I Almost Wiped Out the Deficit by 2030

Are you riled at Republicans warning of cuts to the social safety net?

Are you disheartened by Democrats eager to hike upper-income taxes?

Today, it’s your turn. Get out your red pen, and start cutting.

The New York Times has an interactive graphic on its Website that gives you a page-long menu of possible budget cuts and encourages you to have at it – and shows you what the effect will be.

I nearly cut the entire deficit as it’s projected by the year 2030, but I had to make some tough (dare I say, maverick-y?) choices to do it. Like, ahem:

Cutting foreign aid in half.
Eliminating earmarks.
Cutting the pay of civilian federal workers by 5 percent.
Reducing the federal workforce by 10 percent.
Cutting 250,000 government contractors.
Reducing the military to its pre-Iraq War size and further reducing troops in Asia and Europe.
Reducing the number of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan to 30,000 by 2013.
Capping Medicare growth starting in 2013.
Raising the Social Security retirement age to 68.

Just to see what the effects would be, I also, yes, allowed the Bush tax cuts on incomes above $250,000 to expire. I also slapped a millionaire’s tax on income above $1 million and imposed a bank tax that would tax banks based on their size and perceived riskiness.

That combination of choices got me almost to completely wiping out the deficit.

But look at some of the choices I had to make to do it – choices that have zero of chance of coming to pass.

Letter From Buckingham Palace

The Oct. 27 letter from Buckingham Palace apologized for a “disappointing reply.”

But the letter from the senior correspondence officer to the Queen of England wasn’t viewed as a disappointment by Memphian Nicholas Pegues.

“I was very excited. I was shocked at first,” he said. “It was like a once in a lifetime moment for me and my family.”

Pegues wrote the monarch in early September asking for her prayers for his uncle.

“I told them that my uncle was ill and that my family believes in the Protestant belief and her as the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. … We asked for her prayers for our family,” said Pegues, who is a paralegal studies student at Southwest Tennessee Community College.

“I told her how America was closely related to England and how Tennessee especially is related to England under common law.”

The reply came about six weeks later on Buckingham Palace stationery, proof of the power of old-fashioned correspondence in the age of emails and texting.

“The Queen has asked me to thank you for your letter,” began the four paragraph reply from Sonia Bonici. “Her majesty was sorry to learn of your uncle’s illness. … However, owing to the large number of similar requests for messages, The Queen has a long-held custom not to send personal letters on such occasions.”

But Bonici also passed along her own “good wishes” and “my hope for an improvement in your uncle’s health.”

Pegues’ uncle is recovering from a minor stroke.

A Google search of Bonici’s name shows similar replies and varied reactions to her responses to numerous letters.

Christopher L. Jorgensen of Des Moines, Iowa posted a letter he wrote in May 2008 asking the Queen to autograph a photo of a portrait of her by photographer Annie Leibovitz.

It’s one of a series of letters Jorgensen has written and posted about on his blog “jackassletters.com”

“I try to be a good and patriotic citizen of the United States of America, but it’s a bit difficult under various administrations,” he wrote Her Majesty. “Sometimes I positively yearn for a return to the days of British rule.”

Jorgensen then wrote, as a joke, that it may be a good idea to extend nobility titles to U.S. citizens.

Bonici replied saying the Queen couldn’t autograph the photo because of many similar requests and she declined comment on the nobility titles idea.

Jorgensen posted the letter, calling it “the politest brushoff I’ve ever had.”

“But then would you expect anything else from The Queen,” he added.

Like Pegues, he counts Bonici’s reply as an achievement.

“How many people do you know who can say they got a letter from the Queen of England?” he posted. “Ok, so it’s really from the Senior Correspondence Officer, but I’m still counting this one.”

Amy LaVere Benefit Show Next Week

Next week, anyone who’s a fan of Amy LaVere will get a chance to see her perform and help out a worthwhile cause at the same time.

Amy is playing in Cooper-Young Nov. 21 at Tsunami for a benefit show she’s been helping organize that’s scheduled for 5-10 p.m. It’s for Alpha Omega Veterans Services, and money raised from the show will help provide soldiers with things like counseling, housing and job training.

If you’re friends with Amy on Facebook, message her if you have any items you’d like to donate for an auction that will be held that night to raise money for veterans.

Big Star on Beale

An interesting rainy fall day on Beale Street.

Big Star got a brass note on the street where the blues were born.

The Memphis band that was a critical success but a commercial failure when it recorded three albums at Ardent and for Ardent’s record label in the 1970s might seem at least a different choice for a tribute in a district built around the blues.

These days, Big Star is the sound that signifies American power pop synthesized through the influence of The Beatles.

Jody Stephens, the lone surviving member of the original Big Star, talked about the Nat “King” Cole cover the band featured on its third LP. And the passage he chose from “Nature Boy” has plenty of ties to that Liverpool band whose final musical statement on vinyl was similar.

“The greatest thng you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return,” composer Eden Ahbez wrote long before John met Paul in England and Alex crooned the lyrics in Memphis.

2010 has been a rough year for followers of the band. Alex Chilton and Andy Hummel died earlier this year.

Ardent founder John Fry recalled the band’s artistic struggle, a struggle it did not win in the marketplace for a variety of reasons and timing that had little to do with the magic that was being made in the studio.

Stephens thanked Fry for providing him and Chilton and Hummel and Chris Bell the keys to their imagination.

The sound may have been different. But the story of Big Star has everything to do with the artists who struggled to make a living from their art — their music — on Beale Street.

Stephens also made a more direct link, remembering bus trips from his home in East Memphis as a teenager to look for inspiration Downtown and for guitars and possibilities in the pawn shop windows on the Beale Street of his day.

Knowing how boys of a certain age were about guitars and music in the 1960s, it is easy to imagine Stephens and others his age riveted to the musical gear behind plate glass and seeing themselves attached to it. The sparkle finish on a drum kit, The thick strings of a bass or the reddish wood glow of a 12-string only seen before in black and white on television. Far, far beyond the initial reaction may have been some later speculation about the life of the player forced to surrender their instrument at least for a time and any lessons there might be in that about the uncertainties of a life made in music.

That’s the thing about influences. Those items that become influential are often pointed in a completely different direction than where those they inspire take them later on.

Beale Street has been many things to many people since Robertson Topp laid out the district. The district is now at a key moment in its planned development when one of the stated goals is to back up the live music featured on the street with more of a foundation in its history and part in Memphis heritage.

It is a rich and diverse heritage that is part of the fabric of the larger city.

Skeptics can argue that these days Beale Street is a place for those not from Memphis to see what they imagine was once there and fulfill their stereotypes of our city and our region.

That’s probably true for some. But this isn’t a numbers game and it’s also not about the ownership or purity of an idea that is always going to mean different things to different people.

Influence doesn’t have those certainties and those quantifiable elements. It is so much more agile and powerful.

In the crowds of Beale Street are so many stories that are changing and going in different ways because of something as fragile as sounds in the air and a feeling.

Bredesen to Politico: We need a ‘mea culpa’ from Obama

As I reported in a recent cover story for The Memphis News, outgoing Tenn. Gov. Phil Bredesen does not, shall we say, heart Obamacare.

Here he is telling Politico today that Obama needs to issue a blanket “mea culpa” and essentially start over.

He also thinks it’s “stupid” for Republicans to talk about nothing but repeal.

“If you’re conducting the discussion on the basis of, [keep the system] like it is or repeal it, that’s stupid,” Bredesen said. “There’s something that’s got to be done in the middle that doesn’t have the faults in the current system but makes a huge improvement over having nothing.”

Earlier this week, Bredesen unloaded on Obamacare in a talk with insurance industry trade group America’s Health Insurance Plans at a conference in Chicago, Politico reports.

“As an American, it’s offensive to me the notion of, for something as basic as basic health care, you have to petition the Department of [Health and] Human Services, bring your personal records, income, family size and those sorts of things,” Bredesen said, referring to the exchange model that will be set up in 2014, in which consumers will have to buy coverage through the exchange and will be able to get income-based tax credits to help buy coverage.

“It has the feeling of something that’s a basic right being dispensed as largess of the federal government.”