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

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – December 13, 2020

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – December 13, 2020

by Tony Wikrent

Strategic Political Economy

An Ominous Sign: Americans Have Begun Stealing Food To Survive

[ZeroHedge, via Mike Norman Economics 12-11-20]

Authored by Daisy Luther via The Organic Prepper blog,

If you’ve been waiting for a sign that things are really bad economically in the United States, here it is. Americans who never would have contemplated shoplifting before are stealing food to survive…. I wrote the other day about how the response to the pandemic has destroyed the personal finances of American families. An area that deserves more attention is food insecurity…. More than 50 million people are suffering from food insecurity in the United States right now, a number that has leaped dramatically due to the response to the coronavirus….

Twenty percent of Americans are now turning to food banks to help keep their families fed. And according to a report in the Washington Post, the shoplifting of food and other essential items is increasing significantly….

The result is a growing subset of Americans who are stealing food to survive.

Shoplifting is up markedly since the pandemic began in the spring and at higher levels than in past economic downturns, according to interviews with more than a dozen retailers, security experts and police departments across the country. But what’s distinctive about this trend, experts say, is what’s being taken — more staples like bread, pasta and baby formula.

“We’re seeing an increase in low-impact crimes,” said Jeff Zisner, chief executive of workplace security firm Aegis. “It’s not a whole lot of people going in, grabbing TVs and running out the front door. It’s a very different kind of crime — it’s people stealing consumables and items associated with children and babies.” (source)

“Stealing to survive: More Americans are shoplifting food as aid runs out during the pandemic”

[Washington Post, via Zero Hedge 12-10-20]

“Alex graduated with a master’s degree in May and was immediately in a bind: no job, no money and, with much of the country still shut down, little hope that anything would change. She’d spent most of her $1,200 stimulus check on rent, and used what little she had left to buy groceries. Everything else — vitamins, moisturizer, body wash — she said she shoplifted from a Whole Foods Market a few miles from her apartment in Chicago. ‘It was like, I could spend $10 and get a couple of vegetables or I could spend $10 on just a box of tampons,’ said Alex, 27, who asked to be identified by her middle name to speak candidly. She has a job now, earning $15 an hour, but still struggles to make ends meet. She says she continues to shoplift — something she’d never done before the pandemic — every few weeks. She says she moves through the store mostly unnoticed. Usually, she said, she picks up a few bulky vegetables — a bunch of kale, maybe, or a few avocados — to disguise the pricier items she slips into her bag at the self checkout. ‘I don’t feel much guilt about it,” she said. ‘It’s been very frustrating to be part of a class of people who is losing so much right now. And then to have another class who is profiting from the pandemic — well, let’s just say I don’t feel too bad about taking $15 or $20 of stuff from Whole Foods when Jeff Bezos is the richest man on Earth.’”

U.S. Billionaire Wealth Surges Past $1 Trillion Since Beginning of Pandemic — Total Grows to $4 Trillion 

[Institute for Policy Studies, via Naked Capitalism 12-12-20]

Disrupting Mainstream Economics


Everything We’ve Learned About Modern Economic Theory Is Wrong

Bloomberg , via Naked Capitalism 12-12-20]

[Ole Peters is] A physicist by training, his theory draws on research done in close collaboration with the late Nobel laureate Murray Gell-Mann, father of the quark. He’s also won over two noted thinkers in the world of finance — Nassim Nicholas Taleb and Michael Mauboussin — not to mention a groundswell of enthusiastic supporters in the Twittersphere. His beef is that all too often, economic models assume something called “ergodicity.”

….Peters takes aim at expected utility theory, the bedrock that modern economics is built on. It explains that when we make decisions, we conduct a cost-benefit analysis and try to choose the option that maximizes our wealth.

The problem, Peters says, is the model fails to predict how humans actually behave because the math is flawed.

The Gadfly of American Plutocracy

[Boston Review, via The Big Picture 12-11-20]

 Far from a marginal outsider, a new biography contends, Thorstein Veblen was the most important economic thinker of the Gilded Age. His critiques of capitalism and economic theory speak to our own era of economic injustice. Living through economic convulsion and class conflict unlike any other in U.S. history, he often preferred to retreat into the long view of an evolutionary perspective that reduced the present to a little speck in the passage of millennia.

Milton Friedman was wrong on the corporation

[Financial Times, via The Big Picture 12-9-2020]

What should be the goal of the business corporation? For a long time, the prevailing view in English-speaking countries and, increasingly, elsewhere was that advanced by the economist Milton Friedman in 1970, “The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase Its Profits”, published in September. I used to believe this, too. I was wrong. After 50 years, the doctrine needs re-evaluation.

Economics is going through an intellectual revolution on public debt

[Washington Post, via Naked Capitalism 12-8-20]

Restoring balance to the economy

U.S. Congress bans anonymous shell companies

Reuters, via Naked Capitalism 12-12-20]

 The U.S Senate on Friday passed a bill overhauling anti-money laundering rules and banning anonymous shell companies, a victory for law enforcement and rights groups which have long sought changes to make it easier to police illicit money flows.

The bill requires most companies to report their true beneficial owners to the government, allows greater information sharing between law enforcement and regulators, and authorizes the use of new suspicious activity monitoring tools….

The United States’ weak rules on disclosing corporate owners have allowed criminals to use legal entities to shuffle their cash around the world, according to the authorities. In 2011, the World Bank found that the United States each year produced nearly 10 times as many legal entities with anonymous owners as 41 tax havens combined.

The Epidemic

How Melbourne eradicated Covid-19

[Vox, via Naked Capitalism 12-6-20]

In July and August, the Australian state of Victoria was going through a second Covid-19 wave. Local leaders set an improbable goal in the face of that challenge. They didn’t want to just get their Covid-19 numbers down. They wanted to eliminate the virus entirely.

By the end of November, they’d done it.

They have seen no active cases for a full four weeks. Melbourne, the state’s capital and a city with about as many people as the greater Washington, DC, area, is now completely coronavirus-free….

Policymakers dreaded an endless cycle of lockdown-reopening-lockdown — exactly the situation the US finds itself in. They realized that amorphous goals of “slowing the spread” or “flattening the curve” had been ineffective in mustering public support for the stringent mitigation measures that would be necessary to contain the virus.

So they went big. The state’s roadmap largely followed a policy proposal laid out in September by the Grattan Institute (a nonprofit think tank supported by the state and federal governments): “Go for zero.”

Effort to Take on Surprise Medical Billing in Coronavirus Stimulus Collapses

[The Intercept, via Naked Capitalism 12-9-20]

Health Care Crisis

The Establishment Is Gearing Up Against Even a Public Option

[Jacobin, via Naked Capitalism 12-10-20]

Lobbying Expenditures and Campaign Contributions by the Pharmaceutical and Health Product Industry in the United States, 1999-2018

[JAMA, via Naked Capitalism 12-10-20]

Climate and environmental crises

The American Petroleum Institute Is Working to Kill Voting on Local Measures

[Truthout, via Naked Capitalism 12-12-20]

Greenland’s ice sheets soon face point of no return, lead to permanent change for tens of thousands of years

[Firstpost, via Naked Capitalism 12-8-20]

The Rising Tide Underfoot

[Hakai Magazine, via Naked Capitalism 12-8-20]

Most conversations about rising sea levels focus on the direct impacts to coastlines—namely, erosion and marine flooding. But as ocean levels shift upward, there’s another less obvious impact: coastal groundwater is pushed upward, too. Groundwater is typically fresh water from precipitation that fills the small spaces between underground sand grains or rocks. In low-lying areas near the coast, it is often found less than a meter below ground, and, because it intermingles with seawater in those interstitial spaces, it is effectively connected to the ocean. The heavier salt water pushes up and mixes with the lighter groundwater.

The broken water main, likely corroded from the rising salty groundwater, was just the latest indicator that climate change is striking Honolulu—and urban coastal environments everywhere—in unanticipated ways. “Sea level rise does not look like the ocean coming at us,” says Dolan Eversole, the Waikīkī Beach management coordinator with the University of Hawai‘i Sea Grant College Program (Hawai‘i Sea Grant). “It looks like the groundwater coming up.”

“Exxon Holds Back on Technology That Could Slow Climate Change”

[Bloomberg, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-7-20]

Taken together, all the world’s existing capture facilities can zero out more than 38 million metric tons of CO₂ a year. That number, about 0.1% of all global emissions, would have to rise 100-fold to 200-fold by 2050 to meet climate goals, according to the International Energy Agency. Most of these carbon-capture projects are run by fossil fuel companies. Big Oil likes to celebrate the technology: By putting carbon back in the ground, the industry can provide consumers with the benefits of fossil fuel without the full climate impact. ‘If you’re going to ask somebody to actually do carbon capture, oil companies have all the experience,’ says David Use, a former Chevron Corp. engineer who purchased some of the gases from LaBarge for use at the Rangely oil field, about 200 miles south, in Colorado. ‘They’ve got the pocketbooks and the credentials to do the big projects.’ And therein lies the paradox. As Exxon and its peers look into a carbon-constrained future, CCS seems to offer a golden opportunity. Oil companies could develop a tool considered crucial by no less than the scientists with the United Nations-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. But in the absence of strong government support or regulation, the oil industry might not have the will to invest enough. ”

Information Age Dystopia

“Robot vacuum cleaners can be used by hackers to ‘spy’ on private conversations: NUS study”

[Channel News Asia, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-7-20]

“Computer scientists from the National University of Singapore (NUS) have demonstrated how a common robot vacuum cleaner and its built-in light detection and ranging (Lidar) sensor could be used to “spy” on private conversations, the university said on Monday (Dec 7). The method, called LidarPhone, repurposes the Lidar sensor that a robot vacuum cleaner normally uses for navigating around a home into a laser-based microphone to eavesdrop on private conversations. The research team, led by Assistant Professor Jun Han and his doctoral student Sriram Sami, managed to recover speech data with ‘high accuracy’, said NUS.”

“Lots of people are gunning for Google. Meet the man who might have the best shot”

[Protocol, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-9-20]

“Phil Weiser, a law professor and antitrust expert who was elected Colorado’s attorney general in 2018, is co-leading the bipartisan coalition of state attorneys general investigating Google’s search dominance and serves on the executive committee of a separate state investigation into Facebook, which is led by New York State Attorney General Letitia James. He says it’s the work he’s meant to do. ‘I am very fluent in technology and fluent in antitrust,’ Weiser told Protocol in an interview. ‘So as cases come up like Facebook and Google, it’s natural for me to be on the executive committee and to play an important role in both of them.’ People who’ve worked with Weiser say he’s a formidable foe to Big Tech because of his heads-down, scholarly approach; it’s hard to strong-arm or dump oppo about a former antitrust academic-turned-government official who has hundreds of pages of writing justifying his position at the helm of the Google investigation. Weiser’s not a ‘break ’em up’ ideologue, said people familiar with his thinking. Over the course of his career, he’s faced criticism for his willingness to bring industry to the table and has readily admitted to the limitations of antitrust law. ‘He wants to push the envelope but in a way that’s respectful and understands case law and precedent and the judiciary,’ said Carl Shapiro, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, who worked with Weiser in Obama’s DOJ antitrust division and has consulted for Google. That may not be enough for progressives rooting for the state and federal cases against Google to result in the company’s breakup, a movement that has a loud voice and increasing political power.”

The coming war on the hidden algorithms that trap people in poverty

[MIT Technology Review, via Naked Capitalism 12-9-20]

Credit scores have been used for decades to assess consumer creditworthiness, but their scope is far greater now that they are powered by algorithms: not only do they consider vastly more data, in both volume and type, but they increasingly affect whether you can buy a car, rent an apartment, or get a full-time job. Their comprehensive influence means that if your score is ruined, it can be nearly impossible to recover. Worse, the algorithms are owned by private companies that don’t divulge how they come to their decisions. Victims can be sent in a downward spiral that sometimes ends in homelessness or a return to their abuser.

Credit-scoring algorithms are not the only ones that affect people’s economic well-being and access to basic services. Algorithms now decide which children enter foster care, which patients receive medical care, which families get access to stable housing. Those of us with means can pass our lives unaware of any of this. But for low-income individuals, the rapid growth and adoption of automated decision-making systems has created a hidden web of interlocking traps.

Fortunately, a growing group of civil lawyers are beginning to organize around this issue. Borrowing a playbook from the criminal defense world’s pushback against risk-assessment algorithms, they’re seeking to educate themselves on these systems, build a community, and develop litigation strategies. “Basically every civil lawyer is starting to deal with this stuff, because all of our clients are in some way or another being touched by these systems,” says Michele Gilman, a clinical law professor at the University of Baltimore. “We need to wake up, get training. If we want to be really good holistic lawyers, we need to be aware of that.”


The End of the Facebook Crime Spree

Matt Stoller [BIG, via Naked Capitalism 12-10-20]

We can have democracy or we can have Facebook, but we can’t have both

Anand Giridharadas, interview with Matt Stoller

[The Ink, via Naked Capitalism 12-11-20]

Facebook is a financial conglomerate. People think of Facebook as that website you use or the app that you use, but really Facebook, as a political institution, is a financial conglomerate and owns dozens of different companies, including Instagram and WhatsApp and Facebook, the social network. And it’s a giant advertising company. So they have roughly three billion users. And they try to get their users to do things that their advertisers want them to do, because that’s how you sell advertising.

The business model is to divert revenue that used to go to newspapers and publishers to themselves. And so by manipulating people in this specific way that they do, which is to keep them using their system and keep surveilling them so that they can target them with ads, they are, in the process, crushing newspapers and publishers, who no longer have any financing, particularly local newspapers and niche publications like Black-owned newspapers.

So increasingly those kinds of publications don’t exist. You don’t have reporters covering state houses and city halls and whatnot. Instead, people are now consuming things that Facebook likes them to consume because it keeps them using, and it keeps them available to sell ads to them, which are anti-social publications or posts, like anti-vax stuff or QAnon or whatever it is.

So that’s the basic problem. It’s a $70-, $80-, $100-billion-a-year revenue company that’s destroying newspapers and publishers all over the world and getting people to pass conspiracy theories to each other so that Facebook can make money on advertising.

The Smoking Gun in the Facebook Antitrust Case

[Wired, via Naked Capitalism 12-11-20]

…the lawsuits confront a question that has long shadowed the push for antitrust enforcement against tech platforms: How do you prove people are being harmed by a product that’s offered for free? Judging by the complaint filed by the states, which is more thorough than the FTC’s, the answer will hinge on privacy.

At first blush, privacy and antitrust might seem like separate issues—two different chapters in a textbook about big tech. But the decline in Facebook’s privacy protections plays a central role in the states’ case. Antitrust is a complicated field built on a simple premise: When a company doesn’t face real competition, it will be free to do bad things….

Creating new economic potential – science and technology

“Did QuantumScape Just Solve a 40-Year-Old Battery Problem?”

[Wired, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-9-20]

“On Tuesday, for the first time, QuantumScape’s cofounder and CEO, Jagdeep Singh, publicly revealed test results for the company’s solid-state battery. Singh says the battery resolved all of the core challenges that have plagued solid-state batteries in the past, such as incredibly short lifetimes and slow charging rate. According to QuantumScape’s data, its cell can charge to 80 percent of capacity in 15 minutes, it retains more than 80 percent of its capacity after 800 charging cycles, it’s noncombustible, and it has a volumetric energy density of more than 1,000 watt-hours per liter at the cell level, which is nearly double the energy density of top-shelf commercial lithium-ion cells. ‘We think that we’re the first to solve solid-state,’ Singh told WIRED ahead of the announcement. ‘No other solid-state systems come close to this.’… Singh says that QuantumScape’s battery is the kind of step change in performance that will push EVs into the mainstream.”

“Toyota’s game-changing solid-state battery en route for 2021 debut”

[Manufacturing, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-11-20]

“A trip of 500 km on one charge. A recharge from zero to full in 10 minutes. All with minimal safety concerns. The solid-state battery being introduced by Toyota promises to be a game changer not just for electric vehicles but for an entire industry. The technology is a potential cure-all for the drawbacks facing electric vehicles that run on conventional lithium-ion batteries, including the relatively short distance traveled on a single charge as well as charging times. Toyota plans to be the first company to sell an electric vehicle equipped with a solid-state battery in the early 2020s. The world’s largest automaker will unveil a prototype next year. The electric vehicles being developed by Toyota will have a range more than twice the distance of a vehicle running on a conventional lithium-ion battery under the same conditions. All accomplished without sacrificing interior space in even the most compact vehicle.”

Disrupting mainstream politics

Make them cry

Thomas Frank [Le Monde Diplomatique, via Naked Capitalism 12-6-20]

Joe Biden, a well-known sentimentalist, has just won the presidency on the strength of no grand proposals, only revulsion against the hated Trump. Republicans, meanwhile, steam straight ahead with their pointless culture wars and their nostalgic appeals to ‘Make America Great Again’.

Neither party plans to do much to rein in Wall Street and Silicon Valley or to bring manufacturing back to Pennsylvania and Michigan, but the larger political conversation has become a free-for-all of moral accusation in which men carrying assault rifles imagine themselves to be victims, and self-appointed investigators patrol the Internet for hints of privilege and disrespectful adjectives. Personal shame and personal grievance are slowly becoming the whole of our politics,

“Union Power After the Election”

[Dissent, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-10-20]

“Democrats received overwhelming support from the membership of what are now the flagship unions, based in the public sector, healthcare, education, and hospitality, of the postindustrial American economy and labor movement—the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the American Federation of Teachers, the Communications Workers of America, UNITE HERE (the gaming and hospitality union), and National Nurses United. In recent years, the members of these unions, who are disproportionately female and non-white, have been central to some of the largest and most important labor actions of the new working class: several Chicago Teachers Union strikes beginning in 2012; the wildcat strikes and job actions of teachers across mostly red states in 2018, starting in West Virginia; the United Teachers Los Angeles strike of 2019; and aggressive organizing and strikes by healthcare workers and nurses all over the country. Their militancy is a major reason why labor may have more influence with Biden than it had with Obama. The urgency caused by the pandemic-driven collapse of the economy and the development of a significant social democratic faction within the Democratic Party has also given labor a chance to punch above its weight and promote broad policies on behalf of the working class. Yet labor’s leadership looks primed to screw up its first chance to effectively throw that weight around in the tussle over the nominee for secretary of labor.”

GRAPH Economic messaging overlooked in Dem digital efforts

via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-10-20]

“Obama Agonistes”

Ross Barkan [Political Currents, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-7-20]

“In 2020, a sharp divide exists between a younger left that views Obama with jadedness and derision and the millions in Democratic primaries that selected the candidates he deemed his successors, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden. At the heart of the debate is a truth not always easily reconciled, one worth setting down in blunt terms: Obama was a hall of fame candidate, not a hall of fame president. For those who graduated into the Great Recession and bore the brunt of a neoliberalism never checked, Obama nostalgia offers little: no free health insurance, no canceled student or medical debt, no end to the forever wars. What did you do with your historic majorities, Obama? If you’re a severely underemployed twenty-eight year-old who can barely afford rent and will never own a home, the glories of 2008 are meaningless.”

Biden’s choice to lead USDA is sparking a broad backlash. Here’s why.

[The Counter, via Naked Capitalism 12-11-20]

For many advocates of racial justice in the food system, Vilsack’s nomination is an affront that suggests the Biden administration has little interest in making the ag sector more equitable and remedying USDA’s notorious history of racial discrimination against Black farmers.

Much of the disappointment stems from both the agency’s practices under Vilsack’s watch and his own reported reluctance to repair the damage of systemic racism. As The Counter reported in a 2019 investigation, employees alleged that Vilsack’s USDA repeatedly ran out the statute of limitations clock on discrimination complaints, while attempting to foreclose on farmers whose cases hadn’t yet been resolved. Employees also said that USDA manipulated Census data to obscure a decline in Black farming, which in turn allowed Vilsack to paint a rosy but inaccurate picture of his tenure.

“It’s incredibly disappointing—our people deserve better and America deserves better,” said Navina Khanna, executive director of the HEAL Food Alliance, a coalition that advocates for equity and sustainability in the food system. “It’s a signal that this administration doesn’t care about rural America, about Black America, about the millions of immigrants and migrants of color who work in the food system.”

….One particular scandal during Vilsack’s tenure stands out right now: the controversial ouster of Shirley Sherrod, a Black USDA official. Vilsack forced Sherrod to resign after the far-right website Breitbart disseminated a selectively edited video to suggest that she had discriminated against a white farmer….

For women who have experienced sexual abuse while working for USDA’s Forest Service—an agency that employees say fostered a decades-long culture of sexual harassment—Vilsack’s nomination is a punch to the gut, according to Lesa Donnelly, former employee and current vice president of the USDA Coalition of Minority Employees.

Inside Biden’s Meeting with Civil Rights Leaders

[The Intercept, via Naked Capitalism 12-11-20]

On Tuesday, a group of civil rights leaders urged him privately to take a slew of executive actions during a two-hour virtual meeting. While Biden didn’t close the door to anything specific, he was far from enthusiastic about the idea of using executive action.

A recording of the virtual meeting, attended by Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, and civil rights leaders, was obtained by The Intercept. Excerpts from it can be heard in this week’s Deconstructed podcast….

….NAACP President Derrick Johnson, who had warned that appointing Tom Vilsack to be secretary of agriculture would anger Black farmers in Georgia, as well as Black voters generally in the state, for whom Shirley Sherrod was a hero. Sherrod was fired by Vilsack from her position as Georgia director of rural development for the U.S. Department of Agriculture during Vilsack’s previous tenure as agriculture secretary during the Obama administration. Her firing was quickly revealed to have been a mistake and based on an incomplete airing of a video by the late conservative provocateur Andrew Breitbart. Particularly in Georgia, Johnson noted, Vilsack’s capitulation was still a sore spot, and nominating him would be “disastrous” electorally. “If you consider the victory that you appreciated in Georgia, it was around 12,000 votes. And so as you consider appointments, you also must consider what impact would that have on voters in the state of Georgia. And I will submit to you that former Secretary Vilsack could have a disastrous impact on voters in Georgia. Shirley Sherrod is a civil rights legend, a hero,” Johnson said.

“You can’t not give the public what it wants over a period of decades and expect democratic forms and norms to go unscathed.”

[Interfluidity, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-8-20]

“The electorate has spent decades swapping political parties and moving away from what, on average, it has wanted. The social extremity of the Trump coalition can be understood less as a discontinuity, and more as part of a reaction to the post-2008 discrediting of elite economic preferences…. Both parties’ elites shared an interest in polarizing the countries across a social and cultural terrain, while de-emphasizing economics. But Trump turned Washington’s gurus into sorcerers’ apprentices, as their usually calibrated tweaking of social resentments gave way to a figure they increasingly cannot control, and of whose governance no sane American should approve…. I do hope a new administration understands the stakes. You can’t not give the public what it wants over a period of decades and expect democratic forms and norms to go unscathed. In order to bring down the temperature of social polarization in the United States (which, perhaps marking me as a squish sell-out, I desperately hope we manage), elites will have to reverse their 2016 mistake, and give ground to the left on economics while trying to talk the country down (‘unify’) from the social polarization that they themselves, in my view, quite cynically engendered.” • “Nothing would fundamentally change.” –Joe Biden.

The Dark Side

How Trump Won One of America’s Most Diverse Counties — By a Lot (Robeson County, North Carolina]

[Politico 12-10-2020]

….defying the conventional wisdom that rural America is a sprawling demographic dead end of a steadily dwindling swath of less-educated white voters… Trump found ways to juice his support in these places, drawing support from pools of people previously considered all but unreachable for Republicans….

….Trump retained the vast majority of the white vote, improved his performance in predominantly Black precincts and all-out romped in Lumbee hotbeds. Trump and his campaign targeted voters regardless of their racial differences with his rural-resonant messages of social conservatism—pro-gun, pro-life, pro-military—and anti-NAFTA broadsides that are catnip for an electorate that blames free trade agreements and globalization for shuttered factories and a sinking standard of living. The campaign also added to the equation a hyperspecific and transactional component: very publicly backing the federal recognition the Lumbee have been seeking since the 1800s. Finally, Trump and his most prominent surrogates kept showing up, a persistence that crested with Trump’s rally in the county seat a week and a half before the election—something no sitting president had ever done here.

“Trump blows a hole in the GOP on his way out”

[Politico, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-8-20]

“But Trump’s campaign to pressure GOP elected officials to support his baseless claims of a rigged election — and his success in convincing a majority of the party that widespread voter fraud occurred — is already showing signs of having far-reaching effects that will reshape the Republican Party for years to come. State party chairs are tearing into their governors. Elected officials are knifing one another in the back. Failed candidates are seizing on Trump’s rhetoric to claim they were also victims of voter fraud in at least a half dozen states. As his presidency comes to a close, Trump has not only imprinted his smash-mouth style on the GOP, he has wrenched open the schism between the activist class and the elected class, according to interviews with more than a dozen Republican Party officials and strategists in the states.” • Democrats hate their base*. Republicans fear theirs. The schism was always there. NOTE * Back when the working class was the Democrat base.

The Donald, According to David Roth

[Jacobin, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-9-20]

Both Republican and Democratic parties are dissected – and it’s not pretty.

The story I remember from 2012 is that there was some focus group, and they were telling the undecided voters what Romney’s proposed policies were. The voters they were talking to didn’t believe these were really his policies because he came across as a decent guy. But his immigration policy was Trump’s immigration policy, it was about making life so bad that people left the country on their own. I think the term “self-deporting” was used.

The takeaway from all of this is that while Trump didn’t sound like a traditional Republican or act like one — because he is too vain and because he wouldn’t speak in that language if he even understood it — he is one. His is a theatrical presentation of a very familiar administrative brutality.

I would think that an opposition party that was opposed to the party that governs like that would have been making hay off of that, and making the point over and over again that when these guys talk to you about “options” or, “restricting immigration flows,” what that actually means is camps. When they talk about “creating opportunity,” what they mean is cutting some rich person’s taxes so they can invest it in some bullshit.

But that’s not something that the Democrats have ever shown much interest in doing, at least in my lifetime….

It’s interesting that even Marco Rubio can speak the language of right-populism now, the idea of “the people versus the powerful.” All this stuff that Democrats used to use in this fairly insincere and facile way, now Republicans use that same language. You have to pin people down on what they mean by “elites” before you can know the specific way in which you’re being lied to….

I think [Donald Trump Jr. is] the future of Trumpism as something that exists online and is dedicated to triggering libs and never logging off. Trumpism as an approach to doing politics is what Republicans have. It’s that or going back to the mealy-mouthed American Enterprise Institute shit where you describe something that is not what you’re actually proposing and hope that no one notices it….

Trump wouldn’t have been nominated, or even thought to run, if our politics worked in the most basic way.

Voters from mainstream liberal Democrats to mainstream conservative Republicans have accepted that they aren’t going to get much from the government. What it is then is a television show. This last election played out that way. Trump said, “it’s me, Donald Trump, your president.”

Then Joe Biden’s thing, to the extent that he had one was “I’m a good guy, I’ve been sad before, I know what it’s like to suffer.” However true that is or isn’t, at that point you’re basically picking the person that you want to watch on television for the next four years as they manage whatever version of decline we get.

The thing that defeats Trumpism and can undo conservative governance as we’ve known it over the last couple of decades is actual material politics. On the Left, it doesn’t mean you don’t need a top-to-bottom reimagining of society, but if people feel like the government is working for them, and it is delivering for them, then it’s not abstract anymore.

If they say “this is where I get my health care,” or “when I lost my job, unemployment insurance helped me get through,” that can be enough to take the abstraction out of the equation and make it look more like what it is, which is choosing what the state is and isn’t going to do for you.

Q. I wanted to ask you about the Democratic Party. Specifically, how you see the past few years and what you think the next four years with Biden will look like. I think we both agree that the Democrats don’t pursue the material politics that you’re talking about for the most part.

A. I really don’t know what to make of it. I’m astonished by their inability to do any kind of self-examination. This all comes back to a sense of abstraction. It matters to them because they want to have the presidency, since that kicks this whole patronage system into gear and then they govern to the extent that they’re capable of governing, given the other constraints that will last however long.

There isn’t a sense there that any of the lessons have been learned, let alone any urgency in facing the task of remedying it. I think that some of it owes to how old and rich and distant the people in the most powerful positions in the party are. But there’s also an element of it that feels completely checked out from the consequences of this. As if it’s just another industry and another character in this broad drama. It’s infuriating because we’re living in the damage that a failed government approach to a crisis can create, in terms of the sickness and suffering and death that surrounds us.

The answer to that is not to tweet “believe science.” You have to act. There has to be an approach that is about action — not just for reasons of winning elections, but because that’s obviously what’s right. The idea that you know we have no choice but continued decline and widespread cruelty writ large, that the only options are between a version of that which seems excited about it and a version of that which is sad about it, is an incredible abdication of responsibility.



You Can’t Buy Anything That Matters When It Matters (Covid Vaccine Edition)


“Nice Guys” and Using People


  1. Ché Pasa

    Looks like the rightists, fascists and Trumpists are going to attempt to mount a pseudo-Maidan-ish overthrow — or prevention, I don’t know — of the incoming Biden regime since they couldn’t get their way at the ballot box and in court. Permanent protest which they hope will spiral into something that grows and grows until, snap, people are killed, the structures and institutions of government fail and they get to pick up the shattered pieces. Well, it worked in Ukraine, right?

    It would be some sort of ugly karmic justice, wouldn’t it?

    On the other hand, most of us never signed up to anything like it, neither in Kiev or the USofA.

  2. Hugh

    So billionaires added a trillion dollars to their wealth even as increasing numbers of Americans are forced to steal food to survive. For Mitch McConnell, that sounds like mission accomplished.

    Economics is all wrong? Hoocoodanode?

    Milton Friedman was wrong? When was he right? Corporations should not be a license to loot. If a corporation does not fulfill a social good, it should not exist,

    Big Tech is evil and Biden is awful, just not as awful as Trump? Hoocoodanode?

    Donald Trump is and has been his personality disorder for his whole adult life. It’s funny even at this very late date how reporters and pundits talk around the obvious, that Trump has serious, and as President dangerous, mental illness without ever coming out and just saying it.

  3. bruce wilder

    I was trained as an economist back in the paleolithic, and have long made a hobby out of the fundamental criticism of mainstream aka neoclassical “Econ 101” “textbook” economics. So, naturally I was interested in the Bloomberg piece about Ole Peters.

    I am not new to Peters’s arguments or personality, but the Bloomberg piece was interesting for its skim on the academic politics of Peters and especially one of his narrative hooks “It all went wrong back in 1738”.

    I have had a fondness for that type of narrative hook since my brief affair with Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance where the fault supposedly lies with a deficiency in Aristotle’s penchant for dichotomous analysis that somehow makes the functional manifest unaccountably as objects of ugly design, while the appreciation of beauty eschews technical insight to how reality works. And this somehow ties to an untrustworthy narrator, schizophrenic mania and an unaccountably urgent plot. Truly a fun book!

    The Bloomberg actually references Gier, a German thriller supposedly inspired by Peters’ supposed upending of economic orthodoxy. Shades of Zen!

    People like a good story. “If Peters is right . . .” may be good storytelling, but it begs the question of who decides if he is “right” and interprets exactly how he is “right” in this game of Jenga where Peters pulls out a block near the base of the tower and the tower (maybe) collapses, maybe reconfigures itself.

    These are ideas, not wooden blocks, and if there is an intellectual structure, that structure is held together not by its own logic but by the social conventions policed by “experts in the field” who collectively pretend the logic of its structure is sound or can be contested in a certain conventional manner.

    That is where this “controversy” gets interesting: Peters takes aim at “behavioral economics”, which is mainstream’s favorite “alternative”, a catalogue of irrationalisms embodied in commonly used heuristics, rules-of-thumb and everyday prudence.

    The Bloomberg journalist, who is undoubtedly channeling a couple of press releases from somewhere?!??, calls what Peters is challenging, “expected utility”, which may be what Peters calls it at times, but what is being challenged is the conventional conceptualization of risk and uncertainty. Which is indeed both faulty and fundamental. The application of the math of “expectation” is a minor, technical sidelight to how economists conceptualize risk. But, what Peters proposes goes beyond that in advocating for a more realistic view of risk and uncertainty.

    Ergodicity (god, I hope I spelled that right!) is a second fundamental flaw in neoclassical economics, at least as codified by Samuelson. Ergodicity for allocative efficiency makes Samuelson’s system of economic theory (really more of a rhetorical engine than a genuine theory) seem “universal” in a way that is very seductive. It has been under assault by so-called Post-Keynesians for a long time, without much damage done to the insular arrogance of the mainstream.

    I am not sure it is even possible to talk sensibly and realistically about risk and uncertainty. I myself cannot do more than gesture at it. My old teacher, Martin Shubik, took a crack at some of the mathematical anomalies Peters has used, but he was mostly ignored within the profession. The resistance to sense within academic economics cannot be overestimated — these are people socialized to accept some very difficult formulations as valuable even though they are obviously rubbish. How one attacks the effects of that socialization in convincing the experts they are wrong (and not experts after all!) is going to require serious magic. Being “right” on logic or evidence will not be enough.

    The attack on behavioural economics is interesting because it implicitly offers the possibility of re-inventing the prescriptive base of rational, self-interested action at the core of economic thinking while rejecting the solipsism of New Keynesian ad hoc-ery. It is an appeal to conservatives in other words, to make a counter-revolution. Interesting politics that.

  4. bruce wilder

    Matt Stoller continues.

    I wish he could find a way to blow up the stupidity of “the market” as exemplified by the conventional wisdom of the Wired piece on Facebook and privacy as an opening to antitrust prosecution: “Antitrust is a complicated field built on a simple premise: When a company doesn’t face real competition, it will be free to do bad things….” I fear there is winning an effective remedy with that kind of “thinking”.

    As several articles linked in the review show, it is not about amorphous “competition” — the problem is unified strategic control in private bureaucracies. The remedy will require thinking of ways of asserting public power and control in devising ecologies of socially beneficial cooperation thru decentralized systems of private commercial and industrial business working within frameworks that discourage or prevent predation or parastism.

  5. Hugh

    Modern economics is about coming up with rationales for or simply ignoring wealth inequality. An economy is a social function with a social purpose. It is about building and maintaining a society. As a social activity, the economy is inherently moral in nature, how we act or are supposed to act in society. Since great concentrations of wealth serve no useful societal purpose, they are inherently immoral, and the only real way to defend them is to remove the social component from economics. Political economy becomes just economics.

  6. bruce wilder

    I am none too sure how or why ideas about political economy matter, but they surely do.

    The odd things to me are
    1.) how impervious the mainstream of thr profession is to the criticism

    2.) how unwilling most obervers are to engage with the fundamental ideas, long enough to judge the disputes on the merits.

  7. ~ Peters takes aim at expected utility theory, the bedrock that modern economics is built on. It explains that when we make decisions, we conduct a cost-benefit analysis and try to choose the option that maximizes our wealth … The problem, Peters says, is the model fails to predict how humans actually behave because the math is flawed. ~

    It’s a theory, little more than a thought, with some body of evidence to suggest it so. And a rather Anglo/Euro-centric one at that. Keep it simple, k’? The problem is the model fails to predict how humans actually behave. Ones and zeros.

    We have to stop doing what we’re doing. It isn’t working.

  8. Plague Species

    Ché, those structures and institutions have already effectively failed. All that is needed is a strong wind to push them over.

    I’m particularly impressed with the highly-detailed plan, the bill of which is footed by the wealthy elite through higher taxes, to inoculate the homeless with the miracle vaccines. I didn’t think they could or would do it, but once again they have proven me wrong in my cynicism.

    Is Biden’s inauguration being set up for a shootout at the Capitol Corral? It sure looks that way. Trump is doing everything he knows how to do to force Biden to lock him up, but Biden will refuse because it’s better to make criminals of black people with a get-tough-on-crime bill that locks dark-skinned folks up in droves for minor offenses than to actually lock up mass murderers like McDonald who is responsible for 300,000 heinous murders and counting.

  9. bruce wilder

    murderers like McDonald who is responsible for 300,000 heinous murders and counting.

    1.) and leave Hillary and George free?

    2.) because the public health establishment only wanted to bend the curve?

  10. Hugh

    Yeah, how could Trump be responsible for 300,000 deaths? It’s not like he was President or anything. The Trumpers and closet Trumpers will raise the issue of Hillary who was never President, to the end of time, even as they give Trump a pre-emptive pass on pretty much everything. By the time the pandemic is through, Trump will have killed more Americans than died in World War II. But the Trumpers can’t face up to that. So they don’t. Instead they complain about Russia, Russia, Russia and Hillary, Hillary, Hillary, because they are bankrupt, stand for nothing, and that’s all they have.

  11. Plague Species


    I’m willing to arrest them too and prosecute them as accessories to these heinous murders and for crimes against humanity. Therein is the conundrum. It’s precisely why Biden will allow a second fascist putsch. Because he knows he and his are accomplices, that they are accessories to this madness as enablers and engenderers, and therefore he and his do not want to set a precedence and get the train of justice chugging along. That could lead to a revolution and we can’t have that, can we? The conundrum is, we must rely on the failed institutions that allowed this first fascist putsch, failed institutions that not only stood by but enabled and engendered the first fascist putsch, to bring the perpetrators of the fascist putsch, the mass-murdering criminals or genocidal maniacs if you will, to justice and that won’t happen until hell, or this warming planet, freezes over — whichever comes first.


    Plague Species

  12. S Brennan

    There have been approximately 114,000 covid-19 deaths in Mexico, according to Hugh [one of our many DNC propagandist], the deaths are solely attributable to the country’s leader, therefore Andrés Manuel López Obrador has murdered 114,000 people. Right Hugh?

    There have been approximately 64,520 covid-19 deaths in Italy, according to Hugh [one of our many DNC propagandists], the deaths are solely attributable to the country’s leader, therefore Giuseppe Conte has murdered 64,520 people. Right Hugh?

    I could go on and on but why? Our propagandist would have you believe that all who have died of disease are political victims…but only when it serves Hugh’s propaganda aims.

    Interestingly a DW article notes that “Germany recorded 16,362 new cases on Monday, [an unusually high figure for the start of the week, when figures are usually low after reduced weekend testing”. Which brings up question for Hugh [one of our many DNC propagandists].

    Is Merkle trying to wheedle her way into your propaganda infused fantasy where you claim that all Covid deaths are attributable to the respective nations highest political office holder? I mean do the the 16,362 new cases in Germany count against Merkle as attempted murder in your ludicrous political game? Or Hugh, in your propaganda infused fantasy, are all the covid deaths worldwide directly attributable to Trump?

    And will you hold your exalted Blue-Leader to the same standard? I think we all know the answer is no, you’ll deceive, you’ll obscurate, you’ll do whatever it takes to shield Blue-Leader from propaganda such as yours. Your sole purpose is to insure that more NeoD’s are elevated to office isn’t it?

    Yes..yes…I know your game, establish some liberal bona fides, then when there is no alternative, a last second substitution and POOF [!]…TINA…that worked in 2016 and 2020. But hey in 2024 you’re not needed are you?

    The proles gave up their shot at reform in 2024 because your cadre of propagandist were able to sell the propaganda line Trump equals Hitler, LOOK, HE’S ALREADY MURDERED 300,000 [!!!] with no push-back on this board, which was once full of bright people with unique political perspective you [and your cadre] were able to slowly push them out the door with your groups incessant posting, making sure that anyone who diverged was immediately swallowed up in and endless stream of comments.

    Depending on when Biden leaves office, after the 2022 mid-terms would be Hillary’s called shot [and I think likely], the FDRist wing of the Neo-D party’s first shot would be 2032…all because propagandist were able to sell Trump equals Hitler, LOOK, HE’S ALREADY MURDERED 300,000 [!!!] through constant repetition. Goebbels would be proud of the work.

  13. Plague Species

    Based on the commentary at Naked Capitalism, and the heavy censorship considering the peeps they do allow to post, my bet is Yves dates Bannon. I don’t blame her, the guy’s a hunk of burning love, right? It’s a Bannon vibe in the commentary and Yves promotes it. Hey Yves, you and Bannon deserve one another. What do you expect from a privileged, smug corporate consultant know-it-all?

  14. Ché Pasa

    Teasing Covid — spread, deaths, vaccine, theraputics, relief, yada, yada.

    Nothing is as it seems and everything is being teased as if it is the premiere of a new reality show season.

    Mysteries abound. Who? When? What? How?

    Hang in there just a little longer, everything will revert to Normal.


  15. Hugh

    According to John Hopkins, the US with a population of 330 million leads the world in covid infections with 16.293 million. India with a population of 1.326 billion, or 4 times that of the US, comes in second with 9.884 million.

    The US also leads the world in covid deaths at 299,455, followed by Brazil at 181,402, India at 143,355, and Mexico at 113,953.

    In the US, there have been .907 deaths per thousand in population; in Mexico, there have been .886 deaths per thousand in population; in India, it’s .108 per thousand;

    In Germany with a population of 83 million and 22,330 deaths, the death rate per thousand in population is .268. That is the death rate in Germany from covid taking in to consideration population is just less than 30% the rate in the US.

    Leaders that failed in their duty to protect their citizens from covid should be held accountable. Almost all leaders could have done better than they did. But if you look at the data, Trump, the President of the richest, most powerful country on the planet did substantially worse than a lot of the third world. If Trump had done as badly as Germany’s Merkel, US covid deaths would be 88,000, not 300,000.

  16. Plague Species

    Further, Hugh, Trump not only wasn’t effective, he went out of his way to ensure there was no effective response. As though he wanted, and still wants until he’s extricated from the White House by the hardest, to maximize the death toll. Considering that, his behavior is egregiously criminal and malevolent. To not be effective, it means you at least tried. Trump never tried and in fact made sure no one tried or those who were trying, he made sure they could not succeed because a successful response requires a centralized federal effort, and Trump made sure there was no centralized federal effort. The Task Force is a joke. It’s not serious in any way and therefore has been an impediment. Trump is a mass murderer. He is worse than Assad. America indicted Assad for using chemical weapons on his people, something that has yet to be properly proven, and yet it’s proven that Trump has murdered 300,000 Americans and counting which is tantamount to using chemical weapons on them, except COVFEFE-45 is a biological weapon. Assad, I have a suggestion for you. Dye your hair and face with turmeric and call yourself McDonald Trump. Once you do, you get a lifetime get-out-of-jail card. You will be beyond reproach. Total impunity to do as thou will. And they will love you for it.

  17. Hugh

    Well, with California just reporting and only Hawaii left, Biden just won the electoral college and is officially the President-elect.

  18. Ten Bears

    We got lucky …

    Compared with other pathogens out there, Covid-19 is relatively docile. It is an easily transmissible virus that is far more deadly than the flu, and has mysterious long-term effects. But it doesn’t kill three out of four people it infects, like the Nipah virus. It doesn’t cause people to bleed out of their eyes and rectums like Ebola.

    The reasons for this new era of pandemics are complex, but one of the main drivers is the climate crisis, which is shaking up the natural world and rewriting disease algorithms on the planet. Thawing permafrost in the Arctic is releasing pathogens that haven’t seen daylight for tens of thousands of years. The Vibrio bacteria that causes cholera, a diarrheal disease that haunted big cities like London and New York in the 19th century and still kills tens of thousands each year, thrives in warmer water. An even more deadly strain of the same bacteria, Vibrio vulnificus, while rare, has been detected more and more frequently in bays and estuaries on the East Coast, particularly around Chesapeake Bay. Vibrio vulnificus, if you happen to eat shellfish, might give you a bad stomachache (in rare cases, it can be fatal). If the bacteria gets in a cut or wound, however, it becomes a flesh-eating horror and kills one in five people who come in contact with it.

    We have to stop doing what we’re doing. It isn’t working.

  19. different clue

    I suggest an Occam’s Razor simple reason for why Biden will not dare ” arrest Trump”. Trump has a hard core of several million well-ish armed MAGA-StormTrumpers ready to physically block the effort.

    The Joemala Administration will hope that Trumperism retreats to being a containable minority movement.

  20. Hugh

    Trump will pardon himself, his family, and some of his staff and cronies. January 15th is a Friday. He might leave for Mar-a-Lago then or wait until the 19th, the day before the Inauguration for maximum attention-stealing effect. His pardon binge, at least his own, will likely fall in these five days. New York state investigations and future charges would be unaffected. I expect the cash-strapped Trump will try to continue his harvesting money from the rubes for as long as he can or it remains profitable.

  21. Willy

    I predict that after Trump pardons himself, investigators will uncover every possible mayhem grift perversion imaginable, things no sane person could ever make up, with actual provable biblical krakens full of firehose evidence. The “Russia, Russia, Russia” thing will turn out to be real. He’ll then start his own news network full of reality shows and fireside chats about the evils of democrats and those backstabbing RINOs. But he’ll run that one into the ground as well, leaving many investors ruined. He’ll then suffer a major stroke and be left an even worse babbling mess than he is now. And yet still, his faith-addled believers will be cheering for a comeback.

  22. Plague Species

    TB, Wall Streeters and the wealthy elite and the politicians and technocrats who serve them read that blurb and see opportunity. Calamity, like greed, is good. If you can’t find any, you make it, you nurture it, until it grows ubiquitously on the massive forests of calamity trees planted long ago that now produce fruit all year long. They see a disaster that can be exploited for profitable gain. Disaster is an industry, afterall. The new frontier, in fact. Everything can be turned to dollars in this brave new world, even, and especially, the end of the world. My only friend, the end — and they’ll steal that too. F*ckers.

  23. Plague Species

    Putin has spoken and congratulated Biden. That’s my cue that the results are now official, not some ridiculous electoral college nonsense. If Putin gives his blessing that Biden is the new POTUS, Biden is the new POTUS and not until then.

    What say you McDonald? Are you going to demand Putin resign too like Barr and pen an breathtaking ass-licking resignation letter that leaves your gnarly as* cleaner than had you used bleach? We’ll see.

    Hey McDonald. Can you say Novichok? Now that you’ve been used and abused, paraded about like a Carney Clown, you’re now a liability. The FSB already has its marching orders. No doubt Mar a Lago has been penentrated long ago. Now, it’s just a matter of time. Will Biden nuke Russia if Putin Novichoks you, or will he celebrate and proclaim you got your just deserts saving his Justice Department from having to waste precious resources on the garbage that is you? We’ll see. We’ll see.

  24. Ten Bears

    You do know, Plague, that you’re preachin’ to the choir?

    Let me share with you a thing of beauty: Dr William Barr, Esq., exiting gracefully only a day before Bloodmass leaving by the Republicans insistence John Durham an inviolate Special Prosecutor to enthusiastically investigate anything remotely related to Russian interference in the 2016 election, to cooperate with the incoming administration’s investigations into anything remotely related to Russian interference on Trump’s behalf in the 2016 election, to pick up where Robert Mueller left off and impeach and prosecute Trump for treason in his collusion in the Russian interference on his behalf in the 2016 election … to white-wash Trump and all we’ve witnessed in real time off as an aberration, a one-off, and absolve and repudiate the republican party of any responsibility in the matter … it’s so beautiful it’s almost unbelievable. It’s like the guy was a CIA spy, a Juris Doctorate – a Doctor of Law, a mover and shaker in St Ronald of Ray-Gun’s administration and one of Nixon’s Young Republicans; with plans and contingency plans, and plans and contingency plans within plans and contingency plans.

    Five years ago I labeled Trump a troll, trolling us all in the greatest troll of all.

    Needs to hand his pinball crown to Dr Billy Barr, Esq., the Master.

  25. Plague Species

    CNN and MSNBC are like infomercials for the vaccines. It’s all so scripted. The perfect union between Big Pharma and the Media. Some call that fascism. I guess I do too when you throw the government into that unholy alliance/merger.

    Talk about religion and faith, the attitude of the mainstream related to this vaccine is one of faith to the point it may as well be a religion. The messaging is to trust science and when you do, and apply scientific skepticism to Pfizer’s and Moderna’s claims, you’re told to shut up and sit down and quit being such a cynical naysayer and get some faith and believe.

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