Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Revolution In Crime

Caleb Crain looks at the evolution of crime (via the Dish):
So why invent police? What are they for? In “The Institutional Revolution,” the economic historian Douglas W. Allen theorizes that their purpose was to preserve manufactured goods from theft. Before the nineteenth century, Allen writes, theft was easy to detect. If your transport was a horse, you could recognize it. (For that matter, it could recognize you.) Not only was your coat hand sewn, but a tailor looking at its fabric could probably tell who had woven it. If any of these items were stolen, they were easy to reclaim if they could be found. With the advent of the industrial revolution, handmade goods gave way to standardized commodities, which all look alike, and it ceased to be possible to know an object’s provenance just by looking at it. The phrase “possession is nine-tenths of the law” came into vogue, and it was made illegal to hold stolen goods. After all, once goods became untraceable, they were all too easy to fence.
Not only that, but the transportation revolution made it easier to get somewhere that people wouldn't recognize the hot items.  One reason why farm machinery doesn't often get stolen is that it is hard to transport them far enough away that they can be fenced, and dealers really only deal with people they know or know of.  You've got to have a pretty sophisticated network to move a machine a couple of states over, and you still have to get it sold.  The ability to move goods by rail had to make it somewhat easier to steal back in the day, although stealing off of trains probably became an issue too.

Entitled to Steal

Robert Reich:
For years Wall Street has speculated like mad in futures markets – food, oil, other commodities – causing prices to fluctuate wildly. The Street makes bundles from these gyrations, but they have raised costs for consumers.
In other words, a small portion of what you and I pay for food and energy has been going into the pockets of Wall Street. It’s just another hidden redistribution from the middle class and poor to the rich.
The new Dodd-Frank law authorizes the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to limit such speculative trading. The commission considered 15,000 comments, largely from the Street. It did numerous economic and policy analyses, carefully weighing the benefits to the public of the new regulation against its costs to the Street. It even agreed to delay enforcement of the new rule for at least a year.
But this wasn’t enough for the Street. The new regulation would still put a crimp in Wall Street’s profits.
So the Street is going to court. What’s its argument? The commission’s cost-benefit analysis wasn’t adequate.
Lots of commentators have been complaining about how the Occupy crowd is spoiled and feels entitled to have everything given to them.  I think they must have learned from Wall Street.  The bankers feel entitled to extract rents from the rest of society, regardless of whether their "work" adds any economic value or not (generally not).  Not only have they extracted rents, they've increased the percentage of the economy they have grifted out.  The political stupidity which Reich describes in the rest of the article is just the demonstration of that sense of entitlement.

Friday, December 9, 2011


A fairly long, but nice HD video from Arcelor Mittal's Georgetown, SC electric arc mill:

Steel Mill - HMC150 Footage. from O2HD on Vimeo.

The Euro Collapse And The Welfare State

Yglesias compares a Robert Samuelson quote blaming the Euro crisis on the welfare state with actual facts:
Ezra Klein tackles this theory by noting that more statist health care systems seem to be more economically supportable. But fortunately, the "welfare state" versus "currency crisis" interpretations of the crisis are helpfully distinguishable thanks to the fact that Sweden and Denmark aren't on the Euro and have the most expensive welfare states in the world. Ireland and Spain, by contrast, have relatively stingy welfare states. But the sovereign debt crisis exists where the Euro exists rather than where generous welfare states exist. Now it is true that if Europe totally implodes that will be a crisis for the welfare state, since the welfare state is at its largest extent in Europe, so a European crisis will imperil the model. But a crisis of the welfare state should strike Sweden most severely.
This is an interesting battle which will be played out here.  Republicans are completely vested in the argument that tax increases are impossible and social safety net cuts must be made.  I think they are using smoke and mirrors to make that case, and really it is their tax cuts which are unsustainable.  They lead to income inequality and the erosion of the middle-class, making more people eligible for safety net programs and the burden on the budget greater.  Somehow, they've convinced many struggling folks that government, and in no way business, is responsible for all of their problems.  They are making an extremely risky bet that people won't wise up.

What Happened At MF Global

Bruce Krasting takes a look at Jon Corzine's testimony in Congress (h/t Yves Smith).  He discusses what happened to a friend of his who had a few small accounts at MF Global, and tries to speculate about where the money went:
At this point, anything is worth considering. We are six weeks past the BK. As Corzine and all the others said today, they have no clue where the missing money is. There has been any army of forensic accountants (FBI & KPMG) toiling night and day. No one has found the money. That's crazy to me.

A possible daisy chain:

(1) MFG orders XYZ Bank to make a money transfer.

(2) XYZ makes the transfer.

(3) After the transfer has been made (or during the same day) XYZ issues a letter of indemnity (“LOI”) and obtains a refund of the transfer.

(4) The initial wire transfer is accounted for (correctly) at MFG as a reduction of the customer account liabilities (Segregated account).

(5) When the money comes back into XYZ (pursuant to the LOI) it is not credited back to the Seg./customer account. (The fog of war factor? Deliberate?)

(6) After the money has been returned to XYZ bank, it appears to be "unrestricted funds" of MFG. It gets commingled. Someone grabs the money to offset a claim. The Chinese Wall between the Seg. account and MFG corporate account has been broached. Once the money is commingled, it is impossible to figure out who owes what to whom.
In the disastrous final days at MF Global, I could see something like this happening accidentally, or intentionally.  I wouldn't doubt that some of the large creditors, who might have been handling wire transfers (JP Morgan anyone?) would intentionally make this sleight-of-hand assuming that nobody will be able to wind their way back through all the last-minute transactions and figure out what's going on.  If somebody does discover it, the bank says, huh, guess we made a mistake.  If they don't find it, it's the MF Global guys going to jail, not them.  They just jump ahead of the customers in the bankrupcy by stealing the funds.  It is a travesty that any business's books could be this bad.  The question I have is this, if MF Global were this poorly run on a basic business standpoint, but their Europe bets had paid off, wouldn't we be hearing about how smart these guys were, and how they earned all the money they made, because they were the ones willing to take the risk?  It is only because their bets went bad that anything comes of it.  Does anybody think that some people who have made winning bets have been risking customers money?  I would hope not, but I would guess that is a real possibility.

Do We Really Have Free Will?

Scientific American explores the subject (h/t Ritholtz):
Yet psychologists widely agree that unconscious processes exert a powerful influence over our choices. In one study, for example, participants solved word puzzles in which the words were either associated with rudeness or politeness. Those exposed to rudeness words were much more likely to interrupt the experimenter in a subsequent part of the task. When debriefed, none of the subjects showed any awareness that the word puzzles had affected their behavior. That scenario is just one of many in which our decisions are directed by forces lurking beneath our awareness.
Thus, ironically, because our subconscious is so powerful in other ways, we cannot truly trust it when considering our notion of free will. We still do not know conclusively that our choices are determined. Our intuition, however, provides no good reason to think that they are not. If our instinct cannot support the idea of free will, then we lose our main rationale for resisting the claim that free will is an illusion.
So what percentage of advertising is trying to consciously convince us of buying a product, and what percentage is subconscious manipulation?

The Election of 2000 Is Decided

December 9, 2000:
The Supreme Court of the United States stays the sixth Florida recount.
That picture speaks 1000 words.  Also, the Electoral College is crappy.

The damn thing didn't work in the fourth election ever held under the Constitution. Nice work, founders.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Making of a Goon- The Annotated Version

Michael MacCambridge looks back at a classic hockey story from 1990:
One of Howard's early story ideas was to write about an enforcer in the National Hockey League. Her first choice, the infamous Bob Probert, was in prison, serving time for a cocaine possession conviction. Her second choice was the Red Wings laconic enforcer Joe Kocur, who agreed to sit down with her and discuss his unusual path to stardom. It was the editor Fleder who suggested the title of the piece — "The Making of a Goon" — and it was the first story Howard filed for The National.
It's one heck of a story, and one that you'll only find in hockey.

The Bakken From Space

Abe Sauer at The Awl:
A recent viral video stitching together time-lapse footage from the International Space Station wowed viewers with a view of earth never seen before. But what everyone missed except one eagle-eyed writer at Midwest Energy News was that the video featured the glowing lights of one "enormous 'city' in the middle of nowhere." That "city," Ken Paulman discovered, was in fact the fires of natural gas being flared off from thousands of wells in the Bakken oil shale formation. Without a pipeline nearby, 35 percent of all natural gas produced from oil extraction is flared. In a region where average daily temperatures this time of year range from 3 to (a high of) 24 degrees (before wind chill), the sight of a frozen landscape blazing with "Dakota candles" is truly apocalyptic.

That is amazing.  I'm still somewhat dubious of the optimists in the shale plays, but no one can doubt that production has shot up thus far.  It sure seems wasteful to flare off all that gas, though.

Climate Change And The American Southwest

William DeBuys at TomDispatch, via nc links:
The simple rule of thumb for climate change is that wet places will get wetter and dry places drier. One reason the dry places will dry is that higher temperatures mean more evaporation. In other words, there will be ever less water in the rivers that keep the region’s cities (and much else) alive. Modeling already suggests that by mid-century surface stream-flow will decline by 10% to 30%.
Independent studies at the Scripps Oceanographic Institute in California and the University of Colorado evaluated the viability of Lake Mead and eventually arrived at similar conclusions: after about 2026, the risk of “failure” at Lake Mead, according to a member of the Colorado group, “just skyrockets.” Failure in this context would mean water levels lower than the dam’s lowest intake, no water heading downstream, and the lake becoming a “dead pool.”
If -- perhaps “when” is the more appropriate word -- that happens, California’s Colorado River Aqueduct, which supplies water to Los Angeles, San Diego, and the All-American Canal, which sustains the Imperial and Coachella Valleys, will go just as dry as the Central Arizona Project aqueduct. Meanwhile, if climate change is affecting the Colorado River’s watershed that harshly, it will undoubtedly also be hitting the Sierra Nevada mountain range.
The aptly named Lester Snow, a recent director of California’s Department of Water Resources, understood this. His future water planning assumed a 40% decline in runoff from the Sierras, which feeds the California Aqueduct. None of his contemplated scenarios were happy ones. The Colorado River Aqueduct and the California Aqueduct make the urban conglomerations of southern California possible. If both fail at once, the result will be, as promised, the greatest water crisis in the history of civilization.
If we get a repeat of last year's La Nina, that'll be good for Lake Mead, but very, very bad for Texas.  Anyway, long-term, things look pretty bad for the Sunbelt.  I'll take my winters, thank you very much.

More On Rare Earth Metals

Discover Magazine:
But the commercial versatility of the lanthanides extends far beyond the world of electronics. Cerium is a prime example. It was discovered in 1803 by Swedish chemist Jöns Jacob Berzelius, who named it after the asteroid Ceres, discovered two years earlier. (Ceres was then regarded as a new planet and so was much celebrated.) In 1885 the Viennese chemist Carl Auer von Welsbach found that a pinch of cerium oxide, together with thorium oxide, usefully increases the brightness of a gas lamp. Soon after, Auer discovered that a mixture of cerium and iron readily generates sparks. The alloy, which he modestly called Auermetall, is still used to ignite the flame in cigarette lighters.
Cerium’s applications kept multiplying. A fine powder of cerium oxide, known as optician’s rouge, is an excellent abrasive for polishing glass. Cerium compounds form nontoxic red pigments that are used in toys and household products. In medicine, cerium compounds were once administered for everything from tubercular coughing to seasickness; today those treatments are mostly regarded as quackery, but the element still earns its place in hospitals as an antiseptic wash for severe burns.
You may have cerium oxide in your kitchen if your oven is a self-cleaning model; it helps breaks down burned-on leftovers. You certainly have cerium oxide in your car, assuming it is less than 35 years old. The compound works to convert carbon monoxide emissions in automotive exhaust to less harmful carbon dioxide. As a fine powder mixed into diesel fuel, cerium oxide can also clean up the sooty fumes produced by trucks and buses. Industry consumes 55,000 tons of cerium every year. The element, pulled from a type of weathered granite called monazite, fetches about $60 a pound.
The article also mentions that scandium is used in aluminum softball and baseball bats, to prevent cracking.

Liars, Demogogues and Ignoramuses

Der Spiegel, via Mark Thoma:
They lie. They cheat. They exaggerate. They bluster. They say one idiotic, ignorant, outrageous thing after another. They've shown such stark lack of knowledge -- political, economic, geographic, historical -- that they make George W. Bush look like Einstein and even cause their fellow Republicans to cringe.
"When did the GOP lose touch with reality?" wonders Bush's former speechwriter David Frum in New York Magazine. In the New York Times, Kenneth Duberstein, Ronald Reagan's former chief-of-staff, called this campaign season a "reality show," while Wall Street Journal columnist and former Reagan confidante Peggy Noonan even spoke of a "freakshow."
That may be the most appropriate description.
Tough times demand tough and smart minds. But all these dopes have to offer are ramblings that insult the intelligence of all Americans -- no matter if they are Democrats, Republicans or neither of the above. Yet just like any freakshow, this one would be unthinkable without a stage (in this case, the media, strangling itself with all its misunderstood "political correctness" and "objectivity") and an audience (the party base, which this year seems to have suffered a political lobotomy).
Why does it take German media to point out the obvious?  Why won't the so-called liberal mainstream media just say, "You guys are ridiculous clowns?"

Supply Chain Risk

Menzie Chinn posted this chart:

Such reliance on others seems problematic to me.  But what do I know?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Chart of the Day

From FastCoDesign, via the Big Picture:

Fighting For MF Global Customers

CNN Money:
Koutoulas, chief executive of three-year-old commodities fund Typhon Capital Management, stumbled into the courtroom drama accidentally. His Chicago firm, which conducts the bulk of its business in the futures market, discovered shortly after MF Global's bankruptcy that $55 million of its $70 million under management had been dragged into the proceedings. This was a surprise, because, by law, customer funds are supposed to be kept completely segregated from a brokerage firm's own assets. That wasn't the case with MF Global. For Koutoulas and tens of thousands of other MF customers, it was a rude awakening.
"My goal is real simple: getting everybody's money back," he says. "And I think we have a very high likelihood of doing just that." In early November, Koutoulas, along with fellow Chicago futures trader, John Roe – son of Tennessee Republican congressman Dr. Phil Roe – founded the Commodity Customer Coalition, a grassroots group that seeks to represent the complex legal interests of MF Global's former clients. In the space of just a few weeks, the group has amassed more than 8,000 members, received tens of thousands of dollars of donations and singlehandedly proven that enough people, when banded together, can change the course of a multibillion-dollar bankruptcy.
The article also mentions that JP Morgan and Bank of America are receiving inside information as part of the creditors' committee, while also offering to buy MF Global customers claims for pennies on the dollar.  Meanwhile, JP Morgan is likely holding a portion of said customers' money.

The Cost of Sprawl

The Atlantic Cities:

This is just common sense.  As the article points out, one way to become more energy efficient is to live in more dense communities.  It is pretty obvious that market demands aren't rational, when Mcmansions and sprawl are what people make their largest and longest-term investment in.  If peak oil is near, these will be terrible investments, although the housing bubble has already proven that many of them were terrible investments.

The European Mess Is Contageous

MacroBusiness looks at activity in China (h/t nc links):
…While shipping rates were affected earlier this year by an expansion of the fleet that plies the Europe-China route, stable capacity since August shows the latest drop is a result of weak demand, Kapoor said in an interview today. U.S. deliveries are faring better than those to Europe, he said.
Earlier in the week Xinhua reported the results of a very gloomy survey among Chinese exporters:
A majority of Chinese exporters saw shipments to Europe decline in the past few months as the eurozone sovereign debt crisis weighed on external demand, according to newly released survey data.  About two thirds of nearly 600 companies surveyed from Nov. 4 to Nov. 7 said their exports to Europe had dropped in the last few months, with 35 percent reporting significant falls, said Global Sources, a trade information provider, in a statement.
It said 22 percent of the firms reported exports remained stable and 12 percent reported growth in shipments.  Nearly 40 percent of the companies surveyed expected further decreases in exports to Europe in 2012, while 29 percent anticipated more shipments, said the statement.
Whatever slowdown China is seeing, Germany is also seeing.  I think this is the pickle Merkel is in in Germany.  The economy still feels fine to ordinary Germans, even though data shows things are slowing down.  As the Euromess comes to a head, the German economy will be in recession.  Any shock coming from Euro fallout will only make things worse.  If China sees its own slowdown, bad real estate loans there may be harder to paper over.  I'm afraid we'll see the same problems here. 

The 99% vs. The 1% And Obama vs. the GOP

First this:
What I found interesting is what Obama did not say. He made the case for higher taxes on the very wealthy not as an abstract redistributionist principle, but as an element of restoring the common good. Extreme inequality is deeply dangerous for a democracy. When that inequality also leads to buying influence in the Congress, then we are already in very deep.
I've heard many Suskind-style critiques of this president, primarily about his not seizing the moment in early 2009 to break up, nationalize or overhaul the temporarily weakened banking sector. All I can say is that I prefer a president who tackles the most pressing matter at hand first: the potential implosion of our entire financial system. If that meant holding the banks' hands for a while until things stabilized - and do these people remember what those days were like? - so what? Now is the time, having stabilized the situation, to tackle the deeper problems behind it.
I've been watching a lot of Fox lately to better understand the dynamics of the GOP race. Last night, propagandist Hannity - by far the most shameless of all of them - introduced a tape of Obama with a description of the speech as "class warfare". And then you heard the clips: about being one nation, built around middle class values, requiring everyone to sacrifice a little, but especially those who have gained so much in the last thirty years. The way Obama has framed this is especially helpful in deflecting the class warfare charge. And, in my view, campaigns that focus on the future rather than the past have an edge.
Then this (h/t Ritholtz):
Luntz is a conservative pollster so he’s making it all about politics. But he’s missing the point, and misleading his clients. Luntz is author of some great books like “Words That Matter” and “What Americans Really Want…Really.” And in my opinion, he’s one of the America’s best behavioral economists.
But his pitch at last week’s Republican Governors Association meeting in Florida suggests he not only doesn’t understand the 99%, he’s misleading 29 state governors with Words That Will Backfire when the occupiers in the encampments see through Luntz’s attempted manipulations.
Fortunately, Yahoo News columnist Chris Moody attended this week’s governors meeting and kept some fabulous notes: During Luntz’s talk last week, one question kept coming up: “How can Republicans do a better job of talking about OWS movement?” Luntz solution: 10 new slogans that may do more harm than help for his clients.
What’s the big problem? Luntz is blunt: “I’m so scared of this anti-Wall Street effort. I’m frightened to death.” Why the fear? Because Luntz is convinced the OWS movement is “having an impact on what the American people think of capitalism.”
Folks, the real problem from the occupiers’ perspective is the inequality gap between the Super Rich and the 99%. It’s economics. It’s behavior. It’s the unfairness of our democracy when the incomes of the 1% increased 265% in the past generation while the incomes of the 99% stagnated.
So inventing 10 new “Words That Matter” is dangerous for these governors, because the occupiers are smart enough to pick up not only the insincerity of the rhetoric, but a growing awareness of the widening inequality gap.
It’s time to tell Luntz to forget politicians, redeliver his message to their Super Rich donors. They should be “very scared,” not the politicians. Why? Because they have a lot to lose. And not just new taxes.
As I predicted a few months ago in “Tax the “Super Rich or Riots Will Rage in 2012” just before OWS launched, the Super Rich better expect a renewed Arab Spring-style revolution here in America in 2012, if they simply ignore the demands of the movement. Read “Tax the Super Rich or riots will rage in 2012.”
It is necessary to go read the 10 "words that matter."  Not surprisingly, one phrase is "job creators."  I hate to mention it to Luntz, but there just aren't very many of those out there.  Hard to talk them up when they are no-shows.  Considering the state of the economy, Republicans should be able, with a minimally competent message, to roll to victory in 2012.  Personally, I think they are saying all the wrong things.  Sure, talk radio listeners think everything is Obama's fault, but when the elctorate hears actual Republicans, they don't like what they have to say.  It's basic math here.  The vast majority of people haven't gotten much of a raise in a long time.  Meanwhile, the wealthiest folks have gotten tons more in income.  Have them pay more in taxes to help balance the budget.  Going against that will not be good for Republicans.  Obama has positioned himself as well as he can, and Republicans keep helping him out.

Update: Yves Smith says only suckers believe Obama this time around.  I won't challenge her point, but when the the options are somebody who says they want to raise taxes on the wealthy to cut spending less and somebody who wants to cut taxes on the wealthy and cut spending even more, who are you going to vote for?

Failing Infrastructure-River Transport Edition

All Things Considered:
FARMER: A tow boat loaded down with coal approaches a lock on Tennessee's winding Cumberland River. Deckhands in yellow rain suits radio instructions to the captain.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Need to come up on the port about six inches.
FARMER: This is the pinch point where barge companies depend on government. Lochs function like elevators on the water - that is unless they're broken, then they're just barriers. On the way up, the chamber fills with water to raise the boat to the lake level behind the dam.
Ingram's David Edgin points to water spewing through seals in a 50-year-old gate.
DAVID EDGIN: It didn't use to do that.
FARMER: Really?
EDGIN: Really, seriously. To me it's a sign of the times.
FARMER: Elsewhere, catastrophe has been narrowly avoided. On the Ohio River, a 250-ton gate snapped off its hinges. In October, a concrete loch wall collapsed.
JEFF ROSS: It used to be preventive maintenance. We would fund things in advance of breaking.
FARMER: Jeff Ross, with the Army Corps of Engineers, says its $180 million annual repair budget is only enough to fix parts as they break. Ross says soon there won't be money to do that.
 $180 million a year?  That works out to $2.40 for a family of four per year.  That won't even cover one Happy Meal, will it?  If barge traffic saves 3 cents a bushel in trucking costs (and that's probably way under), that's $30 per truckload.  We sent over 50 truckloads of corn off of our farms.  That's $1500 more spent moving our grain.  That doesn't even touch coal and other commodities.  We're killing ourselves.

A Date Which Will Live In Infamy

December 7, 1941.  It is hard to believe that occurred 70 years ago.  We're quickly getting to the point where very few people will be alive who remember when it happened.

Photo from U.S. Navy
The attack on Pearl Harbor (called Hawaii Operation or Operation AI by the Japanese Imperial General Headquarters (Operation Z in planning) and the Battle of Pearl Harbor) was a surprise military strike conducted by the Imperial Japanese Navy against the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on the morning of December 7, 1941 (December 8 in Japan). The attack was intended as a preventive action in order to keep the U.S. Pacific Fleet from interfering with military actions the Empire of Japan was planning in Southeast Asia against overseas territories of the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and the United States.
The base was attacked by 353 Japanese fighters, bombers and torpedo planes in two waves, launched from six aircraft carriers. All eight U.S. Navy battleships were damaged, with four being sunk. All but two of the eight were raised, repaired and returned to service later in the war. The Japanese also sank or damaged three cruisers, three destroyers, an anti-aircraft training ship, and one minelayer. One hundred eighty-eight U.S. aircraft were destroyed; 2,402 Americans were killed and 1,282 wounded. The power station, shipyard, maintenance, and fuel and torpedo storage facilities, as well as the submarine piers and headquarters building (also home of the intelligence section) were not attacked. Japanese losses were light: 29 aircraft and five midget submarines lost, and 65 servicemen killed or wounded. One Japanese sailor was captured.

President Roosevelt's speech from December 8, 1941:

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

More On Domestic Drones

All Things Considered:
While law enforcement is a big market for makers of unmanned aircraft systems — known as UAS's — there are many other potential civilian users.
Gretchen West is with the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, an industry trade group.
"Utility companies — so oil and gas — [are] using a UAS to do surveillance over a pipeline," she says, as are electrical companies wanting to watch over their electrical wires. West says drones can be used for crop-dusting and tracking livestock. They've already been used for flood mapping in North Dakota, and they could also be used for weather research.
But all those unmanned aircraft have some people a little wary. Privacy advocate Harley Geiger of the Center for Democracy and Technology says drones are basically flying video cameras.
"Drones can easily be equipped with facial recognition cameras, infrared cameras or open Wi-Fi sniffers," Geiger says. "So when people think about drones they shouldn't just think that a telephoto lens is the only feature that can raise a privacy issue."
Nor, says Geiger, is it only law enforcement that could be watching: "The paparazzi, your homeowners' association, your neighbor, a journalist can all sic drones on you as well."
Sounds like a mess.  I bet the FBI will be is using these things to track, say, war protesters or the Occupy folks.

A Big Day In Irish History

The feast of St. Nicholas features prominently in modern Irish history.
December 6, 1921: The Anglo-Irish Treaty is signed in London by British and Irish representatives.

December 6, 1922: One year to the day after the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, the Irish Free State comes into existence.
The split over the Treaty eventually led to the Irish Civil War (1922–23). In 1922 its two main Irish signatories, President Griffith and Michael Collins, both died. Griffith died partially from exhaustion; Collins, at the signing of the Treaty, had said that in signing it, he may have signed his "actual death warrant"– and he was correct: he was assassinated by anti-Treaty republicans in Béal na mBláth in August 1922, barely a week after Griffith's death. Both men were replaced in their posts by W. T. Cosgrave. Two of the other members of the delegation, Robert Barton and Erskine Childers sided against the Treaty in the civil war. Childers, head of Anti-Treaty propaganda in the conflict, was executed by the Free State for possession of a pistol in November 1922.
The Treaty's provisions relating to the monarch, the governor-general, and the treaty's own superiority in law were all deleted from the Constitution of the Irish Free State in 1932, following the enactment of the Statute of Westminster by the British Parliament. By this Statute, the British Parliament voluntarily relinquished its ability to legislate on behalf of dominions without their consent. Thus, the Government of the Irish Free State was free to change any laws previously passed by the British Parliament on their behalf.
Nearly 10 years earlier, Michael Collins had argued that the Treaty would give "the freedom to achieve freedom". De Valera himself acknowledged the accuracy of this claim both in his actions in the 1930s but also in words he used to describe his opponents and their securing of independence during the 1920s. "They were magnificent", he told his son in 1932, just after he had entered government and read the files left by Cosgrave's Cumann na nGaedheal Executive Council.
Dev was conveniently in the United States during the treaty negotiations.  Collins did what he thought was right for Ireland, and he paid for it with his life.


Charlie Pierce looks at college basketball now and then.  Here he discusses how he ended up at Marquette:
There's little question that the game played no small role in where I went to college. I wanted journalism school and Marquette had one, but I also wanted a piece of what I'd seen on television in 1970, when Al McGuire told the NCAA to go climb a tree because he didn't want to take his team to Texas to play in a regional when he could take it to New York and win the NIT. (Marquette was the last team that had that choice. The NCAA, which never overreacts when actual sweaty panic is an option, closed the loophole after McGuire dove through it.) Once there, Dean (The Dream) Meminger and his colleagues, in their black-and-yellow bumblebee uniforms, which the NCAA later banned, locked up Pete Maravich so tightly that, it is rumored, Meminger's brother stood up behind the LSU bench, pointed at Maravich, and announced to the world, "This honky can't dance."
(The trip was enlivened further by Gary Brell, a forward of staggering eccentricity — even by the standards of Marquette basketball, which were considerable — who, when asked after the game what he thought of LSU coach Press Maravich's contention that Marquette's defense was "like watching grass grow," told the assembled media, "We mowed his bleeping lawn," and then, later, cut down the nets in Madison Square Garden with a switchblade.)
So J-school was fine, and the fact that Marquette was also a Jesuit school made it OK with my parents — my uncle Michael even had some classmates who taught there. The reach of The Society is a long one, which is why, as one of my European history professors once put it, "There are only three things you need to know about European history: The nobility is always corrupt, the middle class is never ready to take control, and the Jesuits are always being expelled" — but it was the basketball program that was the soul of the place. The best nights were the ones where it snowed. Not much, but big, fat flakes, swirling under the streetlights and in front of the bright neon, that seemed to soften the brutal cold and take the edge off the winds that blew up the avenue from the big lake.
I figured I ought to include that final paragraph after talking about the Jesuits getting expelled from Switzerland in a post last week.  The whole article is entertaining, and reminds me that I've been wanting to put up a college basketball post after watching Xavier (another Midwestern Jesuit school) come from 10 behind with about 5 minutes left twice in the last week.  I was trying to come up with some things I liked about the college game.  One is the strength of the mid-majors, like Xavier, Butler and Gonzaga, which can compete in basketball in a way that schools have a harder time doing in football.  Another would be the old traditions like the Big Five (Temple, Penn, LaSalle, St. Joe's and Villanova) playing round robin games in the Palestra (which SI featured here and here).  Finally, there are the IU warmups, which say to me, hey look, a barbershop quartet:

Here is TRSlyder describing the warmups:
Your eyes are drawn to the pants and for good reason. But let us not overlook the shirts- those are button downs, kids. Button downs with the classic IU logo on the front and Indiana written in cursive on the back. When the Hoosiers come out to the sound of tubas playing their fight song it's one of the best moments in American sports. Keep buttoning down while warming up, Hoosiers. You are welcome on my best uniforms list anytime.
Ok, that is all.  I just wanted an excuse to talk up the pants.

Update: Oh, another great thing, watching Big Ten basketball on TV on Sundays in February when it is too crappy to do anything outside.

Noodling For Old Milwaukee

Des Moines Register:
Actor Will Ferrell’s Davenport beer commercials aren’t getting national TV airplay, but they’re attracting hits online.
The first commercial, featuring Ferrell fishing in the Mississippi with the Davenport skyline in the background, has more than 114,000 hits on YouTube.
The Old Milwaukee commercials are being shown on local stations and cable channels in the Quad Cities, but not nationally, according to the Quad-Cities Times.
Ferrell came to Davenport in September to film the commercials, according to this story on WQAD’s website.
Check out the other commercials. Here Ferrell goes handfishing in the Mississippi:

More on Old Milwaukee as a Schlitz value brand here.

Blood For Booze

The Awl:
I actually don't have a problem with this. Hospitals get badly-needed blood, and donors get free alcohol, which gets them drunk more quickly because they have less blood in them. It's the very definition of win-win! Maybe I'm missing something: "A BOOZE company has been slammed after it was caught bribing students to give blood in return for free ALCOHOL. Cash-strapped teens flocked to a temporary blood bank in order to get their hands on free Turbo shandy — a potent mix of four per cent alcoholic lemonade and lager." Oh, right, the shandy part is what seems objectionable.
I seem to remember a bar in Cleveland getting in trouble for offering free beer to people who donated a pint of blood.  Apparently, it may be against the law in Ohio for a liquor establishment to give away beer for free.  Damn government regulations.

Update: Maybe they didn't get in trouble.  Here is coverage of the event originally, but I couldn't find a story about the Liquor Control Board raising a fuss.

Republican "Stimulus"

What are the worst ways to stimulate the economy? The ways Republicans suggest doing it.  Bruce Bartlett:

Keep in mind that these results are symmetrical. A policy with a high multiplier, such as government purchases, will reduce the gross domestic product by exactly the same amount if it involves spending cuts. A tax cut with a low multiplier will have an equally small negative economic effect if it is instead done as a tax increase.
This would suggest that one of the worst ways to cut spending, from a macroeconomic point of view, would be to do it the way Republicans proposed last week: by cutting government employment. Judging by the table above, cutting taxes for lower- and middle-income people and paying for it with higher taxes for higher-income people, as Democrats have proposed, is unambiguously stimulative.
In any case, the Republican position is politically weak. Polls consistently show that a large majority of Americans favor higher taxes on the rich. For example, the New York Times/CBS News polls in September and October found that about two-thirds of Americans would raise taxes on households earning $1 million or more to reduce the deficit; only 30 percent were opposed.
Growing numbers of millionaires and billionaires have gone on record as favoring higher taxes on the rich, because they can afford them and think they’re necessary to deal with our nation’s fiscal problem, which is largely due to historically low revenues.
Of course, I'm not sure if the Republicans are dumb or are trying to sabotage the economy.  Since the economy is struggling mightily, and the only folks with money to spare are extremely wealthy, I only see one way to decrease the deficit without dragging down the economy.  The Republican strategy will send the economy into cardiac arrest.  Maybe that is what they want.  But as Bartlett says, it isn't whether taxes increase on the wealthy, it is how they increase on the wealthy.

A Very Bad Idea

Reuters (via Ritholtz):
The impetus for this completely insane policy seems to have come from the ECB, which genuinely seems to believe that bailing in private-sector banks, in the Greece restructuring, was the “terrible mistake” which caused the current euro crisis. Talk about confusing cause and effect: it was Greece’s fiscal disaster which caused the restructuring and the necessary bail-in.
To understand just how stupid this is, all you need to do is go back and read Michael Lewis’s Ireland article. The fateful decision in Ireland was to take the insolvent banks and give them a blanket bailout, with the banks’ creditors all getting 100 cents on the euro. That only served to put a positively evil debt burden onto the Irish people, forcing a massive austerity program and causing untold billions of euros in foregone growth, while bailing out lenders who deserved no such thing.
Are we really going to repeat — on a much larger scale — the very same mistake that Ireland made? Does no one in Europe realize that this is the single worst thing they can do?
This seems like a major move to protect the European banks, which are most truly zombie banks.  These stacks of debt aren't going to get paid back in full, and the overlevered banks are really insolvent.  Leaving them waiting for debt payments that won't ever come will leave the world economy in slow motion.  Writedown the debt, nationalize the insolvent banks, then restructure and move on.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Is Huntsman Next?

It appears a sizable number of conservatives are running from the base's latest crush on Newt, and hoisting Huntsman on their shoulders.  Will the base pay attention?  Is Huntsman going to be the next crush after Newt?  I don't know, but they're running out of time.  Is Romney still the most likely nominee, or is he going to lose out to a Gingrich or Huntsman? 

I don't know.  Trying to figure out the Republican base makes my head hurt.  Newt is a jackass and is extremely likely to flame out very soon, and I think he is absolutely unelectable nationally.  Romney is starting to lose what little support he was maintaining, so he can't feel comfortable.  And Huntsman, while probably the most electable of the three in the general election, has working for Obama and a lack of climate change denialism as red flags for the base.  Watch Huntsman's numbers in the next couple of weeks.  If he can gain a little momentum, he may very well be the Anti-Romney when Newt flames out.  But Newt will flame out so spectacularly...

More Brackets And Higher Rates

Tax Policy Center looks at historical tax records and leans toward my policy preference, more brackets with higher marginal rates at the top (h/t the Dish):
If the debate over the original 2010 expiration is any guide, much will center on whether the top rate should increase from 35 percent to the pre-2001 level of 39.6 percent. While these rates will be characterized as being very high, in historical terms they’re actually quite low. Between 1954 and 1963, for example, there were 24 tax brackets (compared to 6 today), and 19 of them were higher than 35 percent. The top rate? A whopping 91 percent. Massive federal deficits and rising income inequality make it worth asking: just how important were those higher rates in raising revenue? To answer to that question, we compiled IRS data on the amount of tax generated at each statutory marginal tax rate, dating back to 1958.
This is what we found: Those high rates really did raise revenue. Although only a small fraction of tax returns were affected by very high rates, the taxes paid at those rates accounted for a substantial portion of individual income taxes paid. Between 1958 and 1986, an average of 14% of individual income tax revenues were generated at rates above 39.6 percent, and an average of 6% of revenues were generated at rates above 50 percent. At their peak in 1986, rates above 39.6 percent accounted for an impressive 23% of income tax revenue.
Why raise taxes a bunch on people making $250,000 to 500,000 a year when you can tax income beyond $1,000,000 per year at 45 or 50%?  Or even better, tax income over $3,000,000 (or $5,000,000) at 60%.  But first, start taxing dividends at ordinary income tax levels. 

Crop Insurance In The Crosshairs

The Atlantic:
"In a way, it's backwards how historically we've tried to run safety net programs," said Johnson. "As a general rule, one would think when commodity prices are high -- particularly when yields are strong -- the need for the farmers should fall. The way crop insurance is currently structured, that is not what happens. Because of all these revenue products, taxpayer costs go up when the market goes up. It's a difficult issue to sell to the public. It is a difficult issue to resolve."
As prices in the market rise, so do premiums to insure the increasingly expensive crops. Without caps to the program, taxpayer contributions can go up as far as prices will take them.
"Under today's policy, you can farm a county, you can farm two counties and we will still pay 100 percent of that subsidy amount. It's insane policy," said Ferd Hoefner, policy director for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.
In 2000, the government paid $1.35 billion to subsidize premiums. That figure rose to more than $7 billion in 2011 -- a result of more acreage covered and higher market prices.
Placing a cap on premium subsidies can be difficult, said Collins, who chaired the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation for seven years and who now works for the trade association National Crop Insurance Services. "You are trying to insure stability of businesses. Saying only a certain portion of the value of your business can be insured wouldn't make much sense to me."
Things are going to get interesting.  With the record commodity prices, the new Farm Bill is going to be really interesting.  How will the politicians balance deficit cutting with electoral politics.  I wouldn't bet against the ag interests in that one.

A Man-glider

Via naked capitalism:

SENSE OF FLYING from Goovinn on Vimeo.

Economic Growth Versus Stock Market Returns

From the Wall Street Journal, emerging country stock markets haven't fared well this year:

Happy Repeal Day

From Wikipedia:
The Twenty-first Amendment (Amendment XXI) to the United States Constitution repealed the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which had mandated nationwide Prohibition. It was ratified on December 5, 1933. 
Amendment XXI

Section 2. The transportation or importation into any State, Territory, or possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited.
Section 3. This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by conventions in the several States, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission here of to the States by the Congress.

The Congress proposed the Twenty-first Amendment on February 20, 1933.
The proposed amendment was adopted on December 5, 1933. It is the only amendment to have been ratified by state ratifying conventions, specially selected for the purpose. All other amendments have been ratified by state legislatures. It is also the only amendment that was passed for the explicit purpose of repealing an amendment to the Constitution. The Twenty-first Amendment ending national prohibition became officially effective on December 15, though people started drinking openly before that date.
The amendment was ratified by Ohio, Pennsylvania and Utah on December 5.  Utah, being the 36th state to ratify the amendment, made it official. 

I'm not a fan of hard liquor, but I'll have a taste to celebrate.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

An Interesting Day In History

A variety of interesting things have taken place on December 4:

1674- Father Jacques Marquette founds a mission on the shores of Lake Michigan to minister to the Illiniwek (the mission would later grow into the city of Chicago, Illinois).

He probably didn't play "Sweet Home, Chicago".

1783-At Fraunces Tavern in New York City, US General George Washington formally bids his officers farewell.
After British troops evacuated New York, the tavern hosted an elaborate "turtle feast" dinner on December 4, 1783 in the building's Long Room for U.S. Gen. George Washington where he bade farewell to his officers of the Continental Army by saying "[w]ith a heart full of love and gratitude, I now take leave of you. I most devoutly wish that your latter days may be as prosperous and happy as your former ones have been glorious and honorable."
1867-Former Minnesota farmer Oliver Hudson Kelley founds the Order of the Patrons of Husbandry (better known today as the Grange). 

The Granger movement was a major factor in the Populist movement in the nation's rural areas in the late nineteenth century.

1909- 1st Grey Cup game is played. The University of Toronto Varsity Blues defeat the Toronto Parkdale Canoe Club 26–6.

and the Montreal Canadiens ice hockey club, the oldest professional hockey franchise in the world, is founded as a charter member of the National Hockey Association.

That makes December 4, 1909 a pretty large day in the history of Canadian sports.

1969- Black Panther Party members Fred Hampton and Mark Clark are shot and killed in their sleep during a raid by 14 Chicago police officers.

A black day for law enforcement.

The Greatest Passing Day Ever

In a season in which three quarterbacks are on a pace to put up 5,000 passing yards, it is worth noting that the NFL record for most passing yards in a game is over 60 years old:
One of the greatest opening day performances came in 1951 when Hall of Fame quarterback Norm Van Brocklin of the Los Angeles Rams threw for a record 554 yards. The mark still stands as the greatest single passing effort in National Football League history.
Van Brocklin received the start that day when veteran Bob Waterfield, also a member of the Hall, was injured. The two quarterbacks were entrenched in a fierce battle for the starting role.

The "Dutchman," as Van Brocklin was nicknamed, made the most of his opportunity. He completed 27 of 41 passes and tossed five touchdowns - four of which went to fellow Hall of Famer Elroy "Crazylegs" Hirsch - en route to a easy 54-14 win over the New York Yanks.
How exceptional was that game?  He exceeded the previous record by 86 yards (Johnnie Lujack), or 18%   After that, only one quarterback threw for more than 500 passing yards prior to 1982 (Y.A. Tittle, 505 yards), only 11 total have ever passed for 500 yards in a game and only one has come within 30 yards of the record (Warren Moon, 527).  Finally, for the 12 game season, Van Brocklin completed 100 of 194 passes for 1725 yards and 13 TDs while splitting time with Waterfield.  The team threw for 3296 yards total.

NASA Photo of the Day

From November 29:

Across the Center of Centaurus A
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA) - ESA/Hubble Collaboration; Acknowledgement: R. O'Connell (U. Virginia)
Explanation: A fantastic jumble of young blue star clusters, gigantic glowing gas clouds, and imposing dark dust lanes surrounds the central region of the active galaxy Centaurus A. This image from the Hubble Space Telescope has been processed to present a natural color picture of this cosmic maelstrom. Infrared images from the Hubble have also shown that hidden at the center of this activity are what seem to be disks of matter spiraling into a black hole with a billion times the mass of the Sun. Centaurus A itself is apparently the result of a collision of two galaxies and the left over debris is steadily being consumed by the black hole. Astronomers believe that such black hole central engines generate the radio, X-ray, and gamma-ray energy radiated by Centaurus A and other active galaxies. But for an active galaxy Centaurus A is close, a mere 10 million light-years away, and is a relatively convenient laboratory for exploring these powerful sources of energy.

Cotto Punishes Margarito

The fight went much the way that Eric Raskin anticipated and feared:
Fueled by an exuberant crowd, Miguel Cotto targeted the eye. Cotto unloaded so many punishing uppercuts and head shots to Antonio Margarito, the Mexican star's right eye was sealed shut. A crowd of 21,239 at Madison Square Garden gasped -- then roared for Cotto to continue -- as the squeamish scene flashed on the big screen.
Cotto finished the job in front of his fellow flag-waving Puerto Ricans and retained his title, battering Margarito over nine lopsided rounds before winning a TKO decision amid confusion in the corner before they came out for the 10th on Saturday night.
Three years after he took a knee in defeat, Cotto fought his heart out in the rematch.
Cotto (37-2-0) earned a punishing measure of payback for his loss to Margarito three years ago. With the New York crowd going wild for Cotto, the Puerto Rican champ was never seriously threatened and retained his 154-pound title, shuttering Margarito's right eye to cause the stoppage.
Cotto stared down Margarito in his corner after the bout was stopped.
"Just to look at him and taste my victory on him," Cotto said. "He means nothing to me. I'm here with all my crowd and all my people. He means nothing to me."
Margarito beat Cotto in July 2008, only to later have his career and reputation tarnished when he used illegal hand wraps before a loss to Shane Mosley. Margarito didn't box again for more than a year.
He needed surgery to repair a fractured orbital bone following a loss to Manny Pacquiao last year and considered retirement. The New York State Athletic Commission didn't license Margarito until Nov. 22 after ordering another examination of his eye.
Raskin is right, the beauty of boxing is inextricably link with its ugliness.  The idea of justice being served doesn't really temper the bloodlust on display last night.

Finding Oregon

I'm definitely a sucker for time-lapse landscape/skyscape videos. Here's a video posted at The Atlantic:

Division III Roundup

#1 UW-Whitewater beat #10 Salisbury, 34-14
#2 Mount Union moved past #9 Wabash, 20-8
#3 St. Thomas defeated unranked St. John Fisher, 45-10
and #10 Wesley got by #4 Mary Hardin-Baylor, 27-24.

Next week, UW-Whitewater will meet St. Thomas and Mount Union will face Wesley.

Are The Germans Looking For Partial Bond Defaults?

Over at naked capitalism, David Apgar makes the case that the Germans are holding out for partial default of some of the periphery debt:
What if there are good reasons for the preternatural calm of German Chancellor Merkel’s inner circle as the English-language media (based, after all, in the investor capitals of London and New York) light their collective hair on fire about the euro’s imminent immolation? Surprisingly, you can make a decent argument that the euro zone is at no risk of breakup – unless someone secretly switches its purpose from facilitating European trade to providing investors an implicit guarantee against losses.
The working assumption is that German calm reflects a pious belief in the power of crises to sober up borrowing governments and motivate a little austerity. It was on display Tuesday night at the French Embassy when luminaries as diverse as former ambassador Jean-David Levitte, former UNDP head Kemal Derviş, and former Treasury secretary Larry Summers all quickly agreed on it.
Suppose, however, the feasibility of Mediterranean austerity – austerity at a scale big enough to impress the bond markets – is not what Merkel’s team is counting on. Suppose instead the Germans are really counting on the feasibility of a series of orderly partial defaults.
I would guess that this is probably the best interpretation of the situation, but probably the least likely.  Since the highly overleveraged European bank system holds most of the bonds, I doubt that they are pushing to write down a bunch of debt on their books.  I really think the Germans are holding out for actual austerity, because that is the popular course of action amongst conservatives.  Partial defaults encourage moral hazard, and we can't give any ground to the profligate.  That is the position they support, and that is likely what we'll see.  In the process, the supposedly righteous will suffer along with those wastrels.  Hopefully Apgar is right, and there's more to the German position than meets the eye.  I personally doubt it.

A Familiar Story

Rod Dreher:
I think he’s right, and I can completely understand the terrible choice Germans are faced with, and why they recoil from making it. It destroys the moral structure of capitalism. Let the Greeks and the Italians live by tax evasion, bribes, and destructive cynicism toward their institutions and the responsibilities of citizenship, and it doesn’t matter: the Germans can be counted on to bail them out. If I were a German and my government decided to do this, I would be filled with so much contempt and despair it would be disorienting. And yet, if my government failed to do that, I would be staring into the face of a Great Depression.
I wonder what would be worse: a Depression that serves as nemesis for the hubris of the Eurozone tower of Babel, or saving the Eurozone by throwing overboard the “precious social construct” of moral hazard and an economic system that rewards virtue and punishes vice.
I know some of you readers know a lot more about economics than I do — Pyrrho! — and no doubt disagree with me on this. Please help me understand why it’s wrong to apply a moral framework to this situation, why I’m worried about the wrong thing.
Well Rod, I probably don't know a lot more about economics than you do, but you are probably familiar with a story I've heard before:
25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’    28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
   31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
That story throws "overboard the 'precious social construct' of moral hazard and an economic system that rewards virtue and punishes vice."  And yet some well-known individual tells the story anyway.  Sure, the younger son has realized the error of his ways and returned home to beg forgiveness and ask to be hired as a servant.  But the position of Rod is that he's worked hard and played by the rules, and thinks the people who didn't do both should face their punishment.  Here's the wikipedia summary of the parable of the Prodigal Son:
This is the last of three parables about loss and redemption, following the parable of the Lost Sheep and the parable of the Lost Coin, that Jesus tells after the Pharisees and religious leaders accuse him of welcoming and eating with "sinners." The father's joy described in the parable reflects divine love, the "boundless mercy of God," and "God's refusal to limit the measure of his grace."
The request of the younger son for his share of the inheritance is "brash, even insolent" and "tantamount to wishing that the father were dead." His actions do not lead to success, and he eventually becomes an indentured servant, with the degrading job (for a Jew) of looking after pigs, and even envying them for the carob pods they eat. On his return, the father treats him with a generosity far more than he has a right to expect.
The older son, in contrast, seems to think in terms of "law, merit, and reward," rather than "love and graciousness." He may represent the Pharisees who were criticizing Jesus.
My understanding is that Rod is devout Christian, who wants to live his life in the image of Jesus.  Being compared to the Pharisees would probably make him uncomfortable.  If one is going to look at the morality of an economic situation, he or she probably ought to consider who's morality they are looking at it through.  But I can't get away from the belief that today's conservative Christians most often play the role of the Pharisees in a modern-day version of the Gospels.  Now how does that apply to a secular world?  I don't know, but I'm not one of the people claiming that the United States is a Christian nation, so I'm not going to worry my pretty little head about it.