Tuesday, June 14, 2005

(Tax) burdens of proof

Lawrence Kudlow’s Friday Commentary column, “Government’s best friends,” about my June 5 article (“Richest leaving even the rich far behind”) and charts in the New York Times is rife with factual errors and mischaracterizations.

For example, Mr. Mr. Kudlow asks “why Mr. Johnston never mentions that the wealthiest Americans suffered the most in the stock market plunge and asset deflation of 2000-02.”

First, my work addresses that both in the text and in the chart examining income shares since 1920.

Second, I was the reporter who broke the story buried in I.R.S. statistical tables that the incomes of those at the top fell the most. (See “Top 1% in ‘01 Lost Income, But Also Paid Lower Taxes,” New York Times, Sept. 1, 2003).

My June 5 article cites the critical role of “strivers and innovators” in economic growth or the “remarkable transformation: of the American economy since 1980. Does Mr. Kudlow even read before he pontificates?

Mr. Kudlow conveniently ignores findings from the Tax Policy Center computer model, which the administration says is reasonable and reliable, that if the tax laws conform to President Bush’s 2006 Budget then:

• The bottom 40 percent and those in the 80 to 99 percent income class will pay a larger share of federal taxes in 2015, while only those in the 40-60 percent income class, and the top 1 percent will pay less; this means shifting the burden off the very middle and the very top onto the affluent and the poor.

• Over the years 2001 to 2015 the top tenth of one percent will get 15 percent of the Bush tax cuts. Only the top half of 1 percent get a share of the cuts that is significantly larger than their share of taxes and their share of pre-Bush taxes.

• That in income and deducted payroll taxes those making $100,000 to $200,000 pay a larger share of their income to Washington than those making $10 million. In income taxes alone, those making $500,000 to $10 million pay a larger share of their income than those making more than $10 million.

Nothing in my article supports his writing about Germany or about shooting the highest income Americans, craziness for which he was mocked in a column in the Los Angeles Times.

Distribution of incomes is influenced by government policy, a truth that Mr. Kudlow’s column suggests he knows. The distribution of tax burdens is, by definition, government policy.

Ever since the issue of tax burdens gave birth to the first democracy, ending what had been a tyranny, in Athens some 2,500 years ago these issues have been at the core of self-governing societies.

My article is consistent with the writings of Aristotle, Plato, Adam Smith and all the other classic worldly philosophers who wrote on these issues; Mr. Kudlow’s is not.

Readers who want to know what I actually wrote, including the original source documents so they can check my work, can go to www.nytimes.com/class.

David Cay Johnston

Tax reporter

New York Times

New York

Servicing all aboard Amtrak

The Washington Times did an injustice to the work of Amtrak’s onboard service workers when it omitted their voice in its recent story on the House of Representatives’ hearings on food service on Amtrak trains (“GAO rails against Amtrak management,” Business, Friday).

Onboard service workers are on the trains for the safety, security and service of the passengers.

The assertion by some that the work is similar to restaurant food service, with the implication that such work could be competitive in pricing and labor costs, is a myth. Onboard service work is governed by federal regulation and 25 chapters of applicable Amtrak rules and policies. Chief among them is that “Amtrak’s highest priority is the safety and well-being of all employees and passengers.”

Unfortunately, there have been 181 documented terrorist attacks against rail travel from 1998 to 2003, resulting in 431 deaths and thousands of injuries. Major rail networks in Madrid, Paris, Moscow and Tokyo have been targeted. To eliminate onboard service or to contract it out would remove an important level of security on America’s passenger trains

Onboard service employees have acted heroically in emergency situations by helping evacuate trains and administer first aid. They are trained in emergency protocols to handle bomb threats, emergency evacuation procedures, fire suppression, and risk avoidance involving communicable diseases and blood-borne pathogens. All this is in addition to following U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations in food handling.

Three years ago, when Amtrak’s Auto Train derailed in Crescent City, Fla., onboard attendants rescued trapped passengers by opening windows and pulling passengers to safety. When the California Zephyr derailed in 2001, the onboard crew rescued passengers. One onboard attendant rescued 80 passengers in spite of his own wounds. Truly, these are the first responders to emergencies.

Despite the protestations from some quarters that this work can be done more cheaply, it will never be done better. No price can be put on this kind of service.



Amtrak Service Workers Council


Transport Workers Union Rail Division

New York

Sex-ed in the margin

As former chairman of the Montgomery County Board of Education’s Citizens Advisory Committee on Family Life and Human Development, I agree with this statement in your June 2 editorial “A clean slate for Montgomery sex-ed”: “The point of a sex-ed curriculum is to teach facts about sex, not to propagate dubious theories.”

The proposed revised curriculum that was originally to be piloted last month said relatively little about homosexuality, providing definitions from the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association and simply making the accurate statements that “[a]ll major professional mental health organizations affirm that homosexuality is not a mental disorder” and that “[m]ost experts in the field have concluded that sexual orientation is not a choice.” (The text of the pilot versions of the curriculum may be found on the Resources page of Teachthefacts.org.)

The “dubious theories” are those propagated by groups that cling to the long-since-rejected ideas that all homosexuals are diseased and can be “cured” of the disease. Indeed, it was the clinical experience of mainstream medical and mental health professionals in the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s that led them to reject the notion that homosexuality is a disease.

The Citizens Advisory Committee examined the statements from the mainstream professional associations, as well as materials presented by committee members who were advocates of the idea that all homosexuality is diseased, and concluded that the mainstream professional approach should be followed. Contrary to your editorial, these recommendations did not come from some purported “education establishment.” Rather, they were from the mainstream medical and mental health professionals.

As Superintendent Jerry D. Weast stated in November when the Board of Education unanimously voted to pilot the revisions, these are revisions the school system should have made years ago. Why did he make that statement? Because for too long the silence in the health-education curriculum unit on sexuality gave tacit approval to the idea that there was something “sick” about not being heterosexual. For too long, students who happened to be homosexual and children from same-sex-parent families were made to feel marginalized. Because that was wrong and hurtful, the board was wise to act in November.

One more point is essential to this discussion: Montgomery County parents never have been required to have their children take the portion of the health classes on human sexuality. If families objected, they could have their children study alternative materials. This way, the school system has been able to accommodate the concerns of parents who may have religious or other objections to the material without giving a small minority veto power over the entire curriculum.



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