The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – December 1, 2019

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – December 1, 2019
by Tony Wikrent
Economics Action Group, North Carolina Democratic Party Progressive Caucus

Strategic Political Economy

The Failure of Liberal Politics: Canadian interview of political philosopher Michael Sandel

“The rise of right wing populism represents the failure of liberal and progressive politics,” says Harvard political philosopher Michael Sandel. He joins The Agenda to diagnose the failure of liberal politics, the decline of civic life, and what liberals need to know in the age of anger and populism.

From the transcript:

SANDEL: Two decades ago when I wrote the book that you just generously quoted from, I got a lot of resistance from my liberal and progressive friends who thought I was worrying unnecessarily, that liberalism was more or less intact, and that the embrace by liberalism of the global economy and even market mechanisms would be a way to avoid controversy in politics, a way of avoiding the contentiousness that arises when we engage in morally robust questions in public life. i thought that was a mistake. I thought that was hollowing out public discourse, creating a kind of vacuum that was dangerous. And so we see.

INTERVIEWER: Somebody filled the vacuum.

SANDEL: Yes. And not only in the U.S., but with the rise of right wing kind of ultra nationalist populism in many European countries, I think we see this vacuum being filled. People sensed that after three to four decades of a kind of base that markets would decide tough public questions for us, democratic citizens are impatient with too empty a public discourse. They want politics to be about big things and also about values, about moral questions, about justice and inequality and what it means to be a citizen. And when liberal and progressive voices fail to offer that kind of politics, when they became largely technocratic in their approach, that vacuum was filled by narrow, intolerant voices and the kind of strident nationalism we see today.

How America’s Elites Lost Their Grip

Anand Giridharadas  [Time, via Naked Capitalism 11-24-19]

The mercy of all this elite failure and backlash is this: the ongoing collapse of any pretense of selflessness among the winners of our new Gilded Age.

If a single cultural idea has upheld the disproportionate power of this class, it has been the idea of the “win-win.” They could get rich and then “give back” to you: win-win. They could run a fund that made them sizable returns and offered you social returns too: win-win. They could sell sugary drinks to children in schools and work on public-private partnerships to improve children’s health: win-win. They could build cutthroat technology monopolies and get credit for serving to connect humanity and foster community: win-win.

As this seductive idea fizzles out, it raises the possibility that this age of capital, in which money was the ultimate organizing principle of American life, could actually end. Something could actually replace it. After all, a century ago, America was firmly planted in the first Gilded Age—and then it found its way into the Progressive Era and the New Deal, an era of great public ambition. Business didn’t go away; it wasn’t abolished; capitalists didn’t go into gulags. It was just that the emphasis of the society shifted. Money was no longer the lodestar of all pursuits.

The choice facing Americans is whether we want to be a society organized around money’s thirsts, a playground for the whims of billionaires, or whether we wish to be a democracy.

670 Years of Interest Rate History
[Visual Capitalist, via The Big Picture 11-24-19]

Job Loss Predictions Over Rising Minimum Wages Haven’t Come True

[Axios, via Naked Capitalism 11-26-19]

 “The minimum wage increase is not showing the detrimental effects people once would’ve predicted,” Diane Swonk, chief economist at international accounting firm Grant Thornton, tells Axios. “A lot of what we’re seeing in politics is old economic ideology, not what economics is telling us today.”

The great American labor paradox: Plentiful jobs, most of them bad 

[Quartz, via The Big Picture 11-24-19]

[Researchers] recently unveiled the US Private Sector Job Quality Index (or JQI for short), a new monthly indicator that aims to track the quality of jobs instead of just the quantity. The JQI measures the ratio of what the researchers call “high-quality” versus “low-quality” jobs, based on whether the work offer more or less than the average income.

A reading of 100 means that there are equal numbers of the two groups, while anything less implies relatively lower-quality jobs….

“The problem is that quality of the stock of jobs on offer has been deteriorating for the last 30 years,” says Dan Alpert, an investment banker and Cornell Law School professor who helped create the index. (Along with Alpert, the index is built and maintained by researchers at Cornell University Law School, the Coalition for a Prosperous America, the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and the Global Institute for Sustainable Prosperity.) The “whole story” told by the index, he adds, is “the devaluation of American labor.”

Yep – this is what you get when you toss out the economic policies that actually built the USA, such as the Doctrine of High Wages

The Carnage of Establishment Neoliberal Economics

“Death is the biggest issue in the 2020 election” 

[Quartz, via Naked Capitalism 11-27-19]

“Apocalyptic political rhetoric in the US might not be that far off base: US life expectancy is falling for the first time since the 1950s, particularly where president Donald Trump and the eventual Democratic presidential nominee will contest the 2020 election…. And more to the nub of the national discourse, the largest increases in mortality have taken place in the states that could be determinative in next year’s presidential elections, including Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Florida…. The Democrats challenging Trump will certainly draw a contrast with their plans for the government to tackle the increase in mortality, from treating drug addiction like a public health problem to gun safety legislation.”

“Dying too young: Deaths among middle-aged adults reversing life expectancy trends” 

[NBC News, via Naked Capitalism 11-27-19]

“An increasing number of Americans are dying in the prime of their lives, a trend not observed in other wealthy nations, according to research published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association. These ‘excess deaths’ — that is, people who die years and even decades before they’re expected to — tend to be clustered in the nation’s Rust Belt, where economies once boomed with a thriving steel industry, but have been in decline since the 1970s.”

Lambert Strether points out what should be obvious: “… if the political class cared about statistics like this, it would be a political issue; Case Deaton published in 2017, after all. They either don’t care, or they’re actively seeking this result (cf. “ok boomer,” while, ya know, people of that age cohort are dying, before they even had a chance to get to the ice floes. It’s disgusting and enraging). Handy chart:”


[Times-Picayune, via Naked Capitalism 11-25-19]
[MarketWatch, via Naked Capitalism 11-26-19]

Economic disequilibrium

Think celebrities and CEOs make way too much money? Check out this chart

[Marketwatch, via Naked Capitalism 11-27-19]
[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 11-25-19]

US billionaires philanthropic giving:– Gates, Buffett: annual giving ~3%–4% of their wealth

– Other top 20 billionaires: ~0.3% of their wealth. Like a tiny, tiny wealth tax

I made a table for you









9:07 PM · Nov 23, 2019

Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century is Now a Movie
[Worth, via The Big Picture 11-29-19]

“The one percent slogan actually comes from French Revolution. That’s where the Occupy Movement got it from. I didn’t know that until I started making this film, but that was one of the things Thomas told me. In Paris just before World War I, 1 percent of the people owned 70 percent of the land. One of the things he found most alarming is that the level of inequality in America and in Britain today is at the same levels it was in France and Britain before World War I.”

Walmart Dodged US Tax on $2 Billion by Routing Cash Through Multiple Countries, Whistleblower Says

[Quartz, via Naked Capitalism 11-30-19]

Information Age Dystopia

“Ruthless Quotas at Amazon Are Maiming Employees” 

[The Atlantic, via Naked Capitalism 11-26-19]

“[Candice Dixon] started the job in April 2018, and within two months, or nearly 100,000 items, the lifting had destroyed her back. An Amazon-approved doctor said she had bulging discs and diagnosed her with a back sprain, joint inflammation, and chronic pain, determining that her injuries were 100 percent due to her job. She could no longer work at Amazon. Today, she can barely climb stairs. Walking her dog, doing the dishes, getting out of her chair—everything is painful. According to her medical records, her condition is unlikely to improve. So this holiday-shopping season, as Amazon’s ferocious speed is on full display, Dixon is at a standstill. She told Reveal in mid-October that her workers’-compensation settlement was about to run out. She was struggling to land a new job and worried she’d lose her home.”

Two new investigations find that some Amazon warehouses have injury rates as high as triple the industry average

[Indianapolis Star, via Naked Capitalism 11-27-19]

“When an Amazon worker was killed by a forklift in a Plainfield warehouse in 2017, the state of Indiana’s investigator found the company was at fault. The state cited Amazon for four major safety violations and fined it $28,000. But an investigation by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting has found that, as Gov. Eric Holcomb sought to lure Amazon’s HQ2 to Indiana, state labor officials quietly absolved Amazon of responsibility. After Amazon appealed, they deleted every fine that had been levied and accepted the company’s argument — that the Amazon worker was to blame. The investigator on the case, John Stallone, had arrived at the warehouse a day after 59-year-old Phillip Lee Terry was crushed to death. He was so troubled by the pushback he was getting from higher-ups that he secretly recorded his boss, Indiana OSHA Director Julie Alexander, as she counseled the company on how to lessen the fine. ‘It’s like being at a card table and having a dealer teach you how to count cards,’ Stallone said.”

[New York Times, via Naked Capitalism 11-26-19]Web inventor has an ambitious plan to take back the net 


[Sam Klein, via Naked Capitalism 11-30-19]

Fleeing the Hellscape of Google Search with Qwant
Lambert Strether  [Naked Capitalism 11-25-19]

We at NC have no particular love for Google: They’ve downranked us, because we’re small (i.e., not “authoritative”), but also presumably because our links aggregation features compete with their pathetic and poorly sourced News feature[1]. And Yasha Levine asks a good question: “If the Internet is truly such a revolutionary break from the past, why are companies like Google in bed with cops and spies?” Nevertheless, blogging — just to lift the curtain a little, here — is all about production, and so if Google is the best for production, well, not everybody’s hands are always clean. But as Google search became increasingly crapified — losing its memory, and refusing to find material I am 100% sure exists, because I wrote it, without coaxing — and Google’s UI/UX became increasingly ugly and instrusive, a tipping point was bound to come, where Google was no longer the best, at least for me. I think that tipping point has now arrived.

So I am shifting to a European search engine called Qwant, on grounds of user experience, freedom from Google’s algorithm, and most importantly, privacy (I know we have a lot of DuckDuckGo (DDG) users here, and I’ll discuss that platform briefly in context as we go along.)

I have also seen Google become more and more crappified when I search for material I know exists because I wrote it. These days Google almost never returns a search query that includes in its first page or two a link to the Real Economics website. 

[The New Republic, via Naked Capitalism 11-25-19]

“If Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren wants to pass Medicare for All; if Biden or Pete Buttigieg wants to implement his public option, they will have to go around not just health-industry lobbyists and their money but a whole city of careerist worms whose children’s college funds and extravagant lifestyles depend on money scraped from the [Partnership for America’s Health Care Future’s] vaults.”

“The Army Built to Fight ‘Medicare for All’”
[Politico, via Naked Capitalism 11-25-19]

“With the images of that Sanders [#MedicareForAll] event replaying in his head, [Chip Kahn, the CEO of the Federation of American Hospitals] made a phone call — and then, over the next few weeks, another and another. Those calls would lead to a series of secretive meetings in downtown D.C. where officials from every part of the health care industry — from insurance companies to hospital giants, drugmakers and even, for a time, doctors — would forge an alliance united to ensure that Sanders’ promises never became reality. Out of their pact grew an influence operation known today as the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future, a multimillion-dollar cooperative designed to overwhelm not just the swelling Medicare for All movement, but every single Democratic proposal that would significantly expand the government’s role in health care….”

“He also has experience taking down ambitious plans for health care reform. As executive vice president of the Health Insurance Association of America — then the insurance industry’s main trade group — he was a driving force behind the “Harry and Louise” TV ads that played a key role in tanking Bill Clinton’s health care package in 1993 and setting the standard for a generation of hard-hitting special interest campaigns that have shaped policy debates ever since.”

Lambert Strether: “Kahn’s killed an awful lot of people for money, hasn’t he?”

“‘There’s a Fear Factor, a Fear of Change.’” – The man who has built a national health care system

[Politico, via Naked Capitalism 11-25-19]

“Plenty of Americans have opinions about single-payer health systems like “Medicare for All,” and some have even studied them closely. But vanishingly few individuals in the world have actually built one from scratch. One who has is William Hsiao. A health care economist now retired from Harvard University, Hsiao designed a national health care system for Taiwan in the 1990s, and helped manage that country’s transition from American-style employer-based insurance to a national single-payer system. He has also designed single-payer reform programs for Cyprus, Colombia and China. In recent years, Hsiao, now 83, has consulted with Sen. Bernie Sanders on his Medicare for All plan, and also supports Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s version. But his reality-check prediction is that it will take two more election cycles, at least, before the political groundwork for Medicare for All will be laid. With powerful lobbies like insurers, hospitals and drug companies dug in against such plans, he points to two other forces that will need to play key roles: big employers, which he sees as nearing an inflection point where they will insist on a better system; and doctors, who are increasingly being paid as salaried employees, which is changing their views of private insurance.”

Climate and environmental crises

Chicago Takes a Beating as Lake Levels Surge

[Scientific American, via Naked Capitalism 11-30-19]

High water has chewed away millions of cubic yards of sand and soil on the city’s north and south shores. Last week, the Chicago Department of Transportation and the Chicago Park District initiated an emergency shoreline protection project at Juneway Beach about 10 miles north of downtown, with additional projects to follow at other nearby beaches.
A city spokeswoman said the lake is about 3 feet higher than average for the month of November, and a quarter-inch below the record high-water mark for November….

Near-record precipitation fell over the basin in 2018 and 2019, tipping the lake’s balance between water inputs and evaporation, and driving lake levels to their highest measure since 1986. Lake storms are more frequent and pack greater power, posing additional risks to boaters, fishermen, and lakeshore residents, businesses and tourists.

[HuffPo, via Naked Capitalism 11-25-19]

Creating new economic potential – science and technology

Scientific Breakthrough: MIT Solves Two Huge Energy Problems

[OilPrice, via Naked Capitalism 11-26-19]

Scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have published a paper that details the mechanism of a battery device that can suck out the carbon dioxide from the air, store it, and then release it for sequestration or storage and subsequent sale: the oil and gas industry uses CO2 to improve well output.

The principle of the device is ingeniously simple: as the battery charges, it sucks in carbon dioxide. During discharge, the CO2 is released into the ground. The battery itself is made up of arrays of electrodes with gaps between the arrays so the gas can enter the device. Each electrode is coated with a carbon nanotube layer that enables an electrochemical reaction when carbon dioxide comes into contact with the surface of the electrodes. The guarantee for this contact is the fact the electrodes have a natural affinity for CO2, which means they attract the gas molecules when they enter the device.

China’s High-Speed Railway To Reach 35,000 Km By Year-End

[Xinhua, via Naked Capitalism 11-25-19]

China’s high-speed railway network will continue to top the world with an estimated length of 35,000 km by the end of this year, said China Railway. The total length of China’s railways will exceed 139,000 km by the end of 2019, according to the company. In 2019, China’s railways are estimated to record 3.6 billion passenger trips, up 92 percent from 2012.

Photo taken on Oct. 29, 2019 shows a bullet train running through the fields of Gula Township of Binyang County, south China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. (Xinhua/Lu Boan)

“High Plains Farmers Race to Save the Ogallala Aquifer” 

[Civil Eats, via Naked Capitalism 11-25-19]

“It’s well-documented that the Ogallala Aquifer… is rapidly depleting…. The massive, 174,000-square-mile underground reservoir spans eight landlocked states in the Great Plains, from South Dakota to Texas. Along with being a critical source of drinking water, the aquifer supports one-fifth of all wheat, corn, cotton, and cattle in the United States. Irrigation technology, such as center pivot irrigation, patented in 1952, once helped transform the Great Plains into an agricultural oasis; flat land stretched over a seemingly endless reserve of groundwater at farmers’ disposal… Without the Ogallala, agriculture in the breadbasket of the U.S., at least as it is currently practiced, cannot continue. Yet there’s also reason to hope. … [Chris Grotegut] adopted a permaculture practice known as pasture cropping, or intermixing crops with grassland pasture. This method helps him keep more roots in the ground, building the health of the soil. And as the soil grows richer in organic matter, it can also hold more water…. After an initial loss of profits while transitioning from conventional row crops, Grotegut has seen his profits rise, due to saving on the cost of pumping groundwater and land maintenance.”

Lambert Strether added: “For you gardeners, horticulturalists, and permaculturists, this is a very exciting must read.”

Banana agri-waste converted into biodegradable, recyclable plastic

[New Atlas, via Naked Capitalism 11-30-19]
[World Economic Forum, via The Big Picture 11-29-19]

Erecting a new building ranks among the most inefficient, polluting activities humans undertake. The construction sector is responsible for nearly 40% of the world’s total energy consumption and CO2 emissions, according to a UN global survey (pdf).

A consortium of Swiss researchers has one answer to the problem: working with robots. The proof of concept comes in the form of the DFAB House, celebrated as the first habitable building designed and planned using a choreography of digital fabrication methods.

The three-level building near Zurich features 3D-printed ceilings, energy-efficient walls, timber beams assembled by robots on site, and an intelligent home system. Developed by a team of experts at ETH Zurich university and 30 industry partners over the course of four years, the DFAB House, measuring 2,370 square feet (220 square meters), needed 60% less cement and has passed the stringent Swiss building safety codes.

Economics in the real world

[Aviation Week and Space Technology 11-26-19]
MRO is maintenance. repair, and operations

The latest global data indicates that the world’s airlines spent an average of $1,452 per flight hour on maintaining widebodies in 2018. This worked out to $5.7 million per aircraft for the year. These figures were provided by IATA’s Maintenance Cost Technical Group, which surveyed 37 airlines operating 1,666 widebodies averaging 8.8 years in age.

Equivalent estimates for narrowbodies were $824 per flight hour and $2.5 million for the year, based on reports from 50 carriers operating 2,649 jets averaging 8.9 years of age. For regional jets, MRO costs averaged slightly less, $817 per flight hour and $2.1 million per aircraft year. RJs averaged 7.5 years old and were reported by 13 airlines. Thirteen airlines reported an average of $993 MRO spend per flight hour on turboprops averaging 7.8 years of age.

[Bloomberg, via Naked Capitalism 11-27-19]

“The arc of Lighthizer’s rocky relationship with the WTO is hurtling toward a potentially dramatic inflection point. The pressure he and the Trump administration are applying on the WTO may, in just a few weeks, render the Geneva-based arbiter of trade inoperative…. The Trump administration, which previously threatened to block the WTO’s 2020 budget, offered members a proposal this week that would allow it to continue operating, but would hamstring the WTO’s appellate body. The U.S. said it would back the WTO’s 197.2 million-Swiss franc ($197.6 million) budget for 2020 with the condition that no more than 100,000 francs be paid to appellate body members, an 87% reduction from the full budget allotment, and spending by the body’s operating fund also be limited to 100,000 francs, a 95% reduction. The Trump administration argues that the organization’s compensation structure creates an incentive for appellate members, who can make more than 300,000 francs a year, to string out cases to boost pay.”

Using the justice system to promote economic injustice

“Brett Kavanaugh’s latest opinion should terrify Democrats” 

[Vox, via Naked Capitalism 11-29-19]

“Beginning in the latter half of the Obama administration, Federalist Society gatherings grew increasingly fixated on diminishing the power of federal agencies to regulate businesses and the public — an agenda that would severely weaken seminal laws such as the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. On Monday, Justice Brett Kavanaugh signaled that he is on board with this agenda.”

When they were considering a name for their new organization, the creators of the Federalist Society first considered the Anti-Federalist Society, because that’s who they really are. Lambert Strether adds that “Democrats should have fought all Federalist Society nominees tooth and nail on ideological grounds over the last few decades…. Unless they share the same ideology, of course.” But I think in many cases, it was not a case of sharing the same ideology, but being entirely ignorant of the USA history of federalists versus anti-federalists. The Confederates were all hardcore anti-Federalists. And, the cases are already being teed up:

“Oracle finally responds to wage discrimination claims… by suing US Department of Labor” 

[The Register, via Naked Capitalism 11-29-19]

“With one hand holding the constitution and the other bashing its chest, the database giant warned perilously that ‘the rise of the modern administrative state has altered our government structure’ but that it had ‘not undone our constitutional structure.’”

ALEC to host December meeting with state legislators and think tanks to discuss anti-union strategy
[Documented, via North Carolina AFL-CIO 11-25-19]

The event is scheduled for December 3rd, a day before ALEC will hold its States and Nation Policy Summit in Scottsdale, Arizona. Details of the event, which do not appear on the ALEC conference agenda or elsewhere online, are revealed in records obtained by Documented via state public record requests. A copy of the invitation is below.

According to the invitation, the attendees will discuss “Janus decision implementation, union release time reform, union recertification and provide an opportunity to connect with staff from local think tanks.”

The event invitation was sent by Michael Slabinski, Director for the Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development Task Force at ALEC. The Private Sector Chair of this ALEC task force is Alibaba Group Director of State and Local Government Affairs, Bill Ashworth. Alibaba is the giant Chinese e-commerce company renowned for its so-called “996” work schedule, where workers are required to work 9am to 9pm for 6 days a week. Documented in partnership with the Intercept first revealed the Alibaba involvement in ALEC….

. On the call, SPN CEO Tracie Sharp made clear that this was really about weakening the power of the groups that oppose their political agenda.

“I want you to know that later this month, or any day now, the chances are good that we may actually have this unprecedented opportunity with the Janus Supreme Court case decision,” Sharp told her donors. “If it comes down on our side, of course, it makes every state a ‘right-to-work’ state. And so we have the opportunity to change the way the left funds everything that you and I disagree with.” At a different point on the call, she said, “Once this ruling comes down — and we do expect it to come down in our favor — everything will change. The door to pass a dream list of free-market reforms is going to swing open for us.”

Predatory Finance

It’s Official: JPMorgan Chase Is the Riskiest Big Bank in the U.S.
By Pam Martens and Russ Martens, November 25, 2019 [Wall Street on Parade]

The National Information Center is a little-known repository of bank data collected by the Federal Reserve. It is part of the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC), which was created by federal legislation to create uniformity in the examination of U.S. financial institutions by the numerous federal regulators of banks.
Quietly, the National Information Center has done something that has likely made Jamie Dimon hopping mad. Dimon is the Chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase who has bragged perpetually in his annual letter to shareholders about how the bank he leads has a “fortress balance sheet.” But now the National Information Center has created a graphic profile of JPMorgan Chase versus its peer banks. The graphics crunch a series of important financial metrics at JPMorgan Chase, showing it to be the riskiest bank in the United States.

The data used to create these graphics come from what is known as the “Systemic Risk Report” or form FR Y-15 that banks have to file with the Federal Reserve. To measure the systemic risk that a particular bank poses to the stability of the U.S. financial system, the data is broken down into five categories of system risk: size, interconnectedness, substitutability, complexity, and cross-jurisdictional activity. Those measurements consist of 12 pieces of financial information that banks have to provide on their Y-15 forms. That data shows that in 7 out of 12 financial metrics, JPMorgan Chase has the riskiest footprint among its peer banks.

Democratic Party leadership insists on suicide

“Suppressing Protest: Human Rights Violations in the U.S. Response to Occupy Wall Street” (PDF)
[The Global Justice Clinic (NYU School of Law) and the Walter Leitner International Human Rights Clinic at the Leitner Center for International Law and Justice (Fordham Law School), via Naked Capitalism 11-27-19]

Obama Privately Considered Leading ‘Stop-Bernie Campaign’ to Combat Sanders 2020 Surge: Report
[Common Dreams, via Naked Capitalism 11-27-19]

“Obama’s post-presidency is grating and full of contradictions,” tweeted David Klion, news editor at Jewish Currents. “He considers himself the leader of the party but refuses to lead. He considers himself a success but the mere fact of Trump’s presidency belies this. He won on hope and counsels hopelessness.”
David Dayen, executive editor for The American Prospect, wrote last week that Obama’s attacks on the progressive wing of the Democratic Party “are music to the ears of the wealthy and powerful.”

“This defense of the reigning economic order, originating with the donor class and media allies, with its effective abandonment of the vulnerable and disenfranchised, with nothing for those struggling to make it in a rigged economy, is a recipe for social and political unrest,” Dayen wrote. “From lofty heights, Obama has now become a dampener of hope, a barrier to change, and a threat to progress.”

“Waiting for Obama”
[Politico, via Naked Capitalism 11-26-19]

“Publicly, he has been clear that he won’t intervene in the primary for or against a candidate, unless he believed there was some egregious attack. ‘I can’t even imagine with this field how bad it would have to be for him to say something,’ said a close adviser. Instead, he sees his role as providing guardrails to keep the process from getting too ugly and to unite the party when the nominee is clear. There is one potential exception: Back when Sanders seemed like more of a threat than he does now, Obama said privately that if Bernie were running away with the nomination, Obama would speak up to stop him. (Asked about that, a spokesperson for Obama pointed out that Obama recently said he would support and campaign for whoever the Democratic nominee is.)”

Enemy Actions

[HuffPost, via Naked Capitalism 11-28-19]

With his Thanksgiving vacation, President Donald Trump’s golf hobby has now cost Americans an estimated $115 million in travel and security expenses ― the equivalent of 287 years of the presidential salary he frequently boasts about not taking.

Of that amount, many hundreds of thousands ― perhaps millions ― of dollars have gone into his own cash registers, as Secret Service agents, White House staff and other administration officials stay and eat at his hotels and golf courses….

But lawsuits filed by news organizations and watchdog groups against other executive branch agencies ― the White House is exempt from Freedom of Information Act queries ― have revealed payments totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars, arguably in violation of the Constitution’s domestic emoluments clause, which prohibits Trump from accepting benefits beyond his salary from the federal or any state government.

ProPublica, for example, found that Mar-a-Lago charged taxpayers $546 a night for rooms ― three times the per-diem rate and the maximum allowed by federal rules ― for 24 Trump administration officials who stayed there during a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2017. Taxpayers also picked up a $1,006.60 bar tab for 54 top shelf drinks ordered by White House staff.

The group Property of the People recently revealed payments totaling $254,021 from the Secret Service to various Trump properties in just the first five months of his presidential tenure. Over that period, Trump had golfed 25 times. As of Wednesday, he has spent 223 days at a golf course he owns. If the first five months are an accurate indicator, that means the Secret Service has likely spent nearly $2.3 million in taxpayer money at Trump’s businesses, of which he is the sole owner.

Military Affairs

[Foreign Policy, via Naked Capitalism 11-25-19]

Advances in the fields of aerospace, robotics, machine learning, 3D printing, and nanomaterials are creating new classes of missiles and lethal drones that can be launched discreetly, travel great distances, and hamstring massed forces—all for a fraction of the cost of traditional manned weapons.

New hypersonic missiles, for example, combine the speed and range of ballistic missiles with the maneuverability and accuracy of cruise missiles. Unmanned aerial vehicles and underwater gliders have achieved transoceanic range. Algorithms can coordinate swarms of more than 1,000 drones….

China and Russia can send hordes of conventional missiles and expendable drones to wreak havoc on America’s networks, destroying U.S. weapons platforms while they are on base, cutting U.S. communications links, and wiping out vital fuel and ammunition dumps.

The U.S. military would have trouble quickly responding to such attacks because it is so unprepared for them. Most bases have few, if any, missile defense systems or hardened shelters. Combat aircraft and warships often are parked in the open, side by side. Communications between command centers and soldiers in the field rely heavily on satellites that follow predictable orbits and on undersea cables that are mapped in open sources.



Open Thread


Why Impeachment Has No Traction


  1. Herman

    On the subject of the epidemic of early deaths, it is amazing that this is not a bigger story. This sort of decline of life expectancy is rare in modern nations that are not at war. The only other example I can think of from recent history is the decline of life expectancy in post-Soviet Russia. So much for the “everything is getting better” story that people like Steven Pinker push.

    A large portion of the American population has been written off as hopeless and left to rot. It is really sickening. Few people care and many think that these people deserve their fate because they failed to “keep up with the times” as people say. Of course, many of these deaths are also tied to our horrible trade policy but this is rarely discussed in the media where criticism of free trade makes you a deplorable Trumpist and possibly even a fascist.

    These stories make me wonder if America is worth trying to save because much of the population is just as heartless as our elites.

  2. Hugh

    There has been no failure in liberal politics. It is and has always been a straight up betrayal of the many by the few, a feature not a bug.

    I think historical economic comparisons only have some validity going back to about 1900. Even the 1870s would really be pushing it. Beyond that, the economies and societies are so different that comparisons make no sense.

    Agree with Herman. The opioid crisis, the lack of real healthcare and good jobs, educational debt, the homeless, massive wealth inequality, these are engineered, not natural, events.

  3. Stirling S Newberry

    This is an old story: “Get in line and stay healthy, get out of life and suffer. The beatings will continue until morale improves.”

    In the early-19th century, money could be own individually (slaves, serfs) at close distance. Then two things happened: you could not own an individual person and the rich realized the trick was you could own money in a statistical sense. Instead of all people need to breed, and we keep track individually, all people need to breed and we keep track of it statistically.

    Personal was bad – chattel slavery – but statistical was fine – wage slavery. Now it dawns on people that wage slavery and breeding money to make wealth are two halves of the same coin. Especially since they’re the ones being owned.

  4. I’ve been writing about this for quite some time . Weather, “climate”, the atmosphere, the thin layer of potentially toxic gases we live in that envelopes the only ball of rock we know of we can live on, does not recognize the boundaries of “nation/states”. Ask the Neanderthal.
    Where will Millions of Refugees Created by our burning Fossil Fuels Go?
    We can predict where climate refugees will go, right?

    No. Despite bold and excitable claims that refugee forecasting is largely resolved, we are not convinced. As computer scientists who work on this exact problem, such claims seem like a painful example of running before we can walk. We have not cracked it.

    Forecasting is hard. We do not yet know where climate refugees and other forcibly displaced people are going. We still need huge supercomputers just to forecast next week’s weather.
    They’ll go North, you can’t stop the migration. Ask the Neanderthal.


  5. A search engine I find quite good and does not track you is DuckDuckgo.

  6. ponderer


    With respect, I think what they found is that it was cheaper to rent people than own them. The biggest problem was requiring a new influx of labor to maximize arbitrage and break the established order of business (which gave large influence to the south and the independence of landowner/farmers). Now that nearly all the independent citizens are gone and we are all wage slaves, they employ the same tactics as then. The Democrats may have changed forms and names but the tricks are all old and obvious to those who look. They don’t even have the intellectual capability to find new ones as they have dumbed themselves down too far to even beat a reality TV star for POTUS.

  7. Willy

    I too agree that there’s been no failure in liberal politics, if “liberal politics” is defined as an honest intellectual negotiation between personal responsibility and social responsibility, as seen in functioning liberal democracies.

    The American founders themselves broke into competing philosophical factions, just as they themselves designed.

    It’s the intellectual honesty that’s been broken. And intentionally, I also agree.

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