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Feel-good letter fails truth test

August 05, 2004

JOSEPH N. BELL

Congressman Chris Cox

Washington, D.C.

Dear Chris:

Thanks very much for your letter of last week. It's always a good

feeling -- even if it starts out "Dear Taxpayer" -- to be in touch

with my congressman so I can get the inside word on what you're up to

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and what is going on in Washington. I wish that might have happened

when you were schmoozing with the Navy about turning the El Toro

Marine base into an upscale developer's smorgasbord instead of an

airport, but I'm told that is all in the past now. And besides, we

have an election to think about.

The first thing that struck me about your latest communique was

its title: "Annual Report on the United States Government 2003." I

don't know that I've ever encountered anyone with the skill and

chutzpah to reduce such a complex subject to four pages -- well, two

really, since the first page of your mailing piece is a cover design

and your comments filled the fourth page. You were quite right to add

that fourth page, though. We really needed help to grasp the

significance of the handful of numbers and graphs on Pages 2 and 3.

It was also thoughtful of you to put it in such simple and

straightforward language that even we nonexperts could understand.

I have to tell you, however, that there were a few places -- well,

maybe more than a few -- where the evidence you offered seemed a

little thin, or even inaccurate, for the conclusions you reached.

I've always believed in getting a second opinion when a medical

diagnosis was laid on me, and it seemed reasonable to seek one here.

The Annual Report of the United States Government 2003 shouldn't be

taken lightly. So just to keep it in the family, I turned to one of

your constituents at UC Irvine, a distinguished political science

professor named Mark Petracca.

You should know up front that he's a great jokester and often

makes a point that way. He said, for example, that a lot of your

conclusions failed the Pinocchio test, which I take to mean that he

felt the truth was being stretched a bit by omission as well as

commission. For example, take your statements that "more than 1.5

million new jobs have been created since passage of the president's

tax rate reductions" and "more Americans than ever are working today,

and more own their own homes, than at any time in our nation's

history."

Said Petracca: "First of all, the number of new jobs needs to be

deducted from the 2 million jobs lost since Bush became president.

The Bush administration is the first since Herbert Hoover's to post a

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