The debt ceiling showdown is essentially over. But another manufactured crisis is stalking the recovery.
We are not deadbeats! We are not deadbeats! We are not, well, you get the point.
With the Treasury fast running out of "extraordinary measures" to keep the government from hitting the debt ceiling, and consequently defaulting on its obligations (and maybe the debt too), House Republicans voted to "suspend" the debt ceiling until May 19 -- which, as the Bipartisan Policy Center points out, means raising the debt ceiling until at least August. That's right: a three-month suspension is actually a six-month increase. Remember, there are really two limits when it comes to the debt limit. The first is when the Treasury "hits" the debt ceiling, and the second is when the Treasury really hits the debt ceiling. In other words, the former is when the Treasury has to resort to accounting shenanigans, those "extraordinary measures," to avoid the debt limit, and the latter is when those accounting shenanigans are no longer enough. The Republican plan suspends the debt ceiling until May 19, at which point 1) it will be raised by as much as the government borrows between then and now (probably $450 billion), and 2) the clock will re-set on the Treasury's extraordinary measures. Default day won't come until early August.
Not that default day will ever come. House Republicans don't actually want to play Russian roulette with Treasury bonds, and will raise -- or, if they prefer, "suspend" -- the debt ceiling again when the time comes. And that won't be long in coming. The sequester kicks in on March 1, and the continuing resolution that funds the government runs out on March 27, setting up Fiscal Cliff 2: This Time's It's Budget-y, with some kind of longer-term debt ceiling hike almost certainly figuring into the final deal. If history is any guide, Republicans will demand some smaller cuts in return for not shutting the government down, and try to turn the sequester into more palatable, for them, spending cuts.
For those of you who have trouble keeping all of our manufactured crises straight, the sequester is the $1.2 trillion of purposely painful cuts over the next decade, which was supposed to encourage the super-committee -- remember that one? -- to reach some kind of alternative, long-term debt deal. It didn't, and now Congress is left with a giant pile of automatic spending cuts it doesn't want. As you can see in the chart below from the Bipartisan Policy Center, it would cut almost half a trillion from defense, more than a quarter trillion from discretionary spending (which is already at 40-year lows), and $92 billion from Medicare.
As Jonathan Chait of New York points out, John Boehner has tried to claim the leverage in the upcoming sequester battle by saying he and his caucus really don't mind if it goes into effect. Maybe ... although it strains credulity that a party that has criticized Chuck Hagel for his willingness to cut defense spending doesn't care about cutting defense spending. The operative questions in this game of fiscal chicken are whether President Obama and House Republicans can find mutually agreeable cuts to replace the sequester cuts, and whether they will postpone whatever cuts come out of this latest (though certainly not last) cliff. The first matters more when it comes to protecting the recovery, while the second gets at the deep philosophical divide between the two parties. The risk, of course, is that wrangling over the latter prevents a deal on the former, and that the sequester subsequently starts on schedule, rather than at a later, more opportune, date.
With the default caucus within the Republican party fading into irrelevance, the specter of missing an interest payment on Treasury bonds has thankfully receded. Now we just have to worry about too much austerity too soon.
Hooray, we're not a banana republic. But we still might become Europe.
It happened gradually—and until the U.S. figures out how to treat the problem, it will only get worse.
It’s 2020, four years from now. The campaign is under way to succeed the president, who is retiring after a single wretched term. Voters are angrier than ever—at politicians, at compromisers, at the establishment. Congress and the White House seem incapable of working together on anything, even when their interests align. With lawmaking at a standstill, the president’s use of executive orders and regulatory discretion has reached a level that Congress views as dictatorial—not that Congress can do anything about it, except file lawsuits that the divided Supreme Court, its three vacancies unfilled, has been unable to resolve.
On Capitol Hill, Speaker Paul Ryan resigned after proving unable to pass a budget, or much else. The House burned through two more speakers and one “acting” speaker, a job invented following four speakerless months. The Senate, meanwhile, is tied in knots by wannabe presidents and aspiring talk-show hosts, who use the chamber as a social-media platform to build their brands by obstructing—well, everything. The Defense Department is among hundreds of agencies that have not been reauthorized, the government has shut down three times, and, yes, it finally happened: The United States briefly defaulted on the national debt, precipitating a market collapse and an economic downturn. No one wanted that outcome, but no one was able to prevent it.
American society increasingly mistakes intelligence for human worth.
As recently as the 1950s, possessing only middling intelligence was not likely to severely limit your life’s trajectory. IQ wasn’t a big factor in whom you married, where you lived, or what others thought of you. The qualifications for a good job, whether on an assembly line or behind a desk, mostly revolved around integrity, work ethic, and a knack for getting along—bosses didn’t routinely expect college degrees, much less ask to see SAT scores. As one account of the era put it, hiring decisions were “based on a candidate having a critical skill or two and on soft factors such as eagerness, appearance, family background, and physical characteristics.”
The 2010s, in contrast, are a terrible time to not be brainy. Those who consider themselves bright openly mock others for being less so. Even in this age of rampant concern over microaggressions and victimization, we maintain open season on the nonsmart. People who’d swerve off a cliff rather than use a pejorative for race, religion, physical appearance, or disability are all too happy to drop the s‑bomb: Indeed, degrading others for being “stupid” has become nearly automatic in all forms of disagreement.
In the early 19th century, a series of massive quakes rocked Missouri. Some experts predict that the state could be in for another round of violent shaking, while others warn that a big quake could strike elsewhere in the center of the continent.
As I drove across the I-40 bridge into Memphis, I was reassured: chances were slim that a massive earthquake would wrest the road from its supports, and plunge me more than a hundred feet into the murky Mississippi. Thanks to a recently completed $260 million seismic retrofit, the bridge—a chokepoint for traffic in the central U.S.—is now fortified. It’s also decked out with strong-motion accelerometers and bookended by borehole seismometers to record convulsions in the earth.
The bridge passes a glass colossus, the Memphis Pyramid. Originally built as a nod to the city’s Old Kingdom namesake, the pyramid now enshrines a Bass Pro Shops megastore. The city recently spent $25 million to prevent the pyramid from being swallowed, perhaps by Geb, the ancient Egyptian god of earthquakes. Further downtown, AutoZone’s corporate headquarters also stands ready for a tectonic throttling, propped up as it is on top of giant shock absorbers, while, the nearby Memphis VA is similarly inured to temblors after the city spent $64 million dollars removing nine floors of the hospital to reduce the risk of collapse in a catastrophic earthquake.
How the Brexit vote activated some of the most politically destabilizing forces threatening the U.K.
Among the uncertainties unleashed by the Brexit referendum, which early Friday morning heralded the United Kingdom’s coming breakup with the European Union, was what happens to the “union” of the United Kingdom itself. Ahead of the vote, marquee campaign themes included, on the “leave” side, the question of the U.K.’s sovereignty within the European Union—specifically its ability to control migration—and, on the “remain” side, the economic benefits of belonging to the world’s largest trading bloc, as well as the potentially catastrophic consequences of withdrawing from it. Many of the key arguments on either side concerned the contours of the U.K.-EU relationship, and quite sensibly so. “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” was, after all, the precise question people were voting on.
The kerfuffle over Kim Kardashian's drug-promoting Instagram selfie is nothing new: As long as the agency has existed, it's had to figure out how to regulate drug advertisements in new forms of communication technology.
Last month, celebrity-news and health-policy bloggers had a rare moment of overlap after the Food and Drug Administration issued a warning letter to the pharmaceutical company Duchesnay, which manufactures Diclegis, a prescription-only anti-nausea pill. At stake: a single selfie with pill bottle.
The image that attracted the censure of the FDA was an Instagram posted on July 20 by Kim Kardashian. The image featured her upper torso, right hand, and face, with a bottle of Diclegis prominently displayed in her grasp. “OMG,” the caption began:
Have you heard about this? As you guys know my #morningsickness has been pretty bad. I tried changing things about my lifestyle and my diet, but nothing helped, so I talked to my doctor. He prescribed my Diclegis, I felt better, and most importantly it’s been studied and there is no increased risk to the baby.
The June 23 vote represents a huge popular rebellion against a future in which British people feel increasingly crowded within—and even crowded out of—their own country.
I said goodnight to a gloomy party of Leave-minded Londoners a few minutes after midnight. The paper ballots were still being counted by hand. Only the British overseas territory of Gibraltar had reported final results. Yet the assumption of a Remain victory filled the room—and depressed my hosts. One important journalist had received a detailed briefing earlier that evening of the results of the government’s exit polling: 57 percent for Remain.
The polling industry will be one victim of the Brexit vote. A few days before the vote, I met with a pollster who had departed from the cheap and dirty methods of his peers to perform a much more costly survey for a major financial firm. His results showed a comfortable margin for Remain. Ten days later, anyone who heeded his expensive advice suffered the biggest percentage losses since the 2008 financial crisis.
Patrick Griffin, his chief congressional affairs lobbyist, recalls the lead up to the bill’s passage in 1994—and the steep political price that followed.
For those who question whether anything will ever be done to curb the use of military grade weaponry for mass shootings in the United States, history provides some good news—and some bad. The good news is that there is, within the recent past, an example of a president—namely Bill Clinton—who successfully wielded the powers of the White House to institute a partial ban of assault weapons from the nation’s streets. The bad news, however, is that Clinton’s victory proved to be so costly to him and to his party that it stands as an enduring cautionary tale in Washington about the political dangers of taking on the issue of gun control.
In 1994, Clinton signed into law the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act, placing restrictions on the number of military features a gun could have and banning large capacity magazines for consumer use. Given the potent dynamics of Second Amendment politics, it was a signal accomplishment. Yet the story behind the ban has been largely forgotten since it expired in 2004 and, in part, because the provision was embedded in the larger crime bill.
The U.K.’s vote to leave the European Union betrays a failure of empathy and imagination among its leaders. Will America’s political establishment fare any better?
If there is a regnant consensus among the men and women who steer the Western world, it is this: The globe is flattening. Borders are crumbling. Identities are fluid. Commerce and communications form the warp and woof, weaving nations into the tight fabric of a global economy. People are free to pursue opportunity, enriching their new homes culturally and economically. There may be painful dislocations along the way, but the benefits of globalization heavily outweigh its costs. And those who cannot see this, those who would resist it, those who would undo it—they are ignorant of their own interests, bigoted, xenophobic, and backward.
So entrenched is this consensus that, for decades, in most Western democracies, few mainstream political parties have thought to challenge it. They have left it to the politicians on the margins of the left and the right to give voice to such sentiments—and voicing such sentiments relegated politicians to the margins of political life.
Thoughts on the first episode of ESPN’s five-part documentary
Every fall Sunday, when I was a kid, half an hour before the pre-game shows and an hour before the games themselves, I would tune into the latest offering from NFL Films. This was the pre-pre-game show—an assembly of short films derived from the massive archive of professional football. Steve Sabol, whose father founded NFL Films, would preside. He’d offer and then throw it to Jon Facenda or Jefferson Kaye, who would narrate the career highlights of players likeGale Sayers, Earl Campbell, or Dick “Night Train” Lane.
“Highlights” understates what NFL films was actually doing. The shorts were drawn from some the most beautifully shot footage in all of sports. It wasn’t unheard of for NFL Films to go high concept—this piece on football and ballet, with cameos from Allen Ginsberg and George Will, may be the definitive example. Great football plays would be injected not with the normal hurrahs, but with poetry. When Facenda, for instance, wanted to introduce a spectacular touchdown run by Marcus Allen, he did so in the omniscient third person: “On came Marcus Allen—running with the night.”
Should the United Kingdom referendum serve as a warning not to underestimate Donald Trump?
The United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union has set off shockwaves across the globe—and rightfully so. Betting markets, pollsters, andpundits suggested the Brits would uphold the status quo. It didn’t take long before Americans started wondering what a failure to predict the Brexit could mean for the United States in a year where Donald Trump, the Republican Party’s presumptive presidential nominee, has outperformed expectations.
There are certainly parallels to be drawn. A similar demographic profile unites many of the people who voted for Britain to leave the EU and voters who have stood by Trump. “Brexit supporters mirror Trump voters,” Reuters reported, “in that they tend to be older, white, less affluent, and less likely to live in urban areas.” So should the referendum results serve as a warning to Americans not to underestimate the potential of a Trump presidency?