Bananas

Conservatives just don’t get Woody Allen – he’s too New York and too Jewish. No, that’s not right. Woody Allen is the wrong kind of Jewish – a neurotic whiner, not like that Netanyahu fellow, who is all kill-them-all and take-their-lands quite appropriate heroic bullying, because everyone wants to kill all Jews everywhere, and specifically wants to wipe Israel off the face of the map. Woody Allen, on the other hand, is a neurotic nebbish, or always plays the neurotic nebbish, who thinks too much and sees both sides of every issue, and inexplicably takes both sides seriously – and jokes about it too. Netanyahu doesn’t crack jokes. Woody Allen does, and thus represents everything that’s wrong with American Jews, who keep voting for Democrats, overwhelmingly, because they think too much – they don’t see things are simple, really. That’s part of it, or it’s that Allen’s films are too urban – city films. That’s not the Real America, as conservatives like to say. Even if you use more positive terms – urbane and sophisticated – it’s the same thing. Those are code words for those arrogant traitors who hate the truly good people in America, looking down their noses at the NASCAR crowd and everyone who just loves Honey Boo-Boo and Sarah Palin.

There’s no fixing this. Woody Allen has his audience. Dennis Miller has his. The two sides will never agree on what’s funny. Everything is ironic, or nothing is or ever should be. Take your choice. It’s just that this means that half the folks in America miss out on some classic bits, particularly in Allen’s early films like Bananas – an odd absurdist film where Woody Allen plays the usual neurotic nebbish, Fielding Mellish, who somehow finds himself the new revolutionary leader of a small banana republic in Central America, or close enough. He suddenly finds himself having to make his big speech on how things will be in the newly changed country, and he’s at a loss for what to say. He ends up shouting that from this day forward everyone will wear their underwear on the outside. The assembled masses are stunned. They look at each other. This is the new leader? Then they cheer and pretend it’s a wonderful idea – no one wants to betray the revolution.

Republicans should take heed. Things can get that absurd, and they did on Tuesday morning, March 12, when Paul Ryan unveiled the new Republican budget:

A 10-year, $4.6 trillion balanced budget proposal unveiled by Republicans on Tuesday could either be shelved within weeks or help jump-start negotiations with President Barack Obama toward a major deficit-reduction deal.

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s plan – his latest version of the “Path to Prosperity” measure that has been rejected by Democrats previously – likely will be approved this month by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

The House Republican budget “ends cronyism, eliminates waste, fraud, and abuse and returns the federal government to its proper sphere of activity,” Ryan said.

It is a plan, almost entirely based on an interesting assumption, the total repeal of Obamacare. If that doesn’t happen it all falls apart, although this budget has other features:

With its cuts to social programs including Medicaid, which provides healthcare for the poor and some people with disabilities, the measure will stand in stark contrast to a competing 2014 budget outline that Senate Democrats will unveil this week. That measure will rely partially on tax increases to get control of a massive government debt.

It relies on the tax increases that came with Obamacare, but no one gets Obamacare, just the taxes. That’s why it’s a bit like that scene in the Woody Allen movie. Republicans are cheering, pretending it’s a wonderful idea. Others didn’t agree:

Democrats’ response to Ryan’s budget was biting.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the plan would shower new tax breaks on the rich and hit the middle class with higher taxes, all the while cutting essential government services such as food inspections and law enforcement, and weakening Medicare.

That budget, Reid added in a speech on the Senate floor, “relies on accounting that’s creative at best and fraudulent at worst.”

Maybe, but there was nothing new here:

A total of $756 billion in savings would be achieved over 10 years on Medicaid, according to a summary of the House Republican budget outline. Medicare, the federally-backed healthcare program for the elderly and disabled, would see savings of $129 billion over a decade. Eventually, the program would be converted into a voucher-like plan with the elderly receiving subsidies to purchase private insurance or traditional Medicare.

We’ve heard it before, and Andy Borowitz offers this:

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) was jubilant today after his newly unveiled budget plan picked up a key endorsement from the novelist Ayn Rand.

It was a rare public utterance for the late Ms. Rand, who has been damned to eternal torment in Satan’s lake of fire since 1982.

“This is a budget I wish I had written,” said Ms. Rand, pausing to scream as white-hot flames licked her face. “Paul Ryan is a great man and I look forward to meeting him someday.”

Rep. Ryan acknowledged Ms. Rand’s praise with humility, telling reporters, “There’s no trick to cutting $4.6 trillion once you take a hard look at failed ideas of the past, such as the social contract.”

There’s also this:

Ms. Rand’s thumbs-up capped a victory lap of sorts for Mr. Ryan, who earlier in the day garnered an endorsement from Marie Antoinette.

That’s satire, but Matthew Yglesias doesn’t do satire:

Paul Ryan contends that “the most important question isn’t how we balance the budget.” When a politician tells you something he’s doing isn’t so important, that’s probably a good place to look at where the ball’s been hidden. And judging by the budget he just released, the “how” here is pretty darn important. The budget will be balanced, if Ryan gets his way, through a campaign of thoroughgoing class warfare aimed at Americans in the bottom half of the income distribution in order to protect the interests of a small, high-income minority.

Look at the specifics:

Ryan’s plan starts, like all good GOP deficit reduction plans, with a giant tax cut. Specifically, he wants to replace the current progressive rate structure with a two-rate structure – 10 percent and 25 percent. If you’re currently an individual paying a 39.6 percent marginal tax rate on your income over $400,000, that’s an enormous tax cut. If you’re currently an individual paying a 25 percent marginal tax rate on your income of $70,000 a year you may wonder what’s in it for you here. The answer is, most likely, higher taxes.

We went through this when Mitt Romney and Ryan were running for the presidency, but the proposal here is to make the enormous rate cut for the highest earners affordable through unspecified tax reform. Since the tax reform is unspecified, it’s difficult to say exactly what the consequences of it would be. But a 2012 report for Brookings by Samuel Brown, William Gale, and Adam Looney found that Romney/Ryan-style tax reform would result in higher taxes for most families earning less than $100,000 a year. …

Beyond lower taxes on the rich and higher taxes on the middle class, you can expect cuts in programs for the poor. Medicaid expansion? Repealed. The Affordable Care Act is slated to offer sliding-scale subsidies to anyone earning less than 400 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (that’s $45,960 for an individual, $78,120 for a family of three) to help you buy health insurance. Ryan’s budget would repeal that. For those currently enjoying Medicaid benefits, Ryan will “provide states flexibility on Medicaid” – which is to say, flexibility to rescind your eligibility for Medicaid. If you’re on food stamps, Ryan will “allow states to customize SNAP to address the needs unique to their citizens” – which is to say, allow them to cut benefits and eligibility. There are also some Pell Grant cuts in there and, of course, overall cuts to the domestic discretionary budget.

Yglesias offers one cheer for Ryan, and then takes it right back:

Obviously Ryan’s Medicare ideas are important for the long term. But in the 10-year horizon these are the important means by which he wants to balance the budget—lower taxes on the rich, higher taxes on the middle class, less program spending for the poor and the working class. It’s a little difficult to say why that would be your policy response to a couple decades worth of rising inequality, which is presumably why Ryan prefers to sweep the question of how under the rug.

The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein cuts to the chase:

The real point of Ryan’s budget is its ambitious reforms, not its savings. It turns Medicare into a voucher program, turns Medicaid, food stamps, and a host of other programs for the poor into block grants managed by the states, shrinks the federal role on priorities like infrastructure and education to a tiny fraction of its current level, and envisions an entirely new tax code that will do much less to encourage home buying and health insurance.

Ryan’s budget is intended to do nothing less than fundamentally transform the relationship between Americans and their government. That, and not deficit reduction, is its real point, as it has been Ryan’s real point throughout his career.

It is Ayn Rand stuff:

It won’t create jobs this year, and will likely cost jobs in the years to come by putting the economy on a steep austerity ramp. There’s no housing policy for the millions of families in foreclosure and no way to read Ryan’s budget without assuming massive cuts to student-loans programs. That may mean fewer families watching student loans pile up, but only because they didn’t get any in the first place.

As for medical costs, fully 59 percent of Ryan’s savings come from new cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, Obamacare or other health-care programs – and that omits the $800 billion in Medicare cuts he keeps from Obamacare. So there will be less healthcare bureaucracy, sure, but also less health care. The nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that cuts on the order of what Ryan is proposing will mean around 35 million people lose their health-care coverage.

Everyone will be on their won – that glorious Ayn Rand freedom:

The real justification for Ryan’s budget and the choices it makes is not fear of a debt crisis but fear of government.

It’s just that fear isn’t widely shared:

The problem is that these ideas are not, on their own, popular. In fact, they’re deeply unpopular, and considered quite radical. That’s why Newt Gingrich rejected Ryan’s initial budget as “right-wing social engineering” – it is, in a very serious sense, an effort to use policy reform re-engineer the relationship individuals have with their governments, their communities, and their families. But presented on their own, Ryan’s plans scare people…

What Ryan has found is that the way they’ll get a hearing is if they’re presented as necessary, prudent measures to forestall an even more dramatic debt crisis. It’s following Rahm Emanuel’s famous adage that “you never want a serious crisis to go to waste.”

But whether these are good or bad ideas, they are not, under any reasonable definition of the term, necessary ideas. Compared to other possible policies that will also forestall a debt crisis, they are much more painful for the poor, much less painful for the rich, and much more about social engineering than deficit reduction.

That impression wasn’t helped by the Freudian slip:

During the unveiling of his new budget proposal, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) made a slip of the tongue while railing against President Obama’s healthcare law.

“This is something we will not give up on because we are not going to give up on destroying the healthcare system for the American people,” Ryan accidentally said.

Oops – and the Post’s Eugene Robinson piles on:

Appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” Ryan said his plan assumes that the far-reaching reforms known as Obamacare will be repealed. Host Chris Wallace reacted with open disbelief: “That’s not going to happen.”

Indeed, to take Ryan seriously is to believe that legislation repealing the landmark Affordable Care Act would be approved by the Senate, with its Democratic majority, and signed by Obama. What are the odds? That’s a clown question, bro.

As he did in the campaign, Ryan attacked Obama’s health reforms for cutting about $700 billion from Medicare over a decade, not by slashing benefits but by reducing payments to providers. Ryan neglected to mention that his own budget – the one he convinced the party to run on in 2012 – would cut Medicare by the same amount. Actually, by a little more.

This was hypocrisy raised to high art. How could anyone who claimed to be so very worried about the crushing federal debt blithely renounce $700 billion in savings?

How could anyone demand that everyone wear their underwear on the outside? It must have something to do with the glorious revolution, but Robinson is right. The first two Ryan budgets were passed by an enthusiastic Republican House, and died in the Senate, and even if they had passed there, Obama would veto them. Republicans knew that all along. The whole exercise was pointless, and Kevin Drum adds this:

At this point, I honestly have only one wish for all this: that the press finally wises up and refuses to call this a “deficit reduction” plan. It’s not. It’s a plan to dramatically cut domestic spending, full stop, mostly on the poor, the middle class, and the elderly. Every other component of the plan increases the deficit.

That seems to be so, but Alex Pareene notes that only liberals are still bothering with Paul Ryan’s silly budgets:

I never want to see another chart about another Paul Ryan budget again. I swear – liberal wonk bloggers now pay exponentially more attention to Paul Ryan’s annual budget releases than conservatives of any sort do.

Here’s what we already knew about Paul Ryan’s budget, before he released it: It would be so vague as to be basically impossible to score, it would involve a massive tax cut for wealthy Americans, it would effectively dismantle Medicare in a few years, and it won’t ever become law. So, today brought us I think four hundred charts, illustrating those points, in dozens of blog posts, admittedly mostly by Ezra Klein and his Wonk-Servants but also in just about every other liberal opinion organ with a budget or econ “wonk” on staff.

But really, this was Ryan’s plan last year, and the year before:

I know I literally just said that repetition is essential in winning stupid political arguments, so obviously everyone please just continue hammering away at Ryan and his ridiculous regressive fantasy budgets, but I think it’s worth noting what the non-liberal liberal media was paying attention to today.

CNN spent the day talking about the pope. Joe Scarborough and his chums seemed more interested in the soda ban. Politico was still fixated on Obama’s “charm offensive.” The Senate Democratic budget actually got more play. Hell, the National Review Online devoted more digital ink to the pope election today than to Paul Ryan and his ten-year plan. I think the apex of mainstream Beltway press attention was when Luke Russert live-tweeted his own reading of the budget for like a half-hour.

I think – and let’s all hope I’m actually right and not just being incredibly hopeful – this finally confirms that Ryan is “over” as a figure the Beltway press treats with incredible reverence.

This is a call for some perspective:

Paul Ryan effectively made himself into an explicitly partisan figure by accepting Mitt Romney’s offer to be his running mate, and then campaigning in a particularly shameless fashion. Whereas before, Ryan was accepted -with assistance from figures like Klein – by the nonpartisan press as a figure of great Seriousness, because he said words like “baseline,” his reputation now is basically Eric Cantor With More Graphs. The story with him went from, “at least he’s serious about the deficit,” to “this guy really wants to cut taxes and roll back Obamacare.”

What’s fun, of course, is that this nut still represents the official mainstream conservative side in the ongoing Great Deficit Swindle, and the “liberal” side is going to be represented by a very moderate Senate Democratic proposal to cut a mere $1 trillion over the next decade, but at least everyone does now belatedly seem to recognize that Ryan is actually a right-wing ideologue and not a serious problem-solving technocrat.

We won?

That’s a good question. Everyone talks about cuts now, because they do. What Ryan tees up is madness, but it’s something to talk about – absurd cuts or just painful cuts. No one will change the topic now.

David Sirota thinks that it’s all madness:

One of the ways to differentiate liberals and conservatives today is to consider their respective caricatured sci-fi visions of the future. In cartoon terms, the liberal caricature is a “we’re all in this together” utopia of communitarian Kumbaya, while the conservative caricature is basically “Back to the Future II” – a Biff Tannen-dominated dystopia of moral and economic decay whose only unifying ethos is thinking of – and violently protecting – oneself. Thus, liberals generally support stuff like universal social insurance and the social safety net, while conservatives tend to get fired up against gun control, taxes and a social safety net, and for massive military budgets.

At the rank-and-file voter level, this is, of course, a cartoon version of ideologies; many self-described liberals are hardly dreaming of turning America into a giant kibbutz while many self-described conservatives just want the government out of their face. However, at the elected official level in Washington, the conservative cartoon in particular is no comedic caricature: As Rep. Paul Ryan’s new House Republican budget shows, it is an actual worldview, with specific legislative proposals in tow.

Sirota lists the elements of that worldview – a recommitment to the military state, austerity for most with corporate welfare for a few, strengthening the health insurance industry cartel, and tax cuts for the rich with tax increases for most others – and goes point by point through the Ryan budget to show how that budget assures each element. Yes, it’s no longer a cartoon version of an ideology. It’s right out there in the open, for which he’s glad:

At a time when the noise of a 24-7 news cycle and the complexity of Orwellian newspeak make it seem impossible to tell what’s really going on in politics, America today owes a big thank you to Ryan. That’s because, as shown, his budget reveals the GOP’s dystopian worldview in simple-to-understand, crystal-clear terms. The question now is whether America allows that worldview to become public policy.

There’s another way to ask that question. Will people really agree to wear their underwear on the outside? There’s much to be learned from Woody Allen movies. The good citizens of San Marco do run Fielding Mellish out of town, glorious revolution or no. There are limits to absurdity, and maybe Paul Ryan is our Fielding Mellish, of the Tea Party revolution. The whole thing was a mistake.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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One Response to Bananas

  1. Russell Sadler says:

    “The House Republican budget “ends cronyism, eliminates waste, fraud, and abuse and returns the federal government to its proper sphere of activity,” Ryan said.”

    Of course it does nothing of the kind. It just shifts cronyism, waste, fraud, and abuse to Republican campaign contributors.

    This “budget document” is really soft core Libertarian budget porn — a wet dream drama so that people like Ryan and his paymasters, the Kochheads can practice their intellectual auto-eroticism as they fantasize about their Libertarian Paradise.

    Sheesh.

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