Video of the day

This is hockey, so you’ll want to set the video to high definition (damn small puck), but this goal is utterly amazing.  Keep watching for the slow-mo replay:

Infographic of the day

Wired brings together 13 of the year’s coolest infographics.  Since I love dogs, I’m going with this one:

The Four Kinds of Dog by John Tomanio for National Geographic. The genetic breakdown of 85 common dog breeds, showing how much they fall into four broad categories: wolflike, mastifflike, herders, and hunters. (Larger verison here).

Deficit reality

Been meaning to write about this for a while, but I never get around to it.  The actual story of the deficit, though, is a very important one.  Dean Baker brings the numbers:

Anywhere outside of Washington DC and totalitarian states, you don’t get to rewrite history. However, given the national media’s concept of impartiality, they now feel an obligation to accept that the Republicans’ claim that this is a dispute over spending levels.

But that is only the beginning of the reason that people should detest budget reporters. The more important reason is that they have spread incredible nonsense about the deficit and spending problems facing the country, causing most of the public to be completely confused on these issues. If budget reporters were held to the same standards as school teachers, with the expectation that they would be able to convey information, they would all be fired in a minute.

Contrary to the widely repeated stories of out-of-control deficits and spending, deficits have plunged in the last four years falling from 10.1% of GDP in 2009 to just 4% of GDP in 2013. The Congressional Budget Office projects the deficit to be just 3.4% of GDP in 2014. The latest projections show the debt-to-GDP ratio falling for the rest of the decade.

In other words, the story of out-of-control debts and deficits is just plain wrong. Less polite people would call it a lie, but it stands at the center of the public debate because the media consider it rude to point out a truth that would embarrass so many important politicians. The idea that we face a longer term deficit problem of enormous proportions has little better grounding in reality. First, it is worth noting that we have not had a constant upward path of spending as is widely asserted in Washington, and widely believed around the country, due to the incompetence of budget reporters.

During the Reagan presidency spending averaged more than 22% of GDP, peaking at 23.5% in 1985. This year it is projected to be 21.6% of GDP. The latest CBO projections show spending rising back to Reagan era levels towards the end of the 10-year budget window…

The real question is why the primary (ie non-interest) deficit rises and this is the story of the broken US healthcare system. We pay twice as much per person for our health care as the average for other rich countries, with nothing to show for this money in terms of outcomes. We pay 2.5 times as much as the UK. If our costs were at all in line with those in other wealthy countries, we would be looking at explosive budget surpluses running into the trillions of dollars annually.

This fact raises the obvious question, why are projections of deficits based on unaffordable healthcare costs always treated in the media as a basis for cutting benefits to seniors rather than a reason for cutting payments to providers like doctors, drug companies, and medical device companies?

Meanwhile, this issue is a great example of why we don’t govern by public opinion.  From a recent Bloomberg poll:


I.e., the vast majority of the public is just plain wrong.  And I’m pretty sure Baker is right in that the media is substantially at fault for this fact.  We cannot expect the average citizen to be reading Wonkblog just to get the actual facts.  But since you may, here’s Ezra’s great post on it from last month:

There was a logic to Republicans’ 2011 debt-ceiling demands. It was the logic underpinning the party’s entire platform. It was the argument that had won them the 2010 election. And it was an argument that made sense as part of negotiations over the debt ceiling…

They negotiated spending cuts before they would agree to a debt-ceiling increase. But then something terrible happened to the Republican Party: Success…

This is the context for the latest debt-ceiling fight: Republicans delivered on their 2010 promise to reduce the deficit, and now they’re adrift. There’s no single goal –save maybe the impossible dream of repealing Obamacare — that really serves as the raison d’etre of this Republican Party. When’s the last time you heard an elected Republican really try and sell the Ryan budget as the key answer to the nation’s problems?

That’s what you’re seeing in the insane mash-up that is the House GOP’s debt-ceiling bill.

And more asymmetry

Well, it’s a really important point, so let’s stick with the theme for today.  The voteview blog (put together by the political scientists who analyze voting data in Congress to give us all those great charts) puts out a chart that emphasizes just how far to the right the Republican party has moved since the last government shutdown:

Despite criticism from Tea Party Republicans, Speaker Boehner himself—though near the center of the current House Republican Caucus—would have been further right of the 90th percentile Republican in 1995.

And the Democrats?  Not so much.  I wish I could post this chart as the wallpaper on the computer screen of every political journalist in America.

Over at Mischiefs of Faction, Thad Hall does similar work (I’m going to ignore the boxes he refers to, the text makes the point more clearly):

Looking at the blue boxes, we see that the ideological positions of 90% of the Republican Caucus in the 104th Congress would be positions held by the most liberal 40% of the caucus today.  Even from the last Congress to this congress we see a shift of ideology in the conservative direction.  The ideological positions of the member who was in the middle of the caucus in the 112thcongress would now put that same member 10 percentage points more liberal in the Republican Caucus today.  The green boxes show similar shifts between the 112th and 113th congresses.

I.e., not just since 1995, but even since 2011, the Republican Party has become notably more conservative.  Alas, the whole country is facing negative consequences as a result.

Photo of the day

I’m not much for beer, though I certainly enjoy a good Oktoberfest photo gallery (via Big Picture).  And I love the effect in this one:

Read literary fiction– get smarter

So, I’ve been reading a terrific work of literary fiction the past week, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.  And not only am I really enjoying the time reading it– I’ve honestly been pausing to just appreciate how incredibly well written it is– I’m actually improving my social skills while I’m at it (okay, that’s not “smarter” per se, but that makes for a better blog post title).  What you may say?  Details from the Times story:

Something by Chekhov or Alice Munro will help you navigate new social territory better than a potboiler by Danielle Steel.

That is the conclusion of a studypublished Thursday in the journal Science. It found that after reading literary fiction, as opposed to popular fiction or serious nonfiction, people performed better on tests measuring empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence — skills that come in especially handy when you are trying to read someone’s body language or gauge what they might be thinking.

The researchers say the reason is that literary fiction often leaves more to the imagination, encouraging readers to make inferences about characters and be sensitive to emotional nuance and complexity…

The idea that what we read might influence our social and emotional skills is not new. Previous studies have correlated various types of reading with empathy and sensitivity. More recently, in a field called “theory of mind,” scientists have used emotional intelligence perception tests to study, for example, children with autism.

But psychologists and other experts said the new study was powerful because it suggested a direct effect — quantifiable by measuring how many right and wrong answers people got on the tests — from reading literature for only a few minutes.

“It’s a really important result,” said Nicholas Humphrey, an evolutionary psychologist who has written extensively about human intelligence, and who was not involved in the research. “That they would have subjects read for three to five minutes and that they would get these results is astonishing.”

Dr. Humphrey, an emeritus professor at Cambridge University’s Darwin College, said he would have expected that reading generally would make people more empathetic and understanding. “But to separate off literary fiction, and to demonstrate that it has different effects from the other forms of reading, is remarkable,” he said.

There probably is nothing I love more than truly great literary fiction for just this reason– I love how it stretches my mind by treating me as an intelligent reader.  That said, I also find that I’m much more likely to be disappointed by literary fiction; something plot-driven is more likely to simply get the job of entertaining me done.  When it’s done right, though, it’s not only enjoyable, but seemingly expanding your brain in important ways.  Pretty cool.

Along these lines, I should also mention that I love a well-done story with an unreliable narrator– that’s why Lolita is one of my all-time favorites.  

The asymmetry in action

Great column (again) from Rob Christensen yesterday that basically looked at Renee Ellmers (NC-2) as emblematic of what has gone with today’s Republican party.  Here’s someone who was a Tea Party darling just a couple of years ago after making her name on opposition to health care reform, and yet now people are talking about challenging her in a primary simply because she (quite rationally) realizes how stupid risking a debt default.  Mind you, she’s voted like the loonies have wanted, but she’s had the temerity to suggest that we shouldn’t’ play games with the full faith and credit of the US over settled law.  Christensen:

To understand why Washington is in gridlock, all one has to do is look at the example of Republican U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers of Dunn.

Ellmers was elected to the House in 2010 with the support of the tea party movement and as an outspoken opponent of the health care law formally titled the Affordable Care Act, or what is commonly called Obamacare. It was opposition to the the president’s health care proposal that got Ellmers, a nurse recruited by Americans for Prosperity as part of their campaign against the legislation, involved in politics in the first place. She was endorsed by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as one of her grizzlies.

When she got to Washington, true to her word, she continued to oppose the health care law. She voted against Obamacare more than 40 times and has spoken against it frequently.

Her voting record is among the most conservative in Congress. According to the nonpartisan National Journal, her voting record in 2012 was the 43rd most conservative in the House, which put her to the right of Paul Ryan, Michele Bachmann, and Eric Cantor…

Like the House Republican leadership, Ellmers was initially reluctant to shut down the government as a tactic to block funding of the health care law.

“Absolutely not,” Ellmers said. “Why would I trade one economic disaster for another economic disaster?”

That reluctance put Ellmers in hot water with the tea party…

Publications put out by FreedomWorks and National Review Online ran critical articles, saying she was wrong. ran an unflattering photograph of her in its story about the dust-up…

“So Renee Ellmers – once the darling of the Tea Party – is now the doyenne of the D.C. GOP establishment,” wrote North Carolina conservative blogger Brant Clifton.

“Time to ask Republicans to primary her,” wrote a conservative blogger called “NCRenegade.”

There is just nothing, nothing, like this as an equivalent on the left.  And that matters.  A lot.  Not to mention, liberals are dramatically more inclined towards compromise.  Drum was not far off when he called this “all of modern politics explained in one chart.”

I think this chart (especially in combination with the story above) is a stunning rebuttal to the incessant “both sides’ nature of political coverage and naive political thinking.

Quite simply the massive dysfunction in our present political system is driven overwhelming by the fact that the extreme right actually sees political compromise and pragmatism as a failure and actively works against Republicans who see it otherwise.  After that, everything else (redistricting, money, etc.) is just details.

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