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, August 03, 2012
Sasha Said

Sasha Said - Being Forced Into Prostitution
Most of our bills are at least 2-3 months past due. We have less than 1/5 of the July rent saved up. And I’ve been without my bipolar meds for nearly 8 weeks. Stress makes my illness immeasurably worse, so my mental state has been steadily deteriorating.
I’m in the midst of a deep clinical depression and spend most of the day crying and pondering what will happen to our dogs when we’re evicted. Although I’m barely functional, I’ve continued to look for work. However, our job search is made near-hopeless by the fact that we’re in a rural part of Southern California with sky high unemployment and no job opportunities. Not even Walmart and McDonalds are hiring here.

Unfortunately, moving is out of the question. Even if we had the money for the move, first month’s rent, and security deposit–which we obviously don’t–no one would rent to us without proof of income. So we’re stuck here. But that’s what poverty is. Being stuck.
Went down to Social Services again and practically begged them for help. Told them we don’t want to be homeless because we have elderly dogs who will not survive the summer heat in the desert. Told them we’ll take any job. All they said was we could try applying for food stamps. Okay. But food stamps aren’t even enough to cover Balou’s cancer diet and supplements.

Arthur Silber (Power of Narrative) - Gathering Clouds
These clouds are the personal ones, which unfortunately are never far away. I sincerely regret having to do this yet another time (both for your sakes, and for mine), but since I have no other source of income, I don't have a choice if I wish to avoid (or at least postpone) very bad consequences.

I'll have to pay July's rent in less than two weeks; I only have about half of what I need. Then there are the usual additional barebone bills: food, internet, phone, etc. And now, I have three other concerns. The first is my beloved Cyrano, the big orange fellow who has graced my life since he fit in the palm of one hand. I'm pretty sure he's basically okay, but he'll be 14 in August. He should go to the vet ("Only Dr. Mike!," says Cyrano, referring to our wonderfully gentle and sweet caregiver), just to be checked over to be sure nothing requires attention. I can't afford it at the moment. And I suspect Cyrano may have a tooth problem or two, so that may need addressing. I certainly can't afford that.

In addition to my ongoing heart problems (for which I have no means whatsoever of obtaining treatment, now or ever, given the prohibitive costs involved), I myself have two new sources of pain at present. I'd prefer not to go into details; I try not to think about any of it at all, let alone dwell on what it might mean. What's the point? I can't do anything about what the problems may be in terms of curative or preventive treatment, so it's a pointless exercise in self-inflicted psychological pain (in addition to the physical pain). But I suspect that, some time fairly soon, I may need to visit a doctor to at least get some prescription(s) for strong painkillers. As far as then getting the painkillers -- well, I can't afford that either right now. . .
Susie Madrak (Suburban Guerilla) - Fund Drive

Arthur Silber (Power of Narrative) - Colorado murders compared to drone strikes & endless, aimless war

Arthur Silber (Power of Narrative) - Nader

One thing I never realized, is that if you blame Nader for 2000, you also have to credit Nader for 2008. More broadly, I think the people who voted for Nader in 2000 voted for him because they perceived it was in their self-interest to do so, and I'm getting increasingly tired of the argument that lefties have an obligation to act in a less self-interested manner than others, on the grounds that they should care more about the baby.

Arthur Silber (Power of Narrative) - Health care bill

I'm willing to believe that the health care bill is a BFD. The one concern is that I only hear emotionally invested Democratic party partisans saying the bill is a BFD. I don't hear potential beneficiaries saying it.

Arthur Silber (Power of Narrative) - Supreme Court Ruling

In 2003, George W. Bush famously said that "the end of major combat operations in Iraq" represented, possibly, "a turning of the tide". I think it's possible that the Roberts ruling, for real, might turn out to be  a turning of the tide. It's the first time I can remember, in recent (post-Nixon) history, that a member of the American elite took an action, on the the most important decision of his worldly career, which was opposed to his self-interest, simply because he thought it was the right thing to do. The only other example I can think of was Hubert Humphrey deliberately choosing not to go public with news that Richard Nixon was possibly sabotaging LBJ's Vietnam negotiations.

Arthur Silber (Power of Narrative) - Ordinary Horrors, Everyday Murders

Arthur Silber (Power of Narrative) - The Nightmare Gathers Force

Susie Madrak - Suburban Guerilla

Violet Socks (Reclusive Leftist) - Welfare for rich people

Violet Socks (Reclusive Leftist) - Danny Boyle is no Zhang Yimou

I actually strongly disagreed with people who thought that the praise of the NHS in the opening ceremony was inappropriate. It seems to me universal health care is a great, civilization-defining accomplishment, fully worthy of praise, glory and rejoicing in a public ceremony, and as we've all seen, it's not an accomplishment that comes very easily.

Ringo Starr - It Don't Come Easy

Though I do think it might have been going too far to have produced a short film, "Slumdog Healthcare", where a golden-hearted foreign tourist couple showers cheap medicines and health care treatments on an American street urchin who's been slapped and kicked around by a Bob Kelso-type administrator.

Violet Socks (Reclusive Leftist) - Colorado open thread continued, amazing alternate reality edition

Martin Wolf (FT) - Accelerating Private Sector Deleveraging

Mike Konczal (Rortybomb) - The "Pain Funnel" and the Harkin Report on For-Profit Schools

Mike Konczal (Rortybomb) - Merkley plan

Mike Konczal (Rortybomb) - ". . .one set of standards to elite investors and another to struggling homeowners . . ."

Mike Konczal (Rortybomb) - IMF report on balance-sheet recessions

D. MICHAEL LINDSAY (NYT) - A C.E.O.’s Moral Stand

I am strongly in favor of fast and stigma-free bankruptcy. But even I draw the line at not replacing senior management with a new team, which is what most of the airlines have done (i.e. declared bankruptcy, without replacing senior management).

Andrew Sullivan (Daily Dish) - Obama, Warren, Political Rhetoric

The Mitt Romney gaffe, "rich people (pip-pip) have a better culture than poor people (ooga-booga)", or in a more raw form, "rich people are better than poor people", is an important issue, which gets us into fairly deep waters. If you maintain the poverty is the result of outside circumstances, you deny the poor agency, and the ability to make things better. If you maintain poverty is the result of internal choices, you put all the burden of poverty on the poor, and absolve the rich of all obligation and responsibility to make things better.

I'm not sure what the right POV to have is, but one way to look at it is we all have an obligation to do and be our best, we all fall short of the mark, no matter how rich or poor we may be, and we all have an obligation to help other people do and be their best, as well.

The Glenn Loury op-ed on slavery reparations is worth reading, as well.

Glenn C. Loury (NYT) (2000) - It's Futile to Put a Price on Slavery

as well this as this bit from David Copperfield:
. . .'I have been sitting here,' said Steerforth, glancing round the room, 'thinking that all the people we found so glad on the night of our coming down, might—to judge from the present wasted air of the place—be dispersed, or dead, or come to I don't know what harm. David, I wish to God I had had a judicious father these last twenty years!'
'My dear Steerforth, what is the matter?'
'I wish with all my soul I had been better guided!' he exclaimed. 'I wish with all my soul I could guide myself better!'
There was a passionate dejection in his manner that quite amazed me. . .'Daisy, if anything should ever separate us, you must think of me at my best, old boy. Come! Let us make that bargain. Think of me at my best, if circumstances should ever part us!'
'You have no best to me, Steerforth,' said I, 'and no worst. You are always equally loved, and cherished in my heart.'
So much compunction for having ever wronged him, even by a shapeless thought, did I feel within me, that the confession of having done so was rising to my lips. But for the reluctance I had to betray the confidence of Agnes, but for my uncertainty how to approach the subject with no risk of doing so, it would have reached them before he said, 'God bless you, Daisy, and good night!' In my doubt, it did NOT reach them; and we shook hands, and we parted. . .

I should mention that the version of David Copperfield which got to me was not the book, but the 1974 BBC adaptation . Anthony Andrews as Steerforth is sort of magnetic, but it seems to me full of good performances & dialogues.

Kevin Drum (Mother Jones) - The Great Recession is All About Leverage, Leverage, Leverage

Anthony Luzzatto Gardner (Bloomberg) - Romney’s Bain Yielded Private Gains, Socialized Losses
. . .Thanks to leverage, 10 of roughly 67 major deals by Bain Capital during Romney’s watch produced about 70 percent of the firm’s profits. Four of those 10 deals, as well as others, later wound up in bankruptcy. It’s worth examining some of them to understand Romney’s investment style at Bain Capital.
In 1986, in one of its earliest deals, Bain Capital acquired Accuride Corp., a manufacturer of aluminum truck wheels. The purchase was 97.5 percent financed by debt, a high level of leverage under any circumstances. It was especially burdensome for a company that was exposed to aluminum-price volatility and cyclical automotive production.

Casino Capitalism

Forty-to-one leverage is casino capitalism that hugely magnifies gains and losses. Bain Capital wisely chose to flip the company fast . . .
The Luzzato Gardner article gives us one strong reason why Romney is the wrong man for the Presidency, at this time. The need is for a President who understands the importance of deleveraging, and will do everything possible to help Americans deleverage. But Romney's whole career has been built on leverage, leverage & more leverage. To do the things that need to be done, he would need to (implicitly) renounce and (explicitly) reverse the strategies of his class, and his career, and, needless to say, there is nothing in his policies or rhetoric to indicate such a reversal.

David Brooks (NYT) - How Change Happens
. . .The company was in terminal decline before Bain entered the picture, seeing its work force fall from 4,500 to less than 1,000. It faced closure when Romney and Bain, for some reason, saw hope for it in 1993. Bain acquired it, induced banks to loan it money and poured $100 million into modernization, according to Strassel. Bain held onto the company for eight years, hardly the pattern of a looter. Finally, after all the effort, the company, like many other old-line steel companies, filed for bankruptcy protection in 2001, two years after Romney had left Bain. . .
There seems to me an inaccuracy in Brooks's argument. Just because employment at GST had fallen from 4500 to 1000, does not mean that the company could not have survived indefinitely as a smaller company, if Bain had not loaded it with so much debt and extracted from it so many special dividends. Brooks produces evidence of "decline", but not "terminal decline".

Charles Davis (Glenn Greenwald) - The liberal betrayal of Bradley Manning

Sarah Kliff (Wonkblog) - ‘The world’s most important bake sale:’ One patient’s plan to pay for chemotherapy

It seems to me that if you want a private, market driven health care system which works well, you have to construct a system where the decisions of private agents are based on the marginal cost of an additional unit of health care, with some other way of reimbursing for fixed costs.

Kevin Gosztola (Firedoglake) - The Next Step in Challenging Secrecy in Bradley Manning’s Court Martial

Karam Nachar's twitter feed

Juan Cole (Informed Comment) - Syria

Kofi Annan statement on Syria (Salon)

MJ Rosenberg - On the terrorist murder of Israeli citizens

The murder of Israelis in Bulgaria was an evil act, without justification. I hope the people who planned, ordered and carried out this attack are brought to justice.

My birthday message to President Obama:

Mr. President,
I simply cannot accept the fact that Bradley Manning is being treated as if he's worse than a rapist, worse than a torturer, worse than a domestic abuser, worse than most kinds of murderers. It is a travesty of justice, and you are the one responsible. I plead to you to do something about it, to make the proposed punishment more just and merciful.
Best wishes & Happy Birthday.

How comfortable old people talk about unemployment: "10% unemployment and I can't find anyone! If unemployment was 5%, I'd never get anyone."

Somewhat related to that attitude of an old person a little bit too comfortable with the suffering of the young, my first reaction to the Colorado murders was that I really, really hate it when people adopt the attitude, "If I'm going down, I'm taking all of you down with me." The second reaction was a sense of shame at being a "quiet" person, which is what people often call me. It becomes clear that for many people, perhaps even me, quiet is not a tool to watch or listen more carefully, but a mask to hide things better not left hidden.

The main political decision for me in the past 2 months has been the request from the Democratic establishment to "match or exceed" the level of donations from 2008, as well as requests to volunteer. I've thought about it, and decided to reject the request on donations. I'm giving 1-2% of after tax-income for political donations, split 5 ways (OFA, DNC, DFA, PCCC, Blue America PAC). If that's less than 2008, then maybe I was giving too much in 2008. I feel, as Barney Frank said about Bill Clinton during impeachment, the Democratic establishment is "deserving of fairness, but not of indignation".

a critique of the Democratic establishment worth reading, for the substance, if not for the tone:

Lambert Strether (Naked Capitalism) - "We Never Had The Votes"

The other decision was whether to volunteer for phone banking/canvassing. I'm less sure about this, but have not volunteered for phone banking/canvassing, perhaps on the grounds that I don't like being phone-banked, I don't like being canvassed, and therefore am reluctant to inflict phone calls/door knocks on others. But I'm not so sure about this.

I'd never realized how impressive Michelle Obama's pre-celebrity career was. I think actually this might  have been a political problem for the Obamas, especially in dealing with unemployment, as they found it awkward to relate to people who were not as perfect as them. Even Obama's vices (smoking, cocaine) were cool-kid vices, not loser-kid vices. It seems to me that one of the most significant facts of the Obama presidency is that this President, with all his vaunted eloquence and empathy, has never given a speech specifically addressed to the unemployed, detailing how he would feel and what he would do if he were in their shoes.

Paul Krugman & Bill Clinton are perhaps as different personalities as can be imagined, but they both share one curious and under-appreciated virtue. They occasionally have the ability to explain their opponents' side more logically and more sensibly that their opponents can themselves. Can't think of a specific example for Clinton, but for Krugman I was thinking of the explanation of how to think about the Reagan deficits in Peddling Prosperity, and the explanation of expansionary austerity in End This Depression Now!.

Brad Delong writes a post which I don't understand, but looks as if it might be important, or mind-expanding:


(Via Brad DelongJonathan Chait (New York) - Why Washington Accepts Mass Unemployment


I guess the main questions I have on American politics:

1) How many Americans agree with the viewpoint "We should end homelessness, lack of appropriate health care, and unemployment in America, even if it means me personally paying more in taxes."?

2) How many Americans are emotionally invested in this race, and would feel good if their team won, and bad if their team lost? Of the Americans who are invested, what are their main reasons?

I ask partly because I'm emotionally invested, but I'm not quite sure why.

Glenn Reynolds (Instapundit) - Ric Locke

Ric's Rulez - Observations, some valid, by a broken-toothed redneck

It seems to me that one thing missing from the current economic debate is the notion that welfare-stabilization is a considerably different, and considerably easier in most ways, task than macroeconomic-stabilization. For macro-stabilization, it's possible that you may have to do sophisticated bubble-spotting stuff, as well as as sophisticated tinkering of people's life-cycle based investment preferences, as well as sophisticated educational/industrial policy to prevent technology shocks. But for welfare stabilization, you only need to prevent homelessness, lack of appropriate health care, and unemployment.

I guess the main point is that policymakers should not use the potential difficulty of the task of macro-stabilization as an excuse for failing at the task of welfare-stabilization.

Paul Krugman (NYT) (2000) - Reckonings; Pursuing Happiness

next post:  (Oct) 10/12/2012