Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

The Period Of Short Term Memory

The Period Of Short Term Memory

 The election is two weeks from today.  When I took an intro psych course over half a century ago, I was taught in it that two weeks is the period of short term memory, the period in which we remember events with special salience.  I do not know if this is still the official view of the profession, but it has since then made sense to me: I seem to be able, even now, to remember what happened day by day for the previous two weeks.  Things before then are “in the past,” although certainly some are salient and on my mind. But those that happened in the past two weeks are just that much more on my mind.

With this in mind even four years ago when people asked me to forecast the election outcome I would drag this up and say “anything can happen in the last two weeks that can change it,” and four years ago it happened with the James Comey public reopening of an email investigation into Hillary Clinton 11 days before the election.  Even though about two days before he announced nothing was found, the damage was done.  This year we all remember this, and while he is further ahead in national polls than she was at this point then, Joe  Biden is not much further ahead, and even behind in some, than she was in those crucial battleground states that will determine the outcome. So it remains fully possible that something unexpected can happen that will give Trump the victory.

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Book Review, “America’s Bitter Pill

Kip Sullivan and I have had a running dialogue over the last year or so. Kip has been writing for such sites as The Health Care Blog, other blogs and newspaper. I find his knowledge insightful as we discuss what we know and where we are going with healthcare. Today Kip is working on implementing “Health Care For All – Minnesota” and is also developing a 3-year research and public education campaign. If you have questions this is the person to ask them.

This review was written in 2015 and is still relevant in 2020 in terms of how we started to arrive at where we are in healthcare. I have read some of the same complaints he outlines in his dialogue.

America’s Bitter Pill: CBO was Right. The White House and Steven Brill Were Wrong.”

Steven Brill’s latest book, America’s Bitter Pill, is a frustrating mix of excellent history and muddled health policy analysis. The book is a very good addition to the literature on the history of the Affordable Care Act and by far the best reporting I’ve read on the bungled implementation of the federal health insurance exchange. But Brill’s analysis of why the ACA cannot reduce health care costs is naïve and confusing. Brill claims a few smart men on the White House “economic team,” including Peter Orszag and Ezekiel Emanuel, fought hard to push “game-changing” cost-containment into the ACA but were defeated by others who were less interested in cost containment.

That explanation is wrong on two counts:

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“Dying In A Leaderless Vacuum”, NEJM

“The New England Journal of Medicine Breaks two centuries of precedent to take an electoral stand,” Medpage Today, Shannon Firth, October 9, 2020

Angry Bear Readers: I am stealing the NEJM’s title as it states all of the issues we are faced with today with the Covid Pandemic. “Dying in a Leaderless Vacuum.” The NEJM is not known for being political. Yet today, the NEJM is taking a stand on what is happening in the United States for the first time in 200 years, with the regard to the lack of leadership by our government during the Covid19 pandemic. I have not included the whole editorial and have only C&Ped two paragraphs which I believe captures much of the argument being made by the NEJM. The entire article is not a long read and I hope and expect you will follow the link to it and read the editorial in entirety.

I have also attached three links to other articles. One is by Internal Medicine Physician and BMJ columnist Abraar Karan, the second is a copy of a letter by renowned epidemiologist William Foege who led the eradication of smallpox and a former CDC Director, and the last is the USA Today article about Foeege letter to Redfield and the events leading up to the letter. Again, all are easy reads in entirety and by taking a few minutes of reading you will be much further ahead of the others around you in information.

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Deniality

Le dénialité est trop cher.

Denial isn’t specific to Americans, though we do seem to be better at it than most. We are now at least 30 years into severe climate change, yet 30-40% of Americans are in denial; assumedly, still looking for, waiting for, a return to normal. Not only are we not going back to the way it was 30 years ago; under the best of scenarios, no one of the next 5 generations will see the weather and climate of 1990 again. Under less than best of scenarios, neither the current generation nor the following 3 generations, will see weather and climate return to those of today. Still we see these professional deniers push and shove their way into any public discussion to argue that we can’t afford to take the necessary steps to halt Climate Change because the changes would be too costly. This lot deliberately tries to lead us to believe that their employers’ sunken costs are somehow our own.

The real cost of our not doing enough 30 years ago is the cost of the damage done during those 30 years plus the cost of doing today what still needs to be done. Putting it off just makes it ever more expensive. Still and yet,we hear politicians, economists and the self-anointed say that we can’t afford to do what we need to be doing about Climate Change. If we don’t, in another 30 years, we will have borne all the added damage that will have been done and be facing a situation where no amount of money will be enough. The cost of Climate Change will always be increasing until Climate Change is reversed. We’re well into shorter periods of doubling for temperature change, the number of wildfires and the acres burned, extended periods of drought, displaced people, … i.e., the price of not doing whatever it takes is doubling; so the price of doing whatever it takes. It is the not doing something about Climate Change that we can’t afford. We simply must stop burning fossil fuels.

—Extending—

Trump, although perhaps better known for his lying, is also a known Climate Change denier. Most of his supporters are in deep denial about Climate Change; many of them support him because of his denial. The Trump presidency itself is a consequence of our collective denial of Climate Change (that and a few or more other things). Since taking office, Trump has taken several actions that increase greenhouse gas emissions; thereby increasing the rate of Climate Change, increasing the damage.

The COVID-19 pandemic itself is an indirect consequence of this denial. Climate Change has severely diminished viable habitats for many species, putting pressure of these species, putting different species in closer proximity. President Trump denied the pandemic; told America that it would go away. It didn’t; it won’t. His is one of the biggest denials by an American president of all times. As a consequence of the pandemic, of Trump’s lying about and public denial of it, and also because of a large segment of the American public’s denial of it; more than 200,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 to date. Most of these deaths could have been avoided. Yet, Trump lies to us about aerosol transmission, susceptibility of children to COVID-19, availability of a vaccine, … These lies themselves are a form of denial; a denial of reality. So, too, the believing of those lies by some thirty-plus percent of Americans. If we had provided masks and imposed obligatory wearing, tested, and did contact tracing, the death toll would have been <30k. The damage to our economy would have been ~ -3% GDP. We know this because of South Korea, Taiwan, Germany, … America’s denial of the COVID-19 pandemic has exacted a very high price. It will keep doing so until: we make the wearing of mask obligatory for close proximity, have rapid result accurate testing, and do effective contact tracing; or, until almost everyone is vaccinated with a highly effective vaccine.

Is our denial inherited? Probably. In our past: The Capitalists lied about capitalism and the people believed them, died early for capitalism by the tens of thousands. Slave owners lied to themselves. Slave owners lied to poor white southerners and those poor white southerners believed them, fought and died for them. More lately, many Americans let Fox News lie to them and tell them what to believe. What are they thinking letting someone tell them what to believe? How could someone let tell them what to think?

America has been in decline for 50 years now, yet a majority of us wait for things to get back to normal. Oh, and by the bye, that was Normal we just passed, the town just before that was called Normal, and, that town straight ahead is called — Normal. Sorry, guess you can’t get to normal from here.

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Michelle Obama Speaks . . .

I am one of those losers and suckers who was in the military from 1968 to 1974. As my wife of 49 years would tell you, I came out of the Corp nuts so bad I told her never to get back in bed with me unless you wake me up first. I lost friends like most of us did then. It still bothers me from time to time, I was not there for them. To have this president belittle the loss of them plagues me. They were good people.

This is worth listening to and I hope you take the 24 minutes to listen to Michelle Obama. It is a soothing talk she presents. A special hat tip to Digsby at Hullabaloo for posting it and then inviting everyone to repost it. Michelle Obama “Imagine how it feels . . .
“Imagine how it feels . . .

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Constitutional Nit Picking

(Dan here…lifted from Robert’s Stochastic Thoughts)

by Robert Waldmann

Friday, October 02, 2020

Constitutional Nit Picking

I object to this sentence in this article by Paul Kane in the Washington Post “In such a scenario, deciding the presidency falls to the House of Representatives, but in a rare twist mandated by the 12th Amendment after the contested 1800 election, each state’s delegation counts as one vote. “
In fact, we can blame the delegates at the Constitutional Convention (as well as the 7th Congress) for that particular offense against Democracy. Back in 1800, The Constitution Article II Section 1 included “But in ch00sing the President, the Votes shall be taken by States, the Representation from each State having one Vote;” The one state one vote rule does appear in the 12th Amendment, but it was already in the original Constitution. A more important point is that this is only relevant if there is a 269-269 tie in the electoral college. The 12th amendment also says ” The person having the greatest number of votes for President, shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed;” Notice “Electors appointed” not “More than the number of states plus half the number of representatives” or currently more than 269. It is (still in spite of everything) inconceivable that the race is called before it was agreed who won the tipping-point state, but if it is decided that a President-elect must be declared while the winner of some state is contested, the matter will not go to the House voting one state one vote (as always results must be certified by the House voting the normal way one representative one vote).
It has not always been true that all states are represented in the electoral college. It hasn’t always been true in my lifetime (I was born on November 9 1960 the day after electors were elected November 8 1960 but before those electors Kennedy). In 1960 the electors for Hawaii were never assigned because the outcome was contested when the electors voted. This means that Hawaii had to wait until 1964 to be represented in the electoral college after becoming a state on August 21, 1959.

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History

What is this that we call history? What is it good for?

History is: a chronological record of significant events (such as those affecting a nation or institution) often including an explanation of their causes, a branch of knowledge that records and explains past events, the study of the past, …, the past in context. History is all these things.

What is missing from ‘a chronological record of significant events’? History without context is meaningless. And context is? Context is all those things that were going on before and during those significant events; the environment of their occurrence, if you will; and the events that followed these significant events; their consequences.

A branch of knowledge that records and explains past events, the study of the past, … No doubt, those historians who recorded these events sought to provide us insight into what was going on at the time, and as to what had transpired before; provide us context. Successive historians were privy the consequences of these events; provide us evermore context for these events. The knowing of what was going on at the time of significant events and the consequences of these events allows us to assign cause and effect to these significant events of history. This assessment of cause and effect forms the basis of our knowledge of the past.

What good this knowledge of the past? Is it that we need be concerned about the possibility of history repeating itself? That’s not really possible, is it? This assessment is information or knowledge that we can use to increase or decrease the possibility of something similar happening in the future. Information or knowledge that also helps us understand what is happening at the present time, happening now. We need to know what is going on now in order to better plan for the future. Planning that applies the knowledge that we have gained from our study of history.

We can never undo history; that would be like reversing the big bang. We can use the knowledge gained from our study of the past to improve the present, to make the future better.

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“Free-Exercise Protections”

The court is reversing many of the Civil Rights advances and gains (health care, labor protections, and antidiscrimination in public accommodations, etc.) for LGBTQ, women, etc. on the basis that such protections violates a religion’s practices. In essence legal protections for individuals, workers, etc. seeking to engage in ordinary commercial activity are subordinated to a religious belief. I watched such in action at a County Commission meeting as they passed a resolution to deny the right to abortion and birth control coverage for non-unionized women.

The Weaponization of the Free-Exercise Clause, The Atlantic, Howard Gillman and Erwin Chemernsky, September 2020

Some History:

There was a time when the Constitution’s protection of the “free exercise” of religion was a sort of shield, a protection for religious minorities from the prejudices of the powerful. No longer. The Supreme Court’s conservative majority is in the process of transforming this First Amendment clause into a sword that politically powerful Christian conservatives can use to strike down hard-fought advances in civil rights, especially for LGBTQ individuals and women.

At issue is whether religious believers who object to laws governing matters such as health care, labor protections, and antidiscrimination in public accommodations should have a right to an “exemption” from having to obey those laws. In recent years, religious pharmacists have claimed that they should not be required to fill prescriptions for a legal and authorized medical procedure if that procedure is inconsistent with their beliefs. A court clerk whose religion defined marriage as a union of a man and woman has claimed a free-exercise right to refuse marriage licenses to same-sex couples who have a constitutional right to marry. Religious business owners, such as bakers and florists, who object to same-sex marriage have claimed a right to refuse service to same-sex couples. And employers have successfully asserted a right to deny their workers health-care benefits that they would otherwise be entitled to, such as contraception or abortion counseling.

Providing such religious exemptions has required a dramatic change in the law by the Supreme Court. In 1990, in Employment Division v. Smith, the Supreme Court held that the free-exercise clause of the First Amendment cannot be used as a basis for an exception to a general law, no matter how great the burden on religion, unless the government’s action can be shown to be based on animus to religion. The case involved a claim by Native Americans for a religious exception to an Oregon law prohibiting consumption of peyote.

Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the opinion for the Court ruling against the Native Americans and explained that it would be impossible to provide religious exemptions from civic obligations whenever a person disagreed with the law—there are just too many civic obligations and too many different religious views about those obligations. Also, if the government were to begin down this path, it inevitably would face the impossible task of defining a “religious” belief. Such an approach would force the Court to make intrinsically controversial and discriminatory decisions about which religious views were most deserving of special accommodation and which social values should be considered less important than the favored religious views.

This decision was in line with the approach taken by the Supreme Court, in almost all cases, through American history. Courts long held that the Constitution did not require an exception to general laws on account of religious beliefs—that parents could not deny medical aid to their children, that they could not have them work in violation of child-labor laws, even if the work involved dispensing religious literature, that religious schools could not violate laws against racial discrimination, and that a Jewish Air Force psychologist could not ignore the uniform requirement by wearing a yarmulke.

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Ponzi Finance II: quid pro quo

The real story revealed by the New York Times Trump tax returns bombshell is not that Donald Trump paid no taxes in 10 out of 15 years or that he paid $750 in 2016 and 2017. The real story is that he doesn’t have net income to service his debt. There is nothing inherently illegal about that. He did it before in the 1980s and when real estate prices stopped rising in 1990, his creditors were left holding the bag.

Hyman Minsky wrote about Donald Trump’s investment strategy in a 1990 talk, “The Bubble in the Price of Baseball Cards.”

One of the puzzles of the 1980s was the rapid rise in the financial wealth of Donald Trump, author of The Art of the Deal, and what else. Trump’s fortune was made in real estate. Many large fortunes have been made in real estate, since real estate is highly leveraged. Two factors made Trump somewhat unique — one was the he developed a fortune in the period of high real interest rates, and the second was that the cash flows on most of Trump’s properties were negative.

Trump’s wealth surged because the market value of his properties — or at least the appraised value — was increasing faster than the interest rate. Trump obtained the funds to pay the interest on his outstanding loans by increasing the draw under what in effect was a home equity credit line. The efficiency with which Trump managed these properties was more or less irrelevant — hence Trump could acquire the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City without much concern about the impacts on the profits of the two casinos he already owned. Trump was golden — he had a magic touch — as long as property prices were increasing at a more rapid rate than the interest rate on the borrowed funds.

The puzzle is that the lenders failed to recognize that the arithmetic of his cash flows was virtually identical with that of the developing countries; in effect Trump was Brazil in drag. In the short run Trump could make his interest payments with funds from new loans — but when the increase in property prices declined to a value below the interest rate, Trump would become short of the cash necessary to pay the interest on the outstanding loans.

The increase in U.S. real estate prices in the 1980s was regional, and concentrated in the Northeast and in coastal California; for the country as a whole, real estate did not increase relative to the price level. The regional dispersion in the movement in real estate prices more or less paralleled the changes in personal income. Real estate prices dipped in the oil patch, climbed modestly in the rust belt, and surged in those areas that benefitted from the rapid increases in incomes in banking and financial services — sort of a derived demand from the financial success of Drexel Burnham. In effect, those individuals with high incomes in financial services — and with the prospect of sharp increase in incomes — set the pace for increases in real estate prices

 

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Questions for Amy Coney Barrett

I would like to propose a set of questions for the Amy Coney Barrett confirmation hearings.

I would ask about her interview with Donald Trump.

1) in the interview, did the president talk about himself at all ?

Both answers are costly. We all know he did (he always does) so to answer no is to blatantly like.
A yes answer leads to following questions (which I would ask in any case).

Barrett will refuse to answer, saying the conversation should be private.

2. I’m not asking if he said he had a headache, My concern is whether he said anything about the upcoming Presidential election aand whether it might be contested.

Again the answer no is an obvious lie. Also refusing to answer suggests that the answer is damaging to her (as the true answer certainly is).
She will refuse to answer

3. So you refuse to say that he didn’t suggest that he wants you confirmed so you can side with Trump in a possible upcoming Trump V Biden case ?

She has to refuse.

4. Did he ask you to assure him that you would vote in his favor if there were such a case ?

Here she has to answer no. It is very costly to refuse. If she answers yes (almost certainly the honest answer) then she can’t refuse to answer when asked how she replied.

5. Here under the extremely unlikely hypothesis that she answers yes, she would have to claim she told him she can’t make that promise about a purely speculative case for which the facts haven’t even occurred yet. That would be an obvious lie. If she had been asked and gave that answer, she would not have been nominated.

So she will answer no, but then argue that the conversation is confidential and she shouldn’t answer other questions about it. I think the questions lead her to contradicting herself.

She could stick to refusal to answer, but if she refuses to answer “did you promise to President Trump that you will favor him in an upcoming Trump V Biden case ?”

Then she has some trouble.

Then ask if she promises to recuse herself if there is a Trump V Biden case (she has to answer that one).

This doesn’t distract from the gross impropriety of blocking Garland then rushing Barrett.

The questions are not polite or normal, but the situation is clearly not normal either.

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