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.

I’m a typical poor parent

The Times has an interesting article today on kids’ use of electonic gadgets.  As I read it, the kids were playing away on the Ipads (Alex was actually at an educational site, but I don’t think he was interested in the education).  Anyway, as to the headline:

In the 1990s, the term “digital divide” emerged to describe technology’s haves and have-nots. It inspired many efforts to get the latest computing tools into the hands of all Americans, particularly low-income families.

Those efforts have indeed shrunk the divide. But they have created an unintended side effect, one that is surprising and troubling to researchers and policy makers and that the government now wants to fix.

As access to devices has spread, children in poorer families are spending considerably more time than children from more well-off families using their television and gadgets to watch shows and videos, play games and connect on social networking sites, studies show.

This growing time-wasting gap, policy makers and researchers say, is more a reflection of the ability of parents to monitor and limit how children use technology than of access to it.

Well, I guess I need to work on my ability to monitor.

Romney and Trump

Mitt Romney has many failings, but he’s clearly a smart politician.  Thus, one really has to question what he’s thinking choosing to associate himself with Donald Trump at this time.  Chris Cilliza has a nice piece that concludes the ledger on this clearly comes out on the net cost side:

All of this Trump talk begs a simple question: Why is Romney associating himself with a man who is the public face of the debunked idea that President Obama wasn’t born in the United States and, perhaps more importantly, a man whose sole principle in life is self-promotion?…

The argument forwarded by defenders of the Romney-Trump alliance is centered on two ideas: money and the base.

On the money front, these defenders argue that Trump’s celebrity brings in a different kind of donor — including precious small dollar givers — that Romney might not otherwise attract. (The fact that the donation point — $3 — is so low is indicative of the belief within Romney finance world that Trump does have appeal among these small dollar donors.)

In regards to the base, Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody laid out the argument this way:

“Associating with Donald Trump gives Mitt Romney a way of being brash without being brash. Trump is popular with a certain portion of the GOP, the portion that Romney doesn’t connect with. Trump’s bravado is not necessarily a bad thing for Romney because it connects him to a flamethrower and his audience without having to throw the flames himself.”

True enough — on both fronts…

In terms of money, does anyone really think that Romney is going to have trouble raising the cash he needs to be competitive with President Obama?

When it comes to speaking directly to the base, it’s absolutely true that Trump’s brashness is more appealing than Romney’s stuffed-shirt business pragmatism.

But, poll after poll suggests that the conservative base of the party quickly aligned behind Romney once it became clear he was the nominee. The simple reality is that while Romney makes very few conservative hearts go pitter patter, the base of the Republican party so dislikes/distrusts President Obama that they are going to be with whoever offers an alternative to the current occupant of the White House.  [emphasis mine]

Romney’s task is not then primarily to unify his base but rather to reach out to independents. And, polling suggests Trump won’t help in that regard.

Okay, Romney’s not going to win or lose the election on Donald Trump, but really strikes me that aligning himself with Trump is not a good idea.  Though, I’m happy for Romney to have plenty more not good ideas over the next few months.

God’s Will

You know, there’s a lot of stuff in the bible people really shouldn’t take literally.  From today’s Post:

Mack Wolford, a flamboyant Pentecostal pastor from West Virginia whose serpent-handling talents were profiled last November in The Washington Post Magazine , hoped the outdoor service he had planned for Sunday at an isolated state park would be a “homecoming like the old days,” full of folks speaking in tongues, handling snakes and having a “great time.” But it was not the sort of homecoming he foresaw.

Instead, Wolford, who turned 44 the previous day, was bitten by a rattlesnake he owned for years. He died late Sunday.

Mark Randall “Mack” Wolford was known all over Appalachia as a daring man of conviction. He believed that the Bible mandates that Christians handle serpents to test their faith in God — and that, if they are bitten, they trust in God alone to heal them.

He and other adherents cited Mark 16:17-18 as the reason for their practice: “And these signs will follow those who believe: in My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

And if they so trust God, why just stop with rattlesnakes.  It’s pretty clear from the verse above that Wolford should have been drinking drano, bleach, cyanide, etc.   I also recall a verse in the bible about not putting God to the test.  So much for that one.

Why the Republicans had to have a flip-flopper

Seth Masket, Hans Noel, and Gregory Koger have kicked off a new group blog focusing on political parties, mischievously titled, the Mischiefs of Faction (I long ago gave up on making my students actually read Federalist #10, but it’s good stuff).  Anyway, Seth gets the ball rolling with a really nice post on the inevitability of Republicans nominating someone who would be considered a flip-flopper:

But here’s the key point about that: No one taking the stances Romney needed to take to win this year could have had the sort of résumé needed to be a typical major party nominee. The Republican Party has been moving to the right very quickly in recent years. Almost no one taking the stances that Romney is taking now could have been elected as a senator or a governor from most states just a few years ago. So, if you were consistently conservative (like, say, Bachmann or Santorum), you were either doomed to service in the House or to being kicked out of the Senate. If you had a presidential résumé, conversely, it was probably because your views were pretty moderate a few years ago. Arguably, the only person who can get nominated in the current Republican Party is someone who has pivoted to the right rapidly in the past decade. Rapid polarization makes flip-flopping a necessity.

As for the “arguably,” personally I mostly buy the argument.  Of course, if Romney had not been running, I think that Pawlenty would have been the nominee due to the extreme weaknesses in the other candidates and I think that by the end of the nomination, Pawlenty would have, of necessity, had to be a “flip-flopper.”  Same goes for someone like Mitch Daniels or Chris Christie.   That said, if Rick Perry wasn’t just so unbelievably dumb, it could have been him– no flip-flopping.  That is an awfully big “if” though.

Photo of the day

Via Time’s photos of the week:

PEER GRIMM / EPA

Images of President Barack Obama (R) and British Prime Minister David Cameron (L) are projected behind the photographers’ stand during the NATO summit in Chicago, USA, 21 May 2012.

PEER GRIMM / EPA

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