The Edwards verdict

Well, I was definitely right to predict a hung jury.  Not that I’m all surprised that the acquitted on the charge on an illegal donation to his campaign after the campaign was already over.  I’ve long thought that on a legal basis, this case was ridiculous.  The very fact that the prosecution tried to make this case all about sex and tawdry cover-ups and not campaign finance law tells you about the weakness of their case.

That said, I figured, given the ambiguity of campaign finance law– of course not having your affair exposed makes it more likely you can win an election, and of course money to cover up an affair is not a campaign contribution– and the fact that the point of the prosecution was to make Edwards look like a horrible cad would convince at least some jurors that he was guilty on some charges.  And that was obviously the case.  But I certainly did not think you could get 12 people to agree that this was a campaign finance violation because there’s absolutely no way it is a campaign finance violation beyond a reasonable doubt.  As if the fact that two former Federal Elections Chairmen said this wasn’t a violation is not enough.  Honestly, I still feel the judge made a mistake in allowing the case to go forward.  Just a massive waste of government resources.

Obviously, John Edwards’ public life is ruined.  But it already was.  I certainly cannot imagine a re-trial here and what people will remember is the one acquittal.  The whole thing is a sorry mess and prosecutorial over-reach really didn’t help.

Most bizarre optical illusion ever?

Why do I love Facebook?  If not for a FB friend, I would have never come across this mind-blowing illusion.  You must check it out.  Seriously.  Here’s the deal…

If you ever create a slideshow of portraits, you might want to avoid showing them aligned side-by-side with a gap in between. The video above shows a crazy optical illusion that researchers have dubbed the “Flashed Face Distortion Effect”. By flashing ordinary portraits aligned at the eyes, the human brain begins to compare and exaggerate the differences, causing the faces to seem hideous and ogre-like. Researcher Matthew Thompson writes,

Like many interesting scientific discoveries, this one was an accident. Sean Murphy, an undergraduate student, was working alone in the lab on a set of faces for one of his experiments. He aligned a set of faces at the eyes and started to skim through them. After a few seconds, he noticed that some of the faces began to appear highly deformed and grotesque. He looked at the especially ugly faces individually, but each of them appeared normal or even attractive.

Photo of the day

From a Big Picture set on the Olympic flame:

The Olympic flame burns in a cauldron atop the Athens Acropolis on May 16 in Athens, Greece. (Yannis Behrakis/Getty Images)

Debt Ceiling debacle

Now correlation is not causation, but the best explanation for last summer’s serious dip in the economic recovery?  The Republican-induced debt ceiling “negotiation” (i.e., hostage-taking of the American economy).  Check out these graphs from a nice Bloomberg piece from economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers:

Consumer Confidence

Non-Farm Payrolls

Of course, now they are threatening to do this again.  Here’s Stevenson and Wolfers:

In other words, congressional Republicans are taking the government’s creditworthiness hostage when they threaten not to increase the debt ceiling. Politically advantageous as this may be, it is terrible economics. To understand why, let us consider the economic effects of last year’s debt-ceiling debate. If we know our history, perhaps we will not be doomed to repeat it…

High-frequency data on consumer confidence from the research company Gallup, based on surveys of 500 Americans daily, provide a good picture of the debt-ceiling debate’s impact (see chart). Confidence began falling right around May 11, when Boehner first announced he would not support increasing the debt limit. It went into freefall as the political stalemate worsened through July. Over the entire episode, confidence declined more than it did following the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. in 2008. After July 31, when the deal to break the impasse was announced, consumer confidence stabilized and began a long, slow climb that brought it back to its starting point almost a year later. (Disclosure: We have a consulting relationship with Gallup.)

Businesses were also hurt by uncertainty, which rose to record levels as measured by the number of newspaper articles mentioning the subject. This proved far more damaging than the regulatory uncertainty on which Republican criticisms ofBarack Obama’s administration have focused (more on that subject in a Bloomberg View editorial today). Employers held back on hiring, sapping momentum from a recovery that remains far too fragile.

All told, the data tell us that a debt-ceiling standoff is an act of economic sabotage. [emphasis mine] The only way to avoid this conclusion is to argue that consumers and employers were reacting to some other economic factors. But the debt ceiling was the dominant economic story at the time. No other news fits the data as well. Although the European debt crisis was a rising concern throughout 2011, the real trouble in Europe arose in the period when consumer confidence and employment were recovering.

First, let’s be clear– this is simply talking about paying bills we’ve already committed to.  It’s like getting your credit card bill for $1000 and saying, no, you think you should only have to pay $900.  Are the Republicans willing to seriously damage the US economy on purpose again while Obama is still president?  You betcha.  Rumblings from the WH suggest that Obama won’t let himself get totally rolled on this again.  Here’s hoping because that economic damage/sabotage means real pain to the real lives of many, many Americans.  But, hey, maybe they should just stop sucking all the lifeblood out of rich people and get a job.

Cartoon of the day

From the New Yorker’s FB feed– love this:

I think I like the ones on the top right.

Infographic of the day

This is very cool via Planet Money– per capita GDP in proportion:

GDP per Capita (PPP)

Ummm, wow– Norway!  If you go to the page, you can also see GDP period, no per capita.  Really puts the US in perspective (and the comparison really shows the impact of China having such a huge population).

Photo of the day

Recent National Geographic photo of the day:

Photo: Scientists collecting samples from a giant redwood tree

Photograph by Michael Nichols, National Geographic

This Month in Photo of the Day: Adventure and Exploration Photos

Partway up a 350-foot tree, botanist Marie Antoine (at right) passes a slender core sample of its wood—750 years of redwood biography—to canopy ecologist Giacomo Renzullo. Research now shows that the older such trees get, the more wood they put on.

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