P.L.A. - A Journal of Politics, Law and Autism

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Saturday, October 19, 2002
 
George W. Bush as Eddie Haskell -- Part I

Eddie Haskell of Leave it to Beaver fame is an American icon. Everyone knows a kid like Eddie. When the parents are around, Eddie is pure sweetness and light: “Yes, Mrs. Cleaver; No, Mrs. Cleaver; You’re looking particularly lovely today, Mrs. Cleaver.” When the parents are not watching, however, Eddie is full of disrespect and mischief making.

George W. Bush is a lot like Eddie Haskell. When a political issue is in the national spotlight, he is all sweetness and light. When the television lights fade, however, his position changes.

We saw that aspect of Mr. Bush’s personality during the campaign. As he smiled and waved at the crowd, unaware that the microphone was on, Mr. Bush said that a New York Times reporter was a “major league a**hole.” “Big time,” replied Eddie’s friend, Lumpy. That attitude has carried over to the White House.

An example is in order.

Last summer saw the issue of corporate responsibility rise to the forefront. Even after the collapse of Enron, the White House generally opposed increasing the funding and enforcement capability of the Securities and Exchange Commission. When WorldCom collapsed, however, the White House saw that the public was paying attention.

Like Eddie Haskell in the presence of Mrs. Cleaver, the White House decided that they had to give the appearance of sweetness and light to the public. The White House decided to back the Sarbanes-Oxley bill. That bill provided budget authorization for in excess of $700 million for the SEC. The increased funding would allow the SEC to hire additional personnel, upgrade its technology and increase enforcement of laws designed to keep the financial markets honest.

George Bush signed the Sarbanes-Oxley bill in front of the television cameras. In front of the public, like Eddie Haskell in front of the parents, George Bush said all the right things. He was for punishing crooks and funding the SEC to allow increased enforcement. Here is part of what Mr. Bush said when the cameras were rolling:

My administration pressed for greater corporate integrity. A united Congress has written it into law. And today I sign the most far-reaching reforms of American business practices since the time of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. This new law sends very clear messages that all concerned must heed. This law says to every dishonest corporate leader: you will be exposed and punished; the era of low standards and false profits is over; no boardroom in America is above or beyond the law…

Corporate misdeeds will be found and will be punished. This law authorizes new funding for investigators and technology at the Securities and Exchange Commission to uncover wrongdoing. The SEC will now have the administrative authority to bar dishonest directors and officers from ever again serving in positions of corporate responsibility …

This law gives my administration new tools for enforcement. We will use them to the fullest…

It is now my honor to sign the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002.


One can almost hear the public, like the parents of Eddie’s friends, say, “What a nice young man the President is. He saw the problem of corporate fraud and now he has solved it.”

Iraq, elections and snipers diverted the public’s attention. The television lights went out. Then George Bush, like Eddie Haskell, changed his tone.


The New York Times reports that the White House now opposes the increased funding of the SEC called for under Sarbanes-Oxley. That funding is necessary to accomplish the goals Mr. Bush lauded at the signing ceremony.

Even Harvey Pitt, Bush’s handpicked Chairman of the SEC, has acknowledged that the level of funding now supported by the White House would not allow for the proposed new enforcement provisions. The level of funding supported by the White House when outside the glare of the television lights does not allow for new initiatives according to Mr. Pitt’s spokesman.

Senator Chris Dodd has the administration pegged. He knows that the reason the administration changed from the “good Eddie” to the “bad Eddie” is that the attention of the public has waned.

My sense is this is a White House that is sensing some political relief that this is no longer the issue on the table so they can take a political pass on this.

In other words, now that the parents are out of the room, Eddie can drop the act.


 
George W. Bush as Eddie Haskell -- Part II

In our previous post, we suggested that George W. Bush was like Eddie Haskell. When parents are in the room, Eddie is a most polite kid. When the parents leave, Eddie is full of mischief. We suggested that George Bush had acted like Eddie Haskell with regard to the increased funding of the SEC needed to crack down on corporate fraud.

George Bush has also acted like Eddie Haskell with regard to the formation of an independent commission to investigate the 9/11 tragedy.

In the aftermath of 9/11, many people have called for an independent commission to investigate the intelligence failures and the steps needed to prevent future terrorist attacks. Senator Joe Lieberman has been particularly outspoken about the need for such a commission. Lieberman, who supports the Bush administration with regard to Iraq and the war on terror, has given repeated assurances that such a commission would not be an attempt to assign political blame but rather would be an effort to learn from past experience so as to prevent another tragedy.

The administration opposed such a commission. The families of the victims of 9/11 then entered the fray calling for the establishment of such a commission. The entry of the victims' families had an effect on George W. Bush like the effect on Eddie Haskell when Mrs. Cleaver walks into the room. The administration shifted position and supported an independent commission.

ABC News reported that:
Senior advisers, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the president decided to back the commission now in response to requests from victims' survivors.

The House and Senate each passed differing bills to establish such a commission. The measure went to conference. The two parties quickly reached a deal for a commission.


Newsweek reports that within hours of the announcement of the deal, Vice President Dick Cheney called Republican House Intelligence Chairman Peter Gross. Gross then announced that there was no deal after all. Gross said that the decision to kill the deal was made “above my pay grade.”


The final word on the commission has not yet been spoken. The families of the victims are again complaining that the White House is blocking the commission. With the adults in the room, Eddie Haskell may have no choice but to behave himself.


Friday, October 18, 2002
 
Autism -- Increase in the Incidence of Autism

Over the last several years, there have been a number of anecdotal reports that the incidence of autism was growing rapidly. In 1987, the California Department of Development Services reported that there were 2,778 autistic children in California. By 1998, the same group reported 10,360 autistic children, an increase of almost 300 percent in eleven years.

The1998 report caused quite a stir within the autism community. I looked at the report of a vast increase in the number of autistic children very skeptically. Further study might show that the increase was caused not by an actual rise in the incidence of autism but by a variety of other factors such as some or all of the following:

1) The Rain Man Effect

The movie Rain Man was extremely popular. It starred Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman. It was also a very sympathetic portrayal of autism. The popularity of that movie increased the public awareness of autism and its manifestations. I expected that as a result of such increased awareness children who in previous years had been misdiagnosed as “mentally retarded” or “psychotic” were now being correctly identified as being autistic. The “Rain Man Effect” could explain some of the rise in the number of autistic children reported by the Department of Development.

2) Expansion of the Spectrum

Autism is called a “spectrum disorder” because it is defined by a range of autistic behaviors. The spectrum runs from profoundly autistic children who are completely non-communicative, unable to acquire basic life skills and who are self-injurious, to Asperger’s Syndrome kids who function at a very high level intellectually but have some difficulties with social interaction (it is quite likely, for instance, that Dr. Albert Einstein was on the autism spectrum). I thought that the reported increase in the number of autistic children could be explained, in part, by an expansion in the definition of the spectrum.

3) Migration

California has a wider range of services and higher quality services for autistic children and their families than many other states. I thought that the increase in the reported population of autistic children in California could be explained, in part, by migration patterns as families with autistic children moved to California to take advantage of the services.

After the 1998 report, the California legislature commissioned a study on the incidence of autism. Those of us in the autism community have long waited for the results of that study. The report was issued on October 17. The full report can be found here. The New York Times article on the report is here. A number of PLA readers, of whom Hugh Wood was the first, provided us with the Time’s link or similar links. Thank you to all.

The California study was performed by the M.I.N.D. Institute at the University of California at Davis. It studied groups of autistic children born between 1983-1985 and 1993-1995.

The study confirms that the incidence of autism has indeed risen dramatically in California. Where it was once believed that autism affected 4 to 5 children out of 10,000, the new study suggests that 10 to12 out of 10,000 are autistic.

The study also refutes the possible explanations for the anecdotal evidence that I once believed. The number of misdiagnosed children was the same both in the older and younger groups studied. Thus, the “Rain Man Effect” does not seem to explain the increased numbers.

Similarly, the study was limited to profoundly autistic children. The stretching of the spectrum cannot explain the increase.

Finally, the study demonstrates that the increase in the number of autistic children cannot be explained by migration.

It appears that the rapid increase in the number of autistic children in California is real. That is very bad news. The news, however, gets worse. The study was prompted by an increase in the number of reported cases from 2,778 autistic children in 1987 to 10,360 in 1998. As of July 2002, that number had increased to 18,460.

The number of children with profound autism is rising at an alarming rate. The study provides no insight into what is causing the rise. The central problem is that we do not know what causes autism.

The costs of a dramatic rise in the incidence of autism are staggering. The costs to the child and the family of the child include the loss of human potential and emotional damage as well as economic loss. I cannot accurately describe those costs without writing either far too much or far too little. The education and training costs are huge. The economic and social costs of providing a lifetime of care to an autistic child are enormous.

It is time to get serious about halting the rise in the incidence of autism, determining the cause of autism and finding a cure.


Thursday, October 17, 2002
 
Dick Cheney Asked Important Questions

Some time ago, we posed certain questions about U.S. policy towards Iraq that we felt should be answered before embarking on a war. No one, however, listens to a lonely blogger.

If responsible people from the highest levels of government asked serious questions about the war and its aftermath, would we have a substantive debate over Iraq? For instance, if a respected Republican member of Congress had raised questions, would a real debate have occurred? What if the Secretary of State or the White House Chief of Staff had asked hard questions? If a Vice President had publicly asked serious questions, would we have gotten answers or at least a debate?

We may never know. The Washington Post reports that Vice President Cheney is the “fulcrum” of U.S. policy towards Iraq. It also reports that:

Cheney now, in the words of one senior official, "has only four talking points: War, war, war and war."


Instead of Mr. Cheney’s four talking points, responsible people could have publicly asked the following questions:

If we are going to go in and topple Saddam Hussein, we have to go to Baghdad. Once we have Baghdad, what are we going to do with it?

What kind of government would we put in place of the current regime?

Will it be a Shia regime?

Will it be a Sunni regime?

Will it be a Kurdish regime?

Will it be a regime that tilts toward the Baathists?

Will it be a regime that tilts towards the Islamic fundamentalists?

How much credibility will such a regime have if it is set up by the United States military?

How long does the United States military have to stay?

What happens to the government once we leave?

Are we at all worried about the possibility of Iraq coming apart?

Are we at all worried about Iran restarting the war with Iraq over control of eastern Iraq?

Do we have any concerns about the Kurds in the North?

How will the Turks react if we start to talk about an independent Kurdistan?

If we seek to topple Saddam, will we be bogged down for a long time with the real possibility that we might not succeed?

Actually, those questions have been asked. A former Congressman asked those questions. So did a former White House Chief of Staff and a former Secretary of Defense. Even a Vice President posed those very questions.

In fact, former Congressman, Chief of Staff, Secretary of Defense and current Vice President Dick Cheney asked each of those questions in regard to the decision not to proceed to Baghdad and remove Saddam at the end of the Gulf War.

Those were important questions then and are important questions now. If Mr. Cheney had publicly posed them with regard to 2002 as well as with regard to 1991, we might have had answers or at least a debate. Instead we get Mr. Cheney’s four talking points: war, war, war, and war.


Wednesday, October 16, 2002
 
Just for the Record

From FY1962 (the first Kennedy budget) through FY2001 (the last Clinton budget) presidents have prepared forty budgets. Control of the White House was evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats with each party preparing and submitting twenty budgets. We decided to take a look at the fiscal performance of the Federal government during that period. The measurement we used was budget deficits and surpluses. We wanted to control for inflation to make the comparisons meaningful. Fortunately, the Government Printing Office publishes such information on the web. We got our data here at table 1-3. All dollars are adjusted for inflation and are expressed as 1996 dollars.


Kennedy-Johnson Administrations (FY1962-FY1969)

During the eight years of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations (FY1962-1969), the budget was in deficit for seven years. The largest deficit was $110.1 billion in FY1968. The only surplus was $13.4 billion in FY1969. The Kennedy-Johnson budgets added $250.9 billion to the national debt and averaged a yearly budget deficit of $31.36 billion.

Nixon-Ford Years (FY1970-FY1977)

The Nixon and Ford administrations ran deficits for each of their eight years. The highest deficit was $188 billion in FY1976. The lowest deficit was $11.1 billion in FY1970. The Nixon-Ford budgets added $702.7 billion to the national debt and averaged a yearly deficit of $87.84 billion.

Carter Years (FY1978-FY1981)

The Carter administration ran a deficit in each of its four years. The highest deficit was $136.6 billion in FY1980 and the lowest was $83.1 billion in FY1979. The Carter budgets added $482.8 billion to the national debt and averaged yearly budget deficits of $120.7 billion.

The Reagan Years (FY1982-FY1989)

The Reagan administration ran budget deficits in each of its eight years. The lowest deficit was $188.6 billion in FY1989 and the highest was $311 billion in FY1983. The Reagan years added $1.94 trillion to the national debt and averaged annual deficits of $242.23 billion.

The Bush (George Herbert Walker) Years (FY1990-FY1993)

The Bush administration ran deficits in each of its four years. The highest deficit was $318.5 bilion in FY1992. The lowest was $261.9 billion in FY1990. The Bush years added $1.16 trillion to the national debt and averaged a yearly deficit of $289.68 billion.

The Clinton Years (FY1994-FY2001)

The Clinton administration ran deficits in each of its first four years and surpluses in each of the last four years. The largest deficit was $213 billion in FY1994 and the largest surplus was $219 billion in FY2000. The Clinton years paid down a net $14.2 billion of national debt and averaged a surplus of $1.78 billion.

Summary

The twenty years of budgets prepared by Republican presidents increased the national debt by $3.8 trillion. The average yearly deficit under Republican budgets was $190 billion.

The twenty years of budgets prepared by Democratic presidents increased the national debt by $719.5 billion. The average yearly deficit under Democratic budgets was $36 billion.



 
Required Reading


There have been an inordinate number of very good posts in the left hemisphere of blotopia recently. We suggest the following:


Body and Soul has a number of excellent articles by Jeanne D’Arc as well as her readers on the subject of American values and the imposition of those values on others. We have not linked to any specific post because we simply cannot chose among them. The articles are not only thought provoking but the subject of that discussion is central to how we think about American foreign policy. We have intended to weigh in on this debate but we have not yet sufficiently clarified our thinking to do so. Maybe later.


The Rittenhouse Review has the definitive take on the whole Mike Taylor ad saga from the Montana Senate race.

Greg Greene is all over the ads running in Georgia in the Senate race. Senator Max Cleland is a triple amputee as a result of his service in Viet Nam. His opponent, Saxby Chambliss missed the Viet Nam war with a “bad knee.” Saxby Chambliss is running ads questioning Cleland’s patriotism. Greg is not happy about that.

When one questions skippy's patriotism, one better be prepared for a chickenhawk roast.

A blog that is new to us, Eriposte, has a great chart of the arguments for and against an invasion of Iraq, complete with links to many important facts.

Sisyphus Shrugged is simply on a roll. Her foot must still hurt because she is taking no prisoners. Read it all.


D-Squared Digest has a unique perspective on the pay of the dockworkers and how it relates to public funding of higher education. Really.

William Burton (permanent link not working) and Mark Kleiman are discussing politcal patronage in the context of the proposed Homeland Security Bill. We have also been flogging that horse.


 
Thanks


Many thanks to the kind folks who have linked to some of our posts in recent days. Those people include Atrios, Body and Soul, Joe Conason in Salon, skippy, No More Mister Nice Blog, Liberal Oasis, Brad Delong, Ted Barlow, William Burton, Demosthenes, The Rittenhouse Review, Elton Beard, The Sideshow, Liquid List. Our apologies if we have missed anyone.



Tuesday, October 15, 2002
 

Autism — Fun At An IEP


Every parent of a child with special needs is familiar with the IEP process. The IEP is an “Individual Education Plan.” Because special needs students have, well, special needs, the law requires that a meeting be held among teachers, therapists, administrators and parents to create a detailed plan for the education of each special needs student.

For some children the IEP can be short and easy. Autism, however, is a pervasive disorder. It affects everything about the child. Communication, diet, toileting, eye contact, social interaction, obsessions, academic skills, disruptive behaviors and more must be addressed. Our IEP meetings are rarely short and never easy.

The first goal of an IEP is to accurately describe the child’s current development. Next, the IEP establishes the developmental goals for the next school term, the methods that will be employed to achieve those goals and the measurements that will be used to determine if progress is being made. Finally, the IEP lists any behaviors or other factors that are inhibiting progress and lists proposed interventions to mitigate such behaviors.

Deb and I know that the meetings are an important and necessary procedure. We appreciate the opportunity to have significant input into the planning of Bobby’s education. Despite that, we dread the IEP meetings.

To a large extent, IEP meetings consist of having other people read long lists of everything that is abnormal about our son. We then get to discuss in vast detail every thing that is “wrong” with our son. They have to go over those lists and they mean no harm by it, but it is not like we are oblivious to Bobby’s behaviors. Sitting for hours listening to other people detail our son’s problems is not fun.

Attending last year’s big IEP meeting along with us were Bobby’s teacher (who is an angel descended from heaven to help children in need), a very young speech therapist and a middle-aged female administrator who had probably not spent 20 minutes alone with Bobby in her life.

We were in our second hour of discussing Bobby’s problematic behaviors, the proposed interventions and our thoughts on those matters. The procedure was for the administrator to read the description of the problem behavior and the proposed solution from a list and then we would all discuss it.

I noticed that the administrator sort of hesitated before reading the next behavior from the list. I looked down at my copy and saw the behavior listed as “Masturbating.” The proposed solution was to distract him with his favorite toy to keep his hands out of his pants. The proposed solution was termed, “Give him something pleasurable to hold.”

Now, masturbating is not an accurate description of Bobby’s behavior. Lewis Grizzard used to say that in the Southern dialect there is a difference between the words “naked” and “nekkid.” Naked, he would say, means that you do not have on any clothes. “Nekkid” means that you do not have on any clothes and you are up to something. While Bobby would often reach into his pants, he was six years old and was not really up to anything.

An embarrassed silence followed the administrator’s reading. I cleared my throat and announced that I was a bit uncomfortable with the phrasing of the IEP report. The administrator, who clearly shared my discomfort, asked what language I preferred. I responded that we should put the word “else” between “something” and “pleasurable.”

It was the most fun I have ever had at an IEP.



Sunday, October 13, 2002
 
An Apology is in Order

On September 23, 2002, former Vice President Al Gore gave a speech critical of the administration’s foreign policy at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. During that speech, Mr. Gore made what seemed an entirely obvious point that the war against Al Qaeda was not finished. Mr. Gore went on to suggest that we should complete the war against Al Qaeda. This is what Mr. Gore, in part, said:
To begin with, I believe we should focus our efforts first and foremost against those who attacked us on September 11th and have thus far gotten away with it. The vast majority of those who sponsored, planned and implemented the cold blooded murder of more than 3,000 Americans are still at large, still neither located nor apprehended, much less punished and neutralized.
###

I don't think that we should allow anything to diminish our focus on avenging the 3,000 Americans who were murdered and dismantling the network of terrorists who we know to be responsible for it. The fact that we don't know where they are should not cause us to focus instead on some other enemy whose location may be easier to identify.


Some of us actually believed Mr. Gore and thought that Al Qaeda remained capable of terrorist attacks. That is, until we heard from Michael Kelly.

The Washington Post’s pundit, Michael Kelly, set us straight. He informed us that Mr. Gore's contention that Al Qaeda was still at large was a contemptible, vile lie. Mr. Kelly assured us that the destruction of Al Qaeda was complete. Here is part of what he wrote:

In truth, the men who "implemented" the "cold-blooded murder of more than 3,000 Americans" are not at large. They are dead; they died in the act of murder, last Sept. 11.

In truth, the "vast majority" of the men who "sponsored" and "planned" the crime are dead also, or in prison, or on the run.


It is a good thing that Mr. Kelly cleared that up. Some of us needlessly worried that Al Qaeda retained the ability to commit terrorist acts in a number of places around the world. Those of us critical of Mr. Kelly’s column should apologize. It is now clear that Al Qaeda is dead, in prison, or on the run.


American personnel in Kuwait have nothing to fear from Al Qaeda. Oil tankers may now traverse the oceans without giving Al Qaeda a second thought. Tourists may go to clubs in Bali and not fear those dead or imprisoned or on the run terrorists.


That despicable Al Gore was just trying to frighten us into thinking that Al Qaeda remained capable of mischief. It’s a good thing we have Michael Kelly to set us straight.