Wednesday, March 13, 2013

There's An Old African Saying...

When two elephants battle, it is the grass that suffers. Welcome to my blog, fellow blade! The Dueling Budgets battle has begun, and Republicans, Inc. are playing the banjo:

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republicans are sending mixed signals in agreeing to meet with President Barack Obama for talks over the budget impasse, while Obama is conceding that a political accommodation may be impossible.

On the one hand, many Republicans who long have chided Obama for failing to engage their party on the nation's biggest problems are applauding his newfound outreach — part of a concerted effort by the president to mend ties with Congress in hopes of reaching a grand compromise on fiscal issues.

On the other hand, neither side is backing down from entrenched positions that have prevented deals in the past — a status quo scenario that Obama acknowledged could preclude any agreement.

To be sure, Obama is at least going into this phase of things without being deliberately ignorant of what the Republicans are up to, as he has insisted in the past:

President Obama says he's reaching out to Republicans, but isn't sure it will lead to a major budget deal.

"Ultimately, it may be that the differences are just too wide," Obama told ABC News.

The president added: "It may be that, ideologically, if their position is, 'We can't do any revenue,' or, 'We can only do revenue if we gut Medicare or gut Social Security or gut Medicaid,' if that's the position, then we're probably not going to be able to get a deal."

Thinking a little about this, there are points to be scored here. For one thing, Republicans, Inc. have insisted that Obama has ignored them and not tried to work with them...HA!...and now they are forced to give up that line of argument. So long as Obama makes a concerted effort to continue to pursue a deal. And he has to be long and loud in his oratory about it, making sure that he inoculates himself from the charge going forward.


There's also a case to be made for making a quick deal, to mitigate the impact of the sequester on Americans. Neither side really wants it to continue (except maybe Teabaggers but they are all but irrelevant in this phase of things...just see Rand Paul's ineffectual filibuster last week.)

The two plans can be outlined as follows: the Democrats want a balanced, rational plan that raises a few taxes mostly by closing loopholes and makes shallow cuts across the board.

The Republicans, Inc. plan of course freezes taxes at their current regressive levels, while making deep cuts in what are termed "entitlements." Indeed, Paul Ryan, the author of the plan, submitted a budget that makes almost precisely the same cuts to Social Security and Medicare (both off-budget items, by the way) that he claimed Obama proposed while campaigning against him.

Indeed, if anything, it goes Obama one better and crushes the poor of this nation in a distinctly unChristian-like fashion. God's watching, Paul. He can't be happy.

About the only mediation in the entire debacle is the fact that Senators McCain (R-etirement Home) and Graham (R-eally FABulous!) seem willing to work with Obama as a way of rubbing his nose in it that they derailed several Cabinet appointments.

The question there is, how thick is the President's skin?


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Think Of It As Evolution In Action, Mr. Mayor

Retailers were poised, return crates at the ready. Movie theatres had already started recycling. Bodegas held clearance sales. Things were in place to execute Mayor Mike Bloomberg's most obnoxious public health initiative since dismantling the oldest government public health program in the nation's history.

But in a last-minute ruling, State Supreme Court Justice Milton Tingling dismissed the law, explaining that the New York City's Board of Health lacked the jurisdiction to enforce it. He further went on to find that the rule was "arbitrary and capricious" -- that it did not accomplish what it set out to do. Or, as HuffPost Live host (and resident legal expert) Mike Sacks put it, "law-speak for too stupid to be legal."

Tingling made clear that the city's Board of Health was only meant to intervene "when the City is facing eminent danger due to disease," he wrote in the decision. "That has not been demonstrated herein."

Here's the thing: Mayor Mike is not wrong. There is a clear threat from obesity in this country, and even in New York, famed for its gyms and incidental commitment to health -- it's hard to find a parking space even in the outer boroughs now, so everyone walks anyway -- there are significant reasons to sound an alarm for obesity and how it impacts the city.

Here's the other thing: he's not right, either. And he need only look at the other health issue that the city has dealt with, properly and deliberately: smoking.

The city's war on smokers began under Ed Koch in 1988, when smoking in public restrooms and taxis was banned. Notice that this was decades after the Surgeon General's warning was placed on cigarettes cartons and packs, and almost half a century since the link between smoking and cancer was established.

People fussed, but the ban was later extended to other indoor venues, including offices. As people became accustomed to fresher air, they began to hop on board the bandwagon. The death blow for most smoking in the city was when it was banned from bars -- mostly to protect bartenders and wait staff -- in 2002. Prior to that, you couldn't walk into a pub without walking into a wall of smoke and frankly, it smelled like high holy hell. We all wondered how we put up with that in the first place.

Ironically, business in bars boomed as people who previously had stayed away for the smell flocked to drink and eat out.

In 2011, the city passed an ordinance banning smoking from public parks and beaches, meaning that about the only place one could smoke any longer was on a sidewalk or in your apartment, but even there, landlords began to catch wise to the profit to be made if they banned smoking in their buildings. Significantly lower insurance premiums meant an instant "rent hike" without bothering the tenants.

Mayor Bloomberg, for reasons that remain really unclear to me, decided to circumvent this evolutionary process and leap right to the ban. Was it vanity, the hubris to show that he had this entire city on a string? Was it a legacy that he wanted to leave behind, showing how "concerned" he was for the poor? Was it a genuine passion that he saw something that needed to be fixed and figured he was the one to do it? Who can say?
Yes, obesity is a real problem and yes, large soda containers are disproporionately purchased by the poor, meaning that obesity among poor and poor children especially is a critical problem. Progressives should be front and center on this issue.
But this is not an irreversible crisis, and my drinking a 32oz soda doesn't directly affect your health as far as anyone knows. We should be at the education stage of this issue, not the legislative stage. It needs to evolve.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Kim Jong Unnnnnnh.....

SEOUL—As the South Korean and U.S. militaries began a second phase of their annual joint winter exercises Monday, North Korea cut off a phone hotline to the South and repeated its threat to nullify the Korean War armistice.

Seoul said the North was conducting its own military drills, but the activity didn't suggest an imminent threat.

"There has been no unusual movement spotted in North Korea," a spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in late afternoon. "It has been quiet so far."

Following a week of aggressive rhetoric from North Korea, its main newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, reported Monday that the 1953 armistice suspending the Korean War had been "declared invalid." Pyongyang routinely portrays the annual military drills in the South as a prelude to an invasion of the North, and declares that it will retaliate mercilessly for any violation of its territory. But this latest round of threats is higher-pitched, reflecting that Pyongyang is also bristling over sanctions imposed by the United Nations for its Feb. 12 nuclear test.

Now, it strikes me that Kim feels backed into a corner, and to be sure, this could make him pretty dangerous. After all, China not only voted for the UN sanctions, it helped write them so as to mitigate their severity as best they could. They can't be particularly happy with either the US or North Korea right now.

Included in those sanctions, however, were aircraft and shipping inspections, as well as a ban on trade with North Korea. This last in particular -- while China as Pyong Yang's biggest trade partner by far will likely ignore -- had to sting a lot.

But ratcheting up war talk does not seem to be the response one would expect from anyone except perhaps a megalomaniac who believes what he sees in the mirror, and surely China has to grab hold of his leash and yank hard. They seem reluctant to do that (much like America in the past has been reluctant to tug Israel's chain.)

Kim could inflict major damage on South Korea, to be sure, and disrupt the global economy. He could also attack Japan, and the US Minor Territories in the South Pacific, if he chose to. Any trade partners he has in Southeast Asia are small potatoes compared to China.

And South Korea, of course. Yes. You read that correctly. Roughly one-fifth of the North's trade is with the South.

So it doesn't seem likely that suddenly an alliance will form behind Kim and he has to know this. That doesn't mean he won't go full metal jacket, however.