The Debt Ceiling Explained
Congress created the debt ceiling crisis almost entirely on its own. Article I of the Constitution gives Congress what’s known as the “the power of the purse”: Congress alone can authorize spending, collect taxes, borrow money, or print money. The president can propose a budget, but it’s Congress that ultimately decides how much money the government spends.
So here’s the problem: Congress has told the president to spend more money than it has given him, but it hasn’t authorized him to borrow the extra money. Instead, Congress has set a limit on how much he can borrow—the debt ceiling—that is actually lower than the amount of money than he needs for the things it has already bought or told him to buy.
In 2011, the last time we approached a debt ceiling, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) accused President Obama of wanting “a blank check” to spend on government programs. But the truth is that President Obama is in a ridiculous legal bind. Under Article II of the Constitution, the president is legally required to spend money that he is forbidden to borrow. As many people have pointed out, Congress has essentially run up a large credit card bill that it refuses to pay.
Now Republicans in Congress want to extract concessions from the president in exchange for allowing him to borrow the money he needs to pay off the debts they helped create. If Republicans refuse to give the president more money, the country will have to default on financial obligations it already incurred. That would do huge damage to the country’s credit rating, drastically increase how much it costs the country to borrow money, and send financial markets into a panic. Republicans are effectively threatening to trigger financial crisis in order to push their particular budgetary agenda. Boehner himself has admitted that not raising the debt ceiling would mean “financial disaster, not only for us, but for the worldwide economy.”
As I wrote back in 2011, it’s not clear that Congress legally can impose a debt ceiling on the president. In essence Congress is requiring him to spend money and forbidding him to spend it at the same time. Some even argue that a clause in the 14th Amendment that says “the validity of the public debt... shall not be questioned”—a clause put in to prevent 19th-century Democrats from refusing to pay debts incurred during the Civil War—explicitly makes the debt ceiling unconstitutional.
President Obama has already ruled out taking advantage of a legal loophole to print more money. While only Congress has the constitutional authority to coin money, Congress has already authorized the president to mint commemorative platinum coins of any denomination. In theory, the president could mint a trillion dollar platinum coin and deposit it in the treasury. Since this strategy would clearly go against the intent of the commemorative coin law, it might not hold up in court. Printing money is also not a viable long-term strategy for paying a country’s bills because it devalues the currency although with interests historically low it might make sense right now. But, as Paul Krugman argued, minting a trillion dollar coin is not more ridiculous than requiring the president to obey two contradictory laws. And it would probably be better to be ridiculous and pay our bills than to be ridiculous and default on our debt.
The truth is that short-term solutions don't address the fundamental problem. Both parties bear responsibility for our growing national debt. Deficit spending makes sense in moderation and in the short term, but over the long term Congress has to spend more within its means. That means both cutting spending and raising taxes, even though neither is politically popular. The debt ceiling simply makes the consequences of fiscal irresponsibility worse, by creating an artificial crisis and forcing the president to seek a second authorization for money Congress has already spent. Congress needs to eliminate the debt ceiling and start to get the budget right the first time.
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Treasury Department image from AgnosticPreachersKid
What can 3D printing do for medicine? The "sky is the limit," says Northwell Health researcher Dr. Todd Goldstein.
- Medical professionals are currently using 3D printers to create prosthetics and patient-specific organ models that doctors can use to prepare for surgery.
- Eventually, scientists hope to print patient-specific organs that can be transplanted safely into the human body.
- Northwell Health, New York State's largest health care provider, is pioneering 3D printing in medicine in three key ways.
Can dirt help us fight off stress? Groundbreaking new research shows how.
- New research identifies a bacterium that helps block anxiety.
- Scientists say this can lead to drugs for first responders and soldiers, preventing PTSD and other mental issues.
- The finding builds on the hygiene hypothesis, first proposed in 1989.
Are modern societies trying too hard to be clean, at the detriment to public health? Scientists discovered that a microorganism living in dirt can actually be good for us, potentially helping the body to fight off stress. Harnessing its powers can lead to a "stress vaccine".
Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that the fatty 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid from the soil-residing bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae aids immune cells in blocking pathways that increase inflammation and the ability to combat stress.
The study's senior author and Integrative Physiology Professor Christopher Lowry described this fat as "one of the main ingredients" in the "special sauce" that causes the beneficial effects of the bacterium.
The finding goes hand in hand with the "hygiene hypothesis," initially proposed in 1989 by the British scientist David Strachan. He maintained that our generally sterile modern world prevents children from being exposed to certain microorganisms, resulting in compromised immune systems and greater incidences of asthma and allergies.
Contemporary research fine-tuned the hypothesis, finding that not interacting with so-called "old friends" or helpful microbes in the soil and the environment, rather than the ones that cause illnesses, is what's detrimental. In particular, our mental health could be at stake.
"The idea is that as humans have moved away from farms and an agricultural or hunter-gatherer existence into cities, we have lost contact with organisms that served to regulate our immune system and suppress inappropriate inflammation," explained Lowry. "That has put us at higher risk for inflammatory disease and stress-related psychiatric disorders."
University of Colorado Boulder
This is not the first study on the subject from Lowry, who published previous work showing the connection between being exposed to healthy bacteria and mental health. He found that being raised with animals and dust in a rural environment helps children develop more stress-proof immune systems. Such kids were also likely to be less at risk for mental illnesses than people living in the city without pets.
Lowry's other work also pointed out that the soil-based bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae acts like an antidepressant when injected into rodents. It alters their behavior and has lasting anti-inflammatory effects on the brain, according to the press release from the University of Colorado Boulder. Prolonged inflammation can lead to such stress-related disorders as PTSD.
The new study from Lowry and his team identified why that worked by pinpointing the specific fatty acid responsible. They showed that when the 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid gets into cells, it works like a lock, attaching itself to the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR). This allows it to block a number of key pathways responsible for inflammation. Pre-treating the cells with the acid (or lipid) made them withstand inflammation better.
Lowry thinks this understanding can lead to creating a "stress vaccine" that can be given to people in high-stress jobs, like first responders or soldiers. The vaccine can prevent the psychological effects of stress.
What's more, this friendly bacterium is not the only potentially helpful organism we can find in soil.
"This is just one strain of one species of one type of bacterium that is found in the soil but there are millions of other strains in soils," said Lowry. "We are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of identifying the mechanisms through which they have evolved to keep us healthy. It should inspire awe in all of us."
Check out the study published in the journal Psychopharmacology.
We were gaining three IQ points per decade for many, many years. Now, that's going backward. Could this explain some of our choices lately?
There's a new study out of Norway that indicates our—well, technically, their—IQs are shrinking, to the tune of about seven IQ points per generation.
An ordained Lama in a Tibetan Buddhist lineage, Lama Rod grew up a queer, black male within the black Christian church in the American south. Navigating all of these intersecting, evolving identities has led him to a life's work based on compassion for self and others.
- "What I'm interested in is deep, systematic change. What I understand now is that real change doesn't happen until change on the inside begins to happen."
- "Masculinity is not inherently toxic. Patriarchy is toxic. We have to let that energy go so we can stop forcing other people to do emotional labor for us."
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