Monday, May 16, 2011

Last Call

Why is it that everything Republicans touch financially turns to complete crap?

It turns out the six-month spending bill Congress passed in March increased discretionary outlays through the remainder of the fiscal year by a bit over $3 billion. In other words, total direct spending will be higher by the end of September than if Congress had just set spending on autopilot for the remainder of the fiscal year back in April.

"Total discretionary outlays in 2011 will be $3.2 billion higher as a result of the legislation, CBO estimates--an increase of $7.5 billion for defense programs, partially offset by a net reduction of $4.4 billion in other spending," reads a just-released report from the Congressional Budget Office -- Congress' non-partisan scorekeeper. Analysts there conclude that increase is due in large part to the fact that the six month spending bill shifted defense spending to more immediate activities, which means the bills will come due sooner than later. 

Yep.  The Republicans nearly shut down the government in order to cut spending, and the deal they accepted ACTUALLY INCREASED SPENDING OVER DOING NOTHING.   But Republicans are "serious" on budget issues.  Right.

Birthers Get A Trump Card, Part The Final

Trump's not running for President.  Surprise!

Real estate mogul and television celebrity Donald Trump, who generated a media publicity blitz by saying he might run for president in 2012, announced Monday that he will instead remain a businessman.

"After considerable deliberation and reflection, I have decided not to pursue the office of the presidency," Trump said in a statement.

With his typical bravado, Trump maintained that he would have won the Republican primary and the general election, but recognized that "running for public office cannot be done half-heartedly."

"Ultimately, however, business is my greatest passion and I am not ready to leave the private sector," Trump said in the statement.

Not ready to lose by 500 electoral votes to Obama, you mean.  Don't blame him, actually.  But really, I can't wait to see what sparkly object full of The Stupid that the Village chases next, and I have a real good idea what it's going to be.

Smallpox, Big Dilemma

Smallpox is only kept in two locations in the world, the United States and Russia.  There is a difficult debate about what to do with the remaining samples.  On the one hand, there are concerns of terrorism, mistake, natural disaster or any other set of circumstances that could start an epidemic.

On the other hand, scientists argue that keeping samples allows them to prepare vaccines and learn how to fight the disease and put it to rest forever.  There is a lot to be gained from that movement, but is it worth the risk?  I'm inclined to say yes, but in awe of the consequences if this were to ever go wrong.

It's easy to forget something so simple killed millions of people.  Their deaths were painful and terrifying, and medical science won a major war. We should never underestimate the power of such a disease, especially in third world countries where doctor visits are only for the wealthy.

No Dealing On The Debt Ceiling, Part 8

Ezra Klein gives us the status of the debt ceiling fight today as we bonk our heads on it.

There's not been much evident progress towards a deal in recent days, though there's been an escalation in Republican demands from the Senate side (McConnell wants Medicare cuts but no tax increases) and a plea from the Obama administration for Democrats to stop adding new demands onto an already overburdened negotiations process. But the outlines of a deal have been relatively obvious for some time: For better or worse, the final deal will be heavily tilted towards spending cuts, and accompanied by some sort of procedural mechanism to make future deficit reduction more likely.

To some degree, that's backwards. The smartest deal going forward would be one in which the two parties stuck to PayGo -- or, if you want to reduce the deficit, SaveGo -- and thus figured out how to pay for tax cuts and spending increases when those tax cuts and spending increases were passed rather than when the bills came due. But given that the House Republicans replaced PayGo with a weaker policy in which spending cuts had to be paid for but tax cuts didn't, that Congress is really interested in avoiding future debt-ceiling showdowns. The minority would very much like to use the debt ceiling to make changes to government that they'd also like to make in the absence of the debt ceiling. But it's not at all clear that the debt ceiling has convinced them to make changes to government that they wouldn't otherwise support, and if they'd supported PayGo in the first place, we'd be in much better shape today

Republicans don't care about the debt.  They do care about dismantling social programs and cutting taxes on the wealthy as much as they can.  Ezra believes the Republicans will get most of what they want.  The problem this time is "most of what they want" would be trillions of dollars in cuts to programs and zero revenue increases.  So yeah, this is a problem. 

Obama pulled a fast one on the GOP on both the tax cut issue last December and the budget showdown last month.   The Tea Party howled that Boehner was an apostate.  But this time around they are willing to let us default.  The stakes are much higher.

So who will come out on top here?  We'll see.  The default clock is now counting down, and the Treasury's going to have to make some ugly decisions here in the meantime...

Suicide Tourism Survives Vote

It appears some are upset that the public spoke so loudly in support of assisted suicide
Some 85% of the 278,000 votes cast opposed the ban on assisted suicide and 78% opposed outlawing it for foreigners, Zurich authorities said.
While opinion polls indicated that most Swiss were in favour of assisted suicide, they had also suggested that many were against what has become known as suicide tourism.
Sarah Wootton, chief executive of Dignity in Dying, said: "With the present lack of a safeguarded alternative at home, this result will come as a relief to many people in Britain who want the choice of an assisted death, should they find themselves suffering at the end of life.
I'm a fan of choice.  I've also seen what happens when desperate and terrified people take matters in their own hands.  I've seen the devastation of cancer and other terminal illnesses firsthand.  I think everyone has the right to make decisions for themselves.  Nobody owns anyone else's life.  The exceptions to that should be radically few and far between.  

I have posted on this topic before, but not for ZVTS.  I am a strong advocate for helping people who are suffering.  There is screening to help make sure the person is mentally stable enough to make that decision, and in most cases the drugs are not administered.  In other words, the person must knowingly put the medicine in their body, of a sound mind.  Those who are determined will do it anyway, and there is a lot to be said for a safe and comfortable environment for those who seek that treatment.  Don't get me wrong, I equally support the people who choose to fight for every scrap of life, every last breath.  I'm saying that in my mind, there is no question that this is something we should be able to choose for ourselves, under competent medical supervision.  The fact that so many feel this way is a good reason for governments and medical professionals to have an open discussion about how to best serve the patients who wish to exercise ownership of their lives, and choose quality vs. quantity.

As always, I would love to hear your opinions.

Best Idea Ever

MIAMI, May 15 (UPI) -- Hundreds of people passed by the Miami Symphony Orchestra as it played a variety of selections at Miami International Airport, orchestra officials said.
Saturday's performance was part of the orchestra's Music in Unsuspected Spaces program, and a complement to the airport's efforts to provide more art and culture, The Miami Herald reported.
This is a brilliant idea.   It's a program bound to bring happiness and a little bit of creativity to the world.  The Miami SO is not a band of gypsies, you are talking about some of the best performers in the country gathered to play for strangers... for free.  Bon is pleased.

Land Of The Rising Core Temperature, Part 29

And the news out of Japan on the Fukushima Daiichi front continues to get worse.  First, reactor #1, still in meltdown, is posing new problems.

Japanese officials are readying a new approach to cooling reactors at the Fukushima nuclear plant after discovering an Olympic swimming pool-sized pond of radioactive water in the basement of a unit crippled by the March earthquake and tsunami.

The discovery has forced officials to abandon their original plan to bring under control the No. 1 reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi plant as they focus on how to deal with the rising pool that some experts see as a threat to groundwater and the Pacific coast.

Despite the setback, Japanese nuclear safety officials and the plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO), plan to stick to a target of stabilizing the plant and bringing its reactors to a state of "cold shutdown" by January.

At that point, the fuel at the core of the reactors would have dropped in temperature and no longer be capable of boiling the surrounding water.

January.  Meanwhile, the exposed fuel rods will continue to spew radioactive particles for months. It's getting into the water and the soil and the air and will continue to do so for a very, very long time.  That brings us to the second story:

Japan on Sunday started the first evacuations of homes outside a government exclusion zone after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami crippled one of the country's nuclear power plants.

Some 4,000 residents of Iidate-mura village as well as 1,100 people in Kawamata-cho town, in the quake-hit northeast, began the phased relocations to public housing, hotels and other facilities in nearby cities.

Their communities are outside the 20-kilometre radius from the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, officially designated as an area of forced evacuation due to health risks from the radiation seeping from the ageing and damaged plant.

The government told people in communities such as Iidate-mura they had to leave, but authorities are unlikely to punish those who choose to stay.

"I am sure all of you have lived in Iidate-mura all your life and never moved," mayor Norio Kanno told a group of residents preparing to leave their homes.

"Considering the future of our children and young people, as well as the health of our village residents, we have no choice but to go ahead with the village-wide evacuation," he said.

"I will do whatever I can so that you will be able to return home as soon as possible."

The first batch of evacuees were mostly those with small children and pregnant women, who are considered more vulnerable.

Expect more of this.  Much, much more.  And where will these people relocate to, one has to wonder?  Make no mistake, this is a generational disaster playing out before our eyes here in Japan.  And it will only get worse.

Slave To The Grind

Ron Paul could save a lot of time by just saying "government is slavery" and moving on.

WALLACE: You talk a lot about the Constitution. You say Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid are all unconstitutional.
PAUL: Technically, they are. . . . there’s no authority [in the Constitution]. Article I, Section 8 doesn’t say I can set up an insurance program for people. What part of the Constitution are you getting it from? The liberals are the ones who use this General Welfare Clause. . . . That is such an extreme liberal viewpoint that has been mistaught in our schools for so long and that’s what we have to reverse—that very notion that you’re presenting.
WALLACE: Congressman, it’s not just a liberal view. It was the decision of the Supreme Court in 1937 when they said that Social Security was constitutional under Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution.
PAUL: And the Constitution and the courts said slavery was legal too, and we had to reverse that.

Look, if your entire argument is "I don't agree with the General Welfare clause or the precedent interpretations of it over the last 235 years" that's one thing.  But saying "Well slavery was wrong too so that got changed so the entire Constitution is suspect" and equating the two is just insane.   The Constitution is not an infallible covenant handed down from God or Buddha or Sikkar or the Flying Spaghetti Monster or anything.  It's a document written by mortals and interpreted by mortals and enforced by mortals.  It's those last two that often lead to conflict, nobody's arguing the first part there.

But if the best argument the mighty Ron Paul has for libertarianism is "Well the Constitution was wrong about a lot of things originally so yeah remember the whole thing is up to your point of view" then I have to just laugh, because Paul's no threat unless he actually cuts himself with a card stock copy of the Constitution.

Also, anyone who says government is inherently evil and then wants to run for President, well let's just say I don't trust them.  The Zaphod Beeblebrox Theory Of Galactic Presidency states:

The President in particular is very much a figurehead – he wields no real power what-
soever. He is apparently chosen by the government, but the qualities he is required to
display are not those of leadership but those of finely judged outrage. For this reason the
President is always a controversial choice, always an infuriating but fascinating charac-
ter. His job is not to wield power but to draw attention away from it. On those criteria
Zaphod Beeblebrox is one of the most successful Presidents the Galaxy has ever had –
he has already spent two of his ten Presidential years in prison for fraud. Very very few
people realize that the President and the Government have virtually no power at all, and
of these very few people only six know whence ultimate political power is wielded. Most
of the others secretly believe that the ultimate decision-making process is handled by a
computer. They couldn’t be more wrong.

And frankly, I think Ron Paul is a lot closer to the Big Z than most people realize.  But whenever Douglas Adams makes a better case for your candidacy than your own arguments, it's time to consider maybe doing something else in life.   I want to be President but I really, really, really hate the government?  No thanks.

The Ryan Unicorn Plan 2.0 Upgrade: Now With More Lies!

Today we see part of the Republican re-launch of the embattled Ryan Unicorn Plan.  The re-launch is needed because of the sheer number of House Republicans who voted for the plan who are now running from that vote after getting an earful on it during the Easter recess last month.  It's been such a disaster (along with the Republican birther nonesense and the death of OBL putting a serious dent in Republican terror-fighting credibility) that Democrats are now back on top of the generic congressional ballot race.

With the plan all but dead in the water, Rep. Paul Ryan takes to the Chicago Tribune this morning in order to "set the record straight" on his plan, and by that I mean "project the fear and economic chaos that this plan will cause onto the Kenyan other."

The House-passed budget — "The Path to Prosperity" — offers an alternative vision. It is rooted in the recognition that spending discipline and economic growth are the keys to balancing the federal budget.

In a recent speech he gave in response to the House budget, President Barack Obama outlined his approach to addressing our fiscal imbalance. It begins with trillions of dollars in higher taxes and relies on a plan to control costs in Medicare: A board of 15 unelected bureaucrats would be given more power to deeply ration Medicare spending in ways that would disrupt the lives of those in retirement, leading to waiting lists and denied care for today's seniors.

By contrast, the House-passed budget gets health care spending under control by empowering Americans to fight back against skyrocketing costs. Our budget makes no changes for those in or near retirement, and offers future generations a strengthened Medicare program they can count on, with guaranteed coverage options, less help for the wealthy, and more help for the poor and the sick.

There is widespread, bipartisan agreement that the open-ended, fee-for-service structure of Medicare is a key driver of health-care cost inflation. Medicare is not the train being pulled along by the engine of rising costs. Medicare is the engine — and the rest of us are getting taken for a ride.

The disagreement isn't really about the problem — it's about the solution to controlling costs. Our budget would achieve this by letting seniors act as value-conscious consumers in a transparent and competitive market. Our plan is to give seniors the power to deny business to inefficient health care providers. The Obama plan is to give government the power to deny health care to seniors.

The House-passed budget also rejects the president's call for permanently higher taxes. Instead, it calls for scaling back or eliminating loopholes and carve-outs in the tax code that are distorting economic incentives. It does this, not to raise taxes, but to create space for lower rates to provide incentives for businesses to create jobs in America.

By contrast, the president says he wants to eliminate deductions, but he also wants to raise rates, including raising the top rate to 44.8 percent. That would amount to a $1.5 trillion tax hike on families and job creators.

Gotta hand it to Ryan, he's hit all the GOP high notes on scaremongering and lies that worked in 2010:  "Death panels", the "trillion dollar plus tax hike on the middle class", "strengthening Medicare",  "giving seniors the power", "Obama will deny health care to seniors"...all of them outright lies.

In fact, the plan that denies coverage to seniors is the Ryan plan itself.  It replaces Medicare with a voucher program that does NOT guarantee coverage and shifts the burden of paying for care to seniors, the CBO saying the plan would cost seniors $6,000 more per year.  If you live to 90, it's going to cost you an extra $150,000 over 25 years.  Where's a senior supposed to get that kind of money from, working at Wal-Mart as a greeter?

The death panels?  Well, that will be your insurance company...if you can convince one to cover a 70 year old living on fixed income.  The tax hike?  Well, the Ryan plan will cut taxes on the wealthy...and make seniors foot the bill.  The Obama plan would yes, let the tax cuts on the wealthy expire, but not the middle class cuts.  And denying health care to seniors?  That's the Ryan plan, not the Obama plan.

But you don't have to take my word for it.  Democrats, Republicans, conservatives, liberals, and even Ron Paul have come out against the Ryan Unicorn Plan.  And remember, re-launch or not, it's still the same old Ryan Unicorn Plan, no matter what Ryan says and does to lie about it and scare you with.  America didn't believe it then, and they won't believe it now.  It's proof that Ryan and the rest of the GOP think you're stupid.

It's going to fail spectacularly.  Watch.


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