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, March 09, 2012
Arthur Silber - Help Needed

What Obama said at AIPAC

What I sometimes wish somebody says at AIPAC

RONEN BERGMAN - Will Israel Attack Iran?
C. Attucks New York:
Throughout the course of human history, innocent people are always the group that suffers the ravages of military conflict. Does anyone in the moral mind want Persian families to die because of disagreements between governments? I don't. Stop it, stop the talk of war, now.

BEHZAD YAGHMAIAN - Iran in the Shadow of War

These sanctions are very much attacks on the Iranian people, not the Iranian government. The nuclear program is broadly supported by the Iranian people, by Iranian reformists as well as Iranian conservatives.

Michael Kinsley? After writing a column about how sanctions against Rush Limbaugh are ineffective, counterproductive, and hypocritical, perhaps you could write a column on the subject of sanctions against Iran?

Juan Cole - Syria

The New York Review of Books - articles by Jeffrey Gettleman, Katherine Boo, Diane Ravitch, among others

LINDSAY BEYERSTEIN - Review: “Behind the Beautiful Forevers” by Katherine Boo

Dana Goldstein - review of Katherine Boo's "Behind the Beautiful Forevers" and Adrian Nicole LeBlanc's "Random Family"

"America the Beautiful: Rediscovering What Made This Nation Great" - Ben Carson M.D. with Candy Carson

Krugman's "Economics in Crisis" lecture is must-reading, IMO. I think economists have 2 primary social roles:

1) To remind us that "Socialism Is Bad, m'Kay" (And it is!).

2) To remind us that recessions and depressions are unnecessary and pointless, and can be cured by persuading a variety of agents, in a variety of ingenious ways, to consume and/or invest Now, instead of waiting for Later. Agents always have a variety of very good reasons to Wait For Later instead Act Now, but in recession or depression conditions, it's the agents who take the plunge and Act Now who are needed, and who should be encouraged and rewarded. The only good reason to abstain from present consumption is to increase present investment, but the perversity of recession & depression is that lower present consumption leads to *lower* present investment, not higher.

The dispute between Krugman and more conservative economics is that conservatives believe the *only* social role of economists should be to remind us that "Socialism Is Bad, m'Kay". They deeply resent the idea that economists should have a liberal social role, as well as a conservative one.

Krugman's article on financing adult education is worth reading too, though I don't think there was anything really wrong in what Romney said. In fact, I think Romney's statement provided some needed push back against the cultural practice of mindlessly applying & choosing where to go to college based on rankings and prestige, instead of cost and other meaningful considerations. There were, however, 2 things missing from Romney's statement: 1) an acknowledgement that he didn't have to face the choices this student faces, because his family paid for his education. 2) more importantly, an acknowledgement that his advice, "go to a cheaper school, and take on less debt" might be right, and might be wrong.

For some students, stretching themselves financially to go to a more prestigious, more expensive school might be the right choice. The contacts & connections they made there, as well as other benefits, might make going to Elite U the best decision they ever made. OTOH, for someone else, the right choice may be to go to College-6 in exchange for being free, or freer, from debt.

Parents and elders, when giving advice, may want what's best for kids, but they don't know what's best, and they should not pretend that they do.

The only strong opinion I have on financing adult education is that everyone with non-dischargeable student loan debt should have the option of paying off that non-dischargeable loan with either debt (fixed payments) or equity (percentage of income). It's fine for students paying with equity to pay a premium, perhaps even a large premium (I think 20-50% would be about right). But I think the option to pay with equity would have a large positive impact on some student's lives.

Ezra Klein's post on political failure is worth reading, but there's one super-important word missing, an omission that spoils the post, for me. The word? "Filibuster". If the Obama administration, as Klein claims, is "liberal, but they also place[d] a very high premium on getting something done", they why didn't they abolish the filibuster? In the 2008 election, the American people gave the Democratic party an almost ungodly amount of power, an overwhelming mandate to do whatever they needed to do in order to produce substantial improvements in the lives of the American people. They failed. They didn't get it done. We can argue about why, but we can't argue about the fact of failure. Maybe in 2015, they can get some retroactive credit for health-care tax credits, but that's in 2015, not now, and not back in November 2010. And, entirely understandably and perhaps appropriately, they were punished by the American people for their failure. Badly.

The story of late 2008-January 2011 is not in any way a story of GOP failure, IMO. The American people removed that excuse from the Democrats, by giving them such an overwhelming majority. The story of late 2008-early 2011 is simply of a party and a president that was given an overwhelming mandate, and failed to deliver. We can argue about the causes for the failure, and remedies for the failure, but not the fact of it. IMO.

UPDATE: more broadly, Obama's main political task in the first 2 years was to persuade the GOP that he was willing to allow them to share in success, but he was not willing to allow them to veto success. In this, he failed, IMO. Even given the failure of the first 2 years, Democrats could have partially atoned for it by abolishing the filibuster. This would have shown a positive intent, signaling that incumbent Democrats were mad at the GOP obstructionism, they did not accept it, and they were not going to let it happen again. Instead, when they refused to abolish the filibuster, incumbent Democrats, including Obama, validated and legitimised every questionable GOP tactic during the 111th Congress, indicated through their actions that they rather agreed and approved of GOP obstructionism, and fully intended to let it happen again. Not abolishing the filibuster was somewhat unforgivable in my book, a final and egregious screw you from incumbent elected Democrats to their base.

I think Jeremy Lin's nickname should be "Hercules". Why? Because how happy has he made us by reminding that we do, after all, live in a rich & strange world, filled with possibilities that cut against stereotype? This happy.

next post: 3/15/12

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