Tuesday, August 31, 2004

I don't have much to say about the Republican convention because . . . I've barely watched it. I have to say that I don't think it's all "happening" for them:

People are TV fatigued from the Olympics

The RNC is not the only game in town, even the Networks are going up against it with major stuff like Last Comic Standing and music awards, baseball, and more.

I did not feel the energy going into the convention, I think the Olympics drained all that out

The speeches so far have been a drag-I did not see McCain, Gulliani's was unbearable, I popped in and out and finally I canned the whole thing and opted for comedy.

Arnold's was . . .uninspiring for me (I suppose he has appeal to people). The Bush twins were not in their element, it was clear that they were trying to mimic the Kerry girls, even offering up a hamster reference. Laura Bush's talk was a dud. Chris Matthews had once said there was a Stepford Wives quality to her. That may be a bit harsh, but there is something "dollish" about her that doesn't seem real. When she referred to her parents in law, her wave to them was a robotic political spouse wave-actually a touch freaky. But again, I'm not an open minded independent undecided voter and I don't know what they think.

I though Teresa Heinz Kerry was low key but powerful. I felt like she connected. I felt like we were getting a real person. Laura Bush simple gave a standard stump speech for her husband, but Teresa talked from the heart and the feedback I got the next day was tremendous.

The other thing is that the set is horrid. What on earth was that background behind Laura? It was awful. Also with Arnold, McCain and Gulliani, the backgrounds were unusual. It was clear that whoever designed the set did not have an eye for both the big picture and the TV picture. The backgrounds for the guys have been a solid red or blue, which gives the whole convention an 80s retro look. The stage does look somewhat 80s. The DNC convention was set up by Hollywooders and it showed. I personally was expecting to be wowed by the RNC set, but I feel it is something of a semi-pro job.

Anyway, I'm glad this is going on and will be over soon and then we can begin to focus on the real deal, getting Kerry elected. 60 more days of George Bush: boy, it's been a long four years.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

For whatever reason, I get a lot of hits from people googling for Brian Dennehy, the actor. All I ever said about him was that I thought he was a very dignified looking actor. So I imagine there are a lot of dissappointed people who arrive here and don't find a treasure trove of Brian Dennehy stuff.

Well, not anymore. Here are links

Brian Dennehy (TV Tome page)

Brian Denneny (Yahoo)

Brian Dennehy (E! Online)

Brian Dennehy (Unofficial Yahoo Group fan site)

Friday, August 27, 2004

John Kerry believes in the 2nd ammendment. He is a hunter-has hunted since the age of 12. Kerry will uphold the assault weapons ban, which is a targetted ban and not a general ban on gun ownership. That said, check these guys out: SKS Owners for Kerry.

Via Preemptive Karma who says:

An SKS is a model or brand of military rifle that I had always thought was of German origin. But, reading the SKS Owners For Kerry site I've learned that it's actually Russian in origin. I must have read something about an East German version of the SKS years ago and just assumed that it was a German brand.

Via Rebecca at Journey to Vatican III:

Commonweal article about priest who is not so hot on celibacy after a lifetime of the celibate life.

Now at age eighty-three, after fifty-nine years of a happy and exciting priesthood, my early questioning of celibacy has been confirmed. Rather than an enhancement, celibacy has been more of a distraction. Unmarried, the priest ideally can give more of himself and his time to ministry, but it does not always work out that way. Compensations easily insinuate themselves-golf, tennis, bridge, social activities, hobbies-and make disproportionate demands on the time and energy said to derive from celibacy. Without a high-octane spiritual life, other less acceptable activities can come into play: drinking, race tracks, casinos. As a form of asceticism, celibacy’s heroic demands are more at home with a hermit in the desert or a monk in a monastery than with a priest ministering in today’s highly charged sexual atmosphere.

The celibacy issue is another one of those that the hierarchy is going to have to get honest about. The issue has become a conservative v liberal, orthodoxy v unorthodoxy issue that no one can raise it as a discussion issue anymore. Mandatory celibacy is simply unnatural and counterproductive IMHO. I'm not against the celibate priesthood or even mandating it, all I say is be honest-don't inflate the celibate life, don't make it superior, don't demean married life, just take celibacy for what it is.

The hierarchy, the celibate ones in power, have sought to justify their "celibate" lifestyle choices and have consequently proclaimed their lifestyle the superior. That's natural, after all, what are they going to say, "celibacy is bad for you?"

An interesting point in the article was the priest's acknowledgement that the hierarchy has proclaimed priests as ontologically superior. I have seen in a document somewhere by either the Vatican or US Bishops, that the priest is the prime example of God's love in the world! Yikes! And we have JPII who has said that celibacy belongs to the "very logic" of the priesthood--interpretation-I cannot make celibacy, a discipline, dogma because I'll be called out on it, but what I can do is make it as close to dogma as possible.

When you have celibate priests, whose natural inclination is justify their choices in life, determining the value of celibacy v married life, the inevitable conclusion is, celibacy is superior to non-celibacy, after all sex is evil, bad, dirty, and for the weak. Any reasonable person would have to honestly assess the quality of these proclamations by the hierarchy on celibacy. If the Church's position is not driven by the self interests of the celibate men in charge, then I can't see what other motive drives the Church's celibacy stance.

Bottomline: Simply say, "We CHOOSE to make celibacy mandatory because we hope it makes for better priest." Don't lie and say, "We mandate celibacy because we know it is the superior way of life." It isn't.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

John Kerry--In the LA Times

At the Democratic Party fundraiser in Philadelphia, the Massachusetts senator responded to former GOP presidential nominee Bob Dole's statement that Kerry was only in Vietnam for four months."I was there for longer than that, No. 1," said Kerry, who did not mention Dole by name. "No. 2, I served for two tours. No. 3, they thought enough of my service to make me aide to an admiral."

Kerry called his protests against the war "an act of conscience.""You can judge my character, incidentally, by that," he said. "Because when the times of moral crisis existed in this country, I wasn't taking care of myself, I was taking care of public policy. I was taking care of things that made a difference to the life of this nation. You may not have agreed with me, but I stood up and was counted. And that's the kind of president I'm going to be."

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

I'm trying to wade into this stem cell research debate slowly. There's too much to sort out. I'd been waiting for emotions to die down, but that's not going to happen anytime soon. So I figure why wait?

I found this page from NIH which is a primer on stem cells. The official Catholic position is against embyonic stem cell research because life begins at conception (although the Church is very murky on this point) and destroying the a 3-5 day old blastocycst is destroying life (or at least the Church says the embryo should be treated as a full human person even if the Church does not take a position on when actually ensoulement occurs).

One thing I will say is that I think the Church needs to come clean about the science of what goes on in conception. Decades ago, the authority to declare someone dead in the Church's eyes was with the Church, especially because death was a spiritual event, i.e, soul leaves body. But after science began to challenge the simplicity of our view of death by resuscitating the dead, even hours after they had died, the Church wisely stepped out of the death defining business.

Will that ever be the case with the beginning of human life? Will the Church ever decided to let science determe when life begins just as it surrendered that determination in the case of death?

Not anytime soon. Only because of the politics not because of truth itself. Abortion and pro-life/choice politics is hot enough right now, the Church cannot afford to unilaterally disarm.

However, my complaint with the way the Church is proceeding on this issue is that it has taken a popular dogmatic position that is not based in science and will not budge. It is almost as though science has to do something to disprove the dogmatic assertion about the moment when human life begins. (Note that technically, the Church's position is murky in when life begins, but its public position is "definitive")

The Magisterium has not expressly committed itself to an affirmation of a philosophical nature, but it constantly reaffirms the moral condemnation of any kind of procured abortion. This teaching has not been changed and is unchangeable. CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH: INSTRUCTION ON RESPECT FOR HUMAN LIFE IN ITS ORIGIN AND ON THE DIGNITY OF PROCREATION REPLIES TO CERTAIN QUESTIONS OF THE DAY 1987.

The issue of twinning is the particular issue that has made me very hesitant on embracing the Church's position on stem cell research. From what I understand, some identical twins are formed when a fertilized egg splits-these are monozygotic twins. Also from what I understand, the process of twinning can take place within the first 14 days after the egg is fertilized.

If this is the case then when the egg is fertilized, is it one soul that splits into two souls eventually, or is it two souls formed at conception and the egg split mirrors that? I think that to say that it is two souls originally and not one soul splitting would be stretching the issue to the point of ridiculousness. So if it is one soul that splits into two, I'd say 'Houston, we have a problem' with the Church's position.

The other thing that has perplexed me is the fact that in some cases, twinning does occur and then the two eggs reunite and become one individual. This is officially freaky. If the soul is a full and complete soul at conception, then splits into two souls for the twinning process and then these two souls recombine to form one soul prior to implantation, we then really do have a problem with starting from uncompromising dogma.

The fact is that before implantion, the fertilized egg can split up to become twins and then recombine to be on individual. This presents horrible problems for full ensoulment at conception. I think the more reasonable thing to do would be to work with science and establish the science and facts regarding the first few days of existence and then provide the theological and philosophical context for the process. Neither faith nor science alone has the key, but an uncompromising bias towards any pole doesn't do the issue justice.

Anyway, I still need to hash it out, but I refuse to hold an apriori dogma to the extent that I ignore the facts. I do believe that life begins at conception, but I think Kerry was articulating a common sense position that it is a "form of life." After all, Aquinas and others in the Catholic tradition, so the process from "conception" to full ensoulment as a process from stage to stage.

Benedict Ashley, a Dominican Catholic Bio-ethics expert, has the following article on the issue: "Clonning, Aquinas and the Embryonic Person."

Monday, August 23, 2004

Yet another Veteran who's been silent speaking up for Kerry denouncing the Swift Boat Bush liars:

Via Digby:

Letters to the editor

A veteran for truth

Dear Editor,

This letter is in response to the new attacks on John Kerry's war record by a group calling itself the "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth." As for most veterans of any war and as people who know me will testify, it is not easy for me to talk about my experiences in Vietnam. However, because of these new ads and, I understand, a new book recently published by an old Charles Colson "Enemies List" hit man, I feel compelled to speak out.

Unfortunately, the veterans featured in these attacks are being used by extreme right wing Bush supporters to spread their lies and malign John Kerry.I feel that most of these veterans who are joining this attack are against Kerry for what he did after he was home from the war than for what he did in the war. If they are against him for his stance against the Vietnam War, that certainly is their right, but to spread lies and malicious innuendos about his time on the rivers of Vietnam is not morally right and does a disservice not only to Kerry, but to all those who served and were wounded or died in that war.

The people who are using these veterans for their own means obviously do not care about that. They did the same thing to Senator John McCain and Congressman Max Cleland in 2000 with no remorse or care for the consequences.To me what is worse is that by their silence, the current administration has not, with any real meaning, disavowed itself or distanced itself in anyway from any of these scurrilous attacks, past or present. I feel that this truly shows the Bush administration for what they really are and ultimately, who is truly responsible for these attacks.

Since I happened to be along on one of the "excursions" where the boats that we were on were attacked and after which Lt. Kerry was cited for valor, I thought it appropriate to give my recollection of that event. This happened on March 13, 1969. I was assigned as Psychological Operation Officer for the Swift Boat group out of An Thoi, Vietnam, from January 1969 to October 1969. As such, I was on No. 43 boat, skippered by Don Droz who was later that year killed by enemy fire. We were second in line while exiting the river and going through the opening in a fish trap when a mine blew up under the No. 3 boat directly in front of us and we started taking small arms fire from the beach.

Almost immediately, another mine went off somewhere behind us. All boats, except the one hit, immediately wheeled toward the beach that most of the fire came from (a tactic devised by Lt. Kerry, I later learned) and commenced showering the beaches with so much lead, that it could probably be now mined there. The noise was of course, deafening.

Three things that are forever pictured in my mind since that day over 30 years ago are: (1) The No. 3, 50-foot long, Swift boat getting huge, huge air; John Kerry thought it was about two feet. (He was farther away from it than I). I think it was at least four feet and probably closer to six feet; (2) All the boats turning left and letting loose at the same time like a deadly, choreographed dance and; (3) A few minutes later, John Kerry bending over his boat picking up one of the rangers that we were ferrying from out of the water.

All the time we were taking small arms fire from the beach; although because of our fusillade into the jungle, I don't think it was very accurate, thank God. Anyone who doesn't think that we were being fired upon must have been on a different river.The picture I have in my mind of Kerry bending over from his boat picking some hapless guy out of the river while all hell was breaking loose around us, is a picture based on fact and it cannot be disputed or changed. It's a piece of history drawn in my mind that cannot be redrawn.

Sorry, "Swift Boats Veterans for the Truth"- that is the truth.To say that John Kerry or any of us were on that river to intentionally collect Purple Hearts really does every soldier and sailor, past and present, a disservice. We were going up those rivers (with an ongoing casualty rate of 86 percent at the time) on the orders of the same people who approved of Kerry's medals and who are now joining in the attacks against Kerry. Unbelievable.

I would hope that the American public sees these evil extreme right wing attacks for what they really are and also pray that the veterans being used by these unpatriotic right wing extremist political operatives will divorce themselves immediately from them and speak to the real issues as to why they oppose John Kerry. I just don't understand how anyone can align themselves with those who intentionally and gleefully painted a decorated triple amputee (Max Cleland) from Vietnam as unpatriotic. I think that this is the most disastrous, un-American thing that can be done to our servicemen and women, especially now with another unending war going on. Your ends cannot possibly justify these means. Come on!

Jim Russell
Vietnam veteran,USN (1966-71)

George Bush and his attack dogs, like John McCain said "should be ashamed" of themselves.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Bush Health Care Plan Seems to Fall Short Gap Grows Between Hard Data, Projections for Covering 10 Million Uninsured

By Ceci ConnollyWashington Post Staff WriterSunday, August 22, 2004; Page A04

If the Republican-controlled Congress enacted President Bush's entire health care agenda, as many as 10 million people who lack health insurance would be covered at a cost of $102 billion over the next decade, according to his campaign aides.

But when the Bush-Cheney team was asked to provide documentation, the hard data fell far short of the claims, a gap supported by several independent analyses.

Projections by the Congressional Budget Office, the Treasury Department, academics and the campaign's Web site suggest that under the best circumstances, Bush's plans for health care would extend coverage to no more than 6 million people over the next decade and possibly as few as 2 million.

"There's little reason to expect that there would be any reduction in the overall numbers of Americans without health insurance," Brookings Institution health policy expert Henry J. Aaron said. "We're swimming against a rather swift current in our efforts to reduce the number of uninsured, and the power of President Bush's proposals to move against that current is, it seems to me, very, very limited."

Friday, August 20, 2004

I've watched the reactions to the Deal Hudson story with interest, in the media, liberal and conservative blogs. First of all, as I mentioned in an interview request with Bustedhalo.com, I think the whole thing is unfortunate, and as much as I passionately disagree with Deal Hudson about many things, this cannot be a pleasant time for him or his family, to put it mildly and they have my sympathy as does the young lady who has to rehash this entire incident. This has to be close to rock bottom for us a Catholic and Christian community.

I spoke to Alan Cooperman of the Washington Post yesterday and I mentioned that as a Christian community we've personalized our differences to the point of destruction. At some point we are going to have make a decision to separate ideology, political and religious, from personal considerations; if we decide that because person A is a Republican or Person C is a Democrat, then they are evil and worth destroying, simply because we hold different views; if it has come to be the point that we are more comfortable with our political ideological kin and not with siblings in Christ, then something's not right.

There's been the question of if Joe Feuerherd was right to publish what he did. I don't see why not. It was a profile of powerful public Catholic personality and the report stuck with the public record. Also, there is the issue that Deal Hudson published a biography and thus put his life on the record in print. First as a public person a profile is fair. Secondlly, if you publish a biography, then it is fair to scrutinize that and fill in gaps for the record. Another objection is that the report degenerates into unnecessary detail akin to soft porn. However, if NCR did not include the details which are in the public record, then "sexual harrasment/misconduct" could have been blown off as almost inconsequential and NCR would be accused of making a mountain out of a mole hill. The details, though unpleasant, depict the gravity of the situation and do add something qualitative to the story. If they weren't included, no one would believe that the allegation extended to that depth. So I think NCR did a good job journalistically.

(Soapbox-I do believe in reporting from a point of view, because it carries conviction with it that is absent from straight reporting. My only issue is, if like Fox, one refuses to acknowledge where they're coming from. I don't think reporting with a conviction means a negative report on a figure of an opposing ideological viewpoint. Feuerherd, does make the point that he has published favorable pieces on conservative Catholic figures.)

If Feuerherd was looking to sling dirt, he could have fished out a few unflattering stories from ex-wives or looked in the multiple annulments all for the purpose of creating an embarrasing picture, but those are private issues and JF left that alone. JF did not pile on stories quantitatively just for effect, I think he makes his point and moves on. The sexual incident is part of Hudson's professional history and had a bearing on the trajectory of his career; besides part of JF's point is that for someone who was at a low point a few years ago, his rise has been nothing short of meteoric.

So is Hudson done? Probably not. Like all things, this will blow over and he can start over again. From what I see in the conservative sphere, many conservatives believe that his contributions are such that he shouldn't have quit the BC04 campaign and definitely shouldn't leave Crisis. If he does comeback on the scene, I think he has a unique opportunity to take the initiative and re-inject common civility in Catholic discourse again (if there ever was).

A couple of months ago, a liberal Catholic activist told me how he also had been the victim of the Catholic right's rage and was forced from a job. He noted with frustration how the Catholic right is always looking to bring people down and scrutinizing every opponent for an opening, yet no one on the left is doing the same to the Catholic right figures. (I suppose that's changed now). He then asked if I wanted to get back at Hudson. My answer was an emphatic no. My feeling then and now is that the circle of violence has to stop somewhere. This was Paul and Jesus' point that our squabbling brings shame on God's name. First it was and is the incompetence of the Bishops to rein in molestors and self-police, then scandals with prominent figures on the right such as Bill Bennett and now, Hudson--the Catholic/Christian community is fast losing credibility with the public and that's really the only thing we have. If we keep destroying each other, we hurt no one but ourselves. Rather than be a the paragon fratricidal destruction, shouldn't we be an example of working together? (Swelling chamber music and this is where the clip of Rodney King is shown: "can we all just get along")

Anyway, the point of all this is that we must all then vote for John Kerry in November.

I think as a Christian community we have to ask why we are so drawn, all of us, to accusation and condemnation, rather than reconciliation? The story of the adulterous woman in John 7 speaks volumes about the point of Christianity, "Woman, where are thine accusers?" "There are none, Lord." "Neither do I accuse you. Go and sin no more." She was wrong and in sin, but Jn 3:16, Christ was sent to save and not condemn (Zech. 3, Rev. and 1 pet.5 tell us that our advesary and the "accusser of the brethren" is satan). And then we have 1 Cor 5:17-21, we are "ambassadors for Christ" and we have been given "the ministry of reconciliation"--that is our mission, to reconcile the world to God through Christ. If we are going to reflect the truth of the Christian faith, then we are going to have keep two words in mind, forgiveness and reconciliation.

Out of the depths I cry to thee, O LORD! 2: Lord, hear my voice! Let thy ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications! 3: If thou, O LORD, shouldst mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand? 4: But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared. 5: I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; 6: my soul waits for the LORD more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning. 7: O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is plenteous redemption. 8: And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.

Psalm 130 RSV

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Crime and Nourishment McDonald's salad is great. Take it from them

By Gene WeingartenSunday, August 15, 2004; Page W11

Other than listening to Andy Rooney, is there any single thing more annoying than being shown the same inane TV commercial half a dozen times in the space of two hours? Don't you sometimes wish you could be just as annoying to them, right back?

Here's the good news: You can! All you have to do is quit your job, go to journalism school, get a sequence of mind-numbing, entry-level positions at newspapers with names like the Aberdeen (Kan.) Clarion-Complainer, join the secret League of Bleeding Heart Liberal News Distorters, get hired by a major American newspaper, prove yourself so incompetent that they no longer trust you to cover anything important, and be assigned a humor column.

I am on the phone with Lisa Howard, a spokesperson for McDonald's. It took two days to get this interview. With no disrespect to Lisa, I had been hoping to speak with Lori Miller, who I had been told was "the on-point person for U.S. communication on salads." But instead I got Lisa, an all-purpose communications specialist. It's okay, though. Lisa said she had received "a briefing on salads."

I said I was calling about an ad I had seen 16 squintillion times during a recent Yankees game. It features a woman at work who surreptitiously eats a co-worker's salad because she finds it so incredibly tempting.
Lisa: Yes, the ad emphasized the premium quality of the ingredients and the great quality of our great-tasting salads!

Gene: Swell. My question is, is this a realistic scenario? Do you think this could happen in an ordinary workplace?
Lisa: I would think so. The point is to show how these are great salads, and they are so great it is sometimes hard to resist eating them!

Me: So, let me get this straight. You think a professional woman, specifically asked by another professional woman to guard her salad when she went away for a few minutes, would consume said salad and then flee the scene of the crime, not only betraying the first woman's trust, but establishing herself as the most likely culprit, thereby exhibiting not just amorality, but stupidity? Then, at the end of the ad, as she flees, she sees that a good Samaritan, a male co-worker who is merely trying to properly dispose of the empty container, which the first woman has thoughtlessly left on the table, is being blamed for the theft, but she continues fleeing.
The salad was from McDonald's; it was not, say, flown in from Paris, so the woman could have easily gotten one herself, but was apparently too lazy to do so. So we have, in one ad, a celebration of shockingly unethical behavior, stupidity, larceny, gluttony, sloth, envy, greed, cowardice, bearing false witness against a neighbor and littering. Other than out-and-out murder, is there any commandment or deadly sin that this ad does not advocate, condone or endorse?
Lisa: I think you're blowing this way out of proportion.
Me: Am I?
Lisa: It's supposed to be a fun ad.
Me: Does McDonald's think that it would be "fun" for customers to steal the food from your restaurants?
Lisa: No. I think the whole point of it was to show the irresistibility of the product. There's humor in advertising.
Me: Moving right along. The first woman, the one who bought the salad? Where is she going?
Lisa: Someplace for a few minutes.
Me: Precisely. She leaves her salad for a few minutes, even though the salad is quite portable. This suggests she is going someplace where bringing a salad would be inappropriate, even disgusting.
Me: I think we both know where this is going, don't we?
Me: I think we can add scatology to the sins. What we have here is a subtly scatological ad that appears to be advocating the commission of a crime, both associated with McDonald's products. Thank you, Lisa. I think my work here is done.

Gene Weingarten's e-mail address is weingarten@washpost.com. Chat with him online Tuesdays at noon at www.washingtonpost.com.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Doing Graduate Degrees in Philosophy & Theology Proud

Fund chief champions stocks with longevity

Christopher Davis grew up learning about the stock market from his father and grandfather, both money managers. He began writing company research reports for his father in high school, getting $50 a report. Davis joined his family's advisory firm in 1989 and has served as portfolio manager of the Davis New York Venture fund (NYVTX) for a decade.

Christopher Davis of Davis New York Venture fund.
By Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY

At a time when many mutual fund firms have been accused of ethical lapses and trading irregularities, Davis Advisors stresses its corporate culture of stewardship and integrity. Over the years it also has stuck to a tradition of value investing. The results: The Davis New York Venture fund has outperformed the S&P 500 in every 10-year period since 1969.

USA TODAY's Christine Dugas spoke to Davis about his investing strategy.

Q: Your fund is dominated by financial stocks. Why do you favor them?

A: Financial stocks in general deal with a product that's non-obsoletable. Second, it's a vast business. Everybody in the country is a customer of at least one or two or three financial institutions.

Top 10 holdings of Davis
New York Venture fund
Top 10 holdings of Davis New York Venture fund
% of fund
American Express 7.5%
American International Group 5.3%
Altria Group 5.2%
Tyco International 4.8%
Berkshire Hathaway class A 4.0%
Wells Fargo 3.8%
Citigroup 3.7%
Progressive 3.5%
HSBC Holdings 3.5%
Golden West Financial 3.3%
Source: Davis Funds

About Christopher Davis

Chairman and CEO of Davis Advisors and portfolio manager of the Davis New York Venture fund

Age: 39
Education: Master's degree in philosophy and theology from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland
Family: Wife Sharon, daughter Katie, 4, and sons Willoughby, 16, and Ian, 15
Hobby: Sailing
Recent book read:Wellington: The Years of the Sword by Elizabeth Longford
A favorite charity: The Fresh Air Fund
Boards: A member of the board of trustees of The Santa Fe Institute, an interdisciplinary research institute; the Hudson Highlands Land Trust and the Scenic Hudson Land Trust

Third, it's still a very fragmented business, whether it's property and casualty insurance or banking or investments management or brokerage.

Fourth, they are businesses where management makes a huge difference. And their assets, unlike factories, tend to be income-producing assets like bonds or loans, and so they produce cash earnings.

For every period in history, financial stocks in aggregate sell at a big discount to other types of businesses. People say it's because they're commodity businesses that are leveraged. That's the other side of some of the strengths that I mentioned. But painting them all with the same brush doesn't make any sense.

Q: Do rising interest rates change your outlook for banks and other lenders?

A: If rates go higher because the economy is booming, unemployment is plummeting and the Fed wants to cool things down a little, that's a wonderful environment for many lenders. There's a surge in demand for their products; credit losses go way down.

Now, you can paint a completely different scenario: The government needs to raise money to finance the budget deficit. There is uncertainty in the world. Foreign investors don't want to hold as many U.S.-denominated assets. The dollar is weakening. They need to raise rates to attract investors. Well, that's a terrible environment for lending institutions because there's pressure on credit. And, ultimately, credit is the key for banks and lending institutions.

Q: Financial firms are more diversified today, so why do the stocks get hit when rates go up?

A: If people believe that interest rates are bad for financial stocks, when interest rates move up, financial stocks move down for some period of time. But if the earnings of the business stay robust and the credit losses stay low over time, it's just a matter of waiting through that cycle.

Q: Many banks have been adding branches. Do you think they're going overboard?

A: I don't know any financial services institution that has automatically gotten better because it got bigger. More than anything, financial services is a business of execution. There is no secret formula. Anything you develop in financial services, somebody down the road can duplicate the next day.

The history of financial services in the last decade has been that specialists win, not generalists. So there is no inherent value to size.

Q: You've said that you look for businesses with an owner-oriented management. What do you mean?

A: If you inherited some money and it came with a condition that you had to invest it in one business and you could never sell, then think about the conditions that you would look for in that business. You'd want it to be a good business that you understood. You'd want it to be preferably a non-obsoletable business because you're going to own it for a long time.

When you think about the characteristics you would look for in your partner running that business, you want them to think like an owner. And the best way is for them to be an owner. When companies generate earnings, they invest those earnings on your behalf as the owner. They can pay a dividend, build a new factory, do an acquisition or issue stock or debt. So how they think about their role and their relationship to you as their partner is going to be critical in your success.

Q: Do you believe the corporate reforms in response to accounting scandals are too harsh?

A: There are some wonderful outcomes. The most important is the expensing of stock options. I think that closes one of the really shameful loopholes. I don't think stock options are such a terrible thing, but the idea that they aren't an expense is nonsense.

Q: How do you research companies?

A: The entire research process boils down to two questions: What kind of business do you want to own? And how much do you pay for it? We need to have a strong and independent view of what each business is worth so that when the price is above or below what we think it's worth, we can take advantage of it. We studied Costco for many years. It was always outside our range of fair value. It was trading at $45. And one day they announced they missed earnings, and the stock opened at $27. We bought 17 million shares in one day because we were ready. We had a high conviction of what we felt it was worth.

Q: What part of your job do you enjoy most?

A: I love evaluating business positions and the people running businesses. I love thinking about reinvestment rates on our earnings. How successful are companies at reinvesting our earnings? I love that part of it. I feel like I get to study success. And that's a nice way to go through life.

Q: I've read that your family has $2.5 billion invested in your funds.

A: Our family, employees and our directors are invested. I think there's $2 billion of insider money invested in the funds, and a lot of that's family money.

Q: Does your degree in theology come in handy?

A: I still pray a lot. I think that I used to say almost as a matter of course that investing money is not a high calling. But, lately, as we've gone through these crises in the industry, a shareholder wrote me and reminded me that stewardship is a fairly old calling and is a fairly biblical concept. We have a tremendous research team in terms of their ability and intellect and the diversity of their backgrounds. But, above all, what I'm most proud of is their character.
Find this article at:

Friday, August 13, 2004

Discussion on Review of Table of the Lord by Ono Ekeh

My novel Table of the Lord was reviewed by Georges T. Dodds at the SF Site. I've also had the novel reviewed by Gwyneth Saunders of the Maryland Independent, the local paper in Southern Maryland. I post her review on my website at onoekeh.com, I don't think it is available online.

Most if not everyone I've heard from enjoyed the book. I had friends assure me that they couldn't put it down and pretty much had to read from cover to cover. Saunder's review was very positive, but Dodds' was scathing. I think he had some issues and I've decided to respond to the review.

Let's get it out in the open: here I am an atheist reviewing a work of fiction written by a fervent if perhaps somewhat radical Roman Catholic on the subject of the future of the Catholic church itself. However, my mother's family were Catholic and my wife has studied Anglican (i.e. Episcopalian) theology at the university level, so I'm not entirely in the dark about Christianity. Nonetheless, for purposes of this review, I will leave the theological issues to those whom they may interest, and try to concentrate on the writing and plotting.

This was my first clue that there was going to be a problem. Whenever anyone says, "I'm an atheist" there is bound to be bias. I've never been opposed to bias, I simple feel that it should be acknowledged. I will say that when I first read the review, it was clear that Mr Dodds was quite simply offended by the overt Christianity of the novel.

The lack of detail in the description of the Fenaarq's seeming pre-contact mixture of polytheism and caste system, makes it difficult to understand the mystical and theological "logic" of their choosing the Christ figure over that of other equally peace-advocating religions/philosophies such as Buddhism or Bahá'í, amongst others.. . . Another point that is rather hard to swallow, is that the Fenaarq essentially ignore all non-Christians; only in the image of Jesus can they assuage their spiritual needs. This leaves out a fair chunk of the Earth's population, which apparently are simply irrelevant."

This novel is of a new and hopefully emerging genre of Christian and Catholic science fiction. In regular science fiction, assumptions are made about world view, beliefs, etc. In this case, the overriding assumption is, what if what we believe as Catholics is true, then how does that impact a world of the future? I think the role of Christian science-fiction is to change the assumptions and explore them. It is a valid point to ask why I didn't consider other faiths. But here again, if the assumption here is that Christianity is true, then that implies belief in its pre-emminence as a religion. It is simply an assumption. If I read a novel in which someone assumed Islam was the "truest religion, I may disagree but I doubt that I'd be offended.

The other mistake Mr Dodds makes on this religion issue is that he seems to see all the religions in an objective light and if then the aliens in my novel are a certain way, why won't they chose a religion that may reflect more their beliefs. But religion is less about a perfect fit and more about searching and finding truth. There is no logic to why one believes that Christianity is true or to why these aliens would be attracted to it, but it can happen and in this novel it does happen.

The other criticism he has is that the aliens are basically aliens in human suits, because they exhibit the same range of emotions that humans do. That is a valid point, but then again, i think he misses the point. If one is going to write sci fi that features alien thoughts and lifestyles, as humans, we have no other paradigm than ourselves to use to create alien fictional figures. If you want to get hard core, you can choose to explore a different life form and push it as far as you want to scientifically. On the other hand, if your aim is to explore, yet entertain, then humanizing aliens is standard forte-if you look at the Star Treks, Star Wars (now, hardcorers may balk at calling these true sci-fi), aliens are humanized all the time. It's the way we relate to them to make it interesting.

The other issue about humanizing aliens is a more philosophical one. For instance if we accept that there are aliens, that they have technological expertise to get to earth, then we can assume certain things: 1-that they have some for of community, which implies that they can communicate, 2--they are rational beings. Philosophically then, we can press the issue of communication and rationality and argue that whereever you see these characteristics, you'll find certain things. For instance, to communicate rationally, there has to be language, to have language, then you have to have rational beings who are able to articulate different levels of consciouness and their relationships. So as you press on philosophically, there is then a lot you can say that we as humans possess that rational aliens would possess.

Another angle to all this is that for those who believe in christianity, thus believe in angels, demons, spirits, and the Godhead, we have a paradigm for rationality and community that extends simply beyond our human experience and we can mine that paradigm. For instance, if God is effective expressed in the Hebrew Scriptures by humanizing tendencies of human authors,then it validates using human paradigms (anthropomorphism) to explore the rationality and other characteristics of other possible beings.

The aliens in my novel share a lot with humans, and there's much they don't share. There's much about them I don't say because I find it isn't my style to burden the story with that detail. For instance, at the end of the book, you'd be hard pressed to give a visual of the aliens based on the book, but I think though, you would feel like you knew them when you were done. It is the same with the human characters. I prefer to let the imagination fill in the blanks and so I barely describe most characters physically. I feel that if it doesn't contribute to the story, then what's the point? What I find is that most people who read it forget about attributes like, race, height, weight, accent, and absorb the characters as is and fill in the blanks.

When it comes to the evolution of the Catholic church under their manipulation, while some changes seem reasonably predictable, the manner in which such changes are presented gives one the impression that it is, in part, the author's wish list for the Catholic church: more centralized power in the papacy; the rise of a economically and ecclesiastically powerful Africa, particularly in the author's ancestral homeland; the discomfiture of an increasingly secular Europe. There's even a secretive Catholic commando task force, the Blue Core, a sort of sect within the Catholic church, with ideological parallels to Opus Dei, and the capacity to enforce, if benevolently and without loss of life, the churches mandates. Another point that is rather hard to swallow, is that the Fenaarq essentially ignore all non-Christians; only in the image of Jesus can they assuage their spiritual needs. This leaves out a fair chunk of the Earth's population, which apparently are simply irrelevant.

Mr Dodds then talks about the "author's wish list for the Catholic Church" as guiding the development of the plot in regard to the Catholic Church. Here again is a case where while Mr. Dodds is an expert in many things, the Catholic church is not his forte and a statement like that makes it all so glaringly clear. I am a liberal Catholic by most accounts, a strong centralized papacy is not on my personal wishlist. If that happens in the novel that simply is a fictional development that work for the story.

He also speaks of a secretive Catholic commando task force with ideological parallels to Opus Dei. I am not ideological friends with Opus Dei, but this whole thing about OD is simply overblown. Opus Dei are regular people! I've eaten and watched TV at an Opus Dei house, I have know many Opus Dei people. They are very conservative, but that's it. The task force he refers to has no parallels with Opus Dei, I stop at that lest I give anything away. I do want you to buy the novel. I suppose the whole Da Vinci Code deal has gotten people suspicious of Opus Dei. I haven't read the book, but from what I understand there is an Opus Dei "monk" in the book. Anyone who knows anything about the Catholic Church would laugh at that. There is no such thing as an Opus Dei monk. It is interesting because the Jesuits have much more of an intriguing history of covert and secretive manipulation. Anyway, I think the Opus Dei reference is off base.

He also speaks of the rise of Africa and the relegation of a secular Europe in the novel as predictable and part of my wish list. Much of the novel takes place 100-200 years from now. Is it unreasonable to surmise that given Europe's problems, with birthrate, social security payments, and other socio-economic policies, that Europe may be in decline a hundred years from now? I don't think so. As for Africa, I will unabashedly claim that as top of my wishlist. If Africa can get back on track after the hundreds of years of plundering, it will become an economic powerhouse. As for Catholicism and Christianity, it is a fact that the developing world has and will become the center of the Christian faith in the next century.

Mr. Dodds calls the book "fairly entertaining" but "a veiled propagandist position paper than any sort of a science-fiction novel." Again, this has to do with a lack of understanding of the philosophical issues regarding sci fi issues and lack of appreciation for the theological questions of sci fi. It is hard to see what I'm advocating if it is propaganda for the Christian faith. Anyone who understand Christianity and Catholicism would see that. The positions taken are simply assumed and not argued for. There are some philosophical and theological arguments in the book and a position is taken, but they are the positions of the characters and nothing more. I think Mr. Dodds' review reflects more his comfort level with religion and perhaps Catholic Christianity than anything else. I read and watch sci fi that dismisses Christianity all the time and I may not agree with it, but I don't think I let that necessarily color how I view the product. In this case, I suppose the issue of religion is front and center and I think the novel is best served by a reviewer who appreciates the theological and philosophical issues that arise with the possibility of alien existence.

Catholics for Kerry 04 responds to William Donohue's false charges. Read further about how screaming Bill does quite feel that bad though about Bush visiting virulently anti-Catholic Bob Jones University--all it took was a quick, probably, staff-written, letter to calm the waters. If Catholic league types and other conservative or "so-called" pro-life Catholics want to vote for President Bush, just have some spine and say they are Republicans or are Bush supporters, don't hide behind being Catholic.

Jeanne at Body and Soul blog notes Joe Feuerherd's article in NCR that everytime Bill Donohue and the Catholic League says "boo" the Kerry campaign jumps.

The Kerry camp has seemed skittish on the issue of religion and enters tepidly into the fray. Part of the problem is that Kerry is in a position to make a clear play for the center and the moderates that Bush has abandoned, so he can't afford any openings on the religous front.

Jeanne in body and soul does suggest that Kerry should give a major speech address the Catholic issue. She is hardly alone in this. Many feel that Kerry should and could take on the Catholic and religion issue. Bringing up the religion issue at the convention was brilliant, but Kerry needs to push forward on the issue. We need a Joshua and Caleb attitude here, "we are well able to go and take the country."

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Bush Names Porter Goss as new CIA Director

Goss ordinarily would be an above average candidate. He has experience in the CIA as a spook, worked in Military Intelligence and has served as chair of the House Intelligence Committee for the past 8 years. Here's what would count against him:
  • In an election year, knowing that he was a top candidate to replace Tenet, he engage in public attacks on Senator Kerry. Not wise, if he someday would be working for a President John Kerry
  • He was chair of the House committee on intelligence during the nineties when the CIA and his oversight can be questioned
  • He is a partisan Republican. In this environment--bad. Sen Jay
    Rockefeller (D-WV) had said months ago that this position should not go to a politician
  • He has not had any administrative experience handing a large agency like this.

What he has going for him is his experience and the fact that he really, really wants the job. Anyone who wants that job that badly should get it in my opinion.

As for the President, I think his motives are more sinister. Porter Goss is a Republican from Florida. The President has ceeded the center to Kerry and seeking to win on the margins by stimulating the base. Bush may figure that if the Democrats bite and oppose Goss, he can use that as a rallying cry in Florida and couple the issue with the judges issue--probably good for an extra few hundred votes, especially from Goss' district.

I think the confirmation process would be interesting and I look forward to the Sen Democrats in action. I am wary of Liebermann who is a closet Republican. As of yet, I'm not aware of Kerry's position on Goss, but I think if Kerry's not comfortable with him, then oppose him and let the chips fall where they may. If Kerry is to be President, then he has to have a good relationship with his CIA director. Goss has already muddied the waters and there is no need to put up with him especially if Kerry has some good ideas on who should head the CIA in a Kerry administration.

The difficulty for the Democrats is that if anything does happen b/w now and the election then they can be blamed for opposing Goss. I still don't think that should be a factor. If terrorists strike, it would be because of four years a bungled anti-terrorism policy and not because of a newly minted CIA chief or lack thereof. We have an acting chief and there is presumably no fear that the Agency is falling apart as we speak.

I don't think Goss is a bad candidate, but if he is not who Kerry wants ideally, then the Democrats should oppose this--unless of course, Kerry can replace him anyway when he comes into office (I don't know the story on that).


Goss was selected by the Bush-Cheney campaign to critique a June 2 national security speech by Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. Goss called Kerry's nonproliferation proposals "unrealistic and dangerously naive."
Bush advisers told the Washington Post naming a replacement for Tenet would show the president was taking seriously the need for changes in the intelligence community. But several Democrats have noted if Kerry wins the November election, it would be unlikely that he would keep Goss, should he win Senate approval.

Via Digsby
Goss says CIA leak not worthy of committee action


WASHINGTON -- Rep. Porter Goss said Thursday that the uproar over allegations that White House officials purposely identified a covert CIA agent appears largely political and doesn't yet merit an investigation by the House Select Committee on Intelligence, which he chairs. . . "Somebody sends me a blue dress and some DNA, I'll have an investigation," Goss said.
He was referring to the infamous blue dress in the Monica Lewinsky scandal that led to impeachment proceedings against former President Clinton.

Gorilla Asks for Dentist Using Sign Language
Associated Press

WOODSIDE, Calif. - When Koko the gorilla used the American Sign Language gesture for pain and pointed to her mouth, 12 specialists, including three dentists, sprang into action.
The result? Her first full medical examination in about 20 years, an extracted tooth and a clean bill of health.
About a month ago, Koko, a 300-plus-pound ape who became famous for mastering more than 1,000 signs, began telling her handlers at the Gorilla Foundation in Woodside she was in pain. They quickly constructed a pain chart, offering Koko a scale from one to 10.
When Koko started pointing to nine or 10 too often, a dental appointment was made. And because anesthesia would be involved, her handlers used the opportunity to give Koko a head-to-toe exam.
"She's quite articulate," volunteer Johnpaul Slater said. "She'll tell us how bad she's feeling, how bad the pain is. It looked like it was time to do something."
Twelve specialists - a Stanford cardiologist, three anesthesiologists, three dentists, an ear and throat specialist, two veterinarians, a gastroenterologist and a gynecologist - volunteered to help.
"It's not often that we get to work on a celebrity," said Dr. David Liang, assistant professor of medicine at Stanford. "Probably, Koko is less demanding."
The team came to Koko on Sunday, bringing portable X-ray and ultrasound machines. They set up shop at her "apartment," which looks like a remodeled box car, complete with a makeshift toilet, television, DVD player and lots of toys.
After four hours of tests - including a colonoscopy, gynecological exam, dental work, X-rays, and ultrasounds - doctors pronounced her fit.
Koko, who celebrated her 33rd birthday July 4, was due for a checkup. While gorillas in captivity are known to live into their 50s, they are susceptible to heart disease and a thickening of the arteries.
Koko and Ndume, her partner of 11 years (he doesn't "speak"), have been trying unsuccessfully to have a baby, and the doctors thought the checkup could let them know whether she had any biological problems preventing it. She doesn't.
Her teacher, Francine Patterson, was at her side when the anesthesiologist prepared to put her under in the morning, and apparently Koko asked to meet her specialists.
They crowded around her, and Koko, who plays favorites, asked one woman wearing red to come closer. The woman handed her a business card, which Koko promptly ate.
Otherwise, Koko was calm, Liang said.
The Gorilla Foundation has studied gorilla intelligence by teaching American Sign Language to Koko and another gorilla, Michael, who died in 2000.
The Gorilla Foundation: www.koko.org

Saturday, August 07, 2004

The Washington Post reports of clashes between rural farmers in China and the authorities over land siezures.

SHIJIAHE, China -- Hundreds of police stormed this village in central China before dawn last Saturday and fired rubber bullets into large crowds of unarmed farmers who had threatened a protest in the provincial capital, injuring dozens
in one of the most violent clashes known to have taken place in the Chinese countryside in recent years. No villagers were killed, but residents said about 10 were hospitalized with serious injuries, including a woman who was shot nine times in the back and another who was shot five times. As many as 50 other villagers suffered moderate injuries, residents said, and a local doctor said dozens of police officers were hurt.

At least 100 government officials moved into a school in this
village outside Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan province, to calm tensions in the aftermath of the July 31 incident and to hush it up. But witnesses described what happened in surreptitious interviews in villagers' homes Thursday, and
others provided details by telephone or in Zhengzhou. One resident provided digital photos of his bloodied neighbors and of ammunition collected on the street the next morning.
The confrontation is a reminder of the stark challenge that rural unrest poses for the Communist Party, which took power in China 55 years ago in a peasant revolution but is now struggling to contain rising anger in the countryside over high taxes, official corruption and farm incomes that are stagnating even as the national economy booms.

Here in Shijiahe, a relatively prosperous hamlet of corn fields and vegetable farms about 400 miles southwest of Beijing, villagers are protesting another problem that has emerged as an explosive issue in rural China: the seizure of farmland
by local officials to build roads, dams, factories or real estate projects, often for personal profit. In part because the state still owns all land in China and has granted peasants only long-term leases to their plots, local officials managed to take control illegally of at least 300,000 acres from 1.5 million farmers between 1999 and 2002, according to conservative estimates by the Land and Natural Resources Ministry. And official police statistics show a rising wave of protests over such land transfers.

Residents said hundreds of villagers staged two protests in Zhengzhou, a few miles away, in recent weeks against plans by the village's party chief to expropriate 80 acres of land, which would reduce each family's plot by about a third. The party chief had seized nearly 250 acres from the village's 6,000 residents since 1996, they said, selling some of it for a huge profit.

I think this is noteworthy because when rural towns begin to fight back then the propesct of a real revolution is all the more likely. Student protests can easily be dismissed as elitist, but the rural disent is grassroots at its core.

China is a mystery to me and I suspect to many. On the one hand you
think of it as this repressive place and then you hear about it being very much like the West in commerce and its urban areas--freedom of movement, free press to an extent, etc. But then things happen like these land siezure attempst that snap you back to reality.


Much analysis today in the newspapers about the terrible July jobs numbers. The Washington Post reports that Bush economic advisors are conceding that the tax cuts have not had the staying power they had hoped for.

The problem with supply side is that if you are going to give it a legitimate shot, you have to cut spending not increase it. But the main thing about supply-side economics is that it is wholly dependent on the munificence and benevolence of the rich. You have to give the rich enough tax cuts that they feel good about hiring and make stimulating economic activity.As long as the rich feel skiddish, supply side doesn't work.

Demand-side economics, on the other hand, focuses on increasing demand and economic activity is pushed and stimulated by actual and sustained demand and not anyone's good feeling. If the minimum wage was increased to $7/hr, that would be a massive structural change because people at that wage actually spend money and that would pump billions into the economy. Such an infusion would not be a one time silly $50/person tax cut that is undercut by healthcare increases.

Clearly, the most commonsense approach is one that combines both sides in varying degrees. Address supply-side cost concerns such as healthcare and bump up demand by increasing minimum wage and you have a recipe for decent growth. Kerry clearly gets this, Bush doesn't. What the President doesn't seem to get is that you can't make the economy work just by declaring it so or buying into a philosophy, you have to find out how it actually does work.

Unfortunately, the President, instead of acknowledging that something is not quite right is still proclaiming that we are about to turn a corner . . . as Teresa would say, to Hell.

Friday, August 06, 2004

The economy produced a "paltry" 32,000 jobs last month--way below expectations. 32,000 jobs is about 650 jobs per state. If a state has about 10 counties, that's about 70 jobs per county.

This obviously bad news for Bush' re-election team even though they are focusing on the fact that the unemployment rate went down by 0.01% and touting what they call a historically low unemployment rate. The problem for the administration is that they have attacked John Kerry aggressively for being "pessimistic" about the economy and Bush has pushed an "optimistic" economy that is "turning the corner." Now with numbers like this, Bush has to let people know that he feels their pain without acknowledging that the economy is not revving up like he was proclaiming.

A bad economy is good for no one and I think it is worse that we have a president who is simply trying to talk it away. This is what his father did and the rest is history.


I just listened to Kerry on the campaign trail somewhere in Missouri on a family farm. He and John Edwards were taking questions after talking about their energy plan. It is such a world of difference to listen to Kerry at these events and President Bush at campaign events. Acknowleding my bias, Kerry just sounds more like a competent adult and Bush uses phrases like "low bogitry of expectations" and pauses and looks around like he wants you to clap for him for using such a phrase.

Kerry's strengths lie in these town hall style meetings. It is here that he shows off his competence and incredible command of the issues. In these settings, you get the real deal and see that the stump speech is not just a script, he gets into some detail at these townhall meetings. These townhall meetings were what propelled Kerry to victory in Iowa, because when he talks and dialogs, you realize that he just plain makes sense. The 30 second sound byte is not Kerry's forte, but a dialog is. Bush is generally stuck without a script and resorts to trite phrases, not just because of his lack of facility with the language, but because he just isn't a leader who understands what's going on. I hope Kerry keeps up the townhall meetings.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Bush, Kerry, are far apart on how raising taxes on the rich pans out

Wall Street Journal
August 5, 2004; Page A2

Campaigning last weekend, President Bush offered this attack on opponent John Kerry: "He said he's only going to raise the tax on the so-called rich," the president said in Canton, Ohio. "But you know how the rich is: They've got accountants. That means you pay. That means your small business pays. It means the farmers and ranchers pay."
That's what he said. (I checked the White House transcript, which gets points for faithfully recording the president's unique grammar.) What did he mean?
"He's only going to raise the tax on the so-called rich."
True. The candidates differ sharply on how heavily to tax Americans with incomes above $200,000 a year. President Bush wants a top marginal tax rate of 35%. The Democratic Mr. Kerry would boost rates to 39.6% and undo Mr. Bush's tax breaks for dividends and capital gains for those folks, too. He'd use the money to expand access to health insurance and to subsidize employer-provided coverage.
"You know how the rich is: They've got accountants. That means you pay."
Is the president courting votes from cynics who say the rich avoid taxes and the rest of us pay? Claire Buchan, a White House spokeswoman, explains: "The president is noting that the so-called wealthy have the resources to hire accountants to find ways to reduce their tax bills...."
Quips Jason Furman, a Kerry economist: "If the most fortunate weren't paying taxes in the first place, why did they need the Bush tax cut?"
Seriously, rich folks do find ways to shrink tax bills and alter their behavior after big changes in U.S. tax laws, such as the 1986 law that cut the top rate to 28% from 50%. "If someone has been contributing money to a deferred-compensation plan and tax rates come down to 28% after decades of being at 50%, it's a good time to take money out," says Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist James Poterba.
Higher tax rates prod the rich to search harder for tax shelters and other tax dodges. The latest academic work suggests that lifting the top tax rate to 39.6% from today's 35% (which works out to a 7% decrease in such taxpayers' take-home pay at the margin) would reduce taxable income in that bracket by about 4%.
Overall, though, the government still is likely to come out ahead, as the gush of tax revenues after the 1993 tax increases suggests. "In the last decade, the top rate was as high as 39.6%, and we know at that rate you can collect quite a bit of revenue," says Joel Slemrod, a University of Michigan economist.
"That means your small business pays. It means the farmers and ranchers pay."
The president, Ms. Buchan explains, means that "the so-called wealthy" can afford to hire accountants but "small businesses, farmers and ranchers who are organized as Subchapter S companies don't have those resources, but would nonetheless be subject to the tax increases."
Yes, Subchapter S companies pay taxes on profits at individual income tax rates. But the bulk of small businesses, farmers and ranchers don't make enough to fall into top brackets. They won't pay more under Mr. Kerry's plan. And I've never understood the case for taxing a farmer, rancher or small-business owner who clears $500,000 differently than a corporate executive, lawyer or ballplayer who earns $500,000.
There is a conservative case that the economy does better with smaller government, but it is hard for Mr. Bush to make. "If you want the efficiency of smaller government, you have to have smaller expenditures and smaller taxes at the same time," says Urban Institute economist Eugene Steuerle, a Reagan tax official. By cutting taxes now, but not cutting spending, Mr. Bush is guaranteeing tax increases in the future, Mr. Steuerle argues.
The prospect of such tax increases, no matter who wins, makes it worth listening to rhetoric about the Alternative Minimum Tax. Created in 1970 to make sure the richest taxpayers don't get so many tax breaks that they avoid taxes altogether, it is encroaching on the upper-middle class. It doesn't sound bad -- a 26% or 28% rate -- but the taxpayers affected don't get the full benefit of the personal exemption, deduction for state and local income taxes or miscellaneous deductions. Without changes, the AMT will be bigger than the regular income tax before the end of the decade.
Some savvy tax lobbyists speculate that the need to "fix the AMT" (which both candidates vow to do) could force big changes to the U.S. tax code in the next few years. Some Republicans suggest quietly that the structure of the AMT -- fewer deductions and credits so a broader base of income is taxed, but at a rate lower than would otherwise be the case -- is substantially more appealing than raising tax rates.• Your thoughts? Write to capital@wsj.com3. Online subscribers can see Q&A Tuesday at WSJ.com/CapitalExchange4.
URL for this article:http://online.wsj.com/article/0,,SB109165532423583152,00.html


David Wessel, 50 years old, The Wall Street Journal's deputy Washington bureau chief, writes Capital, a weekly look at the economy and the forces shaping living standards around the world. He also appears frequently on CNBC.

David has been with The Wall Street Journal since 1984, first in the Boston bureau and then the Washington bureau, where he was chief economics correspondent. During 1999 and 2000, he was the newspaper's Berlin bureau chief. He also has worked for the Boston Globe and at the Hartford (Conn.) Courant and Middletown (Conn.) Press. He has shared two Pulitzer prizes, one for a Boston Globe series on race in the workplace in Boston and the other for Wall Street Journal stories on the corporate scandals of 2002.

He is the co-author, with fellow Journal reporter Bob Davis, of "Prosperity: The Coming 20-Year Boom and What It Means to You" (Random House/Times Books, 1998), which argued that the next 20 years will be better for the American middle class than the previous 20 years.

Write to him at capital@wsj.com9.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Day Four of DNC 04-Contd
Kerry Speech

I thought Vanessa and Alexander Kerry did a great job. I had watched Vanessa on the campaign trail during the primaries and she was very effective. In fact, the Kerry-Heinz family has been very effective for Kerry-

Chris Heinz--good looking, articulate, very intelligent, extremely well versed on policy and effective. He clearly has a political future, but he comes across as sincere. Remember that his dad and mom were Republican, so he has no inherent dislike of Republicans. I hope he runs for the Senate seat in PA, maybe he can unseat Santorum (I am trying to tone down the beam on face, uplifted at the thought) someday.

Vanessa & Alexander--great, great, great. They are not polished political pros but have excellent communication skills and they speak from the heart. Their presentations i think are so effective, I think that they can make a difference among young people. One thing that is interesting, they are not afraid to say when they disagree with their dad. For instance they disagree with their dad on the gay marriage issue. I think this speaks volumes as to the sincerity of their presentation.They did a great job introducing Kerry. I think their presentations single-handedly got Kerry over the humanity threshhold.

I liked the short film about Kerry, although I don't think it quite captured the inherent danger of his Vietnam missions. Swift boats were turned from basic coastal and riverine patrols to assault riverine warfare craft, even though they were not made for that. The boat was basic aluminum that got shot up all the time, They did not have heavy gun, their engine was so loud, you could hear it miles away. Yet they were sent deep into enemy territory to "show the flag" and draw enemy fire. It was so bad that many swift boat crew members wondered why didn't the superiors just fax the VietCong a schedule of the patrols--their missions just about amounted to that. A study showed that their risk of death was about 75%, it was as close to suicide missions as you could get.

I thought the introduction of Kerry's crewmates went very well and set a good tone. Max Cleland was also great. He wasn't at his best, but he was effective. When he introduced Kerry in South Carolina during Kerry's official campaign kick off, he was much more lose, funny and punchy. I think he did a great job, though. Hopefully, he senate loss and the story behind that would get out. Saxby Chambliss ran against Cleland and in his negative attack ads, aided by the RNC, they morphed Cleland's face into that of Osama bin Laden and called him unpatriotic. How on earth? Here'a man of left three limbs on the blood soaked hills of Vietnam for his country, and the RNC called him unpatriotic simply because he wanted Homeland security workers to have rights.

Kerry's speech was a home run. When he started I was so nervous that I couldn't clap much. It was interesting because, even though he was the man of the hour, his entrance wasn't necessarily more electrifying than Clinton's, Obama, or Edwards. I think everyone was so nervous and wanted to get the speech going. However, a couple of minutes into the speech, I loosened up as did everyone else. Kerry was clearly in a rhythm and he was setting up for a great speech.

It was an interesting blend of personal history and policy and I'm glad he took the time to do both. If he had missed out on anyone of those, there would have been complaints. It was excellent and it was written by Kerry himself. When he was done, we all knew it--home run!

Kerry succeded in presenting himself and the Democratic party as a valid and credible option to Bush. He may not have taken people over the top, but he set the stage. For one, he appeared presidential. When people see him further in the debates, I think they'll come to trust him very deeply. He is nothing if not competent, trustworthy and common sensical.

One thing that I was upset about was that it took too long to get Edwards and the families out. I thought that whole thing should have happen much quicker. We all know about the balloons. I actually thought that the slow pace of balloon release was by design, so that the balloons last longer, but thanks to CNN, we know better.

The convention was a success, no question. The party made gains, the question is if we can withstand the withering negativity and dourness of the Republican party hacks. While the Democrats preached hope, Cheney has been going around preaching fear of another terrorist attack. I hope people embrace the hope and freshness of the Democratic party.

There ended my adventures in Boston at the DNC2004.

I am glad that I went. I normally eschew these things because I dislike political events and speeches. The reason I was an alternate delegate was because when delegates were needed on the Maryland ballot, Kerry's slide in the primaries had begun in earnest and there were not enough Kerry delegates. Kerry maryland supporters then got an email asking everyone to go out and register in Annapolis as delegate for Kerry at the MD board of elections and so I did it and would you know, Kerry won Maryland, so voila!

So even though, I'm not a fan of attending events like this, I would much rather have parked infront of CSPAN, I was very happy to go because of how I feel about Kerry. In my lifetime there is no president that has inspired me. I have liked some and was a supporter of Clinton. In Kerry I am inspired. If you looked at all the candidates in the Democratic primary and even at the current president, you'll note that with the exception of Edwards, they were all fixers and managers. They wanted fix and manage things. The thing about Kerry that has had me excited from the start is that he has a vision. As a sci fi writer, I often think about the future and I wonder if we'll ever get there-to that world we often read about or watch in sci fi movies and I concluded we need a bold and visionary president for that to happen. That president is Kerry.

John Kerry is not simply a fixer or manager, he has a vision. he is the type of president that no only wants to make sure that we are solid now, he is the type to think ahead and ask what and where do we want to be as a nation in 2035, in 2056, in 2078? and how do we get there. We are in the 21st century and as yet, we have no vision of this century. The current president had no vision when he came into office and the only thing driving him now is a war on terror which he is bungling. It is pathetic that America hasn't presented a 21st century vision to the world, somethng that we can hope for and aspire to. John Kerry has a vision to lead this country to a new baseline. With Kerry we can dare to dream again, we can hope and more importantly we can dream and ask "why not?"

-Fourth day of the Democratic National Convention 2004

Before getting into Thursday, a couple of things. On Wednesday nite after Edwards' speech, a hip hop group called Black-eyed Peas.They sing a popular song called "Let's get it started" It was actually used in promos for the NBA playoffs--very groovy song, great beat, a definite crowd pleaser.While they were singing and we were all singing and dancing, for some reason I looked down at the people who were signing for the hearing impaired and I saw the cutest thing ever.The guy was signing the song and he was getting down--he was grooving so hard it was cute. I was glad to see that the hearing impaired didn't miss out on the fun.

So, Thursday--today was the big day, John Kerry's speech and all. So I got up early, 5:30 am again. I was not going to miss breakfast, damn it! I didn't care that breakfast was going to the same thing we got on Monday, Tuesday (I missed it), and Wednesday--French toast, scrambled eggs, one sausage, and fruit, I paid for it and I was going to eat and enjoy it and that was an order.

I was extra-nervous as was everyone with a stake in the Democratic Party or in Kerry. Kerry's speech was billed as the most important speech of his life. I felt that that was unfair and overstating the issue, but the snowball effect was well underway and Kerry had no choice but to perform.

Breakfast was good. The french toast was a touch stale. I suspected that it was recycled. Today, like Wednesday, I did not allow myself to be embarassed by reaching across to the middle of the table to the bagel and muffin basket and helping myself. Everyone at these events wants to appear dignified, and that's okay if you are not hungry, or if you didn't have to pay a hundred dollars as part of the delegation, or if you are running for public office. None of the above applied to me, so a sesame seed bagel with strawberry cream cheese started things off followed by two delicious mini-blueberry muffins. Coffee was great and the orange juice was not acidic at all.

Breakfast was sponsored by Montgomery County, so yes, we got yet another bag with goodies and a subtle pitch for Governor, oops, I mean . . . County Executive Doug Duncan. Doug Duncan and Martin O'Malley, Mayor of Baltimore are two bright stars in the MD Democratic party who will be running against each other to represent the party in the 2006 gubernatorial elections against Erhlich. There has been an undercurrent among the delegation, nonetheless everyone's been very civil and in fact, there has been lots of love in the delegation. BTW, O'Malley was going to challenge Kathleen Kennedy Townsend in 2000 but was talked out of it, so he is a man possessed.

O'Malley has become something of a national rising star. He got a prime speaking spot at the convention and did a good job. He was wisked around town by security and got to go to the VIP parties. Duncan on the other hand is more low key. While O'Malley spent time smoozing with Donna Brazille in the VIP boxes at the Fleet Center, according to the Washington Post, Duncan sat with the delegates on the convention floor. I think Duncan is running a more grassroots effort, while O'Malley is attracting national power players. O'Malley is said to be a natural politician of Clinton ilk. I did read a report months ago that Duncan has done very well raising money and has been down to Southern Maryland quite a bit, so he is quietly doing what he has to. At the present time, I like Duncan and I did go up to him afterwards to let him know that he had a supporter in Waldorf, MD. I think he's done a fabulous job in Montgomery County, just north of DC. Montgomery County is quite simply one of the best run counties in the country. They have a vibrant economy with all kinds of biotech firms, they are very progressive on the environment and the arts and seem to take people's concerns seriously. Many may recall seeing Duncan with Chief Moose during the sniper ordeal. Even though many, including myself, soured on Chief Moose after the fact, I like the fact that Duncan did not hesitate to support and press for Moose's tenure in the county. I really don't know anything about O'Malley, but I have heard good things. It is unfortunate that both are going to run at the same time, but c'est la vie.

Okay,back to the convention. I have to say that of all the breakfast goodie bags received from the different counties sponsoring breakfast, Prince George's county rocked. It had so much stuff that half my Christmas shopping is done--we're talking key chains, water bottles, t-shirts, you name it. One interesting thing that happened was that John Sweeney, prez of AFL-CIO, who was part of the MD delegation gave a few words. He brought up a young man who was fired from comcast for trying to organize a Union. This gentleman got up to speak and promptly noted that Comcast was a corporate sponsor for the Maryland delegation and then went on to denounce their strong arm tactics to surpress organizing. Ouch! Another interesting fact was that there was an energy company that was also a corporate sponsor for MD. I thought that was strange--I mean this a liberal Maryland delegation, anyway it is what it was. Gov Rendell of PA who spoke on energy issues on the convention floor was reported to have had his speech heavily edited by the Kerry campaign especially since there was a big energy sponsor or two for the convention. I'm not anti-big energy, for instance I respect BP because they seem like a company interested in developing good stuff. In general new energy alternatives are going to have to come in large part from the energy companies. It is unsettling but the reality. This is where idealism meets pragmatism and we have to work with the companies that we rail against.

So after breakfast I got my credentials, begged for a red floor pass and was rejected--what did I expect? After all I am a lowly alternate delegate. Apparently there was quite a bit of horse trading of floor passes if you came later in the day, but what did I have to offer? My undying love? Gratitude? I couldn't even offer breakfast because Thursday was the last breakfast day.

After my one hour newspaper gorge in the lobby with a free Boston Globe, Washington Post, NY times, and Wall street Journal, I headed to Boston College which was about an hour away. I had lunch there with a few people and the discussion was all convention. The buzz was great and everyone was looking forward to Kerry's speech. I do note that some columnist correctly pointed out that Kerry's 1971 speech to the Senate Foreign Relations committee, the "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for mistake?" speech was the speech of his life. Nonetheless, we all agreed that Kerry had to hit a home run. A great speech would be a bottom-of-the-ninth-with bases loaded home run speech. A simply good speech would be a passing grade and wouldn't hurt him. Kerry never gives bad speeches, so I wasn't worried. The problem was that if he didn't hit the bases-loaded home run, then the news coverage would be negative, "Kerry fails to convince" or something like that. I recall that both Bush and Gore's speeches were dreadful in 2000, but the pundits thought that they were the greatest things since sliced bread. I don't trust the pundits, I do not think they know what they are talking about anymore.

A quick note about the media. I'm not sure what the media believes its mission is, to be objective and/or balanced. Objective and balanced are two different things. Balanced is presenting both sides of any issue. For instance if the Bush administration says it has enacted a clean skies initiative, reporting that would simply be uncritical. So a repsonse from an opposing view would balance out what was said and readers can be aware that there are legitimate differences. I think that's balance. However, being objective is a whole different ball game. I don't believe in objectivity because it is the lowest common demoninator of truth, if it can even rise to that level of fact. One can report objectively about a scientific experiment, but how can you capture the truth of a human relationship? If I call my wife and a reporter is objectively reporting, the report may say something like "Ono appeared happy as he spoke with his wife," but that does not capture the truth of what's going on. On the other hand, someone who spurns objectivity and allows the assumption that Ono loves his wife and is excited when he speaks to her on the phone would report the encounter in more engaging terms that come far closer to expresses what actually happened.

I say this because covering campaigns needs to be both balanced and objective, and biased. When Kerry speaks of his vision and we get excited, it doesn't do the truth justice if it is reported in bland terms. This is why I support biased media outlets in addition to objective outlets, because they serve a function, they capture the emotion that escapes objective outlets. My problem with Fox is that they lie about being "Fair and Balanced," I wouldn't mind so much if they simply acknowledget their biases. One reason all this bothers me is that the media has simply refused to acknowledge that John Kerry has fought tirelessly for veterans--starting with visits to VAs in the early 70s working on Agent Orange legislation. One reason he went after crime rings and money laundering in his senate years was because of the problem of drug dependency among veterans. So it is an objective fact that he has supported veterans for years. Yet the media, afraid of being bullied by the Bush administration echoes the nonesense that Kerry did not and does not support the troops. The fact is that he has decades of experience supporting troops while Bush has no experience doing the same. The media seems to be afraid that if they affirm that then they would be accused of being liberally biased--ridiculous, a fact is a fact.

Anyway, back to the convention. I had a sense that the fleet center was going to fill up quickly that night. So I deliberately curtailed my newspaper reading earlier in the day so that I would have lots of reading material at the Fleet center--I also picked up a free National Journal. I got to the Fleet center at about 5pm. I trudged up to the nose bleeds and seats were already scarce. The only available seats at the time were the ones that wrapped around the stage, where you could only see the back of the speaker. I managed to get a seat a little closer in but it was still a pretty bad view--at least, I could see the screen.

It was going to be a long night, my knees were going to kill me, I was terribly sleepy, and so I settled in and pulled out my reading material. It was day four and at this point I can say that I hate speeches--I ignored them all. I did clap when everyone was clapping but I found my reading material quite engaging. I do remember listening to some of Eleanor Holmes Norton, DC Congressional delegate, speaking about DC voting rights. That's been an issue and a half in the DC area. Apparently they played hardball to get a prime speaking slot. They scheduled the DC primary as first in the nation which panicked the DNC because Iowa and NH have first dibs. So in return to agreeing to make the DC primary non-binding, they were promised a prime time speaking slot. However, the DNC was on the verge of reneeging on that promise and so the DC delegates promised to vote Norton as a VP candidate which would guarantee her a speaking opportunity and also shatter the perception of unity, so viola, they got a nice speaking slot. A lady from NH was next to me and she was quite taken in by the issue. I think it was positive from the standpoint of DC voting rights even though the jaded DC news analysts dismissed all the DC delegation efforts.

So on went the night, I would glance up from my paper every now and then. I was also on the top most row so I could stand and stretch my knees without blocking anyone. I remember Joe Lieberman and Wesley Clark speaking. Clark fired up the troops but I thought it was more anticipation of Kerry than anything substantive. On the other hand, Clark along the military brass paraded the night before gave the Democratic party an appearance of strength that has aluded the party for decades, so we were all fired up about that. For the record I am owl-hawk hybrid, 65% hawk and 35% owl, so I really bought into the whole military thing. I know it probably grated on our anti-war brethren and I hope they understand that we cannot present ourselves as weak and unpatriotic. As for Liebermann, if the Senate was in our favor, 55 -45, I would strongly suggest that he become a Republican. I don't like how he has embraced Bush and the war on terrorism as though Bush is God's gift to the war of terror. Kerry wrote about terror back in 1997, Gary Hart warned about terrorism before 9-11 as did Senator Edwards, Bush did not care, the issue fell into his lap and he tried to rise to the occassion and has done a lousy job. Yet Liebermann embraces Bush and frequently cites allegiance to him saying there is no difference between the Democrats and Bush on the issue of terror. We are all united against terrorist, he is right, there is no partisanship there. But how we fight that war is not a trivial inconsequential issue--over 1,000 American service men have died, thousands of innocent civilians, it has cost us $350 Billion with more costs coming and not an inch more safety against terrorism. How we fight the war on terror is a big difference and so I have never quite appreciated Liebermann's embrace of Bush as though Bush were a resolute wise leader. He is not.

The excitement of the nite came as the PCF crews of John Kerry began to come in and Kerry's daughters made their speeches and they showed the film about Kerry.