Sunday, August 9, 2020

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – August 9, 2020

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – August 9, 2020
by Tony Wikrent


Kansas Should Go F— Itself 
Matt Taibbi, August 2, 2020
Review of Thomas Frank’s new book The People, No: A Brief History of Anti-Populism 
Frank published What’s the Matter with Kansas? in 2004, at the height of the George W. Bush presidency. The Iraq War was already looking like a disaster, but the Democratic Party was helpless to take advantage, a fact the opinion-shaping class on the coasts found puzzling. Blue-staters felt sure they’d conquered the electoral failure problem in the nineties, when a combination of Bill Clinton’s Arkansas twang, policy pandering (a middle-class tax cut!) and a heavy dose of unsubtle race politics (e.g. ending welfare “as we know it”) appeared to cut the heart out of the Republican “Southern strategy.”

Yet Clinton’s chosen successor Al Gore flopped, the party’s latest Kennedy wannabe, John Kerry, did worse, and by the mid-2000s, Bushian conservatism was culturally ascendant, despite obvious failures. Every gathering of self-described liberals back then devolved into the same sad-faced anthropological speculation about Republicans: “Why do they vote against their own interests?”

Frank, a Midwesterner and one of the last exemplars of a media tradition that saw staying in touch with the thinking of the general population as a virtue, was not puzzled....

Frank ripped the political strategy of Clinton Democrats, who removed economic issues from their platform as they commenced accepting gobs of Wall Street money in a post-Mondale effort to compete with Republicans on fundraising. Gambling that working-class voters would keep voting blue because “Democrats will always be marginally better on economic issues,” New Democrats stopped targeting blue-collar voters and switched rhetorical emphasis to “affluent, white collar professionals who are liberal on social issues.”.... Perceiving correctly that there would be no natural brake on this phenomenon, since the executive set was able to pay itself more and more as the country grew more divided, Frank wondered, “Why shouldn’t our culture just get worse and worse, if making it worse will only cause the people who worsen it to grow wealthier and wealthier?”

When I was first sent out to cover the Donald Trump campaign years later, I assumed the editorial concept would be simple: mockery. New York’s infamous “short-fingered vulgarian” had taken over national headlines in the summer of 2015 with a foul-mouthed stream-of-consciousness rap, organized around an impossible Pharaonic wall project and scare tales about rape-happy Mexicans – the Diceman doing Pat Buchanan. If this was taking over the Republican Party, there wasn’t much to report. The enterprise was doomed, and journalism’s only mission was to make sure the silliest bits were captured before being buried under the sands of history.

Twenty minutes into my first Trump campaign event, I knew this was wrong, and was seized by a sinking feeling that really hasn’t left since. Trump in person sounded like he’d been convinced to run for president after reading What’s the Matter with Kansas? His stump act seemed tailored to take advantage of the gigantic market opportunity Democrats had created, and which Frank described. He ranted about immigrants, women, the disabled, and other groups, sure, but also about NAFTA, NATO, the TPP, big Pharma, military contracting, and a long list of other issues.

America Is About To Feel Like A 3rd World Nation 
Ian Welsh, August 7, 2020
America’s about to make a double digit percentage of its population homeless. Something like 20 to 30%, or more of American small businesses have or will shut down by the end of the pandemic. The jobs won’t all come back and those that do will pay worse and feature worse treatment than the ones before (which were mostly not well paid and featured routine meanness.) We’re talking about 30 million to 60 million homeless.... 

America is “undeveloping.” It is moving from being a developed nation to being an undeveloped nation.

“A Historian of Economic Crisis on the World After COVID-19” (interview with Adam Tooze)
[New York Magazine, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-7-20]

Why has the balance of power between governments and bondholders shifted so dramatically? Or was the figure of the “bond-market vigilante” — who would punish states for excessive spending by dumping their debt — always a bogeyman in the developed world? 

To be honest, I think we’re all still struggling to figure this out. To offer a definitive answer would not only be conceited on my part; it would fail to capture the slightly shocking historical novelty of the situation. I feel like we’ve all just stumbled out of a cave into this wide-open space and are still blinking in the sun.

But if you ask me to put my finger on it, I would point to three elements. One is the political economy of inflation: the notion that democratic politics tend toward inflation. That was at the core of the entire complex of thinking around both central-bank independence and this idea of aggressive capital markets that defend the interests of wealth-holders against publics that are always trying to take that wealth away, whether through taxes or inflation. But the engine of this political economy was class antagonism. And that’s gone now because — as Warren Buffett has said — the class war is over, and his side won. And that changes the entire game.
....
The sense of flux is quite something. And I think it’s characteristic of this moment. The single thing that is most different from the ’90s is that orthodoxy just doesn’t seem very strong right now. We’re in a state of ferment. Much more so than in 2009, when people were just so panicked; they’d never seen quantitative easing before, and it was all a bit strange and weird. And then we kind of regressed to sadly conventional fiscal policy by 2010. Which could happen again. But at least in intellectual terms, the current moment is quite different from what it was in 2008.

“So what in January 2020 seemed to me like distinct preoccupations — when you’re a “climate political economy” person, you spend your time thinking about capitalism and Exxon, not epidemiology and wet markets — these things were in fact profoundly related. So, for example, those of us working on climate political economy had been developing this scenario we call the “climate Minsky moment” — a market collapse triggered by a sudden devaluation of key assets as a result of climate change and/or of a governmental response to climate change. Well, in a sense, this is precisely what COVID triggered in March. We saw a huge revaluation in assets, not as a result of the epidemic per se, but as a result of the reaction to the epidemic by business actors and national governments. 
....
...the International Energy Agency published a report in June calling for a $3 trillion green-energy program to see us out of the economic crisis. What really amazed me, given the moment that we’re in, was the scale of that — $3 trillion. Collectively, we’re thinking of spending that kind of money right now on unemployment and life support for the global economy all the time.

But then you look at the amount that’s being invested in the vaccine or in other types of public-health measures, and they are one — if not two — orders of magnitude smaller. I think the total amount of money being spent globally on vaccine development right now is on the order of 30 to 40 billion. What is the economic value of a vaccine right now? It’s clearly tens of trillions of dollars, at least if you had one that allowed us to restart the global economy. And yet what we’re spending is tens of billions.

So there’s still some weird disconnect in our valuation of public health. Lord Stern said climate change was the greatest market failure of history. I’m not sure he’s right. It’s clearly a huge market failure. But we may have just found a bigger one.
....
And then there’s the question mark of the United States and its allies. There’s a remarkable overlap between the climate-denying coalition and the COVID-denying coalition, the most obvious axis being that between the two biggest states in the Western hemisphere, Brazil and the U.S. And, of course, it isn’t really all of the United States. It’s the Republican Party and its adjuncts. The Republican Party seems like a local problem, but they’re actually a global one. In the same way that a local problem in Brazilian politics, when it concerns Amazonia, is a global problem.

“COVID-Induced Anxiety: Some Tips for Staying Sane During Insane Times”
[DoctoredTales, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-7-20]

“I recently posted on Twitter about COVID-19 and the feeling of impending devastation that healthcare workers are facing. I compared that feeling to the anxiety of watching a tsunami as it inches towards the shore. The hundreds of responses I received have moved me and changed my thinking. I received notes from soldiers describing similar feelings prior to deployment, from firemen and women attesting to the same before entering a burning building, and from patients describing a similar fear while waiting for the results of a biopsy. This helped me realize that we are not the first, nor the last, of humankind to face such formidable times, and we are certainly better equipped than our ancestors. The strength of my fellow citizens helped brace me for the coming challenge, and strengthened my resolve to go to work with steady hands... “While there are certainly dark and unprecedented days ahead, perseverance might be the most underrated of human qualities. And I am certain that together, we will persevere.” 

The Pandemic 

New COVID cases by party of governor  
Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-3-20]  
[Ed Yong, The Atlantic, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-3-20] 
“Since the pandemic began, I have spoken with more than 100 experts in a variety of fields. I’ve learned that almost everything that went wrong with America’s response to the pandemic was predictable and preventable. A sluggish response by a government denuded of expertise allowed the coronavirus to gain a foothold. Chronic underfunding of public health neutered the nation’s ability to prevent the pathogen’s spread. A bloated, inefficient health-care system left hospitals ill-prepared for the ensuing wave of sickness. Racist policies that have endured since the days of colonization and slavery left Indigenous and Black Americans especially vulnerable to COVID‑19. The decades-long process of shredding the nation’s social safety net forced millions of essential workers in low-paying jobs to risk their life for their livelihood. The same social-media platforms that sowed partisanship and misinformation during the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Africa and the 2016 U.S. election became vectors for conspiracy theories during the 2020 pandemic.”

“2020 defeated America because of Americans, not just Donald Trump” 
[Will Bunch, Philadelphia Inquirer, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-7-20] 
“When the New York Times dug deeply into why its home city — where more than 23,000 have died from the virus — became the national epicenter of the outbreak this spring, its reporters found the biggest factor in who survived the coronavirus and who didn’t was whether a patient was admitted to a private or a public hospital. … [P]atients were three times more likely to die at community hospitals in New York City’s outer boroughs than at private facilities in the wealthiest zip codes in Manhattan. That’s because the nurse-to-patient ratio at those swamped public hospitals was astronomically higher, because patients at the wealthier hospitals had better access to drugs like Remdesivir, while those in the poorer hospitals dealt with ventilators that didn’t have all the right settings. In Queens, the paper reported, some unwatched patients died removing masks to go to the bathroom…. The myth that simply replacing Trump with Joe Biden in the Oval Office on Jan. 20, 2021 — after tens of thousands more deaths and what’s sure to be a bumpy landing — will kick off an FDR New Deal-type response that in a few weeks will turn America into New Zealand is a dangerous one. If Biden’s basic instinct is merely to reset the clock to 2015, as many fear, that will ignore the uniquely American flaws that very much existed in 2015….” 
“Immunology Is Where Intuition Goes to Die”
[The Atlantic, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-5-20]
In general, the immune system’s reaction to SARS-CoV-2 is “what I would expect if you told me there was a new respiratory infection,” says Shane Crotty from the La Jolla Institute of Immunology. The innate immune system switches on first, and the adaptive immune system follows suit. In several studies, most people who are infected develop reasonable levels of coronavirus-specific T-cells and antibodies. “The bottom line is that there are no big surprises,” says Sarah Cobey, an epidemiologist from the University of Chicago.

Still, “any virus that can make people sick has to have at least one good trick for evading the immune system,” Crotty says. The new coronavirus seems to rely on early stealth, somehow delaying the launch of the innate immune system, and inhibiting the production of interferons—those molecules that initially block viral replication. “I believe this [delay] is really the key in determining good versus bad outcomes,” says Akiko Iwasaki, an immunologist at Yale. It creates a brief time window in which the virus can replicate unnoticed before the alarm bells start sounding....

The immune system’s reaction to the virus is a matter of biology, but the range of reactions we actually see is also influenced by politics. Bad decisions mean more cases, which means a wider variety of possible immune responses, which means a higher prevalence of rare events. In other words, the worse the pandemic gets, the weirder it will get.

A few patterns offer easier possible explanations. “Kids have very trigger-happy innate immune systems,” says Florian Krammer of Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine, which might explain why they rarely suffer severe infections. Elderly people are less fortunate. They also have smaller standing pools of T-cells to draw from, as if the mercenary-filled bar from the earlier metaphor is only sparsely packed. “It takes longer for the adaptive response to mobilize,” Farber says.
Testing Delays Have Us Flying Blind
David Dayen, The American Prospect
It can now take weeks to get test results, at which point they become not terribly useful. It can take almost as long to get a testing appointment in some parts of the country. If test results today gives you a snapshot of one population from yesterday and another from five days ago and another from two weeks ago, how can you construct a meaningful curve that tells you where case counts are now? How can you do contact tracing and expect people to remember who they interacted with two weeks ago? Just a few days of delay makes testing ineffective....
The testing backlog appears to be a function of two things. One is consolidation among testing labs, where if you don’t have a public university or large hospital lab nearby, most everything gets farmed out to Quest and LabCorp, who are at the breaking point. (That Quest is busy acquiring smaller labs even now tells you the problem.) The second is continued problems with the supply chain for key elements of the dominant testing kits, like reagents and these little pipette tips used in the process.

Both of these outcomes are unforgivable. One is the result of decades of economic concentration (do you know I have a book on sale about this?), while the other shouldn’t still be happening months into the crisis. That we cannot onshore simple materials for production speaks to the hollowing out of our industrial base. And the long supply chains remain pretty clogged, even though globalization fans are trying to tout a victory.... A Lancet study found that same-day tests could prevent around 80 percent of all transmissions, if the positive subjects isolate. Tests that take five days to respond only prevent five percent.
“COVID-19 long-term toll signals billions in healthcare costs ahead” 
[Reuters, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-3-20] 
“Studies of COVID-19 patients keep uncovering new complications associated with the disease. With mounting evidence that some COVID-19 survivors face months, or possibly years, of debilitating complications, healthcare experts are beginning to study possible long-term costs. Bruce Lee of the City University of New York (CUNY) Public School of Health estimated that if 20% of the U.S. population contracts the virus, the one-year post-hospitalization costs would be at least $50 billion, before factoring in longer-term care for lingering health problems. Without a vaccine, if 80% of the population became infected, that cost would balloon to $204 billion.”
[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 8-6-20]
Eric “Masks + Ventilation for Aerosols” Feigl-Ding @DrEricDing
Round pushpinHIGHWAY ROBBERY:
Remdesivir, made by
@GileadSciences
, has now set the price Rightwards arrow $2,300 to $3,100 per patient.
So how much does it cost to produce each vial?
Rightwards arrow Just $1.
US taxpayers also had paid for the drug’s NIH trial.
Borderline criminal drug pricing.
Remdesivir Priced At More Than $3,100 For A Course Of Treatment
[NPR, via Mike Norman Economics 8-6-20]

“The nursing science behind nurses as coronavirus hospital heroes” 
[STAT, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-5-20] 
 “Like medicine, nursing is a scientific discipline, and it’s time people see nurses as more than just angels or heroes. Nurses are not kind and heroic simply because they are good people, but because nursing science tells us that building relationships with patients and treating the whole-person response to disease is therapeutic for their health…. We define nursing like this: Nursing is the diagnosis and treatment of the human response to health and disease. This is distinct from medicine, which is about the diagnosis and treatment of disease itself…. Nursing does not lend itself well to the -ology verbiage typical of medical science, but perhaps that’s fitting because nursing science is different than many other types.” 
AstraZeneca Gets Protection from Future Product Liability Claims for COVID Vaccine 
[Insurance Journal, via Naked Capitalism 8-4-20] 

[Progressive Caucus Action Fund, via Naked Capitalism 8-2-20] 
[Financial Times, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-4-20] 
“A multibillion-dollar industry offering unusual data such as satellite imagery and measurements of social media sentiment is enjoying a boom in demand as hedge funds and companies hunt for clues on how to tackle the coronavirus crisis. Many investors have turned to so-called alternative data — niche information beyond standard financial market indicators or statistical releases — after finding official numbers too slow in reflecting the collapse in economic activity due to Covid, and the recovery. Providers argue it can provide precious, real-time glimpses into how a company or economy is faring.” Then again: “Anthony Lawler, head of GAM Systematic, said his firm used alternative data but added that such information had not been behind his funds’ gains last year, nor had it driven markets this year. ‘Daily credit card data or footfall data didn’t lead the recovery in [stock] prices. What led the recovery was investor sentiment, animal spirits and a belief in a better future,’ he said. ‘For none of that could you use innovative photographic, credit card or shipping data.”

The Carnage of Establishment Neoliberal Economics

“US chip industry plots route back to homegrown production” 
[Financial Times, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-3-20] 
“Many advanced chips are designed in the US, but only around 12 per cent are manufactured there…. There is no mystery behind the anxiety. China is still years behind the US in semiconductors, but it is racing to develop a globally competitive chip industry and is projected to become a serious competitor by the end of the decade.” And: ‘Taiwan’s ‘silicon shield’ makes it the 51st [US] state,’ said [Dan Hutcheson, chairman of VLSI Research and a longtime chip analyst], referring to the theory that the country’s leadership in chip technology is its best defence against aggression from China. ‘The US needs to protect Taiwan — it can’t afford to lose it to China.'”

Information Age Dystopia

Tech: “Robots Running the Industrial World Are Open to Cyber Attacks” 
[Bloomberg, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-4-20] 
“Robots are often connected to networks and run via software, according to the report, and previously unknown vulnerabilities could allow hackers to hide malicious code in them and other automated, programmable manufacturing machines. The researcher found flaws in software produced and distributed by the Swedish-Swiss multinational ABB Ltd, one among world’s largest industrial robot maker. They also found other vulnerabilities in one of industry’s most popular open-source software called ‘Robot Operating System Industrial’, or Ros-I, adapted for ABB and for Kuka AG, a German robot maker.” 
[TechDirt, via Naked Capitalism 8-4-20] 

Death of the Liberal Class
August 7, 2020 at 9:20 am
Below underscores Chris Hedges’ thesis in a book by the same title with respect to Unions and the function they played in advancing the cause of the working class. Along with the erosion of the Church, University, Press, and Democratic Party, we now live in TINA’s world, one in which a life free from economic anxiety and expanding opportunities can only be viewed in the rear view mirror.

Private investigators working from GM have uncovered evidence of offshore bank accounts in Switzerland, Panama, Singapore, Lichtenstein and the Cayman Islands set up for the benefit of top UAW officials, including four of the last five UAW presidents. The secret accounts were part of a sophisticated scheme by Fiat Chrysler to funnel millions of dollars in illegal payments to union officers for their services in betraying workers.
What Years of Emails and Texts Reveal About Your Friendly Tech Companies 
[NYT, via Naked Capitalism 8-7-20]
Exhibit A is Facebook, whose documents are the most damning. Emails from Mark Zuckerberg, its chief executive, strongly suggest that since about 2008 he has had a method for controlling what in a 2012 email he called “nascent” companies that posed “very disruptive” threats to Facebook. His method has been the buyout or the aggressive cloning of features to compel a company to sell itself to Facebook. He foresaw that there would be a limited number of “social mechanics,” or areas of innovation in social media, each of which would have one winner. “Instagram can hurt us,” he wrote in 2012, right before acquiring the company and eliminating the threat that its photo- and video-sharing technology posed to Facebook
“How to Autosave local to PC instead of to OneDrive when using Word” 
[Microsoft, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-4-20] 
Lamber Strether: Ha ha, you can’t. Imagine not being able to store your own data on “your own” PC. Who thought of this? Who coded it?

Restoring balance to the economy

Study: a universal basic income would grow the economy
[Vox, via Mike Norman Economics 8-3-20]
Basic income, in which every American would be given a basic stipend from the government no strings attached, is a potential solution to widespread automation reducing demand for labor 
One home, a lifetime of impact
[Washington Post, via Mike Norman Economics 8-3-20]
In 1936 a widowed black woman bought a home and it changed her family’s financial worth for generations. Today homeownership rates of black people lag even further behind whites’ rates, affecting their ability to build wealth.

The Dark Side

Was there a conspiracy by the Swiss courts and Attorney General`s office? 
Lucy Komisar [via Naked Capitalism 8-8-20] 
Switzerland has laws that make even saying bad things about banks a crime. A friend who is a famous international tax expert will not go to Switzerland about of concern about facing arrest for having lecture about Swiss bank secrecy.

Climate and environmental crises

NEWS: A New Trump Rule Could Help Big Oil Crush The Climate Movement 
David Sirota [Too Much Information, via Naked Capitalism 8-7-20]

“BP Walks Away From the Oil Supermajor Model It Helped Create” 
“Just six months after taking the helm, Looney has put meat on the bones of his plans to make BP compliant with the Paris accord on climate change, saying he’ll cut dividends in half, shrink oil and gas output by 40% over the next decade and spend as much as $5 billion a year building one of the world’s largest renewable-power businesses. Where Browne created a global model, Looney’s strategy shows the oil industry is splitting in two. On one side of the Atlantic, BP, Shell and Total are trying to make themselves going concerns for a low-carbon age, diluting their fossil-fuel businesses with plans to build significant revenues from renewable energy. Exxon and Chevron — insulated from the pressure applied by European investors and politicians — are charting a different course: keep pumping as profitably as possible and hand the cash back to investors. Like Big Tobacco, they’re increasingly courting shareholders willing to put returns above the harm their product causes.” 

Disrupting mainstream politics

“With ‘Survival of Organized Human Society’ at Risk, New Campaign Rallies Progressives to Vote Trump Out” 
[Common Dreams, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-6-20]
“Organizers of the new ‘Vote Trump Out’ initiative argue that while progressives have major substantive differences with Joe Biden on a number of key issues, ‘supporting the Democratic nominee in swing states is the only means we have to defeat Trump.’ … ‘If Biden wins, we’ll be at his door on day one, demanding the kinds of structural reforms that advance racial, economic, and environmental justice,’ the statement continues.'”
“DNC Delegates Call Biden Foreign Policy Team ‘A Horror Show’ And Ask For New Hires” 
[HuffPo, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-6-20]
“[A] new letter that’s being circulated among delegates to the Democratic National Convention is raising alarm bells about the circle of advisers who would likely form Biden’s foreign policy team if he becomes president. A widely circulated message promoting the letter, which is already signed by more than 275 delegates — almost all of whom were pledged to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — says Biden’s current circle is ‘a horror show’ of advisers with track records of supporting ‘disastrous’ U.S. military interventions.”
“The Never Trumpers Have Already Won” 
[The New Republic, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-6-20] 
“Whatever Sturm und Drang the Never Trumpers inspired on these fronts, they have done more damage to the left wing of the Democratic Party than they have to the powerful extreme right of their own party. From Trump’s Inauguration Day onward, Never Trumpers have written a script of defending the status quo ante, by delegitimating alternatives to it. They joined a coalition of liberals for whom free-market depredations and imperial violence were acceptable parts of doing America’s business, but left-wing mobilization was seen as part of a Weimar-style harbinger of regime collapse, and a living wage and universal health insurance were totalitarian equivalents of racist marches and travel bans. This agenda made it easy for the Never Trumpers to pivot from hating Trump to hating Bernie Sanders.”

New York Attorney General Moves To Dissolve The NRA After Fraud Investigation 
[NPR, via Naked Capitalism 8-7-20]

[ReadSludge, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-6-20] 
“In more than a dozen states, including battlegrounds like Wisconsin and Michigan, the Republican National Committee (RNC) has initiated or joined lawsuits to block states from expanding vote-by-mail systems or to oppose Democratic lawsuits in states that have resisted putting universal vote-by-mail systems in place. The lawsuits are financed by a $20 million litigation budget that the Republicans have amassed for fighting Democrats on voting issues…. At least 17 of the 24 billionaire donors to the RNC legal fund are among the top 400 wealthiest American households as ranked by Forbes magazine, including the following: Kelcy Warren, CEO of natural gas and propane pipeline giant Energy Transfer Partners, net worth $4.3 billion; Stephen Schwarzman, CEO of The Blackstone Group private equity firm, net worth $17.7 billion; and Charles Schwab, net worth $7.7 billion. Two more top donor families, those of Fertitta brothers Lorenzo and Frank III, fall just outside the top 400 richest Americans, with net worth around $1.6 billion apiece.”
“Facebook Fired An Employee Who Collected Evidence Of Right-Wing Pages Getting Preferential Treatment” 
[Buzzfeed, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-7-20] 
”In another recent Workplace post, a senior engineer collected internal evidence that showed Facebook was giving preferential treatment to prominent conservative accounts to help them remove fact-checks from their content. sThe company responded by removing his post and restricting internal access to the information he cited. On Wednesday the engineer was fired, according to internal posts seen by BuzzFeed News.”
No Chance Alamance: Immigration Detention and Jail Expansion in the North Carolina Piedmont
Oliver Hinds and Jack Norton, July 28, 2020 [Vera]
Terry Johnson, a white Republican who was first elected sheriff in 2002, turned his department’s attention to the immigrant community in Alamance, joining a controversial federal immigrant enforcement program—a provision of 287(g) in the federal immigration code—which allows local law enforcement to be deputized as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, giving them the power to detain people based on immigration status.

After the county commission voted to join 287(g) in 2006, Johnson employed the program to terrible effect. Between 2008 and 2013, Latinx people were six times more likely to be pulled over by the Alamance County Sheriff’s Department than non-Latinx people. Reports surfaced that Johnson was instructing officers to discriminate against people who “appeared” Mexican. Johnson reportedly told his deputies, empowered by 287(g), to “go out there and get me some taco-eaters.” Todd Zimmer, an organizer with the local activist group Down Home NC, estimates that this new collaboration eventually resulted in 10 percent of the Latinx community being deported during that period.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – August 2, 2020

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – August 2, 2020
by Tony Wikrent


How to hide from a drone – the subtle art of ‘ghosting’ in the age of surveillance
[Tech Explore, via Naked Capitalism 7-29-20]

Strategic Political Economy


Chinese Banks Urged To Switch From SWIFT And Drop USD In Anticipation Of US Sanctions
[Reuters, via Mike Norman Economics 7-29-20]
China should prepare for potential U.S. sanctions by increasing use of its own financial messaging network for cross-border transactions in the mainland, Hong Kong and Macau, according to a report from the investment banking unit of Bank of China...

Foreign Affairs — It Is Time to Abandon Dollar Hegemony–Issuing the World’s Reserve Currency Comes at Too High a Price
[Foreign Affairs, via Mike Norman Economics 7-29-20]
Time to resurrect Keynes (and E. F. Schumacher's) bancor proposal made at Bretton Woods but rejected in favor of using the US dollar as the global reserve currency? President Nixon famously ended the Bretton Woods agreement when he closed the gold window, ending dollar convertibility into gold at a fixed rate. This set the world on a floating rate monetary system with the USD remaining the reserve currency.
The War Nerd: Amateurs Talk Cancel, Pros Talk Silence
[Exiled, The War Nerd, via Naked Capitalism 7-27-20]
Victorian Britain carried out several of the biggest genocides in human history. It was also a high point of virtuous literature.
Because they were smart about language. They didn’t rant about the evil of their victims or gloat about massacring them, at least not in their public writings. They wrote virtuous novels, virtuous poems. And left a body count which may well end up the biggest in world history.
Open genocidal ranting is small-time stuff compared to the rhetorical nuke perfected by Victoria’s genocidaires: silence. The Victorian Empire was the high point of this technology, which is why it still gets a pass most of the time. Even when someone takes it on and scores a direct hit, as Mike Davis did in his book Late Victorian Holocausts, the cone of Anglosphere silence contains and muffles the explosion. Which is why Late Victorian Holocausts is Davis’s only book that didn’t become a best-seller. 
Davis was among the first historians with the guts and originality to look hard at some of the Victorian creeps who killed tens of millions — yes, tens of millions — of people from the conquered tropics: 
The total human toll of these three waves of drought, famine, and disease could not have been less than 30 million victims. Fifty million dead might not be unrealistic.” 
An English radical of the Victorian Era, William Digby, saw the scope of the horror: “When the part played by the British Empire in the nineteenth century is regarded by the historian fifty years hence, the unnecessary deaths of millions of Indians would be its principal and most notorious monument.”
....Let’s take a far more serious case: Eric Hobsbawm, still revered as canonical Marxist historian of the UK. As Davis notes, Hobsbawm does “mention” the Irish Famine, but — and if any phrase ever deserves to be written in all-caps, this phrase from Late Victorian Holocausts does: “Hobsbawm…makes no allusion in his famous trilogy on nineteenth-century history to the worst famines in perhaps 500 years in India and China.” 
There are no excuses for this. There are reasons, but as the song says, “It doesn’t make it all right.” Still, once the rage passes and you stop clenching your jaw ’til it aches, there are reasons. Most of all, there’s a deep Imperial skill in the trope of silence. The stupid Nazis ranted and raved and lasted 13 years, then got completely destroyed. The Empire kept its rants for private letters, passed on to a guild of coopted historians, pundits, and publishers—and has never been called to account.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Reality is disrupting the ideology of today’s Republican Party -

This is from the blog of Heather Cox Richardson, author of the recently released How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America. In this book, Richardson describes how the ideology and ideas of Confederates were spread into the far west after the Civil War, eventually leading to the rise of anti-government ideologues such as Barry Goldwater Ronald Reagan, and Newt Gingrich, and the Republican Party's complete betrayal of its founding principles and the legacy of Abraham Lincoln. This is history that demolishes the worldview of deluded centrists such as Joe Biden who still believe in "bipartisan" governance.

by Heather Cox Richardson
July 26, 2020

Reality is disrupting the ideology of today’s Republican Party.

For a generation, Republicans have tried to unravel the activist government under which Americans have lived since the 1930s, when Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt created a government that regulated business, provided a basic social safety net, and invested in infrastructure. From the beginning, that government was enormously popular. Both Republicans and Democrats believed that the principle behind it—that the country worked best when government protected and defended ordinary Americans—was permanent.

But the ideologues who now control the Republican Party have always wanted to get rid of this New Deal state and go back to the world of the 1920s, when businessmen ran the government. They believe that government regulation and taxation is an assault on their liberty, because it restricts their ability to make money.

They have won office not by convincing Americans to give up their own government benefits—most Americans actually like clean water and Social Security and safe bridges—but by selling a narrative in which “Liberals” are trying to undermine the country by stealing the tax dollars of hardworking Americans—quietly understood to be white men—and redistributing them to lazy people who want handouts, not-so-quietly understood to be people of color and feminist women. According to this narrative, legislation that protects ordinary Americans simply redistributes wealth. It is “socialism,” or “communism.”

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – July 26, 2020

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – July 26, 2020
by Tony Wikrent

Strategic Political Economy

“Biden Just Made A Big Promise To His Wall Street Donors” 
[David Sirota, Too Much Information].
“....Biden told his Wall Street donors that actually, he is not proposing any new legislation to rein in corporate power or change corporate behavior — and this was reported exactly nowhere, even as his campaign blasted it out to the national press corps.”
Perhaps the kindest way to explain Biden is that he is an institutionalist, and just can't walk away from his belief that nothing needs to "fundamentally change." The problem is, that all institutions are failing, spectacularly. And this is a potentially large vulnerability for the Democrats, if the pandemic slows down enough to allow Trump to invoke right-wing populist attacks: 

Whose century?
Adam Tooze [LRB, via Naked Capitalism 7-24-20]
“In 1949, ‘Who lost China?’ was the question that tortured the American political establishment. Seventy years later, the question that hangs in the air is how and why America’s elite lost interest in their own country. Coming from Bernie Sanders that question wouldn’t be surprising. But it was more remarkable to hear William Barr, Trump’s attorney general, describe American business as ‘part of the problem’ because its corporate leaders are too focused on their stock options and have lost sight of the ‘national view’ and the need to ensure that ‘that the next century remains a Western one’. He warns corporate executives lobbying for China that they may be treated as foreign agents.”

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – July 19, 2020

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – July 19, 2020
by Tony Wikrent

Neoliberalism requires a police state 

“Federal Law Enforcement Use Unmarked Vehicles To Grab Protesters Off Portland Streets” 
[Oregon Public Broadcasting, via Naked Capitalism 7-18-20] 
“Federal law enforcement officers have been using unmarked vehicles to drive around downtown Portland and detain protesters since at least July 14. Personal accounts and multiple videos posted online show the officers driving up to people, detaining individuals with no explanation of why they are being arrested, and driving off. The tactic appears to be another escalation in federal force deployed on Portland city streets, as federal officials and President Donald Trump have said they plan to “quell” nightly protests outside the federal courthouse and Multnomah County Justice Center that have lasted for more than six weeks. Federal Officers Shoot Portland Protester In Head With ‘Less Lethal’ Munitions Federal officers have charged at least 13 people with crimes related to the protests so far, while others have been arrested and released, including Pettibone. They also left one demonstrator hospitalized with skull fractures after shooting him in the face with so-called “less lethal” munitions July 11. Officers from the U.S. Marshals Special Operations Group and Customs and Border Protection’s BORTAC, have been sent to Portland to protect federal property during the recent protests against racism and police brutality. But interviews conducted by OPB show officers are also detaining people on Portland streets who aren’t near federal property, nor is it clear that all of the people being arrested have engaged in criminal activity. Demonstrators like O’Shea and Pettibone said they think they were targeted by federal officers for simply wearing black clothing in the area of the demonstration.”
The Border Patrol Was Responsible for an Arrest in Portland
[TheNation, via Naked Capitalism 7-17-20]
 A memo consisting of internal talking points for the federal agency responsible for the arrest, Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and obtained exclusively by The Nation provides some answers—and raises even more questions.

Dated July 1, the memo is titled “Public Affairs Guidance: CBP Support to Protect Federal Facilities and Property” and marked “For Official Use Only.” It describes a special task force created by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in response to President Trump’s Executive Order on Protecting American Monuments, Memorials, and Statues and Combating Recent Criminal Violence. That task force, the Protecting American Communities Task Force (PACT), has been tasked not only to assess civil unrest but also to “surge” resources to protect against it.
The Portland arrest of Mark Pettibone, first reported by Oregon Public Broadcasting, followed several similar arrests involving officers from a Border Patrol Tactical Unit (BORTAC)—CBP’s equivalent of a SWAT team—as well as the US Marshals Special Operations Group. A CBP spokesman confirmed to The Nation that CBP agents were responsible for the arrest, pointing to authorities under the Protecting American Communities Task Force.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – July 12, 2020

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – July 12, 2020
by Tony Wikrent

Strategic Political Economy

Supreme Court Rules That About Half Of Oklahoma Is Native American Land
[NPR, July 9, 2020]
The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that about half of the land in Oklahoma is within a Native American reservation, a decision that will have major consequences for both past and future criminal and civil cases. 
The court's decision hinged on the question of whether the Creek reservation continued to exist after Oklahoma became a state. "Today we are asked whether the land these treaties promised remains an Indian reservation for purposes of fed­eral criminal law. Because Congress has not said otherwise, we hold the government to its word," Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in the majority opinion. The decision was 5-4, with Justices Gorsuch, Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer in the majority, while Justices John Roberts, Brett Kavanaugh, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas dissented.  
The ruling will have significant legal implications for eastern Oklahoma. Much of Tulsa, the state's second-largest city, is located on Muscogee (Creek) land. 
For Oklahoma Tribe, Vindication at Long Last
[New York Times, July 11, 2020]
After decades of betrayals and broken treaties, the Supreme Court ruled that much of Oklahoma is their land, after all.
Why We’re Still Fighting the South: The irrepressible conflict continues to be 
between oligarchy and democracy.
[The American Prospect, July 10, 2020]
How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America, by Heather Cox Richardson (Oxford University Press)
...A present-day Jeremiah, Richardson laments the betrayal of the nation’s soul, first by the slaveholders whose secession from the Union in 1861 convulsed the nation in civil war; and second, by the “movement conservatives” in the 1950s who challenged the “liberal consensus” behind desegregation and paved the way for the Republican Party of today....

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – July 5, 2020

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – July 5, 2020
by Tony Wikrent

Strategic Political Economy

Pitchfork-wielding protesters descend on wealthy Hamptons estates
[Page Six, via Naked Capitalism 7-2-20]
More than 100 drivers and about 200 marchers paid a visit to the homes of some of the world’s wealthiest people, including ex-New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg. 
“Tax the rich, not the poor!” the protesters chanted outside Bloomberg’s $20 million Southhampton mansion, with some calling the failed presidential candidate a “looter.”
Protesters, several of whom came in from the Big Apple, demanded that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo raise taxes on the state’s 118 billionaires to make up for a steep revenue shortfall amid the coronavirus pandemic. 
The group is taking issue with Cuomo’s pitch to cut 20 percent in state funding from schools, hospitals and housing agencies. They noted that while the virus outbreak has deeply impacted low-income people and communities of color, the wealth of US billionaires has surged.
“Enough is enough — it’s time for New York state to raise taxes on the rich instead of cutting services for working people,” said Alicé Nascimento, director of policy and research for New York Communities for Change, which helped organize the action. Organizers also included the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, with about 40 medallion cabs taking part. The cabbies were already in a debt crisis before the virus emerged, and have been hit hard by the pandemic.
“Oklahoma voters approve Medicaid expansion at the ballot box”
[Oklahoman, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 7-2-20] 
“State Question 802 passed by 6,488 votes, making Oklahoma the fifth state expand Medicaid through a ballot initiative. The question will enshrine Medicaid expansion in Oklahoma’s constitution — effectively preventing Oklahoma’s GOP-controlled Legislature or Republican governor from limiting or undoing the expansion.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – June 28, 2020

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – June 28, 2020
by Tony Wikrent

The Epidemic

What To Look For In A Face Mask, According To Science
[fivethirtyeight.com, via Naked Capitalism 6-25-20]
Different researchers have set up devices that spray tiny droplets at fabric and then measured how much of it comes through the other side, while also measuring air flow to determine breathability. What they’ve found is that it’s less about the type of fabric — cotton, linen, silk — and more about the quality of fabric, according to Segal. Higher quality fabrics have a tighter weave and thicker thread that do a better job of blocking droplets from passing through.
But you also want the fabric to be breathable, according to Taher Saif, a mechanical engineer at the University of Illinois who has been researching face mask material. Saif said if breath can’t get through the mask, it will find another way out, allowing respiratory droplets to spread.
.... Segal offered a rule of thumb: hold the material up to a bright light. “Look at the light coming through the fabric,” Segal said. “If it outlines individual fibers and you can see the light through fabric, it’s probably not as effective. The less of that you can see, the better the filter.”
“Data map reveals the 23% of US counties that are currently seeing an uncontrollable growth in COVID-19 – as new model predicts Phoenix alone could see 28,000 new infections a DAY by July 18” [Daily Mail, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 6-26-20]
“Twenty three percent of counties across the United States are now seeing an uncontrollable growth in new COVID-19 infections, according to a data map... Phoenix could see 28,000 new cases a day by July 18.... large parts of the South and Southwest are showing an ‘epidemic trend’ or ‘spreading trend’ for new coronavirus infections…. Of the 3,141 counties across the country, 745 are currently experiencing an epidemic outbreak and 1,232 are seeing spreading trends, according to the data map. Nearly 670 counties are currently seeing a controlled trend in new coronavirus cases. According to the map, the entire state of Arizona is seeing either epidemic or spreading trends. ”  
A link to the map

The unintended impact of COVID-19 on cancer
[The Hill, via Naked Capitalism 6-21-20]
In April 2020, the IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science published a report that shined a light on the unintended impact of our response to the treat of COVID-19. According to the report, it is estimated that the delay in 22 million cancer screening tests will result in an increased risk of delayed or missed diagnoses for 80,000 patients.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Prod the Federal Reserve to save state and local governments

Many state and local governments have a fiscal year ending this month AND are required to have balanced budgets. This means that a tsunami of government layoffs is about to hit, and drive the entire economy deep into an economic depression. (The layoffs have already started – 1.5 million state and local government employees have been let go in the past two months).
This economic catastrophe will strike in the next few weeks as state and local governments struggle to balance budgets while experiencing an unprecedented collapse in revenues. Many states are reporting an expected drop in tax receipts of as much as 25 percent. County governments are also reporting the same size negative impact on their revenues. With state and local governments accounting for 14 percent of US GDP, we are about to see three to four percent of the national economy wiped out.
The Federal Reserve has the power and authority to head off this catastrophe in one 8 hour workday, as David Dayen explained in “The Federal Reserve Can End the State Fiscal Crisis Today.”  In the CARES Act, Congress authorized the Fed to establish a $500 billion Municipal Lending Fund (MLF). The Fed has used that MLF authority only once – to provide a $1.2 billion loan to the state of Illinois.
Moreover, the Fed can structure the MLF in any way it wants. It can effectively turn all loans to state and local governments into grants by eliminating the interest rate, indefinitely rolling over principal payments, or make them optional; or extend the maturities to 100 or 200 years, or any period selected.
On June 16, 2020  in “Growing Pressure on the Fed to Save State and Local Governments,”  David Dayen described a campaign now underway to create grassroots pressure on the Fed to provide large-scale emergency funding to state and local governments to avert this looming budget catastrophe. This campaign invokes the Federal Reserve’s legal mandate to maximize employment.
“Letters are being distributed among city and state officials right now urging the Fed to either fix the MLF or move to a 14(2) swap line with indefinite rollovers. This is an active and extremely worthy fight. The Fed is designed to protect employment and prevent recessions. State and local funding is the biggest threat out there. The Fed needs to do its job, not trifle with asset inflation.”
The full text of the letter was written by Cornell University Law School professor Robert Hockett, who has served as an adviser to Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Hockett’s six-page letter is addressed to Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell, and goes into minute detail about the Fed’s authority, how it has structured the Municipal Lending Fund (MLF) so far, and what changes the Fed can make to immediately solve the looming catastrophe to state and local government budgets. Hockett’s letter was printed in full in Forbes magazine on June 14, 2020, as “Optimize Community QE – An Open Letter to Fed Chairman Powell.”

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – June 21, 2020

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – June 21, 2020
by Tony Wikrent

Countering the surveillance state 

IF YOU’RE TAKING to the streets to demand justice for the victims of police brutality and homicide, you may want to leave your phone at home. No matter how peaceful your behavior, you are at risk of getting arrested or assaulted by police. Cops might confiscate your phone and search it regardless of whether or not they’re legally allowed to, or they might try to break it, especially if it contains photos or video of their violent or illegal actions.\ 
At the same time, it’s a good idea to bring a phone to a protest so you can record what’s happening and get the message out on social media. Filming police is completely legal and within your rights, and it’s one of the few tools citizens have against police brutality. It’s also important to be able to communicate with others in real time or to find your friends in case you get separated....
If this is too expensive for you, you may have other options: If you have an old phone collecting dust in a drawer, as long as it still works and the battery still holds a charge, you can use this as your burner phone rather than buying a new one. You just need a new SIM card, like one that comes with prepaid cell service. Make sure to factory reset the phone before getting ready to protest....
The Markup published some good steps to take before bringing your primary phone into a protest, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation has a good guide as well.
How Police Infiltrate, Create Violence and Target Journalists 
Lee Camp [via Naked Capitalism 6-20-20]

Where most of the world's people live...

After Violent Clash, China Claims Sovereignty Over Galwan Valley for First Time in Decades 
[The Diplomat, via Naked Capitalism 6-17-20]

The writer of the New York Times article on this clash (which I do not link to) made no attempt to explain why this remote area with hardly any inhabitants would be disputed by the India and China. First, the glaciers of the Tibetan Plateau are the source of Asia's major rivers: Indus and Satluj of Indus river water system, Arun, Ghaghra and Gandak of Ganges river water system, Manas and Brahmaputra of Brahmaputra river water system, Yellow River, Yangtze, Mekong and Salween rivers.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – June 14, 2020

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – June 14, 2020
by Tony Wikrent

Strategic Political Economy

“Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.” -- Frederick Douglass
[via WallStreetonParade, June 1, 2020]

“America’s Moment of Reckoning”: Cornel West Says Nationwide Uprising Is Sign of “Empire Imploding”
[DemocracyNow, June 1, 2020]
The catalyst was certainly Brother George Floyd’s public lynching, but the failures of the predatory capitalist economy to provide the satisfaction of the basic needs of food and healthcare and quality education, jobs with a decent wage, at the same time the collapse of your political class, the collapse of your professional class. Their legitimacy has been radically called into question, and that’s multiracial. It’s the neofascist dimension in Trump. It’s the neoliberal dimension in Biden and Obama and the Clintons and so forth. And it includes much of the media. It includes many of the professors in universities. The young people are saying, “You all have been hypocritical. You haven’t been concerned about our suffering, our misery. And we no longer believe in your legitimacy.” And it spills over into violent explosion.
And it’s here. I won’t go on, but, I mean, it’s here, where I think Ella Baker and Fannie Lou Hamer and Rabbi Heschel and Edward Said, and especially Brother Martin and Malcolm, their legacies, I think, become more central, because they provide the kind of truth telling. They provide the connection between justice and compassion in their example, in their organizing. And that’s what is needed right now. Rebellion is not the same thing in any way as revolution. And what we need is a nonviolent revolutionary project of full-scale democratic sharing — power, wealth, resources, respect, organizing — and a fundamental transformation of this American Empire
“A Left Critique of the Current Protests” 
[Benjamin Studebaker, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 6-9-20] 
 “As long as we have millions of alienated, armed Americans, the police will never be abolished. Calls for their abolishment will instead result in privatisation. The Democratic mayors who run our cities want to avoid responsibility for the killings that are the result of decades of their own negligent policy. Privatising the police divests them of culpability. Privatised police will be even less accountable than publicly run departments. They’ll probably kill even more people. But when it happens, the cities can blame it on the contractors. They can simply fire one outfit and hire another. The anarcho-capitalists have wanted this for ages. They are chomping at the bit to use these protests to make it happen… Sadly, our organizations are inferior to the organizations of the anarchists and the woke neoliberals, and for this reason they will continue to hasten the victory of the right nationalists, much to our chagrin.”
An excerpt of an excerpt form Thomas Frank's new book on elites' opposition to populism
“The Pessimistic Style in American Politics” 
Thomas Frank [Harpers, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 6-11-20] 
This essay is excerpted from The People, No: A Brief History of Anti-Populism, which will be published next month by Metropolitan Books. 
“Populism” is the word that comes to the lips of the respectable and the highly educated when they perceive the global system going haywire. Populism is the name they give to the avalanche crashing down on the Alpine wonderland of Davos. Populism is what they call the mutiny that may well turn the supercarrier America into a foundering wreck. Populism, for them, is a one-word evocation of the logic of the mob: it is the people as a great rampaging beast....
So goes the wail of the American leadership class as they endure another year of panic. They know on some level that what has happened in Washington isn’t due to majority rule at all, but to money and gerrymandering and the Electoral College and decades of TV programming decisions. But the anxiety cannot be dislodged; it is beyond the reach of reason. The people are out of control....
This is the core assumption of what I call the Democracy Scare: if the people have lost faith in the ones in charge, it can only be because something has gone wrong with the people themselves. As Jonathan Rauch, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a contributing writer at The Atlantic, put it in the summer of 2016: “Our most pressing political problem today is that the country abandoned the establishment, not the other way around.”
In basing our civilization on the consent of the plain people, it suddenly seemed, our ancestors had built on a foundation of sand. "Democracies end when they are too democratic," blared the title of a much-discussed essay by Andrew Sullivan in which the author applied his grad school reading of Plato to the 2016 campaign. Around the same time, an article in Foreign Policy expressed it more archly: it’s time for the elites to rise up against the ignorant masses....
In the 1880s.... something profound took place. The farmers—men and women of society’s commonest rank—figured out that being exploited was not the natural order of things. So they began taking matters into their own hands. In Kansas and a few other Western states, members of the group went into politics directly, and the People’s Party was born.
The Populists were the ones who blasted those smug assumptions to pieces, forcing the country to acknowledge that ordinary Americans were being ruined by an economic system that in fact answered to no moral laws.
From the very beginning, then, “populism” had two meanings. There was Populism as its proponents understood it: a movement in which ordinary working people demanded democratic economic reforms. And there was Populism as its enemies characterized it: a dangerous movement of groundless resentment in which demagogues led the disreputable.
Stephanie Kelton [New York Times, via Naked Capitalism 6-10-20] 
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of Britain — President Ronald Reagan’s partner in the conservative revolution of the late 20th century — captured these sentiments in a seminal speech in 1983, declaring that “the state has no source of money other than the money people earn themselves. If the state wishes to spend more, it can only do so by borrowing your savings or by taxing you more.” 
That thinking sounds reasonable to people, including me when I first absorbed it. But Mrs. Thatcher’s articulation of the deficit myth concealed a crucial reality: the monetary power of a currency-issuing government. Governments in nations that maintain control of their own currencies — like Japan, Britain and the United States, and unlike Greece, Spain and Italy — can increase spending without needing to raise taxes or borrow currency from other countries or investors. That doesn’t mean they can spend without limit, but it does mean they don’t need to worry about “finding the money,” as many politicians state, when they wish to spend more. Politics aside, the only economic constraints currency-issuing states face are inflation and the availability of labor and other material resources in the real economy. 
It is true that in a bygone era, the U.S. government didn’t have full control of its currency. That’s because the U.S. dollar was convertible into gold, which forced the federal government to constrain its spending to protect the stock of its gold reserves.
"Politics aside..." Well, the politics can be crucial. As in the political power of the intellectual zombies, including on the left (see below) who cling to their belief that there are finite limits to financial resources for monetarily sovereign governments. The gold standard is an interesting point, because some of the most prominent deniers of MMT are proponents of Austrian economics and neoliberalism. The gold standard constrained the USA because it was largely an instrument controlled by the British Empire through the City of London: a form of monetary empire intrinsically hostile to the American experiment in republican self-government. As Quinn Slobidian details in his book, Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism, what the Austrian economists want to do is basically restore the economic hierarchy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, another empire intrinsically hostile to the American experiment in republican self-government. 

But another part of the politics is this: while there are no finite limits to financial resources for monetarily sovereign governments, there are limits to what public opinion will let you do. Alexander Hamilton clearly understood this, when you read his plans for having the new national government assume all the Revolutionary War debt and monetize it: money is money only so long as people think it is money and accept it as such. Allow a bunch of economic reactionaries like the Austrians to infect a large enough part of the body politic with their beliefs, and you will get hard political limits. like the  bipartisan group of 60 members of the U.S. House of Representatives who issued a letter lasy week fretting about the trillions of dollars of new debt piled up in the response to COVID19. 

And one other limit, which depends on WHAT you do with that debt. I'm a bit uneasy with the trillions in COVID19 response because almost all of it is going to prop up already inflated financial assets that have little to do with real physical economic production. Debt should be issued and directed to building new productive economic capacity, so you end up with more goods being chased by more money, instead of the same amount of goods being chased by more money. 

“The scale of this crisis is unprecedented: now we need the radical thinking to address it” 
[Tax Research UK, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 6-12-20]  
“In that case we are not going to get a V-shaped recovery, with a quick bounceback. We are, instead, going to see a fundamental change in the level of economic activity for some time to come. That is precisely why I do think radical thinking, including a Green New Deal and the processes of change implicit within it, is necessary now. It is why I also think we need to radically rethink our relationship with what is supposedly called government debt, which is why I have issued a myth buster on that issue this morning. And yet many on the left seem to have no understanding on this. For them affordability is constrained. And debt repayment remains paramount. One of the reasons why I felt down in the last week was the consequence of exchanges with supposed progressive economists a week or so ago. They were vehemently anti-MMT. This now appears to be a necessary sign of virility or acceptability in the left of centre think tank world. John Weeks appeared quite without shame in calling MMT a cult on Twitter yesterday. The economists in question suggested that the public were right to be worried about debt, and that the goal should be to constrain it. There were issues of ‘sound finance’ involved, one said. Another described the ‘moral dimension‘ to debt and suggested it a sign of failure. These narratives play straight into the hands of the right. It is as if they wished for austerity. My belief that their comprehension of what debt really is, what it does, what its benefits are, and what it can do to deliver the economic transformation we require are exceptionally limited. But, I stress, these are people from the left, and I see the same attitudes in just about every left of centre think tank right now.”

Economic Armageddon

20 percent of US firms have debt service costs greater than profits
[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 6-13-20] 
Adam Tooze @adam_tooze
Almost 20 percent of US firms now have debt service costs greater than their profits. @DeutscheBank via @SoberLook

The Carnage of Establishment Neoliberal Economics

Investors Were Being Blocked from Fund Withdrawals Months Before the Pandemic
Pam Martens and Russ Martens, June 8, 2020 [Wall Street on Parade]
Wall Street On Parade has previously written that a financial crisis was already well under way before the first case of COVID-19 was reported anywhere in the world. This should matter greatly to Americans because the Federal Reserve is attempting to blame the financial crisis on the virus to avoid Congressional investigations of its second epic failure in a dozen years at regulating the behemoth Wall Street banks.
America needs a comprehensive investigation of what really triggered this financial crisis in order to restructure the U.S. financial system away from a casino culture into one that doesn’t regularly need massive Federal Reserve and government bailouts....
This is the timeline of events suggesting that a financial crisis was in the works months before December 31, 2019....
[just one event excerpted here] 
September 17, 2019: The New York Fed announces it is intervening in the repo loan market for the first time since the financial crisis of 2007-2010. The Fed says it will provide a maximum of $75 billion per day to 24 Wall Street trading houses (primary dealers) with a cap of $40 billion going to any one firm. (This large cap suggests the New York Fed knows that one or more specific firms are in trouble.) There had been no news reports of coronavirus COVID-19 anywhere in the world at this point.
The Great American Housing Bubble
[Credit Slips, via Naked Capitalism 6-8-20]
Adam Levitin’s new book, The Great American Housing Bubble: What Went Wrong and How We Can Protect Ourselves in the Future. Yves Smith: “Levitin was Special Counsel to the Congressional Oversight Panel, so he had an insider vantage, and also worked a great deal behind the scenes with anti-foreclosure activists.”
The book is also a whodunnit regarding the housing bubble. It marshals a wealth of existing evidence plus some original hand-collected data to show definitively that this was a supply-driven bubble, and that the surfeit of underpriced mortgage finance was the product of the shift in financing from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to Wall Street securitization. The book explains why this shift happened and why the market wasn't able to detect and move against the deterioration in mortgage underwriting until it was already too late. In Clue parlance words, it was Mr. Moneybags, on the bond desk, with the CDO....
The 30-year fixed is a product we take for granted in America, but it is a uniquely American product. Long-term, fixed-rate, fully-prepayable mortgages are simply not standard products anywhere else in the world (except Denmark). The American mortgage is the product of substantial government interventions in the mortgage market, and it has been a bedrock of systemic stability and of financial security for the American middle class. The housing bubble was marked by the abandonment of the American mortgage for a set of products that resembled the high-risk bullet loans that characterized the pre-New Deal market.
‘Speaking of Looting…’: Trump Admin. Refuses to Disclose Corporate Recipients of $500 Billion in Coronavirus Bailout Funds 
[Journal of Economic Growth, via Naked Capitalism 6-11-20]
Abstract: Recent studies have examined the effect of political conflict and domestic terrorism on economic and political outcomes. This paper uses the rise in mass violence between 1870 and 1940 as an historical experiment for determining the impact of ethnic and political violence on economic activity, namely patenting. I find that violent acts account for more than 1,100 missing patents compared to 726 actual patents among African American inventors over this period. Valuable patents decline in response to major riots and segregation laws. Absence of the rule of law covaries with declines in patent productivity for white and black inventors, but this decline is significant only for African American inventors. Patenting responds positively to declines in violence. These findings imply that ethnic and political conflict may affect the level, direction, and quality of invention and economic growth over time.
America’s Big China Mistake
Clyde Prestowitz [Washington Monthly, via Naked Capitalism 6-8-20]
Not much of a mea culpa, but at least he recognizes he was wrong. Unlike the Obama Alumnus Club. And, Prestowitz continues to believe and promote the neoliberal animus against State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs).
Since President Nixon’s historic “opening to China” in 1972 and President Carter’s formal recognition of the communist regime in Beijing, U.S. policy has been to promote trade and investment with China. I myself was a leader of the first U.S. trade mission to Beijing in 1982. Our strategy then and thereafter was founded on the notion that free global trade and investment would stimulate not only economic growth but also the spread of democracy and peace....
But from early on, it should have been clear that this policy was misguided. The Clinton administration’s argument for bringing China into the WTO, widely supported by the economics and foreign policy establishment, was that doing so would liberalize China while dramatically reducing the U.S. trade deficit with Beijing. None of this took place. China became more authoritarian. The deficit mushroomed from about $80 billion annually to $500 billion. Many U.S. companies moved their factories to China to take advantage of cheap labor, the absence of unions, and the lack of safety and environmental regulations. Chinese State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs), meanwhile, began to raise billions of dollars of new capital by listing their shares on the New York Stock Exchange without meeting the same accounting standards as U.S. corporations.
George W. Bush and Barack Obama adopted similar policies, with similarly dangerous consequences. 
Why corporations buy woke insurance
[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 6-10-20]
Zaid Jilani @ZaidJilani
Is it possible to convince corporate America that our lack of universal health care, guaranteed paid leave, or free community college is problematic and offensive so that every firm in America rushes to declare its support for these causes?
11:30 PM · Jun 9, 2020·Twitter Web App

Carlos Mucha @mucha_carlos
Replying to @ZaidJilani  and @jessesingal
Ha, my sides! Preventing any of that from happening is why corporations buy woke insurance. Companies publicly & financially support social liberal policy (racial justice, climate change, gay marriage) to buy allies against economic liberal policy.

Carlos Mucha @mucha_carlos  · Jun 5
Replying to @carney and @BreitbartNews
Swell, so they’re starting their own Ford Foundation. Raising starting wage to $15/hr (it’s $12/hr now) would cost Walmart billions. Spending $100M on social justice warrior projects buys them some “woke insurance” in case workers start demanding raises or, God forbid, a union.

The Pandemic

Convalescent Plasma: A COVID-19 Treatment Speeds to Clinical Trials 
[Public Health (from Johns Hopkins), via Naked Capitalism 6-10-20] 
“As soon as you have survivors, you have convalescent plasma,” Casadevall says. 
The development of antibiotics largely made convalescent plasma obsolete, but when new infectious diseases popped up that no one could treat, the treatment was dusted off and hauled out. Desperate physicians used the plasma to treat Ebola, SARS, and MERS, and a variety of anecdotes showed both safety and efficacy. So when COVID-19 came knocking, Casadevall knew immediately that the strategy would be worth trying—and testing. (In fact, researchers in China had begun piloting use of convalescent plasma in patients in late January.).... 
 “For the last decade, [Arturo] Casadevall [(Johns Hopkins)], [Michael] Joyner [(Mayo Clinic)], and a small cadre of like-minded colleagues had been pushing for the U.S. to spend more money on broad, one-size-fits-all public health measures rather than investing so much in personalized medicine. Convalescent plasma fit right in with this ethos. It was cheap and low tech, and it didn’t require months of innovation that the world simply didn’t have.”
“In Japan and France, Riding Transit Looks Surprisingly Safe” 
[CityLab, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 6-10-20]
Between May 9 and June 3, 150 clusters of new coronavirus cases emerged in France, according to the country’s national public health body. Defined as three cases or more of Covid-19 linked by contact, these clusters occurred largely in the sort of places you might predict they would: healthcare facilities, workplaces and homeless shelters — all sites where people mix in enclosed spaces for long periods of time and, in the case of hospitals, where people who are already infected are likely to congregate.
What was striking however, was the number of clusters associated with public transit: There weren’t any. For almost a month, not a single Covid-19 cluster had emerged on France’s six metro systems, 26 tram and light rail networks or numerous urban bus routes.
Given the enclosed, ill-ventilated nature of subways and buses and the ease with which they can crowd even during lockdown periods, this apparent lack of clustered cases might come as a surprise. But the results from France closely parallel reports from Japan, whose coronavirus containment strategy focused intently on finding these Covid-19 clusters rather than strict lockdowns, social distancing regulations and mass testing. As Science reported when Japan lifted its state of emergency in late May, most infection clusters there were connected to gyms, bars, music clubs and karaoke rooms; none were traced to the country’s famously crowded commuter trains.
A detailed timeline of all the ways Trump failed to respond to the coronavirus 
[The Hill, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 6-9-20] 
“‘Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) on Monday announced a plan to provide health coverage to 100 percent of African Americans in his state as part of an effort to address racial inequalities in health care. The governor made the announcement during his daily press briefing, saying he believes that health care is a ‘basic human right’ and vowed to use a multi-faceted campaign to prioritize black communities…. In Beshear’s plan, state-paid ‘health insurance connectors’ will be used to reach out to African American Kentucky residents and assist them in applying for insurance through Medicaid expansion, private plans or federal plans.”

Climate and environmental crises

“Decline and Fall: The Size and Vulnerability of the Fossil Fuel System” 
[Carbon Tracker, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 6-9-20] 
“The fossil fuel system is being disrupted by the forces of cheaper renewable technologies and more aggressive government policies. In one sector after another these are driving peak demand, which leads to lower prices, less profit, and stranded assets. The COVID-19 crisis is now accelerating this…. Our analysis finds falling demand, lower prices and rising investment risk is likely to slash the value of oil, gas and coal reserves by nearly two thirds, increasing the risk and likelihood of stranded assets.”
“Global Insect Collapse Driven By Industrial Farming, Says New ‘Insect Atlas'” 
[Common Dreams, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 6-9-20] 
“Insects keep the planet’s ecological system running, and ensure our food supply – 75% of our most important crops depend on pollination by insects. Insects also improve soil quality and reduce plant pests by decomposing manure and dead plant matter. The Insect Atlas shows that insect species and pollinators are in severe decline because of pesticide-dependent industrial farming.”
Earth’s carbon dioxide levels hit record high, despite coronavirus-related emissions drop 
[WaPo, via Naked Capitalism 6-7-20]

Information Age Dystopia

How to Spot Police Surveillance Tools 
[The Verge, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 6-11-20]   
“‘IBM firmly opposes and will not condone uses of any [facial recognition] technology, including facial recognition technology offered by other vendors, for mass surveillance, racial profiling, violations of basic human rights and freedoms, or any purpose which is not consistent with our values and Principles of Trust and Transparency,’ [IBM CEO Arvind Krishna said in a letter to Congress today]. “We believe now is the time to begin a national dialogue on whether and how facial recognition technology should be employed by domestic law enforcement agencies.'”
[MIT News, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 6-11-20]    
“Standing by its commitment to provide equitable and open access to scholarship, MIT has ended negotiations with Elsevier for a new journals contract. Elsevier was not able to present a proposal that aligned with the principles of the MIT Framework for Publisher Contracts. … More than 100 institutions, ranging from multi-institution consortia to large research universities to liberal arts colleges, decided to endorse the MIT Framework in recognition of its potential to advance open scholarship and the public good. ”
How The Antifa Fantasy Spread In Small Towns Across The U.S. 
[Nieman Labs, via Naked Capitalism 6-11-20]

Creating new economic potential - science and technology

ISS astronauts create FIFTH STATE OF MATTER in space for first time ever
[RT, via Naked Capitalism 6-13-20]
A new study published in the magazine Nature suggests that scientists have used a small facility called the Cold Atom Lab (CAL) to create rare Bose-Einstein condensates (BECs), also known as the fifth state of matter. The CAL is capable of chilling atoms in a vacuum down to temperatures one 10-billionth of a degree above absolute zero – lower than in interstellar space. That’s why CAL – the size of a bedside table – has a reputation for being one of the coldest spots in the known universe. BECs occur when the temperature of an ensemble of atoms almost reaches zero. These gaseous clouds of atoms then act collectively, rather than individually. First predicted by Albert Einstein and Indian mathematician and physicist Satyendra Nath Bose 95 years ago, they weren’t observed in a lab until 1995.

Democratic Party leadership insists on suicide

“How ‘Never Trumpers’ Crashed The Democratic Party” 
[FiveThirtyEight, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 6-11-20]  
“But ‘Never Trumpers’ are increasingly involved in the Democratic Party and have gradually shifted their tactics in that direction — effectively becoming a ‘Never Trump’ and ‘Never Bernie Sanders’ coalition. And they appear to be having more success shaping their new party than the one that many of them had been associated with for much of their lives.” However, Lambert Strether observes: Republicans most definitely did not crash the Democrat Party; they were invited, starting at least with the changes Obama made to the 2008 platform preamble, which (relying on memory here, I’m clear on the concept but I’m too lazy to find the wording) argued strongly that two parties were important. That’s why Obama treated the Republicans as good faith bargainers on the ACA! That message morphed into “Leave the cray cray and join us!” from 2016 (replacing the “coalition of the ascendant” strategy that had previously been ascendant).
“Rush to Vote-by-Mail could cost Dems the Election” 
[Greg Palast, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 6-9-20]  
“In 2016, 512,696 mail-in ballots—over half a million—were simply rejected, not counted. That’s official, from the federal Elections Assistance Commission (EAC). But that’s just the tip of the ballot-berg of uncounted mail-in votes. A study by MIT, Losing Votes by Mail, puts the total loss of mail-in votes at a breathtaking 22%. Move to 80% mail-in voting and 25 million will lose their vote. And not just anyone’s mail-in ballots are dumped in the electoral trashcan. Overwhelmingly, those junked are ballots mailed by poorer, younger, non-white Americans.”
“The Consultant Class Ran the Bernie Campaign to the Ground & Disenfranchised the Grassroots” 
[Bernie 2020 Autopsy CA, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 6-10-20]

Neoliberalism requires a police state 

“Researchers on Atrocity Prevention Warn: US on Path to Widespread Political Violence” [JustSecurity, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 6-11-20]  
There is a voluminous literature on the main risk factors indicating an increased likelihood of state-sponsored mass atrocities against civilians (see e.g. here and here). We are worried that key indicators are now evident, and in fact increasing, in the United States. Prime examples include:
Pentagon War Game Includes Scenario for Military Response to Domestic Gen Z Rebellion 
[Intercept, via Naked Capitalism 6-13-20]
Documents obtained by The Intercept via the Freedom of Information Act reveal that a Pentagon war game, called the 2018 Joint Land, Air and Sea Strategic Special Program, or JLASS, offered a scenario in which members of Generation Z, driven by malaise and discontent, launch a “Zbellion” in America in the mid-2020s....
According to the scenario, many members of Gen Z — psychologically scarred in their youth by 9/11 and the Great Recession, crushed by college debt, and disenchanted with their employment options — have given up on their hopes for a good life and believe the system is rigged against them.... 
During face-to-face recruitment, would-be members of Zbellion are given instructions for going to sites on the dark web that allow them to access sophisticated malware to siphon funds from corporations, financial institutions, and nonprofits that support “the establishment.” ....In the world of JLASS 2018, Gen Z’s most militant members have essentially taken to privately taxing large corporations and other institutions to combat income inequality.... 

The Dark Side

Ransacking the Republic
[New York Review of Books, via Naked Capitalism 6-10-20]
Walter M. Shaub Jr. is a Senior Adviser to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a nonprofit watchdog group promoting integrity in government. He resigned in protest as Director of the US Office of Government Ethics and a member of the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency. 
These recent moves against inspectors general were not Trump’s first against law enforcement officials. When he came into office, he initially attempted to court Preet Bharara, US attorney for the Southern District of New York, by assuring him that his position was safe. Then he tried to telephone Bharara, who declined to speak with him because Justice Department policy restricts direct communication between US attorneys and the White House. After that, Trump included Bharara in a demand that dozens of Obama-appointed US attorneys resign. Bharara refused to do so, and Trump fired him. Although presidents have generally stayed out of the selection process for US attorneys to avoid appearing to politicize law enforcement, Trump then personally interviewed replacements for the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York and the District of Columbia. He also took a special interest in the search for a US attorney for the Southern District of Florida. What these four districts had in common was that their jurisdictions covered important business interests of the Trump family and that of Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.... 
Trump fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions the day after the 2018 midterm elections. The months Trump had spent berating Sessions for not ending the investigation of him and his campaign left no doubt as to the reason for the firing. Having also ousted Comey from his post as FBI director, Trump got away with decapitating the nation’s two top law enforcement agencies in retaliation for their investigating him....
Trump appears to recognize no line between his political career and the government’s administration of criminal justice.... 
Inside the White House, an obscure office may be laying the groundwork for a broader purge. Trump has packed the Presidential Personnel Office (PPO), which vets candidates for top political positions, with twenty-somethings—including three college seniors. The head of the PPO, Johnny McEntee, who recently turned thirty, is on his second tour of duty in the White House. During his first, he served as Trump’s “body man,” a kind of personal assistant. That job ended when he was reportedly escorted from the White House after failing to obtain a security clearance.... 
Now the Trump administration ignores congressional requests at will. Written demands for records and answers go without response. Administration officials have simply refused to testify before Congress. What has caused the breakdown is the dereliction of members of the president’s political party. The check on Trump should have been Congress. But there was no meaningful scrutiny of his administration during the first two years of his presidency, when Republicans controlled both chambers. Congressional Republicans did not hold a hearing on his decision not to divest his financial interests, unlike every president elected after the enactment of the Ethics in Government Act of 1978. They did not investigate Trump’s violation of the Foreign and Domestic Emoluments Clauses of the Constitution.... 
 Rather than investigating Trump’s conflicts of interest, congressional Republicans have seemed to revel in them. Since his inauguration, 128 members of Congress have visited his properties. Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio, spent campaign money at Trump’s hotel in Washington’s Old Post Office building, posed for giddy photos in its atrium, and let Trump’s eldest son host a fundraiser for him there. But House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California, has Jordan beat in total billings: according to a 2019 news report, “McCarthy’s campaign, leadership PAC, and joint fundraising committees have spent a combined $245,884.44 at Trump properties.”