Tax Day 2011

[Tril Bill]

It's that time of year. In honor of the day, our URLs du jour will contain the word "trillion" somewhere.

  • First, click on the bill for Jarka Vachuska's classic visualization of what one trillion dollars looks like.

  • I forgot to make fun of last week's column from Mark Bittman, the Official Food Nag of the New York Times: "How to Save a Trillion Dollars".
    In the scheme of things, saving the 38 billion bucks that Congress seems poised to agree upon is not a big deal. A big deal is saving a trillion bucks. And we could do that by preventing disease instead of treating it.
    Bittman is targeting so-called "lifestyle diseases": diabetes, heart disease, (some) cancer. The trillion dollar figure comes from the cost of treating those diseases and the productivity lost due to people calling in sick (or dead). So we can "save" that money simply by changing everyone's bad habits. Easy peasy!

    Presumably, once that happens, people will never get sick, at least not in ways that cost any money. (They'll still have to die, though, somehow; otherwise that trillion dollars will get eaten up quickly by Social Security.)

    And how does that happen? Well, Bittman is half-honest:

    But the trillion-dollar question is, "How do we get people to eat that way?"

    I don't have an easy answer; no one does.

    Raise your hands, good readers, if you can spot what's coming next:
    But it for sure will take an investment: it's a situation in which you must spend money to make or save money. (Yes, taxes will go up, but whose taxes?) Some number of billions of dollars -- something in the rounding error area -- should be spent on research to figure out exactly how to turn this ship around.
    Bittman adheres to the True Faith, the Gospel According to the New York Times: throwing more tax dollars can solve any problem, even if we have no specific idea how.

  • You may have heard that Standard & Poor's downgraded US Government debt. As in: good luck getting your money back suckers. Kevin Williamson asks: do they know something we don't?
    Actually, they know something we do: Nothing about this is a secret. In the phrase adopted by Rep. Paul Ryan, what is coming is the most predictable economic crisis in our history: a nominal national debt of more than $14 trillion, a real national debt ten times that, and Barack Obama standing between the reformers and the needed reforms with a veto pen and excellent chances of being reelected in 2012. This isn't sophisticated macroeconomic analysis; this is that anvil falling out of the sky onto the head of Wyle E. Coyote, and you don't have to be a super-genius to figure out that it's going to hurt like hell when it hits him. Even S&P gets that.
    Speaking of which…

  • You should read Keith Hennessey's (longish) analysis of President Obama's latest budget proposals. Hennessey's much more diplomatic than I would be, his language is moderate in tone, but the bottom line is pretty clear.

    But if you want to see a short explanation of one of the shenanigans the President is using to sell his scheme, this post is also a must. Considering Obama's claim that his plan "matches" the GOP plan of $4 trillion in deficit reduction, Hennessey notes the changing goalpost: Obama's claiming to reach that goal in 12 years as opposed to the GOP's 10 years.

    $4 trillion in deficit reduction over 12 years does not "match" $4 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years. It's not even close.

    The twelve year timeframe is a red flag. Federal budgets are measured over 1, 5, and 10 year timeframes. Any other length "budget window" is nonstandard and suggests someone is playing games.

    The game is that the deficit reduction is heavily weighted towards those final two years—when Obama will be safely out of office. The likely net result is:
    The President's new budget plan provides insufficient detail to support his claim of $4 trillion of deficit reduction over 12 years. But if we stipulate that amount, it is likely that the President's new budget proposal would result in $1 trillion more debt over the next ten years compared to the House-passed Ryan plan, and maybe more.
    I'm sure that's an honest mistake, and the President will own up to it during his promotional tour.

  • OK, I lied: this Fox News article doesn't have the word "trillion" in it. But it does report that President Obama's ballyhooed $5 billion bump to (ostensibly) help lower-income families retrofit their dwellings to make them more efficient …
    It's a complete cesspool of waste," Leslie Paige, vice president of Citizens Against Government Waste, told "When it's over, we will never know how much went down the tube. They cannot track the money. By the time they get to it, a lot of the money will be gone."
    But cheer up: as I type, there's a full-sidal-nudity picture of Bridget Moynahan on the same page. Way to go, Fox!

Last Modified 2011-04-21 1:51 PM EDT

Waiting for "Superman"

stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

My bright idea: make a documentary about people waiting for scarce documentary DVDs to arrive from Netflix; call it Waiting for "Waiting for 'Superman'".

And then make a documentary about people waiting for that DVD to show up. And call that one Waiting for 'Waiting for "Waiting for 'Superman'"'.

And then…

But anyway: it finally showed up for us. Waiting for "Superman" is a look at the dire state of American government schools at the elementary and secondary level. For anyone who's paid a bit of attention to the education debate over the past few years, the themes will be depressingly familiar: the systems are largely dysfunctional. They are not run for the benefit of students; instead, they're designed to funnel ever-increasing amounts of taxpayer money into the pockets of administrators, teachers, and bureaucrats. Teacher unions are fundamental obstacles to any sort of reform that just might favor effective teachers over poor ones; their political clout means that any politician or administrator that poses a threat to the status quo does so at risk to his or her career.

Just ask Michelle Rhee and Adrian Fenty. (Ms. Rhee is one of the primary heroes featured in Waiting for "Superman", made before she was canned.)

Parents and kids caught up in the system without enough money to buy their way into a private or parochial education are well aware of the problems. The documentary follows a number of victims; especially hard to watch is their long-shot entries into lotteries to get kids into a small number of charter schools.

Last Modified 2012-09-26 1:17 PM EDT

Crusader's Cross

[Amazon Link]

This is the 14th entry in James Lee Burke's series featuring Cajun crimefighter Dave Robicheaux. It is, as usual, excellent. I can't think of any writer that does a better job of painting a scene, convincingly portraying stunning beauty or ominous dread, as desired.

This one excavates an incident from Dave's long-ago past, when he and his half-brother Jimmie were rescued from pesky sharks by a lovely but mysterious woman, Ida. Jimmie especially becomes smitten, and even after it's revealed that Ida's day job (by which I mean: her night job) is sordid he resolves to Take Her Away From All That. Things unfold badly, and Ida vanishes.

But, as sometimes happens, Dave hears a deathbed revelation that opens up that can of worms again.

It is a staple of Burke's series to have Dave undergo various kinds of psychic hell. If anything, this book ups the ante a bit; he's still reeling from the death of his longtime wife, Bootsie. His daughter, Alafair, is off to college. His old house has been destroyed. And his antagonists here threaten both his reputation and his loved ones. It's no wonder that the temptation of an alcoholic solution beckons strongly.

Also as usual, Burke has Dave mouth the usual lefty clichés of race, power, and class. I've long since learned to punch the fast-forward button over these. His characters and plots are skillfully drawn and cliché-free.

Last Modified 2012-09-26 1:16 PM EDT