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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Thursday, October 27, 2011
Henry K. Lee,Will Kane - War vet hurt in Occupy Oakland protest improving

Susie Madrak - Google

TOM FINN AND NOAH BROWNING / SANA'A - An American Teenager in Yemen: Paying for the Sins of His Father?

Melissa Mckewan - FYI
MASSIMO CALABRESI - Hillary Clinton and the Limits of Power: ". . .we polled her against Romney and Perry, and found that she does better, by far, than Obama, leading Romney by 17 points and Perry by 26*. Her closest aides strongly dismiss any 2012 ambitions and say 2016 is very unlikely: she’d be 69 the day of the vote that year. We don’t speculate on the source of her popularity. . ."

Juan Cole - Surprises of the Tunisian Election

Obsidian Wings - The future of Libya open thread
Donald Johnson - Libya & Self-righteousness

Nigel: "The incredibly rapid fall of Tripoli indicates (to me at least) that the vast majority of the population sided with the rebels. Western airpower did not and could not have achieved that on its own - as has been clearly demonstrated by all our other failed efforts. . . ."

Corrente Wire

Susie Madrak - Donate
Donations are much appreciated if you can spare them. Thanks!

Friday, October 21, 2011
Susie Madrak - Sins of the father

Violet Socks - Rapture Watch

Corrente (okanogen's blog) - Sterling Newberry First Hand OWS Reporting

Obsidian Wings (Eric Martin) - Climate Change Skeptics

There is a non-crazy case for skepticism, not so much for global warming, but for policy responses to global warming. The case is that in the future we might have much cheaper ways of removing carbon from the atmosphere, therefore the best thing to do now is to pursue technofixes rather than trying to transition away from fossil fuels.

I don't agree with this view because 1) putting a price on carbon is itself an important way of encouraging R&D and technofixes 2) while there is a need for government to raise revenue, a carbon tax is one of the better ways of doing it.

Freddie deBoer - why Occupy Wall Street exists, reason #1,734

How many people are in US prisons? Of those people, how many 1) received sentences that are too harsh 2) received sentences that are too lenient 3) received sentences that are just?

Juan Cole - Qaddafi’s People’s Temple

Any news on the treatment of African immigrants in Libya?

Gary Farber - Amygdala

Arthur Silber - Once Upon A Time. . .

Saturday, October 15, 2011
(via Violet Socks & Susie Madrak) - Corrente Fund Drive - Help Lambert

anyone have strong opinions on where and in what proportion political funds should be allocated? I guess the organizations are OFA, DNC, PCCC, Blue America, DFA, think-tanks/media/non-profits, and what else?

I thought Feldstein's op-ed in the NYT was pretty good when I was reading it, but Dean Baker makes some sound criticisms.

Saturday, October 08, 2011
Good for Harry Reid. I think what Senate Democrats need to use this new power for, first of all, is to confirm political appointees, i.e. confirm people whose term may end in Jan 2013. For those people, there's no time to waste. And the problems the nation confronts are too important for Obama not to have a full team, or to have great people not confirmed because they rub one senator the wrong way.

Much better news on the jobs numbers. But important not to forget how poor the numbers are compared to the 90's.

Karl Smith - The Silver Lining

Karl Smith - On IS-LM
. . .there is a severe monetary contraction going on in their community. The answer to this story must involve banking, lending, debt, prices, import or export. It will not be solved by changes in real productivity alone. . .

. . .the more you listen to people talk about “economic problems” the more you realize that they are talking about monetary problems. Problems involving prices, money, debt and lending.

The economy of China is quite poor. The economy of Portugal is quite rich. Yet right now Portugal is experiencing a severe monetary contraction while China is trying to put the breaks on monetary expansion.

Thus it feels to just about everyone that the economy of China is doing well and the economy of Portugal is doing poorly. . .

Question: What is the probability the average citizen will be forced, by adverse economic setbacks to a) change their daily/weekly schedule b) change their location of residence/location of work/commute in China, versus in Portugal?

Is perhaps that what people mean by saying China's economy is doing better than Portugal? That the average Chinese has a lower probability, going forward, of being forced to change their lives due to adverse economic setbacks?

Question: How quickly did unemployment decline as the economy was going to full-employment in WWII? How quickly did it decline in 1983 recovery? How quickly could we reasonably expect it to decline now, if we had good economic policies?

Susie Madrak - The Light Dawns
Charlie Pierce: "The flip side of arrogance is opulent self-pity. . ."

(via Susie Madrak) Tim Shorrock - Michael Moore on “Here Comes Trouble,” the Left, the Wall Street protests – and Ralph Nader

Gary Farber - Said the Red Queen

Violet Socks - Reclusive Leftist

Arthur Silber - Once Upon a Time...

a good (7pm - 8pm) hour of talk radio with (host) Peter. B Collins & (guest) William K. Black, on housing, HAMP, etc. (interview starts at 21:30, and a lot of the good stuff starts at: 39:30)

Jeff Pearlman's SI cover story on Walter Payton was astonishing to me, because I never would have guessed a man as great as Walter Payton - and there were/are few greater - would become (partially) unmoored after losing the rhythms and routines of a football season. I guess the lesson is if it can happen to Payton, it can happen to anyone. It reminded me of Kasparov's WSJ op-ed on Fischer: "People may believe that this is what happens when a genius plays chess -- instead of what happens when a fragile mind leaves his life's work behind." Walter Payton was not all that fragile, but leaving your life's work behind must be hard for anyone.

. . .If fans approached him with footballs to sign, Payton first insisted on a quick game of catch. If they wanted him to shake a child's hand, Payton knelt down and engaged the youngster in a conversation about school. While traveling to Orlando for a vacation in 1996, Payton, sitting in first class, was told that a 10-year-old boy named Billy Kohler, who needed liver and kidney transplants, was on the plane, heading to Disney World courtesy of the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

"A stewardess comes up and says, 'There's someone who would like to meet you in first class,' " says Jim Kohler, Billy's father. "We go up front, and who's standing there—Walter Payton." He introduced himself and knelt down to Billy's level. "You've been facing a lot of adversity," Payton told the boy. "You will come through this. No matter what follows, you need to keep your head up, you need to keep fighting forward, and you need to believe. You've gone through more in your short life than most of us have in a lifetime."

Overcome by the moment, Billy began sobbing. Payton tickled him beneath the chin. "You're a hero," he said. "Just know that—you're a hero."

Billy Kohler, now 24, is a construction worker in Orlando. . .

John Madden's book One Knee Equals Two Feet has a very good chapter on Payton, "Why Payton is the Best".

NYT reader comments on Brooks's In Defense of Romney column:
Dan (CA): ". . .everyone knows that what private equity is most about is creating efficiencies, including cutting jobs, to squeeze out more profits for investors. There's nothing fundamentally wrong about that, but it's wrong to misrepresent the nature of private equity as Romney does. Private equity is not the same as venture capital. . ."

BH (MA): ". . .With all due respect to Prof. Hubbard and Prof. Mankiw (after all, they are the teachers and advisers of future economists who possess more brain power than most of us,) one should be mindful that they were the advisers of President George W Bush. While President Obama has not been able to fix the economy after pulling America out of the potential Great Depression II, these two powerhouse economists were the team getting us there. Not something we should cheer for. The premise is based on some simpleton math: 8 years versus 3 years, even if one is to discount the fact that fixing things is much harder than breaking things!. . ."

Three very good letters in the Financial Times:

Greg Beier - Polite conversation with a lawyer, two hippies and a nanny

Finn Jackson - Creating more hedge contracts increases the risk

William Thayer - HFT’s only ‘advantage’ is to the traders

Saturday, October 01, 2011
One of the weird unspoken assumptions of politics at the moment is that hurting/ causing pain to others is virtually certain to result in increased benefits to oneself. It's perhaps worth repeating that we can't cut our way out, we can't spend our way out, we can only work our way out. Prosperity is not green pieces of paper, or gold ingots, or even positive numbers on non-fraudulent balance sheets. Prosperity is work well done at work worth doing. If we want more real prosperity, it's not going to come from cutting, or spending, it's going to come from increasing the amount of work well done at work worth doing. If the price of increasing that real work, and that real prosperity, is an abstraction called a budget deficit, or an increased price level, that's unfortunate, but it's a second order issue, not a first order one. We can easily deal with second-order issues once the first-order issues have been addressed.

Susie Madrak - Alabama immigration
. . .hurt children and don’t even care. . .

Susie Madrak - All I really want for my birthday (support #occupy movement)

Susie Madrak - That darn Marcy
Always wanting the evidence and such. What a killjoy!

Why would anyone object to killing U.S. citizens without even a trial?

Susie Madrak - Why infrastructure spending saves money
Brad Delong
. . .In sum, on the benefits side of the equation: more jobs now, $500 billion of additional consumption of goods and services over the next two years, and then a $40 billion a year flow of higher incomes and production each year thereafter. So, what are the likely costs of an extra $500 billion in infrastructure spending over the next two years?

For starters, the $500 billion of extra government spending would likely be offset by $300 billion of increased tax collections from higher economic activity. So the net result would be a $200 billion increase in the national debt. American taxpayers would then have to pay $2 billion a year in real interest on that extra national debt over the next 30 years, and then pay off or roll over the entire $200 billion. . .

David Graeber - Occupy Wall Street rediscovers the radical imagination
What we are witnessing can also be seen as a demand to finally have a conversation we were all supposed to have back in 2008. . .Everything we'd been told for the last decade turned out to be a lie. Markets did not run themselves; creators of financial instruments were not infallible geniuses. . . money itself was revealed to be a political instrument, trillions of dollars of which could be whisked in or out of existence overnight if governments or central banks required it. . .It seemed the time had come to rethink everything. . .

Then, in one of the most colossal failures of nerve in history, we all collectively clapped our hands over our ears and tried to put things back as close as possible to the way they'd been before.

. . .It's becoming increasingly obvious that the real priority of those running the world for the last few decades has not been creating a viable form of capitalism, but rather, convincing us all that the current form of capitalism is the only conceivable economic system, so its flaws are irrelevant. . .

One simple point I think does not get made nearly enough. The US Government gave Goldman, via the AIG counterparty bailout, at least 12 billion, and probably more. This is more than Goldman's annual profits. And it was a free gift, no strings attached. Wall Street is a primitive "face" culture. By raiding the US Treasury to protect Goldman's profits, we allowed Blankfein to protect his "hayba" as a money-making businessman, instead of a money-losing one.

(Via Garrett Jones) Dean Baker - How It Could Have Been Different This Time
. . .If we had looked at the probability that newborns would live to age five, examining random 20-year intervals in different countries over the last six centuries, we would find that in most of these intervals, most newborns do not live to age five. If we therefore concluded that we should expect children born today to die before the age of five, we would be utterly crazy. The advances in health care, nutrition and sanitation over this period make it possible for the vast majority of children almost everywhere to survive to adulthood.

I would argue that the story with economics is similar. We do know more about the economy today than we did 500 years ago or even 100 years ago. We do know how to get out of severe downturn like the present one, the real question is whether we have the political will to make it different.

In this spirit, I was prompted by a question from Ezra Klein to lay out the case as to how exactly it could have been different. So, now that I have the reins of government fiscal policy and monetary policy, let me show exactly how we would have done it differently. . .

Is there any great mystery in what Obama could do to energize the base, and indeed even the entire electorate? Produce a plan for a full-employment economy, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of our lives.

MLK: "What's the use of having the right to sit at the counter, if you can't buy a meal?"

I remember reading a Michael May article on MAD where he said "only nuclear weapons and the logic of MAD transforms the great powers perceptions of peace, as something which is nice to have but not essential, into instead an essential strategic necessity. They do this at some risk of an unimaginable catastrophe. . ". I've been thinking the same thing about full-employment and WWII. It's striking how easy it was to achieve full-employment when the ruling class wanted it. There were real costs: a few years of very high inflation, etc. but on the whole full-employment policies were very beneficial.

Michael May - No matter what the evidence, U.S. was going to war in Iraq (2004)
. . .Kay was polite in his testimony and pointed only to an intelligence failure. It clearly was a lot more. Both in the United States and Britain, analysts who knew there was no evidence of any weapons capability could not get their message past the lowest levels of the intelligence bureaucracy. The administration, or the dominant players in it, were determined to let no alternative story surface, except the one that would justify war. Under those circumstances, the truth, which is generally a messy thing that doesn't fit well into any story, had no chance of getting a hearing. . .

Doctor Science - Raytheon's cold equations
. . .My mother/aunt, Renee Douceur, is the winter site manager at the South Pole Station run by Raytheon and the National Science Foundation. She suffered a stroke on August 27th and the on-site doctors requested for her immediate medical emergency evacuation to get her to proper medical care and prevent further injury to her, The decision makers are disregarding the on-site doctors’ request for Renee’s immediate need for emergency evacuation. Instead they are treating her stroke as a non-emergency, keeping her at the South Pole until late October or early November. Renee’s attorney has advised her to go public because he is being stonewalled by Raytheon and the NSF to get her out ASAP for proper medical diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation (if she survives the trip out) Let's get her home!. . .

Gary Farber - Papers, please

Gary Farber - Off With Their Heads!

Doctor Science - September 11, Iraq, and the nature of courage
. . .in retrospect, most people seem to be acknowledging that:

there was no connection between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 attackers

the rationale the Bush Administration put forth for the war was at best specious, at worst deliberately deceptive

the Administration's planning for the war and (especially) for the occupation were staggeringly incompetent

the consequences of the war for the US were bad (loss of life, limb, security, and money), and the Iraqi people catastrophic (death or injury for hundreds of thousands, millions of refugees).

The thing is, most of these points seemed patently obvious to me in February 2003 -- except for #3, the incompetence of the Bush Administration, which I *really* wasn't expecting. I thought they *cared* about war and would do a much better job at it than they did. . .

(Via Ross Douthat) The Skeptical Juror - The Yellow and White Case of Troy Anthony Davis: Part 1

Violet Socks - The Big Lie
. . .human beings are predisposed to believe what other human beings say. . .

"That popup says it's an anti-virus, so how can it be a virus?"

Arthur Silber - Once Upon a Time...

Amanda Marcotte - Analogizing taxes to rape

I think describing taxes with rape analogies illustrates the extreme dangers of thinking of money as a real thing in its own right, instead of as a useful illusion: A handy, but ultimately fake, thing, which can occasionally enable you to do real things.

Swami Dayananda - The Value Of Values
. . .When I was a child of three years old, I once picked up a piece of paper. It was green, printed, very colourful. I began, as I did with every paper, to play with it. Mummy said: No! That is money." . .

. . .I saw lots of chocolates and jelly-beans. I stretched out my hand: "Give me jelly-beans." The fellow behind the counter raised his eyebrows and looked at Mummy. I wondered why he would not give me any candy when he had so many. Then Mummy opened her purse. . .

. . .One day when we were shopping, I wanted a balloon. Out came the money and the balloon was mine. Oh, ho! If you give money you can get jelly beans, chocolates, and even balloons. This is a great discovery for a small child. I had learnt that money buys things - all manner of things. Not many people understand the monetary system but everybody knows that money buys!

Later, as I grew up I came to learn how many things money buys: houses, cars, even gurus and gods. Nothing buys like money.

When I come to know how well money buys, how many things money buys, I come to have a well understood, well assimilated personal value for money. . .

. . .most of us have a well assimilated personal value for money; whereas, when it comes to speaking truth our value often is general and half assimilated. When this is the case, what happens if there is a conflict between the money-value and the truth-value? . . .Very likely, the assimilated value for money will be the victor. But, all the same, something goes on murmuring inside, "Speak truth, speak truth.". . .

Juan Cole - Informed Comment

Wikipedia - Works Progress Administration
. . .Critics ridiculed them, and the agency as a whole, as lazy — calling the initials "We Poke Along", "We Piddle Around", "We Putter Along", "Working Piss Ants", or the "Whistle, Piss and Argue gang". These were sarcastic references to WPA projects that sometimes slowed down deliberately because foremen had an incentive to keep going, rather than finish a project.[35]

Novelist John Steinbeck rejected a common charge against WPA workers in his essay, "Primer on the '30s": "It was the fixation of businessmen that the WPA did nothing but lean on shovels. I had an uncle who was particularly irritated at shovel-leaning. When he pooh-poohed my contention that shovel-leaning was necessary, I bet him five dollars, which I didn’t have, that he couldn’t shovel sand for fifteen timed minutes without stopping. He said a man should give a good day’s work and grabbed a shovel. At the end of three minutes his face was red, at six he was staggering and before eight minutes were up his wife stopped him to save him from apoplexy. And he never mentioned shovel-leaning again." . . .

. . .Unemployment ended with the beginning of war production for World War II, as millions of men joined the services, and cost-plus contracts made it attractive for companies to hire men and train them. . .