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, July 30, 2011
Obama: East Africa famine needs world to respond

Roofer hailed a hero after Norway island rescue

Gary Farber - Amygdala
UPDATE, July 19th, 2011: my friend is still looking for any work, including any Bay Area general office/admin, or retail work; write me at gary underscore farber at yahoo dot com with any info re possible work locally or freelance by mail. And, yes, new or renewed subscriptions, and donations, would be wonderful: thanks to any who can help!

Susie Madrak - What Dave Said
It’s not a “crisis” when it’s completely manufactured.

Dean Baker - Ron Paul’s Lucid Solution to the Debt Ceiling Impasse

Dean Baker - Beat the Press
As a practical matter, the financial markets completely ignored the downgrading of Japan's debt in 2002. It can still pay less than 1.5 percent interest on its 10-year bonds. . .

Paul Krugman - The Fatalist Temptation
. . .the truth about our slump — that we know how to fix it, that we could fix it in a year if we had the political will, but that bad ideas and worse politicians are standing in the way — makes people uncomfortable. They want to believe that we have a deep problem, and that’s why we’re in such a mess. . .

Question 1) What does Krugman mean by "fix it"?

Question 2) 435 House, 100 Senate, P & VP. How many of them agree with Krugman?

Question 3) How many of the American people agree with Krugman?

Note that this is not an ideological question. The assertion is "We know how to fix our slump, and we could fix it in a year if we had the political will." You don't have to be a liberal to agree with that assertion, or a conservative to disagree with it. Ricardo Caballero is I think an example of a non-leftist who would agree with Krugman's assertion.

Saturday, July 23, 2011
Violet Socks - Reclusive Leftist

Susie Madrak - Suburban Guerrilla

Guardian - Norway Attacks

I'm open to believing that some reforms/cuts in Medicare might be necessary, though Dean Baker argues that it's not. Cutting Social Security seems to me to be unwise and unnecessary. In fact, there's a good case to be made for taking a portion of any cuts to Medicare and applying it to increased Social Security benefits. The cuts to Medicaid seem bad, don't know how bad the damage will be.

Overheard a conversation between two conservative women talking deficit, recurrent theme was "we have stop the borrowing, it's out of control, out of control, out of control. . ." One possible way to deal with these debt-slavery worries might be Dale Carnegie's: 1) Imagine the worst. 2) Accept it. 3) Seek to improve upon it.

Obsidian Wings - My rational fear of inflation (by Doctor Science)

Paul Krugman - John Hicks and his Hot Licks accurate predictions

Brad Delong - Our Economic Problems: Larry Summers Is on Message

Daniel Davies - The world's second lowest productivity industry

Tony Judt - Ill Fares the Land (2010)
"In October 2009 I delivered a lecture in New York. . .the first question came from a twelve year old schoolboy. . .The question came directly to the point: "Ok, so on a daily basis if you're having a conversation or even a debate about some of these issues and the world of socialism is mentioned, sometimes it is as though a brick has fallen on the conversation and there's no way to return it to it's form. What would you recommend as a way to restore the conversation?". . .

. . .there is a significant distinction between `socialism' and `social democracy'. Socialism was about transformative change: the displacement of capitalism with a successor regime based on an entirely different system of production and ownership. Social democracy, in contrast, was`a compromise: it implied the acceptance of capitalism - and parliamentary democracy - as the framework within which the hitherto neglected interests of large sections of the population would now be addressed. . .

. . .Thus, when `social democracy' rather than socialism is introduced into a conversation. . .bricks do not fall. Instead, the discussion is likely to take an intensely practical and technical turn: can we still afford universal pension schemes, unemployment compensation, subsidized arts, inexpensive higher education, etc. or are these benefits and services now too costly to sustain? If so, how should they be rendered affordable? Which of them, if any - is indispensable?. . .

. . .Is a system of `cradle-to-grave' protections and guarantees more `useful' than a market-driven society in which the role of the state is kept to the minimum?. . .

. . .As I hope I have shown in this book, the question of `usefulness' needs to be recast. If we confine ourselves to issues of economic efficiency and productivity, ignoring ethical considerations and all reference to broader social goals, we cannot hope to engage it. . .

. . .In writing this book, I hope I have offered some guidance to those - the young especially - trying to articulate their objections to our way of life. However, this is not enough. As citizens of a free society, we have a duty to look critically at our world. But if we think we know what is`wrong, we must act upon that knowledge. Philosophers, it was famously observed, have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.

Saturday, July 16, 2011
Violet Socks - Reclusive Leftist

Arthur Silber - Once Upon a Time...

Susie Madrak - Winning the future
. . .If I could be so rude as to point this out, we have all the money in the world for wars and banker bailouts. What we don’t have is political will to do anything that doesn’t help rich people. . .

Glenn Greenwald - Iraq War veteran on Manning, the media and the military
. . .there is another response that I hope as many people as possible read; with permission, I'm publishing it in its entirety below. It's by former Army Specialist Ethan McCord. . .
. . .I vividly remember the moment in 2007, when our Battalion Commander walked into the room and announced our new rules of engagement:

"Listen up, new battalion SOP (standing operating procedure) from now on: Anytime your convoy gets hit by an IED, I want 360 degree rotational fire. You kill every [expletive] in the street!"

We weren't trained extensively to recognize an unlawful order, or how to report one. But many of us could not believe what we had just been told to do. Those of us who knew it was morally wrong struggled to figure out a way to avoid shooting innocent civilians, while also dodging repercussions from the non-commissioned officers who enforced the policy. In such situations, we determined to fire our weapons, but into rooftops or abandoned vehicles, giving the impression that we were following procedure. . .

. . .I was part of the unit that was responsible for this atrocity. In the video, I can be seen attempting to carry wounded children to safety in the aftermath.

The video released by WikiLeaks belongs in the public record. . .

. . .If PFC Bradley Manning did what he is accused of doing, then it is clear -- from chat logs that have been attributed to him -- that his decision was motivated by conscience and political agency. These chat logs allegedly describe how PFC Manning hopes these revelations will result in "worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms.". . .

Juan Cole - Today’s Top 5 Crises in the 2011 Arab Revolutions
2. Syrian Vice-President Farouk al-Sharaa chaired a nationally televised debate at Damascus University between regime supporters and a few dissidents over the future of the country. (Most in the opposition boycotted the meeting, but a few joined in.) Dissidents called for a pull-back of troops from protesting cities and the release of prisoners of conscience. As regime officials have done before, Sharaa spoke of the country moving to a pluralistic, multi-party democracy. . .It is easy to move to pluralistic democracy. You announce the date for elections, and let other parties freely contest them. Talking about it as a far-future ideal in the absence of practical steps will only enrage your citizens. And having a debate in which those who speak on the opposing side are likely to go to jail and be tortured is a farce.

ECHIDNE of the snakes - Today's Recommended Reading on the Economy
Is this article by James Galbraith. . .

WSJ Staff - Bush On Jobs: The Worst Track Record On Record. (Jan 9, 2009)

President: jobs created; Truman: 8.4 million; Ike: 3.5 million; Kennedy: 3.6 million; Johnson: 11.9 million; Nixon: 9.4 million; Ford: 1.8 million; Carter: 10.5 million; Reagan: 16.0 million; Bush: 2.5 million; Clinton: 23.1 million; Bush: 3.0 million; Obama: ?;

To give old Ev psych its due, it did inspire Antony Jay's book, Corporation Man, parts of which have stuck in my head for years.

Antony Jay - Corporation Man (1971)

Anyone who tries to force a crystal to yield up the innermost secrets of its structure encounters an intriguing problem: the only available method is x-ray diffraction, but this provides two-dimensional photographs, whereas the atoms are arranged three-dimensionally in the crystal. From one single picture you cannot possibly tell how the individual atoms are arranged, you have to take more and more, until finally you are able to deduce the shape of reality from the shadowy images. Eight atoms arranged in a simple cube may surrender their secret after three of four diffraction photographs; the double helix of the DNA molecule took years of work by some of the world's leading scientists.

I use this parallel because this book is an attempt to explain the central reality of the modern corporation, and yet I always mistrust those writers who claim to have done so. Each seems to come up with a new complete explanation. The corporation is an economic unit. The corporation is a complex of personal relationships. The corporation is an organization chart. The corporation is a concept, a pyramid, a state, a monster, a game, a jungle, a battlefield, a way of life. How can all these truths be true, and what is the point of my adding another unsubstantiated assertion to a list that is too long already?

That is why I started with crystallography. The point is that none of these generalizations can be the whole truth because the complexity of the corporation, as of the crystal, is three-dimensional: but any or all of them can be valuable two-dimensional diffraction photographs which help us to build up more and more understanding of the elements that compose the complex three-dimensional whole and of their relationship to each other. Some of these photographs are so close in angle to previous ones that they tell us hardly anything we did not know already. Others, by taking an unfamiliar or unexpected angle, can be a revelation. . .

I. The Evolution of Corporation Man

. . .Even while I was a member of the BBC I wondered if this attitude to time and money was unique or unusual among corporations. After leaving, I worked with with quite a number of of big organizations, and realized in fact that the BBC was rather good. . .

. . .I found horrifying schemes for reporting on staff that tried to turn every manager into a cross between God and a consulting psychiatrist. I found people treated with an indulgent softness that in ordinary life no one would show to a plumber or car mechanic who had fallen down on the job a quarter as badly, or with an inhuman callousness that the same people would privately not inflict on a stray dog. . .

II. The Picture on the Box

. . .The accepted stereotype of the creative artist is as a solitary - the painter alone in his studio, the composer alone at his piano, the poet alone in his garret. When working on Tonight I came to believe that this was a lot of romantic nonsense: the act of creating a work of art has to be solitary, but the artist does not have to be solitary. . .

. . .many ideas are only half an idea - with the single producer they stay half, with a team someone is likely to produce the other half. . .a single producer's ideas would only be for programs he could carry put on his own, they were limited by the skill experience, judgement, and inclinations of one man; but a production team could initiate ideas that used a far wider range - a good example was That Was the Week, which united musicians, singers, actors, political comment, studio audiences, comedy writers, news film, documentary film, studio cameras, bench work, and other ingredients which demanded a range of techniques and expertise which no single producer could possibly command. . .

. . .It did not occur to me at this stage that I had stumbled onto something with a relevance beyond television. All I knew then was that the production team worked in a way in which neither the solitary producer outside it nor the cumbersome structure above it could ever work. It had formed itself naturally, spontaneously, and almost in spite of the existing formal structure, and it was carrying BBC television. . .

I also met Doug Hughes.

Doug is a production engineer with International Computers. . .He felt about the engineering industry much as I felt about the BBC, though at first this was the only connection I could see. However, as he led me me further and further into the dark recesses of the average engineering factory, lightening my path with dazzling flashes of sarcasm fueled by his rich sense of the absurd, it all began to look unbelievably familiar.

To Doug, the average engineering factory was chaos. Metal came into it in a few basic shapes - casting and sheet, billet and strip and bar - and then went through thirty or forty processes before the finished machined part went to assembly: heat treatment, milling, drilling, grinding, reaming, then more of the same, with each process under a different manager's control. Away in one building were designers stipulating tolerances that could not be achieved, and in another were estimators playing happy games with fairy-tale figures that bore no relation to the nasty realities of the factory. If any part had to be scrapped, it was never anyone's fault - the milling foreman and drilling foreman each blamed the other and the factory manager's office turned into a law court. The system worked by a sort of selective panic called "expediting," which meant that urgent parts were rushed through at the expense of logic, order, economy, and efficiency. Machine operators alternated between waiting for parts and being submerged in a flood. . .The BBC, in retrospect, started to look like a model of smooth management.

Doug had been in engineering factories all his life, but he hadn't been able to change anything until one day he was given the design of a card punch so complex that he knew it could not be manufactured by the normal methods. There was only one way, and with a remorseless logic which I now recognize, a production team took place. A small group of men were put together in a separate shop with the necessary machines, and took the card punch through from raw metal to finished machine. The production volume, the degree of precision and the delivery date were all met.

That could have been that. But Doug realized that in a situation almost totally wrong, he had stumbled on something right. And he began to see an engineering factory exactly as I had begun to see the BBC - as a collection of independent workshops with a boss in charge of each who was responsible not for a process but for a complete part or a complete product. . .

Saturday, July 09, 2011
Arthur Silber - Once Upon A Time. . .

Violet Socks - Reclusive Leftist

Susie Madrak - Moral Hazard

A good fortune cookie this week: "Despair is criminal".

Dean Baker - Ron Paul’s Lucid Solution to the Debt Ceiling Impasse

I suppose my belief is that fake problems should have fake solutions.

Neil Irwin (WaPo) - Five economic lessons from Sweden, the rock star of the recovery

Parts of this Charlie Rose interview with Steve Wynn will be slightly grating to anyone who has an anti-elitist or anti-hedonist bone in their body, but it's still well worth watching, because Steve Wynn's description of doing good work is so plausible and interesting. I also think of the interview as an elegant refutation of "We're broke, We're bankrupt, We're in decline, We `just don't' have the money'"-style fatalism and despair.

Steve Wynn interviewed by Charlie Rose (2005)

. . .I have walked with my colleagues, on paper and in modeling & simulation, every POV, every spot that you can stand in this building - and if I've missed one I'll be sorely disappointed - but I've stood in every spot that a human being can wiggle their way into in this place, and I've asked myself: How high is the ceiling? What's the foreground? What's the mid ground? What's the background? What are the layers of visual experience? How will this feel as I move through this promenade, this esplanade, this hallway and when I walk off the elevator? I've stood in your shoes as best a man and his friends can do it, over and over and over again, until I thought I understood what you would see before you saw it. . .

. . .I've loved every minute of doing it. Anyone who would do the things you just said [build the best], first of all, would have to love the process. You don't do this just because you're in a hurry to get some cash flow out of a gambling joint. No, this is about process. Loving process is`something that is an absolute requirement. I mean I've loved each and every step of it. The 2 & 1/2 years of design before the 2 & 1/2 years of construction seemed like 4 months to me. Nobody saw me or heard from me. I was alone with a felt-tip pen and a few other people, working 6 days a week in total ecstasy. . .

. . .what I'm afraid of with the word "dreamer", it connotes Walter Mitty. . .[The Bellagio, Golden Nugget, every Wynn hotel] are real, they exist. . .and they're a vindication of the truth that if you build a wonderment the world will come to it. . .

. . .there's a very fine line between what the press calls a visionary, or an inspired creative idea, or a dreamer, or a conceited rich guy, who's a Judas goat, who's taking everybody, including his investors, over the cliff. And if you live with that responsibility, and the agony and the discomfort of that possibility, you forge ahead and you check your work . . .

. . .you measure your risk, you review your notes, and you say onward and upward, Excelsior! let's go. . .

. . .one thing is for sure, I'm not going to feel sorry for myself, and I'm going to do the best I can.

Readers Digest India interview of Devi Prasad Shetty
Q. So, you’re a happy man?
DS. See, all of us want to be happy. But the ultimate joy is not in having what you want in life, but seeing people around you also having what they want. Just suppose you love ice cream and you’re enjoying your favourite flavour. Then, suddenly, a hundred hungry children surround you. Would you enjoy it as much? Now imagine every child getting an ice cream and they are all very happy. Then your ice cream would have never tasted as good.

Q. But there’s the perception that doctors have become materialistic.
DS. You have to blame the medical education system for that, not the individuals. Under our program, called Udayer Pathey, we’re trying to help children from Bengal’s villages become doctors. Today, most children from poor families, irrespective of how bright or how passionate they are, can never get into medicine. But the world over, some of the brightest doctors, who radically transformed health care, came from deprived backgrounds—they are the ones who have the fire in their belly and can work twenty hours a day. You cannot expect a person who’s paid Rs1 crore [$250,000] to get an MD seat to be passionate about caring for the poor

Q. What is the one medical reform you are rooting for?
DS. Medical education should be made inclusive. Any young doctor who wants to become a heart surgeon or neurosurgeon should be able to become one. What he makes of it is left to him. If we create the infrastructure, we can train ten thousand heart surgeons a year. Why put an artificial barrier? It is exactly like a licence raj, when we only had Ambassador cars. Once we liberalized, we got the world’s best cars. Why not do the same with medical education?

Wikipedia on the License Raj

Reuters article on same

The system for patents & IP is arguably showing some of the same pathologies of the License-Raj. Still, a lot of people's jobs depend on the current patent and IP regime, so I'm not sure dramatic changes would produce the best outcome, instead of ad-hoc adjustments on a case-by-case basis.

Dean Baker on making health care more affordable (2009)

Saturday, July 02, 2011
Arthur Silber - Assistance for Our Better Angels
And by "better angels," I mean, of course, the ladies. First, I encourage you to help a human lady if you can. Dr. Socks has some medical bills which are undoubtedly overwhelming. I have no means of even trying to pay any of my own medical bills. I haven't looked at the bills from my latest hospital stay, although I've kept the envelopes (just in case curiosity overcomes me in an odd moment). It's impossible for me to pay even a small fraction of them (no money, can't pay! simple how that works), so there's no point in contemplating the numbers. But based on the bills from my first hospital stay two years ago, I assume the total to date is well north of $60,000. Note that I didn't have surgery either time; the most complex procedures, which aren't complex at all, were blood transfusions and an endoscopy. Mind-boggling shit is what that is. Anyway, I hope you can help Violet. . .

Violet Socks - Emergency Medical Blegging
Note: Please ignore this post if you are poor, cash-strapped, or otherwise struggling. This is only for those who can afford to help.

Longtime readers have probably figured out by now that I have a couple of medical conditions that rule my life (and my pocketbook). I’ve known for awhile that one of those conditions was eventually going to require treatment, and I’ve been trying my hardest to save up for it. Unfortunately, saving-up time is over. Things have suddenly deteriorated in a major way, and I need surgery. And no, I don’t begin to have enough money to cover it. So if you are one of those people who likes the blog and appreciates whatever it is that I do here, this would be an excellent time to pitch in a few bucks. It would mean the world to me.

I am so grateful for your wonderful friendship and kindness. I love you all.

Arthur Silber - Assistance for Our Better Angels
. . .Next week, Sasha goes in for surgery. After consultation with the vet, I conclude that's the safest and surest way to make certain everything is taken care of properly. (Blood tests are often inconclusive, so aren't necessarily helpful at all.) Even if she was spayed, it's not uncommon for some ovarian tissue to be left behind. The surgery itself will cost $350.00; add in incidentals (and let's assume, please Goddess, there are no complications at all), and we're talking in the neighborhood of $400.00.

And then there is the incredibly sweet Wendy. . .It's possible that the cortisone will have a tremendously revivifying effect, which would certainly change the prognosis for the better. Let's keep our fingers crossed for that. Otherwise...

Wendy's trip to the vet tomorrow will cost around $100.00, perhaps more if the vet decides she needs to be hydrated (a distinct possibility) or requires additional procedures. I've just paid the July rent. With the other monthly bills requiring payment (the bare minimum, as has been the case for years now), I'm looking at rapidly dwindling financial resources. Dwindling toward the point of the big zero.

So once again, I must extend the begging cup. I do have a number of articles lined up for the near future. Once I'm able to focus a bit more on them (I hope this weekend), I'll start preparing them for publication. But I am deeply saddened by Wendy's situation. I've readied myself as much as I can for what may come, but that's not being ready at all. She's so, so sweet, and such a wonderful presence in our lives. Oh, damn. Now I'm crying. God damn it all to hell.

All right, I'll have to leave this for now. Bless you for listening, and bless you if you can help. I'm more grateful than I can say.

ECHIDNE of the snakes - My Annual Fund Drive
This will last the whole week. It's time to pay the piper, my sweet and erudite readers. Or rather, to help me with my computer and chocolate rations. . .

Don't give if you have no money to give or if you already gave. Read and click instead. My sincerest thanks to all of you.

Daniel Davies - Go Dean!
Vintage Dean Baker, on the general subject of annoying opinion writers who, at this late stage and at least two years and five books after there was any excuse, still don't understand what happened in the housing bubble . . .

John Emerson said...
"Baker also is willing to say the same thing 100 times if the same thing happens 100 time. That lacks entertainment value, but repeatedly pointing out that things are still fucked up the same way they always were really is necessary.

Bruschettaboy said...
this is the other thing I was meaning to say about Dean - it is this characteristic, more than any other (even the characteristic of being usually right, which is also valuable), which would have made him absurdly suitable to a well-paying job on Wall Street if he had wanted one.

walt said...
I think part of Baker's success is that his mental model of the economy is laughably simple. For example, his explanation of the recession is the wealth effect: people feel poorer because their total wealth has plunged (because of falling house prices), so there's a big recession. A sophisticated economist at this point would start sputtering about expectations or technology shocks or something. Unfortunately for the sophisticated economist, things happen in the economy for crude reasons, not because of the delicate dance of expectations and optimal planning.

Krugman's most recent blog post is an example, where he quotes Woodford approvingly saying that fiscal policy works through some round-about expectations mechanism, when in fact fiscal policy works through giving money so that they spend it.

Digby - GOP Jobs Program
. . .truthfully, it wouldn't be that hard to just say that this level of unemployment is way too high and that the government is going to put people to work if nobody else will so that they can feed their families. You don't have to give a seminar in macroeconomics.

Matthew Yglesias - Cory Maye To Be Freed

Radley Balko - The Case of Cory Maye (2006)
A cop is dead, an innocent man may be on death row, and drug warriors keep knocking down doors.