Congressional inspiration (5×8 – 8/2/11)

Giffords returns to Congress, Minnesota as an ATM, how to bully a teacher, the inside story of the death of bin Laden, and your dinner shouldn’t dance.


Who thought there’d actually be a moment of inspiration coming from the U.S. House of Representatives when it made its debt vote yesterday? Rep. Gabrielle Giffords made her return to Congress, seven months after being shot in the head in a mass shooting in Tucson.

Giffords was able to vote, despite the obvious effort it took to get to Washington. Three members of Congress didn’t vote (See breakdown of vote here). Rep. Joe Baca (D-CA.), Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), and Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI.).

Why not? Rep. Baca was undergoing ankle surgery. Rep. Hinchey was recovering from colon cancer surgery. Only the Wisconsin congresswoman appears to have ducked the vote. Rep. Moore took part in the debate that preceded it.

Meanwhile, Nate Silver, the numbers guru at fivethirtyeight, has looked at the fine print of the deal.

The further you go out in time, the more likely it is that the cuts enshrined in this deal will have been swamped by more recent changes to policy.

That isn’t to say that the cuts are an accounting fiction. Particularly when control of the government remains divided, the status quo may tend to prevail. But they need to be discounted fairly heavily, especially in the back half of the deal where the bulk of the cuts are concentrated.

So the “crisis” is over? It is once Jon Stewart delivers the benediction:

Hearing Carl Kasell rap the debt crisis made the debt crisis worth having.


The federal government may specialize in spending more than it takes in, but not in Minnesota. The Economist looks at state federal tax receipts vs. the amount of federal dollars spent in a state (as a percentage of a state’s GDP). What state provides the feds with the biggest surplus?


Curiously, the biggest recipients of federal dollars vs. taxes paid are some of the “reddest” states in the country.


When 15-year-old Phoebe Prince hung herself after being bullied in the South Hadley (Mass.) High School, teacher Deb Caldieri was one of the few teachers who responded with any significant compassion. She also the only one who spoke out.

She’s been fired.


The New Yorker has a must-read article that reveals the “inside story” of the operation that led to the death of Osama bin Laden earlier this year.

After a few minutes, the twelve SEALs inside helo one recovered their bearings and calmly relayed on the radio that they were proceeding with the raid. They had conducted so many operations over the past nine years that few things caught them off guard. In the months after the raid, the media have frequently suggested that the Abbottabad operation was as challenging as Operation Eagle Claw and the “Black Hawk Down” incident, but the senior Defense Department official told me that “this was not one of three missions. This was one of almost two thousand missions that have been conducted over the last couple of years, night after night.” He likened the routine of evening raids to “mowing the lawn.” On the night of May 1st alone, special-operations forces based in Afghanistan conducted twelve other missions; according to the official, those operations captured or killed between fifteen and twenty targets. “Most of the missions take off and go left,” he said. “This one took off and went right.”


I am not responsible, really, for this horrible, disgusting video posted on Robert Krulwich’s blog. My colleague, Eric Ringham, is.

This squid that constitutes someone’s dinner, is dead. Until you add the soy sauce.

With this, of course, comes your daily source of science, courtesy of Mr. Krulwich:

Soy sauce, rich in salt, caused its muscle cells to fire. To get motion, add sauce.

Because this squid was just killed, its muscle cells were still intact and operational. A live squid moves it tentacles by sending an electrical command from its brain to its muscles. The commands say “contract” or “relax.” But since this animal lost its head, its brain can’t send signals. Salt acts as a substitute.

Bonus: Toby Benham, a climber and BASE jumper, calls himself “lucky chance.”

BASE Jump Chute Failure, Miracle Save! from Rock & Ice on Vimeo.


Congressional leaders and the president came within days of a default before reaching a deal to raise the federal debt ceiling. Today’s Question: What does the debt-ceiling crisis say about our political and economic system?


Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) – First hour: Has President Obama governed too much from the middle?

Second hour: The future of medicine.

Midday (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) – First hour: U of M political scientist and former congressional staffer Kathryn Pearson analyzes the budget and debt limit debate in Washington.

Second hour: An Aspen Ideas Festival discussion about Muslims in America.

Talk of the Nation (1-3 p.m.) – First hour: The struggle over the debt and the next generation.

Second hour: The new world of TV and instant access.

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – It’s a long way from a small town in northeast Wisconsin to Hollywood, but over the last five years young actor Bridger Zadina has built a career there. He’s now appearing in a new independent film called “Terri” with John C. Reilly. MPR’s Euan Kerr interviews him.

  • matt

    #2…no time to run the statistics but I would say that map more closely matches GDP by state:

    than it does red state/blue state:,_blue_state.svg

    That being the case it would appear that the progressive hope of economic redistribution and parity is being achieved and the libertarian certainty that economic redistribution is fruitless (in total) is accurate. And conservatives are just further exposed as hypocrites.

  • Representative Gifford’s vote surely is inspiring, however I find it more than a little troubling to see one side of the political divide calling the other side a bunch of “terrorists” when everyone was asked to check their rhetoric after Rep. Gifford’s shooting. Vice President Biden is denying he said anything of the sort because it’s not an “appropriate term in political discourse,” according to a Biden staffer. And it’s not. Rep. Gifford’s return should not only serve as inspiration but as a reminder of the post-tragedy call to raise the level of our political rhetoric.

  • matt


    I don’t disagree with the raising of discourse to a higher level but I think that continuing to connect the Gifford shooting with political discourse is incorrect. The man who shot Gifford has been deemed unfit to stand trial – it was the media that came up with the political discourse theme and for the most part they have now backtracked on it having any bearing on the shooting. Political discourse is to Gifford case as WMD’s is to Iraq.

  • Jim Shapiro

    re #3- here’s a little rule: pictures and porn stars are hung, while people who expire at the end of a rope are hanged.

  • If the Twin Cities is sending dollars to the rest of MN (and not getting them back in LGA) and the entire state is subsidizing other red states, does that mean that the Twin Cities is basically bankrolling the rest of the nation?

  • @ matt – I don’t disagree with you that Gifford’s shooting had little to nothing to do with political rhetoric. But regardless of the validity of the link, we were told “only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to our challenges as a nation,” in the aftermath of the Tucson tragedy – of which Rep. Giffords will always be a symbol. I think it’s rather sad that people have seemingly forgotten the President’s call for civility in their rush to demonize their political opponents, as if the post-Tucson discussion on civil discourse hadn’t happened at all.

  • matt


    Agreed, Washington (St. Paul, Madison, main street) seems to forget the important lessons such as play nice with others, golden rule, etc. as soon as Sunday morning talk shows move on to other topics. Not calling for a new religous order or anything here but maybe if pols spent a little more time in church on Sunday morning (actually listening) and less time watching the talking heads we would actually make some progress in this country.

  • tboom

    >> If the Twin Cities is sending dollars to the rest of MN (and not getting them back in LGA) and the entire state is subsidizing other red states, does that mean that the Twin Cities is basically bankrolling the rest of the nation?

  • @ matt – I again don’t disagree although I think the issue goes far beyond politicians on the Sunday shows. It’s also the pundits & other talking heads, bloggers, and regular Americans. You can see vile and divisive rhetoric in comments on news sites, on twitter, and far too many other places. I think the responsibility for raising our political discourse is upon all of us – not just minding our own rhetoric, but also refuting and rejecting harmful rhetoric from others.