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A shot in the arm

The girl from Fallujah

Guilty until proven innocent

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Promises of Dividends

Date: 10/6/04
Show: Morning Edition & All Things Considered (NPR)

Quick question: what have Jimmy Carter, John F. Kerry, and George W. Bush in common?

Answer: they all said that they would end the double taxation of dividends.

In his run for the presidency, Carter promised that he would eliminate the double taxation of dividends. Indeed, as President, he asked his Treasury Secretary to look into the matter, but that was all there ever was.

In a speech before the City Club of Cleveland, Senator Kerry had this to say about dividends:

And to encourage investments in the jobs of the future, I think we should eliminate the tax on capital gains for investments in critical technology companies — zero capital gains on $100 million issuance of stock if it's held for five years and has created real jobs — and we should attempt to end the double taxation of dividends.

A few months later, the Senator voted against it.

John Edwards   [©AP] John Edwards

The only one who did what he had promised is Bush. Though he failed to end double taxation, he cut the marginal tax rate on dividends income from 37% to 15%. To make sure that no good deed of this President goes unpunished, Senator Edwards — the other John on the ticket — had this to say about dividends in yesterday's Vice Presidential debate:

[…] millionaires sitting by their swimming pool, collecting their statements, to see how much money they're making, make their money from dividends, pays a lower tax rate than the men and women who are receiving pay checks for serving on the ground in Iraq.

Now, they may think that's right. John Kerry and I do not. We don't just value wealth, which they do. We value work in this country, and it is a fundamental value difference between them and us.

Indeed, the millionaire sitting by the swimming pool and living exclusively from dividends pays a marginal tax rate of only 15%, but this is still higher than the 0% that our soldiers in Iraq are paying. Also, this is not the only tax he has to pay on his investment. Before he receives a single cent from his broker, the federal government has already taken out 35% in corporate taxes and the state 9.2% (varying from state to state). After paying state income taxes, he is lucky if he can keep 45 cents of each dollar he makes. Amazingly, the fact checkers for Morning Edition completely missed this point. Ron Elving who watched the debate for All Things Considered knew at least that soldiers serving in combat zones are exempt from paying income taxes.

The irony of it all is that Edwards should know better: he himself is collecting a decent number of statements — although it may not be by his swimming pool.


Admittedly, I don't care much about class-warfare rubbish such as "millionaires sitting by their swimming pool" or the "two Americas" that Senator Edwards is chatting about. It was Gore's liberal use of slogans like these at the 2000 Democratic National Convention that sealed my vote for the Republican candidate — nothing that Bush himself had said or done.

It's a well-known fact that many of America's glitterati, the truly rich and famous, fancy themselves as politically progressive. I am not quite sure what the causes are for this mental condition, but in an article written for Forbes magazine Dan Seligman takes a pretty good stab at it:

What makes so many smart billionaires gravitate to primitive liberal positions one would normally associate with, say, a Bennington freshman? Money guilt. Lew H. Rockwell, president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, offered this explanation during last year's debate over repeal of the estate tax: "The rich have always supported the estate tax. Despite their wealth, they have imbibed the dominant culture's ethic of egalitarianism and decided to promote it as a means of expiating their alleged sins."

My own preferred variant of this argument is that the rich promote it for much the same reason they build 60-room mansions: Both manifest Veblenesque "conspicuous consumption." Paying immense estate taxes with no sweat is a terrific way of advertising your financial invulnerability. Note that even a 99% estate tax would not be too painful for the fellow with $1 billion; there's still $10 million left to see his grandchildren through Yale.

Now you know why Republicans voted for the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform act of 2002 which limited individual campaign contributions to $2,000 a pop.

Luckily for Democrats, their smart billionaire friends found a way around the spending limits by generously giving to chapter 527 organizations. George Soros alone gave $10 million to America Coming Together (Act!), $2.6 million to, and $3 million to the Center for American Progress, all groups whose primary mission is to oust Bush. According to a recent survey, liberal 527's received over $170 million in contributions while their conservative counterparts collected merely $10 million.

The influence of America's "new princes" extends well into the United States Congress. John Kerry who according to a liberal think tank has the most liberal voting record in the Senate is also its richest member. John Edwards who ranks second on the list of most liberal Senators, ranks ninth in net worth. Remarkably, just two of the 10 richest Senators are Republicans.

  • The Leftist Billionaire Syndrome by Dan Seligman [, 4/15/2002]
  • The Theory of the Leisure Class by Thorstein Veblen, 1899
  • Millionaires populate U.S. Senate [CNN, 6/13/2003]
  • Survey of chapter 527 organizations [click to download .xls spreadsheet]
  • Whether Kerry has the most liberal voting record is, of course, hotly disputed. A look at Vote-Smart shows that Kerry nearly always agrees with organizations that have a left or liberal agenda. In 2003, Kerry received a perfect score from the National Abortion Reproductive Rights Action League, Humane Society, National Education Association, Sierra Club, American Association of University Women, Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, and — last but not least — the AFL-CIO. The United Auto Workers claim that Kerry voted with them an astonishing 102% of the time.


The girl from Fallujah

A Shot in the Arm of the Kerry Campaign

Date: 10/18/04
Show: Various (NPR)

On October 5, Chiron informed the Center for Disease Control that none of its influenza vaccine (Fluvirin®) would be available for this year's flu season. The reason: the British government had suspended the manufacturing license of its Liverpool plant because of a production problem.

Within days, the Kerry campaign began talking of a looming health care disaster, painting a picture of thousands of Americans dying due to a failure of the Bush administration to provide a sufficient number of flu shots. NPR chimed in with daily updates on the crises, reminding its listeners that the Spanish flu of 1918 killed 20 million people — more than were killed during WWI. Today, the flood of scary reports may have crested, with seven in a single day.

Flu shot   [©State of Vermont]

Are we facing a health care crisis and is the Bush administration to blame?

The first question seems easy enough to answer. The CDC ordered 102 million units. Minus 48 million that Chiron was to deliver, plus 4.6 million that Canada and Aventis Pasteur, a French pharmaceutical company, promised to supply, America's health care providers have about 60 million shots at their disposal. Based on 2002 data, the CDC anticipated a need for 40.8 million units, or, with allowance for an increase in the targeted population, 42.8 million. This leaves 17 million for people who don't really have to get vaccinated. In 2002, the number was 16 million.

The problem with CDC's projection is that it does not take into account a possible panic. Once a campaign issue, millions of people that otherwise wouldn't have thought of getting vaccinated will stand in line to get a shot. Even restricting the vaccine to the high-risk population won't help. Pregnant women are supposed to get vaccinated, but in 2002 only 12.4% of them did. What if every expectant mother shows up?

It is ridiculous for Kerry to blame Bush for the shortage. First of all, the CDC contracted for considerably more units than projected, more than any previous administration. Second, the regulatory agency in charge of overseeing Chiron is the British MHRA, not the FDA. And third, the root cause of the current troubles — our reliance on foreign manufacturers — goes back to Democratic policies. For years, Democrats in Congress refused to limit the liability of vaccine manufacturers and, to make things worse, placed price caps on childhood vaccines, the largest source of revenues for vaccine makers. No wonder that many have left the country.

  • audio file Experts warn of looming flu crisis in U.S. [Morning Edition, 10/18/04]
  • audio file For many at risk, flu shot shortage is palpable [Morning Edition, 10/18/04]
  • audio file Americans scramble for scarce flu vaccine [Talk of the Nation, 10/18/04]
  • audio file The politics of the flu vaccine shortage [Morning Edition, 10/18/04]
  • audio file Kerry announces plan on flu vaccine shortage [All Things Considered, 10/18/04]
  • audio file Root of the flu vaccine shortage [All Things Considered, 10/18/04]
  • America grapples with flu vaccine shortage [NPR News]
  • Vaccines For Children Program [CDC, Programs in Brief]
  • Interim estimates of populations targeted for influenza vaccination [download PDF file]

An update

Two weeks after joining forces with the Kerry campaign by raising the specter of a national health care crisis, NPR had the first reasonable piece on this subject. Not that there was nothing to quibble about, 43 million units instead of the 42.8 million stated by the CDC, but small errors like this are certainly forgivable.

  Richard Knox [©NPR/J. Coughlin]

Cheers to Richard Knox for restoring some integrity to NPR News!

  • audio file Heightened flu fears may not be warranted [Morning Edition, 10/21/04]
  • Richard Knox, NPR Health and Science correspondent


Guilty until proven innocent

The Girl from Fallujah

Date: 11/14/04
Show: Weekend Edition Sunday (NPR)

For months now, NPR News was reporting that the smart bombs intended for Fallujah safe houses harboring terrorists were missing their target, hitting the homes of Iraqi civilians instead. The drumbeat was so persistent that I jokingly asked my wife to file a product liability lawsuit against the makers of such bombs, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon. She didn't think it was a good idea.

Naturally, all of this was second-hand information, based on Arabic media outlets with ties to the insurgency. No Western correspondent was dumb enough to venture into the rebel stronghold and see for himself. On occasion, NPR would talk to a doctor in an Iraqi hospital, the kind of doctor who under Saddam surgically removed tongs from unruly citizens. Unfailingly, the doctor would say that he was treating only women and children — apparently, no terrorist was ever pulled out of the rubble. The mayor even pronounced that there were no terrorists in the city.

Iraqi insurgents   Iraqi irregulars [unattributed]

When U.S. Marines invaded Fallujah and stumbled upon houses in which hostages were kept and beheaded, the subject quickly turned to the question of how many Iraqi civilians were killed by our troops. From the vantage point of embedded reporters, also known as "in-beds," it must have been difficult to decide which of the bearded young men firing at them from the minars and minarettes were insurgents and which were innocent bystanders.

Searching for more civilian casualties, NPR's Philip Reeves went to Baghdad's al-Kadhimiya hospital where a badly wounded girl from Fallujah was fighting for her life [it is unclear whether Reeves actually went there as the audio is followed by the disclaimer "compiled with reporting from Ali Fada"]. Her father, who was wounded in the head, told the story: he was knocked out by a blast that blew in the door and windows of his kitchen. After he woke up, he found his daughter lying next to him with a bullet wound in her chest. The bullet had torn up her lungs, diaphragm, and liver. A friend rushed them to the hospital, slowed down by military checkpoints on the way.

There are holes in the story, large enough to drive a tank through: first, how does the father know it was the Marines that wounded him and his daughter. According to his own testimony, he was unconscious at the time. Why did he stay in Fallujah, despite calls from Iraqi officials and the US military for civilians to leave the city? He said that he did not know where to go, but as a cab driver this is hard to believe. Moreover, with the injuries suffered by his daughter it is a miracle that she is still alive, much less speaking to reporters. You just don't survive with a torn-up liver and diaphragm.

Of course, the story is heart-breaking and the video of the little girl will be great material for Michael Moore's next propaganda film. The fact remains that all wars are bloody and terrible, even a war fought for a honorable cause. There can be no doubt that if we lose the war against militant Islam there will be a much higher price to pay — for Americans as well as for freedom-loving Iraqis.

There is another side to the story that Reeves fails to mention. It's amazing that the two made it to the hospital at all. A 35-year old man with a bleeding head wound coming from Fallujah must have looked to soldiers at the checkpoints like a potential terrorist. The Marines found weapons cashes and bomb-making materials in nearly every home in Fallujah. In many cases, the insurgents were using women and children as human shields. Could it be that the cab driver used his family for this purpose?

One thing is certain: a wounded U.S. Marine would not have made it through a single checkpoint manned by insurgents.


Morning-after thrill

Guilty until Proven Innocent

Date: 12/15/04
Show: All Things Considered (NPR)

Listening to NPR, you might get the impression that everyone in prison is innocent, except, of course, for General Augusto Pinochet or Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who are not in prison, but surely belong there.

So it was no big surprise when NPR — with the help of Maryland law school professor Michael A. Millemann — found another guy in prison who had done nothing, other than perhaps keeping bad company.

Iraqi insurgents   [©NPR] Arvinger after his release

The story goes like this: Walter Arvinger was hanging out at a friend's house with other friends when the group decided to rob ("yoke") someone. They just started arguing about the best way to do this when Arvinger left the house for a nearby convenience store to buy some cake. On his way back, he saw his friends clobber a man with a baseball bat. By the time he caught up with them, the man was lying on the ground, unconscious. Two members of the gang, but not Arvinger, went through the victim's pockets and took a small amount of money. Later, they split the loot, but it remains unclear whether Arvinger got a share.

Luckily, the Maryland police found the killers. In separate trials, Arvinger and the kid who was swinging the bat received life sentences; two others got away with short prison terms, one was acquitted.

We may never know why Arvinger received such a harsh sentence: the judge and the defense counsel are both dead and the prosecutor says he cannot remember anything — after all, the trial took place 36 years ago. Maybe, the judge felt that Arvinger was the leader of the gang because, despite his tender age of 19 years, he was the oldest one. Apparently, he did nothing to stop the crime, get help for the dying man, or assist the state in solving the crime.

Arvinger maintains that he had nothing to do with the murder. After reading the trial transcript, professor Millemann cannot believe that the judge found the defendant guilty. Surely, the judge must have been inexperienced and the defense counsel incompetent — slandering the dead is par for the course in cases like this.

After some prodding by the professor and his students, Maryland's Governor Ehrlich conditionally commuted the sentence to time served. The reason, as stated in the executive order:

Arvinger has been serving a life sentence for First Degree Murder since November 4, 1968. At age 19, he was one of four co-defendants that plotted to rob James R. Brown as another co-defendant beat Mr. Brown about the head with a baseball bat. Arvinger did not wield the weapon yet has served more time in prison than his co-defendants, including the individual who perpetrated the murder.

Needless to say that I agree with the Governor. Not only did Arvinger not wield the murder weapon, but also otherwise his part in the crime was minimal.

What I disagree with is the way the professor and the liberal media, foremost NPR and the Washington Post, are portraying the case: a man sitting in prison for more than 30 years for "a crime he did not commit."

Whether Arvinger is guilty or not is to be decided by the courts, not by an activists law professor who happens to read a transcript. The judge who presided over the trial was in a much better position to evaluate the credibility of witnesses. Transcripts generally say nothing about the demeanor of people, may contain errors, or even omit things that were said in court. Moreover, since it was a bench trial, the judge may have taken into account evidence that he knew from police records and other sources. Judges are supposed to forget these things, but this is easier said than done.

The case went before an appeals court which found no errors. The professor and his class uncovered not a single fact that sheds new light on the guilt or innocence of the accused. Once convicted, Arvinger, like anybody else, is considered guilty until proven innocent. The case has certainly not been made.

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Revised 1/12/05