Wednesday, December 31, 2003

More on Line Item Vetoes

For those of you really, really interested in every aspect of the Arizona Supreme Court's decision in Bennett v. Napolitano, in this post I discussed the Court's comment that these lump-sum reductions were a new and unlikely-to-be-repeated legislative tactic, thus supporting the Court's reluctance to decide the dispute. I noted that Gov. Hull had used her line-item veto power several times in striking similar appropriations that attempted to reduce overall spending. Two lawyers familiar with the case have noted that there are some differences in how the Hull and Napolitano vetoes operated that might, or might not, be significant.

Eight of Hull's similar line-item vetoes involved attempted reductions passed in a subsequent special session from previously-appropriated sums, while the Napolitano vetoes involved positive appropriations and lump-sum reductions in the same bill. The Court had previously approved the governor's use of the line-item veto in that former situation (the subsequent reduction of a previously-approved appropriation) a decade ago in a case called Rios v. Symington.

However, one Hull line-item veto of a lump-sum reduction did occur during the same legislative session in 2002, where the legislature appropriated a series of sums for ADOT, but then tried to reduce that overall amount by the lump-sum reduction technique. It's not clear from the record if that one particular veto involved a reduction in a different appropriations bill, even if passed during the same session, or the kind of now-you-see-it, now-you-don't legerdemain where the reduction is put into the exact same bill as in Bennett.

Putting the reduction in the same bill, as opposed to the next bill passed by the same legislature in the same session, may or may not have dispositive significance. We're unlikely to find out, because the legislature needs to come up with a new set of budget tactics anyway. But there may be enough factual difference, even if those differences don't seem determinative to you or to me, to make the Court's statement in ¶35 of the opinion that "the manner of formatting these reductions" may have been a first-time event indeed accurate. You may have to split the hairs pretty fine to uphold that particular dictum, but hey, we lawyers do that every day (and appellate judges get to do it twice a day, minimum).
Remember When Rush Limbaugh Supported Local Law Enforcement?

My column this past week ran on Monday, rather than Sunday; the last Sunday of the year is a reprise of the "best" of the Tribune's editorial cartoons, so I got bumped even though I think this is brand new political humor. A special recognition to my "cousin-in-law" [actually, my late father's second wife's third husband's daughter-in-law, which sort of makes her a cousin, doesn't it?] who came up with the "if the drugs addict, you can't convict" line. My first attempt didn't even rhyme.

You can see the actual newspaper version on the Tribune website here.

East Valley Tribune, Dec. 29, 2003

I’m going to enjoy the Rush Limbaugh illegal drugs, doctor shopping, and potential money-laundering trials. It’s going to be O.J. for white people.

Let’s dispense with the preliminaries first. Limbaugh is entitled to precisely the same presumption of innocence and forgiveness of all-too-human frailty as he gave to others. Which is to say, none. Let the fun commence!

The Limbaugh trial will have it all, just like the O.J. trial did. You’ve got the celebrity defendant trying to convince both a judge and public opinion that he was framed. To buy that, you have to believe that Rush Limbaugh couldn’t have gone to the authorities because a prominent rich Republican simply couldn’t get a fair shake in Jeb Bush’s Florida.

You’ll also see starkly different attitudes toward the case among demographic categories. Just as African-Americans found it resonated with their experience that the police could frame a black man -- even a celebrated, rich one -- lots of Limbaugh’s white listeners will find themselves believing whatever cockamamie excuse Rush concocts for his illegal drug use and money laundering. After all, “dittoheads” are already trained to accept what Rush tells them, no matter how ridiculous.

You’ve also got the defendant trying to blame the supposedly real criminals. O.J. claims to be still searching for the real killers, while Rush claims that his housekeeper and her husband, who got him all those expensive illegal drugs at his request, are extortionists and really at fault. If only they had delivered the drugs in a white Ford Bronco.

You’ve got the celebrity criminal lawyer taking center stage, too. In Rush’s case, it’s Roy Black, the same attorney the Kennedy family uses for criminal unpleasantness in Palm Beach County. When he finds his life in danger, even Rush Limbaugh hires a Democrat.

Now Rush can get one of his lawyers to claim that drug addiction excuses any crimes. That way Limbaugh can get the benefit of the excuse, while still claiming that he never made excuses for his behavior -- because he pays other people to make those excuses for him.

I can’t wait until Limbaugh's lawyers use the Johnnie Cochran rhyming defense strategy, telling the jury, “If the drugs addict, you can’t convict!”

You’ve got a rich defendant who can hire the best attorneys his money can buy, going up against a standard-issue government-employee prosecutor. Your run-of-the-mill defendant can’t hire the professionals needed to create a Hollywood surprise ending that generates sufficient sympathy or doubt with the jury. Instead, they get no-frills assembly-line justice. It takes a bunch of money to generate a television-worthy plot and create an implausible scenario that a jury might consider as reasonable doubt -- money available to both O.J. and Rush.

Not all well-connected rich people would be able to pull off this far-fetched a scenario. Just imagine if Bill Clinton had tried to blame his troubles on an extortion attempt by enemies. You’d laugh it off in a New York minute, and start impeachment proceedings immediately.

The Limbaugh trial also will be richly leavened with all sorts of references to constitutional rights of the defendant, which might even be ironic if in this case the defendant hadn’t made so much of his career by denigrating those rights when applied to others. Just like how Fife Symington became a fan of the Ninth Circuit only when it reversed his criminal convictions, Limbaugh might view the justice system just a teensy bit differently -- unless he really is incapable of thinking beyond his own person, wallet, and ego.

Another question: If Rush Limbaugh’s trial will be O.J. for white people, what will Michael Jackson’s trial be? My tentative answer: O.J. for aliens.

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Is There a Principle Here, or Do We Just Invade When Bush Says So?

This column actually ran on Dec. 21, but that afternoon I left on a family vacation, so it's only getting posted today. My next column has already run but I'll post it tomorrow.

Have you signed up to give blood yet? The blood donation pitch made it into the blog-and-email version of my column, because I control that, but not the paper, so I repeated it at the end of this column. I learned it got cut for space limitations, not because of some libertarian belief that giving blood interferes with the free market in corpuscles or something.

East Valley Tribune, Dec. 21, 2003

Exactly when did Republicans decide that America needed a more militaristic and expensive version of Jimmy Carter’s foreign policy’s focus on human rights?

With no WMD found in Iraq despite the Administration’s pre-war claims -- remember the 25,000 liters of anthrax? The 500 tons of nerve gas? The 38,000 liters of botulism toxin? -- the administration now justifies sending essentially all our combat-ready forces to Iraq on humanitarian grounds.

In 2000, George W. Bush said we shouldn’t use our military for nation building. Now it’s a wonderful thing for our collective national character to “slog” through building a nation for the Iraqis.

I’m all for freedom and a better life for people worldwide, or for hard work building character. But why did those who objected so vehemently to U.S. involvement in Haiti, Bosnia, and Kosovo suddenly become humanitarian interventionists for Iraq?

The civil wars in Sudan and Sierra Leone, the genocide in Rwanda, and AIDS all killed more innocents than Saddam Hussein. People suffer the world over, and everything inflicted on the Iraqi people happened elsewhere, without denting our consciousness.

Aren’t North Korea or Burma also despotic and inhumane? Maybe they’re too remote, and what happens in the Middle East matters much more. But Bush isn’t pushing Saudi Arabia or Kuwait toward democracy -- and is telling Taiwan not to expand voting rights.

It’s laudable we’re asking other countries to reduce Iraq’s foreign debt so the new government can devote its resources to improving the country. But hundreds of millions of people live in dozens of developing countries whose governments must spend more on debt service than social services. Don’t they also deserve debt relief?

I await the 2004 presidential debates, where President Bush will ask voters whether the Iraqi people are better off today than they were four years ago.

It is, of course, wonderful that we’ve liberated Iraq, and will be even more wonderful if we can create a country -- or a civil society -- essentially from scratch. But that’s not why we were told we had to go to war with Iraq, without delay, and whether or not we got any real help from any other countries.

Bush justified this war as preemption, necessary to protect America. That just wasn’t true; we’ve found neither WMD nor operational links to Al Queda. So we now get the humanitarian justification, which Bush isn’t applying anywhere else -- except for token efforts when he can’t avoid it entirely, like Liberia.

Is the Iraq war and reconstruction the foreign policy version of the Bush v. Gore decision -- good for this day and train only? Conquering Afghanistan made sense; the Taliban were giving Al Queda a base of operations, and today our allies have more troops there than we do. But what principles justify our selective, optional, go-it-alone humanitarianism in Iraq?

Or does George W. Bush get to choose a war, whatever the justification, and all the Republicans just fall into line?

* * *

While pondering America’s role in doing good for one (and only one) foreign country, you need to do something good here in Arizona. You may have noticed that my Dec. 7 column asked you to perform five good deeds before the year-end, but space limitations eliminated my fifth request: Give blood.

As reported by The Tribune’s Joe Kullman, local blood supplies are at their lowest levels in decades. It’s always tight during the holidays, but flu season (and the mistaken belief that a flu shot keeps you from donating, which it doesn’t) have made the shortage critical. Call United Blood Services at (602) 431-9500 to schedule an appointment, or use their website, Do it now. Please.

Monday, December 15, 2003

The Arizona Supreme Court Throws a Brushback Pitch at the Legislature

This week's column is on the Arizona Supreme Court decision in Bennett v. Napolitano, which you can read for yourself here if you don't want to take my word for it.

Among the interesting sidelights that didn't make my column is the part of the opinion where the Court says that its refusal to become involved in what is essentially a political dispute is supported by the fact that these "lump sum reductions" were a new, never-before-tried, and unlikely-to-be-repeated budget tactic by the legislature. (See ¶35--"We conclude, however, that the unusual method of legislative structuring used in the vetoed reductions at issue in the instant case is likely a non-recurring event. Indeed, neither party has offered evidence that the manner of formatting these reductions in the current budget cycle has ever before been utilized by the legislature.")

I'm not sure that's correct, even though it's dictum and not important to the Court's decision. It appears that Gov. Jane Hull, Gov. Napolitano's predecessor, used the line-item veto a couple of times on some appropriations bills, with the similar effect of increasing the amount of spending authorized by the legislature. However, Hull was a Republican, so the GOP-controlled legislature didn't squawk about it, and I guess it didn't make it into anybody's briefs in the case--or if it did, it got overlooked. But the really big news about the opinion is the Court telling everybody that ORBs, which have been pretty useful to leadership, are pretty much unconstitutional.

For out-of-state readers, on Saturday the legislature and governor reached a compromise on CPS funding and reforms. It's half a loaf and just a start, but it's a start nonetheless. Apparently, cards and letters helped, so get ready to keep those emails coming once the regular session begins next month.

East Valley Tribune, Dec. 14, 2003

The GOP legislative leadership didn’t just lose this year’s new budget stratagem when the state Supreme Court refused to overturn Gov. Napolitano’s line-item vetoes. They also lost their favorite unconstitutional tool of the past few years, the omnibus budget reconciliation bill (ORB).

To understand the Supreme Court decision, you should understand just how sneaky these vetoed “lump sum reductions” were. The GOP leadership tried (but failed) to outfox the governor with this new legerdemain -- never attempted before and, now that the Supreme Court has spoken, presumably never again.

Here’s how it worked. The Legislature approved spending for specific accounts within various agencies, because micromanaging is loads of fun if you aren’t responsible for running anything. Then, after supposedly appropriating specific sums for these programs, the appropriation bills listed unspecified “lump sum reductions” that reduced overall agency spending.

That’s theoretically a “spending cut” -- promising four programs $50 each, letting legislators claim they voted to give each program $50, while telling the agency somehow to spend only $150 because of an unspecified $50 “lump sum reduction” that only can come from those four programs.

It’s a truly cynical, underhanded move, designed to let legislators do what they do best -- pretending to cut overall spending without ever cutting any specific spending. If anyone complains, they say it’s the governor’s fault.

Legislative leaders then claimed Gov. Napolitano asked for these “lump sum reductions,” but that’s just wrong. The governor did request lump sum appropriations -- where the legislature specifies an overall amount for an entire agency, but leaves it to the governor to allocate funding for individual programs. But the Legislature wouldn’t give this governor that much flexibility, so they developed the “lump sum reduction” tactic, trying simultaneously to micromanage, avoid responsibility, and lie. Call it the “Fast Eddie” Farnsworth Trifecta.

GOP leaders feigned outrage that Gov. Napolitano would use the line-item veto in ways they didn’t approve, resulting in increased overall spending by restoring the Legislature’s own subtotals. But the governor got to increase spending only because of these cockamamie “lump sum reduction” line items. No line items, no vetoes.

Besides, their complaints about use of the line-item veto seem a bit, well, partisan. When he was governor of Wisconsin, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson used his line-item veto power to strike specific words in legislative enactments, making the resulting laws mean something entirely different. Republicans considered that just dandy.

Most importantly, the Supreme Court also told the legislature that their usual way of doing business, by bundling numerous statutory changes into these massive ORBs, appears to violate the Arizona Constitution’s “single subject rule,” which requires legislative enactments to “embrace but one subject.”

The single-subject rule prevents “logrolling,” where leadership crams numerous bad things with the good (or at least necessary) to strong-arm legislators into swallowing the entire package. The GOP leadership admitted as much after the decision, acknowledging that they didn’t know how to pass the unpopular stuff if they couldn’t hide it in the must-pass bills. Apparently Jake Flake also loved Pirates of the Caribbean; to him, it’s not a constitution, it’s more like “guidelines.”

The public interest won’t suffer if ORBs disappear, but legislative Pooh-Bahs will. They used bloated, massive ORBs to force the rank-and-file to vote for unpopular, last-minute legislation, and don’t have a replacement tactic available. If each bill has to rise or fall on its merits, leadership’s in deep trouble.

That’s the real result of the Supreme Court decision. Not only didn’t the legislative leadership win, they lost big time. Let see if these guys can figure out how to do things constitutionally in the future. Here’s betting it won’t be pretty.

Friday, December 12, 2003

Google Bombing

Unelectable? That's my fair and balanced conclusion. Yes, I said unelectable. Do you need me to spell unelectable, or is using the word "unelectable" enough?

Monday, December 08, 2003

The Annual Tax Credit Roundup Column

I got shortened this week by my editor. I suggested 5 things you should do before year-end, and the last one, giving blood, got cut. (He chopped out the blood donation, forgot to change the 5 things to 4 in the opening paragraph, and cut the crack about the public school credit helping the richer get richer. Sheesh.) I also had to submit my column before I got my neighbor's annual pitch for the Family School, so I'm giving you the column the way it should have run, not as it did.

Arizona residents should do all 5. Out of state readers still can give blood or make a deductible (but not fully refundable) contribution to these good causes.

East Valley Tribune, Dec. 7, 2003

It’s time for your annual reminder about the dizzying variety of state income tax credits letting you do good, for free. Anyone itemizing deductions (and without Alternative Minimum Tax liability) can make lots of state tax liability disappear. It’s foolish public policy, but it’s the law, so do the right thing -- at least five times -- by December 31.

First, there’s a credit (up to $625 for married couples filing jointly, $500 for individuals) for donations to “private school tuition organizations.” You get your entire donation credited in April on your state income taxes.

Don’t know a PSTO? The Arizona Department of Revenue lists some here. Don’t want to choose one in an uneducated manner? Give to Schools With Heart, 1131 E. Highland, Phoenix, AZ 85014, and designate your check for the Family School kindergarten program, which serves 62 children from diverse backgrounds.

Second is the separate-but-not-equal credit for public school contributions, up to $200 (individuals) or $250 (couples). You must give directly to the school; tax-deductible contributions to a PTO or foundation don’t qualify. The Arizona tax credit then refunds your entire donation.

Need a suggested school? The Arizona Department of Education has a school locator here. You can enter a name, city, or ZIP code and find contact information for both public and charter schools.

Need more instruction? Send your check to Kent Scribner at the Isaac School District, 3348 W. McDowell Road, Phoenix, AZ 85009. Over 90 percent of Isaac students are at or below poverty level; 62 percent don’t live in English-speaking homes. Last year, Isaac received approximately $3.17 in tax credit donations per student, compared to $34.49 for Mesa and $59.90 for Scottsdale. Unless you really do believe government’s sole purpose is to help the rich get richer, Isaac needs your help more.

Third, donations to charities helping the working poor qualify for another $200 tax credit (same amount for marrieds and singles). You must make an additional contribution to the qualifying charity over your “baseline” charitable giving. The baseline year is 1996, or the first year after 1996 in which you itemized or after your tax filing status changes. Donate more today, and Arizona repays you dollar-for-dollar.

Need assistance locating a “qualifying charity”? Here’s another list. Too much work in choosing one? Donate to Devereux Arizona’s “My Little Stocking” fund, which provides holiday treats to children in foster care and residential or group home treatment programs. These kids and their families can’t afford necessities, much less holiday gifts. Call Kelly Gonzales at (480) 998-2920 ext. 2105, or use the website.

The fourth widely-available credit helps fund Arizona’s system of publicly-financed elections. It’s the most “generous” of the credits; taxpayers can contribute $550 individually or $1,100 for a couple filing jointly, or 20% of their state tax liability, whichever is greater. Send your check to the Citizens Clean Election Fund at 1616 W. Adams, Suite 110, Phoenix, AZ 85007. You get a dollar-for-dollar Arizona credit, and contributions are also deductible for federal taxes; pay now, get it back in April.

Not only is this credit the biggest available, but it also drives supporters of the private school credit batty, because generally their credit benefits their friends but this one doesn’t. Consistency can be tough sometimes.

Finally, do something else which won’t cost you anything: Give blood. You probably thought about it after 9/11, but they didn’t need blood then -- and now we do, badly. It’s free, less painful (and quicker) than watching the Cardinals, and helps people more than money. Call United Blood Services at (602) 431-9500, or use their website.

You’ve got until December 31 to take advantage of bad law to do good deeds, so get cracking. Happy holidays!

Sunday, November 30, 2003

Cutting Spending, and Other Myths

I took a week off due to spam, I guess. I wrote this column last week and emailed it to my editor while in Florida for a Devereux meeting, but he claims he never received it. I asked what happened, and sent it again; apparently the first time it got caught in the Tribune's email system spam filter. So it ran this Sunday instead, and I got to take the week off. And I hope my father-in-law, who always picks up the check, reads to the very end.

East Valley Tribune, Nov. 30, 2003

Can we drop the pretense that we can balance the budget by cutting spending? Nobody’s done it, nobody will, and people who pretend that fantasy can come true are deluding themselves.

Better you should believe in the Easter Bunny. With that myth, kids get some chocolate. With the “just cut spending” myth, kids merely get burdened with our debts.

Exhibit A is the new California governor, who campaigned as an outsider, not a politician, not beholden to special interests, blah blah blah. So how does Gov. Schwarzenegger plan to tackle his state’s budget woes?

First, he repealed the hated car tax increase, worsening the deficit by $2 billion.

Second, under California’s peculiar budget rules, the repeal cuts money intended for local governments for fire, police, and other services. Naturally, the new governor wishes for $2 billion in offsetting spending cuts so local communities don’t suffer, but he wants somebody else to propose specific cuts. It’s like the movies: Call in a stunt double and let him demonstrate leadership.

So after making matters worse, and not leading, what is this great GOP hope’s plan? It’s borrowing $15 billion, the largest state bond issue in history. During the campaign, we thought he promised to “cut spending” but apparently he actually meant “borrow billions.” I guess we didn’t understand his accent or something.

Then there’s Exhibit B, Washington, D.C., where Republicans control the White House, the Senate, the House, and the Supreme Court, but they can’t control spending. They can try to shift the blame, but the GOP is large and in charge and can’t get off the spending barge.

President Bush has mostly gotten whatever he wants through Congress, except for 6 out of some 150 judges (as opposed to nearly 60 judges Clinton nominated who never got a vote from the GOP). But Bush hasn’t vetoed a single spending bill or done anything serious to cut spending.

Think I’m overstating the GOP’s sorry record? Then go read the energy bill, which nobody outside of Washington can stomach. It’s a stinking multi-billion dollar pile of vote-getting goodies, subsidies large and small for both major campaign contributors (oil, ethanol, and MTBE) and minor civic achievements (the first Hooters in Shreveport -- hooray!). Cut spending? Not with votes to be had.

Not only has complete GOP control actually increased spending from what the Clinton administration (with a booming economy) did, but these supposedly flinty tightwads want to create two new, massive entitlement programs. You’ve probably heard about a new prescription drug benefit in Medicare, which would take this entire page (and more) to explain; suffice it to say that it’s a major new spending program launched with the budget deficit at nominally record levels.

But these Republicans have created a second entitlement program. You may think it’s a war, but listen to the high-concept language of the Bush administration about our national commitment to perform a task that’s never been done before, how nobody should doubt our will, that we must fulfill our promises.

What do you call a government program that isn’t subject to debate but instead requires spending whatever’s needed, no matter what? That’s the very definition of an entitlement. Iraq may be a war, but it’s essentially another huge entitlement program.

Arnold and George have no intention of cutting spending. They want to spend just as much, maybe even more, as Democrats do; the only difference is that Democrats are willing to pay for spending today with taxes today, while Republicans prefer that future generations pay for today’s spending.

It’s a good thing my in-laws are Democrats; otherwise, when they take us out to dinner, they’d stick me with the check.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Getting It Wrong Isn't "Dissent"

I got tired and took three days off from politics, so you're getting Sunday's column late on Wednesday. But my zest for battle has been refreshed by Gov. Arnold ("It was my accent--you heard 'cut spending' but what I meant was 'borrow $15 billion'") Schwarzenegger, the energy bill, and Rural/Metro deciding to pull a "Lisa Graham Keegan" on Scottsdale--win the election, then quit. So I'm back.

East Valley Tribune, Nov. 16, 2003

Instead of actually addressing any of my arguments about church-state separation and the Alabama judge with the Ten Commandment fixation, both Carol Nichols Turoff and state Rep. Karen Johnson wrote letters to the editor replete with the usual epithets -- Liberal! Democrat! Liberal Democrat! -- and went all relativistic, claiming that it’s all a difference of opinion.

But it’s not. The law is clear. Turoff and Johnson could say they think the law’s mistaken and should be changed. But instead they pretend there’s doubt about what the Constitution requires, and that’s just wrong.

I treated Turoff with more respect than she gives judicial applicants with differing political views, but she defends her lack of legal and historical knowledge as “dissent.” Johnson then wrote that Turoff’s “opinion” should be respected because “[t]wo of our previous governors thought so well of her that she was appointed to represent the voters of this state in the judicial selection process.” And also because the Constitution only says Congress, not a state, can’t establish a religion.

Take Johnson’s substantive claim first. Sure, the Constitution doesn’t explicitly prohibit states from establishing religions, but that’s not what it means today -- and anybody familiar with American history, not just law, knows it. The applicability of the Bill of Rights to the states through incorporation via the Fourteenth Amendment has been the law since the 1930’s.

That’s the kind of rhetorical gymnastics needed for any claim that the Alabama Ten Commandments monument was legal, the very week that the U.S. Supreme Court finally settled the case. If conservatives want to make everything relative and a matter of “opinion” regarding church-state separation or global warming, then don’t be surprised that “good science” takes a beating when it comes to forest health or tort reform.

But what I found most interesting in Johnson’s letter was the unusual phrasing: appointed by two previous, and nameless, governors. What might account for the curious lack of detail -- some sort of right-wing love that dare not speak their names?

Well, maybe the luster of the names of former governors Fife Symington and Jane Hull, the two governors who appointed Turoff, isn’t quite so bright these days. Symington’s fall is well known, with his bank fraud convictions overturned by that ultra-liberal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, followed by one of those notorious last-minute Clinton presidential pardons so otherwise reviled by the GOP. But Jane Hull’s legacy isn’t so lustrous either, as more people realize that her major achievement while governor was essentially to retire while still in office.

It’s been quite a change on the Ninth Floor. The Napolitano administration has logged in more constituent service calls in nine months than Hull’s did in four years. When Gov. Napolitano’s constituent services team visited their offices for the first time, they learned that their predecessor’s voice mail system could hold only 10 messages. After the tenth person (in a state of 5 million people!) called, that was it.

It sure sounds easy being a Republican. People expect so little, you can essentially phone it in from Pinetop; just don’t try leaving a message. If anyone calls you on your false statements, just call them a liberal Democrat. And if you’re wrong, well, it’s all a matter of opinion, isn’t it?

Friday, November 14, 2003

Child Protective Services

Those of you in Arizona may want to view this presentation, and forward it to your email lists as well. I've heard that the previous version got about a quarter-million downloads in less than a week, and if it generated a fraction of that many emails to legislators, maybe we'd get the Arizona Legislature to treat child welfare with the same alacrity that they showed in funding lawyers to defend the incumbents' legislative districts. Just a thought.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Statistics and Sex (Now Do I Have Your Attention?)

My battle with Carol Nichols Turoff will resume next week, but this week it's abstinence-only sex education. Shorter version for the statistically-impaired: If Mongo like result, Mongo claim to like "junk science." But Mongo don't know sex. As one of my law partners pointed out, if parents can't teach abstinence-only to their kids at home, how on earth are teachers supposed to do it at school?

For those of you following the special session on Child Protective Services--or especially, for those of you not following it--you should go to the following link and then contact your legislators using the links at the end.

East Valley Tribune, Nov. 9, 2003

What supporters of so-called “abstinence-only” sex education programs really want -- apart from the traditional adult pleasure of telling kids “No!” -- is for legislators to abstain from any knowledge of statistics.

The 2003 study of the Arizona Abstinence Only Education uses faulty data, invalid experimental design, a continually-changing program, and the absence of any test or “control” group to justify the program. You’d never know the limited, vague, and tentative nature of the study, because proponents’ press releases don’t have to be statistically valid -- and aren’t.

But before considering the wide gulf between what the 2003 study actually said and what abstinence-only supporters claim it said, it’s worth noting that every major sex education program (including comprehensive programs with statistically valid positive results) promotes abstinence as the most reliable method of preventing unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

In other words, abstinence isn’t only for abstinence-only. The real question is whether abstinence-only is effective, making sex the only school subject where less knowledge is somehow better.

The 2003 study has more limitations than my limited space allows, so let’s hit only the high points. First, the program kept changing through its five-year run, so study results may come from program aspects now revised, or jettisoned entirely.

Second, an accurate study would look for fairly long-term effects. The 2003 study surveyed program participants as little as three months later, which simply isn’t enough time to evaluate birth rates accurately.

Third, the study defines “success” as telling a pollster you have a “positive attitude” toward abstinence -- not that you intend to (or actually do) abstain.

Fourth, 45 percent of those surveyed participated in programs sponsored by Catholic Social Services (disclosure: I’m a CSS contributor), so positive results may come from participants’ religious inclinations instead.

Fifth, significant data in the 2003 report comes from prior years, and reports at the time explained that such data may have problems. Seemingly positive news came from "year 2" data, which appears to have overstated the number of program participants and understated birth rates. Years with better data collection methods showed birth rates among program participants basically matching state rates, and little evidence of positive change from the program.

Sixth, the most fascinating recommendation in the 2003 report comes from its observation that participants overwhelmingly thought that the program “talked too much about what was right and wrong.” The report authors assert that “nonjudgmental” abstinence-only programs, which cultivate interpersonal skills “are more likely to be effective than programs that are perceived as saying, ‘Do this because it is right.’” Somehow I doubt that “nonjudgmental abstinence-only” is what program boosters have in mind.

But the most serious flaw in the 2003 report -- the 500-pound gorilla, actually acknowledged in the report -- is the complete absence of any control group against which to measure the program’s results. As the study notes, “[i]n the absence of a comparison sample, or published findings from similar programs serving similar groups of teens, it is difficult to judge the merit of these successes.” Without a control group, it’s impossible to tell if abstinence-only is more or less effective than classes where similar students got lectures about the virtues of Vitamin C, or learned to play the trombone.

Maybe abstinence-only programs can have positive effects, but it definitely hasn’t been proven yet. And it’s odd that people who usually claim that government can’t do anything right, and needs to do and spend less, are suddenly enamored of devoting millions of your tax dollars on their unproven experiment.

If you actually read the studies, you’ll realize that when it comes to abstinence-only, the only statistically-valid thing to say is “Just say ‘we don’t know’.”

Monday, November 03, 2003

Ignorant of the Law

Ms. Turoff treats many people who appear before the Arizona Commission on Appellate Court Appointments with much less kindness and courtesy than I allow in the following column. The editor chose the headline; I wouldn't have called her a zealot but rather would have used the more technically-correct term, Wacko. As-appeared-in-newspaper version here.

Church and State

East Valley Tribune, Nov. 2, 2003

You’ve heard how “ignorance of the law is no excuse?” It means people can’t avoid the consequences of their actions by claiming that they didn’t understand the law.

You probably think legal ignorance might disqualify somebody from sitting on the state commission that nominates potential judges. But this being Arizona, you’d be wrong.

In her letter last month to the Jewish News of Greater Phoenix, Carol Nichols Turoff, a member of the Arizona Commission on Appellate Court Appointments, displayed her inexcusable legal ignorance. Turoff joined the debate over the Alabama judge who installed a large Ten Commandments monument in the Alabama Supreme Court building:

“The so-called separation of church and state does not exist in our Constitution. However, it is alive and well within the ACLU and among tolerance advocates. Today, we tolerate everything. Everything that is, except Bible-based religion, which Judaism certainly is, and upon which this country was founded.

The prohibition in the establishment clause of the First Amendment is against a state-endorsed religion, not religion itself. Hence, presidents take their oaths of office with a hand upon the Bible, and Congress opens daily sessions with a prayer.”

There’s so much wrong in those two paragraphs that it’s hard to figure where to start. First, while the words “separation of church and state” aren’t found in the Constitution, neither (as I’ve noted before) is the phrase “presumption of innocence.” Nonetheless, Congress or a state legislature couldn’t constitutionally decide to fight more efficiently by making defendants have to establish innocence rather than the prosecution having to prove guilt.

The concept of judicial review isn’t in the Constitution, either. This mindlessly literal reading of the document went out of style with Marbury v. Madison, and since 1803 has been used only by charlatans preying on the ignorant.

Second, the legality of the Ten Commandments monument in Alabama is settled, over, and final. Federal District Judge Myron Thompson found this taxpayer-funded religious display illegal, which decision was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals, which decision the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review. It’s a final judgment of a competent court (and, as Rick and Sharon Cohen noted, not of the ACLU or “tolerance advocates”).

Turoff may think that decision was wrong, but it’s the law, and she needs to accept it. But if she gets to pick which judicial decisions she can decide to reject, then I have a teensy problem with Bush v. Gore. Tell me when it’s my turn.

Third, the oath of office and congressional prayer examples aren’t particularly good for Turoff’s argument. Courts have upheld such customs because they are secular in practice, as essentially social or historical artifacts. In other words, those ceremonies are acceptable because nobody treats them seriously as prayer. But Turoff wants the Ten Commandments monument as a religious symbol. By using these historical customs to justify religious ceremonies, Turoff’s given the game away.

Finally, what does “Bible-based religion” really mean? I guess Hindus, Buddhists, and Moslems don’t count now. How long until Jews aren’t useful to these zealots, too?

If Turoff wants to run for elective office, or propose Constitutional amendments to authorize taxpayer-subsidized religious displays that suit her taste, she’s free to do so. But her opinions about the law aren’t merely vigorous, they’re flat-out wrong. Somebody that determinedly mistaken in her views shouldn’t be deciding who gets to be a judge.

When Turoff became a member of the commission, she took an oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution and the Arizona Constitution -- which contains an even broader establishment clause. She’s violating that oath, and has no business on the commission. If she doesn’t resign, she should be impeached.

Monday, October 27, 2003

A Fairy Tale for Our Times

The "Emperor's New Suit" column ran in the Sunday (October 26, 2003) East Valley Tribune here. Due to my editor's unwillingness to use bold and italics, it actually reads better on the website here. I got the headline "Pro-war spin doctors come up with a fractured fairy tale."

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Supply-Side Genesis

This column originally ran in the East Valley Tribune on Jan. 13, 2002, and isn't available online, but I want to refer to it in a comment to a post on Brad DeLong's website.

East Valley Tribune, Jan. 13, 2002

Genesis, Chapter 41 (Goldwater Institute Version):

And it came to pass one night that Pharaoh dreamed, and when he awoke, he called all his magicians and wise men, but none could interpret his dreams.

His chief butler then spoke, saying: I recall the time that Pharaoh, upset with his servants, put both the chief baker and me in the dungeon. Each of us dreamed a dream one night, but neither could interpret his dream.

In that dungeon was a young man, Joseph, a Hebrew and a liberal -- but I repeat myself. He interpreted our dreams, and as he interpreted, so it came to pass.

Then Pharaoh sent for Joseph, who was brought out of the dungeon, shaved and dressed, and taken before Pharaoh.

And Pharaoh said to Joseph: I have dreamed dreams, and none can interpret them. I have heard that you can understand and interpret dreams. Joseph answered Pharaoh: It is not me, but if the Almighty desires, He shall give Pharaoh an answer.

Pharaoh then said to Joseph: In my first dream, I stood upon the bank of the river, and out of the river came seven fat and handsome cattle, which grazed in a meadow. Then seven other cattle came up after them, ill, scrawny, and ugly, and the seven lean cattle devoured the seven fat cattle. Then I awoke.

Then I had a second dream, where seven full, good ears of corn grew on a stalk. Seven withered and thin ears then sprang up, and swallowed the seven good ears. I recounted these dreams to my magicians, but none could interpret them.

And Joseph said: The dream of Pharaoh is the same dream, and the Eternal is showing Pharaoh what He shall do. The seven good cattle and the seven good ears are seven years of plenty. The seven thin and ugly cattle and the seven empty ears shall be seven years of famine.

Behold, there shall come seven years of great plenty throughout the land. Then shall come seven years of famine, and all the plenty shall be forgotten, and grievous famine shall consume the land.

Let Pharaoh plan for the future of his country, by decreeing the setting aside of reserves during the seven years of plenty, gathering food and corn in the cities and granaries against the seven years of famine. And those stores shall protect the land during the famine, and the people shall not perish.

And Pharaoh said to Joseph: You may be wise in interpreting dreams, but you know nothing of politics.

You must not know, having been locked in a dungeon these past two years, that I am a supply-side Pharaoh.

During years of plenty, we do not gather reserves nor do we plan for the future. The grain that will grow in abundance is not the government’s grain, and such abundance instead demands that the government set aside less grain, not more.

Right-wing Pharaohs, during years of plenty, want to cut taxes. The surplus generated by years of plenty may pay for an occasional new program. But conservative Pharaohs have no desire to prepare for the future—except by repealing the estate tax.

When the lean years come, famine may consume the land and afflict the people, but that hardship becomes yet another reason to cut taxes and to continue ignoring the future.

This philosophy may strike you, Joseph, as shortsighted and foolish. Years of famine always may come, and a wise ruler should prepare during the years of plenty.

But Pharaoh’s family and friends will have enough money to buy grain, no matter how severe the famine.

Pharaohs need not worry about famine. That is the beauty of being rich—and of term limits. I will rule over plenty; the next Pharaoh can deal with the famine.

And Pharaoh thanked Joseph for his time, gave him a snappy nickname, and ordered him returned to the dungeon.
The Emperor's New Suit, Modern Version

I wanted to get this week's column up in advance. I'll post how it turns out in the paper at the usual time.


Why did our emperor take us to war in Iraq -- based on a fairy tale, perhaps?

The emperor marched in the procession under the beautiful canopy, and all who saw him in the street and out of the windows exclaimed: “Indeed, the emperor’s new suit is incomparable! What a long train he has! How well it fits him!” Nobody wished to let others know he saw nothing, for then he would have been unfit for his office or too stupid. Never emperor’s clothes were more admired.

“But he has nothing on at all,” said a little child at last. “Good heavens! Listen to the voice of an innocent child,” said the father, and one whispered to the other what the child had said. “But he has nothing on at all,” cried at last the whole people. That made a deep impression upon the emperor, for it seemed to him that they were right; but he thought to himself, “Now I must bear up to the end.” And the chamberlains walked with still greater dignity, as if they carried the train which did not exist.

Hans Christian Anderson, “The Emperor’s New Suit” (1837)

It was a simpler time then, when the whole people were willing to recognize the truth once the little child spoke. Today, however, there’s an entire army of chamberlains desperately trying to spin each other, and everyone else, otherwise:

Rep. J.D. Hayworth: By questioning our emperor’s choice of clothing, unpatriotic opponents like this little child, whether wittingly or unwittingly, provide aid and comfort to our enemies. Terrorists want to destroy both our way of life -- and our pants. If our emperor says his new clothes were magnificent, anyone who says otherwise is a traitor.

Thomas Friedman, The New York Times: Debate over the emperor’s attire misses my latest version of the real reason the emperor purchased his fabulously expensive new suit. He bought the magic cloth from the two swindlers to bring human rights and democracy to the region -- because once people have seen this emperor in his underwear, it’s only a matter of days before market economies and free elections arrive.

Jonah Goldberg, National Review: Critics of the current imperial administration are peddling a blatant lie. The emperor never used the phrase “new clothes.” In his State of the Empire speech, he said only that he would wear a new suit. And in any case, he wasn’t wearing nothing; he wore his imperial underwear, so the little child was wrong.

Bill O’Reilly, Fox News: My guest tonight is the ungrateful little child who unbelievably and unpatriotically said that our emperor wasn’t wearing any clothes. Shut up! I’ll give you 15 seconds to respond once I’m finished with my 10-minute harangue.

Judy Woodruff, CNN: It’s not enough to criticize the emperor for making a mistake. Instead, his opponents must explain, in detail, how they would fix the problem the emperor created. We must spend another $87 billion trying to make the invisible “cloth” visible.

David Ignatius, The Washington Post: The emperor has access to better intelligence than you or I do. If he said he was wearing a new suit, then the burden falls upon his opponents to prove that he wasn’t.

Vice President Dick Cheney: By saying “9/11” and “new clothes” together frequently, perhaps our subjects will conclude -- without me actually saying it -- that the emperor wore no clothes because of 9/11. It’s an open question whether there’s any connection between his lack of clothes and 9/11. Did I mention 9/11?

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld: It’s all Colin Powell’s fault. What part of “all” don’t you understand?

Rich Lowry, National Review: It’s all Bill Clinton’s fault.

Monday, October 20, 2003

I Will Gladly Take Responsibility Tuesday

It's a special session lid-lifter (table-setter? plumber's helper?) this week. The governor has called the legislature into a special session to consider Child Protective Services and Corrections, two areas where the loony right believes we shouldn't have to pay for our policies, and maybe there's some ideology we can deploy instead of money? Well, there isn't.

I got a block quote from the editor, in bold in the newspaper version, which you can view here.

Should the line have been, "I will gladly take responsibility Tuesday, for avoiding it today"? We retort, you decide.

East Valley Tribune, Oct. 19, 2003

Some legislators claim they need more time to “study” Child Protective Services during their regular session. Yeah, right. With all of the other issues competing for attention starting in January, ranging from the budget and economic development to homeowner associations -- and did I mention it’s an election year? -- how much time do you think they’ll devote to an in-depth, scholarly examination of CPS?

Tomorrow’s special session is the time to act. Reasonable people (and, this being the Arizona Legislature, unreasonable people as well) may differ over details, but anybody paying attention knows the general outline. We must improve coordination among agencies in providing services to kids and parents, and between CPS and law enforcement.

We need to increase permanent placements, including both permanent guardianship and adoption. We also need to reduce turnover and hire additional caseworkers and support staff to deal fully and faster with the rapidly-increasing numbers of complaints and children in the system, to provide better investigations, follow-up, and support.

No statute is ever perfect, as legislation is a human approximation. I’ve got no problem with passing stuff now and revising it in the regular session. But there should be no argument that CPS is overwhelmed and underfunded, and the Legislature needs to start fixing those problems right now.

Some financial problems the Legislature has caused CPS would be funny if the results weren’t so tragic. The Legislature made a big deal of funding 104 new CPS positions during the 2002 fiscal year, but didn’t make those new slots part of the ongoing budget in the following years. CPS could hire new caseworkers and support staff for a few months, but afterwards these people were supposed to work for free.

The Legislature also considers funding for new equipment a one-time expenditure, so when setting the following year’s budget, deducts that money from the base -- except they backed out some CPS purchases twice.

The Legislature shouldn’t wait until January to fix its own mistakes.

Many financial problems facing CPS aren’t mistakes, but due to the Legislature’s unwillingness to acknowledge reality. Foster parents’ expenses keep rising, but reimbursement rates were last increased in 1996.

Caseloads are increasing rapidly (investigations increased 11.4 percent in 2002 and then another 6.7 percent in both 2003 and 2004, while the number of children in foster care has shot up 17.6 percent), but funding for caseworker positions hasn’t come close to keeping up.

Right now CPS investigates 86 percent of abuse and neglect reports, referring the remainder to Family Builders social workers (who cannot require cooperation). If the Legislature refuses to act this week, the percentage of reports CPS can investigate will drop to 74 percent.

Some 1,000 children need permanent guardianship, which is more cost-effective than temporary placements, but the Legislature only funded 300 slots -- leaving over 700 kids in the lurch. Help for parents wanting to adopt kids out of the CPS system hasn’t been funded fully, and the Legislature has consistently overestimated federal funds available, so some 600 kids stuck in foster care won’t get adopted and over 1,100 children in adoptive families will lose their services.

The Legislature shouldn’t wait until January to close the gap between their rhetoric and reality.

But the most compelling reason for the Legislature to act now is that their legislative leaders have had years to fix these problems, but they haven’t acted. Further delay only lets them continue to avoid their responsibility. Some so-called leaders remind me of Wimpy from Popeye: “I will gladly take responsibility Tuesday, for a hamburger of avoiding it today.”

Don’t let ‘em wait until Tuesday, or until January, which they hope means "never." The Legislature can act this week, and it must.

Monday, October 13, 2003


I went to the Democratic presidential candidates debate in Phoenix last Thursday with my wife and my daughter. Actually, the most striking moment of the entire debate for me was realizing that my daughter will vote in this election. She won't turn 18 until after the Arizona presidential preference election on Feb. 3, but she'll be able to vote in both the primary and general election in 2004. Anything any of the candidates said seemed pretty insignificant after that. Whoa.

The second most striking moment was during the "town hall" portion of the debate with the questions from supposedly ordinary undecided voters, when one said, "We all know that to be president you need intelligence and courage," at which I blurted out, "Not anymore."

Just remember--we Democrats aren't being negative. We're just reminding voters how Ronald Reagan framed the 1980 election: Are you better off today than four years ago? If so, vote for the incumbent. If not, vote him out. Foreign policy and defense were in that question in 1980, and they're in it again today. What--you think Reagan asked the wrong question?

Democratic (Yawn) Debate

East Valley Tribune, Oct. 12, 2003

As an uncommitted Democratic primary voter -- I supported Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., who had quit three days earlier -- last Thursday’s Democratic presidential debate in Phoenix didn’t do what it was theoretically supposed to. It also solidified my belief that Democrats shouldn’t campaign as reporters and Republicans claim we should.

I can’t recall attending a political event as an uncommitted voter before. I watched the debate free to make an educated judgment, as many well-intentioned idealists say should happen. In some theoretically perfect universe other than ours, voters are supposed to read long (and inevitably boring) position papers and newspaper articles and watch debates like Thursday’s intently, withholding judgment until getting satisfactory answers on substance, policy, and character.

Bullflop. First, until some more candidates drop out of the race -- and the dynamics and calendar probably mean that nobody else must quit until after we start voting in Arizona -- a debate can’t distinguish among nine candidates (even once you realize Kucinich, Moseley Braun, and Sharpton aren’t in it to win, and that despite his greater ability to connect emotionally with voters, pressure will build on Edwards to turn his charm and political skill toward keeping his Senate seat). Dividing 90 minutes among nine candidates means there isn’t enough time for anybody to stand out, especially when the substantive disagreements are minor (and half the debate is vaporous questions from allegedly uncommitted voters).

This is not a bad thing. Until the nominee emerges in early March, the candidates must work on other aspects of their campaigns -- building their “back office” operations, creating effective volunteer organizations in the various primary states, making their Internet fundraising and campaigning effective -- than on having the best debating style and sound bites. The Democrats won’t be able to rely on weapon systems, but will have to fight this war with people, on the ground. That will be far more useful in November, 2004, particularly if after the nomination, a greater-than-usual percentage of these organizational assets unite in common cause against George W. Bush.

It also means that the Republicans can’t use their opposition efforts as effectively, because they can’t train their fire and spin on the presumptive nominee. The Democrats don’t have a clue yet who will be the nominee, so how could the Republicans? Effective negative advertising and spin needs to have a single target, not 9.

The other great “theme” of supposedly well-intentioned people -- continually expressed by people with absolutely zero interest in Democratic success -- is that the Democrats cannot succeed by just criticizing George Bush, but need to lay out a positive vision, alternative policies, and specifics. Also wrong.

First, the Democrats tried that in 2002. Consultants and commentators told candidates to “take the war off the table” and support the administration’s moves toward war in Iraq so that voters would focus instead on domestic issues where the parties disagreed, and where polls showed Democrats had an advantage. But that strategy failed; you can’t take that big an issue “off the table” and any time you spend explaining why you support the president can’t be spent attacking him. Sen. Mary Landrieu proved in Louisiana’s December, 2002 runoff election that if you’re the opposition party, you’re better off opposing.

But here’s the clincher. In California, the new Republican governor-elect spent his entire campaign attacking the unpopular incumbent and offering only the most general and contradictory platitudes, and certainly no specifics, about his policies. The 2004 campaign will be a similar referendum on Bush’s performance in office. The Democratic nominee should focus on the failures of the incumbent, just as Arnold Schwarzenegger did.

Arnold didn’t need no stinkin’ substance. Neither should the Democrats.

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

It's a Battle of Wits with J.D. Hayworth!

I decided to take a swipe back at J.D. Hayworth for his column last Sunday in response to my Sept. 21 column. What's weird is that to my surprise, three separate people (all unknown to me) sent in and had lengthy letters to the editor published attacking J.D.'s reasoning about the "link" between Saddam and 9/11 this past week, so this column is a bit of piling on. But any day when you can make light of Hayworth and Marianne Jennings is a good day by my standards.

It's not a good headline, and entirely misses the 'wingers-attack-our-patriotism-because-they-can't-(or-won't)-argue-with-our-logic point, but such is life and/or editing.

BTW, Rep. Hayworth has taken down the Saddam-as-threat question from his website; you now can vote on driver's licenses for undocumented aliens. If you want to, go ahead here. It's certainly good public policy to screw up Internet polls, and anyway, as taxpayers, you're paying for it.

Don't forget to contribute to Catholic Social Services and/or Jewish Family & Children's Services; you can get the addresses in this entry (scroll down to just above Tribune headline).

East Valley Tribune, Oct. 5, 2003

I got under Rep. J.D. Hayworth’s smaller-but-still-commodious skin by noting that the very day he wrote claiming a connection between Saddam Hussein and Sept. 11, President Bush finally said that there wasn’t a connection between Saddam Hussein and Sept. 11.

Hayworth argues that he meant something entirely different than what President Bush or Time magazine in 2003 or I mean by “linking” Saddam to Sept. 11. It’s a very idiosyncratic definition -- like President Clinton’s personal definition of sex. I guess to Hayworth, it all depends on what the meaning of “link” is. (And don’t forget Clinton used fancy language to hide an affair; Hayworth is using slippery syntax to justify a war.)

Hayworth can’t “link” Saddam to Sept. 11 with actual evidence, or because the hijackers were Iraqis, or got assistance or direction from Saddam. Instead, it’s a “historical inevitability” argument, a series of less-than-ironclad assumptions that if Saddam hadn’t invaded Kuwait, then the U.S. wouldn’t have troops in Saudi Arabia, which wouldn’t have outraged Osama bin Laden, who wouldn’t have declared jihad against America.

This decade-long historical inevitability argument has two problems. First, why stop at 10 years? Saddam wouldn’t have invaded Kuwait if the U.S. hadn’t “tilted” toward Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war, which followed the Iranian Revolution, which overthrew the Shah, who wouldn’t have ruled Iran if the CIA hadn’t overthrown Mossadegh in 1954. You can ride this so-called reasoning back to the British Protectorate or stop short when Donald Rumsfeld met with Saddam during the Iran-Iraq war -- there’s no clear finish line.

Second, we can test the logic of Hayworth’s argument today, and it flunks. We’ve liberated Iraq from Saddam and U.S. troops are leaving Saudi Arabia. Thus, both of the inevitable and inexorable preconditions to Sept. 11, in the Hayworthian view, no longer exist. So why isn’t the war on terrorism over?

Hayworth’s claims crumble upon inspection. Maybe another operation limited his ability to digest more than one thought at a time? Or maybe the point isn’t to find some “connection,” however remote, between Saddam and Sept. 11, but rather to wave the bloody flag, bully his opponents, and attack their patriotism.

I certainly enjoy a good political food fight, and weekly I experiment to see what jokes and japes our rather tolerant editor will allow in print. But I’m paired with Marianne Jennings, so it’s not like decorum and respect for one’s adversaries are core values of the Tribune Opinion pages. Still, I don’t accuse my opponents of hating America.

Unfortunately for all of us, Hayworth does. He’s not relying on evidence, or logic, but instead yells that anybody who disagrees with him is essentially a traitor. Of course we Americans must pay $10,000 per month for business school for dozens of Iraqis, or give them radios and satellite phones at $6,000 apiece, and anybody who questions how Hayworth wants to spend that money is a “Saddam-lover.” (At least the oft-criticized midnight basketball programs provided Americans with jobs.) It’s an emotional appeal, because Hayworth won’t justify this stuff rationally.

Actually, wouldn’t real America-haters support policies that would eliminate 3.3 million jobs; turn a huge surplus into trillion-dollar structural deficits; pin down virtually all remaining active U.S. forces in a difficult nation-building program; starve our infrastructure while building Iraq’s instead; push millions more Americans into poverty and out of health insurance; and shift tax burdens from those making more than $200,000 annually to those making less? And they’d do those things while attacking the patriotism of opponents pointing out those uncomfortable truths.

For a guy who loves to dish it out, Hayworth sure hates to take it. So why’d he need that operation?

Monday, September 29, 2003

The Power of Myth

OK, folks, a lot going on this week.

First, those of you who helped educate Rep. Hayworth will be pleased to know that not only have about 85% of respondents at last check instructed him that the threat from Saddam Hussein was hyped from the beginning, but that your efforts received press notice in the "Political Insider" column of Sunday's Arizona Republic (scroll down to the third item.)

You also should know Rep. Hayworth's website's privacy policy states that "we do not collect individual information, unless you choose to provide such information." So what the heck, vote again here.

Rep. Hayworth thinks anyone who disagrees with him obviously hates America, which probably will be more grist for this week's column. Geez--getting lectured on decorum from J.D. What's next, Newt Gingrich yelling at me about the importance of marriage, or Fife Symington preaching how important it is for me to pay your debts?

Now for this week's column. This column came out of a program I did at ASU Hillel about Jews in politics, which was reported both in the Jewish News of Greater Phoenix (I got to tell my favorite ADL anecdote) and in the East Valley Tribune. One of my fellow panelists gave the refugee resettlement anecdote, which is completely bogus; in addition to the government programs listed in the column, there were and are lots of federal tax dollars flowing into refugee resettlement, and the programs in Phoenix that worked with Russian refusniks were supported by groups like Jewish Family and Children's Services, which in turn get about 2/3rds of their budget from government grants and programs. In fact, JFCS had to get out of the refugee resettlement business because it was simply too expensive for their resources. The public funds weren't sufficient, and private donations certainly didn't even begin to cover the costs.

The same legislator also claimed that she gets upset when she sees charities at the legislature supposedly hiring expensive private lobbyists when they could use--what, exactly? Public defenders? She instead wanted the charities to take the money for lobbying and hire a fundraiser to raise the money needed. Sheesh--first of all, the number of dollars just don't work when private charity is only a quarter of the needed funding anyway. She also made this claim in a year when the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix, which is about the most efficient fund-raising organization in the universe, has had to cut allocations significantly to recipient agencies because the donations are way down. I guess being Jewish doesn't mean you aren't also drinking that right-wing Kool-Aid, too.

Finally, of course you should take away from the column scorn over that sort of thinking at the legislature, but you also should take away a resolve to help organizations like Catholic Social Services and Jewish Family and Children's Services raise that quarter of their budgets that depend on contributions. Send your check to JFCS at 4220 N. 20th Street, Phoenix, AZ 85015; to CSS at 1610 W. Camelback Road, Phoenix, AZ 85015. Put on the memo line that you're contributing to the "Sen. Leff Education Fund."

East Valley Tribune, Sep. 28, 2003

Conservatives always claim that we can’t solve problems by throwing money at them, with two exceptions; it’s O.K. to throw money at Iraq and Pinal County. Everybody else? Fix those problems without money.

As fixing problems for free strikes less ideologically-blinkered folks as impractical -- after all, you get what you pay for -- it’s incumbent on conservatives to invent myths of problems solved without government money. (That leaves more billions for Iraq and for building roads, paid for by Maricopa County taxpayers, in Pinal County.)

These myths are devoutly believed, despite not having much truth to them. That’s the power of myth. A Republican state legislator is proud of helping resettle refugees in America, claiming it’s such a good example of how private charity can solve problems without government involvement. There’s just one problem. The legislator’s good works -- worthy as they were -- weren’t done with private charity alone.

Of course, private donors gave lots of money and volunteers provided uncounted hours of assistance, and these good works wouldn’t have happened without their contributions. But charity and volunteers didn’t do it all -- not by a long shot. These refugees all qualified for AHCCCS, so they got health care from government money. They probably got government-assisted job training, food stamps, language instruction, and housing assistance -- just for starters.

This government help is below the surface; volunteers wouldn’t see bags of tax money arriving, but instead see the dedicated assistance of skilled professionals and worthwhile programs at local charities like Catholic Social Services or Jewish Family and Children’s Services. Those aren’t government agencies, but the majority of their funding comes, directly or indirectly, from government grants. For Catholic Social Services, the percentage is 73 percent; for JFCS, it's 72 percent. Ideologues may pretend that there’s no welfare program here, but that isn’t reality.

Similarly, The Tribune and many conservatives are enamored with the work of Richard Wexler, a relentless campaigner against the supposed excesses of the child welfare system. However, Wexler and most child welfare workers don’t disagree about most cases; both sides believe that parents who keep kids in cages shouldn’t be raising kids, but if at all possible, kids should stay with their parents.

The disagreement is mainly theoretical, over the exact placement of the line between taking and leaving kids, and what to do about cases falling right on that line. But the vast majority of cases facing Child Protective Services aren’t so subtle; both sides would treat them the same. But focusing on the fine, theoretical point allows conservatives to ignore their desperate underfunding of CPS and its effect on the vast majority of cases.

How many baseball games have you seen a play where, according to the rule, the tie went to the runner? Not many. In almost all cases, the runner beats the throw, or the throw beats the runner. If you waited for a play that was truly a tie before buying a ticket, you’d never see a game.

Meanwhile, hundreds of kids -- in abusive homes, where even Wexler considers removal justified -- wait for caseworkers, therapy, and permanent placements. But conservatives wallow in the myth of the “tie goes to the runner” and ignore reality and their responsibilities.

If government programs aren’t the answer, and private charity can solve problems without taxpayer money, never mind Iraq and Pinal -- why are conservatives so insistent that taxpayers fund their favorite charities, school vouchers and so-called “faith-based” organizations?

I guess the right-wing version of the “Golden Rule” is “Do unto ourselves while ignoring all others.” After all, morality's nice, but more tax cuts for the richest is what's really important.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Let's Spam Hayworth!

Bored? Why not screw up a JD Hayworth "internet poll"? First read the following posting, so you'll understand the humor of Rep. Hayworth's House homepage having a "question of the week" and this week the question is, "Do you believe Saddam Hussein posed a threat to the United States and our interests?"

You can vote, Yes, sure thing, eventually (note the weasel word) he would have threatened us; No, it was hyped from the beginning; or No Opinion. So click here, vote, and together let's see how long it takes for Hayworth to remove the question from his website.

Monday, September 22, 2003

Whatever Gave You That Idea?

This one basically wrote itself. The same day that Rep. J. D. Hayworth decided to prove that Saddam Hussein was connected to 9/11, President Bush decided he'd pushed that one about as far as he could, and where did people get that idea anyway? That's the problem when the spin changes and you don't get the advance word. But hey, it's not like Bush decided to fire some people in the White House travel office or anything, so we'll just let it pass.

East Valley Tribune, Sep. 21, 2003

Writing a column in advance can be hazardous to your political health -- especially if the party line changes while you’re still using the old index card.

Think how noted foreign affairs expert Rep. J. D. Hayworth must feel, getting caught dispensing the old line the very day the Bush administration switches gears.

Here’s J.D., in the National Review Online, Sept. 18:

“The Bush haters are also befuddled that most Americans believe Saddam Hussein had a role in the September 11 attacks. In fact, there is a definite 9/11-Saddam link, although probably not a direct one. . . .

In police terms, Saddam would be an accessory to the 9/11 attacks. . . .

[T]he American people are right to believe that Saddam ran a terrorist state that threatened American interests.”

And here’s the Bush administration, wondering where J. D. could ever have thought there’s a connection between Saddam and 9/11:

“No,” Bush told reporters during a brief question-and-answer session at the White House, where he sought to set the record straight. “We’ve had no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with Sept. 11.”

. . . . On Tuesday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld waded into the issue during a Pentagon briefing. Asked if he believed the poll that found most Americans convinced that Hussein was involved in the Sept. 11 attacks, Rumsfeld said he had “not seen any indication that would lead me to believe that I could say that.”

“We know that he was giving $25,000 a family for anyone who would go out and kill innocent men, women and children. And we know of various other activities,” Rumsfeld said. “But on that specific one, no.”

. . . . Earlier, fielding similar questions during his afternoon briefing, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said the administration had never claimed a connection between Hussein and the Sept. 11 attacks.

-- “Bush says no evidence that Hussein was involved with 9-11,” Dallas Morning News, Sept. 18, 2003.

And Oceana has always been at war with Eurasia.

If President Bush, and those who support our troops by writing brave editorials, are surprised by the public’s failure to embrace this past week’s interim request for another $87 billion to tide things over in Iraq and Afghanistan for another couple of months, then perhaps the administration might want to consider how they “packaged” the build-up to war in the first place.

To start this war, Bush wrote to Congress that invading Iraq was necessary to “protect the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq” and that the war was an essential part of “necessary actions against international terrorists and terrorist organizations, including those nations, organizations, or persons who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.” (Text of Letter from the President to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, Mar. 18, 2003).

Now, not only wasn’t that the real reason for the war; it supposedly was never the reason for the war. President Bush can write letters to Congress saying one thing while really meaning another, because that’s what was needed to convince Americans that we should have our troops conquer Iraq.

As Prince Farquaad says in Shrek, “Some of you may die. But it’s a sacrifice I am willing to make.”

Let me credit Tom Tomorrow, who found the Hayworth column online and made the same connection, and to for retrieving the “I’ve got an idea -- let’s put on a war!” White House letter.

Welcome to the “responsibility era,” kids.

Monday, September 15, 2003

What's Wrong at CPS: It's Not Fundamental, It's the Funding

I got a cryptic headline and placement down the left rail on the op-ed page, so a couple of my lines got cut, but as this is my blog, I've put them back in. If you want to read the column as it read in the paper yesterday, you can get it here.

Anyway, this week's column started out considerably differently; I was about to argue over the legal standards and mission, but after talking and emailing with people familiar with the child protective system, it's not a conceptual problem, but a practical one--too few people with too few resources given too big caseloads to track too many reports. It's not the paradigm that's the problem, but the budget.

East Valley Tribune, Sep. 14, 2003

Imagine you’re a Child Protective Services caseworker.

Child abuse reports go to a statewide hotline. Calls get screened based on a series of “cue questions” to determine where the report fits on a 4-point scale. A “4” means potential neglect or abuse; “3” is low risk of abuse, “2” is moderate, and “1” is high, the most serious.

In Maricopa County, CPS caseworkers get, on average, 16 new reports monthly, plus must monitor another 12-15 kids in foster care, plus all the accompanying paperwork. The caseload is 25 percent higher than national standards recommend.

You have just 21 days to investigate each new report. Is the hotline caller telling the truth, or are the parents? Is a kid underweight, or are the parents clueless about nutrition? Are the parents merely strange, or neglectful or abusive?

A teacher or neighbor may have suspicions, but you’re on the spot. Are these adequate parents on a bad day, or truly terrible parents on their best behavior? You never want to remove kids from their parents, but also never want to let kids face neglect or abuse. Due to privacy laws, there’s no recognition if you guess right, but it’s front page news if you’re wrong, whether about what happened -- or what’s going to happen.

Forget the clear-cut cases; even legislators could determine those. What about close calls, where something isn’t right, but you can’t tell how wrong? And how long does it take to forgive yourself if you’re mistaken?

Meanwhile, your workload keeps increasing. The well-regarded Family Builders program used to pay providers, like Devereux Arizona (on whose board I serve), to visit 4’s or sometimes 3’s, to investigate and offer assistance to families under stress. But spending cuts gutted Family Builders -- while the Legislature still demands CPS investigate all cases, including these former referrals, without more caseworkers or support staff.

You have one of the most difficult jobs around, which doesn’t pay particularly well ($25,000 annually for new hires, and only $29,000 for over 2 years experience), and our Legislature keeps making the job worse by letting workloads increase without providing more resources. No wonder turnover is so high -- at least 24 percent annually, not including transfers to less-demanding jobs elsewhere in state government. (Many new hires face burnout in 6 to 12 months, and want something less stressful -- like handling explosives or performing brain surgery.)

Morale probably isn’t helped by the irrelevance of much of today’s debate over CPS. Too many people act as if changing a statute’s words will change the world, when the real problem is that current funding levels won’t get the job done if we have to hire human beings -- like you -- at CPS.

Perhaps someday androids will be CPS caseworkers. If you could program robots properly, they won’t have stress and could work for free. But if we expect CPS to function properly with ordinary humans trying to do a draining and demanding job, we need more people, more support staff, and better pay. CPS doesn’t need a new paradigm as much as more people and resources to have any hope of investigating the increasing numbers of abuse reports and properly supervising children already in foster care.

Maybe you can’t solve problems by throwing money at them, but you also can’t expect people with college and graduate degrees to investigate 16 (or more) abuse reports each month for under $30,000 a year. Pretending that every CPS caseworker somehow will be both superhuman and willing to work for less than the market wage is a cruel joke, both on them and on the children they try to help.

Monday, September 08, 2003

Refined Nonsense

We've had two really interesting stories in Arizona this past week--the proposal to put an oil refinery in the middle of the desert south of Phoenix, and Rep. J.D. Hayworth's bariatric surgery. Ol' J.D. holds a press conference, discusses exactly how the surgeons rearranged his innards, and how many of the ol' avoirdupois the big guy is now walking around without--you know, the whole nine-yards-and-show-the-surgical-scars deal. Some reporter then has the temerity to ask if the Congressman's federal health insurance paid for the surgery, and J.D. goes all, "Well, there has to be a zone of privacy for public figures blah blah blah." Oh, I see; actual surgery, now that's public. Health care finance and money--ye gods, that's personal.

Anyway, back to the refinery. Not only is this the same location in Mobile, AZ that was supposed to be the site of the late and unlamented ENSCO incinerator (isn't some level of government still paying off bonds related to that failed project?), but given that there really isn't very much out there, it's pretty remarkable that the refinery proponents managed to come up with a site next to an elementary school. Not an easy thing to do, but they did it.

And I couldn't figure out an entire column about the downsized Hayworth, but still managed to sneak in a reference into a column about the refinery. Not an easy thing to do, either.

East Valley Tribune, Sep. 7, 2003

Hey, that whole Iraq business has worked so well, perhaps we should listen to the same folks who now want to build an oil refinery here in Arizona. We’ll topple a statue, cut a ribbon, and I’m sure it’ll all go just fine.

Am I missing something here? How does putting a refinery in the desert south of Phoenix help us avoid depending on pipelines, when there’s no oil in Arizona and any refinery would have to ship oil here -- by pipeline? Does it really matter whether the pipe carries crude oil, aviation fuel, or gasoline if there’s only so much existing (and increasingly aging) pipeline capacity?

Never mind the environmental arguments, which are pretty compelling. Refineries use lots of water, of which there isn’t much in Mobile, and expel tons of air pollutants, the same hydrocarbon emissions that we need to reduce, not expand, if we don’t want tourists to call winter in the Valley of the Sun the “brown cloud season.”

Focus instead on the economic facts. Maybe there’s a reason no private business has built an entirely new refinery in this country for 30 years, even in places with easy access to crude oil, water, skilled labor, and refined product shipment pipelines -- none of which Arizona has. (Don’t forget about better access to capital, too.)

And the refinery would be the easy part. The real fun would come in building the new pipeline to carry crude oil to the new refinery -- from where, exactly? Our “seaport,” San Luis? From Mexico somehow? That’s the real, pardon the expression, pipe dream, that somehow we’d be able to run a new pipeline hundreds of miles through national parks, Indian reservations, and the Barry Goldwater bombing range (“And Red Leader, try not to hit the oil pipeline this time, OK?”)

There’s a reason the private sector isn’t jumping at the chance to start turning dirt on this project. It’s because it’s a colossally stupid idea. If some bozo with billions wants to try, go ahead, but let him do it on his own money and let’s keep our tax dollars out of it. No government subsidies, OK? It’s a refinery, not a Scottsdale Wal-Mart -- or Rep. J.D. Hayworth’s stomach-stapling surgery.

The usual response by proponents to these kinds of overwhelming technical problems is to say, “Well, they said we couldn’t put a man on the moon.” (Never mind that there really aren’t that many people still alive who possibly could have said it was impossible to put a man on the moon.) But no astronauts are lining up to invest their own money into this scheme. What if the refinery works exactly as well as the moon landings -- for a grand total of three years, and then that’s it?

Sure, it would be nice to have a spanking new, pollution-sensitive, absolutely fabulous oil refinery in the state. Heck, it would be nice to build a working cold-fusion reactor, too. But don’t bet on either happening.

The truly bizarre part is that the people pushing the refinery are largely the same crew who also are pushing electricity deregulation, which is based on creating huge regional markets for power, generated far away and then transmitted long distances to actual consumers. The idea that our electricity increasingly comes from longer distances through aging and inefficient transmission systems is perfectly acceptable. But suddenly this exact same model makes no sense for gasoline, which unlike electricity can be stored for days or weeks until needed.

At the Olympics, is there a gold medal in dumb? We’ve got a contender, folks.

Monday, September 01, 2003

In Space, No One Can Hear Your Ideology

I had a short deadline on this week's column due to the Labor Day holiday; had to get my opinions in early so the staff could get out of town for the holiday weekend. I was running behind and couldn't figure out what to write about when in Thursday morning's Tribune, the editorial page opined in favor of a renewed space shuttle program. Inspiration!

Here's an interesting note for grammarians: The editorial originally ran in the paper with the headline, "To boldly return." I made the "boldly split infinitives" crack in my column, and now the archived version on the Tribune website has a different headline, "Reviving NASA." Proofreaders rule!

Did you hear that Clint Eastwood decided to take a theology course on the New Testament, because a man's gotta understand his Lamentations?

East Valley Tribune, Aug. 31, 2003

Consider a government program which, despite important successes, has suffered even-more-dramatic failures. Worse, the failures weren’t random, but rather grew from fundamental organizational flaws. Despite a through investigation after one such failure and promises to reform, the agency backslid and another huge tragedy resulted.

Two separate investigations, several years apart, found ineffective leadership and flawed communication -- institutional failings that not only cost money, but lives. Many thoughtful people find these costs unacceptable, because despite the claims of the program’s supporters about the needs involved and supposed future benefits, the program hasn’t provided practical, measurable payback to taxpayers.

When the federal budget deficit is the largest (in nominal terms, which used to be the only way people discussed it) in history, and when The Tribune repeatedly has said that the problem is simply too much spending , you’d guess that I’d be arguing to spend more money on the program and The Tribune would be demanding immediate cuts.

But we’re talking NASA (and not CPS), so the usual roles get reversed.

What is it about space that makes libertarians and conservatives go all weak-kneed about aging, 30-year-old technology and big government? I understand the romance of space; I race through dinner to watch "Enterprise" with my youngest kid, own "Next Generation" toys, DVDs, and books, and took my first date to see "2001: A Space Odyssey" (for which I’m still apologizing.) But just as Tom Clancy novels don’t justify building new submarines, why do dreams of space travel exempt a program of limited utility from the usual scrutiny of those who decry government spending?

The shuttle program and space station aren’t much good for scientific knowledge, except for experiments directly related, and only relevant, to the shuttle and space station themselves. Other experiments could be performed by machines or remote control -- and often are, with the astronauts simply babysitters. The civilian technology spin-offs have been limited, and the current shuttle fleet uses technology less sophisticated and current than many readily-available consumer items.

Rather than reexamining the program, too many Republicans who can’t abide by money being spent on earth have absolutely no problem spending tax dollars in space -- and want to spend more. Such romantics!

These folks usually demand that every government program justify its worth, and always do more with less. Unfortunately, the Columbia investigation found that NASA, in response to White House and congressional pressure, tried to do more with less and to meet unrealistic deadlines and goal -- with tragic results. The “do more with less” exhortation was a recipe for disaster. So will these people stop demanding it from other programs? Of course not.

Apparently because everything turns upside-down in space, the Republican/conservative/libertarian response is an expanded commitment -- more money for NASA, a new shuttle fleet, and the same commitment that put men on the moon by 1969 (and that hasn’t had them back there since 1972).

Usually it’s liberals demanding more money for failed government programs on the grounds that inadequate funding meant that we really hadn’t tried them yet. Aren’t conservatives supposed to abhor that kind of dreamy-eyed wishful thinking? But lately it’s conservatives who let dreams blind them to reality.

Whether it’s Iraqis greeting American troops with rose petals, or Middle Eastern democracy spontaneously sprouting, or the budget deficit miraculously turning around, or that Bush’s tax cuts will create 5.5 million new jobs this year, conservatives now let their dreams decouple them from reality.

The space program may let editorialists boldly split infinitives, but it’s a government program -- and should be judged by the same standards as every other government program. By that standard, the shuttle flunks.

Sunday, August 24, 2003

Gilligan's Island Economics

This week's East Valley Tribune column didn't get the best headline, but read through to the punch line instead. I think I've found a way to describe Bush's tax policy--it's Gilligan's Island economics, designed by people who watched the show as kids and identified with the Millionaire.

I first recalled the character's name as "J. Thurston Howell III," but according to the Internet Movie Database, it's Thurston Howell III, played by Jim ("Mr. Magoo") Backus. No first initial. I must have been thinking of J. Fife Symington III.

East Valley Tribune, Aug. 24, 2003

The latest example of President Bush’s disregard for Americans making less than $350,000 annually is the incredibly obscure Windfall Elimination Provision and the Government Pension Offset, which afflicts former public servants who change careers. People who worked in the U.S. Army, or as teachers in a state (like Texas) with a separate retirement system, who then retire and start a second career, find that Social Security doesn’t work for them like it does for everybody else.

Current law treats anyone vested in a separate public pension system as getting a “windfall.” Their Social Security benefits -- both the employee’s and any spousal benefits -- get reduced by two-thirds of the employee’s other retirement benefits.

The WEP/GPO only affects workers who participated in public pension systems separate from Social Security. But many teachers, Air Force, and Postal Service retirees work second careers, pay the same Social Security taxes, but then don’t get the same benefits as a co-worker with the same tenure and salary. Two-thirds of their earned Social Security benefits essentially get taxed away because these employees -- and only these retired public employees -- earned a second pension.

There are wrinkles in the WEP/GPO; the tax gets reduced after working more than 20 years in the Social Security system, and eliminated entirely after 30 years. But police officers or military personnel retiring from duty and starting second careers may not want to work another 30 years -- and may have counted on Social Security so they don’t have to.

Like the Alternative Minimum Tax, the WEP/GPO originally was intended to affect only highly-compensated individuals. But while it may have made sense decades ago to treat public pensions differently than private ones, inflation has swept middle-class families into both the AMT and the WEP/GPO. Everyone in Washington knows that we need to reform the AMT, and it makes no sense to tax teachers’ and firefighters’ pensions punitively, either. But unfortunately, the Bush administration believes people making $350,000 annually need our help more.

The administration’s unwillingness to fix the AMT and WEP/GPO problems highlights some of Bush’s lies about his tax policies. When Bush remembers to insert the qualifier, he claims he’s cutting taxes for everyone who pays income taxes. But even that’s a lie; about 10 percent of people paying income tax will get nothing.

But frequently Bush and other GOP partisans claim their tax cuts benefit everyone who pays taxes -- without the “income” qualifier. To make that claim, they must pretend that Social Security taxes aren’t taxes, but rather just pension payments, all of which taxpayers get back eventually. (This trick requires them to forget years of their rhetoric about Social Security privatization, but forgetting what you said last year is apparently a right-wing specialty.)

But the WEP/GPO problem shows that’s a lie, too. These public-system retirees working a second career don’t get back their Social Security payments. They just pay the taxes.

How hard is it to understand that Social Security taxes are taxes? They’re regressive, affect everyone, and haven’t and won’t be cut. Instead, Bush has cut taxes on dividends, the estate tax, and income taxes at the top brackets, all to benefit people making more than $350,000 a year -- and at the expense of middle-class AMT payers and retired teachers and military personnel facing the WEP/GPO.

I finally understand the Bush mind-set. He’s watched too many reruns of Gilligan’s Island. (Everybody sing: “A four year cruise.”) Bush wants to stiff Gilligan, the Skipper, the Professor, and Mary Ann, all so he can give massive tax breaks to millionaire Thurston Howell III.

It’s a Yale thing; you wouldn’t understand.