Monday, February 28, 2005
Now, if you could just buy something with it. (The Reliable Source -- WashPost)
Rolling Stone compares the indecency fines and finds that Howard Stern's dirty talk would be as expensive as dumping toxic waste into a city water supply or illegally testing pesticides on people. (Rolling Stone)
Of course, 65 years from now, who knows how far a million will go. (Seattle Times)
The European expansion would require $2 million dollars -- part of what the President asked for in his $81 billion supplemental request for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. (CNN)
Saturday, February 26, 2005
There are roughly 1.1 million travel cards issued to government workers. They place roughly $3.8 billion in purchases on them each year. The General Services Administration says using the cards instead of cash advances or reimbursements save taxpayers between $4 and $5 million a year. (Air Force Link) [HT: Dave Debo]
Friday, February 25, 2005
Three years ago, Adelphia filed for bankruptcy and Mr Rigas was accused of cheating investors out of billions of dollars.
Well, so long as we know what's moral and what isn't. (AP)
The German government forced flight changes around the visit. That meant Lufthansa had to cancel 92 flights affecting 5,730 passengers. That created a chain reaction of delaying 330 other flights. All the delays added up to 300 hours. And each minute of a delay cost the airline $66. (Bloomberg)
The Pentagon credits several things. They cite better intel and armor. They also say the Army's gotten better at electronically jamming the devices used to set off the bombs. (USA Today)
The GAO sided with Lockheed Martin Corp and a pair of other companies in a contract dispute over $4 billion in upgrades to C-130 aircraft. The GAO report says "the Air Force conducted discussions in a manner that favored Boeing."
In the middle of those negotiations -- Darleen Druyun. She's the former Air Force contract officer who took a gig with Boeing -- but wound up spending nine months in prison for giving her once future employer an edge in winning government contracts. (Guardian)
Thursday, February 24, 2005
The GAO found 207 Fortune 500 companies bought tax shelters from accounting firms or through their auditors. They also found more than 10,000 individuals bought into tax shelters. The GAO probe covered 1998 to 2003. (Bloomberg.com)
Senator Wayne Allard (R-CO) filed the resolution after North Korea boasted of having an atomic bomb. Sen Allard's state is home to the Pueblo's namesake city. The ship is currently on display in North Korea as a museum.
The Government Accountability Office also found more than 400 more troops had been discharged from "critical occupations" -- Army intelligence, Navy codebreakers, Air Force air traffic controllers, and Marine counterintelligence.
The GAO figures it's cost at least $200 million to recruit and train replacements for the 9,488 troops discharged since 1993 for being gay, lesbian, or bisexual. (Boston Globe)
ESSI has military contracts to add armor to military trucks and haul tanks in Iraq.
Mr Bush made a profit on the stock sale of $53.35 a share.
The Pentagon's Inspector General is investigating ESSI. He wants to see if a subsidiary improperly got an Air Force contract. Former Air Force contracting officer Darleen Druyun oversaw that contract. She's spending nine months in prison for contract fraud involving Boeing. (USA Today)
Wednesday, February 23, 2005
The Government Accountability Office found that nearly 34% of 867 soldiers it looked at were removed from active duty status while they were waiting for medical care. That meant they lost pay and benefits belonging to them.
Some of these soldiers were severely wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The GAO was critical of the "medical holdover" system that took names off the active duty list before injured or wounded soldiers had gotten the medical care they needed.
The GAO gave up on Army records -- which they called "unreliable." They did their own audits and found missed pay alone amounted to anywhere from $1,208 to $13,475 for a single soldier. (WashPost)
There was a time when your Hired Hands on the Hill and other politicians took a junket on a lobbyist's dime. Now the politicians are planning for the getaway -- and charging lobbyists a campaign contribution to tag along.
Lobbyist Tony Podesta tells the Baltimore Sun, "It's more quality time."
That quality time comes with a price for lobbyists. Sen Gordon Smith (R-OR) sent out invites for a $5,000 a ticket golf tournament.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee opted for the sun instead of ski slopes. They've already had a Miami Beach weekend retreat.
Here are some more places & prices the Baltimore Sun found:
- Rep Don Young (R-AK), $5,000 for a Miami reception
- Rep Adam Putnam (R-FL), $2,500 for golf, fishing, & dinner in Boca Grande, Florida
- Sen Mike Crapo (R-ID) had a $2,500 a ticket "ski fest" at Sun Valley
- Sen Craig Thomas (R-WY) $1,000 for a ski trip in Jackson Hole
- Rep Ben Chandler (D-KY), $250 and up for an evening of watching Kentucky basketball from Washington
Oh, you can lobby them, too. But who do you think they're most likely to listen to -- someone spending 37-cents for a stamp to write their Congressman -- or the guy who shelled out a grand for his re-election?
And with Congress out of session this week, expect Representatives and Senators to be listening to those special interests -- and away from your annoying letters and phone calls. (BaltSun) [Crossposted at BlogCritics.org]
In fact, 14 or the 25 items on the list involve the Defense Department -- something Comptroller General David Walker called "unacceptable and should not be tolerated" during a Capitol Hill briefing.
Sen George Voinovich (R-OH) blames a "revolving door" between the Pentagon and the defense industry leading to cozy deals and big government contracts. He couples that with individual Congressmen watching out for military bases and contractors in their home districts. (WashPost)
The prepacked news stories are called "video news releases" -- or VNRs in the business. They are one-sided, PR pieces that look like an actual news story. They've gotten on the air without changes -- and without any mention that they are produced by your government.
In his memo, Comptroller General Walker wrote, "Television-viewing audiences did not know that stories they watched on television news programs about the government were, in fact, prepared by the government. We concluded that those prepackaged news stories violated the publicity or propaganda prohibition."
His memo goes on to say it's not enough that the content is not objectionable nor that the VNR is identified as a government produced spot. He says the disclosures have to be clear to the television viewing audience. (WashPost)
Thursday, February 17, 2005
An administration official says the trip is to highlight "all the good things" the US is doing in Afghanistan. But there's no word on how much this "outreach" will cost American taxpayers.
Mr Limbaugh hasn't spilled the beans on who is buying his ticket. Ms Matalin says she'll pay her way to and from Dubai, but will be on the taxpayer's tab while in country. Ms Matalin was a former White House aide, worked for Vice President Dick Cheney, and was the first President Bush's 1992 campaign manager. (Reuters)
And millions more go to city slickers who never even see the farmland they own. The extent of their "active engagement" in farming may be limited to a couple of conference calls a year to the people actually doing the farming.
All told, there were 1.8 million people getting farm subsidies in 2003. The Bush administration wants to crack down on who's getting farm money and come up with a better definition of "actively engaged." (Chicago Tribune via Yahoo!)
Wednesday, February 16, 2005
House GOP leaders already fired the panel's previous chairman, putting the loyalist Rep Hastings in charge. And they changed rules making it virtually impossible to bring up a sitting Congressman on ethics charges.
The ethics problems for Rep Delay stem from a pair of grand jury investigations in Texas. (USA Today)
Prof Mankiw got out of step with his boss on Social Security, spilling the beans that it can't be fixed without some painful repairs. Back in early December, he said it'd be impossible to fix Social Security without cutting benefits. He called those promised benefits, "empty promises."
He'll be best remembered for his statement that outsourcing jobs overseas would prove "a plus for the economy in the long run."
As economist John Maynard Keynes put it, "In the long-run we are all dead." In the short term, at least Prof Mankiw's job wasn't outsourced. (NYT)
High technology is an obvious cause. The modern American warrior goes into battle with more hardware than your neighborhood Tru-Valu.
But that's just one of the causes.
The all volunteer military has forced the Pentagon to compete with the private sector. That means higher pay and benefits to get the best people.
Then there's the worldwide nature of the War on Terror and the Iraq War spreading US resources across the globe.
The Iraq War costs $4.3 billion a month -- $143 million a day. The war in Afghanistan, around $800 million a month. (Boston Globe)
Of course, the EPA's inspector general found out that weakened mercury standards the Bush administration sought were based on an industry lobbying group -- not science. That 61 page report I first told you about on February 6, indicates that the GOP administration overlooked health concerns to side with the electric industry.
Of course, you don't think there'd be any connection to campaign contributions from the industry, do you?
The POWs sued Saddam Hussein's Iraq after the war and courts awarded them $1 billion.
But now the White House says Iraq's changed. So the country shouldn't have to pay. The administration suggests the US should pay compensation to Iraqis tortured at the hands of Americans in the current war -- but not a dime to Americans tortured in the same Abu Ghraib prison at Iraqi hands 13 years earlier.
Congress allowed lawsuits against nations that sponsor terrorism back in 1996. The 17 Gulf War POWs filed suit in 2002 for a share of $1.7 billion in Iraqi assets frozen in the US. A judge awarded roughly $1 billion to the POWs when Iraq refused to respond to the suit. (LAT)
A new Government Accountability Office report shows the VA hasn't even followed its own ideas for improving mental health care for returning vets. Rep Lane Evans (D-IL) requested the study. He says it confirms his concerns that the VA is not prepared to meet the demand for mental health care created by the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars.
The VA set up a Special Advisory Committee after Vietnam to come up with a plan to deal with war-induced mental health problems. They came up with 24 recommendations.
But the GAO found the VA will not have 23 of the 24 in place until 2007 or later -- even though many of the recommendations were made nearly 20 years ago.
Back in July, the New England Journal of Medicine surveyed 6,000 Iraq combat veterans and found 1-in-8 already showed symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder.
On January 26, the Pentagon announced a new clinical program that would check up on returning troops three to six months after they got home from combat. The Defense Department's learned from experience that PTSD symptoms sometimes don't show up for weeks or months after the trauma happens.
But at the VA, the GAO found administrators at six of seven hospitals said they were unprepared to meet an increase in demand for mental health services. And the Special Advisory Committee reported in 2004 that the VA's ability to deal with PTSD had seriously eroded prior to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. (GAO & House Committee on Veteran's Affairs)
[Crossposted at BlogCritics.org]
Leading the Democrats' charge -- the once and possible future Presidential candidate, Sen John Kerry (D-MA). He wants to vote for the extra $8 billion, before he...well, you know. He could use a better soundbite the next time around. (USA Today)
Drug companies can pay higher fees to get quicker approval for new drugs from the FDA. Critics say that rushes new medicines through -- before they can be fully tested.
Scientists have complained that once problems crop up with a drug already on the market -- the FDA is slow to pull the drug. Some have testified before Congress that they were threatened by superiors for calling attention to such problems.
The FDA announcement comes on the eve of a major scientific conference set to discuss problems with two such drugs -- Vioxx and Celebrex. The prescription pain killers were sold with FDA approval for years before research turned up showing they could cause heart attacks.
Critics say the plan isn't enough and question the timing. The FDA has gone looking for praise and made some high profile, populist calls at critical times in the Vioxx mess that seemed custom made to deflect their bad press. (LAT)
[Crossposted at eTalkingHead.com]
Boeing lost a bid to lease refueling tankers to the Air Force amid a major scandal recently.
Airbus has jumped into the bidding to replace the Air Force's aging fleet of tankers. Having a plant in the US could increase Airbus' ability to compete for military contracts. Military buying rules require a certain percentage of a plane be built in the US. But Lockheed recently won a bid to replace the President's personal fleet of helicopters with a model built largely in Italy. (LAT)
The Office of Budget Management put the ban on hold. Right now, you can carry two butane lighters and four books of matches onto planes -- even though you're not allowed to smoke -- or build campfires -- on any of them.
But the tobacco industry has lobbied against the ban. They argue that the ban will create defacto "No Smoking" zones throughout airports because people won't bother to bring lighters with them to the airports. They'd also like people to light up as soon as they deplane and reach a "Smoking" zone. (Guardian)
Tuesday, February 15, 2005
Settling power struggles and turf battles, Congress and the President divided the responsibilities into 43 areas. But the Government Accountability Office could only identify lead agencies for 37 of those top priorities.
More than two-thirds of the projects have three or more departments taking a lead role. And the GAO found plenty of problems with coordination and cooperation between departments.
So that leaves a lot of confusion over who's supposed to be doing what to keep us safe. And we've all seen how Washington's confusion can leave a hole in our security big enough to fly four wide-bodied jets through. (GAO)
--President Bush, Tampa, Florida, February 4, 2005. (About.com)
"There's a series of parts of the formula that are being considered. And when you couple that, those different cost drivers, affecting those changing those with personal accounts, the idea is to get what has been promised more likely to be -- or closer delivered to what has been promised. Does that make any sense to you?
"It's kind of muddled. Look, there's a series of things that cause the -- like, for example, benefits are calculated based upon the increase of wages, as opposed to the increase of prices. Some have suggested that we calculate -- the benefits will rise based upon inflation, as opposed to wage increases. There is a reform that would help solve the red if that were put into effect. In other words, how fast benefits grow, how fast the promised benefits grow, if those -- if that growth is affected, it will help on the red.
"Okay, better? I'll keep working."
So it should come as no surprise that researchers watching local news found big city, local television news spent 8 times as much air time on car crashes than covering local election campaigns -- including federal races -- in the weeks before the 2004 elections. The study analyzed 4,000 local newscasts from 11 major markets. Some of the findings:
- Seattle: Time spent on intro music and teases outnumbered time covering the Washington Governors race by 14-to-1
- Nationwide: Paid advertising by candidates in news programs outdid local coverage of those races by 5-to-1
- Nationwide: More than 50% of local newscasts carried a story on the Presidential race but only 8% carried a story on a local race
Sen John McCain is using the study to bolster his call for tighter controls on media ownership. Critics of allowing companies to buy up more stations claim big companies make less of a commitment to the local communities where their stations are actually located.
The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Wisconsin and Seaton Hall University and led by the Norman Lear Center at the Annenberg School for Communications at the University of Southern California. (NYT -- Thanks to Al's Morning Meeting)
In an essay on beliefnet.com, Mr Kuo says he's "saddened" by the administration's failure to fully fund the initiative -- calling it only "a whisper of what was promised."
Mr Kuo's criticism is the latest from those in political-religious circles critical of the President preaching one thing but failing to deliver. In January, religous-political groups such as the Family Research Council and Focus on the Family flooded the White House switchboard with a coordinated complaint campaign after President Bush backed off on his support for an Amendment banning gay marriage. (LAT)
That's two more than Jimi Hendrix, Led Zepplin, and the Doors combined. Go figure.
Mr Clinton shared Grammy honors last year with former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev for their version of Peter and the Wolf.
Sen Hillary Clinton won the spoken word Grammy in 1997 for the audio version of her book It Takes a Village.
Sen Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) compare US spending in Iraq to an ice cube passed from hand to hand -- with it melting a little each time until nothing's left. (CNN)
Monday, February 14, 2005
Just two months earlier, another employee Ultra Services disappeared from beside an Iraqi road. His abandoned car showed no blood nor any signs of struggle. Contractor Kirk von Ackermann's briefcase containing $40,000 was in the car's backseat. The Army is investigating that disappearance now, too.
The Army is aready investigating the death of another whistleblower. Dale Stoffel was gunned down shortly after telling investigators about a kickback scheme between his company -- Wye Oak Technology -- and Iraqi Defense Ministry officials. (SF Chronicle)
Part of the problem may be with unconventional accounting practices. Officials with the Coalition Provisional Authority would count the cash as it left their vaults -- but have no paper trail after that.
A former CPA officer says they would hand out cash from the back of pick up trucks and in one case stuffed $2 million in cash into a contractor's gunnysack.
Obviously, CPA in this case should not be confused with Certified Public Accountant. Though the system sounds certifible. (WashPost)
When he asked the brass for help -- he became the first soldier since Vietnam charged with cowardice.
Only after shipping him home did the military read the disclaimer on the Lariam they'd ordered Mr Pogany -- that it may cause paranoia and hallucinations. His lawyer latched onto that as a defense -- and Uncle Sam dropped all charges against him.
As Mr Pogany put it, "What are we doing giving drugs that cause hallucinations, confusion, psychotic behavior to people that carry weapons and hold secret clearances?" (CBS)
But a search for donations from Google's founders came up empty. Larry Page and Sergey Brin have $7.2 billion in stock each. But neither has contributed any of their fortunes toward political campaigns. (USA Today)
The memo was mentioned during the 9/11 Commission Hearings. It was from former counter terrorism boss Richard Clark to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. Ms Rice has maintained throughout the President's first term, re-election bid, and her confirmation as Secretary of State that she never recieved any specific warning about al Qaeda.
But the memo from Mr Clarke detailed specific threats and warned that al Qaeda as having a broad reach, threatening US relations with allies and the Mideast peace process. (Boston Globe)
Sunday, February 13, 2005
At least Mr Ridge was honest. Last summer he said he couldn't get by on the piddling $175,000 a year salary of the nation's top anti-terror agency. And if he couldn't beat the pork barrel spending that plagued his agency -- at least he can join in on it.
And make a profit from your tax dollars. (SFBG.com)
Friday, February 11, 2005
You'd think that checking a person's criminal record wouldn't be rocket science. But it appears NASA never checked him out with federal prosecutors. He was hired without those prosecutors dismissing his indictment. (WashPost)
Confusing Massachusetts with Texas -- Got any Barbeque Chowder to go with this Glow in the Dark Stuff?
Rolling Stone suggests that amounts to how much exposure pundits could give to the administration. With Mr Williams, there was Sinclair Broadcast Group. He offered to work as an independent analyst, and the company got lots of high profile interviews -- with Administration officials Mr Williams was under contract to interview.
Mr Williams told Rolling Stone, "Sinclair brought me stuff that I did not have -- real numbers, where you can get the speaker of the house or the VP. On Sinclair, I was talking to millions of viewers a night."
Sinclair was not aware of Mr Williams' arrangement with the Bush adminstration at the time. But the producer who worked Mr Williams' interview on Sinclair stations with Education Secretary Rodney Paige told Rolling Stone it was "the worst piece of TV I've ever been associated with. You've seen softballs from Larry King? Well, this was softer. I told my boss it didn't even deserve to be broadcast, but they kept pushing me to put more of it on tape. In retrospect, it was so clearly propaganda."
Another ex-producer for Sinclair says that sort of thing fit in with the style of the broadcast company. He says he was ordered not to report any "bad news" out of Iraq. There were to be no reports of dead troops or how much the war cost.
Sinclair head honcho David Smith tells Rolling Stone, "We're in the center" politically and that "99.9% of the media is left of center."
Mr Smith promised an internal investigation of the Armstrong Williams scandal and his company's involvement with Mr Williams during the contract. But shortly after making the announcement, Mr Smith was a guest at an Inauguration Day reception at Mr William's home. (Rolling Stone)
He likens it to a lever. With a long enough handle, you could lift the burden of a large deficit. But with no handle, you're not going to get it very far off the ground. The Bush Budget cuts make up a small handle. (ABC)
The trade deficit forces the US to borrow money from overseas. So the US had to borrow money equal to about 5.3% of what the US produces here at home. That's above the danger point for financial gurus. Most countries have serious economic problems once they pass the 5% mark. (WashTimes)
Thursday, February 10, 2005
The Sen had breakfast with Defense Secretary Rumsfeld the morning after the budget came out.
Cuts in the F-22 Raptor program would save $4.3 billion. Eliminating the C-130J would save $4.9 billion. (Chicago Tribune)
Jim Behling, general manager at WNDU-TV in South Bend said, "There were some things in the tone that I didn't appreciate."
The other GMs apparently had the same attitude. None of the stations that got the letters pulled the ads. (USA Today)
Wednesday, February 09, 2005
You can look up your Representatives and Senators.
You can also find who accepts the most money in trips.
And find out how the political parties compare. (ARW)
"Simply put, our nation’s fiscal policy is on an unsustainable course and our long-term fiscal gap grew much larger in fiscal year 2004. Long-term budget simulations by GAO, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), and others show that, over the long term we face a large and growing structural deficit due primarily to known demographic trends and rising health care costs. Continuing on this unsustainable fiscal path will gradually erode, if not suddenly damage, our economy, our standard of lliving, and ultimately our national security. Our current path also will increasingly constrain our ability to address emerging and unexpected budgetary needs and increase the burdens that will be faced by future generations."
Walker testified that the GAO found that economic growth alone and minor changes to tax and spending policies won't fix the problem either. (GAO)
- $81 billion already requested this year for the Iraq War
- $1.6 billion (over 10 years) to make tax cuts permanent
- $642 million (over 10 years) to change the alternative minimum tax
There's also the White House report out today that the President's Medicare prescription drug plan will cost $1.2 trillion -- instead of the $400 billion he first claimed in 2003. The budget does mention an apparent doubling of that cost over the first five years of the plan. (Boston Globe)
The gossip concerned Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley (D) who claimed a "concerted and orchestrated and sustained" effort to spread false rumors about an extramarital affair. The mayor's thinking about challenging the Governor next year.
Mr Steffen admitted he discussed the rumor on popular conservative website FreeRepublic.com and in private e-mails.
Governor Erlich, in accepting Mr Steffen's resignatioN, refused to apologize to Mayor O'Malley saying it was premature to assume his office or campaign was behind the rumors. (WashPost)
First: For Social Security to hit a shortfall by 2042, an aging population will slow productivity and that will create a drag on the overall economy.
Second: For the private accounts to work, the stock market will be unaffected by the slowing economy and clip along with strong investment gains. (WashPost)
Medicaid's bean counters caught wind of the higher prices early on. But their top actuary, Richard Foster, said Medicare's top brass threatened to fire him if he went public with his belief the cost would top $600 billion.
The new numbers also show seniors will have to pay more for their share of prescriptions each year under the plan.
Part of the rising costs may be linked to a provision in the plan that prevents Medicare negotiating with drug companies for lower prices. (WashPost)
Represenatives Dennis Moore (D-KS) and Rush Holt (D-NJ) have each proposed "lock box" plans.
Sen John D. Rockerfeller IV (D-WV) wants to keep Social Security solvent by simply not extending the President's tax cuts.
Both address the issue of Congress borrowing from the Social Security trust fund to make ends meet on regular federal spending. The President is looking at four plans to cut benefits or extend the retirement age. He's also backing a plan to let people put some of their Social Security withholding into private accounts. That plan would have no effect on fixing the Social Security shortfall, though. (WashTimes)
Tuesday, February 08, 2005
The President wants to slash or eliminate 150 programs. All told, that adds up to about $20 billion. That's a lot of money to the average Joe -- but just a drop in the bucket when it comes to the $2.5 trillion budget.
It's only about 5% of the deficit for next year -- and only eight-tenths of one percent of the budget. What's more, some of it's taken from programs that have friends in Congress.
For instance, The Bush budget calls for doubling the co-pay for some veterans' medical care and charging others a $250 a year fee. The President can propose that because he doesn't have to run for office again. The people who have to vote on it -- are voted on next year. It's hard to believe any but the strongest Bush loyalists in the House backing a plan to raise prices on vets.
Monday, February 07, 2005
It gives your tax money to big companies for high-tech research. You'd think they could afford to pay for their own research and development. The President does.
Last year, President Bush proposed cutting 65 programs in his budget. He got all but one -- that one that gives big businesses your money. This year, ATP is spending $136 million of your tax dollars.
Getting rid of all 65 programs President Bush wanted to eliminate last year would have saved $4.9 billion -- still only about two-tenths fo 1% of the federal budget. It's only a little more than 1% of last year's deficit.
No matter what a Congressman's party, power brings with it increased campaign contributions -- and owing a certain debt to special interests. And spending on special interests' pet projects sticks around -- regardless of who's in power.
"As Republicans, we used to ridicule Democrats for spending. But now we're in power, and we've perfected the practice," says Rep Jeff Flake (R-AZ).
President Bush is trying again this year to kill the ATP. He's got a bigger hit list, too -- 150 programs for cuts or elimination. (USA Today via Yahoo!)
Then there's French Women Don't Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure which hit number 2 on the Barnes & Noble best seller list last month. Of course, at $75 for seven ounces -- maybe they just don't eat as often. (IHT)
The Senator was traveling with the President's Social Security reform tour, when the President took off and left Sen Nelson without a ride. The Senator had to hitch a ride in an '89 Buick.
At least he talked President Bush into using a new nickname -- "Benator." I always liked "Pat Benator," big star in the '80s. (Omaha World Herald)
Several jurisdictions are talking about limiting the sale of violent video games to minors -- blaming them for young punks playing out "Grand Theft Auto" in real life.
And in Texas, a state legislator wants to make it illegal to call yourself a meteorologist without a four year degree.
At least you still don't have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. (Al's Morning Meeting)
In President Bush's corner:
Opposing the the plan:
- AARP -- $5 million budget and 35 million members
- Campaign for America's Future -- $30 million budget
Outside groups spent $100 million in the lobbying effort over President Clinton's health care plan in 1994. This fight is shaping up to be even more expensive. (USA Today)
Sunday, February 06, 2005
Saturday, February 05, 2005
The budget will cut aid to local police from $600 million to just $60 million and eliminates $300 million to the states to help lock up illegal aliens.
Firemen come out a bit better than cops. Grants to firefighters would drop from $715 million to $500 million.
The budget cuts $200 million from the $2.2 billion program to help the elderly pay for home heating.
And it slashes about 6% from the EPA's budget. Surprisingly, most of it coming from Congressional pork barrel projects -- a rare move for any President.
Overall, the Bush budget promises to be a cut in spending -- as Washington defines cuts. If you factor in real dollars. That means it will be more than last year, but increase by less than the expected 2.3% increase in inflation for 2006. (CBS/AP)
Friday, February 04, 2005
Director Bolten says the White House is still on course to cut the deficit in half by 2009. To get there, the President will ask Congress to cut or kill more than 150 goverment programs this year.
The President wants $2.5 trillion for 2006. (Reuters)
Right now, your benefits are tied to wage hikes which rise faster than inflation. So each generation's retirement benefits are more expensive than the one before.
Tying your benefits to inflation would keep the value constant in real dollars.
The Congressional Budget Office figures this change would reduce the promised monthly benefits for people retiring in 2065 from $26,000 under current law to $14,000. That'd add up to more than $4 trillion over 75 years, more than enough to cover the expected $3.7 trillion shortfall.
Critics -- including Republicans -- say it could send retirees into poverty. Giving you an idea of a world where $14,000 a month is below the poverty line. (NYT)
Sen Pete Domenici (R-NM) says of the President's reform plans, "Politically speaking, right now it's probably not doable."
Sen Susan Collins (R-MN) wants to take a year to study the idea, and Sen Olympia Snowe simply opposes any plan to divert Social Security withholding to private accounts.
And so far, not a single Democrat has endorsed the President's plan. (WashPost)
They also question whether private accounts are a "sure thing." They point out stock prices have risen a steady 6.8% over the past couple of centuries. But if you break it down to smaller chunks of time, things aren't always rosy. For instance, every major stock index is currently below where they stood 5 years ago. (FactCheck.org)
Thursday, February 03, 2005
The math's a little hard to follow. The Washington Post even admitted it got the workings wrong.
Here's how the President's plan is supposed to work. Every dollar contributed to the President's private fund is taken from your guaranteed Social Security benefit -- plus interest. That interest is 3%. But the rate of return on the private plan is estimated at only 3.3%. So you don't wind up with all that much more money.
Say you set aside $1,000 a year for 40 years. Your payoff is all the money you put in, plus the return on that investment, MINUS what you would have gotten from Social Security. That adds up to a lifetime, grand-whopping $21,000.
Brookings Institution economist Peter R Orszag says it's like a loan to play the stock market. He says you have to pay back the loan with interest out of your monthly Social Security checks.
That would leave your benefits roughly the same, but you'd be drawing them from two seperate accounts -- Social Security and the private account.
Stephen Moore of the Cato Institute says by leaving the money untouched, though, you'd have a sense of ownership in the economy. Part of that "ownership society" the President talks about.
But while you may own the money, Wall Street gets to borrow it -- and play with it. The private accounts are supposed to be worth trillions over the next generation to the financial industry -- source of the some of the President's biggest campaign gifts in the last election. (WashPost)
Editor and Publisher tracks the notion for the numbers to Farid Ayar, spokesman for Iraq's Independent Electoral Commission. He said "as many as 8 million" voted in an official announcement. Reporters shortened that to flat out "8 million."
Similar elections in Vietnam in 1967 and El Salvado in 1984 later had their numbers adjusted downward.
In Mosul, 60% of the votes have been counted and the New York Times says only 10% of the city's 500,000 eligible voters turned out. That's a Sunni dominated town -- and Sunnis boycotted the election. (Editor and Publisher)
One GAO report found the Pentaon has no plan for having Guard and Reserve forces available when they're needed. DoD is limited to calling up just 1 million Guard and Reservists for no more than 24 months at a time. The GAO found this left the Pentagon short of needed people in 2004 and could lead to the Pentagon eventually running out of forces.
A second GAO report found that the Pentagon has failed to figure out how many people it needs in uniform to put together a national defense strategy. The GAO found that one of the main reasons the DoD had not done the work was that it was limiting money needed for personnel costs for other priorities -- chiefly "transformation." That's the catch-all phrase meant to embody how the Pentagon's chaning its mission for the 21st Century. (GAO)