Hunting the Rich

A letter to the editors of The Economist.

“Sir”

Maybe I should not be surprised that, despite their penchant for sensible solutions and cool-headed, rational analysis, the editors of The Economist would get so exercised over modest tax increases for the wealthy (September 24, “Hunting the Rich”, page 13). Since your editors and writers are anonymous my imagination is left to envision a tantrum-throwing CEO or an oily investor from Dubai or whoever you have calling the shots berating the editors about how “Leviathan” should keep its hands off his bulletproof fourth home in southern California (see “Beverly Hills Flop”, page 38).

Get over yourselves. The “soaking” you are shrieking about is more like a light splash. Your briefing “Diving into the Rich Pool” (whatever that means) leads us to the oh-so-inevitable conclusion that higher taxes on the rich will destroy us all. Yet it is not so much a matter of whether higher marginal tax rates retard short and medium term growth slightly, but a matter of fairness and whether, in democracies, the people have the right to legislate such equitable treatment rather than be held economic hostage by a clique of plutocrats.

Surely you do not expect us to accept the neo-feudal suggestion that rich must be at liberty to look over the rest of us. Shrinking tax rates did not stop us from getting into the present mess, nor did historically higher tax rates ever stop anyone from being rich (page 38). In the United States (“America”, as you like to call it) the proposal is to simply raise the marginal tax rate to its previous historical low of the prosperous 1990s, a time when rich people did just fine (see page 38 again).

Or perhaps you do expect us to buy this nonsense since the United Kingdom, from which your magazine emanates, is a model for such medieval arrangements, presided over by an unelected family of parasites subsisting in great luxury on public money. Because that is the inevitable conclusion when we trade away our democratic initiative and political independence to wealthiest 2 percent in return for the chance of their good favor.

Good hunting.

Tool talk

I wonder if you stay in the Senate long enough you would start to believe your own double-talk. Probably. I think of that whenever I hear from Senator Chuck Grassley. Here’s my counter-response to a letter I sent regarding federal funding for public broadcasting:

Thank you for responding to my letter about continuing federal funding for public broadcasting. In it, you mentioned that Congress has to “make some tough decisions to reign in spending.”

Really? In your opinion column in yesterday’s Des Moines Register you went on and on about the need for subsidies and tax breaks so we can turn our food supply into gasoline. So are you really interested in making tough decisions? Making tough choices should include giving up Iowa’s corn ethanol hobby horse.

You also mentioned that if I was interested in supporting public broadcasting I ought to contribute to my local station. Yet, even though I live in a two-bedroom apartment, I contribute a couple hundred dollars a year to public broadcasting. I enjoy public broadcasting precisely because it is public, and wish for it to remain so.

I was thoroughly annoyed by your response.

I agree it lacks the sardonic finesse I usually try to put on my letters to public officials, but I was pretty incensed. If you don’t understand why, then read his impassioned defense of our state’s corn ethanol boondoggle.

Thank you for responding to my letter about continuing federal funding for public broadcasting. In it, you mentioned that Congress has to "make some tough decisions to reign in spending."

Really? In your opinion column in yesterday's Des Moines Register you went on and on about the need for subsidies and tax breaks so we can turn our food supply into gasoline. So are you really interested in making tough decisions? Making tough choices should include giving up Iowa's corn ethanol hobby horse.

You also mentioned that if I was interested in supporting public broadcasting I ought to contribute to my local station. Yet, even though I live in a two-bedroom apartment, I contribute a couple hundred dollars a year to public broadcasting. I enjoy public broadcasting precisely because it is public, and wish for it to remain so.

I was thoroughly annoyed by your response.

Letter to the Iowa DOT

The federal government’s ineffective and uneven enforcement of immigration policy means that state and local governments try to fill the void with people who don’t know what they are doing. Half-assed attempts at thwarting illegal immigrants once they are already living (and applying for driver’s licenses) 1,500 miles inside the border are simply an inconvenience to those who immigrate legally. I sent a letter to the Iowa Department of Transportation expressing my annoyance.

My wife went to renew her driver’s license at the station in Iowa City today. Because she is awaiting her adjustment of status to a permanent U.S. resident, she had to bring some paperwork from the U.S.C.I.S. to renew her license. When my wife presented the I-797C Notice of Action form, the lady at the desk asked “What is the duration of your stay?” When my wife responded that she is married to a citizen—and therefore not going anywhere—the lady said, “That doesn’t matter. You’re not a U.S. citizen.”

That was completely incorrect and anyway it is not the place of clerks at the driver’s license station to interpret immigration law for us. The Iowa DOT should leave the enforcement of immigration law to the federal authorities. My wife and I will be living in Iowa for the foreseeable future, and I would like some assurance that she will not have to endure any more idiotic comments when she goes to renew her license again in six months.

On the Fas Trac

Today’s paper had an article about an academic achievement program for black students at the high school called “Fas Trac”. I couldn’t help writing to the editor.

Thank you for today’s article about the program that helps black students at City High. I wonder about the efficacy of naming the program “Fas Trac”. Barack Obama has done well for himself by leaving the final letters on his words. It helps him avoid conveying a confusing message of “chang” and “hop”.

Letter to Senator Thomas Coburn

Here’s my letter to Senator Coburn regarding his proposed amendment.

I am disappointed that your proposed amendment to bill S2483 is prohibits only National Parks and Wildlife Refuges from enforcing federal regulations on firearms.

While people are in fact allowed to bring their firearms into National Parks, provided that they are unloaded and stored, they are completely prohibited from doing so in the U.S. Capitol. Are visitors to the Capitol required to stand by helplessly and unarmed as Congress spends their money and fritters away their rights while armed servants of the legislature patrol the people’s corridors?

Surely you wouldn’t mind debating under the vigilant eyes of well-armed Americans in Senate gallery? Such a policy might improve Congress’s performance and even reduce the wasteful spending you are so keen on criticizing.

Please withdraw your amendment to bill S2483 and focus on more serious efforts to protect our Constitutional rights.

I’ve sent similar, but less caustic, letters to my own senators.

The rolled coin affair

A couple of weeks ago I scooped up the jars and piles of coins on my dresser, counted them, and fit them into many paper rolls. This Saturday, I brought the rolls to my bank in my canvas shopping bags. And the bank wouldn’t accept them! I was incensed. I’ve never been to a bank that didn’t accept money. Here’s the letter I mailed on Monday:

Today I tried to deposit rolled coins into my account and was refused. The teller told me I had to unroll the coins and deposit them in a machine in the waiting area, even though I explained that I had spent a long time rolling them.

If you do not trust me with rolled coins, then why should I trust your machine, let alone trust you with my bank account, electronic paycheck, Social Security number, and personal financial information? I bank with you because I support local businesses, believe that credit unions provide superior customer service, and like the benefits of credit union membership. In return I expect the bank to trust me and accept the money that I have prepared for deposit into my own account. If this arrangement is not acceptable to you then I will consider banking elsewhere.

Please let me know when I may bring my rolled coins in for deposit. If you prefer you may unroll and count them yourself, as I have already done. Of course, if you find a discrepancy you already know where I live and work.

And so I forgot about it but the branch manager e-mailed me today. He says I can bring my coin rolls in and they’ll take it without me having to unwrap them.

National Geographic Magazine

I really wish this one had been published. National Geographic did not respond at all.

December 21, 2005

Every once in a while I open up National Geographic to read the always depressing news that exotic funguses are killing off amphibians worldwide. Might the scientists who penetrate the most isolated and sensitive habitats so they can probe frogs’ genitals with an instrument be part of the problem? I would hope not, but there right there in the same article is a photograph of someone reaching to pick up a critically endangered frog with her bare hands. Leave the damned frogs alone!

Newsday

This indicates some of my cynicism about “The Greatest Generation”. My brother and I wrote this to the Long Island newspaper in response to another nonsensical letter to the editor. The original writer (J.P.B.) was responding to a run on groceries caused by sensational media forecasts of a blizzard that never materialized. I wonder how he reacted to the terrorist attacks six months later. I’m sure he didn’t advocate torture or anything like that.

March 8, 2001

J.P.B. wrote correctly in his March 8, 2001 letter that his (or her) generation did not panic when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. They only locked all the Japanese-Americans away in desert concentration camps until the war ended.

J.P.B also suggests that the younger generation should not panic in the face of snowstorms, but should get angry and retaliate. Why would we get angry at the weather? And against whom shall we retaliate?

God bless J.P.B.’s generation! They made the most out of a fourth grade education.

Mississippi Public Broadcasting

I wrote this letter about a radio segment I endured every morning in Mississippi. The Mississippi Public Broadcasting official who wrote back actually thought I wanted them to program a segment on aquariums.

June 7, 2004

Norman Winter must be stopped. His radio show “Southern Gardening” has no place on public radio.

I do not have a garden and I am not interested in starting one. I do not even have a yard. However, if I had a garden or wanted to start one, I would not find his show useful. Every morning, five days a week, this guy gets on the radio and tells me about the latest new colorful strain of flower I should buy and plant. I have learned nothing about botany, or about the planning, arrangement, and maintenance of a garden in a year and a half of listening.

Say Norman Winter had a show about aquariums. If I took his advice, my tank would be filled with fish after a couple of weeks. There would be no water. The fish on the bottom would be suffocated and at the same time crushed by the weight of successive layers of the latest new fish. The stench would be horrible.

None of this, of course, would teach me anything about fish or make me want to keep an aquarium.

Norman Winter’s radio spots, which are veiled advertisements for garden supply retailers, are not of educational value to any listener, gardener or not. Accordingly, the show should be cancelled and replaced with, perhaps, a show about aquariums.

Therefore, I propose an embargo: for every day I hear Norman Winter’s imbecilic radio show while I am brushing my teeth, I will reduce or delay my generous contributions to Mississippi Public Broadcasting.

Thank you for your prompt and favorable action on this matter.

Vice President Richard B. Cheney

A repost of a satirical letter I wrote to the Vice President after the Halliburton-related scandals broke. I’m sure it earned me a file.

August 6, 2004

Like any patriotic American, I am disturbed by the proliferation of radical Islam that followed our invasion of Iraq. It might be time for the United States to fall back on more typically American devices for disseminating our values there.

War is business, as you know better than anyone, so I am offering a modest business proposal. I would like a government contract to sell breakfast cereal to Shias in the holy city of al-Najaf. The breakfast cereal would be called “Muqtada al-Sadr Cereal.” The box would feature the chubby, cherub-faced insurgent cleric chowing down on a bowlful of artificially sweetened and flavored grain (I prefer my cereal in “O” form; but we can use flakes or puffs if the focus groups suggest them).

The sale of “Muqtada al-Sadr Cereal” would accomplish two objectives. First, by saturating the Najaf breakfast cereal market with al-Sadr’s goofy face, we can accelerate his media overexposure. Shias will quickly tire of him and turn away from his violent brand of Islam. A good example of cereal box-induced infamy was the rapid decline of Mr. T’s popularity after he marketed a breakfast cereal in his own name. I believe Howard Dean suffered a similar fate more recently.

Second, with the sale of sugary, unhealthy breakfast foods, we can undermine the staying power of the al-Sadr insurgency by introducing long-term obesity illnesses to the region.

All I request of the US government is overwhelming military support of my venture. Muqtada al-Sadr may try to behead me for using his face on something as blasphemous as a box of breakfast cereal. Two or three battalions of mechanized infantry would be enough to enforce my trademark and concession rights. Please send American soldiers, not Uzbekistani or Bulgarian ones.

Though I have not contributed to your re-election campaign, I have no doubt that you are eager to enlist the entrepreneurial help of regular citizens such as me. Thank you in advance for your consideration.

Mississippi Emergency Management Agency

Here’s a re-post of my letter to the director of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency after the Hurricane Ivan evacuation. I was pretty angry, as were a lot of other people. I received no response.

September 7, 2004.

I read in the Sun Herald today how you shrugged off the apocalyptic traffic on US Highway 49 during the coastal evacuation this week. Perhaps during the next hurricane, your glib comments can be posted along US Highway 49 to motivate drivers to evacuate faster. Or you could post directions to your office in Jackson, so we can drop in and make friendly suggestions.

While seventy thousand people traveled north on US Highway 49, both southbound lanes remained open to southbound traffic. Very few people were headed to the Gulf Coast, because the beaches, casinos, and hotels were closed, and because a category-4 hurricane was coming. One southbound lane should have been reversed to expedite the evacuation.

At the first traffic signal in Hattiesburg police officers did nothing but stand in the median and watch as the lights went through their regular cycles. In other words, two or three southbound cars made a left-hand turn every couple of minutes while seventy thousand cars waited for the light to turn green.

At the third or fourth traffic signal in Hattiesburg, headed north, the police officer did indeed override the signal. He halted the 70,000-car strong northbound traffic every time a southbound car wanted to turn left into the gas station. While I was glad to graciously postpone my flight from a deadly storm so others could take advantage of Texaco’s courteous and convenient service, police priorities should be reevaluated.
At the next signal, the police officer waved me through a green light, even though traffic was stopped dead. His kind and futile gesture was greatly appreciated, but I recommend that he be assigned more useful tasks next time.

Of course, at the last light in Hattiesburg, a short stretch of the right-hand northbound lane was closed at the Interstate 59 interchange. Why on Earth would anybody do such a thing? There wasn’t much traffic exiting the interstate. I suppose the evacuation of a quarter-million people shouldn’t stand in the way of a few travelers merging smoothly off the exit ramp.

My trip on Highway 49 between Paul B. Johnson State Park and the I-59 interchange north of town took five hours. That is unacceptable during an emergency. I lived most of my life in metropolitan New York, where there are 10 times as many people crammed into a much smaller area, and I have never, ever seen such delays. Not on the day before Thanksgiving, and not even after the terrorist attacks.

When a mandatory evacuation is ordered, people must have a way of evacuating as quickly as possible. The police need to have better instructions and training, and have to learn to look at the big picture while doing their jobs. Evacuation routes must be more flexible. With more attention to these trifling details, traffic could have been moved through Hattiesburg much faster. Otherwise, some coastal residents may opt to take their chances at home. If you can’t see a way to do it better, someone else should do your job.

I look forward to reading your prompt response. In the meantime, I hope my stories about this week’s debacle will amuse newspaper readers and elected officials alike.

Letter to the Iowa City Press-Citizen

Well I’ve done it again. My second letter to the editor in just over a week. This one was to the Iowa City Press-Citizen, regarding an opinion column about a family he saw on a reality televison show with a very odd lifestyle:

J.D. Mendenhall complained on Mar. 1 of parents recently featured on a reality television show “being guilty of, at the very least, child abuse or child endangerment.” though Mr. Mendenhall fails to mention any actual harm done to the children. How has this family has held together so long without advice from a man who writes about reality television shows? One might wonder about the irritating habits he inflicts upon his own family and house guests. However, I am not dying to know.

The family in question is from Iowa, and he fears that they contribute to a stereotype of Iowans as “backwoods, inbred and hickish”, which is actually what I think of when I see busybodies like him trying to foist fictional small-town, middle-American values on other people.

Letter to the Des Moines Register

I’ve come out of letter-writing retirement with an acerbic missive to the Des Moines Register. I was responding to a couple of letters-to-the-editor criticizing organic farming. I did not read the original article.

My letter is as follows:

Two letters to the editor on February 21 complain about favorable coverage of organic farming, citing, among other things, that organic produce requires more land for cultivation because of their lower yields.

Might the same ethic that drives people to buy foods with a lesser impact on the land also drive them to eat less and to waste less? Better consumption habits would go a long way toward offsetting the demand for farmland caused by lower output.

When you see someone squeeze their 400-pound frame into a booth at the Chinese buffet every Wednesday afternoon to gorge on the early-bird special, consider whether that person is a regular purchaser of organic food or not. I doubt it.

My guess is that the letters were written by farmers who don’t farm organically, and don’t like favorable coverage of the practice. I know very little about farming, but I suspect there are stong links among industrial agriculture, farm subsidies, cheap food, obesity, waste, and environmental degradation. Just a hunch.