But three quick items first:

1. SELL ONE OF OUR LITTLE SPECULATIONS

On June 26, I suggested ‘three little speculations.’ One of them, BMRN, was $4.50 or so and closed last night at $6.45. It may (or may not) go higher, but I am no longer comfortable recommending it and have sold most of mine. Better to take a 40% taxable gain than to avoid tax by losing it. The other two little speculations I expect to hold until they make me rich or make a funny column.

2. DIAMONDS

Ron Heller: ‘When I got engaged, I offered my wife-to-be a choice: a big diamond, or use those same dollars as part of the down payment on a house. She chose the house, and I knew I’d picked the right woman.’

David Morrison: ‘When Dana Dlott wrote that ‘The diamond business is a classic bubble,’ you could have responded with ‘No, it’s a classic bauble.”

3. SOMETHING GOOD THE BUSH TEAM HAS DONE

You may have seen Nightline this past Tuesday describing a $15 million ad campaign the U.S. is doing to reach the Muslim world. It’s a good, modern campaign that shows how well American Muslims are integrated into our society, the positions of power and respect many hold, and so on. I.e.: We like Muslims; please like us.

The three American Muslim scholars on with Ted Koppel to critique the ads thought they largely missed the point – it’s not U.S. treatment of American Muslims the Arab world hates us for – but seemed to think they were a good start, if only because it showed the Muslim TV audience that we were trying to reach out and talk to them, and that we care what we think. I hope we build on the campaign, addressing touchier subjects like our support of Israel and our concerns with Iraq. I’d like to see us spend 10 times $15 million on this and – if it seems to be opening any minds – 10 times that.

And now:

JEB – In Three Acts

ACT I. Cut taxes – but only for the best off. It’s a challenge to cut taxes for the rich in Florida, because Florida has no income tax. But when we last left this story, Jeb Bush had found the one tax in Florida that applies only to the best off – the intangible property tax – and chopped it in half. It used to be TWO-tenths of one percent of your stocks and bonds and mutual funds above $100,000 (though not your retirement plan or your savings accounts or savings bonds or checking accounts or Treasuries or municipals or private partnerships or real estate), and Jeb cut it in half, to ONE-tenth of one percent.

I doubt there is one Floridian in 50 who even knows about this. I know about it because my tax was cut in half. My first thought was – oh, this is nice! But my next thought was, how can we afford it? What about my friends who teach school down here and tell me how hard it is to have 44 kids in their classroom? They have subsequently both quit and moved to Atlanta. But I don’t care about them nearly so much as I care about the kids. What kind of life are we setting them up for when we throw them into classes of 40 and more? Aren’t kids our most precious resource? Isn’t it more important to invest in them than to nick the growth rate of my (very small) fortune by one-tenth of a percent instead of two? (And of course it’s even less than that, because it does exclude so many things and because it’s deductible against federal tax. So even at two-tenths of one percent it may have effectively been less than one-tenth of one percent. Ah, the burdens we bear!)

ACT II. Cut the drug treatment program by 85%. No one doubts Jeb’s compassion for his own daughter’s drug problems. But what about others’ sons and daughters? About a year after I noticed that he had cut my intangible property tax in half, I noticed this headline:

The Miami Herald
January 27, 2002
FLORIDA SLASHING CARE FOR DRUG ADDICTS
By Carol Marbin Miller

In a state where nearly a third of all crimes are drug-related, the Department of Corrections has approved a budget cut that will eliminate the bulk of drug treatment among inmates and greatly reduce the state’s program to help drug addicts outside the prison system.

The cuts, the Herald reported, were expected to save Florida $13 million a year and would eliminate in-house drug treatment programs at all but four of Florida’s 55 major prisons . . . and reduce by 34% the number of beds available to treat drug addicts at 20 residential treatment programs throughout the state.

ACT III. Lie, and say you raised the budget by 60%. It was making me crazy that in interview after interview about his daughter’s re-arrest on drug possession charges, no one asked Jeb why he had cut the drug treatment budget so dramatically. And in last week’s televised debate, no one asked him about this either – but he brought it up (in passing) himself, listing among his great accomplishments for the people of Florida the fact that he had raised the budget for drug treatment/prevention by 60%.

My first reaction was – uh, oh. Maybe the Herald got it wrong, or maybe there was such a stink after the Herald report that he did an about face. Or maybe the heartbreak over his daughter led him to restore the budget and then raise it 60% to boot.

I started worrying that I had been tarring him unfairly.

I decided to do a little reporting.

‘Make no mistake,’ the Herald story had quoted Broward County chief assistant public defender Howard Finkelstein – who himself battled drug addiction 14 years ago – ‘When we get done crunching the numbers . . . human lives will be lost or go unrepaired, and misery will be spread from generation to generation.’

So I called him. Which was it, I asked: Had the budget been slashed 85% or raised 60%? Did he know how this seeming contradiction could possibly be squared?

He laughed ruefully – as did the several others I wound up speaking to who confirmed all this – and told me what had happened.

Even before the Herald story had come out, the Broward County Public Defender’s office – and all the other such offices in the state, I was told – were instructed to shift 75% of their 110-person payroll, for accounting purposes only, to the line for drug treatment and prevention. Their budget was frozen, not raised; and the 75% of the staff that was ‘moved’ did absolutely nothing different after the move, little or none of which had concerned drug treatment. It was all sham.

Now, you expect this sort of thing of Enron or Harken Oil or Halliburton. Cook the books, fool the people. But aren’t those folks, or at least some of those folks, headed to jail? Anybody think Andy Fastow should be the next governor of Florida?

I know this is harsh, but isn’t it at least as harsh to eliminate 51 of 55 prison drug treatment programs?

Isn’t it harsh to oppose Amendment 9 on Florida’s ballot Tuesday that would mandate smaller class sizes . . . and to be caught by a reporter telling insiders (at a meeting where Jeb didn’t realize a reporter was present) that if it does pass, he would find some ‘devious’ way to keep from implementing it?

That was his word – ‘devious.’ I’m sure he meant it in fun, just as the 60% hike in the drug treatment budget probably just seemed like clever, fun politics. But what about the kids?

Is it really good government to find a real way to cut taxes for the best off – and only the best off – and then to find a fake way to make it look as if you raised the drug treatment budget or reduced classroom sizes?

Is this not lying?

I don’t use the term “lie” lightly. I’m not talking about a white lie or a slip of the tongue or a little ol’ fashioned political exaggeration – or concealing some embarrassing personal detail.

For all the hoopla the Bush brothers made over Al Gore’s saying he invented the Internet, the fact is (a) HE NEVER SAID IT and (b) what he did say – that he had been its champion in Congress and deserved a lot of credit for its creation – is undisputed. Only most people never learned this.

The Bushes had a field day when it turned out, after one of the debates, that Gore hadn’t actually gone to a disaster site with the director of FEMA (which he had done something like 37 times), but in this case had gone with the deputy director – oh, they scoffed, the man is out of control! Who could trust such a man!

They scoffed, too, when Gore said their numbers were a trillion-dollar fake – that you couldn’t slash taxes as they proposed and still protect Social Security and balance the budget, as the promised. And even as they were scoffing, they knew he was right, but that that was fine – the idea was to cut taxes for the best off so much that you had to cut government spending. And if kids suffered or the elderly couldn’t afford their medicine or 40-odd million folks would still be left with no health insurance, well . . . well . . . I think they must just not let themselves think about these things.

So, in my view, they attacked Gore on silly little things that the Bush team either made up or blew out of all proportion.

But what’s silly or little about slashing desperately needed drug treatment while cooking the books in a way to allow you to claim to have raised it 60%?

What’s silly about living in a state so poor in education that it threatens to ruin the lives of tens of thousands of innocent kids . . . and planning to find some devious way to avoid reducing classroom sizes if the people vote for it?

And of course this is just one slice, the little piece I know. How many other slices are there out there?

According to this detailed Village Voice article, Jeb is getting ready to give more than $10 million of the taxpayers’ money to some friends. They paid $4.4 million for a citrus grove two years ago; the trees then developed canker (which should make the grove LESS valuable, no?); and Jeb was getting ready to give them $14.4 million for it.

Could this be true? It sure seems to fit a pattern. (Don’t even get me started on the environmental stuff.)

Please consider cutting and pasting this column and sending it to everyone you think just might know someone who votes in Florida. The Miami Herald has not made it easy for us by ignoring these stories and endorsing Bush. But the race is very close. Bill McBride is a terrific, honorable man, a former marine, who deserves to be Florida’s governor – not Jeb.

Have a great weekend.

 

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