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.
Russia's strongman president has many Americans convinced of his manipulative genius. He's really just a gambler who won big.
I. The Hack
The large, sunny room at Volgograd State University smelled like its contents: 45 college students, all but one of them male, hunched over keyboards, whispering and quietly clacking away among empty cans of Juicy energy drink. “It looks like they’re just picking at their screens, but the battle is intense,” Victor Minin said as we sat watching them.
Clustered in seven teams from universities across Russia, they were almost halfway into an eight-hour hacking competition, trying to solve forensic problems that ranged from identifying a computer virus’s origins to finding secret messages embedded in images. Minin was there to oversee the competition, called Capture the Flag, which had been put on by his organization, the Association of Chief Information Security Officers, or ARSIB in Russian. ARSIB runs Capture the Flag competitions at schools all over Russia, as well as massive, multiday hackathons in which one team defends its server as another team attacks it. In April, hundreds of young hackers participated in one of them.
Russian billionaire Yuri Milner says if the space rock 'Oumuamua is giving off radio signals, his team will be able to detect them—and they may get the results within days.
The email about “a most peculiar object” in the solar system arrived in Yuri Milner’s inbox last week.
Milner, the Russian billionaire behind Breakthrough Listen, a $100 million search for intelligent extraterrestrial life, had already heard about the peculiar object. ‘Oumuamua barreled into view in October, the first interstellar object seen in our solar system.
Astronomers around the world chased after the mysterious space rock with their telescopes, collecting as much data as they could as it sped away. Their observations revealed a truly unusual object with puzzling properties. Scientists have long predicted an interstellar visitor would someday coast into our corner of the universe, but not something like this.
Attacks on the special counsel aren’t about misconduct—instead, they’re aimed at discrediting the very idea of professionalism.
If you’re not a regular consumer of pro-Trump media outlets, it could be easy to underestimate or overlook the recent onslaught of attacks on Special Counsel Robert Mueller. There are a couple reasons for that. One is that this discourse exists almost entirely within that media ecosystem (which is distinct from, though overlapping with, the broader world of conservative media). The other is that critics have been calling for Mueller’s dismissal and an end to his probe since it was announced. Nonetheless, the intensity of the recent spree is notable, as is the gradual shift from ostensibly politically neutral critiques to openly partisan ones.
“Mueller is corrupt. The senior FBI is corrupt. The system is corrupt,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said on Fox News. The channel’s legal analyst Gregg Jarrett said Mueller was employing the FBI “just like the old KGB,” which Sean Hannity piously told viewers was “not hyperbole.” Using chilling language, Fox host Jeanine Pirro said, “There is a cleansing needed at the FBI and Department of Justice. It needs to be cleansed of individuals who should not just be fired but need to be taken out in handcuffs.”
The movie knows little—and cares less—about how people fall in love.
I confess that it wasn’t until recently that I understood the degree to which Love Actually, the 2003 romantic comedy by writer/director Richard Curtis, had been gradually reevaluated and granted the status of a “classic” holiday film. For me, the news came by way of a November Vulture piece that began, “It might be hard to recall, but the film that has now become a beloved holiday classic was one that initially received a flurry of mixed reviews.”
My own review was among several cited. I’ve of course always known that my take on Love Actually was more unforgiving than most. But beloved holiday classic? Really?
Well yes, evidently. Over the course of several conversations with friends and colleagues, some of them conducted with good cheer but at high volume—I refer interested parties to the Twitter feeds of Atlantic employees on the afternoon of November 20th—it was confirmed to me that a considerable number of people not only consider Love Actually a classic, but go so far as to watch the movie annually as a holiday tradition.
There is clear evidence that it’s best to show children relationship skills that never escalate to physical harm.
Spanking looks to be instantlyeffective. If a child is misbehaving—if he keeps swearing, or playing with matches—and then you spank that child, the behavior stops immediately.
The effect is so apparently obvious that it can drive a sort of delusion. Lived experience tends to be more powerful than facts. One of the few memories that many people retain from early childhood is times they were spanked. The desire to believe it was “for our own good” is strong, if only because the alternative interpretation is bleak.
It’s in the face of personal experiences like these that science has been flailing for generations. Some 81 percent of Americans believe spanking is appropriate, even though decades of research have shown it to be both ineffective and harmful. The refrain I keep hearing is, “Well, I got spanked, and I turned out okay.”
“The U.S. is now the most unpredictable actor in the world today.”
As conflicts ignite and burn and flicker out around the world, U.S. officials assess the dangers they represent back home. Not all of these conflicts directly threaten American interests, which is why the Council on Foreign Relations conducts an annual survey to help U.S. leaders prioritize threats in the year ahead. For the past decade, this survey has focused on the risks posed to America by foreign actors. Now it’s reckoning with the risks America poses to the world—and to itself.
“The U.S. is now the most unpredictable actor in the world today, and that has caused profound unease,” said Paul Stares, the director of CFR’s Center for Preventive Action, which produces the annual survey. “You used to be able to pretty much put the U.S. to one side and hold it constant, and look at the world and consider where the biggest sources of unpredictability, insecurity are. Now you have to include the U.S. in that. … No one has high confidence how we [Americans] would react in any given situation, given how people assess this president.” This president might welcome the development. “I don’t want people to know exactly what I’m doing—or thinking,” Donald Trump wrote in 2015. “It keeps them off balance.”
The depiction of uncomfortable romance in "Cat Person" seems to resonate with countless women.
Recent months make it seem like humanity has lost the instruction manual for its “procreate” function and has had to relearn it all from scratch. After scores of prominent men have been fired on sexual-assault allegations, confusion reigns about signals, how to read them, and how not to read into them. Some men are wondering if hugging women is still okay. Some male managers are inviting third parties into performance reviews in order to avoid being alone with women. One San Francisco design-firm director recently said holiday parties should be canceled, as The New York Times reported, “until it has been figured out how men and women should interact.”
Into this steps “Cat Person,” a New Yorker fiction story by Kristen Roupenian that explores how badly people can misread each other, but also how frightening and difficult sexual encounters can be for women, in particular. “It isn’t a story about rape or sexual harassment, but about the fine lines that get drawn in human interaction,” Deborah Treisman, The New Yorker’s fiction editor, told me.
The cryptocurrency is almost certainly due for a major correction. But its long-term value remains a mystery.
To call Bitcoin the biggest and most obvious bubble in modern history may be a disservice to its surreality.
The price of bitcoin has doubled four times this year. In early January, one bitcoin was worth about $1,000. By May, it hit $2,000. In June, it breached $4,000. By Thanksgiving, it was $8,000. Two weeks later, it was $16,000.
This astronomical trajectory might make sense for a new public company with accelerating profits. Bitcoin, however, has no profits. It’s not even a company. It is a digital encrypted currency running on a decentralized network of computers around the world. Ordinary currencies, like the U.S. dollar, don’t double in value by the month, unless there’s a historic deflationary crisis, like the Panic of 1837. Instead, bitcoin’s behavior more resembles that of a collectible frenzy, like Beanie Babies in the late 1990s.
Kristen Roupenian’s viral New Yorker short story is not an essay—but many have seen it as one.
In fiction-writing—before characters can be developed, before plots can be sketched, before tensions can be introduced, and attendant arcs molded and stretched—the author must first make a series of much more basic decisions: How will the story be told? Who, in the context of the story itself, will tell it? Who will be given a person and a voice within this hermetic little universe? Who will not? Why? Why not? These are the defining cosmological questions of every work of fiction, the ones that will shape everything else that comes to exist in the author’s—and the story’s—manufactured world.
Kristen Roupenian, in “Cat Person,” the New Yorker short story that has been, and continues to be, going viral, selected as her storyteller a classic, third-person omniscient narrator: the Godlike entity, seeing all and telling some. And then Roupenian—the subsidiary, and yet much more complicated decision—focused her narrator’s attentions entirely on the perspective of her protagonist, a 20-year-old college student named Margot. It is from Margot’s perspective—her perspective as filtered through this particular story’s author-God—that Roupenian’s story unfolds: Margot meets a man named Robert, several years her senior, and then successively flirts with him, texts with him, goes on a date with him, sleeps with him, and, finally, breaks up with him.
There’s a fiction at the heart of the debate over entitlements: The carefully cultivated impression that beneficiaries are simply receiving back their “own” money.
One day in 1984, Kurt Vonnegut called.
I was ditching my law school classes to work on the presidential campaign of Walter Mondale, the Democratic candidate against Ronald Reagan, when one of those formerly-ubiquitous pink telephone messages was delivered to me saying that Vonnegut had called, asking to speak to one of Mondale’s speechwriters.
All sorts of people called to talk to the speechwriters with all sorts of whacky suggestions; this certainly had to be the most interesting. I stared at the 212 phone number on the pink slip, picked up a phone, and dialed.
A voice, so gravelly and deep that it seemed to lie at the outer edge of the human auditory range, rasped, “Hello.” I introduced myself. There was a short pause, as if Vonnegut were fixing his gaze on me from the other end of the line, then he spoke.