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, April 21, 2016






Big Talk:

Scumbag Bernie

I agree with Atrios that it's a bit bizarre to see certain HRC supporters continue to attack Sanders after HRC won. I think these people have allowed themselves to forget that any ordinary, normal politician would have attacked HRC on the email "issue". Sanders, because he rightly believed the issue to be bullshit, and because he is an unusually principled and decent politician, did not. He did attack her on the Goldman transcripts issue, but while I think he may have harped on it a bit too much, that seems to me a legitimate issue: it does seem to me of legitimate public interest to know the kinds of things HRC says when she is addressing a group of finance industry pros.

Sanders wants to stay in the race for the same reasons any politician would want to stay in the race, if they were in his shoes. You'll remember Clinton said in her 2008 convention speech, "the biggest glass ceiling in the world has 18 million cracks in it." "The biggest glass ceiling in the world would have had 18 million cracks in it, if I hadn't dropped out early", wouldn't have had the quite the same ring.

HRC and the 2016 campaign

I would divide a political campaign into 1) positive vision 2) defense against opponents attacks 3) attacks on opponents

1) I see some parallels between the 2016 campaign and 2000. In 2000, Gore ran a dutiful, diligent, weight-of-the-world-on-his-shoulders, campaign, and afterward regretted that he hadn't "let it rip", and let the American people know what was truly in his heart. I think Gore's convention speech in 2000 was excellent. I think his debates were not, probably in part because he had too much contempt for George W. Bush.

In 2000, I also remember seeing an interview with Dick Morris. At the time, I felt unbounded contempt for Morris, for all the obvious reasons. The first part of the interview was full of slashing attacks on the Clintons, who Morris probably felt had betrayed/abandoned him. But when it came to Gore, I was astonished when Morris said something like this: "I think he should run on the environment. I think it's a big issue, I think he really believes in it, and if it works [as a political issue], it could win him the election."

In hindsight, it seemed to me very good advice. And it was a bit of a revelation to see a political advisor advise candidates to run on the issues they actually cared about, and not on the issues the polls say they were supposed to care about.

With that advice in mind, I seem to remember HRC once saying, when asked what she would be focused on as President, something like, "raising the incomes of American households". It was a perfectly fine, unobjectionable thing to say, but I don't think it really worked, because in my heart of hearts, I didn't really believe it. I don't really believe HRC goes to sleep at night worrying about how to raise American household incomes.

One of the things that makes Elizabeth Warren inspiring is that one of her passions is very clear: she fights for her parents, and people like them:


To be honest, I'm not sure how important it is to have a positive vision. It seems to me plenty of campaigns have won with a wrong vision, or no vision at all. It may be that excessive believe in the importance of "vision" or "message", might be worse for a campaign than having no vision. Mary Landrieu once won an election on the absurd, to me, issue of sugar imports. But to the extent a political campaign has a positive vision, it seems to me it should be one the candidate really believes in.


I also think that in looking at people's political worldview. it may be better to look at people's ruling passions, rather than their beliefs, per se. For example, I would say that in a political context, the ruling passion of both Trump and Carson was contempt for Obama.

In 2013, Carson believed, sensibly enough, that running for president would be a dumb thing for him to do. I do believe he ran for president in part because he was moved by the passion of his supporters. But I also believe that what pushed him over the edge into running was an unwholesome contempt for Obama, and a desire to outshine Obama by not only winning the presidency, but winning it by being thrice as good and twice as black, in half the time, with a quarter of the political experience.

I don't believe Carson was motivated by grift, though he was too tolerant of grift in some of his top staff. Coates reports on Carson before he entered politics:

For kids like me who came up in Baltimore during the '80s and '90s, Carson has special importance. Whenever the black folks at our summer camps or schools wanted to have a "Be A Credit To Your Race" moment they brought in Dr. Carson. I saw him speak so many times that I began to have that "This guy again?" feeling. As an adult, knowing how much it takes to speak in front of people, I can recognize that Carson's willingness to talk to black youth (and youth in general) came from a deeply sincere place. There were no cameras at those summer camps and school assemblies. No one had money to pay him. But he showed up.
Months after Dr. Carson retired, a Hopkins party was held, kept off limits to the media. “We didn’t want this to be turned into a political thing,” Dr. Brem said. “We wanted this to be about Ben Carson — our Ben Carson.”
". . .we were in the surgical lounge and we were talking about what led us to become physicians; it’s kind of a common conversation for people to have, and at that time I thought he was a resident just like me, because he looked so young and I had come into it a little older because I had done electrical engineering in the interim, and I thought he was at my level. 
“You know there is a hierarchy at Hopkins, and I probably wouldn’t have been having a personal conversation had I known that he was already attending and chief of pediatric neurosurgery, but of course he took the fast track, and uh, but he was a very approachable and humble guy. . .it was a self-deprecating story’ it wasn’t a story to aggrandize him."
Similar to Carson, I think one of the primary ruling passions of Trump in a political context is contempt for Obama, a desire to bang the table, LBJ-style, and declare he's had more presidencies by accident than Obama has had on purpose.


In a political context, my ruling passion is probably a country, and a world, without homelessness, healthcarelessness and long-term unemployment. A world where everyone has what they need to do their best work, and be their best selves.

Orwell - the cost of letters

We have come to take it for granted that in advanced nations almost everyone can at least afford the essentials of life. Ordinary people may not dine in three-star restaurants, but they have enough to eat; they may not wear Bruno Maglis, but they do not go barefoot; they may not live in Malibu, but they have a roof over their head. . .
There is really only one essential that is not within easy reach of the ordinary American family, and that is medical care. . . 
Suppose that Lyndon Johnson had not signed Medicare into law in 1965. Even now there would be a radical inequality in the prospects of the elderly rich and the ordinary older citizen; the affluent would receive artificial hip replacements and coronary bypasses, while the rest would (like the elderly poor in less fortunate nations) limp along painfully -- or die. . .

(Via MMBhttps://morecrows.wordpress.com/2016/05/10/unnecessariat/


Deep Thought: one passion to rule them all . . .

3) I think because there are so many ways to attack Trump, it's important to stick to the criticisms you really believe in. For example I don't really believe in attacks on Trump's adulteries, or bankruptcies. I have been fond of many adulterous politicians and celebrities, such as George Moscone, Big Jim Folsom and Babe Ruth. And I believe strongly in a forgiving, generous, easy, fast, stigma-free bankruptcy code.

The attacks on Trump that I think I really believe in:

A) His treatment of Rosie O' Donnell really bothered me, in part because it betrayed a bleak, Manichean view of the universe as divided into winners and losers. In part because it was mean and humorless.



One way of looking at the Trump campaign is that it seems to be attracting all of the whites, and a few of the non-whites, who have a fundamentally zero-sum view of the universe. One of the things I used to joke about is that the Trump campaign would give very good data on the size and geographic dispersion of the white racist demographic, as well as good data on the size of the Uncle Ruckus demographic. It broke my heart when Carson crossed that line:


Well, broke my heart is an exaggeration. But it did annoy me.

The Manichean religion of win-lose-nodraw seems to me bigger than Trump.

Bill Watterson says it better:


As does Michael Arndt (Q14 - Agenda Beneath the Comedy):



As does Abhijat Joshi:



B) Scapegoating of immigrants


C) Scapegoating of Muslims


D)  Scapegoating of anyone who happens to be a convenient punching bag, or who gets in his way.


E) I resent his constant lecturing of me on what a loser I am, and his constant lying to me about what a winner I will be if only I buy what he's selling.


F) It's an old-fashioned way of putting it, but Trump seems to me the anti-4-H candidate: the candidate of people whose hopes for the future do not involve being kinder, healthier, more skilled or smarter than they presently are. They don't wish to be better people, they merely wish to negotiate a better deal. Or failing that, negotiate a worse deal for somebody else.


Donna Edwards


The election I care most about this cycle is Donna Edwards for Senate. Edwards seems to to me as exciting and inspiring a candidate as Elizabeth Warren.

The only thing more inspiring than Donna Edwards or Elizabeth Warren would be a combination super-candidate, Elizabeth Edwards, resurrected from the grave.




I don't mind Saban being pro-Israel, and I think Saban had only a marginal effect on the Maryland primary. But I don't like the culture of fear in the liberal press when it comes to discussing Saban and his attitude toward Palestinians.

(with apologies to Mel Brooks):

First Banana: So what did Donna Edwards do to incur the wrath of Saban?
Second Banana: She said, "The Palestinians ain't so bad."
First Banana: [shocked] "The Palestinians ain't so bad?" Huh, you're lucky she wasn't expelled!




The Miracle in Brooklyn was one of the best moments of the 2016 campaign:


I don't think you necessarily have to go back to 1948 or 1800 to address the current situation in Palestine. More than half of the Palestinians living in Gaza are younger than 24. To quote Dr. Faye, "All he knows of the world is what you show him".


Not the greatest trick, but a pretty great trick, that the devil pulled, is to make you forget that worst act of terrorism against the Israeli state was perpetrated by extremist Jews (just as the worst acts of terrorism against the Indian state have been perpetrated by extremist Hindus). And to further make you forget that there's no reason the Israeli state cannot respond to Palestinian terrorism with the same proportionality, restraint and due process that it responds to Israeli terrorism.




I do think the Sanders campaign missed an opportunity to campaign with Donna Edwards and Gwen Moore, as well as John Fetterman. As for the argument that Edwards endorsed HRC, I think the Sanders campaign could have worked around that, with a simple statement from Edwards: "I like HRC, but I like Sanders as well."

I probably should confess to a liking for both Sanders and HRC, as well as PB & J (President Barack & Joe). Why I like them, couldn't tell you, since none of them are acceptable on my litmus test issues. But I do.

I'll be voting for Sanders in the primary. Probably the most clarifying moment of the primary election for me was the Kissinger discussion.

I do think, in fairness to HRC, there should be some qualifications to the assessment of her as a hawk. She was one of the few members of the American establishment willing to offer even tepid, mild criticisms of acts of terrorism against Iranian scientists, something which must have required a fair amount of moral conscientiousness and political courage. She was also a strong supporter of Richard Holbrooke, who was one of the most persistent voices in government for ending the war in Afghanistan. I believe Holbrooke's views on negotiation and reconciliation with all elements of Pashtun society, including the Taliban, were correct, and prescient.






. . .One of the Afghans Gopal spent time with was a Taliban military commander nicknamed — for his whip of choice — Mullah Cable, who offered a riveting account of just how decisive the U.S. air assault on that movement was. In recalling his days on the front lines of what, until then, had been an Afghan civil war, he described his first look at what American bombs could do: 
“He drove into the basin and turned the corner and then stepped out of the vehicle. Oh my God, he thought. There were headless torsos and torso-less arms, cooked slivers of scalp and flayed skin. The stones were crimson, the sand ocher from all the blood. Coal-black lumps of melted steel and plastic marked the remains of his friends’ vehicles. 
“Closing his eyes, he steadied himself. In the five years of fighting he had seen his share of death, but never lives disposed of so easily, so completely, so mercilessly, in mere seconds.” 
The next day, he addressed his men. “Go home,” he said. “Get yourselves away from here. Don’t contact each other.” 
“Not a soul,” writes Gopal, “protested.” 
Mullah Cable took his own advice and headed for Kabul, the Afghan capital. “If he somehow could make it out alive, he promised himself that he would abandon politics forever.” And he was typical. As Gopal reports, the Taliban quickly broke under the strain of war with the last superpower on the planet. Its foot soldiers put down their arms and, like Mullah Cable, fled for home. Its leaders began to try to surrender. In Afghan fashion, they were ready to go back to their native villages, make peace, shuffle their allegiances, and hope for better times. . . 
. . .Like their Bush administration mentors, the American military men who arrived in Afghanistan were determined to fight that global war on terror forever and a day.  So, as Gopal reports, they essentially refused to let the Taliban surrender.  They hounded that movement’s leaders and fighters until they had little choice but to pick up their guns again and, in the phrase of the moment, “go back to work.”

. . .Heather is blunt in her criticism. “Hearing politicians speak about drones being precision weapons [makes it seem like they’re] able to make surgical strikes. To me it’s completely ridiculous, completely ludicrous to make these statements.”. . .
. . .“We often hear that drones can see everything by day and by night,” a different drone victim of the February 2010 strike in Uruzgan told filmmaker Kennebeck. “You can see the difference between a needle and an ant but not people? We were sitting in the pickup truck, some even on the bed. Did you not see that there were travelers, women and children?”
. . .key officials. . .undoubtedly don’t “see” women and children. Instead, they are caught up in a Hollywood-style vision of imminent danger from terrorists. . . 
That is exactly what the whistleblowers feel needs to change. “I just want people to know that not everybody is a freaking terrorist and we need to just get out of that mindset. And we just need to see these people as people — families, communities, brothers, mothers, and sisters, because that’s who they are,” says Lisa. “Imagine if this was happening to us. Imagine if our children were walking outside of the door and it was a sunny day and they were afraid because they didn’t know if today was the day that something would fall out of the sky and kill someone close to them. How would we feel?”
When assessing the accuracy of statements by various big shots on the drone bombing program, it's perhaps instructive to look at the initial Theranos board of directors:


One other point: we know that the US considered bombing Bin Laden's compound, and ultimately chose not to. We also know that in the compound there were 15+ people (most of whom were not combatants) If the ratio of targets:civilians in Bin Laden's compound was around 1:5, why should we assume other compounds are any different? And even if there was some magic technology capable of only killing Bin Laden and leaving the other  people in the compound unhurt, those people, and other people in the vicinity, would still be traumatized by the US, and all else being equal, would have a hostile view of it.

Drone bombing might be "worth it" for someone like Bin Laden, Zawahiri or KSM. It's not worth it for anything less.


an enlightening comment thread from the Independent article, which probably explains how Malik Jalal got put on the kill list:

Maybe he can explain this quote:

"Malik Jalal Sarhadi Qatkhel, head of the North Waziristan Peace Committee, told reporters at the Peshawar Press Club that the tribes would wage a jihad against the US as well as Pakistanis who are helping them carry out the Predator drone strikes. He said that they had allowed their youths to carry out suicide attacks against the Americans."

regardless of what he may have said, hunting him down in this way and killing scores of innocents in the process is a cowardly, deeply immoral and criminal activity.

Just pointing out he's not the innocent little lamb he is purporting to be.

Should they risk American soldiers lives to go get their targets?

Max Stone
Absolutely - If someone says they want to send 'youth' to suicide bomb my family, they can't then ask us to shed a tear when we stop them pre-detonation!

He didn't TELL them to wage the jihad, he's merely stating that the tribes would do it.

Alec Macpherson
We have only his word for that.  A self-confessed member of a group which machine-guns children.  "Guilty" children, presumably.

Society of the Spectacle
Sorry, are you talking about malik or the Americans ?

He did explain it: "Like others that day, I said some things I regret. I was angry, and I said we would get our revenge. But, in truth, how would we ever do such a thing? Our true frustration was that we – the elders of our villages – are now powerless to protect our people."

"they" refers to "the tribes", that not include himself as he is talking about those in third person.

Keep making excuses.
He was promoting terrorist attacks against American targets. North Waziristan was an area  known for its terrorist training camps. in 2010 and 2011. The period he talks about.

Claire Newton
The Americans are the damned terrorists! These poor people living every day with bombers circling them from above. Would you want your children to grow up like that? Never knowing when you are going to be incinerated. These people are being terrorised. I would be angry if I were them.

Society of the Spectacle
What do you expect ?
For the people to just lay down and let the USA kill them for politics and control of the Opium supply ?

What is crazy is that this stuff does not surprise anyone anymore.

typical american military strategy.from a completely dispassionate viewpoint ( i personally think this kind of air-strike is both morally reprehensible and STUPID given the pathetic accuracy) shock and awe didn't work in Vietnam, why the hell would it magically start working now?

my reply to "Henchman":

1) Malik Jalal is not, indeed, an innocent little lamb. However neither am I, and neither are you. I can accept there are many good reasons why Malik Jalal deserves to die, and why killing him would be justified. However, I also believe there are many good reasons why I deserve to die, and why killing me would be justified. And, to be honest, I believe there are many good reasons why you deserve to die, and why killing you would be justified.

2) The issue, in my opinion, is not whether Malik Jalal is an innocent, or even whether killing Malik Jalal would be justified, The issue is, is killing Malik Jalal necessary? My opinion on this is clear: Killing Malik Jalal is unnecessary, and would be counter-productive for any sensible strategic objective.

2a) I do, in fact, believe that killing Malik Jalal is unjustified, as well as unnecessary and counter-productive. I agree with commenter RedAster in the Independent thread who argued that in his appearance at the Peshawar Press Club, Malik Jalal was talking about the tribes in the third person.

When Malik Jalal said "they had allowed their youths to carry out suicide attacks against the Americans.", the "they" did not refer to himself, and he was not personally advocating suicide attacks against Americans.

3) One reason for my opinion: By the logic by which Malik Jalal was put on the kill list, it seems to me that Sarah Palin (crosshairs) and Jesse Helms ("Bill Clinton better watch out") could have been put on a kill list as well.


4) Another reason for my opinion: If the US had put every German or Japanese who had threatened revenge in response to American bombing, on a kill list, World War II would never have ended. As, indeed, this war is not ending.

I do not believe the World War II generation were more moral than our generation, or the Vietnam and Korea generation. However, I do believe they had slightly less contempt for their enemy, slightly less hubris, slightly less self-righteousness, and slightly less confidence in their ability to endlessly hit other people without eventually being hit back. This relative lack of hubris allowed them to eventually end their wars, and to make peace with former enemies, in a way that has largely eluded the US since then.










Even if you don't believe anything Malik Jalal is saying, his presence in the UK still exposes a core lie of the drone strike program: that the reason for the drone strikes is because of the logistical impossibility of arresting people. If logistics were the issue, than Malik Jalal could be arrested and tried before an independent judiciary, very quickly and safely. And if the US establishment is willing to lie about a core rationale for the drone strikes program, what else are they willing to lie about?

The people of Waziristan are no different than you, and they react to a perpetual, never-ending bombing campaign of their country no differently than how you would react.

The Afghan war seems to me to have had at least 4 expansions: 1) expanding from a war targeting Al-Qaeda into a war targeting Al-Qaeda and Taliban leadership 2) expanding from a war targeting Taliban leadership into a war targeting Taliban rank and file 3) expanding from a war targeting Taliban rank and file into a war targeting Pashtun men of military age (both in Afghanistan and Pakistan) 4) expanding from a war targeting Pashtun men into an all-out Pashtun-Tajik civil war.

At every stage there have been many advocates in the American establishment for expanding and prolonging the war, very few advocates for narrowing and shortening it.

I don't know everything, but I know successful hot wars do not last 16 years, and I know successful bombing campaigns do not last forever. So the unwillingness of drone strike strategists to ever bring their bombing campaign to an end suggests to me that these are not the strategists you are looking for.

I believe "more bombing, less terrorism" will eventually be as discredited as "more guns, less crime". I reached that point somewhere between year 10 and year 15 of the WOT. Hopefully it doesn't require 50, or even 25, years, for the WOT to end.

Krugman/Romer vs. Friedman: Integrity/Schmintegrity, Methodology/Schmethodology

I should probably confess my bias is to see Krugman/Romer as Vincent and Gerald Friedman as Jules in this conversation:


The scary question in this context being, "What if I told you we could get back to 2007 trend?"



I do think that on this topic there has been too much talk about integrity, and perhaps even too much talk about methodology, and not enough clarification (schmlerification?) of the core issues.

I think the best way to clarify this issue is to start with nominal GDP, and then move on to real GDP.

Q1. Is it possible to get back to the 2007 nominal GDP trend? (my answer: yes)

Q2. If possible, is it desirable to get back to 2007 nominal GDP trend? (my answer: yes)

Q3. If we got back to 2007 nominal trend, how much of the increased nominal GDP would be accounted for as real, how much would be accounted for as inflation? (my answer: I don't know, but while the question is interesting and important, I don't think it matters for deciding whether or not to get back to 2007 nominal trend).

This is probably one issue that Friedman can be criticized for: overestimating the extent to which expansionary policies would result in real growth, and not inflation. But his strong advocacy for expansionary policies is still very valuable, in my opinion.

Q4. Assuming there are multiple different policy approaches which could get us back to 2007 nominal trend, which approach would have the best chance of encouraging the extra nominal growth to be real, and not inflation? (my answer: I don't know, would like to know, and this seems to me one of those questions which should make the Clark medals rain.)


I think the null hypothesis policy for Q4 is helicopter drops, X% of the gap between nominal GDP and the desired nominal target.

The same gif works!


(As an aside, my estimate is that the above gif provides approximately $8 billion dollars worth of utility. It further seems to me that it would be a really good idea to use that $8 billion number in order to argue that inflation is overestimated, and to use that overestimation argument in order to argue for cutting Social Security benefits.)

I don't how much of the hysteresis arising from the the 2008 recession can be undone, but I am optimistic that some of it can. I think policymakers can demonstrate their commitment to undoing hysteresis by first endorsing something like nGDP targeting, and then endorsing a target of getting back to 2007 nominal trend.


I think one of the lessons of the anti-depression policies of Mariner Eccles is that while consistent inflation of 10%+ is a problem, one or two years of 10% inflation is not a big deal, and may even be beneficial.


My chief concern for the empirical "revolution" in economics is that sophisticated things that the data are whispering are being used, deliberately or not, to distract from unsophisticated things that the data are screaming. Among those things:

1. A dollar in the hands of a poorer person has more utility than a dollar in the hands of a richer person, especially if the poor person is stretching to buy a perceived necessity.


2. Not being able to command enough resources in order to obtain core-consumption-perceived-necessities is bad.

This seems to me to be the fundamental picture of American politics since 1978:


Note that the woman in the picture is not just being asked to take responsibility for herself, which I might agree with. She's being asked to take "Great God responsibility", which I define as "taking responsibility, without having an adequate income". I certainly couldn't manage that, and am not sure how you could, either.

3. Long-term unemployment / long-term discouragement / long-term under-employment is bad.


4. Drugs are bad. Prohibition and the prison-industrial complex are worse.


5. Theranos raised large amounts of money based on the idea of reducing fear of the needle. But it seems to me that fear of not having adequate health insurance is a far deeper, far more fundamental, far more important fear than fear of getting your blood drawn. And it's a fear that can be addressed without developing any new technology. Which should be a feature, not a bug.

I don't particularly mind Theranos getting so much news coverage, even after a technical problem worthy of attack, proved its worth by fighting back. But I feel for every article about Theranos, there should have been 10 articles about universal health care activists, where universal health care includes mental and dental.

I think one thing that might help the data "revolution" is the creation of an honor system based safety net, where people ask for how much money they think they need before some sort of Grand Poobah, as a supplement to the rules based safety net.

I think such a supplemental system could help some people, and could result in collecting some useful data.





I'm not sure whether I actually believe this, but I once wrote it:
I have to admit, my first reaction to the Reinhart-Rogoff excel error was that, at long last, we'd discovered who'd stolen Uncle Billy's money. But my considered reaction is that Reinhart-Rogoff must be defended from charges of fraud and bad faith. It was not a crime. It was merely a mistake.  
The lesson I draw is: beware of economists brandishing data. I'm more likely to believe an economist who says, "I think" this is the right policy, than an economist who says, "the data suggests" this is the right policy. Until we have economists who appreciate the difficulty of using highly imperfect data to uncover a reliable causal mechanism, and who appreciate that there are some phenomenon which are simply not amenable to the scientific method, i.e. phenomenon for which reliable causal mechanisms cannot be found in time to make a difference, we're safer with ordinary bias, and not the trumped up, aggrandized, megalomaniacal bias which comes from having "the data" on your side.
I do think Daniel Davies had a pretty good description of how data-driven approaches can degenerate: 1) No matter which way you slice the data, you get the same result. 2) No matter which way I slice the data, I get the same result. 3) Here's some data: Enjoy!

I do think Dean Baker had one of the smartest takes on Reinhart-Rogoff, and it was smart precisely because Baker focused on causal mechanisms, and not just on data analysis:

Suppose we believed the original Reinhart-Rogoff 2.9 percentage point growth falloff number. If our debt-to-GDP ratio were at 100 percent of GDP, we could sell off $3.2 trillion in assets to bring the debt-to-GDP ratio down to a safe 80 percent level. This would lead to a growth dividend of more than $28 trillion over the next decade. In other words, we would be able to pocket more than 8 times the market value of these assets in the form of added growth, and that is just over the first decade. 
To my knowledge no one in public debate, including Reinhart and Rogoff, have advocated this sort of massive asset sale. Yet the payoff of more than 8 to 1, has to swamp the benefits from almost any other public policy imaginable. This seems pretty compelling evidence that no one really believes that high debt levels actually lead to slow growth.




I sort of appreciated the honesty of Marc Andreesen's initial comments on anti-colonialism, and would agree that anti-colonialism can sometimes have negative effects on policy. What I think Andreesen misses is that it can sometimes have positive effects as well. There are reasons why Indian consumers don't have to bow and scrape to the likes of Martin Shkreli, and one of those reasons is political anti-colonialism.

In India, over a dozen pharmaceutical companies manufacture and sell pyrimethamine tablets and, multiple combinations of generic pyrimethamine are available for a price ranging from US$0.04–$0.10 each (3–7 rupees)
To be honest, I see no reason why American consumers should have to bow and scrape to the likes of Martin Shkreli, either. Another of those questions which I think should make the Clark medals rain is how to fund drug research, whilst ensuring that drugs can be consumed based on their marginal cost, and up to their marginal benefit.



Incidentally, one of the issues that sunk Syriza was that they ran out of money to buy insulin and other necessities. Did they ever consider temporarily importing insulin from India?

A broad comment on situations like the Andreesen tweets, when an ubermensch lectures the masses on their ingratitude, and their ornery bad attitude bordering on uppityness: In these cases, I can forgive the ubermensch for everything except flouncing and bouncing. I can forgive them for racism, sexism, casteism, classism, fascism, objectivism, vanguardism, grammar Nazism. I can forgive the ubermensch for not being a mensch. I can even forgive the ubermensch for having been right, which is the hardest thing to forgive a person for. I can forgive them for everything except taking their ball away and going home. Most especially if it's a home in a segregated neighborhood.

What Goldman got for their money

I believe Goldman has a very strong hold on the American establishment. To use "Dinner for Schmucks" terminology, I believe they have both mind control and brain control. How strong their hold is on HRC specifically, I don't have a strong opinion.


In my view, Goldman was such a favored child of the establishment in 2008, that they not only bailed Goldman out, they did it in the least accountable way possible. The Goldman bailout was not even called the Goldman bailout. It was called the AIG bailout, even though AIG's role in the bailout was mostly bailout laundering. Slightly more accurately, it was called the AIG counter-party bailout. But if you look at the AIG counter-parties, it turns out to be Goldman and a list of Goldman's clients.


Depending on how dessicated your sense of humor is, you might enjoy Goldman's assertion in the Reuters article that they didn't need the bailout money, but took it anyway. To paraphrase King Kaiser, "Did you say that, Lloyd? What a guy!".


It does seem to me a sign of corruption in the American establishment, as well as perhaps a lack of focus on the part of the anti-establishment, that Goldman and it's clients have never been asked, even nicely, to repay the AIG counter-party bailout money that they took from the government till.

As a not-quite aside, it also seems to me a sign of corruption in the American establishment that there has not been a stronger push for repealing the 2005 bankruptcy bill, which may be the worst piece of legislation passed by the US Congress in the past 15 years, except for the Iraq war.

. . .After BAPCPA passed, although credit card company losses decreased, prices charged to customers increased, and credit card company profits soared. . .
The first student loan reforms took place in 1976 as an amendment to the Higher Education Act and required that debtors wait five years from the beginning of their repayment period, or demonstrate undue hardship, before their student loans were eligible for discharge in bankruptcy. The five year bar was later extended to seven years and in 1998, the laws were changed so that governmental student loans could never be discharged absent a showing of undue hardship. Don’t believe in slippery slope arguments? Well, buckle up. In 2005, the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act (BAPCPA) made all educational loans, public and private, nondischargeable absent a showing of undue hardship (an impossible standard to meet as interpreted by courts across the country).
I think making student loans nondischargeable for 3-5 years is defensible. I think extending the nondischargeable period to 7 years is somewhat defensible logrolling on the part of finance industry lobbyists / elected shills. Extending nondischargeability beyond 7 years seems to me an action of deep evil.

For years, forgiving bankruptcy laws in the US were a signal of hope and dynamism, that you could easily shake off the wrong turnings and dead ends of the past, and pursue the opportunities of the future. I don't think the horrible bankruptcy bills of 1998 and 2005, in and of themselves, can be blamed for any bad trends of the last 20 years. There's a deal of ruin in a person, and in a nation too. What I feel confident in saying is that they haven't helped, and repealing and not replacing them would be a step in the right direction.




One reason why referring to the 2005 bankruptcy bill is not an aside: it played a significant role in worsening the 2008 financial crisis:


Jimmy C

I was reading an article I can't find in which Carter's record on pardons seemed less generous than I expected. But then I found out that they were accounting for his pardon of Vietnam draft dodgers as one pardon, which seems to me not so much dishonest as simply indifferent to the truth.






Little Talk:

I had tasted beer before, and I hadn't liked it. It was sour and sort of soapy tasting. I never understood why anybody wanted to drink it. However, in Beanbender's it seemed that holding a mug of beer in one's hand was the thing to do, so I went up to the bar and got one along with Rat and Winston and Captain Shep Nesterman. 
Beanbender's beer was nothing like the stuff in cans that my father drinks. It had a nutty taste, and it was cold and good. The guy at the bar was Ben Beanbender, the owner of the beer garden. He didn't ask us for identification or anything. He just filled mugs from a big barrel and handed them to us. I also got a baked potato. Ben Beanbender poked a hole in one end with his thumb, slapped in a hunk of butter, salted and peppered the potato, wrapped it in a napkin, and handed it to me. It was great! The potato was almost too hot to hold, and the salty butter dribbled onto my sleeve. It tasted just fantastic with the beer. The beer and the baked potato cost fifty cents. It's the best deal in Baconburg.
I've been searching for a beer that tastes the way Pinkwater describes it for more than 20 years, a beer with a "nutty taste". Haven't found it.










The Night Before Christmas
. . .In 1989 my son Tom was handed a tract issued by a nondenominational firm in Bennett, North Carolina, that bitterly denounced Santa Claus. . ."One day they'll stand before God Without their bag of tricks. Without their red-nose reindeers, or their phony Old Saint Nicks. For Revelation twenty-one, Verse eight, tells where they'll go; Condemned to everlasting hell, Where there'll be no Ho! Ho! Ho!". I'm surprised that the author of this tract failed to observe that the letters of SANTA can be rearranged to spell SATAN!. . . 
. . .This leads to a question about which I have no firm opinion. Is it good or bad to let children believe in Santa Claus? . . .If you are a secular humanist . . .you can argue that letting children swallow the myth for a brief time is good training for becoming adult skeptics about God and Jesus. 
British-born Robert Service (1875-1958), in Rhymes of a Rolling Stone, has a short poignant poem titled "The Skeptic" that goes like this: "My Father Christmas passed away When I was barely seven. At twenty-one, alack-a-day, I lost my hope of heaven. Yet not in either lies the curse: The hell of it's because I don't know which loss hurt the worse - My God or Santa Claus."
Gamaliel Bradford's essay "Santa Claus: A Psychograph" is a spirited defense of keeping the Santa myth alive among children. . ."there is a still deeper value in the preservation of the Santa Claus legend, even by those who have no faith in that or any other legend whatever. For such preservation typifies the profound principle that, sacred as both are, the law of love is higher than the law of truth, For this there is a perfectly simple and unassailable reason, that truth at its best is deceiving, but love is never. We toil and tire ourselves and sacrifice our lives for the dim goddess Truth. Then she eludes us, slips away from us, mocks at us, But love grows firmer and surer and more prevailing as the years pass by.  
Therefore, why should not young and old alike. . .echo the merry greeting of the saint, broadcast to the whole wide world: `Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.'" 
I happen to be a philosophical theist, so let me toss out a suggestion surely made before, though I have not encountered it. "Great believers," Thornton Wilder liked to say, "are great doubters". It's a poor faith that can't preserve itself in the face of evidence which seems to point toward foolishness, Perhaps allowing children to believe in Santa Claus, then later telling them that Santa doesn't exist, is a healthy preparation for adult trust in a power higher than imaginary gods and devils. A faith that can be damaged by early disenchantment over Santa Claus surely is not much of a faith.
. . .I dare not say that he is never in error; but to speak plainly I know hardly any other writer who seems to be closer, or more continually close, to the Spirit of Christ Himself. Hence his Christ-like union of tenderness and severity. Nowhere else outside the New Testament have I found terror and comfort so intertwined. The title "Inexorable Love" which I have given to several individual extracts would serve for the whole collection. Inexorability - but never the inexorability of anything less than love - runs through it like a refrain. . . 
[ 47 ] No One Loves Because He Sees Why  
Where a man does not love, the not-loving must seem rational. For no one loves because he sees why, but because he loves. No human reason can be given for the highest necessity of divinely created existence. For reasons are always from above downward.
[ 103 ] They Say It Does Them Good 
There are those even who, not believing in any ear to hear, any heart to answer, will yet pray. They say it does them good; they pray to nothing at all, but they get spiritual benefit. I will not contradict their testimony. So needful is prayer to the soul that the mere attitude of it may encourage a good mood. Verily to pray to that which is not, is in logic a folly: yet the good that, they say, comes of it, may rebuke the worse folly. . . 





I don't particularly agree that PK is an atheistic movie, though I don't think it's overly hostile to atheism. To the extent it has a viewpoint, it seems to me just plain theism.


next post: 4/17/2017

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