dhBlog Last updated 10:03:00 24 Sep 2008

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Politics, science, economics, and sundries from just outside the beltway

       24 Sep 2008       

Subject: Econ_Policy     A proposal for the mortgage crisis


A proposal for acquring distressed mortgages

Basic ideaHomeowners facing foreclosure get to have their loan principal renegotiated to an appraised value. However, the loan owner get a lien worth the difference between this appraised value and the original loan amount.

This lien gives them first right on the portion of revenue from a future sale of the house that is above the appraised value.

If the loan amount is $400k, and the appraised value is $350k, the loan principal is reduced to $350k.
If in t years the homeowner sells the house for $380k, the homeowner gets $350k (minus whatever is owed on the principal), and the lien holder gets $30k.
You could tweak this a number of ways. The idea is to help the na´ve, but not necessarily duplicitous, dopes who bought these houses in the first place. And to slow down overly large drop in housing prices due to a bump in supply caused by foreclosures. But in a way that doesn't punish the prudent renters who have been waiting for prices to drop. And also giving the banks (or mortgage holders) some hope of recovery

Posted by Daniel Hellerstein at 10:01:01 Add comment || View 0 comments || permanent location

       5 Mar 2008       

Subject: Politics     Thoughts post Ohio/Texax

....It is March 5, Hilary is still alive after winning Ohio by 10% of so. And since pita Kevin has been haranguing me, a short post is in order.

But she had to delve into some dirty politics to do pull it off.

Should Obama respond in kind? It's not like Hilary is a saint? Or should he stick to the narrow differences in policy, and keep the high ground. It's tough, since his campaign is largely energized by a "we are going to change the way it works". Getting all negative and nasty would help blunt Hilary's tactics, but at the price of loss of luster.

In any case, it may be a necessary thing -- there is NO WAY he wouldn't have faced this kind of attack. So although I can't be happy with Hilary, I can't condemn her.

Bottom line: the dems had better figure out a way to decide this thing in early summer. It's going to take a month or so for the losers to get unpissed off. If it takes a later summer convention to finalize the deal, that means the pre-general-election "everyone all together" phase will be kind of short.

Posted by Daniel Hellerstein at 15:10:51 Add comment || View 0 comments || permanent location

       9 Feb 2008       

Subject: Sports     Thoughts a week after the Feb 2008 Superbowl

...So after the Feb '08 Superbowl disaster, I come down with a gagging chest-cold/flu, laid up for 2 days getting no sleep cause my lungs hurt and my brain keeps trying to reinvent the events of the game. Definitely not a good combo.

But now, Friday, my ovearching conclusion is that, odd as it may seem, the Pats could learn two correlated lessons from the Sox

B is much easier when A happens -- you got some spirit/passion to draw on.
I think of Oct 2008 Sox Vs Indians ALCS. Sox down 3 to 1. Ortiz calls a team meeting, wherein he says something like "what does it mean to wear this uniform. It means you are a bad ass". And how they just never looked back, putting away Cleveland and then accelerating all the way through Colorado (a miracle team like the Giants were) to end it. Yeah, it helped having Beckett... but he only pitched 2 (or 3) more times!
In comparison, the Pats seem to decide that its good enough to play just enough to win, and it almost works. Would of worked in most years, would of worked if normal rules of luck applied (rules of luck that make Helmet Catches fail).

But that's a crazy crazy strategy to follow.
You have a shot at going going down in history as one of the greatest ever.
view the entire article

Posted by Daniel Hellerstein at 02:29:34 Add comment || View 0 comments || permanent location

       3 Sep 2005       

Subject: Economics     Post Katrina: the need for a gasoline tax

2 Sept 2005:The Need for a Gas Tax

Before Katrina, the U.S. faced a crunch in gas supplies primarily due to a shortage of refinery capacity. After Katrina, this bottleneck got even tighter.

What this means, is that the supply of gasoline (to the entire nation) will be diminished, and there is very little that can be done about it. In particular, increases in the retail price of gas will not induce a significant increase in gasoline supplies (though imports of gasoline may be somewhat responsive to this price increase).

Therefore, the most fundamental principles of economics tell us that something has to give -- demand exceeded supply before, and its even worse now. Roughly speaking this imbalance can be resolved using two mechanisms.

  1. Rationing, either mandatory or voluntary. Drivers just use less gas.
  2. Price increases. When faced with higher prices, many people will choose to drive less.
Since rationing is something Americans rarely use, the simplest response is a price increase. The key point is that as prices increase, demand will diminish. At a sufficiently high price, demand will equal supply. Recollect that due to refinery capacity being maxed out, supply is not likely to increase (at least in any significant fashion) in response to increases in retail price. Thus, this equilibrium price is only responsive to consumer demand. view the entire article

Posted by Daniel Hellerstein at 11:18:01 Add comment || View 0 comments || permanent location

       27 Mar 2005       

Subject: Politics     Whither hypocrisy

A penetrating discussion of the meaning and sense of hypocrisy

Posted by Nat Hellerstein at 14:56:21 Add comment || View 0 comments   ||   View attached file  [as text]   () || permanent location

       16 Jan 2005       

Subject: Politics     An open letter to congress

Social security is a simple notion: its a compact between generations. A simple, yet profound, commitment of the younger working generation to provide the basics of life to the older retired generation. A compact that is done for the most practical kind of ethical and moral reason: that if we honor this compact, than so shall our children. And in this honoring, we as a nation will know that the older generation, for the forseeable future, need not worry about penury and destitution.

President Bush seeks to discard this promise, this time-tested and workable vision of how our nation should work. H d dangles fears of failure of this system, fears not fouunded on fact nor logic. For the fundamentals of Social Security are not based on finance. Rather, the fundamental is a national committment to the compact. In its esscence, President Bush's tale, his story that insists that his privatization plans are all that will save Social Security, is his way of saying to the scrapheap with the idea of a compact between generations.

And for what? To avoid a possible rate increase in the far future? Or a raise in the income cap? Or some a slight decrease in GROWTH of benefits? OR a slight incrase in retirement age (to reflect the wonderful fact that we are living longer)? These simple solutions are all available, yet President Bush wishes to pretend that only his plan, his erosion of the social compact, will succeed.

It is for this reason that President Bushs proposals must be fully oppossed. Perhaps the idea of a government maintained savings plan is good and useful. If so, let it be implemented on its own merit, and keep it seperate from the social security system.

Posted by Daniel Hellerstein at 23:03:59 Add comment || View 0 comments || permanent location

       12 Nov 2004       

Subject: Election2004     Statistical Impossibility: why are the exit polls so off

  • A PDF file (click on the view attached file link below) looks at some of the basic data on the exit polls from key states, as compared to actual vote. Using what appears to be the final exit poll data, the author finds that the probability of the observed discrepancies of about 1 in 250 million.
    My purpose in this paper has not been to allege election theft, let alone explain it. Rather, I have tried to demonstrate that exit poll data are fundamentally sound, that the deviations between exit poll predictions and vote tallies in the three critical battleground states could not have occurred strictly by chance or random error, and that no explanations of the discrepancy have yet been provided.
  • An article examining the anomalous jump in Republican votes in Florida, with especial attention paid to the critique that this jump occured in "dixiecrat" counties.
  • A website with numerous 2004 election fraud links lists
  • Posted by daniel hellerstein at 23:50:47 Add comment || View 0 comments   ||   View attached file  [as text]   (A discussion of the impossibility of the discrepancies between exit polls and actual votes) || permanent location

           9 Nov 2004       

    Subject: Politics     Suskinds Oct '04 article

    This is a copy of Ron Suskind's article on GW Bush's intellectual underpinnings. More precisely, the messianic, confidenct & faith based approach that guides his thinking. Very sobering!

    Posted by Daniel Hellerstein at 17:55:49 Add comment || View 0 comments   ||   View attached file  [as text]   (Suskind's article) || permanent location

           5 Nov 2004       

    Subject: Election2004     What now?

    So perhaps the nation didn't want to give Mass-a-two-shits a trifecta: superbowl, world series, and a president... all in 1 year. And though, in retrospect, I woulda swapped the first two for the last, that trade wasn't being offered.

    So what now?

    It would appear that progressives, liberals, or whatever groups ally with the democrats, need to rethink their strategy. There just isn't enough votes going our way, and its not getting better. In consideration of so what now, we need to think about basics. Lots of basics.

    One basic is: what direction to go? Perhaps that is too naive, perhaps there are more fundamental questions. Nevertheless, one can identify two basic directions.

    1. Go to the center. Heck. go to the right-of-center, in an Eisenhower sense.
      The argument behind this is that the US electorate really has become conservative. Not blow-up-the-new-deal conservative, but mighty skeptical and/or uninterested in detailed government response to broad social concerns. Since this viewpoint is deeply held by the majority, it is pointless to hold out for a revival of interest in something like the Great Society. By moving hard to the center, at least the democrats can preserve the basics of welfare and regulation; and avoid the risk of true takeover by the robber-baron revivalists.
    2. Move to the left. The problem with the democrats is their fear of being labeled as liberals, as effete experimenters with the lifes of the hard-working/god-fearing/white "middle" class. This fear has led to a spineless and ultimately unprincipled inability to advocate meaningful programs for this middle class. Has lead to the democrats being so similar to the republicans, that a significant chunk of the white working class has seen little reason to vote for them. More precisely,
    view the entire article

    Posted by daniel hellerstein at 00:42:04 Add comment || View 0 comments || permanent location

           28 Oct 2004       

    Subject: Sports     The Sox win the WS: The Road from the 60s

    A History Of the Sox, as seen by one fan on the morning after winning it all.

    The 1918 stuff is dumb. Yet, it has been a LONG WAIT. For me, it starts sometime in the mid-60s, as a kid watching a real pathetic sox team. Going to Fenway, smacking the empty seats next to you (lift and push down hard) to make noise, or yelling through the megaphone popcorn containers.

    Then out of the blue comes the "Impossible Dream" team of 1967. From deep in last place to first place, winning in a tough 4 team race that goes down to the wire. And although they lost to the Cards in that one, the experience reawakened Red Sox fever in Boston.

    And it never really died. Me, I take a break from baseball (and other organized sports) for hippy-dippy reasons in the mid-70s, so my awareness of the 1975 extravaganza is of being in a small hotel in Wyoming, on the outskirts of the Black Hills, waiting for a bus to take me on to California. And looking up at the TV in the lobby, and seeing the sox playing the cards in the series, I somehow felt that I had a little bit of extra local legitimacy (I was more then some scruffy kid passing through). An illusion no doubt, but a poignant one.

    By 1978 I'm back in Boston, and the whole '78 phenomenon sweeps away my vestigial pc-like reluctance to embrace organized-professional sports. I re-become a Sox fan. And I get a lesson, in some ways a new one for me, in the special frustrations of Sox fandom -- a lesson rooted in the collapse of the team in August. All the starting players were just worn out, and couldn't do it. Gotta give credit to Fisk, since he never gave up; but everyone else seem ground down.

    Sox fandom was getting antsy through this collapse. I was driving cab, and one night waiting view the entire article

    Posted by Daniel Hellerstein at 03:38:40 Add comment || View 0 comments || permanent location

           28 Sep 2004       

    Subject: Election2004     Flip Flop Versus Flim Flam

    So Kerry is a flip-flopper. This we know.
    Yet it's not like he is all over the map; there is a definitive range within which his stand amorphously lies.

    Now Bush is off a different sort. Where he seems to be.... well, perhaps thats where he really is.
    Or perhaps its over there, where we seem to recollect he was some time ago.
    Or perhaps its someplace else entirely, someplace not quite so appealing as GWB would like us to imagine.

    Perhaps is putting it mildly.

    Name the issue: tax breaks for "all americans".
    Stopping terrorism and liberating Iraq by invading and occupying.
    Leave no child behind.
    Prescription drug support for the elderly.
    Clear skies.
    AIDS funding for Africa.

    You name it, and the reality is not borne out by the rhetoric.

    It is fake, a conjurers trick, a flim flam.

    So, if Kerry is a flip flopper
    then Bush is a flim-flammer.

    Posted by daniel hellerstein at 16:27:29 Add comment || View 0 comments || permanent location

           1 Sep 2004       

    Subject: Election2004     Kerry's Inconsistencies: Vietnam, Iraq, and the Act of Suspended Disbelief

    01 Sept 2004.

    Kerry's Inconsistencies: Vietnam, Iraq, and the Act of Suspended Disbelief

    John Kerry has a problem with waffling. Over the last dozen or so years, he has found ways to waffle in his support for the "liberal agenda". From tax cuts to welfare reform to civil liberties, one could depend on Senator Kerry to alight on a position further right then expected.

    Yet, he is not a Bushian neo-con. He does have visions (albeit held closely) of freeing the American public of the onus of the New Deal. And he does not drink deeply from the well of militarism.

    So allow me to tender some advice in how to deal with a signature assault on Kerry's political essense -- that he waffles, that he is inconsistent, that he can't be counted on to stick to his guns. An assault not based on liberal disappointment. Instead, an assault aimed at his general character, with wartime backgrounds highlighting evident truths.

    I propose the following rejoinder. It is one thing to follow your President when he asks for volunteers for a needed war. It is another to continue this support when all the evidence your mind can gather tells you that the horrednous costs of this war do not come close to justifying the proclaimed need. In a nutshell: I may be willing to suspend my skepticisim, but that doesn't mean I'll be taken for a chump.

    Consider Vietnam. Kerry is, reported, to have argued against Vietnam whilst in College. Yet on graduation he enlists, for it would be wrong to turn his back when his nation calls, a back turning that really means that someone else will end up going. Upon engaging in the war in Vietnam, Kerry learns its deepest truths. Its costs in men and treasure, its chances of success, and the terrors it invokes. He learns that a skepticism he had concerning this war, a skepticism he suspended when called up, was warranted. And rather then shrug his shoulders in frustration, upon view the entire article

    Posted by Daniel Hellerstein at 17:08:53 Add comment || View 0 comments || permanent location

           20 May 2004       

    Subject: Iraq war     Pre-emptive Revenge

    The Alu Gharib scandals demand explanation. From the left, Sy Hersh has advanced a theory that starts with black-op specialists and their refined use of brink-of-torture techniques on Al Queda partisans. That these techniques were imported into Iraq to deal with day-to-day detainees. And that these were passed on to a collection of "amateurs" -- to people (such as reservists) who just couldn't keep a cool head in the matter. With willing blindness by higher ranks both civilian and military, this resulted in a toxic mix of sadeo homoerotic humiliation, casual placement of detainees in high stress positions, more-then-occasional beatings, and the occassional "accidental death".

    This has shocked and angered substantial number of Americans, who would like to think that we are above that. That, especially if our prescence in Iraq is meant to liberate an oppressed people, and lead them to the light of democracy, such treatment is unacceptable.

    Yet other Americans are not bothered. In fact, there is a collective wisdom that we are fighting a dirty enemy. One that does not hesitate to humiliate the dead bodies of the 4 American contractors (in April Fallujah), or behead the freelance electrician Berg.

    These heinous acts deserve revenge!

    Let us set aside the morality of revenge, especially against individuals who probably had nothing to do with these acts. Let us instead focus on a more cogent problem: that the heinous acts occurred well after the Alu Gharib tortures.

    Again, let us be generous and set-aside the possiblity that these heinous acts were a result of the tortures. That those eventually released from the gulag would let their treatment be known. That knowledge, or even direct experience, view the entire article

    Posted by Daniel Hellerstein at 02:00:29 Add comment || View 0 comments || permanent location

    Subject: Iraq war     What lesson should WWII teach us about the post 9/11 world

    What lesson should WWII teach us about the post 9/11 world?

    On some level, it's not difficult to understand the logic that links Saddam's Iraq to Osama's Al Queda. When you are attacked by one enemy, then why bother with nuances about the other enemies. It's war, and such subtleties are quite unnecessary.

    The prime example of this is Pearl Harbor -- Japan sneak attacks us, and within days we are at war with the Japan, Germany, and Italy. Following this powerful example (for what is more poignant then WWII?) when attacked by Al Queda it is sensible to war with today's "axis of evil" (with Iraq as the most visible member).

    Yet is this the correct lesson? To answer this, one must remember that WWII involved two dimensions: that the US warred against some nations, and that the US warred in alliance with some nations. And some of these nations the US warred in alliance with were suspect. In particular, Stalin's USSR. Bluntly put, the US made a decision: to defeat the greater enemy (German and Japanese facism), it was worthwhile to ally with a lesser enemy (Russian communism).

    Does this powerful fact of WWII introduce a different logic to the post 9/11 world. It does. Precisely, it requires that we identify the greatest enemy, the enemy that has done the most to damage the well-being and safety of the US citizenry. Clearly, that honor belongs to Al Queda.

    After identifying this greater enemy, as in WWII it is wise to set aside lesser quarrels. One should look for natural allies against this greater enemy. view the entire article

    Posted by Daniel Hellerstein at 01:37:31 Add comment || View 0 comments || permanent location

           12 Mar 2004       

    Subject: Politics     More 2000 Election Stuff

    In cleaning up the archives, I found several articles that shed some light (or heat?) on the Florida ballot debacles of 2000.

    Posted by Daniel H at 21:46:32 Add comment || View 1 comments || permanent location

    Subject: Politics     Equal Protection and the 2000 Election

    Rank partisanship by SCOTUS in the 2000 election.
    It's old news now, but I haven't seen my main point broached elsewhere. So let's revisit the 2000 Elections.
    In the final analysis, the US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) decision to effectively stop the Florida hand recount, thereby giving the election to George Bush, can only be seen as motivated by partisan concerns. This stark conclusion is reached by the majority's failure to address the concern at the heart of the decision: the problem of equal protection.

    My argument starts with a specific point: that the problems of "equal protection", that the five members of the SCOTUS cite, would probably have been lessened by the Florida Supreme court's plan.

    However, there is a bigger general point that the SCOTUS completely ignores, that being the meaning of "equal protection" when the true issue is how to differentiate between defective votes (i.e.; punched chads that don't fall of) versus non-votes (i.e.; chads that come loose in a random fashion). Therefore, the fundamental concerns are of a technical nature, for which issues of equal protection are irrelevant.

    First off, the SCOTUS basically agreed that a hand recount was a legitimate exercise, thereby agreeing with the gist of the Florida Supreme Court's two rulings (to override the 7 day deadline, and to order a

    view the entire article

    Posted by Daniel H at 01:44:48 Add comment || View 0 comments || permanent location

           10 Mar 2004       

    Subject: Econ_Policy     On Progressive Taxation and the Worthy Rich

    Progressive Taxation and the Worthy Rich.

    Let's start with the the fundamental rationale for progressive taxation: that it burdens those most able to bear it. Moreover, even from the viewpoint of personal liberty, progressive taxation (even high marginal rates) are justified by the reality that the "rich" are only rich because they have a society to operate in. That without this society (and the economy it maintains), the rich would not be rich. Therefore, the distribution of income is a social choice, and society can choose to reallocate market outcomes without fear of treading on fundamental personal liberties.

    Yet there are individuals who's contributions are so valued that society (by which I mean a large number of other indiviuals) are quite happy to see them rewarded materially. For example, many a Los Angeles Laker's fan may be quite willing to see Shaquille ONeil richly compensated, for he brings great pleasure to their lifes.

    Combine these facts: that while progressive taxation offends no rights, there are groups within society may want to richly reward some individuals. To solve this contradiction, consider the following tax policy:

    a strongly progressive tax structure, with transferable tax credits that citizens can reallocate to high-income individuals.
    Here's how it could work:
    Part 1 All incomes greater then $300,000 should be taxed at
    view the entire article

    Posted by Daniel H at 23:30:33 Add comment || View 0 comments || permanent location

    Subject: Welcome     Welcome to the dhBlog

    Welcome to the dhBlog blog.

    I've set this up to capture and retain the various thoughts and mental misfirings that I conjure up on topics of politics, economics... and whatever else may catch my fancy.

    Feel free to add comments to each article.

    If you find problems with the blog (the software I'm using is a home brew that I'm still beta testing), please let me know

    Posted by Daniel H at 23:29:26 Add comment || View 0 comments || permanent location