Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Running government more like a business

By Steven Perlstein.
Rather than playing Reagan to Wisconsin's truant teachers, Walker overreached, refusing to give up his union-busting even after the unions agreed to his benefit-cutting demands. Now that he has allowed the unions to reframe the issue from one of greedy public servants to one of political revenge, Walker has single-handedly succeeded in bringing more attention, unity and sympathy to the union movement than it has had since . . . well, since Ronald Reagan took on the control tower. A mischievous columnist might even take this opportunity to speculate whether this is the beginning of the revival of labor's fortunes.

Back when I was working at Inc. magazine in the mid-1980s, we loved nothing better when approaching a public-sector issue than to ask how the private sector would handle it. Faced with the situation in Wisconsin, we would have called up Tom Peters or Peter Drucker and posed the example of a new chief executive brought in by the shareholders (i.e., the voters) to rescue a company suffering from operating losses (budget deficit) and declining sales (jobs). Invariably, they would have recommended sitting down with employees, explaining the short-and long-term economic challenges and working with them to improve productivity and product quality in a way that benefits both shareholders and employees.

Now compare that with how Wisconsin's new chief executive handled the situation: Impose an across-the-board pay cut and tell employees neither they nor their representative will ever again have a say in how things will be run or get a pay raise in excess of inflation. A great way to start things off with the staff, don't you think? Remember that the next time you hear some Republican bellyaching at the Rotary lunch about why government should be run more like a business.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Public vs. private compensation

From Minzie Chen. Blue is private workers; red is public workers.

Annual wages.

Annual total compensation including benefits.

Helicopter me

Brad DeLong has a post about the approach we have taken to the financial/economic crisis. Although it obviously was not politically feasible I don't understand why another possible solution to the $8 trillion in fool's gold would have been to replace it with fool's paper. If we had simply declared that we were going to print (not borrow) $8 trillion and distribute it to the public, say an equal portion to each citizen, over a period of say 3 years, would that not have solved the problem?

At about $6,500/person/year for 4 years, that would have provided a nice boost to the economy. It would not have caused inflation since it would simply have replaced money we thought we had. It also would have been a nice way to redistribute the $8 trillion from speculators to the public more generally.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Bruce Bartlett on the budget

Bruce Bartlett is one of the few sane conservaitves still around. (See his bio at the bottom of this post.) He has a nice post on Obama's budget, which he finds useful mainly for its statistical data.
The budget also contains a chapter on federal regulation because the Office of Management and Budget, which compiles the budget, oversees federal regulatory policy. One of the things OMB strives to do is ensure that regulations meet a cost-benefit test. If at all possible, the benefits should exceed the costs.

Of course, conservatives routinely deny that there are any benefits whatsoever to federal regulation; they simply impose unnecessary costs. However, it is obvious that many health and safety regulations confer enormous benefits, and we also know from experience that corporate America often cuts corners in pursuit of profits. Consequently, there are many cases where the benefits of a regulation exceed the costs.

Lastly, the budget contains a chapter on social indicators, a laundry list of various statistics that tell us how well we are going as a society in improving living conditions. Many of these indicators, such as the unemployment rate and real median family income, are fairly well known. Others are more obscure.
For example, we see that the share of total income going to the lower 60 percent of households has fallen from 32.3 percent in 1970 to 26.6 percent in 2009. At the same time, the share going to just the top one percent of taxpayers has risen from 7.8 percent in 1970 to 17.7 percent in 2008. Obviously, if the benefits of growth are not widely shared and are going disproportionately to the well-to-do, it’s something people ought to care about.

We also see that air pollution has fallen sharply over the last 30 years according to a variety of indicators in the budget, energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions per capita are trending downward, infant mortality has fallen from 26 per 1000 live births in 1960 to 6.6 in 2008, life expectancy at birth has risen from 69.7 years in 1960 to 77.8 in 2008, the percentage of the population that smokes has fallen from 37.4 percent in 1970 to 20.6 percent in 2009, the violent crime rate has fallen from almost 5 percent to just 1.7 percent in 2009, and so on.

There are, of course, many other things in the budget document worth calling attention to. The point I would like to leave is that the budget is much more than just some proposals relating to taxes and spending; it’s a resource that tells us a great deal about how the government operates and its impact on society. Sometimes that impact is for ill, but often for the good. Those looking for good ammunition to counter the relentless disparagement of government that comes from Republican politicians and right-wing think tanks can find it here.
Here's a paragraph from his bio.
Bartlett’s work is informed by many years in government, including service on the staffs of Congressmen Ron Paul and Jack Kemp and Senator Roger Jepsen; as staff director of the Joint Economic Committee of Congress; senior policy analyst in the Reagan White House; and deputy assistant secretary for economic policy at the Treasury Department during the George H.W. Bush administration.

Support the Wisconsin protests

Sunday, February 20, 2011

1000 months

is 83 1/3 years. A bit longer than most people live, but not a bad approximation. Put in those terms it doesn't sound like much time.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Central planning within a free market

Paul Krugman has a nice post about firm vs. markets.
Thank You, Boeing, for providing such a clear illustration of the forces driving the theory of the firm.

Oliver Williamson shared the 2009 Nobel mainly because of his work on a question that may seem obvious, but is much less so once you think about it: why are there so many big companies? Why not just rely on markets to coordinate activity among individuals or small firms? Why, in effect, do we have a lot of fairly large command-and-control economies embedded in our market system?

Williamson answered this in terms of the difficulties of writing complete contracts; when the tasks that need to be done are complex, so that you can’t fully specify what people should do in advance, there can be a lot of slippage and strategic behavior if you rely on market incentives; in such cases it can be better to do these things in-house, so that you can simply tell people to do something a particular way or to change their behavior.

In Boeing’s case, they outsourced far too much, only to find that they were getting parts that didn’t do what they were supposed to — and also to find that the subcontractors were seizing a lot of the rents. They discovered, in effect, that there are times when it’s better to rely on central planning than to leave things up to the market.

Obviously this isn’t always true. There’s a tradeoff. But that’s the point — and it’s this tradeoff that determines how big firms should be. Boeing has now provided a clear motivating example. Their loss, the economics profession’s gain.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Phone as the brains of a laptop

From David Pogue.
The Motorola Atrix 4G ($200 with a two-year AT&T contract) is a beautiful, loaded, screamingly fast Android phone. The companion laptop — sleek, light, superthin, black aluminum — has no processor, memory or storage of its own. Instead, you insert the phone into a slot behind the screen hinge. The phone becomes the laptop’s brains.

That’s a powerful idea. It means, first of all, that you don’t have to sync anything. Everything lives on the phone; the laptop is simply a more convenient viewer.

It also means that when you’re sitting on a plane or at your desk, you can work with a trackpad, full screen and traditional keyboard.

And it means that your laptop is always online, thanks to the phone’s Internet connection.

Finally, it means that you have to reverse your usual thinking about battery life. The laptop is basically a giant battery. With the phone inserted, you can happily work away for eight or 10 hours on a single charge. In fact, the laptop actually charges the phone while you work. Yes, that’s correct: you’ll get off the plane with a more fully charged phone than when you got on.

Both the phone and the laptop are gorgeous. The phone has the usual Android goodies, like front and back cameras and hi-def video recording, and it uses Motorola’s MotoBlur software, which can unify the address books and messages from your various online accounts (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and e-mail).

But to make it powerful enough to drive a laptop, Motorola had to give it far more oomph than a typical phone. It has a dual-core processor, which, in English, means “faster than any phone you’ve ever used.” We are talking slick, responsive, satisfying.
All of this is so thoughtfully executed, so beautifully designed, that recommending it might seem like a no-brainer. Unfortunately, it’s ultimately a some-brainer, because there are a few flies in the Atrix ointment.

First, scrolling is a serious problem. On the phone, you scroll things with a quick swipe of your finger on the touch screen: your e-mail Inbox, your Twitter feed, your Applications list and so on. But when the phone’s in the laptop, swiping is far more difficult. While pressing down the recalcitrant clicker button, you drag one finger on the trackpad. It’s spectacularly awkward, especially because the phone frequently misinterprets the initial click as an “I want to open this app” gesture. There are Page Up/Page Down keystrokes, but they don’t function in phone apps — only in Firefox.

Second, remember that this is an Android laptop, not a Mac or Windows laptop. You can edit Word, Excel and PowerPoint files very comfortably, using the built-in Quickoffice software. But you won’t be running the kinds of programs you could run on a real laptop — games, Photoshop, whatever.

Because the phone runs Flash video, you ought to be able to enjoy TV shows at But maybe because it’s phone Flash, it’s so jerky that it’s unwatchable, even on a fast Wi-Fi connection.

Third, the Internet speed isn’t what it should be. If you’re in one of the cities where AT&T has finished upgrading its network to 4G (fourth-generation equipment), you’re supposed to get superfast Internet service. In practice, though, the 4G adds nothing. Even when you test it in a 4G town like New York (as Engadget did) or Boston (as I did), the Atrix has an even slower Internet connection than a non-4G phone. (AT&T’s explanation: the 4G indicator may appear on the phone even when the area’s 4G network upgrade isn’t yet complete.)

Fourth, the phone and the laptop together cost $500 (after $100 rebate). Now, for that money, you could get a nice phone and a full-blown Windows netbook that runs faster and does it all. Of course, you lose most of the perks — a single storage gadget, eternal battery life and so on. And the netbook you buy won’t be anywhere near as beautiful as the Atrix laptop.

But it’s not just the price of the hardware. To use the browser on the laptop, you’re required to pay AT&T an additional $20 a month — a “tethering plan.”

Thursday, February 17, 2011

South Dakota Tea Party members not so sure about cuts in spending

From TheDakotaPoll.
Results from a new Dakota Poll of registered South Dakota voters who identify themselves as Tea Party supporters, reveals a group that is heavily Republican, but far more pragmatic and less anti-government or anti-tax than recent mainstream media portrayals have indicated.

By an overwhelming majority of 73%, poll respondents favored “imposing an extra one cent sales tax during the tourist season” as a means of balancing the state budget. Only 17% favored “cutting state aid to public schools and nursing homes.” On a similar question, respondents were asked if they favored or opposed an income tax increase of 5% “for everyone whose income is over a million dollars a year.” By a split of 56% to 39%, respondents favored the increase for millionaires.
Between February 1-3, The Dakota Poll surveyed 400 registered voters in South Dakota who identified themselves as Tea Party supporters. Despite national headlines suggesting that Tea Party supporters favor heavy cuts in federal spending to reduce the deficit and balance the federal budget, South Dakota Tea Partiers show a clear hesitancy when it comes to cutting any federal programs which might effect their own lives.

As a group, Tea Party supporters tend to be older males, and supporters are clustered disproportionately West River. 43% of South Dakota Tea Party supporters are on Social Security.

–83% said they would prefer to “leave alone” or “increase” Social Security.

–78% opposed cuts to Medicare prescription drug coverage, and 79% opposed cuts in Medicare coverage for physicians and hospitals.

–61% would support leaving federal food program funding alone or increasing it.
57% of South Dakota Tea Party supporters have a family connection to the military. 11% of Tea Party families have a family member dependent on the Veterans Administration.

–96% would support “leaving alone” or “increasing” funding for veterans benefits.

–79% oppose cuts to military spending. 71% would oppose closing Ellsworth Air Force Base, even if a bipartisan base-closing commission made the recommendation.

The single area of federal policy where Tea Party supporters show a willingness to reduce spending is FARM POLICY. 48% say they would support eliminating or reducing “federal farm payments…” and 47% say they would support eliminating or reducing subsidies for ethanol.

On a series of social and cultural questions, Tea Party supporters show distinct conservative values:

–64% believe that “illegal aliens are taking jobs away from South Dakotans.

–57% believe that Congress should investigate President Obama’s citizenship.

–63% believe that “The 2nd Amendment gives private groups the right to form militias to hold government accountable.

–48% believe “the earth is 6,000 years old as calculated by Biblical scholars.”

55% of Tea Party supporters attend church at least once a week. But on a cluster of questions regarding the relationship between religion and government, respondents showed an overwhelming interest in keeping the two separate. 87% agreed with the statement “Government should stay completely away from anything that favors one religion over another.” And 70% opposed the statement “Candidates for public office should be required by law to declare their religious preference so voters can make an informed choice.”

By a margin of 65% to 25%, Tea Party supporters disagreed with the statement “The Constitution gives corporations the right to spend unlimited amounts of money in elections.”

Michael O'Hare on "Right-sizing government"

From The Reality-Based Community
All across the northern US, diesel school buses owned by, or contracted for, by government school districts uncontroversially carry kids back and forth to school. The school district could tell parents to get their kids to school themselves, and give out the phone number of a private bus company; government would be smaller, but except for a lot of wasted time on the parents’ part arranging bus transport in phone trees, nothing important would change. About the same amount of fuel, buses, tires, and driver labor would be used up, and about the same value created. If arranging this service privately were so complicated and daunting that people started driving their kids to school, of course, the costs of the private system might be much higher, wasting parents’ labor as private chauffeurs, using much more fossil fuel, and congesting the roads.

Among the costs of school busing, whether private or public, is asthma and respiratory disease caused by the diesels idling for hours to keep the buses warm, polluting the pickup areas with toxic chemicals and soot. It turns out that a propane heater in the bus would allow us to get the same transportation service and save a lot of illness and medical care. How much? According to the EPA, twelve times as much as the heater costs. As the heater isn’t free and the bus company doesn’t pay for the asthma, these heaters are a market failure and undersupplied unless the government does something. What can it do? There are several ways to skin this cat. We could have government issue a job-killing oppressive regulation administered by jack-booted thugs to require that every school bus not only have headlights and good brakes but also a propane heater if operated north of some latitude. We could raise economy-crippling taxes and pay school districts all or part of the cost to install these heaters. We could gin up a nanny-state intrusive public relations campaign to motivate parents to demand that their kids’ buses have and use heaters. The differences among these are interesting and getting it right can save some resources, but at the level of this discussion, if they get the heaters installed and operating, they all cost about the same and provide the same benefits.

Amazingly, EPA has zeroed out the clean diesel program that gets this 12:1 bonanza in the president’s budget. How could this be a good idea? Well, it will make government smaller. A bad idea? Pollution from vehicles is a classic market failure; the market won’t abate it and in this case, it hasn’t, even though ending this particular pollution creates twelve dollars’ worth of health for every dollar’s worth of propane and metal it uses up. Not putting heaters in the buses will also make taxes lower, but the locals will pay at the doctors’ office and the drugstore, twelve times as much. Deciding this question on a “less government” or “lower taxes!” criterion simply destroys net value, in this case in the form of children’s health, impoverishing the citizenry in the name of a vacuous slogan.

What can it mean that we “can’t afford” heaters in school buses? One could better ask, can a society afford to sicken its children this way - when this incredible bargain, where a dollar gets you twelve, is offered for sale, can we afford not to buy all we can get? We are spending the tax dollar it costs privately for things that aren’t even close to being worth what we could get for that dollar in this deal, so we can obviously afford the trade.

Neither of the two decisions, public vs. private provision of school bus transport, and public provision vs. non-provision of bus heaters, is illuminated in the slightest degree by their effect on tax rates or on the size of government, and “can’t afford” in a context like this is simply a lie. Taxes are too high when there are programs in government that create less value than they use up, and too low when there are programs that would create net value if we assigned them to government. Government is too big or too small by precisely the same rules. Trying to make the conversation simple enough for Fox News analysts to rant about by reversing these rules of inference (which actually seem pretty simple to me) is monomaniac lunacy, or cynical mendacity in the service of selling advertising time or getting votes, or both; it’s not politics and certainly not governance.

Energy vs. per-capita GDP

From Climate change: ‘Berkeley has a special obligation’.

Agricultural and Resource Economics economist David Roland-Holst's chart — which one of his graduate students calls his 'demonic bubble bath' — shows the tight relationship between energy use and prosperity, a key climate change issue. Based on World Bank and International Energy Agency data, the vertical axis plots per capita energy use in terajoules/year; the horizontal is per capita income as measured by the GDP. Bubble sizes represent population.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Saving money for California

One simple sentencing reform -- making possession of small amounts of drugs a misdemeanor instead of a felony -- would save California taxpayers up to $450 million annually. …

The dollars we spend on prisons each year have more than doubled in the past decade alone, rising to $9 billion. Last year, prison spending exceeded the combined spending on the California State University system and the UC system … The result is a tragic waste of tax dollars during a time of generally declining crime rates.
Click here to send a letter to Gov. Brown supporting this idea.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Democratic Budgetary Passivity

Bruce Bartlett has served on the staffs of Congressmen Ron Paul and Jack Kemp and Senator Roger Jepsen; as staff director of the Joint Economic Committee of Congress; senior policy analyst in the Reagan White House; and deputy assistant secretary for economic policy at the Treasury Department during the George H.W. Bush administration. If those aren't conservative credentials, I don't know what are. Here's what he has to say about the current budget debate.
For several weeks now, we have all been besieged by Republican ranting and raving about the budget, how it must slashed and chopped to ribbons even if it means a government shutdown or default on the national debt. The minimum down payment, they keep saying, is a cut of $100 billion in the current fiscal year's budget, which began last October 1. Every budget expert knows this is stupid because 40 percent of the fiscal year is already over. If Republicans were half-serious, they would have let FY2011 go by and directed all their attention to FY2012. By wasting a vast amount of Congress's precious time on FY2011, it is going to be very hard to pass a budget resolution with reconciliation instructions that might actually have a meaningful effect on reducing future spending. Instead, Republicans would prefer to pander to ignorant Tea Party dopes and grandstand for the Fox News cameras.

But bashing Republicans isn't really the point I want to make. What I would like to know is why Democrats take it so passively? It isn't as if they lack the resources to respond to idiotic Republican pronouncements. The last time I checked, they still controlled the White House and the Senate. These are very powerful resources that have oddly not been brought to bear in the budget fight.

Having been staff director for a congressional committee, here's what I would be doing if I were organizing opposition to the Republican budgetary disinformation campaign. First of all, I would be holding hearings five days a week in the Senate Appropriations Committee and every other Senate committee on the impact of proposed Republican budget cuts. Whose benefits are going to be cut? What programs will be shut down? What are the real world consequences of the Republicans' plans?

I have no idea and I have made an effort to try and find out. But there are undoubtedly people who know at the Office of Management and Budget and the various departments of government that are filled with assistant secretaries eager to testify before a congressional committee and respond in detail to the implicit Republican argument that spending can be massively cut without hurting anyone.

Another thing I would be doing is commissioning reports by the Congressional Research Service, the Government Accountability Office, and the Congressional Budget Office to provide data and analysis on the impact of Republican plans. And believe me, any request from the chairman of the appropriations committee gets the very careful attention of those who run these organizations for obvious reasons.

The next obvious step is to get all of the various organizations that represent farmers, defense contractors, health providers and so on to do their own analyses based on their intimate knowledge of how spending cuts will affect them. These people will also be more than happy to testify before a congressional committee on short notice.

Within a couple of weeks I think it would be very easy to put flesh on the bones of the Republican plans and mobilize the millions of people who will be affected but probably have no idea at this time that this is the case because no one has told them. I think the political dynamics could change quickly. But someone needs to get the ball rolling, get the analyses started, organize the hearings and so on. Why this isn't already being done, is a complete mystery to me.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Protect NPR and PBS

From CREDO Action
In a budget proposal made public on Wednesday, House Republicans announced plans to zero out all funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), the nonprofit responsible for funding public media including NPR, PBS, Pacifica and more.
Sign this online petition.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A New Way of Regulating Human Genes?

Larry Moran is a Professor in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Toronto. He has strongly held opinions, but he seems to know what he's talking about.

In a blog posting Feb 12, 2011 he discusses a recent paper, which has gotten a lot of attention—such as this from Science Daily.
"Previously, no one knew what Alu elements and long noncoding RNAs did, whether they were junk or if they had any purpose. Now, we've shown that they actually have important roles in regulating protein production," said Maquat, the J. Lowell Orbison Chair, professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics and director of the Center for RNA Biology at the University of Rochester Medical Center.
Moran says,
The correct statement is that we've known for decades that the vast majority of Alu elements in the genome do absolutely nothing. However, there are a dozen examples already in the scientific literature of Alu sequences that affect transcription, RNA processing, mRNA, or translation. They've all proven to be unique, rare, cases. We strongly suspect that most long noncoding RNAs are junk but there are some excellent examples of ones that are functional.

Lynne Maquat has shown an effect of a transcribed Alu sequence but it's simply not true that every obscure phenomenon reveals an important role in regulating protein production. And it's simply not true that this example has any implications for the vast majority of Alu sequences in the genome. Save the hype for your grant application.
Both the University of Rochester and the University of Toronto are well-respected research institutions. Moran and Maquat are both senior scientists. What should the public do in cases like this?

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Dean Baker sets Sen Richard Shelby (R-Al) straight on Social Security

During a recent breakfast at the Institute for Education, you said that Social Security is actuarially unsound, that the next generation of workers would receive little or nothing from Social Security and that there is no proof that your sons would get much at all. This is badly mistaken. You should know, both for your own personal finances, and more importantly for your actions as Senator, that under any plausible set of circumstances you and your sons can anticipate a substantial Social Security benefit.
See the rest of it here.

Monday, February 07, 2011

The device

Alison Gopnik starts her review of Sherry Turkle's Alone Together like this.
They gave her The Device when she was only 2 years old. It sent signals along the optic nerve that swiftly transported her brain to an alternate universe—a captivating other world. By the time she was 7 she would smuggle it into school and engage it secretly under her desk. By 15 the visions of The Device—a girl entering a ballroom, a man dying on the battlefield—seemed more real than her actual adolescent life. She would sit with it, motionless, oblivious to everything around her, for hours on end. Its addictive grip was so great that she often stayed up half the night, unable to put it down.

When she grew up, The Device dominated her house: no room was free from it, no activity, not even eating or defecating, was carried on without its aid. Even when she made love it was the images of The Device that filled her mind. Psychologists showed that she literally could not disengage from it—if The Device could reach the optic nerve, she would automatically and inescapably be in its grip. Neuroscientists demonstrated that large portions of her brain, parts that had once been devoted to understanding the real world, had been co-opted by The Device.

A tale of the dystopian technological future? No, just autobiography. The Device is, of course, the printed book and I've been its willing victim all my life. But this might be how Sherry Turkle would describe it in her new book, Alone Together, and, in some ways, she'd be right.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Google's Julia map and Mandlebrot set

Julia Map using HTML5 and Web Workers.

Republicans Vote To Repeal Obama-Backed Bill That Would Destroy Asteroid Headed For Earth

From The Onion.
WASHINGTON—In a strong rebuke of President Obama and his domestic agenda, all 242 House Republicans voted Wednesday to repeal the Asteroid Destruction and American Preservation Act, which was signed into law last year to destroy the immense asteroid currently hurtling toward Earth.

The $440 billion legislation, which would send a dozen high-thrust plasma impactor probes to shatter the massive asteroid before it strikes the planet, would affect more than 300 million Americans and is strongly opposed by the GOP.

House Republicans say the bill, which was passed to stop the giant asteroid from hitting Earth, is 'big government at its worst.'
"The voters sent us to Washington to stand up for individual liberty, not big government," Rep. Steve King (R-IA) said at a press conference. "Obama's plan would take away citizens' fundamental freedoms, forcing each of us into hastily built concrete bunkers and empowering the federal government to ration our access to food, water, and potassium iodide tablets while underground."

"We believe that the decisions of how to deal with the massive asteroid are best left to the individual," King added.

Repealing the act, which opponents have branded 'Obamastroid,' has been the cornerstone of the GOP agenda since the law's passage last August. Throughout the 2010 elections, Republican candidates claimed that the Democrats' plan to smash the space rock and shield citizens from its fragments was "a classic example of the federal government needlessly interfering in the lives of everyday Americans."

"This law is a job killer," said Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), who argued the tax increases required to save the human species from annihilation would impose unbearably high costs on businesses. "If we sit back and do nothing, Obamastroid will result in hundreds of thousands of lost jobs, which we simply can't afford in this economy."

"And consider how much money this program will add to our already bloated deficit," Foxx continued. "Is this the legacy we want to leave our children?"

Many GOP members have also criticized the legislation for what they consider pork-barrel spending, claiming the act includes billions in "giveaways" to NASA, nonperishable food manufacturers, and pharmaceutical companies contracted to produce mass volumes of vitamin D supplements in the likely event that dust from the asteroid's impact blots out the sun for a decade.

In an effort to counter Republicans' claims, Democrats have asserted that the long-term benefits of preventing the United States from being incinerated by an explosion several billion times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb would far outweigh the initial monetary outlay.

In support of their position, Democrats have pointed to estimates from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that show repealing the law could result in a loss of up to $14 trillion in the nation's GDP.

"I will be the first to admit this is not a perfect bill, by any means," said Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), who has argued that the measure does not go far enough in deflecting the ensuing debris that will rain down on Earth once the asteroid has been destroyed. "But it is absolutely a bill that each and every American needs now if we want to move forward as a country."

According to political pundits, the showdown over whether to let the asteroid blast a 150-mile-wide, 20-mile-deep crater in the Earth's crust represents a potential turning point for the nation, and could completely reshape the American political landscape for many centuries to come.

"If efforts to destroy the asteroid are successfully overturned, then there will be major ramifications for both Obama and his Republican opposition, as well as the American populace at large," political scientist Alan Abramowitz said on Face The Nation Sunday. "This could have a huge impact come 2012."

With repeal rhetoric reaching a crescendo, the president used his weekly radio address Saturday to state his case for destroying the one-trillion-ton asteroid before it barrels into Earth at 60,000 miles per hour.

"I am more than willing to work with my Republican colleagues to improve the Asteroid Destruction Act," Obama said. "But let me be clear: Repeal is not an option."

"While I recognize that intelligent minds may disagree on this issue, I believe we have an obligation to prevent our citizens from having their flesh seared off in a global firestorm that transforms our planet into a broiling molten wasteland," Obama added. "I think Americans deserve better."