Gore and the Monks
September 3, 2000
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The lead editorial in this morning's New York Times offers a stunning account of Al Gore's adventures at the Buddhist temple. Here's how the Times editorial handles it: "The vice president's implausible denials that he was aware that this was a fund-raising event are, of course, fair game as an issue. But Mr. Gore is right to remind Americans that he favors campaign finance reform and Mr. Bush does not. There may be no similarly awkward pictures of the governor meeting with donors, but Mr. Bush has been a prodigious fund-raiser from special interests this year . . ."
For the Times to draw a parallel between George W. Bush's legal fund-raising and Al Gore's Buddhist temple fiasco is just breathtaking. At the Buddhist temple event, a non-profit organization illegally funneled at least $65,000 to the DNC through straw donors -- the monks -- who were reimbursed with temple funds for their political contributions . Two of the "donors" were foreign nationals, and the event was orchestrated by a woman, Maria Hsia, who a Senate committee found has acted as an agent of the Chinese communist government and who has since been convicted of felonies stemming from the fundraising scandal. As detailed in a report of the Senate committee on governmental affairs, the Buddhist temple activity "clearly violated federal election laws barring political contributions made through 'straw donors' and meets the legal definition of a 'criminal conspiracy.'" In addition, federal law, 2 U.S.C. Sec. 441e(1), prohibits foreign nationals from contributing to American political campaigns. What the Buddhist temple event was about was not simply "awkward pictures" and the definition of a fund-raiser, but serious violations of federal law. There is no evidence that Mr. Bush has engaged in this sort of behavior. And there is no reason to believe that Mr. Gore and his campaign would pay any more attention to the rules after the passage of campaign finance "reform." If Mr. Gore's campaign didn't obey the existing laws the last time around, why should we trust him to write new laws or to obey them once they are passed?
Estate Tax Pinch: There's some rich language in an article in the Times magazine today by a writer explaining why he opposes repealing the estate tax, also known as the inheritance tax or the death tax. "The inheritability of great wealth is a scandal," the article says. "What freedom-loving American wants to serve a parent for the decades it will take the old coot to retire?" Elsewhere in the magazine, an article decries the "corruption" of "nepotism."
Well, since the newspaper published by Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr. is apparently unwilling to defend the publisher's own financial or family interests, we guess it falls to us to put a word in against the estate tax and on behalf of all those families that would like to hand their businesses down from one generation to the next. We could mention that, according to the Tax Foundation, the estate tax hurts New York particularly hard: New York has 6.7 percent of the nation's population but is expected to generate 12.4 percent of the total federal estate tax receipts this year. New York generates more federal estate tax revenue -- $3.79 billion estimated in 2000 -- than New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Massachusetts combined. Per capita, the federal estate tax in New York is $209. The national per capita average is just $111.
Of course, the Sulzbergers are rich enough and clever enough to have hired rafts of lawyers and accountants and estate planners to set up trusts and classes of preferred shares so that they haven't had to sell the family business to cover the estate tax. Not all small-businessmen or family farmers are so lucky. But the Times apparently would consider it a "scandal" if the estate tax were repealed and those less august families were allowed to pass their companies along to future generations in the way that the Times company has been passed along.
Income Inequality: One of the favorite issues of the socialists over at the Times is "income inequality." We get clobbered with the issue at least twice in today's paper. First, in the book review section, a reviewer writes that if America had developed a strong socialist party, "We might not have levels of income inequality and relative poverty that are almost triple those of other rich nations." Then, in the week in review section, an article attempts to stoke concerns about "the nation's growing income gap," marshaling "daunting" statistics. The article says that "Last year, it took 100 million of the lowest earning Americans to equal the after-tax earnings of the top 1 percent. In 1977, it only took 49 million of the lowest earners to equal the top 1 percent." The article continues: "Another politically embarrassing nugget: the bottom four-fifths of households -- numbering 217 million -- took a thinner slice of the nation's economic pie last year, 50 percent, than in 1977, when it was 56 percent."
These statistics are "daunting" and "politically embarrassing" mainly in the mind of the Times. In the long run, most Americans aren't terribly bothered by the fact that some Americans are really, really rich; they understand that there's plenty of income mobility in America as well as income inequality -- in other words, that they have the chance to get rich, too. Sure, it's a matter of concern that some Americans live in conditions of poverty. But what should bother us is the absolute nature of those conditions, not the "relative poverty" invoked by the Times' book reviewer. Compared to Microsoft's Bill Gates, your average million-dollar-a-year investment banker with a house in Greenwich Connecticut is mired in "relative poverty." So what? Why should we be bothered by Gates's wealth, as long as we are living in relative comfort? As long as the Times is on the subject of income inequality, why doesn't it consider the "income gap" between the bottom four-fifths of Americans and the top fifth of Africans? Even the poorest Americans for the most part have color televisions and indoor plumbing. But you don't see a lot of hand-wringing in the Times about the "relative affluence" of the poorest Americans compared to residents of Africa. In America, the statistics aren't even there to make the "the poor are getting poorer" argument. The Times's complaint, as the week in review headline puts it, is "A Rising Tide, but Some Boats Rise Higher Than Others." In other words, the rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting richer too, just a little bit more slowly than the already-rich people. That is "daunting" and "embarrassing"? Come on.
On Drugs: Refreshingly, the Times today takes a break from its usual political coverage focused on personalities and tactics and makes an effort to tackle a serious policy issue. The article runs in the national section under the headline "No Simple Answers to Rising Cost of Drugs for the Elderly," and it actually shows some encouraging signs of understanding health-care economics. Don't get too excited, though. In the middle of a generally sensible article, the Times lets loose with this whopper: "Perhaps no issue touches as many lives as the price of medication, which is one reason the issue is dominating the political debate." Invoking the word "perhaps" seems to give the reporter free rein to follow with an assertion that is perhaps wishful thinking by the Gore campaign.
Scout's Honor: Commenting on the Boy Scouts, a Times editorial today lets us know, implicitly, what it thinks about the Catholic Church, Orthodox Judaism, and other religions that adhere to the biblical view of homosexuality. The editorial says, "In today's world, children cannot learn about honor from an organization that views homosexuality as a moral defect."
The editorial also lets us know how such organizations should be dealt with: "The swift reaction of public authorities to the Scouts' defense of its right to discriminate has been heartening. Prodded by local anti-discrimination laws, Chicago, San Francisco and many smaller communities have revoked the Boy Scouts' access to public facilities such as schools and campgrounds. This is especially appropriate where such access was granted on preferential terms."
Try to figure out what that phrase "especially appropriate" means. It seems to suggest that the Times also considers it appropriate for governments to bar the Boy Scouts from public facilities even when the facilities are being made available to everyone on equal access terms. Is the Times also proposing to bar Catholic and Orthodox Jewish youth groups from picnicking in public parks?
The Times has defended the rights of hatemongers such as Khalid Muhammad and the Ku Klux Klan to march in New York and has criticized Mayor Giuliani for trying to restrict their activities on city streets and in city parks. When it comes to denying the Boy Scouts the right to camp in state forests, however, the Times seems to think that that is an "appropriate" step for the government to take.
Dry Creek: An article in the travel section reports that Dry Creek Vineyards "is famous for its cabernet sauvignon and sauvignon blanc." Well, not to knock the cabernet sauvignon or the sauvignon blanc, but in recent years the winery has in fact been better known for its fume blanc and its chardonnay.
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