September 19, 2001
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A front-page story in today's New York Times reports from Washington on American diplomatic efforts to assemble a coalition against terrorism. The Times reports that "Egypt and Jordan were both crucial allies in the 1991 coalition against President Saddam Hussein of Iraq." Well, one could argue over whether Egypt's role was "crucial" or not -- and Smartertimes.com would argue it was not -- but in the case of Jordan, the Times is just flat-out wrong. Jordan was not an ally in the 1991 coalition against Saddam Hussein. Jordan was officially neutral, a stance that annoyed the U.S. government at the time.
Overly Bellicose: An editorial in today's New York Times criticizes President George W. Bush for being "overly bellicose" in saying that Osama Bin Laden was "wanted: dead or alive."
The comment "may have made the country feel better for a short period, but it was unsettling to leaders of other nations, some of whom have to reassure nervous and potentially restive populations that Washington is not planning an anti-Islamic campaign," the Times says. Since the Times doesn't specify who these "leaders of other nations" are, it's hard to judge whether much deference should be given to their concerns. Were these "leaders of other nations" elected democratically in free countries? If not, it is likely that their own policies, not Mr. Bush's rhetoric, are to blame for their tenuous positions.
The Times also complains that "Mr. Bush's comments may also create unrealistic expectations at home about what American military forces can do over the short run. Finding and capturing Osama bin Laden will be difficult without the cooperation of Afghanistan, and even the president may not know exactly how that can be accomplished." It's not unrealistic to expect that America, the world's sole superpower, can kill a two-bit terrorist like Osama bin Laden. And so what if it may be "difficult" to find him? It was difficult to win the Cold War and World War II, but that wasn't a reason to abandon the war aims or to refuse to state them in a straightforward manner.
The Times says, "The hotter the rhetoric now, the harder President Bush will find it later if his better judgment winds up telling him to delay action, or to concentrate for a while on diplomatic and economic sanctions rather than military force." That sounds to Smartertimes.com like an argument for heating up the rhetoric. What's more, it suggests that what the Times is really objecting to isn't Mr. Bush's "overly bellicose" rhetoric but the possibility that the American response to the terrorist attack will itself be "overly bellicose."
Truly Terrible: The "Reckonings" columnist on the op-ed page of today's New York Times writes, "Unfortunately, Congressional leaders seem fixated on a truly terrible idea: a permanent cut in the capital gains tax."
The columnist writes, "The economic impact of this move would be uncertain at best. Its most obvious effect would be to encourage people to sell stocks, driving markets down even further."
It's weird for the columnist not to mention that the last time the capital gains tax was cut, in 1997 -- when the long-term capital gains tax rate for individuals was reduced to 20% from 28% under a bill signed by a Democratic president, Bill Clinton -- the stock market soared. It's hardly "obvious" that doing the same thing again would have the opposite effect on the markets this time around. It's possible that the money freed up when people "sell stocks," as the columnist predicts they will, will be reinvested in other stocks. The new investments might be made on the merits rather than on the basis of inertia stemming from the desire to avoid taxes, and the overall allocation of capital might end up being more efficient, leading to greater growth.
There are strong indications that the Times columnist himself doesn't believe his own claim that a capital gains tax would drive "markets" -- presumably he means stock prices -- down. The columnist asserts it would be "a tax cut of dubious economic value, which delivers 80 percent of its direct benefits to the wealthiest 2 percent of the population?" Well, if this tax cut is really going to drive the stock market down, presumably it would hurt the rich more than anyone else, because the rich have a lot of assets invested in the stock market. The poor without stock market investments would be hurt less, since they have less invested in the stock market and less to lose if the capital gains tax cut really does have the effect of "driving markets down even further." It takes a good bit of flexibility for the columnist to argue that a capital gains cut would drive "markets" down, then turn around in the same column and complain that it would benefit the wealthiest 2 percent of the population.
The columnist says Congress should "focus on what the country needs, not on what a wealthy minority wants." Are the "wealthy minority" really so dumb that they want a tax cut that is going to have the "obvious effect" of "driving markets down"? Maybe the effect isn't as "obvious" as the columnist claims.
Late Again: Today's New York Times waddles in with an article about a controversy over schools that specialize in educating homeless children. The Los Angeles Times had this story back on June 12, 2001, and did a better job with it.
Get Out the Umbrellas: A news article in today's New York Times about how President Bush has been handling the terrorist attack reports, "So far, Mr. Bush's advisers have resisted reigning him in, saying that the ordinary language has worked at places like the site of the wreckage of the World Trade Center on Friday." This is the third time Smartertimes.com has noticed the Times confusing "reign" and "rein." The correct phrase is "reining him in," like a horse, which has reins, not reigns. A king reigns. A horse has reins. Rain falls from the sky. This is basic middle-school stuff, and it's disappointing that the countless layers of highly paid, college-educated reporters and editors at the Times can't get it right, even when the mistake had been twice noted earlier on Smartertimes.com. If this were this first time the Times had made this error, Smartertimes.com would be inclined to give the newspaper some slack on it, given the burdens of moving vast amounts of copy under deadline pressure after a terrorist attack. But they were making this error even before the terrorists struck. So given that a new executive editor has begun his reign at the newspaper's reins (yes, the editor's name is Raines) -- it's worth a mention.
Note: Smartertimes.com is in Massachusetts today and operating off the New York Times on the Web.
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