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Challenging our cherished belief of the "self-made man," Malcolm Gladwell makes the democratic assertion that superstars don't arise out of nowhere, propelled by genius and talent: "they are invariably the beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies that allow them to learn and work hard and make sense of the world in ways others cannot."

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The April Fools' Budget
GOP holds a feast of St. Swithins

by Bryan Zepp Jamieson
April 1, 2009

As someone of British background, I regard April Fools' Day as a high Holy Holiday, on a par with Festivus or St. Swithin's Day (both holidays center around the use of bare poles). It's a day for reverently reflecting on the spaghetti farms of Switzerland, or the flying penguins that Terry Jones found in the Arctic.

I do my part, of course. This year, I sent a piece out on my newsfeed that, pursuant to his conversion to Roman Catholicism, Newt Gingrich had proceeded to resign from the GOP and re-register as a Democrat. Last year, I grandly announced that the LA Dodgers had signed Barry Bonds to a ten-year, $250 million contract.

But this year, the best tribute to April Fools' came from that most unlikely of sources, the grim, humorless stalwarts of what's left of the Republican Party.

They came out with an budget proposal that purported to be a legitimate and viable alternative to the budget that Obama proposed. For starters, it had...well, MSNBC described it best: “GOP Releases Detailed Budget Plan With Specific Numbers.”

That's right. It had numbers in it. This made it much more budget-like than last week's example, which had no numbers, but a great deal of optimism. The GOP had realized that the country could save quite a bit of money if they just stopped having natural disasters. And as everyone knows, “trickle down” works: if you give a billionaire another billion dollars, he'll give you back one and a half billion dollars. That's why he's a billionaire and you're not. So they want to restore trickle down.

But that was last week's budget, and small minds caviled at the notion that there were no numbers in it. Numbers are for petty mentalities, the province of bookkeepers and bureaucrats. To fashion a grand budget that will stand like a rock of ages, numbers should be avoided.

I want to note here that I've been writing commentaries for 10 years, and I have been waiting for a chance to use the word “caviled.” I don't quite know what it means, but my spell checker tells me I spelled it properly. When one is describing GOP policy, the meaning of words just doesn't matter very much, anyway.

The third time was the charm. Last week, they introduced a budget with no numbers. Yesterday, they grandly announced that they had a new budget, but it turned out that someone had left it in the printer at home.

If the first budget lacked numbers, and the second lacked a budget, the third lacked sanity. Trust me, for the GOP, that is a better way forward.

That's how Representative Paul “If I'm Lyin' I'm Dyin” Ryan described it: “A better way forward.”

There's an automotive technique that is considered a good way of moving forward. You start the car, shift into drive, and let the car move. This is a better way of going forward than what the GOP has in mind, which can be best described as setting off a massive explosion under the car, and hoping some of the bits land in the general direction of where the car was pointing when it was vaporized.

Here's how “USA Today” described the budget on their blog, and I did check to make sure it was posted after noon today, when it's considered bad form to pull further April Fools' pranks:

“Rescinding the newly passed economic stimulus package in 2010, except for unemployment insurance for those who have already lost their job.” That would include the funding for projects designed to create four million jobs over the first two years of the package, along with major infrastructure improvements and funding to bring America's antiquated and nearly moribund industrial base into the 21st century.

“Repealing the latest budget and freezing non-defense, non-veteran spending.” Some right winger on Usenet was actually making the argument that the funding for the military was necessary to, among other things, protect Australia from attack by Indonesia. I imagine the Australians hadn't really considered Indonesia to be that much of a threat, which shows how much they know. If they manage their weather the way they manage their foreign policy, it's no wonder they have droughts.

“Converting Medicaid into an allotment to states. Reforming Social Security and Medicare, including "means testing" for drug prescription benefits.” In other words, they still want to privatize Social Security, so it can be as cost-effective and reliable as all those private pensions that have, er, died over the past year. They already reformed Medicare once already, and the results have bankrupted millions of people. “Means testing” would probably mean what it does for some of the other “humane” programs of the GOP, in which, in order to qualify, you must sell off everything except your primary residence and one car worth less than $4,000, and then spend the rest of your life filling out endless forms and acceding to impossible and often contradictory requirements.

“Simplifying the tax code. Taxpayers would have a choice of keeping the current system, or choosing one that would tax couples making $100,000 (or individuals making $50,000) at a 10% rate and taxing those above at 25%. The plan would include what Ryan called 'generous' personal and standard deductions.” Doubtlessly for yachts, vacation homes, and private jets. There's a technical term for countries that have such “simplified tax codes”: they're called “failed states.”

Cutting the corporate tax rate to 25% as a job-creating measure.” Said job creation, presumably, would be in Indonesia to help prepare for the Australian invasion. Somehow, I doubt that the GOP plan would ban the use of tax havens, since corporations have better things to do than waste a quarter of their profits on the people who made those profits possible in the first place.

“Increasing offshore oil drilling,” always a crowd pleaser. Why spend money on developing clean and efficient energy when you can keep on drilling? When future generations wonder why there is no oil for plastics or agriculture, they sure will be grateful to us for burning it all. Especially after climate change kicks in and much arable land is lost. The title of that provision? “Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions with Offshore Drilling” Burning lots of gas really cuts down on CO2 emissions, you know.

“Placing a moratorium on all earmarks.” You know when your Congressman gets a provision in the budget to get your town a day-care center for the kids, or a swimming pool for the public? That's an earmark. They aren't bad things. Overusing them is bad, and using them in secret is bad, and the GOP was the worse of the two parties when it came to that. But they want to simply stop them all. That will save less than 2% off the budget. And virtually guarantee no government help at the local level, which is what nearly all earmarks do.

The GOP seem to think that the best way to stop a chainsaw is by putting it in their mouth and biting down. Or maybe tomorrow, they'll release a real budget, one that has something – anything -- to do with reality.

Remember when I said that Newt had become a Democrat? Well, April Fools. But he really did become a Catholic last week. And that makes him unique among Republicans, in that he actually has a prayer.

Posted: April 10, 2009

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