Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Numbers Game

Numbers Don't Lie, People Do. Okay, Sometimes Numbers Do Lie. . .

The Town of Hempstead does it, every time the budget rolls around -- say "freeze." School Districts do it -- proposing 8% budget increases that translate into 13% property tax hikes. And, believe it or not (yes, its true), even politicians do it -- skewing the numbers in their favor or, when the figures fail them, simply making the numbers up as they go along.

An interesting piece appeared literally on the eve of this year's elections on It rendered an accounting, of sorts, on the number of police officers hired -- or lost, depending on the point of view of the spinner -- by the County of Nassau during Tom Suozzi's first term as County Executive. Here's a sampling:

How many "less" Police officers are there in Nassau County? Ask any Republican candidate or PBA Capo Gary Delaraba and the numbers are all over the place.

Gary Delaraba in the Long Island Press "He's 375 police officers short."

Legislator Peter Schmitt says "There are 593 fewer police officers on the streets of Nassau County today than when Suozzi first took office (in 2001)."

Schmitt also says "Our Police Department has 600 fewer officers on the streets today, than when Tom Suozzi took office..."

County Executive Candidate Greg Peterson says "Under the Suozzi administration, more than 500 experienced law enforcement officers have left police service."

Legislature candidate Tom Sabellico says "we now have 550 less police officers than four years ago."

Sabellico also says "there are also 500 fewer county police officers than five years ago."

At a League of Women Voters candidates night, Sabellico used a number in the 300 range.

Legislature candidate Jeffery Katz says "This has resulted in a total loss of police manpower of about 800 officers."

The FACT of the matter is that since Suozzi and the Democrats took over, Police Academy classes have been graduating at capacity. In fact, Suozzi was there at the first graduating class in FIVE years. In REALITY under Republican control, there were no academy classes graduating for 4 years.

As reported here at The Community Alliance blog, Tom Suozzi actually appointed the maximum number of police officers to the Nassau County Police Department permitted by the police union's own contract.

Is it that those who are elected to represent us -- and those who would be -- don't bother to check the numbers before hand, or do they just assume we'll swallow what they stick down our throats on blind faith? A bit of both, we suppose.

Numbers, like statistics, are often skewed to paint the skewer in the best possible light, and the skewee in the worst. [Most of the time, you and I are the "skewees," in case you haven't noticed!] The distortion of fact -- and, conversely, the creation of a whole host of fictions -- stems both from the bias of those who blatantly bloat or deflate the stats to suit their purposes, and from the ignorance and apathy of the intended recipients, who rarely bother to check the facts -- notwithstanding.

We are reminded of that scene from The Manchurian Candidate (1962 version), where the McCarthyesque Senator John Iselin (played by veteran actor James Gregory, perhaps best remembered by TV land viewers as Inspector Frank Luger on Barney Miller) couldn't keep straight the number of Communists professed to be in the Defense Department.

Senator Iselin is reflected off the glass covering a portrait of Lincoln - juxtaposing the ghostly-thin, anti-Communist with a stalwart American from another era, as he fixes himself a drink. As a spineless puppet, Senator Iselin complains to his wife that he can't keep the number of Communists straight in the Defense Department: "I mean, the way you keep changing the figures on me all the time. It makes me look like some kind of a nut, like an idiot." She holds up a newspaper and proclaims:

"Well, you're going to look like an even bigger idiot if you don't get in there and do exactly what you're told...Who are they writing about all over this country and what are they saying? Are they saying: 'Are there any Communists in the Defense Department?' No, of course not, they're saying: 'How many Communists are there in the Defense Department?' So just stop talking like an expert all of a sudden and get out there and say what you're supposed to say."

When he crumples, she apologizes for being dictatorial and brash: "Would it really make it easier for you if we settled on just one number?" As he pumps Heinz [commonly known as 57 Varieties] tomato ketchup from a bottle onto his steak, she arbitrarily decides on the exact number of card-carrying members of the Communist Party in the Defense Department for his script - so it will be easy for him to remember. In Iselin's speech to the Senate later that afternoon in the next cut, he accuses the Defense Department of hiring '57' members of the Communist Party.

Of course, that's the movies, not real life. Tonight, for instance, President Bush will address the nation yet again on his "strategy" in Iraq. Listen carefully for any numbers mentioned or statistics referenced (not that "W" is big on the nitty gritty). The number of "terrorists" routed or killed. The number of "Iraqi defense forces" now at the ready and on the front lines.

Doubtful you'll hear the stats on the war's cost -- either in tax dollars ($223,155,980,000 and counting as of 8:50 this morning), or in terms of human life (there have been 2,309 coalition deaths, 2,110 Americans, one Australian, 98 Britons, 13 Bulgarians, two Danes, two Dutch, two Estonians, one Hungarian, 26 Italians, one Kazakh, one Latvian, 17 Poles, one Salvadoran, three Slovaks, 11 Spaniards, two Thai and 18 Ukrainians in the war in Iraq as of November 29, 2005, according to a CNN count). So what? We're "winning" the war in Iraq, haven't you heard?

On December 7th, Tom Suozzi holds his summit on School Property Taxes, calling forth educators, administrators and legislators to put heads together on a crisis that quickly reaches the boiling point (in some communities, the mercury on the thermometers has already popped through the glass casing). Watch carefully as dollar figures, budgetary statistics, and State Aid formulae are amassed and dissmeninated. Scrutinize these "facts" under your microscopes.

In the not too distant future, we'll receive the latest bills/receipts in the mail for the non-school portion of the Property Tax. We'll see exactly how the numbers mesh with the promises to "freeze" and the assurances to "hold the line." The Community Alliance will report on these numbers -- as they really are and as they impact upon your bottom line.

Perhaps it was the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan who said it best, "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts." [Erroneously misquoted as "Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts" on, of all places, Go figure!]

1 comment:

  1. Statistics are like a bikini. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital. Never take any politician's "statistics" at face value. You have to look at the assumptions made and the data sources in order to determine if these are "facts" or facts.