David Sirota

David Sirota
Denver, Colorado,
November 02
David Sirota is a political journalist, best-selling author and nationally syndicated newspaper columnist living in Denver, Colorado. He is a senior fellow at the Campaign for America's Future , the founder of the Progressive States Network and a Senior Editor at In These Times magazine, which in 2006 received the Utne Independent Press Award for political coverage. He also blogs for Credo Action. and the Denver Post's PoliticsWest website. His two books, Hostile Takeover (2006) and The Uprising (2008) were both New York Times bestsellers. In the years before becoming a full-time writer, Sirota worked as the press secretary for Vermont Independent Congressman Bernard Sanders, the chief spokesman for Democrats on the U.S. House Appropriations Committee, the Director of Strategic Communications for the Center for American Progress, a campaign consultant for Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer and a media strategist for Connecticut Senate candidate Ned Lamont. He also previously contributed writing to the website of the California Democratic Party. For more on Sirota, see these profiles of him in Newsweek or the Rocky Mountain News. Feel free to email him at lists [at] davidsirota.com

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Editor’s Pick
DECEMBER 3, 2008 1:10PM

Obama Backs Off Windfall Profits Tax Promise

Rate: 11 Flag

Good news and bad news in the last day. The good news: Barack Obama has appointed a NAFTA critic, Rep. Xavier Becerra, as the next U.S. Trade Representative (more on that here). The bad news is this just off the Reuters wire:

CHICAGO/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President-elect Barack Obama is not planning to implement a windfall profit tax on oil companies because prices have dropped below $80 a barrel, an aide said on Tuesday...

Obama, who signaled early in his campaign for the White House that he would take an active approach to oil markets as president, had planned to use the revenue from a windfall profits tax to fund a tax rebate for low- and middle-income families struggling with high energy prices.

Between this move and the move to wait to repeal the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, it seems like the Obama team is buying into the right-wing frame that raising any taxes - even those on the richest citizens and wealthiest corporations - is bad for the economy. Of course, that frame is debunked by history. And while sure, it's OK to rack up deficits so as to spend our way out of the economic crisis, it's sorta silly to ignore the tax moves that could be implemented to limit those deficits where possible.

Oh, and one last thing - if oil prices are down and oil industry profits are truly down, what's the harm in passing a windfall profits tax? Even if you buy the right-wing nonsense about a windfall profits tax "hurting the industry" or "hurting the economy" when it is applied, if there really are no windfall profits to tax, then it won't be applied.

That's what a windfall profits tax really is - a safety valve against profiteering, and one that can raise needed revenues when profiteering occurs. If there is supposedly no profiteering occurring, then what's the supposed harm? There is none even if you ignore history and believe taxing the wealthy/big corporations automatically hurts an economy. That is, unless you are ready to go down another right-wing rathole and argue that a windfall profits tax will somehow prevent energy companies from more energy exploration. But, then, if you are that far out on the fringe, then I guess your not interested in any facts whatsoever...

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oil, energy, obama

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I agree. Put the tax in place for when oil goes over x dollars per unit.
David, you are reminding me of Maureen Dowd and her constant shots at the Clintons.

Give it up, man. You are gonna end up looking like a chump if you keep it up.

Obama is going to do what he sees as best for this country. I trust him...and his advisors...one hell of a lot more than I trust your shoot from the hip snipings.

One last thing: For almost every presidential candidate I've ever voted for--my thoughts after the election have been: Forget all about the bullshit you promised during the heat. Do what you consider right and best today.

I see no reason to feel differently with Barak Obama.
I wholeheartedly agree!
Frank - you have, better than anyone I have seen, articulated the Dear Leader-ism surrounding Obama. Congratulations to you on that.

You and I fundamentally disagree on what being a citizen in a functioning democracy is. You believe we should bow down to the Dear Leader and trust his decisions, whatever they may be, regardless of whether they go back on what he promised. I believe the opposite - that organizing around a single Dear Leader and not around issues will destroy our country.

And frankly, the purist ideologue between the two is you. There's nothing purist or ideological about asking a political candidate to fulfill their promises. There's something purist and ideological about demanding 100% lockstep loyalty to a Dear Leader, regardless of what the Dear Leader does.

So, go ahead and enjoy helping emulate a totalitarian political system. I'll be here participating in a democracy.

I know you mean well with your "just-trust-Barack/keep-your-head-in-the-sand philosophy," but please tell me what you think is wrong with the windfall profits tax? Like David says, it's a safety valve against profiteering--if there's no profits, there's no tax. I'd like to hear you explain why there's a good reason not to go ahead with it!

ps--David Sirota was a relatively full-throated Obama supporter throughout both the primaries and the general election cycle, so your Maureen Dowd comparison just comes off as a petty ad hominem attack.
Find I must side with Frank who I believe is doing his part for democracy. Except for the chump part...
To run down a list of campaign promises before the man is even sworn in seems to be buying into how, over the last eight years, the Republicans have conflated campaigning with governing.
The remarkable thing is that we are watching Obama lead the country right now through "jawboning"--something a president of standing does to bring change. Is it a tactic? A strategy? I surely do not know but trust the man nonetheless.
To dismiss Frank as naive for trusting Obama--trusting in this integrity and intelligence and motives--does not futher the conversation.
And, Blue Eyes, Obama does not need David to keep him honest. Frankly, this announcement confirms his promise of transparency. I'd rather have him forget his campaign promises and not lie to us.
Steph, it's sounds like you don't think it's important for anyone to try to hold our political leaders accountable for what they say and promise. Why? And why don't you care to address the substance of Sirota's argument, like Frank conveniently neglected to?

As much as I look forward to your posts, I have to agree with Frank and Steph on this one. I suspect you are taking these anti-Obama swipes to maintain your editoral relevance, but I also believe you feel that is your mission. Obama is a creature of the political environment and as such he is constantly assessing his political capital. Is this a battle he wants to fight now? Would you have him alienate GOP Senators and Reps who might otherwise support a healthcare, jobs, or green energy bill? At this point the issue of excess profits is far less relevant than generating adequate revenue.

Keep doing what you're doing David. We need your words!
David, I think you make an excellent point -- there's no good reason to simply surrender to the energy companies without gaining a concession. Rather than tying a windfall profits tax to the price of oil, I'd rather see some kind of R&D loophole where they could escape the tax if they plowed that money back into alternative energy investments. If Exxon-Mobil wants to become an outrageously profitable green energy company, more power to them, I'd be happy to subsidize it.
David, thank you for making an excellent point. I don't consider any of what you are saying as anti-Obama as the points you emphasize are the same ones Obama himself articulated when running for president. I agree with Stephanie that I would prefer honesty from Obama, but is honesty what we are getting? The questions David brings up are worth considering, though I am a big supporter of Obama.
I say agitate as much as you can. It's our duty to broadcast what we believe, that's what it means to participate in a democracy. I think the Brennan case proves that sometimes when liberals scream at the top of our lungs, power actually listens. If Obama is the man I hope he is, he expects us--WANTS us--to talk loud, often, and with passion. Because he wants to take our opinions into account. He can't do that if we're busy being trusting and silent.

I find myself generally optimistic and inclined to trust that Obama is capable of rising to all our challenges AND loaded for bear every time he does something I think is wrongheaded. It's not a hard line to walk.
Hi Blake, So good to see you here again after your absence!
The substance is that oil companies should be taxed on windfall profits and I totally agree with that. Mobil in particular (They dumped a lot of oil in my river in 1983...grrrr) However, the fact that Obama has said--at this point in time--that he will not do that does not mean he won't do something like this in the future. Obama is a masterful politician, so perhaps he is jawboning or trading. I don't know and neither does anyone else. His first job is to prevent us sliding any further into a depression.
Accountability follows transparency as night follows day. The fact that Obama offers transparency--hence we know this today rather than down the line--offers accountability.
I completely support David's writing what he pleases ,but I also support Frank's and my right to disagree and stillbe considered a part of the democratic process.
I would never advocate silence for anyone.
I think the concern about windfall profits taxes all by themselves is it appears to tax investment. The ordinary reason that people claim that windfall profits are ok is that they might enable reinvestment in and growth of the company. I think the right compromise is to say "fine, if it does enable that, we won't do the extra tax, and if it doesn't, we will".

So I don't like the idea of a windfall profits tax all by itself, and I'm crossing my fingers that's what he's after here.

What I'd like to see is a tax on non-reinvested profits, so that if they were actually putting the money back where it belongs, into reinvestment on alternative energy or US job creation or other things that help the economy, the country wouldn't penalize them.

It's also possible he's just buying time while the issue is not relevant to not spook the people who he might need coalitions with by diving right in and seeming far out on the edge. I think the real sense of bipartisanism, as opposed to the superficial kind, often means not going for things that are way off on one side and focusing on common ground. To get through some of our problems, we need that. And if it means delaying slightly, even in the place of a mandate-like issue, I think he can get away with it.

He isn't even in office yet.
That's fine, Stephanie, thanks. It just irritates me when people say how much they disagree with someone without ever explaining why, or what they think is wrong with the original argument.

That said, I still haven't heard anyone adequately explain what the downside would be to Obama sticking to this particular campaign promise.

Lastly, because of these disturbing and inexplicable shifts by Obama--first with FISA over the summer, and most recently this--I am reminded why I trust critics like Sirota and Glenn Greenwald WAY more than any politician. If Obama is so damned transparent, he needs to explain WHY it's so important fr him to do these things, not just THAT he's doing them.
Blake, I think one elects a leader, not a set of votes. The quality of a leader is that he must think and react to different circumstances.

Had Barack shifted message, people would have decided not to elect him out of combination of shallow motives: (a) the desire to just force a politician to vote in a few selfish-to-the-voter ways in a let-the-country-be-damned way and (b) the superficial and incorrect belief that a politician changing his mind meaning he cannot be trusted, rather than that he is intelligent and can react to circumstance.

Barack said clearly during the final days of the campaign when asked if the economy shift would affect things that this would definitely cause him to have to hold off on some of the things he was campaigning for, so this isn't even turnabout.

But also, it does none of us any good if he merely stands by certain promises without concern for the effects. Right now he's being briefed on a great many things he didn't have access to before being elected, and it's way too early to be second-guessing him.

It's easy for critics to stand by their beliefs because they don't have to offer something, only to question things. But if those same writers had to say precisely what they were certain would fix the world and then stand by it, I think you'd find there are reasons they are critics and not elected politicians.
David this is a response I gave to Blake in a thread I started on this issue. I am restricting my comments to what I want to discuss rather than what he (or possibly you) want to discuss. Let me assure you that I am very comfortable with my civics functioning...and I take care to conduct myself as a responsible citizen.

Blake, I do not ever “take my ball and run.” I have been discussing politics and religion on the Internet for a very long time…and I try to be out front and never to duck anything.

My experience has been that David does not spend lots of time replying to posts…and I almost immediately decided to post a new blog that brought the issue that concerns me to greater attention.

The issue of concern to me is not windfall profits taxes or any of the other stuff mentioned in David’s several recent posts.

What concerns me is David’s constant swipes at Obama before he even gets started.

Even more specifically, what concerns me is David’s (any many others, by the way) being bothered by Obama making adjustments in his agenda now that the election is out of the way.

See it as a negative if you want, but I see it as something I want Obama to do, because I realize that things have to be said in a campaign simply to get elected. I don’t want any politician to keep all the promises he/she makes while campaigning, because I am not an idiot and I know that some promises are made to swing certain voters and I think the primary objective of any politician who feels he/she can make a difference IS TO GET ELECTED.

Politicians lied! That is a given. We, the people, goddam near DEMAND that they lie to us. So we are not only getting what we deserve, we are getting what we want when they do.

I want Obama to make adjustments…I want him to make the decisions he is making. If you or David or everybody else in this country wants to keep ragging his ass for doing it, so be it. Enjoy yourselves. I have a right to call you on it…and I will.

For you to suggest that I am avoiding saying what I have to say…or that I am avoiding interacting with you is laughable. I am not concerned with your great wisdom in any way.

And if you don’t mind…I will choose what I will deal with in a thread. I do not have to deal with what you deem to be appropriate.
David Sirosota,

I agree with your ideas and your criticisms of obama...i'm going to write about this in a longer post later...but I don't agree with your attack on frank apisa...one of the reasons I think the left wing has been locked out of the conversation in the past...well most of my lifetime at least...the only reason that the left has anything to do with...is too much haughty contempt for those they/we/you don't agree with.

there are "centrists" (i dislike the term, but use it for the sake of convenience) and even conservatives who elected obama. fine we know that. and you can disagree with them. but jumping to the conclusion that people you disagree with are dear leadering obama just because 1) they are to the right of you or 2) they want the dialogue to be more respectful of obama the human being is...is painfully intolerant....and will ensure that those you don't agree with won't listen to what you have to say. Which is not good for the country.

behind the blue eyes is right too...I don't disagree with your ideas here. Only with the idea that anyone who doesn't immediately jump onboard each criticism must be a cultist, a koolaid drinker, etc. can't we get rid of that meme? Please?
blake mitchell....

as to why he is making thesec ompromises....I don't think we have to trust politicians...and I see your point. but i think some progressives lost sight of the fact with clinton that the pressures behind closed doors of industry are enormous right now. even in the midst of the crisis. (maybe especially now...)

that's why I wish all these decisions were made more transparently, in the open. and I will admit it gives me the creeps when things just "disappear" from the obama website. It's a little animal farmish for me...
it's like this, folks:

mr sirota makes a living from writing. so he writes as much as he can. there's not always an easy story- some weeks there's bombs, some weeks there's smells, and some weeks you have to make do with "maybe this-or-that."

politics, war, and sex are clearly better done by amateurs. i'm beginning to think this is true of reporting and opinion writing, too.
I think the way you avoid being called a "Dear Leaderist" or a "kool aid drinker" is to put forth substantive reasons for your support of Dear Leader beyond suggestions like, "You should just trust him." And likewise, to offer substantive criticism of those who are critical of said leader beyond, "I disagree... you're being unfair... shut the hell up!"

Obama has been making shifts in policy since he won the nomination this past summer. He was relatively consistent before that. For some of us, the decision to support him may not have been particularly easy. It may have had to do with subtle policy differences between him and Hillary. [As for myself, I threw my support behind Obama back in January because I simply believed he was more electable, and I also believed he was less apt to do the sort of triangulating that Hillary and Bill are famous for.] I haven't been particularly critical of his cabinet appointments, but these policy shifts--why must they always be a capitulation to the right, especially when the right is so marginalized, and frankly, so wrong?

buckeyedoc had a great--and brief--reply to begin these comments. Can someone tell my how she's wrong, or how her suggestion is politically dangerous or harmful? If ideas like that are what got Obama elected in the first place, how unpopular could it be? I'm ALL ears....
It looks to me like Sirota is not "ragging" on Obama for making adjustments, but for the quality and implications of the adjustments he seems to be making. After all Obama might have announced an increase in the proposed wiindfall tax or a supplementary form of taxation on Exxon et al, and I imagine Sirota would have registered no objection. So by all means show Sirota where he is wrong in his particular criticisms (as the ever thoughtful Kent has done) or complain about swipes in general and be guilty of the Dear Leaderism of which Sirota accuses you.

complaining about (the type of) swipes in general doesn't earn me a dear leader tag...or it shouldn't...since I have had the same objections to low blow strikes against any other political leader that I think has some potential.

but I don't care if you call me a dear leader cultist or anything else you wish. I just will probably stop listening to you at that point. and if the left wants to be heard (which I wish it would be heard in this administration) shutting people off who might be sympathetic to your ideas seems like bad politics.

but tell me the logical reasons that I'm wrong about that. by all means.
Well Deflorious,

Since you asked for logic, I would begin with the observation that this has nothing to do with left or right. I invited and would read with interest conservative objections to Sirota's point of view on taxing oil companies. I'm sure there are solid free market and even Keynesian reasons for supporting Obama;'s revised position on windfall profit taxes. rather it is about substance vs. non-substance. If you are not objecting to Sirota's criticisms of Obama on substantive economic grounds, or on substantive social justice grounds, or at least on substantive realpolitick grounds, then you are objecting to the swipes because you don't like to see Obama be attacked. To object to criticism of Obama in general is to be a cultist of personality, or at least to behave like one. and cultists never listen to people whose opinions of the leader differ from their own. So I'm not surprised nor at all bothered that you won't be listening to me.
I have to say that this "dear leader" stuff sounds remarkably, amazingly, similar to the "why do you hate America?" stuff of the early years of the war. It tastes no better coming from the left than the right.
Of course, there will always be willfully blind people, but a plea for listening to voices of those you disagree with is not an example of such. It's sheer intellectual laziness to brand those you disagree with as too stupid or narrow minded to see the real situation.

if you listened to me...meaning read what I said, I said I didn't disagree with sirota's criticism of obama. I disagreed with the way he took on frank. Just for clarification.
Libertarius wrote:

“ It looks to me like Sirota is not "ragging" on Obama for making adjustments, but for the quality and implications of the adjustments he seems to be making.”

So apparently you think that because “it looks” that way to you …nobody else can think it looks otherwise to them????

I think otherwise, Libertarius.

I think it is becoming (if it has not already become) petty, repetitious ragging.

“After all Obama might have announced an increase in the proposed wiindfall tax or a supplementary form of taxation on Exxon et al, and I imagine Sirota would have registered no objection. So by all means show Sirota where he is wrong in his particular criticisms (as the ever thoughtful Kent has done) or complain about swipes in general and be guilty of the Dear Leaderism of which Sirota accuses you. “

I will write about what interests or concerns me…and you write about what interests or concerns you. Not sure why you think it appropriate to tell others what to write about, but I, for one, am not interested in what you deem to be the proper way to respond to a post. I addressed the issues that concerned me.

In any case, Obama apparently is not meeting the expectations of some people…and the guy has not even gotten into office yet. He is making some policy decisions and appointments…and he is adjusting the decisions and appointments to conditions AFTER the campaign.

I have no problem with that—in fact, it is what I expect and hope for. I think he has the country and long-term hopes for a successful administration in mind while making these adjustments.

As for the demeaning “Dear Leader” bullshit, this is not China or North Korea…and we do not have a Dear Leader. I would love to have either Libertarius, Blake or David mention the “Dear Leader” mentality accusation to any of the members of the township council of my hometown. They could use the laugh.

Sorry if you are at a loss for anything else to write about, David. Perhaps you’d consider calling Maureen and ask if she’d mind you ragging on the Clintons as a change of pace.

If I am a bit uptight about this, keep in mind that I see this kind of nonsense coming from the right for the next four years…and the thought of it coming right now from people with whom I am in reasonable political agreement bothers the shit out of me.
De Flores,

For clarification, my original post wasn't responding to you but to Apisa. You seemed to take up the cudgels in your response for a generalized objection to Obama critique. If that is not your position, then my reply doesn't apply to you. In your second post, you did seem to identify the criticism of Obama with hidebound leftism. I don't think this is a question of left and right. There has been a protectiveness toward Obama, as opposed to a defense of his actions, that attributes reasoned criticism to unthinking progressivism. This is not helpful, both because we should be critically judging our leaders, not mindlessly celebrating them, and because many of the criticisms of Obama are not particularly leftist--does one have to be a leftist to want a more robust denunciation of gitmo?


"It looks to me was a way of speaking. You of course ignored the substance of my comment, which was that Sirota objected to certain kinds of adjustments and deserves to have his arguments addressed. I have said I can see where Obama may well be right on this issue. But your carping about reasoned criticisms of what Obama does, without in any way adddressing the specifics of that criticism is cultish. Sirota is entirely right about that.

look at all the time that has been wasted in this discussion basically discussing whether or not apisa deserves to be compared to a north korean (which i maintain is overly harsh)...did anyone ask frank whether he agrees with obama on the windfall tax change?

instead some seem to leap to the conclusion that legitimate criticism of obama also makes it okay to demean all obama supporters who for whatever reasons seek to defend him, and lump them all into an idiot category. just like I don't think you have to agree with everything obama does (who does?), I don't think everyone has to agree with every obama criticism either in order to earn their non-cultist street cred.

although in this case, the criticism of obama was really good and valid. if only that had been the real topic of discussion instead of the Dear Leader references that just reminds people of the you're with us or you're against us mentality that sucks...right or left...it sucks.
David, so it doesn't look like I just knee-jerk disagree with you, I think you are onto something with the Dear Leader analogy. As I indirectly state in one of my posts, I don't expect this to last and eventually he will be viewed as a sell-out by the left.

Now, back to diagreeing with you: If Obama pushed through a windfall profits tax early in is Presidency, then the policy of the US government would be:
-Tax the hell out of companies making money
-Give taxpayer money like crazy to companies losing money

It's hard to see how this make sense.
I work for an O&G company in WV. It is a small producer. I say this in interest of full disclosure.

I am against a windfall profit tax on oil in the US. Here is why. By putting a tax on oil in the mode of windfall profits, you either pass the tax on to the consumer, or encourage oil companies to sell their oil in places without the tax. Oil is a global commodity, with a price affected by global demand and global supply. Now, I believe as a country or energy future is in renewable energy, particularly wind and solar. If the federal government want to tax oil, the best way is to tax production, meaning charging a severance tax for oil taken out of the ground. This does not affect supply, because you can not move oil fields and domestic production will still be profitable. The industry is already heavily taxed in some states though. Here in WV the severance tax is close to 25 percent. I am a liberal, I work in energy but I am working towards a PhD in African history. Demonizing oil and gas companies will not solve our problem, neither will trying to punish them. Why not offer 100 percent of cost tax breaks to people that by electric vehicles or very high mileage cars. Or giving auto companies real tax incentives to produce high mileage or alternative fuel vehicles instead of tax breaks based on tonnage. I believe in progressive taxation, but windfall profits on a commodity with global demand is not a good idea. A gasoline excise tax makes sense though, even though it passes the cost to the consumer. We need to reduce gasoline consumption. Just remember oil is used for more than energy, it is also a lubricant and a input for plastics and other polymers.

I agree with a lot of what you say. But sometimes you seem overly committed to ideology. I believe in taxing personal income progressively, much more than we do now, but I believe bussiness taxes are too high. I think capital gains should be classified as income the same as wages. We need a smart tax policy with less loo holes. Windfall profits taxes work badly, and they usually negative in the long run.

It is similar to the mass negativity to the auto bailout. People are mad at GM, Ford, and Chrysler, and their idiot executives so they do not approve of aid to the industry. Meanwhile the rest of the world is giving financial aid to auto companies like Toyota, Honda, and the Germans are doing it too. At the same time we want to punish our automakers while throwing money at banks. I supported Obama from the beginning when he announced because I believed he was a pragmatic leader. His performance thus far has shown that.
For all the people who criticize Obama there are legions more
who think he is the greatest President ever. Already, before he
even takes office. I don't like the guy but I actually think he will
be a good Prez. Go figure.
Obama is behaving exactly like every other politician before him.
Promise one thing to get elected, then switch when elected. The
question is: did he promise knowing that he wouldn't/couldn't
fulfill, or was he just bowing to reality once elected? I thought
his whole deal was that he was different, you know, "change we
can believe in" and all that.
O' stephanie, delores, Frank et al, I really don't think you will
fall into Dear Leaderism, but there are many more who may,
and I appreciate David Sirota for having the courage to call
Obama on his flip/flops. I would rather we deal with this now, better too early than too late.

At the end of the day, I think we agree more than we disagree. I'm certainly not against Obama, though I haven't been happy with his emphases so far, particularly the low priority given our shameful torture regime. (I have less problem with his appointments, and think the Clinton choice was great). I'm jmost against reflexive support (or opposition) for any administration, including this one.
Now correct me if I'm wrong but all this is speculation because the only "proof" is that the policy was pulled off the transition page correct?

I think people are jumping to conclusions far to quickly. They pulled ALL policy off a couple weeks ago for a bit of editing including the expansion of the LGBT rights support.

So it woud seem STATED policy, which has been confirmed, would be the best to comment on rather than all this Chicken Little type nonsense. The economy is NOT what it was during the primary campaign season. To ignore that reality is foolish.

To put a finer point on it...the name of the aide who was the source of this article is what? Oh that's right, it's not in the article.
Interesting to me, in my being a great supporter of an "OS community", is the difference in the comments here from what one might expect from a newspaper blog. I don't think you would expect general population to respond by defending one of their number. In this case, Frank, who is known and liked by most people here.
Again, I defend Sirota's opinion (and desire to "sell newspapers") and Frank's and everyone who commented. However, I think we respond differently because we are a community. And, those who defend Obama are not cultists.
You're absolutely right! Send this post to Obama's team!
HiddenThing: Agree completely with your remarks. But intellectually laziness, like the poor, we will aways have with us.