Sunday, July 14, 2019

Week-end Wrap - Political Economy - July 13, 2019

Week-end Wrap - Political Economy - July 13, 2019
by Tony Wikrent
Economics Action Group, North Carolina Democratic Party Progressive Caucus


Alarming after-effects of Republican budget cutting in North Carolina 
Savage tick-clone armies are sucking cows to death; experts fear for humans 
[ars technica, via Naked Capitalism 7-13-19]
Ravenous swarms of cloned ticks have killed a fifth cow in North Carolina by exsanguination—that is, by draining it of blood—the state’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services warned this week.... 
The tick—the Asian longhorned tick, or Haemaphysalis longicornis—was first found terrorizing a sheep in New Jersey in 2017 and has established local populations in at least 10 states since it sneaked in. Its invasive sweep is due in large part to the fact that a single well-fed female can spawn up to 2,000 tick clones parthenogenetically—that is, without mating—in a matter of weeks. And unlike other ticks that tend to feast on a victim for no more than seven days, mobs of H. longicorni can latch on for up to 19 days.
The state government is North Carolina no longer has any capability to respond to this type of new public health threat - the Republicans who took control of the state legislature in 2010 eliminated the  Public Health Pest Management Section -- which included the state’s tick control and research programs -- in their 2011 budget. 

Strategic Political Economy

Top 1% Up $21 Trillion. Bottom 50% Down $900 Billion.
Matt Bruenig June 14, 2019 [peoplespolicyproject.org, via Naked Capitalism 7-11-19]
Recently, the Federal Reserve released a new data series called the Distributive Financial Accounts, which combine the Financial Accounts and the SCF to provide quarterly estimates of the distribution of wealth in America that do sum to the aggregates in the Financial Accounts. The series goes back to 1989, the first year the modern SCF was administered and runs to the fourth quarter of 2018, the last quarter for which there is Financial Accounts data. 
The insights of this new data series are many, but for this post here I want to highlight a single eye-popping statistic. Between 1989 and 2018, the top 1 percent increased its total net worth by $21 trillion. The bottom 50 percent actually saw its net worth decrease by $900 billion over the same period.
“Americans Shouldn’t Have to Drive, but the Law Insists on It” 
[The Atlantic, via Naked Capitalism 7-10-19] 
“[T]he legal framework governing American life enforces dependency on the automobile. To begin with, mundane road regulations embed automobile supremacy into federal, state, and local law. But inequities in traffic regulation are only the beginning. Land-use law, criminal law, torts, insurance, vehicle safety regulations, even the tax code—all these sources of law provide rewards to cooperate with what has become the dominant transport mode, and punishment for those who defy it. Let’s begin at the state and local levels. A key player in the story of automobile supremacy is single-family-only zoning, a shadow segregation regime that is now justifiably on the defensive for outlawing duplexes and apartments in huge swaths of the country. Through these and other land-use restrictions—laws that separate residential and commercial areas or require needlessly large yards—zoning rules scatter Americans across distances and highway-like roads that are impractical or dangerous to traverse on foot. The resulting densities are also too low to sustain high-frequency public transit.”

Disrupting mainstream economics

AOC Is Making Monetary Policy Cool (and Political) Again 
[New York Magazine, via Naked Capitalism 7-11-19]
There’s a strong case that the most important economic policy decisions of the past decade have been at the Federal Reserve. In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, America’s central bank decided which troubled financial institutions would live and which would die, created a public option for short-term corporate financing, manipulated asset prices by creating artificial demand for various securities, provided an unlimited supply of dollars to some cash-strapped European nations (but not to others), and began deliberately suppressing economic growth in 2015, on the grounds that the U.S. could not sustain an official unemployment rate of below 5 percent without triggering runaway inflation. 
All these decisions had profound consequences for the global economy; and that last one might very well have cost the Democratic Party the last presidential election by slowing economic growth in 2016. 
And yet, the Fed’s policies attracted scant attention from the mainstream media or elected Democrats. An unthinking reverence for the central bank’s political independence kept the American public ignorant of — and unelected bureaucrats, unaccountable for — exercises of discretion that helped determine the availability of jobs, cost of credit, and distribution of wealth in the United States. Conservative Republicans may have been willing to threaten Fed governors with violence if they didn’t start fighting non-existent inflation — but liberal Democrats barely made a peep as Janet Yellen’s rate hikes needlessly jeopardized the job prospects of low-income workers (and Hillary Clinton). 
Fortunately, the 2018 midterms brought some new Democrats to town. And the new generation is woke on monetary policy.

When Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell testifed before the House Wednesday, Team Blue’s freshmen lawmakers posed some of the hearings most incisive questions.
[Lars P. Syll, via Naked Capitalism 7-10-19]
Samuelson's was the leading introductory economics textbook in 1960s through 1980s. 
And this is Nassim Taleb’s verdict on Samuelson’s view on how to do economics: "The tragedy is that Paul Samuelson, a quick mind, is said to be one of the most intelligent scholars of his generation. This was clearly a case of very badly invested intelli­gence. Characteristically, Samuelson intimidated those who questioned his techniques with the statement “Those who can, do science, others do methodology.” If you knew math, you could “do science.” … Alas, it turns out that it was Samuelson and most of his followers who did not know much math, or did not know how to use what math they knew, how to apply it to reality. They only knew enough math to be blinded by it."

The Effects on Employment and Family Income of Increasing the Federal Minimum Wage (pdf)
[Congressional Budget Office, via Los Angeles Times, via Naked Capitalism 7-10-19]

“A strong endorsement of the $15 minimum wage from the Congressional Budget Office” 
Michael Hiltzik [Los Angeles Times, via Naked Capitalism 7-10-19] 
“The CBO’s latest analysis makes clear that the benefits of a $15 minimum wage would heavily outweigh the downside. The ratio of those who would experience a higher wage vs. those who would lose their jobs or hours is about 21 to 1 (27.3 million winners, 1.3 million losers). The net gain for all workers would be $44 billion.”
It’s not just paychecks: The surprising society-wide benefits of raising the minimum wage [Washington Post, via The Big Picture 7-9-19]

Climate and environmental crises

It’s the End of the World as They Know It: The Distinct burden of being a climate scientist
[Mother Jones, via Naked Capitalism 7-9-19]
On election night 2016, Kim Cobb, a professor at the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Tech, was on Christmas Island, the world’s largest ring-shaped coral reef atoll, about 1,300 miles south of Hawaii. A climate scientist, she was collecting coral skeletons to produce estimates of past ocean temperatures. She had been taking these sorts of research trips for two decades, and over recent years she had witnessed about 85 percent of the island’s reef system perish due to rising ocean temperatures. “I was diving with tears in my eyes,” she recalls....

Back home in Atlanta, Cobb entered what she now calls “an acute mental health crisis.” Most mornings, she could not get out of bed, despite having four children to tend to. She would sob spontaneously. She obsessed about the notion that the US government would take no action to address climate change and confront its consequences. “I could not see a way forward,” she recalls. “My most resounding thought was, how could my country do this? I had to face the fact that there was a veritable tidal wave of people who don’t care about climate change and who put personal interest above the body of scientific information that I had contributed to.” Her depression persisted for weeks. “I didn’t recognize myself,” she says.

....researchers who spend their lives exploring the dire effects of climate change might experience emotional consequences from their work. Yet, increasingly, Cobb, Shukla, and others in the field have begun publicly discussing the psychological impact of contending with data pointing to a looming catastrophe, dealing with denialism and attacks on science, and observing government inaction in the face of climate change. “Scientists are talking about an intense mix of emotions right now,” says Christine Arena, executive producer of the docuseries Let Science Speak, which featured climate researchers speaking out against efforts to silence or ignore science. “There’s deep grief and anxiety for what’s being lost, followed by rage at continued political inaction, and finally hope that we can indeed solve this challenge.
“The California coast is disappearing under the rising sea. Our choices are grim”
[Los Angeles Times, via Naked Capitalism 7-8-19] 
“In the last 100 years, the sea rose less than 9 inches in California. By the end of this century, the surge could be greater than 9 feet…. Should California become one long wall of concrete against the ocean? Will there still be sandy beaches or surf breaks to cherish in the future, oceanfront homes left to dream about? More than $150 billion in property could be at risk of flooding by 2100 — the economic damage far more devastating than the state’s worst earthquakes and wildfires. Salt marshes, home to shorebirds and endangered species, face extinction. In Southern California alone, two-thirds of beaches could vanish.”
Global clean-energy spending is plummeting 
[MIT Technology Review, via Naked Capitalism 7-11-19]
Worldwide funding of clean-energy projects fell to its lowest level in six years, in a staggering blow to the battle against climate change. 
The findings: BloombergNEF found that global investments in solar, wind, and other clean energy sources added up to $117.6 billion during the first half of 2019, a 14% decline from the same period last year and the lowest six-month figure since 2013.
China saw a 39% drop in investments, as the nation eases up on its aggressive solar subsidies to get costs under control. But spending also declined 6% in the US and 4% in Europe, part because of policies that are being phased out and weak demand for additional energy generation in mature markets
The big picture: The new report suggests last year’s slowdown in renewable-energy construction has extended into 2019, taking the world in exactly the wrong direction at a critical time (see “Global renewables growth has stalled—and that’s terrible news”).  Every major report finds that the world needs to radically accelerate the shift to clean energy to have any hope of not blowing past dangerous warming thresholds (see “At this rate, it’s going to take 400 years to transform the energy system”).
Local infrastructure policies are hindering wind growth
[Bloomberg (tiered subscription model), via American Wind Energy Association 7-11-19]
Transmission infrastructure is the main reason Europe sources more of its electrical generation from wind than the US, writes Peter Orszag. Complicated local policies and inadequate eminent domain laws have slowed the US' transmission growth, but the industry could still be propelled forward via offshore wind, the addition of lines along highways and railroads and the implementation of a carbon price, he writes.
Commentary: Transmission infrastructure a big challenge for renewables
[Wired (tiered subscription model), via American Wind Energy Association 7-9-19]
The biggest barrier to the Green New Deal and other pushes for renewables isn't politics -- it's a lack of transmission infrastructure and a complicated process for building lines that cross state lines due to federal and state rules, writes Daniel Oberhaus. Most new lines are built within a single state, which makes it difficult for electricity-heavy areas to source renewables from parts of the US where they're cheapest and most abundant, Oberhaus writes.
[Mother Jones, via Naked Capitalism 7-9-19] 
“Chubb Ltd., the nation’s largest commercial insurance company, announced it will move away from insuring and investing in coal. It becomes the first major U.S. insurance company to take such action, joining more than a dozen European and Australian insurers that have already adopted similar policies. Chubb will no longer underwrite the construction of new coal-fired power plants, according to the policy. It will also stop investing in companies that generate more than 30% of their revenues from coal mining or production, as well as phase out existing coverage for mining and utility companies that exceed the 30% threshold. ‘Chubb recognizes the reality of climate change and the substantial impact of human activity on our planet,’ Evan G. Greenberg, the company’s chairman and CEO, said in a statement. ‘The policy we are implementing today reflects Chubb’s commitment to do our part as a steward of the Earth.'”
Earth’s Ancient Life Forms Are Awakening After 40,000 Years in Permafrost 
[ScienceAlert, via Naked Capitalism 7-9-19]

[Guardian, via Naked Capitalism 7-13-19]  
From March, still germane: “At first, the distress flare of lost data came as a surge of defunct links on 21 January. The US National Strategy for the Arctic, the Implementation Plan for the Strategy, and the report on our progress all gone within a matter of minutes. As I watched more and more links turned red, I frantically combed the internet for archived versions of our country’s most important polar policies. I had no idea then that this disappearing act had just begun. Since January, the surge has transformed into a slow, incessant march of deleting datasets, webpages and policies about the Arctic.”

Predatory Finance

Pam Martens and Russ Martens, July 10, 2019 [Wall Street on Parade]
Now the bank is back in the news for owning a massive container ship which was seized last week in the Philadelphia seaport by U.S. Customs and Border Protection following the discovery of 20 tons of cocaine located in containers on the ship on June 17. The cocaine is estimated to have a street value of $1.3 billion. 
The container vessel is the MSC Gayane and was being operated by the global shipping firm, Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC). The vessel is the largest ever to be seized in the 230-year history of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, according to the CBP’s publicly issued statement.
Meet the JPMorgan Whale that Ate Deutsche Bank’s Stock Trading Business
By Pam Martens and Russ Martens, July 8, 2019 [Wall Street on Parade]
Yesterday, Deutsche Bank announced it would be cutting its payroll by approximately 18,000 jobs over the next three years and exiting its stock trading business, along with other restructuring moves like creating a “bad bank” to hold toxic assets. 
What could possibly force a global bank to shed stock trading? According to the most recent report from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), the regulator of national banks in the United States, four U.S. commercial banks made $8.79 billion in trading revenues in the first quarter of this year. Of that amount, JPMorgan Chase Bank NA represented 60 percent or $5.29 billion. (The other three banks were Citibank, Goldman Sachs Bank USA and Bank of America.) 
Just to be clear, this is not how much each bank made from trading in all their divisions, this is just how much the banks made trading in their federally-insured, taxpayer-backstopped commercial bank, which in a rational world would not be allowed to make high-risk wagers in derivatives and the stock market. 
When it came to stock trading (equity trading), JPMorgan Chase Bank NA really sticks out like a sore thumb. All 5,362 commercial banks and savings associations in the U.S. had stock trading revenues in the first quarter of $2.9 billion, of which just the four banks listed above represented $2.8 billion. And of that $2.8 billion in stock trading revenues, JPMorgan Chase Bank NA captured $2.3 billion or 82 percent. It captured 79 percent of all of the equity trading revenues for all 5,362 banks and savings associations in the U.S.

Restoring balance to the economy

T-Mobile says it can’t be sued by users because of forced-arbitration clause 
[Ars Technica, via Naked Capitalism 7-10-19]

One Month Left to Opt Out of Chase Binding Arbitration 
[Consumer Reports, via Naked Capitalism 7-10-19]

Wall Street Beware: The Public Banking Movement Is Coming for You 
[TruthOut, via Naked Capitalism 7-10-19]
Public banking is an old idea, but it has never been very common in the United States. The first and only public bank in the country was founded exactly 100 years ago in North Dakota, and it wasn’t until relatively recently that the idea has begun to find new life in cities and states across the country. Growing largely out of the need for more democratic ownership over capital, the aim of this budding movement is to create a robust public banking infrastructure across the nation that is rooted in the principles of economic, environmental, racial and social justice.... 
Founded by the Nonpartisan League in 1919 during the Midwest’s agrarian populist period, the Bank of North Dakota is the only public bank in the mainland U.S. (American Samoa also has a public bank.) Intended to free the state’s farmers from predatory lenders, the Bank of North Dakota survived a Wall Street boycott and has since become institutionalized within the state’s banking ecosystem. 
The Bank of North Dakota has many functions: By law, all state deposits and revenue must go through the bank, which then works with community banks and credit unions throughout the state to provide a number of services, from liquidity and loan guarantees to low-cost student lending to disaster-relief lending and more. It’s proven to be a very successful model. 
“The state of North Dakota experienced the financial crisis very differently from any other state,” Thomas Hanna of The Democracy Collaborative, a national research institute dedicated to developing new strategies for a more democratic economy, told Truthout. “It had a low rate of foreclosures, it was the only state in the country that didn’t have a single bank collapse, it had a lower unemployment than many other states and had a better fiscal outlook for state government.”
[New York Times, via Naked Capitalism 7-8-19] 
“As parents of a child with a disability caused by a rare genetic syndrome, we’ve wasted hundreds of hours sorting out enrollment choices, completing unending forms and engaging in maddeningly repetitious conversations, all to ensure that our daughter receives the care she needs and that we don’t get stuck with financially devastating bills. While many other Americans continue to struggle with these problems, ours have mostly disappeared because we are spending the year in Britain. In its National Health Service, we found a system that did not demand an expertise in navigating bureaucracies. After 10 minutes filling out a few simple forms, we enrolled our daughter. Within two days she had an appointment and a filled prescription for medication, which was free. We had anticipated the financial relief that can come from a single-payer system, but not the administrative relief. It had never occurred to us that it could be so different.”
“Medicare for All: Would Patients and Physicians Benefit or Lose?” 
[MedPage Today, via Naked Capitalism 7-10-19]  
“What about physicians? When Medicare was first introduced in 1965, practitioners complained loudly that the program would lead to a loss of autonomy and price controls. But in 2019, most physicians have lost any meaningful sense of autonomy, and are fully accustomed to having no control over their price structures. As Michel Accad, MD, has eloquently described, most physicians now simply serve as subcontractors for the insurance industry. Their decision-making capacities are limited, and they are plagued with administrative chores. Their ability to practice high-quality medicine is severely impaired. This is causing an extraordinary burnout rate (30-50%) and a frightening rate of suicide. Given the opportunity to practice high-quality medicine in a low-stress environment, more than half of physicians now embrace the idea of a single-payer system as the best outcome for future payment reform. Any reduction in revenues that results from a shift to Medicare-level payments would be more than offset by savings and job satisfaction benefits that would accrue from being freed of administrative burdens and costs.”

Health Care Crisis

Exclusive: FDA enforcement actions plummet under Trump 
[Science, via Naked Capitalism 7-7-19]
The agency’s “warning letters”—a key tool for keeping dangerous or ineffective drugs and devices and tainted foods off the market—have fallen by one-third, for example. Such letters typically demand swift corrections to protect public health and safety. FDA records from Trump’s inauguration through 22 May show the agency issued 1033 warning letters, compared with 1532 for the most recent equivalent period under former President Barack Obama. Compared with the start of the Obama presidency, Trump-era letters dropped by nearly half. 
Warnings from the FDA Center for Devices and Radiological Health, which helps ensure the safety and quality of medical devices, and from some of the agency’s district offices—including Philadelphia, Florida, and New York—have dropped even more steeply, by more than two-thirds. Two district offices have not issued a warning in more than 2 years. The numbers don’t just reflect a new administration’s slow start. FDA sent significantly fewer warning letters in the second year of Trump’s presidency than in his first.

The Failure of Establishment Neoliberal Economics

“Cargill reports sharp drop in fourth-quarter earnings” 
[Financial Times, via Naked Capitalism 7-11-19]  
“Cargill has reported a sharp drop in fourth-quarter earnings as it battled extreme weather events, the spread of a deadly pig virus and the fallout from the US-China trade spat…. Cargill is part of a small group of companies which dominate trade in global agricultural commodities. It has been a vocal proponent of free trade and under Mr MacLennan’s leadership it has executed a sweeping series of deals to focus on food and agricultural businesses where it best competes.”
Five Basic Facts About Boeing Missing From Coverage Of the 737 MAX Story
[Forbes, , via Naked Capitalism 7-12-19] 
737 MAX isn’t just one of the jetliners in Boeing’s commercial product mix, it is the pivotal offering of the entire enterprise. Over 80% of the company’s order backlog is commercial airplanes, and four out of five of those commercial planes are 737s. The company’s latest 20-year forecast of demand for jetliners projects that 74% of the 44,000 commercial transports ordered worldwide over the next 20 years will be single-aisle aircraft, and 737 is the only single-aisle jetliner Boeing makes.... 
Boeing is the only U.S. maker of jetliners left. There was a time two generations ago when several U.S. companies competed to build commercial transports. Not just Boeing, but Douglas, Lockheed, Martin and others... if Boeing stumbles in the race to produce new generations of jetliners, America will be out of the business. The U.S. has gradually ceased manufacturing televisions, telephones and a host of other products invented here, so there is nothing inevitable about staying on top in jetliners.... 
Boeing is America’s biggest tech company. Although Boeing is seldom described as a technology company, it builds the most complex, sophisticated commercial products in the world. For instance, the company’s all-composite 787 Dreamliner generated a thousand patents for the company as engineers pioneered new design and production techniques. Boeing employs 45,000 engineers to stay on the cutting edge of aerospace, and it has a long history of disrupting commercial markets with novel product offerings....
Boeing sustains over a million U.S. jobs.

Creating new economic potential - science and technology

“Climate change: Water and green energy produced by a single device” 
[BBC, via Naked Capitalism 7-10-19] 
“The scientists adapted a solar panel that not only generated power, but used some of the heat energy to distil and purify sea water. They believe the idea could make a major difference in sunny climates with limited water supplies….. Similarly, producing water for humans via desalination in countries with water scarcity is a huge consumer of energy. It’s estimated that in Arab countries around 15% of electricity production is used to produce drinking water…. “It can be used for coastal areas as long as you are not talking about delivering drinking water for a city of over one million people,” said [lead author Prof Peng Wang from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia’.”
Carbon Nanotube Device Channels Heat Into Light 
[PhysOrg, via Naked Capitalism 7-14-19]
Rice University scientists are designing arrays of aligned single-wall carbon nanotubes to channel mid-infrared radiation (aka heat) and greatly raise the efficiency of solar energy systems. Gururaj Naik and Junichiro Kono of Rice's Brown School of Engineering introduced their technology in ACS Photonics.
Their invention is a hyperbolic thermal emitter that can absorb intense heat that would otherwise be spewed into the atmosphere, squeeze it into a narrow bandwidth and emit it as light that can be turned into electricity. The discovery rests on another by Kono's group in 2016 when it found a simple method to make highly aligned, wafer-scale films of closely packed nanotubes.
Artificial Blood Vessel Made from Natural Polymers Dissolves as New Cells Replace It[Machine Design Today 7-10-19]
Biomedical researchers at Johns Hopkins University have developed a vascular graft (blood vessel) that could help people with coronary artery disease and children born with cardiovascular defects.

Coronary artery disease, or CAD, is the leading cause of death worldwide and people with it often need surgery to repair damaged cardiovascular tissues. Bypass surgery, another common intervention, requires removing the damaged tissue and replacing it with blood vessels from another part of the body, such as the saphenous vein, which runs the length of the leg and is the longest vein in the body. This method puts substantial stress on the body and has other risks as it requires patients to have several surgeries....
Synthetic grafts pose other challenges such as clotting, which blocks blood flow, and grafts grown from stem cells often require up to eight weeks of preparation. 
To improve surgical practices and reduce the number of surgeries a person with CAD may need, Hopkins researchers developed a vascular graft that encourages new tissue formation with better mechanical properties that mimic natural arteries. They developed a graft that takes less than a week to prepare instead of eight, dissolves as healthy tissue grows in its place, and can withstand the continuous contraction and relaxation cycle that the beating heart puts on arteries and veins.
Kitchener-Waterloo Light Rail Transit: An in-depth look
[Railway Age 7-8-19]
Ontario’s first new LRT line began public operation on Friday, June 21, 2019, in the twin cities of Kitchener and Waterloo. K-W, as it is known locally, is about 60 miles northwest of Toronto, on CN’s Toronto-London secondary line. The LRT operates under the brand name of ION



Global wind industry to expand 60% by 2023
[Renewables Now (Bulgaria) (tiered subscription model), via American Wind Energy Association 7-9-19]
The global wind industry is expected to add 71 gigawatts of new installed capacity annually, putting the market on track to expand 60% by 2023, says Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables. "Overall, the outlook is positive and global wind power continues to prosper due to both economic and social benefits," says Director Luke Lewandowski.
Wind power costs have plummeted. How can they fall even further?
[Into the Wind blog, via American Wind Energy Association 7-9-19]
New technology gets cheaper over time. Wind energy is no exception to this rule -- it may have been costly at one time, but today wind is the cheapest source of new electric generating capacity in many parts of the country. In fact, wind today costs 69% less than it did in 2009.

[Fast Company, via Naked Capitalism 7-10-19]
Learning what kinds of tasks would reduce nurses’ cognitive load took a lot of time: Before the team even started to build Moxi, they shadowed nurses and physicians for 150 hours to understand what they would need. Then, once the robot was built, the team’s engineers accompanied the robot everywhere during further tests at the hospital. Finally, the team was able to fine-tune Moxi’s interactions with nurses during beta trials at several hospitals in Texas during late 2018 and early 2019.
Crawling Robots and Flying Drones Detect Damaged Wind Blades
[Machine Design Today 7-12-19]
Robots, drones, and sensors help with inspections now and could be fully automated in the not-too-distant future.
Navy Launches Satellites to Study Solar Flares
[Machine Design Today 7-12-19]
U.S. Naval Research Laboratory researchers are partnering with Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) to shine a light on the effect of the solar atmosphere on the interplanetary medium between the Earth and the Sun.
GE at 100: Taking Power to the Skies
Guy Norris [Aviation Week & Space Technology 7-12-19]
General Electric's involvement in aviation propulsion began in 1919 when GE applied its industrial experience in steam turbines and high-temperature metallurgy to the designs and manufacture of a turbo-supercharger that allowed  aviation piston engines to operate at higher altitudes. GE's development of jet engines began as secret U.S. jet propulsion program begun during World War Two by U.S. Army Chief of Staff for Air General H. H. "Hap" Arnold. Another example of How America Was Built by government creating economic progress. 

Information Age Dystopia

Revealed: This Is Palantir’s Top-Secret User Manual for Cops 
[Vice, via The Big Picture 7-13-19]
Palantir is one of the most significant and secretive companies in big data analysis. The company acts as an information management service for Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, corporations like JP Morgan and Airbus, and dozens of other local, state, and federal agencies. It’s been described by scholars as a “secondary surveillance network,” since it extensively catalogs and maps interpersonal relationships between individuals, even those who aren't suspected of a crime. 
Palantir software is instrumental to the operations of ICE, which is planning one of the largest-ever targeted immigration enforcement raids this weekend on thousands of undocumented families. Activists argue raids of this scale would be impossible without software like Palantir. But few people outside the company and its customers know how its software works or what its specific capabilities and user interfaces are. 
Through a public record request, Motherboard has obtained a user manual that gives unprecedented insight into Palantir Gotham (Palantir’s other services, Palantir Foundry, is an enterprise data platform), which is used by law enforcement agencies like the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center. The NCRIC serves around 300 communities in northern California and is what is known as a "fusion center," a Department of Homeland Security intelligence center that aggregates and investigates informationfrom state, local, and federal agencies, as well as some private entities, into large databases that can be searched using software like Palantir.
“Amazon Workers Plan Prime Day Strike at Minnesota Warehouse” 
[Bloomberg, via Naked Capitalism 7-9-19] 
“‘Amazon is going to be telling one story about itself, which is they can ship a Kindle to your house in one day, isn’t that wonderful,’ said William Stolz, one of the Shakopee employees organizing the strike. ‘We want to take the opportunity to talk about what it takes to make that work happen and put pressure on Amazon to protect us and provide safe, reliable jobs.’… Of late, warehouses in Minnesota’s Twin Cities region have become an epicenter of worker activism, led by East African Muslim immigrants who organizers say compose the majority of the five facilities’ staff. Last year workers thronged the entryway of a delivery center chanting “Yes we can” in Somali and English, presenting management with demands such as reduced workloads while fasting for Ramadan. They also circulated flyers at a nearby fulfillment center urging co-workers to wear blue shirts and hijabs in support of the same cause.”
“Android apps are harvesting your data even after you tell them not to, says study” 
[CNN, via Naked Capitalism 7-10-19] 
“Thousands of popular apps from the Google Play Store are able to bypass permissions to collect user data, according to the nonprofit research center International Computer Science Institute, which partners with University of California, Berkeley. The apps work around restrictions by finding ‘side channels’ or ‘covert channels’ such as taking data from apps that do have those permissions, potentially affecting hundreds of millions of Android users.”
“Banned Chinese Security Cameras Are Almost Impossible to Remove” 
[Bloomberg, via Naked Capitalism 7-11-19] 
“U.S. federal agencies have five weeks to rip out Chinese-made surveillance cameras in order to comply with a ban imposed by Congress last year in an effort to thwart the threat of spying from Beijing.But thousands of the devices are still in place and chances are most won’t be removed before the Aug. 13 deadline. A complex web of supply chain logistics and licensing agreements make it almost impossible to know whether a security camera is actually made in China or contains components that would violate U.S. rules.”
Lambert Strether asks: "So how many of these cameras are really needed? Can we just turn them off?"

How U.S. Tech Giants Are Helping to Build China’s Surveillance State 
[The Intercept., via Naked Capitalism 7-12-19] 

“Google as a landlord? A looming feudal nightmare” 
[Guardian, via Naked Capitalism 7-13-19]  
“Like industrial monopolies before it – from US Steel to the Pullman Company – Google is leveraging its significant influence to create entire urban economies dedicated to its own productivity and profitability. While this may sound like a recipe for economic boom, history suggests that the intimate intertwining of monopoly-driven corporate profit, governance and everyday life may undermine both democracy and individual autonomy. Already, much of Google’s geographic development has been shrouded in secrecy, making it nearly impossible for local communities to understand – and to oppose – the long-term impacts. Only through public records releases has the public learned that the US locations of Google’s expansion have been influenced by furtively secured tax breaks.”.

Disrupting mainstream politics

[The Week, via Naked Capitalism 7-8-19]
Over half a century on from Brown v. Board of Education, segregation in America's school system is still rampant. The failure has been a thoroughly bipartisan one, and it looks like the reckoning may finally come to the Democratic Party: Rich white school districts hiving themselves off from poorer minority communities — taking their resources with them — is splitting progressive coalitions across the country....
Simply put, a huge portion of public school district funding in the U.S. is drawn from local property taxes. As a result, school resources have been inextricably tied to disparities in wealth and home ownership which are some of the most clear and obvious manifestations of generations of racial discrimination. That linkage must be broken. Moreover, we should move to a system where most, if not all, school funding is distributed out from the national level. 
Right now, about 45 percent of all school funding comes from taxes assessed at the local level. For the most part, that means property taxes: i.e. a tax on the value of the home or business establishment you own. Another 45 percent comes from state governments, which can rely on both property taxes and other taxes. Finally, the remaining 10 percent comes from federal spending, which is financed by federal income taxes and capital gains taxes and the like. 
The problem with this setup is that America is also a brutally unequal country. The gap in both incomes and wealth — like the value of your property — between our richest and poorest citizens is absolutely immense. On top of that, rich and poor tend to cluster, leading to vertiginous inequality from neighborhood to neighborhood.... 
While the bulk of U.S. school districts spend just under $10,000 per student, there is a long tail of districts that extends out well past $30,000.

“Progressive Boomers Are Making It Impossible For Cities To Fix The Housing Crisis”
[Huffington Post, via Naked Capitalism 7-8-19]
“Rowdy public hearings are nothing new in city politics, of course. But campaigners and elected officials told HuffPost that the nature of local opposition has changed in recent years. Where protest movements and civil disobedience were once primarily the tools of the marginalized, they have now become a weapon of privilege — a way for older, wealthier, mostly white homeowners to drown out and intimidate anyone who challenges their hegemony. ‘Most of the abuse I got came from older suburban or retired folks, and always from people who considered themselves progressive,’ said Rob Johnson, a Seattle City Council member who retired in April after three years in office. During his tenure, he supported proposals to increase housing density, expand public transit and establish safe use sites for drug addicts. Despite representing a constituency with bright-blue voting records on immigration, reproductive rights and LGBTQ equality, Johnson’s progressive positions on local issues provoked a large and organized backlash. In 2017, after supporting a plan to install bike lanes on a major thoroughfare, Johnson received a death threat on social media. Opponents posted his home address on Nextdoor. Eventually, he stopped visiting local businesses and even skipped events at his children’s school to avoid the increasingly frequent confrontations with other parents.”
Haunted by the Reagan era
Ryan Grim, WaPo, via Naked Capitalism 7-7-19]
Past defeats still scare older Democratic leaders — but not the younger generation.
Nancy Pelosi Has Chosen Her War, and it’s With Her Own Party’s Future
[The Intercept, via Naked Capitalism 7-8-19]

Bernie Sanders Anti-Endorsements,
[berniesanders.com, via Naked Capitalism 7-11-19]
“I ask you to judge me by the enemies I have made.”
– President Franklin Roosevelt


With 16 Months to go, Negative Partisanship Predicts the 2020 Presidential Election 
Judy Ford [Watson Center for Public Policy, via Naked Capitalism 7-10-19]

The Dark Side

Voting machine vendors refuse to provide ownership information to North Carolina State Board of Elections
[techdirt.com 7-10-19]
Recently, the North Carolina State Board of Elections asked suppliers of electronic voting machines a simple question: who owns you? ... It's not like the state was asking the manufacturers to cough up code and machine schematics. All it wanted to know is the people behind the company nameplates. But the responses the board received indicate voting system manufacturers believe releasing any info about their companies' compositions will somehow compromise their market advantage.

Jeffrey Epstein: The Lawlessness of Patriarchy and Power
[Real News Network 7-12-19]
Author David Rosen asks whether justice will prevail in the insidious web of power that protects pedophillic predators who sexually prey on young girls. Will Epstein’s prosecution uncover the intricate relations of the powerful that include Trump, Clinton, and others?







Sunday, July 7, 2019

Week-end Wrap - Political Economy - July 6, 2019

Week-end Wrap - Political Economy - July 6, 2019
by Tony Wikrent
Economics Action Group, North Carolina Democratic Party Progressive Caucus

I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just

What a Pediatrician Saw Inside a Border Patrol Warehouse
[The Atlantic, , via Naked Capitalism 7-5-19]
Dolly Lucio Sevier evaluated dozens of sick children at a facility in South Texas. She found evidence of infection, malnutrition, and psychological trauma.
At Ursula, however, the children Sevier examined—like the panting 2-year-old—were “totally fearful, but then entirely subdued,” she told me. She could read the fear in their faces, but they were perfectly submissive to her authority. “I can only explain it by trauma, because that is such an unusual behavior,” she said. Sevier had brought along Mickey Mouse toys to break the ice, and the kids seem to enjoy playing with them. Yet none resisted, she said, when she took them away at the end of the exam. “At some point,” Sevier mused, “you’re broken and you stop fighting.”

....Border Patrol has long maintained that it is not equipped to handle children, who are supposed to be transferred into the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement within three days. After that, many kids are housed in licensed child-care facilities that look more like the average public school than a jail. The federal government has attributed slow transfers to the sharp uptick in the number of migrants at the southern border; in May, 144,200 migrants were taken into custody—the highest monthly total in 13 years.

Days before Sevier’s visit, reports of poor conditions at a similar facility in Clint, Texas, drew outrage around the country. Kevin McAleenan, the acting head of the Department of Homeland Security, told reporters the outcry was based on “unsubstantiated allegations regarding a single Border Patrol facility.”
But his own agency’s watchdogs soon contradicted him—the problems are not restricted to Clint.

Predatory Finance

Bloomberg Businessweek, via The Big Picture 7-6-19]
The British Virgin Islands is home to more than 400,000 companies that hold $1.5 trillion in assets.... Even though he helped get it up and running, Geluk doesn’t have permission to scan the whole database. In fact, only two people, a pair of unnamed employees of the BVI’s Financial Investigation Agency, are able to search the entire system, which holds details on about 600,000 owners who have directly or indirectly controlled companies here. It’s thought that roughly a third of all offshore companies globally are registered in the BVI....
The BVI’s place in the dark offshore economy was illuminated by the 2016 Panama Papers leak, in which 11.5 million documents from the law firm Mossack Fonseca were released by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. The disclosures sparked probes worldwide into money laundering, sanctions violations, and tax avoidance, and it didn’t pass without notice that more than half the companies outed in the leak were registered in the BVI. (The scandal should have been called the BVI Papers, more than a few people suggested.) It was clear from the disclosures that BVI regulation was inadequate, and that remains a concern today: Last year, BVI regulators conducted only four on-site inspections of financial firms.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Week-end Wrap - Political Economy - June 29, 2019

Week-end Wrap - Political Economy - June 29, 2019
by Tony Wikrent
Economics Action Group, North Carolina Democratic Party Progressive Caucus

Strategic Political Economy

Jan Fichtner, Eelke Heemskerk, Javier Garcia-Bernardo, May 11, 2017 [The Conversation, via Alternet]



Disrupting mainstream economics

The new left economics: how a network of thinkers is transforming capitalism
[The Guardian, via Naked Capitalism 6-27-19]
There is a dawning recognition that a new kind of economy is needed: fairer, more inclusive, less exploitative, less destructive of society and the planet. “We’re in a time when people are much more open to radical economic ideas,” says Michael Jacobs, a former prime ministerial adviser to Gordon Brown. “The voters have revolted against neoliberalism. 

Climate and environmental crises

Mark Sumner, June 28, 2019 [DailyKos]
The five hottest European summers in the last 600 years have all come in the last twenty years. And 2019 is looking like it may provide not just the hottest day, but the hottest week, month, and year as the radically destabilized weather system continues to draw scalding air farther and farther north. Germany is experiencing it’s hottest June ever. Temperatures in Italy have turned deadly. And records have been shattered across at least six nations. The wave of hot air is also bringing up dust from the Sahara, prompting health warnings because of both temperatures and air quality.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Week-end Wrap - Political Economy - June 22, 2019

Week-end Wrap - Political Economy - June 22, 2019
by Tony Wikrent
Economics Action Group, North Carolina Democratic Party Progressive Caucus

I apologize for the absence from last week. My computer crashed last Saturday night, and blew away a chunk of the operating system, so could not be rebooted until placed in the hands of a skilled PC doctor. I have begun searching for a feasible alternative PC at a low budget, and welcome any contributions to PayPal using my email address 2nbbooks@gmail.com. Thank you for your patience and understanding. 

Strategic Political Economy

Facebook's plan to create a global currency are insane and must be resisted. Ten good reasons: (
[Twitter by Nicholas Shaxson, author of Treasure Islands: Tax Havens and the Men Who Stole the World, via Naked Capitalism 6-21-19]

The way we structure money and payments is a question for democratic institutions, not technology companies.
By Matt Stoller [New York Times, via Twitter 6-20-19]
There are four core problems with Facebook’s new currency. The first, and perhaps the simplest, is that organizing a payments system is a complicated and difficult task, one that requires enormous investment in compliance systems.... 
The second problem is that, since the Civil War, the United States has had a general prohibition on the intersection between banking and commerce. Such a barrier has been reinforced many times, such as in 1956 with the Bank Holding Company Act and in 1970 with an amendment to that law during the conglomerate craze. Both times, Congress blocked banks from going into nonbanking businesses through holding companies, because Americans historically didn’t want banks competing with their own customers. Banking and payments is a special business, where a bank gets access to intimate business secrets of its customers. As one travel agent told Congress in 1970 when opposing the right of banks to enter his business, “Any time I deposited checks from my customers,” he said, “I was providing the banks with the names of my best clients.” 
Imagine Facebook’s subsidiary Calibra knowing your account balance and your spending, and offering to sell a retailer an algorithm that will maximize the price for what you can afford to pay for a product. Imagine this cartel having this kind of financial visibility into not only many consumers, but into businesses across the economy. Such conflicts of interest are why payments and banking are separated from the rest of the economy in the United States.... 
The third problem is that the Libra system — or really any private currency system — introduces systemic risk into our economy... 
We should not be setting up a private international payments network that would need to be backed by taxpayers because it’s too big to fail. 
And the fourth problem is that of national security and sovereignty....
Years ago, Mark Zuckerberg made it clear that he doesn’t think Facebook is a business. “In a lot of ways, Facebook is more like a government than a traditional company,” said Mr. Zuckerberg. “We’re really setting policies.” ...The way we structure money and payments is a question for democratic institutions. Any company big enough to start its own currency is just too big.

Restoring balance to the economy

“Poor People’s Moral Budget: Everybody Has the Right to Live” (PDF)
[Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, Poor People’s Campaign, via Naked Capitalism 6-19-19] 
From the “Findings”:

The United States has abundant resources for an economic revival that will move towards establishing a moral economy. This report identifies:
  • $350 billion in annual military spending cuts that would make the nation and the world more secure;
  • $886 billion in estimated annual revenue from fair taxes on the wealthy, corporations, and Wall Street;
  • and Billions more in savings from ending mass incarceration, addressing climate change, and meeting other key campaign demands.
The below comparisons demonstrate that policymakers have always found resources for their true priorities. It is critical that policymakers redirect these resources to establish justice and to prioritize the general welfare instead. The abundant wealth of this nation is produced by millions of people, workers, and families in this country and around the world. The fruits of their labor should be devoted to securing their basic needs and creating the conditions for them to thrive. At the same time, policymakers should not tie their hands with “pay-as-you-go” restrictions that require every dime of new spending to be offset with expenditure cuts or new revenue, especially given the enormous long-term benefits of most of our proposals. The cost of inaction is simply too great.
Lambert Strether notes: "This is, if not MMT, at least MMT-adjacent. It focuses on resources, not money, and it wants to drive a stake into PayGo’s heart-equivalent-if-any. The report is also a useful baseline for Democrat presidential candidates."


Ellen Brown: The American Dream is alive and well — in China
[Public Banking Institute 6-22-19]

Monday, June 17, 2019

Tony needs a new computer


And selling books isn't as lucrative as it once was.

So...

Anyone who feels generous can contribute to the "get Tony back online" fund. Contributions can be sent to his gmail address where he takes Paypal.

Thanks!

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Week-end Wrap - Political Economy - June 8, 2019

Week-end Wrap - Political Economy - June 8, 2019
by Tony Wikrent
Economics Action Group, North Carolina Democratic Party Progressive Caucus

You read it here first

The Green New Deal has forced into public discourse the fact that solving the crisis of climate change is going to require trillions of dollars of new investment. A recent example: 

Ocasio-Cortez: $10 trillion needed for effective climate plan
[The Hill, via Naked Capitalism 6-6-19]
Freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said Wednesday that any plan to sufficiently address the climate crisis will need to cost at least $10 trillion. 
“I think we really need to get to $10 trillion to have a shot,” the progressive firebrand said in response to a question from The Hill in the Capitol. 
“I know it’s a ton," she added. "I don’t think anyone wants to spend that amount of money, it’s not a fun number to say, I’m not excited to say we need to spend $10 trillion on climate, but ... it’s just the fact of the scenario.”

If you had been reading this blog, Real Economics, in December 2014:
Dear Dems: Give me $100 trillion and I'll save your sorry ass
"$100 trillion to build a new economy" will be another test, but one that we need to impose over the coming two years. It can completely transform what issues are defined, and how, for the 2016 election. We need to get general public awareness of the need for "$100 trillion to build a new economy" - and how doable it actually is. Once we do that, it will be a relatively simple matter to determine if someone is serious about solving the problems we face. The next time we meet someone who is a leader in the Democratic Party, mention the fact that we need "$100 trillion to build a new economy" and watch carefully how they react. If they are hopeless neo-liberal water carriers for our would-be corporatist overlords, they will recoil in horror, or try to argue that such a huge amount is simply preposterous. Anyone who is stuck talking about programs of a few billion, or even a few hundred billion dollars, is simply completely uninformed about the problems we face - or just not willing to face reality - because reality is that we can no longer afford to let Wall Street play funny money games. We must figure out how to impose new laws and regulations that force banking and finance to serve the general welfare, not just private gain.
And about Trump and USA politics: if you had been reading this blog, Real Economics, in June 2014:
The best of times. The worst of times.
....what is needed to survive, we have already at hand. We have the science, and we have the technology. What we do not have is the political will to create crash programs to apply that science and technology, because that would require crushing our present rulers and leaders. Indeed, one half the formal political system in the USA has devoted itself to opposing science. And much of the other half has devoted itself to opposing technology. 
But what we lack most of all, is VISION. We do not have a coherent, plausible, positive vision. And without vision, the people will perish - another hard-learned lesson of human history the world's major religions warn us about. 
The 2008 Obama campaign showed us how powerful a vision of hope can be, no matter how much of a charade it might be. What do you think would be the electoral results if Democratic candidates starting telling people we are actually on the verge of a massive new economic boom? Because there is $100 trillion of work we need to do to solve the problem of climate change. This new boom will last for decades, just like the boom unleashed after World War 2 by meeting pent-up consumer demand and rebuilding Europe and Japan. I believe, in a few years or decades, the harshest and most important historical judgement of President Obama will be that he took office at a point where he could have led the nation and the world into a new golden age of capitalism, but instead chose to defend the status quo, and as a result the populist upsurge against the status quo veered right instead of left. (Bolding not in original 2014 posting.)

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

The possible routes to sustainability


Once in awhile, it's good to see what thoughtful grownups sound like when they discuss how exactly folks go about building a world that doesn't need to run on fossil fuels. Here Deutsche Welle follows some of the more promising strategies—e-mobility in Norway, the hydrogen strategy in Japan, etc. It's remarkably well done.


Sunday, June 2, 2019

Week-end Wrap - Political Economy - June 1, 2019

Week-end Wrap - Political Economy - June 1, 2019
by Tony Wikrent
Economics Action Group, North Carolina Democratic Party Progressive Caucus

Strategic Political Economy

[Valdai Discussion Club, via Naked Capitalism 5-26-19]
When analyzing the place that Russia and China occupy in each other’s bilateral trade, there is an imbalance arising from the difference in the size of the two economies. But it is hard to think of a way China could use it to blackmail or pressure Russia. Fuel and energy resources dominate Russia’s exports to China as well as Russian exports in general – fossil fuels accounted for 73 percent of its 2018 supplies. Russia is one of the main suppliers of oil to China, competing for first place with Saudi Arabia.
This does not speak well of the structure of the modern Russian economy. But, from a political standpoint, all prior experience tells us that trade in energy products creates a strong interdependence between supplier and buyer. Unlike other types of goods, any pressure on energy exporters is always associated with immediate and significant losses for the importing country, so it is only used as a last resort in rare cases. 

Tech cold war: how Trump’s assault on Huawei is forcing the world to contemplate a digital iron curtain
[South China Morning Post, via Naked Capitalism 5-26-19]
I distinctly remember 20 and more years ago repeatedly arguing with conservatives in AOL message boards that utilizing cheap Chinese labor for manufacturing was going to cause long-term strategic shifts and problems that would greatly afflict USA interests. Their responses were unequivocal and never varied: an ideological recitation of the benefits of free trade, most especially how trade with USA would sneakily introduce changes into China and force adoption of "democracy." The only variation from this line was the occasional addition of complaining that American workers were paid too much, and expected too much. 

[FifthDomain, via Naked Capitalism 5-26-19]

Mark Sumner, June 1, 2019 [DailyKos]

China’s Plan To Influence Global Commodity Pricing 
[SafeHaven, via Naked Capitalism 6-1-19]

The Electric Vehicle Revolution Will Come from China — not the US
by Lambert Strether [Naked Capitalism 5-26-19]

[Asia Times, via Naked Capitalism 5-27-19]

The Failure of Establishment Neoliberal Economics

After Neoliberalism
Joseph Stiglitz [Project Syndicate, via Naked Capitalism 5-31-19]
The neoliberal experiment – lower taxes on the rich, deregulation of labor and product markets, financialization, and globalization – has been a spectacular failure. Growth is lower than it was in the quarter-century after World War II, and most of it has accrued to the very top of the income scale. After decades of stagnant or even falling incomes for those below them, neoliberalism must be pronounced dead and buried.
Vying to succeed it are at least three major political alternatives: far-right nationalism, center-left reformism, and the progressive left (with the center-right representing the neoliberal failure). 
Three decades of neoliberal policies have decimated the middle class, our economy, and our democracy 
Joseph Stiglitz [MarketWatch, via Naked Capitalism 6-1-19]

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Week-end Wrap - Political Economy - May 25, 2019

Week-end Wrap - Political Economy - May 25, 2019
by Tony Wikrent
Economics Action Group, North Carolina Democratic Party Progressive Caucus

Strategic Political Economy

The radical plan to change how Harvard teaches economics
[Vox, via The Big Picture 5-25-19]Harvard finally has someone who is challenging Bush Dubya's economic guru Greg Mankiw in the teaching of introductory economics. Personally, I think Mankiw should be turned over to some impoverished country like Chad or Ecuador and tried for intellectual crimes against humanity. In the summer 2013 issue of Journal of Economic Perspectives, Mankiw published a paper entitled "Defending the One Percent."  (pdf)
Raj Chetty, a prominent faculty member whom Harvard recently poached back from Stanford, this spring unveiled “Economics 1152: Using Big Data to Solve Economic and Social Problems.” Taught with the help of lecturer Greg Bruich, the class garnered 375 students, including 363 undergrads, in its first term. That’s still behind the 461 in Ec 10 — but not by much. 
The courses could hardly be more different. Chetty has made his name as an empirical economist, working with a small army of colleagues and research assistants to try to get real-world findings with relevance to major political questions. And he’s focused on the roots and consequences of economic and racial inequality. He used huge amounts of IRS tax data to map inequality of opportunity in the US down to the neighborhood, and to show that black boys in particular enjoy less upward mobility than white boys. 
Ec 1152 is an introduction to that kind of economics. There’s little discussion of supply and demand curves, of producer or consumer surplus, or other elementary concepts introduced in classes like Ec 10.
Will China play rare earths card in clash with US?
[Asia Times, via Naked Capitalism 5-21-19]
“An American chemicals company and an Australian miner want to build a new supply chain for rare earths that bypasses China. The plan by Blue Line Corp. and Lynas Corp. is aimed at shoring up supplies of important commodities caught up in the U.S.-China trade conflict, … highlighting how companies are growing more worried about the Washington-Beijing showdown” [Wall Street Journal]. “Production of rare earths is dominated by China, and some of the world’s biggest buyers are U.S. technology companies that use rare earths in a wide range of electronics, including military equipment. The White House has been reluctant to impose tariffs on China’s rare-earths shipments, but China has slapped higher tariffs on American shipments of the unprocessed minerals. Lynas has become the largest producer of rare earths outside China and runs a unique supply chain shipping rare earths from Australia to Malaysia for processing.”

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Week-end Wrap - Political Economy - May 18, 2019

Week-end Wrap - Political Economy - May 18, 2019
by Tony Wikrent
Economics Action Group, North Carolina Democratic Party Progressive Caucus

[Machine Design Today 5-7-19]

Strategic Political Economy

The Pivot Point
[Craig Murray, via Naked Capitalism 5-17-19]
The massive economic shock following the banking collapse of 2007–8 is the direct cause of the crisis of confidence which is affecting almost all the institutions of western representative democracy. The banking collapse was not a natural event, like a tsunami. It was a direct result of man-made systems and artifices which permitted wealth to be generated and hoarded primarily through multiple financial transactions rather than by the actual production and sale of concrete goods, and which then disproportionately funnelled wealth to those engaged in the mechanics of the transactions. 
It was a rotten system, bound to collapse. But unfortunately, it was a system in which the political elite were so financially bound that the consequences of collapse threatened their place in the social order. So collapse was prevented, by the use of the systems of government to effect the largest ever single event transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich in the course of human history. Politicians bailed out the bankers by using the bankers’ own systems, and even permitted the bankers to charge the public for administering their own bailout, and charge massive interest on the money they were giving to themselves. This method meant that the ordinary people did not immediately feel all the pain, but they certainly felt it over the following decade of austerity as the massive burden of public debt that had been loaded on the populace and simply handed to the bankers, crippled the public finances. 
The mechanisms of state and corporate propaganda kicked in to ensure that the ordinary people were told that rather than having been robbed, they had been saved.
How Turkey Defied the U.S. and Became a Killer Drone Power
[Intercept, via Naked Capitalism 5-16-19]
Turkey now rivals the U.S. and the U.K. as the world’s most prolific user of killer drones, according to a review by The Intercept of reported lethal drone strikes worldwide. (Other countries that have reportedly killed people with drone-launched weapons include Israel, Iraq, and Iran.) The technology has been used by Turkey against ISIS in Syria and along Turkey’s border with Iraq and Iran, where ever-present Turkish drones have turned the tide in a decades-old counter-insurgency against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. 
While the U.S. was the foremost operator of armed, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in the world for more than a decade, launching the first drone attack in 2001, today more than a dozen countries possess this technology. The U.K., Israel, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Nigeria, and Turkey have all used armed UAVs to kill targets since 2015. Efforts by Washington to control proliferation through restrictions on drone exports have failed to slow down a global race to acquire the technology. Meanwhile, the U.S. has set a precedent of impunity by carrying out hundreds of strikes that have killed civilians over the last decade.
Turkey’s Anka drone showcased during a ceremony at Turkish Aerospace Space Industries Inc., near Ankara on July 16, 2010.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Week-end Wrap - Political Economy - May 11, 2019

Week-end Wrap - Political Economy - May 11, 2019
by Tony Wikrent
Economics Action Group, North Carolina Democratic Party Progressive Caucus

[CommonDreams.com, via Avedon's Sideshow 4-28-19]
"The phrase is code for elites being pressured in ways they don't like, and is often a shield against legitimate criticism of corruption or dependence on corporate power."

Strategic Political Economy

[Ian Welsh, May 10, 2019]
You cannot have a good economy, where executives plan for the future, unless they need their companies to continue to do well. That means high progressive tax rates on income, on capital gains AND on unrealized capital and wealth, with no loops. 
Taxes on unrealized capital gains and wealth are necessary because if you don’t do that rich types don’t cash out capital, instead they use loans to pay their bills. When you’re worth 500 million or even just a 100 million, banks are happy to lend, at under 2%.
And this week, the perfect example of how a republic that does not throttle the rich has its economic policy severely distorted: 

“How the Koch Brothers Are Killing Public Transit Projects Around the Country” 
[New York Times, via Naked Capitalism 5-7-19]   
“At the heart of their effort is a network of activists who use a sophisticated data service built by the Kochs, called i360, that helps them identify and rally voters who are inclined to their worldview. It is a particularly powerful version of the technologies used by major political parties*. In places like Nashville, Koch-financed activists are finding tremendous success. Early polling here had suggested that the $5.4 billion transit plan would easily pass. It was backed by the city’s popular mayor and a coalition of businesses. Its supporters had outspent the opposition, and Nashville was choking on cars. But the outcome of the May 1 ballot stunned the city: a landslide victory for the anti-transit camp, which attacked the plan as a colossal waste of taxpayers’ money.”
High Speed Rail-- A Much Greener Way To Travel Than Airplane Or Auto... And Some Special Interests Opposing It
[DownWithTyranny, May 11, 2019]
Yesterday CNBC carried a very interesting piece on high peed rail-- and why the U.S. has fallen so woefully behind other nations. Jeniece Pettitt and Adam Isaak compared the U.S. to other countries: "China has the world's fastest and largest high-speed rail network-- more than 19,000 miles, the vast majority of which was built in the past decade. Japan's bullet trains can reach nearly 200 miles per hour and date to the 1960s. They have moved more than 9 billion people without a single passenger casualty. France began service of the high-speed TGV train in 1981 and the rest of Europe quickly followed... When the high speed rail between Madrid and Barcelona in Spain came into operation, air traffic just plummeted between those cities and everyone switched over to high speed rail which is very convenient. People were happy to do it; they weren't forced to switch. They did it because it was a nicer option to take high speed rail.

Friday, May 10, 2019

It's payback time, folks


There are moments when I simply cannot muster the energy to be a "good sport." Whenever I think about how this country just wasted 2+ years playing an ultra-corny version of spy vs. spy,  I literally want to see heads roll. It was not just the non-stop lying, it's that the lies were so stupidly unbelievable. And for extra fun, these lies were retailed by some of the writers I have read over the years on sites I once visited regularly—The Guardian, Smirking Chimp, Crooks and Liars...

Karma can be a bitch. Smirking Chimp is having trouble paying the bills. The Guardian will have serious problems recovering from Luke Harding's crazed book Collusion. Ms. Russiagate hoaxer, Rachael Madcow has taken a serious hit to her ratings.

I could be talked out of demanding the return of the guillotine, I guess, if we could all agree to stop listening to these partially developed minds stuck in their "tell me a story" phase of intellectual development. Personally, I am stunned that in a country of 315 million souls we cannot come up with the few thousand functioning adults necessary to organize a government.

Bob Mueller is 74. He probably won't be with us much longer. Writing his epitaph won't be easy. It difficult to say nice things about someone who knew his "investigation" was utter BS yet wasted the lives of the nation for years while he tried to come up with a reason to not tell us he had no case.

Robert Mueller Is in Serious Legal Trouble - Here's Why

James Howard Kunstler, 5/10/19

For the Progressive Democratic “Resistance” (PDR), post-Modernism is in full flower. They have ruled objective reality inadmissible. There are only stories — his story, her story, they’s story, zhe’s story, and you must believe them because they come out of lived experience — for instance the lived experience of having lost a sure-thing presidential election to a cartoon character with zero political experience, and then having lost the grand inquisition to oust him. For the PDRs, the metaphysical concept of reality refers to some land of dark make-believe over a distant horizon where numbers supposedly add up (ha!) and the actions of persons are said to entail a strange cosmic condition known as consequence.

Now that the Mueller Investigation has concluded empty of charges — despite two-plus-years of sedulous effort by fiercely dedicated antagonists of its target — everything about it, including the sacred Mueller Report, begins to emit odious vapors like unto a rump roast that has laid uncovered in a pantry for three weeks, attracting the attention of flies. The PDRs might think twice about a closer examination of all that festering material. What they’re liable to find is evidence of how slovenly and dishonest it was and how the revered legal maestro in charge of composing it may well be subject to charges himself of obstructing justice and malicious prosecution.

Information emerged over the weeks since the Mueller Report’s release that Mr. Mueller and his team knew unequivocally that the Special Counsel’s mission and the FBI operations that preceded it were based on concocted political bullshit supplied by Mrs. Clinton and her network of flunkies and fixers, ranging throughout the permanent DC bureacuracy (a.k.a. the Swamp), to outposts in foreign intel services and the political kitty-litter box known as Ukraine. Mr. Mueller must have suspected this from the outset, but knew for sure by the summer of 2017, and omitted to advise the American public that he had uncovered a fraud. Rather, he rode on the back of that fraud for two years, as if touring a political landfill on a donkey, leaving the public to stew in anxious hallucinations.

What else did Mr. Mueller do, or omit to do? He never engaged US government forensic computer analysts to examine the DNC servers at the heart of RussiaGate story. Rather, he allowed the conclusions to stand of a company called CrowdStrike, hired by the DNC itself to supposedly investigate the theft of emails, especially those of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. (See Craig Murray’s commentary on all this.) Mr. Mueller never bothered to interview the one person who might have known exactly who supplied the purloined emails to Wikileaks, namely Julian Assange. Mr. Mueller also did not bother to interview several dozen retired Intel Community computer experts, led by William Binney, former Technical Director of the NSA, who determined that the hack was accomplished by direct download by an insider onto a flash drive.

What could possibly be the explanation for these blunders. Well, we’re going to find out in the months ahead. The DPR chairs of various House committees have threatened to ask Mr. Mueller to testify. Bring it on, I say. He sure has some ‘splainin’ to do, if not in those venues, then in a more than a few grand juries that will be convened to assess the actions of his confederates-at-law from every hummock and gator pool in the Swamp. These various parties may also seek to understand why Mr. Mueller omitted to mention the now reeking Steele Dossier in his 444-page report, and why in his 20-plus page recounting of the oh-so-crucial Trump Tower meeting he never disclosed that the two Russians present were on the payroll of Hillary contractor FusionGPS, and met with its principal, Glenn Simpson before and after the meeting. It does give off a scent of “colluding with Russians,” except obviously the odor came from the wrong direction.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared yesterday that we are in a constitutional crisis. You’re darn tootin’ we are, but it’s not coming from the flaccid threats of legal imbecile Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), who wants to prosecute the Attorney General, Mr. Barr, for refusing to make public grand jury records in the Mueller report — since the law requires Mr. Barr to not disclose the material. The crisis she mis-identifies is the coming indictment of so many supposedly untouchable and hallowed public figures, up to and including the former president, Mr. Obama, and the former heads of CIA, Mr. Brennan, and Director of National Security, Mr. Clapper, former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, the sainted Mr. Mueller, a whole posse of former Intel Community subalterns, and an unholy host of creeping, crawling, and flying swamp creatures from Glenn Simpson to the shyster lawyers at DNC law firm Perkins Coie, to the errand boys at the Cable News Networks, Wash-Po and The New York Times who trafficked in leaked perfidious documents — that the cumulative institutional damage will destroy public confidence in constitutional government per se.  more