Politics & Policy

The Simpsons Bear It Away; Tax Times; Corrections & Clarifications, Monday Edition


“We’re here! We’re Queer! We Don’t Want Any More Bears!” was the rallying cry for a march on Springfield City Hall in one episode of The Simpsons. The protestors, led by Mr. Homer J. Simpson, were upset that their tax dollars weren’t keeping the beasts off their front lawns. When one Springfield resident, Lenny (last name withheld at request of writers), asked Mr. Simpson where he’d gotten “such a great cheer,” Mr. Simpson replied, “They use it every year at the ‘Mustache Parade.’”

Now, if I were to run one of my rigorous, scientific polls on where most regular readers thought this column would go next, a plurality would vote that I was going to write about the radical chic of gay protest politics, a.k.a., “the mustache paraders.” A slightly smaller percentage would say I was going to talk about how The Simpsons is the funniest and smartest show of the 1990s, Seinfeld included. A few others would guess I’d be leading into a discussion of last night’s premier of The Family Guy and/or the new show from the creator of The Simpsons, Futurama.

But nobody would guess that I would write about bears. This mostly has to do with the fact that my idea of the outdoors is the green median between the parking lot and the mall. Still, I think bears are adorable and I am unafraid of them. This can largely be explained by the fact that, except for one brief camping experience out West, I’ve never even had the opportunity to be afraid of the snuggly-wuggly tickle-me Teddies. Almost all the bears I’ve known have been named Yogi, Fozzy, Smokey, Big, Medium, or Baby, or they’ve been behind bars at the zoo. I’ve had friends who hail from parts of North America where they have, to paraphrase Jimmy Carter, “an inordinate fear” of bears. One extremely close friend of mine (name withheld by writer for personal protection) is from Alaska and she gets very cross when I say I’d like to have “Mr. Bear” as a pet. She keeps saying things like, “Jonah, you idiot, they eat people from the Upper West Side of Manhattan too! You think a higher bagel-content makes you inedible?” Lies, I say. I bet if you just scratch them right there under the chin they just roll over and leave you alone.

Nevertheless, today’s Washington Post reports that bear-spray manufacturers are getting a lot of heat. It turns out that their products tend to do what I’d like to them to do rather than what the bear-o-phobes would like. You see bear spray attracts Mr. Bear, the way an intern smeared and tied to a stake attracts Mr. Clinton (I guess Mr. Bear would dig that too, but for different reasons). One brand is basically a re-labeled pepper spray for 98-pound inner-city crackheads (them I know plenty about). But apparently pepper spray on bears in excess of 400 pounds tends to have a different effect than what you’d expect in a repellent, something like, “Hey! Mexican food!”

In fact, reports the Washington Post, one canister of bear spray used by a man who was mauled by Mr. Bear had this instruction on the side of the can: “After spraying the attacker, call 911 immediately.” Don’t you think there’s a Far Side cartoon in there, with the bear calling 911 to order dessert? The guy who was mauled was in Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming. By my own calculations, there was approximately 2.3 seconds between the moment he squirted the charging Mr. Bear with the tasty aero-salsa and the moment Mr. Bear started teething on his face — plenty of time to make a call and for a black-and-white squad car to roll out of Cheyenne.

One spokesman for a bear-spray manufacturer denigrated her competitor’s oil-based pepper sprays saying, “We don’t need the product to taste like chili.” Apparently no one asked the bears.

I’m not big on lawsuits. But if you don’t want bears to attack you, it seems reasonable to me that a repellent bought for that aim shouldn’t attract the big guys. If not, why not just make the spray smell like picnic baskets? Anyone who knows anything about bears knows, bears like picnic baskets.


The writer Willis Player once said that “a liberal is someone whose interests aren’t at stake at the moment.” This insight isn’t new, but most true observations aren’t. The New York Times has been proving Player’s observation for decades. But today is one of those days when the Times is really firing on all of its pistons. Its lead story is about how the IRS isn’t auditing enough rich people and big companies. The reporter, David Cay Johnston, seemed unable to find anyone who could explain why fewer audits might be, I don’t know, maybe a good thing? Instead he found all sorts of alarmed experts who are terrified that somebody, somewhere, may be getting away with something. That scofflaw rich people and richer corporations are cheating the rest of us is taken on faith by the Times. The implicit message is that fewer audits means more “unfair” profits. The Times reports that the drop-off in auditing began in 1968. But it accelerated during the Dark Years of the Gingrich Revolution, when those nasty Republicans forced the IRS to concentrate on customer service.

This is classic Times thinking. If the New Jersey State Police assumed every black man between 16 and 24 was guilty of something and therefore worth investigating, everyone would rightly be upset. The Times would pull its reporters from California to Cairo to attack this evil. But one gets the impression that if the federal government assumed that every household with income in excess of $75,000 was a nest of tax cheaters, the Times would applaud.

Just to be clear: The amount of money this country wastes every year trying to avoid audits is enough to fund the Great Society all over again. Actually I think the exact statistic is that if we had a flat or consumption tax, we could take the amount of money we now spend on lawyers and accountants and give everybody in China an above-ground swimming pool and a camcorder (If you don’t trust the staff work of my living room furniture, I suggest you go to the Americans for Tax Reform website at http://www.atr.org).

This hand-wringing about too few audits appears three days before the filing deadline with the IRS. There are people out there downing No-Doze and blood doping just to get their taxes done, and the Times is worrying that there won’t be enough audits to go around.

One wonders who the Times thinks its audience is. But then all you need to do is turn to their op-ed page today and see a piece by Cornell economist Robert Frank. Mr. Frank simply thinks rich people make too much. He argues that the disparity between the rich and the middle class is dangerous and he despises the “revisionists” who are saying otherwise. He says, “increased spending at the top causes real, unavoidable harm to families in the middle, even those whose incomes have risen slightly.” Tell that to a “middle” family which makes its money from making houses, cars, boats, roads, computers, or bear spray for the members of the “top.”

He argues that rich people are crowding out all the best public schools. This is bad? I thought the problem with the public schools was that rich people weren’t sending their kids there at all anymore. He whines that rich people are buying and building all the big, lavish houses (in the good school districts) which is bad because it leaves the slightly smaller (yet still lavish) houses for the middle people in the “middle” school districts. More rich people means, sadly for Frank, that expensive clothes are more popular. Which means that middle people will feel compelled to buy snazzier threads. More rich people means more big safe S.U.V.s on the road, which means people still driving their Hondas are in more danger in collisions.

This is the extent of the Left’s attack on inequality? Rich people drive safer cars and have more expensive clothes? This is new? This is news? Frank offers no suggestions or policies, he just doesn’t like the “sugarcoating” of today’s prosperity. But the implied message is that rich people shouldn’t get any richer until the almost-rich people catch up. When will these people learn that the “almost-rich” people got where they are because room was made for them by the currently rich but previously almost-rich people? I hate to break the bad news but an ineluctable consequence of the rising Dow is that rich people are going to get richer. Rather than worry about what Bill Gates is wearing these days, why not concentrate on fixing the schools and making it possible for everybody to drive safer cars.

I know I have a lot of Lincoln-haters amongst my readers but that doesn’t mean Lincoln was wrong when he said, “You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong. You cannot help the wage-earner by pulling down the wage-payer. You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich. You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves.”


Minor corrections notice: Yeah, I know there were some silly typos in Friday’s column. My apologies. But please stop sending me e-mail saying it was the “Chinese not the Russian premier…,” the “you idiot, your correction was wrong about the babyboom” etc. Currently, my staff is formulating a new corrections policy because the volume of my mistakes seems inexplicably and inextricably intertwined with the increasing volume of my readers willing to point them out.


The Jonah Poll What best describes your feelings about U.S. intervention in Kosovo?

Huge Mistake, Get Out Now

Huge Mistake, But Finish the Job

Right Idea, Bad Implementation

Right Idea, Right Way


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