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.
Facial-recognition technologies are proliferating, from airports to bathrooms.
Dystopia starts with 23.6 inches of toilet paper. That’s how much the dispensers at the entrance of the public restrooms at Beijing’s Temple of Heaven dole out in a program involving facial-recognition scanners—part of the president’s “Toilet Revolution,” which seeks to modernize public toilets. Want more? Forget it. If you go back to the scanner before nine minutes are up, it will recognize you and issue this terse refusal: “Please try again later.”
China is rife with face-scanning technology worthy of Black Mirror. Don’t even think about jaywalking in Jinan, the capital of Shandong province. Last year, traffic-management authorities there started using facial recognition to crack down. When a camera mounted above one of 50 of the city’s busiest intersections detects a jaywalker, it snaps several photos and records a video of the violation. The photos appear on an overhead screen so the offender can see that he or she has been busted, then are cross-checked with the images in a regional police database. Within 20 minutes, snippets of the perp’s ID number and home address are displayed on the crosswalk screen. The offender can choose among three options: a 20-yuan fine (about $3), a half-hour course in traffic rules, or 20 minutes spent assisting police in controlling traffic. Police have also been known to post names and photos of jaywalkers on social media.
They’re both blamed for predisposing their members to violent acts, but they’ve sparked radically different public-policy responses.
When I thought about locking up with a crew in 1996, I wanted to see a full initiation first, not parts I stumbled upon over the years. My friend Cliff and I arrived at a park not close from my home in Jamaica, Queens. Leaves danced with the wind around our feet, wafting an eerie feeling in my 14-year-old black body. The grounds of the initiation beckoned: a high-rise chain link fence, enclosing two basketball courts.
Through the daylighted chain, I watched scowls and punches and stomps engulf the uninitiated teen—a stoppage, then an awkward transition into hugs, handshakes, and smiles. The striking contrast shot at my core of authenticity, the insincerity of the punch-hug, of the stomp-smile, murdering my thoughts of joining a crew.
A wedding is no longer the first step into adulthood that it once was, but, often, the last.
The decline of marriage is upon us. Or, at least, that’s what the zeitgeist would have us believe. In 2010, when Time magazine and the Pew Research Center famously asked Americans whether they thought marriage was becoming obsolete, 39 percent said yes. That was up from 28 percent when Time asked the question in 1978. Also, since 2010, the Census Bureau has reported that married couples have made up less than half of all households; in 1950 they made up 78 percent. Data such as these have led to much collective handwringing about the fate of the embattled institution.
But there is one statistical tidbit that flies in the face of this conventional wisdom: A clear majority of same-sex couples who are living together are now married. Same-sex marriage was illegal in every state until Massachusetts legalized it in 2004, and it did not become legal nationwide until the Supreme Court decision Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015. Two years after that decision, 61 percent of same-sex couples who were sharing a household were married, according to a set of surveys by Gallup. That’s a high take-up rate: Just because same-sex couples are able to marry doesn’t mean that they have to; and yet large numbers have seized the opportunity. (That’s compared with 89 percent of different-sex couples.)
As regulators and chaos circle the company following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook's leader has gone absent without leave.
Some time, about 10 days ago, Facebook was notified that there were major stories planned in The Guardian, The New York Times, and on British television about Cambridge Analytica. These stories would allege that the company built its initial models of American voters with data ferried out of Facebook by an app built by a Cambridge psychology researcher. And that when informed that this data existed, the company’s response was, at best, pro forma.
The stories came out last Friday and Facebook’s shares have been in free fall since the markets opened this week. There are massive open questions about this data and the effectiveness of the techniques that Cambridge Analytica has claimed to use. Of course, Russian connections are being floated.
A report that the president had senior White House staff sign non-disclosure agreements is the latest reminder of how much he conceals from public view.
Donald Trump has little regard for the privacy of the masses. During the 2016 campaign, he bought access to psychological profiles of millions of voters created by scraping and studying their Facebook accounts without most of them having granted permission. He signed a bill repealing FCC rules that limited the ability of Internet service providers to sell data on our browsing habits. Like his predecessor, he presides over surveillance agencies that collect metadata on the private communications of hundreds of millions of Americans whether they like it or not. And his administration pays a private corporation for access to billions of photographs that reveal where and when particular cars drove on public roads and highways.
When I re-read a beloved series of books from my childhood, I saw all too clearly how society limits kids’ creativity and originality.
So much of raising children is unimaginable until it happens, an abstract future materialized awkwardly into an actual child covered in dirt. Amid constant unpredictability, one small unsung comfort for parents is the chance to revisit books from childhood, to share with your own children the stories you knew and loved.
How evangelicals, once culturally confident, became an anxious minority seeking political protection from the least traditionally religious president in living memory
One of the most extraordinary things about our current politics—really, one of the most extraordinary developments of recent political history—is the loyal adherence of religious conservatives to Donald Trump. The president won four-fifths of the votes of white evangelical Christians. This was a higher level of support than either Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush, an outspoken evangelical himself, ever received.
Trump’s background and beliefs could hardly be more incompatible with traditional Christian models of life and leadership. Trump’s past political stances (he once supported the right to partial-birth abortion), his character (he has bragged about sexually assaulting women), and even his language (he introduced the words pussy and shithole into presidential discourse) would more naturally lead religious conservatives toward exorcism than alliance. This is a man who has cruelly publicized his infidelities, made disturbing sexual comments about his elder daughter, and boasted about the size of his penis on the debate stage. His lawyer reportedly arranged a $130,000 payment to a porn star to dissuade her from disclosing an alleged affair. Yet religious conservatives who once blanched at PG-13 public standards now yawn at such NC-17 maneuvers. We are a long way from The Book of Virtues.
Sarah Sanders says the U.S. can’t “dictate” to other countries how to run themselves, but Trump has had no problems labeling governments elsewhere in the world repressive.
The White House again offered a puzzling response to foreign policy regarding Russia on Tuesday, refusing to criticize the voting that reelected Vladimir Putin by a landslide on Sunday.
Asked whether the White House deemed the election “free and fair,” Press Secretary Sarah Sanders offered this deflection:
In terms of the election, there we’re focused on our elections. We don’t get to dictate how other countries operate. What we do know that is that Putin has been elected in their country, and that’s not something that we can dictate to them how to operate. We can only focus on the freeness and fairness of our elections, something we 100 percent fully support, and something we’re going to continue to do everything we can to protect to make sure bad actors don’t have the opportunity to impact them in any way.
The U.S. is destined to keep overlearning the lessons of the last conflict.
There’s a specific reason it is so hard to be president—in normal circumstances—and why most incumbents look decades older when they leave the job than when they began. The reason is that the only choices normal presidents get to make are the impossible ones—decisions that are not simply very close calls on the merits, but that are guaranteed to lead to tragedy and bitterness whichever way they go.
Take Barack Obama’s famed choice not to back up his “red line” promise in Syria, which was a focus of Jeffrey Goldberg’s “The Obama Doctrine” Atlantic cover story two years ago. The option Obama chose—not intervening in Syria—meant death and suffering for countless thousands of people. The option he rejected—intervening—would have meant death and suffering for countless thousands of the same people or others. Agree or disagree on the outcome, any such decision is intellectually demanding and morally draining. Normal presidents have to make them, one after another, all day long. (Why don’t they get any easier choices? Because someone else has made all of those before they get to the president.) Obama’s decision to approve the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound turned out to be a tactical and political success. When he made it, he had to weigh the possibility that it could end in world-publicized failure—like Jimmy Carter’s decision to attempt a rescue of American hostages in Iran, which ended in chaos, and which Carter later contended was what sealed his fate in his re-election run.