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July 29, 2011

congrats storm chasers!

This is nothing to worry about!  Just a little bit of fact, a dose of science, which I share only because you must have the same need to be diverted as I do:
Major weather disasters appear to be occurring so frequently that they are now often referred to as the new normal. But are there actually more disasters, or are we just more attuned to their presence? This year's Billion Dollar Disaster Report from the National Climatic Data Center makes it clear that these disasters--blizzards, tornadoes, fires, droughts, and flooding--are happening more frequently than they did in the past.

See?  Actually quite excellent news, if you are one of those weather fanatics that loves this time of year because it's only a matter of time that we're watching Jim Cantore leaning into a gale on the Weather Channel.

The report referenced does not posit why extreme weather events are happening with more frequency than usual.  I mean, I'm no scientist, but I'm pretty sure that the reason why is going to have something to do with these high taxes the welfare state is charging us!

Or it could be climate change, I guess.  But probably high taxes.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:55 AM

the monster is the tea party, duh

It's gonna be a novel news day, and I'm not talking about the NFL, whose abbreviated signing/trading process has turned the off-season into a game of soccer played by four year-olds.  It's the debt ceiling-alypse that's going to power this newsdump Friday into a day wherein you telephone your friends and tell them, "Did you see what just happened? TURN ON THE INTERNET!"

If you'd like a brief factual summary of what's happened, then I'm afraid I can't help you, as brevity does not apply to this.  But I can help you with a metaphorical summary of this entire thing.

Imagine a monster movie.  Not one of those po-mo CGI wastes of time, but a good old fashioned monster movie, like your grandparents used to watch with two tin cans attached with string.  The first two "acts" (as they are called by people who write about screenwriting) of the film are quiet.  There is the obvious good guy, there is the smug fellow (usually with character flaws, like smoking or tanning) who is in a position of authority over the good guy, and then there is the monster in its unrealized state.  Maybe it's a pile of ooze, or a bunch of body parts sewn together yet, or a lady not yet bitten by a wolf, but it is not yet threatening.

And during this set-up, Good Guy tells Smug Fellow that he thinks that Potential Monster may end up to be an Actual Monster!  And shouldn't they try to stop that from happening!  And Smug Fellow, confident, says, "Why, that's the craziest thing I've heard in all of crazytown! That Potential Monster in no way resembles an Actual Monster, and anyhows it does what I tell it to!"

And then that exchange gets reiterated a bunch of times.  Probably there is a girl that everyone is in love with.  Also: everyone is Caucasian.

And as we round the corner into the third act, we truly get the sense that the shit is about to get real.  The danger represented by the Potential Monster has been foreshadowed to death, and the power over the Potential Monster claimed by the Smug Fellow is about to get tested.  And by "tested" I mean he is about to, very ironically, get all killed by the Potential Monster, signifying the transformation into Actual Monster.

I don't want to spoil it and give a key or something about which element of that summary represents who or what, but I do want to say that John Boehner is a fascinating fellow, and Promethean in ways that even he did not expect.

Coming up: Act III, wherein the Actual Monster wreaks havoc.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:45 AM

July 28, 2011

bruce bartlett speaks plainly

Rarely do I recommend spending any time watching streaming TV segments that were originally broadcast on television (there are already so many sites that do so!), but you would be foolish not to watch this interview of Bruce Bartlett by Chris Matthews.

Matthews you've heard of (and yes I'm serious that it's good).  Bartlett you may not have — He was a wonk in both the Reagan and the first Bush administrations.  His writings do not appear on Mother Jones, nor does he have a DailyKos userid.  He's just a grown-up, and someone with experience working with US budget issues.

He and Matthews do not discuss the debt ceiling issue directly.  Instead, they talk about the debt and how it got there.  And there's a full transcript if you are not the streaming type, so it's easy for me to pull this bit about how we did get there:

When [George W.] Bush took office, we had a debt of about $6 trillion. The projections from the CBO were that we were going to run a $6 trillion surplus. By this point, if we had done nothing, we would have paid off the dead debt, but we added about $3 trillion of tax cuts. We lost about $3 trillion of revenue because of the slower economy and added about $6 trillion of spending, largely due to two unfinished wars and a Medicare drug benefits and a lot of other things. So, instead of getting -- paying off the debt--we ended up with about a $14 trillion debt.

And this is not important in any kind of gotcha way.  The debt is there, and it needs to be dealt with.  In fact, it nearly was dealt with, before the needless wars and the tax cuts, which only shrink revenue, no matter what they tell you:

The Republicans keep saying the tax cuts are the key to prosperity. The 2000s are evidence that that is not true. We had booming economies in the 1980s and '90s. If we went back to those taxes, we would be better off.

It is important to arm yourself with facts, especially these days when they are so few and far between.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:41 AM

July 27, 2011

nobody suspects the international monetary fund

The guest on NPR's "The Takeaway" for the slot after the 7:30a news update was a functionary from the International Monetary Fund.  The story was about international concerns over the US government's inability to raise the debt ceiling, as embodied by comments from IMF managing director Christine Lagarde yesterday.  And the IMF dude was trying to express concern without picking sides, you know: "We feel strongly that the US needs to raise the debt ceiling, and to slowly bring expenditures down in line with revenue, keeping in mind the precarious state of the current US economy."  Basically, an air kiss on both your houses combined with the soft disapproval of a favorite aunt.

Maybe it was fascinating?  Me, I had a hard time getting past the fact that, according to my limited conception, the affairs that the IMF tend to involve themselves in on an ad hoc basis are NOT the affairs of the so-called First World.  Interest rate spike endangers Mexico?  Turbulence opening the markets of the former SSRs?  The IMF is there.  But to publicly signal intercession in its largest member nation?  The implications of that are so far over my head I don't even know who to contact to find out which questions should be asked.

But I will note that having the IMF lecture you over debt service is kind of like having a mortician measure you suit size with a glance.

Posted by mrbrent at 7:41 AM

July 26, 2011

david brin on debt ceiling

So I REALLY WANT to follow the debt ceiling debacle as it unfolds, as I was away from the news entirely all day long, and seemingly a microstory breaks every fifteen minutes about what the Dems will do, or what one of the three disparate elements that comprise the GOP caucus will do, and now it's the end of the day and the chance that I'll read all of it before there's new news tomorrow is slim.  (Though for my money, the endgame is this: Wall Street tires of the drama reminds certain players who not to fuck with.)

But what I have read over the weekend is this essay by novelist/scientist David Brin, who approaches from a conservative/libertarian perspective.  I disagree with him on the point that the effects of default would be negligible (see Wall Street proviso above), I think it's a smart piece of thinking, and one that has more than enough pique for my taste.  He nicely unpacks the fallacies behind the two central tenets of GOP dogma — Deficit-cutting helps the economy. But any revenue increase hurts "job creators." — And it has the most savage criticism of the Tea Party that I've seen in a while, which I don't want to spoil for you, and which ignites a firestorm in the comments thread, as the self-identified TPiers in Brin's fandom take exception.

It is an excellent way to spend time while waiting for the train to hit that picture of a tunnel that the Koch brothers painted on the side of that mountain.  (And moved me to go out and pick up a couple of his books, which I have never read.)

Posted by mrbrent at 10:53 PM

samantha peale in narrative

Ack, back from the minor flooding, and am now minorly flooded.

So while I dig myself out of the various things I need to dig out of, run don't walk and go read Narrative Magazine's Story of the Week, "Fare Thee Well," which was written by my friend Samantha Peale, who would be one of my top five living fiction writers even were she not my friend.

It will require a brief registration to view the whole thing, but you should be supporting Narrative Magazine anyway, so go.

Posted by mrbrent at 1:11 PM

July 25, 2011

storm drains

Further to alarming stories about storm drains, I am in a part of Pennsylvania today that is experiencing a couple of buckets of rain, which resulted in my relatively easy trip to the store turning into an action movie of avoiding various intersections because they were suddenly under three feet of water.

No one seems to be harmed yet, but I did see a little old lady who had just been pulled from her sedan that she drove right into too much water.  She looked worse for wear (and wet!), but safe and under the attention of a bunch of volunteer firemen.

My camera, of course, is at my office, because I am the worst journo ever.

But let me paint the picture with words: "Holy muther that's an awful lot of water.  Didn't there used to be a road there?"

Posted by mrbrent at 6:03 PM

July 24, 2011

fed lent more than the debt ceiling

This did not get a lot of play, with a news weekend that ended up being packed with all kinds of awful news (and one bit of awesome), but check Sen. Bernie Sanders' office on the secret history of the bailouts of a couple years ago:
The first top-to-bottom audit of the Federal Reserve uncovered eye-popping new details about how the U.S. provided a whopping $16 trillion in secret loans to bail out American and foreign banks and businesses during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

I know that we all have number fatigue, oblivious to the number of zeroes, but keep in mind that the current debt ceiling, the one that is author of much of our anxiety these days, is a little under $14.3 trillion.

So basically, the secret bailout that no one talks about (although totally NOT a sub rosa bailout) saw the US government sling around more money than the debt ceiling in order to save The Banks.

You'd think that would be more newsworthy.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:56 AM