Sneaking Suspicions

Archives--March 24-30, 2002 (Week 12)

Commentary from a practical perspective

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This page includes posts from the site's twelfth week, March 24-30, 2002 in the usual reverse order. Each week's postings are perma-linked to these pages.

March 30, 2002

Easter Break

Thanks for stopping by!

There will be no essays posted here for a day or two. In the meantime, if you haven't visited in a while, or ever, click on over to the Table of Essays and browse around.

March 29, 2002

Who's next, indeed?

Israeli soldiers peeing against Arafat's office wall.

The Who, just finished peeing against a Wall. (Perhap's it's Pink Floyd's.)

March 29, 2002

Poltergeist at the Beach

Residing year-round near a resort town such as Rehoboth Beach has its unique features.

Depending on the time of year, the rhythms of life follow two very separate paths.

In the off-season, the three-mile ride downtown to Rehoboth Avenue and the Boardwalk takes a little more than 5 minutes. Parking is always available on the beach block. There are no impediments to taking a nice quiet walk along the boards, with only the sound of the surf or the occasional squawk of a seagull to interrupt a pleasant conversation. It’s a Christmas Day tradition for us, in fact.

Shopping for the week’s groceries or a pair of pants at the Rehoboth Outlets can be done anytime. The clerks come to know the other locals, simply because they see you and few others in December or February, or because your kids are on the same Little League team.

Beach life in August, on the other hand, is a whole different story. The best time to buy the week’s groceries is after dinner on Tuesdays, when the clerks have had a chance to catch their breath and restock from the weekend hordes. A rainy day will flood the outlet stores with customers, searching for bargains and an escape from cramped cottages. Plan on at least a 30-minute ride to reach the city limits, and parking spaces are at a premium.

Eastertime now gives us an early sign of the upcoming summer shift in our way of life.

My younger daughter and I drove into town early this afternoon to buy Easter candy at Ibach’s. The usual route to reach Rehoboth Avenue was clogged with cars, so we took one of the locally known alternatives. We eventually found a parking spot three streets over from the main street. A small, intimate crowd of about 2-3,000 was milling about on the Boardwalk and the first block of Rehoboth Avenue.

The experience prompted a memory of the time my wife went grocery shopping one early May weekend. Two gentlemen were in line in front of her at the cash register, complaining about the quality of the radicchio or some other produce.

As they left, the cashier looked at my wife and the clerk standing at the next register and simply said, "They’re he-ere."

All of the locals understood.

Click here for this week’s golf column, if you’re interested.

March 28, 2002

The hostages must turn over their captors, or suffer the consequences

I write this piece with some hesitancy, because I make no claims to expertise in military or foreign affairs.

I feel the need to write this anyway.

I join millions of others in denouncing the Passover massacre of innocents. Apparently the Hamas group is claiming responsibility for this latest act of war.

The continued and celebrated use of suicidal Palestinians to murder Israelis sickens me. The decades-long demonization and subhumanization of Israelis by the Palestinian Authority and its terrorist elements such as Hamas created a deeply perverse mindset among the general population of Palestinians.

I support the continued existence of the state of Israel. I also support the creation of a separate Palestinian state, if it were possible, but only if the creation of that state did not lead inevitably to the dissolution of Israel.

Arafat, Hamas, and the other Palestinian terror leaders, to my way of thinking, used their own people as hostages to their evil schemes for the elimination of the Jewish state. Their efforts seem to have produced a kind of Stockholm syndrome among far too many of their fellow Palestinians.

The current Palestinian leadership shows no sign of ever accepting the reality of Israeli existence. They chose a path that led to suicide bombings by those they entrapped into their own evil ways.

In essence, the Palestinian leadership are laying siege to Israel, and catapulting human bombs inside the Israeli castle.

There is no dealing with those who do not accept your right to exist. There can always be dealing with those who accept your right to exist.

Sometimes the only option to change a body’s way of thinking is to replace the leaders of that body. Sometimes the only way to replace those leaders is to create conditions where their followers understand they need to change those in charge. Sometimes this means that others must impose cruel choices on those followers in order to make them understand and accept the necessity for urgent action.

It’s time to force the Palestinian hostages to turn over their captors and end the siege of Israel, or face the consequences.

It also appears that traditional military responses alone will not be sufficient to alter the mindset of the Palestinians, as long as their current leadership is still in place. Hamas and others hide among their own people, who don’t yet understand or accept that they can no longer tolerate their leaders’ continued existence.

I believe the following options may be necessary for the Israelis:

  • Notify all Palestinians of the requirement to turn over to the Israelis all of the Hamas leadership, along with the other terror group leaders in their midst, dead or alive, in accordance with a firm deadline.
  • If the deadline passes without results, impose their own wide-ranging siege of the Palestinians.

This blockade or siege requires actions beyond the normal military maneuvers.

For example:

  • Cut off the supply of water.
  • Cut off the supply of food.
  • Cut off access to hospitals or other emergency treatment.
  • Cut off access to Israel.
  • Cut off access to the Jordanian border or any other means of physical escape from the West Bank and Gaza.
  • Cut off access by air to any part of the West Bank and Gaza.

If one’s every efforts are aimed at finding food and water, perhaps there will be less time to gird one’s mind toward being used by one’s leaders as a human bomb.

If the Israelis provide constant reminders of what needs to be done to restore access to water, food, and emergency treatment, perhaps some of the hostages will finally turn on their captors and end the madness.

If Palestinian hostages die during the Israeli siege before the eventual removal of their terrorist captors from the West Bank and Gaza, that is certainly regrettable, but it is a choice the hostages themselves would be making.

If Palestinians conclude that suicide while under siege is their only option, then at least their deaths will not also include the murder of innocent others who cannot otherwise eliminate the terrorist threat to their own existence.

March 27, 2002

New sin tax suggestions

An Associated Press story describes the potential for expanding the states' revenue derived from "sin taxes":

At least nine revenue-strapped states have recently looked at "sin taxes'' to help balance the budget, said Lee Dixon, a health policy analyst with the National Conference of State Legislatures. Besides Connecticut, alcohol tax increases have been proposed in Alaska, Hawaii, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oregon, South Carolina and Tennessee, he said….

The [Connecticut] bill would also remove a sales tax exemption on candy and other sweets purchased in school cafeterias, nursing homes, hospitals and other large institutions.

Naturally, some of those directly affected by the proposed increases are not so keen on the idea:

A spokesman for beer brewer Anheuser-Busch said the plan would "increase a regressive and inequitable tax that hits working families the hardest.''

The concept of finding new vices to tax is admittedly intriguing.

Nonetheless, the fact is that there are no new sins.

There are only variations on the original seven deadly varieties: Pride, Envy, Gluttony, Lust, Anger, Greed, and, bringing up the rear as always, Sloth.

While the tobacco and alcohol industries have always been handy sources for tax money, it must be said that there are vast untapped resources for additional revenue based on traditional human weaknesses.

Here are some suggestions:

Pride Taxes:

  • All bumperstickers announcing the taxpayer’s status as the parent of an honor student at any publicly financed elementary, middle, or high school shall be subject to a 50% sales tax levy.
  • Any existing sales tax on soft goods bearing the logos of any corporation, college, or professional sports teams shall be doubled.
  • Any vanity vehicle license tag exhibiting any element of personal pride, such as IMAQT or similarly lame identifiers, shall be priced at three times the normal fee.

Envy Fee:

  • Any NIMBY group attempting to block the creation of new housing must pay an Envy Fee of $3000 for permission to speak at any rezoning hearing, where the market price for the new houses will exceed 25% of the average market price for existing housing in the area.

Gluttony Taxes:

  • All 7-11 Big Gulp or similar oversized carbonated sugar water drinks sold at convenience stores incur a Gluttony Tax of $3 above the retail price.
  • Any restaurant prominently featuring an All You Can Eat menu (sometimes depicted on their signs as AYCE) must charge an additional Gluttony Tax of $10 per customer.

Lust Tax:

  • Any publication featuring nude or nearly nude photographs must make a Lust Tax payment of 50 cents for each copy distributed. This category would include the usual Playboy, Playgirl, and Penthouse-type magazines, as well as the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue and the Victoria’s Secret catalogues. This tax alone should bring in billions.

Anger Tax:

  • All bartenders must collect an Anger Tax of 25 cents for each colorful expression of disgust or annoyance made during all regularly established Happy Hours. Any such expressions made during Chicago Cubs games shall be exempt, because imposing the tax during those events would raise too much money.

Greed Fee:

Sloth Tax:

  • All remote control devices for home electronics such as televisions, stereos, or DVD players shall include a Sloth Tax of $5 for each device sold.
  • All purchases of Pawleys Island hammocks, reclining chairs, chaise longues, or similar devices that permit or promote the elevation of legs and feet off the ground shall include a Sloth Tax of $10.

I know I’ll have to pay additional taxes if some of these ideas are enacted into law.

I’m ready to do my part.

March 26, 2002

Religious distinctions

Several American bloggers I read just about every day express a wide range of religious opinions.

A few openly discuss their atheistic position, such as Bill Quick and Steven Den Beste.

Others, such as Howard Fienberg and Pejman Yousefzadeh, gracefully set out a Jewish perspective in many areas, and not simply the thorny problems of the Middle East.

Louder Fenn and Eve Tushnet, among others, make no secret of their adherence to the Roman Catholic faith.

Susanna Cornett, Mark Byron, and William Sulik have written thoughtful essays on certain aspects of Protestant theology, at times especially as it differs from Catholic orthodoxy.

Among the best features of all this commentary is the fact that these writers have thus far refrained from the kinds of flamethrowing to which religious discussions are often at risk.

Some have come close. For example, I read a quote in Sulik’s blog as challenging Catholic doctrine about Purgatory by declaring the Protestant view on what constitutes the correct compilation of the books of the Bible.

I don’t wish to denigrate the fact that many serious people with deeply held religious principles sincerely believe there is a single path to God.

I’m also fully aware that others take that approach with less than perfect motives.

On the other hand, let’s not forget that all Americans, of whatever religious persuasion, if any, are now at serious risk from those who simply don’t care one whit about the nagging eschatological differences among us.

They want us all dead, and our mangy little dogs, too.

Personally, I thank God we can discuss our religious differences. I support our government’s efforts to make sure we will carry on these religious dialogues in the future, by eliminating these risks with extreme prejudice.

In the meantime, let’s try to remember the point of the following parable from the work of Emo Philips:

"I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump off.

So I ran over and said "Stop! don't do it!"

"Why shouldn't I?" he said.

I said, "Well, there's so much to live for!"

He said, "Like what?"

I said, "Well...are you religious or atheist?"

He said, "Religious."

I said, "Me too! Are you Christian or Buddhist?"

He said, "Christian."

I said, "Me too! Are you catholic or protestant?"

He said, "Protestant." I said, "Me too! Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?"

He said, "Baptist!" I said, "Wow! Me too! Are you Baptist church of god or Baptist church of the lord?"

He said, "Baptist church of god!"

I said, "Me too! Are you original Baptist church of god, or are you reformed Baptist church of god?"

He said, "Reformed Baptist church of god!"

I said, "Me too! Are you reformed Baptist church of god, reformation of 1879, or reformed Baptist church of god, reformation of 1915?"

He said, "Reformed Baptist church of god, reformation of 1915!"

I said, "Die, heretic scum," and pushed him off."

March 25, 2002

Digging deep for dollars--or not

A Washington Post article discussed the effect of the repeal of the federal estate tax on state tax revenues.

It’s not a happy story, at least from one perspective.

The decade-long rollback of the estate tax -- dubbed the "death tax" by its opponents -- could drain $6.5 billion annually from states and the District even as officials are struggling to balance budgets wracked by recession.

One primary reason for the drop in revenue is that the inheritance/estate tax laws of most states piggyback, as it were, onto the federal law.

The WaPo reporter, Craig Timberg, described the basic features of this tax and its local effects:

The estate tax is among the most progressive, hitting only the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans, and only when they die. Even states that choose to keep their estate tax unchanged won't collect a penny for the first $675,000 of personal wealth. Most of the tax is paid by multimillionaires.

Yet the tax is a major source of revenue, providing $130 million a year to Virginia, $80 million a year to Maryland and $50 million a year to the District [of Columbia].

In a relatively rare case of the proper application of descriptive terms, the story included this comment:

"This is the worst possible time to lose this revenue," said Elizabeth C. McNichol, co-author of a report on the estate tax issue for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal think tank.

The Delaware inheritance/estate tax experience is apparently typical. The First State’s tax scheme is coupled to the Federal estate tax. Its most recent economic forecasts show a steep drop in projected revenues.

Delaware collected $41.2 million in FY01, but the finance folks estimate a drop in FY02 down to $25 million, down 39.3%. The FY03 estimate is for $23.9 million, a drop of 4.4%, while the FY04 estimate is set at only $15.7 million, a 34.3 percent reduction.

The official explanation simply states, "Federal Tax Cut Legislation Reduces Out-Year Revenues."

According to Timberg, many states are taking different approaches to the issue, including "de-coupling" from the federal law or otherwise trying to hold onto the death tax revenue stream as long as possible.

Those who worked to repeal the federal death tax look to be gearing up for a similar fight in the statehouses.

With the federal fight over for now, supporters of the tax cut have vowed to begin a state-by-state battle to repeal the estate tax in as many places as possible. They predict that states that follow the federal lead will see an influx of wealthy senior citizens eager to pass on as much of their estates as possible to children and grandchildren….

"This is a very powerful lobby," said Damon Ansell, vice president for policy at Americans for Tax Reform. "Once people get it into their heads that this federal death tax is done, they're going to wonder why these states are doing this."

Ansell has a valid point. Perhaps the federal experience will force the states to revisit some long-held assumptions about tax incidence and tax policy. Maybe, just maybe, the drop in revenue will also cause some to question whether restoring death taxes to their formerly prominent place in their state’s total tax scheme is in fact appropriate.

If the death tax issue receives a very public airing in many states, a growing number of citizens may even challenge the notion that extremism in the defense of progressivity in tax legislation is no vice.

I’ll enjoy watching that debate.

Note: Dave Tepper posted another view on this issue. I don't necessarily agree with his proposed solution, but he does present a cogent commentary explaining some of the problems this tax creates.

March 25, 2002

An unfortunate choice of phrasing

A Washington Times story today concerning the Catholic Church’s abuse scandals quoted the Reverend Richard John Neuhaus of the Institute on Religion and Public Life:

"It is no secret that there has been a certain moral laxity and that a significant number of active homosexuals entered the priesthood in the last 20 or 30 years."

This comment was followed by an unfortunate choice of colloquial expression:

Father Neuhaus said he does not advocate barring homosexuals from the priesthood, but emphasized that such a priest must adhere to "uncompromising" chastity.

"Every priest knows that. It's drilled into them," he said.


March 24, 2002

Oscar Night

My wife and I love movies. We have the T-shirts from all of the Rehoboth Independent Film Festivals to prove it.

Here are my Oscar picks among the nominated movies I saw this past year:

Picture: In the Bedroom
Director: Peter Jackson, Lord of the Rings
Actor: Tom Wilkinson, In the Bedroom
Actress: Sissy Spacek, In the Bedroom
Supporting Actor: Ian McKellen, Lord of the Rings
Supporting Actress: Helen Mirren, Gosford Park
Animated Feature: Shrek
Art Direction: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Cinematography: Moulin Rouge
Costume Design: Moulin Rouge
Film Editing: Moulin Rouge
Makeup: Lord of the Rings
Original Score: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Sound: Moulin Rouge
Visual Effects: Lord of the Rings
Screenplay from previously published material: In the Bedroom
Screenplay written directly for movie: The Royal Tenenbaums

Contact Information:

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

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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.

That fact may become obvious later on, but it needs to be said here anyway.

Frederick H. Schranck 2002