The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Monday, January 13, 2003  

Some Stuff That Doesn’t Really Fit Together

William Safire today engages in some much-needed damage control for his pal Ariel Sharon. Funny, though, that Safire drops his customary use of the endearment “Arik” in his partisan defense of the Israeli Prime Minister.


For a dose of reality on the subject of Ariel Sharon and the Labor Party, I recommend turning a deaf ear to Safire and instead reading “Grave Question Marks,” an editorial in today’s edition of Ha’aretz.


Look who’s writing for The Nation: Bill Gates Sr. with “Long Live the Estate Tax” (with Chuck Collins).

Hear, hear.

A few snippets:

Also at the top of the domestic agenda is the push to make repeal of the federal estate tax permanent. Such a step will not have any short-term or long-term economic stimulus effect. But cutting $850 billion in revenue in the decade after the tax is phased out -- money that would have been collected from the heirs of multimillionaires -- will prolong the current fiscal crisis.

Today, the estate tax affects less than 2 percent of the richest households, those with wealth exceeding $1 million. A reformed estate tax, with wealth exemptions boosted to $3.5 million, would still generate tens of billions of dollars of revenue a year. Under such a reform, an estimated 6,000 estates a year, averaging $17 million each, would pay the tax. In Maine, Montana, Alaska and Mississippi -- states where both senators have voted to completely eliminate the tax -- the estimated number of estates paying the tax every year would be fewer than twenty-five.

Proposals to reform the tax have been blocked since 2000 by the “all or nothing” repeal lobby, which understands the peril of not having smaller estates as camouflage. Once exemptions rise above $3 million, it becomes impossible to find a credible and photogenic farmer or restaurant owner who will complain about what opponents call the “death tax.” It’s hard enough to find them now. The pro-repeal American Farm Bureau was asked to produce an example of a farmer who had lost a farm because of the estate tax. It could not identify a single one. [Emphasis added.]


The Bush Tax Sham,” by Roger Hickey in the same issue of The Nation, is also a must-read.


Don’t miss the analysis of the Bush administration’s “stimulus package” prepared by the National Priorities Project.


The New Republic’s editors is oppose enacting any stimulus package at all:

Of the many dishonesties surrounding Bush's latest economic stimulus plan, undoubtedly the most important is the notion that it is, in any meaningful sense, an economic stimulus plan. . . .

Bush's economic advisers maintain that the centerpiece of their plan, eliminating the tax on dividend income, will boost the stock market and therefore boost consumer spending. But, in the long run -- after the downturn ends -- the bigger economic problem will be the nation's low savings rate. Instituting a permanent change that encourages people to spend more and save less will be utterly counterproductive. . . .

The danger now is a repeat of 2002, with enough Democrats and moderate Republicans convinced of the need for economic stimulus that they agree to a "compromise" plan with the White House. Right now, with growth expected to turn up next year, it's unclear whether or not any stimulus is needed at all. . . .

Eventually, those who care about fiscal responsibility are going to have to deny Bush his tax cuts. Now is as good a time to start as any.

You know, they sometimes get it right over there.


That reminds me that TNR editor Peter Beinart’s TRB columns have been pretty good lately, especially “African Art,” from the January 13 issue. Here Beinart justly chastises Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist for his lame inaction on the Sudan crisis and AIDS in Africa during the senator’s tenure as chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on African Affairs.

[Post-publication addendum (January 14): Sen. Frist cares so much about Africa that if you visit his web site and wish to send him an e-mail to express your opinion, Africa isn’t listed among the categories provided for the topic of your message. Africa -- an afterthought, even for the noble Sen. Bill “First Harm the Children” Frist. What a surprise.]


The MacArthur Foundation is about a lot more than just the genius grants -- and they would like you to know that.


Gee whiz, it’s about time.


Fortune is out with its annual list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For. (Their grammar, not mine.)


This piece from Sunday’s New York Times -- “The Baby Ivies” -- helps explain why Jack Grubman, the disgraced former Salomon Smith Barney telecommunications industry analyst, was so hell-bent on getting his kids into the right pre-school.


“Of all the famous American designers, past or present, none is as challenging, fascinating and tempting to write about as Ralph Lauren,” says Cathy Horyn of the New York Times. I disagree, but it’s an interesting article anyway.


The Australian Open Tennis Championships began today in Melbourne.


Visit Warren Zevon’s web site. I barely have a clue who Zevon is, but the sabbaticalling film auteur and pioneering weblogger Brian Linse of AintNoBadDude will appreciate your paying homage.

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