Sunday, August 30, 2020

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – August 30, 2020

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – August 30, 2020
by Tony Wikrent

Strategic Political Economy

Articles of impeachment drawn up against Gov. Mike DeWine over coronavirus orders
[Cleveland.com, via Naked Capitalism 8-26-20]
A key principle of republicanism is public virtue: if your self-interests conflicts with the general welfare, you have a duty to not oppose the general welfare. Clearly, the principle of republicanism is dead in this country, hence, it is no longer a republic. Some of the most discomfiting passages from the speeches and writings of the foundering era of USA dealt with the issue of a people becoming unfit to govern themselves.

Another key principle of republicanism is that citizens must not be dependent on anyone else if they are to be able to judge public affairs with sufficient disinterestedness to make the general welfare their major concern. This principle created major problems, however, as it was used to justify restricting the vote on "men of means" only. This created an opening for ruling elites to establish oligarchy, especially in the South. In practice, it meant white supremacy. As Dayen writes below: "The way you control labor is that you don’t pay enough to ever have workers be comfortable."

The Logic of the Boss
David Dayen, August 27, 2020 [American Prospect]
The absolute last person you should ever ask about a labor action connected to racial justice is Jared Kushner. So of course CNBC did just that this morning. Kushner told Andrew Ross Sorkin: "The NBA players are very fortunate that they have the financial position where they’re able to take a night off from work without having to have the consequences to themselves financially." 
There’s an implicit logic of the boss embedded in here. The way you control labor is that you don’t pay enough to ever have workers be comfortable. You keep people reliant on the boss so they never get crazy ideas in their head like using their power for positive change, for themselves or the society at large. 
In the 1960s, cheap college tuition and a lower cost of living gave space to young antiwar radicals to devote themselves to sustained protest. The diminishing of higher-education support and the rise of student loans weren’t exactly responses, but it was a nice side benefit. The cleaving away of labor from productivity, the skyrocketing of inequality, the breaking of the labor movement, a federal minimum wage that hasn’t increased since the second Bush administration—this all snuffs out personal agency and the ability to speak out. Keep someone dependent on their paycheck, and their health insurance too, and you’ve put a lid on mass action. 
The NBA is leading the way together, and Jared Kushner wants to keep people afraid and alone.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – August 23, 2020

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – August 23, 2020
by Tony Wikrent

The Pandemic

[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-20-20]
Estimated cost of recent epidemics/pandemics:
SARS (2003) - $40 billion
H5N1 (2006) - $40 billion
H1N1 (2009) - $45 billion
Ebola (2014) - $55 billion
COVID-19 (2020) - $8.8 TRILLION
Investing in public health preparedness is FAR cheaper than the economic impact of a pandemic.
3:57 PM · Aug 19, 2020
15.7K
Something Remarkable Just Happened This August: How the Pandemic Has Sped Up the Passage to Postcapitalism
Yanis Varoufakis, August 22, 2020 [Lannan Foundation, via Naked Capitalism]
Following the crash of 2008, capitalism changed drastically. In their attempt to re-float the crashed financial system, central banks channelled rivers of cheap debt-money to the financial sector, in exchange for universal fiscal austerity that limited the middle and lower classes’ demand for goods and services. Unable to profit from austerity-hit consumers, corporations and financiers were hooked up to the central banks’ constant drip-feed of fictitious debt. 
Every time the Fed or the European Central Bank or the Bank of England pumped more money into the commercial banks, in the hope that these monies would be lent to companies which would in turn create new jobs and product lines, the birth of the strange world we now live in came a little closer. How? 
As an example, consider the following chain reaction: The European Central Bank extended new liquidity to Deutsche Bank. Deutsche Bank could only profit from it if it found someone to borrow this money. Dedicated to the banker’s mantra “never lend to someone who needs the money”, Deutsche Bank would never lend it to the “little people”, whose circumstances were increasingly diminished (along with their ability to repay any substantial loans), it preferred to lend it to, say, Volkswagen. But, in turn, Volkswagen executives looked at the “little people” out there and thought to themselves: “Their circumstances are diminishing, they won’t be able to afford new, high quality electric cars.” And so Volkswagen postponed crucial investments in new technologies and in new high quality jobs. 
But, Volkswagen executives would have been remiss not to take the dirt-cheap loans offered by Deutsche Bank. So, they took it. And what did they do with the freshly minted ECB-monies? They used it to buy Volkswagen shares in the stock exchange. The more of those shares they bought the higher Volkswagen’s share value. And since the Volkswagen executives’ salary bonuses were linked to the company’s share value, they profited personally – while, at once, the ECB’s firepower was well and truly wasted from society’s, and indeed from industrial capitalism’s, point of view....
My difference with fellow lefties is that I do not believe there is any guarantee that what follows capitalism – let’s call it, for want of a better term, postcapitalism – will be better. It may well be utterly dystopic, judging by present phenomena. In the short term, to avoid the worst, the minimum necessary change that we need is an International Green New Deal that, beginning with a massive restructuring of public and private debts, uses public financial tools to press the oodles of existing liquidity (e.g. funds driving up money markets) into public service (e.g. a green energy revolution).
“Meatpacking Companies Dismissed Years of Warnings but Now Say Nobody Could Have Prepared for COVID-19”
[ProPublica, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-21-20] 
“[A] ProPublica investigation has found that for more than a dozen years, critical businesses like meatpackers have been warned that a pandemic was coming. With eerie prescience, infectious disease experts and emergency planners had modeled scenarios in which a highly contagious virus would cause rampant absenteeism at processing plants, leading to food shortages and potential closures. The experts had repeatedly urged companies and government agencies to prepare for exactly the things that Smithfield’s CEO now claims were unrealistic…. Instead, the industry repeatedly expressed confidence in its ability to handle a pandemic, and when asked to plan, relied on a wait-and-see approach, records and interviews show.”

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – August 16, 2020

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – August 16, 2020
by Tony Wikrent 

The pandemic

Do Masks Work Or Not?? Proving Whether Masks Stop Covid-19 Transmission with Uncle Rob [YouTube, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-11-20] 
If you know someone who insists wearing masks does not work, or COVID is a hoax, get them to watch this, And remind them they have responsibilities, not just free-dumbs.   


Lee Nackman, August 13, 2020
Lee Nackman is president of the Progressive Caucus of the North Carolina Democratic Party
This is a two-step proposal to save America: (1) Defeat the virus by a serious lockdown and (2) help people through it by giving them plenty of money to meet their needs (and possibly more) during the lockdown.

It gives money directly to the people and it gives every working-age person the same amount regardless of whether or not they “need” it. This keeps the program simple, free of excessive bureaucracy, and fair. It costs a lot but delivers a lot. It puts decision-making about what businesses to support in the hands of the people who know best, not in the hands of lobbyists and campaign contributors. Both Democrats and Republicans should like parts of it.

[Reuters, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-12-20] 
“Farmers routinely make changes to their acreage intentions as the calendar advances, substituting in different crops if the weather mucks up their original plans. But leaving the ground bare is new territory for U.S. farmers who typically plant fencerow to fencerow, trying to squeeze profit out of every available acre. The most recent acreage data from the government showed corn and cotton plantings in particular were far below initial expectations, with corn seedings in June dropping the most from March in 37 years. The coronavirus pandemic caused many farmers to give up on their corn crop before it was even in the ground.”


“How The Pandemic Humiliated Critics Of Medicare for All” 
[Walker Bragman, Too Much Information, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-14-20] 
 “When the novel coronavirus first arrived in the United States, it spurred on remarkable message discipline among America’s political class. The consensus that emerged on both sides of the aisle dictated that no matter what happened, Americans ought to be glad they do not live in a country with socialized medicine…. [N]ow, just a few months later, these arguments completely and utterly fail. New infections are still surging in the U.S. while countries with national health care programs have long since gotten a handle on the virus. On Tuesday, the U.S. reported more new COVID cases in a single day than Italy, France, and the U.K. reported last month combined, and roughly 45 percent of their total deaths.”

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – August 9, 2020

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – August 9, 2020
by Tony Wikrent


Kansas Should Go F— Itself 
Matt Taibbi, August 2, 2020
Review of Thomas Frank’s new book The People, No: A Brief History of Anti-Populism 
Frank published What’s the Matter with Kansas? in 2004, at the height of the George W. Bush presidency. The Iraq War was already looking like a disaster, but the Democratic Party was helpless to take advantage, a fact the opinion-shaping class on the coasts found puzzling. Blue-staters felt sure they’d conquered the electoral failure problem in the nineties, when a combination of Bill Clinton’s Arkansas twang, policy pandering (a middle-class tax cut!) and a heavy dose of unsubtle race politics (e.g. ending welfare “as we know it”) appeared to cut the heart out of the Republican “Southern strategy.”

Yet Clinton’s chosen successor Al Gore flopped, the party’s latest Kennedy wannabe, John Kerry, did worse, and by the mid-2000s, Bushian conservatism was culturally ascendant, despite obvious failures. Every gathering of self-described liberals back then devolved into the same sad-faced anthropological speculation about Republicans: “Why do they vote against their own interests?”

Frank, a Midwesterner and one of the last exemplars of a media tradition that saw staying in touch with the thinking of the general population as a virtue, was not puzzled....

Frank ripped the political strategy of Clinton Democrats, who removed economic issues from their platform as they commenced accepting gobs of Wall Street money in a post-Mondale effort to compete with Republicans on fundraising. Gambling that working-class voters would keep voting blue because “Democrats will always be marginally better on economic issues,” New Democrats stopped targeting blue-collar voters and switched rhetorical emphasis to “affluent, white collar professionals who are liberal on social issues.”.... Perceiving correctly that there would be no natural brake on this phenomenon, since the executive set was able to pay itself more and more as the country grew more divided, Frank wondered, “Why shouldn’t our culture just get worse and worse, if making it worse will only cause the people who worsen it to grow wealthier and wealthier?”

When I was first sent out to cover the Donald Trump campaign years later, I assumed the editorial concept would be simple: mockery. New York’s infamous “short-fingered vulgarian” had taken over national headlines in the summer of 2015 with a foul-mouthed stream-of-consciousness rap, organized around an impossible Pharaonic wall project and scare tales about rape-happy Mexicans – the Diceman doing Pat Buchanan. If this was taking over the Republican Party, there wasn’t much to report. The enterprise was doomed, and journalism’s only mission was to make sure the silliest bits were captured before being buried under the sands of history.

Twenty minutes into my first Trump campaign event, I knew this was wrong, and was seized by a sinking feeling that really hasn’t left since. Trump in person sounded like he’d been convinced to run for president after reading What’s the Matter with Kansas? His stump act seemed tailored to take advantage of the gigantic market opportunity Democrats had created, and which Frank described. He ranted about immigrants, women, the disabled, and other groups, sure, but also about NAFTA, NATO, the TPP, big Pharma, military contracting, and a long list of other issues.

America Is About To Feel Like A 3rd World Nation 
Ian Welsh, August 7, 2020
America’s about to make a double digit percentage of its population homeless. Something like 20 to 30%, or more of American small businesses have or will shut down by the end of the pandemic. The jobs won’t all come back and those that do will pay worse and feature worse treatment than the ones before (which were mostly not well paid and featured routine meanness.) We’re talking about 30 million to 60 million homeless.... 

America is “undeveloping.” It is moving from being a developed nation to being an undeveloped nation.

“A Historian of Economic Crisis on the World After COVID-19” (interview with Adam Tooze)
[New York Magazine, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-7-20]

Why has the balance of power between governments and bondholders shifted so dramatically? Or was the figure of the “bond-market vigilante” — who would punish states for excessive spending by dumping their debt — always a bogeyman in the developed world? 

To be honest, I think we’re all still struggling to figure this out. To offer a definitive answer would not only be conceited on my part; it would fail to capture the slightly shocking historical novelty of the situation. I feel like we’ve all just stumbled out of a cave into this wide-open space and are still blinking in the sun.

But if you ask me to put my finger on it, I would point to three elements. One is the political economy of inflation: the notion that democratic politics tend toward inflation. That was at the core of the entire complex of thinking around both central-bank independence and this idea of aggressive capital markets that defend the interests of wealth-holders against publics that are always trying to take that wealth away, whether through taxes or inflation. But the engine of this political economy was class antagonism. And that’s gone now because — as Warren Buffett has said — the class war is over, and his side won. And that changes the entire game.
....
The sense of flux is quite something. And I think it’s characteristic of this moment. The single thing that is most different from the ’90s is that orthodoxy just doesn’t seem very strong right now. We’re in a state of ferment. Much more so than in 2009, when people were just so panicked; they’d never seen quantitative easing before, and it was all a bit strange and weird. And then we kind of regressed to sadly conventional fiscal policy by 2010. Which could happen again. But at least in intellectual terms, the current moment is quite different from what it was in 2008.

“So what in January 2020 seemed to me like distinct preoccupations — when you’re a “climate political economy” person, you spend your time thinking about capitalism and Exxon, not epidemiology and wet markets — these things were in fact profoundly related. So, for example, those of us working on climate political economy had been developing this scenario we call the “climate Minsky moment” — a market collapse triggered by a sudden devaluation of key assets as a result of climate change and/or of a governmental response to climate change. Well, in a sense, this is precisely what COVID triggered in March. We saw a huge revaluation in assets, not as a result of the epidemic per se, but as a result of the reaction to the epidemic by business actors and national governments. 
....
...the International Energy Agency published a report in June calling for a $3 trillion green-energy program to see us out of the economic crisis. What really amazed me, given the moment that we’re in, was the scale of that — $3 trillion. Collectively, we’re thinking of spending that kind of money right now on unemployment and life support for the global economy all the time.

But then you look at the amount that’s being invested in the vaccine or in other types of public-health measures, and they are one — if not two — orders of magnitude smaller. I think the total amount of money being spent globally on vaccine development right now is on the order of 30 to 40 billion. What is the economic value of a vaccine right now? It’s clearly tens of trillions of dollars, at least if you had one that allowed us to restart the global economy. And yet what we’re spending is tens of billions.

So there’s still some weird disconnect in our valuation of public health. Lord Stern said climate change was the greatest market failure of history. I’m not sure he’s right. It’s clearly a huge market failure. But we may have just found a bigger one.
....
And then there’s the question mark of the United States and its allies. There’s a remarkable overlap between the climate-denying coalition and the COVID-denying coalition, the most obvious axis being that between the two biggest states in the Western hemisphere, Brazil and the U.S. And, of course, it isn’t really all of the United States. It’s the Republican Party and its adjuncts. The Republican Party seems like a local problem, but they’re actually a global one. In the same way that a local problem in Brazilian politics, when it concerns Amazonia, is a global problem.

“COVID-Induced Anxiety: Some Tips for Staying Sane During Insane Times”
[DoctoredTales, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-7-20]

“I recently posted on Twitter about COVID-19 and the feeling of impending devastation that healthcare workers are facing. I compared that feeling to the anxiety of watching a tsunami as it inches towards the shore. The hundreds of responses I received have moved me and changed my thinking. I received notes from soldiers describing similar feelings prior to deployment, from firemen and women attesting to the same before entering a burning building, and from patients describing a similar fear while waiting for the results of a biopsy. This helped me realize that we are not the first, nor the last, of humankind to face such formidable times, and we are certainly better equipped than our ancestors. The strength of my fellow citizens helped brace me for the coming challenge, and strengthened my resolve to go to work with steady hands... “While there are certainly dark and unprecedented days ahead, perseverance might be the most underrated of human qualities. And I am certain that together, we will persevere.” 

The Pandemic 

New COVID cases by party of governor  
Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-3-20]  
[Ed Yong, The Atlantic, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-3-20] 
“Since the pandemic began, I have spoken with more than 100 experts in a variety of fields. I’ve learned that almost everything that went wrong with America’s response to the pandemic was predictable and preventable. A sluggish response by a government denuded of expertise allowed the coronavirus to gain a foothold. Chronic underfunding of public health neutered the nation’s ability to prevent the pathogen’s spread. A bloated, inefficient health-care system left hospitals ill-prepared for the ensuing wave of sickness. Racist policies that have endured since the days of colonization and slavery left Indigenous and Black Americans especially vulnerable to COVID‑19. The decades-long process of shredding the nation’s social safety net forced millions of essential workers in low-paying jobs to risk their life for their livelihood. The same social-media platforms that sowed partisanship and misinformation during the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Africa and the 2016 U.S. election became vectors for conspiracy theories during the 2020 pandemic.”

“2020 defeated America because of Americans, not just Donald Trump” 
[Will Bunch, Philadelphia Inquirer, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-7-20] 
“When the New York Times dug deeply into why its home city — where more than 23,000 have died from the virus — became the national epicenter of the outbreak this spring, its reporters found the biggest factor in who survived the coronavirus and who didn’t was whether a patient was admitted to a private or a public hospital. … [P]atients were three times more likely to die at community hospitals in New York City’s outer boroughs than at private facilities in the wealthiest zip codes in Manhattan. That’s because the nurse-to-patient ratio at those swamped public hospitals was astronomically higher, because patients at the wealthier hospitals had better access to drugs like Remdesivir, while those in the poorer hospitals dealt with ventilators that didn’t have all the right settings. In Queens, the paper reported, some unwatched patients died removing masks to go to the bathroom…. The myth that simply replacing Trump with Joe Biden in the Oval Office on Jan. 20, 2021 — after tens of thousands more deaths and what’s sure to be a bumpy landing — will kick off an FDR New Deal-type response that in a few weeks will turn America into New Zealand is a dangerous one. If Biden’s basic instinct is merely to reset the clock to 2015, as many fear, that will ignore the uniquely American flaws that very much existed in 2015….” 
“Immunology Is Where Intuition Goes to Die”
[The Atlantic, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-5-20]
In general, the immune system’s reaction to SARS-CoV-2 is “what I would expect if you told me there was a new respiratory infection,” says Shane Crotty from the La Jolla Institute of Immunology. The innate immune system switches on first, and the adaptive immune system follows suit. In several studies, most people who are infected develop reasonable levels of coronavirus-specific T-cells and antibodies. “The bottom line is that there are no big surprises,” says Sarah Cobey, an epidemiologist from the University of Chicago.

Still, “any virus that can make people sick has to have at least one good trick for evading the immune system,” Crotty says. The new coronavirus seems to rely on early stealth, somehow delaying the launch of the innate immune system, and inhibiting the production of interferons—those molecules that initially block viral replication. “I believe this [delay] is really the key in determining good versus bad outcomes,” says Akiko Iwasaki, an immunologist at Yale. It creates a brief time window in which the virus can replicate unnoticed before the alarm bells start sounding....

The immune system’s reaction to the virus is a matter of biology, but the range of reactions we actually see is also influenced by politics. Bad decisions mean more cases, which means a wider variety of possible immune responses, which means a higher prevalence of rare events. In other words, the worse the pandemic gets, the weirder it will get.

A few patterns offer easier possible explanations. “Kids have very trigger-happy innate immune systems,” says Florian Krammer of Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine, which might explain why they rarely suffer severe infections. Elderly people are less fortunate. They also have smaller standing pools of T-cells to draw from, as if the mercenary-filled bar from the earlier metaphor is only sparsely packed. “It takes longer for the adaptive response to mobilize,” Farber says.
Testing Delays Have Us Flying Blind
David Dayen, The American Prospect
It can now take weeks to get test results, at which point they become not terribly useful. It can take almost as long to get a testing appointment in some parts of the country. If test results today gives you a snapshot of one population from yesterday and another from five days ago and another from two weeks ago, how can you construct a meaningful curve that tells you where case counts are now? How can you do contact tracing and expect people to remember who they interacted with two weeks ago? Just a few days of delay makes testing ineffective....
The testing backlog appears to be a function of two things. One is consolidation among testing labs, where if you don’t have a public university or large hospital lab nearby, most everything gets farmed out to Quest and LabCorp, who are at the breaking point. (That Quest is busy acquiring smaller labs even now tells you the problem.) The second is continued problems with the supply chain for key elements of the dominant testing kits, like reagents and these little pipette tips used in the process.

Both of these outcomes are unforgivable. One is the result of decades of economic concentration (do you know I have a book on sale about this?), while the other shouldn’t still be happening months into the crisis. That we cannot onshore simple materials for production speaks to the hollowing out of our industrial base. And the long supply chains remain pretty clogged, even though globalization fans are trying to tout a victory.... A Lancet study found that same-day tests could prevent around 80 percent of all transmissions, if the positive subjects isolate. Tests that take five days to respond only prevent five percent.
“COVID-19 long-term toll signals billions in healthcare costs ahead” 
[Reuters, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-3-20] 
“Studies of COVID-19 patients keep uncovering new complications associated with the disease. With mounting evidence that some COVID-19 survivors face months, or possibly years, of debilitating complications, healthcare experts are beginning to study possible long-term costs. Bruce Lee of the City University of New York (CUNY) Public School of Health estimated that if 20% of the U.S. population contracts the virus, the one-year post-hospitalization costs would be at least $50 billion, before factoring in longer-term care for lingering health problems. Without a vaccine, if 80% of the population became infected, that cost would balloon to $204 billion.”
[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 8-6-20]
Eric “Masks + Ventilation for Aerosols” Feigl-Ding @DrEricDing
Round pushpinHIGHWAY ROBBERY:
Remdesivir, made by
@GileadSciences
, has now set the price Rightwards arrow $2,300 to $3,100 per patient.
So how much does it cost to produce each vial?
Rightwards arrow Just $1.
US taxpayers also had paid for the drug’s NIH trial.
Borderline criminal drug pricing.
Remdesivir Priced At More Than $3,100 For A Course Of Treatment
[NPR, via Mike Norman Economics 8-6-20]

“The nursing science behind nurses as coronavirus hospital heroes” 
[STAT, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-5-20] 
 “Like medicine, nursing is a scientific discipline, and it’s time people see nurses as more than just angels or heroes. Nurses are not kind and heroic simply because they are good people, but because nursing science tells us that building relationships with patients and treating the whole-person response to disease is therapeutic for their health…. We define nursing like this: Nursing is the diagnosis and treatment of the human response to health and disease. This is distinct from medicine, which is about the diagnosis and treatment of disease itself…. Nursing does not lend itself well to the -ology verbiage typical of medical science, but perhaps that’s fitting because nursing science is different than many other types.” 
AstraZeneca Gets Protection from Future Product Liability Claims for COVID Vaccine 
[Insurance Journal, via Naked Capitalism 8-4-20] 

[Progressive Caucus Action Fund, via Naked Capitalism 8-2-20] 
[Financial Times, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-4-20] 
“A multibillion-dollar industry offering unusual data such as satellite imagery and measurements of social media sentiment is enjoying a boom in demand as hedge funds and companies hunt for clues on how to tackle the coronavirus crisis. Many investors have turned to so-called alternative data — niche information beyond standard financial market indicators or statistical releases — after finding official numbers too slow in reflecting the collapse in economic activity due to Covid, and the recovery. Providers argue it can provide precious, real-time glimpses into how a company or economy is faring.” Then again: “Anthony Lawler, head of GAM Systematic, said his firm used alternative data but added that such information had not been behind his funds’ gains last year, nor had it driven markets this year. ‘Daily credit card data or footfall data didn’t lead the recovery in [stock] prices. What led the recovery was investor sentiment, animal spirits and a belief in a better future,’ he said. ‘For none of that could you use innovative photographic, credit card or shipping data.”

The Carnage of Establishment Neoliberal Economics

“US chip industry plots route back to homegrown production” 
[Financial Times, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-3-20] 
“Many advanced chips are designed in the US, but only around 12 per cent are manufactured there…. There is no mystery behind the anxiety. China is still years behind the US in semiconductors, but it is racing to develop a globally competitive chip industry and is projected to become a serious competitor by the end of the decade.” And: ‘Taiwan’s ‘silicon shield’ makes it the 51st [US] state,’ said [Dan Hutcheson, chairman of VLSI Research and a longtime chip analyst], referring to the theory that the country’s leadership in chip technology is its best defence against aggression from China. ‘The US needs to protect Taiwan — it can’t afford to lose it to China.'”

Information Age Dystopia

Tech: “Robots Running the Industrial World Are Open to Cyber Attacks” 
[Bloomberg, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-4-20] 
“Robots are often connected to networks and run via software, according to the report, and previously unknown vulnerabilities could allow hackers to hide malicious code in them and other automated, programmable manufacturing machines. The researcher found flaws in software produced and distributed by the Swedish-Swiss multinational ABB Ltd, one among world’s largest industrial robot maker. They also found other vulnerabilities in one of industry’s most popular open-source software called ‘Robot Operating System Industrial’, or Ros-I, adapted for ABB and for Kuka AG, a German robot maker.” 
[TechDirt, via Naked Capitalism 8-4-20] 

Death of the Liberal Class
August 7, 2020 at 9:20 am
Below underscores Chris Hedges’ thesis in a book by the same title with respect to Unions and the function they played in advancing the cause of the working class. Along with the erosion of the Church, University, Press, and Democratic Party, we now live in TINA’s world, one in which a life free from economic anxiety and expanding opportunities can only be viewed in the rear view mirror.

Private investigators working from GM have uncovered evidence of offshore bank accounts in Switzerland, Panama, Singapore, Lichtenstein and the Cayman Islands set up for the benefit of top UAW officials, including four of the last five UAW presidents. The secret accounts were part of a sophisticated scheme by Fiat Chrysler to funnel millions of dollars in illegal payments to union officers for their services in betraying workers.
What Years of Emails and Texts Reveal About Your Friendly Tech Companies 
[NYT, via Naked Capitalism 8-7-20]
Exhibit A is Facebook, whose documents are the most damning. Emails from Mark Zuckerberg, its chief executive, strongly suggest that since about 2008 he has had a method for controlling what in a 2012 email he called “nascent” companies that posed “very disruptive” threats to Facebook. His method has been the buyout or the aggressive cloning of features to compel a company to sell itself to Facebook. He foresaw that there would be a limited number of “social mechanics,” or areas of innovation in social media, each of which would have one winner. “Instagram can hurt us,” he wrote in 2012, right before acquiring the company and eliminating the threat that its photo- and video-sharing technology posed to Facebook
“How to Autosave local to PC instead of to OneDrive when using Word” 
[Microsoft, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-4-20] 
Lamber Strether: Ha ha, you can’t. Imagine not being able to store your own data on “your own” PC. Who thought of this? Who coded it?

Restoring balance to the economy

Study: a universal basic income would grow the economy
[Vox, via Mike Norman Economics 8-3-20]
Basic income, in which every American would be given a basic stipend from the government no strings attached, is a potential solution to widespread automation reducing demand for labor 
One home, a lifetime of impact
[Washington Post, via Mike Norman Economics 8-3-20]
In 1936 a widowed black woman bought a home and it changed her family’s financial worth for generations. Today homeownership rates of black people lag even further behind whites’ rates, affecting their ability to build wealth.

The Dark Side

Was there a conspiracy by the Swiss courts and Attorney General`s office? 
Lucy Komisar [via Naked Capitalism 8-8-20] 
Switzerland has laws that make even saying bad things about banks a crime. A friend who is a famous international tax expert will not go to Switzerland about of concern about facing arrest for having lecture about Swiss bank secrecy.

Climate and environmental crises

NEWS: A New Trump Rule Could Help Big Oil Crush The Climate Movement 
David Sirota [Too Much Information, via Naked Capitalism 8-7-20]

“BP Walks Away From the Oil Supermajor Model It Helped Create” 
“Just six months after taking the helm, Looney has put meat on the bones of his plans to make BP compliant with the Paris accord on climate change, saying he’ll cut dividends in half, shrink oil and gas output by 40% over the next decade and spend as much as $5 billion a year building one of the world’s largest renewable-power businesses. Where Browne created a global model, Looney’s strategy shows the oil industry is splitting in two. On one side of the Atlantic, BP, Shell and Total are trying to make themselves going concerns for a low-carbon age, diluting their fossil-fuel businesses with plans to build significant revenues from renewable energy. Exxon and Chevron — insulated from the pressure applied by European investors and politicians — are charting a different course: keep pumping as profitably as possible and hand the cash back to investors. Like Big Tobacco, they’re increasingly courting shareholders willing to put returns above the harm their product causes.” 

Disrupting mainstream politics

“With ‘Survival of Organized Human Society’ at Risk, New Campaign Rallies Progressives to Vote Trump Out” 
[Common Dreams, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-6-20]
“Organizers of the new ‘Vote Trump Out’ initiative argue that while progressives have major substantive differences with Joe Biden on a number of key issues, ‘supporting the Democratic nominee in swing states is the only means we have to defeat Trump.’ … ‘If Biden wins, we’ll be at his door on day one, demanding the kinds of structural reforms that advance racial, economic, and environmental justice,’ the statement continues.'”
“DNC Delegates Call Biden Foreign Policy Team ‘A Horror Show’ And Ask For New Hires” 
[HuffPo, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-6-20]
“[A] new letter that’s being circulated among delegates to the Democratic National Convention is raising alarm bells about the circle of advisers who would likely form Biden’s foreign policy team if he becomes president. A widely circulated message promoting the letter, which is already signed by more than 275 delegates — almost all of whom were pledged to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — says Biden’s current circle is ‘a horror show’ of advisers with track records of supporting ‘disastrous’ U.S. military interventions.”
“The Never Trumpers Have Already Won” 
[The New Republic, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-6-20] 
“Whatever Sturm und Drang the Never Trumpers inspired on these fronts, they have done more damage to the left wing of the Democratic Party than they have to the powerful extreme right of their own party. From Trump’s Inauguration Day onward, Never Trumpers have written a script of defending the status quo ante, by delegitimating alternatives to it. They joined a coalition of liberals for whom free-market depredations and imperial violence were acceptable parts of doing America’s business, but left-wing mobilization was seen as part of a Weimar-style harbinger of regime collapse, and a living wage and universal health insurance were totalitarian equivalents of racist marches and travel bans. This agenda made it easy for the Never Trumpers to pivot from hating Trump to hating Bernie Sanders.”

New York Attorney General Moves To Dissolve The NRA After Fraud Investigation 
[NPR, via Naked Capitalism 8-7-20]

[ReadSludge, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-6-20] 
“In more than a dozen states, including battlegrounds like Wisconsin and Michigan, the Republican National Committee (RNC) has initiated or joined lawsuits to block states from expanding vote-by-mail systems or to oppose Democratic lawsuits in states that have resisted putting universal vote-by-mail systems in place. The lawsuits are financed by a $20 million litigation budget that the Republicans have amassed for fighting Democrats on voting issues…. At least 17 of the 24 billionaire donors to the RNC legal fund are among the top 400 wealthiest American households as ranked by Forbes magazine, including the following: Kelcy Warren, CEO of natural gas and propane pipeline giant Energy Transfer Partners, net worth $4.3 billion; Stephen Schwarzman, CEO of The Blackstone Group private equity firm, net worth $17.7 billion; and Charles Schwab, net worth $7.7 billion. Two more top donor families, those of Fertitta brothers Lorenzo and Frank III, fall just outside the top 400 richest Americans, with net worth around $1.6 billion apiece.”
“Facebook Fired An Employee Who Collected Evidence Of Right-Wing Pages Getting Preferential Treatment” 
[Buzzfeed, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-7-20] 
”In another recent Workplace post, a senior engineer collected internal evidence that showed Facebook was giving preferential treatment to prominent conservative accounts to help them remove fact-checks from their content. sThe company responded by removing his post and restricting internal access to the information he cited. On Wednesday the engineer was fired, according to internal posts seen by BuzzFeed News.”
No Chance Alamance: Immigration Detention and Jail Expansion in the North Carolina Piedmont
Oliver Hinds and Jack Norton, July 28, 2020 [Vera]
Terry Johnson, a white Republican who was first elected sheriff in 2002, turned his department’s attention to the immigrant community in Alamance, joining a controversial federal immigrant enforcement program—a provision of 287(g) in the federal immigration code—which allows local law enforcement to be deputized as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, giving them the power to detain people based on immigration status.

After the county commission voted to join 287(g) in 2006, Johnson employed the program to terrible effect. Between 2008 and 2013, Latinx people were six times more likely to be pulled over by the Alamance County Sheriff’s Department than non-Latinx people. Reports surfaced that Johnson was instructing officers to discriminate against people who “appeared” Mexican. Johnson reportedly told his deputies, empowered by 287(g), to “go out there and get me some taco-eaters.” Todd Zimmer, an organizer with the local activist group Down Home NC, estimates that this new collaboration eventually resulted in 10 percent of the Latinx community being deported during that period.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – August 2, 2020

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – August 2, 2020
by Tony Wikrent


How to hide from a drone – the subtle art of ‘ghosting’ in the age of surveillance
[Tech Explore, via Naked Capitalism 7-29-20]

Strategic Political Economy


Chinese Banks Urged To Switch From SWIFT And Drop USD In Anticipation Of US Sanctions
[Reuters, via Mike Norman Economics 7-29-20]
China should prepare for potential U.S. sanctions by increasing use of its own financial messaging network for cross-border transactions in the mainland, Hong Kong and Macau, according to a report from the investment banking unit of Bank of China...

Foreign Affairs — It Is Time to Abandon Dollar Hegemony–Issuing the World’s Reserve Currency Comes at Too High a Price
[Foreign Affairs, via Mike Norman Economics 7-29-20]
Time to resurrect Keynes (and E. F. Schumacher's) bancor proposal made at Bretton Woods but rejected in favor of using the US dollar as the global reserve currency? President Nixon famously ended the Bretton Woods agreement when he closed the gold window, ending dollar convertibility into gold at a fixed rate. This set the world on a floating rate monetary system with the USD remaining the reserve currency.
The War Nerd: Amateurs Talk Cancel, Pros Talk Silence
[Exiled, The War Nerd, via Naked Capitalism 7-27-20]
Victorian Britain carried out several of the biggest genocides in human history. It was also a high point of virtuous literature.
Because they were smart about language. They didn’t rant about the evil of their victims or gloat about massacring them, at least not in their public writings. They wrote virtuous novels, virtuous poems. And left a body count which may well end up the biggest in world history.
Open genocidal ranting is small-time stuff compared to the rhetorical nuke perfected by Victoria’s genocidaires: silence. The Victorian Empire was the high point of this technology, which is why it still gets a pass most of the time. Even when someone takes it on and scores a direct hit, as Mike Davis did in his book Late Victorian Holocausts, the cone of Anglosphere silence contains and muffles the explosion. Which is why Late Victorian Holocausts is Davis’s only book that didn’t become a best-seller. 
Davis was among the first historians with the guts and originality to look hard at some of the Victorian creeps who killed tens of millions — yes, tens of millions — of people from the conquered tropics: 
The total human toll of these three waves of drought, famine, and disease could not have been less than 30 million victims. Fifty million dead might not be unrealistic.” 
An English radical of the Victorian Era, William Digby, saw the scope of the horror: “When the part played by the British Empire in the nineteenth century is regarded by the historian fifty years hence, the unnecessary deaths of millions of Indians would be its principal and most notorious monument.”
....Let’s take a far more serious case: Eric Hobsbawm, still revered as canonical Marxist historian of the UK. As Davis notes, Hobsbawm does “mention” the Irish Famine, but — and if any phrase ever deserves to be written in all-caps, this phrase from Late Victorian Holocausts does: “Hobsbawm…makes no allusion in his famous trilogy on nineteenth-century history to the worst famines in perhaps 500 years in India and China.” 
There are no excuses for this. There are reasons, but as the song says, “It doesn’t make it all right.” Still, once the rage passes and you stop clenching your jaw ’til it aches, there are reasons. Most of all, there’s a deep Imperial skill in the trope of silence. The stupid Nazis ranted and raved and lasted 13 years, then got completely destroyed. The Empire kept its rants for private letters, passed on to a guild of coopted historians, pundits, and publishers—and has never been called to account.