This chart from the White House, which purports to prove, with the scientific magic of math, that basically everything bad that has happened to the budget is the fault of one George W. Bush, has been making the rounds. My colleague approvingly calls it "Another chart that should accompany all debt ceiling discussions".
I'm a little less enamored, considering that this graph attributes decisions made by Obama and an all-Democratic Congress--like doubling down in Afghanistan--to Bush, while taking responsibility for basically nothing except the stimulus. When Obama extends the Bush tax cuts for the rich under pressure from Congressional Republicans, that disappears from his side of the ledger, because after all, he didn't want to do it. When Bush enacts Medicare Part D under pressure from Congressional Democrats, the full cost is charged against his presidency. The list of such silliness goes on. Our president seems set to coin another presidential motto: "The duck starts here."
If you must use this chart as some sort of an aid to debate, we should probably drag in a few others for contrast and depth. The first shows deficits, spending, and revenues since 2000 (as a percentage of GDP):
And the second shows what happened to the national debt, and interest payments on that debt, during the same period:
It's not really very easy to look at these graphs and tell a story where the deficit is 1.6% under George Bush in 2007, and then suddenly balloons to 10% under Obama a few years later--and does so almost entirely as a result of policies initiated under George W. Bush, and only those initiated under George W. Bush. (Not because of say, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.) What changed about Bush policies that made them so much more expensive once Barack Obama took office?
Nor is it exactly obvious to look at the $2.4 trillion in additional debt incurred during Bush's eight-year presidency, and say that he is nonetheless actually responsible for $7 trillion of our current debt load--and then turn to the $3.1 trillion of debt incurred during Barack Obama's three-year presidency, and declare that his policies are actually responsible for only $1.4 trillion.
As Jim Fallows notes, these blame games are really quite childish. In fact, most of what's driving our current deficits is the economy, and the onrushing retirement of the Baby Boomers. Those are the things that are changing rapidly, not the size of the Bush tax cuts. If you want to blame it on anyone, blame Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon, but good luck getting any money out of their estates.
My colleague nonetheless thinks that this is a useful graph because it focuses us on the choices that have to be made: "I really am not interested in the Bush-v-Obama, red-v-blue allocation of the blame. The point is the fundamental irrationality of insisting on cutting the deficit, while also insisting on preserving every penny of the tax cuts. One or the other: OK. Both of them: You're making it up."
I'm afraid I disagree. I also am not interested in the Bush-v-Obama, red-v-blue allocation of blame, but the graph at top was made by someone who seems very interested indeed in allocating as much blame as possible to Republicans--indeed, more interested in that than anything else. So it does not do a very good job of illustrating the relative size of choices--the Bush figures are eight-year figures, the Obama figures three-year figures. And it's entirely retrospective. Aside from the massaging I discussed above, the focus on the past makes it a very bad guide to the relative magnitude of the future choices we need to make. Some of these items (tax cuts, entitlements) will grow, and some of them (military spending, some discretionary items) won't. All this graph is good for is apportioning blame for the debt we've already incurred, and as I say, it's rather questionable whether it's even good for that.
Settling whether "Bush policies" or "Obama policies" were the "cause" of the deficit wouldn't tell us a damn thing about what we should do--unless you're the sort of person who thinks that the most important fact about a policy is who was president when that policy was enacted.
To me, this graph which I (ahem) just happen to have handy is a much more useful visual aid to discussion:
That's what we are currently spending a whole lot of money on. Which of these things shall we cut? How shall we build a coalition to pass those cuts, and stick to them in the face of what is bound to be fierce and ugly resistance from those who the programs benefit? And when we have decided that we can cut no further, what taxes will we raise to pay for what's left?
These seem like more important questions than which items to put in the "Bush" ledger and which items to put on the "Obama" side. And I'm afraid that the White House graphic doesn't offer any answers.
Despite warnings, Trump gazed directly at the eclipse.
During the solar eclipse today, President Donald Trump stepped onto the White House balcony with his wife and his son Barron, and he looked up at the sun.
According to White House reporters, an aide shouted a warning that he should not look at the sun. Nevertheless, he persisted.
There were parts of the United States, along path of totality, that allowed people to look directly at the eclipse. But Washington, D.C., was not among them.
How much damage can a person do by staring at the sun for a few seconds?
As many children are warned, there is indeed no “safe” amount of time to stare directly at the sun. Note that no ophthalmologists recommend any amount of glancing or squinting at the eclipse. Against the energy of the sun, human eyelids are like a dam built of tissue paper.
Three Atlantic staffers discuss “Beyond the Wall,” the sixth episode of the seventh season.
Every week for the seventh season of Game of Thrones, three Atlantic staffers will discuss new episodes of the HBO drama. Because no screeners were made available to critics in advance this year, we'll be posting our thoughts in installments.
The past week brought violent conflict over symbols and values held sacred—and an act of sacrilege.
Taboo and sacredness are among the most important words needed to understand Charlottesville and its aftermath. Taboo refers to things that are forbidden for religious or supernatural reasons. All traditional societies have such prohibitions—things you must not do, touch, or eat, not because they are bad for you directly, but because doing so is an abomination, which may bring divine retribution. But every society also makes some things sacred, rallying around a few deeply revered values, people, or places, which bind all members together and make them willing to sacrifice for the common good. The past week brought violent conflict over symbols and values held sacred—and saw President Trump commit an act of sacrilege by violating one of our society’s strongest taboos.
The cartoonist defended the president in a podcast debate with Sam Harris. The portrait he painted of Trump supporters was not flattering.
Sam Harris, the atheist philosopher and neuroscientist, has recently been using his popular Waking Up podcast to discuss Donald Trump, whom he abhors, with an ideologically diverse series of guests, all of whom believe that the president is a vile huckster.
This began to wear on some of his listeners. Wasn’t Harris always warning against echo chambers? Didn’t he believe in rigorous debate with a position’s strongest proponents? At their urging, he extended an invitation to a person that many of those listeners regard as President Trump’s most formidable defender: Scott Adams, the creator of the cartoon Dilbert, who believes that Trump is “a master persuader.”
Their conversation was posted online late last month. It is one of the most peculiar debates about a president I have ever encountered. And it left me marveling that parts of Trump’s base think well of Adams when his views imply such negative things about them.
“Seeing a partial eclipse bears the same relation to seeing a total eclipse as kissing a man does to marrying him.”
Ever since it was first published in 1982, readers—including this one—have thrilled to “Total Eclipse,” Annie Dillard’s masterpiece of literary nonfiction, which describes her personal experience of a solar eclipse in Washington State. It first appeared in Dillard’s landmark collection, Teaching a Stone to Talk, and was recently republished in The Abundance, a new anthology of her work. The Atlantic is pleased to offer the essay in full, here, until the day after the ‘Great American Eclipse’ on August 21.
It had been like dying, that sliding down the mountain pass. It had been like the death of someone, irrational, that sliding down the mountain pass and into the region of dread. It was like slipping into fever, or falling down that hole in sleep from which you wake yourself whimpering. We had crossed the mountains that day, and now we were in a strange place—a hotel in central Washington, in a town near Yakima. The eclipse we had traveled here to see would occur early in the next morning.
A tour of the solar eclipse’s path reveals a nation that fought to maintain a different sort of totality.
Totality is everything, say those who chase solar eclipses. When the moon fully obscures the sun and casts its shadow on Earth, the result is like nothing you’ve seen before—not even a partial eclipse. A merely partial eclipse does not flip day to night, because the sun is bright enough to light our fields of vision with only a tiny fraction of its power. But when the sun and moon align just so, a little piece of Earth goes dark in the middle of the day. In this path of totality, night comes suddenly and one can see the shape of the moon as a circle darker than black, marked by the faint backlight of the sun’s corona. Astronomers and eclipse chasers chart carefully to be sure that they can watch from exactly the right place at the right time. They know that you cannot compromise with the sun. For a dark sky, the sun must be banished altogether.
“Medicare for all” is a popular idea, but for Americans, transitioning to such a system would be difficult, to say the least.
French women supposedly don’t get fat, and in the minds of many Americans, they also don’t get stuck with très gros medical bills. There’s long been a dream among some American progressives to truly live as the “Europeans1” do and have single-payer health care.
Republicans’ failure—so far—to repeal and replace Obamacare has breathed new life into the single-payer dream. In June, the majority of Americans told Pew that the government has the responsibility to ensure health coverage for everyone, and 33 percent say this should take the form of a single government program. The majority of Democrats, in that poll, supported single payer. A June poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation even found that a slim majority of all Americans favor single payer.
More comfortable online than out partying, post-Millennials are safer, physically, than adolescents have ever been. But they’re on the brink of a mental-health crisis.
One day last summer, around noon, I called Athena, a 13-year-old who lives in Houston, Texas. She answered her phone—she’s had an iPhone since she was 11—sounding as if she’d just woken up. We chatted about her favorite songs and TV shows, and I asked her what she likes to do with her friends. “We go to the mall,” she said. “Do your parents drop you off?,” I asked, recalling my own middle-school days, in the 1980s, when I’d enjoy a few parent-free hours shopping with my friends. “No—I go with my family,” she replied. “We’ll go with my mom and brothers and walk a little behind them. I just have to tell my mom where we’re going. I have to check in every hour or every 30 minutes.”
Those mall trips are infrequent—about once a month. More often, Athena and her friends spend time together on their phones, unchaperoned. Unlike the teens of my generation, who might have spent an evening tying up the family landline with gossip, they talk on Snapchat, the smartphone app that allows users to send pictures and videos that quickly disappear. They make sure to keep up their Snapstreaks, which show how many days in a row they have Snapchatted with each other. Sometimes they save screenshots of particularly ridiculous pictures of friends. “It’s good blackmail,” Athena said. (Because she’s a minor, I’m not using her real name.) She told me she’d spent most of the summer hanging out alone in her room with her phone. That’s just the way her generation is, she said. “We didn’t have a choice to know any life without iPads or iPhones. I think we like our phones more than we like actual people.”
The scientists are all talking like it’s a sure thing.
On August 21, the “moon” will pass between the Earth and the sun, obscuring the light of the latter. The government agency NASA says this will result in “one of nature’s most awe-inspiring sights.” The astronomers there claim to have calculated down to the minute exactly when and where this will happen, and for how long. They have reportedly known about this eclipse for years, just by virtue of some sort of complex math.
This seems extremely unlikely. I can’t even find these eclipse calculations on their website to check them for myself.
Meanwhile the scientists tell us we can’t look at it without special glasses because “looking directly at the sun is unsafe.”