Dog School

I don’t see how this video has not gone viral. It is of a 6 month old lab mix teaching an 8 week old puppy how to walk down the stairs. At least, I think that’s what’s going on. It is very inspiring:

H/T Sarah Kliff

Assault Weapons Ban?

Bushmaster Ad - Consider Your Man Card ReissuedGreg Sargent’s The Plum Line blog is quickly becoming my favorite Washington Post reading, which is to say I turn to it more often than Ezra Klein’s excellent Wonk Blog. Sargent just seems to write more about the stuff I’m interested in. Klein writes a lot more about economics, but I’m afraid i read a good deal too much economics elsewhere. Anyway. This morning Sargent is focused on gun control.

He notes a couple of articles about where the White House is regarding an assault weapons ban. The New York Times claims that they are planning to dump it and focus on background checks and high capacity magazines. But Sam Stein claims they are still pushing the ban on these guns.

I think the focus on assault weapons is misplaced. I understand that they look scary. On a recent trip to Mexico, seeing all the military with these kinds of guns was intimidating. But like syringes with drug addiction, they are just provocative and indicative, not the problem itself. To me, the thing that I most associate with assault rifles are the 30-round banana clips.

Sure, assault rifles tend to shoot huge rounds with enormous amounts of gun powder. But I think we can all agree that the main problem is the bullet itself. A handgun with a 30-round clip would have done a similar amount of damage. The biggest problem is that a shooter can continue to shoot—30 times!—without reloading or grabbing another gun.

There is also the issue that “assault weapon” is not the most well defined a term. It’s not that I think these are great guns that we ought to promote. In fact, they are designed to appeal to a certain kind of thinking. We don’t need more people thinking we are on the verge of revolution. But the design of these guns is essentially a cosmetic issue.

Given that we will be limited in what we can do about guns in this country, I think we need to first determine what will be the most effective measures. If I had to pick one change, I would require a two week waiting period for guns—especially handguns—at the national level. Currently, very few states require any waiting period at all. Gun suicides are still the number one problem and waiting periods help reduce these because, as they say, “Suicide is a long term solution to a short term problem.”[1]

Additionally, I do not see any need for large-capacity magazines. Most often, a limit of ten rounds is proposed. I think we ought to take this down further, but I don’t claim to be an expert. I’d also like to see something done about handguns. But I’m not suggesting banning them. I just don’t think we could get such a thing through Congress, much less the courts.[2] But I do think that public education campaigns could convince a lot of people that their handguns are more likely to harm them than save them. Again: my concern is overwhelmingly suicide but also accidents.

We can ban assault weapons. I’m not against it. But doing so is like getting China to more rigorously enforce our intellectual property laws: it makes more effective policies less likely. Let’s face it: all options are most definitely not on the table. I haven’t heard any discussion of handguns, which are responsible for most gun homicides and suicides. Instead, it is all about assault rifles, which are actually a fairly minor problem. And that’s fine: death is death. But I also haven’t heard much talk of waiting periods. And that’s criminal.


One of the main writers on The Plum Line blog is Jonathan Bernstein. But I found out yesterday that all the links to his personal page go instead to Robert Samuelson’s page. People may know the foolish and evil Mr. Samuelson from his repeated apologia for conservative efforts to screw the poor. I alerted Sargent to this fact and he is working on it. But it will be a big job; I don’t envy his website tech!

[1] I don’t mean to suggest that suicide is always irrational or that it ought to be criminalized. I do think, however, that the vast majority of suicides are mistakes and that as a society, we should do everything we can to help those unfortunates who are driven to it.

[2] It is not true that the Second Amendment only applies to militias. Since around the time of the Civil War, the courts have interpreted the Constitution to mean that individuals have a right to own guns. This right is not going to change unless we change the Constitution. Thus: this right is not going to change.

Mingle With This?!

[Update: see my article Creepy Christian Mingle Girl Not So Creepy. It turns out that this model is actually a reasonably attractive young woman. I still don’t understand why the company went with that image. The best looking people in the world look creepy if you photograph them wrong. I thought that professional advertisers understood that. -FM]

Christian Mingle AdThis image is from a major ad campaign for the Christian dating service Christian Mingle. That’s great. I actually think that religious compatibility is important, although it can be a problem with raising children. (I don’t think that children should be forced into a religion when they are too young to know what is going on.) But this ad? Really?!

I’m usually very open minded about attractiveness. In general, I think all young people look attractive. But this woman? She looks like she is either the unfortunate victim of an evil plastic surgeon or the resident of a galaxy far far away. She also has so much make-up on, I’m sure anyone who kissed her would choke on the dust.

Speaking of creepy Christians, have you seen the Tim Tebow TiVo commercials? There is one where the kids talk about how their mother gets all hot and bothered regarding Tebow. What’s more, their father is jealous. Is that really in keeping with Christianity? I mean, you know: the tenth commandment and all? Don’t covet your neighbors pig or ass or abs?

The truth is that when Christians enters the marketplace, they tend to make a mess of it. Either because they think creepy blond girls are attractive or because they show that their religion doesn’t mean much to them. Regardless, I hope they pair up and don’t procreate.

12 Questions for Mr. Lew

John NicholsJohn Nichols gives us twelve reasons to pause over the Jack Lew nomination for Treasury Secretary, in his The Nation column yesterday. I’ve already said that I’m fine with the Lew nomination, although I haven’t looked into it that much. But my thinking is generally that the president should be able to have the cabinet that he wants. In fact, I would go further. After listen to all of the Robert Bork Supreme Court nomination hearings, I concluded that as much as I hated the man, I thought he should be confirmed. We get a choice when we elect the president. If we are stupid enough to vote in Reagan, we deserve what we get. And if we elect a spineless promoter of the status quo, then we should not complain when he surrounds himself with the more reasonable members of the Washington establishment.

I think that Nichols’ problem with Lew is the same as his problem with the Clinton administration. And I agree with him! Two major mistakes of that time were NAFTA and the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act. But there are two big problems with laying this on Lew. First, Lew wasn’t that big a player in the Clinton administration, and anyway, the policies were Clinton’s, not Lew’s. Second, Obama is no more liberal on these policies than Clinton was. The truth is that the Democrats have been unable to elect even a marginally liberal president since Johnson, and I would argue all the way back to Roosevelt.

But that doesn’t mean I think we should just (as Nichols says) “rubber stamp” Lew. I would really like to hear him answer all of Nichols’ questions. Nichols pulls no punches:

3. You served as head of Bill Clinton’s Office of Management and Budget when he was working with a Republican Congress to undermine the Glass-Steagall Act and to enact the Wall Street–friendly Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999 and the Commodity Futures Modernization Act. Progressives opposed these initiatives, warning that they erred too far on the side of deregulation. Wellstone warned that “Glass-Steagall was intended to protect our financial system by insulating commercial banking from other forms of risk. It was one of several stabilizers designed to keep a similar tragedy from recurring. Now Congress is about to repeal that economic stabilizer without putting any comparable safeguard in its place.” Did you share any of those concerns or were you all on board with the deregulation push?

7. During George W. Bush’s presidency, you served as a managing director of CitiGroup, which paid you more than $1-million a year and gave you a $945,000 bonus just days before you joined the Obama administration (as a State Department appointee) in 2009. Is it wise to put a former banker in charge of a cabinet agency that has quite a significant role to play in debates about how the federal government might regulate, and more generally relate to, banks that are sometimes referred to as “too-big-to-fail”? As Treasury Secretary, you will head the Financial Services Oversight Council, a Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act creation that has the power to “resolve”—i.e., dissolve—”financially-dangerous” institutions such as “too-big-to-fail” banks. Watchdog groups such as Public Citizen worry that you retain “deep Wall Street connections.” Would your ties to Citigroup prevent you from dissolving Citigroup and/or similarly large financial institutions if they posed a threat to the US economy?

10. Do you believe that investing in job-creation initiatives, and other steps that grow the economy, should be central to any deficit-reduction strategy? Many European countries have focused on deficit reduction as the highest priority, implementing harsh austerity programs that accept high unemployment and deep cuts in social services as a necessary consequence of budget balancing. Many Republicans in Congress claim to embrace this approach, arguing that nothing is more important that addressing deficits and debts. What’s your take on austerity?

If I thought that any Democrats might ask questions like these, I’d be glued to C-SPAN. But alas, I think it will not be so. Instead, we’re likely to get a lot of conservative questions about whether Lew is now or has ever been a member of the human race. That alone would disqualify him in the eyes of most Republicans.

Any concerns I may have about Lew as a liberal are trumped by this one fact: he can’t possibly be worse than Tim Geithner.

Massive Debt (And Yachts)

GoldYou have probably seen the commercial below for Merit Gold. I am not putting this ad here because I think you should invest in gold. For the normal investor, gold is always a stupid investment. It is just one bubble after another. You would be as smart to invest in some ponzi scheme. It isn’t because gold is necessarily a bad investment. The problem is all the nutjobs who invest in it. You start with really ignorant but popular people like Glenn Beck and Ron Paul and you end up with a lot of irrational exuberance.

This ad is interesting in a couple of ways. The first is how it pushes fear. It seems like a trailer for a disaster film. “What’s a billion dollars look lie? What about a trillion? What about our national debt? It’s massive!” This is especially funny if you have seen the skit from That Mitchell & Webb Look about the guys giving away massive yachts. But even still, it is completely over the top. We see the stacks of money piling up until they overwhelm us. Run!

The second part is the false but common belief that government debt causes inflation. “Whereas the national debt has tripled in the last ten years, gold has gone up more than 600%.” The implication is that if the national debt has tripled, the value of the dollar must have gone down. This isn’t the case, but even more so, it doesn’t really make sense as a blanket concept. The value of the dollar is only relative to other currencies. The dollar is up compared to the Euro, for example. But more than this, one could have made similar claims about real estate in 2006. If gold has gone up more than 600% in the last decade, we know one thing: now is not the time to buy it.

But this is a perfect ad for the kind of people who buy gold. It cleverly feeds the conceits and exploits the ignorance of the Tea Party crowd. And you can hardly blame these people for falling for the line. Stacks of gold look so much more impressive in your bomb shelter than piles of cash.


I have some advice for those survivalists out there. If you’re serious, don’t stockpile gold; it will be worthless in the post-society dystopia. Stockpile drugs: opioids and antibiotics. Those will be worth a fortune.