Thursday, April 28, 2011

Wondering why we're fucked?

Ryan Lizza, in this week's New Yorker, describing how then-Senator Obama got himself up to speed on foreign policy:
Obama had always read widely, and now he was determined to get a deeper education. He read popular books on foreign affairs by Fareed Zakaria and Thomas Friedman.

Almost makes you nostalgic for Bush reading My Pet Goat.

Fire Tom Friedman (and those who read him for a "deeper education").

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Revolution Will Have Room Service!

Today's Tommy column starts off with what might be his greatest opening paragraph ever:
When I was in Cairo during the Egyptian uprising, I wanted to change hotels one day to be closer to the action and called the Marriott to see if it had any openings. The young-sounding Egyptian woman who spoke with me from the reservations department offered me a room and then asked: “Do you have a corporate rate?” I said, “I don’t know. I work for The New York Times.” There was a silence on the phone for a few moments, and then she said: “ Can I ask you something?” Sure. “Are we going to be O.K.? I’m worried.”
There's so much great stuff in here, starting with the fact that there is no fucking way this conversation actually took place. I'm pretty sure Tommy cribbed the first part from an ad in an in-flight magazine: "Marriott -- when you want to be closer to the action" (or "Some revolutions are too historic for the Hilton!"). There's the fact that in Tommy's fantasies, worried (female!) Egyptians were asking the great pundit how things were going to turn out. And then there are the brilliant little touches like the irrelevant banter about a corporate rate and the pregnant pause before her first question.

But if you think that paragraph was hilarious the first time you read it, try this exercise: Re-read, only this time picture it as a black and white movie. The "Egyptian" hotel receptionist is played by an American actress who can do ethnic. Her "Do you have a corporate rate" is sultry, but when she asks if she's going to be OK, she's a vulnerable little girl. And Tommy? He's as hard-boiled as they come.

I think the rest of the column was about how Arabs countries are full of tribalistic savages who don't take naturally to democracy like Europeans do. But to be honest, I haven't really got that far. I just keep watching Tommy's movie.

Fire Tom Friedman

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Answer the Question!

We have our marching orders.

Jacob Weisberg:
[M]ore than anyone else in politics, Rep. Ryan has made a serious attempt to grapple with the long-term fiscal issue the country faces. He has a largely coherent, workable set of answers. If you don't like them, now you need to come up with something better.
David Brooks:
Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman, has his budget. Where’s yours?
Andrew Sullivan:
And the Democrats and Obama now have to offer a response. The question I'll be asking is quite simply: how would they save $5.8 trillion from the federal budget over the next decade? Tell us, please.
It's hilarious how the guardians of seriousness who claim that they want a serious adult conversation more than anything resort to patronizing goading to try to get that discussion going. But Fire Tom Friedman is a tad emotionally stunted and thus rarely backs away from a patronizing goad. So despite the fact that I'm neither Obama nor a Democrat, I'm going to take the Sullivan challenge: 5.8 trillion, here I come!

I must admit I was a little intimidated -- 5.8 trillion! -- until I saw this chart:

The key line there is the one at the bottom. Total revenue changes = -4.2 trillion. So while Ryan may be proposing 5.8 trillion in spending cuts, he's also proposing 4.2 trillion in tax cuts. Now I've never subtracted trillions before but I'm pretty sure that 5.8 trillion in spending cuts - 4.2 trillion in lost revenue means that the savings of this plan is only 1.6 trillion. So if we don't hand out any tax cuts, we only need to come up with 1.6 trillion in cuts.

Still, 1.6 trillion. But wait: 1 trillion of Ryan's "spending cuts" comes from ending the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. God let's fucking hope so. But if the wars end, all of us who are designing budgets -- serious policy wonk geniuses like Paul Ryan and Internet cranks like myself -- get to count that "savings" the same. So if Ryan is taking credit for 1 trillion spending cut if the wars end, so am I. This isn't so hard.

Still, 600 billion. But wait. That's over ten years! Politicians like to present their spending cuts over ten-year periods because it makes the #'s sound much more impressive. (They also measure their penises in centimeters). So I just need to cut $60 billion a year and I've matched Ryan. I reckon $60 billion out of the that $550 billion annual defense budget wouldn't even be missed.

I did it! I saved the U.S. the same amount of money over ten years as super genius Paul Ryan. And it took me 43 seconds. Granted, I didn't get specific about the defense cuts but I'm pretty sure if I had another 68 seconds I could bang that out, too.

And you know what? I could keep going. I could raise taxes on the wealthy. End corporate welfare. End the wars a lot faster than Ryan wants to. Make GE pay something, anything, in taxes. And now I'm kicking Ryan's ass in reducing the debt. Look at me, mom- I'm serious! And I haven't thrown Grandma out of her nursing home or kicked anyone's kid off dialysis. (Oh wait, I think that means I'm not serious.)

Of course, it's not that hard. Take away the bullshit trillion for Iraq and Afghanistan, (and you really should; taking credit for savings for wars you think someone else might end one day is beyond pathetic; now if Ryan actually threatened to cut off funding for the wars, I'd not only give him his trillion back, I'd retract all the means thing I've written about him) , and only 12.5% of Paul's courageous cuts (600 billion) goes to reducing the debt. The other 87.5 % goes to the rich and corporations. Pretty serious stuff.

Now if Sullivan issues a challenge to come up with a better illustration of Shock Doctrine economics than Paul Ryan's budget, I think I'll sit that one out.

You Cannot Be Serious

Yesterday, Paul Ryan released his budget plan and, in case you haven't heard, it's serious.

David Brooks:
[Ryan's] proposal will set the standard of seriousness for anybody who wants to play in this discussion.
Mitch Daniels:
The House budget resolution is the first serious proposal produced by either party to deal with the overriding issue of our time.
The Wall Street Journal:
Mr. Ryan's budget rollout is an important political and policy moment because it is the most serious attempt to reform government in at least a generation.
Jacob Weisberg:
[M]ore than anyone else in politics, Rep. Ryan has made a serious attempt to grapple with the long-term fiscal issue the country faces.
The Dallas Morning News:

Paul Ryan isn’t always right, and he may not be right about everything now.

What he is, though, is serious.
Andrew Sullivan
Ryan's proposal, whatever you think of it, is serious.
Ross Douthat
You do not have to like the long-term budget that Paul Ryan and the House Republicans have released this morning. There’s plenty in the plan for liberals to hate, moderates to doubt, and conservatives to question. But you do have to respect it.
Hmmm. When Russ Douthat orders me to do something, I snap to it. So, with the utmost respect, I set out to find what made the plan so serious. And what I discovered is that the Ryan plan is serious because it doesn't sugarcoat the fact that we need to sacrifice. Here's Sullivan:
[T]he good news is that we finally have a political party being honest about what it takes to avoid falling off a fiscal cliff. It means sacrifice. [His emphasis this time.]
I get it. This isn't one of those have-your-cake-and-it-eat-it-too budgets that the unwashed masses love so much. It's a tell-it-like-it-is budget. It's time for all us -- the oil companies, the banker who wipes his ass with TARP money, the defense contractors, the guy who's been unemployed for two years, the public sector workers with Swiss bank accounts, the seniors paying for elective cancer surgeries with their grandchildren's college funds -- to realize that the party is over.

Ryan's budget is serious because it spreads the pain across all of the above. Well, almost. The oil companies, the defense contractors, and the banker who wipes his ass with TARP money won't actually have to sacrifice anything, unless you consider the embarrassment of getting yet another tax cut while the empire crumbles a sacrifice. (Have you heard the awful things people have been saying about GE lately?) Ryan's plan to address healthcare isn't exactly equitable either, with the elderly and poor getting much worse care and private insurers getting a juicy piece out of the Medicare pie.

And some of our serious pundits are a little uncomfortable about the way the actual sacrifice get divvied up. Sullivan whispers his concern that the plan imposes "major sacrifices for the poor and elderly, while exempting the wealthy from any sacrifice at all." Weisberg wishes Ryan hadn't included those darn tax cuts.

But doesn't damper their enthusiasm for the plan. Nor does the fact that Ryan somehow forgot to include the defense cuts that both Sullivan and Ryan think should be in the mix. Because who's fucking whom, who gets invited to the party, and whose belt is actually going to get tightened -- these are juvenile questions. And right now we're having a serious adult conversation. Doesn't that make you feel better?