Sunday, August 18, 2019

Week-end Wrap - Political Economy - August 17, 2019

Week-end Wrap - Political Economy - August 17, 2019
by Tony Wikrent
Economics Action Group, North Carolina Democratic Party Progressive Caucus

[TomDispatch, via Naked Capitalism 8-16-19]

How the Supreme Court Is Rebranding Corruption — Ciara Torres-Spelliscy
Ciara Torres-Spelliscy [via Mike Norman Economics 8-8-19]
Summary of "Deregulating Corruption," (pdf) Harvard Law & Policy Review, Vol. 13, No. 2, 2019
From its very first term, the Roberts Supreme Court has been rebranding the meaning of the word “corruption” both in campaign finance cases as well as in white-collar crime cases. And in Kelly v. United States (better known as the Bridgegate case), the Supreme Court may do even greater damage to the concept of corruption.

What has the Roberts Supreme Court done to corruption? I discuss this in my recent Harvard Law & Policy Review article, “Deregulating Corruption,” and in my soon to be released book, Political Brands. First, they have narrowed the meaning of the word in a series of election law cases that address the constitutionality of various campaign finance laws. In cases like Citizens United v. FEC, which allowed corporations the First Amendment right to spend an unlimited amount of money on political ads, and McCutcheon v. FEC, which allows the rich to support as many congressional candidates as they want with contributions, the Roberts Supreme Court has ruled 5-4 that “corruption” only means quid pro quo exchanges.

This approach to corruption sets the Roberts Supreme Court apart from other Supreme Courts. For over a century, previous Supreme Courts upheld campaign finance laws and other regulations which try to keep graft and political intimidation at bay precisely because as the Supreme Court recognized in Ex parte Yarbrough in 1884, “[i]n a republican government like ours, where political power is reposed in representatives of the entire body of the people, chosen at short intervals by popular elections, the temptations to control these elections by violence and by corruption is a constant source of danger…. no lover of his country can shut his eyes to the fear of future danger from both sources…”

Even the Rehnquist Supreme Court—no bastion of liberals— was more thoughtful about political corruption than the Roberts Court is. For example, in 2003, the Rehnquist Supreme Court ruled in FEC v. Beaumont that there is a “public interest in ‘restrict[ing] the influence of political war chests funneled through the corporate form.’ …; ‘[S]ubstantial aggregations of wealth amassed by the special advantages which go with the corporate form of organization should not be converted into political ‘war chests’ which could be used to incur political debts from legislators.’”

In a twin 2003 decision, McConnell v. FEC, the Rehnquist Court asserted that the “crabbed view of corruption”—which would limit the term to actual quid pro quo corruption—“ignores precedent, common sense, and the realities of political fundraising.” The Roberts Court has rapidly put that capacious concept of political corruption in exile and knocked down nearly every campaign finance law it has been asked to review. (The Supreme Court left in place a ban on foreigners spending in US election and a ban on judges personally asking donors for money, but these are the exceptions that prove the rule.)

But wait, there’s more. The Roberts Supreme Court has also rebranded corruption by changing what counts as white-collar crimes. In Skilling v. US (a case brought by disgraced ex-CEO of Enron Jeff Skilling challenging his 24-year prison sentence for defrauding the company’s shareholders), the Supreme Court agreed with Skilling that he should not have been charged with honest services fraud because his crimes did not involve a bribe or a kickback. This Supreme Court decision led to Skilling getting 10 years shaved off of his original sentence. He was released from jail in 2018 and left his halfway house in 2019. He is now a free man.

Also in the criminal context, the Roberts Supreme Court invalidated the conviction of ex-Governor of Virginia Bob McDonnell. McDonnell, who had money troubles while he was Governor of Virginia, accepted money and gifts from a businessman named Jonnie Williams who wanted to sell his tobacco pills (I’m not making any of this up) to Virginia employees. The Governor set up a few meetings for Williams and once touted a bottle of the tobacco pills in a meeting.

In McDonnell v. US, the Supreme Court decided that none of what Governor McDonnell did was “an official act,” and thus he could not be guilty of a quid pro quo exchange with Williams. No one disputed that Williams had given the governor lots of money. What the Supreme Court didn’t buy was that the Governor did enough in return for the largess to constitute a crime.
Tom Hickey, who posted this at Mike Norman Economics, asks further:
Corruption isn’t a partisan matter. Both Democratic and Republican politicians have been accused of abusing their offices for private gain. And using the Roberts Supreme Court cases to their advantage is equally bipartisan....Is the intent to install plutonomy, the oligarchy of wealth, under the veneer of representative democracy? 
Interestingly, in Western liberal "democracies", the oligarchy of wealth called plutonomy is institutionally formalized through the "sanctity of private property," which includes hereditary transfer of ownership through inheritance, establishing a wealthy elite in power across generations. Looks more like neo-feudalism.

The Failure of Establishment Neoliberal Economics

Lambert Strether adds: "It’s actually even worse than that since the commonly-cited measure of CEO pay lowballs it. See How the SEC Enabled the Gross Under-Reporing of CEO Pay. It looks as if the EPI used the conventional method for stock option valuation, which means the picture is even worse than they indicate."

Life, Deferred: Student Debt Postpones Key Milestones for Millions of Americans
August 16, 2019 [openDemocracy, via Naked Capitalism 8-16-19]

Game over: Middle-class and poor kids are ditching youth sports
[CBS, via Naked Capitalism 8-16-19]
But the rising cost of playing sports, coupled with rising economic inequality, is increasingly leading poor and even middle-class families to hang up their cleats.

That trend is being fueled by the growth in "pay-to-play" sports, which is making organized athletics prohibitively expensive for many households. Participation in sports among families earning less than $75,000 has dropped since 2011, according to The Aspen Institute's Project Play.

By contrast, children from better off families are participating in ever great numbers. About 7 of 10 children from families that earn more than $100,000 play sports, compared with 3 in 10 from families earning less than $25,000, the non-profit think tank found in a 2018 report.
[National Academy of Social Insurance, via Naked Capitalism 8-12-19] 
“[Bob]. Rosenblatt takes us back to the decisive winter of 1965: A newly reelected President Johnson has large congressional majorities and is committed to the idea of Medicare. Writing as if he were witnessing for the first time the political and legislative events that transpired 50 years ago, Rosenblatt provides us with an informative (perhaps even entertaining) look at leaders in the 89th Congress and other major players. Covered is written with the recognition that the effort to get universal coverage, let alone health care for the elderly and low-income individuals, was – and continues to be – a decades-long fight.” • Ends with: “July 30, 1965 – Post 30 – Johnson Signs Historic Medicare Bill Assuring Health Coverage for Millions.” 

Climate and environmental crises

[Below, Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 8-17-19]
The West Antarctic Ice Sheet is melting and has probably passed the tipping point to its complete demise, causing a long-term sea-level rise of 3 meters. But is that our fault? That has long been unclear, but now a new paper in NatGeo finds: yes, it is.

The Antarctic ice sheet is melting and, yeah, it’s probably our fault.
Glaciers in West Antarctica have thinned and accelerated in the last few decades.  A new paper provides some of the first evidence that this is due to human activities.
[Real Climate, via Twitter 8-17-19]

“South America’s Glaciers May Have a Bigger Problem Than Climate Change” 
[Bloomberg, via Naked Capitalism 8-16-19]
“Chile has one of the world’s largest reserves of fresh water outside the north and south poles, but the abundant glaciers that are the source of that precious commodity are melting fast. That’s not just an ecological disaster in the making, it’s rapidly becoming an economic and political dilemma for the government of Latin America’s richest nation. A toxic cocktail of rising temperatures, the driest nine-year period on record and human activity, including mining, is proving lethal for the ice of Chile’s central region. Built up over thousands of years, the ice mass is now retreating one meter per year on average. Glaciers happen to cover some of the massive copper deposits that make Chile the world’s largest producer of the metal, with about a third of the world’s copper output coming from its mines each year. Mining is key to Chile’s economy, making up 10% of its gross domestic product and comprising just over half its exports. That economic reality is at the heart of the government’s quandary, evaluating the trade-offs required to protect the environment while supporting an industry worth some $19 billion to the economy.”
[Climate Liability News, via Naked Capitalism 8-12-19]

[Mexico News Daily, via Naked Capitalism 8-12-19]

“The future of groundwater in sub-Saharan Africa” 
[Nature, via Naked Capitalism 8-13-19] 
“The population of sub-Saharan Africa is currently about 1 billion, and is predicted to double by 2050 (go.nature.com/2zj9kca), whereas the region’s climate is predicted to become drier during the same period1. Clearly, the demand for fresh water will increase. Whether groundwater can satisfy this demand is a looming question. Little is known about the rates at which water is replenished to groundwater aquifers in that region, and thus the rate of sustainable withdrawal. Writing in Nature, Cuthbert et al. identify the processes involved, and examine the long-term trends of aquifer replenishment in sub-Saharan Africa. The authors conclude that future drying climatic trends could affect surface-water supplies, but might not decrease groundwater supplies.”
“Insect ‘apocalypse’ in U.S. driven by 50x increase in toxic pesticides” 
[National Geographic, via Naked Capitalism 8-12-19]
“America’s agricultural landscape is now 48 times more toxic to honeybees, and likely other insects, than it was 25 years ago, almost entirely due to widespread use of so-called neonicotinoid pesticides… Using a new tool that measures toxicity to honey bees, the length of time a pesticide remains toxic, and the amount used in a year, [Kendra Klein, senior staff scientist at Friends of the Earth US] and researchers from three other institutions determined that the new generation of pesticides has made agriculture far more toxic to insects. Honey bees are used as a proxy for all insects… The study found that neonics accounted for 92 percent of this increased toxicity…. Regulatory agencies such as the EPA have concluded that seed treatment with neonics poses a low risk, [David Fischer, Chief Scientist and Director, Pollinator Safety, at Bayer Crop Science] wrote in an email.”

Republicans' War on Science

USDA Chooses Kansas City as New Home for Two Research Agencies, in Move that Jeopardizes Science Research
[Union of Concerned Scientists, via Kansas City Star 7-16-19]
Against the backdrop of mounting staff resignations, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue today named Kansas City as the new home of two critical research agencies within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)—the Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). The decision comes as opposition to the secretary’s reorganization reaches an all-time high. Droves of researchers are leaving their posts amid widespread concern about the politicization of federal science. 
Below is a statement by Mike Lavender, senior manager of government affairs in the Food and Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“The damage was already done before Secretary Perdue made his decision. It was clear from the start that the Trump administration was systematically hollowing out USDA’s ability to produce objective science. The White House proposed budget cuts to eliminate research that’s inconvenient to its interests and at the same time they’ve created this unnecessary relocation crisis, which is driving off scientists who conduct that very research.

“This is a blatant attack on science and will especially hurt farmers, ranchers and eaters at a particularly vulnerable time. The House Agriculture Appropriations bill includes language to stop the move and we encourage the Senate to follow suit.

Fewer than half of USDA researchers will follow agency to Kansas City
Kansas City Star, July 16, 2019 [via DailyKos 8-11-19]
Fewer than half of the USDA researchers offered transfers from Washington, D.C., to Kansas City will follow their jobs here, the agency announced Tuesday.

But those who did decide to make the 1,000-mile journey still don’t know exactly where they’ll be working.

A USDA spokesperson told The Star that 72 employees in the ag department’s Economic Research Service accepted their transfer to Kansas City. Another 99 turned down the offer — a number that included employees who did not respond by a Monday deadline. In USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, 73 employees signed on to the transfer while another 151 turned it down.

The agriculture department has argued that moving to Kansas City will put researchers closer to farmers and drastically reduce expenses given the Midwest’s relatively lower cost of living. But many scientists — including the Union of Concerned Scientists — suspect that USDA’s relocation is meant to diminish USDA research. 
The Milwaukee-based Agricultural and Applied Economic Association predicted the move could cost U.S. taxpayers upward of $182 million in lost productivity and research capacity.

Predatory Finance

Should This Be Illegal – Banks Recommending a Stock to the Public then Secretly Trading It in their own Dark Pool?
Pam Martens and Russ Martens: August 16, 2019 [Wall Street on Parade]
Three of the four banks mentioned above, UBS, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase, own Dark Pools that actively trade Citigroup’s stock every single week – in the dark. The public doesn’t get a look at what was traded in these Dark Pools until three weeks after the fact. And when that Dark Pool data is finally reported by Wall Street’s self-regulator, FINRA, it doesn’t show what day of the week the trades occurred or what time of day. The essential data that would allow a forensic investigator to see if there is funny business going on is missing.
Companies Use Borrowed Billions to Buy Back Stock, Not to Invest
[Bloomberg Businessweek, via The Big Picture 8-11-19]

“Uber Created a $6.1 Billion Dutch Weapon to Avoid Paying Taxes” 
[Bloomberg, via Naked Capitalism 8-14-19] 
“San Francisco-based Uber generated the outsized deduction before its initial public offering in May because it moved some of its offshore subsidiaries to different countries as a result of new European Union rules governing multinational companies. The $6.1 billion deduction came through an increase in the value of intellectual property that Uber transferred between its offshore subsidiaries, according to the company’s first quarterly filing. When an intangible asset increases in value, so do the tax deductions that come with its use over time. ‘It’s safe to say that Uber will not be paying any taxes for the foreseeable future,’ said Robert Willens, an independent tax and accounting expert in New York.”
“Colored Property & State Debt with David Freund” (interview) 
[Freund, via Naked Capitalism 8-13-19] 
“My first book–Colored Property–is centered on a story about the federal government’s role in creating a racially segregated housing market in the United States after World War II. Many people might be familiar with the story of the Federal Housing Administration and redlining…. Ultimately, it’s a story about mortgage lending and the creation of debt instruments… as I was encountering this story about money and debt, it seemed very odd to me. The documentary evidence showed me that government policy was creating debt instruments and that those debt instruments were creating conditions under which new homes were literally being built. Public policy was creating wealth. Meanwhile, I saw how those policies explicitly channeled that new wealth primarily to white people, especially to white men. People of color and single women were usually denied these new mortgages and this was by federal mandate. To me, that suggested that the government was creating wealth for some and not for others.”

Enemy Actions

They’re confirming judges who want to render us powerless to stop mass shootings.
[Slate, via The Big Picture 8-11-19]
Shortly after the El Paso, Texas, shooting on Saturday, the New York Times published an article that inadvertently presaged Republicans’ nonresponse to the imminent bloodbath. Senate Republicans, the Times noted, have passed virtually no legislation of any kind so far this year. In the face of mounting crises, the Senate’s GOP leaders have allowed little deliberation and few votes. They certainly won’t bring H.R. 8, a universal background check bill that already passed the House of Representatives, to the floor.

Instead, the Senate operates as “an approval factory” for Donald Trump’s judicial nominees, the Times found. Under Trump, the Senate has confirmed two Supreme Court justices, 99 district courts judges, and 43 federal court of appeals judges. Today, nearly 1 in 4 judges on the powerful courts of appeals was nominated by Trump. The president is reshaping the judiciary in the image of the Republican Party’s far-right conservative wing.
It would be a mistake to claim that the Senate has taken no action on gun control. While the House passes gun safety measures, the Senate installs judges who are eager to strike such measures down. Republican lawmakers have taken the long view: They may lose majorities in Congress and state legislatures, but Trump’s judges will sit on the bench for decades to come. Any future firearms restrictions may be invalidated; many existing gun safety laws are in serious jeopardy. The GOP may have no plan to stop mass shootings, but it does have a plan to ensure that Democrats can’t stop them, either.

Health Care Crisis

[Below, conversableeconomist.blogspot.comhttps://t.co/dftfs25DKT, via Naked Capitalism 8-15-19]

“Some labor unions split with Biden on ‘Medicare for All'” 
[Politico, via Naked Capitalism 8-12-19] 
“Those supporting Medicare for All — or at least not yet ruling it out — say health care increasingly dominates contract battles, consuming bargaining power that could instead be directed toward raising wages and improving working conditions. ‘When we’re able to hang on to the health plan we have, that’s considered a massive win,’ Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, told POLITICO. ‘But it’s a huge drag on our bargaining. So our message is: Get it off the table.'” • Nelson would make a fine Secretary of Labor in a Sanders administration.

Information Age Dystopia

Google’s War on Publisher Paywalls
[BIG by Matt Stoller, via Naked Capitalism 8-11-19]

Creating new economic potential - science and technology

Ebola Is Now Curable
[Wired, via Naked Capitalism 8-13-19]

NASA 3D Printed Habitat Challenge champions AI SpaceFactory discuss the trials and tribulations of 3D printing and robotic construction.
David Malott, CEO and Chief Architect, AI SpaceFactory, May 20, 2019 [aispacefactory.com , via Naked Capitalism 8-11-19]
MARSHA is our prototype Mars habitat, robotically 3D printed with materials indigenous to Mars. AI SpaceFactory was awarded in both the design and construction phases of NASA’s four year long, multi phase challenge, culminating in a thrilling 30 hour head-to-head final versus Penn State. We dubbed our 15-foot tall 3D printed prototype ‘MARSHA-alpha’, meaning it was our first attempt at constructing MARSHA, and certainly not our last.... 
So looking back, what are the lessons learned from MARSHA-alpha?

  • First, we developed a sustainable and recyclable material, made essentially of plants and rock, which outperformed concrete in every strength, durability, freeze-thaw, and quality test
  • Second, our material can be successfully extruded to create complex, high-performance forms with speed and precision. Since our material is recyclable, we can go out and print our Earth habitat version this summer
  • Third, we can use a single robot to both 3D print the structure and to autonomously place pipes, windows, and (next time) a skylight
  • Fourth, 3D printed construction is far from a fully autonomous process and requires human eyes on the print, practice, and improvisation
  • Fifth, we succeeded in printing what is believed to be the world’s tallest in-situ 3D printed structure in just 30 hours. Chris believes, “As far as our material is concerned we could print taller. The height itself doesn’t seem to be the problem. Someday it will be possible to 3D print a skyscraper.”


Want to Achieve High-Volume Laboratory and Biopharma Throughput?
[Machine Desigm Today 8-14-19]
Recently, Synchron and Festo applied assembly line strategies with Industry 4.0 concepts to laboratory automation for the extraction of plant DNA for an agricultural genetics company. This first-of-its-kind DNA extraction device increased output from an industry average of about 5,000 extractions per day to up to 40,000—an eightfold increase. The key to the device’s success is an ordinary conveyor transporting samples from process to process.

Disrupting mainstream politics

Bernie Against the Beltway
[Jacobin, via Naked Capitalism 8-11-19]

Here’s The Net Worth Of Every 2020 Presidential Candidate 
[Forbes, via Naked Capitalism 8-15-19] 

“The Campaign Press: Members of the 10 Percent, Reporting for the One Percent”
Matt Taibbi [Rolling Stone, via Naked Capitalism 8-16-19] 
The news media is now loathed in the same way banks, tobacco companies, and health insurance companies are, and it refuses to understand this. Mistakes like WMDs are a problem, but the media’s biggest issue is exactly its bubble-ness, and clubby inability to respond to criticism in any way except to denounce it as misinformation and error. Equating all criticism of media with Trumpism is pouring gasoline on the fire....
Anyone who’s worked in the business (or read Manufacturing Consent) knows nobody calls editors to red-pencil text. The pressure comes at the point of hire. If you’re the type who thinks Jeff Bezos should be thrown out of an airplane, or that it’s a bad look for a DC newspaper to be owned by a major intelligence contractor, you won’t rise. Meanwhile, the Post has become terrific at promoting Jennifer Rubins and Max Boots. Reporters watch as good investigative journalism about serious structural problems dies on the vine, while mountains of column space are devoted to trivialities like Trump tweets and/or simplistic partisan storylines. Nobody needs to pressure anyone. We all know what takes will and will not earn attaboys in newsrooms. Trump may have accelerated distaste for the press, but he didn’t create it. He sniffed out existing frustrations and used them to rally anger toward ‘elites’ to his side. The criticism works because national media are elites, ten-percenters working for one-percenters. The longer people in the business try to deny it, the more it will be fodder for politicians. Sanders wasn’t the first, and won’t be the last.”
“Koch brothers funded centrist Democratic group Third Way, according to new book” 
[Salon, via Naked Capitalism 8-14-19]
“Koch Industries secretly funded a report by Third Way, a centrist Democratic think tank, to sell liberals on their trade agenda, according to the new book “Kochland” by investigative reporter Christopher Leonard. The Kochs enlisted the help of Third Way, a corporate-funded centrist group that has long opposedprogressive populists like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, after the Democrats won control of Congress in 2006…. The report was released in 2007 in coordination with two members of Congress, Rep. Joe Crowley of New York and Rep. Melissa Bean of Illinois.”
“The outreach to Third Way was far from the Kochs’ only effort to influence Democratic politics, although it has been more customary for the billionaire brothers to back Republicans. Koch Industries was also a member of the executive council of the Democratic Leadership Council, another centrist group aimed at countering progressives inside the party. Hall, whom Third Way thanked for conceiving and designing its report, was a member of the DLC’s event committee.” • If you wonder why so many centrists are indistinguishable from Republicans…
Climate Could Be an Electoral Time Bomb, Republican Strategists Fear 
[New York Times, via Naked Capitalism 8-13-19]

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Week-end Wrap - Political Economy - August 10, 2019

Week-end Wrap - Political Economy - August 10, 2019
by Tony Wikrent
Economics Action Group, North Carolina Democratic Party Progressive Caucus

Strategic Political Economy

Trump, Tax Cuts and Terrorism
Why has the Republican Party become a systematic enabler of terrorism?
Paul Krugman [New York Times, via DailyKos 8-6-19]
But racism isn’t what drives the Republican establishment...their exploitation of racism has led them inexorably to where they are today: de facto enablers of a wave of white supremacist terrorism. 
The central story of U.S. politics since the 1970s is the takeover of the Republican Party by economic radicals, determined to slash taxes for the wealthy while undermining the social safety net. 
With the arguable exception of George H.W. Bush, every Republican president since 1980 has pushed through tax cuts that disproportionately benefited the 1 percent while trying to defund and/or privatize key social programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act. 
This agenda is, however, unpopular. Most voters believe that the rich should pay more, not less, in taxes, and want spending on social programs to rise, not fall. 
So how do Republicans win elections? By appealing to racial animus. This is such an obvious fact of American political life that you have to be willfully blind not to see it....
In effect, then, the Republican Party decided that a few massacres were an acceptable price to pay in return for tax cuts. I wish that were hyperbole, but the continuing refusal of G.O.P. figures to criticize Trump even after El Paso shows that it’s the literal truth.
If You Only Read One Thing Today, Read Paul Krugman: "Trump, Tax Cuts and Terrorism"
xaxnar [DailyKos 8-6-19]
One wonders why John Hickenlooper is still warning of the dangers of extreme leftist socialism. One wonders why Joe Biden still thinks the GOP will come to its senses if Trump is gone. One wonders when Nancy Pelosi and the rest of the Democratic leadership will realize we have a bigger problem than just Trump. 
If you are prepared to read more than one thing, read Kevin Drum, who spelled this out a year ago at Mother Jones.
Today, the Republican Party exists for one and only one purpose: to pass tax cuts for the rich and regulatory rollbacks for corporations. They accomplish this using one and only method: unapologetically racist and bigoted appeals to win the votes of the heartland riff-raff they otherwise treat as mere money machines for their endless mail-order cons.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

The triumph of the squares


The 50th anniversary of the first moon walk has caused me a full-blown geek-out. I remember the space race with fondness. Aerospace was the biggest story out there. The 50s and 60s saw an explosion of technological growth. Some favorites of mine from that era include the F-104, the U-2, the SR-71, the Boeing 707, 727, and 747—the "jet age" planes that changed travel and even music by democratizing flight.

I "graduated" from my Erector Set stage straight into model airplanes—the ones that flew and made a bunch of noise. And even though the space race was on, I was never seduced into model rocketry. It was expensive and the available examples didn't do much—restricted as they were by the same sort of regulations as fireworks (which where I lived were essentially outlawed.)

Real-world rockets were kind of boring as well. The most notorious of the test pilots out at Edwards Air Force Base (Chuck Yeager) even labeled the early astronauts as nothing more than "spam in a can." After all, the first "American" in space was a chimp. But that wouldn't last long. The original astronauts were extremely competent test pilots and before long, they were demanding greater control of their missions.

Even so, I was far more interested in the flight testing at Edwards where they pushed the limits of supersonic flight with real airplanes like fighters jets. But soon, they eventually embraced rocketry with the incomparable X-15. They had to. If you want to set speed and altitude records, eventually you run out of atmosphere where air-breathing power-plants simply do not work. The X-15 was insanely fast, complex and dangerous. It wasn't going to be piloted by a chimp. In fact, these things required the skills of the best pilots we could find. And I had a favorite—Neil Armstrong.



Armstrong was a superb pilot. On one mission a failure of a new instrument caused him to fly nearly 50 miles beyond where he was supposed to turn back to Edwards. His propulsion was spent so he was flying a glider with the aerodynamic performance (4:1 glide ratio) of a brick. He nursed that X-15 back to Edwards coming over the lake bed at less than 100'. This would be the same guy who landed on the moon with less than 30 seconds worth of fuel.

His degree in aeronautical engineering came from Purdue. This is NOT a school that grants engineering degrees to goof-offs. In fact Purdue would contribute a serious fraction of the top engineers to the space program. The rest mostly came from State Universities in the USA Midwest like Michigan.

He grew up in Wapakoneta, Ohio about an hour north of Dayton—the home of the Wright Brothers. His father paid for a ride in a Ford Tri-motor at 6. He soloed an airplane on his 16th birthday (the legal minimum age) and spent much of his childhood building model airplanes. This last fact is what endeared him to me. I too built model airplanes which were insanely difficult to get to fly well. The problem is that models and real airplanes conform to the same laws of nature which means to indulge in this hobby, it really helps to learn things like fluid dynamics, lightweight structures, and drag coefficients. You know—kid stuff.

Yes that is me with a model that required at least 150 hours to build. Didn't fly very well—too little power and too much paint.



Flying is something that only happens on the boundaries of perfection. You can get 15,000 things right and one wrong and your precious airplane is a flaming heap. Good pilots are followers of check lists—as diligent on the 1000th time through as the first. They read the operator's manuals. They know what all those switches do. They understand that dishonesty and corner-cutting could end their lives.

Armstrong was notorious for insisting on understanding every part of his aircraft. He wanted to know what everything was supposed to do and what it COULD do in an emergency. But even better, he understood that flying is a team effort and it was critical for every member of the team to take their jobs seriously. Here's what he says about the people who built Apollo.
Armstrong: Each of the components of our hardware were designed to certain reliability specifications, and for the majority, to my recollection, had a reliability requirement of 0.99996, which means that you have four failures in 100,000 operations. I've been told that if every component met its reliability specifications precisely, that a typical Apollo flight would have about [1,000] separate identifiable failures. In fact, we had more like 150 failures per flight, [substantially] better than statistical methods would tell you that you might have.

I can only attribute that to the fact that every guy in the project, every guy at the bench building something, every assembler, every inspector, every guy that's setting up the tests, cranking the torque wrench, and so on, is saying, man or woman, "If anything goes wrong here, it's not going to be my fault, because my part is going to be better than I have to make it." And when you have hundreds of thousands of people all doing their job a little better than they have to, you get an improvement in performance. And that's the only reason we could have pulled this whole thing off.

The Triumph of the Squares

Nearly a year after the landing of Apollo 11, NASA head Thomas Paine gave a commencement address at Worcester Polytechnic Institute where he declared that the successful moonshot was a triumph of the squares, the validation of the values of "Squareland" which he listed as foremost a profound faith in reason. It was "outward looking and mathematical," was "time oriented...and deeply concerned with future consequences." It "accepts as true only rational facts and theories which predict future events with mathematical precision under rigorous standards of reproducibility. Only Squareland's rationality could ensure the "crops yield, lights light, bridges carry loads, children avoid polio, and men walk on the moon." In fact. to Squarelanders, a solid definition of "truth" might be "that which successfully takes two men to the moon."

This speech made me groan and roll my eyes. On one hand, going to the moon really DID require the "square" virtues that Paine so celebrated. Beside, I was clearly a prototypical "square" (see photo above.) Building airplanes sort of demands squareness. I was also the son of a small-town clergyman—building airplanes was one way of staying above the reproach of the church ladies. On the other hand, this speech set off the scolds who assumed that "square" virtue included an unquestioning support of the Vietnam War, a marked preference for booze over pot, white shirts and neck ties, and above all, short hair for men.

Unfortunately, the space race had been sold as Cold War macho and a real-live Nazi named Wernher von Braun was chosen to head the effort. So the link between the space race and unbridled militarism was pretty damn short. NASA was acutely aware of this problem. It was one of the reasons that Neil Armstrong was chosen to take the first step—he was the only civilian pilot to have reached his advanced status. This turned out to be an excellent choice. In the goodwill tour following the moon landing, he charmed his listeners around the world into believing that this was a triumph of human (not American) genius. The reason this worked is because Armstrong deeply believed it was true.

But while the moon landing was clearly a triumph of the squares, the squares would not triumph. By 1972 the Apollo program was ended and no human has gone beyond low-earth orbit since. The can-do attitude of Apollo has so completely disappeared from American culture that many now actually believe the landing was a hoax. It is probably more accurate to call Apollo "Peak Square" because the vast majority of my fellow citizens in 2019 look on a profound faith in reason as a weird psychological disorder.

BBC calling

In the summer of 1970, I found myself in UK. I kept running into people who wanted to talk about the moon landing. Most of them were very well informed. I had to scramble to keep up at times. One night in London, a waitress in a pub sat down next to me and asked if I was the American space expert she had overheard. I humbly admitted I was probably who she was looking for but I was FAR from being an expert. Then she asked, "How did they know how long the burn for the lunar insertion midflight correction should be? And how did they know they were pointing the engine in the right direction?" I didn't have a canned response so I pulled out my understanding of inertial navigation. It wasn't a very good answer but she seemed to understand, smiled and went back to work. I was left wondering just how a random London barmaid knew enough to even ask such good questions.

In 1978, PBS would air a 10-part series called Connections starring a fascinating storyteller named James Burke. (There was a companion coffee-table book by the same name). Burke had carved out an awesome assignment for himself. He wanted to explain the products of the modern world (computers, plastics, powered flight, etc.) in such a way that his listeners would understand how their world came to be. It was absolutely brilliant. Episode #1 The trigger effect traced the development of a modern city like New York back to the invention of the plow. The nine that would follow were equally good. Somewhere along the way we are informed that Burke was the man who covered Apollo for BBC.

AHA! That explained why the Brits knew so much about the moon landing—at least partly. So in the near-infinity of Apollo 11 at 50 coverage on YouTube, I went looking to see if I could find any of Burke's descriptions. I found a good one—an hour of Apollo highlights.




Just in case you need a reminder of how utterly lame the Apollo coverage was on USA corporate media, here is an example from ABC. I am pretty sure all the CBS and ABC coverage of the whole mission can be found at YouTube.

Of all the footage of the Apollo 11 mission that I have uncovered in the past few months, the following may be my favorite. It was done by NASA and has even more in capsule footage than the recently released Blu-Ray of Apollo 11. Of course, the new version has far superior imagery because restoration techniques are so much better. But this one is narrated by Wernher von Braun himself and the technique he used is to compare the 1969 effort against the description of a trip to the moon from Jules Verne's 1865 From Earth to the Moon.





As for the speculation that the Apollo program could provide a template for how this nation should take on the challenges of climate change, my responses are:

It might work
  • If we can restock our seriously depleted supply of "squares."
  • If we can find leadership that understands that this problem will be at LEAST 1000 times more difficult than the moon landing—and that's the best reason to do it.
The HILL looked at this possibility in more depth: Apollo as model for climate change.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Week-end Wrap - Political Economy - August 3, 2019

Week-end Wrap - Political Economy - August 3, 2019
by Tony Wikrent
Economics Action Group, North Carolina Democratic Party Progressive Caucus

Upcoming events

August 7: Film Screening of Zero Weeks with Congresswoman Adams (Charlotte)
[NC AFL-CIO 8-2-19]
The award-winning documentary film Zero Weeks explores the crisis of unpaid leave in America. Immediately following the screening of the film will be a discussion featuring leaders working on paid leave for all.
September 2: Charlotte Labor Day Parade
[NC AFL-CIO 8-2-19]

September 19-20: 62nd Annual NC AFL-CIO Convention (Charlotte)[NC AFL-CIO 8-2-19]

Strategic Political Economy

Jeffrey Epstein, Trump’s Mentor and the Dark Secrets of the Reagan Era
[MintPress, via Naked Capitalism 8-1-19]
Starting first with mob-linked liquor baron Lewis Rosenstiel and later with Roy Cohn, Rosenstiel’s protege and future mentor to Donald Trump, Epstein’s is just one of the many sexual blackmail operations involving children that are all tied to the same network, which includes elements of organized crime, powerful Washington politicians, lobbyists and “fixers,” and clear links to intelligence as well as the FBI.
Some of the worst memories of my community organizing days in the 1980s involve my trying to convince people that USA’s industrial base was being destroyed by takeovers largely financed with money from organized crime. People just did want to hear the details. They especially did not want to hear that St. Ronnie’s political career had been promoted by the mob. Amazingly, the people most resistant to these facts were the “organized” leftists in CPUSA and SWP. The communists and socialists almost invariably dismissed the details of these organized crime connections, and wanted only to discuss impersonal theoretical forces like “historical materialism” and “capitalist accumulation.” I came to detest talking to them.

For three decades now, I have occasionally referred to this issue of organized crime taking over the USA industrial economy, and hypothesized that one major effect has never been studied: replacing competent industrial management with the criminal mentality and inclinations of the mob-financed corporate raiders. It was Jon Larson at RealEconomics who about 15 years ago pointed me to Thorstein Veblen’s (The Theory of the Leisure Class) explanation of how “Leisure Class” predatory elites are “barbarians: who gain power through force and fraud: “The traits which characterise the predatory and subsequent stages of culture, and which indicate the types of man best fitted to survive under the rĂ©gime of status, are (in their primary expression) ferocity, self-seeking, clannishness, and disingenuousness — a free resort to force and fraud.” Veblen explained how the rise of criminal predators to economic power creates a pecuniary culture.

GND - An opportunity too big to miss

[Bill Mitchell], via Naked Capitalism 7-30-19]
“At the basis of the [standard neoclassical microeconomics] ‘solution’ is the belief that there is a trade-off between, say, environmental damage and economic growth (production). And the market failure skews that trade-off towards growth at the expense of environmental health. So all that is needed is some intervention (a tax) that will skew the trade-off back to something more preferable. The problem is that the whole idea that there is a trade-off between protecting our environment and economic production is flawed at the most elemental level.

There is no calculus (which underpins this sort of microeconomic reasoning) that can tell us when a biological system will die. The idea that we can have a ‘safe’ level of pollution, regulated via a price system, is groundless and should not form part of a progressive response. Carbon trading schemes (CTS) are neoliberal constructs which start with the presumption that a free market is the best way to organise allocation.” 
Lamber Strether adds: "Worth repeating: Mark Blyth says that “Markets cannot internalize their externalities on a planetary scale. They just can’t. It’s impossible.” "

Sunday, July 28, 2019

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

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

Strategic Political Economy

These journalists exposed the corruption that led to Puerto Rico’s mass protests
[CNN, via Naked Capitalism 7-24-19]

The World’s Biggest Lawsuit, Juliana v. United States, will force US government to stop climate change
Lambert Strether, July 25, 2019 [Naked Capitalism]
Juliana v. United States is a big and complicated case that has now advanced through two administrations. The original complaint was filed in September 2015; Judge Ann Aiken of Oregon district court rejected the government’s motion to dismiss the case in November 2016.... The American Bar Association, in “Can Our Children Trust Us with Their Future?,” describes the scale of the case and the stakes:
The 2016 ruling in Kelsey Cascadia Rose Juliana v. USA is one of the greatest recent events in our system of law. (See Opinion and Order, Case No. 6:15-cv-01517-TC, US District Court for Oregon, Eugene Division. Anne Aiken, Judge, filed 11/10/16.) A group of children between the ages of eight and nineteen filed suit against the federal government, asking the court to order the government to act on climate change, asserting harm from carbon emissions. The federal government’s motion to dismiss was denied. Although I am not involved in the case, I am a lifelong environmentalist, and I teach environmental law (to non-law students). This case is a shining example of what law can be. This case gives me hope that we will not continue to cooperate in our own destruction, and future generations will be able to rely on us to uphold the spirit of the law and purpose behind government....
So Juliana v. United States is a lawsuit that’s being sponsored and facilitated by Our Children’s Trust, which is a nonprofit organization in Eugene, Oregon, that’s been working on atmospheric climate litigation to try to deal with the climate crisis for a while. So our lawsuit was filed in August of 2015, with 21 plaintiffs from all over the country that each have their own complaint, as part of a large declaration that gives a standing to sue the U.S. Federal Government. And basically, we’re asserting that the U.S. Federal Government has known since 1960 that climate change could be potentially disastrous. We have proof from administrations going back all the way to the Johnson administration, saying that they knew climate change could be an issue and they knew that fossil fuel infrastructure was causing it. And the U.S Federal Government still chose to take direct action to continue to perpetuate the fossil fuel industry and the U.S. fossil fuel economy that we have. 
And we’re asserting that by taking that direct action, they’ve disproportionately put the rights of young people at risk, and the rights of life liberty and property as promised to us in the Constitution....
....
From The New Yorker, in “The Right to a Stable Climate Is the Constitutional Question of the Twenty-first Century“:

Judge Aiken had found that the plaintiffs had standing to sue because they had demonstrated three things: that they had suffered particular, concrete injuries; that the cause of their injuries was “fairly traceable” to the government’s actions; and that the courts had the ability, at least partially, to remedy these injuries. On the first two parts of standing, the government’s case is weakening by the minute, owing especially to the growing body of attribution science—studies published in peer-reviewed journals that directly link extreme weather events, such as huge hurricanes and raging wildfires, to climate change. “Evidence to meet the standing burden has gotten much stronger,” Ann Carlson, an environmental-law professor at U.C.L.A., told me....
.... 
Here is a lawyerly disquistion on the public trust doctrine from the American Bar Association, “Climate Change Litigation: A Way Forward“, with citations and everything....
CBS reporter Steve Croft, in “The climate change lawsuit that could stop the U.S. government from supporting fossil fuels,” interviews Julia Olson, an Oregon lawyer, and the executive director of the NGO, Our Children’s Trust, which initiated Juliana:

“[Olson] began constructing the case eight years ago out of this spartan space now dominated by this paper diorama that winds its way through the office.”

OLSON : So this is a timeline that we put together… [D]uring President Johnson’s administration, they issued a report in 1965 that talked about climate change being a catastrophic threat. Every president knew that burning fossil fuels was causing climate change. 
Fifty years of evidence has been amassed by Olson and her team, 36,000 pages in all, to be used in court.

OLSON: Our government, at the highest levels, knew and was briefed on it regularly by the national security community, by the scientific community. They have known for a very long time that it was a big threat. 
KROFT: Has the government disputed that government officials have known about this for more than 50 years and been told and warned about it for 50 years? 
OLSON: No. They admit that the government has known for over 50 years that burning fossil fuels would cause climate change. And they don’t dispute that we are in a danger zone on climate change. And they don’t dispute that climate change is a national security threat and a threat to our economy and a threat to people’s lives and safety. They do not dispute any of those facts of the case.Steve Kroft: So you’ve got them with their own words. 
OLSON: We have them with their own words. It’s really the clearest, most compelling evidence I’ve ever had in any case I’ve litigated in over 20 years. 
30,000 pages. It looks like there’s a reason Juliana has survived as long as it has.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

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

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

Strategic Political Economy

"Can the Left Even Understand Why the Right is winning?" 

Philip Mirowski, who has detailed the history of the "neoliberal thought collective," the Mont Pelerin Society, posted the first draft of a new paper,  "Can the Left Even Understand Why the Right is winning?" It can be viewed if you register with www.academia.edu and Mirowski grants you permission. Explaining the rise of Trump and a conservatism that is increasingly open about its bigotry,  Mirowski rejects the "bromidic term ‘populism’" and points instead to
the recent bounty of exceptional work on the history of neoliberalism [including] Quinn Slobodian, Globalists (Harvard, 2018); Wendy Brown, Undoing the Demos (Zone, 2015); Thomas Biebricher, The Political Theory of Neoliberalism (Stanford, 2018); Nancy MacLean, Democracy in Chains, (Viking, 2017); Melinda Cooper, Family Values (Zone, 2017); and Jessica Whyte, The Morals of the Market, (Verso, 2019). 
Mirowski observes:
...it seems many activists on the left hold out few ambitions for any sort of ‘fusionist’ project themselves, and instinctively shy away from an explicit political economy, and therefore have not been capable of understanding the relative unity of the forces arrayed against them. If someone suggests otherwise, the tendency has been to disparage such thinking as tainted by ‘conspiracy theories’....
The biggest intellectual failure of the left is its demonstrated incapacity to theorize the role and significance of markets. Curiously, unlike the most sophisticated neoliberals, much of the left still buys into the myth of the government vs. the market. That is, they imagine a separate entity called government existing outside of something called ‘the market’, with the former possessing the wisdom to identify ‘market failures’ and rectify them with judicious ‘regulation’.
After discussing how neoliberals themselves have not agreed on any exact definition of "markets" -- perhaps intentionally ("to render political action by the masses so difficult as to be permanently stymied, both by restricting the franchise but also by the strategic production of ignorance, which renders political understanding inchoate") -- Mirowski gets to his key critique of the left's ignorance concerning neoliberalism:
There are two very important facts about neoliberals that the left needs to take to heart: [1] They do not believe in laissez faire, but are unrepentantly constructivist about government—that is, they acknowledge the tenet that their minions must occupy the government at whatever level (local, national, transnational) and in whatever ways are deemed effective to bring about the sort of ‘reforms’ they believe are urgent; and [2] They take seriously the epistemic premise that people are generally imperfect cognitive beings, and that (their definition of) The Market knows more than any human being ever could about the world. Both principles may seem rather paradoxical given their publicly stated doctrines, something that numerous writers have explored in detail.  But those on the Left seem especially incapable of taking either one seriously, and thus to attain understanding how these two principles interact. 
Ever since Hillary Clinton lost a presidential election that was uniquely hers to lose, I have thought it almost comical that we have Democratic Party elites and liberal leaders who, on one hand, have repeatedly rejected the argument that the creation and promotion of movement conservatism amounts to a dedicated conspiracy by wealthy reactionaries with manifold ties to Wall Street, and on the other hand, have been almost hysterical in their insistence that the election was stolen from Hillary by a conspiracy run by Vladimir Putin and his Russian minions. Why they reject the one conspiracy theory but embrace the other, is not too difficult to understand, in the context of the USA political system's utter dependency on the rich for campaign contributions.

During my community organizing days in the 1980s, when I was with a radical group within the Democratic Party trying to stop NAFTA, I repeatedly encountered an unwillingness among leftists to even consider direct political action targeting specific individuals responsible for political atrocities. This unwillingness to "name names" approached hysteria when facts were presented that much of the USA industrial base was being bought and looted by "leverage buyout" corporate raiders with significant financial backing from organized crime. I remain of the opinion that this unwillingness to face these facts was a reflection of personal and institutional cowardice to confront the immense political power of Wall Street, and the potentially violent retribution of organized crime. Especially by the late 1980s, when it was clear to those willing to see that Wall Street and organized crime had pretty much merged. (See for example the conclusion by Catherine Austin Fitts, managing director of Dillon, Read & Co. at the time, that the $25 billion buyout of  RJR Nabisco in 1989 only made sense if Kohlberg Kravis and Roberts -- and whoever KKR actually was acting on behalf of -- needed to launder billions of dollars of dirty money).

My group was also tracking a number of different economic metrics that by the mid-1990s clearly indicated that we had lost -- and lost big. The significant ones I remember was that the dollar amount of mergers and acquisitions had eclipsed measures such as private expenditures on new plant and equipment, total national research and development spending, and total national capital expenditures.

Today, I think the same type of unwillingness to "name names" is reflected in the insistence that there are no solutions because the real problem is overpopulation. My three decades of political fighting is informed by my apparently unusual historical reading on the USA Whig Party that gave way to the Republican Party in the 1850s, and the "American School" political economy of that now forgotten faction in USA political history. (It is highly instructive that the Wikipedia entry on the American School is flagged for possible violation of "neutral point of view.") One of the key tenets of American School economists was their explicit and often fierce rejection of the "overpopulation" doctrine of British East India Company apologist Thomas Malthus.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

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

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


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

Strategic Political Economy

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

Disrupting mainstream economics

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

When Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell testifed before the House Wednesday, Team Blue’s freshmen lawmakers posed some of the hearings most incisive questions.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

Predatory Finance

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