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What's a few zeroes?

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Issue: "Boston Terrorthon," May 4, 2013

What’s a few zeroes?

The April release of President Obama’s $3.77 trillion budget claimed $580 billion in new taxes. Subsequent analysis revealed that figure was off—by nearly half. The proposed $1.1 trillion in new revenue would be used for expansive new federal programs—including a $40 billion “Fix It First” infrastructure initiative, $10 billion for a new national infrastructure bank, and $66 billion for a Preschool for All program (to join the 45 early educational and childcare federal programs already in existence). These “targeted investments,” Obama said, will “prime our economy.”

The budget puts more money in federal coffers from individuals and nonprofits by restricting the deductions allowed for charitable contributions and capping the amount earners can store in certain tax-sheltered investments like a Roth IRA. The charitable giving cap could lead to a $5.6 billion decline in annual giving. The White House recommends the investment restrictions because some Americans have more savings than “needed to fund reasonable levels of retirement.” Both changes reduce the ability of families to be less dependent on government. 

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Obama is also asking Congress for a $30 million increase in federal funding for Title X programs—a key source for Planned Parenthood’s government dollars. And he removes federal funding from abstinence-based sexual risk avoidance (SRA) education, diverting those dollars toward sex-ed programs emphasizing contraception.

The president’s budget does propose saving $130 billion over the next decade by tweaking the way the government calculates the annual cost-of-living adjustment for Social Security. Democrats pledge to block this step even though it could slow the growth of entitlement spending. With both political parties finding something to dislike, Obama’s budget, delivered more than two months late, may have a hard time improving upon the 99-0 Senate defeat suffered by last year’s budget plan.

Election countdown showdown

In the countdown to Pakistan’s May 11 parliamentary elections, Pervez Musharraf—the country’s former military ruler—faced daunting challenges: treason charges that could carry the death penalty, Taliban death threats, and a Pakistani public unenthusiastic about his return.

None of that stopped Musharraf, who returned to Pakistan in March after four years of self-imposed exile. But on April 16 an appellate panel of election judges barred Musharraf from running for a parliamentary seat. The former leader, who seized power in a 1999 military coup but resigned in 2008, still faces a hearing on treason charges and may appeal the election ruling. 

If parliamentary elections proceed as scheduled, the country would mark its first democratic transition of power since 1947.

Abortion for the very young

This summer preteen girls may be able to purchase the morning-after pill at their local pharmacy without a parent or prescription, thanks to a federal judge in New York. On April 5, U.S. District Judge Edward R. Korman struck down an Obama administration rule banning over-the-counter sales of Plan B One-Step, a potential abortifacient, to women under 17. Judge Korman said the rule was “politically motivated” and “scientifically unjustified.”

However, some health experts insist young girls taking Plan B need a doctor’s oversight: The drug can alter the menstrual cycle, cause heavy bleeding, and is associated with an elevated rate of ectopic pregnancies. President Obama has until May 5 to appeal the judge’s ruling, but has little to gain politically for doing so.

Egypt ‘is collapsing’

As spring harvest begins across Egypt, fuel-strapped farmers face a perplexing question: Will they be able to reap what they’ve sown? For some, the answer may be no: A worsening diesel fuel shortage threatens to curb supplies to bring in harvests.

Egypt imports about 75 percent of its wheat, but even that reserve is in danger, as the fragile government runs out of money to import wheat and fuel it has subsidized for decades.

Transportation and food costs are rising for a population struggling with poverty: The price of chicken has doubled and the price of rice has risen 28 percent since last year. Meanwhile, drivers in Cairo sometimes wait hours to purchase diesel fuel, and violence has erupted at gas stations in the last month.

Negotiations continue for a loan from the International Monetary Fund, but Egyptian officials have resisted certain conditions—like cutting unsustainable subsidies—and fear backlash from beleaguered citizens.

But backlash is growing across Egypt, including among Christians. When a mob attacked a crowd of funeral-goers at St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo on April 7, the Coptic pope delivered an unprecedented criticism of President Mohamed Morsi for failing to protect Christians. 

“This is a society that is collapsing,” Pope Tawadros II said during a television interview. “Society is collapsing every day.”


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