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

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – December 15, 2019

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – December 15, 2019
by Tony Wikrent
Economics Action Group, North Carolina Democratic Party Progressive Caucus

Strategic Political Economy

The Economy of Evil

[Historicly, via Naked Capitalism 12-11-19]

Benito Mussolini became Prime Minister in October 1922. Nazis rose to power in 1933 in Germany. Mussolini convened a meeting of his cabinet and immediately decided to privatize all the public enterprises. On December 3, 1922, they passed a law where they promised to reduce the size and function of the government, reform tax laws and also reduce spending. This was followed by mass privatization. He privatized the post office, railroads, telephone companies, and even the state life insurance companies. Afterward, the two firms that had lobbied the hardest: Assicurazioni Generali (AG) and Adriatica di Sicurtà (AS), became a de-facto oligopoly. They became for-profit enterprises. The premiums increased, and poor people had their coverage removed.

In January 1923, Mussolini eliminated rent-control laws. His reasoning ought to be familiar since that is the same reasoning used in many contemporary editorials against rent control laws. He claimed rent control laws prevent landlords from building new housing. When tenants protested, he eliminated tenants’ unions. As a result, rent prices increased wildly in Rome, and many families became homeless. Some went to live in caves. Once more, these policies allowed landlords to increase their profit and holdings while they severely hurt the poor.

To remove “government waste,” Mussolini removed the federal government from remote areas in Italy. This meant that rural farmers, peasants, and workers no longer had the protection of the federal government against abuse from agribusiness. Instead, they were entirely under the mercy of big businesses.

Hitler’s economic policy was Mussolini’s policy on steroids….  In 1934, Nazis outlined their plan to revitalize the German economy. It involved reprivatization of significant industries: railways, public works project, construction, steel, and banking. On top of that, Hitler guaranteed profits for the private sector, and so, many American industrialists and bankers gleefully flocked to Germany to invest.

The Nazis had a thorough plan for deregulation. The Nazi’s economist, stated,” The first thing German business needs is peace and quiet. It must have a feeling of absolute legal security and must know that work and its return are guaranteed. The interferences In a business which occurred at first, perhaps as a result of too much zeal, have become intolerable.”

Emmanuel Macron Wants to End France’s Welfare State

[Jacobin, via Naked Capitalism 12-9-19]

….other major mobilizations have failed to bring success, most significantly past battles against pension reforms in 2003 and 2010. But the protracted resistance to neoliberalism really has had a lasting impact — explaining why France’s welfare state has proven much more resilient than those of nearly all other Western countries. To the despair of its domestic elite and of high-ranking bureaucrats in the European Union and OECD, France tops the table for government spending as a share of GDP; at nearly 55 percent, its spending level ranks ahead of all Scandinavian countries and stands about 10 percent higher than Germany and the OECD average.

Macron’s presidency, overwhelmingly supported by the French capitalist class and its European counterparts, was from the outset meant to bring that “French exception” to an end. The first year and a half following his election looked as if he would succeed. A wave of tough neoliberal reforms swept across nearly all areas of economic and social activities: the school system has been subjected to a “choice” agenda, while rail and public transport have been opened up to “competition” and sold off to the private sector.

Yves Smith, December 11, 2019 [Naked Capitalism]

The officialdom has been shaken out of its Versailles 1788-level complacency by much-derided “populist” revolts, and more recently, 1848-like revolts, including a general strike in France. It has been revealing, and not in a good way, to see people who ought to know better serve up tepid reform programs…. the coercive nature of capitalism has only gotten more intense in the neoliberal era as social safety nets have been gutted. As we pointed out in 2013:

One issue I’ve long been bothered by is the libertarian fixation on the state as the source of coercive power. The strong form version is that the state is the only party with coercive power (and please don’t try denying that a lot of libertarians say that; there are plenty of examples in comments in past posts). Libertarians widely, if not universally, depict markets and commerce as less or even non-coercive. 

What is remarkable is how we’ve blinded ourselves to the coercive element of our own system.

….Martin Wolf of the Financial Times, but an earlier this week, How to reform today’s rigged capitalism, was like Hamlet without the Prince. It followed up on an earlier article, which focused on what he saw as the causes of rising inequality: falling productivity growth, stagnating innovation, rising debt levels and finanicization, concentrated corporate power, which in turn fosters rentierism and tax evasion.

Notice what was missing? The fall in labor organization and bargaining power. The deliberate and successful attack on a muscular and effective state. It may seem hard to believe, but as recently as the 1960s, people went into public service not for the revolving door opportunities but to make a difference and in senior positions, for the prestige.

Needless to say, resetting the balance of power between workers and capital, by improving labor rights and strengthening social safety nets, is barely to be found on Wolf’s list of fixes.

Class war and economic disequilibrium

44 Percent of U.S. Workers Earn $18,000 Per Year

[The Stranger, via Naked Capitalism 12-8-19]

Report: Nearly half of American workers have low-wage jobs

[Vice, , via Naked Capitalism 12-12-19]

“A new report on employer opposition to union campaigns released today by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) found that employers spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year against union organizing efforts, and were charged with breaking federal labor laws in 41.5 percent of union campaigns in 2016 and 2017. While the authors of the report, who gained access to unfair labor complaints through FOIA requests, could not comment on specific cases, they say the newly organized tech industry is no exception.”

[Mint Press, via Naked Capitalism 12-8-19]
“[B]lood now makes up well over 2 percent of total U.S. exports by value.”

Restoring balance

“Samsung VP gets jail term for attempting to break up labor union”

[Korea Herald, via Naked Capitalism 12-13-19]

“Friday’s ruling is the first since a document dubbed the “S Group labor strategy” first surfaced in 2013, raising allegations the conglomerate deliberately targeted labor unions. Kang was charged with obstructing labor union activities at Everland from June 2011 to March 2018 based on the group’s labor management scheme. He is also suspected of illegally collecting the personal information of labor union members and their families as well as putting them under surveillance.”

“File an Information Request with Every Grievance” 

[Labor Notes, via Naked Capitalism 12-13-19]

“It is a good practice to attach an information request to each grievance. Additional requests may be made based on the material initially provided or on employer contentions during the grievance. Continuous requests add leverage for the union. Over time, managers come to understand that if they violate the contract, they will be hit not only by a grievance but also by enforceable demands for sizable amounts of data, often including sensitive records. Whenever possible, demand correspondence between the employer and involved parties. In a grievance over subcontracting, for example, ask for letters, emails, and text messages between the employer and the subcontractor. Following grievance meetings, review the employer’s arguments and demand that the employer back up its contentions.”

Predatory Finance

Yves Smith, December 10, 2019 [Naked Capitalism]

Paul Volcker, the former Federal Reserve chairman often called “Tall Paul” for his 6’7″ stature, is dead at 92. Volcker played an outsized role in shifting the prevailing economic model from one dominated by labor to one dominated by capital. As Mark Blyth put it in a recent talk, the late 1970s and early 1980s, the rise of the “independent” central banker, which Volcker exemplified, was a core element in the economic regime change after the moneyed classes saw workers as being too empowered and revolted. His fixation with reducing inflation favored investors over workers, and lowered labor’s wage share of GDP. As as we’ll see, Volcker sought to achieve that end….

Volcker’s starchy manner, lack of pretentiousness, and skepticism of bank claims of virtue made him old school. But he played a central role in ushering a Brave New World that was nevertheless better for financiers and rentiers than everyone else.

“Look,” #Volcker said, “your constituents are unhappy, mine aren’t.”Most teachable political economy of monetary policy quote, from Greider’s ‘Secrets of the Temple’.


10:32 AM · Dec 9, 2019

“Super-Rich Families Pour Into $787 Billion Private Debt Market”

[Bloomberg, via Naked Capitalism 12-10-19]

“Direct loans to far-flung oil exploration projects, luxury real estate projects, private equity-backed businesses, and cash-intensive tech startups can pay yields more than twice as big as the junk-bond market. That’s lured the likes of the Denisenko family and other members of the global elite such as former Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt Jr. Stockholm-based Proventus Capital, which spun off from the family office of Swedish financier Robert Weil, is investing on behalf of wealthy clients, as well as institutional investors, in the market. More commonly, family offices are investing in the private credit market through funds. The Pritzker family, which owns the Hyatt hotel chain, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Trust have also put money into funds that invest in private distressed debt, tax filings show. Spokesmen for McCourt and the Gates Foundation Trust declined to comment. Requests for comment from the Pritzker family weren’t immediately returned. Private credit has boomed globally as banks, under pressure from regulators since the global financial crisis to reduce risk, have pulled back from lending to smaller, potentially more vulnerable companies.”

Congress Held a Hearing on the Fed’s Bailout of the Repo Market: Here’s Why You Haven’t Heard About It
Pam Martens and Russ Martens: December 10, 2019 [Wall Street On Parade]

BIS Drops a Bombshell: Four U.S. Mega Banks Are Core of Repo Loan Crisis
Pam Martens and Russ Martens: December 9, 2019 [Wall Street On Parade]

…the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) dropped a bombshell report that torpedoed the Federal Reserve’s official narrative on what has caused the overnight lending market (repo loan market) on Wall Street to seize up since September 17, leading to more than $3 trillion in cumulative loans from the New York Fed as lender of last resort…. The BIS report dropped the bombshell that the “US repo markets currently rely heavily on four banks as marginal lenders.” Curiously, the BIS report was too timid to name the banks.

As Wall Street On Parade has regularly pointed out, there are more than 5,000 Federally-insured banks and savings associations in the U.S. but the bulk of the assets, derivatives and risk to U.S. financial stability are concentrated at just a handful of Wall Street’s “universal” banks — those making high risk trading gambles while also owning federally-insured, deposit taking banks. Ranked by assets, as of June 30, 2019, those are the bank holding companies of JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs Group, and Morgan Stanley. Those six Wall Street banks hold $8.9 trillion of the $18.56 trillion in assets at the 5,213 federally-insured banks and savings associations in the U.S. That’s six banks holding 48 percent of the total assets of 5,213 banks.

The Carnage of Establishment Neoliberal Economics

How business elites sold the “urban renewal” lie to the Rust Belt

[Salon, via Naked Capitalism 12-9-19]

The promises that have accompanied downtown redevelopment are largely illusory. They obscure the ugly reality lurking under the surface of “urban renewal” schemes that really function as slum clearance and gentrification campaigns. Put another way, Allentown’s “redevelopment” is actively being pursued to the benefit of developers, business investors, and affluent city residents, at the direct expense of the city’s poor and poor people of color. It turns out that the city’s best and the brightest – the problem solving entrepreneurs who have been handed the keys to the development kingdom – are more interested in creating a business climate suitable to investment and profits, than to improving the living standards of the poor, needy, and disadvantaged.

City officials won’t admit they are promoting a class war against the poor. But a close review of available evidence leaves no doubt that the downtown redevelopment campaign is a façade designed to draw attention away from the city’s disinterest in combating poverty and inequality, in its effort to confiscate taxpayer resources to service business interests….

There has been no evidence of any real decline in the city’s poverty throughout the revitalization period, which began in 2011 and is still in full force as of this writing in late 2019. The city’s lowest poverty rate was actually reached in the year before downtown redevelopment began (2010), at 21.1 percent. Two years into the renewal project, in 2013, the poverty rate had reached 23.1 percent, and four years later in 2017, it was even higher, at 23.4 percent. While poverty in the city had fallen to 22.5 percent by 2018, that was still 1.4 percentage points higher than in 2010. In sum, economic poverty in the city was actually worse 7 years into Allentown’s redevelopment than it had been in 2010 – at the height of the post 2008 economic crisis and during a recessionary period immediately following the worst national economic collapse since the Great Depression….

The rise of a “social justice” mindset in American political culture has meant that elites seek to co-opt progressive support for fighting poverty and inequality within a larger political-economic system that reasserts old power dynamics, dividing the upper class on the one hand from the working, middle, and lower classes on the other. But the increasingly popular rhetoric about social entrepreneurs as saviors of the downtrodden represents a tremendous propaganda victory for business interests, because it envisions “solutions” to complex societal problems as depending on the agendas of powerful individual personalities — rather than on collective action and social movements that struggle for social justice.

The social entrepreneurial paradigm presents serious risks when it centers change on the “will power” of a select group of business leaders and philanthropic entrepreneurs, hailing from an upper class which itself is responsible for intensifying environmental calamity, rising poverty and inequality, and societal decay.

[The Conversation (Australia), via Naked Capitalism 12-9-19]

The failures of for-profit education reflect both the specific characteristics of education that make a market model inappropriate and more fundamental failings of market liberalism. Students, by definition, don’t know enough to be informed consumers. Whether the course is good or bad, they are unlikely to be repeat customers. In these circumstances, relying on consumer choice and competition between providers is a recipe for superficial, low-quality courses and exploitation.

As centuries of experience has shown, only the dedication and professional ethos of teachers can ensure high-quality education. Reliance on incentives and markets is inconsistent with that ethos. The broader problem with the reform agenda is that for-profit businesses paid to provide public services are more tempted to make profits by exploiting loopholes in the funding system than by innovating or providing better services.

“What if the foundational theories about how to run a company have been corrupted?”
[Quartz, via Naked Capitalism 12-11-19]

For example: “After digging through the archives at HBS, [professors Todd Bridgman and Stephen Cummings] discovered that Wallace Donham, the former dean who popularized the case study beginning in the 1920s, later decided it was too limited in scope. In reading Donham’s writing and his correspondence with the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, in particular, it became clear to the researchers that Donham sincerely believed the case study’s decision-forcing exercise—designed to channel students’ mental energy toward hypothetically improving profits at a single business—was too indifferent to societal consequences and equality among workers.”

“How consulting companies like McKinsey optimized American inequality”
[Washington Post, via Naked Capitalism 12-13-19]

“[T]he larger issue [than the Buttigieg campaign] is the very nature of management consulting firms; so much of their work ‘is about increasing investors’ share of profits by reducing labor’s share,’ Anand Giridharadas, a former McKinsey consultant turned journalist and author, recently put it. Consulting firms, by this line of thinking, are one of the drivers of the current state of runaway economic inequality. Academic and journalistic findings tend to support this idea. The key to management consulting firms’ function is in the word management. Management consultants work for a company’s executives, not its employees, and the hiring of one is often a sign that layoffs are imminent. Wendell Potter, a former vice president at the health insurer Cigna, says ‘it was clear that when [a management consulting firm] was brought in there would be layoffs. In my own department, there were times when I had to lay people off because off because of McKinsey’s work.’”

Climate and environmental crises

[Guardian, via Naked Capitalism 12-13-19]

“Michigan’s second-highest court has dealt a legal blow to Nestlé’s Ice Mountain water brand, ruling that the company’s commercial water-bottling operation is “not an essential public service” or a public water supply. The court of appeals ruling is a victory for Osceola township, a small mid-Michigan town that blocked Nestlé from building a pumping station that doesn’t comply with its zoning laws. But [But?] the case could also throw a wrench in Nestlé’s attempts to privatize water around the country… If it is to carry out such plans, then it will need to be legally recognized as a public water source that provides an essential public service. The Michigan environmental attorney Jim Olson, who did not represent Osceola township but has previously battled Nestlé in court, said any claim that the Swiss multinational is a public water utility ‘is ludicrous’. ‘What this lays bare is the extent to which private water marketers like Nestlé, and others like them, go [in] their attempts to privatize sovereign public water, public water services, and the land and communities they impact,’ Olson said.”

The world’s supply of fresh water is in trouble as mountain ice vanishes

[National Geographic, The Big Picture 12-14-19
[Nature, via Naked Capitalism 12-10-19]

“A quarter of the world’s population are at risk of water supply problems as mountain glaciers, snow-packs and alpine lakes are run down by global heating and rising demand, according to an international study. The first inventory of high-altitude sources finds the Indus is the most important and vulnerable “water tower” due to run-off from the Karakoram, Hindu Kush, Ladakh, and Himalayan mountain ranges, which flow downstream to a densely populated and intensively irrigated basin in Pakistan, India, China and Afghanistan…. The study says 1.9 billion people and half of the world’s biodiversity hotspots could be negatively affected by the decline of natural water towers, which store water in winter and release it slowly over the summer.”

“Glimmers of Hope Appear for Brazil’s Toxic Water”

[Bloomberg, via Naked Capitalism 12-13-19]

“The Tiete and the under-served slums on its banks are just one window into Brazil’s sanitation system, deemed among the worst in the world. The state-run infrastructure serves only half of the nation’s 200 million population. Some 33 million don’t have access to drinkable water. The years of under investment are harming the country’s health and impeding economic development. But the situation may be about to change. The nation’s politicians are weighing legislation to privatize the sector, a move that could open it up to $200 billion of investments.”

Lambert Strether adds: “Worked in Chile. Oh, wait…”

“Permafrost Hits a Grim Threshold”

[Counterpunch, via Naked Capitalism 12-9-19]

“For tens of thousands of years the Arctic’s carbon sink has been a powerful dynamic in functionality of the Earth System. However, that all-important functionality has been crippled and could be permanently severed. According to new research based upon field observations conducted from 2003 to 2017, a large-scale carbon emission shift in the Earth System has occurred. The ‘entire Arctic’ now emits more carbon than it absorbs, a fact that can only be described as worse than bad news. ‘Given that the Arctic has been taking up carbon for tens of thousands of years, this shift to a carbon source is important because it highlights a new dynamic in the functioning of the Earth System,’ says Susan Natali at Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts (Source: Thawing Permafrost Has Turned the Arctic Into a Carbon Emitter, NewScientist, Oct. 21, 2019).”

As the Arctic melts, China and Russia struggle for control

[Wired, via Naked Capitalism 12-13-19]

In August, satellites scanning the Arctic circle noticed a remarkable transformation: the region’s ice receded to such an extent that islands, previously submerged beneath glaciers, were now visible. The climate crisis has opened up new land that can be exploited for political and economic gain.

Last month, a Russian navy expedition chartered these five new islands, which are located in Novaya Zemlya and the Franz Josef Land archipelago. This marks yet another coup in the region for Russia, a forerunner in making use of the changing Arctic landscape.

According to the Russian Geographical Society, between 2015 and 2018, more than 30 new islands, capes and bays have been discovered in the region. The latest discovery includes an island as large as 54,500 square metres – an area equivalent to the size of more than seven football pitches.

The Arctic is a region of global political and economic importance – its ocean connects Asia, Europe and North America. Around ninety per cent of international trade takes place within these three continents. The region hosts massive stores of untapped resources, including a large portion of the world’s buried petroleum.

Exxon Mobil Prevails In Climate Change Trial

[NPR, via Naked Capitalism 12-11-19]

[Globe and Mail, via Naked Capitalism 12-10-19]

The Calgary Herald estimates that Alberta is home to 93,000 inactive and orphaned oil and gas wells. While many of those wells are owned by financially viable companies, an increasing number are not. This represents a “looming financial and environmental crisis” reminiscent of the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis, according to an investigation last year from The Globe and Mail. “A growing proportion [of inactive wells] are owned by companies that can least afford to clean them up … when their commercial life ends.”

When that happens in Alberta, those inactive wells become the responsibility of the Orphan Well Association (OWA), which is primarily funded by an industry levy that is increasingly understood as insufficient. The OWA’s chief executive credits a provincial $235-million loan for enabling it to reclaim about 1,200 wells since 2017, bringing the current inventory down to 3,406 wells – but more wells in need of reclamation are on the way.

One of the primary barriers to a clear understanding of the problem appears to be the absence of a credible and transparent assessment of cleanup costs. Based on its recent experience, the OWA suggests that average costs range between $27,000 and $34,000 a well. Critics, such as the Alberta Liabilities Disclosure Project, dismiss those numbers as primarily based on easy-to-cleanup wells, and point to internal Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) estimates that suggests the costs could potentially rise to $210,000 a well, which would add up to a staggering $100-billion in total liabilities. Those same estimates also looked at oil-sands mines and provincial pipelines, which could bring the number up as high as $260-billion.

[New Left Review, via Naked Capitalism 12-12-19]

Long interview with Extinction Rebellion member: “The starting point was the need to find a more effective form of protest than what we’d all been doing to date. Pretty much none of this came out of our own innovative thinking. It was about looking at the research, adding up the facts. Conventional A-to-B marches don’t work: millions of us demonstrated against the Iraq War and it didn’t make any difference. A key piece of research was Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan’s Why Civil Resistance Works. They take data from hundreds of 20th-century social movements and analyse what they did right and what they did wrong. The most successful ones, those that had their demands met, used forms of decentralized, non-violent civil disobedience—large-scale direct action. The tipping-point, Chenoweth and Stephan found, was to get 3.5 per cent of the population involved.”

“Politicians And CEOs Could Face Criminal Charges For Environmental Destruction”
[Huffington Post, via Naked Capitalism 12-11-19]

“‘Current law is so deeply anthropocentric,” she explains. “It’s the Earth itself that needs a really good lawyer.’ [Jojo Mehta, co-founder and director of Ecological Defence Integrity,] believes ecocide should work as a deterrent. ‘In an ideal world, we would see as few people in the dock as possible because the crime is no longer happening,’ says Mehta. Big companies often have budgets set aside for civil litigation against them to cover any fines, so ‘it doesn’t stop them from engaging in destructive activities,’ says Mehta. But criminal liability brings with it the possibility of prison time. The role of Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, in the developing crisis in the Amazon is a good example of why we need criminal accountability for environmental destruction, argues Mehta. He is the “poster boy for the need for the crime of ecocide,” she says.”

Health Care Crisis

Where the Frauds Are All Legal Elisabeth Rosenthal

[New York Times, via Naked Capitalism 12-9-19]

Much of what we accept as legal in medical billing would be regarded as fraud in any other sector. I have been circling around this conclusion for this past five years, as I’ve listened to patients’ stories while covering health care as a journalist and author. Now, after a summer of firsthand experience — my husband was in a bike crash in July — it’s time to call out this fact head-on.

Medicare For All Would Improve Hospital Financing

[Health Affairs, via Naked Capitalism 12-10-19]  See also NC here.
[Below, Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 12-12-19]

Here’s what Utah is going to require for its Medicaid expansion beneficiaries on 1/1/20 as a result of their unique work requirement.
Among other things, no coverage unless you’ve applied for a job w/ 48 employers. This will create huge coverage losses esp in rural areas.
View image on Twitter

Information Age Dystopia

Patient data from GP surgeries sold to US companies

[Guardian ,via Naked Capitalism 12-8-19]

Lambert Strether comments: “How else can we market to them when the NHS is privatized?”

[New York Times 12-8-19]

Antitrust investigations are coming at tech from all sides: the Justice Department, U.S. trade regulators and state attorneys general. But there’s a potentially bigger threat to the industry’s practices and profits. Representative David Cicilline, the chairman of the subcommittee that oversees antitrust law, has an ambitious goal, reports Steve Lohr of the NYT. He’s trying to build evidence, and a bipartisan consensus, for changing the laws.

Antitrust had been dormant in Congress for years. But under Mr. Cicilline, a Rhode Island Democrat, the panel has opened an investigation, held hearings and collected thousands of documents into possible anticompetitive practices by Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon. Antitrust experts say this is the most serious congressional inquiry into potential anticompetitive corporate behavior in decades.

The stagnant incomes of middle-class workers and the growing wealth gap in the U.S. are at least partly related to an increasing concentration of economic power, and in particular, the market clout of the tech giants, Mr. Cicilline has come to believe.
His panel plans to complete its investigation and publish its findings and recommendations early next year. The prospect for legislative action hinges on several unknowns. The most significant include what the subcommittee finds, the 2020 election results and the strength of public support for curbing the tech giants.

[Below, Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 12-11-19]

When you really want a cold drink but first need to debug a Security Certificate of your Samsung fridge.



5:40 PM · Dec 5, 2019
-in the future- when you really want a drink but your social credit score is too low to open the smart fridge door…


“She installed a Ring camera in her children’s room for ‘peace of mind.’ A hacker accessed it and harassed her 8-year-old daughter.”

[WaPo, via Naked Capitalism 12-13-19]

“Several Ring users nationwide have reported that their security systems were also infiltrated by hackers who harassed them through the camera’s two-way talk function. (Ring is an Amazon product. Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.) A spokesperson for Ring told The Post in a statement early Thursday that what happened to the LeMays ‘is in no way related to a breach or compromise of Ring’s security.’ The ‘bad actors’ behind the attacks ‘often re-use credentials stolen or leaked from one service on other services,’ the spokesperson said. Ring has addressed the other reports of hacking with similar statements.” • Lol, “in no way related” is doing a lot of work, there. Maybe the entire product line is a bad idea?

Creating new economic potential – science and technology

Successful Flight of World’s First Commercial Electric Airplane
[PRNewswire, via Aviation Week and Space Technology 12-11-19]

VANCOUVER, British Columbia, Dec. 10, 2019 /PRNewswire/ — Harbour Air, North America’s largest seaplane airline and magniX, the company powering the electric aviation revolution, today announced the successful flight of the world’s first all-electric commercial aircraft. The successful flight of the ePlane, a six-passenger DHC-2 de Havilland Beaver magnified by a 750-horsepower (560 kW) magni500 propulsion system, took place on the Fraser River at Harbour Air Seaplanes terminal in Richmond (YVR South) this morning. The plane was piloted by Harbour Air CEO and founder Greg McDougall. This historic flight signifies the start of the third era in aviation – the electric age.


I have a personal fascination with the Pacific Northwest, and around 2005 traveled on the Alaska state marine ferry up the Inside Passage to Juneau and back to Bellingham. Bush pilots and aircraft are a legendary presence in the region, which is very sparsely populated north of Vancouver and Victoria, and thus very ill suited for building rail systems. This is the perfect initial application of electric motors for aviation. 

Comparing Lithium-Ion and Lead-Acid Batteries
[Machine Design Today 12-8-19]

Comparing the two batteries’ performance in keeping forklifts up and running seems to tilt the choice in a definitive direction.Comparing the two batteries’ performance in keeping forklifts up and running seems to tilt the choice in a definitive direction.

High Capacity Light Rail in Ottawa
[Railway Age 12-8-19]

The Confederation Line (Line 1) opened to revenue passengers on Sept. 14, 2019. The name reflected the original hope of starting service in 2017, the 150th anniversary of Canada becoming a nation. The project cost an estimated C$2.1 billion, making it the largest infrastructure project in Ottawa’s history. The bulk of the cost was for construction, as most of the property needed was publicly owned.

Los Angeles wants to build a hydrogen-fueled power plant. It’s never been done before

[Los Angeles Times, via Naked Capitalism 12-11-19]

[IFR International Federation of Robotics 12-12-19]

The World Robotics report shows a new record stock of about 300,000 operational industrial robots in the Republic of Korea in 2018 (+10%). Within five years, the country has doubled its number of industrial robots….

Korea’s population is ageing rapidly. By the middle of this century, it will have one of the oldest populations out of all OECD countries, just behind Japan, Italy and Greece. In 2050, more than one third of the population will be over the age of 65 and around half of all workers will be aged 50 and over. This helps to explain why South Korea has already embraced robots, particularly in its manufacturing sector, where “robot density” ranks second place in the world – following Singapore. With 774 industrial robots per 10,000 employees, the Republic of Korea has more than twice the number of Germany (3rd with 338 units) and Japan (4th with 327 units).

[IFR International Federation of Robotics 12-12-19]

Sales of industrial robots in India reached a new record of 4,771 new units installed in 2018. That is an increase of 39 percent compared to the previous year (2017: 3,412 units). India now ranks eleventh worldwide in terms of annual installations….  The automotive industry remains the largest customer industry by far, with a share of 44% of total installations. But the strongest growth driver in 2018 was the general industry, increasing by 28%, consisting of the rubber and plastics industry, the metal industry and the electrical/electronics industry.

High-Speed Movies Reveal Behavior of High-Energy Arc Flashes
[Machine Design 12-10-19]
[Click through to article for links to actual film footage.]

High-energy arcing faults or flashes are high-power electrical discharges between two or more conductors; they can release tens of thousands of amps of current and occur very quickly. They can also cause explosions with temperatures of 63,000°F (35,000°C), about the temperature of lightning strikes, vaporizing steel and spewing hot metal particles into the air.

To learn more about this phenomena—and perhaps, how to prevent it—researchers at Sandia National Laboratory are using high-speed cameras and advanced imaging and analytic methods to understand dangerous arc faults between two conductors, such as the high-voltage bus bars in switchgears at power plants.The cameras were placed behind a cinder-block wall to get them close to the arc fault while also protecting them from the heat. For added protection, the cameras were pointed toward high-grade mirrors and recorded the explosion’s reflection at more than 1,000 frames per second.

The team recorded an arc fault involving 26,000 amps of current that lasted four seconds. Reviewing the high-speed footage, researchers saw the steel panel enclosing the switchgear vaporized within half a second of the arc initiation….

Another challenge involved accounting for bright flames and shaking cameras. Tanbakuchi and Demosthenous set up three high-speed cameras to record an explosion. Each was set to a different exposure, so that combining the views produced high-dynamic-range footage with more detail in the bright and dark areas of the image. Then they stabilized the footage with a specialized computer program. The result is a video with enough visual contrast to see where the ejected particles at the edge of the explosion traveled. The particles’ movement helped LaFleur track how the explosion turns energy into speed, momentum, chemical reactions, and electrical energy.

Sandia researchers also mounted small rectangles of carbon tape and silica aerogel at various distances in front of the explosion. Ejected particles stuck to these materials, which they took back to their lab for further analysis. The particles’ sizes, shapes, and chemical compositions yields clues to reactions that occurred during the explosion.

Democratic Party leadership insists on suicide

Biden tells GOP voters to stay Republican because “we need a Republican Party”

Neapolitan,  December 08, 2019 [Daily Kos]
I think it’s very, very interesting that 1) this made the rec list, and 2) the overwhelming majority of comments agreed with the diarist’s attack on Biden. The Democratic Party leadership is obviously ignoring the discontent among the Party’s activist base.

In the latest addition to the ongoing saga of “He still doesn’t get it and probably never will,” ex-VP and current Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden told a Buzzfeed reporter that Democrats shouldn’t be able to amass too much political power because there needs to be a balanced force pushing the other way, and the Republican Party is that force:

…[I]f you hear people on the rope line saying, ‘I’m a Republican,’ I say, ‘Stay a Republican.’ Vote for me but stay a Republican, because we need a Republican Party.”

Yes. Despite the fact that conservatives currently control the White House, and the US Senate, and the Supreme Court, and they’re either allowing, or conspiring with, hostile foreign entities to decide the upcoming election, and they’re working overtime to suppress the vote everywhere, and they’re gerrymandering the hell out of any district they can, and they’re busy stacking the courts to give themselves an unfair multi-decade advantage, and they’re deploying the novel tactic of stripping power from any Democrat who does manage to get into office, and they’re rapidly removing as many consumer and environmental protections as possible in the false name of deregulation, and they’re as a party supporting the most venal, corrupt administration in history, and they’re continuing to refuse to address the doom-filled specter of climate change to keep Big Energy money coming in, and they’re intentionally harming immigrants and women and children and LGBTQ people because that’s how they get off, and they’re generally moving toward fulfilling some biblical prophecy of Armageddon—Biden feels they should keep a goodly amount of political power because “we need a Republican Party”.

Why the Democratic Party Acts The Way It Does
A book review of The New Democrats and the Return to Power by Al From
Reviewed by Matt Stoller, Nov 6, 2014 [Medium]
Sadly, still on target five years later.

The litany of excuses is long. Democratic candidates were arrogant. The White House failed to transfer money, or stump effectively. The GOP caught up in the technology race, or the GOP recruited excellent disciplined candidates. Everything is put on the table, except the main course — policy. Did the Democrats run the government well? Are the lives of voters better? Are you as a political party credible when you say you’ll do something?

This question is never asked, because Democratic elites — ensconced in the law firms, foundations, banks, and media executive suites where the real decisions are made — basically agree with each other about organizing governance around the needs of high technology and high finance….

The theory in this book is simple. The current generation of Democratic policymakers were organized and put in power by people that don’t think that a renewed populist agenda centered on antagonism towards centralized economic power is a good idea. The book, however, is not written by a populist liberal reformer. It’s written by one of the guys who put the current system in place.

Disrupting mainstream politics

[Politico, via Naked Capitalism 12-13-19]

[Medium, via Naked Capitalism 12-13-19]“Dangerous Spaces” 

[Verso, via Naked Capitalism 12-11-19]

From the UK, but relevant here: “We have quickly discovered that door-knocking is horrible and brilliant, fraught with risk and potential. On the doorstep, no one cares what pronoun you prefer or whether you have social anxiety. It is a kind of political primal scene. Just you and a stranger. They can slam the door. They can call you a terrorist. They can complain about Jeremy Corbyn or Brexit or immigrants or their landlord, or assholes like you turning up unannounced, or about all of this at once. They can listen to your patient explanation or your frustrated ramble. They can laugh in your face. They can invite you into their homes, forcing you to make a snap decision about your potential safety in their domestic space. You always say yes. They can offer you a cuppa or ask for a sticker or introduce you to their nan. They can commiserate with you at the state of the world. They can change their minds and you can change yours. Often, in these conversations, a soundbite is rehearsed (‘I just don’t see Corbyn as a leader’), and we can see the way that media rhetoric becomes woven into the demotic. But while there’s no real talking back to Rupert Murdoch, on the doorstep there is sometimes the chance to contest his logic with some of our own.


Open Thread


Why Labour Lost in Britain


  1. KT Chong

    White people do not want brown immigrants/migrants to flood into and take over their countries. Just like — and I am going to be honest here — Asians do not want white expats to take over our countries (and women; that’s why Asians look at white men as sexpats.) Brexit is really a proxy to “we don’t want any more brown people in our country.” The sentiment is instinctive. It is territorial. It is natural. It is politically incorrect. But it is real and unmovable.

    If liberals and progressives continue to run on “let’s open the borders, let’s everyone who looks and thinks different from us come all in,” they are gonna lose — and they are gonna lose bad. Corbyn ain’t gonna change people’s mind about immigration on an instinctive level, and Bernie (even if he miraculously wins the DNC nomination) will lose the general election due to his stance on immigration. So, liberals and progressives might as well just accept what people want, run on economic issues that helps native citizens, (instead of issues that help foreigners who are not even citizens,) and then WIN ELECTIONS. Got it?

  2. KT Chong

    It’s a slightly different situation in Australia and New Zealand. All the on-going anti-Chinese hysteria is pointing to Australians and Kiwis are saying “we don’t want any more yellow (Chinese) immigrants to come here.” Loud and clear. Chinese should get a hint before the anti-Chinese sentiments get out of control.

  3. Chiron

    UK mass immigration problems has nothing to do with the EU but with their post-WWII governments, especially Blair who constantly sabotaged the EU tentatives of further Union which is gonna happen now with Brexit.

  4. Hugh

    Rigged capitalism?
    “What if the foundational theories about how to run a company have been corrupted?”
    “Much of what we accept as legal in medical billing would be regarded as fraud in any other sector.”

    Capitalism is inherently rigged and corporations are inherently corrupt. And medical billing is fiction and oh yes, inherently fraudulent.

    I suppose in one way it is good to see such stories, but in another it’s like … seriously, we didn’t all know this already?

  5. KT Chong

    I think progressives are still in shell shock and denial over Jeremy Corbyn’s devastating loss to the conservatives. Corbyn was supposed to be the the Great Progressive Hope who, as a progressive who was finally given a fair shot to run head-to-head against the conservatives, would defeat his conservative opponents, sweep the election in the UK, and usher in a new era of progressive politics. His victory would then followed by Bernie Sanders and other progressive icons all over the West, and finally brought an end to neoliberalism and right-wing nationalism.

    CORBYN FUCKING LOST. The British people rejected him — and his progressive politics.

    So what does Corbyn’s loss say about Bernie’s chances if Bernie goes up against Trump? All the progressives think that, if and only if a progressive like Bernie can get a chance to run in the general election against Trump, then the progressive hero would handily defeat Trump. The FDR reincarnate would usher in another golden age of progressive politics. Corbyn’s loss pretty much shattered that delusion. And now all the progressive channels and outlets on the Internet are silent. They just want pretend Corbyn does not exist, or that the UK election did not matter.

  6. Hugh

    Polls showed Labour losing to Tories even with Johnson’s clownery. Bernie and pretty every other Democrat beats Trump. Apples and oranges, but nice try.

    So Mandos tells us neoliberalism? Get used to it. KT Chong tells us racism? Get used to it.

  7. Willy

    In one business, I rather enjoyed working with the minority legal Hispanics, since their added variety spiced up that particular career life.

    In another business, I rather hated working with the illegal Hispanics who’d become the majority, since they were quite insular and were driving pay rates down.

    Why should it be so strange how racism works?

  8. StewartM

    KT Chong:

    How many whites would have to immigrate to say, China or India to show up as a demographic blip? My impression from traveling there is that they’d sooner have whites immigrate there than other Asians (particularly, the Japanese; but really everyone to some degree).

    Besides, Bernie’s policy is not ‘open borders’.

    “In the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton criticized the senator for voting against comprehensive immigration reform in 2007 — a bill that would have opened a pathway to citizenship for 12 million undocumented immigrants while investing in border security. (Sanders, who has long supported a pathway to citizenship, says he voted against the bill because of the lack of labor protections in the bill’s guest worker provisions.)

    He has also repeatedly warned against “open borders,” which he calls a “Koch brothers proposal,” arguing it would depress wages for American workers.

    “If you open the borders, my God, there’s a lot of poverty in this world, and you’re going to have people from all over the world,” Sanders said at an April town hall in Iowa. “And I don’t think that’s something that we can do at this point. Can’t do it.””

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