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

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Saturday, July 19, 2003
Bill O’Reilly and Rumplestiltskin

Bill O’Reilly wants you to believe in Rumplestiltskin. Rumplestiltskin was the little man who could spin straw into gold. Bill O’Reilly is spinning madly hoping you will think that Rumplestiltskin can turn enough straw into gold to balance the budget.

In his latest column, O’Reilly professes to be concerned about the budget deficit. He argues that the budget deficit is caused by silly, frivolous spending:
The Bush administration is facing $450 billion dollars of red ink because it spends money the old fashioned way: Like Imelda Marcos…

In some quarters it is popular to argue that the budget deficit is a function of those silly politicians funding all manner of stupid programs. If only the politicians would show a little common sense and cut the frivolous spending we could balance the budget and cut taxes at the same time. That argument has about as much truth as the Rumplestiltskin fairy tale.

O’Reilly for instance, points to three programs he finds silly. First is a NIH funded study of sexual matters. According to O’Reilly, that study costs $1.5 million. Next is an administration proposal to spend $300 million to promote marriage. His third example, the cost of which he does not specify, is a study of female arousal.

From those three examples, O’Reilly argues that the deficit is caused by “funding useless, nonsensical programs designed to allow politicians to bring home the pork.”

Hey Bill, I have news. The deficit this year will be $450 Billion. That’s billion with a “B.” Cutting $301.5 million from programs you describe will not balance the budget. If we cut both programs to zero the deficit this year would be $449,699,500,000.

O’Reilly is just spinning. He wants you to think that we can balance the budget without raising taxes by cutting a few silly programs that no one will miss. He wants you to believe that we can turn straw into gold. He wants you to believe in Rumplestiltskin.

Is their waste in government? You bet. Does the government fund certain research projects and other programs that are a waste of taxpayer money? Of course. Should such spending be eliminated? Yes. Can we balance the budget by eliminating such programs? Not a chance.

Even a cursory look at the budget numbers shows that O’Reilly is being deeply dishonest.

OMB just released its Mid-Session Review last week. For Fiscal Year 2004, which begins October 1, 2003, OMB projects a deficit of $475 billion. If we took all non-military discretionary spending to zero, the budget would still be in deficit.

That’s right, if we eliminated all studies of sexually related material to which O’Reilly objects, all NEA funding, all basic science research, the Department of Education, the Commerce Department, the FBI, the Federal Courts, much of the Homeland Security department, closed all the National Parks and eliminated all other non-military discretionary spending, the budget would still be in deficit.

Once we pay for defense spending, interest on the national debt, and mandatory spending (such entitlements as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid), the entire revenue of the government is exhausted.

OMB projects that for FY 2004, government revenues will be $1.797 trillion.

The defense department will consume $409 billion. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other mandatory spending will amount to $1.259 trillion. Interest on the national debt will come to $165 billion. Those categories add up to $1.822 trillion. That leaves a budget deficit of $25 billion before the first non-military discretionary dollar is spent.

If we wish to balance the budget, we face tough choices. We can raise taxes or cut into programs that are popular and effective. Guys like O’Reilly want you to believe that the budget can be balanced with no pain. Unless O’Reilly knows the name of a little man who can turn straw into gold, he is just spinning you.

Thursday, July 17, 2003
Faith Based Budgets

I do not envy Josh Bolten. He was installed as President Bush’s Director of the Office of Management and Budget just in time for the mid-session review (the OMB report may be found here in PDF format).

Although Bolten was not in charge of OMB when the budget was developed, it fell to him to be the bearer of bad news.

First, it fell to Bolten to report that the budget deficit for this year (FY 2003) is now estimated to be $455 billion dollars plus any excess cost of operations in Iraq. That deficit far surpasses the previous record ($290 billion in 1992), and is a 50+% increase over OMB's estimate of last winter.

Secondly, it was also Bolten’s unpleasant task to announce that next year’s deficit will set another record ($475 billion plus additional costs of the Iraq operations).

At the announcement, Bolten attempted to put the bad news in context:
Let me place this year's budget in historical perspective. The most relevant number in measuring deficits is not the nominal figure. It's the deficit as a percentage of the economy, or what I just referred to as gross domestic product.

With that in mind, consider that a $455 billion deficit, while certainly higher than anyone would like, constitutes 4.2 percent of the economy. This is well below the post-World War II peak of 6 percent. And, indeed, it's lower than in six of the last 20 years.

The deficit of 4.2% of GDP is indeed only the sixth highest in the last 20 years. It is also the 6th highest in the last 45 or more years. One can almost imagine the OMB staffers gathering around Bolten, chanting “We’re not the worst, we’re not the worst. Yeah team…”

Finally, it was Bolten's lot to acknowledge that it was his boss’s tax policies that pushed the deficit to record levels:
It's important to understand that without any of the President's tax cuts, the deficit this year would be at least $278 billion…

Q Can you clarify what you just said, which is, you're saying that without the tax cuts, this year alone, or combining all three, that you would have a deficit of $278 billion, this year alone? Is that correct?

DIRECTOR BOLTEN: This year, correct. And that's fiscal '03.

Whatever sympathy I may have had for Mr. Bolten evaporated this morning when I read the New York Times:
Mr. Bolten went on to say, "I think the art and science of economics has not yet advanced to the stage where we can really properly capture all the positive effects the tax cuts do have on the economy."

What exactly does that statement mean? If tax cuts have positive economic effects, why can they not be “captured” by the “art and science of economics”? If such positive effects of tax cuts cannot be measured, how can Mr. Bolten know they exist?

Apparently, the beneficial effect of tax cuts is not a question of economics for this administration. It is, rather, a matter of religion. The administration simply has faith that tax cuts are good for the economy. If no evidence of such beneficial effects can be discovered, that is a failure of the “art and science of economics” because matters of faith are not subject to challenge.

Mr. Bolten’s statement is further proof that this administration regards economic policy and budgeting as just another faith-based initiative. God help us all.

Tuesday, July 15, 2003
Cue David Letterman

The spin from the right is that the lie President Bush told in his State of the Union address is not important because it was “only 16 words” and, according to the Ari Fleischer spin, it “is not the core of why we went to war.”

In honor of David Letterman, we present the Top Ten reasons why Mr. Bush's lie is important. To present those reasons we turn to Jonah Goldberg of the National Review On-line with an assist from Bill Bennett. Goldberg’s quotes are here and here. Bennett’s quote is here.

Cue Jonah Goldberg:

10. “Lying matters, the truth matters”;

9. “It is always relevant”;

8. “No matter what perspective you come from, it seems hard to imagine how anyone can say that the character of the president is irrelevant”;

7. “But all of this is such an old and flagrantly obvious argument which misses the simple, old-fashioned point. Presidents should try to tell the truth and be gentlemen”;

6. It is “about his lying, his untrustworthiness, and specifically about his pathological need to have everything both ways”;

5. “Americans understand that truth telling matters, I think. I hope.

4. “We will never have all the facts at the disposal of a president, which is why philosophy and temperament are important. While a "plan" is simply a list of things that will go wrong, temperament and philosophy are predictive of how someone will act in new situations”;

3. “If you are a gifted and relentless liar in one sphere of life, you will in all likelihood be a liar in all spheres of life”;

2. “Lying goes to the heart of politics and turns it black”;

And the number one reason that Mr. Bush’s lie is important (cue Bill Bennett) is:

1) “Public office is a public trust, and people who violate it ought to be held accountable.”

Monday, July 14, 2003
The Zeitgeist Changes

There is now a full-throated frenzy in the media and political Washington over President Bush's statement in the State of the Union address concerning Iraq’s alleged attempts to acquire uranium from Niger.

Kevin Drum notes the importance of the issue:
Likewise, Bush's problem is not that a single 16-word sentence of dubious provenance made it into his State of the Union address. His problem is that he promised us that Saddam was connected to al-Qaeda, he promised thousands of liters of chemical and biological weapons, he promised that Saddam had a nuclear bomb program, and he promised that the Iraqis would greet us as liberators. But that wasn't all. He also asked us to trust him: he couldn't reveal all his evidence on national TV, but once we invaded Iraq and had unfettered access to the entire country everything would become clear.

But it didn't. We've had control of the country for three months, we've had access to millions of pages of Iraqi records, and we've captured and interrogated dozens of high ranking officials. And it's obvious now that there were no WMDs, no bomb programs of any serious nature, and no al-Qaeda connections.

So while the uranium is only a symbol, it's a powerful one. George Bush says we live in an era of preemptive war, and in such an era — lacking the plain provocation of an attack — how else can the citizenry make up its mind except by listening to its leaders? In the end, we went to war because a majority of the population trusted George Bush when he presented his case that Iraq posed an imminent danger to the United States and the world.

Uranium-Gate is a symbol of that misplaced trust. If George Bush's judgment had been vindicated in Iraq, a single sentence in the State of the Union address wouldn't matter. But it hasn't, and he deserves to be held accountable for his poor judgment by everybody who believed him.

And that's why those 16 words matter.

Kevin has it exactly right. There is, however, another reason that the issue matters. The dam that has bottled up almost all scrutiny of the truthfulness of our President and his administration has been breached and it is now fair game for the media to challenge the administration’s actions, motives and pronouncements.

Brent Cunningham, in a Columbia Journalism Review article about objectivity (link via Not Geniuses) notes the following:
Finally, objectivity makes reporters hesitant to inject issues into the news that aren't already out there. "News is driven by the zeitgeist," says Jonathan Weisman, "and if an issue isn't part of the current zeitgeist then it will be a tough sell to editors." But who drives the zeitgeist, in Washington at least? The administration. In short, the press's awkward embrace of an impossible ideal limits its ability to help set the agenda.

As Bob Somerby has relentlessly and incomparably documented, the zeitgeist of the 2000 campaign reporting was that Al Gore, but not George W. Bush, had problems sticking to the truth.

That zeitgeist made stories about George Bush’s honesty “a tough sell to editors.” That “tough sell” continued after the campaign through the first part of the Bush administration.

After 9/11, any criticism of the honesty of the Bush administration was treated as an attack on the righteousness of the United States itself. In essence, the combination of the campaign zeitgeist and the need for America’s post 9/11 fears to be assuaged by the presence of a strong and honorable leader insulated the administration from media scrutiny.

Last October, the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank wrote an article called For Bush, Facts are Malleable. In that article, Milbank noted that Bush had made a number of statements in support of his policies that were “dubious.”

The article is notable not only for cutting against the existing zeitgeist but also for the careful, almost gentle, way it is written. In noting that Mr. Bush has said some things that were not true, Milbank does not call Bush a liar, but rather notes that Mr. Bush’s “rhetoric has taken some flights of fancy in recent weeks.”

Milbank goes to great lengths to provide context just short of exonerating Mr. Bush by noting that “Presidential embroidery is, of course, a hoary tradition” and describing some of that tradition with examples from previous presidents.

Even so soft a story as that provoked the administration into quick action to ensure that the zeitgeist protecting Mr. Bush from scrutiny was not breached. Two days after Milbank’s article appeared in the Post, the Post received and published a letter to the editor from none other than Presidential Press Secretary Ari Fleischer. That letter contended that Milbank’s story was “substantively flawed and a distortion of what the president has said.”

As I noted at the time, Fleischer’s letter itself contains a whopper.

It is perhaps understandable that the White House felt the need to defend itself against Milbank’s article. Milbank, after all has a large megaphone and his article chipped away at the zeitgeist preventing the president from being challenged on issues of honesty.

Even very tiny megaphones were challenged. In October, I wrote To Tell the Truth, which pointed out numerous false statements of the administration. In February, I wrote Lies, Distortions and Deception listing numerous other instances of the administration’s disregard for the truth. In each case, I received a barrage of email, mostly anonymous, questioning my honesty, virility, heritage and/or patriotism.

The power of the “Follow the YellowCake Road” story is that it may provide the first significant breach in the zeitgeist protecting Bush’s dishonesty from media scrutiny.

Since the emergence of the uranium story, Slate ran a story about how the administration handles economic data:
In economic policy even more than in war policy, the Bushies have successfully suppressed, manipulated, and withheld evidence to serve their policy purposes.

The New York Times ran a story today on the administration’s manipulation of environmental assessments:
In the last several months, the Environmental Protection Agency has delayed or refused to do analysis on proposals that conflict with the president's air pollution agenda, say members of Congress, their aides, environmental advocates and agency employees.

Agency employees say they have been told either not to analyze or not to release information about mercury, carbon dioxide and other air pollutants. This has prompted inquiries and complaints from environmental groups, as well as Democrats and Republicans in Congress.

Democrats, previously supine (particularly during the midterm election), are now openly challenging the credibility of the administration. The Times reports:
Democratic presidential candidates offered a near-unified assault today on President Bush's credibility in his handling of the Iraq war, signaling a shift in the political winds by aggressively invoking arguments most had shunned since the fall of Baghdad.

Finally, one of the chief minders of the unofficial Washington zeitgeist, Maureen Dowd, writes:
More and more, with Bush administration pronouncements about the Iraq war, it depends on what the meaning of the word "is" is.

W. built his political identity on the idea that he was not Bill Clinton. He didn't parse words or prevaricate. He was the Texas straight shooter.

So why is he now presiding over a completely Clintonian environment, turning the White House into a Waffle House, where truth is camouflaged by word games and responsibility is obscured by shell games?

The president and Condi Rice can shuffle the shells and blame George Tenet, but it smells of mendacity.

As Tapped notes about the Dowd piece:
For her to compare Bush to Clinton means that this establishment has now begun to train its guns on Bush -- and that it's now OK for other establishment Washington pundits to openly call into question the Bush administration's capacity for truth-telling.

In other words, the zeitgeist has changed.

The zeitgeist, once hardened, is difficult to change. The old zeitgeist of Bush as the plain spoken, straight shooting Texan is no longer operative. The question remains what will replace it.

The continued American casualties in Iraq make scrutiny of the administration’s war justifications very likely. The 9/11 investigative report is due out soon and it may explode a few myths the administration has been selling. Congressional investigation of intelligence agency activity leading up to the war now seems inevitable.

When the tax cut checks go out soon, Mr. Bush’s statements of average benefits may run up against reality. Someone may finally ask when the 300,000 construction jobs Mr. Bush promised would be created by the terrorism insurance bill will materialize.

If a new zeitgeist emerges to suggest that Bush is willing to manipulate economic reports, supress scientific inquiry and data, fudge the numbers, break the rules, and deceive the American people in order to get his way, that, too will be a difficult zeitgeist to break.

Sunday, July 13, 2003
Today’s Tour

Terry at the Nitpicker has written a fine essay on why democracy is hard. Terry argues that some Republicans do not have the necessary temperament for democracy:
They simply are not cut out for democracy. When they refuse to lay out their ideas and then confront criticism, instead opting for name-calling and misrepresentation, they debase the very idea of democracy.

My complaint with Terry’s essay is that he wrote it in Veranda 7.5 which is a bit small for these tired old eyes.

Dave Johnson of Seeing the Forest produces a consistently excellent blog. Dave makes an interesting point about the issue of Mr. Bush’s State of the Union claim that Iraq was attempting to purchase uranium in Africa. Once it became apparent that Mr. Bush’s statement should not have been included in the speech, did the administration not owe the American people a retraction?

When any newspaper worth its salt makes an error, it prints a retraction. Even bloggers retract when a story to which they have linked proves false. Are the duties owed by the President of the United States to the American people less than the duties owed by a blogger to his or her readers?

In a separate post, Dave wonders why the drive to inspire fear in the public has abated?
Remember how the terror threats were raised, and there was constant talk of the terrible dangers we faced? The public was pumped full of fear, day after day. The news was full of terrible stories about smallpox, and the horrific effects of nerve gas, even warnings about what to do if there is a nuclear explosion in your area.

But now - what happened? Where are the threats? They didn't find any weapons in Iraq, which could only mean that terrorists possess them now. Yet, the "threat level" is lowered. The budget for homeland security is reduced, but not discussed. The papers and radio and television are not warning us that terrorists will strike at any moment. What changed?

What happened to the fear?

The Chico Enterprise Record has a very good Larry Mitchell article about the difficulties faced in raising an autistic child:
Rick Rollens of Granite Bay, near Sacramento, gave up his career in the state Capitol after his son, Russell, was diagnosed with severe autism. ..

The big increase in autism cases consists mainly of the severely disabling "full-syndrome autism," which is what afflicts Russell, Rollens said. The epidemic, as he calls it, has the potential to put a huge strain on the state's resources as large numbers of autistic children grow older and need more costly services.

Rollens attests to the rigors of raising an autistic child. Often, the pressure is so great, parents split up, he said.

For years, he said, "We were literally captives, with a child who screamed for hours on end, didn't sleep and was destructive. We slept in shifts. Fortunately, my wife was at home. It was very, very difficult."

Russell, who is 12 now, is severely disabled although his behavior has improved greatly, Rollens said. "He tests in the normal intelligence range. I can ask him to get me a drink of water, and he'll do it. But he can't talk about it."

He can do many things other kids can, like ride a bike and swim. But he needs to be watched all the time. He has no sense of danger and could easily run away. He'll probably always live with his parents.

Russell's autism has profoundly affected the lives of Rollens and his wife, Janna, and also their 17-year-old son, Matthew, who's helped care for his brother for the last 10 years. The two boys are very close, Rollens said.

"We're saddened by the loss of Matthew's childhood," Rollens said, "but we took a philosophy that we weren't going to sugarcoat any of this."

As a result, Matthew is "wise beyond his years," Rollens said. Granite Bay is a wealthy bedroom community, where many teen-agers seem to have life pretty easy.

At times, Matthew has come home from school shaking his head over his classmates' griping about not getting the tee time they wanted at the golf course. "Dad, I know what real problems are," he's told Rollens.

There is much more in the article including the experiences of two other parents. It is must reading if you are interested in the effects of autism on families.

Please Give

I have been publishing PLA for almost a year. During that time, I have tried to inform, amuse or persuade you. I have not hectored you to give money. At PLA, the ice cream has always been free. I have no tip jar. I run no ads. I sell no PLA gear. I post no Amazon wish list. All I have asked my readers to provide is their time and attention.

Today, I am asking for more. Blogathon 2003 will occur on July 26-27. Participants will write and post 48 entries to their blogs within a 24 hour period. The participants are asking for donations to sponsor the event. All proceeds to charity.

Two participants are particularly worthy of mention. Mary Beth of Wampum will be blogging for Cure Autism Now (CAN).

From the CAN website:
Cure Autism Now is an organization of parents, physicians, and researchers, dedicated to promoting and funding research with direct clinical implications for treatment and a cure for autism.

I have pledged $100 to Mary Beth’s efforts. It would please me greatly if PLA readers matched that pledge. Please go here, follow the links, and sponsor Mary Beth. The money you give will be put to good use and may help find a cure for autism.

Kevin of Wizbang is also participating in Blogathon 2003. His charity is the Doug Flutie Foundation. Doug Flutie is an NFL quarterback and a POA. Flutie has generously given of his time, money and his name to increase autism awareness. He has also established the Doug Flutie Foundation.
The Foundation's mission is to aid financially disadvantaged families who need assistance in caring for their children with autism; to fund education and research into the causes and consequences of childhood autism; and to serve as a clearinghouse and communications center for new programs and services developed for individuals with autism.

Please go here and follow the links to sponsor Kevin.

As was the case on my birthday, I am reminded of a passage from Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. Jem and Scout accompany Calpurnia to church one Sunday. The collection at that service is to go to help the wife and children of the wrongly accused Tom Robinson:
Reverend Sykes closed his sermon. He stood beside a table in front of the pulpit and requested the offering… One by one, the congregation came forward and dropped nickels and dimes into a black enameled coffee can. Jem and I followed suit, and received a soft, “Thank you, thank you,” as our dimes clinked.

To our amazement, Reverend Sykes emptied the can onto the table and raked the coins into his hand. He straightened up and said, “This is not enough, we must have ten dollars.”

The congregation stirred. “You all know what it’s for – Helen can’t leave those children to work while Tom’s in jail. If everybody gives one more dime, we’ll have it.” Reverend Sykes waved his hand and called to someone in the back of the church. “Alec, shut the doors. Nobody leaves here till we have ten dollars.” …

The church was becoming stuffy, and it occurred to me that Reverend Sykes intended to sweat the amount out of his flock. Fans crackled, feet shuffled, tobacco-chewers were in agony.

Reverend Sykes startled me by saying sternly, “Carlow Richardson, I haven’t seen you up this aisle yet.”

A thin man in khaki pants came up the aisle and deposited a coin. The congregation murmured approval.

Reverend Sykes then said, “I want all of you with no children to make a sacrifice and give one more dime apiece. Then we’ll have it.”

Slowly, painfully, the ten dollars was collected. The door was opened, and the gust of warm air revived us.

Unlike Reverend Sykes, I cannot lock the door until you make a donation and I will not name names… yet.

Take out a crowbar, pry open your wallet and make a donation. Please give to help the autistic kids and their families.