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Bigger than you think. "In 2000, the EITC [earned income tax credit] provided roughly the same level of federal assistance to low-income families nationwide as the TANF [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families] and food stamp programs combined," reports Alan Berube of the Brookings Institution ("Rewarding Work Through the Tax Code: The Power and Potential of the Earned Income Tax Credit in 27 Cities and Rural Areas," January). Chicago's public and private campaigns to increase awareness of EITC have borne fruit. "Before the citywide campaign began in late 1999, growth in EITC earnings citywide lagged somewhat behind that in other Midwestern cities, and in large metropolitan cities across the nation. As the campaign was introduced during the 2000 filing season, however, the dollar value of EITC claims that year grew 6.7 percent over the previous year--far outpacing growth rates in Midwestern cities and cities nationwide. Between 1999 and 2000, as the strong economy lifted wages and overall growth in EITC claims slowed, credit earnings in Chicago still continued to rise."

Still growing. According to a January 15 Census Bureau press release, there were 87,525 local governments in the U.S. in 2002, up less than 1 percent since the last census of governments in 1997.

SUV=the Darwinian way of weeding out the aggressive and the deluded. As the National Research Council and other disinterested agencies have shown, SUV occupants are more likely to die in an accident than those riding in cars. "Safety design, not tonnage, is the significant factor," writes Gregg Easterbrook in a long review of Keith Bradsher's new book, High and Mighty: SUVs--the World's Most Dangerous Vehicles and How They Got That Way (New Republic, January 20). "SUVs weigh far more than full-size and mid-size cars, but the latter are safer for occupants because they are designed in accordance with the strictest safety standards, while SUVs and pickups are not....Through the 1970s and early 1980s, nascent SUVs won special exemption after special exemption. Regulators ruled that SUV bumpers did not have to be as effective as bumpers on regular cars....SUVs and pickups were permitted to have much poorer brakes than cars--meaning longer stopping distances--and less durable tires....SUVs were exempted from stability rules that might have prevented rollovers....Almost all regular cars now have a 'unibody' design, in which the driver and the passengers sit protected by a single-unit metal enclosure that bends but does not break, except in the worst crashes. The body-on-frame construction used in SUVs, by contrast, bends poorly; when something slams into an SUV, the body and the frame may separate, exposing the vehicle's occupants. This is the primary reason that SUVs and pickups can be enormous and surround you with hard, heavy alloy, yet are not necessarily any safer."

Confusion. "Less than half of Americans say abortion should be permitted in all cases, and yet most say the decision should be left up to a woman and her doctor," reports Public Agenda in a January 23 E-mail alert. "Strong majorities support parental consent laws and mandatory waiting periods. But at the same time, more than half of Americans say the government should stay out of the issue entirely."

So much muck, so few rakers. "Every time someone talks about how Chicago is a 'Democratic' town and a great place, think twice," advises the author of "Subscripts" in Substance (December). "Just review the bigger corporate con jobs of the past dozen years....Chicago's had more Enrons than Houston....The difference is that here the boosterism of our media colleagues is so thorough."

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