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

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Thursday, September 11, 2003
PLA Table Contents -- Introduction

As promised, below is a table of contents of a sort for some of the posts appearing here at PLA. I have attempted to sort the posts by themes. It should be no surprise that the first cut of sorting was into the areas of Politics, Law, and Autism. A fourth category unto itself is the group of posts comprising the 2002 Koufax Awards. Click on the appropriate category to jump to it or simply scroll down.

The listings are not exhaustive. I selected which posts to include. My worst writing, incorrect predictions and just plain stupid stuff remains buried in the archives where I hope it never sees the light of day.

Before posting the table, I wish to call your attention to the PLA copyright policy. It is contained in this post. It purportedly originated with Woody Guthrie. The policy says:
This song is Copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright # 154085, for a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin it without our permission, will be mighty good friends of ourn, cause we don't give a dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that's all we wanted to do.

That is all I wanted to do as well.


I have written a number of essays for PLA about politics, broadly defined. It was difficult to categorize some of those posts. I finally decided to organize the posts into the following seven categories:

1) Honesty and the Bush Administration

2) Economic Performance (The Just For The Record Series and other posts)

3) Budgets and Taxes

4) The Policy Making Process of the Bush Administration

5) Foreign Policy

6) The Responsibility Era

7) Politics and Race

1.Honesty and the Bush Administration

The following essays concern the truthfulness of the Bush Administration:

9/27/02 Uniters and Dividers

10/19/02 George W. Bush as Eddie Haskell -- Part I

10/19/02 George W. Bush as Eddie Haskell -- Part II

10/22/02 To Tell the Truth

10/28/02 That’s Their Story and They’re Sticking To It

11/21/02 Mistaken Identity

12/09/02 Count Your Fingers

12/17/02 Count Your Fingers Update

2/22/03 Hall Of Fame

2/25/03 Lies, Distortions and Deception

7/15/03 Cue David Letterman

8/06/03 Promise Breakers

2. Economic Performance (The Just For The Record series and other posts)

10/16/02 Just for the Record -- Budget Deficits

10/24/02 Just for the Record Part II -- Government Employment

10/27/03 Just for the Record Part III – Economic Growth

10/27/02 Just for the Record Part IV – Unemployment

10/31/02 Just for the Record Part V - Inflation

3/02/03 Just for the Record—Budget Deficits Revisited

11/11/02 Utterly Wrong

10/20/02 GOP “Economic Plan"

1/07/03 Heresy

7/09/03 Economic Performance and Political Party of the President

8/7/03 Job Creation Scorecard For July

3. Budgets and Taxes

Another category of posts is Budgets and Taxes

12/07/02 Double Taxation

4/12/03 A Budget Balanced (Maybe, Sort of, Someday)

4/20/03 Get The Lead Out

4/23/03 Is The Social Security Trust Fund a Fraud?

4/25/03 Krugman vs. Luskin

5/07/03 A Powerful Resistance to Shame

5/5/03 Paging Ken Starr

7/19/03 Faith Based Budgets

7/19/03 Bill O’Reilly and Rumplestiltskin

7/25/03 The Tao of Deb – Deficits Matter

7/20/03 Choose Wisely

8/12/03 Would You Like a New BMW?

4. The Policy Making Process of the Bush Administration

Those posts include the following:

8/28/02 Tactical Hubris

9/04/02 Be Careful What You Ask For

9/21/02 Why the GOP is like the Mets, or The Failure of Republican Domestic Policies

9/25/02 Garbage In – Garbage Out

12/08/02 They Have A Secret

12/11/02 More Secrecy

1/11/03 George And The Wolf

1/24/03 Karl’s Magic Elixir

4/03/03 Joliet George

4/07/03 Contempt For Congress

5/09/03 Tax Cuts – A Faith Based Initiative

5/26/03 Ivory Tower Dreamers

7/28/03 Contempt For Facts

6. Foreign Policy

The next category concerns foreign policy. Those posts include the following:

9/29/02 Terrorism and U.S. Responses 1980-1988

10/03/02 Disarmament vs. Regime Change

10/06/02 Coup, Assassination or Exile

2/05/03 Investigation Costs

3/08/03 The Real Story

8/06/03 Blue Ribbon Panel

8/08/03 Gorelick Must Resign the 9/11 Commission

8/29/03 The Kay Standard

6. The Responsibility Era

Another category consists of essays on Mr. Bush’s introduction of the Era of Responsibility. Those essays include the following:

2/10/03 The Responsibility Era

2/11/03 The Responsibility Era -- Foreign Policy

2/12/03 The Responsibility Era – The 9/11 Investigation

2/13/03 The Responsibility Era -- The Balanced Budget Amendment

2/27/03 Taking Responsibility

7. Politics and Race

The following posts concern race and American poltics.

12/25/02 Political Morality vs. Political Expediency

12/24/02 Tolerance

1/06/03 American Heroes


PLA posts about the law are divided into two groups. The first group consists of posts about tort reform. The second group consists of essays on various other aspects of the law.

Tort Reform

11/22/02 Missing Class Can be Costly

1/18/03 The Damages Cap

1/18/03 Defensive Medicine

1/23/03 Tort Reform and Frivolous Suits

3/06/03 Tort Reform Quiz

3/05/03 A Different Kind Of Medical Malpractice Reform

3/13/03 No Pricing Power

3/31/03 More Tort Reform and the Damages Cap

3/31/03 Tort Reform Stalls In Senate

5/21/03 Curbing Frivolous Lawsuits – A Tort Reform Proposal

5/22/03 Eliminate Junk Science --- A Tort Reform Proposal

5/24/03 George Bush’s Perverse View of Juries

6/15/03 Medical Malpractice – By The Numbers

7/01/03 Mort Zuckerman Gets Busted

7/22/03 Frivolous Suits and Improper Purposes

7/24/03 Focus The Mind

8/15/03 How to Deal with Frivolous Suits

8/20/03 Better Evidence

8/28/03 A Different Kind Of Tort Reform

Essays on Various Other Legal Issues

9/14/02 The Law and Politics of the Second Amendment: a Liberal View

11/26/02 Reshaping Miranda

1/04/03 Juries

1/12/03 A Renewable Resource – Victory

2/1/03 Write The Letter

1/30/03 Washington Legal Foundation Funding

1/28/03 The Outrageous Washington Legal Foundation

2/07/03 Video Tape All In-Custody Interrogations

1/27/03 Affirmative Access

2/13/03 Filibuster, Fairness and Moral Authority

2/22/03 A Plague on Both Their Houses

3/07/03 The Politics of the Estrada Filibuster

3/07/03 The 8th Amendment and Proportionality

3/03/03 Federalism, The Commerce Clause And Cloning

3/12/03 Two Masters

4/10/03 Like a Good Neighbor

5/12/03 Judicial Nominations and Republican Plans

6/4/03 The Blogger and The Beauty Queen

6/23/03 Justice O’Connor’s Expectation

5/05/03 Jurors Turn Away From Death Penalty

6/29/03 Individualized Consideration

8/28/03 Eye Witness Testimony


I have written a number of posts about autism. The first group of posts concerns family life in a household with an autistic child. The second group concerns autism issues in the news and my commentary on those issues.

Family Life

8/29/02 What is Autism?

9/01/02 Autism, Paul Lynde and Obsession

9/17/02 Autism and Siblings

9/27/02 Autism, Diet and Laughter

10/15/02 Autism — Fun At An IEP

5/16/03 Tell His Parents

6/01/03 Restaurant Rules

News and Commentary

9/10/02 Autism--- An N of 1

9/22/02 Autism – Bruno Bettelheim and the Nature of Evil

10/18/02 Autism -- Increase in the Incidence of Autism

11/12/02 Autism, Pure Rage and Thimerosal

11/14 Homeland Security and Thimerosal

11/16 Thimerosal Update

11/19/02 More Thimerosal and Autism

11/27/02 Autism -- And The Hits Just Keep On Coming

11/25/02 Autism -- Repeal The Birth Tax

12/10/02 Autism and Vaccines in the News

12/19/02 Thimerosal Again

12/23/02 Under Cover of Darkness

12/24/02 The Natural Experiment

1/11/03 The Incidence of Autism -- The CDC Study

1/22/03 The Birth Tax Just Went Up

1/20/03 Autism -- Finding Acceptance

2/07/03 Researchers May have Found A Genetic Link to Autism

2/04/03 Limbaugh and Bettelheim: The Blame the Parents Brigade

3/29/03 Senator Frist’s Proposed Changes To The NVICP

4/09/03 A Correlation Between Thimerosal and Autism

5/02/03 Were Newton and Einstein On The Autism Spectrum?

5/13/03 Let’s Hope Al Qaeda Does Not Recruit Autistics

6/24/03 Forced Vaccinations – Some Questions

6/26/03 Forced Vaccinations – Some Proposed Answers

7/10/03 Forced Vaccinations – Anthrax

7/08/03 A Sad Tale

7/07/03 Autism- Multiple Causes?

7/22/03 Autism and Head Circumference - The JAMA Article

8/18/03 Speeding For Autism

8/23/03 A Cruise On The Lake

8/24/03 Torrance Cantrell – Rest In Peace

8/25/03 Torrance Cantrell’s Death Ruled Homocide

8/27/03 Sympathy For the Mother

The 2002 Koufax Awards

The following posts comprise all of the posts about the 2002 Koufax Awards.

12/12/02 Announcing The Koufax Awards

12/16/02 And The Nominees Are …

12/16/02 Best Pro Blogger

12/16/02 Best Blog

12/16/02 Best Writing

12/16/02 Best Series Nominations

12/16/02 Best Post

12/16/02 Best Single Issue Blog

12/16/02 Most Humorous Blog

12/16/02 Most Humorous Post

12/16/02 Best Commentor

12/16/02 Best New Blog

12/16/02 Best Special Effects

12/16/02 Best Design

1/03/03 The 2002 Koufax Award Winners Are…

1/03/03 Best Pro Blogger

1/03/03 Best Blog

1/03/03 Best Series

1/03/03 Best Writing

1/03/03 Best Post

1/03/03 Best Single Issue Blog

1/03/03 Most Humorous Blog

1/03/03 Most Humorous Post

1/03/03 Best Commentor

1/03/03 Best New Blog

1/03/03 Best Special Effects

1/03/03 Best Design

Tuesday, September 02, 2003
Many Thanks

I have been publishing PLA for a little over a year. It has been an interesting and enjoyable experience. After considerable thought, I have decided that PLA is not the proper medium for the things I want to write.

Like most things, the origins of PLA involved a number of motivations. My first and most important motivation was a desire to write. My year of writing on an almost daily basis has increased, not abated, that desire. I will continue to write but I feel the need for a different forum.

Secondly, I started PLA, in part, out of the conceit that that I had some small measure of insight to share. For instance, I have written a number of essays about the Bush administration. The thesis of many of those essays was, at the time, directly contrary to conventional wisdom about the straight-talking, morally clear Texan who occupies the Oval Office. I have been surprised that much of my view is now shared by a number of observers and may yet become conventional wisdom itself. I lack sufficient conceit to think that PLA played any role in that development but I am pleased that the curtain has been pulled back to reveal the nature and identity of the wizard.

Third, I began PLA in hope that I could force myself to write about autism. I hoped that the discipline of writing would allow me to gain some much needed perspective. In truth, I thought that I needed to write about autism as a form of therapy.

As a form of therapy, PLA has been largely successful. I can now talk (and write) about things that were verboten at this time last year. Writing about autism has helped me gain a measure of acceptance of circumstances that was not previously possible. I also hope that I have made autism less of a mystery to others.

I am shutting down PLA. I want to make an effort at writing longer pieces requiring more research and analysis than the pace of daily posting permits. I do not know if, when or where such writings may be published. For me, publishing is not the most important point. I want to explore the depths of several areas of interest in an effort to find understanding. I may start a new blog, I may try to join a group effort (if any will have me) or I may try to publish in a different form.

In the meantime, look for me on the comment boards. I plan to post an index to much of the material appearing at PLA over the last year. After that, we shall see what the future holds.

Someone should pick up the idea of the Koufax Awards and run them again this year. The awards provide a way for lefty bloggers to come together and say lots of nice things about each other. The awards help strengthen the entire community. They will also increase your traffic.

Thanks to the many people who have found PLA of sufficient interest to provide a link or a comment. Most of all, thanks to the people who have given me your time and attention over the last year. It was a lot of fun and I am the better for it. I hope you do not feel that I wasted your time.

Friday, August 29, 2003
The Kay Standard

Sometime after Labor Day, the administration will roll out a new product with regard to Iraq. That new product will take the form of a report by former U.N. arms inspector David Kay detailing the findings of his investigation into Iraq’s WMD.

Some have looked to the release of that report for justification of the administration’s policy. For instance, earlier this month, Rich Lowry, wrote the following at NRO’s The Corner:
Here's what I'm hearing. Take it with a grain of salt: The Bush administration is very confident that it will be vindicated on the WMD front--because it already has the evidence. The word is that David Kay has told Congress that he has a very solid case on Iraq's bio-weapons program, with evidence wending its way through a confirmation process as we speak. Also according to Kay's congressional briefing, he will have a good case on other weapons programs as well. We should hear more in September, and it will vindicate those-i.e., nearly everyone--who said Iraq had active WMD programs. For what it's worth...

After the bombing of the UN compound in Baghdad, Lowry argued for the early release of the report to prevent deterioration of public support for the administration:
This weekend will be full of Iraq-angst commentary and more argument that we shouldn’t be there in the first place. One way for the administration to remind people why we invaded would be to move up the release of David Kay’s information regarding Iraq’s WMD programs, however preliminary. It’s not enough just to say that we are there for the good of the Iraqi people. The American public needs to hear again that this intervention was grounded in America’s national security, and was not just an act global charity.

Jeff Cooper reacted to Lowry’s suggestion by noting that the most important thing was for the administration to get the report right:
I'm of two minds about this. On the one hand, given the way the administration played fast and loose with WMD information during the leadup to war, Kay's report is going to come under deservedly intense scrutiny. Another bogus performance will eliminate the last scraps of US credibility in the international community--and that's not good for the country. So it would behoove the administration to get it right this time. I'm skeptical about whether they'll do that, but if a few more weeks would help, then so be it.

Yesterday, the Boston Globe reported on the contents of the report:
Investigators searching for Iraq's suspected weapons of mass destruction will report next month that Saddam Hussein's regime spread nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons plans and parts throughout the country to deceive the United Nations, according to senior Bush administration and intelligence officials.

Once freed of inspections and international sanctions, the weapons programs were intended to be pulled together quickly to manufacture substantial quantities of deadly gases and germs, the investigators will argue, although the development of a nuclear weapon would probably take many months, if not years.

After more than four months of searching hundreds of sites in Iraq, the team of US military officers and intelligence agents headed by former UN arms inspector David Kay has not produced hard evidence of weapons of mass destruction. US officials have not ruled out that stocks of weapons will still be found or were secreted out of the country before the war.

But the investigators' conclusions, which have emerged from interviews with senior Bush administration officials and multiple intelligence sources with access to the team's findings, make the White House's best case so far that Hussein hid an outlawed weapons program. A primary justification for toppling the regime was the threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

Josh Marshall is unimpressed:
The strategy behind the Kay report will apparently run something like this: Present a body of evidence that utterly discredits the administration's pre-war arguments about WMD. But dress it up with tons of documents and details. Say it confirms the administration's arguments. And then hope no one notices…

I don't want to make light of this stuff too much. Weapons proliferation is a deadly serious issue. And we really do need a comprehensive report to tell us not just about the lead-up to this war, but everything we can glean about the history of the last dozen years of inspections and sanctions, not least of which how so many people -- certainly, myself included -- bought into many assumptions that simply weren't true.

But Kay's report is clearly going to be as political as it gets. And full of funny business. This is a deadly serious issue. But as long as they're approaching it in this way, it merits ridicule.

How then are we to evaluate the Kay report? I think that the standard to apply to the report is the one established by David Kay last spring.

Jay Bookman, writing in the Atlanta Journal Constitution notes the following:
Kay himself, asked by Chris Matthews back in April what discoveries would justify our invasion, set the standard clearly:

"I think to most reasonable people, if you find biological weapons, anthrax, certainly if you found smallpox work, that should do it. In the chemical area, any nerve agent, VX particularly, ought to be of concern to everyone in the world."

If the Boston Globe report is accurate concerning the contents of the Kay report, the report will fail to justify administration policy by the standards set by Mr. Kay himself. Political posturing and marketing strategy will not change that fact.

Thursday, August 28, 2003
A Different Kind Of Tort Reform

From a Republican perspective, what characteristics would the ideal tort reform measure l have?

Charles Kuffner has a suggestion that would accomplish each of the following:

1) It would reduce the number of medical malpractice suits filed against Doctors and hospitals;

2) It would reduce the total amounts insurance companies pay out on medical malpractice by a substantial sum;

3) It would reduce the income of trial lawyers who bring medical malpractice cases by a substantial sum;

4) It might reduce liability insurance premiums for doctors;

5) It would improve the operation of the free market in medical services industry.

While an ideal Republican tort reform might have additional characteristics, a reform that accomplished the above would look mighty good to most tort reformers.

Before I let you in on Charles’ proposal, let me first tell you the story of Dr. Dr. Merrimon Baker. That story is drawn from a Houston Chronicle article I located via Off The Kuff.

Dr. Baker is an orthopedic surgeon in Cleveland, Texas. Based on the story in the Chron, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Baker is a very lousy doctor. Consider the following:

Dr. Baker “prescribed 15,000 tablets of Xanax and Darvon to a former intravenous drug user.”

His ex-wife has testified under oath that Dr. Baker was addicted to prescription drugs.

Dr. Baker once left a surgical sponge in a patient after an operation. That is a common and, perhaps understandable error. Dr. Baker, though, also once operated on the wrong hip of one of his patients. On another occasion he operated on the wrong leg.

It has been alleged that Dr. Baker performed an unnecessary operation on a patient’s ankle. The ankle became infected and eventually had to be amputated.

Then there is the case of Richardo Romero who was one of Dr. Baker’s patients.

The Chronicle reports:
In 1998, Ricardo Romero of Humble decided to undergo back surgery.

Romero, a 20-year employee of Houston Marine Services, had injured his back while moving a heavy hose. After 12 months of medication and therapy the problem wasn't better, so he opted for an operation.

He saw Baker's advertisement in the Yellow Pages and liked the fact that Baker was conveniently located at Columbia Kingwood Medical Center. When Romero met Baker, "He seemed pretty nice. He seemed to be knowing what he talked about."

On July 15, 1998, Dolores Romero kissed her husband goodbye before he was wheeled back for what she understood was an uncomplicated operation. Hours passed without word of her husband's progress. When Dolores Romero pressed hospital employees for news, they told her they didn't know anything.

What she later learned was that her husband had lost nearly all of the blood in his body during the operation. Blood for a transfusion was late in coming, and in the meantime his heart stopped beating. His brain, deprived of blood and oxygen, was severely and irreversibly damaged.

All in all, Dr. Baker had 12 allegations of malpractice asserted against him between 1988 and 1998.

Still, Dr. Baker practices medicine in Texas and continues to perform operations.

There can be no doubt that the actions of a small percentage of doctors result in a disproportionate amount of payouts in medical malpractice claims.

The Chron reports:
According to the federal government's National Practitioner Data Bank, 5 percent of physicians listed are responsible for nearly 33 percent of the total dollars paid for physicians in malpractice judgments or settlements from September 1990 to March 2003.

A policy that prevented the worst 5% of doctors from committing malpractice would greatly reduce the number of suits filed. It would lower the payouts and (to the extent that premium rates are effected by payouts) the cost of insurance. It would reduce the income of the trial lawyers while saving patients from much harm.

How could we prevent the bottom 5% of doctors from committing malpractice without violating their rights and creating additional litigation?

The process of revoking a doctor’s license to practice is long, difficult and could ultimately end in litigation.

Hospitals must be careful about denying privileges to doctors as well. In Dr. Baker’s case, two hospitals had denied him privileges but a third welcomed him anyway.

Charles Kuffner suggests a market solution:
One of the keys to a successful free market, as I've always understood it, is unfettered access to full information. If I have no way of knowing that someone is selling widgets across town for one dollar each, I may wind up buying them at my neighborhood store for two dollars each. Or I may not buy them at all because I can't afford them. This is an inefficiency in the market, one that would be solved if full information about widgets had been available to me.

As we see with the story of Dr. Baker, prospective customers have no good way to get the information they need to make their choice. How many patients do you think he would have if his record were easily available? Surely if Ricardo Romero had known, he would have chosen a different doctor for his surgery, and that $40 million jury verdict never would have happened.

I understand that there are privacy issues, and I understand that there are always problems with centralized databases of this sort, but I also understand that the cost of doing nothing is that the Dr. Bakers of the world will continue to practice medicine on an uninformed public. Everybody - patients, competent doctors, insurance companies - loses in that case. Yet here we are, pursuing new government regulation instead of looking for a way to make the free market more efficient. Aren't Republicans supposed to favor that sort of thing?

Making information on past performance of doctors available to the consumer has huge benefits. The dotors with very poor records will have difficulty attracting patients. That is as it should be.

Trial lawyers who earn money from prosecuting medical malpractice claims will lose their best source of new cases, doctors like Dr. Baker.

The major down side of that reform is that doctors fear that consumers will misuse the information. Doctors should put more trust in the free market. The publication of the information in the National Practitioners Data Bank is an idea whose time has come.

Eye Witness Testimony

Over my years as a practicing lawyer, I have taken testimony from many hundreds of witnesses. If there is one thing I have learned, it is that eye witness testimony is inherently unreliable.

Multiple people, witnessing the very same event, often have vastly differing accounts. No one tells witnesses before the event to pay close attention because they are about to see something important. No one warns witnesses that a year after the event, some lawyer is going to flyspeck her recollection. Events that later take on critical importance occur quickly. The fact that two witnesses have differing recollections does not mean that one is lying.

I once questioned a completely disinterested lady about an event she had witnessed. She was a grandmother and a leader in her church and her community. She was not a liar. Nonetheless, her testimony flatly contradicted the recollection of two other witnesses, all of the medical evidence and at least two laws of physics. She was not lying. She was acurately relating her recollection. She was simply mistaken.

I noticed an example of the phenomenon yesterday.

The Washington Monthly ran an article entitled The Mendacity Index. It purported to be a “scientifically serious” attempt to rate each of the last four Presidents on a menacity scale. The “scientifically serious” part of that description should not be taken too “seriously.”

At any rate, the “study” identified alleged lies told by each recent President and then had each such lie “judged” for seriousness by an expert panel.

Among the statements of George W. Bush submitted to the expert panel was the following:
On many occasions during 2001 and 2002, President Bush talked about a campaign promise made in Chicago that he would only deficit spend "if there is a national emergency, if there is a recession, or if there's a war," sometimes adding, after 9/11, "Never did I dream we'd have a trifecta." Reporters pressed the Bush's communications staff to prove that Bush had actually made such a statement during the 2000 campaign, but the White House couldn't turn up any proof. Bush continued to insist he'd made the promise.

Kevin Drum linked to the piece and, in comments, Donald Sensing said, inter alia, the following:
As for G.W. Bush's campaign statement about deficit spending, I heard him say it.

Figuring that Mr. Sensing had perhaps been at a fundraiser in Chicago when Mr. Bush uttered the elusive qualifiers to his balanced budget promise, I clicked through to Mr. Sensing’s blog. There I found the following:
Calpundit links to a Washington Monthly piece that (surprise!) rates George W. Bush a bigger liar than any of the following presidents: Reagan, Bush the elder, or Clinton.

First "evidence" up: … (Mr. Sensing quotes the Washington Monthly selection above).

Except that I heard Bush say it. Whether he said it specifically in Chicago, I can't say, but he definitely said it during a "town hall" format debate with Al Gore that was broadcast on TV. I was there (in front of the TV). I heard Bush say it. I remember it.

I am quite sure that Mr. Sensing does remember Mr. Bush making the statement. There is only one problem. The statement “witnessed” by Mr. Sensing never happened.

There were three presidential debates in the 2000 election cycle. The first occurred on October 3, 2000 in Boston. It was a single moderator format with Jim Lehrer as the moderator. The transcript of the debate is here.

A review of the transcript reveals that Mr. Bush did not make the qualifying statement that is the basis of his trifecta joke in that debate.

Mr. Bush did accuse Mr. Gore of fiscal irresponsibility:
You leave future generations with tremendous IOUs. It's time to have a leader that doesn't put off tomorrow what we should do today.

Hmm… we may see that remark in a Democratic television ad next year.

The second debate occurred on October 11, 2000 in my hometown of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Once again, it was a single moderator format with Jim Lehrer as moderator. Once again, Mr. Bush did not state the exceptions he later cited in his trifecta joke. The transcript of that debate is here.

The third debate occurred on October 17 in St. Louis. Once again, it was a single moderator format with Jim Lehrer as moderator. The candidates took questions from the audience. Presumably that is the “town hall” format of which Mr. Sensing writes. The transcript is here.

Mr. Bush never made the qualifying statement about the budget that became the basis for the trifecta joke in that debate.

Mr. Sensing heard Mr. Bush make the statement in the Town Hall debate. The statement that Mr. Sensing “heard” and “remembers” does not appear in the debate transcript. Does that mean that Mr. Sensing is lying?

It most certainly does not. If, before the debate, someone had asked Mr. Sensing to listen specifically to determine if Mr. Bush would make an exception to his promise of a balanced budget for the cases of national emergency, war or recession, Mr. Sensing would have emerged from the debate with the firm memory that Mr. Bush had not made the statement.

Not being forewarned, Mr. Sensing was not focused on the issue until after the debate and his memory of the debate proved faulty. That is just a mistake of the kind we all make.

Over long years questioning witnesses, I have learned to be very skeptical of the accuracy of eye witness reports. Mr. Sensing’s mistake is just another example of the reason for my skepticism. Eye witness testimony has a reputation for accuracy and veracity that is largely underserved.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003
Sympathy For the Mother

I stopped writing about the Torrance Cantrell tragedy not because I had nothing further to say but, rather, because I did not want to think about it any more. I’m better now.

Today, I want to talk about Torrance Cantrell’s mom, Pat Cooper. She stood by, and in fact participated, in restraining her son while church members beat, whipped and ultimately compressed her son’s chest, preventing him from drawing of breath. He died as a result.

I do not seek to condone or justify Ms. Cooper’s actions. I do not wish to suggest that she bears no responsibility for her son’s death. I do not condone her actions and I do not believe that her actions were or can be justified. The responsibility she bears for her son’s death is a matter between her and the authorities and between her and God.

Nonetheless, I have sympathy for Ms. Cooper. I have walked a few short steps in shoes vaguely similar to Ms. Cooper’s. Mine are far more comfortable than hers. Atrios writes that:
I agree with the basic point that secular society had failed this woman and her son. It's tough enough to handle having an autistic child when one is highly educated, high income, and with multiple care-givers in the home. It's another thing when, at least from what I've inferred from the not all that complete news reports, you're a single parent of more modest means and education. The difficulty and despair would lead most people to latch onto anything or anyone who promised they could help.

My family finds it difficult to cope with an autistic child and we are blessed with a stable marriage, high income, a box full of advanced degrees from top universities, good insurance, access to the best medical information available (my brother and Dad are both high powered Professors of Surgery at a major medical school and hospital) and the ability to “manage the system” to our advantage.

Pat Cooper appears to have had none of those advantages. It appears that she was a single mom of limited resources coping with a two year old in addition to her autistic son. The difficulty of her situation is hard to overstate.

Jeanne D’Arc today wrote the following:
Why can't people … understand that Patricia Cooper could feel that she had no options, no resources available to her but Faith Temple? Desperate people in every culture fall back on whatever scraps of community and support they can find. If they don't find a good one, they'll take the bad one.

That is exactly right. Pat Cooper made a bad choice but she was not offered a good one. She deserves a measure of understanding and sympathy.

The confluence of two factors is going to further limit the options available to other Pat Coopers. First, our social support systems for autistic kids and families were designed at a time when the incidence of autism was roughly one child in 2,500. The last decade or so has seen an explosion in the number of autistic kids. The best available evidence now suggests that one child in 160 is autistic. A 10+ fold increase in the number of kids who need those services will, by necessity, result in many kids slipping through the cracks.

The second factor is that the funding for the social support systems has not kept up with the need as the states face a budget crisis.

See, for instance, this article from Torrance Cantrell’s home state of Wisconsin:
The cost of a state program providing free intensive in-home therapy to children with autism exploded from $2,363 in 1994 to almost $32 million last year as the number of children diagnosed with the developmental disability grew, according to the state Department of Health and Family Services….

Gov. Jim Doyle has proposed scaling back the program to serve a little more than one-fourth of the almost 1,100 children currently receiving intensive in-home therapy as Wisconsin grapples with a budget deficit…

Under the current program, children can receive 25 to 35 hours a week of intensive in-home therapy until they turn 16. That includes one-on-one attention from therapists who work with the children on skills such as communication and socialization.

Doyle originally proposed eliminating the intensive in-home therapy portion of the autism program in his budget plan after the federal government notified Wisconsin the program would no longer qualify for federal aid that covers 60 percent of the cost.

Doyle said Wisconsin could not afford the therapy on its own because of a $3.2 billion budget deficit for the period through June 30, 2005. Doyle, a Democrat, planned to eliminate the program as one of the many spending cuts he proposed to fix the shortfall…

He changed his mind and presented a scaled-back version of the program after parents of children who are autistic appealed to him to keep it.

The program of intensive, one-on-one training in the home is one of the best options for improving the lives of autistic kids.

Laura of Interesting Monstah asks:
But all this begs another question that I have not seen asked yet: Where was the secular left? Where were the healthcare options for Torrance's mother, who was raising him and his sister on a fixed income?

It is a fair question but the better question is where will we as a society be the next time a Pat Cooper is faced with choices? Will we allow the choice to be made from a menu of bad options or do we want a good choice to be available?

Reducing funding for autism related social support systems at a time of vastly increased need will not present other Pat Coopers with good options


I came home from work one day hungry from having skipped lunch. On the kitchen table was a plastic bag full of chocolate chip cookies. I grabbed one and began to eat. The cookie tasted a little odd but I was grateful for anything at that point.

As I chewed, I noticed a piece of paper in the bag of cookies. The paper was a note from the teacher of Bobby’s Special Ed class. The note said that the kids had had much fun making the cookies but warned that they were “completely hygiene-free.”

Many people have cautioned bloggers to read before you link. My advice is to read before you eat.

One Year Ago

Here at PLA, we recently celebrated our first birthday. My first post at PLA was an essay on the Bush administration entitled Tactical Hubris. I posted Tactical Hubris before I knew how to create a hyperlink. The post is completely link free.

The thesis of the post was as follows:
A pattern may be perceived in the above. When faced with a decision, Bush decides on the outcome he desires, announces it as fact and hopes that his show of confidence will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

My evidence for that thesis included Mr. Bush ignoring battleground states in the closing days of the 2000 campaign to campaign in states he was sure to lose in an effort to create a bandwagon effect, proclaiming himself President Elect long before the vote counts (or failure to count votes) supported the claim, the refusal to modify or scale back his agenda as a result of losing the popular vote, and his decision to get out in front of both our allies and the American people with regard to an invasion of Iraq.

I concluded that the use of hubris as a political tactic had worked for Mr. Bush in some instances and caused him no harm in others but that it was a strategy that could easily backfire with serious consequences.

Have the events of the last year supported or refuted the thesis?


The New York Times Magazine has an interesting article on one strategy to promote the development of commercial space flight.

Dr. Peter H. Diamandis wanted to be an astronaut since childhood. For a time, he tried to obtain the prerequisites to be chosen by NASA. He became a doctor, got a degree in engineering and became certified in aviation and scuba diving. Eventually, he despaired of being chosen by NASA and took a different route.

Dr. Diamandis established the X Prize. According to the X Prize web site:
The X PRIZE is a $10,000,000 prize to jumpstart the space tourism industry through competition between the most talented entrepreneurs and rocket experts in the world. The $10 Million cash prize will be awarded to the first team that:

Privately finances, builds & launches a spaceship, able to carry three people to 100 kilometers (62.5 miles)

Returns safely to Earth

Repeats the launch with the same ship within 2 weeks.

The X Prize is modeled after the $25,000 Orteig prize won by Charles Lindbergh in 1927 for crossing the Atlantic in the Spirit of St. Louis.

So far, more than 20 teams have entered the competition and rumor has it that such financial heavyweights as Jeff Bezos and Paul Allen are involved.

I wish each contestant well.

The idea of using prizes to promote technological or other advancements is interesting. It may be that there are other areas in which the offering of a prize to reward discovery and innovation would work well.

One candidate for use of prize incentives is in the area of pharmaceuticals. In our current system, the government rewards the development of new drugs by granting the developer patent rights. Patent rights give the developer a monopoly of the product for a limited period of time, thereby allowing the developer to recoup its development costs and a profit by having the government prohibit any competition.

By and large, that system has worked well for many drugs as the progress made on any number of fronts attests.

The patent system gives economic incentives to develop certain types of drugs but not others. The perfect drug, from the point of view of the drug company, is one that works to alleviate a medical condition suffered by many, many people and which requires continued use of the drug to maintain the benefits.

The number of sufferers of the conditions is a key element as it will in large measure determine the size of the market from which monopoly profits can be extracted. The drug company will also attain higher profits if the drug is effective against the symptoms but does not actually cure the condition. It is more profitable to develop a drug that works for a limited time so as to keep its customers dependent on purchasing the medication for the duration of the patent.

The patent system does not give a large incentive to develop drugs to cure rare conditions. Perhaps the government should consider using prizes instead of patents as a reward in such instances.

Monday, August 25, 2003
Torrance Cantrell’s Death Ruled Homocide

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that the death of Torrance Cantrell was a homicide:
The death of an 8-year-old autistic boy during a weekend prayer service has been ruled a homicide by the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner's office.

According to the medical examiner, Terrance Cottrell Jr. suffocated to death by "mechanical asphyxia due to external chest compression."

Ray Hemphill, the church pastor's brother, is being held on suspicion of physical abuse of a child, a felony. Milwaukee Police Capt. Nan Hegerty said Monday that she does not expect anyone else to be arrested in the case.

Out of ignorance and misguided religious fervor, they squeezed the life out of a little boy whose only sin was that his brain worked differently.

I am sorry but I can not write any more about this right now.

Seismic Change

Demosthenes points us to a Moderate Left post:
Before the war, the righty blogs had all the mojo. Reading Insty or Lileks or Mitch Berg's site was fun, because they were so damn giddy. They knew they had the momentum, they knew the big issue of the day favored them, and they were joyous…

Fast-forward six months, and look around. Kos is at the top of his game, Josh Marshall is witty as Hell, Pandagon has found his voice, Atrios rules, and...well, pretty much any lefty blog you stumble into is sweetness and light, while righty sites grumble about media coverage and why people don't see things like they do.

And I realize something:

We've got the mojo now.

I feel it too. So does the right, they just do not know it yet. A case in point is Town Hall columnist and culture warrior Maggie Gallagher.

Gallagher has the 2004 presidential election all figured out. According to her most recent column:
For anyone who looks, the outline of the 2004 presidential campaign is suddenly clear. There are three, and exactly three, issues that will dominate.

Gallagher believes that the only three issues that matter will be terrorism, the energy crisis and gay marriage. She also believes that the GOP has two of the three issues sewed up:
How will this play out politically? Every single one of the Democratic presidential candidates is already on record supporting gay civil unions, which the majority of Americans oppose. No Democrat looks remotely credible, at this point, as an alternative to President Bush on terrorism.

Which leaves the energy crisis, plus the economic mess that is generated when the generators fail. The Dems had better hope President Bush and the GOP Congress blow it big time.

Gallagher’s thesis strongly suggests that the seismic shift in the political landscape noted by Moderate Left is occurring. First, look at the entirety of her description of the “terrorism issue”:
The first, obviously, is terrorism. Not the war in Iraq (give it up, Dean). The continuous direct threat of bodily harm to Americans by an organized international enemy -- that is the issue. We are vulnerable, and we know it.

While I agree that the threat of terrorism will be a large issue, the elephant in the room is that a conservative like Gallagher thinks that the politics of the Iraq war have shifted so far that it will not be a major political plus for the President.

It was not long ago that our Republican friends were assuring us that the war was the one and only issue that mattered for 2004. The war, the argument went, placed the Democrats against the views of the American people and assured Mr. Bush’s reelection.

Now a conservative partisan like Maggie Gallagher does not think the war is even on the short list of important issues.

Her parenthetical comment of “give it up, Dean” is remarkable. That comment suggests that Gallagher thinks that Dean, not Bush, is the political aggressor on the war. Thus, the question is whether Dean and not Bush can make political hay from the war. It is difficult to overstate the political importance of that shift.

On the issue of terrorism, who will be on offense and who on defense? Gallagher says that “we are vulnerable, and we know it.” Whose job has it been to eliminate the vulnerabilities? Who failed to provide funding for the first responders? Who plays footsie with the country that spawns, funds and supports the terrorists?

The second indication of a seismic shift is that tax cuts are not on the list. In fact, no economic or fiscal issue is on Gallagher’s list. The reason for that is obvious.

Mr. Bush is on pace to be the first President since Herbert Hoover to preside over an economy that suffered net job losses. The President has also turned record surpluses into record deficits with little or no tangible economic benefit in return.

On economic issues, the Democratic nominee will be the political aggressor while Mr. Bush will again be playing defense. If the issue has any traction, it will be in favor of the Democrats. Given that economic issues are often quite salient, that is not good news for Mr. Bush.

Every sentient being knows that the Rove’s game plan was to run on the war and tax cuts. Maggie Gallagher is prepared to concede that the two most important GOP issues of six months ago will not be relevant to the 2004 election.

To paraphrase Buffalo Springfield, something’s happening here. What it is, is becoming clear. And it is very good news.

Time For Some Good News

I have been writing far too much about bad things. It is depressing to write about an autistic boy who dies during a church service, budget deficits of half a trillion dollars per year for as far as the eye can see, or bloggers celebrating the U.N. compound being blown up. It is time for some good news.

The New York Times comes to my rescue with a report of some potentially very good news:
Biologists have found a class of chemicals that they hope will make people live longer by activating an ancient survival reflex. One chemical, a natural substance known as resveratrol, is found in red wines, particularly those made in cooler climates like that of New York State.

The finding could help explain the so-called French paradox — the fact that the French consume fatty foods considered threatening to the heart but live as long as anyone else…

The possible benefits could be significant. The chemicals are designed to mimic the effect of a very low-calorie diet, which is known to lengthen the life span of rodents. Scientists involved in the research say human life span could be extended by 30 percent if people respond to the chemicals the way rats and mice do to low calories. Even someone who started at age 50 to take one of the new chemicals could expect to gain an extra 10 years of life, said Dr. Leonard Guarente of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of the pioneers of the new research.

A glass of a good Cabernet will do nicely, thank you.

Sunday, August 24, 2003
Torrance Cantrell – Rest In Peace

Torrance Cantrell died last Friday. The cause of death is not yet known as an autopsy is pending. I fear that he died as a result of the desparation of his mother and the ignorance, superstition, and twisted religion of the Faith Temple Apostolic Church of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Torrance Cantrell was autistic. He was eight years old. He died as members of the Faith Temple Apostolic Church were performing a church services that had been described as an “exorcism” to rid him of “evil spiritedness” that church members thought caused his autism.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports a neighbor’s description of Torrance:
Denise Allison, 25, said she had become close friends with the boy and his mother, Patricia Cooper, during two years living in the duplex above the family in the 5900 block of N. 61st St.

Allison said Torrance, called "Junior" by family and friends, was brilliant with his hands, and could craft complex kites from newspaper. Though hardly able to speak, Torrance would knock on her door and shout with a smile, "Tickle," asking Allison to play with and tickle him.

The boy often initiated play or communication by punching at people and laughing, though neighborhood kids had learned to not feel threatened, Allison said.

"He was really fun to be around, but you had to relax, get to know him and understand his ways," Allison said. "He just wanted love and attention like any other kid."

Pat Cooper, Torrance’s mother, was having trouble controlling her son one day when she was approached by members of the Faith Temple Apostolic Church. The church members told Ms. Cooper that Torrance’s autism could be “spiritually healed.”

The Faith Temple Apostolic Church is located in a strip mall storefront next to a pizza place and a dry cleaner. It is not affiliated with any larger denomination. Only six families are members of the church.

In 1998, the church was investigated after a 12 year old girl suffered cuts and bruises from being beaten with a stick during a church service. No charges were filed in that incident.

Pat Cooper began to take Torrance to the Faith Temple Apostolic Church. Church members also held "services" in Torrances home.

According to the church members, at the services they “prayed for God to release the evil spirits that cause the boy's illness.”

Bishop David Hemphill, the leader of the church said that:
The boy just had a problem in his mind, and what we were doing was asking God to fix it… We believe that according to the word of God, a person could get evil spiritedness. Either God's going to have to deliver, or we're going to have to do whatever we can until things get better.

Denise Allison, the neighbor and friend of Pat Cooper and Torrance Cantrell, tells a very different story:
Allison said Cooper told her that during prayer sessions - both at home and at church - church members would forcibly hold down Torrance and strike him in attempts to heal him of his autism.

In addition, Allison told the Milwaukee newspaper that the mother called the services and “exorcism.” She also is quoted as follows:
She said they held him down for almost two hours. He couldn't hardly breathe, and that shocked (Cooper). Then she said the devil started to speak through Junior's voice - though he can't really speak - saying, 'Kill me. Take me.' "

Allison began to notice that each time the group gathered in the apartment, Torrance would screech, wail and cry. She and other neighbors noticed Torrance had a fattened lip and black eye the days after at-home prayer sessions, she said.

Once, Allison said, she looked through her friend's window and saw church members taking turns striking the boy with a belt as Cooper watched.

"I told Pat that it was wrong, but she said the Bible told her you're supposed to chastise your children," Allison said. "I told her to stop, told her what could a little . . . kid ever do that was so wrong to beat him like that? She said the church told her it was the only way to heal him."

Last Friday, Torrance was taken to church for a “service”. Four church members were present. Ray Hemphill, brother of the Bishop of the church and also a minister, Pat Cooper and two female members of the church.

According to church members who arrived after the service:
Pamela Hemphill said Ray Hemphill led the service and directed the women to restrain the boy.

The women put some sheets and cloth over the boy's outstretched hands, and "one lady held one hand and the other lady held the other, and his mother held his feet," Pamela Hemphill said.

The boy's leather sneakers were removed so he wouldn't hurt anyone if he kicked, she added…

Pamela Hemphill said the sessions would usually last about two hours with a break halfway.

"Sometimes he kicks and scratches and throws himself to the ground," she said. "They hold his hand or maybe his feet and maybe take his shoes off."

But at Friday's session, she said, the boy was "unusually quiet."

"He seemed to be extremely tired," she said. "He just wiggled and moved a little but not as much as usual."

She said the boy was sitting on the floor with others sitting around him. But at one point he lay down and closed his eyes, she said.

"After they got through praying, one of the ladies said, 'He doesn't look too good today,' " David Hemphill said.

Ray Hemphill checked the boy's pulse and found none, she said. Paramedics arrived but couldn't revive the boy, she said, and pronounced him dead.

The police have arrested Ray Hemphill on charges of suspicion of physical abuse of a child, a felony. The police have asked that the results of the autopsy not be released. The Milwaukee Police said that Torrance “did not die of natural causes” and are still investigating. They also noted that they had no evidence that the boy was struck during the service.

Let me make clear that I do not know what happened to Torrance Cantrell. I do not know whether he was beaten at the Friday night church service. I do not know if the neighbor’s claim of prior abuse and beating at home services is true.

Despite that lack of information, there are a few comments I wish to make on the story.

The parents of autistic children are among the most desperate people I have ever encountered. The joy and expectations that accompany the birth of a child change to worry and work. Parents of autistics are told that science and medicine provide little hope.

I remember well when shortly after Bobby’s diagnosis, I obtained access to an online medical database and began to research autism. The phrases “no known cause” and “no approved medical treatments” struck deep into my heart.

The five stages of grief are said to be denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. It is difficult to travel the road towards acceptance without hope. When science and medicine provide no hope, people will look elsewhere. There are many charlatans peddling “miracle cures” to the autism community. Most of those miracle cures do no harm but also no good. All that is lost is time and money.

I fear that Ms. Cooper looked to a misguided version of faith to sustain her hope. I fear that the price she paid can not be measured in time or money.

As for the members of the Faith Temple Apostolic Church, much depends on their state of mind. Autistic kids are often the victim of cruelty at the hands of other kids. The lack of social skills and the poor communication skills make them perfect foils and victims of the cruelty of other children. We expect more of adults.

If Torrance Cantrell died as the result of intentional cruelty on the part of the members of the Faith Temple Apostolic Church (and I very much doubt that is the case), them they richly deserve whatever fate awaits them both at the hands of justice system and upon the judgment of God.

I suspect, however, that the church members sincerely believed that Torrance was inhabited by evil spirits and that the Bible commanded the methods used to drive those spirits out. That belief is no justification for harming a little boy.

Torrance Cantrell died in Milwaukee in 2003 not in the Salem of 1692. Autism is a neurological condition. It results from a defect in the functioning of the brain, not the soul. There is really no excuse for a group of adults to restrain a child and then take turns beating and whipping him. Only a seriously twisted view of God can possibly begin to justify such actions.

I once had a fundamentalist Christian friend and co-worker tell me that Bobby’s autism was God’s way of drawing me closer to Him. I was repulsed by that idea. I would want no relationship with such a God. Any God who would sanction the beating and whipping of a little boy is not worthy of worship.

If Torrance Cantrell died as a result of misguided religious fervor of the church members then they will be judged by man and God. If they caused his death as a result of a twisted view of religion and sincerely believed that they were doing what the Bible required, then perhaps God will take mercy on their souls.

In the meantime, however, regardless of any religious belief, the beating and whipping of a little boy is not acceptable behavior in our society. If Torrance Cantrell died at the hands of the church members, they should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. God may take mercy on their soul but I want their butts in jail.

Yesterday, I wrote about an autistic child being denied a boat trip on a lake because of the insensitivity of a boat captain. That story made me angry. The story above simply makes me want to cry.

That reaction is perhaps caused by the description of Torrance Cantrell. Like my son Bobby, Torrance was eight years old. Like Bobby, he could barely speak. Like Bobby, he liked to be tickled. Like Bobby, he was sometimes out of control. Like Bobby, he deserved a better fate.

Torrance Cantrell, may you rest in peace.


The leader of the church is confident that church members did nothing wrong. The Journal Sentinel reports as follows:
Members of a small church where an 8-year-old autistic boy died during a prayer session gathered Sunday at the home of their pastor, who said he was confident no church members or staff would be charged in the case.

"Didn't do nothing wrong," David Hemphill said outside his home Sunday afternoon, with the sounds of yelling and moaning from his gathered flock plainly audible from his front steps. "We did what the Book of Matthew said, Chapter 12. All we did is ask God to deliver him." …

He also said the child's death would not change the way the church operates, saying: "How you going to change the Bible?"

The boy had a spirit in him, the pastor said. Asked how he knew that, he said: "I'm 62 years old, and I can tell a person that's not normal."

When asked whether the spirit could simply be the boy's autism, Hemphill said: "He had a lot of problems."

The Absence of Shame

Atrios points us to this Washington Post story. According to the Post, the CBO will soon release a budget deficit forecast for next year of around $500,000,000,000.00. That’s right, Mr. Bush proposes to spend half a trillion dollars that the government does not have next year.

Private sector economists report that the deficit will continue to remain at about half a trillion dollars per year for the foreseeable future:
Absent any serious change in policy, private sector economists say deficits will remain in that range through the decade, then escalate sharply with the retirement of the baby-boom generation.

To stave off the looming fiscal disaster, Mr. Bush proposes to continue to increase spending and further cut taxes.

Meanwhile Mary at the indispensable Pacific Views provides a link to President Bush’s recent speech in Oregon. In that speech Mr. Bush said:
See, I ran for office to solve problems, not to pass them on to future presidents and future generations.

It has become apparent that Mr. Bush lacks the capacity for shame.