Cassandra The World in 2013

Cassandra’s farewell


CASSANDRA’s mythical namesake was never wrong in her prophecies—her curse, courtesy of the scorned Apollo, was not to be believed. This particular Cassandra, on this final day of predictions for 2013, cannot pretend to her infallibility. Indeed, I have to confess to the occasional (a weasel word, since I dread to count) error, not least in predicting that the English cricket team would be humiliated in the test series against India but would prosper in the one-day version of the game. As things turned out, and to my great pleasure, the opposite was true.

But, as Yogi Berra famously observed, “it’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” Moreover, bear in mind the sage observation of that great English philosopher, George Harrison (who also made a living as one of the Beatles):

It’s being here now that’s important. There’s no past and there’s no future. Time is a very misleading thing. All there is ever, is the now. We can gain experience from the past, but we can’t relive it; and we can hope for the future, but we don’t know if there is one.

Well, with all due respect to the late George, I think there will be a future, assuming of course that an asteroid snappily named 2012 DA14 and scheduled to come very close to Earth on February 15th does not confound the scientists by actually hitting us (it is, after all, the size of an Olympic swimming pool). 

So let me leave you with a few reasonably safe, though not necessarily pleasing, predictions for the coming months: the “Arab Spring” (more accurately the “Arab awakening”) will continue its slow, often bloody advance towards greater freedoms; sectarian strife will scar much of the Muslim world, especially Syria but also Pakistan; America will make precious little progress towards effective gun-control, but will manage some form of immigration reform; the euro will survive even as the whole of the European Union flirts with recession; there will be no new war over the Falklands/Malvinas; and Asia in general, and China in particular, will continue to drag the world economy out of its post-Lehman doldrums (assuming that China and Japan do not stupidly go to war over some god-forsaken rocks in the Pacific). 

Note that, in the interests of good taste, I do not dare make predictions on the mortality of the Castro brothers, or Hugo Chávez. Nor do I venture a bet on an American or Israeli attack on Iran (though if forced, I would bet against it), or on the discovery of some cancer-beating or AIDS-preventing therapy. 

Instead, let me invite you to offer your own predictions of what Donald Rumsfeld famously called “known unknowns and unknown unknowns“. And meanwhile, as The World in 2013 gives way in November to The World in 2014, Cassandra will borrow from Arnold Schwarzenegger (now back on our screens after his foray into politics):

I’ll be back.

5 moments when Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton weren’t so friendly

JANUARY 28, 2013, AT 1:30 PM  

 Last night’s joint 60 Minutes interview of President Obama and Hillary Clinton was extraordinary.
As First Read notes, President Obama made clear he wanted to thank Clinton for being his secretary of state but was especially grateful that she accepted and kept the Democratic Party united during his first term.
But what really made last night’s friendliness remarkable is how unfriendly the two politicians were just a few short years ago.

 1. “You’re likable enough, Hillary.”

See the other examples by going to this link:


If pro is the opposite of con, what is the opposite of progress? Take a moment to smile:



‎1) Why do supermarkets make the sick walk all the way to the back of the store to get their prescriptions while healthy people can buy cigarettes at the front?

2) Why do people order double cheeseburgers, large fries, and a diet coke?

3) Why do banks leave vault doors open and then chain the pens to the counters?

4) Why do we leave cars worth thousands of dollars in our driveways and put our useless junk in the garage?


5) Why the sun lightens our hair, but darkens our skin?

6) Why can’t women put on mascara with their mouth closed?

7) Why don’t you ever see the headline ‘Psychic Wins Lottery’?

8) Why is ‘abbreviated’ such a long word?

9) Why is it that doctors and attorneys call what they do ‘practice’?

10) Why is lemon juice made with artificial flavoring, and dish washing liquid made with real lemons?

11) Why is the man who invests all your money called a broker?

12) Why is the time of day with the slowest traffic called rush hour?

13) Why isn’t there mouse-flavored cat food?

14) Why didn’t Noah swat those two mosquitoes?

15) Why do they sterilize the needle for lethal injections?

16) You know that indestructible black box that is used on airplanes? Why don’t they make the whole plane out of that stuff??

17) Why don’t sheep shrink when it rains?

18) Why are they called apartments when they are all stuck together?

19) If flying is so safe, why do they call the airport the terminal?

*Now that you’ve smiled at least once, it’s your turn to spread the stupidity and send this to someone you want to bring a smile to (maybe even a chuckle)… In other words, send it to everyone. We all need to smile every once in a while.

OH you didn’t smile – well how about this one:

1. Law of Mechanical Repair – After your hands become coated with grease, your nose will begin to itch and you’ll have to pee.

2. Law of Gravity – Any tool, nut, bolt, screw, when dropped, will roll to the least accessible place in the universe.

3. Law of Probability – The probability of being watched is directly proportional to the stupidity of your act.

4. Law of Random Numbers – If you dial a wrong number, you never get a busy signal; someone always answers.

6. Variation Law- If you change lines (or traffic lanes), the one you were in will always move faster than the one you are in now

8.. Law of Close Encounters – The probability of meeting someone you know INCREASES dramatically when you are with someone you don’t want to be seen with.

9. Law of the Result – When you try to prove to someone that a machine won’t work, IT WILL!!!

10. Law of Biomechanics – The severity of the itch is inversely proportional to it’s location.

12. The Coffee Law – As soon as you sit down to a cup of hot coffee, your boss will ask you to do something which will last until the coffee is cold.

13. Murphy’s Law of Lockers – If there are only 2 people in a locker room, they will have adjacent lockers.

15. Law of Logical Argument – Anything is possible IF you don’t know what you are talking about.

16. Brown’s Law of Physical Appearance – If the clothes fit, they’re ugly.

17. Oliver’s Law of Public Speaking — A CLOSED MOUTH GATHERS NO FEET!!!

18. Wilson’s Law of Commercial Marketing Strategy – As soon as you find a product that you really like, they will stop making it, OR the store will stop selling it!!

19. Doctors’ Law – If you don’t feel well, make an appointment to go to the doctor, by the time you get there you’ll feel better.. But don’t make an appointment, and you’ll stay sick.

Life is not the way it’s supposed to be – it’s the way it is. The way you cope with it is what makes the difference.
Have a happy day!



IT’S TIME FOR SENATOR REID TO GOHis complicity, again, with Senator McConnell, to continue to permit the republicans in the senate to thwart President Obama’s agenda via the use of the filibuster, as well as his position on gun control legislation does it for me.  Please write or e-mail your federal Senator and ask him/her to take steps to remove Senator Reid from his role as Majority Leader of the senate.

If you agree, and if you oppose four more years of the senates obstruction of President Obama’s progressive agenda, please send this information to your friends on Facebook.  You can find your senator’s e-mail address at this site:

The article on Huffington Post explaining Senator Reid’s capitulation to the republicans can be found at this site:


Boehner: Obama’s goal is to ‘annihilate’ the Republican Party


House Speaker Rep. John Boehner of Ohio (Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin)

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said he believes the primary goal of President Obama’s second term is to “annihilate the Republican Party.”

“Given what we heard yesterday about the president’s vision for his second term, it’s pretty clear to me that he knows he can’t do any of that as long as the House is controlled by Republicans,” Boehner said in a speech Tuesday to The Ripon Society. “So we’re expecting over the next 22 months to be the focus of this administration as they attempt to annihilate the Republican Party.

“And let me just tell you, I do believe that is their goal — to just shove us into the dustbin of history.”

Boehner’s remarks referred to Obama’s inaugural address. Republicans were hopeful the president would use that speech to lay the groundwork for a partnership over the next four years, but he instead made it a rallying cry for an active federal government — including on such politically charged issues as climate change, gun control, gay marriage and immigration.

The Republican leader ripped the president for not taking the country’s deficits seriously, and said the failure of the “fiscal cliff” talks last year reflected the president’s refusal to face facts on the budget.

“In our meetings before Christmas, the president was so tired of me talking about when we were going to deal with an entitlement crisis that he looked at me and said: ‘Boehner, we don’t have a spending problem. We have a healthcare problem.’ It gives you some idea of the challenge that we’re facing,” Boehner said.

“For a guy who’s run up the deficit 60 percent — 60 percent of the deficit has occurred under his watch — when you see this, and then you hear him say: ‘I am not going to negotiate on the debt limit. I am not going to deal with the debt limit. That’s Congress’s problem!’ … Frankly, I think it’s irresponsible.”

Boehner’s speech was not open to the press, but The Ripon Society, a Republican think tank, released a transcript and video on Wednesday with the knowledge of the Speaker’s office.

While Boehner has said that immigration reform should be a priority, his remarks on Tuesday are a clear signal to Obama that his ambitious agenda on climate change and gun control, among other proposals, will face heavy resistance in the Republican-led House.

Boehner urged his conservative colleagues to be prudent in picking their political battles, something that wasn’t a trademark of Republicans in the 112th Congress.

“We’re going to have to make some big decisions about how we as a party take on this challenge. Where’s the ground that we fight on? Where’s the ground that we retreat on? Where are the smart fights? Where are the dumb fights that we have to stay away from? We’ve got a lot of big decisions to make.”

House Republicans backed away from a showdown with Obama over the debt-ceiling on Wednesday, passing legislation that suspends the cap on government borrowing through May 18.

That’s part of a new strategy from House Republicans to embrace a minority posture in the face of Obama’s reelection. Rather than trying to force measures through the Democratic-led Senate, House GOP leaders are looking to achieve modest victories while serving as a check on Obama’s agenda.

Boehner’s speech to The Ripon Society followed the House Republican retreat last week, and was another attempt to unify his conference ahead of budget battles with the White House.

The Speaker said Republicans should steel their resolve for the fights to come.

“We’ve got the debt limit facing us and the sequester hits on March 1st. If all that isn’t enough, the government runs out of money on March 27th. No one really knows what will happen. But I’m not quite sure I want to look over the edge of the cliff when it comes to the debt limit,” Boehner said.

“All I know is I’m up for the fight.”

This story was last updated at 3:42 p.m.



Stay focused School reform New research on how to close the achievement gap

Jan 19th 2013

When pawns gain control

How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character. By Paul ToughHoughton Mifflin Harcourt; 256 pages; $27. Random House; £12.99. Buy from

THE young teenagers who graduated from a special South Bronx middle school in 1999 became nationally famous. All black and Hispanic and largely from low-income families, the students had been recruited four years earlier to participate in an experimental programme called KIPP (ie, the Knowledge Is Power Program), designed to close the achievement gap between privileged and poor students. The experience seemed to pay off: in a citywide test, these students earned the highest scores of any school in the Bronx, and the fifth-highest in all of New York City. Most won admission to top high schools, often with full scholarships. They all seemed destined for college, and for successful, precedent-bucking, demographic-defying lives.

But six years after their high-school graduation, only about a fifth of KIPP’s first class had completed a four-year college degree. Most ended up dropping out, reaffirming America’s growing class divide on college campuses. KIPP’s founders were distraught, particularly because a college degree has never been more valuable, enabling Americans to earn some 80% more than people with only a high-school diploma. So how had KIPP failed to prepare these students for college? What did they do wrong?

Paul Tough, a journalist and former editor at the New York Times Magazine, aims to answer these thorny questions in “How Children Succeed”, an ambitious and elegantly written new book, now out in Britain. The problem, he writes, is that academic success is believed to be a product of cognitive skills—the kind of intelligence that gets measured in IQ tests. This view has spawned a vibrant market for brain-building baby toys, and an education-reform movement that sweats over test scores. But new research from a spate of economists, psychologists, neuroscientists and educators has found that the skills that see a student through college and beyond have less to do with smarts than with more ordinary personality traits, like an ability to stay focused and control impulses. The KIPP students who graduated from college were not the academic stars but the workhorses, the ones who plugged away at problems and resolved to do better.

So non-cognitive skills like persistence and curiosity are highly predictive of future success. But where do these traits come from? And how can they be developed? In search of answers, Mr Tough first looks at the problem on a neurological level. Apparently medical reasons explain why children who grow up in abusive or dysfunctional environments generally find it harder to concentrate, sit still and rebound from disappointments. The part of the brain most affected by early stress is the prefrontal cortex, which is critical for regulating thoughts and mediating behaviour. When this region is damaged—a common condition for children living amid the pressures of poverty—it is tougher to suppress unproductive instincts.

The science seems daunting, but it also points the way forward. Studies show that early nurturing from parents or caregivers helps combat the biochemical effects of stress. And educators can push better habits and self control. The “prefrontal cortex is more responsive to intervention than other parts of the brain,” writes Mr Tough. It stays malleable well into early adulthood. Character can be taught.

But schools have experience creating classes that raise test scores. Figuring out the best way to help youths develop “grit”—a passionate dedication to a goal—is trickier. Psychological interventions require more sophistication than teaching maths, and one of the big problems facing underperforming schools in America is a shortage of good teachers. But Mr Tough highlights some promising efforts to take these lessons about non-cognitive skills on board. A fascinating chapter considers the work of a young chess instructor in Brooklyn who turns unmotivated low-income students into chess champions by teaching them new ways to solve problems and recover from failures. In Chicago a programme called OneGoal, launched in 2009, is preparing struggling high-school students for college by stressing the link between hard work and destiny. And KIPP schools are now experimenting with something called a character report card, designed to show students that such traits can improve with time.

Replicating such initiatives on a grand scale will be hard, not least because they all seem to be run by uniquely talented and dedicated teachers and reformers. But at a time when ever more American children are living in poverty, better schools remain the most powerful anti-poverty tool available. After decades of failed efforts to improve the lives of poor students, Mr Tough has written a fine and provocative book about the kind of work that seems to be making a difference.


Scientific Proof GMO Food Causes Cancer in Rats

Jan. 19/2012 Proof GMO Foods Cause Cancer, Harm to Humans and Animals

Most people in America believe the food system feeding 330 million people is the safest in the world because after all the US is the richest country in the world. Wrong.

Americans are allowing their very food supply, the food they put into their mouths everyday and the food that they give their newborn babies is safe to eat and nutrition to be modified by a pesticide chemical company.

An actual two year study conducted on rats that ate GMO food produced the following results:

Photo 1: A two year Study rat showing a large tumor on the right side of it’s body after digesting GMO Corn Nk603


Photo 2: Rat under study fed GMO corn NK603 for all of its life shows a large abdominal cancerous tumor.


On December 16, 2011 in the CRIIGEN offices in Paris the Committee for Research and Independent Information for Genetic Engineering presented their results for the world to see the potential dangers of GMO crops. Although the US media which is controlled by corporations like Monsanto, Dow Chemicals and big factory food companies will bury stories of this type the free media continues to be attacked for showing these study results.

Professor Seralini’s study concentrated on the study of harmful effects of GMO corn Nk603 on humans and animals. The professor has been attacked for revealing his study results which begs the question who has most to lose by disclosure of the truth about GMO? The answers are quite clearly Monsanto, Dow and Nestle.

These US based companies are now obtaining patents on cloning animals for human food, cloning human genes and even human breast milk from women. All to make profits from GMO frankenscience which is never studied for harmful effects like cancer. The US Dept. of Agriculture itself is headed by a former Monsanto lawyer, Tom Vilsack with ties to his clients still defends, promotes and allows GMO to be approved.

What Foods Contain GMO:

99 % of US processed foods sold in boxes, packages and are pre-made such as TV dinners contain Genetically Modified Ingredients.  Although the US government does not require labels of these GMO ingredients they are currently hidden in foods. Fruits, vegetables, just about any food including: corn, soy, sugar and alfalfa contain genetically modified organisms.

Produce:  Imported produce from foreign countries such as: Mexico, Peru, South American countries will also be GMO unless specified.

Fruits: Berry fruits such as strawberries, blueberries and others do contain pesticides and possibly are GMO’d today.  Warning Signs: Any food that stays “cosmetically fresh in your refrigerator for weeks” is most likely modified not to rot and look fresh, but will contain GMO processes.

Studies that Prove the Deadly GMO seeds are causing Cancer:

“The data “clearly underlines adverse impacts on kidneys and liver, the dietary detoxifying organs, as well as different levels of damages to heart, adrenal glands, spleen and haematopoietic system,” reported Gilles-Eric Séralini, a molecular biologist at the University of Caen.”

“Our study contradicts Monsanto conclusions because Monsanto systematically neglects significant health effects in mammals that are different in males and females eating GMOs, or not proportional to the dose. This is a very serious mistake, dramatic for public health. This is the major conclusion revealed by our work, the only careful reanalysis of Monsanto crude statistical data.”

There you have it, the proof that Monsanto is fudging reports, not conducting self-studies that are reliable, and lying about their products enforced and approved by the USDA. It is a system of major corruption that has to do with corruption of the US Congress including their passage of the Farm Bill a bill that allows free, unregulated growth of GMO in the US agriculture system.

“Chronic problems are rarely discovered in 90 days; most often such tests run for up to two years. Tests “lasting longer than three months give more chances to reveal metabolic, nervous, immune, hormonal or cancer diseases,” wrote Seralini, et al. in their Doull rebuttal. [See “How Subchronic and Chronic Health Effects can be Neglected for GMOs, Pesticides or Chemicals.” IJBS; 2009; 5(5):438-443.] ”

Read More:

2009 International Journal of Biological SciencesA Comparison of the Effects of Three GM Corn Varieties on Mammalian Health

January 2010: Truth Out: Three Approved GMO’s Linked to Organ Damage

March 2010: Huffington Post: Monsanto’s GMO Corn Linked to Organ Failure, Study Reveals



The Next Seven States To Legalize Pot

USA — The Berlin Wall of pot prohibition seems to be crumbling before our eyes.

By fully legalizing marijuana through direct democracy, Colorado and Washington have fundamentally changed the national conversation about cannabis. As many as 58 percent of Americans now believe marijuana should be legal. And our political establishment is catching on. Former president Jimmy Carter came out this month and endorsed taxed-and-regulated weed. “I’m in favor of it,” Carter said. “I think it’s OK.” In a December 5th letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) suggested it might be possible “to amend the Federal Controlled Substances Act to allow possession of up to one ounce of marijuana, at least in jurisdictions where it is legal under state law.” Even President Obama hinted at a more flexible approach to prohibition, telling 20/20′s Barbara Walters that the federal government was unlikely to crack down on recreational users in states where pot is legal, adding, “We’ve got bigger fish to fry.”

Encouraged by the example of Colorado and Oregon, states across the country are debating the merits of treating marijuana less like crystal meth and more like Jim Beam. Here are the next seven states most likely to legalize it:

1) Oregon

Oregon could have produced a trifecta for pot legalization on election day. Like Washington and Colorado, the state had a marijuana legalization bid on the ballot in 2012, but it failed 54-46. The pro-cannabis cause was dogged by poor organization: Advocates barely qualified the initiative for the ballot, and could not attract billionaire backers like George Soros and Peter Lewis, who helped bankroll the legalization bit in Washington.

But given that Oregon’s biggest city, Portland, will be just across the Columbia River from prevalent, legal marijuana, the state legislature will be under pressure to create a framework for the drug’s legal use in Oregon – in particular if the revenue provisions of Washington’s law are permitted to kick in and lawmakers begin to watch Washington profit from the “sin taxes” on Oregon potheads. If lawmakers stall, state voters will likely have the last word soon enough. Consider that even cannabis-crazy Colorado failed in its first legalization bid back in 2006.

“We have decades of evidence that says prohibition does not work and it’s counterproductive,” said Peter Buckley, co-chair of the Oregon state legislature’s budget committee. For Buckley, it’s a matter of dollars and common sense: “There’s a source of revenue that’s reasonable that is rational that is the right policy choice for our state,” he said. “We are going to get there on legalization.”

2) California

California is unaccustomed to being a follower on marijuana liberalization. Its landmark medical marijuana initiative in 1996 sparked a revolution that has reached 18 states and the District of Columbia. And the artful ambiguity of that statute has guaranteed easy access to the drug — even among Californians with minor aches and pains.

In 2010, the state appeared to be on track to fully legalize and tax pot with Proposition 19. The Obama administration warned of a crackdown, and the state legislature beat voters to the punch with a sweeping decriminalization of pot that treats possession not as a misdemeanor but an infraction, like a parking ticket, with just a $100 fine. In a stunningly progressive move, that law also applies to underage smokers. And removing normal teenage behavior from the criminal justice system has contributed to a staggering decline in youth “crime” in California of nearly 20 percent in 2011.

The grandaddy of less-prohibited pot is again a top candidate to fully legalize cannabis. Prop 19 failed 53-47, and pot advocates are determined not to run another initiative in an “off-year” election, likely putting ballot-box legalization off for four years. “2016 is a presidential election year, which brings out more of the youth vote we need,” said Amanda Reiman, who heads up the Drug Policy Alliance’s marijuana reform in California.

Economics could also force the issue sooner. Eager for new tax revenue, the state legislature could seek to normalize the marijuana trade. There’s no Republican impediment: Democrats now have a supermajority in Sacramento, and Governor Brown has forcefully defended the right of states to legalize without the interference of federal “gendarmes.”

3) Nevada

Whether it’s gambling or prostitution, Nevada is famous for regulating that which other states prohibit. When it comes to pot, the state has already taken one swing at legalization in 2006, with an initiative that failed 56-44. “They got closer than we did in Colorado that year,” says Mason Tvert, who co-chaired Colorado’s initiative this year and whose first statewide effort garnered just 41 percent of the vote.

For prominent state politicians, the full legalization, taxation and regulation of weed feels all but inevitable. “Thinking we’re not going to have it is unrealistic,” assemblyman Tick Segerblom of Las Vegas said in November. “It’s just a question of how and when.”

4) Rhode Island

Pot watchers believe little Rhode Island may be the first state to legalize through the state legislature instead of a popular referendum. ”I’m hoping this goes nowhere,” one prominent opponent in the state House told the Boston Globe. ”But I think we’re getting closer and closer to doing this.”

Back in June 2012, lawmakers in Providence jumped on the decriminalization bandwagon, replacing misdemeanor charges for adult recreational use with a civil fine of $150. (Youth pay the same fine but also have to attend a drug education class and perform community service.)

In the wake of Colorado and Washington’s new state laws, Rhode Island has joined a slate of New England states that are vowing to vote on tax-and-regulate bills. A regulated marijuana market in Rhode Island could reap the state nearly $30 million in new tax revenue and reduced law enforcement costs. ”Our prohibition has failed,” said Rep. Edith Ajello of Providence, who is sponsoring the bill. ”Legalizing and taxing it, just as we did to alcohol, is the way to do it.”

5) Maine

Maine’s legislature has recently expanded decriminalization and is moving on a legalization-and-regulation bill that could bring the state $8 million a year in new revenue. ”The people are far ahead of the politicians on this,” said Rep. Diane Russell of Portland. ”Just in the past few weeks we’ve seen the culture shift dramatically.”

State legislators in Maine, as in other direct-democracy states, are actually wary of the ballot initiative process and may work to preempt the voters. A legalization scheme devised by lawmakers, after all, is likely to produce tighter regulation and more revenue than a bill dreamed up by pot consumers themselves.

6) Alaska

Alaska is already a pothead’s paradise, and the state could move quickly to bring order to its ambiguous marijuana law. Cannabis has been effectively legal in Alaska since 1975, when the state supreme court, drawing on the unique privacy protections of the Alaska constitution, declared that authorities can’t prohibit modest amounts of marijuana in the home of state residents.

That gave Alaskans the right to have up to four ounces – and 24 plants – in their homes. Following a failed bid to fully legalize pot at the ballot box in 2004 (the measure fell 56-44), the state legislature attempted to enforce prohibition, outlawing all weed in 2006. But citing the 1975 precedent, a judge later ruled the home exemption must be respected, though she sought to limit legal possession to a single ounce.

If taxation and regulation take root in nearby Washington, and perhaps more important in neighboring British Columbia (where legalization is also being considered), a ballot initiative in Alaska could win in an avalanche.

7) Vermont

Last year, Vermont finally normalized its medical marijuana law, establishing a system of government-sanctioned dispensaries. In November, the state’s Democratic governor, Peter Shumlin, just cruised to re-election while strongly backing marijuana decriminalization. The city of Burlington, meanwhile, passed a nonbinding resolution in November calling for an end to prohibition – with 70 percent support. The Green Mountain State has already embraced single-payer universal health care. Legal pot cannot be far behind.

Source: Rolling Stone (US)
Author: Tim Dickinson
Published: December 18, 2012
Copyright: 2012 Straight Arrow Publishers Company, L.P.





AMERICA sidestepped one fiscal disaster at the turn of the year when Barack Obama and Congress agreed to keep most tax rates from rising. A much bigger one is as little as five weeks away, when the Treasury Department runs out of legal authority to borrow. Failure to raise the “debt ceiling”, Mr Obama has warned, would force the government to default on its obligations. Republicans say they need some sort of leverage to drag a spendthrift president to the negotiating table. They have a point, but the debt ceiling is a dangerous tool with which to make it.

The debt ceiling is a peculiarly American anachronism. Until a century ago, Congress approved bond issues one at a time. Between 1917 and 1941 it consolidated those approvals into a single debt limit. The result is that America’s legislature can approve a budget that includes a deficit without approving the issuance of debt necessary to fund that deficit.

A weapon of mass financial destruction

Most of the time, the debt ceiling has been an annoyance, affording whichever party was out of power the opportunity to extract concessions before allowing normal borrowing to resume. It may even have done some good by raising the political price of deficits. But as American politics has become more polarised, it has become an instrument of mass financial destruction. In the summer of 2011 Republicans openly used the threat of default to force Mr Obama and Democrats into a deficit-cutting deal. The episode prompted one credit-rating agency to strip America of its triple-A rating. Republicans, furious that in the recent tussle over the “fiscal cliff” they caved in on tax increases and have no spending cuts to show for it, are spoiling for another fight. Defiant Democrats are floating crackpot responses such as issuing a $1 trillion coin to avoid the debt ceiling (see article) or invoking the 14th amendment to the constitution, which they say forbids default.

The Treasury could try to soften the blow of hitting the debt ceiling by making interest payments on its debt the priority while leaving some other bills unpaid. Yet that would still wreak havoc. The federal government now borrows nearly 30 cents of every dollar it spends. Failure to raise the debt ceiling would force immediate spending cuts equal to 6% of GDP. Not only would that threaten to send the economy back into recession. It would also deprive doctors, pensioners, contractors and millions of others of money needed to meet their own obligations, setting off a chain reaction of defaults.

Nor would the sanctity of the debt be guaranteed. Disgruntled creditors could challenge the legality of prioritising interest payments; populists could demand that Chinese bondholders be paid last, not first. One miscalculation could leave the Treasury without enough money to make an interest payment. Even a few days’ default would roil the global financial system, which relies on Treasuries in countless transactions. The mere possibility could incite skittish investors to dump their holdings, driving up interest rates.

The debt ceiling long ago outlived its usefulness. Congress already has the final say over the budget. And Republicans looking for leverage have alternatives. These include the threat of almost $90 billion of annual spending cuts due to take effect in March and, soon afterwards, the possibility of letting the authorisation for a chunk of federal spending expire, forcing the government to shut down. Though hardly ideal, both would be less destructive than default. If instead Republicans wage another fight over whether America should meet its legal obligations, they will reinforce the impression that the country can no longer be trusted. Better to scrap the debt ceiling now.