"It is easy to confuse what is with what ought to be, especially when what is has worked out in your favor."
- Tyrion Lannister

"Lannister. Baratheon. Stark. Tyrell. They're all just spokes on a wheel. This one's on top, then that's ones on top and on and on it spins, crushing those on the ground. I'm not going to stop the wheel. I'm going to break the wheel."

- Daenerys Targaryen

"The Lord of Light wants his enemies burned. The Drowned God wants them drowned. Why are all the gods such vicious cunts? Where's the God of Tits and Wine?"

- Tyrion Lannister

"The common people pray for rain, healthy children, and a summer that never ends. It is no matter to them if the high lords play their game of thrones, so long as they are left in peace. They never are."

- Jorah Mormont

"These bad people are what I'm good at. Out talking them. Out thinking them."

- Tyrion Lannister

"What happened? I think fundamentals were trumped by mechanics and, to a lesser extent, by demographics."

- Michael Barone

"If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to."
- Dorothy Parker

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Hoisted from Comments: Coercion of the States Edition by DeLong

Matt writes:
Live by the Technicality, Die by the Technicality: Orin Kerr on the ACA Decision: And that drinking age requirement [that states raise their drinking ages to 21 or have their federal interstate highway funds pulled] was enacted by none other than the sainted Ronald Reagan, and then upheld by none other than Antonin Scalia and William Rehnquist in a 7-2 SCOTUS ruling. Furthermore, it's worth noting that the 21st Amendment has always been held as giving the states the power to regulate alcohol. So unlike Medicaid, it's a federal encroachment on a power explicitly reserved to the states.

The Commerce Clause and Federal Power

Wikipedia entry on the Commerce Clause

In Obama's Victory, a Loss for Congress by James B. Stewart

Will we be entering a new Lochner era?

Friday, June 29, 2012

(Roman almost stakes Bill Compton as Roberts almost staked Obamacare.)

In this season's True Blood, the backdrop is a conflict between the vampire Authority and the vampire Sanguinista movement. The Authority desires co-existence with humans via its strategy of "mainstreaming" as a matter of survival since vampires are outnumbered. The Sanguinistas believe in the literal interpretation of the vampire bible which says that humans are no more than food and to treat them as other than such is blasphemy.

Chief Judge John Roberts just acted like Christopher Meloni's Roman, the lead "Guardian" of the Authority. Roberts saw that if the conservative judges continued to act like super Senators with super vetoes - see Bush v. Gore and Citizens United - it would provoke a backlash. It would turn the U.S. into a banana republic instantly (rather than the slow erosion of Citizens United.) Likewise, Roman concludes that the Sanguinistas have not learned the historical lesson that it would be suicidal for the vastly outnumbered vampire population to start a war with humanity.

John Roberts Saves Us All by Jonathan Chait
Two fears have hovered over American liberals since the legal case against the Affordable Care Act began wending its way through the legal system. The first was a fear that conservatives would succeed in revising what Jeffrey Rosen called (in a prescient and classic 2005 New York Times Magazine story) "The Constitution In Exile" — that it would interpret the Constitution to require right-wing economic policy. A second, and darker, fear was that five Republican-appointed justices would concoct a jury-rigged ruling in order to win a huge battle that its party had lost in Congress — that wildly partisan Bush v. Gore–style rulings would now become regular features of the political scene.
The two fears were, of course, deeply intertwined. What happened, and what nobody expected, was that they diverged. The second fear was decisively refuted. The first is very much alive.
The fearful part is that five justices ruled that the Affordable Care Act cannot be upheld under the Commerce Clause. This is a bizarre and implausibly narrow reading — if Congress cannot regulate the health-care market, then it cannot really regulate interstate commerce. By endorsing this precedent, Roberts opens the door for future courts to revive the Constitution in Exile. 
But Roberts will do it by a process of slow constriction, carefully building case upon case to produce a result that over time will, if he prevails, rewrite the shape of American law. What he is not willing to do is to impose his vision in one sudden and transparently partisan attack. Roberts is playing a long game.
But it would be unfair to attribute his hesitance solely to strategy. Roberts peered into the abyss of a world in which he and his colleagues are little more than Senators with lifetime appointments, and he recoiled. The long-term war over the shape of the state goes on, but the crisis of legitimacy has been averted. I have rarely felt so relieved.

David Brooks Never Heard of Prescription Drugs by Dean Baker
At the top of the list is patent protection for prescription drugs. These government granted monopolies raise the price of drugs by around $270 billion a year above their free market price. This is roughly five times the size of the cost of the Bush tax cuts to the rich. Patent monopolies also encourage drug companies to mislead doctors and patients about the merits of their drugs, leading to poorer quality care.
A second item that Brooks somehow missed is the inefficiency of the insurance industry, which is left in tack by the ACA. We waste between 10-15 percent of our health care spending ($250-$375 billion a year) on unnecessary administrative costs as a result of our system of private insurers, as opposed to a public Medicare type program. Of course top executives at the insurers do very well with this system.
The third obvious source of waste that Brooks failed to catch was the excess pay for our doctors, especially highly paid specialists. If the pay for our doctors was comparable to the pay of doctors in Germany or Canada it would save us around $100 billion a year, or roughly two Bush tax cuts for the rich. 
It is striking that Brooks has such difficulties noticing inefficiencies in the health care system that redistribute income to the rich.
The Real Winners by Paul Krugman

Yes we can!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Peter Edelman has a new book on poverty out.  He famously resigned from the Clinton administration in protest of welfare reform. The New York Times recently had an in-depth piece about how he was in the right in light of the recent increase in poverty after the downturn. (Looking at the number he was right even before 2008.)
In 5-4 decision, Supreme Court rules for the uninsured by Ezra Klein
And, to be sure, it’s all those things. But those stories don’t capture the effect this decision will have on ordinary Americans.
The individual mandate, by bringing healthy people into the insurance market and lowering premiums, means health insurance for between 12.5 million and 24 million more Americans than if the mandate was struck down. And as Kennedy said in his dissent that the conservatives on the Court believed the entire law should have been invalidated, it means health insurance for 33 million more Americans than if Kennedy and the conservatives had their way. 
Those are big numbers, But behind them are real people. People like Eric Richter.

After Years of False Hopes, Signs of a Turn in Housing by Binyamin Appelbaum

Housing Market Continues to Show Strength by Dean Baker

Three More Governance Questions for the Fed by Simon Johnson

(via Dean Baker)

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Okay I saw another contender for saddest movie ever alongside The Sweet Hereafter and Bridge to Terabithia. It's 2001 movie titled Things Behind the Sun* and stars Kim Dickens as a messed up musician who was raped as an adolescent. It's not that these movies are tearjerkers. They're sad to an extent that they're existentially horrifying.** I've always liked Dickens who was in Deadwood among other good things.*** She's 47 and according to IMDB she "made her stage debut in a student production of David Mamet's "Sexual Perversity in Chicago" at Vanderbilt University." So maybe she graduated the year before I arrived from Chicago. I visited a friend's brother the year before attending so maybe we were at the same bar or party. Yeah probably not.

* The title is taken from a Nick Drake song (see above). In 1999, "Pink Moon" was used in "Milky Way", a Volkswagen Cabrio commercial, leading to a large increase in his record sales. The song plays at the end of the movie or over the credits, I forget which, maybe both. The film was directed and written by Allison Anders. When writing fiction in high school and or at college (in a fiction class with New Republic writer Michelle Cottle) I'd often use pop songs as spring boards for my fiction as Anders does here. Supposedly the movie is semi-autobiographical.
** As in Edvard Munch's The Scream. One of the things that makes these movie the best sad films, is that their young characters have a redeeming humanity and resilience in the face of tragedy (Although what doesn't kill you doesn't necessarily make you stronger. It can fuck you up royally basically ending your chances at a "normal" life.)
*** I haven't watched Treme but will check it out now. A new seasons starts this fall. (Adolph Reed Jr. doesn't like the show, comparing it unfavorably with The Wire.)

Monday, June 25, 2012

True Blood finally takes off Meloni’s shirt by Meredith Woerner

Bad news for Mitt Romney and Putin.

The Coming Oil Crash by Steve Levine
Good news! Gas prices could go down to $2 a gallon by autumn -- and that's bad news for Vladimir Putin.
In an email exchange, Verleger pointed me to an interview he did a few days ago with Kate Mackenzie at the Financial Times. First, he explains, the Saudis are out for blood when it comes to fellow petro-states Russia and Iran, the former for failing to help calm the fury in Syria, and the latter for refusing to go to heel and give up its nuclear ambitions; in both cases, the Saudis think lower prices will produce a more reasonable attitude. In addition, Saudi Arabia is terrified of a current U.S. boom in shale oil; it is hoping that lower prices will render much of the drilling in North Dakota's Bakken Shale and Canada's oil sands uneconomical. Finally, the Saudis are well aware that low oil prices helped to turn around the global economic downturn in 1998 and 1999, and they hope to help accomplish the same now, and perhaps win new affection from the world's leading economies.

From The Guardian

Fifty Shades of Grey leaves records black and blue
Erotica trilogy breaks weekly paperback sales record, with all three books selling more than 100,000 copies in seven days
When will Zizek write about the phenomenon?

Pearlstein Gets Europe Half Right by Dean Baker

Steven Pearlstein gets half of the story of the euro zone right, it will take renewed spending supported by euro-wide bonds to end the crisis. But that is only half. To restore the competitiveness of the peripheral countries, Germany and other core countries will have to see higher inflation.
We are not going to see prices actually fall in Spain and Italy. This means that if output in these countries is going to become competitive again in a reasonable period of time we will need to see inflation in the 3-4 percent range (possibly higher) in Germany and other core countries.
In keeping with this target, the European Central Bank should be the issuer or guarantor of the bonds. This should help to bring about the higher rate of inflation that is needed to restore balance between the euro zone regions.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Stabilizing prices is immoral by Steve Randy Waldman
It is certainly true that there are groups in our society whose purchasing power we ought to collectively insure: retirees on fixed incomes, savers with moderate nest eggs. It is great that Social Security payouts are indexed, so that retirees enjoy some protection of purchasing power. But indexing is a visible, and visibly costly, form of social insurance. Because it is visible, we transparently ration its provision and allocate its costs. I do not argue that purchasing power insurance is immoral. On the contrary, we need purchasing power insurance and the state should invent explicit means to provide it. What is immoral is to hide what is arguably the government’s largest social insurance program behind the technocratic phrase “price stability”. This a scheme that forces the most precarious members of our society to insure the purchasing power of the most secure, without any limit or even any accounting of the scale of the transfer.
generational warfare fail by David Leonhardt by Dean Baker

Robert J. Gordon: Is Modern Macro or 1978‐era Macro More Relevant to the Understanding of the Current Economic Crisis? by DeLong

Martin Amis moves to Brooklyn
Even before he moved to this country, Mr. Amis nursed a fascination with it in his fiction and journalism. He titled his 1986 collection of pieces about America “The Moronic Inferno,” a phrase he took from his friend Saul Bellow.
These days, he can’t take his eyes off the presidential race, in particular “the incredible convulsions of the Republican Party,” he said. “It’s completely fascinating. What a great time to be coming to America.
“Is Mitt Romney electable?” he continued. “On the face of it, he looks presidential and he’s not stupid. But he lets himself down hideously whenever he has a victory. He looks as if he’s had five grams of coke — he’s shaking with a power rush. And that was always the most impressive thing about Obama: how he didn’t let that happen to himself. As if he didn’t feel it.”
A few weeks ago, he and the journalist Ian Buruma chose some of their favorite films for a discussion at the Morgan Library moderated by Antonio Monda, the ebullient Italian artistic director of Le Conversazioni literary festival. Mr. Amis chose “The Godfather,” “The Wild Bunch,” “Raging Bull” and “Blade Runner,” and got things rolling by saying, in his opinion, no good movies were made before 1966. 
After the event, Salman Rushdie, a beautiful young woman in tow, sailed up to Mr. Amis and said hello. Then Mr. Amis and Ms. Fonseca headed to Mr. Monda’s Central Park West apartment, where bowls of piping-hot pasta and glasses of Chianti were passed among a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd that included Robert De Niro and Isabella Rossellini.
Quite a party!