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Jewish World Review Aug. 6 1999/ 24 Av 5759


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Greenspan in translation --
DEMOCRATS AND THE MAINSTREAM PRESS distorted Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan’s comments on the subject last week, focusing solely on his stated first priority, which is a continuation of paring down the deficit. What was omitted in the frenzy to use Greenspan as an ally of President Clinton was the entirety of his statement. This is what Greenspan really said: “My first priority, if I were given such a priority, is to let the surpluses run. As I’ve said before, my second priority is if you find that as a consequence of those surpluses they tend to be spent, then I would be more in the camp of cutting taxes, because the least desirable is using those surpluses for expanding outlays... I have great sympathy for those who wish to cut taxes now to pre-empt that process, and indeed, if it turns out that they are right, then I would say moving on the tax front makes a good deal of sense to me.”

Translated: Greenspan doesn’t believe for a minute that the government can be trusted not to spend excess funds on more bloated programs.

JWR columnist Jeff Jacoby, in a July 29 column, cut through the malarkey:

“‘Last week, in the House of Representatives, they passed an irresponsible tax bill that would spend our surplus,’ Clinton said on Tuesday. Hear that? ‘Our surplus.’ That is how the liberal mind works. The money belongs to the government, even if the government doesn’t need it... The tax debate boils down to a straightforward question: Should you be allowed to keep a little more of your own income? Republicans vote yes; they trust you to spend the extra dollars sensibly. Democrats, with some honorable exceptions, vote no; they think you are too stupid to be trusted.”

Let’s be clear: tax rates should be slashed across the board, regardless of income brackets. The estate tax, perhaps the most anti-American penalty currently in existence, needs to be entirely eliminated. Capital gains taxes must be nixed as well, or at least vastly reduced; such a measure would only create more jobs and incentives to entrepreneurs.

It was Jack Kemp, in last Friday’s Wall Street Journal, who made the most sense of this entire hash over taxes. If Kemp had shown as much passion on the stump in ’96 as he did in the Journal op-ed, or had topped the GOP ticket instead of Bob Dole, historians would have a different slant on American politics in the late 90s. But that’s over; too many spilled loads and too much Whitewater under the bridge.

Kemp wrote, in lambasting both parties: “Instead of competing with the president over who can inflict more austerity on the American people, Republicans should denounce debt retirements as an ill-conceived, counterproductive strategy. If Republicans are really interested in helping families and want to maintain a growing economy without inflation, they should package Rep. Bill Archer’s capital gains and estate tax cuts, his reforms in the alternative minimum tax and Bill Roth’s expansion of IRAs, along with a provision cutting marginal income tax rates back at least to where they were when Mr. Reagan left office.

Better yet, send Mr. Clinton a bill cutting the top marginal income tax rate to 25%, which John Maynard Keynes once said is the most anyone should have to pay during peacetime.

“...Human ingenuity alone—free from onerous taxes, regulations and inflation—leads to prosperity and economic growth. No balanced budget, and surely no reduction of an already-shrinking national debt, ever produced prosperity.”

Boom or no boom, judging by Rolling Stone’s Aug. 19 issue, owner Jann Wenner is pinching pennies. How else to explain just an atrocious piece of writing by Neva Chonin, a review of a Joe Strummer show at the Fillmore in San Francisco last month. If Chonin’s a day over 23, I’d be surprised, given all the factual mistakes, not to mention embarrassing cliches, in the 300-word blurb. “As leader of the Clash,” Chonin writes, “[Strummer] infused the lethargic Eighties with a dose of vibrant grit and a radical social conscience. Now, with a solo album on the way, he’s picking up on the Rastaman vibrations he injected into the later Clash albums.”

Where to begin? Chonin claims the Clash disbanded in ’86. Technically that may be the case, but it was a year after Strummer’s coleader Mick Jones had already released his first record with Big Audio Dynamite. And the 80s were “lethargic”? That would be news to fans of the Smiths, U2, REM, Hüsker Dü, the Minutemen, the Pogues and the Cure. As for the “Rastaman vibrations,” Strummer had that up his sleeve in the late 70s and early 80s; it was old news by the time the group’s swan-song hit “Rock the Casbah” hit the charts in ’82. As for Chonin’s conclusion that “Strummer is still giving rock a kick in its complacent pants,” I’d say he’s out on a nostalgia tour, raking in a few bucks, maybe checking out the bands that have left him in his middle-aged dust.

A story in last Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal, by Barbara Carton, caught my eye with this captivating headline: “No Snickers, Please: All Smuggled Sweets Will Be Confiscated.” The gist of the piece was that in today’s politically weird environment, fully 40 percent of sleepaway camps prohibit candy sent in care packages from parents; in fact, in what I consider a clear violation of privacy, some mailroom snoops even sniff and open the packages to make sure no offending treats have been included.
At Camp North Star for Boys in Hayward, WI, there’s a woman named Shirley Weiner who’s earned the nickname “Squirrely Shirley” for her efforts to detect bubble gum, M&M’s and candy bars while she “feels lumpy letters.” Other counselors at camps complain about the rodent and vermin problem that sweets cause: how ridiculous is this notion, considering all the creepy crawlers that kids love to find in the woods? Isn’t camp supposed to be about climbing rocks, identifying trees, the joy of seeing grasshoppers, red ants, ladybugs, four-leaf clovers, lizards and other exotics that probably aren’t present in their urban or suburban homes?

Carton also distresses the reader with another reminder of the legal insanity that haunts anyone in business in the 90s: “The growing interception of food care packages is also a sign of the times—an effort to cut down on legal liability. Camps worry about getting sued should a child get sick from an allergic reaction, or rotten brownies, even though no one in camp-dom can recall an actual lawsuit.”

As a youth in the 60s, I went to camp for five consecutive summers, two-week stints, the first three at Camp Mohawk in Litchfield, CT and then two at the Boy Scout brigade upstate in Gloversville. Mail call was a highlight of the day: my mom was fairly diligent in her correspondence, and although she never sent candy—I was given a small allowance to buy Cokes, Mountain Dew or Dots at the canteen each night—the letters were filled with what I craved most. Box scores from Red Sox games, the Sunday comics and clipped political stories. In ’68, I was especially peeved that I missed the GOP convention and had to find out a few days later that Richard Nixon tapped Spiro Agnew as his running mate. But my friends got some edible loot: I remember Bobby Ringler’s grandmother sending boxes of her homemade rugelach; Bruce Arbonies sharing red licorice whips; and Doug Mazan, usually a whipping boy of other kids, due to his reticent, shy manner, suddenly becoming a hero when he received a huge box of cookies and candy from his affluent parents.

Sued for a rotten brownie. What a load of hokum: if this is the way Americana is disappearing, into a California-style abyss of fear and liberalism, I’m taking my kids off the bus. They don’t need a Squirrely Shirley intercepting, and reading, letters and packages from the MUGGER household.

A brief detour to last Sunday’s Times. Maureen Dowd, mercifully on vacation for a couple of weeks, returns to her space on the op-ed page and what does she turn in? A very stupid piece on Runaway Bride, a current film that stars Julia Roberts and Richard Gere. Now that she has that Pulitzer, maybe it’s time for some editor with brains to dispatch Dowd to the ladies section of the paper, I mean “Sunday Styles,” where her increasingly tepid work will be easier to skip over.

In the Times Magazine, Alex Kuczynski was pulled off the Talk beat long enough for a by-the-book profile of James Truman, the editorial director of Conde Nast who has a mysterious job that’s probably not so mysterious: not quite Si Newhouse’s butler, but certainly a gofer.

Well-paid, with lots of perks, of course. By far the most interesting quote in the article was from Alexander Liberman, Truman’s 86-year-old predecessor, who said, “When I was at Vogue, there was no bar code on the cover... About 10 years ago they put a bar code on the cover, and that’s when the magazine ceased to be art and became a product to be sold like a bunch of bananas... I mean, really, do you think Vogue is about art now?”

Kuczynski gives Truman far too much credit for his early editorship of Details, saying that his “reinvention made it the first men’s magazine that truly integrated fashion, culture and politics. He did this by recognizing a new kind of man out there, unthreatened by women or by gay culture, fairly laid-back and hip. He was among the first to recognize the coming youthquake...” I’ll concede that Details under Truman was preferable to more recent incarnations, but the truth is that it sucked then, too. I don’t remember a word of politics in the magazine, although it’s undeniable that Truman made the magazine harder to read with a “youthquake” design. And maybe the reason the “new” man Kuczynski cites was unthreatened by gay culture was because he was gay.

Granted, Details floundered after Truman left (although Joe Dolce did his best under undoubtedly trying circumstances) and was virtually unreadable when Michael Caruso sat in the editor’s chair. His successor, Mark Golin, the wiseguy Maxim editor Truman raided, hasn’t had time yet to show what he’ll do with the title. The August issue is awful, in the Caruso-mold with Leelee Sobieski on the cover and a “Blair Witch Exclusive,” but I suspect that Golin has inherited a backlog of material. In any case, his “Editor’s Letter” is pretty funny, making fun of the demographics he’s forced to chase and the Conde Nast business staff that undoubtedly make his skin crawl. He closes: “And do pick up September’s issue when it hits the stand. It’s going to be either the big fashion issue...or 195 pages of 19th-century Shaker furniture.”

JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and publisher of New York Press. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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©1999, Russ Smith