Friday, January 18, 2019

The Leisure Class amuses itself

The following is from the Caucus99percent site. This is where all the good writers from Daily Kos went after it became abundantly clear in 2016 that Kos had no tolerance for the Progressive / Populist / New Deal wing of the Democratic Party and went out of his way to annoy the Bernie Sanders supporters.

The Russia Hoax sickens me. I have precious little tolerance for these sorts of maneuvers but this is worse than even the 1950-60s. My problem is that I have seen Russia, read her literature, listened to her music, and marveled at her playwrights. And Ice Hockey—it's damn easily to follow the game in Minnesota and watched when Herb Brooks spent six seasons at the University of Minnesota reverse-engineering the hockey theories of Anatoly Tarasov—the supreme genius of Russian hockey.

For me, the Russians are fellow people of winter and I find it exceeding difficult to watch politicians and news media defame these people for some cheap political advantage. They have suffered through great hardships over the last 150 years, and I find it disgusting to watch an ignorant weasel like Adam Schiff look into the camera and tell us easily refutable lies about one of the great cultures in history.

Moreover, the world is facing a climate calamity. Time is running out quickly. Our tax money should be spent of remediation, NOT on some exercise of "who can tell the biggest whopper and get away with it."

If You Have Been Playing "THE RUSSIA HOAX" at Home, along with Our Studio Audience, You'll Want to Grab this Clue!

Submitted by Pluto's Republic on Thu, 01/17/2019

Over the past few months, the table has slowly turned. Now the clues are taking us back to the corrupt nest where this plot to destroy the 2016 election and sabotage American democracy began. Who will be the Insider who turns on all the rest of the vipers in the Greatest Crime Against American People in US History?

Just how dirty was that Dossier?

According to the Tyler Durdens, it is dirtier that anyone imagined. This story was originally broken at The Hill by Jon Soloman:

We now have insider testimony that — from the beginning — the Justice Department and the FBI were both fully aware that the notorious Steele Dossier was connected directly to and paid for by Hillary Clinton (and likely not the DNC). Hillary Clinton's lawyer from Perkins Coie eventually admitted to paying Fusion GPS, disguising the payments as legal bills when it was in fact opposition research.

The Dossier was thus contaminated and biased - a crucial detail which was omitted just weeks later from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant used to spy on the Trump campaign.
When the annals of mistakes and abuses in the FBI’s Russia investigation are finally written, Bruce Ohr almost certainly will be the No. 1 witness, according to my sources.

The former #4 Department of Justice (DOJ) official, Bruce Ohr - who had extensive contact with Steele, briefed "both senior FBI and DOJ officials in summer 2016 about Christopher Steele's Russia dossier, explicitly cautioning that the British intelligence operative's work was opposition research connected to Hillary Clinton's campaign and might be biased."
Ohr’s activities, chronicled in handwritten notes and congressional testimony I gleaned from sources, provide the most damning evidence to date that FBI and DOJ officials may have misled federal judges in October 2016 in their zeal to obtain the warrant targeting Trump adviser Carter Page just weeks before Election Day.

Ohr's activities also contradict a key argument made by House Democrats in their attempts to downplay the significance of the Steele Dossier; that the FBI claimed it was "unaware of any derogatory information" about Steele, and that the former MI6 operative was "never advised ... as to the motivation behind the research." The FBI further "speculates" that those who hired Steele were "likely looking for information to discredit" Trump's campaign.

There was no "speculation" going on by the FBI. Thanks to Ohr's warning, they absolutely knew about Steele's bias against Trump while working for a Clinton-funded project to gather harmful opposition research on him.
Ohr had firsthand knowledge about the motive and the client: He had just met with Steele on July 30, 2016, and Ohr’s wife, Nellie, worked for Fusion GPS, the same firm employing Steele.

“I certainly told the FBI that Fusion GPS was working with, doing opposition research on Donald Trump,” Ohr told congressional investigators, adding that he warned the FBI that Steele expressed bias during their conversations.

“I provided information to the FBI when I thought Christopher Steele was, as I said, desperate that Trump not be elected,” he added. “So, yes, of course I provided that to the FBI.”
When lawmakers pressed Ohr as to why he would volunteer that information to the FBI, he answered "In case there might be any kind of bias.... I tried to be clear that this is source information, I don’t know how reliable it is. You’re going to have to check it out and be aware."

We now discover that Ohr’s early consultations about the creation of the Steele dossier weren’t limited to the FBI, whom he reached out to on July 31, 2016. Ohr disclosed that in August 2016 — nearly two months before the FISA warrant was issued — he was asked to conduct a briefing for senior Justice officials.
Those Ohr briefed included Andrew Weissmann, then the head of DOJ’s fraud section; Bruce Swartz, longtime head of DOJ’s international operations, and Zainab Ahmad, an accomplished terrorism prosecutor who, at the time, was assigned to work with Lynch as a senior counselor.

Ahmad and Weissmann would go on to work for Mueller, the special prosecutor overseeing the Russia probe.

So, Mueller has known all along that the FISA warrants were bogus, but the desperate cover-up team gave him carte blanche to dig through every part of the warrant victim's lives looking for crimes — anything at all that could be thrown out to the media and the American people, like red meat to hungry dogs.

Meanwhile, throughout 2018, Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee repeatedly sought to downplay Ohr's connections to Steele. Democrats were relentless in their cover-up efforts pertaining to the illegally obtained FISA warrants, using already debunked assertions as facts. One example is the House Memo on the FISA warrants, which is heavily redacted except for the copy sitting on President Trump's desk.
The Memo defending the FISA warrants from House Democrats - led by Rep. Adam Schiff's (D-CA), says that Ohr's contact with the FBI only began "weeks after the election and more than a month after the Court approved the initial FISA application." In the Memo, Schiff insisted that Ohr only notified the FBI about Steele after Steele was fired by the FBI in November 2016 for improper contacts with the media.

Ohr's testimony, however, refutes Schiff's Memo making it clear he was in contact with both FBI and DOJ officials well before the FISA warrant or the 2016 US election.

Ohr divulged his first contact with the FBI was on July 31, 2016, when he reached out to then-Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and FBI attorney Lisa Page. He then was referred to agents working Russia counterintelligence, including Peter Strzok, the now-fired agent who played a central role in starting the Trump collusion probe.
Ohr explicitly made the point to the FBI back then that Steele seemed desperate to see Donald Trump defeated. He told the FBI that Steele — the UK spy that he and his wife were working with — was biased in the extreme. The FBI never tried to guess or speculate as to Steele's motives in the Dossier, as they so testified.

So there's that. And so much more. The involvement of CrowdStrike in the forensic work and the incubation of the Hoax is a bonanza of malfeasance that I cannot wait to see fully exposed. If it is exposed before the whole thing is deep-sixed. Rumors are flying that the case could be shut down, buried in irrelevance, and classified forever. more

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Week-end Wrap - January 12, 2019

Week-end Wrap - January 12, 2019
by Tony Wikrent
Economics Action Group, North Carolina Democratic Party Progressive Caucus

Constitutional Foundation of the US Economy: Powers are Implied Not Enumerated
Tony Wikrent, April 9, 2017 [RealEconomics]
These issues go to the heart of the question: What is the role and purpose of government? They include such specific issues as the General Welfare clause, states rights, implied versus enumerated powers, and the reach and scope of the Commerce clause. Contrary to the idealized wrong-wing myth of the U.S. economy being founded on the principles of laissez-faire, the framers of the Constitution deliberately set out to create a central government strong enough to force the thirteen states into one national economy. To do this, the national government undertook a number of programs and policies to build and strengthen the national economy by encouraging and protecting manufactures and commerce, establishing a national banking system, and promoting and directly assisting the development of transportation. 
The first Act of Congress established the administering of oaths of office for federal officials, but the second Act was the imposition of the Hamilton Tariff to protect domestic industry and raise revenue. In 1791, Congress chartered the First Bank of the United States. The Patent Office was created in 1802. Direct federal involvement in the building of transportation infrastructure included projects authorized under the 1807 Coast and Geodetic Survey, and other measures to improve river and harbor navigation, which were formalized and put on a more permanent footing by the 1824 Rivers and Harbors Act. Various Army expeditions to the west, beginning with Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery in 1804 and continuing into the 1870s, gathered and disseminated geographical and scientific knowledge that was crucial to opening the West to settlement (see for example, the careers of Major Stephen Harriman Long, Major General John C. Frémont, and Brigadier General Randolph B. Marcy). These expeditions were almost always under the direction of an officer from the Army Corps of Topographical Engineers, an organization that has been almost completely written out of American history, but which comprised the elite of U.S. Army officers. Pursuant to the General Survey Act of 1824, Army officers were assigned to assist or direct the surveying and construction of the early roads, railroads and canals -- whether they were private or state projects did not matter.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Another Producer-Class visionary—Mate Rimac

A car nut from Croatia, Mate Rimac, has grown up to be a VERY deep thinker on the future of transportation—who also happens to build beautiful hypercars on the side. In this presentation, he explains the problems and potential of autonomous vehicles. He also explains why making all this work is so important.

In this video, Rimac explains his hypercar to Nico Rosberg, the German-Finnish 2016 Formula One champion. Always a good strategy to finish your halo first.

And here's the coverage of the Rimac C_Two at the Geneva Auto Show as covered by the guys at Fully Charged.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Week-end Wrap - January 5, 2019

Week-end Wrap - January 5, 2019
by Tony Wikrent
Economics Action Group, North Carolina Democratic Party Progressive Caucus

It’s Not Your Money
Ian Welsh, April 15, 2015
You also didn’t earn most of it. 
It seems like every time I discuss taxation, some libertarian will waltz in and say: “It’s my money and I don’t see why the government should be able to take it.” 
So let’s run through why, no, it isn’t your money. We’ll start with two numbers. The income per capita for the US in 2005 was $43,740. The income per capita for Bangladesh was $470. 

Now I want you to ask yourself the following question: Are Bangladeshis genetically inferior to Americans? Since not too many of my readers think white sheets look great at a lynching, I’ll assume everyone answered no. 
Right then, being American is worth $43,270 more than being Bangladeshi and it’s not due to Americans being superior human beings. If it isn’t because Americans are superior, then what is it? 
The answer is that if it isn’t individual, it must be social. On the individual but still social level, Americans are in fact smarter than Bangladeshis because as children they are far less likely to suffer from malnutrition. However not suffering from malnutrition when you’re a baby, toddler or young child has nothing to do with you and everything to do with the society you live in and your family–two things over which you have zero influence (perhaps you chose your mother, I didn’t!). 
Bangladeshis won’t, on average, get as good an education. They won’t get as much education either, since every child is needed to help earn a living as soon as possible. For most Bangladeshis, there’s no room for the extended childhood and adolescence to which westerners have grown accustomed, which often stretches into the late twenties or even early thirties, amongst those seeking Ph.Ds or becoming doctors or lawyers.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Week-end Wrap - December 29, 2018

Week-end Wrap - December 29, 2018
by Tony Wikrent
Economics Action Group, North Carolina Democratic Party Progressive Caucus

A Short Crash Course in American Political Economy
Tony Wikrent, November 25, 2016 [Real Economics]
...Economic equality is basic to a republic because, the idea was, no person can be fully independent and be a good citizen if their livelihood depends to some extent or other on another person’s largess, benevolence, or tolerance. This was the basis of the fight between the Hamiltonians and the Jeffersonians. Jefferson believed that only farmers who owned their own land were independent enough to honestly exercise the duties of citizenship. Jefferson wanted to delay the advent of industrialization and subservient factory labor as long as possible. This is why Jefferson acceded to the Louisiana Purchase, which he would otherwise have opposed on the grounds that the federal government has no express power to acquire so vast territory. [2] With the Louisiana Purchase, yeoman squeezed out of the established eastern seaboard would be able to cross the mountains, and buy, steal, or somehow take the land of the native Americans and set themselves up as independent farmers, thus extending in both space and time Jefferson’s ideal agrarian republic.\ 
Hamilton, by contrast, understood that the economy could not be frozen in time and remain entirely agrarian. Industrialization HAD to not only proceed, but be encouraged [3], for the USA to have any chance of resisting the intrigues and hostility of the European powers – which remained committed to eradicating the American experiment in self-government until the US Civil War. (France and Spain landed troops in Mexico and Caribbean at the beginning of the war; the Mexican republic was eliminated and Maximilian, younger brother of Austrian emperor Francis Joseph I, was installed as puppet emperor. The British government of Lord Palmerston was preparing to land troops in Canada in 1862, but was deterred by the pro-USA street fighting in London and elsewhere which was led by the British allies of Italian revolutionary Giuseppe Garibaldi.) 
Hamilton’s great insight was that economic development depended entirely on improving the productive powers of labor. This meant the development of science and technology, and the spread of machinery to replace muscle power, both animal and human. The correct view of Hamilton must be precise: it was not that Hamilton sought to encourage and protect wealth, but to encourage and protect the CREATION of wealth. (Read Section II, Subsection 2, “As to an extension of the use of Machinery...” in Hamilton’s December 1791 Report to Congress on the Subject of Manufactures, if you want something to read today.) 
This is where Marxist analysis fails catastrophically. Yes, much of economic history is that of elites accumulating wealth through exploitation, fraud, and violence. BUT: how was that wealth which is stolen created in the first place? Thorstein Veblen, and his discussions of industrial organization versus business organization, are far more useful in understanding the COMPLETE economic story, not just the exploitation side of it....

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Week-end Wrap - December 22, 2018

Week-end Wrap - December 22, 2018
by Tony Wikrent
Economics Action Group, North Carolina Democratic Party Progressive Caucus

How Britain stole $45 trillion from India
[Al Jazeera, via Naked Capitalism 12-18-18] 

2,000 Years of Economic History in One Chart
Barry Ritholtz [The Big Picture 12-19-18]

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Week-end Wrap - December 15, 2018

Week-end Wrap - December 15, 2018
by Tony Wikrent
Economics Action Group, North Carolina Democratic Party Progressive Caucus

The French Protests Do Not Fit a Tidy Narrative
Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone, via Naked Capitalism 12-13-18]
No one excels Taibbi at staccato jabbing the powers that be with the facts of their own arrogant incompetence. The protests in France are spreading, not because of a carbon tax on gasoline, but for the same reasons Occupy spread, before it was crushed by Obams's Domestic Security Alliance Council.
The vest movement, a.k.a. gillets jaunes, began as a localized French grievance about a fuel tax and has spiraled into an international phenomenon. In Europe, there have been yellow vests in Sweden, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. There are vesters marching in Alberta, Canada (these seem more right-wing and anti-immigration), but also in Basra and Baghdad, where protests are directed at poor living conditions. Egypt banned the sale of yellow vests to stem protests against the al-Sisi dictatorship. 
The common thread seems mostly to do with class. However, since we’re more comfortable covering left-versus-right than rich-versus-poor in America, the journalistic response here has been a jumble. 
The New York Times editorial “Macron Blinks” recognized the battle lines were between the “marginalized” and the “pro-business program” of “the rich and powerful.”

....When an online commenter suggested “centrism” was just another word for “elitism,” Boot was again puzzled.... 
Over and over, a daft political class paternalistically implements changes more to the benefit of donors than voters, then repeatedly is baffled when they prove unpopular....
These policies came gift-wrapped in assurances. NAFTA was to produce one million new jobs* in the first five years. The WTO was supposed to add $1,700 to every family’s income, every year. The 2004 tax holiday, which slashed taxes on $299 billion in offshored profits, would create 500,000 jobs, corporate leaders (and the George W. Bush administration) promised.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

We chose not to fly

It's about freaking time. In my humble opinion, the most harmful climate change deniers are not the knuckle draggers who can bring themselves into believing that nothing is happening and this is one giant hoax. Rather, it's the serious scientists who claim that greenhouse gasses are about to destroy the ecosphere and then fly 100,000 miles a year to conferences where they back-slap with their buds while peddling their wisdom. NO ONE will ever live down such behavior, such hypocrisy.

Here are three people who have decided to set a better example. Although reducing one's travel from 100k to 30k isn't all that much of an improvement. Perhaps some day before the Greenland ice sheet melts, maybe these folks will realize that if they have anything important to say, they can do it by videoconferencing. Well, we can hope.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Week-end Wrap - December 8, 2018

Week-end Wrap - December 8, 2018
by Tony Wikrent
Economics Action Group, North Carolina Democratic Party Progressive Caucus

Lawler: US Death Rate Up, Life Expectancy Down in 2017
[Calculated Risk, via Naked Capitalism 12-5-18]
“What is especially striking about this table is the sharp increase in death rates among 25-44 year old over the last five years.”
One part of the U.S. yield curve just inverted; what does that mean?
[Reuters, 12-6-18]
....yield curve inversions - when shorter-dated securities yield more than longer maturities - have preceded every U.S. recession in recent memory by anywhere from 15 months to around two years. “The yield curve has sent a chill down investors’ spines in regard to the future outlook of the U.S. economy,” said Chad Morganlander, senior portfolio manager at Washington Crossing Advisors in New Jersey.
13% Of Americans Will Boycott Christmas Spending 
[Safe Haven, Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-3. 
“The 2018 Bankrate Holiday Gifting Survey showing that 13 percent of American shoppers are planning to completely boycott holiday spending…. Despite growing consumer resistance, 45 percent of shoppers will still spend beyond their comfort zone, says Bankrate’s survey. And in this race to show their love by gifts—where larger gifts apparently mean more love–Americans are prepared to plunge themselves into heavy debt."
If that percentage tripled, to over a third of USA shoppers boycotting holiday shopping, it would wreak havoc in the boardrooms of hundreds of really large corporations.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Week-end Wrap - December 1, 2018

Week-end Wrap - December 1, 2018
by Tony Wikrent
Economics Action Group, North Carolina Democratic Party Progressive Caucus

Worldwide the suicide rate is down by 29% since 2000. In America it’s up by 18%
[Washington Post, via Naked Capitalism 11-29-18]

Report: Death Rates Increase for 5 of the 12 Leading Causes of Mortality 
[Pharmacy Times, via Naked Capitalism 11-29-18] A useful summary.

[Washington Post, via Naked Capitalism 11-26-18]

Household debt hit a record high of $13.5 trillion last quarter
[Time, via Avedon's Sideshow 11-23-18]

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Developing Nations Are Stepping Up Into Global Clean Energy Leadership

The importance of "sunk costs" looms larger by the day. Turns out it is really, REALLY hard to replace old technology with new. And it only makes sense even IF the only consideration is how much money has been invested over the years in the electrical grid, filling stations, etc—things that by rights should be rotting in technology graveyards by now. Of course, it isn't just the interests of pension and hedge funds at stake here—there is also matters of pride in technology, etc. We have successfully made the transition from one technology to another: tubes to transistors, film to digital photography, fax to email attachments, etc. but nothing on this scale.

So now we see that the people with the least infrastructure to displace happen to live in areas with the most sunlight. So it is really no surprise that the least developed countries in the world are embracing solar power with the most enthusiasm. It is the cheapest energy solution by far.

World faces 'impossible' task at post-Paris climate talks

Now comes the fun part. As the evidence for climate change continues to pile up, some of the more enlightened among us are beginning to wonder, "Just how big is the problem? And how much will this really cost to fix?" Of course, these are exactly the questions that should have been asked in 1988 when James Hanson provided us with his rocket science version of how bad it already was. Too bad the evidence had to be overwhelming to get to where we should have been in 1988.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Week-end Wrap - November 24, 2018

Week-end Wrap - November 24, 2018
by Tony Wikrent
Economics Action Group, North Carolina Democratic Party Progressive Caucus

NASA Seismic Probe Insight to Land on Mars
[Machine Design 11-20-18]
After a six-month space flight, Insight is poised to land on Mars for a two-year mission exploring the planet’s geology.
NASA is providing live coverage of the landing, scheduled for Monday. November 26, at about 3:00 p.m. Eastern time.  Scores of viewing events and parties are planning to take advantage of the live feed.
Major viewing events at museums include "Countdown to InSight" at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia; a "NASA Mars Insight Landing Livestream" at The Museum of Flight in Seattle ; a 6-hour pop-up Landing Event at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago; an "InSight Lands on Mars" simulation at the American Museum of Natural History in New York; and many more.
In North Carolina, there are two events:

North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
11 W Jones St, Raleigh, NC 27601
November 26, 2018 
2:00 PM - 3:30 PM Local Time

Robeson Planetarium
210 E. 2nd St.
Lumberton, NC 28358
November 26, 2018
6:00 PM - 8:00 PM Local Time

A Grave Climate Warning, Buried on Black Friday
Robinson Meyer, November 23, 2018 [The Atlantic, via Naked Capitalism 11-24-18]
In a massive new report, federal scientists contradict President Trump and assert that climate change is an intensifying danger to the United States. Too bad it came out on a holiday.

Oh those Vikings

One sparkling August morning in 1970, I awoke in the small town of Roskilde Denmark. I was hitchhiking to Copenhagen but had been warned that the youth hostels were full so I stopped short. So that morning I knew I was 30 km from downtown Copenhagen and absolutely nothing else about Denmark. By the end of the day I had become a serious fan of things Viking because of a 1962 find of five ships of various sizes in the mud near the main harbor. The good people of Roskilde had built a museum in 1969 to house these finds that from the looks of things, has grown in size and sophistication since then.

I have a sister who has compiled a thorough genealogy of our family. All eight of my great-grandparents came from the Viking "belt" that extends from Denmark in the south to Uppsala / Birka in the north. Because of geography, the explorations / raids / settlements of the Danes and Norwegians went west. These are the best known Vikings because of their importance to British history—William the Conqueror was a Norman (northman / Norwegian), after all. The Swedish Vikings went east and influenced the history of Russia and the Ukraine. Between a great-grandfather from Bergen Norway and two great-grandparents from Gotland, I have the range of Viking roots well covered.

In 1970, I knew none of this. In fact, the universe of Viking historians was pretty damn tiny. As my interest in the subject grew, I discovered I had latched onto a very obscure topic. For example: I found my way into a relationship with a woman who was half Norwegian. Since I was still a redhead, tall, and pretty good with a hammer, I thought that as a romantic gesture I would make her a Mjolnir (Thor's hammer) as a piece of costume jewelry / good luck charm. I made it of wood and leather and it turned out quite nice. It might have worked as romantic gift except that 1) She had never heard of Mjolnir. 2) She had never heard of the Viking pantheon of gods. 3) She had no idea what this gesture was supposed to mean. This was 1994. Amazingly, pop culture has caught up with my obscure hobby. I was watching an episode of Jeopardy not long ago (a guilty pleasure indeed) when they had a category on Viking mythology—all three contestants could have gotten them all right.

These are my people. I have lived in Scandinavia on two occasions. No one I know acts remotely like a Viking raider. So the question that has fascinated me for the last 48 years has been—how did the Vikings become Scandinavians? My Lutheran preacher father claimed that because the Viking Age mostly ended with the coming of Christianity to the north, this was the defining event. I always had a lot of problems with that explanation because goodness knows, there have been plenty of bloodthirsty Christians in history.

My pet explanation is those Viking boats. No longships, no Viking Age. These were amazing craft. Able to travel long distances over open and often stormy oceans at high speed, shallow enough to navigate narrow rivers, and light enough to be hauled over portages. At the height of the Viking Age, their influence stretched from North America to Constantinople because of those boats. The folks who went out in raiding parties could be violent thugs—the folks who built the boats had to be highly skilled, in love with precision, and supported by other skilled trades like steel making. It requires a sophisticated society to float a navy that can conduct overseas raids. The peaceable producing classes had to stay home and build boats. The young bucks went a-Viking—mostly to get a grubstake so they could buy a boat. None other than Thorstein Veblen thought Viking raiders were mostly young men out having fun with dad's boat.

A recent find in Ribe Denmark gives new evidence for what simply had to be true—that Viking settlements had to be communities of skilled people. Those boats did not emerge from thin air. A boat demands a boatbuilder. Anyone who has ever built or maintained a boat will emphatically explain just how difficult this is to do.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Catching up to Producer Class innovation

The only truly successful "revolutions" in human history have been brought to us by the Producer Classes. Think about it. A Leisure Class occupation like politics hasn't progressed much, if at all, for hundreds of years. George W. Bush was most certainly not an improvement over Abraham Lincoln even though both were Republican Presidents. In that same time, the Producing Classes completely changed transportation, communications, chemistry, manufacturing expertise, metallurgy, etc!

So when I insist that climate change is a Producer Class problem that can only be solved with Producer Class solutions, I am not wrong. The so-called climate activists didn't change anything when they marched or chained themselves to the White House fence. It's the guys who were beavering away at making solar cells affordable who have changed everything. And like the good Producers of the past, they have discovered they still have to drag the mindless idiots of politics and finance into accepting their new and improved tools. Somewhere the ghosts of the Non-Partisan League are smiling knowingly.

And while insisting that they are only asking for "market" solutions, today's renewable energy revolutionaries might do well to look at what those North Dakota farmers were demanding in 1916. They could demand a great deal more. After all, they hold the only answers for the very survival of human civilization.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Week-end Wrap - November 17, 2018

Week-end Wrap - November 17, 2018
by Tony Wikrent
Economics Action Group, North Carolina Democratic Party Progressive Caucus+

To say that Michael Hudson’s new book And Forgive Them Their Debts: Lending, Foreclosure, and Redemption from Bronze Age Finance to the Jubilee Year (ISLET 2018) is profound is an understatement on the order of saying that the Mariana Trench is deep. To grasp his central argument is so alien to our modern way of thinking about civilization and barbarism that Hudson quite matter-of-factly agreed with me that the book is, to the extent that it will be understood, “earth-shattering” in both intent and effect. Over the past three decades, Hudson gleaned (under the auspices of Harvard’s Peabody Museum) and then synthesized the scholarship of American and British and French and German and Soviet assyriologists (spelled with a lower-case a to denote collectively all who study the various civilizations of ancient Mesopotamia, which include Sumer, the Akkadian Empire, Ebla, Babylonia, et al., as well as Assyria with a capital A). Hudson demonstrates that we, twenty-first century globalists, have been morally blinded by a dark legacy of some twenty-eight centuries of decontextualized history. This has left us, for all practical purposes, utterly ignorant of the corrective civilizational model that is needed to save ourselves from tottering into bleak neo-feudal barbarism. 
This corrective model actually existed and flourished in the economic functioning of Mesopotamian societies during the third and second millennia B.C. ... It is the necessary and periodic erasure of the debts of small farmers — necessary because such farmers are, in any society in which interest on loans is calculated, inevitably subject to being impoverished, then stripped of their property, and finally reduced to servitude (including the sexual servitude of daughters and wives) by their creditors, creditors. The latter inevitably seek to effect the terminal polarization of society into an oligarchy of predatory creditors cannibalizing a sinking underclass mired in irreversible debt peonage. Hudson writes: “That is what creditors really wanted: Not merely the interest as such, but the collateral — whatever economic assets debtors possessed, from their labor to their property, ending up with their lives” (p. 50). 
And such polarization is, by Hudson’s definition, barbarism. For what is the most basic condition of civilization, Hudson asks, other than societal organization that effects lasting “balance” by keeping “everybody above the break-even level”?
“Mesopotamian societies were not interested in equality,” he told me, “but they were civilized. And they possessed the financial sophistication to understand that, since interest on loans increases exponentially, while economic growth at best follows an S-curve. This means that debtors will, if not protected by a central authority, end up becoming permanent bondservants to their creditors. So Mesopotamian kings regularly rescued debtors who were getting crushed by their debts. They knew that they needed to do this. Again and again, century after century, they proclaimed Clean Slate Amnesties.”
Hudson also writes: “By liberating distressed individuals who had fallen into debt bondage, and returning to cultivators the lands they had forfeited for debt or sold under economic duress, these royal acts maintained a free peasantry willing to fight for its land and work on public building projects and canals…. By clearing away the buildup of personal debts, rulers saved society from the social chaos that would have resulted from personal insolvency, debt bondage, and military defection” (p. 3). 
Marx and Engels never made such an argument (nor did Adam Smith for that matter). Hudson points out that they knew nothing of these ancient Mesopotamian societies. No one did back then. Almost all of the various kinds of assyriologists completed their archaeological excavations and philological analyses during the twentieth century. In other words, this book could not have been written until someone digested the relevant parts of the vast body of this recent scholarship. And this someone is Michael Hudson. 
....For us freedom has been understood to sanction the ability of creditors to demand payment from debtors without restraint or oversight. This is the freedom to cannibalize society. This is the freedom to enslave. This is, in the end, the freedom proclaimed by the Chicago School and the mainstream of American economists. 
....Hudson quotes the classicist Moses Finley to great effect: “…. debt was a deliberate device on the part of the creditor to obtain more dependent labor rather than a device for enrichment through interest.” Likewise he quotes Tim Cornell: “The purpose of the ‘loan,’ which was secured on the person of the debtor, was precisely to create a state of bondage”(p. 52)
The entire review should be read carefully: what Hudson has written utterly annihilates the legitimacy of modern theory and practice of finance, banking, and government. 

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Technological diffusion

Thorstein Veblen probably never used the term "technological diffusion" but he accurately portrays an early manifestation when he recounted how Germany raced past England in industrial expertise and power in the decades leading up to WW I. In his towering use of Institutional Analysis in Imperial Germany and the Industrial Revolution (1914), Veblen describes the many advantages of being second (or third, etc.)

What Veblen was describing is the industrial learning curve. The path from an idea to a "finished" product, to something people want to buy is long and treacherous. Of course, the more complex it is and the more ideas must be combined into the final product, the longer and more expensive the learning curve turns out to be. It can be argued that it required at least 80 years before cars really became reliable and comfortable. The road to the $.75 per watt solar panels took minimum of 70. These things are HARD to do. Because the learning curve is a fact of life, I have become fascinated by how it plays out.

When asked about solar, I have long advised to wait until panels could bought at a Home Depot / IKEA store. These people just want to sell goods—they don't need hassles from irate customers who want their money back because the product somehow failed. (If you are a serious DIYer, and trouble-shooting incomplete technology is one of the joys of your life, jump in with both feet. After all, early adopters are important too. If you are one of those people, you really don't need my advice.)

Another sign of technological sophistication and maturity is the adoption of new parts into old settings—in this case, Tesla (and other) parts into a 1949 Mercury. This is hot rodding 101. In this example, they made it look box stock to an untrained eye while grafting some serious EV parts underneath. When the hot rod crowd goes looking for your parts, this is a very clear sign that the EV revolution has matured.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Sunk costs

In 1972, I talked my dad into buying a Saab 99. Saab was mainly an aircraft company financed by the Wallenberg Bank in the late 1930s to build fighters for the defense of Swedish neutrality. After the War, they decided to take their skills into automobile manufacture. They hired the rising star of Swedish industrial design, Sixten Sason, who would go on to design the Hasselblad camera that NASA sent to the moon on Apollo 11. So a company full of aircraft expertise built a car they believed would be better with a little airplane built in. The 99 was brimming with innovation. For example:
  1. The structural integrity of the passenger compartment was superb. Monocoque, stressed-skin design combined light weight with a crazy-strong roof. Saab's early promotion included winter rallying. Their driver rolled his car so often while continuing the race he got the nickname Carlsson på taket (Carlsson on the roof).
  2. The cockpit was the first real manifestation of sound ergonomics. The seating and driving position was excellent. The instruments were clear and easy to understand.
  3. Four-wheel disc brakes had multiple backup systems.
  4. It was versatile with a fold-down rear seat.
  5. And it was the only sorted-out front-wheel drive car sold in USA. (In snowy Minnesota, that was a big deal.)
Saab is no more. by 1990, every car-maker on earth had a version of the Saab 99. Some, like the Toyota Camry, had taken all those good ideas and refined them significantly. Cheaper and more reliable is a winning combination.

Right now, Tesla is at least as far out in front of the EV pack as was the Saab 99. Below is an excellent description of the institutional problems facing the established car companies. They have BIG bucks invested in a way of producing a product that is rendered obsolete by fun, comfortable, exciting, electric cars. Yes, they are dragging their feet. But giving what they face, you would too.

The cautionary tale of Saab is a reasonable outcome for Tesla. Yes, its competition will lag. The Germans, Americans, and Japanese may well be hindered by the Institutional inertia. But that leaves the Koreans and the Chinese. Either one has the potential to swamp Tesla.

The Germans have the largest amount of Institutional inertia. But this may be changing. According to DW, they are finally realizing that the future of transport will be electric and are beginning to make serious investments in batteries, etc.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Week-end Wrap - November 10, 2018

Week-end Wrap - November 10, 2018
by Tony Wikrent
Economics Action Group, North Carolina Democratic Party Progressive Caucus

2018 Election Night Live Blog/Open Thread
Lambert Strether, November 6, 2018 [Naked Capitalism]
Now, we might ask ourselves what we’re going to get out of all this, should the Democrats win the House (or even the House and the Senate). This question interests me far more than the horserace, and I believe that I’ve shown the answer: “Not much.” This is true for at least two reasons: First, as I have shown, 2018’s left hasn’t got enough institutional power to force the Democrat Party to change direction; indeed, all signs point to a reactionary liberal Democrat desiire for restoration of the November 7, 2016 status quo ante ancien regime(perhaps with an admixture of new faces, as aspirational identity politicians assume new positions). This is clearly true if you make #MedicareForAll your litmus test on policy. Second, as I have shown, the composition of Democrat candidates in key districts is heavily weighted (25%) toward MILOs (Military, Intelligence, Law Enforcement, Other). Further militarizing the Democrat Party says nothing good about policy, domestic or foreign. Now, as usual given the choices on offer, gridlock is our friend, so there’s nothing wrong with Democrats controlling the House; but as far as using or even reconceptualizing government to convey universal concrete material benefits, especially to the working class…. Well, we won’t be seeing anything like that, thank you very much. Which is unfortunate, because if you wanted to arrest the country’s decades-long rightward slide, that would be the way to do it. See under Roosevelt, Franklin Delano.
The Resistance Is Not a Call for Restoration
Robert L. Borosage, November 5, 2018 [The Nation, via Naked Capitalism 11-7-18]
After the midterms, Democrats must embrace the insurgencies that have reenergized the people and the party....

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Sustainable developments from Dubai, Australia, and Estonia

I have recently shifted my living arrangements. I now live in a very small Minnesota town that borders on the Mississippi. There is not of energy left at 69 and the move used up what I have. I am regaining my footing but these things take time.

I have also decided that I want to take this blog in a slightly new direction. My core beliefs have not changed but I want to attempt to be more uplifting. Goodness knows, the problems are scary enough without retelling the horrors. But as I sincerely believe that only the Producers have ANY chance whatsoever of providing a path out of the catastrophe that is climate change, I intend to focus on what they can accomplish and how they will do it. I also intend to rely more heavily on video production. One side effect of my move is that I now have a fiber optic connection to the internet so video does not mean crazy-long waits any longer.

To demonstrate where I am going, I have included three examples of Producer Class, well-executed sustainable development. The first is from Dubai where a small city has incorporated a veritable wish list of green technologies to make living possible in a climate where 40°C (104°F) is routine in summer months.

Week-end Wrap - November 3, 2018

Week-end Wrap - November 3, 2018
by Tony Wikrent
Economics Action Group, North Carolina Democratic Party Progressive Caucus

Mike Norman

Seven Rules for Running a Real Left-Wing Government
Ian Welsh [ 10-31-18] 
These are the fundamentals of effective progressive governance. Judge for yourself how far the Democratic Party is from these fundamentals.

Humanity has wiped out 60% of animals since 1970, major report finds
[Guardian, via Naked Capitalism 10-30-18]

Record Low Water Levels Are Causing Chaos in Germany
[, via Naked Capitalism 10-29-18]

The great Himalayan thaw
[Nepali Times, via Naked Capitalism 10-29-18]

Changing climate forces desperate Guatemalans to migrate 
[National Geographic, via Naked Capitalism 10-29-18]

[Guardian, via Naked Capitalism 11-1-18]

How anti-clean energy campaigns create a mirage of public support 
[Grist, via Naked Capitalism 11-2-18]
[Vox, via Naked Capitalism 11-2-18] 
“[M]ost of those [rosy] scenarios rely heavily on “negative emissions” — ways of pulling carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere…. The primary instrument of negative emissions is expected to be BECCS: bioenergy (burning plants to generate electricity) with carbon capture and sequestration. The idea is that plants absorb carbon as they grow; when we burn them, we can capture and bury that carbon. The result is electricity generated as carbon is removed from the cycle — net-negative carbon electricity. One small complication in all this: There is currently no commercial BECCS industry….. Plenty of people reasonably conclude that’s a bad idea, but alternatives have been difficult to come by.”