Sneaking Suspicions
Archives-- December 17-30, 2006

This page includes posts from December 17-30, 2006 in the usual reverse order. Each posting on the home page is perma-linked to these archive pages.

December 29, 2006
The Mission

An upstate news story today dovetails with some of my recent book reading.

According to police, a 5-year-old boy in New Castle County dialed 911 for help, after being alone for most of day with nothing to eat but a piece of moldy bread. The police came to the boy’s apartment in the mid-afternoon, and began searching for his mother.

When the boy’s mother was finally reached, police say, she claimed that her 14-year-old son was supposed to be watching his younger brother. However, the teenager is nowhere to be found, and is officially considered a missing person.

The mother is now under arrest and in custody on child endangerment charges, as well as for a series of outstanding warrants for traffic offenses. She allegedly told police that her older son was shot three times earlier this year, and was also arrested at age 11 for bringing a gun to school.

The mother is 27.

The story makes no mention of the father (or possible fathers) of either of these two boys.

The 5-year-old is now in the state’s care.

The search continues for his brother.

As for the book, I just finished reading Kay S. Hymowitz’ Marriage and Caste in America: Separate and Unequal Families in a Post-Marital Age.

I highly recommend it.

Hymowitz, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, writes about the impact of the last few decades of social changes on the institution of marriage in America.

It’s not a pretty picture, as any clear-eyed observer could tell you. As she lays out with telling details, the permanent underclass has not kept pace with those in the middle and upper classes who have from an early age accepted what Hymowitz calls The Mission—a child-centered approach to the nuclear family in which both parents work to

“produc[e] competent, self-reliant, and (at its most successful) upwardly mobile children…. In the best scenario the [Mission] leads not only to satisfying work lives but to full self-development and self-cultivation.”

(from Chapter 4). The disparity in marriage and child-raising makes it ever more likely that the children of the underclass will be at a serious disadvantage throughout their lives, unable to escape their origins.

My assumption, relying on the newspaper story above, is that the mother in this instance has not yet signed up for The Mission. Based on Hymowitz’ essays on teenage mothers, this 27-year-old woman wasn’t thinking in these terms when she became a mother at age 13.

Hymowitz sounds a hopeful note or two in the closing essay, citing downward trends in teen pregnancies and out-of-wedlock birth rates, as well as a generational backlash against self-indulgent boomers.

On a similar vein, our main thoughts now should be to support locating and recovering the missing 14-year-old, and pray that nothing worse has happened other than some remarkably bad babysitting—assuming the mother’s claims are true.

Let’s also hope that this little 5-year-old boy won’t need to call 911 ever again.

December 29, 2006
At risk of repetition

Consider the following situation:

An ethnic minority nonetheless controls a country’s political and military leadership. Those in charge, along with their adherents, engage in years-long oppression of the ethnic majority. Thousands of innocent civilians die as a result of the murderous regime, many through torture, others through starvation or other horrors.

The United States and other governments are aware of the situation, but for years neither it nor any other countries do much about it. Finally the United States steps in, and unilaterally brings an end to the minority’s brutal regime. 

Unfortunately, compared to all the military effort used to end the oppression, far less work is done to prepare the American people to accept the task of putting in place the necessary political and other arrangements that would respect the rights of the formerly oppressed ethnic majority, while also blocking efforts by the majority at revenge on their former oppressors.

Even so, the United States keeps its troops in the area, helping to rebuild the shattered infrastructure, restoring public works, building schools, and so on. New elections are held, and many members of the ethnic majority are put into places of significant new authority.

Most of those formerly in charge are still around, however. They do not gladly accept the loss of their power and influence. Instead, they embark on a campaign of terrorism and brutal violence against the innocent civilians. Their aim, among others, is to wear down the resolve of the United States to remain in the country and restore the civil and social rights of the citizenry. Some terrorist acts are made against the U.S. soldiers, but the majority of the victims are the same people who were so brutally mistreated by the former regime.

Some of the political and social leadership in the United States accept the “suggestions” being made by these terrorists. They openly argue in favor of withdrawal from the country, even though the work of full restoration is nowhere near complete. Several of these political leaders are running for election on planks that directly advocate for the withdrawal and redeployment of the U.S. troops to other areas, seemingly regardless of the consequences in this volatile situation.

You might think I’ve been writing about Iraq--but I’m not.

The above is a short history of the United States in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War. It is usually called Reconstruction, running from 1865 to 1877.

The “ethnic minorities” were the whites who created the Confederate States of America, largely to preserve the institution of slavery they controlled for centuries. The “ethnic majorities” were the former slaves of the Confederacy, freed by the Civil War.

The postwar efforts by the United States included the Freedmen’s Bureau and other civilian-oriented work toward reconstruction, but it also included a significant Federal military presence. Former slaves and others were elected to office, but many former Confederates actively engaged in terrorism against the newly freed slaves. They were unafraid to use the murder of black citizens and their allies to reach their goal of reacquiring their political power over the area. 

During the Republican administrations of Andrew Johnson and U.S. Grant, many Democrats, both in the North and the South, sought to undermine the Reconstruction efforts. They used what political influence they could muster to cause the removal of Federal authority from the Southern states. The Democrats finally achieved their goal in the ugly Compromise of 1877. That arrangement put a Republican in the White House, but also ended Reconstruction, leaving the former slaves to the tender mercies of their former masters.

Our country has been paying for that premature withdrawal ever since.

If you would like to see confirmation of this summary, take a look at these books:

There are many elements to the Iraq story that don’t match up to Reconstruction, of course, such as the Sunni/Shia/Kurd factor, as well as the Iran and Syria issues.

Nonetheless, the talk of withdrawal from Iraq by elements of our own country’s political and media elite should also remind us of the risk of repetition of our own past, with similar potential haunting consequences for the people we worked so hard to liberate. 

Based on that history, we should be in no hurry to leave Iraq until our task is far closer to completion.

December 29, 2006
Happy New Year!

Best wishes to you and yours for 2007.

The lack of blogging around here lately was partly due to the holidays, but there were other factors.

We made a short vacation trip to Atlantic City during the week before Christmas, and enjoyed the hospitality of our friends at Caesars.  

Our friends at Caesars also enjoyed the money we left behind in their slot machines and roulette and blackjack tables--smiles all around.

While there, however, we also had a great meal at Bill’s Gyros and Souvlaki on the Boardwalk, based on a recommendation made in a recent Washington Post article on the gambling mecca’s nightlife.

The gyro/souvlaki combination, wrapped in pita bread, was heavenly.

Older and younger daughter left behind an autographed dollar bill, so if you’re at Bill’s yourself and you are so inclined, try to find it among the thousands of pieces of paper currency covering the walls, chairs, and ceiling fans.

On our return home, we discovered that our broadband Internet connection was down, for reasons we still don’t know. The folks at Comcast restored the service after several days, during which time some folks around here openly wondered how I would deal with my withdrawal symptoms.

They were admittedly more intense than I expected, but it’s okay now.


December 17, 2006
Micro-earmarks no--macro-earmarks yes, apparently

Many bloggers support the efforts of members of Congress and other organizations, seeking to stop or at least sharply reduce the number of earmarks put into Federal legislation.

In most cases, the earmarking is a specific appropriation or authorization of taxpayers’ money for projects of dubious interest for the nation as a whole, but of keen interest for the districts represented by the earmarking Senator or Representative.

Much of the recent efforts have been directed at making the earmarks far more transparent, with proposals to use the Internet and search engine capabilities to be able to highlight exactly who is pushing these earmarks through the sausage-making legislative machinery.

I like the idea of transparency very much. It’s hard to imagine any logical support for blocking access to the information about who is pushing for a bridge to nowhere or a university research project that promises to spend a lot of money locally for very little payoff nationally. There are many reasons that are less logical and more political for the continued existence of these little earmarks, of course--and that problem will remain completely unavoidable until enough voters push their own legislators to be more open.

I am not sanguine about the prospects for achieving that goal, however. 

After all, most of these earmarks take place at the micro level, where usually only the direct beneficiaries can be counted upon to pay enough attention to cause the earmarks to be adopted in the first place. It’s difficult at best for folks to take the time to fight over what is on balance a small dollar outrage, when they don’t have a personal stake in the issue except for their notions of what constitutes good government.

Even more important, pushing back against micro earmarks runs counter to our usual reaction to proposals to eliminate the macro-level earmarks most of us love.

What is a macro earmark, you ask?

Try the home mortgage interest deduction, for starters. Or think about the deduction for state and local taxes from your itemized federal personal income tax return.

Every one of these dozens of tax deductions and credits, many of which have a long history, acts as a tax expenditure when one considers the Federal income tax system as a whole. Each of these encrustations has a direct negative impact on government revenues, and each one has its significant constituency seeking to preserve or extend their existence.

The interest in preserving these macro earmarks is also present at the state level.

For example, Delaware’s Department of Finance publishes a biannual Tax Preference Report that details the financial impact of a wide variety of tax credits and deductions on the state’s overall tax revenues. The report describes each one of the dozens of add-ons for targeted tax relief sprinkled throughout the state’s personal income tax, corporate income tax, and other tax schemes.

In one of the most interesting passages in the most recent report, the authors also point out a separate risk relating to these laws:

One of the shortcomings of the approach taken by this report (the examination of individual preferences within specific revenue categories) is that, in some instances, it fails to adequately convey the implications which can result from the cumulative effect of different tax preferences. The incremental nature with which some preferences develop can have unintended consequences on taxpayers and state revenues.

They use as an example a comparison between a four-person family with total earned income of $74,400, and a retired couple with the same income, but derived solely from pensions and social security benefits.

The retirees…, despite having the same income and no dependents, pay no income tax, while the working family of four owes the state over $2,300.

This example is not unrepresentative of the radically different tax treatment of similarly situated taxpayers possible through the cumulative effect of non-means tested tax preferences.

Somehow I doubt that the General Assembly will address this particular unintended inequity any time soon. Delaware's voting age population skews toward the older folks, after all, and the skew is increasing.

For the same reasons, I’m not cheerful about the prospects for adoption of the suggestions to broaden the Federal tax base and lower the rate structures, accomplished by eliminating these extremely popular tax credits and deductions, while also repealing the increasingly hated AMT.

The Joint Committee on Taxation’s recent macro-economic analysis of these proposals makes a lot of sense, but only when viewed from a logic perspective:

Broadening of the individual income tax base through elimination of many preferences in the form of exclusions, deductions, and tax credits allows for a reduction in effective marginal tax rates for most individual income taxpayers. This policy also reduces preferential tax treatment of investment in housing relative to producers’ capital. Both of these effects provide incentives for more work and investment in the economy, thus increasing total output potential.

Unless Congress somehow develops the political will to oppose the very same constituencies that its Members assiduously courted with these very same tax credits and deductions, however, this Report will most likely end up in the same place as other political non-starters.

The Smithsonian Warehouse where the Ark of the Covenant is stored.

The whole debate over earmarks, whether of the micro or macro variety, reminds me a bit of the answer to the old joke about how many psychologists it takes to change a light bulb.

Only one—but the light bulb has to want to change.

And on this issue, almost all of us are the bulbs.

December 16, 2006
Nasty reason for an absence

Steven Green was among the strong early influences on my decision to start and especially keep up with my blogging here.

He wrote with a frequently smart-ass style that was nonetheless serious about national security and terrorism, and the length of his posts often hit a nice middle ground between Glenn Reynolds and Steven Den Beste, two others whose work helped convince me to begin blogging almost six years ago.

Green was also among the first bloggers to add me to his blogroll (the Cosmopolitan section), so I've always been happy to return the favor.

Over the years I also enjoyed reading about his budding romance, his engagement, his wedding, and most recently his new baby.

His blogging had dropped off to non-existent recently, however. I just assumed it was simply a trade-off for his new work and the demands of his young family.

Until today, when Reynolds put up a short note pointing to Green's post explaining how an undiagnosed hyperthyroid problem had knocked him for a loop.

That a real nasty reason for an absence, as we know from some family experience with the condition.

I'm very glad to read that Steven is slowly recuperating from the massive weight loss and other problems he's suffered through recently.

Please keep him in your thoughts.


Contact Information:

Fritz Schranck
P.O. Box 88
Nassau, DE  19969

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© Frederick H. Schranck 2002-2006