering effects of the Clinton impeachment vote should diminish. However, the war will continue, because the Islamofascists who declared it are still willing to try to kill us.

Therefore, I plan to pay a lot more attention to the upcoming race for the Democratic nomination.

And the more that nominee shows the same astute sense of our national security needs as a certain independent from Connecticut, recently re-elected to the U.S. Senate, the better I’ll feel about voting for my side of the ticket in the 2008 election.

January 25, 2007
Book nook

A few years ago, while browsing through an airport bookstore, I took a chance on Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City.

It was a winner, a fascinating combined history of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and one of the first known American serial murderers, who committed his crimes only a short distance from the fairgrounds.

I recently finished reading Thunderstruck, Larson’s newest popular history, and liked it just as much as Devil. Larson managed to find another connection between a major historical event, in this case the development of wireless communication in the early 1900s, and another notorious murder. As with Devil, the combination is not forced, but flows naturally from the events of the era Larson recreates with graceful skill and the occasional detailed digression or two.

In addition, both histories also highlight the development of what we now recognize as modern crime-fighting techniques.

I don’t know how many more of these histories Larson can come up with--but if these two are any indication, if he does he should continue to enjoy a ready, willing, and large audience.

January 22, 2007
Nice to be noticed

Hube, of the Colossus of Rhodey bunch, sent a note today to tell me that he'd nominated my recent AMT post for the next Watcher's Council vote for best non-council post of the week. As noted previously, the council members select a winning council post and the winning non-council post. The results are then posted at the members' individual sites, for even more potential linkage.

Just to be nominated is very much appreciated.

January 22, 2007
Fast break

The short break from blogging here I mentioned yesterday was over almost before it started.

While driving to DC for a conference, my car hit a patch of black ice during a snowstorm on U.S. Route 50, west of Annapolis. I couldn't regain control.

On the second spin it slammed headfirst into a median guardrail, setting off the airbag and tearing up the front bumper area.

Fortunately, I didn't hit any other cars while out of control, and no one hit me, either. The car came to rest in the left shoulder, headed in the same direction I was going before I learned how little effort is needed to make a Mazda MX-5 turn 360 degrees three times in a few seconds.

It was also fortunate that the car was otherwise okay. I was able to drive (slowly, in the snowstorm) back to Delaware. The injuries (other than to my pride) also seem to be limited to a longish neck mark from the seatbelt, some burns and scratches on my right wrist from the airbag blast, and a bit of stiffness.

So, instead of sitting in conferences on transportation law and policy, part of today was spent talking to insurance folks and body shop operators.

Some folks have all the luck.

January 22, 2007
The other alternative is a lot scarier

This morning's OpinionJournal featured a headline that made me laugh out loud as soon as I read it:

Email from Milton Friedman before he died.

Well, that's a far more comforting alternative than receiving email from Milton Friedman that he wrote after he died.

The article itself is nowhere near as amusing, but it's well worth your reading anyway.

January 21, 2007
Shameless self-promotion

This morning I posted my newest golf book review at Hole By Hole.

Dave Maranndette's Off the Beaten Cart Path reminds me a bit of William Least Heat-Moon's Blue Highways. Both writers extol the virtues of seeing the country from off the Interstate System--in many cases, far off.

Maranndette's charming book is about a six-month trip to see and play a wide selection of small-scale municipal and privately-owned golf courses.

The review is here, if you're interested.

And now I have to take a short break,  but I should be back here on Wednesday or thereabouts.

January 20, 2007
More fun with AMT reform

I've been enjoying the back and forth on the web and in the regular media over new proposals to reform the Alternative Minimum Tax.

The posts by Mickey Kaus (1/12/07), Ann Althouse, Glenn Reynolds, and Charles Peters covered several topics, including the hassle of computing one's taxes under two very different methods, where real reform should be focused, and whether TurboTax and other tax preparation software unintentionally dulls the political will to seek any changes.

In its current arrangement, the AMT is a perfect example of intentions gone awry, combined with what government folks refer to as scope creep.

Here's how the Washington Post described the current problem, in a recent article discussing the difficult work of replacing what is now a significant revenue producer for the Feds:

The AMT is a parallel tax structure created in 1969 to prevent the super-rich from using deductions and shelters to avoid paying taxes. But it was not designed to consider inflation. So a tax that hit fewer than 400,000 families in 1985 is expected to ensnare 3.8 million households at tax time in April, raising their tax bills by an average of $6,813, according to the Tax Policy Center.

Next year, the number of families affected would rise to 23 million unless the law is changed.

A few million taxpayers here, a few million taxpayers there, and pretty soon you're talking about a real potential political nightmare, apparently.

I can't help but notice that the Democrats' new-found interest in AMT reform fits perfectly with their interest in re-election in the Blue States. As Althouse notes (while carping about her $12,000 Madison, WS property tax), high-tax jurisdictions like hers are also where a disproportionate number of AMT payers live. That's a perfect explanation for why Reps. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Charles Rangel (D-NY) are among those leading the charge.

I never knew Congressman Rangel was so interested in the plight of the well-to-do, until now.

Earlier this week the local radio station had one of its featured regulars on the afternoon talk show, a gentleman that runs a financial consulting business. I called in and asked him about his tax preparation experience with the AMT here in Delaware.

He said that he did a half-dozen returns last year that involved the AMT, and that was about equal to all of those he did in the prior four years or so. He then made some pungent comments about the tax, as well as the elected officials who have quietly relied upon the non-indexing of AMT for the increased revenues that one feature produces.

Mickey Kaus had a nice take on this issue a while ago. He suggested that the AMT system be kept and the regular provisions be dropped for those whose incomes brought them into the ever-widening orbit of a plan originally designed to go after a few super-rich folks who had paid no income tax. As he put it, it would certainly flatten the tax rates at the higher ends, as a "slow-speed" tax reform measure.

At some level, I don't think he was kidding.

My own sense of what to do about the AMT appeared here almost exactly four years ago, shortly after this site began operation. The suggestion was disarmingly simple and completely impractical, politically speaking:

The IRS ... says this about the AMT:

The alternative minimum tax is a separate tax computation that, in effect, reduces the benefit of certain deductions and credits, thus creating a tax liability for an individual who would otherwise pay little or no tax.

Let’s think about that statement for a minute. Some people legally managed to arrange their affairs so that they owed no income tax. Therefore, Congress felt it was important to amend the Internal Revenue Code to make sure those people paid at least some tax.

On the other hand, over the years Congress also felt it was important to amend the tax code to make sure that millions of other people paid no income tax. With every major deal concerning income taxes, at least since I began following the issue in the mid-1970s, one heard how important it was to take people off the tax rolls.

I completely understand the political sentiment, if not the logic. What’s so bad about a little class warfare, if it’ll enhance your chances for re-election? ...

The AMT should be set at a mere one per cent of Adjusted Gross Income--for everyone.

If my Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) is $25,000, then the minimum income tax is $250, no matter what happens after deductions from AGI for personal exemptions, standard or itemized deductions, and the EIC or other tax credits.

I pay either the new AMT or whatever amount I owe based on the Tax Tables or Schedules, whichever is larger. (For the 2001 year, I'd use the Tax Table under this arrangement after my Taxable Income exceeded a blistering $1675.)

If my AGI is $2,500,000, then the minimum income tax is $25,000, again no matter what the tax computations would result after determining total taxable income.

The post explained the logic behind this proposal, which I won't repeat here.

Since that time, however, I've thought a bit more about it, and now propose a slightly different solution.

The new AMT should be set at 15% of adjusted gross income--but any payments toward any FICA or Medicare taxes would be credited against the income tax payable under the alternative.

This approach would make sure that the higher income folks now subject to AMT would still pay a significant amount of tax. At the lower end of the potential AMT spectrum, however, there would be an increasing likelihood that those folks wouldn't "qualify" for AMT treatment. It also has the added benefit of protecting more of the self-employed from the alleged ravages of the AMT, since they already directly pay a greater percentage of income in Social Security/Medicare taxes.

Thus far, however, those now seeking AMT reform haven't openly addressed exactly where the Feds will replace the billions of tax revenues lost, if the AMT as we now know it was to be simply repealed. Somewhere in the current AMT chatter there needs to be some discussion about whether the Feds will forego all that money, and if not, who among us will be asked to make up most if not all of the difference.

The answers to that question should be very interesting, much like other issues implicated by the politics of envy and the misguided decisions it can create--such as the original AMT, in fact.

January 20, 2007
Shameless cross-promotion

Earlier this week I learned that the transfer of my golf site, Hole By Hole, to a new web host server had gone off without any real hitches.

To celebrate a bit, here are links to the last three golf columns, which you can read there:

Time for some golf jokes
January 19, 2007

Golf humor is not an oxymoron, like "jumbo shrimp" or "pretty ugly".

Really, it’s not.

Of course, there are an awful lot of golf jokes out there, and therefore it’s inevitable that a lot of them would be awful. Nonetheless, there are some good ones, and many golf fans are keen to share them with others of a similar bent. More..

Winter projects keep golf supers busy
January 12, 2007

The past week’s weather conditions finally started matching up with the calendar, so Cape Region golf courses should see a bit of a slowdown in the number of golfers taking advantage of sunny days and semi-warm conditions. More..

Cape Region Pro-Files: John Wallett
January 5, 2007

At a relatively early age, John Wallett figured out that if you’re not well suited for a particular sport, you should try something else. Thanks to that insight, he now has a 20-year history as a PGA golf professional to show for it. More..

Yay!

January 17, 2007
An A-10 Warthog would be perfect for this assignment

While traveling in some parts of the country, it's not that unusual to come across yellow traffic signs warning drivers, "Speed enforced by aircraft".

My usual reaction when I see these signs is to imagine a burnt-out hulk of a VW Bug lying in a nearby ditch, with a dead driver hanging part-way out of his shattered front window, while a fighter plane roars overhead.

That's perhaps too vivid a mental image for some, but that's what happens.

In my head, that is, not in reality--although the prospect is sometimes fun to contemplate, usually shortly after having my doors nearly blown in by someone doing 30 mph faster than I am.

I had much the same reaction in reading a story in tonight's web edition of the News-Journal.

It described a new effort to use the Delaware State Police's Cessna Skylane 182 to catch speeders doing 90 or so along Interstate 495, between Claymont and Wilmington:

From above, the plane spotted problem drivers, clocked their speed and identified them to troopers on the ground, he said.

“When the airplane called out the vehicle, they went out and apprehended the vehicle,” [State police Cpl. Jeff] Whitmarsh said.

The enforcement troopers were able not only to set up off the dangerous stretch of highway, but to stop the offenders in a safe place nearby in the area of Gov. Printz Boulevard, he said.

“It’s a way to keep our troopers safe,” Whitmarsh said.

Costs of the uncommon air-patrol were not figured, he said.

Makes sense.

Several state troopers have told me that doing speed enforcement on the state's 65-mph highways has become far scarier and difficult in recent years, as the average driving speed on some of these stretches goes well past 75 to over 80. Many drivers just don't seem to care about the danger they present to themselves and others by treating other cars as if they were slow-speed pylons to zoom among as they blast by.

I hope the DSP is able to keep up this aerial enforcement scheme long enough to convince enough people to slow down.

I also think it would be a lot more effective if they used an A-10 Warthog for this purpose, even if they only used it to buzz the speeders instead of opening up with the Gatling gun.

An A-10 Warthog fighter plane--perfect for speed enforcement along the Interstates.

A boy can dream, can't he?

January 15, 2007
Glitches fixed, maybe

Apparently time flies when you're not always messing with web hosting issues.

I had forgotten that my contract with a web host in Atlanta for my  golf-based web site, HoleByHole.com, had been in place since 2001. Until the recent glitch developed the hosts were also pretty blasé about it, also. They kept taking my $17.95 per month and I kept paying it.*

Since all was sweetness and light with respect to how the site was operating, over the years I didn't bother to check to see if perhaps the web host had been making some, shall we say, improvements in its price plan.

This came to my attention when I couldn't upload the home page, and the page as hosted by these folks kept showing a complete blank to anyone clicking on it. When I reached the techies about the problem, they explained that I was on a "legacy" contract, hosted on a "legacy" server, and limited by my contract to a relatively small segment of their disk space, which I had now exceeded. Their preferred solution was to have me switch to a new hosting contract, with the site switched to one of their new servers.

I then proceeded to kick myself for not having checked on this opportunity a long time ago.

Under the new contract, I'm allocated ten times the disk space, for two-thirds of the prior cost.

Errg.

Over the past weekend, I shifted the entire Hole By Hole site to the new IP address, and notified the web host techies of that fact early this morning. Hole By Hole should be back up and running, with direct access to the site open to the public in a day or two.

Let's hope.

*Just as a point of reference, my first hosting contract for Hole By Hole cost me only $45 per month, about the cheapest hosting option at the time for a business site. From that perspective, the $17.95 contract began in 2001 was a relative bargain.


   

Contact Information:

Fritz Schranck
P.O. Box 88
Nassau, DE  19969
USA

fschranck-at-sneakingsuspicions.com


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Official small print disclaimer: This is, after all, a personal web site. Any opinions or comments I express here are my own, and don't necessarily reflect the official position of my work as a government attorney or any of my clients.

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© Frederick H. Schranck 2002-2006