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HINDSIGHT ISN'T 20-20: After former Buffalo School Superintendent James Harris resigned -- in part because of the district's chaotic fiscal practices -- M&T Bank Chairman Robert Wilmers offered to help pay for a search firm to find a new superintendent and for an accounting firm to review the district's accounting practices. The School Board turned down the help.

Now, three years later, and with the district's fiscal practices still in chaos, School Board President Jack Coyle still defends the refusal of help. "It may appear, on the surface, as a grand offer, but the devil is in the details," Coyle said.

Given that the district's fiscal ineptitude nearly delayed the receipt of $35 million in state aid, and that a national urban education group blasted its financial operations, it seems that Coyle might be worried about the wrong details.

WATCH OUT FOR TERRORISTS, AND HAVE A NICE DAY: Ever since Sept. 11, 2001, it's hard to criticize officials for being too careful. Still, it is somewhat jarring to hear the incongruent message being sent out by the Bush administration as it raised the color-coded threat level for terrorism to orange, the second highest.

The Department of Homeland Security's Web page warns Americans to be vigilant, but also urges everybody to "continue with your plans for work or leisure." We bet most people had that in mind, anyway.

ATTENTION TO THE DEFICIT DISORDER: It's important to know where a political party stands on the issues. So let's make this clear: Republicans are opposed to deficits, except when they aren't.

In 1997, as the New Republic magazine pointed out, every Senate Republican voted for a proposed constitutional amendment calling for a balanced budget. The measure failed to win the necessary two-thirds margin required for passage. After the defeat, GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah wrote that "continued deficits would devastate future generations."

Well, that was then. On Friday, Hatch, and just about every other congressional Republican, voted for a $330 billion tax cut over 10 years, which will add to the country's huge deficits for the foreseeable future. But now, according to GOP senators and congressmen, deficits don't matter. That's their story, and they're sticking to it. Unless, of course, a Democrat wins the White House in 2004, and then all bets are off.

WHERE IS MARK TWAIN WHEN YOU NEED HIM?: We wonder how Twain -- who said there are three kinds of lies -- lies, damned lies and statistics -- would have described the $330 billion tax cut bill Congress passed. In order to keep down the ostensible cost of the bill, Congress used a number of accounting tricks. One of them is going to cost Western New York.

A Senate provision would have determined the size of federal renewal communities based on economic data from the 2000 census. That designation entitles investors to big tax breaks for new or expanded offices, plants and jobs. But in order to keep down the cost of the bill, that provision was taken out of the final legislation, so now the government will use 1990 census figures. That means that many Western New York areas that could have used the designation to offer tax breaks to prospective employers now won't be able to because of census data that's more than 10 years out of date.

Hmmmm. . . . is that a lie or a damned lie?

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