Sunday, May 31, 2020

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – May 31, 2020

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – May 31, 2020
by Tony Wikrent


[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 5-29-20]
Here's video of the first person alleged to have taken a hammer to the AutoZone window, which activists immediately suspected was a provocation. Black gloves, black boots, black clothes (not unkempt like antifa, no offense), nice gas mask. Who is this guy? https://www.facebook.com/juan.conner.58/posts/137533351239840?hc_location=ufi 
View image on Twitter

Strategic Political Economy

General Electric Co. is turning out the lights on an iconic part of its business.
[Wall Street Journal, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 5-28-20] 
Trump's revival of American manufacturing....
“General Electric Co. is turning out the lights on an iconic part of its business. The company is getting out of making lightbulbs…. selling a unit that defined GE for nearly a century and was its last direct link to consumers. The company will sell its lighting business to Massachusetts-based Savant Systems Inc., a seller of home-automation technology in a transaction that values the unit at around $250 million.... That hardly makes the business a financial heavyweight, but the sale is the latest sign of the transformation of the American manufacturing landscape and a big marker in the changes at GE. The company has been selling off industrial units to pare down its debts, making GE smaller but also making it more reliant on an aviation unit that now faces tough prospects under the coronavirus pandemic.”

“What About the Rotten Culture of the Rich?”
Chris Arnade, American Compass, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 5-26-20]
“Why isn’t it considered bad behavior to sit in front of a wall of screens filled with flashing numbers making bets on those numbers? Would it attract the cultural scolds if the people making those bets where drinking tall boys in brown bags, rather than sipping bespoke lattes? Why isn’t it considered bad behavior to find a mid sized company, load it up with debt, strip it of its valuable assets, and send jobs overseas to the country with the lowest labor cost and least environmental regulations. All to make yourself rich, while leaving an economic hole in a Michigan town, or a New York town. A hole that sucks out hope, and eventually fills with despair and drugs…. The lesson is that cleverness trumps hard work. That a disregard for the rules trumps playing it straight. That you are a fool to put your head down every day, play by the rules, and focus on a job that values your community and your family. Why toil away at growing food, or building roads, or building bridges, when you can get rich quick by sitting in front of a wall of computers betting on flashing numbers? Why diligently work your way up the corporate ladder when you can smooth talk enough people into lending you enough money to take over the corporation, fire the board, leverage it up with debt, and then dismantle it while pocketing a few billion…. .I hope if we do talk about our broken culture, we talk about the destructive individualism of elites that has led to a selfishness that cares more about profits than the national or community good.”
Does China offer the world more than the US? Asia Times, via Naked Capitalism 5-26-20]
 China has no universal idea to offer to the world; there are just China’s interests. Its win-win offer on trade is the basic principle of any exchange, and it usually means the Chinese try to make more money than the other party.
Conversely the US has a broader idealistic approach, which is sometimes fake, obscuring much more hard-nosed realities and at times hindering adoption of a more realistic approach. However, all in all, the posture serves to enhance America’s global reach. The approach also argues that the US is not there just for the good of the US but for the good of all.
Moreover, China is focusing internally. At the NPC, China announced it will graduate 8.5 million people this year. Half of them will be engineers. It will expand its 5G network to the whole country and become possibly the first highly digitalized country in the world. These are not empty promises. In less than 20 years, China connected its huge domestic market by building or upgrading more than 130,000 km of railway, of which over 16,000 km are high speed. More than 20 subway systems and 100 lines were built in Chinese metropolises in the past decade. These numbers will not solve everything, but are definitely testament to Beijing’s determination to move forward. 

The Epidemic

“These Charts And Maps Show Where The Coronavirus Is Surging Across The US — And Where It Is In Decline” 
[Buzzfeed], via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 5-27-20] 
The county map shows clearly that aggregate state date conceals major trends. 
“As the weeks and months drag on, experts expect to see a patchwork of surging and subsiding local epidemics — particularly if the virus starts to spread rapidly in places that are relaxing lockdowns that have brought the economy to its knees.” 
New Zealand has no new coronavirus cases and just discharged its last hospital patient. Here are the secrets to the country’s success. 
[Business Insider, via Naked Capitalism 5-30-20]
Testing and contact tracing - very standard public health measures the USA appears incapable of, making USA the world's first failed developed state.


[City Lab, via Naked Capitalism 5-28-20]

“There’s A Cover-Up Happening In Iowa”
[Iowa Starting Line, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 5-29-20]
“Though Iowa has put out some information on meatpacking plant outbreaks, Gov. Reynolds and IDPH has done their best to obfuscate their severity, limit public announcements and just outright ignore problems when they can. Most of what Iowans know of these outbreaks have only come after dogged investigations from local reporters. The reason is to keep these plants running at all costs, both so that company executives don’t lose money and that local hog farmers don’t have their supply chain disrupted. The cost to keep everything going is simply workers’ lives and their health. This trade-off need not exist — it is possible to both keep workers safe and plants running, but it seems that anything that may slow production in the slightest is avoided.”
David Dayen, May 27, 2020 [American Prospect]
What would become known as the CARES Act became law on March 27, and the investor class has never looked back. While Americans struggle to file unemployment claims and extract stimulus checks from their banks, while small businesses face extinction amid a meager and under-baked federal grant program, the Fed has, at least temporarily, propped up every equity and credit market in America. And in a testament to its strength, it did so without spending a single cent.
The mere announcement of future spending heartened investors, who have relied on Fed support since the last financial crisis. This explains the shocking dissonance between collapsing economic conditions and the relative comfort on Wall Street. Between March 23 and April 30, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rocketed nearly 6,000 points, a jump of nearly 31 percent, creating over $7 trillion in capital wealth. The April gains were the biggest in one month since 1987.
[Bloomberg, via Naked Capitalism 5-29-20]

A Bailout for Elites, Crumbs for Everyone Else
David Dayen, May 27, 2020 [American Prospect]
...Since that moment the stock market has been up over 30 percent, creating over $7 trillion in wealth. Corporate bond funds have almost completely recovered; charts of them look like a panoramic view of the Grand Canyon, hitting a low point on March 23, before shooting back up. Corporate bond spreads, a way to show the cost of a corporation borrowing money, peaked on March 23 and have now reduced by more than half in many cases.
All of this ranges into the trillions of dollars in support, and companies are taking advantage. We identified 49 large firms, including blue-chippers like Apple and Disney and Coca-Cola who have taken over $190 billion in debt since March 23. The three largest weeks in the history of corporate debt offerings were two weeks in April and the first week of May. Over $1 trillion in investment-grade bonds have been issued this year, nearly as much as all of 2019. Here’s Macy’s today offering $1 billion in bonds to pay down a credit line it previously borrowed from.

Capitalism in the Time of COVID19

INVESTIGATION: Cuomo Gave Immunity to Nursing Home Execs After Big Donations — Now People Are Dying
David Sirota [Too Much Information, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 5-27-20]
“As Governor Andrew Cuomo faced a spirited challenge in his bid to win New York’s 2018 Democratic primary, his political apparatus got a last-minute boost: a powerful health care industry group suddenly poured more than $1 million into a Democratic committee backing his campaign. Less than two years after that flood of cash from the Greater New York Hospital Association (GNYHA), Cuomo signed legislation last month quietly shielding hospital and nursing-home executives from the threat of lawsuits stemming from the coronavirus outbreak. The provision, inserted into an annual budget bill by Cuomo’s aides, created one of the nation’s most explicit immunity protections for health care industry officials, according to legal experts.”
“As residents perish, nursing homes fight for protection from lawsuits” 
[Politico, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 5-27-20] 
“As an unprecedented catastrophe unfolds in which more than 28,000 people have died of Covid-19 in care facilities, the nursing home industry is responding with an unprecedented action of its own: Using its multi-million dollar lobbying machine to secure protections from liability in lawsuits. At least 20 states have swiftly taken action within the last two and a half months to limit the legal exposure of the politically powerful nursing home industry, which risks huge losses if families of coronavirus victims successfully sue facilities hit by the pandemic. Now, the industry is turning its energies to obtaining nationwide protections from Congress in the upcoming coronavirus relief bill.”
White House adviser Kevin Hassett: "Our human capital stock is ready to go back to work."
[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 5-28-20]
Aaron Rupar
@atrupar
White House adviser Kevin Hassett: "Our human capital stock is ready to go back to work." #HumanCapitalStock
Lambert Strether asked: "“Stock” like investments, inventory, or cattle?"

Boeing to cut nearly 10,000 jobs in Washington, more than 12,000 overall 
[Seattle Times, via Naked Capitalism 5-28-20]

Grover Norquist’s Dismantled State Struggles to Respond

Poll: 37% of unemployed Americans ran out of food in past month
[Detroit News, via Naked Capitalism 5-25-20]

Hunger Program’s Slow Start Leaves Millions of Children Waiting
[New York Times 5-27-20]
An emergency program created by Congress to replace school meals during the coronavirus outbreak has reached only about 15 percent of eligible children, according to an analysis by The Times. One problem: Outdated state computers.
The program, Pandemic-EBT, aims to compensate for the declining reach of school meals by placing their value on electronic cards that families can use in grocery stores. But collecting lunch lists from thousands of school districts, transferring them to often-outdated state computers and issuing specialized cards has proved much harder than envisioned, leaving millions of needy families waiting to buy food.
Congress approved the effort in mid-March as part of the Families First act, its first major coronavirus relief package. By May 15, only about 15 percent of eligible children had received benefits, according to an analysis by The New York Times. Just 12 states had started sending money, and Michigan and Rhode Island alone had finished....
All signs show child hunger is soaring. In a survey of mothers with young children by the Brookings Institution, nearly a fifth said their children were not getting enough to eat — a rate three times higher than the worst of the Great Recession. The Census Bureau reported last week that 31 percent of households with children lacked the amount or quality of food they desired because they “couldn’t afford to buy more.” ....Food prices in April rose at the fastest pace in 46 years.

Economic Armageddon

“Jobless Claims at 2.1 Million, But Joblessness Shrinks Slightly” 
[Industry Week, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 5-28-20]
“The next significant sign of how the economy is adapting through the COVID-19 crisis will come next week, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases its May jobs report June 5. The last available Employment Situation report, for the month of April, was released May 8 and showed an active unemployment rate of 14.7%, its highest level since the Great Depression. That figure doesn’t include people who are considered outside of the labor market or who have stopped working for work. Some predictions have the unemployment rate reaching 20%, or about 5% shy of records set during the Great Depression.”
GOP Wants Cuts to Social Security and Medicare in Next COVID Stimulus Package
[Truthout, via Naked Capitalism 5-25-20]
Speaking to Politico this week, two Republican congressmen — Reps. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) and Steve Womack (R-Ark.) — cited the coronavirus pandemic’s possible effects on Social Security to call for a commission to study the program and recommend reforms. Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.), meanwhile, is pushing for an expansion of benefits funded by lifting the payroll tax cap, which would make wealthier Americans pay more. “I don’t know when we’re going to decide to take up the issue,” said Womack. “I hope and I pray that it’s not when we have no other real options other than something draconian like big cuts.” 
[President and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare] Richtman warned that in the near future the public is likely “going to start hearing more and more” GOP proposals to cut Social Security under the guise of “entitlement reform” as the party suddenly rediscovers its concern for the mounting deficit.
“Obviously this is a way to push in cuts to Social Security and Medicare without leaving fingerprints, or not many fingerprints,” Richtman said of the TRUST Act.“5 million student-loan borrowers may see their credit scores fall after CARES Act paused loan payments — ‘It’s another battle'” 
[MarketWatch, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 5-25-20]
“To find out her credit score inexplicably dropped in the middle of a pandemic that’s already creating so much uncertainty, was unsettling, [Brooke Evans] said. The 28-year-old, who says she is currently sheltering in a temporary living arrangement, worries that any ding to her credit score could impact her search for affordable housing… Eventually, after sending messages on Twitter tagging the companies involved and eventually getting on the phone with her student-loan servicer, Great Lakes, Evans learned that her credit score decline was tied to the CARES Act, the $2.2-trillion stimulus bill that allowed student-loan borrowers to pause payments. She appears to be one of up to roughly five million borrowers whose score was dinged, despite instructions from Congress that the pause on student-loan payments shouldn’t affect borrowers’ credit scores. The situation highlights the challenges consumers are facing as they navigate pandemic-era relief programs. It also underscores the complex web of companies the hold sway over Americans’ personal finances, companies that control how consumers are judged through a process that’s poorly understood by the average person. A credit score is a crucial metric that lenders use to assess borrowers’ eligibility for auto, home and other loans — and the price they pay for those loans — as well as renting apartments and other major purchases. In some cases, it’s even used by employers to evaluate a potential new hire. But it’s based on an algorithm that’s often opaque to consumers and it relies on lenders reporting information to credit bureaus accurately.”
“Scott Rasmussen’s Number of the Day” 
[Ballotpedia, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 5-28-20]
“Thirty-nine percent (39%) of voters have a family member who has lost their primary income due to the government shutdowns of the economy. A Ballotpedia survey of 1,200 registered voters found that 57% have not experienced that challenge….. Fifty-six percent (56%) of Hispanic voters have experienced such loss along with 49% of black voters. That figure is just 33% among white voters….. [J]ust 20% of white Democrats believe the lockdowns have done more harm than good. However, 38% of non-white Democrats believe that to be true.”
[Guardian, via Naked Capitalism 5-30-20]
[Bloomberg, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 5-28-20]  
“Companies across the U.S. are cutting salaries as they fight to survive the coronavirus, upending a key assumption in modern economics and raising another hurdle to rapid recovery. The hard numbers won’t be in for months, but anecdotal evidence is piling up. On earnings calls, big businesses including The Container Store Group and Lyft have cited what they say are temporary salary reductions. Federal Reserve officials also have found plenty of supporting evidence. The pandemic has triggered unemployment on a scale not seen since the Great Depression. Pay cuts for Americans who’ve managed to hold onto their jobs may hobble the return to normal. People will have to use a bigger chunk of their income for fixed obligations such as housing and other debts — leaving less for the kind of spending that can help spark the economy back into life.”

Progressive Policies into the Breach

What’s the difference between a universal and means-tested child allowance? 
James Medlock[ via Naked Capitalism 5-27-20]

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, May 28, 2020 [American Prospect]
Government-funded worker paychecks are superior to pushing people to unemployment, writes the author of the Paycheck Recovery Act....
The Paycheck Recovery Act, H.R. 6918, is that path forward. And it’s a path forward that has broad, bipartisan, bicameral support in Congress, with 99 co-sponsors in the House including one dozen frontline members who were elected in swing districts. My colleagues agree that this is a proposal that will save jobs, save businesses, and help the economy recover while we weather this public-health crisis. It is a proven policy solution that is already highly effective in other parts of the world, from Germany and Denmark to Singapore and South Korea. It’s also supported by major labor groups across America, small- and big-business owners, Nobel Prize–winning economists, a former Federal Reserve chair, and the public.
Demand the Senate help our local and state governments, not give millionaires billions in tax cuts they don't need.
[Economic Policy Institute 5-28-20]
...hidden deep in the $2.2 trillion CARES Act was an obscure $135 billion tax break for the richest 1% in our country. This measure was slipped in by Senate Republicans to benefit millionaire business owners. This tax giveaway will hand 43,000 millionaires an average $1.6 million tax break!
So, instead of throwing away $135 billon on tax cuts for millionaires, let's dedicate that money where it could actually do some good. Let's make sure our local and state governments receive critically needed funds to maintain essential services and prevent budget cuts and job losses.
 EPI's Josh Bivens writes: "State and local governments are currently forecast to be facing revenue shortfalls as large as $1 trillion over the coming years. If no help is forthcoming from the federal government to close these shortfalls, the result will be an economic disaster—one that is not confined to these governments. Besides the obvious loss of valuable public services, cuts of this size would quickly ripple out from the public sector and destroy private-sector jobs."

[American Political Science Review, via Naked Capitalism 5-28-20]
Abstract: How do stigmatized minorities advance agendas when confronted with hostile majorities? Elite theories of influence posit marginal groups exert little power. I propose the concept of agenda seeding to describe how activists use methods like disruption to capture the attention of media and overcome political asymmetries. Further, I hypothesize protest tactics influence how news organizations frame demands. Evaluating black-led protests between 1960 and 1972, I find nonviolent activism, particularly when met with state or vigilante repression, drove media coverage, framing, congressional speech, and public opinion on civil rights. Counties proximate to nonviolent protests saw presidential Democratic vote share increase 1.6–2.5%. Protester-initiated violence, by contrast, helped move news agendas, frames, elite discourse, and public concern toward “social control.” In 1968, using rainfall as an instrument, I find violent protests likely caused a 1.5–7.9% shift among whites toward Republicans and tipped the election. Elites may dominate political communication but hold no monopoly.

Predatory Finance

The Dawn of the BlackRock Era
[American Prospect 5-15-20]
The world’s largest asset manager is poised for overwhelming influence no matter who wins the next presidential election.

Political Armageddon

[Politico 5-26-20, via Atrios]
In early April, Jason Furman, a top economist in the Obama administration and now a professor at Harvard, was speaking via Zoom to a large bipartisan group of top officials from both parties. The economy had just been shut down, unemployment was spiking and some policymakers were predicting an era worse than the Great Depression. The economic carnage seemed likely to doom President Donald Trump’s chances at reelection.... “We are about to see the best economic data we’ve seen in the history of this country,” he said....
 “Everyone looked puzzled and thought I had misspoken,” Furman said in an interview. Instead of forecasting a prolonged Depression-level economic catastrophe, Furman laid out a detailed case for why the months preceding the November election could offer Trump the chance to brag — truthfully — about the most explosive monthly employment numbers and gross domestic product growth ever....
...starting around April 15, when economic reopening started to spread but the overall numbers still looked grim, Furman noticed some data that pointed to the kind of recovery that economists often see after a hurricane or industrywide catastrophe like the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Consumption and hiring started to tick up “in gross terms, not in net terms,” Furman said, describing the phenomenon as a “partial rebound.” The bounce back “can be very very fast, because people go back to their original job, they get called back from furlough, you put the lights back on in your business. Given how many people were furloughed and how many businesses were closed you can get a big jump out of that. It will look like a V.”

Climate and environmental crises

Major tropical cyclones have become ‘15% more likely’ over past 40 years
[Carbon Brief, via Naked Capitalism 5-25-20]

The Carnage of Establishment Neoliberal Economics

Why Public Universities Can’t Take New Cuts: The Essential Charts 
[Academe, via Naked Capitalism 5-25-20]
....Instead, I’ll use historical budget trends as quality proxies. I do this for two reasons. First, the history of the state’s relationship to UC controls what the state thinks UC should have. This is a strained history and it still matters. Second, UC’s budget history expresses the idea that public universities could and should be as good as elite private universities. Public university students should be roughly equal to private university students. The same was to be true of their faculties.
Historical budgets expressed this aspiration for equality through public quality. A detailed Senate report I co-authored identified this proxy for full quality as UC’s 1990 budget. Strong budgets expressed the quality aspiration in reality as well as in theory. For example, previous, higher levels of public funding for UC campuses had enabled most of them to become members of the American Association of Universities, a group of North America’s strongest research universities. Nearly all did this while tuition was still very low and with negligible per-student endowments. This taught an important general lesson: Great academic quality came as readily from public support as from private capital.
Quality wasn’t just about prestige, but also about social effects. Public universities were to educate students as well as private universities did.... The same was true in research: major public universities were  to be as good as the elite privates (Berkeley and Stanford, Urbana-Champaign and the University of Chicago, Chapel Hill and Duke, Rutgers and Princeton, etc.).  Public university doctoral and professional degrees needed to be roughly comparable to private university degrees–or at least not in different leagues.  The idea was to have proverbial world-class research going on at several hundred research universities rather than mainly at 16 Ivy League universities and their wealthy equivalents.  Public universities needed plenty of internal funds to support research.  It was a national priority to have millions of really good thinkers and hundreds of really good research sites.  The dominant political culture assumed these two things–widespread intelligence, abundant research–were essential for democracy, progress, and justice.
That last sentence -- we desperately need a revival of the public virtue that created the republic. John Adams wrote the Massachusetts constitution, and included this paragraph:
....it shall be the duty of legislators and magistrates in all future periods of this commonwealth to cherish the interests of literature and the sciences, and all seminaries of them, especially the university at Cambridge, public schools, and grammar schools in the towns; to encourage private societies and public institutions, rewards and immunities, for the promotion of agriculture, arts, sciences, commerce, trades, manufactures, and a natural history of the country; to countenance and inculcate the principles of humanity and general benevolence, public and private charity, industry and frugality, honesty and punctuality in their dealings, sincerity, good humor, and all social affections, and generous sentiments among the people. 
How Stanford Lost Its Soul 
[The Nation, via Naked Capitalism 5-25-20]
A distinguished university known for its embrace of corporate funding has come down with a bad case of Covid-19 contrarianism....
Stanford has become the main academic vector for contrarian Covid-19 thinking, helping give legitimacy to arguments that the world is overreacting to the virus.
In March, Richard Epstein, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, a Stanford-affiliated think tank, published an influential article arguing that America could expect only around 500 deaths from the pandemic. He later revised that number to 5,000. Still later, he said he meant 50,000. Even that number, of course, is far short of the more than 93,000 Americans who have already died of Covid-19—a figure that itself is almost certainly an undercount.

Creating new economic potential - science and technology

[Science, via Naked Capitalism 5-26-20]

“An almost perfectly efficient light-activated catalyst for producing hydrogen from water”
[Nature, via Naked Capitalism 5-29-20] 
One promising sustainable energy carrier is hydrogen, if it can be produced using renewable energy sources — hydrogen is a green fuel, because its combustion produces only pure water. Writing in Nature, Takata et al.1 report a breakthrough in catalyst design that might accelerate the development of large-scale processes for making hydrogen from water using sunlight…. This is a spectacular result for several reasons,”

Democratic Party leadership insists on suicide

“Democrats are fueling a corporate counter-revolution against progressives”
[David Sirota, Guardian, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 5-26-20]
“Democrats in Washington are not just passively failing to mount a strong opposition to Donald Trump – they are actively helping Republicans try to fortify the obstacles to long-term progressive change well after this emergency subsides. This corporate counter-revolution is easiest to see in Democrats’ enthusiastic support for Republicans’ legislative response to the coronavirus crisis. Democrats’ entire 2018 electoral campaign told America that the opposition party needed to win back Congress in order to block Trump’s regressive agenda. And yet, when the Republicans proposed a bill to let Trump’s appointees dole out government cash to their corporate allies with no strings attached, this same opposition party mustered not a single recorded vote against the package. Not one. Thanks to that, Trump appointees and the Federal Reserve can now hand out $4tn to politically connected corporations as they lay waste to our economy and steamroll progressive reforms. Private equity firms and fossil fuel companies get new tax breaks as they buy elections and try to lock in permanent climate change.”

At one point Axelrod notes, “Rahm, you’ve been involved with the Biden campaign in talking through their economic plans." He then asked Emanuel whether the coronavirus pandemic makes it more likely Biden will offer a bolder progressive agenda, noting the vice president’s recent remark that he wants to “transform the economy.”
“The moment may call for it, and I’m a big believer in never allowing a crisis to go to waste, but the whole primary was a couple people in our party talking about a revolution and a couple people in our party talking more reform than revolution,” Emanuel said. “And what Biden is now saying is, ‘Well, the post-COVID world requires a revolution,' and I’m surprised, because he did not win on the revolution model. He won on the reform model.”
Emanuel said Trump already is offering a revolution and questioned if pitting one revolution against another is the “right contrast” before offering this warning about swing voters: “I’m not sure revolution is going to be reassuring to Southfield, Michigan; Bloomfield, Michigan; the suburbs out of Milwaukee; the suburbs in Phoenix.” Axelrod replied by noting “that’s the danger” and said the key will be whether Biden’s proposals are “packaged as pragmatic answers to the crisis.”
Atrios noted: "One maddening thing about Democratic politics is that the worst fucking people in the world won't just go away."

“How Long Will the Actual Left Stay with the Democratic Party?”
[Down with Tyranny, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 5-28-20]
“It’s about progressive activists, the sleeping mass of progressive voters (and non-voters) who are starting to wake, and the potential beginning of the end of progressive support of the Democratic Party. Recall the opening point: ‘Black activists to Biden: If you Klobuchar, we may not support you.’ That’s a threat for this time, for the 2020 election….. There’s no question knee-jerk Democratic voters, and also some thoughtful ones, will line up to support every bad mainstream Democrats (because Republicans!), but the real resistance (hashtag #RealResistance) is not to Republican rule, but to donor class rule and devastation by both parties. How long will actual progressives — let’s call them ‘FDR voters=’ or #RealResistance voters, those who used to flock to Sanders every time he spoke — continue to flock to Democrats at the ballot box, simply because they’re Democrats no matter how bad?”
James Kwak [Washington Post, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 5-25-20]
“The Democratic Party is the most important political party in the world today. It is the only organization in a position to defend what was once the world’s flagship democracy and economic power from a president who has re-engineered his own party to justify racism, misogyny and xenophobia. Yet the party of the donkey is hardly up to the task. Over the past decade, as Republicans have further embraced an ideology of resentment unmoored by facts, Democrats have lost hundreds of seats in state legislatures, 22 seats in the House of Representatives and control of the Senate — while losing the White House to the most toxic candidate in history. In his new book, “Capital and Ideology,” economist Thomas Piketty explains why. The Democratic Party — like left-leaning parties throughout the world — failed to come up with a compelling response to the global conservative resurgence of the 1980s. 
Like New Labour in Britain and the Socialist Party in France, it abandoned the working-class voters who were once its base: “Improving the lot of the disadvantaged ceased to be its main focus. Instead, it turned its attention primarily to serving the interests of the winners in the educational competition.” By 2016, according to the post-election surveys that Piketty analyzes in depth and across several countries, the Democrats were the party of not just the highly educated but even the highly paid.”
The Western world stands at a crossroads. For most of the past century, politics in prosperous democracies was primarily oriented by the division between rich and poor. Today, that axis is being overshadowed by clashes over national or ethnic identity, between anti-immigrant nativists and pro-immigrant cosmopolitans. Examining the data over several countries and decades, Piketty identifies the turn toward identitarian politics as a direct consequence of the left-wing parties’ conversion to market capitalism: “The disadvantaged classes felt abandoned by the social-democratic parties (in the broadest sense) and this sense of abandonment provided fertile ground for anti-immigrant rhetoric and nativist ideologies to take root.”

Republicans move to outflank Biden and neoliberal Democratic establishment

“Trump Unveils Plan To Cap Insulin Costs For Seniors, Takes Jabs At Biden”
[NPR, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 5-27-20] 
“Seniors with diabetes will be able to sign up for Medicare plans that cap their co-payments for insulin at $35 a month beginning next year, the White House announced on Tuesday…. ‘We brought all of the parties to the table — insurers, manufacturers, and other key players — and reached an agreement to deliver insulin at stable and drastically lower out-of-pocket cost for our seniors. I hope the seniors are going to remember it, because Biden is the one that put us into the jam, because they didn’t know what they were doing,’ Trump said….. Seema Verma, who heads the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said plans that offer the insulin cap will have more expensive premiums, costing about $17 more per month than the average cost of basic plans. ‘In exchange for a minimal premium increase, beneficiaries get a maximum fixed $35 co-pay for a month’s supply of insulin,’ Verma said on a call with reporters. She said that ultimately seniors will save 66% on their insulin costs. Verma said that if the deal capping costs on insulin is successful, the administration will attempt to take similar action with other expensive drugs.”

The Dark Side

Deirdre McCloskey on why Jeff Bezos and billionaires, even superbillionaires, should exist
[American Enterprise Institute, via Naked Capitalism 5-25-20]
To which I respond with this excerpt from Noah Webster's Examination of the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution, October 1787:
A general and tolerably equal distribution of landed property is the whole basis of national freedom...An equality of property, with a necessity of alienation, constantly operating to destroy combinations of powerful families, is the very soul of a republic--While this continues, the people will inevitably possess both power and freedom; when this is lost, power departs, liberty expires, and a commonwealth will inevitably assume some other form. 
GOP Senate Hopeful Employs Monarchist and Anti-Semite to Manage Campaign
[Right Wing Watch, a project for People For the American Way 5-28-20]
Witzke’s campaign, under the presumed direction of Sisco, has explicitly catered to the self-dubbed “America First” white nationalist movement and other extreme elements of the GOP. At this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference at the end of February, the pair shared photos of themselves with far-right activists, including D’Abrosca and Islamophobe Laura Loomer. But Sisco’s sympathy for far-right ideas goes beyond Witzke’s campaign; he has repeatedly argued that the United States should abandon liberal democracy and return to a system of theocratic monarchy. 
“The reality is, that Americans are still human, and still persons of European heritage. Royalism, given its historical success and track record, is exactly what America and the West needs to restore it to its former glory,” Sisco wrote in a blog last year.
The Republican Party today is a disgusting abuse of the word "republican." But there are reasons that white supremacists, neo-monarchists, neo-confederates, gold bugs, libertarians, Austrian economics ideologues and anti-science christianists all find a home in today's (anti)Republican Party. It's the political coalition the reactionary rich created after the New Deal to shift the balance of economic power and restore the dominance of capital over labor.  

The conservative crusade to make democracy obsolete
[The New Republic 5-30-20]
 Honest Elections Project... According to The Guardian’s Sam Levine and Anna Massoglia, the group is just the retooled version of a right-wing cabal that has worked to remake the federal judiciary and that draws funding from the political right’s leading ideologues.... As Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick and Richard Hasen subsequently reported, the Federalist Society—which under the leadership of Leonard Leo has become an effective pipeline for conservative jurists—is lurking at the center of this scheme....
Until recently, it might have seemed that conservatives’ norm-shattering capture of the Supreme Court would preclude the need to worry about elections at all. While the left tends to fixate on the harms that Scotus could perpetrate on matters of identity discrimination and abortion rights—not unimportant by any means—the real action has centered on obscure legal doctrines that don’t make for zazzy headlines but matter a lot to having an administrative state that functions as elected lawmakers intended. One, known as “Chevron deference,” holds that courts should allow an agency’s own interpretation of an ambiguous regulation to prevail. Another, known as “Auer deference,” holds that the judiciary should also stay out of the way of an agency’s own reading of a regulation as long as it means a standard of reasonableness.
As Ian Millhiser pointed out last year at the now-defunct ThinkProgress, these doctrines essentially provide the means by which a liberal president could govern as a liberal. “After all,” he wrote, “if the executive branch can’t regulate—or, at least, if it can’t regulate without getting permission from a Republican judiciary—then conservatives no longer need to worry about Democratic presidents doing much of anything that doesn’t meet the GOP’s approval.”



....Regardless, no one should be under any illusion that a Biden presidency will be fully restorative. As TNR’s Matt Ford wrote some time ago, “If Democrats retake the White House and Congress, they could rescind any of Trump’s executive orders and rewrite all legislation passed by Republicans. But they won’t have the same power over the justices. Faced with what will likely be a hostile Supreme Court for the next generation, liberals and the American left will have two options: play by the rules set by a judicial body they view as illegitimate, or resort to unprecedented measures to change it.”

How a NeoCon-Backed “Fact Checker” Plans to Wage War on Independent Media 
[Mint Press, via Naked Capitalism 5-26-20]
As Newsguard’s project advances, it will soon become almost impossible to avoid this neocon-approved news site’s ranking systems on any technological device sold in the United States.
Soon after the social media “purge” of independent media sites and pages this past October, a top neoconservative insider — Jamie Fly — was caught stating that the mass deletion of anti-establishment and anti-war pages on Facebook and Twitter was “just the beginning” of a concerted effort by the U.S. government and powerful corporations to silence online dissent within the United States and beyond. 
While a few, relatively uneventful months in the online news sphere have come and gone since Fly made this ominous warning, it appears that the neoconservatives and other standard bearers of the military-industrial complex and the U.S. oligarchy are now poised to let loose their latest digital offensive against independent media outlets that seek to expose wrongdoing in both the private and public sectors. 
As MintPress News Editor-in-Chief Mnar Muhawesh recently wrote, MintPress was informed that it was under review by an organization called Newsguard Technologies, which described itself to MintPress as simply a “news rating agency” and asked Muhawesh to comment on a series of allegations, several of which were blatantly untrue. However, further examination of this organization reveals that it is funded by and deeply connected to the U.S. government, neo-conservatives, and powerful monied interests, all of whom have been working overtime since the 2016 election to silence dissent to American forever-wars and corporate-led oligarchy.
Republicans Sue Pelosi to Block House Proxy Voting During Pandemic
[New York Times 5-26-20]

Trump Is Brazenly Interfering With the 2020 Election
[The Atlantic, May 20, 2020]

“Inside the Influential Evangelical Group Mobilizing to Reelect Trump” 
[The Intercept, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 5-25-20] 
“United in Purpose [is] a low-key group that has quietly become a preeminent venue for leaders on the religious right to convene. UIP was crucial in connecting Trump to evangelical leaders in 2016, and it promises to be one of the most vital weapons in Trump’s reelection arsenal this year…. the group, whose supporters include major donors to conservative causes, pastors, and political operatives with decades of winning elections, is serious about serving as the tip of the spear to maintain control of the White House. UIP’s 2020 election plan — which it calls “Ziklag,” a town referenced in the Bible — is a multipronged effort to connect Trump with evangelical leaders and increase support among minority voters through appeals to faith-based messages and church outreach… But the bulk of UIP’s 2020 efforts, [Ralph] Reed explained on the call, is grounded in the identification of new religious voters. To reach nontraditional faith-based voters, UIP is using an array of data-mining tools.”
Touchscreen Voting Machines and the Vanishing Black Votes 
Jennifer Cohn [WhoWhatWhy, via Naked Capitalism 5-28-20]

[WhoWhatWhy 5-28-20]
Nearly 100 million eligible Americans do not cast a ballot in an average presidential election. Many of them are disillusioned. Can anything be done to restore their faith in democracy?
....While systematic voter suppression certainly plays a role in this anemic performance, millions of Americans don’t vote because they have lost faith in the system or believe that elections are rigged.
That is the disturbing finding of “The 100 Million Project: The Untold Story of American Non-Voters,” a recent John S. and James L. Knight Foundation report on research conducted to determine why so few Americans engage in the political process. Other reasons identified in the report include a real or perceived lack of knowledge about the candidates and issues, disappointment in choices, and a belief that their votes do not matter.
In 2016, for example, nearly 100 million eligible voters did not cast a ballot in the general election, with non-voters constituting a larger bloc than the supporters of either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.



[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 5-30-20]
“Atticus v. The Architect” shld be required viewing for every member of Congress & member of the Resistance. It shld be taught in schools. It’s about electronic election theft & the political prosecution of ⁦ , by Karl Rove’s minions. ⁩1/

[New York Times, via Naked Capitalism 5-30-20]
If you read the commentary coming out of New York and Washington, or speak with elites in Western Europe, it’s easy to find people panicking about the loss of “American leadership.” From Joe Biden’s campaign pledges to trans-Atlantic think tanks, exhortations to revive American supremacy and contain China are everywhere.... And China is seemingly laying the groundwork for its arrival as a great power. American officials are now talking openly about a “new Cold War” to confront Beijing....

In 1965 and 1966, the American government assisted in the murder of approximately one million Indonesian civilians. This was one of the most important turning points of the Cold War — Indonesia is the world’s fourth most populous country, and policymakers at the time understood it was a far more valuable prize than Vietnam. But it’s largely forgotten in the English-speaking world precisely because it was such a success. No American soldiers died; little attention was drawn to one more country pulled, seemingly naturally, into the United States’ orbit.

But the process was not natural. The U.S.-backed military used a failed uprising as a pretext to crush the Indonesian left, whose influence Washington had been seeking to counter for a decade, and then took control of the country. Recently declassified State Department documents make it clear that the United States aided and abetted the mass murder in Indonesia, providing material support, encouraging the killings and rewarding the perpetrators.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – May 24, 2020

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – May 24, 2020
by Tony Wikrent
Progressive Caucus of the North Carolina Democratic Party

Strategic Political Economy

The Big Failure of Small Government
Maria Mazzucato [Project Syndicate, via Naked Capitalism 5-22-20]
Effective governance, it turns out, cannot be conjured up at will, because it requires investment in state capacity....
Decades of privatization, outsourcing, and budget cuts in the name of “efficiency” have significantly hampered many governments’ responses to the COVID-19 crisis. At the same time, successful responses by other governments have shown that investments in core public-sector capabilities make all the difference in times of emergency. The countries that have handled the crisis well are those where the state maintains a productive relationship with value creators in society, by investing in critical capacities and designing private-sector contracts to serve the public interest....
Unfortunately, for the last half-century, the prevailing political message in many countries has been that governments cannot – and therefore should not – actually govern. Politicians, business leaders, and pundits have long relied on a management creed that focuses obsessively on static measures of efficiency to justify spending cuts, privatization, and outsourcing....
Vietnam’s successful approach to COVID-19 has emerged as a striking contrast to the US and UK responses. Among other things, the Vietnamese government was able to amass low-cost testing kits very quickly, because it already had the capacity to mobilize academia, the army, the private sector, and civil society around a common mission. Rather than simply outsourcing with few questions asked, it used public research and development funding and procurement to drive innovation. The resulting public-private collaboration enabled rapid commercialization of kits, which are now being exported to Europe and beyond.
New Zealand is another success story, and not by coincidence. After initially adopting the outsourcing mantra in the 1980s, the New Zealand government changed course, embracing a “spirit of service” and an “ethic of care” across its public services, and becoming the first country in the world to adopt a wellbeing budget. Owing to this vision of public management, the government adopted a “health first, economy second” approach to the current crisis.
[Huffington Post, via Naked Capitalism 5-21
Tax evasion, to pick just one crime concentrated among the wealthy, already siphons up to 10,000 times more money out of the U.S. economy every year than bank robberies. In 2017, researchers estimated that fraud by America’s largest corporations cost Americans up to $360 billion annually between 1996 and 2004. That’s roughly two decades’ worth of street crime every single year. As the links between corporations and regulators become increasingly incestuous, the future will bring more crude-soaked coastlines, price-gouging corporate behemoths and Madoff-style Ponzi schemes. More hurdles to suing companies for poisoning their customers or letting bosses harass their employees. And more uniquely American catastrophes like the opioid crisis and the price of insulin.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Too much spare time under quarantine??


Someone just figured out that it was possible to build a GOOGOL:1 gear reduction set using 186 Lego gears. Think of it this way. For every person you know who cannot add or explain the difference between a million and a billion, there is likely someone who does this sort of math for FUN. (Bell-shaped curve and all ;-) For extra fun, open this in YouTube and follow the comments. There's a bunch of math nerds out there!


Unfortunately, math nerds can only help a little with a problem like the Covid19 outbreak. In order to do good science, we need rigorous methods of collecting data—something made functionally impossible without widespread and highly accurate testing. We don't even make generic Advil in USA anymore. Those mass-produced accurate tests?—WAY harder. A safe and effective vaccine?—may never happen. Even treatments to control symptoms are still only in the imagining stage.

What this means is this is a disease that we are just going to have to learn to live with. Unfortunately, the folks in the businesses of managing meaningful social change such as political leaders are almost entirely populated by scientifically and mathematical illiterates who believe that major human problems are best addressed by scolding. It may be possible to organize a kindergarten that way but a global infectious pandemic?—probably not.


Sunday, May 17, 2020

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – May 17, 2020

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – May 17, 2020
by Tony Wikrent

Strategic Political Economy

The storm we can’t see
[WaPo, via Naked Capitalism 5-11-20] A must read.
Four relatively narrow policy questions hint at the difficulties ahead. First, the bailout: After the initial $349 billion allotment vanished in days, Congress threw an additional $320 billion into the Paycheck Protection Program, the effort to keep small-ish businesses from firing employees for roughly eight weeks. That just means companies, including many I’ve spoken to, are planning June layoffs. Will Washington put another $670 billion into the PPP just to keep those small businesses afloat through July?
....Third, states and cities are going broke, thanks to the costs of responding to the crisis — from unemployment claims to boosting hospital capacity and purchasing protective equipment — as well as the collapse of income, sales and meal tax payments. New York City says it will need $7.4 billion in federal aid, and the state faces a $13 billion shortfall; Alaska’s budget gap might top $1 billion; Colorado’s, $3 billion. The impact on California’s finances has been termed, simply, “beyond crazy.” That will be true for every single state, every single county, every single city, village and town in the country. Unlike the federal government, which can deficit spend with abandon, state and local governments must balance their budgets, meaning these holes must be closed, immediately, by federal aid, budget cuts or tax increases....
Addressing the Great Depression took enormous creativity and agility by Franklin Roosevelt’s New Dealers; it required massive new social programs, employment efforts that transformed the country and targeted individual industries, right down to literally paying writers to write about the Great Depression. The federal response to that crisis also underscores how large and long the U.S. government’s present-day interventions might need to be. When FDR ran for reelection in 1936 — four years into his New Deal — unemployment still stood above 16 percent, and rural electrification, a cornerstone of the New Deal’s economic development efforts, would take more than a decade to unfold.
It’s clear that we as a country need to be thinking in terms of tens of trillions of dollars of federal effort over the next decade. Planning in terms of weeks and $1,200 stimulus payments certainly helps now, but it’s no Marshall Plan. Every hour and day that the federal government fails to recognize the scale of this problem, the problem gets worse — and the solutions will be harder and more expensive.
by Rep. Pramila Jayapal [CommonDreams, via Naked Capitalism 5-13-20]
Our response here in Congress must match the true scale of this devastating crisis. The Heroes Act—while it contains many important provisions—simply fails to do that.