July 2011 Archives


"The Trouble with Trillions" is one of the best Simpsons episodes, but that doesn't mean we should actually mint a trillion dollar coin. Just watch the episode to see how badly it turns out.

John Hinderaker says that Democrats want to play "Let's Make a Deal", but that's not how laws are made.

President Obama and Harry Reid keep saying they want to make a "deal." But that isn't how it works. The Senate needs to pass a bill. Next, leaders of each chamber appoint representatives who participate in a conference committee. The conference committee comes up with a compromise between the House bill and the Senate bill, and that conference bill goes back to each chamber for approval. It will be appropriate for Harry Reid to negotiate with Mitch McConnell over a Senate bill, but Boehner should go on vacation unless and until the Senate acts.

What the Democrats are trying to do, of course, is gain absolution for all of their fiscal sins by negotiating a cosmic deal with the GOP that, as I once put it, would put Republicans in the position of going over the waterfall holding hands with the Democrats. If Republicans are dumb enough to let that happen-which I doubt-then it will indeed be time for a third party.

The Democratic Senate has now gone for more than two years without adopting a budget. That is not only poor practice, it violates federal law. Why won't the Democrats adopt a budget? Because they don't dare put down on paper, for the American people to see, what they really want: skyrocketing spending, higher taxes and spiraling deficits. Forever. The Democrats don't want to commit to anything until they have bullied the Republicans into signing onto it.

That last sentence is key: the Democrats don't want to go on the record until they have Republican agreement.

Megan McArdle is right about two things: President Obama is bluffing and the House must pass something that will increase the debt limit.

There is one thing I'm sure of: Obama is indeed bluffing with the veto threat, and badly. They could send him a repeal of Obamacare attached to a debt ceiling increase, and he'd sign it. He is not going to endanger our credit rating, or social security checks, in order to prove a point.

Beyond that, I have no idea what is going to happen politically. Either the GOP is going to pass the Boehner bill, go into conference with the Senate, and come out with something Obama will sign--or they won't. I tend to think they will because it would be so damn crazy not to. On the other hand, I thought Democrats were going to back off on health care because it was so obviously career suicide to pass the thing. And I was right--it was career suicide. But they passed it anyway. After a certain point, these things take on a life of their own: it's hard to back down when you're so publicly committed--and when something you want so badly feels like it's almost in reach. So who knows.

I think the Tea Party and conservatives in general have made their points: the debt and deficit are very important and must be fixed. It isn't reasonable to think that they can be fixed in one fell swoop. Pass a debt ceiling increase and Obama will sign it. The attached spending cuts -- real or fake, large or small -- reflect that the will of the American people has shifted substantially in your direction. Take the win.

I knew the general facts but didn't realize the implication: the United States can't default via inflation because most of our debt has a short maturity and needs to be continually rolled over.

Here in the U.S., total Federal debt to GDP is also approaching 100%, but the debt held by the public (outside of that held by Social Security and the Federal Reserve) amounts to about 60% of GDP and rising, due to recent budget deficits of about 10% of GDP annually. This is presently manageable since so much of that debt is of short-maturity and is being financed at very low interest rates. And though U.S. Federal tax revenues have historically run near 19% of GDP (they're presently only about 16% due to the sluggish economy), those depressed interest rates mean that debt service doesn't consume a huge chunk of revenues just yet.

Still, it's precisely that short average maturity that makes the debt problematic from a long-run perspective, because it can't be inflated away easily. In the event of sustained inflation, the debt would have to be constantly refinanced at higher and higher yields. Contrary to the assertion that the U.S. can easily inflate its debts away, it is clear that sustained inflation would create enormous risks to our long-run fiscal condition by driving interest costs to an intolerable share of revenues. At that point, any shortfall in GDP growth or government revenues would result in a rapid spike in debt-to-GDP (as Greece and other peripheral European nations are experiencing now). Prior to embarking on an inflationary course, the first thing a government would want to do is dramatically lengthen the maturity of its debts.

If our debt was mostly 30-year notes we could inflate it away without worrying about interest rates, because the rates would be locked in for decades. But if we have to keep re-borrowing the money every few years we'll have to do it at ever-increasing rates... in inflation can't "save" us. We are so totally screwed.

(HT: Tyler Cowen.)

LifeHacker has a great resource for basic self-defense knowledge, including numerous short videos. My favorite is the "false surrender"; the video below is specifically related to sexual assault, but I think the general concept could be very useful in many circumstances.

New data from NASA reveals that the earth radiates a lot more heat into space than was previously thought. This is good news for humans because it further reduces worries about global warming / climate change.

NASA satellite data from the years 2000 through 2011 show the Earth's atmosphere is allowing far more heat to be released into space than alarmist computer models have predicted, reports a new study in the peer-reviewed science journal Remote Sensing. The study indicates far less future global warming will occur than United Nations computer models have predicted, and supports prior studies indicating increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide trap far less heat than alarmists have claimed.

Study co-author Dr. Roy Spencer, a principal research scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and U.S. Science Team Leader for the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer flying on NASA's Aqua satellite, reports that real-world data from NASA's Terra satellite contradict multiple assumptions fed into alarmist computer models.

"The satellite observations suggest there is much more energy lost to space during and after warming than the climate models show," Spencer said in a July 26 University of Alabama press release. "There is a huge discrepancy between the data and the forecasts that is especially big over the oceans."

In addition to finding that far less heat is being trapped than alarmist computer models have predicted, the NASA satellite data show the atmosphere begins shedding heat into space long before United Nations computer models predicted.

The new findings are extremely important and should dramatically alter the global warming debate.

If logic and data are capable of influencing the debate, that is.

(HT: NC.)

Monopoly is much more fun if you play by the actual rules in the rule book and auction off properties that players land on but don't buy.

Have you ever played Monopoly?

Of course you have. Everyone's played it at some time in their life. It's shared culture, a common element that weaves together our modern world.

But when was the last time you played it?

You can't remember, can you? We've all played it sometime, when we were kids; but never recently, and why?

Because it's crap. It takes ages to play, suffering long action-free periods in which the players endlessly circle the board in search of the streets they need to complete a set, and lacks the interaction between players that we look for in a game. In short, it's boring and lacks skill.

Except that it isn't crap. Actually. You just have to play it the way it was designed to be played.

Monopoly is an auction strategy game, and when you take the auctions out the game is very boring.

I can't help but think that many of those Norwegian kids would have lived if there had been a few responsible gun-carrying adults on the island. Unfortunately Norway doesn't allow the carrying of concealed weapons.

To own a gun in Norway, one must document a use for the gun. By far, the most common grounds for civilian ownership are hunting and sports shooting, in that order. Other needs can include special guard duties or self defence, but the first is rare unless the person shows identification confirming that he or she is a trained guard or member of a law-enforcement agency and the second is practically never accepted as a reason for gun ownership. ...

There is no apparent public desire to introduce a concealed carry permit at this point in time, and there is no such license available to civilians.

I bet that Anders Behring Breivik was the only person with a gun on the island, and wasn't too interested in obeying any laws.

(HT: The Truth About Guns.)

As difficult as the debt limit debate is now, I'm grateful for our American two-party system. Can you imagine how awful it would be under a parliamentary system in which very small minority parties had representation in the legislature? In close votes, all the ties would be broken by the handful of lunatics in the Communist Party or the Nazi Party or whatever minor bunch of crazies happened to span the median voter.

I know that the world is anxious because of the long delay, but I'd just like to assure the financial markets that Master of None blog is still active! I've just been busy for the past few days. No need to panic and throw the global economic system into turmoil.

If you're bored with American politics and the never-ending debt ceiling debates, maybe you should check out Vladimir Putin's presidential campaign.

Young women across Russia have been called on to show their support for Vladimir Putin in an unusual way: by ripping off their clothes. The unexpected campaign has been launched by a group calling itself the Putin Army, which posted a slick video online at the weekend featuring a trio of young women announcing a competition.

"I'm just crazy about a man who changed our country," says a voiceover, as we see "Diana" walking through Moscow, while the camera frequently hovers over her sizeable bust. "He's a great politician, and an amazing man. He's Vladimir Putin," she says, adding that despite the millions who admire him, there are some who "pour dirt on him, maybe because they are scared of him, or because they themselves are weak".

Later in the video, Diana meets two nubile friends sunbathing by the riverbank, and they daub "I'll tear [clothes off] for Putin" onto skimpy T-shirts in red paint. The video ends as they rip the T-shirts off. They ask other "young, smart and beautiful" girls to "tear off something for Putin" and post a video of it online. The best entrant will win an iPad.

Here's the video (safe for work).

I wonder if such an anti-PC approach would crash or boom for an American candidate?

Apparently Representative Eric Cantor, Republican Majority Leader, is angering President Obama and Congressional Democrats.

House and Senate Democrats have ripped Cantor for days, and a House Democratic leadership aide described the majority leader's account of Wednesday's meeting as "Cantor's Gingrich back-of-the-plane moment" -- referencing a moment in 1995 when then-Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) complained about being seated near the back of Air Force One and was quickly depicted in the media as a crybaby.

"Obama was concluding the meeting, giving the closing remarks and talking about meeting tomorrow, Cantor interrupted him and raised for the third time doing a short-term, and Obama shut him down," the aide said. "Cantor was playing the role he's been playing throughout this whole thing -- being not productive."

A GOP aide said it was "the most tense meeting of the week."

I'm glad that Cantor is frustrating the Democrats, and I hope he keeps it up. The majority of the public doesn't even want the debt ceiling raised, so they're not going to have much sympathy for the Democrats who want to do it along with tax increases.

There's talk of eliminating interest-subsidized student loans and, of course, the education industry is going crazy. You've gotta love this logic:

ubsidized loans, which are awarded based on financial need, make up just under half of all Stafford loans, which are the federal government's largest pool of student loans. Students who borrow the maximum amount of subsidized loans, $23,000, and take six years to graduate would owe $5,000 more by graduation and $9,000 after a 20-year repayment period, said Pauline Abernathy, vice president of the Institute for College Access and Success.

"We certainly hope this will not be considered," Abernathy said. "It merely is shifting the debt from the federal government to the next generation of Americans."

Um... who do you think is going to be paying the "government" debt, if not the next generation of Americans? What this plan would do is shift the debt burden away from taxpayers and onto the people who actually benefit most from the education: the students. Why to educators hate the idea? Because they won't be able to charge as much for their product if their customers are not subsidized by taxpayers.

Monkey "borrows" photographer's camera and takes pictures.

After three days of hanging out with some crested black macaques in Indonesia, photographer David Slater walked away from his camera tripod for a minute and one of the monkeys started playing around with the equipment. Eventually he hit the button, and the monkeys all enjoyed the noise so much that he kept hitting it. Slater said the monkey had taken "hundreds" of pictures by the time he got his camera back. Probably most were no good (neither are most of mine), but there were also some utterly hilarious self-portraits like this one. ...

A monkey takes an image ...
....but gets no credit?
... but a human takes the credit. How does that work?

Don't worry, there's a lengthy legal analysis in a later post at Lowering the Bar.

(HT: The Legal Satyricon.)

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's debt limit plan is convoluted. Some conservatives have argued that it is a surrender of the debt limit issue, but I don't think that's the right way to look at the plan. The plan is primarily a political device. First, let's look at the details.

In one sign that top leaders worry they won't reach a deal in time, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) unveiled a proposal that would allow President Barack Obama to raise on his own the federal borrowing limit by $2.4 trillion in three installments before the end of 2012, unless two-thirds of Congress votes to block it.

Because Mr. Obama would have to lift the debt ceiling, it could place any political fallout on him for doing so. But Republican conservatives protested that Mr. McConnell's plan would give up the leverage the GOP has to force the White House to approve government spending cuts in return for a debt-ceiling increase.

There are many implications to this plan.

  1. President Obama could increase the debt without cutting any spending if he wanted to. There's no way that a veto-proof majority of Congress would vote to block the increases.
  2. Every Republican could vote against debt limit increases three times.
  3. Most Democrats would have to vote for debt limit increases three times, potentially paired with zero spending cuts.
  4. Every Republican in Congress and every Democrat senator up for election in 2012 could pin the blame for the increased debt on the President.

McConnell's debt limit plan isn't primarily designed to reduce spending -- it is a political plan aimed at scoring points for the 2012 election.

Pejman Yousefzadeh thinks the plan in unconstitutional.

Jennifer Rubin calls it a pincer movement intended to show the the world that the only one who can prevent the debt limit from being raised is President Obama.

What is "the rule of law"? Megan McArdle has a concise definition:

The rule of law is not where you have trials; the rule of law is where the government cannot use prosecution to eliminate alternative centers of power, because there's no way for the government to get a conviction.

Companies are fleeing California in droves, but don't worry, the state is creating yet another government agency to study the matter!

Later this year, California will set up a new agency that will serve as a focal point for economic development and job creation, [Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom] said. Among its goals will be to reverse the perception that California is business-unfriendly.

Yeah, the real problem is the perception of unfriendliness, not actual unfriendliness! Those corporations are so dumb and misguided... I'm sure the new agency will set them straight.

The economic crisis is really about to hit home: bacon prices are about to skyrocket.

The global debt crisis has sparked riots in Greece and elsewhere in Europe, but while you were watching the mayhem on TV, you might not have noticed that there's a riot brewing at your kitchen table.

Bacon prices are expected to soar this summer -- just in time for peak BLT (bacon lettuce and tomato sandwich) season. ...

But this year, just as the U.S. is worrying about its own debt crisis and a possible "double-dip" recession, the price of bacon --that sizzling, smoky comfort food we most need during tough times -- is expected to surge. The price of pork bellies, which is where bacon comes from, jumped to more than $130 per hundredweight (100 pounds), and some analysts suggest it's going to top last August's level of $150.

(HT: Instapundit and his strategic bacon reserve.)

A riveting and disturbing conversation with two Syrians who escaped the ongoing massacre. They say that there is no possibility of a peaceful resolution.

One of his torturers was a kid of about 15, who while kicking him screamed, "Assad is your God! How dare you!" He said this to point out the culture among the security forces and the absolute impossibility of "peaceful reform"--the depravity was too institutionalized. Reform of the kind international observers kept calling for, he thought, was now beyond imagination. "For the Alawites, this is existential--they crush these demonstrations or they die."

I said to him that this seemed to me an accurate perception. I could not imagine the Alawites would not be slaughtered to the last man if they lost control now. He basically agreed. "I don't want this and don't think it's right"--he wanted to be very clear about this--but he thought I was realistic in saying it. "There will be massacres. They've killed people's sons, they've raped their wives. After that, all someone lives for is to kill a thousand people."

Pray for Syria, but not for peace. Sometimes fighting is the right answer.

What's more awesome than neutron stars and red giants? Neutron stars inside red giants!

A Thorne-Zytkow Object is the end result of a merger between a Neutron Star and an O-Star (Red Giant). The two stars begin as a binary star system, and then the Neutron star (>1.4 solar masses) falls into the Red Giant (10-15 solar masses). This may seem strange that a star could fall into another star, but when we exam the densities, it doesn't seem so strange at all. The Neutron star is extremely dense because it is made exclusively of Neutrons. It has a similar demsity of an atomic nucleus. A single tablespoon of it is comparable to a fraight train filled with bricks. The Red Giant on the otherhand is very large, and so its mass is distributed over a greater volume, making for a much less dense object. A Red Giant has a density comparable to that of water. If it is easier, imagine the merger between a Neutron star and a Red Giant as being a rock sinking in water. In this process however it takes 1,000 years to get to the core and one month to get inside the core. The motion of the neutron star within the envelope of the red giant is on the order of Mach 3-1.4. TZOs are usually understood as a neutron star within the core of a red supergiant with the radii of several AU, a low temerpature, and a luminosity of order 10^5 solar luminosity units.

It is believed that the TZOs are formed at at a rate of 1/500 years to 1/1000 years per 10^11 solar mass Milky-way-like galaxy. This means that more than 30 TZOs could be formed per year within a 30 Mpc radius.

There are generally two possible outcomes of a neutron star sinking into the depths of a red giant. It will either become a supernova or a TZO.

That's a heavy meal.

BetterExplained.com has a great explanation of e, exponential functions, and natural logarithms. Very intuitive and not too mathy!

Hey, Jonathan Rauch, you're already a master-blogger! Despite your idiotic disdain for the medium you have written a post so insipid, pretentious, and provocative that it's sure to get a zillion hits.

Well, I'm blogging. Those who know me will know I have a pretty bad attitude about the blogosphere.

Well, seeing as how I'd never heard of you, I've only just now learned about your bad attitude. Blogs are so informative!

I've done my share of blogging over at the Independent Gay Forum,

A link to your blog right at the top of your first paragraph? How gauche! And congrats on being gay. Although I don't mention it often, I'm straight.

but my mild, moderate, think-it-through-and-get-it-right style doesn't mesh well with blogosphere culture,

Which explains your bad attitude. It must be frustrating to be so unappreciated despite your obvious mildness, moderateness, and rightness.

with blogosphere culture, which seems more to resemble, say, Roman gladiatorial entertainment, only without the subtlety.

Wait, was that subtlety right there? Were you being subtle?! Wow, I almost missed it. How autological of you.

Plus...I'm not getting paid. That's good for you, but it's not so good for me.

My blog is pretty paltry, but I get paid from ads. You can bet that Andrew Sullivan, where you're guest-blogging, is making a ton of money from his blog. And hey, you managed to include a link to your gay forum right up at the top, so dare I infer that you make money from it somehow? If not, that's not a flaw with the medium, it sounds like a personal problem.

Or for reporting. Or for journalism. And don't even get me started on commenters.

Ok, so, maybe we should prevent technology and culture from changing so as to protect what you think is good for "reporting" and "journalism"? Let's do it!

And is that just sloppy writing, or are you suggesting that commenters should be getting paid?

(HT: Megan McArdle.)

Space Shuttle Program: $196 billion
Apollo Program: $25 billion (1973 dollars)
Interstate Highway System: $119 billion

Troubled Asset Relief Program: $365 billion not paid back
Federal Reserve liquidity efforts: $1,500 billion
Stimulus programs: $577 billion
AIG bailout: $127 billion
FDIC takeovers: $45 billion
Other bank bailouts: $366 billion
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac bailouts: $110 billion

More "good" jobs would be nice, but what America really needs is more "bad" jobs.

Think of the path to successful middle class living as a ladder; the lower rungs on that ladder are not nice places to be, but if those rungs don't exist, nobody can climb. When politicians talk about creating jobs, they always talk about creating "good" jobs. That is all very well, but unless there are bad jobs and lots of them, people in the inner cities will have a hard time getting on the ladder at all, much less climbing into the middle class.

Many sensitive and idealistic people in our society work very hard to keep from connecting these dots and admitting to themselves that bad jobs are something we need. Quacks abound promising us alternatives ("green jobs" is the latest fashionable delusion), but ugly problems rarely have pretty solutions. We need entry level jobs that will get people into the workforce, and we need ways that they can learn useful skills at affordable prices that will help them climb the ladder and move on.

To get these jobs, we have to change the way our cities work. Essentially, we have created urban environments in which the kind of enterprises that often hire the poor -- low margin, poorly capitalized, noisy, smelly, dirty, informally managed without a long paper trail -- can't exist. The kind of metal bashing repair shops that fill the cities of the developing world are almost impossible to operate here. Plumbers, carpenters, electricians, pushcart vendors and day care operators need licenses; construction work has to comply with elaborate guidelines and city bureaucracies disgorge the required permits slowly and reluctantly.

We've created cities that can only accommodate the wealthy and have no use for the poor.

I have absolutely no comment on the Obedient Wives Club.

The Obedient Wives Club (OWC), which has chapters in Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore and intends to open in London and Paris later this year, says it intends to curb various social problems, including prostitution and gambling, by showing Muslim wives how to "be submissive and keep their spouses happy in the bedroom". This, in turn, would lead to more harmonious marriages and societies, it says. ...

The OWC, which launched in Jordan this year, opened a branch in Malaysia last month and in Indonesia last week. In Malaysia, it caused a furore when its international vice-president, Rohaya Mohamad, declared that, by becoming a "good whore ... to your husband" and serving him "better than a first-class prostitute", women could help "curb social ills like prostitution, domestic violence, human trafficking and abandoned babies" - all of which she attributed to unfulfilled sexual needs.

Larry Kudlow explains that year-over-year the federal budget only goes up.



Think of it this way: You're out car shopping and thinking about buying a $100,000 Mercedes. That's your target. But then you decide to forego the Mercedes and opt for a $20,000 Chevy instead. Well, guess what? Congress would score that as an $80,000 budget cut. Huh? We all know that it's actually a $20,000 budget increase.

Let's be honest here. This budgetary game remains one big taxpayer scam. Look, I used to work in the federal budget office. I know the game.

Here's yet another scam: Big budget deals say they "cut" (there's that word again) a couple of trillion dollars over ten years. But most of it is targeted for the last couple of years, as in years eight, nine, and ten. So basically it'll never happen. It's four or five Congresses from now. Laws change. Deals are broken.

I, for one, was surprised to see that the rate of growth in the out-years of Ryan's budget was exactly the same as the rate of growth in Obama's budget.

Pollution is terrible! No wait, pollution prevents global warming! Yay pollution!

Smoke belching from Asia's rapidly growing economies is largely responsible for a halt in global warming in the decade after 1998 because of sulphur's cooling effect, even though greenhouse gas emissions soared, a U.S. study said on Monday.

The paper raised the prospect of more rapid, pent-up climate change when emerging economies eventually crack down on pollution.

World temperatures did not rise from 1998 to 2008, while manmade emissions of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuel grew by nearly a third, various data show.

But... why would emerging economies "eventually crack down on pollution" when that pollution is the only thing standing between humanity and GLOBAL WARMING? Shouldn't the anti-warmists now be promoting the use of fossil fuels to protect our fragile environment?

The study said that the halt in warming had fueled doubts about anthropogenic climate change, where scientists say manmade greenhouse gas emissions are heating the Earth.

There was doubt because... y'know... there wasn't any warming.

"It has been unclear why global surface temperatures did not rise between 1998 and 2008," said the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States.

But now it's completely clear!

Sulphur aerosols may remain in the atmosphere for several years, meaning their cooling effect will gradually abate once smokestack industries clean up.

Which they'll do why? Coal is cheap, plentiful, and it protects us from global warming! All hail coal!

Other climate scientists broadly supported Monday's study, stressing that over longer time periods rising greenhouse gas emissions would over-ride cooling factors.

"Long term warming will continue unless emissions are reduced," said Peter Stott, head of climate monitoring at Britain's Met Office.

Long term? Wasn't global warming supposed to heat up the earth by like one degree over the next century? If we're talking about longer term than that, it's hard to be worried. Burn more coal.

(HT: NC, RC.)

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