01/03/2011 archive

Playing Chicken with the Insane

Some of the more radical Republican Congress-critters are feeling their new “power” and threatening to not raise the debt ceiling. President Obama’s top economic advisor, Austan Goolsbee, called this threat “insanity”, laying out the implications of the first default in history and the damage that it would do to the credit of the United States.

“Well, look, it pains me that we would even be talking about this,” he told co-host Jake Tapper. “This is not a game. You know, the debt ceiling is not something to toy with. If we hit the debt ceiling, that’s essentially defaulting on our obligations, which is totally unprecedented in American history. The impact on the economy would be catastrophic. That would be a worse financial economic crisis than anything we saw in 2008.”

“As I say that’s not a game,” Goolsbee went on. “I don’t see why anybody’s talking about playing chicken with the debt ceiling. If we get to the point where you’ve damaged the full faith and credit of the United States, that would be the first default in history caused purely by insanity. There would be no reason for us to default other than that would be some kind of game. We shouldn’t even be discussing that. People will get the wrong idea. The United States is not in danger of default. We do not have problems with that. This would be lumping us in with a series of countries throughout history that i don’t think we would want to be lumped in with.”

The good news for Goolsbee and the president is that House GOP leadership does seem to see the deficit ceiling debate a bit differently than their incoming Tea Party brethren — as does the intellectual establishment of the Republican Party, including George Will, who, following Goolsbee on ABC, criticized the idea of defaulting simply for symbolic reasons

Goolsbee to Tea Party: ‘Playing Chicken’ With Debt Ceiling Vote is ‘Insanity’

Forcing Country into Default Would Create ‘Financial Economic Crisis’ Worse Than 2008

Then there are those who are holding grandmom’s purse and Medicare card hostage

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

E.J. Dionne, Jr.: Celebrating the New GOP Majority

Welcome to the Republicans who take over the House of Representatives this week. Since it is a new year, let us be optimistic about what this development means for our nation.

There is already a standard line of advice to Speaker-to-be John Boehner and his colleagues that goes like this: Democrats overreached in the last Congress by doing too much and ignoring “the center.” Republicans should be careful not to make the same mistake, lest they lose their majority too.

This counsel is wrong, partly because the premise is faulty. Democrats did not overreach in the last Congress. On the contrary, they compromised regularly. Compromise made the health care bill far more complicated than it had to be and the original stimulus bill too small. Democrats would have been better off getting more done more quickly, and more coherently.

New York Times Editorial: Reform and the Filibuster

The new Senate will face one of its most momentous decisions in its opening hours on Wednesday: a vote on whether to change its rules to prohibit the widespread abuse of the filibuster. Americans are fed up with Washington gridlock. The Senate should seize the opportunity.

A filibuster – the catchall term for delaying or blocking a majority vote on a bill by lengthy debate or other procedures – remains a valuable tool for ensuring that a minority of senators cannot be steamrollered into silence. No one is talking about ending the practice.

Every returning Democratic senator, though, has signed a letter demanding an end to the almost automatic way the filibuster has been used in recent years. By simply raising an anonymous objection, senators can trigger a 60-vote supermajority for virtually every piece of legislation. The time has come to make senators work for their filibusters, and justify them to the public.

Zbigniew Brzezinski: How to Stay Friends With China

The visit by President Hu Jintao of China to Washington this month will be the most important top-level United States-Chinese encounter since Deng Xiaoping’s historic trip more than 30 years ago. It should therefore yield more than the usual boilerplate professions of mutual esteem. It should aim for a definition of the relationship between the two countries that does justice to the global promise of constructive cooperation between them.

I remember Deng’s visit well, as I was national security adviser at the time. It took place in an era of Soviet expansionism, and crystallized United States-Chinese efforts to oppose it. It also marked the beginning of China’s three-decades-long economic transformation – one facilitated by its new diplomatic ties to the United States.

What is Science?

Monday Business Edition

I have a Liberal Arts background, a History Major (also Methodist) like George Walker Bush.

And shucks, my discipline has no predictive nature at all-

Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. In the first stage of life the mind is frivolous and easily distracted, it misses progress by failing in consecutiveness and persistence. This is the condition of children and barbarians, in which instinct has learned nothing from experience. – George Santayana, The Life of Reason, Volume 1, 1905

The hard sciences tend to rely on replicable independent observations supporting a predictive theory that can be tested by experiment.

You know, facts.

The social sciences have the luxury of being mostly observational.  If you’re honest.

Economics pretends to be a hard science, but it’s really just a bunch of assumptions represented symbolically so it can be disguised as Math.  It’s really as fuzzy as Philosophy.

Not so much a science as an argument.

Which brings me to this recent piece-

Academic Economists to Consider Ethics Code

By SEWELL CHAN, The New York Times

Published: December 30, 2010

Academic economists, particularly those active in policy debates in Washington and Wall Street, are facing greater scrutiny of their outside activities these days. Faced with a run of criticism, including a popular movie, leaders of the American Economic Association, the world’s largest professional society for economists, founded in 1885, are considering a step that most other professions took a long time ago – adopting a code of ethical standards.

The proposal, which has not been announced to the public or to the association’s 17,000 members, is partly a response to “Inside Job,” a documentary film released in October that excoriates leading academic economists for their ties to Wall Street as consultants, advisers or corporate directors.

Mr. Lucas added: “What disciplines economics, like any science, is whether your work can be replicated. It either stands up or it doesn’t. Your motivations and whatnot are secondary.”

Since economics emerged as a modern discipline in the late 19th century, its practitioners have resisted formal ethical codes, said George F. DeMartino, an economist at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver.

A recent paper (.pdf) by Gerald Epstein and Jessica Carrick-Hagenbarth of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, found that many financial economists who weighed in on the Wall Street overhaul signed into law in July did not prominently disclose potential conflicts of interest.

Frauds and charletans.  Confidence men and bunco artists.

When will we replicate the results enough?

Business News below.

On This Day in History January 3

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

January 3 is the third day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 362 days remaining until the end of the year (363 in leap years). The Perihelion, the point in the year when the Earth is closest to the Sun, occurs around this date.

On this day in 1938, The March of Dimes is established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

March of Dimes is an American health charity whose mission is to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth, and infant mortality.

Polio was one of the most dreaded illnesses of the 20th century, and killed or paralyzed thousands of Americans during the first half of the 20th century. In response, President Franklin D. Roosevelt founded the March of Dimes as the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis on January 3, 1938. Roosevelt himself was paralyzed with what at the time was believed to be polio, though recent examination has led some to suggest that this diagnosis might have been mistaken. The original purpose of the Foundation was to raise money for polio research and to care for those afflicted with the disease. The name emphasized the national, nonpartisan, and public nature of the new organization, as opposed to private foundations established by wealthy families. The effort began with a radio appeal, asking everyone in the nation to contribute a dime (ten cents) to fight polio.

“March of Dimes” was originally the name of the annual fundraising event held in January by the Foundation. The name “March of Dimes” for the fundraising campaign was coined by entertainer Eddie Cantor as a play on the popular newsreel feature of the day, The March of Time. Along with Cantor, many prominent Hollywood, Broadway, radio, and television stars served as promoters of the charity. When Roosevelt died in office in 1945, he was commemorated by placing his portrait on the dime. Coincidentally, this was the only coin in wide circulation which had a purely allegorical figure (Liberty) on the obverse. To put Roosevelt on any other coin would have required displacing a president or founding father.

Over the years, the name “March of Dimes” became synonymous with that of the charity and was officially adopted in 1979.

Six In The Morning

Throwing Good Money After Bad

Demise of Iraqi water park illustrates limitations, abuse of U.S. funding program

BAGHDAD – In thespring of 2008, Gen. David H. Petraeus decided he had spent enough time gazing from his helicopter at an empty and desolate lake on the banks of the Tigris River. He ordered the lake refilled and turned into a water park for all of Baghdad to enjoy.

The military doctrine behind the project holds that cash can be as effective as bullets. Under Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq at the time, that principle gained unprecedented emphasis, and it has become a cornerstone of the war effort in Afghanistan, now under Petraeus’s command.

Pique the Geek 20110102: The Rare Earth Elements Part II of II

Happy New Year to everyone!  I hope that 2011 will find you well and prosperous.  Last week we began to examine the so called Rare Earth Elements, which turn out to have lots of uses, many of them to do, oddly, with optics in diverse ways.  This week we shall finish up the series about them.

I reluctantly admit that I did not take as much time as necessary for the piece last week, mostly because even I did not understand just how important these elements are, both from a modern technological standpoint and also from an historical one for chemistry becoming a modern, “hard”, science.  First we shall look into some history, then finish up the elements themselves.

Evening Edition

Evening Edition is an Open Thread

From Yahoo News Top Stories

1 Pakistan faces fresh political turmoil


10 mins ago

ISLAMABAD (AFP) – Pakistan was waking up to a new political crisis and weeks of horsetrading on Monday after the second largest party in the ruling coalition quit the fragile government to go into opposition.

The country is already grappling with a depressed economy, the after-effects of devastating floods that hit 21 million people in mid-2010, and Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked sanctuaries in its northwest on the Afghan border.

The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) made the announcement Sunday, days after its two federal cabinet ministers resigned, abandoning crisis talks with the main ruling Pakistan People’s Party that had scrambled to keep them on board.