Sunday, July 31, 2011

The 12 States of America

I liked this graphic from The Atlantic in March, The 12 States of America "Since 1980, income inequality has fractured the nation. Click each icon to see each of the dozen states, which counties belong to them and how median income has changed over the last 30 years."

Screen shot 2011 07 31 at 6 13 59 PM copy

The Government Could Make Money by Borrowing

Krugman points out today When People Pay You To Take Their Money "Negative rates at 5 and 7 years; all of 0.38 percent on 10 years. Borrowing to spend on useful infrastructure, or even just to put people to work in ways that enhance revenue down the road, would almost surely improve the long-run fiscal picture. Conversely, austerity now almost surely hurts the budget as well as the economy. So you know what all the serious people insist that we be doing …"

Bruce Bartlett was on Hardball Wednesday

I just saw this from Wednesday. Sanity.

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Friday, July 29, 2011

Someone Explain This To Me

I don't get the Republican Congressmen saying that we won't default on August 2nd. Ok, so default actually means not paying our bond holders which doesn't need to happen on Tue. But it could also mean not paying our obligations (social security, medicare, military salaries, etc.) which should happen Tue or least soon. Sure there is some money to pay things and maybe we can last another week, does that really make a difference? Look if you think the deficit is a real big problem that has to be addressed right now, then you have to think that we don't have the money we're spending, which means we don't money to pay our bills! How does this not make sense?

I've heard the above a few times and it grates on me. I just heard Tea Party Rep. Steve King (R-IA) repeating it on Hardball. The interview was ridiculous. He talked about voting no on the Boehner plan because it doesn't go far enough and "we give up on the Ryan budget if we do that". As I understand it the Ryan budget also requires a raise in the debt ceiling. He said our current trajectory is to have a $25 trillion debt in 10 years.

He said we've had 75 years of overspending and there's been a big acceleration by "this administration and the Pelosi congress." This is just ridiculous. The biggest contributors to the debt were the Bush tax cuts and never ending wars. The increases during the Obama administration have been one time stimulus measures and expenses due to the recession (unemployment payments) and there have been lower revenues because the economy has been in the toilet.

"We came within $168 billion of balancing this budget during the height of the Iraq war." As I remember, Bush never put the wars into the budget and always treated them as special spending authorizations. I'd have to check the budgets specifically but offhand I don't believe this figure at all. Though it's certainly the case that the economy was doing pretty well for most of Bush's term and Obama inherited the worst economy since the 30s.

"The president is messaging this to damage the markets." That's just deranged.

And the annoying thing, Michael Smerconish, the guest host on Hardball didn't challenge any of the above statements.


Fortunately I have plans for tonight and won't hear more of this crap.

Obama Improves Fuel Economy Rules While Congress....

Brad Plumer reports Will the new fuel economy rules actually work? "This morning, Barack Obama is scheduled to unveil one of the biggest policy accomplishments of his term—though it certainly won’t seem that way. After the president gives his televised remarks on the debt ceiling crisis, the White House is expected to announce—at a much sleepier Washington Convention Center venue—that it has finally struck a deal with the auto industry on extending new fuel-economy standards out to 2025."

"Broadly speaking, the deal will require automakers to get their car and light-truck fleets to average 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025—a bit below the 62 mpg that greens were pushing but far higher than the current average of 27.3 mpg."

"Judging by an earlier EPA estimate, the regulations could reduce U.S. oil consumption by nearly 2.2 million barrels per day by 2025—roughly equal to all of our current daily imports from Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and Kuwait. " "Jim Kliesch, a senior engineer at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told me that a sticker mileage of 54.5 mpg, for instance, would likely translate into about 39 mpg on the road."

"Thanks to a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that extended the existing Clean Air Act to cover greenhouse gases, the Obama administration didn’t need Congress. It had the legal authority to make these decisions largely on its own."

So while still working on the debt ceiling deal Obama is improving gas mileage in cars. What's Congress doing while not solving the debt issue? They're naming post offices. Seriously. And while that's common for Congresses, it seem particularly common for this Congress. A third of 237 laws this Congress passed, were naming government buildings and other commemorations.


Russian Official Calls Kyl (R-AZ) and Kirk (R-IL) “Monsters of the Cold War”

Josh Rogin wrote in Foreign Policy Wednesday, Russian official calls Kyl and Kirk “monsters of the Cold War”. "Dmitry Rogozin, Russia's ambassador to NATO, met with Kyl and Kirk yesterday in Washington -- but they probably won't be meeting again anytime soon. After the meeting, Rogozin let loose on the senators in an extensive interview with the Russian news service RIA Novosti, and sought to warn the Russian public of what he sees as the dangers of a return to Republican rule in America.

Rogozin accused the two senators of threatening to scuttle the U.S.-Russia reset by stalling or attacking U.S.-Russian cooperation on several issues, such as nuclear arms control and missile defense.

"Today in the Senate, I met with Senators Jon Kyl and Mark Kirk. The meeting is very useful because it shows that the alternative to Barack Obama is a collapse of all the programs of cooperation with Russia," he said. "Today, I had the impression that I was transported in a time machine back several decades, and in front of me sat two monsters of the Cold War, who looked at me not through pupils, but targeting sights.""

The Recession Was Even Worse Than Thought

The Economist writes American recessions and recoveries: Recessions compared "THE great recession hit America even harder than previously thought. The GDP data released today by the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) show that output rose by an annualised 1.3% over the second quarter of 2011, worse than had been expected. But the department's annual revisions to previous figures contained still worse news. Annual GDP growth for 2008 and 2009 was revised down by 0.3 and 0.9 percentage points; the 2010 figure was revised up, but not by enough to compensate. The release means that output in America is still at a lower level than its peak before the recession, a point earlier numbers said had been passed at the end of last year."

20110730 WOC311 copy

Ezra Klein comments on The Recovery-less Recovery. "As Wolfers suggests, these numbers solve the mystery in the labor market. This isn’t about confidence or uncertainty or regulations or any of the other bankshot explanations we’ve been using to explain why unemployment seems stuck even as the economy rebounds. The economy isn’t rebounding. Demand isn’t returning. And without demand, there can’t be jobs."

"Which makes congressional dithering over the debt ceiling all the more infuriating. Republicans in Congress are threatening to manufacture an economic crisis unless they’re permitted to slash spending. Meanwhile, we’re in an economic crisis in which the main problem is too little spending. So the choice we’re being presented with is that we can either worsen an existing crisis or trigger a fresh one. With our leaders acting so irresponsibly, perhaps it’s no mystery why we’re having a recovery-less recovery, either."

Brad DeLong says, "A rational Federal Reserve would: (1) Begin QE III today. A rational administration would: (1) Announce a technical fix to the debt ceiling today: the economy does not need the risk. (2) Abandon all long-term budget negotiations with anybody who requires cuts to the deficit over the next eighteen months to come to the table: the economy needs stimulus, not contraption. (3) Take every single uncommitted TARP and TALF and whatever dollar, leverage it up, and throw it at the economy to boost aggregate demand."

Ezra Klein adds, What the new GDP numbers tell us about stimulus. "As Moody’s chief economist Mark Zandi told me this morning, the revisions suggest that the recession following the financial crisis was much, much more severe than we’d thought—the economy actually shrank at a 8.9 percent annual rate the fourth quarter of 2008 and 6.7 percent in the first quarter of 2009 (earlier estimates had shown a smaller, 5.9 percent annualized drop across the two quarters).

Then, Congress passed the stimulus bill, the fall in growth dwindled to 0.7 percent in the second quarter, and, by the third quarter of 2009, we had 1.7 percent growth. “We went from negative to positive at precisely the time that the stimulus was providing maximum benefit in terms of tax cuts and spending increases,” Zandi says. “The numbers actually reinforce the importance of the stimulus in jump-starting a recovery.” "

"Zandi agrees: “If fiscal policy had simply stayed neutral, the numbers suggest we would have had around 2 percent growth these past two quarters, which isn’t great, but it’s a lot better than what we actually had.” Except fiscal policy wasn’t neutral—it was shrinking. The stimulus wound down, that extra government spending started disappearing, and, with it, economic growth dwindled. What’s more, fiscal policy is set to keep shrinking. Remember that the payroll tax holiday and emergency unemployment insurance, both of which were extended in the 2010 tax deal, are scheduled to run out soon."

And what is Congress doing? Talking about big spending cuts, and the President is going along with them.

Still Warming

Bad Astronomy points to the debunking of an article in Forbes No, new data does not “blow a gaping hole in global warming alarmism”.

"The Forbes article is based on a paper published in the journal Remote Sensing (PDF). The first author of this work is Roy Spencer — one of the extremely few climate scientists who denies human-caused climate change, so more on him in a moment — and his work has been shown to be thoroughly wrong by mainstream climate scientists.

Stephanie Pappas at LiveScience contacted several climate scientists about Spencer’s paper, and their conclusions were quite harsh. They say Spencer’s model is "unrealistic", "flawed", and "incorrect". As ThinkProgress points out, a geochemist has shown that Spencer’s models are irretrievably flawed, "don’t make any physical sense", and that Spencer has a track record in using such flawed analysis to draw any conclusion he wants.

And about the paper itself: "I cannot believe it got published," said Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research."

Daily Show Schoolhouse Rock

If you remember your Schoolhouse Rock, last night's Daily Show segment was hilarious.

The Real Reason the GOP Wants a Balanced Budget Amendment

Bruce Bartlett wrote in The Fiscal Times, The Real Reason the GOP Wants a Balanced Budget Amendment. He says it's just political theater.

"Thus a big problem for proponents of a balanced budget amendment has always been how to enforce it. Lacking de facto enforcement from the rating agencies, there would have to be some mechanism whereby the courts could intervene to block spending or force tax increases for a balanced budget requirement to be operational and not just an expression of sentiment.

Not only is it a really bad idea to give unelected judges such power, it is not really practical. For example, until the last day of a fiscal year, it would be impossible to say, as a matter of law, that the balanced budget requirement had been violated. At that point, spending would have already occurred, and it’s not really feasible to tell people to send back some of their Social Security checks because the budget was unbalanced. And who is to say what spending was the amount that went above revenues and what wasn’t?"

"Another problem is that Congress cannot know what GDP will be in the coming fiscal year and it must necessarily pass its appropriations bills before the fiscal year begins. This means, as a practical matter, that Congress must base its spending on forecasts of GDP, which are often wrong and sometimes by large magnitudes. And of course it is impossible to control spending on entitlements or interest on the debt on an annual basis."

and his conclusion: "If Republicans were really serious about putting a balanced budget amendment into the Constitution they would not have written an entirely new one that is radically and conceptually different from those debated in the past, with new language that constitutional scholars have not even begun to analyze. Republicans would have held weeks of hearings with such experts and planned many more weeks of floor debate. GOP think tanks would have been urged to hold conferences and publish studies of the proposed amendment. None of this was done, of course, leaving the inescapable conclusion that this is nothing but a political ploy designed solely to appeal to the GOP’s Tea Party wing. "

I have a different view. I think the Tea Party is thinking of it as they do everything else, at a headline level without understanding the details. A balanced budget sounds good and debt is bad so a balanced budget amendment should be good and would help us limit our debt. I suspect someone like Cantor or a staffer included the 18 percent of economic output part and from what I see from a quick search online people are furious thinking that means it's not really balanced. The lunatics are running the asylum.

The Real Ceiling

The debt ceiling is a fiction that we created. Here's the real ceiling in the sky at night,
NGC6188lorenzi2000 copy

One Word: Platinum

Jack Balkin wrote 3 ways Obama could bypass Congress. The first is real but kind of a joke, "Sovereign governments such as the United States can print new money. However, there’s a statutory limit to the amount of paper currency that can be in circulation at any one time. Ironically, there’s no similar limit on the amount of coinage. A little-known statute gives the secretary of the Treasury the authority to issue platinum coins in any denomination. So some commentators have suggested that the Treasury create two $1 trillion coins, deposit them in its account in the Federal Reserve and write checks on the proceeds."

Matthew Yglesias follows up a little, The Platinum Coin Option.

Prioritizing Payments

The Rachel Maddow show had a clearer chart last night but Jared Bernstein in
On the Economy has a similar one from the Bipartisan Policy Center:


Why Progressives Are Losing

Larry Haas wrote Why Progressives Are Losing and Jared Bernstein follows up with Diagnostics.

Palin is Nuts

Sarah Palin posted this yesterday, Congressional Freshmen – For Such A Time As This. Her original letter to the freshmen Republicans is bizarro world.

It also strikes me as brainwashing. She ends with, "Remember that some in the media will love you when you stray from the time-tested truths that built America into the most exceptional nation on earth. When the Left in the media pat you on the back, quickly reassess where you are and readjust, for the liberals’ praise is a warning bell you must heed. Trust me on that." First off, when has the liberal media ever patted her on the back? And if we're to trust her on this when does Miss Victimization think they did? But moreso, this is just a way to get people to not listen to the other side at all. It's equivalent to warning you about devil's temptation, or telling you that fossils are a trick by the devil to shatter your faith.

The Centrist Cop-Out

Krugman writes about The Centrist Cop-Out "Some of us have long complained about the cult of “balance,” the insistence on portraying both parties as equally wrong and equally at fault on any issue, never mind the facts. I joked long ago that if one party declared that the earth was flat, the headlines would read “Views Differ on Shape of Planet.” But would that cult still rule in a situation as stark as the one we now face, in which one party is clearly engaged in blackmail and the other is dickering over the size of the ransom?"

"Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about. As you may know, President Obama initially tried to strike a “Grand Bargain” with Republicans over taxes and spending. To do so, he not only chose not to make an issue of G.O.P. extortion, he offered extraordinary concessions on Democratic priorities: an increase in the age of Medicare eligibility, sharp spending cuts and only small revenue increases. As The Times’s Nate Silver pointed out, Mr. Obama effectively staked out a position that was not only far to the right of the average voter’s preferences, it was if anything a bit to the right of the average Republican voter’s preferences.

But Republicans rejected the deal. So what was the headline on an Associated Press analysis of that breakdown in negotiations? “Obama, Republicans Trapped by Inflexible Rhetoric.” A Democratic president who bends over backward to accommodate the other side — or, if you prefer, who leans so far to the right that he’s in danger of falling over — is treated as being just the same as his utterly intransigent opponents. Balance!"

Nation's Climatologists Exhibiting Strange Behavior

The Onion, funny and sad...

Nation's Climatologists Exhibiting Strange Behavior (Season 1: Ep 5 on IFC)

Right Dominates Debt-Ceiling Ad War

Politico wrote Right dominates debt-ceiling ad war "While it’s impossible to precisely measure ongoing ad buys, anecdotal information, combined with interviews of operatives, media buyers and trackers, suggest that avowedly conservative groups and candidates are spending between five and 10 times more than their liberal counterparts on TV and radio advertising related to the debate over debt ceiling negotiations."

It goes on to list what we do know about.

Bachmann Makes No Sense To Me

Think Progress wrote Bachmann Defends Using Federal Loans She Denounced: ‘It’s Almost Impossible To Buy A Home’ Without Them. "Most recently, the Washington Post discovered that Bachmann and her husband signed for a $417,000 home loan backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac just weeks before she called for the two mortgage giants to be entirely dismantled."

Bachman said: "Clearly I think this is the problem. Now unlike all of you, who I’m sure pay cash for your homes, there are people out there like myself who actually have to go to a bank and get a mortgage. And this is the problem. It’s almost impossible to buy a home in this country today without the federal government being involved. Whether it is with the FHA, whether it’s with Fannie, whether it’s with Freddie, it’s almost impossible to buy a home. One thing we need to remember is that Fannie and Freddie were the epicenter of the financial meltdown. I sat on the financial services committee and I watched as this occurred. What’s important is that we do dismantle a number of these federal programs that everyone agrees are clearly out of control."

There's just so much wrong with this. You can't get a home without them so we should destroy them and make it impossible to buy a home. Ok, maybe she just means to go back to the way it was before Fannie and Freddie but there wasn't a lot of home ownership in the 1930s, certainly not by the middle class.

And Fannie and Freddie were not the epicenter of the financial crisis. They got into subprime loans late and the real problem was Wall Street betting on them with unregulated derivatives that built a huge house of cards. And what does she mean she watched as this occurred? She became a Congresswoman in 2007, if she watched as this happened why didn't she do anything about it?

FAA Shutdown and Delta

Think Progress wrote GOP Shuts Down FAA To Aid Delta’s Anti-Union Efforts, Delta Collects Millions In Extra Profits. "House Republicans shut down the FAA over their insistence that any bill to reauthorize the agency also include an anti-union provision that would make it harder for employees at airlines and railroads to organize. One of the biggest corporate proponents of this anti-union provision is Delta Airlines, which has been fighting for years to stave off unionization (and is currently under investigation for tampering with union elections)."

Due to the shutdown the FAA can't collect various taxes on plane tickets, so the airlines, including Delta are pocketing them (they raised their prices the amount of the taxes).

Thursday, July 28, 2011

50 Renowned Academics Speaking About God

Republicans' Debt Ceiling Charade Is Downright Dangerous

I'm not a fan of Joe Klein but wrote Republicans' Debt Ceiling Charade Is Downright Dangerous. "And so, here we are. Our nation’s economy and international reputation as the world’s presiding grownup has already been badly damaged. It is a self-inflicted wound of monumental stupidity. I am usually willing to acknowledge that Democrats can be as silly, and hidebound, as Republicans–but not this time. There is zero equivalence here. The vast majority of Democrats have been more than reasonable, more than willing to accept cuts in some of their most valued programs. Given the chance, there was the likelihood that they would have surrendered their most powerful weapon in next year’s election–a Mediscare campaign–by agreeing to some necessary long-term reforms in that program. The President, remarkably, proposed raising the age of eligibility for Medicare to 67.

The Republicans have been willing to concede nothing. Their stand means higher interest rates, fewer jobs created and more destroyed, a general weakening of this country’s standing in the world. Osama bin Laden, if he were still alive, could not have come up with a more clever strategy for strangling our nation."

Five Reasons the House GOP Is to Blame

James Fallows has a really good post Five Reasons the House GOP Is to Blame that walks through many of the basic fallacies in their position.

George Lucas defeated over Star Wars stormtrooper replicas

George Lucas defeated over Star Wars stormtrooper replicas "UK supreme court rules British prop designer, Andrew Ainsworth, may sell replicas of stormtrooper outfits he made for original Star Wars film"

It's So Hot Train Tracks Are Melting!

We only had 3 days of crazy hot heat. Dallas-Fort Worth has had much more, I think I can't complain: Trinity Railway Express running behind Wednesday -- intense heat threatening to warp the tracks, and train operators directed to go slower. "On Monday, the temperature on the tracks hit 137 degrees early in the afternoon, and TRE officials began announcing to passengers that the trains would likely experience delays throughout the afternoon."

Jon Stewart Last Night

Jon Stewart did a fantastic job last night pointing out the hypocrisy of the right of attacking others and claiming to be victimized.

"The Fox rapid-response team makes a plea to distinguish violence in the name of a religion from the practitioners and tenets of that religion as long as it's Christianity. "

"Conservative pundits hate it when liberals play the victim card because it distracts from the real victims: conservatives."

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Few Little Budget Facts

Kevin Drum put up a chart I really like, A Few Little Budget FactsNewImage

"I cut this chart off at 2008 so that the long-term trends are easier to see. There's been a spike in these numbers over the past three years because the recession has temporarily depressed GDP and temporarily increased spending — just as there were spikes during the recessions of 1979, 1989, and 2001 — but that spike will go away when the economy improves. There's no special reason that it should affect our view of our long-term finances."

Discretionary spending, defense spending, or interest expenses are flat. Social Security will go up for a while because of the baby boomers but that's manageable with some small tweaks. Medicare is the real issue, and the only one.

What Democrats did wrong on the debt ceiling in 2010

Ezra Klein puts it all in perspective, What Democrats did wrong on the debt ceiling in 2010

"But there was a moment when Democrats did have the leverage: December 2010. The election was over. Nancy Pelosi was still speaker of the House. Harry Reid still had 59 Democrats in the Senate. The Bush tax cuts were expiring. And Democrats had a perfectly popular and intuitive position: Extend the cuts for the middle class but, in a time of deficits and sacrifice, sunset the cuts for the rich.

Republicans, of course, didn’t want to allow the Bush tax cuts for the rich to expire. They were, in fact, desperate to preserve them. Which meant Democrats had the leverage. And they used it. To secure a temporary extension, Republicans had to accept a substantial round of additional stimulus: A one-year payroll tax cut, an extension of unemployment insurance, and a handful of sundry other stimulus measures. And the extension only lasted for two years, so the White House preserved the option of coming back and killing off the tax cuts after the 2012 election.

But there was one thing the deal didn’t include, that many observers -- myself included -- said should have been there: an increase in the debt ceiling."


I saw something about TaskRabbit somewhere and took a look. It's kinda an interesting idea. It's like eBay for small jobs. Need something delivered or cleaned? Post a job and people bid to do it. Since tasks are often at homes, you pick who you want and TaskRabbit vets the "rabbits" (it's not just lowest bidder wins). Common tasks are pick up and setup Ikea furniture (small businesses like this one) or clean out storage or simple computer work. The rabbits get scored and compete for points or something. Kinda neat.

David Brooks vs. David Brooks

Kevin Drum writes David Brooks vs. David Brooks pointing out his changes in positions day by day.

"Just yesterday I was telling a friend who likes Brooks that I'm not a Brooks hater. I'm still not. But honest to God, I've never seen a columnist who's so schizophrenic. One day we've failed because Republicans are just shy of insane, the next we've failed because Obama screwed up the negotiating process. It's like some part of him rebels whenever he finally admits to himself what the modern conservative movement has become. I wonder what it will take for him to finally figure it out for good?"

This Economist blog goes after Brooks too for his statements about Obama scolding the Republicans.

"So let me get this straight. On Mr Brooks' telling, Mr Obama scolded Congressional leaders like a bunch of teenagers. They responded by beginning negotiations with each other which, he thinks, are more likely to produce a deal. He scolded them, and they started doing their jobs. This "unintended consequence" of Mr Obama's actions proves that his scolding was a grave mistake."

"The notion that our political leaders are mainly driven by such considerations is itself infantilising; I would hope that John Boehner is insulted by Mr Brooks' accusation that his negotiating stance is largely driven by whether Mr Obama was nice to him or not."

History of the Individual Health Insurance Mandate documents the History of the Individual Health Insurance Mandate, 1989-2010. "The concept of the individual health insurance mandate originated in 1989 at the conservative Heritage Foundation. In 1993, Republicans twice introduced health care bills that contained an individual health insurance mandate. Advocates for those bills included prominent Republicans who today oppose the mandate including Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Charles Grassley (R-IA), Robert Bennett (R-UT), and Christopher Bond (R-MO). In 2007, Democrats and Republicans introduced a bi-partisan bill containing the mandate. "

Al-Qaeda Could Collapse, U.S. Officials Say

Al-Qaeda could collapse "U.S. counterterrorism officials are increasingly convinced that the killing of Osama bin Laden and the toll of seven years of CIA drone strikes have pushed al­Qaeda to the brink of collapse."

"U.S. officials said that al-Qaeda might yet rally and that even its demise would not end the terrorist threat, which is increasingly driven by radicalized individuals as well as aggressive affiliates. Indeed, officials said that al­-Qaeda’s offshoot in Yemen is now seen as a greater counterterrorism challenge than the organization’s traditional base."

I'm just reminded of Bush saying he wasn't paying attention to bin Laden that he was no longer important.

"U.S. officials said that bin Laden’s death was a turning point, in part because he remained active in managing the network and keeping it focused on mounting attacks against the United States, but also because his charisma was key to al-Qaeda’s brand and the proliferation of franchises overseas."

Austerity Doesn't Work, Look at Britain

British Economy, After Austerity, at Zero Growth in the Past Nine Months "What’s amazing about this debt limit debate, and the headlong rush to austerity, is that we have empirical evidence of what can result, in this kind of economy, when you massively roll back spending. We even know what happens when you do that amid the threat of a debt downgrade rather than the fundamentals of the financial markets. All you have to do is look to Britain, which has never been the same since their austerity package was unveiled by the Tories."

Big Governments, Big People?

Ezra Klein questions Big governments, big people? "“You know,” Speaker John Boehner said [Monday] night, “I’ve always believed the bigger the government, the smaller the people.” That led Jonathan Cohn to tweet that the “Netherlands has 45% GDP from gov’tM spending and the world’s tallest people.”"


Boehner’s New Budget Proposal is Class Warfare

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities released a Statement: on House Speaker Boehner’s New Budget Proposal.

"House Speaker John Boehner’s new budget proposal would essentially require, as the price of raising the debt ceiling again early next year, a choice between deep cuts in the years immediately ahead in Social Security and Medicare benefits for current retirees, repeal of health reform’s coverage expansions, or wholesale evisceration of basic assistance programs for vulnerable Americans. The plan is, thus, tantamount to a form of “class warfare.” If enacted, it could well produce the greatest increase in poverty and hardship produced by any law in modern U.S. history. This may sound hyperbolic, but it is not. Both the mathematics and the politics are clear."

There's more details that follow, such as:

"To secure $1.5 trillion in entitlement savings over the next ten years would require draconian policy changes. Policymakers would essentially have three choices: 1) cut Social Security and Medicare benefits heavily for current retirees, something that all budget plans from both parties (including House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s plan) have ruled out; 2) repeal the Affordable Care Act’s coverage expansions while retaining its measures that cut Medicare payments and raise tax revenues, even though Republicans seek to repeal many of those measures as well; or 3) eviscerate the safety net for low-income children, parents, senior citizens, and people with disabilities. There is no other plausible way to get $1.5 trillion in entitlement cuts in the next ten years."

This American Life on Patents

I caught a segment on NPR on software patents and patent trolls. While I knew most it, it was really well done and I didn't know about the protection racket angle.

"Why would a company rent an office in a tiny town in East Texas, put a nameplate on the door, and leave it completely empty for a year? The answer involves a controversial billionaire physicist in Seattle, a 40 pound cookbook, and a war waging right now, all across the software and tech industries."

FAA Partial Shutdown Continues

The Washington Post wrote At $30M a day, FAA partial shutdown could cost more than program at center of dispute "A stalemate in Congress has led to a partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration, leading 4,000 workers to be furloughed and costing the agency $30 million a day. Now in its fourth day, the shutdown – which has stemmed from a dispute over a program providing rural air service subsidies – means that the agency has been unable to collect the 7.5 percent-per-ticket tax on air travel, The Post’s Ashley Halsey III reports."

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Chart That Should Accompany All Discussions of the Debt Ceiling

James Fallows wrote The Chart That Should Accompany All Discussions of the Debt Ceiling pointing to this New York Times article on Sunday, How the Deficit Got This Big. They include these two charts, the second is what Fallows was referring to:

24editorial graph1 popup copy24editorial graph2 popup copy

I agree with the data but don't love these graphs. They are comparing 8 years of Bush with 2.5 years of Obama and just projections for an eight-year term. It's also too easy to look at them and see the bigger lines during Obama's term.

If you look at both graphs you can piece together that the wars and tax cuts turned the surplus projections into actual deficits. You can then maybe piece together that the financial crisis led to the bailouts and stimulus. It's up to you to realize that while they hurt the budget in the short term, they're better in the long term. The chart also leaves out that the health care law is supposed to shrink the deficit after 2017 but that the costs are loaded up front.

As for the deficit I really prefer this chart, the latest version I posted a few days ago. Here's a version with recessions shaded:


This shows the revenue dropped in 2007 before the recession hit (I'm not sure why but I'll assume there was a tax cut in there) and the recession made it worse. Still I'm sure a Republican would look at this and see a spending problem, see that line just keeps going up. You have to think that things get more expensive and we get something for our money. Me, I'd rather be getting safety nets and infrastructure from our government rather than wars.

Another part I don't completely understand with this graph is that Bush cut taxes and yet clearly revenue did go up. Is that just inflation or the bubble? I assume there's something to the laffer curve but I know it doesn't mean cutting taxes always works and I thought that we were at the point that it didn't.

I do know that if you bring up to a tea partier that Bush's policies greatly exacerbated the debt problem they'll say they didn't support them either; but I never see an interviewer follow up and ask if they voted for Bush in 2004. The other annoying angle is that they will point out that Democrats were against the deficit under Bush and why don't they care now. My answer is that we're in a recession and different economic situations demand different policies. It's perfectly consistent to say you support deficit spending in bad times and making it up in surpluses during good times, in fact it's Keynesian. You can't say that the appropriate policy in every situation is cutting taxes, that's consistent but unsustainable and clearly wrong.


I'm still on a mailing list. I'm on a couple of others too and I mostly just ignore them. They do tend to send out too much email and they basically just ask for money. A few do campaigns to get you to call your representative to take a stand on an upcoming vote. Normally this is dull for me as my representatives mostly do what I want. Now that Scott Brown is my senator I've called his office a few times. It feels good, but I don't think it does much.

Barney Frank is my congressman and he has an office a few block from my home, I drive by it often. Moveon sent email out a day or two ago saying to meet at his office today at noon to thank him for standing strong on his support for the social programs during the deficit talks. See they're not just about complaining. I didn't think such a thing would be particularly useful and I had lunch plans.

My lunch plans fell through at the last minute so I walked down, mostly to see what such an event would look like. It turns out it looks like about 15 people, almost all with grey hair, meeting out front of a four story office building. One or two people knew each other, I assume from other events. A few printed out 8.5 x 11 signs that said "Thanks for Standing Strong" or something like that. We stood at the steps for a few minutes. One guy said he could have worn an Obama t-shirt but it's hard to still believe in Obama. Another was saying a few things about how annoyed he was at Republicans and how they're just so wrong. That the freshman tea party congressman just don't understand that their policies are not in their own self interest. If they studied their history they'd know that Marx said...and I trailed off. One woman said rather than small groups we should have a big rally on the common to tell the country that we have an alternative view. I said I think most of the country already believes that Massachusetts has an alternative view.

So someone went up stairs to tell them that we were there. There's one young staffer that, Frank is in DC. So eight of us went up to his office and stood at the reception desk. We stood in mostly silence not being at all organized. The staffer said why I don't I take your names and addresses and any statements. So we went around saying the info as he wrote it down. A few more came into the office and a few of us made sound bite statements. "Don't cut social security or medicare" or "The debt isn't the real issue it's jobs". I said I cared mostly about the debt ceiling and would most like a clean vote or the McConnell plan. Not raising the ceiling isn't an option.

We then funneled out and went our separate ways. It all felt rather depressing. Lack of organization in any sized group is always bad. It turns out even people with similar general beliefs have differences on the details, imagine that. The woman who said jobs were the important thing mentioned the WPA and a gentleman said "or the army, that's a good job" and she said "well not the army, we want to be shrinking that and bringing people home."

I don't think showing up meant any more than calling him (my understanding is that phone calls count much more than email messages as far as influencing congressmen). I also think that showing up in some way added to the kabuki theater of the negotiations with press conferences and cable news interviews while everything real happens behind closed doors. As was said months ago, no matter what it will all come down to the 11th hour. That's a week to go.

Jon Stewart on the Debt Ceiling Negotiations

"When it comes to resolving the debt ceiling crisis, Congress isn't bad at its job, it's just equivalent to a skunk with its head in a jar of Skippy peanut butter."

It includes some comments on the Captain America movie (which I really liked) my favorite of which was calling the Red Skull a sunburned James Carville. I also loved how he pointed out the hypocrisy of both leaders latest positions. "So both sides switched, everybody caved, and no one agreed."

Set Design Impossibilities in The Shining

Here's a two-part analysis of the sets of Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. It turns out, the Overlook hotel interiors as we are shown in the film are not possible. Windows are where they can't be, doors appear where they shouldn't and rooms appear to be where they can't. This was found while trying to build a video game skin to set it in the film. Most of this analysis is examples of the anomalies, but it does suggest that Kubrick was so detailed oriented that it must have been deliberate in an attempt to further disorient the viewer.

More analysis can be found at Collative Learning. I'm off to watch the bits on other Kubrick films.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Ezra Klein: Republicans have won. But can they stop there?

Ezra Klein writes Republicans have won. But can they stop there? "We don't yet know what the final deal to raise the debt ceiling will be. But now that Harry Reid is developing a proposal with $2.7 trillion in cuts and nothing in revenues, it's a safe bet that it won't include any tax increases. Which means that whether Republicans realize it or not, they've won. The question now is whether they can stop."

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A New Babylon 5 Series?

Here's a report of the J. Michael Straczynski panel at Comic Con: JMS Spotlight "The future of "Babylon 5" is still being negotiated, JMS said in response to one questioner, explaining that two years ago, when he was last asked to work on a new "Babylon 5," he told the producers, "I need three things. Two to three million dollars per episode, a full season commitment and creative control." At the time, they seemed amiable to his plan, but some parts of the deal fell apart. That said, negotiations are still ongoing."

Web Hosting

I received a notice from my ISP, "For security reasons, Verizon will no longer allow users to FTP their HTML files to the personal web site Verizon offers."

This doesn't affect this blog, but rather my personal site (which gets even less traffic). Still I do make use of it once a year for the oscar pool. Can anyone recommend a good cheap (or even free) web hosting site that allows FTP access and a little bit of storage?

Penn Jillette on a Shuttle Launch

Penn Jillette wrote this very fun post a month ago, NASA's Successful Quantifying of Comedy Timing. "Excerpt from “How To Play In Traffic”, Penn Jillette and Teller, 1997 (out of print). This is long, but for my money, it’s the best thing about the space shuttle ever written."

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Profiles in Un-courage

Krugman has some good posts today.

Profiles in Un-courage. "Matt Yglesias notes the odd failure of reasonably sensible Republican macroeconomists to confront their party’s descent into hard-money madness."

Naked Blackmail. "It turns out that in the final stages of the debt negotiations, Republicans suddenly added a new demand — a trigger that would end up eliminating the individual mandate in health care reform."

What Obama Was Willing to Give Away. "Jonathan Cohn summarizes what seems to have been in the deal that Boehner walked away from; it’s horrifying. Above all, the proposed rise in the age of Medicare eligibility was a real betrayal of both Democratic principles and good government."

Here's Cohn's summary, Obama Admits the Obvious: The GOP Is Unreasonable. "Debt Ceiling Negotiations: The Democrats Have Compromised. The Republicans Have Not. It's About Time People Noticed."

Serenity in Lego

Here are some photos on flickr by Dufresne07 of his Lego model Serenity from Firefly. It's pretty damn impressive.

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The drive even lights up.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Watching the Shuttle Reenter the Atmosphere

This NASA - Image of the Day isn't of the highest quality, but it is amazing. "This unprecedented view of the space shuttle Atlantis, appearing like a bean sprout against clouds and city lights, on its way home, was photographed by the Expedition 28 crew of the International Space Station. Airglow over Earth can be seen in the background. "


The Persecution of Daniel Lee

Stanford University's magazine wrote of The Persecution of Daniel Lee "An Internet smear campaign nearly destroyed the South Korean star, but he fought back with the only weapon he had: the truth." It's an interesting story of how conspiracy theories can be really damaging.

Dodd-Frank — a real work of art

Alphaville in The Financial Times wrote Dodd-Frank — a real work of art "Every now and again we come across pictures meant to simplify the complexities of the landmark legislation. (We’d never of course suggest they’d ever be designed to obfuscate.) And it hasn’t escaped our attention that, on occasion, they carry a (very) vague likeness to certain works of art. "

TED: Kevin Slavin: How Algorithms Shape Our World

I thought this was really interesting and in some ways frightening TED talk on algorithmic trading and using such techniques in other areas.

Congress Continues Debate Over Whether or Not Nation Should Be Economically Ruined

I've been trying to avoid following the debt ceiling crisis. I believe that it will keep going with political posturing until the deadline Aug 2nd and it will just upset me. I have been reading about it but commenting would make me crazy. Well now that Boehner has walked out here are a few articles I've saved.

The Onion put it well, Congress Continues Debate Over Whether Or Not Nation Should Be Economically Ruined. "Members of the U.S. Congress reported Wednesday they were continuing to carefully debate the issue of whether or not they should allow the country to descend into a roiling economic meltdown of historically dire proportions. "It is a question that, I think, is worthy of serious consideration: Should we take steps to avoid a crippling, decades-long depression that would lead to disastrous consequences on a worldwide scale? Or should we not do that?" asked House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), adding that arguments could be made for both sides, and that the debate over ensuring America’s financial solvency versus allowing the nation to default on its debt—which would torpedo stock markets, cause mortgage and interests rates to skyrocket, and decimate the value of the U.S. dollar—is “certainly a conversation worth having.” "Obviously, we don't want to rush to consensus on whether it is or isn't a good idea to save the American economy and all our respective livelihoods from certain peril until we've examined this thorny dilemma from every angle. And if we’re still discussing this matter on Aug. 2, well, then, so be it.” At press time, President Obama said he personally believed the country should not be economically ruined."

Ezra Klein's post, 11 days until disaster, three options to prevent it, isn't that much different.

An Economist blog says Worst Congress ever? "Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute quite literally wrote the book on congressional dysfunction. So it is profoundly depressing to see that he has now labelled the 112th Congress the worst one ever. More discouraging still, this is not a temporary problem brought about by transient phenomena such as the recent recession and the advent of the tea-party movement. It is the culmination of a long period of realignment in American politics, encompassing sharper ideological conflict between the parties, the extinction of the Boll Weevils and the Gypsy Moths, the simultaneous balkanisation of the mass media, the advent of the permanent campaign and a new way of thinking and operating on Capitol Hill. Moreover, it is going to become even worse"

Kevin Drum posted this chart, which I think has to be taken more as correlation than causation, but maybe not:


And if you thought the debt ceiling was the only thing the House was breaking, there's also this, FAA faces partial shutdown. "The Federal Aviation Administration faced a partial shutdown Saturday morning as Congress adjourned Friday without approving a routine stop-gap funding measure amid partisan acrimony. More than 4,000 FAA workers, 1,000 of them in the Washington region, and tens of thousands of airport construction workers under FAA contract faced immediate furlough. The nation’s air travel system will not be affected, with air traffic controllers remaining on the job and airline operations continuing as normal."

Breaking Bad Is Back

Chuck Klosterman tried to make the case of Why AMC's Breaking Bad beats Mad Men, The Sopranos, and The Wire.. After starting with something I can agree with: "Though some may disagree (and I'm sure some will, because some always do), there doesn't seem to be much debate over what have been the four best television shows of the past 10 years. It seems like an easy question to answer, particularly since it's become increasingly difficult to write about the state of TV (or even the state of popular culture) without tangentially mentioning one of the following four programs — The Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men, and/or Breaking Bad."

He then admits that picking a best show of those four is difficult. Apparently by picking The Wire, I'm an "obstinate fan". I just thought I was right. I do agree with most of this: "Which is not to say The Wire wasn't brilliant, because it was. Of the four shows I've mentioned, The Wire absolutely exhibited the finest writing; Mad Men has the most fascinating collection of character types, and The Sopranos was the most fully realized (and, it's important to note, essentially invented this rarified tier of televised drama). But I've slowly come to the conclusion that Breaking Bad is the best of the four, or at least the one I like the most.2 And I've been trying to figure out why I feel this way. It's shot in the most visually creative style, but that's not enough to set it apart; the acting is probably the best of the four, but not by a lot (and since good acting can sometimes cover deeper problems with direction and storytelling, I tend not to give it much weight). I suspect Breaking Bad will be the least remembered of these four shows and will probably be the least influential over time. Yet there's one profound difference between this series and the other three, and it has to do with its handling of morality: Breaking Bad is the only one built on the uncomfortable premise that there's an irrefutable difference between what's right and what's wrong, and it's the only one where the characters have real control over how they choose to live."

He makes the argument that Breaking Bad is the only where the main character started off good and has become bad, one choice at a time, and that's an interesting moral tale. That may be the case. On that basis I think Dexter also needs to be evaluated. It would clearly be in the next batch of four on any list, in fact I'd put it fifth with Deadwood sixth. Dexter starts off bad and we root for him but while we think he might be turning good, and he does evolve over the seasons, he distinctly stays evil, serial killer evil.

Still, I watched the season premiere of Breaking Bad and it was great. Salon recaps it saying "A drawn-out, horrifying setpiece underlines the AMC drama's most distinctive qualities." It's true, what struck me about it was how it was such wildly different storytelling than anything else. They also point out how watching the whole series really pays off in spades in comparing the characters now to what they were in season one.

In fact, this list of Breaking Bad's 10 best moments was most remarkable to me in that they are all great, and none of them would I have picked for my list (some I hadn't even remembered).

That's all to say, it's great show and you should watch it, but only from the begining.

Mass Extinction Easier To Trigger Than Thought

Ars Technica writes Mass extinction easier to trigger than thought "In what scientists call the end-Triassic mass extinction, at least half of all living species simply disappear from the fossil record. The die-off didn’t merely cause ecological disruption. It was so sudden and profound that planetary chemical cycles went haywire for the next several million years."

"Rather than 600,000 years of volcanic activity choking Earth’s atmosphere with carbon dioxide, just a few thousand years apparently sufficed to raise ocean temperatures so that potent greenhouse gases trapped in seafloor mud came bubbling up. Most of everything alive on Earth was soon wiped out. Another half-million years of vulcanism were just icing on the cake. "

Thursday, July 21, 2011


Caren Alpert Fine Art has a very nice gallery of macrophotography.

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The Weirdness of 10-Year Deficit Reduction « The Baseline Scenario

James Kwak writes in The Baseline Scenario about The Weirdness of 10-Year Deficit Reduction.

"The projected 2021 deficit is $729 billion, but net interest spending is $807 billion (Table 1-5). That means that the primary budget is running a surplus of $78 billion, the entire deficit is due to interest payments on the debt, and the debt has stabilized around 75 percent of GDP. This is not a great situation, but it’s no emergency, either."

"Now, you may point out that the baseline is unrealistic, and I agree. But the three most unrealistic things in the baseline cancel themselves out."

"The big policy uncertainty that hangs over the ten-year baseline is the Bush and Obama tax cuts of 2001, 2003, and 2009, which were extended in December 2010 and now expire at the end of 2012. If we extend all of those tax cuts, we will add $612 billion to the 2021 deficit (on top of $137 billion for patching the AMT). That’s real money. To which my answer is: let them expire. Let all the tax cuts expire, and there is no ten-year deficit problem."

"Instead, the Gang of Six plan proposes to cut taxes by $1.5 trillion (over ten years) relative to the CBO baseline — which means $1.5 trillion in unnecessary spending cuts. The real problems come after the ten-year horizon, when Medicare spending accelerates due to an aging population and increasing health care costs."

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Pluto has another moon!

Pluto may no longer be a planet, but Bad Astronomy reports Pluto has another moon! "It doesn’t have a name yet — it’s designated S/2011 P1 (or just P4 informally) — and it’s only about 13 – 34 km (8 to 21 miles) across. The size is estimated by measuring its brightness and assuming it’s icy like Pluto itself — a more reflective (white or icy) object would appear brighter than a darker object if they are the same size. Since its actual reflectivity isn’t known, the size has a wide range. But it’s still pretty dinky. For comparison, Pluto itself is 2300 km across, and its biggest moon Charon is well over 1000 km in size. I’ll note our own Moon is 3470 km across, so even Pluto is pretty small."

I remembered Charon but didn't realize that dwarf planet Pluto had two other moons. They were discovered in 2005 (so I probably blogged them).

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"Mind you, Pluto was 5 billion km (3 billion miles) from Earth when this image was taken! But we’ll soon get much better pictures: the New Horizons probe will fly past the tiny world in 2015, snapping away as it does. We’ll probably learn more about Pluto in a few hours than we have since its discovery in 1930."

Monday, July 18, 2011

Days of Summer

In Focus covers the Days of Summer "Across the northern hemisphere, people are doing what they can to cope with the summer weather. Heatwaves have recently struck the Midwest and East Coast in the United States and in parts of Eastern Europe. Hot summer days also bring stormy afternoons, with downpours that have caused numerous flooding problems across parts of China. For many, though, the way to beat the heat is to get outside and cool off in lakes, fountains, or water parks, or to find a place to simply live in the moment and enjoy the sunshine. Collected below are some images from these recent summer days, and of people around the world either enjoying or coping with the heat. [39 photos]"

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The Final Image

The Final Image is a collection of the last shot of several films. Wasn't too easy.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

White House and Congressional Leaders: No Default on US Debt

White House and Congressional Leaders: No Default on US Debt "The White House and congressional leaders remain adamant the United States will not default on its $14.3 trillion national debt, less than three weeks before a deadline for raising the federal borrowing limit.  But a bipartisan deal to put the nation on a sustainable fiscal path shows no sign of materializing.

On one point top Democrats and Republicans agree: failing to raise America’s debt ceiling in time to avert a default on federal obligations is unthinkable.  Jacob Lew is President Barack Obama’s top budget official. "All the leaders of Congress and the president have acknowledged that we must raise the debt limit, and the question is how," he said."

The Giant Disconnect Between Wall Street and Washington

Megan McArdle wrote in The Atlantic The Giant Disconnect Between Wall Street and Washington. "There are people in Washington who get Wall Street, and people on Wall Street who get Washington. But they are a small minority in both places. I submit that this disconnect is dangerous."

Ezra Klein says "Read the whole thing. The only thing I’d add is that I’m often struck by how many people there are in Washington who don’t understand the legislative process, have only very vague ideas about how polarization has changed in recent decades, have no idea of the role that baselines play in the budget process, etc. These people often have other areas where they’re extremely knowledgeable -- campaigns, for instance -- but in off-years, they’re called to comment on the legislative process and they get quite a lot wrong."

Republican Deceit on Housing Crisis

This week the Democratic Staff of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform issued a 37 page review, An Examination of Attacks Against the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission.

On July 27, 2010, then-Ranking Member [Darrell] Issa [R-CA] announced an investigation into the activities of the Commission. In a letter to Chairman Angelides, Ranking Member Issa wrote that, although he had hoped that the Commission would “be able to conduct a fair and effective investigation which would help Congress as it considered financial regulatory reform legislation,” he was launching his investigation in part because “the Administration and congressional Democrats have instead chosen to ram through a partisan financial regulation bill before the FCIC has completed its work.”

"These documents indicate that Chairman Issa’s allegations are largely unsubstantiated,and this report addresses each allegation in turn. In contrast, the documents raise significant new questions about whether Republican Commissioners geared their efforts on the Commission toward helping House Republicans in their campaign to repeal the Dodd-Frank Act, rather than determining the facts that led to the economic crisis. The documents also raise a host of new ethical questions about Republican Commissioners and staff, including evidence that they leaked confidential information to outside parties on multiple occasions."

It's a pretty damning review, particularly of commission member Peter Wallison. In the 70s and 80s he was on various Republican staffs including a stint as White House Counsel to President Reagan. He's been at the American Enterprise Institute since 1999.

The report says he sent to other Republican members of the committee various messages saying “It’s very important, I think, that what we say in our separate statements not undermine the ability of the new House GOP to modify or repeal Dodd-Frank.”

The report also says "Internal Commission documents indicate that Commissioner Wallison used his position to promote a theory of the economic crisis supported by Chairman Issa and put forth by Edward Pinto, a Resident Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). This theory, that government housing policy was the primary cause of the nation’s economic crisis, was ultimately rejected as flawed by every other member of the Commission."

"Internal Commission documents indicate that Commissioner Wallison violated the Commission’s ethics provisions by leaking confidential information to Mr. Pinto on several occasions." Mr. Pinto is Edward Pinto, Resident Fellow of AEI and an executive at Fannie in the 80s.

These are the people behind the lie that Fannie and Freddie caused the financial crisis. For details of the lies see this post by David Min. In addition to ignoring facts like there were busts in commercial real estate and in other countries (neither markets affected by Fannie or Freddie) they also just recategorized mortgages in a way no one else uses so the numbers fit their outcome.

While these lies have become pretty mainstream in Republican circles, on the committee Wallison was an extremist. The three other Republican commissioners didn't agree with him. The initial report was spintered. The Democrats released their report, the three Republicans released their dissent and Wallison released his own.

"Despite repeated claims by Commissioner Wallison that the Commission failed to consider AEI’s position that the economic crisis was caused by government housing policies, internal Commission documents demonstrate that Commission staff went above and beyond in fully considering the AEI position, and that all of the other Commissioners—including the three other Republicans—rejected this position as fundamentally flawed."

Mike Konczal of the Roosevelt Institute wrote, "What interests me the most are how the other members of the GOP reacted to Wallison and Pinto’s thesis that the GSEs caused the financial crisis." The review includes messages between republican commissioner staffers wondering how to deal with an "intractable Peter" and "is peter thinking idependently [sic] or is he just a parrot for pinto?" and "I think wmt [Vice Chairman William M. Thomas] is going to push to find out if pinto is being paid by anyone."

As Krugman sums this all up, "But while the non-Wallison GOP commissioners basically agreed that the whole thing was bogus, they avoided saying so clearly. And that was clearly political. So on the question of [whether these people are] stupid versus evil, we have a winner."

The review doesn't just damn Wallison, it also raises some questions about the Republican Vice Chairman. "Internal Commission documents raise questions about the extent to which Vice Chairman Thomas and his Commission staff were providing information to, and receiving information from, a CEO of a political consulting firm who is also employed by the Vice Chairman’s law firm."

That would be Alex Brill, CEO of Matrix Global Advisors, and "an Economic Policy Advisor at the law firm of Buchanan, Ingersoll, and Rooney in Washington, DC, where Vice Chairman Thomas is a Senior Advisor". "Mr. Brill is also a Research Fellow at AEI." Thomas sent Brill copies of internal non-public draft memos, conversations, witnesses lists, media advisories, and named investigation targets.

Doesn't that sound bad?

"As the culmination of a year-long investigation, Chairmen Issa and McHenry scheduled a hearing on these matters for July 13, 2011. Despite previous reports, Chairman Issa did not invite Vice Chairman Thomas to testify. For this reason, on July 1, 2011, Ranking Members Cummings and Quigley requested that Committee staff conduct a bipartisan staff interview of Vice Chairman Thomas, as they had done with Chairman Angelides. Chairman Issa declined to grant this request. Instead, he notified the Committee that the hearing had been postponed indefinitely."

Fuck you Darrel Issa.

NASA's Dawn Spacecraft Enters Orbit Around Asteroid Vesta

NASA's Dawn Spacecraft Enters Orbit Around Asteroid Vesta "NASA's Dawn spacecraft on Saturday became the first probe ever to enter orbit around an object in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Dawn will study the asteroid, named Vesta, for a year before departing for a second destination, a dwarf planet named Ceres, in July 2012. Observations will provide unprecedented data to help scientists understand the earliest chapter of our solar system. The data also will help pave the way for future human space missions."

Here's a photo it took of Vespa a week ago at a distance of 26,000 miles. It's about 330 miles across. Wikipedia says, "Comprising an estimated 9% of the mass of the entire asteroid belt,[10] it is the second-most-massive object in the belt after the dwarf planet Ceres."

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Fry and Laurie: If Rupert Murdoch hadn't been born...‬‏

YouTube - ‪A Bit of Fry&Laurie: If Rupert Murdoch hadn't been born...‬‏ ""

Jon Stewart on Debt Ceiling

I thought Jon Stewart's opening segment last night was quite good.

Bush Administration, Not Science, Prevented Regulation of Toxin In Drinking Water

TPM states what we all knew, Bush Administration, Not Science, Prevented Regulation of Toxin In Drinking Water. "The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) was asked to look into the EPA's evaluation of the known thyroid-disturbant, and found that the path to the no-regulation decision "used a process and scientific analyses that were atypical, lacked transparency, and limited the agency's independence in developing and communicating scientific findings." Instead of the EPA's usual process—which begins with creating a work group of "professional staff with relevant expertise from across the agency"—the Agency placed a "less inclusive, small group of high-level officials" in charge of the deliberations. These high-level members included officials who answered directly to the White House."

Over a Fifth of Navy Ships Aren’t Ready to Fight

Danger Room reports Over a Fifth of Navy Ships Aren’t Ready to Fight "More than a fifth of the Navy isn’t ready to sail or fight, at a time when demand on the fleet is off the charts. And the number of unready ships is likely to rise as Navy officers try to fix their chronic readiness woes."

They also report Two Bombers, 24 Hours, 100 Libyan Targets Destroyed based mostly from this interesting Air Force Magazine article, Bombers Over Libya.

Wiretapping and Cryptography Today

Matt Blaze on Wiretapping and Cryptography Today "The 2010 U.S. Wiretap Report was released a couple of weeks ago, the latest in a series of puzzles published annually, on and off, by congressional mandate since the Nixon administration. The report, as its name implies, summarizes legal wiretapping by federal and state law enforcement agencies. The reports are puzzles because they are notoriously incomplete; the data relies on spotty reporting, and information on "national security" (FISA) taps is excluded altogether." started today. "Infographics and data visualizations are shifting the way people find and experience stories, creating a new way of seeing the world of data. They help communicate complex ideas in a clear, compact and beautiful way, taking deep data and presenting it in visual shorthand. We’ve collected the best examples on the web and gathered them for you to reference, share, and enjoy."

Who's Hiring? Not Who You'd Expect

The Wall Street Journal has a nice article on Who's Hiring? Not Who You'd Expect "Some industries have significantly boosted employment over the past year while others continue to shed workers. To be sure, even those adding jobs are hiring far fewer than would be needed to put America's 14.1 million unemployed back to work."

It includes this interactive infographic (flash required)

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Lots of hiring in business services and health care, lots of losses in construction and government; the rest is close to flat.

Why Netflix’s Price Hike Doesn’t Bother Me

I mostly agree with Techland, Why Netflix’s Price Hike Doesn’t Bother Me

I still pay $20 for my original 3 disc plan. I'll probably shift to a 1 disc plan with streaming, saving $4 a month. For a lot of the people whining, I think they should remember they got streaming added to their existing disc plan for free, it wasn't going to last forever.

I still like netflix because it has a lot of discs I couldn't find elsewhere. I hope they can add more to their streaming offerings. I currently have 283 films in my DVDs queue and 135 in the instant queue. I suspect the price raise and differentiation has a lot to do with negotiating with the studios for streaming rights. The studios are trying to figure out the future and Netflix is starting to produce their own content, so I'm sure negotiations are fun.

How the Bubble Destroyed the Middle Class

It seems obvious but if you have to explain it to someone point them at this from Rex Nutting at MarketWatch, How the bubble destroyed the middle class.

"Most middle-class families didn’t have much wealth to begin with — about $100,000. For the 22 million families right in the middle of the income distribution (those making between $39,000 and $62,000 before taxes), about 90% of their assets was in the house. Now half of their wealth is gone and it will never come back as long as they live."

"Their wages have been flat after adjusting for inflation. In the late 1960s, the 20% of families right in the middle were earning almost their full share of the pie: they had 17.5% of total income. Their share has been falling steadily ever since. Now, that 20% is earning just 14.6% of all income. Meanwhile, the top 5% captured a growing share, going from 17% in the late 1960s to 22% today."

"Of course, rich folk lost lots of wealth during the panic as well. Their wealth is mostly in paper not bricks -– stocks, bonds, mutual funds, life insurance. The market value of those assets fell further than home prices did during the crash, but they’ve mostly recovered their value now. The S&P 500 SPX +0.86%  lost 56% of its value when it crashed, but it’s doubled since then. Stocks are down about 13% from peak. The rich recovered; the rest of us didn’t."

Misleading Mantra, Tax and Spend Version

Jared Bernstein Misleading Mantra, Tax and Spend Version. "You know the Republican mantra against revenues in the budget talks: “The problem isn’t that Americans are undertaxed; it’s that their government overspends?”"


"But of course revenues tank with the Bush tax cuts, and fall off of the cliff with the Great Recession, when spending rises sharply, both due to automatic stabilizers like unemployment insurance and policies like the Recovery Act. There’s obviously much more to this analysis then a couple of lines on a graph, but the history of structural (versus cyclical) deficits in recent decades is that they are largely the result of cutting revenues rather than raising spending (and visa-versa–remember Clinton’s budget surpluses)."

Obama Sets Fundraising Record

Aaron Blake writes What Obama’s $86 million haul means "President Obama’s campaign announced early Wednesday that it has raised $86 million for its reelection campaign and the Democratic National Committee in the second quarter, setting a new record for off-year fundraising by a president."


"The DNC is playing a major role: While the combined haul of Obama and the DNC was unprecedented, the DNC’s share is also noteworthy. The total haul was $86 million, but 44 percent of that went into the DNC’s effort to reelect Obama."

"The competition: Obama’s huge haul looks even bigger next to his GOP opponents, none of whom managed to crack even $20 million in the second quarter, and only one of whom broke $5 million (though Rep. Michele Bachmann, who has not yet announced her totals, could still exceed that amount)."

CIA Used Fake Vaccination Drive to Verify Bin Laden's Presence?

The Guardian reports CIA organised fake vaccination drive to get Osama bin Laden's family DNA "As part of extensive preparations for the raid that killed Bin Laden in May, CIA agents recruited a senior Pakistani doctor to organise the vaccine drive in Abbottabad, even starting the "project" in a poorer part of town to make it look more authentic, according to Pakistani and US officials and local residents...DNA from any of the Bin Laden children in the compound could be compared with a sample from his sister, who died in Boston in 2010, to provide evidence that the family was present."

Kevin Drum says, "On the bright side, it's good to see the CIA thinking creatively again."

James Fallows says, "Almost any step toward the end of eliminating [bin Laden] was worthwhile. But this phony vaccination campaign, if true, really pushes the boundaries of "almost." Around the world this will touch the very deepest sources of mistrust, fear, and hatred of the big, technological United States. We will (in this narrative) lie to people about basic questions of family health; we will prey on parents' concern for their children to lure them into situations where we can take samples of their tissues and fluids; we will say one thing and do another -- under white medical-technician jackets and a humanitarian guise. We will suggest that no aspect of our international presence is immune to penetration by spies."

Wither Palin and Coulter?

I hope Kevin Drum is right, Newt's Recipe for Success. "And speaking of politicians and sound bites, does it strike anyone else that Sarah Palin has basically become a social media version of Ann Coulter? That is, they're both conservatives whose schtick mostly depends on generating liberal apoplexy over their periodic word bombs, and who are both fading away because they're having problems coming up with new material that's fresh enough for anyone to care about? I didn't even know Coulter had yet another book out until I saw it at the bookstore today (in almost self-parody fashion, it's called Demonic), and likewise nobody seems to care very much anymore about whatever Palin's latest plea for attention on Facebook says (though Tina Brown apparently hasn't gotten the message yet)."