Monday, September 12, 2011


In a fit of insomnia, I stumbled upon this page of Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) maps. Fascinating stuff.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

More on the Euro

Krugman's Monday column takes his blog post (see my post below) a step further:
And now it’s all coming to a head. We’re not talking about a crisis that will unfold over a year or two; this thing could come apart in a matter of days. And if it does, the whole world will suffer.

Good-bye Euro?

From Paul Krugman's blog:
Did the euro just enter its death throes?

OK, I know that sounds over the top, and I hope it is. But recent developments are really, really bad.

The best guide to recent events is actually a paper written this spring, by Paul De Grauwe (pdf). I have to admit that when I first read De Grauwe’s paper I didn’t grasp the full force of his argument about liquidity crises; but he now looks absolutely prescient.

The key point, which I’ve finally taken fully on board, is that in addition to the huge problems of adjustment created by a rigid exchange rate in the aftermath of a bubble, the fact that European nations no longer have their own currencies leaves them vulnerable to self-fulfilling debt crises – in effect bank runs on governments rather than banks (although those too).

To head off this risk, somebody – the EFSF, the ECB, whatever – has to be ready to act as lender of last resort; Eurobonds would have served much the same purpose.

By resigning from the ECB, Juergen Stark has conveyed, deliberately or not, the message that there will be no such lender of last resort, that there isn’t enough political cohesion in the eurozone to stand behind countries under market attack. And this translates directly into soaring spreads for Spain and Italy; the self-fulfilling crisis is on.

You little know, my friends, with how little wisdom the world is governed.
Krugman's summary of De Grauwe's paper can be found here. Take a look at it; it's very instructive.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Spielberg: Be Afraid

A buddy of mine started the sixth grade on Tuesday, and he did some thinking about how to make the most of it. The result was a 1-and-1/2-minute video he prepared called "Back to School Tips (sigh)," and I think it's good enough to get a much wider audience than it has so far. Please watch it and see if you don't agree:

As I'm writing this, the video has had 78 views, which is pretty good. But "Back to School Beauty Tips" has had 95,000, and "Back to School Makeup Tutorial" has had 445,000! There's even a video called "Back to School Supplies Haul + Organization Tips," in which a girl talks about what she bought at Target. That one has 22,700 views.

Now, I don't have to be critical of those videos to tell you that "Back to School Tips (sigh)" is funnier, technically more sophisticated, and has a healthier outlook.

Just by watching the video, you've helped my friend increase his views. If you liked it, please consider 1) clicking the little thumbs up symbol that says "Like", 2) leave him a comment to encourage him, and/or 3) share the link with anybody you can think of that might enjoy it, or might want a student in their house to see it. You can even add: 4) take a look at some of his other videos, including my favorites, "Random Snapping!;" "Our Little Way of Chess" in which God intervenes in, of all things, a chess game; and "Math Doesn't Suck – Jersey Shore."

My buddy is a talented guy, and I'd like to encourage him in this as long as he enjoys doing it.

Leaving the Cult

The hottest thing making the rounds in the fact-based universe is a column by a (former) Republican Congressional staffer named Mike Lofgren. I swear I did not write the column under a pseudonym. It's called Good-bye to All That: Reflections of a GOP Operative Who Left the Cult. A few quotes:
To those millions of Americans who have finally begun paying attention to politics and watched with exasperation the tragicomedy of the debt ceiling extension, it may have come as a shock that the Republican Party is so full of lunatics. To be sure, the party, like any political party on earth, has always had its share of crackpots, like Robert K. Dornan or William E. Dannemeyer. But the crackpot outliers of two decades ago have become the vital center today: Steve King, Michele Bachman (now a leading presidential candidate as well), Paul Broun, Patrick McHenry, Virginia Foxx, Louie Gohmert, Allen West. The Congressional directory now reads like a casebook of lunacy. It was this cast of characters and the pernicious ideas they represent that impelled me to end a nearly 30-year career as a professional staff member on Capitol Hill.
It should have been evident to clear-eyed observers that the Republican Party is becoming less and less like a traditional political party in a representative democracy and becoming more like an apocalyptic cult, or one of the intensely ideological authoritarian parties of 20th century Europe. This trend has several implications, none of them pleasant.
A couple of years ago, a Republican committee staff director told me candidly (and proudly) what the method was to all this obstruction and disruption. Should Republicans succeed in obstructing the Senate from doing its job, it would further lower Congress's generic favorability rating among the American people. By sabotaging the reputation of an institution of government, the party that is programmatically against government would come out the relative winner.
The media are also complicit in this phenomenon. Ever since the bifurcation of electronic media into a more or less respectable "hard news" segment and a rabidly ideological talk radio and cable TV political propaganda arm, the "respectable" media have been terrified of any criticism for perceived bias. Hence, they hew to the practice of false evenhandedness. Paul Krugman has skewered this tactic as being the "centrist cop-out." "I joked long ago," he says, "that if one party declared that the earth was flat, the headlines would read 'Views Differ on Shape of Planet.'"
Ever since Republicans captured the majority in a number of state legislatures last November, they have systematically attempted to make it more difficult to vote: by onerous voter ID requirements (in Wisconsin, Republicans have legislated photo IDs while simultaneously shutting Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) offices in Democratic constituencies while at the same time lengthening the hours of operation of DMV offices in GOP constituencies); by narrowing registration periods; and by residency requirements that may disenfranchise university students. This legislative assault is moving in a diametrically opposed direction to 200 years of American history, when the arrow of progress pointed toward more political participation by more citizens. Republicans are among the most shrill in self-righteously lecturing other countries about the wonders of democracy; exporting democracy (albeit at the barrel of a gun) to the Middle East was a signature policy of the Bush administration. But domestically, they don't want those people voting.
And finally:
The GOP cult of Ayn Rand is both revealing and mystifying. On the one hand, Rand's tough guy, every-man-for-himself posturing is a natural fit because it puts a philosophical gloss on the latent sociopathy so prevalent among the hard right. On the other, Rand exclaimed at every opportunity that she was a militant atheist who felt nothing but contempt for Christianity. Apparently, the ignorance of most fundamentalist "values voters" means that GOP candidates who enthuse over Rand at the same time they thump their Bibles never have to explain this stark contradiction.
I swear I did not write that column. Mike Lofgren is a real person, a 30-year Republican staffer. The Republican Party is very sick right now.


Yesterday Mitt Romney announced his "59-step plan" to get the economy going again. It consists of – are you ready for his surprising, out-of-box thinking? – tax cuts and deregulation! Good God, have the Republicans had any new thoughts in the last 30 years? It's embarrassing.

Let's just leave aside for a minute the fact that George W.'s tax cuts were (and continue to be) a major player in the deficit and national debt, and that negligent regulation of the financial industry caused the 2008 financial crisis. Is this really all he's got?

Kevin Drum looks closer at Romney's "plan":
From Mitt Romney, explaining step 3 of his 59-step plan to get to get America back to work:
You know, of course, Greta, who has been most hurt by the Obama economy. And it's people in middle incomes. And so what I want to do is lower taxes for middle-income Americans. And so I will remove, for middle-income Americans, people earning under $200,000 a year, any tax on interest, dividends or capital gains.  Let people save their money and use their money as they feel best with education, with their future, planning for retirement. Look, we've got to reduce the burden on middle-income Americans. They're just — they're just struggling right now.
I'm not sure which is more breathtaking: Romney's suggestion that someone earning $200,000 is "middle income," or his implication that actual middle-income Americans have more than a minuscule amount of investment income in the first place.

For the record, in 2004 the Tax Policy Center estimated that a median earner would save a whopping $70 if taxes on interest, dividends, and capital gains were eliminated completely. That's right: $70. Seven zero.

Of course, Romney has paired up this proposal with another one to eliminate the estate tax completely, which would save median earners zero dollars but save the super rich millions. The cynicism here is almost off the charts.
In Romney's defense, most people who make $200,000 a year think they're middle income, and would be offended if he called them anything else.