The Economy Hub
With Michael Hiltzik
I went to see 'The Interview' on Christmas Day--and survived!

Because we shouldn't let the terrorists win, and also one always needs a reason to be out of the house while Christmas dinner is being prepared, we headed out to our local small-chain theater Thursday to see Sony’s “The Interview.”

The noontime matinee for which we had tickets was sold out, as was the 2 o'clock show. Customers were already lining up for the 3 p.m. show more than an hour ahead of time. Oddly, there were empty seats at our sold-out show, which implies that some people with advance tickets either decided to stream the movie online after all or figured that buying seats was enough of a political statement and, having done their part to show the North Koreans what's what, they could skip the show. The heavy crowds may have owed more to the movie showing on only about 300 screens nationwide, rather than the 3,000 or so that a typical studio holiday release would warrant. 

How was the movie? Let’s put it this way: It was far from the worst movie we've ever seen on a Christmas...

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Issa's big dud: No White House connection to IRS 'scandal'

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista) wasted enormous congressional resources over the last 18 months trying to inflate the IRS "scandal" into a mountain. The release Tuesday of his final, petulant report on the affair marks what may be its final decline into a mouse.

The bottom line: Contrary to his assertions in countless appearances on Fox News, there's no evidence that the Obama White House directed -- or indeed was involved in any way -- in the supposed targeting of conservative nonprofit groups for special scrutiny by the IRS. There's no evidence that "tea party" groups were exclusively targeted, as opposed to tax-exempt "social welfare" organizations from across the political spectrum.

The evidence set forth in the report, which was issued by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform's GOP majority without sharing it first with the Democratic minority, instead depicts an IRS struggling to apply complicated rules for nonprofits engaging in political activity, all without...

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GOP moves to bring a bogus New Math to the federal budget

Doug Elmendorf has been viewed as a marked man in Washington ever since the last election, when Republicans won a majority in both houses of Congress for 2015. Now confirmation comes via Bloomberg that he won't be reappointed to his job as director of the Congressional Budget Office in January.

The GOP's goal is to bring in someone more amenable to employing "dynamic scoring" in the CBO's analysis of tax and budget proposals. Elmendorf stands in the way of wide-scale manipulation in congressional budget analysis, and that won't do.

"Dynamic scoring," Washington's phrase of the moment, is a method that aims to incorporate the broad economic effects of a policy into the analysis of that policy. For Republicans, the virtue of dynamic scoring is that it allows them to claim that, say, a tax cut will spur so much economic growth that it will end up producing more revenue, not less -- that it will pay for itself.

Distilled to its essence, this argument is represented by the notorious "Laffer...

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Another threat from climate change: bad-tasting shrimp

Some of the consequences of climate change are obvious -- shrinking polar ice caps, rising sea levels, more damaging floods -- and some are subtle. Among the latter, we can now add bad-tasting seafood.

So concludes a team of researchers led by Sam Dupont of the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, recently published in the Journal of Shellfish Research. They tested shrimp raised for three weeks in seawater of average pH versus shrimp raised in acidic waters, similar to conditions that may prevail as the continued emission of excess carbon dioxide turns the oceans more acidic.

They found that acidic conditions make the shrimp distinctly less palatable to human tasters. The researchers offered each of a panel of 30 local Swedish connoisseurs a plate of shrimp prepared by a professional chef, and asked them to rank the shellfish. Shrimp from the normal waters were more likely to be judged the best on the plate, while those from acidic waters were more likely to be judged the worst.

It's...

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Is the oil crash about to snuff out the 'Texas miracle'?

One aspect of the Texas economic "miracle" that made the triumphalism of its promoters so hard to stomach was the way they glossed over one of its key drivers: the oil boom. Now that global oil prices are plummeting -- down 50% since the summer -- Texas may be facing a less than miraculous future. 

That's the view of JPMorgan Chief Economist Michael Feroli, who last week took the measure of the possible impact of lower oil prices on the Texas economy and found it not good. "We think Texas will, at the least, have a rough 2015 ahead, and is at risk of slipping into a regional recession," he wrote. The consequences could be far-reaching -- job losses and a sharp pullback in home prices in big Texas cities among them.

All oil-producing states will feel the pain, including California, but as Feroli explained, Texas stands alone in its position in the industry. Over the last five years, the state's share of domestic oil production has soared to 40% from about 25%. The weight of the oil...

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These experts still don't buy the FBI claim that North Korea hacked Sony

President Obama has done his best to tamp down fury at North Korea for hacking Sony--"I don't think it was an act of war," he said Sunday on CNN, but "cybervandalism"--but to find true skepticism about North Korea's role in the attack, you have to turn to the professional hacking and anti-hacking community.

Many hackers, anti-hackers and cybersecurity experts still don't share the FBI's conclusion that "the North Korean government is responsible for these actions," as the agency declared last week. They've picked apart the FBI's evidence, which was set forth in a public memo Friday and a much more detailed alert circulated to corporation security departments early in December, and found it wanting. 

As we explained earlier, that's important for two main reasons: You don't want to stoke anger at a government that may be either innocent or peripherally involved (North Korea has denied responsibility for the Sony attack), and you don't want the real perpetrators to evade the...

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