Sunday, October 28, 2018

Week-end Wrap - October 27, 2018

Week-end Wrap - October 20, 2018
by Tony Wikrent
Economics Action Group, North Carolina Democratic Party Progressive Caucus

Trump’s Continued Collision With the Federal Reserve
by Ian Welsh, October 22, 2018 []
Yes, Trump is the source of all evil and anything and everything he does should be opposed, I know, but bear with me: the Federal Reserve should not be insulated from pressure from elected officials. 
I know that orthodoxy says it should, but the fact is that since 1979 the Federal Reserve has raised interest rates whenever it looked like wages were going to rise faster than inflation. The Federal Reserve, in other words, has crushed wages. 
This is bad. It is at the heart of why we have the rise of the right, and so many other problems. Vast inequality, in democracies, always leads to political instability, and in democracies the purpose of the economy should be to create a good life for everyone anyway. 
Trump ain’t a good guy, but wages aren’t increasing for ordinary people. That means that whatever the nominal unemployment rate is, the US isn’t actually at full employment. If it was, there would be rising wages. It is that simple. To raise interest rates before there are even significant wage increases is malpractice, even by the usual standards of monetary policy—and the usual standards are malpractice. 
Just because one despises Trump, one should not allow the major part of economic management be run by people who despise ordinary people having wage increases, or, indeed, by “independent bodies.” Democracy means elected officials having control over real policy. 
So I hope Trump fires a bunch of Federal reserve members, I hope it goes to the Supreme Court, and I hope that those firings are upheld.
The Economy Is Growing. These Workers’ Paychecks Aren’t.
[MarketWatch, via Naked Capitalism 10-22-18] 
“By many indicators, the U.S. economy is humming right along. Unemployment is at the lowest level in nearly two decades, and job growth hasn’t slowed. But workers mostly haven’t reaped the benefits of this growth in the form of higher paychecks. Following years of stagnant wages, real median earnings started climbing slowly in 2014. They peaked around mid-2017 and have since dipped slightly….
Most Americans say their finances have not improved since the 2016 election
[MarketWatch, via Naked Capitalism 10-26-18]  
“Only 38% of Americans say their finances have improved since the 2016 election, according to a study released Thursday by finance website Bankrate, while 17% say they have gotten worse, and 45% say they are about the same…. Meanwhile, the gap between the rich and everyone else appears to be growing. The average wage for the top earners in the U.S. hit $719,000 per year in 2017, up 3.7% on the year, exceeding their peak of $716,000 per year just before the Great Recession… When inflation is taken into account, middle-class wages have remained stagnant, Divya Sangam, spokeswoman at personal-finance site Value Penguin, wrote in an email. ‘Given the market growth, consumers would expect to be earning more money, but it’s not really happening,’ she said. ‘Instead, Americans are facing ballooning student-loan debt and credit-card debt.'”
Is PAYGO The Messaging Pelosi Thinks The Democrats Can Win On?
by DownWithTyranny, October 26, 2018 []
Back in March, American Prospect writers Mark Paul, William Darity Jr., and Darrick Hamilton, handed Pelosi and her tent-mates a cohesive platform they should have used for the campaign. Obviously, they didn't. Pelosi was only 4 years old when then-President Franklin Roosevelt "proposed constitutional amendments to guarantee Americans’ fundamental economic rights. It was never adopted-- and today, is more necessary than ever." It's going to take someone-- a big thinker (which she has never been and will never be)-- far more radical than Nancy Pelosi to ever try achieving it but here's what today's version would look like:

In his groundbreaking 1944 State of the Union address, President Franklin Roosevelt called for an expansion of the Bill of Rights to recognize economic rights as well. “Necessitous men,” Roosevelt observed, “are not free men.” Those “who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.” Moreover, real freedom, freedom to “pursue happiness,” he said, required a “second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all.” For Roosevelt, full citizenship demanded more than the political rights designated in the nation’s original Bill of Rights: It required economic rights. Roosevelt outlined those rights-- which sounds very much like the Bernie Sanders platform-- as follows:

1. The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation.
2. The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation.
3. The right of every family to a decent home.
4. The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health.
5. The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment.
6. The right to a good education. 
We need to rethink public policies, breaking out of the straightjacket that overemphasizes market-based solutions. We have thought big before—but have compromised big as well. During the Great Depression, FDR and liberals made a Faustian bargain with southern segregationists to provide a New Deal and beyond, rewriting the rules of our economy. But only for some of our citizens. Ira Katznelson’s excellent book When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America documents how U.S. public policy implicitly and sometimes explicitly excluded black people from opportunity during the so called ‘golden age’ that followed. The racial apartheid that existed under slavery was renewed under another name-- Jim Crow-- for decades. The exclusions from the guarantees of the New Deal contributed to the highly unequal outcomes we observe today....

The first six rights outlined by FDR above are still all too germane today, but to update these economic rights to facilitate an inclusive economy for the 21st century, we add:

7. The right to sound banking and financial services.
8. The right to a safe and clean environment.
9. The right to a meaningful endowment of resources as a birthright. 
The Prospect article goes on to define all 9 planks of what should be the Democratic platform. They're all very much worth reading-- and each would be vehemently opposed by the Republican Party and by the Republican wing of the Democratic Party-- the New Dems and Blue Dogs-- but I'm going to just publish the final three that they added to FDR's list:

7. The right to sound banking and financial services.
Recent estimates indicate that 20 to 40 percent of the U.S. population relies on some form of non-traditional financial services, such as payday lending, which disproportionately preys on vulnerable and low-income Americans. Moreover, 53.6 percent of black households and 46.4 percent of Latino households are unbanked or underbanked, which is likely related to the high costs of banking for low-income individuals and the scarcity of banks operating in black and Latino neighborhoods.
A recent US Postal Service report found that the average underserved household spends almost 10 percent of its income on alternative financial services and interest. Converting one’s paycheck into cash should not bear a penalty, particularly for those with limited resources. 
There are currently 53 million “credit invisible” households in the United States-- households that do not frequently participate in forms of financial services that the major private credit bureaus incorporate in credit scores....

Public banks are not a new idea. In 1910, Republican President William Howard Taft introduced the U.S. Postal Savings System to fight against the predatory-lending practices of the finance industry at the time, providing Americans an alternative that they could trust. This system functioned till 1966, when the banking lobby helped convince lawmakers to end the public option for banking and financial services. One state, North Dakota, still operates its own public bank. The state uses tax revenues to fund the bank, providing high-quality loans to farmers, students, and local businesses. Other countries, including Japan and Germany, currently have more extensive public banking options, and Germany’s municipal banks are a chief source of funding for that nation’s thriving small-and-medium-sized manufacturers....
9. The Right to Seed Capital to Build a Lifetime of Asset Economic Security
The reports keep stacking up-- income inequality has been growing rapidly since the late 1970s. The degree to which income is unequally distributed is shocking—yet income is less unequally distributed than wealth. Wealth is a paramount indicator of social well-being. Wealth-- what you own minus what you owe-- is critical to the economic security of Americans. With almost half of all Americans unable to afford an emergency expense amounting to $400, the average household is not resilient to economic shocks. 
Recent research by Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman at Berkeley found that the top one percent of Americans held 42 percent of all wealth in 2012, with the top 0.1 percent holding 22 percent. Disparities are especially pronounced between races. The legacy of chattel slavery, where black people were literally a form of wealth for whites, and the discrimination encouraged and perpetuated through public policies, have left black families with minimal wealth. A report by the Center for Global Policy Solutions, entitled “Beyond Broke: Why Closing the Racial Wealth Gap Is a Priority for National Economic Security,” concludes that “[f]or every dollar in wealth held by whites, African Americans and Latinos held only 5 and 6 cents respectively.” In our in-depth study of The Color of Wealth in the Nation's Capital, we find that white families have 81 times more wealth than black families in Washington, D.C. A new collaborative study from the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity and Insight: the Center for Community and Economic Development finds that single older black women with a college degree hold a mere $11,000 in wealth to deal with their retirement, in comparison with similarly educated older white women, who have a median wealth of $394,400.

Conventional explanations of wealth disparities, relying on rhetoric around the dysfunctional behavior of blacks and their lack of education or financial literacy, simply do not hold up. Given the importance of wealth in determining life outcomes, public intervention is needed to address unjustly created distributions. One such solution, “baby bonds” would seed every American at birth with an initial endowment to be held in trust until adulthood. The program would be universal, through which every newborn would receive an account, starting at around $500 for those born into the most affluent families and progressively rising to $50,000 for children born into families with minimal wealth. The accounts would be accessible when the recipient reaches adulthood and used for some asset enhancing endeavor-- a down payment for a home, say, or capital to start a new business. Estimates show that the cost of the program would amount to about 2 percent of federal spending. If the average account is established at around $20,000, the cost to the government would not exceed $90 billion a year inclusive of administration costs. While that may give some sticker shock, keep in mind the relative size of other asset development programs cost much more. Capping the mortgage interest deduction would be much more than sufficient to cover the cost of the new program.
[via John Claydon]

By Eric Levitz, October 25, 2018 [Intelligencer, via Naked Capitalism 10-26-18]
In recent weeks, the Vermont senator has weaved the Trump-Russia scandal — and the president’s broader affinity for foreign dictators — into a tale about the global struggle between the forces of democracy, and the “authoritarian axis.” As the Vermont senator explained to the (blob-friendly) Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies earlier this month:
It should be clear by now that Donald Trump and the right-wing movement that supports him is not a phenomenon unique to the United States. All around the world, in Europe, in Russia, in the Middle East, in Asia, Latin America, and elsewhere we are seeing movements led by demagogues who exploit people’s fears, prejudices and grievances to gain and hold on to power… 
… Those of us who believe in democracy, who believe that a government must be accountable to its people and not the other way around, must understand the scope of this challenge if we are to confront it effectively.
[Industry Week, via Naked Capitalism 10-23-18]  
“Domestic hot-rolled coil — the benchmark price for American-made steel — has gained 28% in 2018 as the administration implemented tariffs on imports. The levies helped push the price to about $920 a metric ton earlier this year, the highest in a decade. U.S. steel currently costs about $150 more per metric ton than steel in China, the world’s biggest consumer, which accounts for more than half of global demand.”
And this, from [Wall Street Journal, via Naked Capitalism 10-24-18]  
“Higher costs are racing through U.S. industrial operations and manufacturers are trying to pass them through their supply chains as fast as they can. Caterpillar Inc., 3M Co. and other industrial bellwethers are pointing to higher freight and commodities spending in their latest earnings… and several companies say higher tariffs on imported goods are making production more expensive. The growing risk from trade tensions raises new concerns for the manufacturers, and several report slowing sales in China as barriers to shipments grow and the country’s economy cools”
[International Studies Quarterly, via Naked Capitalism 10-24-18]   
From the abstract: “I argue that international trade increases military enlistment in the United States….. This study analyzes an original, county-level data set on army enlistment and trade-related job losses from 1996 to 2010. The results suggest that a trade shock of one thousand job losses is associated with a 33 percent increase in army enlistment in the median county.” • Remember that combat deaths correllated to Trump votes in 2016.
How China’s economic rise killed off 3.4 million US jobs 
By Gordon Watts October 24, 2018 [Asia Times, via Naked Capitalism 10-25-18]
“The growth of the trade deficit with China between 2001 and 2017 was responsible for the loss of 3.4 million [American] jobs, including 1.3 million since 2008, [which was] the first full year of the Great Recession,” a report released by the Economic Policy Institute, a non-profit, liberal think tank based in Washington, revealed. 
“Nearly 74.4% [or] 2.5 million of the jobs lost were in manufacturing,” co-authors Robert E Scott and Zane Mokhiber pointed out.
Last week I included the new World Robotics Report that a new record high of 381,000 units were shipped globally in 2017, with a graph of aggregate number of robots installed world wide and noted that "The number of robots worldwide is a fraction of the number of USA manufacturing jobs lost."

[Bloomberg, via Naked Capitalism 10-24-18]  
“Employees of Law360, a unit of LexisNexis, voted two years ago to unionize but have been unable to secure a contract. On Tuesday night, they voted 141 to 11 to greenlight a work stoppage, according to the Communications Workers of America’s NewsGuild… Along with threatening a strike, the NewsGuild has begun seeking support from Law360 subscribers, including law firms, urging them to contact management.”
Trump’s NLRB Just Quietly Ruled to Make Union Pickets Illegal 
[In These Times, via Naked Capitalism 10-27-18]

How a Gang of Hedge Funders Strip-Mined Kentucky’s Public Pensions
[The Intercept, via Naked Capitalism 10-22-18]

World’s billionaires became 20% richer in 2017, report reveals
[Guardian (From UBS), via Naked Capitalism 10-27-18]

Should The Country Be Soley Ruled By Multimillionaires And Billionaires?
[ 10-26-18]
Although just 5% of Americans are millionaires, 51% of the members of Congress are. As iron-worker and Wisconsin congressional candidate Randy Bryce-- who the DCCC is trying to crush-- tweeted this week, "Just 2% of our members of Congress have come from the working class. A Congress made up of millionaires works for millionaires. We need a Congress made up of working people if we want our government to work for us." Good luck with that. Nancy Pelosi and her elite gang of multimillionaires have moved systematically to keep working class candidates from winning primaries and when they do win primaries-- as Bryce did-- Pelosi and her crooked gang of wealthy creeps make sure they are not supported by either the DCCC or Pelosi's own House Majority PAC. 
Wednesday, Vox published an essay by Nicholas Carnes, a professor of public policy at Duke and author of The Cash Ceiling: Why Only The Rich Run For Office. That's him up top explaining the difference between the Millionaires Party and the Working Class Party. And the clip below is also Nick, this time being interviewed at Duke a few years ago after he released a previous-- and related-- book, White Collar Government. His main point in the two books is that "our government is run by rich people-- and it benefits them the most"-- and he asks, in a country where virtually any citizen is eligible to serve in public office, why are most of our elected representatives drawn from the millionaire class rather than the working class, which makes up way over half the population.

.... In the first major survey of US House members in 1958, members from the working class were more likely to report holding progressive views on the economic issues of the day and more likely to vote that way on actual bills. The same kinds of social class gaps appear in data on how members of Congress voted from the 1950s to the present. And in data on the kinds of bills they introduced from the 1970s to the present. And in public surveys of the views and opinions of candidates in recent elections. 
The gaps between politicians from working-class and professional backgrounds are often enormous. According to how the AFL-CIO and the Chamber of Commerce rank the voting records of members of Congress, for instance, members from the working class differ by 20 to 40 points (out of 100) from members who were business owners, even in statistical models with controls for partisanship, district characteristics, and other factors. Social class divisions even span the two parties. Among Democratic and Republican members of Congress alike, those from working-class jobs are more likely than their fellow partisans to take progressive or pro-worker positions on major economic issues....

...States with fewer legislators from the working class spend billions less on social welfare each year, offer less generous unemployment benefits, and tax corporations at lower rates. Towns with fewer working-class people on their city councils devote smaller shares of their budgets to social safety net programs; an analysis I conducted in 2013 suggested that cities nationwide would spend approximately $22.5 billion more on social assistance programs each year if their councils were made up of the same mix of classes as the people they represent.
....But couldn’t party and interest group leaders help working-class Americans overcome these obstacles? Couldn’t foundations create special funds to encourage and support candidates from the working class? 
Of course. But they usually don’t. The people who recruit new candidates often don’t see workers as viable options, and pass them over in favor of white-collar candidates. In surveys of county-level party leaders, for instance, officials say that they mostly recruit professionals and that they regard workers as worse candidates. Candidates say the same thing: In surveys of people running for state legislature, workers report getting less encouragement from activist organizations, civic leaders, and journalists.
It's the complete triumph of the professional class. Carnes writes that the political exclusion of the working class is traditional in USA. In Listen Liberal, Thomas Frank detailed how the Democratic Party abandoned its alliance with organized labor and the working class in the 1970s to embrace "the information economy" and its professional class. However, the populists of the late 1800s and early 1900s, such the Non-Partisan League, were based entirely on the working class and farmers -- and they created an agenda that largely shaped the New Deal a half century later.

Trump's tax cuts should be rolled back, say 60 percent of people polled
Poll: Trump Seen As Important Factor In Americans' Vote, As Democrats Open Up Lead

by Domenico Montanaro, October 26, 2018 [NPR, via 10-27-18]
...Republicans' tax cuts have turned out to be a liability for Republicans. Just 11 percent said it was the most important factor in their vote. A plurality of voters (45 percent) said the issue of tax cuts makes them more likely to vote for a Democrat for Congress in November while 39 percent said the issue makes them more likely to vote Republican.
What's more, when asked about how to reduce the federal deficit, 60 percent said it was better to roll back the tax cuts passed by Congress than to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid-- and that includes a plurality of Republicans.

Trump’s ‘major’ tax promise is a sign that even he recognizes the 2017 tax cuts didn’t resonate with voters
[MarketWatch, via Naked Capitalism 10-22-18]
For a middle-class household, the typical change was $930 per year, per the Tax Policy Center [or] just $78 per month....

How Dismantling an Obscure Tax Created an American Aristocracy

[Real News Network 10-22-18]
Republicans’ decades-long efforts to gut the estate tax is creating a permanent ultra-rich class, and undermining the government’s ability to pay for popular programs like Social Security and Medicare

Trump reopening Wall Street casino by weakening Volcker Rule
[The American Banker, via Naked Capitalism 10-24-18]
“Prohibiting Wall Street’s biggest, most dangerous banks from high-risk gambling with taxpayer-backed deposits, the Volcker Rule was one of the most important provisions of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law. It outlawed proprietary trading, which is Wall Street banks using other people’s money (depositors) to make socially useless bets to fund their bonuses…. As we mark the 10th anniversary of the catastrophic 2008 financial crash, this is no time to return to the failed and discredited policies of the past which deregulated Wall Street. However, if the recent Volcker Rule proposal is finalized as proposed, there can be little doubt that will happen and there will be a substantial increase in prop trading at Wall Street’s biggest banks. This will mostly be unseen due to the innumerable ways the proposal intentionally blinds regulators by eliminating reporting requirements and the broad-based delegation to the banks to self-police.”
[New York Times, via Naked Capitalism 10-23-18]
Medicare’s direct administrative costs are not only low, but they also have been falling over the years, as a percent of total program spending. Yet the program’s total administrative costs — including those of the private plans — have been rising. "This reflects a shift toward more enrollment in private plans,” Mr. [Kip] Sullivan said. “The growth of those plans has raised, not lowered, overall Medicare administrative costs."
....Making an accurate estimate of the administrative costs of Medicare for All would depend, in part, on whether it would be more like an expansion of traditional Medicare (with its 1.1 percent administrative cost rate) or of all of Medicare, including its private plans (with a combined 7 percent administrative cost rate). 
Yet both figures are well below private insurers’ administrative costs, which run about 13 percent of spending (this also includes profit), according to America’s Health Insurance Plans, an advocacy organization for the industry.... The government’s administrative costs are about $132 per person compared with over $700 for private plans. One reason Medicare’s are so much lower is that it reaps economies of scale. It also benefits from not needing to do much marketing, and it doesn’t earn profits.
Lambert Strether observes:
It is very gratifying to see a single payer stalwart like Kip Sullivan quoted as the authority he indeed is. And, contrary to the headline, it does look like Medicare has a bad neoliberal infestation that needs to be dealth with. “Free at the point of delivery” is a good starting point, because that strikes a deathblow at the complex eligibility determination process so beloved by markets-first liberals.
Buried in “Hilariously Stupid” White House Attack on Socialism, An Accidentally Strong Argument for Medicare for All
by Yves Smith [Naked Capitalism 10-24-18]
Yves here. It appears Republicans have noticed how popular socialism is with the young and felt compelled to Do Something about that, in the form of a 72 page soi disant report by the Council of Economic Advisers on the “Opportunity Costs of Socialism”. Apparently no one told them that Basque region of Spain, dominated by the worker-owned Mondragon, which has strict curbs on executive pay, had the lowest post-crisis level of unemployment in the country.
 By Jake Johnson, staff writer at Common Dreams. Originally published at Common Dreams
From its heavy-handed comparisons between mild-mannered democratic socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders and militant communist revolutionary Mao Zedong to its bizarre assertion that the Scandinavian economic model is a failure due to the high weekly costs of owning a pickup truck in Finland and Sweden (seriously), a White House attack on socialism was roundly mocked almost as soon as it was released on Monday, with informed critics arguing that the report reads as if it was plagiarized from a college freshmanwith a serious Ayn Rand obsession
Titled “The Opportunity Costs of Socialism,” the Council of Economic Advisers’ (CEA) new 72-page paperpurports to offer an empirical analysis of socialist policies—but what it actually does is make what analysts described as “hilariously stupid” and “intellectually embarrassing” claims accompanied by charts and footnotes that give off the appearance of scholarly diligence. 
Characterizing the CEA’s report as a “truly bizarre document,” Vox‘s Dylan Matthews notes that the paper’s bibliography contains “a mix of books about mass atrocities in Communist regimes, economics papers on the distortionary effects of taxation, and works by socialists, like the essay Vox published by Jacobin staff writer Meagan Day defending democratic socialism.” 
But a look beyond the CEA’s hysterical rants against socialism’s supposedly totalitarian nature reveals that the White House accidentally makes a strong case for Medicare for All, which the paper describes as the “headline American socialist proposal.” 
After attempting to discredit single-payer healthcare programs—which multiple polls now show most Republicanvoters support—as “similar in spirit to Lenin and Mao,” the CEA produced a chart showing short wait times for seniors under the current U.S. healthcare system compared to those under the Canadian and Nordic systems.
As Vox‘s Sarah Kliff notes, the CEA conveniently omits the fact that “America’s seniors are essentially in a single-payer system”: it’s called Medicare.

India: why collecting water turns millions of women into second-class citizens
by Gayathri D Naikm, October 17, 2018 [TheConversation, via Naked Capitalism 10-21-18]
It is estimated that 163m Indians still don’t have access to clean, running water....  
Water collection in India is a woman’s job, irrespective of her physique – and there’s no respite, even when she’s menstruating, ill, or has something else to do. As groundwater resources are placed under increasing pressure due to over-reliance and unsustainable consumption, wells, ponds and tanks can also regularly dry up, escalating the water crisis and placing a greater burden on women to travel long distances. Access to unsafe drinking water also results in the spread of water-borne diseases. And women are often the first victims of both water scarcity and water pollution. 
In urban areas, long queues of women with colourful plastic water pots are eye-catching. But such images also highlight problems of water scarcity and the long waits they endure for the water tankers that deliver it in cities. 
Urban woman, especially on the outskirts of cities and in slum areas, face the particular burden of this water scarcity. In some areas, water is occasionally supplied in the middle of the night, meaning that these women are deprived of sleep and their productivity is affected. Indeed, there are women in the global south who are denied education purely because they have to collect water rather than go to school. In fact, one report revealed that almost 23% of girls in India drop out of school on reaching puberty due to a lack of water and sanitation facilities.
Advocates of neoliberlism often defend their policies by claiming world poverty has been reduced: more households than ever before are living on over $2 a day. Two dollars? You can raise someone's standard to ten times that, and it will not come close to being as important as giving them daily access to clean water. The best economic metrics are based not on money, but on measures of physical economy, such as access to water, and access to medical care. Meanwhile, in USA:

1,600 days on bottled water: Flint still swamped by water woes
[Post-Gazette, via Naked Capitalism 10-22-18]
”On a recent Thursday morning along Saginaw Street, empty plastic water bottles once again littered the front lawn of City Hall near a bronze statue of an autoworker on an assembly line…. The almost daily tossing of empty water bottles along Flint’s main thoroughfare is another kind of protest, expressing anger and frustration that the lead water crisis that began in 2014 continues…. In March 2017, a federal judge approved a $97 million lawsuit settlement in which the state agreed to pay for the replacement of an estimated 18,000 lead and galvanized steel water service lines connecting main lines with household plumbing by 2020. Almost 7,400 lines have been done. Cost of the program is estimated at more than $100 million. Flint residents pay eight times the national average for our water, and water prices are only going to keep rising for the next 20 years,’ said Ms. Walters.”

Why the Press Sucks So Bad, Part One: A Look Back 
by Stephen Boni, October 26, 2018 [Ghion Journal, via Naked Capitalism 10-26-18]
Have you heard of the U.S. Postal Act of 1792? In addition to creating the role of Postmaster General and making the Postal Service part of the government, the act created government funding that paid for a significant share of the costs of distributing newspapers to readers near and far through the mail. And hell, if you were a publisher and you sent your newspaper to another publisher in a different town or state for them to sell, it was freakin’ free! Among other things, this allowed newspapers to control the costs they asked readers to pay for their content, a huge help. (as an aside, Nixon ended all of this in 1970 when, in response to a major postal workers strike, he signed a law that dismantled this system and turned the Post Office into a for-profit company that gets no budget from the government)....

But as the press, along with American society, grew and got more complex it started costing real money to run a newspaper (or later, a radio or TV network). Civil servants, Congress, the President, and the Judiciary all get paid through our taxes. How do you pay the salaries of journalists and editors? They’re not part of the government. Sure, you’ve got what the readers paid for the journalism, but newspapers were and are pretty cheap. That revenue wasn’t always enough. So where do you get the money? Well, that was left up to the private market. 
And what did that mean? Three main things, which have, over time, ended up seriously curtailing the check on power journalism was originally envisioned to be: 
1. People with serious capital started to own and operate newspapers, consolidating them to create sizable profit-seeking corporations. These people (in the past, for example, the Hearsts or the Grahams, today the likes of Jeff Bezos) essentially became oligarchs. And, oligarchs have power interests that differ from the interests of ordinary citizens.... 
2. Sensationalism. If a newspaper becomes a profit-seeking corporation, that means it has shareholders that exert power over it as well. They, along with the paper’s owner, expect a return on their investment — and that means the paper has to be in a constant state of growth. That cements changes in the objective of journalism from being a democratic watchdog that educates the public to being the seller of widgets, and as many as possible. The easiest road to greater sales quickly became lowest-common-denominator shit....

3. Advertising. The critical source of revenue for newspapers became the market — a big part of that market was and is advertising for private businesses in the form of coupons, the classifieds (until the Internet) and, of course, ads.
Apple’s Radical Approach to News: Humans Over Machines
[New York Times, via Naked Capitalism 10-26-18] 
“In a quiet corner of the third floor, Apple is building a newsroom of sorts. About a dozen former journalists have filled a few nondescript offices to do what many other tech companies have for years left to software: selecting the news that tens of millions of people will read…."
[Motherboard, via Naked Capitalism 10-26-18]

Every minute for three months, GM secretly gathered data on 90,000 drivers’ radio-listening habits and locations 
[Fast Company, via Naked Capitalism 10-26-18]
“The . . . thing that was shocking for me was to understand just how the federal authorizations are allowing Amazon to have such a monopoly over the storage of government information,” says Jacinta Gonzalez, field organizer for immigrant advocacy group Mijente. Along with the National Immigration Project and the Immigrant Defense Project, Mijente funded a new report entitled, “Who’s Behind ICE?: The Tech and Data Companies Fueling Deportations.”
[The Next Web, via Naked Capitalism 10-23-18]

Now Apps Can Track You Even After You Uninstall Them 
[Bloomberg, via Naked Capitalism 10-23-18]

Google’s smart city dream is turning into a privacy nightmare 
[Engadget, via Naked Capitalism 10-27-18]

Facebook Erases Hundreds of Alternative Media Pages in Mass Purge
[Real News Network, October 18, 2018]
Facebook is erasing popular alternative media pages that had millions of likes and suspending anti-war and anti-police brutality accounts, in coordination with Twitter. Journalist Max Blumenthal says this is part of a larger political crackdown; EFF’s David Greene says the implications are dangerous.
Facebook Censorship of Alternative Media ‘Just the Beginning,’ Warns [Boasts] Top Neocon Insider
by By Max Blumenthal and Jeb Sprague, October 24, 2018 [Consortiumnews, via Naked Capitalism 10-25-18]
In comments published here for the first time, a neoconservative Washington insider has apparently claimed a degree of credit for the recent purge — and promised more takedowns in the near future.... 
The remarks by Fly — “we are just starting to push back” — seemed to confirm the worst fears of the alternative online media community. If he was to be believed, the latest purge was motivated by politics, not spam prevention, and was driven by powerful interests hostile to dissident views, particularly where American state violence is concerned.... [Emphasis mine]

Fly is an influential foreign policy hardliner who has spent the last year lobbying for the censorship of “fringe views” on social media. Over the years, he has advocated for a military assault on Iran, a regime change war on Syria, and hiking military spending to unprecedented levels. He is the embodiment of a neoconservative cadre. 
Like so many second-generation neocons, Fly entered government by burrowing into mid-level positions in George W. Bush’s National Security Council and Department of Defense. 
In 2009, he was appointed director of the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI), a rebranded version of Bill Kristol’s Project for a New American Century, or PNAC. The latter outfit was an umbrella group of neoconservative activists that first made the case for an invasion of Iraq as part of a wider project of regime change in countries that resisted Washington’s sphere of influence. 
By 2011, Fly was advancing the next phase in PNAC’s blueprint by clamoring for military strikes on Iran.... Fly soon found his way into the senate office of Marco Rubio, a neoconservative pet project, assuming a role as his top foreign policy advisor.
Tribalism Isn’t Our Democracy’s Main Problem. The Conservative Movement Is.
By Eric Levitz, October 21, 2018 [Intelligencer, via The Big Picture 10-22-18]

I hesitated to add this because in this review of Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became Our Identity, by University of Maryland political scientist Lilliana Mason, Levitz is uncharacteristically convoluted and confusing. But I think the central point is crucial, and is best summarized in the headline.
In the real world, the conservative movement — and the economic elites that it serves — have an interest in perpetuating both social polarization, and the unresponsive governance that it produces. And for a very simple reason: The interests that unite most members of America’s fractious social groups tend to be those that derive from their common identity as people who must work for a living. Which is to say, they tend to be class interests: An overwhelming, bipartisan majority of the American public wants their government to raise taxes on the wealthy, create jobs for the unemployed, expand access to subsidized health care, and prevent corporations from poisoning their air and water. The conservative movement wants Uncle Sam to do none of those things. 
For this reason, any serious program for combating unresponsive government in the United States must be concerned with both increasing the political salience of (non-billionaire) Americans’ common material interests, and reducing the political power of the conservative movement....
In the republican theory on which the United States was founded, there were two clear threats to a republic: 1) a standing army, and 2) concentrated economic wealth. In his April 1787 Vices of the Political System of the United States, James Madison wrote (in preparation for the Constitutional Convention), "If the minority happen to include all such as possess the skill and habits of military life, & such as possess the great pecuniary resources, one third only may conquer the remaining two thirds."

Fighting to Vote
by Michael Tomasky [New York Review of Books, November 8, 2018 issue]
Focuses on the fight in North Carolina, which Tomasky writes is "brutal ground zero of the voting wars, their Stalingrad."
In other words, from the moment that black Americans finally won voting rights equal to those of white Americans, a significant number of white Americans started fighting to undo them. My teenage self was quite naive. Forty years later, it appears that what I thought was the new normal was in fact an aberration, a quick little burst of sunshine punctuating an otherwise bleak sky. There is no new consensus and never has been. There is just the old racist consensus, which was successfully pricked for a couple of decades but reasserted its dominance with the help of the many millions of dollars pumped into right-wing foundations and think tanks and activist groups like the Federalist Society.
Somehow, Tomasky fails to name names, such as Art Pope, the squillainaire retailer of cheap and shoddy merchandise with an outsized presence in low income communities in 16 states. Pope has poured tens of millions of dollars into the conservative movement in North Carolina, such as the John Locke Foundation and  Civitas Institute. According to SourceWatch, "The John Locke Foundation receives around 80 percent of its funding from Art Pope, who controls the institute's agenda from its board of directors....  Marc Farinella, an adviser to North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue, commented that "The Republican agenda in North Carolina is really Art Pope’s agenda. He sets it, he funds it, and he directs the efforts to achieve it. The candidates are just fronting for him. There are so many people in North Carolina beholden to Art Pope—it undermines the democratic process.” Pope is a director of the Koch-funded right-wing group Americans for Prosperity.

The SourceWatch profile of Pope also notes:
A 2010 investigation by the Institute for Southern Studies found that Pope had begun funneling money to ostensibly nonpartisan nonprofits that use it to run attack ads, primarily directed at politicians who have played a key role in addressing climate change in the state. Facing South's analysis of tax return data found that Art Pope's family foundation, the Pope Foundation, had made large contributions to the same network of climate skeptic groups as the Koch Brothers from 1997 to 2008 -- more than $24.1 million in all.
Pope's role in funding the conservative movement, and the resulting suppression of voting rights, is exactly the archtype of subversion of democracy contemplated by classical republican theory. Our polity has established, over time, political traditions and norms of behavior that circumscribe and limit the political involvement, and even the free speech, of military officers. It is debatable, given the national security state. how well this has worked in constraining one of the  two clear threats to a republic, a standing army. But as for concentrated economic wealth, no similar political traditions and norms of behavior have been developed, though they are clearly needed.

The massacre men
by David Forbes, July 27, 2017 [Scalawag, via Naked Capitalism 10-23-18]

This is an account of the shockingly brutal and murderous Civil War fight in North Carolina between unionists in the mountains and along the coast, and the Confederate army regiments deployed against them, such as  the 64th North Carolina Infantry. The author -- accurately I think -- terms these Confederate army regiments "death squads." They were commanded and led by the local slave-owing oligarchs from the local area in which the regiments had been recruited.
The strategist cavalier myth might later surround Heth's friend Robert E. Lee, but Heth was a far more typical Confederate aristocrat: brittle, blundering, and brutal. The aristocrats' view of themselves as medieval chivalry applied at the ground level as well, though with less glamour and more ruthlessness. Their contempt for the “mudsills” hit along class lines as well as race, and their senators relentlessly blocked infrastructure and education funding, along with any curb on slavery....

MAX BLUMENTHAL: ....the Council for National Policy was founded in 1981, at the dawn of the Christian right and the beginning of the Reagan era. And it really represents what Jerry Falwell, an early founding member, called the big guns of the Christian right, who set the battle lines; 300 people who really comprise the entire leadership of the Christian right, and the conservative movement in general. These people kind of call themselves ‘grasstops’ leaders. You know, they kind of shepherd the Republican grassroots to the polls on Election Day. But they also kind of decide what the wedge issues are going to be and what the narrative is for the party. They have anointed the past two Republican presidents; Donald Trump back in 2015, and George W. Bush back in 1999, when they were just emerging as the figures that the Christian right would back. They also helped make Sarah Palin John McCain’s vice presidential pick.
A Zero-Carbon Economy Is Within Reach 
[Project Syndicate, via Naked Capitalism 10-25-18]
By Adair Turner, a former chairman of the United Kingdom's Financial Services Authority and former member of the UK's Financial Policy Committee, is Chairman of the Institute for New Economic Thinking. 
Getting to net zero emissions in just four decades will be a huge challenge. But as a forthcoming report from the Energy Transitions Commission argues, the good news is that it is undoubtedly technically possible, and at an acceptably low cost to the global economy. Moreover, we already know the key technologies we need to achieve this objective.... 
Building a zero-carbon economy will of course require massive investment in power production and transmission, new industrial plants, and more efficient equipment. To achieve the 1.5°C objective, the IPCC estimates that the required additional global investment, from 2015 to 2050, could be $900 billion per annum. That may seem like a startlingly high figure; but, assuming 3% annual economic growth, global GDP, which stands at almost $100 trillion today, could reach $260 trillion by 2050. This implies that the world needs to invest less than 0.6% of its income over the next four decades to avoid potentially catastrophic harm to human welfare.
Calif. on track for goal of 60% renewables by 2030
[Utility Dive (10/25), via American Wind Energy Association 10-26-18]
Regulatory filings from 44 investor-owned or customer choice aggregator utilities in California indicate a path to meeting the state's goal of 60% renewables by 2030. The load-serving entities should take advantage of wind sooner than later while the wind energy Production Tax Credit is still in place, says Danielle Osborn Mills, the American Wind Energy Association's California caucus director.
Climate change, renewables find new home in political campaigns
[The New York Times (tiered subscription model) (10/25), via American Wind Energy Association 10-25-18]
Many local, city, state and congressional political candidates are making climate change -- and in many cases renewables -- a part of their ad campaigns, despite the subject's notoriously divisive roots, writes Lisa Friedman. New Mexico gubernatorial candidate Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo are among the candidates touting the economic and environmental benefits of wind energy.

New York Attorney General Files Suit Against Exxon for Climate Fraud
[Climateability News, via Naked Capitalism 10-25-18]

European Parliament Bans Single-Use Plastics in Historic Vote
[Real News Network 10-25-18]
Dr. Jonathan Latham says 95% of table salt contains plastic due to plastics pollution in the oceans.
by Stephen Mraz, October 23, 2018 [Machine Design Today]
A novel technique that nudges single atoms to switch places within an atomically thin material could bring scientists another step closer to realizing theoretical physicist Richard Feynman’s vision of nanotechnology, and building tiny machines from the atom up. This approach could be used to “build” materials that harness the quantum nature of atoms and the demand for such materials is driving the need to build atomically precise electronics and sensors. Fabricating nanoscale devices atom by atom requires delicacy and precision, which has been demonstrated by a microscopy team at the DoE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory. 
The researchers used a scanning transmission electron microscope, or STEM, at the lab’s Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences to inject silicon atoms into a single-atom-thick sheet of graphene. STEM has recently emerged as a tool for manipulating atoms in materials while preserving the sample’s stability. As the electron beam scans across the material, its energy slightly disrupts the graphene’s molecular structure and creates room for a nearby silicon atom to swap places with a carbon atom.
Socialism run amuck! Shut down the government laboratories! Unleash the animal spirits of "entrepreneurs." How do they tolerate this facility in Tennessee, home of Republican Party stalwarts Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander?

Tiny Soft Robots Make Drug Delivery Efficient
[Machine Design Today 10-28-18]
The City University of Hong Kong has developed a robot that is soft and small enough to deliver drugs directly inside the human body.
[National Geographic, via Naked Capitalism 10-26-18]

The Decline and Fall of Elizabeth Warren 
Benjamin Studebaker, [, via Naked Capitalism 10-24-18]
If Warren runs, some older Democrats who remain loyal to her because of the CFPB and insensitive to the cringey and racist way she’s handled the “Pocahontas” taunts will pick her instead of the left candidate, and the chance that a centrist secures the nomination will increase dramatically. This would be an utter disaster for the left. Warren must not run. She is now so widely mocked among millennials that she has no chance whatsoever of winning the nomination even if Sanders and his surrogates stood aside–and they won’t stand aside. Sanders and his supporters earned the right to lead the left by fighting for it when there wasn’t a lot of political capital to be had in doing so. They put their political careers on the line for us, knowing that if Clinton won she would scorn them. It’s not Warren’s turn–it’s theirs. 
All a Warren run can do is damage the prospects of a left candidate who is far more electable and far more willing than her to fight the center.
by Cynthia Gordy Giwa, October 19, 2018 [ProPublica, via Naked Capitalism 10-21-18]

The 15 Races That Will Determine How Democrats Approach 2020 
[Politico, via Naked Capitalism 10-25-18] 
“ really celebrate, socialists and populists would like to able to say that single-payer helped Democrats win in districts previously won by Donald Trump, to show the issue’s potency on red turf. The three Democrats running forthrightly on a single-payer platform, in Trump-won districts rated “Toss-up” or “Lean Republican” by POLITICO, are Kara Eastman (NE-02 [M], Randy Bryce (WI-01 [M]) and Joe Radinovich (MN-08 [M]*)…. And a big blue wave could buoy other single-payer backers running on even deeper red turf. Keep an eye on: Diane Mitsch Bush (CO-03), Leslie Cockburn (VA-05 [M]), Nate McMurray (NY-27) and Sri Preston Kulkarni (TX-22).”
Can the Guy Who Fixed Twitter’s Fail Whale Save the DNC? 
by Richard H. Pildes, October 26, 2018 [Harvard Law Review Blog, via Naked Capitalism 10-26-18] . 
No other country with single-member election districts like ours leaves the power to draw these districts in the hands of the most politically self-interested actors, the politicians whose power and seats will be affected. I have long argued this is an inherently pathological situation for a democracy and that we should move this power into the hands of independent commissions. But shifting to commissions cannot avoid the fact that substantive choices must still be made about how we ought to define fair maps and what criteria commissions, or any other redistricting body, ought to follow in order to design fair maps.”
Simon Wren-Lewis’ warped view of modern macroeconomics
by Lars P. Syll, October 25, 2018 [, via Naked Capitalism 10-26-18]
Wren-Lewis is keen on trying to give a picture of modern macroeconomics as a pluralist enterprise. But the change and diversity that gets Wren-Lewis approval only take​ place within the analytic-formalistic modelling strategy that makes up the core of mainstream economics. You’re free to take your analytical formalist models and apply it to whatever you want — as long as you do it with a modelling methodology that is acceptable to the mainstream. If you do not follow this particular mathematical-deductive analytical formalism you’re not even considered doing economics. If you haven’t modelled​ your thoughts, you’re not in the economics business. But this isn’t pluralism. It’s a methodological reductionist straightjacket.
What Minimum-Wage Foes Got Wrong About Seattle: An initial study said the increase to $15 would cost workers jobs and hours. That didn’t happen.
by Barry Ritholtz, October 24, 2018 [Bloomberg, via The Big Picture]
The most dire warnings about minimum wage increases have proven to be wrong. So much so that in a new paper, the authors behind the primary studypredicting a negative impact have recanted their prior conclusions. However, authors still seem perplexed as to why they went awry in the first place. 
Fortunately, we are here to assist them better understand the errors of their ways.
Alas, if only the critics has done their homework first, instead of just issuing scare tactics. As we warned then, this was a forecast borne of ideology unencumbered by the long history of data and academic study demonstrating the contrary. 
Much of the hand-wringing was based upon that deeply flawed University of Washington study. As we discussed in 2017, excluding “48 percent of Seattle’s low-paid workforce” made the entire UofW study worthless.
Benevolence only makes things worse
[delancyplace, via Naked Capitalism 10-26-18] is an excerpt from a biography of Cornelius Vanderbilt. The excerpt underscores my argument that the USA economy has gone off the tracks because USA elites abandoned the principles of political economy established by Alexander Hamilton and adopted the principles of political economy of the British empire and oligarchy.
It was in 1817 that a group of prominent New York merchants and professionals (many once having been the principal supports of such institutions as the New York Hospital and other worthy causes) officially and publicly began to rethink their charitable habits. Such previously generous philanthropists as DeWitt Clinton (now governor of the state), Thomas Eddy, and John Griscom took their cue in this from British reformers. In so doing, they succumbed to the rhetoric of several hard-nosed British social thinkers, most notably Thomas Robert Malthus, Jeremy Bentham, and the Scottish conservative Patrick Colquhoun. 
"Twenty years earlier, all three of those gentleman had been instrumental in the founding of the London Society for Bettering the Condition and Increasing the Comforts of the Poor. Despite the burden of its long-winded name, the London Society did not distribute charity but specialized in cutting off funds for social welfare. Malthus, Bentham, and Colquhoun believed that a distinct line must be drawn between the 'deserving poor' (those facing hard times as a result of unfortunate histories) and 'undeserving paupers,' namely, the drunk, the lazy, and the whorish members of society for whom aid was considered a reprehensible act of facilitation.
See my American School economist Henry C. Carey from June 2017. And this:

Teaching Criminal Law from an LPE Perspective
[Law and Political Economy, via Naked Capitalism 10-22-18]
“[W]here do crime and criminals come from? [William] Chambliss rejects the story of crime conventionally told by tough-on-crime politicians, authoritarian leaders, and many a citizen: Some people are ‘good’ people (i.e., ‘us’), others are ‘bad’ people (i.e. ‘criminals’), and the job of criminal law is to make sure ‘they’ are identified and punished for preying on ‘us.’ Instead, drawing on data from Nigeria and the United States, Chambliss argues that pretty much everybody in both societies violates criminal codes at some point or another. What distinguishes the people who go to jail for their crimes from the people who don’t is political and economic power. More broadly, Chambliss argues that in a capitalist society, crime policy is not intended to ‘prevent’ or ‘stop’ crime, but rather to manage it. Our book doesn’t disagree, but it tries to complicate the story. ”
And, to close on a more fun note:
A Brief History of Philosophy — social-media version
[via Naked Capitalism 10-22-18]
1. Socrates deletes his account.
2. Plato posts screenshots of Socrates.
3. Aristotle unfollows Plato.
4. Aquinas retweets Jesus.
5. Descartes mutes Aquinas.
6. Locke mutes Descartes.
7. Kant unfollows Locke and Descartes.
8. Hegel subtweets Kant.
9. Schopenhauer blocks Hegel.
10. Marx likes Hegel.
11. Nietzsche gets hacked.
12. Heidegger DMs Arendt.
13. Adorno reports Heidegger.
14. Derrida gets verified.
15. Heidegger gets banned.
16. Wittgenstein only does Instagram.

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