In a story
on people without health insurance, NPR interviewed a spokesman for a "consumer advocacy group" who warned that we shouldn't get rid of the estate tax (so we can spend more tax dollars on health care). Yeah, that's what consumers think -- except for the 68 percent
of them who do want to repeal it.
What's the best business to be in these days? Steel? Automobiles? Maybe not any more. Maybe these days it's software, or finance. Maybe. But judging from this lead story in this morning's Washington Post
The three most prosperous large counties in the United States are in the Washington suburbs, according to census figures released yesterday, which show that the region has the second-highest income and the least poverty of any major metropolitan area in the country.
Rapidly growing Loudoun County has emerged as the wealthiest jurisdiction in the nation, with its households last year having a median income of more than $98,000. It is followed by Fairfax and Howard counties, with Montgomery County not far behind.
-- it would seem that government is the boom industry of the early 21st century. That's the point Chris Edwards made in a Tax & Budget Bulletin
(pdf) three months ago: that compensation of federal employees was almost twice compensation in the private sector. Then three months later, things changed, as things have a way of doing. Chris was forced to admit
that the government's latest figures showed that federal compensation was no longer almost twice private-sector compensation: it was exactly twice as much. "Average compensation for the 1.8 million federal civilian workers in 2005 was $106,579 -- exactly twice the average compensation paid in the U.S. private sector: $53,289."
Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be cowboys,
Don't let 'em make software and sell people trucks,
Make 'em be bureaucrats and fed'rals and such.
The big scandal in public (or actually government) broadcasting is that the taxpayers are forced to pay hundreds of millions of dollars a year for the propagation of unremittingly liberal views on politics and policy. As I said in my testimony
to the Senate last year, I agree with some of the liberal attitudes of NPR and PBS, but I don't think taxpayers should be forced to subsidize my views or those of anyone else.
The second biggest scandal is that when Republicans get control of the federal government, they don't relieve the taxpayers of that burden. Maybe it's because they know the old advice, "Never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel." Or who have their own nationwide broadcast networks. But it's unbelievable to me that Republicans appropriate money every year for two networks that could be called ARN, the Anti-Republican Network.
The third biggest scandal is that instead of just privatizing PBS and NPR, Republicans appoint public broadcasting officials who go in like a bull in a china shop and try to force a bunch of liberal journalists to include conservative shows and perspectives. The government shouldn't be telling journalists how and what to report. Instead, it should just free them
to report as they choose, with money from investors and customers rather than taxpayers.
And I guess the fourth biggest scandal is the one making headlines today
: that the chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (which oversees the federal government's international broadcasting), who used to be chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, is alleged to have improperly used his office. In a State Department report made public by three Democratic members of Congress, Tomlinson is accused of putting a friend on the BBG payroll -- something that never happens elsewhere in the federal government -- and using office resources to support his personal horse-racing operation, which I suppose goes beyond the March Madness pools conducted in every federal office.
Maybe when conservatives get tired of being hit over the head by tax-funded broadcast networks, and liberals get tired of conservatives trying to meddle in the networks' reporting, they could both agree to privatize PBS and NPR, freeing them from political intervention and freeing the taxpayers from being coerced to support what Thomas Jefferson called
"the propagation of opinions which [they] disbelieve."
Not to Scottish pubs, I write in the Guardian's Comment is free
, where a survey says patronage is down 10 percent since a smoking ban went into effect. But if you wondered where all the anti-smoking fascists have gone, check out the commenters.
Not to the pub, according to figures from Scotland, where anti-tobacco fascism is chipping away at freedom of choice.
Cartoon editors are painstakingly working through
more than 1,500 episodes of classic Tom and Jerry, Flintstones, and Scooby Doo cartoons to erase scenes of characters - gasp - smoking. Turner Broadcasting says it's a voluntary decision, but the move comes after a report from Ofcom, which has regulatory authority over British broadcasters. So in this case "censorship" seems a reasonable term.
It's not the first time. France's national library airbrushed
a cigarette out of a poster of Jean-Paul Sartre to avoid falling foul of an anti-tobacco law. The US postal service has removed
the cigarettes from photographs on stamps featuring Jackson Pollock, Edward R. Murrow, and Robert Johnson. And in the 20th-anniversary rerelease of ET, Steven Spielberg replaced
the policemen's guns with walkie-talkies.
On one level, this is just a joke: they are redrawing cartoons to make them more kid-friendly. And just to make the rules completely PC, Turner is allowed to leave cigarettes in the hands of cartoon villains.
But there's something deeper here: an attempt to sanitize history, to rewrite it the way we wish it had happened. Smoking is a part of reality, and especially a part of history. Just look at any old movie. Everyone smokes: doctors, pregnant women, lovers. Real people smoked, too - people like Murrow and Pollock and Sartre. And some of them died of lung and throat cancer, which parents and teachers can point out. It's Orwellian to airbrush historical photos in order to remove evidence of that of which you disapprove.
Franklin D. Roosevelt spent decades trying to conceal the fact that he was confined to a wheelchair. Historians say that out of more than 10,000 photographs of FDR, only four show
him using a wheelchair. Those are the ones that are now used in textbooks and at the FDR Memorial in Washington. One victory for historical accuracy. However, the FDR Memorial
removed the ever-present cigarette from FDR's hands. Orwell's ministry of truth would be proud.
(Excerpted from Comment is free
Politically correct attempts to pretend no one ever used tobacco are a betrayal of historical fact.
The parallel Tehran wants us to see between its Holocaust-themed cartoons and the controversial Danish ones is not actually there.
NPR reports on a new Florida law that requires the teaching of American history in the schools and sets up some rules for how it should be taught. At the beginning of the report I was amused by the description of the impetus for the law:
Mike Fasano was a state Senator from New Port Richey, Florida, just north of Tampa. After visiting some schools he learned that students often didn't know the name of their town's mayor, the name of the state's lieutenant governor, or even the difference between the Florida legislature and the U.S. Congress.
The name of the lieutenant governor?
Let's see . . . kids who can't vote can't name a public official who has no power. And that's a problem? But OK, they should know the difference between the legislature and the Congress. And so:
To help remedy that, Fasano proposed a bill recently signed into law that requires Florida schools to teach the history of the United States from the period of discovery to the present. Nothing controversial about that. The clause that alarmed historians was the one that seemed to suggest that any discussions of controversial events that were open to different interpretations would be off-limits.
Indeed, the bill does say:
American history shall be viewed as factual, not as constructed, shall be viewed as knowable, teachable, and testable, and shall be defined as the creation of a new nation based largely on the universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.
And that has stirred controversy
. Teachers and educrats and a Washington lobbyist for historians (!) all complain that history is not just "facts," that interpretation is essential for understanding what happened. And of course they're right. The first problem is that millions of things happened every day in 400 years of American history (note that "400 years" assumes that American history began with the arrival of European settlers). You can't tell kids every one of those things, so already you're picking and choosing among facts, based on some theory or assumption about what's important.
And then of course history is full of controversies: Did the British treat the colonists unfairly? Did the colonists treat the Indians unfairly? Were the costs of the American Revolution worth it? Were the Founders hypocrites to proclaim their devotion to liberty while holding slaves? And so on and so on, right up to the dropping of the atomic bomb, the debacle of Vietnam, and the contemporary questions of whether either Bill Clinton or George W. Bush was the worst president in American history.
But the mere listing of a few historical controversies illustrates the difficulty of deciding on a "right" answer. Whose interpretation should be taught to all students in government schools? Should we tell students that Jefferson was a hero or a hypocrite? That the 600,000 deaths in the Civil War were or were not worth it? That the bombing of Hiroshima was a war crime or a necessary measure to save even more lives? That FDR saved capitalism or transformed a federal republic into a centralized welfare state?
There are no right answers to these questions. (Well, there are
, but apparently not everyone sees them.) So the teaching of history becomes a political struggle: Which faction will get to impose its view on millions of children?
The way to avoid political fights like these is to depoliticize them. Take away the power for anyone to impose his or her views on all the children. People used to expect the state to impose one religion on the whole society. When, nevertheless, people came to hold differing religious beliefs, Europe went through the Wars of Religion
. And out of those conflicts came a new understanding: religious toleration and the separation of church and state. Let everyone worship as he chooses, and let no one impose religion on those with different beliefs.
The separation of school and state would accomplish the same thing in education: No more political fights over school prayer, the Pledge of Allegiance, gay teachers, evolution, dress codes, sex education, or historical interpretation. Let every family choose schools that reflect their own values or otherwise best meet their educational needs. And if we can't achieve separation, we could at least adopt toleration: Let all parents send their children to schools they choose, without financial penalty.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Finance Committee, is asking
Medicare/Medicaid administrator Mark McClellan why two senior Medicare investigators spend up to two months each year "on travel to popular vacation destinations." Grassley wants to know, "What did American taxpayers and Medicare beneficiaries get for the travels of Rollow and Jencks?”
Good for him. As I suggested in another recent item
, it's better for Grassley and the Finance Committee to be exercising their oversight of federal programs than to run amok through American society, investigating the Red Cross
, American University
, the Nature Conservancy
, and other charities
. A top Grassley aide has met
500 times with nonprofit officials as part of his investigations and hearing preparations.
So better to remember that the role of the United States Senate Committee on Finance is not to regulate American society, but to oversee the finances of the federal government. In that light, the investigations into wasteful spending at Medicare and the Legal Services Corporation are to be welcomed.
Still, you have to consider: The budget for Legal Services is about $326 million, and the allegedly wasteful spending probably amounts to a few million dollars. In the case of Medicare, Grassley is complaining about $75,000 in travel expenses. Total spending
on Medicare will rise
by $52 billion this year, to $382 billion. Medicaid will cost taxpayers another $200 billion in FY2007. The federal deficit is projected
to total $1.76 trillion over the coming decade. And the government's total fiscal imbalance
, as calculated by Kent Smetters and Cato's Jagadeesh Gokhale, is now $63 trillion.
When the Senate Finance Committee investigates $75,000 in suspicious travel at Medicare or doubled meal expenses at Legal Services, it is engaging in sleight of hand. Like a magician who draws your attention to his right hand while he moves things around with his left, the committee is trying to divert our attention from the fact that it is ignoring these massive problems while it gets favorable headlines for penny-ante stunts.