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

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – December 6, 2020

by Tony Wikrent

Strategic Political Economy

“This Is a Revolution, Sir”

[Jacobin, via Naked Capitalism 12-2-20]

Workers in India last week launched a general strike that brought out an estimated 250 million people, arguably the largest in human history. Now, they’re joining hands with farmers to protest Narendra Modi’s pro-corporate, far-right agenda.

Anti-Populism with Thomas Frank (podcast)

[The Dig, via Naked Capitalism 11-30-20]

Lambert Strether: “…if you want to understand why Frank has been blackballed by liberal Democrats and won’t (at least as I heard him say on Useful Idiots) be writing on politics any more, this is the podcast episode for you.

Transcript is at: Thomas Frank: How the Democratic Party Became a Vehicle of Aristocracy​​​​​​​

[ScheerPost, 12-4-2020]

And Martin Luther King actually knew this history. The reason he knew it–it’s not, you know, hard to figure out–there was a famous historian of the South back in those days, his name was C. Vann Woodward, who wrote about this. You know, he wrote book after book after book about this story. C. Vann Woodward was a classic Southern liberal, and for him populism was the only bright spot in Southern history between the end of the Civil War–or I should say the end of Reconstruction, and then the present day in the 1960s, when he was writing populism. Was the only moment when there was even a glimmer of hope that Blacks and whites could get together in some kind of common action.

And Martin Luther King knew this history pretty well. And so he’s at this triumphant moment in Montgomery, Alabama, and he’s giving this speech. And he does this amazing shoutout to the populist movement of the 1890s. And he talks about how it threatened the Bourbon Democrats of the South, and how they instituted Jim Crow as a response to populism. So, to reinforce this idea of white solidarity, so that they could go to the, you know, to the poor white farmer who had nothing–you know, who was basically starving, almost–and say to this guy, well, you know, at least you’re a white person. So you’re better than these other people. And it’s one of King’s great moments. You can watch the speech on YouTube. But he says–I don’t want to spoil it, but you should go and watch the speech, because it’s absolutely fantastic. And he says, you know, the poor white farmer, when his stomach growled and his family called out for food, “he ate Jim Crow, a psychological bird that told him that no matter how bad off he was,” he was still better than these other people. It’s one of his beautiful moments….


Well, the first step is to actually listen to those people rather than just decide that they need to be punished. Which is overwhelmingly the attitude among the sort of liberal commentariat. You know, that these people are bad people who there’s something dark and wrong with their souls, and we should not offer them anything; that’s obviously, you know, an enormous blunder. What you have to do is– [Laughs] win some of those people back. The way you do it is, you know, you were talking about, by and large, working-class people; this is the famous white working class, and my emphasis is on the working-class side of that.

And what’s funny is watching all these sort of liberals here in Washington, D.C. spin their wheels and say, well, what could a party of the Left offer working-class people? They can’t even imagine. You know, and it’s like, dude, look at history. Parties of the Left are supposed to be about working-class people. It’s incredibly easy to come up with things that a party of the Left would do for working-class people. For one thing, universal health care. For another thing–I mean, this one just seems like a no-brainer–make it easy for them to form labor unions again. Once you do that, it’ll start to, you know, people start to think differently, they start to bargain. It changes people’s attitudes about their whole life. I mean, I think of making school good and accessible and cheap again. You know, all of those things. You go right down the list of, you know, Martin Luther King and the Freedom Budget; you know, make sure [that] the housing is affordable. These are all no-brainers, in my opinion, that the Democratic Party could do.

Now, it’s going to be difficult; it’s going to be hard, but at least they can make a stand. A guy like Joe Biden is–at least he’s, he’s not Hillary Clinton, calling people “deplorables.” This is a guy that likes to speak to blue-collar audiences. You know, he likes to hang around in union halls and stuff like that. It’s not that hard for him to make the case to these people. But he’s got to understand the strategy of it, and the long-term direction that his party has been going in, if he wants to turn it around.

Democrats Stuck Between “BlackRock and a Hard Place” – Rana Foroohar and Mark Blyth

[TheAnalysis, December 2, 2020]

This is a great high-level, strategic overview of today’s political economy. My one quibble is that when they discuss the Green New Deal and how government must socialize risk to ensure new industries and new companies succeed, they are talking about Hamiltonianism, but never mention Alexander Hamilton. This particular historical blindness is a common problem on the left, that I think cripples the left’s attempt to connect with most Americans.  

Paul Jay: The deputy secretary that just was announced today is also a former BlackRock guy.

Mark Blyth: Yeah, but it’s a bit like Goldman ten or fifteen years ago when everybody figured out the revolving door. I mean, there is this talent pool problem. So, Democrats recruit from the Ivies on finance, and really bright people from the Ivies who didn’t want to be professors or lawyers twenty-five, thirty years ago all went into finance. They know where the money is. And then they go work for the Democrats. That was non-problematic until 2008. Goldman has fallen out of favor. Now it’s these big asset managers….

Rana Foroohar:  …But to go to what Mark said, a very smart point that Mark made earlier about fossil fuels being the Republican’s business model and their only game plan. Well, guess what? A lot of those Trump voters were coal miners and folks that worked in fossil fuel-related industries that are unionized. And they look — and this is where it gets complicated — they look and they say, “Gosh, you know, fossil fuel jobs pay 50 percent above the American median. Those clean tech gigs pay two bucks above average.” ….What I would like to see happen is a much more hard-hitting plan to move, in the course of five years, these coal miners into retrofitting solar panels and the highest-quality windows — which, by the way, if we literally just put on better windows and doors and turn the lights out in America, we would cut 50 percent of emissions. So, like, you know, that could solve a lot of unemployment and some emissions issues right there. That’s what we need to see articulated right now. How are we going to get the people working in the fossil fuel industry into jobs in clean tech and make that economically viable?….

Paul Jay: And that is my next question. We’re clearly a mixed economy, but without more socialism and central planning, there’s no way out of the climate crisis. And not just central planning to save the stock market and assets. Because there’s tons of central planning. Obviously one of the biggest pieces of central planning is the Pentagon. But all that being said, there’s no way out of this crisis without it….

Rana Foroohar:  ….You know, it’s interesting that you say that. You’re making me think of a few months ago, actually, during the primary season, I was looking at Elizabeth Warren’s industrial policy plans and Marco Rubio’s industrial policy plans. There’s not that much air between them. It’s really interesting. A lot of Republicans are — well, not a lot, but the economic nationalists are kind of walking right up to that line and they’re not using the third-rail terms….

And here’s where it gets interesting: Mark and Paul, you can tell me I’m being Pollyannaish. But, you know, I too speak to folks at places like the Navy Postgraduate Institute, and I’m fascinated by the overlap between security hawks, defense hawks and the AOCs of the world. I mean, you know, I literally just got through doing a war game where it was clear that green stimulus could help rebuild the industrial base and put a lot of Trump voters back to work in ways that would both secure our economics and our politics. That would be good for national security. I mean, it is really fascinating when you’ve got a general saying basically the same thing that AOC is. Now, we just have to make people understand that those things are not inconsistent with each other. And also: “socialism,” “capitalism”? They’re just different ways of regulating the markets in different people’s interests….

….there’s a third way here. And in fact, I think it’s the more historically appropriate way, which is that you think of it not as, all right, we have to have a top-down, detailed government structure about how to decarbonize the economy that balances the needs of myriad interest groups across the world. How about just: all right, we have a we have an unemployment problem. We have a burgeoning debt problem, which depending on our politics, we may or may not care about. I personally do. There are only three ways to deal with those sorts of problems. Grow your way out of it, austerity, or monetize the debt. I don’t want austerity at this moment. I don’t want monetization of debt because I think it will eventually collapse the economy.

So, how do you grow your way out? Well, history tells us the best way to have what my source and friend Bill Janeway would call a shared productive bubble is for the government to say we are going to support X new transformative technology — the railroads, the Internet — and then we’re going to subsidize it with basic federal research, but we’re also going to put a floor under it. We’re going to do land grants. We’re going to basically make the private sector comfortable that this is the future. And regulation is going to support that. We’re not going to tell you exactly how it’s going to play out, but we’re going to make it clear that there’s a floor here. And then, boom, we’re literally off to the races, off to building train rails, off to building the commercialized Internet.

“The Dead End of the Left?”

[Commonweal, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-3-20]

“Contra the “Catholic Left,” which tended to regard Marx’s atheism as accidental, and tried to rescue his socio-political analysis from his religious views, Del Noce concluded that what Marx proposed was not just a new theory of history or a new program of political economy, but a new anthropology, one completely different from the Christian tradition. (Louis Dupré had made a similar argument in the pages of Commonweal; see “Marx and Religion: An Impossible Marriage,” April 26, 1968.) Marx viewed humans as “social beings” entirely determined by historical and material circumstances rather than by their relationship with God. He viewed human reason as purely instrumental—a tool of production and social organization rather than the capacity to contemplate the truth and participate in the divine wisdom. Finally, Marx viewed liberation as the fruit of political action, not as a personal process of conversion aided by grace. Marxist politics was not guided by fixed and absolute ethical principles, because ethics, along with philosophy, was absorbed into politics. Del Noce concluded that there was no way to rescue Marx’s politics from his atheism, which had as much to do with his view of man as with his view of God.”

Nonetheless, after World War II Marxism experienced a resurgence in Western Europe, not only among intellectuals and politicians but also in mainstream culture. But Del Noce noticed that at the same time society was moving in a very different direction from what Marx had predicted: capitalism kept expanding, people were eagerly embracing consumerism, and the prospect of a Communist revolution seemed more and more remote. To Del Noce, this simultaneous success and defeat of Marxism pointed to a deep contradiction. On the one hand, Marx had taught historical materialism, the doctrine that metaphysical and ethical ideas are just ideological covers for economic and political interests. On the other hand, he had prophesied that the expansion of capitalism would inevitably lead to revolution, followed by the “new man,” the “classless society,” the “reign of freedom.” But what if the revolution did not arrive, if the “new man” never materialized?

In that case, Del Noce realized, Marxist historical materialism would degenerate into a form of radical relativism—into the idea that philosophical and moral concepts are just reflections of historical and economic circumstances and have no permanent validity. This would have to include the concept of injustice, without which a critique of capitalism would be hard, if not impossible, to uphold. A post-Marxist culture—one that kept Marx’s radical materialism and denial of religious transcendence, while dispensing with his confident predictions about the self-destruction of capitalism—would naturally tend to be radically bourgeois. By that, Del Noce meant a society that views “everything as an object of trade” and “as an instrument” to be used in the pursuit of individualized “well-being.” Such bourgeois society would be highly individualistic, because it could not recognize any cultural or religious “common good.” In the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels described the power of the bourgeois worldview to dissolve all cultural and religious allegiances into a universal market. Now, ironically, Marxist ideas (which Del Noce viewed as a much larger and more influential phenomenon than political Marxism in a strict sense) had helped bring that process to completion. At a conference in Rome in 1968, Del Noce looked back at recent history and concluded that the post-Marxist culture would be “a society that accepts all of Marxism’s negations against contemplative thought, religion, and metaphysics; that accepts, therefore, the Marxist reduction of ideas to instruments of production. But which, on the other hand, rejects the revolutionary-messianic aspects of Marxism, and thus all the religious elements that remain within the revolutionary idea. In this regard, it truly represents the bourgeois spirit in its pure state, the bourgeois spirit triumphant over its two traditional adversaries, transcendent religion and revolutionary thought.”

The thesis of this article helps explain the rise and influence of identity politics — which Adolph Reed, for one, is not happy with:

“Antiracism: a neoliberal alternative to a left”

Adolph Reed [Dialectical Anthropology, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-4-20]

“New Orleans provides a useful illustration of the limitations of contemporary antiracism as a politics. Antiracist political critique failed abysmally after Katrina to mobilize significant opposition to elimination of low-income public housing or to the ongoing destruction of public schools. That politics, which posits an abstract “black community” against an equally abstract “racism,” could not provide persuasive responses to the blend of underclass ideology that stigmatizes public housing as an incubator of a degraded population (Reed 2016a, b: 264–269). Nevertheless, race-reductionist argument continues to dominate the political imagination of those who would challenge structures of inequality…. Antiracist activism and scholarship proceed from the view that statistical disparities in the distribution by race of goods and bads in the society in which blacks appear worse off categorically (e.g., less wealth, higher rates of unemployment, greater incidence of hypertensive and cardiovascular disease) amount to evidence that “race” remains fundamentally determinative of black Americans’ lives. As Merlin Chowkwanyun and I argue, however, disparity is an outcome, not an explanation, and deducing cause simplistically from outcome (e.g., treating racially disparate outcomes as ipso facto evidence of racially invidious causation) seems sufficient only if one has already stacked the interpretive deck in favor of a particular causal account (Reed and Chowkwanyun 2012, 167–168). We also discuss a garbage in, garbage out effect in studies that rely on large-scale aggregate data analysis; gross categories like race may mask significant micro-level dynamics that could present more complex and nuanced understandings of causality. Put another way, if you go out looking for racial effects in data sets that are organized by race as gross categories, you will be likely to find them, but that will not necessarily lead to sound interpretations of the factors that actually produce the inequalities.”

Explaining Our Morbid Political Symptoms

[Jacobin, via Naked Capitalism 12-4-20]

….In her book In the Ruins of Neoliberalism: The Rise of Antidemocratic Politics in the West, political theorist Wendy Brown [argues that]….

Neoliberalism transforms what we might call a social state or a Keynesian economic order, not just at the level of economic policy, but at a much deeper level pertaining to how we are to understand freedom, the state, our relations with one another, society, and morality.

Why does this matter? Because neoliberalism delivers a full-frontal attack on the very notion of the public good and society. Margaret Thatcher said it best: “There is no such thing as society. There’s only individual men and women,” and then she paused, “and their families.” There’s no common, there’s no social, there’s no society, there’s only individuals and/or families.

What this does is paraphrases something that Friedrich Hayek spends pages, books on, which is attacking the very notion of society, and with it attacking the idea of a state that is oriented toward producing the good for society.

Note her response to the interviewer when he tries to plug Marxist analysis:

If we stick with the Marxists, we stick with the idea that neoliberalism is capitalism on steroids. It may be a particular form of capitalism on steroids, because financialization is born out of neoliberalism, so you get rent-seeking and other forms of “unproductive” wealth production. But it’s still basically about the exploitation of labor and the extraction of wealth from the poor concentrated in the rich.

Neoliberalism does not just attack the idea of Keynesian economic order, but the very idea of the social state. That’s important. It’s absolutely right, but it doesn’t tell us anything about the larger order of reason that has produced a particular orientation toward that development on the part of the populations governed by it. It doesn’t tell us anything about the anti-democratic thrust of neoliberalism, the ways it frontally assaulted democratic institutions and the very idea of democratic decisions about how things ought to be ordered, how goods ought to be distributed, how the social and economic world ought to be approached.

How China Took Control Of Exxon’s Supergiant Iraqi Oilfield

[OilPrice, via Naked Capitalism 12-4-20]


The Epidemic

[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 12-5-20]



Hospital Understaffing, Lack of Capacity Coming Back to Bite

David Dayen, December 2, 2020 [The American Prospect]

Long-term hospital stays are the most expensive to manage for a hospital, relative to their cost to the patient or insurance company. Outpatient care is much more lucrative, because it reduces labor costs, physical real estate, supplies, everything. This “just-in-time” kind of logistics just destroys preparedness. Just as retailers don’t want to hold inventory because they’d have to pay for storage, hospitals don’t want to hold patients. Therefore the excess capacity is rooted out of the system, both in terms of beds and staff.

Then there are the “unprofitable” hospitals and unprofitable services. If you aren’t doing a bunch of elective surgeries, if you’re just the source for healing in communities that aren’t terribly dense, it doesn’t make financial sense. Rural hospital closures have reached new heights, forcing people to travel 50, 75 miles or more to see a doctor.

The only excuse to organize a medical system to make money instead of organizing it to provide care is — greed.

Resuming evictions caused over 10,000 deaths in just six months

Yasha Levine [Immigrants as a Weapon, via Naked Capitalism 11-30-20]

According to CNBC: The researchers, from the University of California, Los Angeles, University of California, San Francisco, Johns Hopkins University, Boston University and Wake Forest University School of Law, found that lifting state moratoriums and allowing eviction proceedings to continue caused as many as 433,700 excess cases of Covid-19 and 10,700 additional deaths in the U.S. between March and September.

“When people are evicted, they often move in with friends and family, and that increases your number of contacts,” said Kathryn Leifheit, one of the authors on the research and a postdoctoral fellow at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. “If people have to enter a homeless shelter, these are indoor places that can be quite crowded.”

Economic Armageddon: The COVID Collapsed Economy

New IRS rule will push many US small businesses to the brink

[WSWS, via Naked Capitalism 11-29-20]

Senator Menendez: “3.3 Million Small Businesses Have Closed” and “1.1 Million Local and State Employees Have Lost their Jobs” as a Result of Pandemic

Pam Martens and Russ Martens, December 2, 2020 [Wall Street on Parade]

Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey told Powell and Mnuchin that according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, “at least 3.3 million small businesses have closed, 441,000 of which are black owned and 657,000 which are Latino-owned businesses.” That NBER paper was released in June, thus the actual closures year-to-date are likely far greater. Menendez also stated that 1.1 million local and state employees have lost their jobs according to Trump’s own Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Mayors Know COVID Has Permanently Changed Cities

David Dayen, December 3, 2020 [The American Prospect]

…. survey of big-city mayors run out of Boston University. Nearly half of them predict “dramatic” cuts to public schools, along with 38 percent to parks and recreation and 35 percent to mass transit. More than half—around 60 percent—see a “permanent reduction” for in-person retail shopping and downtown office building capacity. A whopping 80 percent believe racial health disparities will grow….  The takeaway from this survey is the expectation of enduring, long-term misery.

Metro Proposes Cutting Weekend Trains, Closing 19 Stations And Slashing Bus Service 

[DCist, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-2-20]

“Facing the grimmest budget projections in its 50-year history, Metro is proposing the complete elimination of weekend service. It is one of a series of staggering cuts the transit agency may need to make in the next fiscal year, which begins in July 2021, to close a nearly $500 million deficit. What remains would be a “bare-bones service network to sustain essential travel,” according to a presentation that WMATA’s board will hear Friday. The plan also calls for trains to run every 30 minutes, shuttering 19 stations, further slashing bus service to a fraction of pre-pandemic levels and closing the system at 9 p.m… It would also make life exceedingly difficult for already-strained essential and off-hour workers. Many say the changes would make the system near unusable and have a devastating ripple effect on business, nightlife, sports and tourism industries that hope to make some recovery in 2021.” Lambert Strether: “$500 million is a fleabite in the Beltway. Why doesn’t Congress just write a check?”

Predatory Finance

Student Loan Horror Stories

Matt Taibbi [via Naked Capitalism 12-4-20]

Liquidity Risk at Large U.S. Banks

[NBER, via Naked Capitalism 12-2-20]

“For 2019 Q4, the revised tests suggest it is unlikely that any of the six banks would survive a liquidity crisis for 30 days. This negative finding is most clear-cut for Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley.”

OCC Says JPMorgan Chase Has $29.1 Trillion of Custody Assets; That’s $8 Trillion More than the Assets of All Banks in the U.S.
Pam Martens and Russ Martens, December 4, 2020 [Wall Street on Parade]

On November 24 the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) fined JPMorgan Chase $250 million for wrongdoing that was apparently too deplorable to be spoken out loud to the public. The specific details were cloaked in this phrase: “failure to maintain adequate internal controls and internal audit over its fiduciary business.”

We went to the OCC’s Consent Order connected to the fine to see if there were the typical smoking gun internal emails or at least some clue as to what the actual illegal activity was. There were zero clues, just more obfuscation. What we did see, however, was a dollar figure that popped our eyes wide open. The OCC Consent Order said this: “The Bank maintains one of the world’s largest and most complex fiduciary businesses with total fiduciary and related assets of $29.1 trillion, including $1.3 trillion in fiduciary assets and $27.8 trillion of non-fiduciary custody assets.”

….To put the $29.1 trillion into even sharper focus, JPMorgan Chase Bank N.A., according to the FDIC, has a total of just $2.87 trillion of its own assets. But, somehow, it has managed to attract more than 10 times its own assets on a custodian basis….

….In September, when the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) released a bombshell investigative report about money laundering for criminals at some of the largest Wall Street banks, it had quite a bit to say about JPMorgan Chase. (The ICIJ investigation was based on secret documents leaked from FinCEN, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, a unit of the U.S. Treasury.)

S&P Global’s $44bn deal shows data is the oil of the 21st century

[Financial Times, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-1-20]

“Monday’s announcement by S&P Global that it has agreed to buy IHS Markit — the large London-based financial analytics company — for $44bn encapsulated how data is now to the financial industry what oil is to the industrial economy. Separately, both S&P Global and IHS Markit are major players in the business of collecting, refining and piping information that power chunks of modern finance. The former is big in the stock market index business, credit ratings and energy analysis. The latter boasts a strong position in debt market and derivatives analytics and a host of corporate research in areas like transportation, aerospace and trade. Combined, they might hope to compete with the likes of Michael Bloomberg’s eponymous empire, whose pricey terminals are ubiquitous on Wall Street; Refinitiv, which is being acquired by the London Stock Exchange for $27bn; and newer challengers like Intercontinental Exchange, the acquisitive owner of the New York Stock Exchange that bought Interactive Data for $5.2bn in 2015 and Ellie Mae for $11bn earlier this year.”

The carnage of mainstream neoliberal economics

1% of farms operate 70% of world’s farmland

[Guardian, via Naked Capitalism 11-30-20]

Disrupting mainstream economics

“Abolishing the Economics Nobel Isn’t Enough”

[Current Affairs, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-2-20]

“Under this argument, the problem with the economics Nobel is not so much its origin, but its mere existence. The fact that political power is accorded to those who have won the prize—in addition to the political power they must already possess to have put their ideas into practice in the first place—is a matter of democratic contention. Economists have a habit of convincing themselves that their proposals are scientific and sidestep questions of democracy, when actually those proposals just prioritize economists’ own values and approaches over those of others. Whether we’re talking about RCTs, auctions, or monetary policy, much of the application of economic ideas has taken place behind closed doors and in a language inaccessible to most of us. In every case this secrecy has had clear consequences for which policies have been implemented—and subsequently which groups have benefited and which have lost out.”

“Let’s Talk About Higher Wages”

NYT Editorial Board [New York Times, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-2-20]

“This is not just a political problem for Democrats; it is an economic problem for the United States. The nation needs a better story about the drivers of economic growth, to marshal support for better public policies. The painful lessons of recent decades, along with recent economic research, point to a promising candidate: higher wages. Raising the wages of American workers ought to be the priority of economic policymakers and the measure of economic performance under the Biden administration. We’d all be better off paying less attention to quarterly updates on the growth of the nation’s gross domestic product and focusing instead on the growth of workers’ paychecks.”

Climate and environmental crises

“Climate change: Temperature analysis shows UN goals ‘within reach’”

[BBC, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-3-20]

“The Climate Action Tracker group looked at new climate promises from China and other nations, along with the carbon plans of US President-elect Joe Biden. These commitments would mean the rise in world temperatures could be held to 2.1C by the end of this century. Previous estimates indicated up to 3C of heating, with disastrous impacts. But the experts are worried the long-term optimism is not matched by short-term plans to cut CO2.”

Graph of projected green house gas emissions — 3 scenarios

Why did renewables become so cheap so fast?

, via The Big Picture 12-2-20]


Price of electricity new renewables vs new power plants Barry Ritholtz

New Energy Giants Are Renewable Companies: Iberdrola, Enel, NextEra, Orsted

[Bloomberg, via Naked Capitalism 11-30-20]


The Race To Crack Battery Recycling—Before It’s Too Late

[Wired, via Naked Capitalism 12-1-20]

“A Desert City Tries to Save Itself With Rain”

[Bloomberg, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-2-20]

“In an average year, Brad Lancaster can harvest enough rain to meet 95% of his water needs. Roof runoff collected in tanks on his modest lot in Tucson, Arizona — where 100 degree days are common in the summer months — provides what he needs to bathe, cook and drink. When Lancaster gets thirsty, he sips filtered rain ‘known as sweet water,’ he says, having never picked up salt from soil. When he wants a hot shower, he places his outdoor shower’s water tank in the sun. To irrigate his fruit trees beyond the Sonoran Desert’s two rainy seasons, which bring the vast majority of Tucson’s precipitation, he uses fresh rainwater or greywater — the latter being, in his case, used rainwater leftover from the shower, sink, or washing machine. ‘More rain falls on the surface of Tucson in a typical year than the entire population of Tucson consumes of municipal water in a year,’ says Lancaster, author of Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond. ‘So we have more water than we need most years — if we harvest it and reinvest it as opposed to draining it away.’”

Creating new economic potential – science and technology

China turns on nuclear-powered ‘artificial sun’

[ 12-4-2020]

China successfully powered up its “artificial sun” nuclear fusion reactor for the first time, state media reported Friday, marking a great advance in the country’s nuclear power research capabilities….

The HL-2M Tokamak reactor is China’s largest and most advanced nuclear fusion experimental research device, and scientists hope that the device can potentially unlock a powerful clean energy source.

It uses a powerful magnetic field to fuse hot plasma and can reach temperatures of over 150 million degrees Celsius, according to the People’s Daily—approximately ten times hotter than the core of the sun.

Japanese space capsule carrying pristine asteroid samples lands in Australia

[, 12-5-2020]

A small capsule bearing pristine pieces of the near-Earth asteroid Ryugu touched down early this afternoon (Dec. 5) within the remote and rugged Woomera Prohibited Area, about 310 miles (500 kilometers) northwest of the South Australian capital of Adelaide.

Hayabusa2’s predecessor was the first to haul space-rock samples home, delivering pieces of the stony asteroid Itokawa in 2010. But the original Hayabusa (Japanese for “peregrine falcon”) returned less than 1 milligram of material. Hayabusa2’s bounty is expected to exceed 100 mg (0.0035 ounces), and its samples come from a very different kind of asteroid — a primitive “C-type” space rock rich in water and carbon-containing organic compounds.

A Milestone In Quantum Physics: Physicists At Mainz University Successfully Carry Out The Controlled Transport Of Stored Light

[PhotonicsOnline 10-13-2020]

The controlled manipulation and storage of quantum information as well as the ability to retrieve it are essential prerequisites for achieving advances in quantum communication and for performing corresponding computer operations in the quantum world. Optical quantum memories, which allow for the storage and on-demand retrieval of quantum information carried by light, are essential for scalable quantum communication networks.

Information Age Dystopia

Amazon Is Facing an Unprecedented Union Vote in the Right-to-Work South

[ Jacobin, via Naked Capitalism 12-1-20]

Disrupting mainstream politics

The Path Forward for Democrats

Justice Democrats, Sunrise Movement, New Deal Strategies, Data for Progress, November 29, 2020

….In Congress, Democrats face an enormous challenge in holding the House in 2022, and must enter 2021 with a clear strategy. The status quo is a glide path to the minority, and a Republican Congress will doom any chance of progress for working people….

We all want to keep the House in Democratic hands, but defying these historical trends will require bold action and a smart, strategic approach.To have a fighting chance at holding the House in 2022, winning more seats in the Senate, and holding on to the presidency in 2024, Democrats should be guided by four strategic imperatives.

  1. Reclaim a populist economic message. When Democrats run on a populist economic message, they win….
  2. Invest in a progressive, ground-up organizing strategy and let voters choose in primaries. The consultant-driven, top-down model is simply not working. Democrats are strongest in states where progressives and local leaders have organized from the ground up….
  3. Don’t get fooled again: Run against McConnell. Democrats must learn from the first two years of the Obama administration, when being strung along by McConnell yielded no meaningful Republican cooperation while depressing the base and leading to electoral disaster in the 2010 midterms….
  4. Biden has a mandate to govern — act like it. Biden won a convincing victory and defeated an incumbent president, a rare accomplishment. He has a mandate, and he must act like it by wielding his power decisively. Healing the country will require taking care of the working people of this country, and not the machinations of beltway consultants….

How Biden Can Raise Some Wages Even if Congress Won’t
Harold Meyerson, December 4, 2020 [The American Prospect]

Memo to Democrats: 2020 Elections Show Progressive Vision, Not Centrist Restraint, Is Winning Message for the Future

[, , November 11, 2020]

Scapegoating progressives and Black activists for their demands and messaging is not the lesson to be learned here. It was their organizing efforts, energy, and calls for change needed in their communities that drove up voter turnout….

A memo to the Democratic Party from four progressive organizations outlines how through a number of unforced errors in an attempt to appeal to conservatives and moderates rather than the more forward-looking Democratic base, the party allowed the loss of a number of congressional seats—and now risks further alienating the racial justice organizers and working-class voters who helped deliver President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.

The memo (pdf) from Justice Democrats, the Sunrise Movement, New Deal Strategies, and Data for Progress comes a week after centrist Democrats including House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.), and Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Penn.) explicitly blamed progressive policy proposals such as Medicare for Allfar-reaching police reform, and a fracking ban for congressional losses.

Who’s in Charge of the Democratic Party?

[The Nation, November 19, 2020, via Naked Capitalism 11-29-20]

What is commonly called “the Democratic Party” is actually a constellation of six entities that, collectively, spent more than $1.3 billion in the 2020 election cycle.

Table of Six Democratic Party control units

Over the past decade, dating back to my work in 2008 helping to create a Diversity Talent Bank of 5,000 diverse candidates interested in working in the Obama-Biden administration, I have rarely, if ever, seen a job description circulated for the top staff position of these entities. At best, these poor practices undermine their ability to function at optimal levels. At worst, they result in the kind of diversity debacle that occurred last year, when Congressional Black Caucus and Hispanic Caucus members loudly complained about the overwhelmingly monochromatic composition of the DCCC staff assembled by then–executive director Allison Jaslow.

Absent clear criteria for what the job entails and with no process in place for a healthy range of promising contenders to offer their expertise, the pool of potential people to fill those positions is, almost by definition, limited to the friends and family of a small circle of insiders.

That’s not a bug, that’s a feature. Lambert Strether adds: “This assumes that we even know what the Democrat Party’s boundaries are; surely many NGOs should be included. If you follow the money, Nomiki Konst at the long-forgotten DNC Unity Reform Meeting mentions (“this smells”) that $700-$800 million dollars to five (5) consultants. Yet these consultants are never named. This article does the same thing: “[T]he handful of consultants who dominate Democratic politics.” Why not name the handful?”

Biden Administration: Can the Old Guard Actually Bring New Ideas?

Potential Biden Officials’ Firm Is Promising Big Profits Off Those Connections

David Sirota [The Daily Poster.

“Democrats Have a Messaging Problem. Will They Do the Work to Fix It?”

[The Root, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-2-20]

“Another issue is that national Democrats tend to run away from activist-minded candidates instead of embracing them. Then-state Senator Charles Booker, who ran against well-funded Amy McGrath in the Democratic primary on defunding the police and showed up at BLM marches while she was absent, barely lost to her after his campaign got national attention just weeks before the primary. McGrath, who every mainstream Democrat-backed, lost by a landslide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in one of the most expensive ass-kickings this election cycle. Booker lost, but what he proved was that a Black man in a white-ass state running on a Black-ass message could attract white voters. Booker told me earlier this year that he campaigned on ‘defund the police’ in the whitest parts of Kentucky, where people ‘put their fists in the air saying ‘no lives matter until Black Lives Matter.” ‘They were marching in the streets with white supremacists watching. They ain’t care. I think we’re at a point where we can build new coalitions that speak to structural issues that hurt everybody.’ Again, he lost. But what closed the gap between him and McGrath was that he took bold positions that were well-articulated and easy to distinguish. No one knows what would have happened had national Democrats coalesced around Booker sooner, but what we do know for sure is that Black progressives who incorporate BLM language into their campaign can be competitive. Anywhere.”

“Professional Democrats (Still) Need to Learn How to Make Alternative Narratives” [Mike the Mad Biologist, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-2-20]

“The Republican message couldn’t have been clearer: Workers should be able to show up, clock in, earn a normal paycheck, pay the rent and feed their kids. Democrats were telling the same workers that we need to listen to science, reopening is premature, and the economy can’t be fully restored until we beat the virus. Correct! But how does that help when rent was due last week?”

“With Tanden Choice, Democrats Stick it to Sanders Voters”

[Matt Taibbi, TK News].

“Tanden is famous for two things: having a puddle of DNC talking points in place of a cerebrum, and despising Bernie Sanders. She was #Resistance’s most visible anti-Sanders foil, spending awe-inspiring amounts of time on Twitter bludgeoning Sanders and his supporters as a deviant mob of Russian tools and covert ‘horseshoe theory’ Trump-lovers. She has, to put it gently, an ardent social media following. Every prominent media figure with even a vague connection to Sanders learned in recent years to expect mud-drenched pushback from waves of ‘Neera trolls; after any public comment crossing DNC narratives. No name in blue politics is more associated with seething opposition to Sanders than Tanden. Biden is making this person Director of the Office of Management and Budget. Sanders is the ranking member (and, perhaps, future chair) of the Senate Budget Committee. Every time Bernie even thinks about doing Committee business, he’ll be looking up at Neera Tanden. For a party whose normal idea of humor is ten thousand consecutive jokes about Trump being gay with Putin, that’s quite a creative ‘f*ck you.’”

The Great Realignment:  Shifts in political allegiance. 

Marshall Auerback and James W. Carden, December 3, 2020 [The Scrum, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-4-20]

As Democrats continue their transformation into the party of the 1 percent, Republicans appear poised to become the party of the working class. This profound shift in American politics, historic in proportion and significance…. The results of the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections indicate that a major realignment in American politics is under way. It is a realignment driven, in large part, by the divergent approaches Democrats and Republicans are taking toward America’s political economy….

As a candidate in the 2016 election, Trump’s message represented a break from his party’s traditional corporate interests. Not only did he proclaim his love for “the poorly educated”; he also campaigned, in effect, as an old Rust Belt Democrat, sounding almost like Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown in Republican robes. Opposed to illegal immigration and offshoring, Trump attacked globalization, free trade, and Wall Street, especially Goldman Sachs. The GOP’s shift was under way.  No longer was this the party of Reaganite supply-siders, or Atlas Shrugged libertarian enthusiasts.

In contrast to libertarian market fundamentalists, who decried the country’s dependence on “big government” and the corresponding need to fix (i.e., cut) entitlements, Trump made repeated campaign promises to protect Medicare and Social Security. These put him on the side of core adherents of the welfare state. That is one of the major factors that rapidly increased the migration of white working-class support from the Democrats in 2016. As Professors Herbert Kitschelt and Philipp Rehm explained to New York Times columnist Thomas Edsall, the perception that Trump was less prone to cut popular entitlement programs (in contrast to his failed GOP predecessors in previous campaigns), “would have removed cognitive dissonance and inhibitions that would have prevented them from supporting an economic conservative in the mold of Mitt Romney.”

Three Tactics of the Neoliberal Order and the Biden/Harris Transition

Glenn Greenwald, via Naked Capitalism 12-3-20]

The exploitation of identity, the powerlessness of the Sanders left, and the promise of returning to pre-Trump “normalcy”: all driving Democratic decision-making.

Top Biden Adviser Lobbied on Behalf of Trump Corporate Tax Cut

Intercept, via Naked Capitalism 12-3-20]

Biden names liberal econ team as pandemic threatens workers

[AP, via Naked Capitalism 12-1-20]

“‘They are intellectual liberals, but not burn-it-all-down socialists,’ said Brian Riedl, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and an adviser to Sen. Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. ‘They’re fairly conventional liberal economists and experts.’”

The Democratic Party Will Keep Betraying Labor. It’s Time to Launch a Workers’ Party vs. Don’t Abandon the Democratic Party—Take It Over The Nation, via Naked Capitalism 12-2-20]

Why Iran Is Getting the Bomb Tablet, via Naked Capitalism 12-1-20]

“Anti-Jacketers Rally Outside Burlington Coat Factory To Protest Liberal Cold Weather Conspiracy” (podcast) [The Topical, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 11-30-20] “Hear why members of the growing movement are calling cold weather nothing more than a leftist hoax made up to force Americans into thick down layers.”

“The Economic Consequences of Sir Robert Peel: A Quantitative Assessment of the Repeal of the Corn Laws” [Douglas A. Irwin & Maksym G. Chepeliev, NBER, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 11-30-20] “Britain’s repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 was the signature trade policy event of the nineteenth century…. Combining the changes in factor payments with different consumption patterns across income groups, we find that the top 10 percent of income earners lose while the bottom 90 percent of income earners, who spent a disproportionate amount of their income on food, gain.”


“Cobblestone Conservative” [The American Conservative, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-2-20] ‘”In her 1961 classic The Death and Life of Great American Cities, [Jane] Jacobs assaulted a century’s worth of received wisdom in urban planning. Jacobs read voraciously; she would test her ideas by imagining dialogues between herself and thinkers from Plato to Thomas Jefferson. But she was no academic. In Death and Life, she cited not one paper nor analyzed one set of data. What she did do was observe. Jacobs had a knack for spotting patterns in commonplace things. Social scientists sometimes call it “field study.” When it works, field study makes what once went unnoticed seem obvious…. Death and Life’s popularity is still growing in part because so much of what Jacobs wrote is confirmed in daily life. For example, she famously argued, the safety of a city street depends on the number of eyes watching it. The more pedestrians and storefronts a city street has, the more inviting it is to other pedestrians. Casual passers-by contribute more sets of eyes, making the street even safer, and so on in a virtuous cycle. Death and Life develops this simple idea in rich detail…. The architects of urban renewal saw none of this. Instead of preserving short, narrow streets, they were combining blocks into “superblocks” with parks and “promenades.” Instead of permitting shops and stores, they were segregating residents in towers and forbidding “incompatible” commercial uses. Instead of expanding sidewalks, they were adding playgrounds and planting grass. Instead of nurturing small-scale street life, they were erecting freeways and public centers. Jacobs called their practices “bloodletting,” after the discredited notion of treating disease by draining the patient’s blood.” • We could use a lot more “field study” as opposed to, say, polling.

“The False Promise of Enlightenment” [Quinn Slobodian, Boston Review, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-3-20] “The concentration of wealth and its evasion of state attempts at its capture through taxation also do not happen by escaping law or the state, but through the law and the state—through projects of legal “encoding,” to use Pistor’s dominant metaphor. The protagonists of [Katharina] Pistor’s narrative include the trust, which is used to put assets an arm’s length from their original owner (originally to family members, but now, increasingly, to financial intermediaries); the partitioning of asset pools within corporations, which allows them (as in [Walter] Mattli) to take on extra risk and avoid shareholder governance; and the Investor State Dispute Settlement mechanism, which allows foreign investors to sue states for lost profits. She shows that capital is global not because it exists in the ether, but because, when properly legally framed, it is portable: ‘it is possible to code assets in the modules of one legal system and still have them respected and enforced by courts and regulators of another country.’ Far from a sub-galactic global space of flows, she shows that assets are almost all drawn up according to the templates of two relatively small places—New York State and Great Britain.” • A review of Shoshana Zuboff, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, Walter Mattli, Darkness by Design: The Hidden Power in Global Capital Markets, and Katharina Pistor, The Code of Capital: How the Law Creates Wealth and Inequality. It’s really good. Grab a cup of coffee and read all the way to the end.



Open Thread & Fundraising Update


The Beauty of the Future


  1. Hugh

    Both neoliberalism and libertarianism are all about freedom. We are free to die in a ditch, and our rulings classes are free to loot the place. As members of society, we have duties and responsibilities to preserve and protect the many and place limits on the few. So it is perfectly expectable for neoliberals and libertarians to minimize or do away with society altogether.

    Re the loss of government jobs, between Nov. 2019 to Nov. 2020, seasonally unadjusted, state government lost 341,000 of which 327,100 were in education. Local governments lost 928,000 jobs, of which 681,200 were in education. So state and local government Nov.-Nov., lost 1.269 million jobs total, of which 1.0083 million were in education.

    The US banking system depends and has depended on (2009-2010, the rounds of Quantitative Easing, 2020) being bailed out by the Fed.

    There is no Nobel in Economics.

    Deutsche Bank is a criminal eneterprise. All American banks are Deutsche Bank.

    “Temperature analysis shows UN goals ‘within reach’”” That’s hilarious. This isn’t based on reality but promises and future “plans.” Good luck with that.

    Actually, most of Biden’s choices for his Administration ignore or stick it to progressives. And I agree this is a feature. Just as the old Republican party wants to be the new fascist party, the Democratic party wants to be the new Republican party. We need a progressive party divorced from the duopoly.

  2. Zachary Smith

    Student Loan Horror Stories:
    Borrowed: $79,000. Paid: $190,000. Now Owes $236,000

    This is a genuine horror story, and so far as I know, Biden is in it up to his ears.

  3. Joan

    Regarding the student loan horror story, this is why the people I know in the US who have loan debt have no intention of ever paying it off. They got the minimum monthly payments down as low as they could (even if that means higher totals in the end) and that’s all they plan to do. My friends, at least, were already aware of the scam and thus knew actually trying to get free of it wasn’t going to happen. I just wish they’d gone to community college. Both friends are now in jobs that could have been obtained with associate’s degrees rather than four-year bachelor’s degrees. Then they could have paid while they studied, and would now be free. Oh well.

  4. Plague Species

    Yves at Naked Capitalism raises a great point. We don’t want M4A, we want Universal Healthcare similar to what they have in Canada. The irony is, Biden and Neera Tanden and the DNC in general and all the Neo’s don’t even want us to have the muddled, overly-complex and deficient M4A, let alone an adequate Universal Healthcare System.

    And having recently given Medicare a hard look, M4A is terrible messaging. Medicare is a horribly complex, half privatized, insanely complex program. Why should you be required to buy Medicare B, which you effectively are, to see doctors or D to get drug coverage? Why is Medicare A so skimpy that you need to buy Medigap?

  5. someofparts

    It’s a real shame that the predatory corruptions of the American ruling class are now a given, with new generations adapting accordingly. Joan’s friends know that student loans are a swindle built to trap them for life, so they make plans that work around it, as best they can.

    This week I was also making allowances for the corruption of our leaders in my decisions about taking the covid vaccine. I won’t be willing to take anything that uses the mRNA approach but, more than that, I prefer to avoid anything produced by an American company if possible.

    I don’t think the bone-deep evil of our national overlords stops with finance. The orgy of commercial fraud that has been gathering steam and spreading faster than covid the last forty years has made work invisible to the PMC. They have become people that celebrate cunning swindles and dream of launching scams of their own. They do not even suspect the existence of a working-class culture that respects diligence and competence. I don’t have any confidence in work coming out of these companies.

    Our healthcare system doesn’t exist to provide healthcare any more than the student loan system exists to make education available. They exist to turn us into revenue streams. Like a Matrix that runs on debt.

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