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Inflation Expectations and the Fed

| Mon Dec. 17, 2012 1:31 PM EST

The Cleveland Fed has released its latest estimates of expected inflation, and Matt Yglesias thinks it's good news for the Fed:

I'd say it looks like mission accomplished for the FOMC. Relative to last month, short-term expectations are meaningfully higher indicating a coordination of expectations along a higher demand equilibrium. But long-term expectations remain "anchored" exactly where they were.

As you can see in the modified version of the chart on the right, 1-year inflation expectations have gone up from 1.6 percent to 2.1 percent, while 10-year inflation expectations have remained anchored at 1.5 percent.

But I'm not sure what this tells us. The data is for the first day of the month, so the jump in the chart is from November 1 to December 1. That's obviously not the result of Wednesday's Fed announcement. Likewise, September's Fed announcement should show up as a change in expectations between September 1 and October 1, but inflation expectations declined between those two dates. I'd like to hear more about this from the folks who follow this closely, but to me it looks more like random month-to-month noise than anything else.

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South Carolina's New GOP Senator Less Crazy Than the Old One

| Mon Dec. 17, 2012 12:44 PM EST
Rep. Tim Scott (R-S.C.)

On Monday, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley announced she will appoint Rep. Tim Scott (R) to fill the seat soon-to-be vacated by Sen. Jim DeMint, who is leaving the world's most deliberative body to take over the Heritage Foundation. The good folks at Right Wing Watch say this is just more of the same, blasting out a press release claiming Scott is "DeMint's Double." As Right Wing Watch notes, Scott opposes gay marriage. Scott opposes Obamacare. Scott's campaign website features its very own "Prayer Team," led by "Prayer Team Warriors."

No, really, the Prayer Team was a thing. Here's their most recent set of instructions:

  • Please pray for discernment to the Holy Spirit and for heavenly wisdom.
  • Please pray that the Lord would protect Tim, his family and staff members – for good health and safe travels.
  • Please pray for our nation and all our leaders and citizens -that we would heed the call of 2 Chronicles 7:14 and humble ourselves and pray and seek God’s face and turn from our wicked ways.
  • Praise God in all things and thank Him for all He is doing.

Tim Scott is a pretty conservative guy, as you'd expect from a Republican congressman from South Carolina, and he will be a pretty conservative senator. But it takes a special kind of crazy to truly replace DeMint, and Scott has given little indication that he's got it. Scott has issued no warnings about the evils posed by single women and gay men teaching in public schools. He's made no attempts to ban people on the Internet from talking about abortion. He hasn't tried to put a hold on the National Women's History Museum. And for Democrats, that's what makes Scott so dangerous. He's beloved by his colleagues but has an inoffensive demeanor; Jim DeMint is the guy who literally eats lunch by himself.

Meanwhile, I'll just note that Jamelle Bouie saw Scott's promotion coming back in March.

Bill Murray Is Far and Away the Best Franklin D. Roosevelt in Movie History

| Mon Dec. 17, 2012 11:58 AM EST

When I spoke with director Roger Michell (Changing Lanes, Venus) about casting Bill Murray to play Franklin D. Roosevelt in his new film Hyde Park on Hudson, Michell was emphatic in defending his pick to portray the 32nd president of the United States.

"I've read that some consider it 'stunt casting,' but in fact the reverse is the case," Michell said. "I ended up realizing that I wasn't interested in making the film without Bill Murray. There are other actors who you'd think would be great in the role, but nobody seemed to have that Wizard of Oz-ness about them, that kind of glorious mischief that Bill has."

The reason Michell's decision might strike some as "stunt casting" is because Bill Murray has (despite his more serious roles) an on- and off-screen persona that many would say is too awesome to seem presidential. I mean, have you seen Stripes? His stint on SNL? How about this photo of him co-hosting Eric Clapton's blues-rock festival in 2007?:

bill murray eric clapton
Truejustice/Wikimedia Commons

Or this scene in which he attacks Robert De Niro:

bill muray robert de niro mad dog and glory
Via Universal Studios

Or this photo of Murray at this year's Cannes Film Festival, clearly shunning any sense of stuffy decorum:

bill murray cannes film festival
Via Getty

See? Bill Murray is probably too awesome and entirely too party to play Franklin Roosevelt. And yet Murray knocks it completely out of the park.

What Are Congress' Options on Gun Control?

| Mon Dec. 17, 2012 11:20 AM EST

Wayne LaPierre, the head of the NRA, said last year that Barack Obama's apparent indifference to gun control was just a ruse:

Obama himself is no fool. So when he got elected, they concocted a scheme to stay away from the gun issue, lull gun owners to sleep, and play us for fools in 2012. Well, gun owners are not fools and we are not fooled.

Sotomayor, Kagan, Fast & Furious, the United Nations, executive orders. Those are the facts we face today…President Obama and his cohorts, yeah, they're going to deny their conspiracy to fool gun owners. Some in the liberal media, they are already probably blogging about it. But we don't care because the lying, conniving Obama crowd can kiss our Constitution!

I guess LaPierre was right. Obama has apparently been waiting his entire term for a series of horrific massacres that would give him an excuse to make a speech suggesting vaguely that he might be willing to do something. Maybe.

But what? Quite aside from the political resistance of the NRA, the Supreme Court's Heller decision in 2008 ruled that the Second Amendment did indeed protect a personal right to bear arms. This puts a significant limit on what Congress could do even if it wanted to. So here's roughly where we stand:

  • Automatic weapons, the kind you see on TV spraying a hail of bullets as the bad guy sweeps a crowd, have been tightly regulated since the '30s.
  • Semi-automatic weapons, which require you to squeeze the trigger for each shot, can't be banned. Virtually every handgun on the market is semi-automatic, and the Supreme Court wouldn't allow a broad class of guns like this to be banned or even strongly regulated.
  • "Assault weapons" are a tricky category to define, but they've been banned in the past and could probably be banned again. (Though a new ban would almost certainly be litigated in light of Heller.)

So what's left? Possibly a limit on magazine size, which could probably pass constitutional muster. What else? I'm curious to know what my readers think of this. Given the political and constitutional limitations, as well as considerations of what kinds of policies might actually be effective, what would you like to see Congress do?

NRA Darling Sen. Joe Manchin: "Everything Has to Be on the Table" in Gun-Control Debate

| Mon Dec. 17, 2012 10:29 AM EST
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), a gun rights stalwart with an "A" rating from the National Rifle Association, joined the growing chorus of lawmakers and advocates in calling for new gun regulations. On MSNBC's "Morning Joe" Monday, Manchin said "it's time to move beyond rhetoric. We need to sit down and have a common-sense discussion and move in a reasonable way."

He went on to say, "Everything has to be on the table."

Manchin's unexpected statements came a day after President Obama addressed the nation from Newtown, Conn., the site of a gruesome mass killing at an elementary school. The shooter, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, killed 27 people, including 20 children who went to Sandy Hook Elementary. Lanza also killed himself. Obama said during a nationally televised address that "in the coming weeks I'll use whatever power this office holds" in a move "aimed at preventing more tragedies like this."

The list of elected officials calling for a renewed gun control debate, if not new regulations, grows longer by the day in the wake of the Newtown killings. On Friday, New York Michael Bloomberg, the co-chair of Mayor's Against Illegal Guns, said that new legislation is needed to prevent more mass killings like those in Newtown, and Aurora, Colo., and on the campus of Virginia Tech. "Calling for 'meaningful action' is not enough," Bloomberg said in a statement. "We need immediate action." Joining Bloomberg is calling for new gun laws is Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and a slew of Democratic lawmakers in Congress. "If now is not the time to have a serious discussion about gun control and the epidemic of gun violence plaguing our society, I don’t know when is," Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said in a statement.

The NRA has yet to comment on the Newtown killings.

A Live Demonstration of John Cale's Demonic Heart

| Mon Dec. 17, 2012 6:13 AM EST
Vooruit, Ghent, Belgium, 1983

John Cale is a jack-of-all-trades, a polymorphic beast who has always played to his own proverbial drum. I am a Cale fan but up until last Sunday, I hadn't heard his 2012 album Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood, nor (full disclosure) anything he'd put out in the past eight or so years. So when I walked into the big half-empty Regency Ballroom in San Francisco five minutes before his set, I had no idea what to expect. While quite sparse, the audience was what you might expect at a Cale show: every subculture represented, from the pink-haired hippie swaying in the front row to the crusty punk slouched in the back. As Cale took the stage and I moved closer to Mrs. Pink Hair, I felt my brain being pulled in a million sonic directions at once.

On tour behind his first full-length since 2005's blackAcetate, Cale launched with classic rock instrumentation (bass, drums, guitar, and keys) before proceeding through a set that touched on every influence imaginable. Shifty..., as Wire magazine noted recently, is a reminder that Cale is a "volatile rock demon at heart." After witnessing his show I would describe that heart as a dark cave wherein the volatile demon is stuck in ventricles built of mashed together bits of myriad musical genres. Cale guided the audience through '80s-style electronic stuff reminiscent of the Talking Heads, pop-punk head nodders, classical experiments, atonal cluster chords, dissonance, and droning (that was "Scotland Yard," a track off the new album).

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Does Your Child's School Teach "Violent Intruder Defense Strategies"?

| Mon Dec. 17, 2012 4:58 AM EST
Since Columbine, schools are increasingly preparing for the worst, practicing hostile intruder drills.

If it feels like mass shootings in this country have been occuring more often lately, you're not wrong. John Kane has seen the upward trend first hand. A retired Sacramento police lieutenant, Army veteran, and FEMA instructor who wrote a manual on terrorism response used by police departments nationwide, Kane now runs a consulting business teaching disaster preparedness to law enforcement, businesses, colleges, and schools across America. One of his popular courses is teaching "violent intruder defense strategies" at K-12 schools, preparing teachers and staff on what to do if a gunman enters their school. In his career, Kane investigated hundreds of shootings and was nominated for an award for valor from the national Top Cops Award after he and a team of officers became engaged in a gun battle with a wanted murderer in Sacramento. He spoke to Mother Jones about the rising demand for his training, his thoughts on the psychology behind targeting small children, and how Columbine changed everything.

Did the Fed's Announcement on Wednesday Work?

| Sun Dec. 16, 2012 9:48 PM EST

On Wednesday, the Fed unexpectedly announced that it would maintain low interest rates at least until unemployment had dropped below 6.5 percent, and that it would tolerate inflation of up to 2.5 percent in order to get there. This was more aggressive forward guidance than it had ever given before, and if the Fed's guidance is effective, it should have had an effect on medium-term interest rates. So did it?

The chart on the right shows the yield of 10-year treasury bonds on Wednesday. In the morning, before the Fed announcement, they were trading around 1.65-1.66. After the Fed announcement they were trading around 1.69. That's an increase of about two percent.

I'd like to hear from the market monetarists about this. Does a change of this magnitude mean the Fed's guidance was effective? Or ineffective? My recollection—which might be wrong!—is that forward guidance isn't supposed to affect interest rates gradually. It's supposed to have an immediate impact, so it should be soon enough to comment on this. Anyone?

"Movie & An Argument" Podcast: "The Hobbit," Bill Murray, and the Golden Globes

| Sat Dec. 15, 2012 9:35 PM EST

On this week's episode of A Movie & An Argument, With Alyssa Rosenberg & Asawin Suebsaeng, we discuss (scroll down for audio):

Listen:

Each week, I'll be sitting down to chat with ThinkProgress critic Alyssa Rosenberg (who also does killer work at The Atlantic and Slate's "Double X"). We'll talk, argue, and laugh about the latest movies, television shows, and pop-cultural nonsense—with some politics thrown in just for the hell of it.

Alyssa describes herself as being "equally devoted to the Star Wars expanded universe and Barbara Stanwyck, to Better Off Ted and Deadwood." I (everyone calls me Swin) am a devoted lover of low-brow dark humor, Yuengling, and movies with high body counts. I hope you enjoyed this episode, and tune in during the weeks to come.

We'll be featuring guests on the program, and also taking listeners' questions, so feel free to Tweet them at me here, and we'll see if we can get to them during a show.

Thank you for listening!

Click here for more movie and TV features from Mother Jones. To read more of Asawin's reviews, click here.

To find more episodes of this podcast in the iTunes store, click here.

To check out Alyssa's Bloggingheads show, click here.

WATCH: Newtown Residents Remember Nancy Lanza, Shooter's Slain Mother

| Sat Dec. 15, 2012 2:25 PM EST

My Place is a pizza joint and bar just off the main drag through Newtown. It's a microcosm of this town: Everyone knows everyone, knows where they live, who their brother is dating, what their favorite microbrew is. Framed photographs of Babe Ruth cover the walls. Having a smoke outside, Alex Helfer, 26, recalls the days when high school partiers knew they were safe if the town's two post-midnight cops busted the other party. After spending the day reeling from the Sandy Hook murders, last night locals here did what they always do: head to My Place for a pint. Only this time, Nancy wasn't there to join them.

Nancy Lanza, mother of alleged shooter Adam Lanza, was one of My Place's most popular regulars; she was found dead in her home yesterday. "She was wonderful, beautiful, classy…everyone knew her," says waitress Laurie Champagne. Proprietor Louise Tambascio seconded the words of the local school superintendent that yesterday's reports of Nancy being a teacher at Sandy Hook were wrong. But Nancy was involved with the gun community, she says, belonging to a club and taking her sons shooting.

Losing Nancy is a devastating blow to this close-knit community, Tambascio says. She's known Nancy for 12 years, and remembers hiring Adam Lanza's older brother, Ryan, as a busboy a couple years back. When initial reports came out that he was the shooter, she says, she knew they had the wrong brother. 

Meanwhile, across town, outside Sandy Hook Elementary (or as close as police would allow anyone to get), a media feeding frenzy approached critical mass, swarming with reporters speaking English, French, German, and Japanese into TV cameras and bright lights. The few locals who braved the main street quickly found themselves circled by microphones and lenses, asked to share their shock with the world. Nick Verderame, 20, had come from a few towns over to lay flowers outside the fire station where children and teachers had fled for cover as the shooting unfolded. "I thought there was going to be more of us," he says. "And less of you."

Everyone here is anxiously awaiting the release of the names of the dead, to find out which neighbor, or neighbors, suffered an unimaginable loss. Champagne circles around My Place delivering beer, pizza, and hugs to folks in the crowd, whom she addresses by name. Despite the horror that unfolded yesterday, she says, looking forward to the coming weeks is almost worse: "There are going to be 28 funerals in this town before Christmas."