Sneaking Suspicions
Archives-- October 10-16, 2004

This page includes posts from October 10-16, 2004 in the usual reverse order. Each posting on the home page is perma-linked to these archive pages.

October 16, 2004
Not her fault

This post defends Teresa H. Kerry.

It can’t be denied that Mrs. Kerry is frequently the source of amusement by many folks, and sometimes deservedly so.

On the other hand, some of these people just don’t recognize the value that Mrs. Kerry can bring to the discussion of important policy debates. Instead, they leap to the first, and wrong, impression.

In today’s New York Post, for example, Vincent Morris and Deborah Orin report on some interesting bits and pieces from the limited release of Mrs. Kerry’s income tax return for 2003.

Morris and Orin also helpfully provide some comparative statistics to flesh out the story:

Teresa Heinz Kerry reported a total income of $5,072,533, including nearly $2.8 million that escaped all federal taxes because it was on interest-free investments from state, city and other public bonds.

She paid $628,401 in federal taxes, or a rate of 12.47 percent. The average middle-class family pays more than 20 percent.

Mrs. Kerry's rate is barely above the lowest rate of 10 percent for the lowest-income Americans subject to taxes.

The Post story also includes this startling comment from a spokesman from a group that I thought was a boosting-free-enterprise kind of outfit:

"It's clear that Mrs. Kerry has found every nook and cranny in the federal tax code to shelter her income," said Stephen Moore of the conservative Club for Growth.

"For a couple that keep insisting the rich should pay their fair share, it's pretty clear that the Kerrys don't pay their fair share," Moore added.

He noted that Mrs. Kerry also escapes the 7.65 percent in Social Security (FICA) payroll taxes paid by middle-class families up to $87,000 in income because her income — derived from the estate of her late first husband, ketchup heir John Heinz — isn't from salary.

Here’s my two-word response to these statements—So what?

It’s a dead cinch that Mrs. Kerry’s tax advisors made sure that nothing in her tax returns included any questionable deductions or calculations. The more likely explanation is the one given by Mr. Moore—she’s using every part of the tax code that she can to shelter her income from taxation.

What’s the problem here?

I thought that’s why these IRS Code provisions were put into the Code in the first place.

It’s also not her fault that FICA is based on wages, and that her 2003 money didn’t come from working.

If the New York Post or Mr. Moore or other people don’t like the fact that Mrs. Kerry can use the current tax code to this much advantage, then they have another option available to them—seek to amend the tax code.

As I see it, that’s where this story may become valuable. Her tax returns may provide an incentive to reduce or eliminate some of the legislative loopholes, special privileges, and other curious devices that fill so many pages of the IRS Code.

You could even say there’s a golden opportunity here. The tax returns of very, very rich Democrats like Mrs. Kerry can give a Republican-controlled Congress just the incentive it needs to simplify the tax code and increase the total take from extremely advantaged folks like her. For some nervous Senators and Congressmen, it would also be the perfect way to blunt potential criticism from their similarly advantaged Republican friends.

I don’t actually expect any such reform efforts to take hold, but for those of us who support the simplification of the nation’s tax laws, it’s nice to contemplate.

Thank you, Mrs. Kerry.

October 15, 2004
Team America

I have now seen Michael Moore in two movies this year. 

He had less than modest role in the first one, Fahrenheit 9/11.

His puppet’s contribution to Team America is less central to the plot, but it was profanely perfect nonetheless. 

I went to the first matinee showing of Team America at the local theater today, and I’m very glad I did. I haven’t laughed that hard in a good while. 

I also learned a few things. For example, I’ve had some experience with the Meyers/Briggs test, in which personality types are separated into 16 categories.

Team America shows that this arrangement is far too complex. In fact, all of humanity can be divided into three basic behavior models. This being a family-friendly site, and this being a deeply, deeply R-rated movie, I can’t go into detail here about each one, except to note they are named after intimate parts of the human anatomy. Suffice it to say that the movie’s writers are really onto something, and I completely agree with them.

Go see this movie--for America.

October 15, 2004

The crowd that filled the Rehoboth Convention Center were wildly appreciative of the performance by Fourplay last night.

As well they should have been, because the nearly two-hour set was simply a great show. The band played pieces from several of their albums, and each performer had several opportunities to wow the audience with their separate riffs.

Among the highlights for us were "Blues 4orce" from Yes, please!; "Tally Ho!", from Heartfelt; and "Journey", the title track from their newest album. They also did a wonderfully sensitive rendition of "Amazing Grace", and an impressive interpretation of Sting's "Fields of Gold", which is also on their Journey CD.

At times Bob James, Nathan East, Harvey Mason, and Larry Carlton seemed a bit surprised by the enthusiastic response to their music. This was their first appearance at the Rehoboth Jazz Festival, and bass player East sounded sincere when he said they hoped to return again.

They'd sell out again if they did.

October 14, 2004
Jazz Festival Time

Last night the 15th anniversary edition of the Rehoboth Jazz Festival began, with opening night ceremonies at the Baycenter in Dewey Beach. Several dozen performers will be featured at restaurants and other venues through Sunday, October 17.

We have tickets to watch Fourplay tonight at the Rehoboth Convention Center. I'll post a short review here later.

This is a great part of the fall season at the beach, and it looks like several thousand jazz lovers will be coming here.

October 14, 2004
Shameless self-promotion

I posted a new golf book review at my other site today.

Philip Reed's In Search of the Greatest Golf Swing combines an interesting character study with golf instruction and a bit of a detective story. It's about Mike Austin, who set a Guinness world record drive of 515 yards--when he was 64.

October 13, 2004
Field of bad dreams

It's time for the baseball playoffs, but what I saw today didn't exactly fill me with Field of Dreams thoughts.

I drove past a ballfield near Milton this afternoon. Nobody was playing, but there was a crowd behind home plate:

Those are turkey vultures.

There were at least 20 more of them hanging around, in addition to these eight.

October 13, 2004
The Official Kerry/Edwards Prayer Cloths--truly a blessing at only $9.95!

It seems that the Democratic Party has decided to take advantage of Senator Edwards' recent remarks on the unfortunate passing of Christopher Reeve, including the startling comment that

"People like Chris Reeve will get out of their wheelchairs and walk again with stem cell research."

If you click on this link, for example, you will be able to see the latest campaign offering for the devout Kerry/Edwards supporter--the Official Kerry/Edwards Prayer Cloths.

These are truly a blessing, and only $9.95 apiece.

Note: I did say "It seems...."

October 12, 2004
No sauce for the gander?

I wonder what it’s like to live an irony-free life.

This question came up as I read the news that some folks are spitting mad about a broadcasting company’s plans to air all or significant portions of an anti-Kerry documentary before the November 2 election. 

According to various news outlets, Sinclair Broadcasting plans to pre-empt its stations’ regular programming in order to show Stolen Honor. On its web site's home page, the company says it has invited Senator Kerry to participate in the upcoming program, and also says that the final details of the show are yet to be determined.

Of course, the irony is that the people who are most angry about this upcoming event were also highly likely to be among Michael Moore’s biggest fans, who eagerly lined up in droves to watch Fahrenheit 9/11 earlier this year.

I can’t say that the audience for that movie was entirely sympathetic to Kerry, of course, since I was among those sitting in the theater. However, it was pretty obvious that I was in a decided minority.

I haven’t seen Stolen Honor yet, so I don’t know if there will be any credible arguments made about whether it truly is a documentary, unlike Moore’s works. Even so, the folks who don’t like this exercise of fundamental rights have several legitimate options available to them.

They can boycott Sinclair, for example. They can complain to the company's station managers and affiliates, as was done by many folks who were unhappy with Dan Rather’s recent electioneering for Kerry. They can also find ways to broadcast their own response to Stolen Honor, especially on the Web.

Besides, it's not as if no one is spending any of their own money to spread a pro-Kerry, anti-Bush message. So what's the big problem with some others deciding to risk their private capital investment in television by using their stations to push a different political agenda? 

What I really find distressing is the attempt to enlist the government in an effort to suppress Sinclair's exercise of free speech, as suggested in The Nation article noted earlier. 

Who are these people? Do they really think the First Amendment is a one-way ratchet that only turns to the left?


October 11, 2004
Furry scofflaws

The City of Rehoboth Beach is a fine place, but sometimes the City’s approach to law enforcement is a bit much. 

This is perhaps best understood by the cartoon displayed on one of the area’s most popular tee-shirt designs--a repeating image of a Rehoboth cop standing by a parking meter, writing a parking ticket. 

On the other hand, sometimes there are just too many scofflaws for the town to handle, and the police just give up. 

It happened this weekend, as thousands of greyhounds and their proud owners came to the beach for the tenth anniversary of Greyhounds Reach the Beach.

The City's restrictions  prohibit dogs on the beach and the mile-long Boardwalk from April 1 through October 31, but yesterday afternoon we saw hundreds of greyhounds where they weren't supposed to be.

Most of the dogs seemed to be quietly enjoying the sunny day, as their owners chatted with fellow dog lovers:

In fact, several dozen dog-owners of many other breeds, from poodles to retrievers to little toy things that would probably plump when you cooked ‘em, took advantage of the relaxed atmosphere to bring their pets to the boards as well.

No one seemed to mind at all, by the way, including the Rehoboth police who strolled along the boardwalk.

I’m not sure why the City’s restriction against dogs takes up so much of the year. With pleasant events like this one filling the fall calendar, I think the town fathers might well consider ending the restriction at a much earlier point, such as Labor Day.

October 10, 2004
No new government agency needed, thanks very much 

Delaware is the lowest state in the country. 

I’m not referring to its corporation laws that make so many other states so jealous. 

I mean low in a literal, geographic sense.

At 60 feet, its average height above sea level, the Blue Hen State is lower than any of its 49 sister states. 

As one might expect, therefore, folks here tend to notice the rain. In the last several years, since at least Hurricane Floyd in 1999, many parts of Delaware have been flooded by storm events measured in 100- and 500-year probability increments. Last year’s hurricanes caused such damage in Glenville, an old residential subdivision in northern New Castle County, that the State did something it’s never done before. It joined with the county government to condemn the neighborhood, and buy out the residents.  

The rain keeps falling and the flood damage keeps happening, however, especially in the older subdivisions. Several homes in a few developments near Newark were damaged two weeks ago, and calls for another round of buyouts are being made. 

When these developments were first approved, no one thought to do much more than mark the locations of the flood plain as it was then understood to exist (the fact that floodplain boundaries can change drastically with increased development upstream doesn’t seem to have occurred to some folks). Projects built in the last twenty years or so must now provide their own stormwater management, largely by keeping the runoff from the new impervious surfaces (roofs and streets) within the developments. This causes its own environmental issues, but at least the risk of damage to downstream neighbors is reduced.

The problem remains in dealing with the flooding risks faced by old neighborhoods, with several subdivisions now well past the half-century mark. In today’s News-Journal, county officials floated an idea that has the benefit of taking political heat off the county government, but which is otherwise a bit odd:

County land use officials are urging the state to create a single entity to study why flooding is increasing and determine solutions….

"We need one organization that finds the problem, finds the solution and fixes it," … said [Vince Kowal, spokesman for the New Castle County Department of Land Use].

With all due respect, we don’t need another state agency for this purpose. We already have organizations that have this responsibility—the soil and water conservation districts, specialized governmental subdivisions of the State. 

Their authority for this task is already clearly expressed in state law, in Chapter 39 of Title 7 of the Delaware Code. See this part of Section 3908, for example:

A soil and water conservation district … shall have authority to exercise the following powers, in addition to others granted in other sections of this chapter, subject to the responsibility of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control for the administration and direction of the programs of the districts:

(1) To develop comprehensive plans for, and carry out, preventive and control measures and works of improvement for the prevention of erosion, floodwater and sediment damages...;

(2) To conduct, in cooperation with the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control surveys, investigations and research relating to the prevention of erosion, floodwater and sediment damages, and the conservation, protection, development and utilization of land and water resources, including the disposal of water, and removal of sediment from waterways, lakes, ponds or other bodies of water;

(3) To cooperate or enter into agreements with, and … to provide aid to any agency, governmental or otherwise, or any landowner within the district, in carrying out the program of the district…; ***

(5) To construct, improve, operate and maintain such structures as may be necessary or convenient for the performance of any of the operations authorized in this chapter; ***

(7) To accept the cooperation of, and financial, technical and material assistance from, the United States or any of its agencies, or from this State or any of its agencies or subdivisions, or from any other source, for use in carrying out the purposes of the district….

The Districts do a lot of good work already. My clients at DelDOT frequently enter into contracts with the Conservation Districts to handle drainage problems. There are no significant legal impediments to having these entities assume the additional assignment to develop either a statewide or county-based collection of retrofitting solutions to the flooding problems that plague the low-lying areas. In fact, one could suggest that they’ve had this responsibility all along. 

Any of these solutions will cost money, of course, and the real debate will be to identify and agree on how the capital costs of the various fixes will be met.

I like the idea of user fees, and could support some kind of property-related tax or fee for this purpose, such as dedicating a percentage of county property tax revenues to be transferred to the Districts. That way the county governments, which control land use in Delaware, will also provide the means to address the impacts of their past approvals.


Contact Information:

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


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© Frederick H. Schranck 2002-2004