Sunday, June 7, 2020

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – June 7, 2020

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – June 7, 2020
by Tony Wikrent

Countering the surveillance state 

How to Cop-Proof Your Phone Before Heading to a Protest 
[Gizmodo, via Naked Capitalism 6-2-20]

How to protect yourself from rubber bullets—and why these ‘nonlethal’ weapons are so dangerous [Popular Science via Naked Capitalism 6-4-20]

Protest Safety: How to Protest During the Coronavirus Pandemic
[Teen Vogue via Naked Capitalism 6-4-20]

Strategic Political Economy

“What Trait Affects Income the Most?” 
[Economics from the Top Down, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 6-5-20] 
Why is it so difficult to abandon old myths? One reason is that these myths are used to rationalize social order. Take, as an example, the Earth’s orbit. It took the Catholic church nearly 400 years to admit that the Earth revolves around the sun.... After convicting the heliocentric proponent Galileo of heresy in 1633, the church banned heliocentric teachings for another two centuries (until 1822). It took another 170 years for the church to formally admit (in 1992) that Galileo was right. Think about that. Almost four centuries of denial for an idea that had no effect on daily life. All because it threatened the authority of those with power. The lesson here is simple. When ideas challenge authority, evidence will be ignored, denied and suppressed.
That brings me to economics.
The discipline of economics is the modern equivalent of the church. To legitimize authority, neoclassical economists preach dogmas that are manifestly false. But unlike the ethereal debate about the Earth’s place in the cosmos, economic dogmas have a huge impact on day-to-day life. They make the difference between tolerating inequality versus being enraged by it.
Neoclassical economics preaches that all is fair with the distribution of income. Income differences, the theory claims, stem from differences in productivity. As long as markets are competitive, people earn their ‘marginal product’. And so there’s no reason to redistribute income.
The reality is quite different. Income, I believe, is determined not by productivity, but instead largely by rank within a hierarchy. In other words, power begets income. The role of economics is to deny this uncomfortable reality. Economists reinforce hierarchies by denying their existence. Long and worth a read. Handy chart:
Pepe Escobar [Asia Times via Naked Capitalism 6-6-20]
...the policy infrastructure necessary for enacting martial law has evolved as a bipartisan project.... 
But we got a problem. The insurrection, so far purely emotional, has yielded no political structure and no credible leader to articulate myriad, complex grievances. As it stands, it amounts to an inchoate insurrection, under the sign of impoverishment and perpetual debt.

Adding to the perplexity, Americans are now confronted with what it feels like to be in Vietnam, El Salvador, the Pakistani tribal areas or Sadr City in Baghdad. Iraq came to Washington DC in full regalia, with Pentagon Blackhawks doing “show of force” passes over protestors, the tried and tested dispersal technique applied in countless counter-insurgency ops across the Global South.

And then, the Elvis moment: General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, patrolling the streets of DC. The Raytheon lobbyist now heading the Pentagon, Mark Esper, called it “dominating the battlespace.”

The late, great political theorist Sheldon Wolin had already nailed it in a book first published in 2008: this is all about Inverted Totalitarianism. Wolin showed how “the cruder forms of control – from militarized police to wholesale surveillance, as well as police serving as judge, jury and executioner, now a reality for the underclass – will become a reality for all of us should we begin to resist the continued funneling of power and wealth upward. 
“We are tolerated as citizens only as long as we participate in the illusion of a participatory democracy. The moment we rebel and refuse to take part in the illusion, the face of inverted totalitarianism will look like the face of past systems of totalitarianism,” he wrote.



[The Big Picture, via Naked Capitalism 6-3-20]
The extent of the damage is not what is amazing. What is amazing are the responses by ruling elites and their supporters. Trillions of dollars have gone to support financial markets, with about one twentieth that amount going to actually help people. And a third of people in desperate need have not received any help at all yet. Yet political support by the Republican base for Trump has barely wavered, and political support from the Democratic base for Biden has solidified, with particularly strong collective amnesia of how Obama and Biden dismissed their historic opportunity to hold Wall Street accountable and thereby fundamentally alter the economic balance of power. The rise of Trump, the slide of USA conservatives toward fascism, and the inability to deal with an epidemic were all predictable, and were, in fact, predicted. From the day in the 2008 financial crisis that should serve as the marker for the beginning of the end for the American republic:  

The Fate of the Union
Stirling Newberry, September 29, 2008 [DailyKos]
There are few days were everything hangs in the balance, and where it is ordinary people who hold the scales. There are few days in the history of the Republic which are as important as today. Either it will be seen as a turning point, or it will be seen as the inflection point ever downwards in a spiral.... 
 Paulson's plan was not conceived in a few hours, but planned and prepared for months, and only launched upon the public at a moment of perceived panic. The executive hid it in its dark recesses, waiting for a moment to launch it upon us. This alone should be enough for a legislature with any scrap of republican spirit, or democratic pride, or American honor, to reject it out of hand and demand that it be worked a new, from wholly different principles.... 
If this act passes, why would any executive ever expose their plans to the risks of election again? Instead, we will have government with years of inaction to create catastrophe, and then demands in dead of night for another drink of autocracy.
A Long, Hot Summer
Ian Welsh, June 3, 2020
Back when Obama was elected, I was still an A-list blogger, and had some access. We advised Obama and the Senators creating the new financial laws that the correct action was to take over the banks and break them up, while bailing out Main Street. Criminal charges should be laid against bankers under RICO statutes for fraud, to ensure nothing like this happened again.
If they did not follow our advice, we warned that it would eventually lead both a strengthening of the populist right and to civil unrest....
It is after the 2008 financial crisis that American pathology starts going off the charts: We start seeing declining life expectancy among the working class, the opiate crisis spreads to poor and many middle class whites, and so on. It takes years for jobs to return, and inequality soars; it was worse under Obama than any other previous president. Yes, this is a continuation of trend, but Obama could have stopped it, simply by enforcing laws as written. 
The response to the financial crisis set the standard: Bail out the rich, fuck the poor people–they receive some crumbs. This was repeated when Covid-19 hit, with multi-trillion dollar bailouts for the rich, and a single $1,200 check for everyone else, with some technocratic fixes around the edges. Billionaires gained control over more of the economy, small businesses were and are being gutted, and crisis capitalists are waiting to snap up billions in distressed businesses and properties....
So we have a pandemic, a population nearing 30 percent unemployment, people who can’t pay the rent, and 40 years of impoverishment and brutality. This summer has been a long time coming, and it’s only starting. Even if this wave of protests is crushed, or dies down, the smart money is that it isn’t the last wave. And that’s a good thing. 
Because as long as your lords and masters know they can only give you scraps and feed themselves at gold plated troughs, that’s how it’ll be.
If you are reading this, understand that this dynamic means that there can be no peace while the current ideology rules. The only possible peace is the peace of impoverished serfdom, of people beaten so far into the ground that they simply accept that everything will keep getting worse for them while the rich feast. 
There is no good future for the US if neoliberalism, and neoliberal elites, continue to rule.

Benjamin Studebaker [via Naked Capitalism 6-2-20] 
Plato and Aristotle believed that the cities were ultimately responsible for ensuring the citizens become virtuous people and lead virtuous lives. For the Greeks, it was impossible to maintain a good city if the citizens weren’t good, and therefore the morality of the citizens was a public matter. Politics and morality were intertwined in a virtuous circle. 
Modern philosophers began to break this relationship apart. For Montesquieu, it was unrealistic to expect citizens to ever possess virtue at scale. Virtue was just too hard to get. Montesquieu thought people were morally pretty useless, and political institutions should be designed with this in mind. He made an argument for separation of powers on this basis–ambition checks ambition, and even if all the parts of the state are corrupt, none can dominate the others. 
Once it became possible to imagine a political system operating apart from morality, theorists began designing moral systems that stood apart from politics. Adam Smith famously wrote two very different books–The Wealth of Nations and The Theory of Moral Sentiments.
What has been deliberately written out of history is that most Americans -- with the notable and important exception of the slave owning oligarchs of the South -- rejected Smith and resisted his ideas until well after the Civil War:

Economics as Cultural Warfare: The Case of Adam Smith
Tony Wikrent March 29, 2019 [IanWelsh]
The historical record of what was actually taught in USA as political economy in the nineteenth century, shows that Adam Smith was rejected in favor of economic doctrines developed indigenously by Americans, especially in Pennsylvania and the northeast. In Origins of Academic Economics in the United States (Columbia University Press, 1944), Michael J.L. O’Connor notes that the first American edition of Smith’s Wealth of Nations did not appear until some years after the American Revolution. Jefferson termed it the best book on political economy in 1790, but by 1810 Jefferson was more impressed with the work of the Frenchmen Antoine Destutt de Tracy (who coined the term “ideology”) and Jean B. Say. A third edition of Smith was published in Hartford in 1818. O’Conner observes that 53 years then passed before another edition was published in the United States. (Though O’Conner postulates that what demand there was in the US was met “by the numerous cheap foreign editions.”) 
O’Conner found that in the late 1830s and afterwards, the most popular “principal text” used to teach economics in the USA was Elements of Political Economy, by Francis Wayland, pastor of Boston’s First Baptist Church and later president of Brown University. While American publishers ignored Adam Smith entirely, editions of Wayland were published in 1837, 1838 (New York); 1840, 1841, 1843, 1846, 1848, 1849, 1850, 1851, 1852, 1853, 1854,1855, 1856, 1858, 1859, 1860, 1867, 1868, 1869, 1873 (Boston); and 1875 (New York). In 1878, Presbyterian minister Aaron L. Chapin, founder and president of Beloit College (the oldest continuously operated college in Wisconsin) extensively revised Wayland, and this new edition was published in 1878, 1879, 1880, 1882, 1883, 1884, 1885, and 1906. (O’Conner, page 174) 
By comparison, O’Conner noted, after the Hartford 1818 edition, another edition of Adam Smith was not published until 1871. 
In his article “Francis Wayland’s 1830s Textbooks: Evangelical Ethics and Political Economy,” (Journal of the History of Economic Thought, 2002), Donald E. Frey wrote, “A comparison of book sales to college enrollments suggests that Wayland’s Political Economy served a greater proportion of the market of its day than Paul Samuelson’s Economics did between 1948-1980.”
[Battlefield Trust, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 6-1-20]  
Killer Mike has been telling us to read this speech by Confederate Vice President Stephens, and it’s a humdinger that completely demolishes the Lost Cause propaganda propagated by the Daughters of the Confederacy, which protesters set on fire the other day in Richmond, in a case of property damage, though one might question whether karma is damage. In any case, here are Stephens’ views on the Federal budget, which are quite up to date, if one is a mainstream economist. Stephens is analyzying the correlation of forces between the Union and the Confederacy: 
“The debts of the seven confederate States sum up in the aggregate less than eighteen millions, while the existing debts of the other of the late United States sum up in the aggregate the enormous amount of one hundred and seventy-four millions of dollars. This is without taking into account the heavy city debts, corporation debts, and railroad debts, which press, and will continue to press, as a heavy incubus upon the resources of those States.” And: “In Georgia, for instance, we have done as much for the cause of internal improvements as any other portion of the country, according to population and means. We have stretched out lines of railroads from the seaboard to the mountains; dug down the hills, and filled up the valleys at a cost of not less than $25,000,000. All this was done to open an outlet for our products of the interior, and those to the west of us, to reach the marts of the world. No State was in greater need of such facilities than Georgia, but we did not ask that these works should be made by appropriations out of the common treasury. The cost of the grading, the superstructure, and the equipment of our roads was borne by those who had entered into the enterprise.”
Deresponsibilization and the Politics of Escape
[Notes from Disgraceland, via Naked Capitalism 6-2-20] Important.
....It’s been more than two months since, during the press conference on March 13th, the 45th President uttered the historic words: “I don’t take responsibility at all”. This ludicrous denial of responsibility by a person in a position of the highest responsibility stands on its own as one of the most singular PR attempts ever seen in American political history. However, the nonsense did not stop there; it was followed by a barrage of falsehoods and a series of real “constitutional gems”[2] in the subsequent weeks....
This maneuver reveals a systematic and unambiguous pattern: Trump has no ability to take risk. Instead of managing risk, he runs for cover preemptively and buys protection ahead of time. If he were a market maker or portfolio manager, he wouldn’t last a week. At the root of this handicap resides an implicit deep-seeded lack of confidence in the merit of his decisions, an implicit awareness that they are worthless — there is a cloud of inevitability of their failure from inception....  More than anything, Trump is an escape artist. His entire professional life he has been on the run, trying to escape the consequences of his ineptitude and incompetence. He’s been a fugitive from facts, truth, and evidence, always merely steps away from the fatal clinch of his collectors. This had created conditions of acute anxiety, short attention span, cognitive incapacity, persistent feel of persecution, and low-grade paranoia, where everyone is there to get him....
How could a person so flawed, inept and fundamentally incompetent like Trump continue to thrive for decades and rise in ranks in the nominally competitive meritocratic world of American business? And how did America get duped into signing a contract with this subliterate yawper? These are fundamental puzzles, which cannot be understood on their own, but require a broader context. His survival and rise are signs of deeper dynamics — a problem of contamination of the entire American value system — which have been brewing in the background for decades now.
Over the course of the last 50 years, contemporary Western political systems have become entirely self-referential. They have lost every external point of reference and, in that way, corrective mechanisms that align them with their social purpose. They could be either judged only on their own terms or not judged at all. Consequently, they have been allowed to continue to expand, increase in size and become more efficient, but in the direction that served no other purpose but their own. With time, they have become all encompassing – every sector of social activity gradually became like this and now all systems account for all of reality[4]. There is nothing that can be held against such a political system that is not revealed to be already part of it. The mode of ideological hegemonic functioning has become self-preserving: Nothing that comes from within the system can be resisted – no critique of it can be articulated and revolt and uprising are rendered meaningless.

Economic Armageddon

David Dayen, June 1, 2020 [American Prospect]
....two developments are sure to put the economy in ruins: state budget cuts and business bankruptcies. Budget cuts for states with fiscal years beginning July 1 will start to hit in a few weeks. Last Friday mayors explained to the House coronavirus select committee how bad the cuts will get; New Jersey’s governor has floated firing half the state workforce. These cuts will rain down on the most vulnerable, costing jobs and services for those who need them....
The CARES Act could have included state and local fiscal aid; it added a trifling amount that mostly covered increased pandemic costs. It could have included small and medium-sized business relief; the PPP program was temporary (we’re nearing the 8-week point for many businesses and things are in no better shape) and not useful to a lot of companies. The Federal Reserve put together a program for mid-sized businesses but hasn’t spent any of it. Retailers, stuck in a supply squeeze (with outdated inventory from the spring and worsening credit to support buying more), are begging the Fed and the Treasury for help
The only sector truly feeling fine is big business, reflected in a stock market that’s even taking the burning of American cities in stride.
Now is not the time for deficit hawkery
David Dayen, June 2, 2020 [American Prospect]
A letter from 60 New Dems and Tea Partiers, 30 of each, has decided this is the perfect moment to address “the pressing issue of the national debt.” The country has just spent close to $3 trillion on crisis response and the biggest inflation-related problem has been its polar opposite: deflation due to oil price weirdness.... Specifically, the bipartisan deficit hawks fear “trust fund insolvency,” a way to favor cutting Social Security without having to say its name. Specifically, they want to trigger special committees to recommend fast-track “rescues” that will inevitably deprive the vulnerable. 
With the only thing holding up the economy about to expire in two months, this is the worst possible time to scaremonger about the deficit. This 1937 mentality will cause widespread suffering and yes, more death.
[The Hill, via Naked Capitalism 6-5-20]
House Progressive Caucus Co-Chairwoman Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said mass unemployment in the U.S. caused by the coronavirus crisis is a “policy choice,” and pushed her Paycheck Recover Act as a way to recover during an interview with The Hill.TV’s “Rising.
“Mass unemployment is a policy choice. It is a bad policy choice,” Jayapal said.  She added that “most countries around the world” have instituted some form of a Paycheck Recovery Act. Jayapal said the proposal would help both workers and businesses by allowing people to stay on the payroll.
“The best thing we can do for workers is keep money in their pockets by keeping them on paychecks. The best thing we can do for businesses to not shutter, particularly small and medium sized businesses that have been completely pushed out during this pandemic, is to help those businesses by giving them the money to keep workers on payroll and also to pay some of their operating costs,” she said. 
States across the country are eyeing Medicaid cuts to balance their budgets, in part because health care is usually the biggest portion of state spending, after education. They also project that more people will sign up for the public health care program, as the number of unemployed Americans hits astronomical heights.... New York approved Medicaid cuts that will take effect after the federal emergency ends, while Georgia has instructed all its agencies to reduce spending by 14%. In California, where almost 2.9 million people have filed for unemployment in the past two months, Newsom described the proposed budget cuts as “prudent” and “strategic,” a huge pivot from the grand plans he unveiled earlier this year to expand health care to some of the neediest residents.
10 Things Dems Could Do Right Now — If They Actually Wanted To Stop Trump’s Power Grab
David Sirota [Too Much Information via Naked Capitalism 6-3-20]

Capitalism in the Time of COVID19

Robert Kuttner, May 27, 2020 [American Prospect]
The Housing Vultures New York Review of Books, via Naked Capitalism 6-1-20]

"Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable."

[The Hill, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 6-4-20] 
“A Monmouth University poll released Tuesday found that an astonishing 74 percent of respondents believe the nation to be on the wrong track.”

[The New York Times, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 6-1-20]
@nytimes
Protests have erupted in at least 140 cities across the United States over racism and police brutality. Some of the demonstrations have turned violent, prompting the activation of the National Guard in at least 21 states.


Who Exactly Is Doing the Looting, and Who’s Being Looted? 
David Sirota [Jacobin, via Naked Capitalism 5-31-20]
Working-class people pilfering convenience-store goods is deemed “looting.” By contrast, rich folk and corporations stealing billions of dollars during their class war is considered good and necessary “public policy” — aided and abetted by arsonist politicians in Washington lighting the crime scene on fire to try to cover everything up. 
To really understand the deep programming at work here, consider how the word “looting” is almost never used to describe the plundering that has become the routine policy of our government at a grand scale that is far larger than a vandalized Target store.
Indeed, if looting is defined in the dictionary as “to rob especially on a large scale” using corruption, then these are ten examples of looting that we rarely ever call “looting”:
  1. The Fed Bailed Out the Investor Class“: “Thanks to this massive government subsidy, large companies like Boeing and Carnival Cruises were able to avoid taking money directly — and sidestep requirements to keep employees on.”
  2. Millionaires To Reap 80% of Benefit From Tax Change In Coronavirus Stimulus“: “The change — which alters what certain business owners are allowed to deduct from their taxes — will allow some of the nation’s wealthiest to avoid nearly $82 billion of tax liability in 2020.”
  3. Stealth Bailout’ Shovels Millions of Dollars to Oil Companies“: “A provision of the $2.2 trillion stimulus law gives [companies] more latitude to deduct recent losses. . . . The change wasn’t aimed only at the oil industry. However, its structure uniquely benefits energy companies that were raking in record profits.”
  4. The Tax-Break Bonanza Inside the Economic Rescue Package“: “As part of the economic rescue package that became law last month, the federal government is giving away $174 billion in temporary tax breaks overwhelmingly to rich individuals and large companies.”
  5. Wealthiest Hospitals Got Billions in Bailout for Struggling Health Providers“: “Twenty large chains received more than $5 billion in federal grants even while sitting on more than $100 billion in cash.”
  6. Airlines Got the Sweetest Coronavirus Bailout Around“: “The $50 billion the government is using to prop up the industry is a huge taxpayer gift to shareholders.”
  7. Large, Troubled Companies Got Bailout Money in Small-Business Loan Program“: “The so-called Paycheck Protection Program was supposed to help prevent small companies from capsizing as the economy sinks into what looks like a severe recession. . . . But dozens of large but lower-profile companies with financial or legal problems have also received large payouts under the program.”
  8. Public Companies Received $1 Billion Meant For Small Businesses“: “Recipients include 43 companies with more than 500 workers, the maximum typically allowed by the program. Several other recipients were prosperous enough to pay executives $2 million or more.”
  9. Firms That Left U.S. to Cut Taxes Could Qualify for Fed Aid“: “Companies that engaged in so-called corporate inversion transactions while maintaining meaningful U.S. operations appear to be eligible for two new programs.”
  10. The K Street Bailout“: “Lobbyists already got bailed out, in effect, when corporations got bailed out. This is kind of the ultimate in double dipping; corporations are nursed back to health by the sheer force of Federal Reserve commitments, this allows them to keep their lobbying expenses up, and then lobbyists lobby for free money for themselves.”
“Why wealth gap has grown despite record-long economic growth” 
[Associated Press, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 6-1-20]  From July, 2019, still germane.


[CounterPunch, via Naked Capitalism 6-2-20] 

“Riots Across America” 
[Seeking Alpha, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 6-2-20]
“The death of George Floyd was both unjust and tragic. However, his death was the catalyst that lit a powder keg of dissension, which has simmered beneath the headlines for over a decade…. Look at the faces of those rioting. They are of every race, religion, and creed. What they all have in common is they are of the demographic most impacted by the current economic recession. Job losses, income destruction, financial pressures, and debt create tension in the system until it explodes…. The lack of economic improvement is clearly evident across all demographic classes. However, it has been the very policies of the Federal Reserve which created a wealth transfer mechanism from the poor to the rich. The ongoing interventions by the Federal Reserve propelled asset prices higher, but left the majority of American families behind…. If the Fed removes any monetary accommodation, the market declines. The Fed is forced to subsequently increase support for the financial markets, which exacerbates the wealth gap. It’s a virtual spiral from which the Fed can not extricate itself. It’s a great system if you are rich and have money invested. Not so much if you are any one else. As we are witnessing, the United States is not immune to social disruptions. The source of these problems is compounding due to the public’s failure to appreciate ‘why’ it is happening. Eventually, as has repeatedly occurred throughout history, the riots will turn their focus toward those in power.” • Worth reading also for information on savings (none) and retirement accounts (being tapped).
[Los Angeles Times, via Naked Capitalism 6-3-20]

Cornel West Says ‘Neo-Fascist Gangster’ Trump and Neoliberal Democrats Expose America as ‘Failed Social Experiment’ 
[Common Dreams, via Naked Capitalism 5-31-20]

Grover Norquist's Dismantled State Struggles to Respond

“One-Third of America’s Record Unemployment Payout Hasn’t Arrived” 
[Bloomberg, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 6-2-20]  
“Almost one-third of unemployment benefits estimated to be owed to the millions of Americans who lost their jobs as a result of the coronavirus slump haven’t been paid yet, as flagship policies struggle to cope with the unprecedented wave of layoffs. The Treasury disbursed $146 billion in unemployment benefits in the three months through May, according to data published Monday — more than in the whole of 2009, when jobless rates peaked after the financial crisis. But even that historic figure falls short of a total bill that should have reached about $214 billion for the period, according to Bloomberg calculations based on weekly unemployment filings and the average size of those claims. The estimated gap of some $67 billion shows how emergency efforts to boost payments, and deliver them via creaking state-level systems, are lagging the needs of a jobs crisis that’s seen more than 40 million people file for unemployment as the economy shut down.”

Are Jobs Returning In Reopened States?
[Fivethirtyeight, via The Big Picture 6-1-20]


“NY State Legislature Drops Rent Cancellation Bill, Takes Up ‘Totally Inadequate’ Measure Instead” [Gothamist, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 6-1-20]  
“Notably absent from the agenda: legislation to waive rent for tenants facing hardship during the pandemic. That bill, introduced in March by Queens State Senator Mike Gianaris, won’t get a vote this week, despite its 21 co-sponsors in the Senate and 22 in the Assembly…. Instead, legislators are poised to vote Thursday on a far more modest form of tenant relief. Dubbed the Emergency Rent Relief Act of 20201, the bill would provide vouchers to landlords on behalf of a small subset of rent-burdened tenants who lost income during the pandemic. To be eligible, a landlord’s tenants must earn below 80 percent of an area’s median income, and have been paying more than 30 percent of their household income in rent before March 7th.” • Mark Ames comments: “Means testing—core Dem Party ideology.”
[NYT, via Naked Capitalism 6-5-20]

Progressive Policies into the Breach

Adam Tooze [Guardian, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 6-5-20] 
....deal-making apart, the broader vision of the flat world of globalisation is dead. The institution that most clearly embodied that “end of history” vision, the WTO, was launched in January 1995. Today, the WTO is in tatters. Its dispute-processing procedures have been paralysed by deliberate American obstruction and its head, Brazilian Roberto Azevêdo, has announced that he is resigning a year ahead of time, which leaves the WTO leaderless in the face of the greatest shock to world trade since 1945.” 
[Apple Insider, via Naked Capitalism 6-5-20] 
Whaddaya know, turns out labor power is worth paying for.
Apple has spent years and millions of dollars on automating its production lines with technology, and it has always reverted to using skilled human beings instead.
The most profitable technology company in the world, and arguably the most technologically advanced firm in history, won't use automation to make its products. Apple has repeatedly tried to build machines to build its machines, but in every case bar its recycling plans, it has failed — and reverted to using human beings instead of robots....

They were given the target of reducing the amount of human labor needed by half. Specifically, Apple wanted to be able to cut 15,000 workers from the production line, which represents about 50% of the number of workers used at key times.

It didn't work. Typical problems that arose include how Apple's use of glue required precision the machinery couldn't reliably match. And the tiny screws needed required the automation to correctly pick and position them but that same automation couldn't detect problems the way a human hand could.

This lab was abandoned in 2018, although reportedly some of its work was picked up and continued by other parts of Apple. It wasn't the only department working on the project — and arguably wasn't the biggest failure. That title goes to the millions of dollars spent automating production of what would become the MacBook in 2015.... 
It's not just Apple, either, as both Tesla and Boeing have famously attempted and abandoned automation for the same reasons.
“Google Shakes Up Top Search, Advertising Leadership”
[Bloomberg, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 6-5-20]
“Alphabet Inc.’s Google is shaking up its leadership, putting control over the company’s search engine and advertising product teams under the same person and moving leaders who have been around since the company’s founding to less visible teams. Prabhakar Raghavan, who led advertising product since 2018, will replace Ben Gomes as head of search. The new advertising product chief, Jerry Dischler, will report to Raghavan, signaling that the two groups will now be run by one central leader.”
Lambert Strether: "Yes, that’s what the country needs: Search more integrated with advertising."

[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 6-4-20]
Matt Stoller  ✔ @matthewstoller
It's time to stop begging Mark Zuckerberg to act differently. Facebook's power is a public policy problem and it can only be fixed through political choices by policymakers.
935
10:11 AM - Jun 3, 2020

Creating new economic potential - science and technology

The Future Of Wind Energy 
[OilPrice, via Naked Capitalism 6-4-20]  
A new concept design and material for wind towers could hold the key to carbon-neutral and a more cost-efficient wind power generation - wooden tower structures made of renewable engineered wood products, according to Swedish engineering and industrial design company Modvion.

The firm has developed and patented a modular laminated wood concept that is as strong as steel and solves the challenge of transporting a very high steel-made tower, where costs increase with the height of the tower. Modvion, whose work is financed by the Swedish Energy Agency, among others, has recently installed its first wooden wind tower for research purposes just outside Gothenburg in Sweden. The company expects to build the first commercial wooden towers in 2022. The first wooden wind tower is just 30 meters (98 feet) high, but Modvion has signed preliminary deals with two Swedish companies to build wind towers of more than 110 meters (361 ft).

“This is a major breakthrough that paves the way for the next generation of wind turbines. Laminated wood is stronger than steel at the same weight, and by building in modules, the wind turbines can be taller. By building in wood, we also reduce carbon dioxide emissions in manufacturing and instead store carbon dioxide in the design,” Modvion’s chief executive Otto Lundman said in a statement. 
Taller and modular wind towers made of wooden structures could solve the problems with high costs of steel-made towers and the challenge of transporting such towers on public roads in the U.S. and Europe. Wind towers of over 100 meters (328 ft) need base diameters of more than 4.3 meters (14.1 ft), the limit for transport width in most parts of the U.S. and the EU, Modvion says.







Neoliberalism requires a police state 

Who Gets to Be Violent and Why?
Ian Welsh, June 4, 2020
Yeah, this is the Rubicon, shit we’re not supposed to actually say. Powerful people routinely arrange to have weak people (98 percent of the population) killed, beaten, impoverished, and effectively enslaved by debt and fear of debt. 
But the weak are told that if they resist all the things done to them under the threat of violence (and it’s all under the threat of violence), they must never be violent. 
It’s the logic of the bully, of the coward: “My victims must not fight back, they must lie there and take their beating, and not resist. My violence is legitimate because I am powerful, but the weak must not use violence. If they do, we’ll escalate and escalate and escalate. We won’t just kill them, we’ll take everything, rape and torture; lock them up for years, deny them healthcare. There is nothing we will not do to those who resist us.”
....If you do resist, and, worse, if you dare be violent, you are a bad slave, a bad peasant. 
Violence is reserved for the master class and their enforcers; it is something that they have the right to do. It is good when they do it, and it is bad when you do it.

Caught on camera, police explode in rage and violence across the US
[The Verge, via The Big Picture 6-1-20]

Agent Provocateurs: Police at Protests All Over the Country Caught Destroying Property 
[Mint Press, via Naked Capitalism 6-2-20]
U.S. police have attacked journalists at least 100 times in the past four days
[Nieman Lab, via The Big Picture 6-2-20]
“Although in some incidents it is possible the journalists were hit or affected accidentally, in the majority of the cases we have recorded the journalists are clearly identifiable as press, and it is clear that they are being deliberately targeted.”
De-escalation Keeps Protesters And Police Safer. Departments Respond With Force Anyway. [Fivethirtyeight, via The Big Picture 6-2-20]

How to reform American police, according to experts
[Vox, via The Big Picture 6-2-20]

Where did policing go wrong?
Matt Taibbi, June 1, 2020 [via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 6-2-20]
This idea of high-engagement policing was born in the mind of a Midwestern academic/corrections official named George Kelling. Kelling conducted a number of studies for think tanks like the Police Foundation and eventually co-authored a hugely influential 1982 article in the Atlantic called Broken Windows....

“Broken Windows” revolutionized policing, changing it from a business of fighting crime to doing what Kelling described as “order maintenance.” If earlier police theorists like Orlando “O.W.” Wilson hoped to defeat crime by putting officers in squad cars and giving them advanced tools to react more quickly to offenses, the new strategy stressed stopping crime before it got started, by building and maintaining something not defined in law books – “order.”....

Commissioners demanded captains deliver numbers and captains began browbeating lesser officers, who in turn pushed quotas on patrol cops, for reasons that often had nothing to do with crime. As depicted in the The Wire, in the stats revolution, “shit always rolls downhill.” The point was to get lieutenants promoted to captain, to get mayors re-elected, and help provide the rationale for the prison jobs state legislators were bringing home to suburban districts. All of this was greased by the lobbying money of construction firms, prison vendors, even private prison corporations – a great business for all, and all that was needed to keep it going was an endless stream of jailable people.
This is why, even as rates of both violent crime and property crime have been decreasing steadily since the early nineties, rates of incarceration have been exploding in the other direction. For most of the 20th century the rate of incarceration in America was roughly 110 per 100,000 people. As of last year, the number was 655 per 100,000. Although the numbers have dipped slightly in recent years, down from a high of about 760 per 100,000 in 2013, the quantity of prisoners in America remains absurdly high.... Even during the Covid-19 crisis, 80% of the summonses for social distancing violations are given out to blacks and Hispanics. Does anyone really think that minorities account for that massive a percentage of those violations? Do they think black people really commit 3.73 times as many marijuana offenses as white people? 
....Because they’re constantly throwing those people against walls, writing them nuisance tickets, and violating their space with humiliating searches (New York in 2010 paid $33 million to a staggering 100,000 people strip-searched after misdemeanor charges), modern cops correctly perceive that they’re hated. As a result, many embrace a “warrior” ethos that teaches them to view themselves as under constant threat.

This is why you see so many knees on heads and necks, guns drawn on unarmed motorists, chokeholds by the thousand, and patterns of massive overkill everywhere – 41 shots fired at Amadou Diallo, 50 at Sean Bell, 137 at Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams in Cleveland, and homicides over twenty bucks or a loose cigarette.
Libertarianism For Me, Authoritarianism For Thee
Chris Arnade, June 1, 2020 [AmericanCompass, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 6-4-20]
The web of regulations and a heavy-handed enforcement that falls hardest on the working class, especially blacks. “Police are constantly humiliating the young people here. Everyone in this neighborhood had been demeaned.” 
A younger man explains, “Look. My dad is a cop, so I see both sides. But for us, for black kids, being outside is dangerous. One slip-up, one deviation, and we are incarcerated, or worse. We have no choice. We cannot do anything out of the norm presented to us. It is a kind of slavery of expectations.” 
In these neighborhoods residents are constantly stopped, frisked, monitored, pulled over, prosecuted, and jailed. Nuisance tickets (jaywalking, possession of X, selling Y without a license, doing Z without proper permits) are thrown at people like candy at a parade. It is just normal to have to deal with this stuff.
“Border Patrol Gloating on Twitter about Being Deployed to Clamp Down on Protesters” 
[Southern Border Communities Coalition, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 6-4-20] 
“As communities across the country take to the streets to protest unjust policing practices, police brutality and the murder of George Floyd, Border Patrol agents are being deployed nationwide to clamp down on protesters. The Border Patrol has long had aspirations on becoming a national police force, and with these deployments, they are a step closer to making those aspirations a reality. It started last week when the Border Patrol flew a predator drone over protesters in Minneapolis, while days later a bystander captured these terrifying images of border agents marching down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., en route to White House…. CBP’s jurisdiction is within the 100-mile zone, a region around the perimeter of the country in which border agents assert the power to board public transportation or set up interior checkpoints and stop, interrogate and search children on their way to school, parents on their way to work, and families going to doctor’s appointments or the grocery store — all done without a warrant or reasonable suspicion. Many of the cities fall within that jurisdiction, including Washington DC, but some, like Minneapolis, MN and Atlanta, GA do not.”
How to reform USA police - a thread with substance
[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 6-2-20]
Samuel Sinyangwe @samswey
Oct 5, 2019
For those who are interested in research-based solutions to stop police violence, here’s what you need to know - based on the facts and data. A thread. (1/x).... 
4. Demilitarization. Police depts that get more military weapons from the federal govt kill more people. You can stop that from happening through local and state policy....  
7. Invest in alternatives to police as crime prevention strategies. Every 10 additional organizations in a city:
- Reduces the murder rate by 9%
- Reduces violent crime rate by 6%
- Reduces property crime rate by 4%

Democratic Party leadership insists on suicide

Coronavirus’s Devastation Has Been Made Far Worse by Years of Democrats’ Neoliberal Policies
[Jacobin 5-31-20]
A certain set of Democratic policymakers and strategists would like to pretend that the only thing exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic is the utter incompetence of Donald Trump. What they would like to ignore is that the crisis we are in has laid bare the consequences of the neoliberal economic agenda Furman and his ideological allies have been pushing for decades. 
They fought mercilessly in 2019 for a health care system where insurance coverage was tied to employment. In the 1990s they scaled back welfare programs. They pushed policies that tied educational advancement to personal debt and an international trade system whose supply chain is over-reliant on foreign manufacturing, in particular in China. 
Each of these steps were taken under the advisement of wonderfully written economic studies claiming broad economic benefits for the country. In truth the opposite occurred, and the economic pain of the current crisis has been magnified because of them.

Liberal Democrats have lost their minds
[via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 6-1-20]

Remember: Bernie was the mild, soft-spoken answer to these problems.
[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 6-1-20]
A basic point but its worth remembering that for all the red-baiting Bernie was the mild, soft-spoken answer to these problems. Any ruling class with half a brain would have been thrilled with him taking some heat but also cooling things down.The freakout was totally out of touch


Black Americans Have a Message for Democrats: Not Being Trump Is Not Enough 
[New York Times, via Naked Capitalism 6-2-20] 
Her words — expressing a sentiment shared by her peers — serve notice to politicians, civil rights groups and Mr. Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee who has urged unity amid the frustration. “If you want change in America, go and register to vote,” said Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms of Atlanta, but interviews with activists and leading Democratic figures including Stacey Abrams of Georgia, the longtime civil rights leader and former presidential candidate Jesse Jackson, and Representative Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, flipped that typical framework: If Democrats want people to vote, party leaders need to listen to why people are angry....
The moment may still test Mr. Biden’s priorities, as a weary black electorate desires far greater change than the promise of a return to normalcy that has fueled his campaign. Energizing those voters, activists and elected leaders say, means addressing their demands for change and the realities of racism. But the former vice president, one of the Senate architects of the modern criminal justice system, cannot confront racism without addressing systemic inequalities, and he cannot address systemic inequalities by simply returning to a pre-Trump America. 
“Our needs aren’t moderate,” Mr. Jackson said in a recent interview. “The absence of Trump is not enough.”

The Dark Side

[Caitlin Johnstone, via Naked Capitalism 6-4-20]

[DC Report, via Naked Capitalism 6-4-20]  

“Americans losing faith in elections as Trump discredits voting systems” 
[Los Angeles Times, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 6-2-20] 
“[A] group of academics, called Bright Line Watch, which since 2017 has surveyed Americans on how much confidence they have in the election system. The surveys show a steep drop during Trump’s presidency. When the project began, about 60% of those surveyed said they believed U.S. elections were free of fraud. Now only 45% say they believe that. A third of Trump supporters surveyed say they would not regard it as undemocratic for a president to attack the legitimacy of election results.” • That’s not good. On the other hand, sometimes one thinks Americans have the memories of goldfish. Does anyone remember election 2000 and Bush v. Gore? Or the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), crafted in response to the hanging chad debacle, that subsidized the introduction of hackable voting machines? Our voting systems have been, to say the least, rickety for some time. See Election Justice USA’s report on the 2016 election, for example.

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