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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Monday, October 22, 2012
Arthur Silber (Once Upon A Time...) - With Apologies for the Interruption...

Arthur Silber (Once Upon A Time...) - Paths of Resistance (I): The Refusal to Identify and Reject Evil

Arthur Silber (Once Upon A Time...) - Paths of Resistance (II): Monsters and Their Sycophants

Arthur Silber (Once Upon A Time...) - Accomplices to Murder

Susie Madrak (Suburban Guerilla) - Orionid meteor shower

Sasha Said - Tax Code Insanity: Couple Living Below Poverty Line Faces Higher Tax Rate Than Romney

Andrew Sullivan (Daily Dish) - The Moral Case For Obama

The progressive critiques of Obama are definitely worth reading, but are fundamentally unconvincing in their argument that before building a new politics, you must first tear the existing politics down. I think the overwhelming lesson of human experience is that it's easy to tear down, not so easy to build, and you don't reject the existing order until you have something better to put in its place.

Paul Krugman (NYT) - Pointing Toward Prosperity?
Mr. Romney’s “plan” is a sham. It’s a list of things he claims will happen, with no description of the policies he would follow to make those things happen. . .if describing what you want to see happen without providing any specific policies to get us there constitutes a “plan,” I can easily come up with a one-point plan that trumps Mr. Romney any day. Here it is: Every American will have a good job with good wages. . .Mr. Obama may not have an exciting economic plan, but, if he is re-elected, he will get to implement a health reform that is the biggest improvement in America’s safety net since Medicare. Mr. Romney doesn’t have an economic plan at all, but he is determined not just to repeal Obamacare but to impose savage cuts in Medicaid. So never mind all those bullet points. Think instead about the 45 million Americans who either will or won’t receive essential health care, depending on who wins on Nov. 6.

Freddie (L'Hôte) - arts of the possible

Freddie (L'Hôte) - you're either with us or against us
"The number of US troops in Afghanistan is twice that of when Obama took office. And his administration has dramatically expanded the breadth of our campaign of assassination and death from above, without judicial or political review." 
"I want my country to stop killing innocent people. And the innocent people we kill the most, these days, are Muslim. And the policy of the Obama administration has expanded the zone in which we kill innocent Muslims, they have shown no interest in stopping killing innocent Muslims, and in fact their campaign constantly brags about the drone program which kills innocent Muslims." 
"Now that it is the general election, some people say "you should have primaried him!" Well, back in primary season, the idea of primarying him was seen as the ultimate in unserious posturing."
My opinion is that it's perfectly legitimate to talk about these issues now, even if it increases the chances of Obama being replaced by a policymaker worse on these issues. However, in my opinion, primary season is the best time to talk about these issues. Obama won the 2012 primary with less than 7 million votes. Even in 2008, he won the primary with less than 20 million votes. That's less than 10% of the American electorate. It's not impossible that 25% of the electorate supports a dovish position, and that if 40% of those people vote, they could vote for the more dovish candidate.

I feel strongly motivated to vote for Obama in this election. Obama opposed starting a war in Iraq, and eventually ended it. Romney supported starting a war in Iraq, and criticized Obama for ending it. Obama supports ending the war in Afghanistan in 2014, Romney does not. Romney's victory would mean a triumphant return to power of the same people who misled the American people in order to start a war in Iraq.

I agree ending drone strikes are important, as is fairness for Bradley Manning, as is protesting not ending the war sooner in Iraq and Afghanistan, and are legitimate reasons not to vote for Obama. But I do not see how not voting for Obama increases the chances of ending drone strikes, or fairness for Bradley Manning, or ending the war sooner in Afghanistan.

In Indian politics, there's something called a Common Minimum Programme, "a document outlining the minimum objectives of a coalition government in India". This, for example, is the CMP for the 2004-2009 government. What I'd be interested in is what a CMP for the American left would be, and then would be interested in getting primary candidates who support the CMP in as many elections as possible. I see little reason to believe they would win or come close to winning, but IMO it's worth a try.

One comment on the aftermath of the murders in Benghazi. Please go back and listen to broadcasts the day after 9/11. You will hear government officers saying so many things that aren't true, you won't be able to count them. Among other things: It was stated as fact that the fourth plane was headed to the White House.

next post: 12/14/2012

Saturday, October 20, 2012
Arthur Silber (Once Upon A Time...) - Accomplices to Murder

Susie Madrak (Suburban Guerilla) - Orionid meteor shower

Sasha Said - Tax Code Insanity: Couple Living Below Poverty Line Faces Higher Tax Rate Than Romney

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

Carson's book is fairly conservative, and I didn't agree with a lot of it, but it is shot through with good passages. My personal favorite:
". . .If we really want to eradicate poverty, we should allocate significant resources and personnel toward providing education and opportunity for the poor. And if we are to provide assistance to our able-bodied citizens, it should be attached to a requirement for work or acquisition of education and/ or skills. Not only will this improve self-esteem, it will prepare those individuals to participate in an increasingly sophisticated workforce. Work projects could also contribute to the maintenance of our national infrastructure and beautification, if the right kinds of jobs are assigned as a requirement for benefits. 
If they have to work anyway, many people will put real effort into finding the kind of job they want as opposed to collecting unemployment benefits and being assigned to work they consider undesirable. Some conservatives would say that we should leave such people on their own to sink or swim because we cannot afford to keep supporting them, while some liberals would say that these people already have enough problems and that it would be unfair to require anything of them that would add to their stress. I reject both of those positions. . ."
There is also a powerful parable about the importance of political compromise:
"The lives of some close friends of ours were destroyed due to lack of compromise. The husband felt that he had a special gift of singing and used a great deal of the family’s resources to pay for voice lessons. The wife was in the health-care profession and worked overtime to take care of the family needs, and she strongly disagreed with the way her husband was “squandering” the money. In his opinion, however, he was “investing” in a wonderful future. They were unable to resolve their differences, and one night I was awakened by a phone call informing me that the husband, wife, and one of their children had been killed in an accident. The wife, very distraught, had been driving very fast and had plowed the car into the back of a tractor-trailer truck, killing everyone. This needless tragedy could have been avoided if all were in a better frame of mind, willing to have some reasonable give-and-take. In the same way, many of the problems facing our nation today could be resolved if only the two sides were able to reason together and compromise when necessary."

next post: 12/14/2012

Thursday, October 18, 2012
A must-read post by a friend of Juan Cole in Benghazi:
"There was no request for increased security at the Benghazi consulate. There was a request for the embassy in Tripoli, but that would have had no impact at all on the attack; Tripoli and Benghazi are 400 miles apart as the crow flies, and 650 or so by road."

 Even after a decade where we went to war on behalf of WMD that did not exist, the ability of self-confident, righteously indignant people to create their own alternate reality, and to have the polite, centrist, non-partisan, establishment press play along, is still astonishing to me. It seems to me of fundamental importance that Paul Ryan must be informed there was no request for increased security at Benghazi, that by implying there was in a televised debate he misled the American people, and that he should be given a chance to undo that damage.

This is yet another thread connecting Romney/Ryan to the Bush presidency - the way they have conducted their campaign suggests that if elected, then just as in the Bush presidency, we will be governed by pseudo-facts instead of facts, truthiness instead of truth.

(via Amanda MarcotteGreta Christina - Bad news, good news, and asking for help

next post: 12/14/2012

Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Sasha Said - Tax Code Insanity: Couple Living Below Poverty Line Faces Higher Tax Rate Than Romney

My main reaction to the 2nd debate? Gov. Romney needs to clarify whether he supports health care for all Americans, or not. If health care for 100% of children and 98% of adults in Massachusetts is a good thing, why doesn't he propose a similar policy for all the children and adults in America? Massachusetts was only able to afford the policy because of federal money, so any system of universal healthcare, no matter how state-driven, will require a large federal commitment. You either support the federal government commitment to universal healthcare, or you don't. Romney needs to decide where he stands.

Another biggie was immigration, and even there I don't know where Romney stands. He criticizes Obama for not passing comprehensive immigration reform, when he doesn't actually seem to support comprehensive immigration reform. It's pretty bizarro world.

However, Romney landed some solid blows on jobs, and to his credit he didn't let the issue go, even when Obama's replies were adequate. Obama survived on the jobs issue, but didn't do much more than survive. It seems to me that there is a lot of room for him to improve in this area. Mike Konczal has a must-read piece on Romney's 5-point plan.

Mike Konczal (American Prospect) - Full Employment Is the Best Social Program

Less to Romney's credit were the Libya attacks. Given the scope of government failure on national security during the Bush presidency, failures which Romney never seems to have lifted a finger to stop, and failures he has never honestly reckoned with, his harsh, opportunistic, less-than-honest attacks on Obama seemed to me to indicate a lapse of character on Romney's part. The fact that the GOP establishment never even seemed to consider the possibility of rallying around the President after 9/11/12, even given the extraordinary support President Bush received after 9/11, seems to me to not reflect very well on them.

next post: 12/14/2012

Friday, October 12, 2012
Josh Marshall (TPM) - Pin Down on Taxes

TPM is pretty damning on the difference between Debate Romney and Web Site Romney. This is what's on Romney web site, if he doesn't change it:

  • Make permanent, across-the-board 20 percent cut in marginal rates
  • Maintain current tax rates on interest, dividends, and capital gains
  • Eliminate taxes for taxpayers with AGI below $200,000 on interest, dividends, and capital gains
  • Eliminate the Death Tax
  • Repeal the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT)
  • Cut the corporate rate to 25 percent
  • Strengthen and make permanent the R&D tax credit
  • Switch to a territorial tax system
  • Repeal the corporate Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT)
This, it seems impossible to deny, is a pretty gigantic tax cut. Yet according to Debate Romney, it's not a tax cut at all, and "6 studies", or perhaps 7,  have confirmed it's not a tax cut, the arithmetic is impeccable & irrefutable, and we should be ashamed of ourselves for suspecting Romney of wanting to cut taxes. "My client deserves an apology, Senator! An apology!"

The connection between Romney  and the Bush-era GOP of, "We found the Weapons of Mass Destruction", and "By far, the vast majority of my tax cuts go to people at the bottom", becomes stronger every day.

I guess the reason Romney/Ryan are denying their tax cuts is they're realizing, correctly, you cannot sell a message the country is bankrupt and needs to cut health care and pensions to the bone, at the same time you are proposing (large) tax cuts. Bigger than Romney/Ryan, there is a general sense of hysteria and anxiety in the DC establishment because they're trying to sell hard work & shared sacrifice for the old, the sick, the poor, the young, and the laborers, at the same time as they want, not just a slight reduction in the inheritance tax, but a complete elimination of the inheritance tax, and huge cuts in corporate and capital taxes. Easy bankruptcy and default for private equity and airline executives, hard bankruptcy and default for the poor, the middle class and the young. The message of hard work & shared sacrifice is not entirely wrong (IMO), but it cannot be combined with the elimination of the inheritance tax, cuts in corporate and capital taxes, and an inconsistent bankruptcy code. Hard work & shared sacrifice has to mean hard work & shared sacrifice for everyone.

next post: 12/14/2012

Wednesday, October 03, 2012
2 (small) points on the debate:

1. My initial impression was not nearly as negative on Obama as most other people's. However, I accept other people's impressions were mostly sincere, and not just spin and conformity. If the debate was on jobs, health care, public finance, private finance,  education & energy, I think Obama did fairly well on health care, public finance & education, less well on jobs, private finance & energy.

2. I find it nauseating when people say things like "Obama looked down" or "Mitt Romney talked faster", though I accept that some people do attach importance to such matters. Nevertheless, I tried to search for some (IMO), non-bullshit criticism of Obama, and here are my best tries:

  • Obama's story on jobs was "we were in a ditch, we've partially dug ourselves out, we have a long way to go", but he offered no specifics about how big the ditch was, how much we've dug ourselves out, how far we have to go, or when we'll get there.
  • Obama should have used Martin Wolf's arresting statistic: Private-sector borrowing in 2007 was *29%* of GDP. People have a nagging suspicion that the Bush economy was a house of cards waiting to collapse, but they should have a better understanding of why it was a house of cards, and why it collapsed.
  • I would have wanted something like this from Obama: "Corporate profits and stock prices have recovered, but jobs and wages have not, partly because corporations have made their numbers more by cost-cutting than by increased sales. However, corporations have reached the limits of the cost-cutting strategy, and if we stick with the program, jobs and wages will go in the same direction as profits and stock prices have."
  • I heard *nothing* in Romney's performance which differentiated him from George W. Bush at all. Romney seems to believe W. Bush was a wonderful, marvelous, ginchy President, and he will carry out the same policies, for the same reasons, as W. Bush. In terms of understanding why Bushism failed, and how to prevent similar failures in the future, my assessment of Mitt Romney was that he had learned nothing, and forgotten everything.
  • Mocking failed endeavors for green energy seems to me unusually cynical and harmful. The attempts may fail, but they're still worth making, as long as the price tag is reasonable. See Arthur C. Clarke's short story, Death and the Senator.
  • There's a difference between not getting bogged down in details, and just plain hiding something. "I'm going to take from the rich and give to the poor" is legitimately nonspecific. "I'm going to take from the rich and give a glossy pony with a shiny new purple bow to the poor" is illegitimately evasive, because you're being specific about the benefits, but deliberately vague about the costs. Romney is not sparing us the details, he's denying us the truth.
Not particularly relevant, but a line I really like from Samuel Brittan's review of Joe Stiglitz's book:
If you think of income or wealth as a pie to be divided up by a central authority, like a mother cutting a cake for her children, then there is indeed a presumption in favour of equality. If you believe in some version of the entitlement theory, in which what each person receives from others is a reward for services rendered, then it is redistributive measures that have to be justified. If either theory were carried to its logical conclusion, we should have a hell on earth.
also good: Bob Park's comment on the Romney tape:
I first heard the Romney calculus many years ago in Peru. A government official explained to me that: "Most of the population doesn't count; they pay no taxes and receive no government services." There was a revolution.   

next post: 12/14/2012