World Markets to Congress: You're Not Being Serious, Right?!

There's no end in sight to the standoff on Capitol Hill, and that had markets reacting with something of a nervous laugh on Tuesday.

If market graphs could speak, they might be asking lawmakers in Washington something like the following: "You maniacs! You're not actually thinking of going through with this are you?"

The lack of a resolution to the impasse in Washington has raised the very real prospect that the U.S. government might default on its debt, a reality reflected in the markets today.

On Tuesday afternoon, President Obama went before reporters at the White House to press his case for an end to the stalemate, one that would require recalcitrant Republicans in the House to back off their demands to roll back the president's signature health care overhaul. That has created a situation in which what seemed like the impossible -- that the U.S. government would stop paying its bills -- now seems possible.

Curious what a burgeoning era of political lunacy might mean for world markets? Here's your preview.

If Obama intended to calm investors' nerves with Tuesday's briefing, the results are likely to disappoint the president. As Obama engaged in a rambling, hour and a half-long back-and-forth with reporters, the Dow bounced around before continuing its slide on the day:

The standoff in Washington is also fueling a broad rise in market volatility. The graph below, courtesy of Businessweek's Joshua Green, shows the rise in one volatility index on the week. As for that MS Paint dollar sign, here's Green's explanation: "If you bet on higher volatility (VXX) after hearing Boehner threaten default Sunday, you've made a bundle."

Meanwhile, global markets are watching the situation in Washington with bated breath. Trading on the Nikkei futures market is pointing to a sharply lower opening on Asian markets, and the FTSE in London closed down 1.11 percent. Stocks across Europe closed down on the day, driven in large part by fears of a U.S. default. If worldwide losses weren't enough to drive home the implications of a potential U.S. failure to raise the debt ceiling, the International Monetary Fund also downgraded its global growth forecast on Tuesday, citing the risk posed by a U.S. default. Oh, and if that wasn't enough, Gallup's Economic Confidence Index, which measures Americans' confidence in the U.S. economy, saw its largest single week decline since the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in 2008 set off a global recession:

As Dan Drezner wrote for FP on Tuesday, this economic news may actually play in Obama's favor and could serve as a key part of his negotiating strategy, forcing Republicans to budge in the face of heavy economic losses. But that's a strategy that's predicated on the idea that the Republicans realize the economic consequences of failing to raise the U.S. debt ceiling. That may not be the case.

Here's how Rep. Ted Yoho, a Florida Republican and one of the congressmen behind the current deadlock, assesses the consequences of a U.S. default: "I think, personally, it would bring stability to the world markets."

Spencer Platt/Getty Images


They Love Twerking in Tunisia: Mapping the World's Most Popular YouTube Videos

After watching the world's most popular YouTube videos, I've reached one conclusion: Everyone loves Miley Cyrus. Well, almost everyone. The map above is a rough guide to the popularity of the singer's controversial music video "Wrecking Ball" around the world; the darker the country, the better the video has done there. Miley is apparently big in countries ranging from Malaysia to Tunisia to Ukraine. The Russians, it seems, are one of the few holdouts against her cross-border appeal.

This cultural insight comes courtesy of What We Watch, a new site produced by the MIT Center for Civic Media that has collected public data over the past six months from YouTube's Trends Dashboard -- and produced a nifty, interactive map that lets you explore how culture spreads through the lens of YouTube videos.

The site, among other features, lets you pinpoint where a particular video is trending -- that is, where it has received a lot of attention over a short period of time. I spent a morning playing around with it, and found some surprising results. This Punjabi music video, for instance, has somehow found an audience in the United States, Germany, and the Netherlands:

The Norwegian music video The Fox -- a particular favorite around the FP office -- apparently never really took off in the United States (although Canada, South Africa, and Australia love it -- as do, of course, the Nordic countries).

And almost all of the trending videos in India are, like the one below, Bollywood-related, and popular almost nowhere else.

(Like a lot of Bollywood videos, the clip above, Jeene Laga Hoon, is both ridiculous and cute -- and not a bad two minutes spent, even if you're not in India.)

With What We Watch, you can also explore which countries share the same taste in video clips -- that is, which countries had the same videos trending since MIT started tracking the information. This, too, can sometimes produce surprising results. While Argentines, Colombians, Mexicans, and Peruvians tend to watch the same videos as one another, Portuguese-speaking Brazilians are outliers in Latin America, having more in common -- at least when it comes to YouTube -- with Australia, Canada, and Sweden, among others (though not, it seems, Portugal). 

Turkey -- that bridge between East and West -- favors popular videos in Europe, like this One Direction video, to those in the Middle East, which include several clips from Arab Idol and a music video by Elissa, which was trending in Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Oman, and Saudi Arabia, among others. (Admittedly, language likely plays a significant role here.)

The project is in part a way to find videos you might not have come across in your own country. But the map's creators also want it to capture how culture spreads: Which videos blow up, and what paths do they take? Just how did the Dutch start watching a video by Alfaaz featuring Yo!Yo! Honey Singh, for instance? Why do some videos, like this ridiculous British ad for cereal, never win over a global audience,while this very sweet ad for Google Hangouts has garnered widespread global popularity -- except in the United States, which appears to be its intended target?  

Two countries that could serve as bridges, researchers found, are the United Arab Emirates and Singapore --  both notable as small countries that share a lot of content with a wide range of nations. Both have large expatriate populations as well as large numbers of "guest workers." "We can imagine a video popular in India making its way to Yemen through the United Arab Emirates," researcher Ethan Zuckerman wrote.

So go forth -- and spend your day watching YouTube without feeling guilty about it. Spot any interesting insights? Leave them in the comments.