Don’t you love one-syllable countries? There aren’t many of them. (Guam is not a country, and Chad barely is.) It’s such a confident, definitive statement: France. No ifs, ands, or buts. (Some troubling anti-Semitism, but that’s a separate issue.) Spain and Greece are countries, certainly – I think they are the only two others out of 191 – but I don’t hear quite the same majestic finality in their names as I do in . . . France. Charles is there as we speak.


This web site does not do family photos. But for those of you who have wondered whether this ‘Charles’ I refer to from time to time really exists, I point you to the color centerfold (no less) of the front section of yesterday’s Wall Street Journal. And if you miss it there, it will be repeated shortly in Time, Newsweek, Business Week, and all the rest of them. It’s an ad for IBM laptops, whose main element is a giant photo of Charles. I used to think of myself as his boyfriend; now I think of myself as tech support.


Nicoletta Skarlatos: ‘I am curious about the estate tax. Isn’t it double taxation?’

☞ Yes, it is. So are the capital gains tax and the tax on dividend. And so, for that matter, is sales tax. You pay tax on your income, and then you pay tax on what’s left when you go to spend it. (In the old days, sales tax could be deducted from income before figuring your income tax. Not any more.) And sales tax applies to a lot more Americans than the estate tax.

A guy enters this world with nothing, is incredibly fortunate to be born in America, has a great life, makes a fortune, and at the end has to either give some of his chips to charity or else throw half back into the pot. What’s so awful about that?

Actually, the estate does pass with zero tax to the spouse (unless, of course, the spouse is gay; that’s not perceived by Republican lawmakers as unfair) . . . so to that extent, there already is no estate tax. But eventually, yes, the estate is taxed.

‘My dad worked hard for that money, and I deserve all of it, untaxed,’ the counter-argument might run. And maybe his dad did. And maybe his dad didn’t. (Not everyone who makes a lot of money works harder than the rest of us.) Life is tough all over, I would respectfully reply. Your country needs the revenue. You will only inherit $20 million instead of $40 million. Try to be a good sport about it.


I watched Lesley Stahl’s terrific ’60 Minutes’ piece on the nurse shortage tonight (thank you, TiVo). It seems we will be 400,000 nurses shy in a decade or two, and that when you or I ring for the nurse because we are having trouble breathing (or are merely in pain), it could take even substantially longer than it already does for someone to come. Already, emergency rooms are being closed in some places because of the nursing shortage.

One thing we’re doing to alleviate the crisis is lure the most experienced nurses from poorer English-speaking countries, like South Africa, to come care for us instead. These nurses are desperately needed in South Africa, but South Africa cannot afford to pay them what we can.

You might think we’d be exporting skilled medical care to the rest of the world – who trains medical personnel better than we do? – but, in fact, the rest of the world, despite its own even more severe nursing shortage, is exporting skilled medical care to us.

You might think that we would be providing massive aid and incentives to young Americans to become nurses, and providing sharply higher Medicare and Medicaid payments to allow hospitals to pay nurses a more competitive wage – not out of charity, but simply to assure our own comfort and care as the years go by. But we can’t afford it. We’ve decided it’s more important to cut the tax on our wealthiest citizens and to abolish the estate tax on centi-millionaires. The truth is, no matter how severe the nursing shortage in the US is, those centi-millionaires and their heirs – with or without the estate tax – will always be able to afford round the clock private nursing. But for the other 99% of us, who lie helplessly in pain, ringing the button, it’s just too bad. Abolishing the estate tax on even the most gargantuan estates is a higher priority.

I’m not saying the Republicans (and a few misguided Democrats) are wrong about this, although I think they are. Just pointing out the contrast so you can decide for yourself.

It is a grand time to be rich and powerful in America. I’m not sure how things are going in France.


Comments are closed.