Jim: ‘I say my tax-deferred interest income is not like money coming into my budget; my wife says it is part of my income. We don’t receive it as cash; it compounds. Should this be included as part of my income to budget with?’

☞ I prefer your approach because it’s more conservative. Ideally, your investments would occupy a separate place in your brain for growing, not spending – augmented each year by the surplus from your budget – until the time come to buy a house or pay for college or, eventually, supplement Social Security during your retirement.

I goofed with the link to Gary Halbert’s letter yesterday. It’s fixed.

My wide-eyed optimism was obviously misplaced a couple of weeks ago when I hazarded that Amram Mitzna would replace Ariel Sharon in yesterday’s election. It was presented more as a wishful hunch than a prediction (what do I know from Israeli politics?), but either way, I was not even close.

I have so many thoughts on the State of the Union (the least of them being that it’s pronounced NOO-klee-er) that I’m not even going to try. Suffice it to say that on the Iraq part – especially if Russia comes around, as seems to be happening – I think the administration may have it about right, awful as the situation is. (Well, about right other than that the timing of the war debate was incredibly cynical, and the approach should have been multilateral from the start.) I don’t think we should proceed unless we can persuade a lot of our friends that it is the right thing to do. But I think we will persuade them. And who knows – maybe Russia will be able to persuade Saddam that the jig is up.

I was heartened by the additional $2 billion a year to combat AIDS in Africa and by the boost for hydrogen-powered cars. I don’t know enough about the latter to know how real it is, but it does at least seem more hopeful than the original Bush push to cut the budget for alternative energy research in half.

The colossally misguided tax proposals? The Social Security proposal? The prescription drug plan? Well, it’s a great time to be rich and powerful in America. But I don’t think that going into debt in order to lop $327,000 off Dick Cheney’s tax bill is going to produce jobs.

Finally, you may recall my November 14 column about cruelty to animals (I was for it!), titled, I Don’t Want to See the Factory – Please Pass the Salt. Now from my friend Dan Mathews at PETA, who once dressed up as a carrot to protest something – it wasn’t cruelty to carrots, I remember that much – was it cruelty to rabbits? I think that may have been it – now comes this e-mail. I was contrasting various compensation levels (you knit, you play tennis, I contrast compensation levels), and I thought to compare the pay of Tyson chicken chief John Tyson, who made $7.3 million plus options and perks last year, with the pay of PETA President Ingrid Newkirk, who made $26,000. I e-mailed Dan just to make sure I remembered correctly that PETA was down on Tyson. This is not to say Tyson is wrong and PETA is right – the more efficiently Tyson can produce chicken, the less it costs consumers – but read Dan’s response and you decide. Do Not Read This Before Lunch:

Tyson is among the key culprits in making sure birds are exempt from the Humane Slaughter Act. As one of the world’s largest poultry producers, Tyson confines billions of chickens to filthy, poorly ventilated sheds where they spend their entire lives living in their own waste. To increase profits, they genetically manipulate birds to grow so large, so fast that their legs cannot withstand their own weight, leading to deformities, chronic leg pain, crippling arthritis and an inability to get to food and water. Overcrowding is so severe that suffocation, heart attacks from stress, and disease transmittal are all too common while it is often impossible for the birds to make even the most basic movements, such as spreading their wings. During transport, birds are crammed into cages on trucks for hours without food or water and many are trampled to death by their frightened cage-mates. At the slaughterhouse, they are dropped fully conscious into boiling water to defeather them. Hungry yet?

Coming: I Still Owe You Dissenting Views on the Copyright Issue

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