P.L.A. - A Journal of Politics, Law and Autism
PLA is a fair and balanced Journal published by Dwight Meredith with a Focus on Politics, Law and Autism
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Friday, February 28, 2003
Not Chaotic, Not Disatrous
Matthew Yglesias links to this post by Donald Luskin.
In his post Luskin writes that:
I can think of no other academic discipline that has earned less of a right to smugness and self-righteous self-satisfaction than economics. Is there any other field, the teachings of which have been applied so broadly in public policy for so many years... with such consistently chaotic and disastrous results?
Luskin provides no examples of consistently chaotic and disastrous results.
We think that the rise of Keynesian economics and the use of counter cyclical monetary and fiscal policy has been one of the great success stories of the second half of the twentieth century.
Capitalism has great capacity to create economic growth and the attendant increase in living standards. That is a good thing. The difficulty is that unrestrained capitalism has a tendency to spin out of control resulting in a series of economic booms and busts.
The economic busts, in the form of recessions or depressions, contributes mightily to economic and social suffering of millions of people. Keynesian theory suggested that governments could use the tools of monetary and fiscal policy to counter cyclically push against the direction of the economy to reduce the number and duration of the busts.
Richard Nixon famously remarked that, “we are all Keynesians now.” He was correct. Even conservative politicians such as George W. Bush call for economic stimulus to combat recession.
Has the implementation of Keynesian economics reduced the incidence and/or duration of economic recessions with the attendant toll of human suffering?
The evidence suggests that it has indeed reduced both the incidence and the duration of recessions in the United States and has thereby greatly reduced human suffering.
Have a look at this chart from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.
The chart makes clear that recessions were more common and lasted longer in the roughly 100 years before 1950 than in the roughly 50 years since.
Putting the data into a table (this is our first attempt to post a table. If it works, all credit goes to Jeanne D’Arc’s skill as a teacher of HTML. If it does not work, all blame is on the incompetence of her pupil ) we get the following:
Before 1950 recessions occurred every four years, lasted an average of 19.4 months and we spent about 40% of the time in recession.
Since 1950, recessions occur every 6.25 years, last about half as long and we are in recession only 14% of the time.
That data is quite impressive. Do we attribute the entire benefit to the rise of Keynesian economics? We do not. We do not know all of the factors that may have contributed to the reduction in the number and duration of recessions. We suspect, however, that the rise of the science of economics and the marriage of economic theory to public policy played a large part.
The data does not suggest that our experiment with Keynesian economics has been either chaotic or disastrous. Perhaps Mr. Luskin wishes to return to an era when the economy was in recession or depression forty percent of the time. We do not.
It appears Jeanne's pupil was incompetent. Does anyone know how to fix the chart and remove the blank space? Also, it appears that quote marks have become small boxes. What's up with that?
Second Update: Many thanks to all who offered sugestions to fix the HTML code. It appears to have worked.
Third and Last Update: The chart and table above demonstrate that both the frequency and duration of recessions have decreased since World War II. Those decreases coincide, approximately, with the rise of the role of the economist in formation and implementation of public policy. The data above, however, do not address whether or not the depth of recessions has also decreased.
Kevin Drum, the Calpundit emails us a link to this graph which conclusively demonstrates that the depth of economic downturns have also decreased since WWII.
We consider reducing the frequency, duration and depth of recessions to be neither chaotic nor disastrous.
Thursday, February 27, 2003
Reap What You Sow
In his inaugural address, George W. Bush said the following:
Today, we affirm a new commitment to live out our nation's promise through civility, courage, compassion and character.
Mr. Bush then proceeded to demonize Democratic Senators such as Max Cleland and Mary Landrieu who had supported Mr. Bush on both his 2001 tax cut as well as the authorization for use of force in Iraq.
It now appears that Mr. Bush’s nomination of Miguel Estrada will fall to a Democratic filibuster. Fox News provides the following quote (link via Atrios):
“This reflects the poisonous partisan atmosphere that exists on Capitol Hill. Whatever else he's accomplished, President Bush has really polarized our politics," said Thomas Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
You reap what you sow.
George W. Bush is an expert at talking about taking responsibility. He argued in the presidential campaign that he would usher in a new Responsibility Era in which:
Each of us must understand that we're responsible for the decisions and choices we make…
Among Mr. Bush responses to the threat of terrorism was a proposal to provide funding to the states for Homeland Security. Mr. Bush proposed $3.5 billion in funding for that program.
The funding was to be included in the massive $397 billion spending bill for fiscal 2003 which was passed by the GOP controlled Congress and signed into law by the President.
The New York Times cites Republican Congressional leaders as saying that they “closely consulted with the White House in preparing the spending deal.”
According to the White House, the bill did not include the $3.5 billion the President requested but, rather, included only $1.3 billion for counter terrorism.
The Times reports as follows:
Responding to criticism from Democrats and to the mounting concern of state and local governments, the White House is now saying that the long delayed government spending plan for the year does not provide enough money to protect against terrorist attacks on American soil.
Who was responsible for the shortfall in funding for Homeland Security? The Congress passed the bill in close consultation with the White House. Mr. Bush signed the bill into law and praised its contents. Surely the responsibility for the shortfall should be divided between the White House and the Congress. In the Responsibility Era, both branches of government should take responsibility for the choices they made, right?
In his speech to the National Governors Association, Mr. Bush demonstrated exactly how the Responsibility Era works. The Times continues:
In a speech here to the National Governors Association, where governors expressed deep concern about their ability to pay for the equipment and training needed to prepare for a terrorist attack, Mr. Bush said he was "disappointed" with the Republican-authored spending package because it had failed to provide adequate money for local counterterrorism programs. And he said that Congress was to blame. (emphasis added).
Mr. Bush has made clear how he assesses responsibility. If possible, Bush blames Bill Clinton. If that is not possible, Bush blames the Democratic Senate. If there is no Democratic Senate, Mr. Bush blames the Republican Congress. Under no circumstances will Mr. Bush accept responsibility for any choice he makes.
Mr. Bush knows how to talk about responsibility. It is accepting responsibility that he finds difficult.
How Did He get Away With It For So Long?
Calpundit pointed us to Jonah Goldberg’s defense of Senator Joseph McCarthy. Goldberg argues that, “What makes McCarthyism so hard to discuss is that McCarthy behaved like a jerk, but he was also right.”
Kevin Drum disposes of that argument by noting the following:
The problem with McCarthy — and McCarthyism — wasn't that he uncovered lots of communist spies, but that he didn't uncover many communist spies. While other, more careful investigators had some success, McCarthy himself was extraordinarily unproductive.
Tom Spencer, a professional historian and the proprietor of Thinking it Through, puts the nail in the coffin of Goldberg’s argument that McCarthy was right:
I assume, dear readers, that you all know how many communists and spies Joe McCarthy personally produced the goods on? Zero. Not a single one.
The question arises as to how McCarthy was able to generate so much fear and notoriety without producing any tangible results. McCarthy was able to get away with his tactics not simply when accusing low level actors, lawyers and others of being communists but also when he accused General George Marshall of being a communist, the Department of State and eventually the United States Army of being riddled with communists. How was he able to get away with such accusations for so long without providing any actual proof or results?
Part of the answer comes from the way the press covered McCarty. As Matthew Yglesias has noted in a different context:
Now this is starting to become a major hobbyhorse for me, but it's wrong — and dangerously wrong — to think that the empirical claims made by political actors are subjective …
David Halberstam, in his brilliant book on the media, The Powers That Be describes the phenomenon with regard to the coverage of McCarthy as follows:
McCarthy was a fascinating example of the weakness of traditional journalistic objectivity. He was a Senator and thus a public figure, and reporters could write down what he said, and as long as they spelled his name correctly, and quoted him correctly, they were objective. But what McCarthy said word by word was meaningless, it was the invisible part, the inflection, the distortions of scene, the lack of follow-through, the lack of seriousness, the cumulative record or lack of record which was missing in all accounts. He made his charges and went on the next charges, and objective journalists were considerate enough not to bother him with his record, with what he had said the week, month or year before. What was most desperately needed was to report on McCarthy in context, to bring some perspective to a long course of events and charges.
We think that Halberstam’s criticism of the 1950s media is equally applicable today. What is needed is for journalists to put the issues of the day (whether such issues be economics, social policy, fiscal policy or foreign policy) into some context with a full accounting for what was said a week, a month or a year ago.
Matthew Yglesias is correct that some things are a matter of objective fact. It should be the role of journalism to report the happenings of the day in a context that reveals and does not obscure the truth of the matter. We do not see much of that type of journalism today.
Wednesday, February 26, 2003
We recently wrote about the products liability trial in Corpus Christi, Texas over the anti-cholesterol drug Baycol. The German pharmaceutical company, Bayer, made Baycol.
Baycol was one of the new heart drugs known as statins. The FDA approved Baycol in 1997. By 2001, Bayer recalled the drug after it was linked to a number of injuries and deaths. Baycol, when taken in high dosages or in combination with certain other medications can result in muscle weakness, kidney failure or death. The company has acknowledged that at least 100 deaths and 1600 injuries resulted from use of Baycol.
Bayer is facing thousands of suits over Baycol. The first such suit is currently underway in Corpus Christi, Texas.
In our previous post, we condemned both sides of the Baycol litigation for attempting to use extra judicial information to sway the jury. New information suggests that we may have been too hard on the plaintiffs’ side of the litigation but that our condemnation of Bayer and its attorneys was fully justified.
In regard to information released to the press by plaintiffs’ lawyers in the Baycol litigation we wrote:
It appears that the plaintiffs' bar has attempted to use the media to influence the jury pool. The New York Times this morning ran a story headlined “Papers Indicate Bayer Knew of Dangers of Cholesterol Drug…”
We now think that our suggestion that the release of the documents was an attempt to influence the Corpus Christi jury may have been too hasty. There are three reasons for our change of heart.
First, the information released came not from the plaintiff’s lawyers in the Texas case but rather from lawyers in Minnesota seeking to certify a class of plaintiffs. While it is in the interests of all Baycol plaintiffs for the Texas case to succeed, we have found no reported nexus between the Texas lawyers and the Minnesota group.
Secondly, the information provided to the press was not confidential information. The Minnesota lawyers had introduced the memos, emails, documents and deposition testimony into evidence at a hearing on the issue of class certification. As such, the evidence was part of the public record and was available to any enterprising reporter.
Finally, we find no reference to the NY Times story in the on-line version of the local Corpus Christi newspaper. If the documents were provided to the media for the purpose of influencing that Texas jury, it would not have been difficult to ensure that the information made the papers in Corpus Christi.
While we think that the timing of the Times story (coming at the beginning of the trial in Corpus Christi) is suspicious, we reserve judgment on whether or not it was an attempt to improperly influence the jury.
We also wrote that the documents themselves “provide no actual evidence of wrongdoing” by Bayer. The contents of some of the documents have now been reported and it appears to us that the plaintiffs may have a case that Bayer acted improperly.
For instance, CNN reports as follows:
One executive wrote in a February 2000 e-mail that word was leaking about deaths related to the drug.
The executive’s “concern” appears not to be with the safety of the consumers of Baycol but rather with keeping the dangers secret. “So much for keeping this quiet” seems to imply an effort to do so.
In addition, Dr. Richard Goodstein, Bayer’s Vice President for Scientific Affairs was asked at deposition:
"Did you folks at Bayer ever intentionally delay publication of a medical article with the sole purpose of increasing Bayer's profits because the article might give doctors information that was critical of your product?"
Dr. Goodstein answered saying:
I'm personally not aware of that, nor would I ever think that would be the policy of the company.
Dr. Goodstein’s answer was of a category known as a “negative pregnant.” In journalism, it is known as a non-denial denial. “I am not personally aware of that,” suggests to us that he is aware of it through means other than personal knowledge. “Nor would I ever think that would be the policy of the company” suggests to us that Dr. Goodstein suspects that hiding information by delaying release of publications was in fact the unstated policy of the company. While were are not yet prepared to express an opinion as to whether or not Bayer acted improperly, the case against them seems to be getting stronger.
The potential liabilities arising out of the Baycol litigation certainly seems to have the markets spooked. Bayer shares have fallen dramatically as a result of the potential liability. One news report puts potential liability above $5 billion. Bayer has said that it is unable to predict the extent of its liability.
While our ire towards the plaintiff side has cooled somewhat (but has not completely dissipated), our anger towards Bayer has increased.
As we previously reported, Bayer, sent letters to more than 2,000 people in Corpus Christi on the eve of trial. Those letters said that Bayer provided lots of jobs in Texas, had done much for humanity and had made the plaintiff a fair offer of settlement. The letter was received by at least one potential juror.
We viewed that letter as a blatant attempt to influence the jury with extra judicial information. The judge shared our view as he has referred the matter to the district attorney for possible prosecution. Subsequent reports have only heightened our suspicions.
Bayer’s explanation of how the letter came to be sent to more than 2,000 people including members of the jury pool strains credulity:
Philip Beck, the lawyer representing Bayer in the case, said the letter was intended to go to business leaders in Corpus Christi to redress the balance after media reports linked Baycol to fatal side effects.
Lets see, Bayer is facing potential liability of more than $5 billion dollars. That potential liability has collapsed the value of the company. The very first case is about to go to trial. If Bayer loses, momentum for huge losses will build. In the environment, Bayer sends an inappropriate letter to 2000 potential jurors. Its explanation is that a public relations executive innocently used the wrong mailing list. Sorry, folks, we ain’t buying that.
It gets worse. After the judge excoriated Bayer for sending the letter, Bayer’s lawyer Phillip Beck announced that “he told company representatives not to make comments to the media regarding litigation.”
That, of course, is as it should be. We were therefore surprised to read this morning that:
Bayer A.G., the German drug maker, said today that it was trying to settle another 500 lawsuits over its anticholesterol drug Baycol.
So Mr. Beck first announces that the company will no longer be commenting on litigation. Then he announces that the company is in “active discussions” to settle 500 more cases.
Who was the intended audience for that announcement? The intended audience cannot have been the plaintiffs and their attorneys in the 500 cases being negotiated because the announcement would not be news to them.
It seems unlikely that the audience was plaintiffs and attorneys in cases not being actively negotiated because it would unusual to announce that “the vault is now open, please come pick up a check.”
Perhaps the intended audience was investors and the market in general. We doubt that for a couple of reasons. First, if the announcement was intended to comfort investors by suggesting that Bayer could settle its way out of financial trouble, that effort was undercut with Bayer’s announcement that it is “impossible to forecast the outcome of any litigation over its recalled cholesterol drug Baycol.”
Secondly, the announcement of the inability to predict litigation outcomes was made in Frankfurt, Germany by the CEO of the company. The announcement of the efforts to settle the 500 cases was made by the company’s lawyer in Corpus Christi, Texas.
We think that the intended audience for the announcement was the jury in the Corpus Christi case. We think the press release concerning efforts to settle was an extra judicial plea to the jury that said, in effect, “we are trying to be reasonable and pay people injured by Baycol. Please do not punish us.”
If we are correct, we have learned several things. First, Bayer is seriously worried about its potential liability. It is willing to try to improperly influence a jury despite the risk of a criminal investigation. The announcement of settlement talks seems to concede that Bayer has exposure and is an attempt to limit the amount of that exposure.
We suspect that the trial is not going well for Bayer and Bayer is worried that the jury may express a harsh judgment of Bayer's conduct. Such a judgment would kill Bayer’s settlement efforts and further erode its stock price.
We do not think holding Bayer stock is a particularly good idea right now.
Tuesday, February 25, 2003
Lies, Distortions and Deception
Last October the Washington Post published an article by Dana Milbank titled For Bush, Facts are Malleable. That article listed eight statements of the administration that were deceptive, dubious or outright lies.
We wrote about the Milbank piece and added an additional 10 items to the list of administration prevarications in To Tell the Truth.
Milbank’s thesis was that on “statements on subjects ranging from the economy to Iraq suggest that a president who won election underscoring Al Gore's knack for distortions and exaggerations has been guilty of a few himself.”
That position seems to have become conventional wisdom among many political commentators. Paul Krugman of the New York Times put it in its most simple form when he wrote that “the Bush administration lies a lot.” Eric Alterman was equally blunt when he wrote that “President Bush is a liar.”
William Raspberry recently wrote:
This is hard. So soon after very nearly swooning over Colin Powell's report to the United Nations Security Council, I find myself thinking the once unthinkable: I don't believe him.
Tom Friedman of the New York Times is a supporter of war in Iraq. He nonetheless wrote a column called Tell The Truth in which he suggested that the administration was taking us to war “on the wings of a lie.” Friedman pleaded with the administration to simply “Tell people the truth.”
It is not just moderate or liberal commentators who have decided that the Bush administration has a credibility problem. Andrew Sullivan, writing in Salon notes that the administration is engaged in a “flimflam” and uses “downright deception.” Sullivan also asks rhetorically about Mr. Bush ““what credibility does he have…?”
Political cross dresser Mickey Kaus acknowledges that the “the Bush tax cut is based on lies.”
The growing sense that the Bush administration is willing to lie, fabricate facts, and deceive in order to promote its policy agenda is well grounded in fact. The administration fudges the facts on matters large and small. The remainder of this post will document eleven more deceptions and prevarications of the administration. The area of the administration’s dissembling with regard to Iraq has been well mined by others. We will limit our documentation to areas of domestic affairs.
There is no domestic policy area in which the administration has been more dishonest than its efforts to promote is tax cut agenda. The administration routinely uses statistics to mislead the public and, at times, tells outright lies.
1) Use of a Mean instead of a Median to describe the distribution of tax cuts
President Bush often suggests that his proposed tax cut is not skewed to benefit upper income people by describing the “average tax cut.” In Georgia recently Mr. Bush said “under this plan, 92 million Americans receive an average tax cut of $1,083."
In use of the word “average”, Mr. Bush refers to the “mean” and not the “median.” Mr. Bush’s “average” is calculated by adding up all of the tax cuts flowing to the 92 million Americans and dividing by 92 million. The result is the mean tax cut but, despite the clear intentions of Mr. Bush, says nothing about the size of the tax cut to middle income Americans.
Mr. Bush description of the “mean” tax cut as the “average” is deceptive. As the Washington Post has said:
The vast majority of taxpayers -- 80 percent -- would receive less than that amount, according to data from the Urban Institute-Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center. For the truly typical household -- filers in the middle fifth of the income spectrum -- the average tax cut would be $256. Almost half of all taxpayers would see their taxes drop by less than $100. At the top of the income pyramid, however, the tax savings would be huge; the top 1 percent of filers would receive an average tax cut of $24,100. The average tax cut touted by Mr. Bush is more than $1,000 only because the savings for the wealthiest Americans are so large.
If Mr. Bush wished to be honest about the effects of his tax cuts on middle income Americans, he would use a median as his “average” instead of a mean. As we have previously noted, using the mean, we belong in baseball’s Hall of Fame.
2) The Number of Tax Returns Rather Than The Amount of Tax Savings
The Washington Post reports the following:
In a meeting with reporters last week, Bush political adviser Karl Rove said Bush's plan to abolish the dividend tax was evidence that he's "a populist. Give him a choice between Wall Street and Main Street and he'll choose Main Street every time."
The Post goes on to demonstrate that Mr. Rove was not telling the truth:
Not exactly. It is true that 43.8 percent of tax returns with dividend income are from households with less than $50,000 in income and 73.8 percent of such returns are from households with less than $100,000. But that doesn't mean the little guy earning less than $50,000 gets "45 percent of all the income" or that the Main Street earners below $100,000 get "three-quarters" of dividend income.
The difference between the percentage of dividend income going to people with incomes under $50,000 and the percentage of below $50,000 tax returns with some dividend income is not a difficult concept. Surely the “genius” of the White House could not make that mistake by accident. Mr. Rove’s dissembling earned him Slate’s Whopper of the Week.
3) Tax Cuts and Seniors
One of the central talking points used by the administration in promoting its tax package is that seniors will benefit from the change. In making that argument, the administration has lied and deceived.
Spinsanity notes that the Office of Management and Budget claims that “32 million seniors would receive, on average, a tax cut of $2,042.”
Spinsanity also reports that the administration’s official talking points contradict that claim:
But his official talking points actually claim far less, stating that "13 million elderly taxpayers would receive an average tax cut of $1,384".
Both statistics are misleading as, once again, they use a mean when a median would be more meaningful. As Spinsanity notes:
The left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities [CBPP] concluded that 79 percent of seniors would get less than $1,384, and 40 percent would get under $100.
It is difficult to believe that the Office of Management and Budget does not have anyone on staff that understands the difference between a mean and a median. The inescapable conclusion is that the administration intends to deceive.
4) Tax Cuts and Budget Deficits
The Bush administration took office promising fiscal responsibility. A central argument for his 2001 tax cut was that the government could cut taxes, protect the Social Security and Medicare trust fund surpluses and still pay off the national debt. Things have not worked out that way and the administration now projects budget deficits for as far as the eye can see.
Traditional economic theory posits that running persistent budget deficits raises long-term interest rates. The Bush administration, to avoid the criticism of being fiscally irresponsible, trotted out Glenn Hubbard, the chairman of Bush’s Council of Economic Advisors to deny that budget deficits raise interest rates.
Slate reports as follows:
For the past few months, Hubbard has dissembled on a new topic, this time the deficit's relationship to interest rates. Lately he has been insisting that there is "no link" between the two. "That's 'Rubinomics,' and we think it is completely wrong," Hubbard said in December.
Was Hubbard telling the truth? After all, the economic relationship between deficits and interest rates may be a matter of some dispute among economists. We need not resolve that debate as Mr. Hubbard was formerly an academic economist and as such published a textbook. Brad DeLong reports:
In Glenn's case, he is in even worse shape than your average economist to say that deficits don't matter for interest rates. You see, in 2002 Pearson Publishing published the fourth edition of Glenn Hubbard's Money, the Financial System, and the Economy. And this book certainly teaches that higher deficits raise interest rates. In fact, on page 661 there is an explicit formula…
Mr. Hubbard is impeached by his own academic work.
5) Supply Side Effects of Tax Cuts
The size and persistence of budget deficits imperiled Mr. Bush’s tax cut plans. If the economy was headed for large structural deficits, it could be seen as fiscally irresponsible to call for large tax cuts and thereby exacerbate the problem.
The Bush administration had a response to that criticism. It retreated into the old standby supply side argument that tax cuts generate sufficient economic growth to pay for themselves. Under that theory, tax cuts solve the budget deficit not worsen it.
The administration adopted that argument with a passion. Spinsanity notes that various administration officials including Mr. Bush, Vice President Cheney and Press Secretary Fleischer have all made the supply side argument that tax cuts pay for themselves by generating additional economic activity and tax revenues.
While we have never believed the supply side argument that tax cuts pay for themselves, that position is an article of faith for some. This post is about the administration’s deceptions and lies. If the administration actually believes that the supply side effect would work, how can we list those statements as deceptive?
We need not resolve the issue in order to determine that the administration is not telling the truth. The administration’s Council of Economic Advisors released the Economic Report of the President. Spinsanity reports that the ERP contradicts the supply side rhetoric of the administration:
The modest effect of government debt on interest rates does not mean that tax cuts pay for themselves with higher output. Although the economy grows in response to tax reductions (because of higher consumption in the short run and improved incentives in the long run), it is unlikely to grow so much that lost tax revenue is completely recovered by the higher level of economic activity.
The professional economists of the administration say that the supply side effect does not pay for tax cuts. The political side of the administration simply ignores that judgment when in need of a justification for its preferred policy.
6) The Non-Existent Report
President Bush and his Press Secretary Ari Fleischer continue to dissemble about the effects of the proposed tax cut. Newsday reports as follows (link via Oliver Willis):
There was only one problem with President George W. Bush's claim Thursday that the nation's top economists forecast substantial economic growth if Congress passed the president's tax cut: The forecast with that conclusion doesn't exist.
The administration’s dissembling is not limited to efforts to promote its tax cut. It has attempted to deceive the public on a number of other domestic issues. For instance:
7) Welfare Reform
In January, Mr. Bush spoke about continuation of welfare reform. He said the following:
See, back in 1996, they were spending $7,000 per family to help people get to work. Under this budget request, the expenditure will be $16,000 per family. If $7,000 was good enough in 1996, it seems like $16,000 is good enough into '03 to help people get ahead.
Spinsanity calls that claim a “severe distortion bordering on an outright falsehood” pointing out the following:
Bush arrived at his $16,000 figure by using deceptive math. The administration has evidently calculated total expenditures "to help people get work" by including federal and state funds spent on several programs including cash assistance, child care subsidies, case management for workers leaving public assistance, and state-level earned income tax credits, among others. This number totals about $33 billion annually (about $27 billion of which is spent on cash assistance). The administration calculates its $16,000 figure by dividing the $33 billion by the number of families receiving cash assistance. Yet CBPP points out that counting only the families who receive cash assistance excludes nearly one million families receiving TANF benefits which are not cash assistance (such as child care). The effect is to exaggerate the total spent on each family by roughly one-third.
8) The Trip to NASA
Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, apparently based on information provided to him by President Bush, told reporters that Mr. Bush had visited the Johnson Space Center while Governor of Texas. When challenged by reporters, the White House backed down:
A day after telling reporters that Bush had visited Johnson Space Center while serving as governor of Texas in the 1990s, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer backpedaled from that assertion… Fleischer's boss, communications director Dan Bartlett, worked with Bush in Texas and said a review of governor's office records suggests he had not been to the center -- at least not as governor or president. “I have no record of him going so I'm telling you in my judgment he didn't go as governor," Bartlett said.
The issue of whether or not Mr. Bush went to the Space Center as Governor is of no great moment. He may simply have been mistaken.
We note the contradiction only because of an event occurring in the 2000 election. During a Presidential debate, Al Gore noted that he had been to Texas with FEMA head James Lee Witt as a result of damage done by wildfires. It turned out that Mr. Gore had been on several such trips with Mr. Whitt but did not accompany him to Texas on that occasion. In addition, Mr. Gore did go to Texas to discuss the wildfires but not with Mr. Whitt.
Mr. Bush used Mr. Gore’s mistake to accuse him of “making things up” and chided Mr. Gore for "embellishments and exaggerations.” Given that history, the Bush administration should be very careful about embellishing and exaggerating his visits to places in Texas.
9) The Beginning of the Recession
The Bush administration is eager to blame the economic downturn on the Clinton administration. In order to make that argument the administration has taken to saying that the recession started on Mr. Clinton’s watch. Daniel Gross in Slate notes that:
In fact, there is no evidence that the economy was in recession when President Bush took the oath of office on Jan. 20, 2001. Yes, growth was slowing, and the longest expansion in American history was running out of steam. But the U.S. economy did not go into recession until Bush's presidency, according to both of the most accepted definitions…
10) Convictions of Terrorists
The Philadelphia Inquirer reports as follows:
Federal prosecutors overstated their success in convicting terrorists last year, with at least three of four cases wrongly classified as "international terrorism," the General Accounting Office has found.
11) The Cause of State Budget Deficits
Slate awarded a Whopper of the Week to Rod Paige, the administration’s Secretary of Education for his contention that budget deficits of the states were partially the result of tax increases. Slate cites this Center on Budget and Policy Priorities report that contradicts Mr. Paige’s assertion.
The Washington Post reports that:
After months of searching for a unified political attack against President Bush, congressional Democrats have settled on a new and, some say, controversial strategy: questioning the president's truthfulness.
The Post article concludes that the strategy may backfire because:
Focus groups conducted by various Democrats have shown that the American people trust Bush and disdain highly partisan politics, especially when the country is edging toward war. Senior Democrats also risk alienating Bush, whom several Republicans described as peeved that Daschle and others are questioning his honesty.
We disagree. When Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed banks he reportedly responded “because that’s where the money is.” Mr. Bush should be attacked on the grounds of honesty and credibility because he so often lies, distorts and deceives.