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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Friday, January 27, 2012
Sasha Said - Help! Facing Homelessness with 4 Dogs

Arthur Silber - Helping Each Other

Susie Madrak - Fun with fundraising

Digby - Help out a pal

(William) Burton's back, baby.

Oliver Willis - C.K.: November 22, 1999 – January 7, 2012

I sort of agree with conservatives that the range of human problems that can be solved with "more money" is quite narrow. But to me this just makes it more imperative to see what problems are so trivially easy to solve with more money and. . .solve them.

[3F22] Summer of 4 Ft. 2
Lisa: In the beginning of the school year, each of you received a colored ticket. I hope everyone still has theirs.
Crowd: Not me. Uh uh. I don't have it...
Nelson: Who died and made you boss?
Lisa: Mr. Estes, the publications advisor. I edited the whole thing.
Nelson: If you hadn't done it, some other loser would have. So quit milking it!

Fed statement is a positive step, 2 questions: 1) On what basis was the 2% target chosen? 2) (Quoting Atrios) What is the unemployment target?

I guess to me the fundamental principle of macroeconomics is that people should not have to make drastic negative changes in their lives, unless those changes increase productivity, or welfare, or both. UPDATE: It seems to me that the fundamental fact of a recession is that people are forced to make major negative changes in their lives, and the changes they are forced to make neither improve productivity, nor welfare.

Juan Cole - Petition against the Murder of Iranian Scientists

If Israel is asking for active policy not only to keep Israel, strong, smart & rich, but for active policy to keep Israel's neighbors poor, weak & stupid, then Israel is asking for too (damn) much. Frankly, poor, weak & stupid is something all too easy for countries to achieve, even without Israeli murders of Iranian scientists.

next post: Feb. 3rd.

Thursday, January 19, 2012
Arthur Silber - Ordinary Evil

David Plotz - The Bulldozer rolls on.
. . .The tough-Jews philosophy was coupled with scorn for Arabs. In his autobiography, Warrior, Sharon depicts Arabs as infantile, timorous, and untrustworthy. As one former U.S. official who knows him puts it, Sharon has the same condescending disregard for Arabs that Southern plantation-owners had for blacks. . .

. . .Some old soldiers want to fade away: Sharon would rather spend his dotage stifling the intifada that he helped create. He believes there has never been a normal day in Israel. And if he has his way, there will never be one.

The only update to Plotz's piece is that there's no longer any "if". After these recent murders of Iranian scientists, Israel has plumbed new depths, doing things the Americans & Russians chose not to do the Nazi scientists, the Americans & Russians, the Indians & Chinese, the South & North Koreans, the Pakistanis & Indians, chose not to do to each other, no matter how much they may have hated and feared one another. If India had tried to murder Pakistani scientists, it would not have stopped Pakistan, obviously, from pursuing their nuclear program, and these murders of Iranian scientists are not going to stop Iran, also obviously.

And if the logic of these murders is accepted and endorsed, there are many, many, more murders coming on the way. There are thousands of Iranian teenagers with the talent and desire to improve their country's military capability. Is Israel going to murder all of them too?

If the logic behind these murders is accepted, the Israeli vision of the future is of a white-skinned boot stomping on a brown-skinned face, forever.

I believe redemption is possible for everyone and everything, even these recent murders. But not unless you want it.

next blog post: Jan. 27

Saturday, January 07, 2012
Andrew Sullivan (Daily Dish) - Today In Syria: Another Bombing

ADAM NOSSITER (NYT) - For Congo Children, Food Today Means None Tomorrow

Arthur Silber - Still Here, Very Sick
I'm in very bad shape at the moment. Kind of scary times here. I'm sorry to say that's about all I'm capable of saying right now. The articles I'm working on and want to publish next are complicated. When I run through the arguments my subjects require, I heave a deep sigh and think: "Dear lord, I can't possibly explain all that when I feel this terrible.". . .

. . .So I'm stuck in this remarkably unfriendly and barren territory. I hope a path out of here will reveal itself soon. For the duration, I ask for your understanding and indulgence.

UPDATE: Lots of talk about Iran these days. A reader reminded me of this article of mine, from almost five years ago: "So Iran Gets Nukes. So What?" Change just a few specifics, and it could have been written this morning. As for what is likely to happen in the wake of an attack on Iran, and concerning the meaning and significance of such a monstrous act, see: "Morality, Humanity and Civilization: 'Nothing remains ... but memories.'"

Those articles are good. . .

It is important to remember that we've been told for well over 5 years that Iran's nuclear program was, not "undesirable", or "scary", but "unacceptable", "inconceivable", "unimaginable", red-alert urgent urgent urgent, requiring large amounts of war and near-war ASAP. I wonder if those whose claims on Iran's nuclear program have turned out to be false are willing to go back and examine why?

Violet Socks - Life

Gary Farber - Tenth Blogiversary

Susie Madrak - ADD nightmare
Seriously, how frustrating (and silly) is this, that the DEA is keeping people from getting needed medication?
Medicines to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are in such short supply that hundreds of patients complain daily to the Food and Drug Administration that they are unable to find a pharmacy with enough pills to fill their prescriptions.

The shortages are a result of a troubled partnership between drug manufacturers and the Drug Enforcement Administration . . .

letsgetitdone (corrente) - The Job Guarantee and the MMT Core: Part Three, A Reply to John Carney

Why leaks are essential, and why too much secrecy and reverence for top-secret, classified information can damage national security:
ADAM ENTOUS and JULIAN E. BARNES in Washington and MARGARET COKER in Abu Dhabi (WSJ) - U.S. Doubts Intelligence That Led to Yemen Strike
Top U.S. military leaders who oversaw missile strikes last year against al Qaeda targets in Yemen suspect they were fed misleading intelligence by the country's government and were duped into killing a local political leader whose relationship with the president's family had soured. . .

making a similar point, a very good Bill James article in Slate, published in 2010, which I just read:
Bill James - Life, Liberty, and Breaking the Rules: In defense of Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds, jaywalkers, and all the other scofflaws that make America great.
There is no real difference between sending Babe Ruth to jail and sending Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens to jail. The only relevant difference is the difference between America in 2010 and America in 1940 . . .

. . .The answer is. . .tolerance and vigilance, and it is a sense of perspective. The people who sent Martha Stewart to jail were the people who were supposed to be watching Wall Street. They went after Martha Stewart because she was an easy target. . .

. . .So now it is Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds in the cross hairs of the prosecutors, and the question I would urge you to think about is not only "Are these people guilty?" It is also, "Is this prosecution necessary and appropriate?"

Who is it that these people are not watching? We know now, in retrospect, who the people who sent Martha to jail should have been watching. In 10 years, we will know who is robbing the candy store while the feds are chasing Roger. . .

Question: What do Saez and other public finance economists think of wealth taxes versus income taxes, and treatment of capital income versus wage income?

Julian Pecquet (The Hill) - Health care execs top list of highest-paid CEOs
. . .John Hammergen, CEO of the pharmaceutical distributor and technology firm McKesson, made $145 million, according to GMI. Joel Gemunder, CEO of Omnicare — the nation's leading provider of medicines for seniors — made a reported $98 million. . .

Nasty, low, suspicious mind that I have, can't help wondering whether the hospitals being so extraordinarily generous to Hammergen & Gemunder are being bribed to be so.

Markets work very well for long, repeated games, not so much for one-shot and limited shot games. And the higher executive pay becomes, the more the CEO's relationship with their company, and with the broader economy, becomes one-shot or limited-shot, instead of repeated. i.e. "make your pile by hook or crook, and then after that they can't touch you". A nation dreaming of accumulating their fuck-you money, instead of defeating the desire to say fuck-you.

Water-Cooler Wisdom: "These CEOs man, they have no sense of ownership, no sense of loyalty, they swoop in, make drastic changes, swoop out with a big severance, leave a big mess to clean up. I think they take their inspiration from George W. Bush".

Dean Baker - Hiding Upward Redistribution Policies as Market Outcomes

Congrats to Romney. The first Mormon 2-party nominee is a milestone worth celebrating. But did Santorum win Iowa?

Next blog post: Jan. 20

Monday, January 02, 2012
Arthur Silber - ONCE UPON A TIME...


Susie Madrak - Happy new year!

Juan Cole - Top 5 Foreign Policy Challenges for US, 2012

Martin Gascoigne - Syria, the Invisible Massacre

Andrew Sullivan - Today In Syria: Assad's Terrible New Year

Glenn Greenwald - Good Chris Hayes segment, with Spencer @Attackerman, on Obama's secret drone wars: http://is.gd/kWvoT0

Charlie Rose - Ali Soufan on "The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al-Qaeda" (12/23/2011)

Yes, Minister - The Whiskey Priest
Jim Hacker: "Remember Churchill, the wilderness years. He found out about our military inadequacy and Hitler's war machine from army officers. So all the time he was in the wilderness, he was able to leak stories to the press and embarrass the government. I could do that."
Annie Hacker: "But you're in the government."
Jim Hacker: "Oh, yes..."

Question for Bradley Manning prosecution: Was Winston Churchill guilty of "aiding the enemy" when he leaked top-secret information of British military inadequacy to the Germans (and the British public)?

Obsidian Wings (russell) - what about huntsman?

I asked a conservative friend about Huntsman, his answer: "Why not Huntsman? Because he's NOT a conservative! . . . .He is NOT A CONSERVATIVE!".

So I guess Huntsman, if he still has hopes, should sink money into 2 ads: 1. Jon Huntsman - I'm A Conservative! 2. Jon Huntsman - I'M A CONSERVATIVE!!

possibly followed by 3. JON HUNTSMAN - HE'S A CONSERVATIVE!!!

Kevin Drum - America's 20-Year Investment Drought

Matthew Yglesias - America's Infrastructure Failure

Michael Mandel - My chart of the year: The investment drought continues

Matt Stoller - Who Wants Keep the War on Drugs Going AND Put You in Debtor’s Prison? (June 2011)

Rortybomb (Mike Konczal) - Please Consider Supporting the Roosevelt Institute

Josh Marshall - What’s the Deal with Romney’s Taxes?

Paul Krugman - when economists stop being polite
[John Cochrane] defines Ricardian equivalence as
the theorem that stimulus does not work in a well-functioning economy

But how do you determine when an economy is well-functioning?

Daniel Dennett blurb to Douglas Hofstadter's "Le Ton Beau de Marot: In Praise of the Music of Language" (1997)
"What Douglas Hofstadter is, quite simply, is a phenomenologist, a practicing phenomenologist, and he does it better than anyone else. Ever. For years he has been studying the processes of his own consciousness, relentlessly, unflinchingly, imaginatively, but undeludedly — he watches his own mind work the way a stage magician watches another stage magician's show, not in slack-jawed awe at the 'magic' of it all, but full of intense and informed curiosity about how on earth the effects might be achieved." - Daniel Dennett

Probably unfair, but "slack-jawed awe at the 'magic' of it all" describes my reaction to certain overly worshipful attitudes to capitalism, the free market, and the invisible hand. One example I have in mind is Milton Friedman's pencil story, which is a great story, but ignores the fact that they had pencils in the USSR, and the fact that pencil-making was invented, copied and improved under a wide variety of regimes, none of them completely laissez-faire.

David Atkins - The "No True Libertarianism" fallacy
. . .The modern welfare state didn't arise by accident or conspiracy: it evolved as a means of avoiding the failures of other models. . .

Karl Smith - John Taylor and ARRA (July 2011)
. . .I actually think Taylor is making an important substantive point here. It’s that in practice fiscal stimulus doesn’t raise GDP because in practice fiscal stimulus amounts to giving money to people, who then save it – just as Lucas, Sargent etc, said they would. . .

Bill Gross, CEO of the worlds largest bond fund PIMCO, seems to have had an epiphany about proper counter cyclical fiscal policy last week; in his monthly letter to investors, he said concern about deficits can wait for a stronger economy, and called for a new stimulus program similar the FDR’s WPA…quoting economist Hyman Minsky, he opined that “government should become the “employer of last resort” in a crisis, offering a job to anyone who wants one – for health care, street cleaning, or slum renovation” and repeated David Rosenberg’s “I’d have a shovel in the hands of the long-term unemployed from 8am to noon, and from 1pm to 5pm I’d have them studying algebra, physics, and geometry.”

Rational expectations is not crazy for saying that that if you give people money they might save it rather than spend it. It’s crazy for saying that people will save based on estimating their increased future tax liabilities because of the increased new spending (as if any self-respecting conservative would not be dreaming up clever schemes of tax avoidance instead of meekly estimating their future taxes!). The Chinese save a large fraction of their income, not because of future tax liabilities, but because they don’t have health insurance. With high unemployment, and the most unpredictable medical costs of any rich nation, it’s not hard to explain why people are saving as much as they possibly can.

Karl Smith - Health Care: Unfixable on the Demand Side (Sep. 2011)
. . .This slips under my definition of Liberalization Failure. You can point to all the things that are wrong with government controlled health care but when you leave cost control to the private markets the populist backlash is so severe that governments can’t help but make the problem even worse.

Thus you end up with the most costly health care system on the planet.


I think you’re overlooking the consolidation and recovery of pricing power on the part of providers, which seems to me a more important political force than a consumer backlash. (How politically effective have consumer backlashes against banking and higher education been?)

All the softie hospitals which would give away charity care without charging the uninsured usurious rates or going after them with bill collectors have been bought out/ shut down, leaving private hospitals administered by a bunch of hard-boiled eggs willing to be ruthless in treating uninsured/emergency patients as an opportunity to rack up billable hours, and then aggressively pursuing those claims through collection agencies.

I agree with roublen about the power of providers relative to consumers.

I also think that incentives for providers are often perverse in health care. For many severe conditions (cancer, COPD, kidney failure, etc) treatment is expensive, but failure to treat is cheaper, both in the short and long term.

I don’t think we will come up with an HMO model that will address this market failure.

I forgot to mention that, in theory, the right organization structure for private health insurance seems to be of a mutual insurer, so that successfully holding down costs leads to premium refunds. Does not deal with the problem of adverse selection, or bad relationships with providers, though.

To elaborate on my earlier assertion that that there was a gold "bubble", here's what I meant by that: By 2020, the price of gold will be closer to its 2005 price than its 2010 price. i.e. by 2020, the nominal price of gold will be less than a thousand dollars an ounce. Also, it will have turned out that during the bubble years, one or more of the major gold brokers will have done something unsavory/unethical/fraudulent. My guess is that they will have subcontracted with someone who claimed to have gold they did not actually have, or that they will interpret contracts in a way that gives investors rights to less gold than they thought they were buying.

Matt Phillips (WSJ) - Charlie Munger on gold (Jan. 2011)

Wikimedia foundation - Thank you from Executive Director Sue Gardner


Ezra Klein - Presenting the first-annual Wonky awards
. . .Central bank dissenter of the year: Charles Evans. While some on the Federal Reserve’s board of governors are worried that the central bank is doing too much and risking inflation, Evans has argued that the Fed isn’t doing enough to boost the economy. The president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, Evans is one of the few bankers who seems to recognize that 9 percent unemployment should, as he put it, set policymakers’ hair on fire as much as a slight uptick in inflation usually does. . .