hard heads soft hearts

a scratch pad for half-formed thoughts by a liberal political junkie who's nobody special. ''Hard Heads, Soft Hearts'' is the title of a book by Princeton economist Alan Blinder, and tends to be a favorite motto of neoliberals, especially liberal economists.

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Saturday, May 07, 2011
Raffi Khatchadourian - Bin Laden: The Rules of Engagement
During the Second World War, an American infantryman could shoot an S.S. officer who was eating lunch in a French café without violating the Law of War, so long as he did not actively surrender. . .

. . .A status-based target can become a non-combatant (that is, illegal to kill) only if he is wounded to the point where he no longer poses a threat, or if he is in the process of surrendering. . .[Holder]: if bin Laden “had surrendered [or] attempted to surrender, I think we should obviously have accepted that, but there was no indication that he wanted to do that, and therefore his killing was appropriate.” In such a circumstance, the law suggests that the onus is on the target to immediately revoke his combatant status. Soldiers do not have to wait. . .

Kevin Drum - Afghanistan, Pakistan, OBL photos
There are specific reasons for keeping things classified, and the fact that something "could" incite violence or might be used in a way that makes life more difficult for the White House isn't one of them. That's little more than an all-purpose excuse that can be used for keeping anything classified. . .

. . .Embarrassment doesn't usually cause people to back down. . .

I believe the photos should be partially blacked out or blurred, then released. I believe the video of the funeral should be released.

The shifting accounts of the raid are absolutely fine with me, and it seems to be inevitable and unavoidable with any combat operation or terrorist incident or natural disaster. If you go back and listen to the press briefings in the week after 9/11, you will be struck by the government officials telling us things, with calm self-assured certainty, that we now know to be completely untrue. The good thing is that the mistakes were corrected in 1 or 2 days rather than 1 or 2 weeks. I think the WH made a mistake in clamming up and saying that they were no longer going to discuss details. Clean silence may appear more dignified than messy truth, but I believe that the appearance of dignity is highly overrated.

Perhaps the relevant maxim to remember this week is "never attribute to malice what can be explained by incompetence" Or d-squared's slightly sharper version.

The downward spiral in Pakistan, and what might arrest it

Sambit Bal - Can India match Pakistan's grace and hospitality? (2005)
During a casual conversation a couple of weeks ago, a senior member of the Indian team revealed his worst fears about Pakistan's oncoming tour of India. . ."I just hope," he said, "we, as a nation, are able to reciprocate in kind to the manner Indians were treated in Pakistan when they toured last year."

It's a fear palpably felt by every Indian who set his or her foot in Pakistan during those magical days. Like us, he had seen doors and hearts open, he had felt the warmth and goodwill which was too spontaneous to have been a put-on, he had seen the Indian flags flying proudly in the stands, seen pictures of Indian revellers on the streets of Lahore, and like us, he too is left wondering if India can match the grace and the hospitality. . .

. . .The red carpet from the state and the cricket administration was expected, but the surge of goodwill on the streets, in the shops, at homes, in taxis and restaurants wasn't part of a grand design. It just happened. One thing led to the other. A better explanation of this can be found in Malcolm Gladwell's acclaimed book Tipping Point, which explores the phenomenon of little things making a big difference.

It perhaps took small things - a boy painting himself in the national colours of India and Pakistan, someone stitching two flags together, the first few dispatches filed by Indian journalists - that got the emotions stirring and in no time a spirit of brotherhood had spread across on both sides of the border. It was special, perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime experience. To expect a repeat might be a sure recipe for disappointment. But still, we have a right to expect, for what happened then was wonderful. . .

. . .Has India slipped even before it could get moving? That's a bleak view that does not take into account the power of the human heart. What happened in Pakistan last year wasn't expected. It wasn't planned. It wasn't powered by propaganda. What is needed is a few little lights to kindle a giant flame. Let's invest in hope. It's a better feeling than dread.

It seems to me that the Indian cricket tour of Pakistan in 2004 was one of high points, if not the high point, of the Musharraf era. Since then it seems to have a been a long, relatively slow, downward spiral in Pakistan. The middle class protests against Musharraf were am ambiguous moment, which could have had a better outcome if Musharraf had accepted the judicial rulings against him with restraint. Then came unalloyed disasters: the assassination of Bhutto, the attacks on the Sri Lankan cricket team, 26/11, assassinations of moderate politicians.

What might start to reverse the trend? It's probably disingenuous for an Indian-American to offer "friendly" advice to Pakistan, but anyway, it seems to me the main issue is Kashmir, and the main task for Pakistani leaders seeking to lead their people somewhere other than the abyss is to affirm the legitimacy of the Kashmir issue, and affirm the legitimacy of Pakistanis fighting for Kashmiri rights, while at the same condemning, and opposing, with some firmness and resolve, terrorism & violence as a legitimate means of fighting for those rights.

I think the first step in achieving peace in Kashmir has to come from Pakistan, and it has to involve a comprehensive and sustained attempt to delegitimize terrorism and violence as a means of fighting for Kashmiri rights. This will be difficult, as the legitimacy of violence and terrorism in Kashmir has sunk deep roots in Pakistan since at least 1989, and probably since soon after the 1979 killing of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

After Pakistan has taken dramatic, irrefutable steps to delegitimize violence and terrorism in Kashmir, and it becomes crystal clear that Indian concessions on Kashmir do not represent a caving in to terrorism and violence, the burden of responsibility shifts to India. In terms of what a final deal should look like, I guess I agree with the ideas of Stephen P. Cohen, P.R. Chari & Hasan Askari Rizvi: The Kashmir Dispute: Making Borders Irrelevant

I suppose it's possible for India to make the first move on Kashmir, and if Manmohan Singh decides to do that, I for one will support him, but without a determined attempt by Pakistani leaders to fight terrorism and violence as an illegitimate means for pursuing Kashmiri rights, it's not clear that any overtures from India are going to accomplish anything in terms of stopping the madness, the denial, and the downward spiral, that seems, from an outsider's perspective, to be afflicting Pakistan today.

Matthew Yglesias - Safe Haven Myth Should Die With Bin Laden
. . .surely the fact that Osama bin Laden turns out to have been hiding out in a walled compound near a city thirty miles up the road from Islamabad featuring a professional cricket team, a field hockey stadium, and a medical school ought to prompt us to reconsider the obsession with the idea of “terrorist safe havens.” . . .On the one hand, no location on earth is actually safe from a United States military . . .On the other hand. . .Trying to physically conquer and occupy territory in order to prevent it from being used by terrorists is is extremely difficult, oftentimes counterproductive, unnecessary, and offers no guarantee of success.

I agree we shouldn't invade and occupy a country just to carry out counter-terrorism operations, but to me the raid shows the extreme importance of having a good working relationship with the police of any country where terrorists live. This was an operation where there was every incentive to get it right, yet it still came close to going wrong. This type of raid is appropriate for Bin Laden, and possibly Zawahiri, and no one else, it seems to me.

The next alternative to this type of raid is bombing. We now know, thanks to the courage of the SEALS who carried out this operation, what that would have meant: 1 HVT killed, one grown son of HVT killed. 2 courier/bodyguards killed, and 18 women and children non-combatants killed. One man as guilty as a man can be, a few more somewhat guilty men, and more than a dozen innocents. Suppose those women and children had been Americans. Would we consider that an acceptable outcome?

The rejoinder, is that if you are a terrorist combatant, trying to kill as many Americans as possible, by any means available, how dare you make the choice to surround yourselves with wife and children, instead of sending them somewhere safe? I think this has some validity, nevertheless, it's still our bombs that are killing these non-combatants.

So if raids and bombs are both, deeply, deeply, unsatisfactory, the final alternative, besides patience and watchful waiting, is to have a good working relationship with the Pakistani police force. This seems to me the only way to achieve the routine, frequent arrests of terrorists necessary to defeat a terrorist network.

Andrew Sullivan (quoting Daniel Larison) - In Defense Of Pakistan As An Ally, Ctd

A quote from a Pakistani, I can't remember where it came from: "We didn't know where OBL was. If we had known, we would have arrested him, like we did with KSM". I think this is true, nevertheless the inability of the Pakistani establishment to effectively investigate the location of OBL, along with their inability to effectively investigate the killing of Benazir Bhutto, along with their inability and flat unwillingness to investigate 26/11, suggests a deep reluctance of the Pakistani establishment to get to the bottom of any terrorist incident, for fear of what they might find.

Anthony Shadid (NYT) - Protests Across Syria Despite Military Presence
Obama administration officials say that while some figures in the Syrian leadership, Ms. Shaaban and Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa among them, seem to favor at least some reform, hard-liners in the leadership are ascendant. . .

. . .But officials say the ire of France and, in particular, Turkey, which had emerged as one of Syria’s closest allies, has worried the Syrian leadership. So has the threat of international action. On Friday, the European Union decided to impose a travel ban and a freeze of assets of 14 Syrian officials, though Mr. Assad was excluded. . .

This Stormy Dragon comment is untrue and possibly unkind, but also funny:
Doug Mataconis - Pakistan Claims It Did Its Part To Catch Bin Laden
Of course they did their part to catch him. Think how much harder the operation would have been if the ISI had built OBL’s mansion in a remote location instead of a conveniently accessible suburb!

David Coombs - A Typical Day For PFC Bradley Manning at Fort Leavenworth

Kevin Drum - Good & Evil Banks, Good & Bad Customers
This is yet another example of a fee that (a) most people don't really know much about, (b) most people don't think they'll ever incur, and (c) generally gets paid by people in some kind of distress. In the modern banking industry, that makes it a perfect target for a huge increase. . .Unfortunately, I don't really know what the answer to this is. I have a visceral aversion to doing business like this, but I also understand why they do it . . .

Matthew Yglesias - The Case For A Public Option For Small-Scale Savings

Would it make sense for one of the big tech companies, Google or even Microsoft or Yahoo, to get into the banking or credit card business, or specific areas of those businesses?

Update: Or Apple, I suppose. IBank? ICard?

Kevin Drum - Federalize Medicaid

Kevin Drum - Ed Reform Backlash

I used to be receptive to the idea of standardized tests, not so much on grounds of teacher accountability, as that they're, in theory, potentially democratizing i.e. It doesn't matter whether you go to an elite school, you can still take the same test as any elite student. I've since become more skeptical of them, because in reading biographies, you keep coming across instances of exams & tests being hindrances rather than helps, e.g. C.S. Lewis was a mathematical illiterate, and unable to pass even the simplest test in maths, something which would have prevented him from attending Oxford, save for a special last-minute test exemption for returning WWI veterans. And (as described in Leonard Mlodinow's Euclid's Window), Einstein, while obviously scoring high in math & physics, had a a consistently hard time in other subjects, such that at one point he became embittered and dropped out of high school for 6 months, until his father urged him to go back to (a different) school. If Albert frickin' Einstein - precisely the sort of genius standardized tests are supposed to help - found compulsory standardized tests more hindrance then help, what exactly are compulsory tests good for?

I guess the idea I find attractive in education is Minimally Invasive Education, i.e. "ask them what they want to do, and then advise them to do it". Standardized tests would have a role in such a system, not so much as a way to hold teachers accountable, but as an opportunity for students to demonstrate some competence in a field they wanted to pursue.

Karl Smith - Ham and Eggs in the Jobs Report

Found Smith's categorization of jobs interesting: traditional industrial heart (mining, utilities and manufacturing); sponge (retail and hospitality); golden children (education, health, professional services, business, finance, insurance and real estate); construction; and government.

Most of Noahpinion's "What I learned in econ grad school" (Part 1 & Part 2) went over my head. It did, however, remind me of John Quiggin's "What next for macroeconomics?" post, with 2 comments from d-squared:
"I dunno. . .I probably ought to write my own “whither macro” post, but I don’t think I agree with this one. It’s still very agent-centred rather than institutional. . .

. . .What we’ve got here are a bunch of institutions which write contracts with each other for fixed nominal values, and then interact with the real economy. I think it makes more sense to treat these as black boxes which do stuff (and then to try and understand the feedback system which operates within them) rather than to start with the psychology of the elves who work inside them. . .

. . .My practical example of this would be the real estate boom; if I were starting to explain this I would have as my building blocks the rental yield, the competitive equilibrium in the market for loans with competition on price and collateral, the need for certain kinds of institutions to earn a target level of nominal yield in order to maintain regulatory solvency, etc etc etc

. . .Basically as far as I can see, the problem with macroeconomics was too much abstraction . . .

. . .Up until 2006, the housing “boom” was simply a reflection of what had happened to interest rates and reflected a combination of downward-stickiness in rents, combined with quasi-arbitrage between the yield on bonds and the rental yield on property. After 2006, house prices kept rising to levels where the rental yield was well below the bond yield, and this marked the “Minsky moment” at which the boom became a bubble. In early 2007, the rental yield moved below the cost of mortgage financing, and we had the “second Minsky moment” at which the crash was inevitable . . .

. . . .the above paragraph, btw, is an example of how I think macroeconomics should be done. We know that rents are sticky in a downward direction, and the reasons why don’t have much to do with agent rationality – they’re a reflection of the way in which contracts are written and in which property investment is financed. We know that there is quasi-arbitrage between bond yields and property yields, and I would also argue that if you’re going to investigate this you are going to get further by getting a load of deep and detailed information about the real estate investment industry than by making stylised models of expectations.

The last Krugman post on the size of the output gap was on January 19. What are the updated figures (or more accurately, the updated range of estimates)? How much money are we leaving on the table, and since people like having more money, or so I've heard, how much support is there among the American people, and among American elites, for closing the output gap?

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