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.

The U.S. Has Been Eclipsed in Every Sphere But War
Glen Ford [Black Agenda Report 5-16-19]
The U.S. 5G eclipse by China is permanent, rooted in the systemic mayhem of the imperial economic (dis)order. Although the U.S. virtually invented the Internet as a byproduct of military technology, the early U.S. global hi-tech lead was squandered in the chaotic and criminally wasteful corporate capitalist game of all-or-nothing. As recounted by the South China Morning Post (“How US went from telecoms leader to 5G also-ran without challenger to China’s Huawei”) the U.S. refused to set national standards for mobile carriers, allowing tech companies to choose between wireless networks like TDMA, CDMA and GSM. Since 1987 -- the year Huawei was founded -- Europe has mandated that all its wireless systems use the GSM standard. But the Americans allowed U.S. corporations to wager billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of competing jobs on rival mobile systems. The deregulation of U.S. telecommunications in 1996 further fueled the high-tech capitalist pandemonium. “The US was like the Wild West,” said Thomas J. Lauria, a former AT&T employee, telecoms analyst and author of the book The Fall of Telecom. “Europe managed itself more contiguously than the US, they did not have a lot of disparate networks and picked the [GSM] standard that everyone had to agree to.”
We could lose the 5G race to China, warns US Department of Defense
[ZDNEt, 4-5-19]
A new report on the risks and opportunities presented by the introduction of 5G networks by the Defense Innovation Board – an arms-length consultation panel of the US Department of Defense focusing on technology and innovation – suggests "China has taken the lead in 5G development through a series of aggressive investment and spectrum-allocation initiatives".
Charles. W. Freeman [, via Naked Capitalism 5-13-19] 
The message of hostility to China these efforts send is consistent and apparently comprehensive. Most Chinese believe it reflects an integrated U.S. view or strategy. It does not. 
There is no longer an orderly policy process in Washington to coordinate, moderate, or control policy formulation or implementation. Instead, a populist president has effectively declared open season on China. This permits everyone in his administration to go after China as they wish. Every internationally engaged department and agency – the U.S. Special Trade Representative, the Departments of State, Treasury, Justice, Commerce, Defense, and Homeland Security – is doing its own thing about China. 
“We froze the salaries of 20 executives – and it improved the lives of 500 employees” 
[Guardian, via Naked Capitalism 5-16-19] 
“Raising wages in the midst of a business turnaround was not easy. We needed our executive team to buy into a vision of business success where every employee had a fair shot at success. It worked. Our business has tripled over the past five years. Our minimum wage is now approaching $16.50 per hour and last year we broadened profit sharing to all levels of the company. I share my story at CareCentrix so that politicians and the public remember the role and responsibility of the business community in contributing to the success of the American Dream, and so that business leaders understand that an investment in the workforce is one of the best financial decisions to make.”

Predatory Finance

Bank of England warned prosecution could destablise Barclays 
[Financial Times, via Naked Capitalism 5-15-19]

Billions in dirty cash helped fuel Vancouver, B.C.’s housing boom
[McClatchy, via Naked Capitalism 5-13-19]
...a dirty-money probe that estimates more than $7 billion Canadian ($5 billion U.S.) was laundered through the western Canadian province of British Columbia last year. The startling findings from two reports released by the provincial government Thursday illustrate how a torrent of suspicious cash has fueled casinos, luxury car sales and real estate in the Pacific Coast region. 
“The amount of money being laundered in B.C. is more than anyone predicted,” Finance Minister Carole James told reporters Thursday. 
In real estate alone, an estimated C$5 billion may have been laundered last year in the province, equivalent to 4.6% of all transactions by value in that period, according to one of the reports. In the Vancouver region, where housing prices rose more than 70% in five years, “I certainly believe that money laundering played a part,” James said.... It estimated that dirty money pushed B.C. home prices 3.7% to 7.5% higher than they would be in the absence of laundering. 
A string of investigations commissioned by Premier John Horgan’s government have slowly been revealing in recent months how Vancouver and the surrounding area has become a hub for dirty money, tax evasion, and a place to park foreign cash of unknown origin — no questions asked. One out of five B.C. properties are bought in cash; over the past two decades, C$212 billion in property has been bought in cash. The true owners can’t be identified for the vast majority of C$28 billion in B.C. residential property held by legal entities.
EU fines banks more than €1bn for foreign exchange cartel
[Financial News May 16, 2019]
The European Union’s executive arm has fined five banks close to €1.1bn for collusive behaviour in the $5.1tn-a-day foreign exchange markets. Barclays, Citigroup, JPMorgan, MUFG Bank and Royal Bank of Scotland were all given multimillion-euro fines. 
Citigroup bore the brunt of the penalties, with its share amounting to €311m. RBS was fined €249m, while JPMorgan agreed to pay €229m and Barclays is paying €210m. MUFG is paying roughly €70m....
The traders’ behaviour, which included exchanging information on their risk positions and their plans for trades, and occasionally co-ordinating their trading strategies, took place from as early as 2007 through to 2013.
As Regulators Squirm in their Seats at Hearing, JPMorgan and Citigroup Get Slapped with More Rigging Charges by EU
Pam Martens and Russ Martens, May 17, 2019 [Wall Street on Parade]

Here’s Why You Can’t Trust the Federal Reserve’s Financial Stability Report
Pam Martens and Russ Martens, May 16, 2019 [Wall Street on Parade]
The Office of Financial Research (OFR), created under the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation of 2010, publishes a Financial Stability Report; the Financial Stability Oversight Council (F-SOC), also created under Dodd-Frank legislation, publishes an annual report to call attention to any emerging threats to financial stability; and, not to be left out, the Federal Reserve has decided it needs to have its own say in its own Financial Stability Report – ostensibly to make it appear that it’s on top of the threats emanating from its charges on Wall Street – which it decidedly is not
Another reason the Fed may want its own Financial Stability Report is to create the illusion that things have dramatically changed in the structure of the Wall Street mega banks since the financial collapse of 2008 when the Fed secretly funneled $29 trillioninto the collapsing hulks of the mega banks it was supposed to be prudently regulating, in order to prop them back up.
JPMorgan Chase Owns $2.2 Trillion in Stock Derivatives; Two-Thirds the Total for All Banks
Pam Martens and Russ Martens: May 15, 2019 [Wall Street on Parade]

Climate and environmental crises

German Failure on the Road to a Renewable Future Der Spiegel
The so-called Energiewende, the shift away from nuclear in favor of renewables, the greatest political project undertaken here since Germany's reunification, is facing failure. In the eight years since Fukushima, none of Germany's leaders in Berlin have fully thrown themselves into the project, not least the chancellor. Lawmakers have introduced laws, decrees and guidelines, but there is nobody to coordinate the Energiewende, much less speed it up. And all of them are terrified of resistancefrom the voters, whenever a wind turbine needs to be erected or a new high-voltage transmission line needs to be laid out. 
Analysts from McKinsey have been following the Energiewende since 2012, and their latest report is damning. Germany, it says, "is far from meeting the targets it set for itself." ....But the grand transformation has lost its way. The expansion of wind parks and solar facilities isn't moving forward. There is a lack of grids and electricity storage -- but for the most part there is a lack of political will and effective management. The German government has dropped the ball.
The German government made a key mistake when it announced the end of the nuclear era in Germany eight years ago: It announced it was turning away from nuclear power, without simultaneously initiating the end of coal. 
Wind turbines and solar panels were installed across the country -- but the coal-fired power plants kept operating. The government set up a clean energy system alongside the dirty one. But why? Because Berlin was afraid of do anything that might harm a single company or voter.
'No other option': Climate change driving many to flee Guatemala
[Al Jazeera, via Naked Capitalism 5-13-19]

“Major Oil Companies Bankroll Paris Accord Bill Opponents By 3-to-1 Margin” 
[MapLight, via Naked Capitalism 5-14-19],  and 
[MapLight, via Naked Capitalism 5-14-19] 

History Repeats Itself as Corporations Join Big Green to Craft Market-Based Climate Plan
[The Real News Network 5-15-19]
A decade ago, corporations teamed up with environmental groups to create the US Climate Action Partnership. Now they’ve formed the CEO Climate Dialogue, which again will push market-based solutions to the climate crisis.

Column: States, feds must unlock grid for clean energy growth
[Union of Concerned Scientists, via American Wind Energy Association 5-13-19]
Gridlock preventing transmission operators from updating their networks is a pervasive issue in the US and one that must be overcome to help the nation transition to a clean energy future, writes Mike Jacobs, a senior energy analyst with the Union of Concerns Scientists. "[W]hile we now have commitments for significant offshore wind development, the details of how we'll effectively move that energy to the onshore grid and ultimately to customer demand remains unresolved," he notes.
Former coal worker finds fruitful career in wind energy
[CBS News, via American Wind Energy Association 5-13-19]
Eric Ritchie, a former coal miner from West Virginia whose family has worked in coal for generations, has successfully transitioned to a new career in wind energy with Invenergy. "We have everything we need to be a competitor to some of the Midwest states -- Texas and some of those states that are going largely renewable," he says, noting the industry can help make West Virginia "important" again.

Analysis: Larger ships needed to support offshore-wind sector
[Bloomberg, via American Wind Energy Association 5-13-19]
Offshore wind is taking off worldwide, and companies such as MHI Vestas Offshore Wind and General Electric are builder larger machines, creating a gap in the ships capable of transporting and installing large turbines and components, according to this Bloomberg analysis. Installation companies must keep pace with demand and may use ships originally designed for offshore oil and gas projects, says Vattenfall Head of Offshore Wind Michael Simmelsgaard.

Let Them Eat Promises

No patient left behind

[CNN, via Naked Capitalism 5-17-19] 
“A federal judge blasted UnitedHealthcare last month for its “immoral and barbaric” denials of treatment for cancer patients. He made the comments in recusing himself from hearing a class-action lawsuit because of his own cancer battle — and in so doing thrust himself into a heated debate in the oncology world…. That includes insurance companies. [Dr. William Hartsell, [American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO)]’s vice chairman for health policy] said a recent study showed that about two-thirds of cancer patients were initially denied proton treatment by their insurers: ‘If you have a patient, say with esophageal cancer, they can’t wait four months for a decision on treatment.’
Medical Insurance Companies Can Decide Who Lives and Dies – RAI with Wendell Potter (4/7)
[[The Real News Network 5-15-19]
Whistleblower Wendell Potter says the death of a young woman denied care by the insurance company he worked for was a turning point in his life; he says these practices are still taking place under the Affordable Care Act – on Reality Asserts Itself with Paul Jay

Goldman Sachs: First $1 million drug treatment likely in 2019
[Goldman Sachs 5-13-19]
Dr. Zeke Emanuel is the brother of former Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel. Dr. Zeke Emanuel was an important influence on the development and passage of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. 
With pharmaceutical drug pricing increasingly in the political spotlight, the issue may present a rare opportunity for bipartisan action, says oncologist and public health expert Dr. Zeke Emanuel, an architect of the Affordable Care Act and chair of the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania. In Emanuel's view, meaningful reform will need to incorporate two principles -- value-based pricing (linking the price of a drug to the health benefit it produces) and determining a drug's total affordability to the system, he explained during a recent episode of Talks at GS. Regardless of the policy approach, Emanuel predicts that events will push the drug pricing issue further into focus this year: "In 2019, we are likely to have the first million dollar drug treatment. I think that will send a shock wave through the system. And I think it is going to galvanize people. We just can't spend a million dollars for a drug treatment."

Information Age Dystopia

“How Online Shopping Makes Suckers of Us All” 
[The Atlantic, via Naked Capitalism 5-16-19]  
I was going to pass by this and leave it out of the wrap, but Lambert Strether's comment at the end is just too damn funny and insightful.
“Our ability to know the price of anything, anytime, anywhere, has given us, the consumers, so much power that retailers—in a desperate effort to regain the upper hand, or at least avoid extinction—are now staring back through the screen. They are comparison shopping us. They have ample means to do so: the immense data trail you leave behind whenever you place something in your online shopping cart or swipe your rewards card at a store register, top economists and data scientists capable of turning this information into useful price strategies, and what one tech economist calls ‘the ability to experiment on a scale that’s unparalleled in the history of economics.’ In mid-March, Amazon alone had 59 listings for economists on its job site, and a website dedicated to recruiting them.”  
Lambert Strether' observes: "That’s great. What could go wrong with an enormous experiment on consumers run by mainstream economists?"
[Weather Underground, via Naked Capitalism 5-14-19] 
 “America has an Achilles’ heel. It lies on a quiet, unpopulated stretch of the Mississippi River in Louisiana, 45 miles upstream from Baton Rouge. Rising up from the flat, wooded west flood plain of the Mississippi River are four massive concrete and steel structures that would make a pharaoh envious: the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ greatest work, the two billion-dollar Old River Control Structure (ORCS). The ORCS saw its second highest flood on record in March 2019, and flood levels have risen again this week to their fifth highest level on record. While the structure is built to handle the unusual stress this year’s floods have subjected it to, there is reason for concern for its long-term survival, since failure of the Old RIver Control Structure would be a catastrophe with global impact.”
“If the Old River Control Structure Fails: A Catastrophe With Global Impact” 
[Jeff Masters, Weather Underground] (part one; part two), via Naked Capitalism 5-17-19] . A must-read. 
“America became the world’s greatest economy because it had a wealth of natural resources. But those goods needed the world’s greatest network of navigable rivers—the Mississippi River system—on which to be transported. Naturally, that network of rivers needed a port at the ocean, to regulate the flow of goods into and out of the country. Between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, the Lower Mississippi River has four of the fifteen largest ports in America. Those ports handle over 60% of all U.S. grain exports to the world, thanks to the barges moving downriver. Going upriver, those barges transport the petrochemicals, fertilizers, and raw materials essential for the functioning of U.S. industry and agriculture…. If the Old River Control Structure (ORCS) were to fail, barge navigation might be interrupted for weeks and possibly months…. Closure of the Mississippi to shipping would cost the economy $295 million per day, said Gary LaGrange, executive director of the Port of New Orleans, during the great flood of 2011. Closure for multiple months would cause a cascade of impacts across a broad sector of the U.S. economy, multiplying costs…. There are simply not enough trucks and trains in the country to make up for the barge capacity lost, and even if there were, the cost of doing so would be prohibitive… Failure of the ORCS and the resulting loss of barge shipping that might result could well trigger a global food emergency. The U.S. is one of the world’s largest exporters of grain, and 60% of that grain is transported to market by barges travelling on the Lower Mississippi River. A multi-month interruption in the supplies of more than half of U.S. grain to the rest of the world can be expected to cause a spike in global food prices, and potentially create dangerous food shortages in vulnerable food-insecure nations.”

Restoring balance to the economy

[The Hill, via Naked Capitalism 5-12-19]
Looks like it’s S1414. Here are the co-sponsors.
[New York Magazine, via Naked Capitalism 5-13-19]
...for many years, Amazon was operating with a negative cash flow, which means that the firm was receiving less money than it was spending. But this business model, which shareholders and investors on Wall Street really love now, doesn’t fit within the way antitrust regulation or law conceives of firms. 
Conservative antitrust theory has said that predatory pricing — underpricing goods so that other firms can’t compete — is irrational and unsustainable, because shareholders will punish firms that are unprofitable. But with the rise of big unprofitable companies like Amazon and Uber, this kind of market-disciplining effect no longer exists. Traditional orthodox antitrust theory does not map onto current corporate reality.... 
All the vendors and sellers that interact with Amazon have to sign a binding mandatory arbitration clause, which means that if they have any legal dispute with Amazon or even if they think that Amazon is violating trademark or copyright or tax laws, they have to arbitrate that issue with Amazon directly. This means that even if they’re suffering, their only meaningful way of vindicating their rights is in private, so we wouldn’t know the outcome, or even if arbitration was happening. Even more egregious is that Amazon also tells them to waive their ability to file a class arbitration, where a number of vendors and merchants would come together against Amazon. 
Because of this, most merchants and sellers that are relatively small, which is the majority of companies that work with Amazon, simply can’t bring claims against the company, because the amount of money necessary to do so is totally prohibitive.
Larry Hanley Was a Transformational Labor Leader. He Will Be Missed.
[In These Times 5-9-19]
Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) International President Larry Hanley.... was deeply proud of the coalitions with public transit riders that his union pioneered, starting in Chicago. I recall him describing that work at an AFL-CIO Executive Council meeting a few years before the Chicago Teachers Union popularized bargaining for the public good. Larry understood that if transit workers united with the riders, they could not be stopped. This meant fighting to expand the benefits of mass transit and keep fares low, as much as it meant higher pay or benefits.
The Green New Deal Needs Labor’s Support. We Asked Sara Nelson How To Get It.
[In These Times 5-9-19]
The president of the flight attendants union says stopping climate change and defending workers are part of the same fight.... 
What would it take to build more labor movement support for the Green New Deal?
SN: Make labor central to the discussion, including labor rights, labor protections and labor expertise. We must recognize that labor unions were among the first to fight for the environment because it was our workspaces that had pollutants, our communities that industry polluted. Let’s not dismiss the labor movement. Let’s recognize and engage the infrastructure and experience of the labor movement to make this work. 
We need the airline industry to engage as well. According to an industry analysis, the airline industry has, for the last 40 years, improved fuel efficiency at a rate equivalent to taking 25 million cars off the road each of those years....
What are the biggest lies opponents of the Green New Deal tell workers?
SN: The biggest lie is that the Green New Deal resolution is legislative policy and that it imposes certain strict requirements—for example with air travel, that every plane will stay on the ground in 10 years. There is not a flight attendant or pilot or anyone in aviation who actually believes that aviation is going to be grounded. That’s simply not true. The opposite is true. This resolution seeks to promote technological advancements and policies that will keep flights in the air.
Sara Nelson’s Art of War
[The New Republic 5-13-19]
The flight attendant union leader knows how to strike fear in the heart of bosses—and not just in the airline industry. 
The most powerful labor leader in the country right now.... Nelson has fast become a rising star in the labor movement, as well as one of its most unapologetically militant voices. As the head of a union that represents nearly 50,000 flight attendants at 20 airlines, she reacted to the government shutdown in January with dire concern for both her membership and the passengers they are charged to protect, and—unlike many of her peers in union leadership—decided to do something drastic to fix it. It was her call for a general strike, delivered during her acceptance speech for the 2019 AFL-CIO MLK Drum Major for Justice Award on Sunday, January 20, that was widely credited for jump-starting the endgame of President Donald Trump’s brutal five-week shutdown. When I met with her not long after the shutdown had concluded, she explained that she was moved to action in part because she found the government’s refusal to take care of back pay for the federal workers to be simply “wrong, completely immoral.”
Hmmm: morality as an economic consideration. I'm sure this makes mainstream neoliberal and conservative economists very unhappy.

Not just about oil: Bank of North Dakota reports its 15th consecutive year of record profits
[Public Banking Institute 5-18-19]
The Bank of North Dakota has released its 2018 annual report, in which it announces its 15th consecutive year of record profits with $159 million in net earnings. The state’s return on investment at the Bank was a dramatic 18 percent. Its consistent success in the face of an oil bust that has crippled most oil states shows that the BND's success is not, as critics contend, “all about oil.” Its stellar record stands on its own and attests to a more efficient business model than its private competitors. 
The report contains important details for public banking advocates. BND’s press release states:
“The report’s theme, 'ROI,' highlights the Bank’s returns to the state in its first 99 years. Since the initial investment of $2 million in 1919, BND has returned more than $1 billion to the state through the general fund, infrastructure, disaster relief and other special programs. That doesn’t account for the thousands of North Dakota residents who have benefited from its agricultural, business, home and student loans.

Creating new economic potential - science and technology

Stephen Mraz, May 8, 2019 [Machine Design Today]
For about the past 15 years, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, better known as DARPA, has been challenging the entire engineering community to do something incredibly difficult. It also offers a cash prize to the team or individual that was best at completing the task; if no one completes the task, DARPA keeps its prize money. 
The first challenge, for example, called for robotic vehicles to travel a 150-mile defined route over rough terrain country all on their own. No help from anyone. The winning team would take home a $1 million prize. None of the robotic entrants made it any farther than about 7.25 miles.... 
There are currently three challenges in various stages:

The Spectrum Challenge tasks teams to devise strategies that will let radio networks use artificial intelligence and machine learning to best determine how the radio-frequency spectrum will be used moment-to-moment while avowing interference and exploiting opportunities. The winner will take home $3.5 million. The finals are this year, Oct 23, at the LA Convention Center. It is free and open to the public. (Hope it’s on TV.)

The Subterranean Challenge asks teams to come up with hardware and algorithms to map, navigate, and search underground environments including tunnels, urban undergrounds, and caves. Teams can build hardware, develop a virtual device, or both. The final event will be held 2021 and the winner could haul in $3.5 million if it wins in both categories.

The Launch Challenge is pushing teams to figure out how to launch into space what customers want launched, when they want it launched, and from the site of the customer’s choosing—all for a reasonable price. DARPA has already got it down to three teams, so early next year, teams will get details of the launch site 30 days before take-off. Payload and LEO orbit info will come two weeks out from take-off. Teams that manage to put a payload into the right orbit will win $2 million. Within weeks after the first flight, teams will be tasked with sending a different payload into a different orbit from a different launch site.... For details on the DARPA challenges, click here.
Mechanization of agriculture in USA was the wonder of the world, and no small part was played by state agricultural associations, funded by state governments, which incentivized technological development in exactly the way DARPA is doing so today.  This includes the development of steam powered tractors (pictured below), then tractors using kerosene, naphta, and finally, gasoline. The annual advertising booklets published by manufacturers of agricultural equipment and tractors usually included at least a page devoted to listing the prizes and awards won by that manufacturer.
Picture of medallion won by Geiser Machine Company at the 1884 Pennsylvania State Fair, in Geiser's 1889 catalog of steam traction engines and farm equipment. 

Photograph from Geiser's 1910 catalog of steam traction engines and farm equipment. 

Thailand selects contractors to build 220km/h line
[Railway Age 5-15-19]
The government of Thailand has selected a group of 13 companies led by the Chareon Pokphand Group (CP) conglomerate for a public-private partnership to develop a $US 6.8bn 220km/h railway between three of the country’s most important airports.
Buenos Aires opens rebuilt Mitre commuter line
[Railway Age 5-15-19]
Argentinean president Mauricio Macri officially opened the new elevated section of the Retiro Mitre – Tigre line on May 10, commenting in his speech that it is the first new railway viaduct built in the city in a century.

JR East Alfa-X Shinkansen train begins tests
[Railway Age 5-15-19]
East Japan Railway (JR East) unveiled its Alfa-X Shinkansen test train at the railway’s maintenance centre in Rifu, Miyagi prefecture, on May 10, ahead of the start of testing the following day.

Information Age Dystopia

[VentureBeat, via Naked Capitalism 5-15-19]

[Vice, via Naked Capitalism 5-15-19]

Disrupting mainstream politics

“Did Changes in Economic Expectations Foreshadow Swings in the 2018 Elections?” 
[Liberty Street Economics (Federal Reserve Bank of New York), via Naked Capitalism 5-17-19]
“After examining the persistence of polarization in expectations using voting patterns from the presidential election in our previous post, we explore here how divergence in expectations may have foreshadowed the results of the midterm elections. Using the Survey of Consumer Expectations, we show that economic expectations deteriorated between 2016 and 2018 in districts that switched from Republican to Democratic control compared to districts that remained Republican.”
If The Democrats Don't Offer Real Change In People's Lives, Things Can Get Even Worse Than Trumpism
[DownWithTyranny 5-17-19]
As Biden and other centrist candidates share their fantasies of bipartisanship, the Democratic Party seems unable to recognize the seriousness of the moment. It is only luck that the right has not yet found a skilled autocrat. Palin was clueless, and Trump is his own worst enemy. He is a historically weak president who lacks even a passing understanding of how to use the power of the office effectively. 
It is chilling to look at the damage Trump has done and envision how much more extensive it could be. Imagine a Donald Trump who doesn’t spend all his time golfing, watching TV, beefing on Twitter, and refusing to learn anything. Imagine a Donald Trump who is disciplined, focused, articulate, and impossible to laugh off as a buffoon. Imagine a Donald Trump who appointed shrewd Cabinet officials instead of people he recognizes from TV. Imagine a Donald Trump who doesn’t give every important task in his White House to one of his vapid children. 
Imagine what that person could accomplish with the support of a pliant Republican Senate and conservative-packed Federal judiciary. Democrats may get one more chance to govern before a competent authoritarian emerges from the right; that opportunity cannot be frittered away on four years of West Wing cosplay under the delusion that the GOP will have an “epiphany” and cooperate. 
The past few years of democratic backsliding leave the country at a fork in the road, and the Democratic Party has an opportunity to influence what happens next. It will not do so with empty promises to unite Americans.
Support to Resistance: Strategic Purpose and Effectiveness (PDF)
Will Irwin [Joint Special Operations University Press, via Naked Capitalism 5-13-19]
Page 2: “Joint doctrine defines a resistance movement as an ‘organized effort by some portion of the civil population of a country to resist the legally established government or an occupying power and to disrupt civil order and stability.'” Hmm. Newsweek has a summary.

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

[, 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

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Week-end Wrap - Political Economy - May 4, 2019

Week-end Wrap - Political Economy - May 4, 2019
by Tony Wikrent
Economics Action Group, North Carolina Democratic Party Progressive Caucus

Strategic Political Economy

China’s population could peak in 2023, here’s why that matters
[CNBC, via Naked Capitalism 5-2-19]
China’s population is likely to peak in 2023, according to a study by online database company Global Demographics and analytics firm Complete Intelligence. The Chinese government had previously estimated that the country would hit its maximum population size in 2029.... The decline in births is driven by a “maternity cliff,” according to the report. The number of women of childbearing age in China — defined as aged 15 to 49 by the publishers — is set to fall from 346 million in 2018 to 318 million in 2023.
With fewer women of childbearing age and fewer births per 1,000 women, the total number of newborns will drop as well. The study predicts that 13.3 million babies will be born in 2023, down from 15.2 million last year.

The New Silk Roads reach the next level 
Asia Times, via Naked Capitalism 4-30-19]
....the West, as usual, ignored what was the absolutely key takeaway of the BRI forum: the deepening, on all fronts, of the Russia-China strategic partnership. It’s all here, in President Putin’s speech
Putin emphasized “harmonious and sustainable economic development and economic growth throughout the Eurasian space.” He noted how BRI “rhymes with Russia’s idea to establish a Greater Eurasian Partnership, a project designed to ‘integrate integration frameworks’, and therefore to promote a closer alignment of various bilateral and multilateral integration processes that are currently underway in Eurasia.”
Putin could not have been more specific. “The Eurasian Union…has already signed a free-trade agreement with Vietnam and a provisional agreement with Iran, paving the way to the creation of a free-trade area. The preparation of similar instruments with Singapore and Serbia is nearing completion, and talks are underway with Israel, Egypt and India. We cooperate actively with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.”

Addressing the forum, Putin added another enticing dimension, with the China-driven Maritime Silk Road possibly joining the Russia-driven Northern Sea Route, “a global and competitive route connecting northeastern, eastern and southeastern Asia with Europe” will emerge.

Disrupting mainstream economics

Economists Are Learning to Love the Minimum Wage
[City Lab, via The Big Picture 4-29-19]
....two new papers provide powerful evidence that higher minimum wages in fact boost the conditions of workers—especially the least skilled and lowest paid among them—without doing broad economic harm. 
The first paper is forthcoming in the prestigious Quarterly Journal of Economics and is currently available as a NBER working paper. (There is also a shorter, more reader-friendly research brief available.) It tracks the economic effects of more than 100 minimum-wage hikes across the country between 1979 and 2016.
Want to decrease suicide? Raise the minimum wage, researchers suggest 
[CBS News, via Naked Capitalism 5-1-19]

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Week-end Wrap - Political Economy - April 27, 2019

Week-end Wrap - Political Economy - April 27, 2019
by Tony Wikrent
Economics Action Group, North Carolina Democratic Party Progressive Caucus

Strategic Political Economy

Share of wealth held by the bottom 90% by country
[Real World Economics Review Blog, via Mike Norman Economics 4-24-19]

The Great Deformation: Why Income Inequality Has Become Intractable
Yves Smith, April 23, 2019 [Naked Capitalism]
Taylor’s talk last week focused on the drivers of the rise in inequality, which came about via a rise in profit share of GDP, something we first noted in 2005 in a Conference Board Review article. That has enabled the top 1% to pull away from everyone else. Investment as a proportion of GDP has also dropped while consumption has increased. The paper has more detail, but Taylor estimates it would take 40 years to reduce inequality to 1980 levels. He also warns that wealth concentration could increase from 40% held by the top 1% to 60%....
...advocates of workers have failed to take up the task of determining what a reasonable level of profit is. We’ve mentioned before that in the early 2000s, Warren Buffett deemed a profit share of 6% to be unsustainably high. Yet for the past three years, the profit share has been nearly twice this high. 
Oddly, the left and labor supporters have not engaged with the question of what a fair profit might be. Modern cultures have deeply internalized the idea that the result of market forces is somehow virtuous, when markets sit both in a legal system and in a set of societal norms that play a large role in what supply and demand looks like.

[Below via, via Naked Capitalism 4-23-19]
I'm reading 's new book, "People, Power, & Profits". Really appreciate this point about globalisation & wages:

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Week-end Wrap - Political Economy - April 20, 2019

Week-end Wrap - Political Economy - April 20, 2019
by Tony Wikrent
Economics Action Group, North Carolina Democratic Party Progressive Caucus

I have been looking at the work of Cornell University law professor Robert Hockett, who is serving as an economics adviser to Representative Alexandria Occasio-Cortez. I have been delighted to find that Hockett has been working the same angle I have: applying the classical republicanism that informed the creation of USA, to today's issues of political economy. Hockett's contribution is the development of the concept of what he calls "the producers' republic":
....the United States actually has a distinguished tradition of what I am calling “productive republican” finance. It is a tradition pursuant to which productive assets were deliberately spread broadly among diligent citizens ready to better the lives of themselves, their families, and ultimately their communities through thoughtful, hard work. 
Historically, the tradition is rooted in two complementary sources: first, an implicitly opportunity-egalitarian, “productive yeoman” colonial culture and subsequent national self-image, stemming in large measure from the Civic Republican and Classical Liberal ideological origins of the American republic; and second, an attendant suspicion of large aggregations of financial capital, stemming ultimately not only from the inconsistency of such aggregations with equal opportunity and productive yeomanry themselves, but also from many of the Founders’ and their forebears’ personal experiences, as agronomists, with exploitative absentee London banking concerns across the
This past January, Hockett was a participant in a small conference Money as a Democratic Medium, sponsored by Harvard University's Program on the Study of Capitalism, Institute for Global Law and Policy:
Money, governance, and public welfare are intimately connected in the modern world. More particularly, the way political communities make money and allocate credit is an essential element of governance. It critically shapes economic processes – channeling liquidity, fueling productivity, and influencing distribution. At the same time, those decisions about money and credit define key political structures, locating in particular hands the authority to mobilize resources, determining access to funds, and delegating power and privileges to private actors and organizations. 
Recognizing money and credit as public projects exposes issues of democratic purpose and possibility. In a novel focus, this conference makes those issues central. Scholars, policy makers, and students have often assumed that money and credit emerge from private exchange and entrepreneurial activity. Recent work, by contrast, emphasizes that modern currencies depend on collective orchestration. That approach resets the frame.
One of the participants was Jeffrey Sklansky, professor of history at the University of Illinois at Chicago and author of Sovereign of the Market: The Money Question in Early America (University of Chicago Press, 2017). Sklansky gave a brief but excellent overview of the career of Charles Macune, the head of the Southern Farmers' Alliance from 1886 to December 1889 and editor of its periodical, the National Economist, until 1892. Macune developed the Sub-Treasury idea to break the stranglehold the big banks and grain trading firms had on finance and credit for agriculture. There is precious little information available on Macune, and Sklansky has earned my deep respect for what he is doing.

Hockett's presentation is also in this video, as is that of Joseph R. Blasi of the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations, "The Citizen's Share: Reducing Inequality in the 21st Century"

This is only one of about a dozen YouTube videos of the Money as a Democratic Medium conference.

In Having a Stake: Evidence and Implications for Broad-based Employee Stock Ownership and
Profit Sharing, Blasi writes about the federally mandated profit sharing the administration of George Washington imposed on the cod fishery to rebuild it, after the British had nearly destroyed it because it trained so many of the officers and sailors in the American navy.
....Jefferson, Washington, and the Congress chose to help the industry get back on its feet by what was essentially a tax cut (in lieu of tariffs paid for supplies coming from outside the U.S.) to the owners and workers of the cod fishery on the condition that the ship owners share the tax credits with all the workers.... they rejected outright subsidies to the wealthy owners who controlled the boats and warehouses on the basis that any government tax credits had to include workers. The law was explicit in its sharing criterion: owners had to share five-eighths of the credit with the crew, and additionally have a signed agreement with the captain and crew for broad-based profit sharing on the entire catch throughout the voyage. The tax credits were administered by the Treasury Department headed by Alexander Hamilton through the port Customs’ Houses. The arrangement helped rejuvenate the industry. Congress continued it for many decades. See The Citizen’s Share: Reducing Inequality in the 21st Century, Joseph R. Blasi, Richard B. Freeman, and Douglas L. Kruse. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013), 1-8. See also the Report on the American Fisheries by Secretary of State Jefferson.
[Public Banling Institute 4-20-19]
Thomas Marois, Senior Lecturer in Development Studies at the University of London and recent guest on It’s Our Money with Ellen Brown, argues that until people regain control of money and credit, we will not be able to stop economic and ecological crises.
“There’s really no option. We can’t simply relegate the question of money and finance and credit … We can’t do anything until we have control of money. And to leave that to the private sector is a strategic mistake because then they control that agenda. They control credit. They control access to credit.”

Friday, April 19, 2019

Sandy Munro does a teardown analysis of Tesla

This YouTube interview of Sandy Monro is interesting to the point of being profound. Some background.

Monroe lives in Michigan and has a bunch of commercial ties to the car business. His specialty is tearing down cars to see how they were built and whether better production practices could make a better car. His company has about 100 employees, because cars are incredibly complex with dozens of systems so he needs a wide assortment of specialists.

The reason Monro has become a sensation is because he tore down an early Tesla Model 3. At first he was pretty critical but as time has gone on he has become convinced that most legacy automakers are now almost hopelessly behind. He has some wonderful stories about how institutional inertia works at a place like Ford Motor. His inside look at Teslas will probably sell well for at least a decade

And then he says some really enlightening things about China and their rapid industrialization plans. His observations may be skewed because he is probably meeting their best and brightest, but even taking a hefty discount for that, the story is still about as compelling a look at China as anything I have seen in a long time—maybe ever.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Greta Thunburg at the EU Parliament

I have a sign that says, "Do NOT question authority! They don't know either."

Now I really am impressed by young Thunberg and what she has accomplished. When you were 16, would anyone have asked you to speak in front of the EU Parliament? Would you have had anything to say worth listening to? Could you have delivered that speech flawlessly in a second language? She is truly amazing and has attracted a global following.

Unfortunately, she believes that the world's leaders are fully capable of fixing the climate problem if only they would put their minds to it. I only hope she will have her coping abilities in high gear when she discovers the worst truth of all—most of the adults—and certainly the adults she will meet at places like Davos, Strasbourg, or Katowice, don't have a freaking clue what to do either. I mean, Greta must be forgiven for believing that a good scolding should set thing right. She is only 16 and that probably is about the only behavioral modification she really understands. But for this problem, it is nowhere nearly enough. Of course, considering what she has already accomplished, she probably has a better chance of understanding this dilemma better than most.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

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

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

Strategic Political Economy

“Research is vital to the moral integrity of social movements” 
Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II [Economic Policy Institute, via Naked Capitalism 4-8-19]
A must-read.
One of the quickest ways for a movement to lose its integrity is to be loud and wrong. We’ve seen too many movements that have bumper sticker sayings but no stats and no depth. Researchers help to protect the moral integrity of a movement by providing sound analysis of the facts and issues at hand. Armed with this information, we’re able to pull back the cover and force society to see the hurt and the harm of the decisions that people are making....
...the prophet Isaiah said to those who were rich, powerful and presumed themselves to be morally superior. “Woe unto those who legislate evil and rob the poor of their rights and make women and children their prey.” Isaiah even went as far as saying that religious activity—worship and prayer—was not a cover for their failure to “loose the band of wickedness.” Wickedness in that text is specific to the issue of not paying people what they deserve and trying to cover it over with a lot of religiosity. He goes on to say that the nation will never be able to repair itself until it ends the wickedness of not paying people what they deserve. Because society’s policies had actually insulated destruction, injustice and inequality could never be resolved without a change of policy. 
These statements reflect more than just a difference of opinion concerning the legislation. Rather, such bold and specific statements suggest an analysis of the society which concluded that the legislation was evil in that it was robbing those who were most vulnerable. In other words, Isaiah’s moral authority to criticize policy could be confirmed and validated by research....
The 13 former Confederate states, which only have about 36 percent of this country’s population, decide 178 electoral votes, 26 United States Senate seats and 35 percent of the seats in the United States House of Representatives. That means all it takes to win control of both houses of Congress is 25 Senate seats and 16 percent of U.S. House of Representatives seats available from the other 37 states. 
100 million is the number of people that didn’t vote in the 2016 election. 40 million is the number of poor and low-wealth people in this country. The majority of them are in the South and are the key to the transformation of our politics. 
All of the close elections we witnessed in the 2018 midterms are a sign that we are right at the tipping point. If there’s ever been a time that we ought to go south and shift the political calculus in this nation for the next 20 to 40 years and beyond, it is in fact right now.
How corporate America invented 'Christian America' to fight the New Deal
[ 3-23-16, via Avedon's Sideshow 4-4-19]
The 2016 annual meeting for the Organization of American Historians (OAH) will feature a session focusing upon the provocative book One Nation Under God by Princeton history professor Keven M. Kruse. In One Nation Under God, Kruse argues that the idea of the United States as a Christian nation does not find its origins with the founding of the United States or the writing of the Constitution. Rather, the notion of America as specifically consecrated by God to be a beacon for liberty was the work of corporate and religious figures opposed to New Deal statism and interference with free enterprise. The political conflict found in this concept of Christian libertarianism was modified by President Dwight Eisenhower who advocated a more civic religion of 'one nation under God' to which both liberals and conservatives might subscribe....

Arguing that public religion is a modern invention that has little to do with America’s origins, Kruse maintains that contemporary political discourse needs to better recognize the political ideology being perpetuated by the advocates of America as a Christian nation. Needless to say, Kruse’s arguments will antagonize many on the Christian right, as well as many on the left who have employed Christianity as the means through which to implement principles of equality and opportunity as extolled by Jesus of Nazareth, the working-class carpenter. 
Drawing upon extensive archival research, the first part of Kruse’s book documents the alliance between religious leaders such as Congregationalist minister James W. Fifield Jr. and businessman J. Howard Pew Jr., president of Sun Oil and a major figure with the National Association of Manufacturers. Working out of his affluent Los Angeles community and congregation, Fifield formed a national organization called Spiritual Mobilization that attracted the support of big business while embracing unfettered capitalist traditions threatened by Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal policies. The fertile ground plowed by Spiritual Mobilization and Fifield prepared the way for the influential prayer breakfasts of Methodist minister Abraham Vereide and the crusades of evangelist Billy Graham.... 
Seeking to mount a conservative movement against the religious establishment, evangelists such as Billy Graham joined forces with the administration of Richard Nixon to promote a religious perspective that would divide rather than unify Americans. Holding White House religious services officiated by leading evangelical ministers and sponsoring events such as the 1970 Fourth of July “Honor America Day,” featuring a religious service at the Lincoln Memorial led by Graham, Nixon attempted to employ religious nationalism as a means through which to brand those opposing his administration or the war in Vietnam as attacks upon American Christian values. Although Kruse includes an epilogue offering an overview of religion and American politics from the 1980s to the Obama Presidency, he assigns Nixon, rather than Ronald Reagan, primary responsibility for using religion to divide rather than bring Americans together.

Friday, April 12, 2019

I want apologies from the Russia-bashers

In 1972, I went to Leningrad. This was the age of Brezhnev—scary, dark, humorless USSR. Just getting off the boat was about all I could muster. To make matters worse, the Israeli Olympic team was taken hostage the morning we were scheduled to go on our very first Intourist guided tour. I spent the morning going from fretful to scared shitless. Once the bus got underway, I began to notice things I thoroughly disapproved of. The trucks were ugly and belched thick black smoke. Consumer goods were an insult to the Instinct of Workmanship. Construction sites were a disaster. But beneath the seediness of 70s Leningrad was an undeniable reality—this was the Imperial Capital of Peter the Great. This is one of the most beautiful cities on earth—a city where over one million died of starvation during the Siege rather than surrender it to the Nazis.

It took most of the day, but I came to the conclusion that if they had better political and economic systems, this would easily be the richest country on earth. Considering USSR had to be built twice (Stalin's industrialization and then post WW II reconstruction) they weren't doing so badly even in 1972. Then came the Harvard boys to teach the Russians neoliberal "capitalism." Caused nearly as much damage as the Nazis.

Here's the mess the son of Leningrad / St. Petersburg Vladimir Putin inherited from Yeltsin in 1999:

    ▪    The country was deeply in debt to the scum like IMF and World Bank?
    ▪    The Harvard boys had created such an economic catastrophe that life expectancy was falling, whole industries lay in ruins, the former Russian middle class was reduced to selling heirlooms in the winter cold, their savings had been wiped out, the best and brightest had emigrated. (For what Jeffrey Sachs inflicted on Russia makes him a walking advertisement for bringing back crucifixions.)
    ▪    The oligarchs who had seized the best Russia had to steal escaped with their loot—mostly to London where they triggered a bubble the real estate speculators love so much.

Add to this list of great headaches, he has had to deal with: NATO encirclement, international slander, the Banderite-fascist coup in Ukraine. Of course he had to move on Crimea. The Red Army lost around a half-million folks trying to defend and then retake Sevastopol during WW II. Crimea is REALLY important for Russia and so he had to remake economic and foreign policy to deal with the fallout of keeping Crimea Russian.

In the meantime, Russian aerospace is back on its feet. The military fights with pride and professionalism. The things Russia has been good at, they are good at again—figure skating, ballet, etc. Putin is still wildly popular. He has rebuilt relationships with China. He has opened elite schools so Russian education is again world-class. Russia became the world's leading exporter of grains last year—all GMO-free.

The list is nearly endless. And why not. He has at least 40 IQ points on any politician we have in USA and was given one of those elite educations that the commies could do so well. He is so fluent in German he holds press conferences in Germany in German. He holds 3 hour press conferences for the international media without notes. He has done something that anyone examining the wreckage of 1999 would not have predicted—he has restored pride in a people who not long ago were just drinking themselves to death.

What I find so amazing is his willingness to brush off some of the most ridiculous slanders and provocations. I was raised around pacifists so am pretty conversant with the dilemmas and contradictions of this practice. I would give Putin a solid B+. Turns out it is pretty easy to be a pacifist when armed with nukes ;-) Or maybe it really is the Orthodox church. I don't know much about those folk beyond the fact they have incredibly ornate churches and their male glee clubs have amazing basses. Reportedly Putin's mother was very devout and baptized him as a baby. Whatever. It's just that under Putin, most of the damage those barbaric Bolsheviks inflicted on this element of Russian culture has been repaired or rebuilt—reportedly over 40,000 churches have been rehabbed since the end of Bolshevism.

I have not been thrilled by the mindless Russia-bashing we have had to endure these last 2.5 years. Most of it unbelievable lies. And while I detest the liars who have reintroduced the unholy practice of red-baiting, I am even more distressed by the endless stream of self-identified "progressives" who bought into the Russiagate hoax. Robert LaFollette was a real Progressive—was the party's presidential candidate in 1924. He tried to keep USA out of the insanity of WW I thereby ruining his career as a Senator. So no, anyone who was cheerleading a restart of the Cold War and McCarthyism is most certainly NOT a progressive.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

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

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

Draining The Swamp In North Carolina Yields The Head Of The State Republican Party, The Party's Top Donor And 3 Others, Including A Far Right Member Of Congress
About a decade ago, mostly back in 2006 and 2008, we used to write a lot about a North Carolina multimillionaire congressman named Robin Hayes. The district he represented, NC-08, is now mostly NC-09, the one where a Trumpist candidate was caught rigging the ballots last year, causing the election to be voided.... Hayes was a freak. One of the reasons he lost so badly to Kissel in 2008 was because he accused then candidate Barack Obama of "inciting class warfare" and claiming that "liberals hate real Americans that work and accomplish and achieve and believe in God." That brought him a lot of attention and he not only denied that he ever said it, he also accused the media reporting his remarks "irresponsible journalism." Unfortunately for Rep. Hayes, someone made a tape. When that was released Hayes simple denied that he denied the statement. Kissel beat him by ten points. 
Instead of just letting him quietly slip away into obscurity, the North Carolina elected him chairman of the state party, a two year term. They elected him again in 2016. Today Hayes was in court, having been indicted by a federal grand jury on a variety of charges for funneling bribe money to the re-election campaign of North Carolina Insurance commissioner Mike Causey.
It was actually wealthy entrepreneur and Republican Party mega-donor Greg Lindberg who was being investigated when the FBI stumbled upon Hayes. Lindberg would write $40 checks to the DCCC on the same day he wrote $500,000 checks to the Republican Party of North Carolina. He's contributed million of dollars to the GOP in recent years and was the state party's biggest single donor and is the money-bags behind the state's crooked Lt. Govenor, Dan Forest, who is running for governor next year.

Strategic Political Economy

Taibbi: On Russiagate and Our Refusal to Face Why Trump Won
Matt Taibbi [Rolling Stone, via Naked Capitalism 3-31-19]
This is long, for Taibbi, but an absolute must-read.
The 2016 campaign season brought to the surface awesome levels of political discontent. After the election, instead of wondering where that anger came from, most of the press quickly pivoted to a new tale about a Russian plot to attack our Democracy. This conveyed the impression that the election season we’d just lived through had been an aberration, thrown off the rails by an extraordinary espionage conspiracy between Trump and a cabal of evil foreigners. 
This narrative contradicted everything I’d seen traveling across America in my two years of covering the campaign. The overwhelming theme of that race, long before anyone even thought about Russia, was voter rage at the entire political system. 
The anger wasn’t just on the Republican side, where Trump humiliated the Republicans’ chosen $150 million contender, Jeb Bush (who got three delegates, or $50 million per delegate). It was also evident on the Democratic side, where a self-proclaimed “Democratic Socialist” with little money and close to no institutional support became a surprise contender.
How the Media Got it Wrong on Trump and Russia 
[The National Interest, via Naked Capitalism 3-31-19] 
The headline erases the intelligence community from the story. The article does not.