Letters from our readers.
Feb. 19 1999 3:30 AM

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Judge Me by My Actions


I write to you about the comments by Paul Krugman in a to a recent column of his in this magazine ("Don't Blame It on Rio ... Or Brasilia Either"). In it, Krugman states that during the week prior to my being offered the central bank presidency by President Cardoso, I "was negotiating with the government" and that meant I knew nothing bad was going to happen to Brazil. At the same time, he goes, Soros was "buying up large quantities of Brazilian debt at deep discounts."

Paul Krugman is a great economist, perhaps the best in his generation. As a journalist, however, he was careless, and I happened to be his unlucky victim. His accusation is false. He did not bother checking with me. I did meet with senior government officials that Wednesday (Jan. 27), but I was not offered any government job, not the least the central bank presidency. I did not have access to any privileged information either. As it turned out, Friday was a chaotic day in the markets, and on Sunday I did get the invitation, which I was honored to accept. These are the facts.

Since then, Krugman has written two notes on the episode, both available on his Web site. In them he states that he does not believe that I am corrupt (thanks, but in my worst nightmares I never dreamed my name and the word corruption would appear on the same page) and that he did not treat me unfairly. I beg to disagree. Whether Krugman thinks it is right or wrong for someone with market experience to take a government post is immaterial. People should be judged by their actions and their record, not by labels of any kind, not by rumors.

--Arminio Fraga



I suppose you think you are being iconoclastic by publishing Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter's nasty musings on King Hussein on the day of his funeral (see "The Breakfast Table"). You are wrong. It is never iconoclastic or even interesting to read the predictable chauvinism-driven propaganda of hacks: The Israelis (the right-wing ones, anyway) are always right. The Arabs are always wrong. It is so very tired. Too bad that the kind of thinking these two represent has led to so many dead (Israelis and Arabs) over the past 50 years.

--M.J. Rosenberg

Chevy Chase, Md.


And Dissent

Why are you subjecting your loyal and (usually) enthusiastic readership to the reactionary, bigoted, and sexist drivel of Midge Decter and Norman Podhoretz in The Breakfast Table? We don't subscribe to Slate in order to expose ourselves to the ramblings of Anita Bryant's spiritual parents.

While Podhoretz may be correct in his opinion of Al Sharpton, his comments regarding Sharpton and Jesse Jackson possess a thinly disguised undertone of racism: As he castigates "white liberals" for assuming that "Negroes" could do no wrong, his discussion of Sharpton's actions seem to say, "Well, what can you expect? We told those white liberals years ago that you couldn't expect more from Negroes." Podhoretz implies that Sharpton's behavior is both representative of and entirely in keeping with the "character" of African-Americans in general.

Of Decter's comments, the less said the better. While we may deplore that sex has become the dominating factor in many young people's lives, the goal should be to expand and emphasize the nonsexual means of personal expression ("liberation") available to them, not to return to the repressive and contaminating moral hypocrisies of a previous age.


The best thing that may be said of Podhoretz and Decter is that their biological clocks can't have many more minutes left on them. And that the editors of Slate will never see fit to subject their readership to them again.

--Christopher Milazzo

Albuquerque, N.M.

Straight Shooter


In his "Crapshoot," Jonathan Chait says it's misleading to focus on the ratio of tax revenues to GDP. Why? Because the boom in stock prices has led to a big jump in federal tax receipts but isn't counted as an addition to GDP. But why should it be? The price of a stock reflects the present value of expected future earnings; these earnings will be counted as income when--and if--they're achieved. It would surely be silly to count the expected earnings implicit in the stock price of Amazon.com as income earned today.

Chait also errs when he criticizes the Tax Foundation. The group, he says, "assumes that the average taxpayer pays an average share of estate and capital gains taxes, which is absurd." In fact, it isn't absurd at all. The median or modal taxpayer may not pay the average, but the average one obviously does.

--Ira Carnahan



Jonathan Chait may be correct that 40 percent of income does not go to the federal government, but he is wrong if he thinks that we don't pay around that in taxes overall. Does he include the Social Security and Medicare "non-taxes" in his calculations of tax burdens? State, local, sales, property, and gasoline taxes? Does he count the other 7.5 percent of one's salary that goes to Uncle Sam in his tax burden number?

Back of the envelope, it seems that every working American pays a flat 15 percent of salary, plus around 5 percent to 10 percent in state and sales taxes on every dollar earned or spent, respectively, plus some unknown amount in property taxes (and renters get screwed the most here, since rent of course includes prorated property tax pass-throughs), plus gasoline taxes, plus some special local taxes (such as D.C.'s extra taxes on restaurant meals, liquor, and other "sin" taxes). All told this seems to add up to a total tax burden for a typical family of nearly 40 percent.

The typical American pays a greater percentage of total income to taxes than the rich who would have to pay estate or capital gains taxes. This is true because the vast majority of tax revenue that is collected in the United States is regressive: sales taxes, property taxes (which are passed on to renters, so paid by everyone), Social Security, etc. And poorer people are more likely to spend money on things like cigarettes, alcohol, and so on, making their total percentage tax burden even larger. Finally, Social Security tops out at around $70,000, making it a smaller percentage tax burden for the rich than the poor.

Perhaps Chait and his buddies should donate more to the government.

--Eric M. Eisenstein


Notes on Groove

Almost everything Cullen Murphy states about the word "groovy" in " The Good Word" is accurate, except for its original meaning. Jazz musicians did indeed use the term to indicate being "in the zone," but it didn't necessarily refer to the grooves of a record. It referred more to the sense of swing derived from the rhythmic variation in their playing of eighth notes. While classical performers tended to interpret their eighth notes strictly and evenly, jazz musicians provided a little bounce in theirs, a slightly uneven distribution of rhythm achieved by placing them slightly behind the beat, and/or by making the first eighth note slightly longer than the second. This heightened the sense of groove, by playing against the beat rather than on top of it. Musicians often refer to a great rhythm section with terms like "grooving," "popping," and "killing."

All great jazz musicians have an original approach to playing eighth notes, from Louis Armstrong to Coleman Hawkins to Lester Young to Charlie Parker to Bill Evans to Miles Davis and on and on. They all play eighth notes in a unique way. They all have their own "grooves." Jazz musicians also experimented with several mood-altering substances, and this also plays into a sense of "feeling groovy."

--Andre White

Montreal, Canada