The Taxonomist:

Andy Sipowicz, NYPD Blue's crusty curmudgeon with a heart of gold, has
taken a second job, and I, for one, am pretty doggone disappointed with the
circumstances.

Since last September, there has been a welcome resurgence of popular support
for public employees, at least the kind epitomized by the brave members of New
York City's police and fire departments. So what were the scriptwriters of NYPD
Blue
thinking when they decided to turn the quasi-saintly Detective Sipowicz into
a tax cheat?

Andy (played by Dennis Franz) is now moonlighting eight hours a week as a
caretaker for an eccentric, wealthy old lady. The main attraction of the job
isn't just the ridiculous $100-an-hour pay rate, but the fact that all of that
$40,000 a year will be paid in "under the table" cash.

To be sure, Andy agonizes over taking the job. He worries about not seeing
enough of his five-year-old son, and he finds the old lady to be extremely
annoying. But neither he nor anyone else on the show seems to find it odd or
reprehensible that he'll be cheating on his taxes--federal, state, and local--to
the tune of more than $15,000 a year.

The message seems to be that even public employees think it's okay to evade
their responsibility to help pay for public services. And the show isn't even on
Fox! Come on, ABC, Steve Bochco, or whoever's in charge here. You can do
better.

Don't Misunderestimate Our President

Back in 1990, when budget shortfalls forced George Bush père to
break his "no new taxes" campaign pledge, humorists had a field day parsing
Bush's original promise. "Well, he didn't rule out raising old taxes," said some.
More creatively, others called the whole thing a misunderstanding: In truth,
Bush had merely promised "No nude taxes."

Which brings us to the current President Bush's January 5 statement to a group
of California business owners--the one in which he laid out his feelings about
possible Democratic efforts to stop or postpone some of his 2001-enacted tax cuts
in light of the newly depressing budget situation. "Not over my dead body will
they raise your taxes," the president shouted. The well-heeled crowd cheered
wildly. Yet, as others besides me have noticed, if you read the statement
literally Bush seems to have vowed that he will not fight to the death to prevent
taxes from being raised.

I'd like to believe that the president meant it that way. But I suppose such
grammatical persnicketiness would be silly. Maybe if his speech had been
delivered at a nudist colony ...

Peter Milius

We lost a national treasure on January 10 when Washington Post editorial
writer Peter Milius died at age 64. All of us who knew Peter will miss him
terribly. You should, too, because for more than three decades he was a major
force in helping policy makers and the public understand what budget and tax
policies are really all about.

I first met Peter back in the mid-seventies, when he was the Post's tax
reporter, covering what he called the House "Woes and Moans" Committee. Although
he later went on to distinguish himself as a news editor and an opinion writer,
I always thought that reporting was Peter's truest and highest calling. Much
better than most, he understood that his key job was to inform his readers about
who would win and who would lose from various proposed tax changes.

Later, as an editorial writer, Peter would sometimes complain to me that he
could only glean such crucial facts by reading "some paper, which shall remain
unnamed, other than my own esteemed employer's"--or in many cases, by doing the
missing reportorial research on his own.

Peter didn't slant his news coverage to match his liberal views. On the
contrary, he took great pains to understand and fairly report the claims of all
the players in the tax debates--including, however, not just their arguments du
jour but their underlying interests. A bit inappropriately, that evenhanded
approach carried over to his editorials, especially at first. A year after he
joined the Post's editorial board in 1985, his close friend Ward Sinclair, a Post
reporter at the time, joshingly presented him with a bottle of whiskey labeled
"Old Equivocator."

Eventually, Peter learned to reach a conclusion in his editorials, and his
efforts, typically spiced with dry irony, were both persuasive and entertaining.
Indeed, he sometimes amused himself enough to call me late in the afternoon on
the day before a piece would appear to read me his latest turn of phrase--not for
editorial comment, but just to hear someone else chuckle, too.

Funny, self-deprecating, incisive, kind, the old equivocator leaves shoes that
will be very hard to fill.

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