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Roundup: Food and fuel

   The lead editorial in today's Buffalo News -- "Change farm subsidies" -- applauds the part of President Obama's budget that would significantly change the way the U.S. Department of Agriculture spends its money. Less on subsidies paid to mega-farms for fattening grains. More on infrastructure to help sustainable farms for fruit, vegetables and preserved soil.

It would be a major step toward ending the Depression-era farm programs that have, over time, shifted more and more to favor large agribusiness operations that produce a few crops at the expense, not only of the overstressed taxpayer and the overtaxed soil, but also of all the other farmers who grow different crops or operate at a smaller, more sustainable, scale.

   The second -- "Pay at the pump" -- plays with, and finally rejects, the already withdrawn brainstorm from Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to pay for highways with a tax on miles driven rather than motor fuel purchased.  

We could put GPS transponders in every car and truck, linking them to the satellite network and measuring how far every vehicle drives in a month. ... That would not only be expensive to implement, it would exceed the tolerance most Americans will show for personal information to be known to the government.

   Today's My View contribution, from Julie Ottaway Schmit [right], touchingly explains why the airliners that flyJulie over her home in Clarence Center have gotten much louder recently.

   The Another Voice is from  Michael W. Cropp, boss of Independent Health. He supports the president's plan to use modern information technology to cut the cost of health care.

   George F. Will praises attempts by Democrats to limit the ability of presidents to make security decisions without congressional oversight. He only hopes they squirm a little now that there's a Democrat in the White House.

   Froma Harrop hopes that the new administration's plan to welcome scientific research will stop, and reverse, the brain drain the U.S. suffered during the Bush years.

   And, in full Diogenes mode, David Broder thinks he may have found an honest politician. In Illinois, no less.

-- George Pyle/Editorial Writer 

Roundup: Health reform

   The first step to solving a problem is admitting that you have one.
   The lead editorial in today's Buffalo News -- "Health reform a challenge" -- argues that President Obama's proposed $634 billion "down payment" on a system that would provide affordable health care for all Americans doesn't look nearly so big compared to the giant, and growing, costs that are bankrupting automakers and state governments across the country. And will bankrupt us all unless we change our ways.

Republicans and Democrats, consumers and providers, even the health insurance companies—which everyone else has understandably come to loathe as the only ones with any money at the end of every quarter—all agree that we cannot go on this way.

   Obama Monday announced the choice of my old friend* Kathleen Sebelius, governor of Kansas, as health and human services secretary. Health care financing expert Nancy-Ann DeParle will be director of the White House Office for Health Reform.

Some peanuts from the Kansas comment gallery:
The Salina Journal : Sebelius [left] has demonstrated hard-as-nails character when pushing to improve Sebelius_official_photo-sm public health and protect consumers. She fought the Legislature to expand health care benefits to the uninsured, children and pregnant women, efforts that were killed by the Republican-dominated Legislature.
The Hutchinson News: What some critics see as negatives others view as Sebelius' strengths. Beltway politics and cronyism killed former Sen. Tom Daschle's nomination for this Cabinet post. Not having an inside track and trail of friends in Washington will help Sebelius seek fresh ideas and new perspectives.
- The Wichita Eagle: Kansans should wish [Sebelius] swift confirmation in the Senate. Then they should hope she succeeds, because health care access and affordability are only growing as budget-busting issues -- for American businesses, for state and federal governments, and for families across the country.
Burdett Loomis, [Kansas University poli-sci prof and one-time Sebelius functionary]: For Sebelius, governing is important, because policies will be more effective if they are well administered. Moreover, good policies will make for positive political outcomes—in this case, she won a solid reputation as an administrator, which offset her inability to effect much large-scale change. 

-- George Pyle/Editorial Writer
*When I was a Kansas newspaper editor, sometime after the Earth had cooled, I was a finalist for a really big deal prize. Sebelius, then Kansas insurance commissioner and ever the thoughtful politician, sent me a hand-written note of congratulations with the suggestion that I was such a rare commodity I ought to have myself cloned. My reply: I would, but my health insurance doesn't cover it.



Follow the money

   OK. Everything's up to date on The Buffalo News editorial page. Not only are we posting our editorials online, and blogging about same as a way of soliciting feedback. Now we've even got an editorial -- "Follow the money" -- that is basicallyHal_holbrook_deepthroat about a Web site. [A headline that remembers the parking garage advice given by the mysterious Deep Throat, right].
   The Web site is It greets you with a video from President Obama promising that the portal will be the way by which the American people are assured that the billions to be used in getting the economy moving will be spent "in a timely, targeted and transparent manner."
   We like it.

    Watching the federal government’s disclosures of how the money is spent is necessary, particularly in New York. Here, we should hope that, instead of being in the hands of Albany’s infamous “three men in a room,” the decisions about spending the federal recovery money should be clear to “all of us on the Web.”

   We forgot to mention in that editorial, though we've admired it in the past, that State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli already had a Web site that allows people to track state and local government spending in New York. It's called Open Book New York. And N.Y.A.G. Andrew Cuomo has another transparency site, called Project Sunlight. [Somewhere is a site called Your Worst Fears Confirmed. Or maybe that's already here.] 

   Just to compare and contrast, note that similar Web sites are up and running in North CarolinaOklahomaTexasAlabamathe District of Columbia. I'm sure there are others. Bookmark 'em all.
   But not every newspaper is so with-it. This article in The Daily Egyptian of southern Illinois reports that the city of Carbondale has updated its Web site with expected interest in the stimulus spending in mind. But the newspaper story doesn't include the address of the Web site so its readers can easily link up. [Maybe it's this.]

-- George Pyle/Editorial Writer   

Roundup: The way out of Iraq

   The lead editorial in today's Buffalo News -- "At last, a timetable," -- praises President Obama for moving ahead to very nearly keep his campaign promise to withdraw U.S. combat troops from Iraq within 16 months of taking office. [Official statement here].
   It's "almost" because he's now shooting for 19 months and because Obamapetraeus the left-behind something-other-than-combat troops, which he had always said would be necessary, will number as many as 50,000. But it's close enough for government work. Work that will be done by Obama and one of his new best friends, Gen. David Petraeus [right].

   After more than six years of war, the deaths of more than 4,000 military personnel and of untold thousands of Iraqis, the physical and emotional maiming of many thousands more of our nation’s bravest and most dedicated, an off-budget budget impact approaching $1 trillion and an utterly uncountable cost to America’s moral standing in the world, a three-month fudge factor is more than tolerable.

   Other good news, if anything connected with such a long and bloody war can be good news, is the fact that the Obama administration will start being honest about the cost of this war.
   The Sunday Viewpoints cover story --  "Invasion of privacy?" -- notes the background of the decision to reverse the Bush administration policy that banned news photos of the coffins of returning war fatalities. Former News Editor Murray B. Light basically agrees.
   The Obama budget, also, rolls the fiscal cost of the war into his federal budget, rather than keep it all "off-budget," as it was under the Bush team.

From elsewhere:
USA Today: Mission finally accomplished? Is the end in sight to America's costly six-year war? Despite Obama's certitude, the best answer is: maybe.
- The Christian Science Monitor: Obama cannot risk losing Iraq to chaos or dictatorship after the deaths of more than 4,200 American soldiers and nearly $700 billion spent by the US. The region needs a democratic Iraq, especially with Iran's growing influence. Too many mistakes have been made by the US in Iraq. It can't afford one more.
  The National Review Online : It took a couple of years and his election as president of the United States, but Barack Obama finally has acknowledged the success of the surge unambiguously.
 The Globe and Mail offers an interesting learned essay on the different ways the American people judge whether certain wars are worth the cost. [Three American professors in a Canadian newspaper. Go figure.]

-- George Pyle/Editorial Writer

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