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

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – June 09 2024

by Tony Wikrent

 

Strategic Political Economy

骑 虎 难 下

Average Old Democrat, June 02, 2024 [DailyKos]

…What happens to the Republican Party?  Where do they go and who will lead them?

The Chinese have an adage —     – “When you ride the tiger, it is impossible to dismount.”

For the past several decades, the GOP has mounted up on a lot of tigers, none of which will be happy when, post-Trump, the Republican Party tries to dismount and return to being the Republicans I grew up with – responsible, reasonable, fiscally cautious, internationalist, willing to compromise . .

… with Reagan’s August 1980 speech in Philadelphia, Mississippi, and the GOP mounted the Southern white supremacist tiger.

Then there’s the NRA tiger, which the GOP is only to happy to ride.

The list of tigers they must get down from is long — the anti-abortion tiger that now is the anti-contraception tiger; the “great replacement theory” tiger; the reduce and kill Social Security and Medicare tiger; the “teachers are grooming your children” tiger; elections are rigged tiger . . . I could go on and on but you get the picture.

How 1978 Shifted Power In America And Laid The Groundwork For Our Current Political Moment

Joshua Green, January 12, 2024 [Talking Points Memo]

…There is a backstory that illuminates the Democratic Party’s embrace of finance in the years leading up to the [2008] crash — a story that begins in 1978. At the time, Democrats were still reliable partisans of the New Deal, but the steady economic progress of the American middle class was coming to a turbulent end. Jimmy Carter was president. He was struggling, without much success, to manage an economy buffeted by inflation, oil shocks and recessions — problems for which his party had no answers. A conservative countermovement of business groups and Republican politicians was beginning to gather force. One of history’s critical inflection points arrived that fall, when Wall Street made its first deep incursion into the Democratic Party in a way that would have lasting significance, although it passed mostly unnoticed at the time.

The great irony of this early conquest is that it began with Carter’s ambitious attempt to change the tax code to favor workers at the direct expense of Wall Street investors. Instead, Carter and his fellow reformers suffered a defeat so thorough that the financial lobby not only got to preserve its favorable tax treatment, but was able, with Democratic help, to rewrite the rules of the economy in a way that gave Wall Street an enduring structural advantage at the expense of the middle class — the opposite of what Carter had set out to do….

Soon after Carter launched his presidential bid, [Charls] Walker took over a sleepy financial industry trade group called the American Council on Capital Gains and Estate Taxation and rebranded it as the more exalted-sounding “American Council on Capital Formation,” a euphemism for the aggressive accumulation of wealth. Walker began pushing the idea that the economy’s productivity crisis could be solved if the government changed the way it induced business investment. Since the New Deal, the preferred method had been the investment tax credit, which rewarded companies for building factories. This generally satisfied labor interests, since factories produce jobs. The major business lobbies like the Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers liked the investment tax credit because many of their members were large industrial corporations. Carter’s plan to eliminate the capital gains preference didn’t threaten them.

But it terrified Wall Street. Walker’s project was to pull off a feat of legislative legerdemain by persuading lawmakers that the solution to U.S. economic malaise lay in shifting the government’s focus to encouraging capital formation — a move that would, its backers insisted, revitalize the supply side of the economy by spurring investment, unleashing entrepreneurial energies and turbocharging productivity. In practical terms, this meant preserving the biggest giveaway to investors in the tax code: the capital gains preference….

 

At Walker’s urging, several members of Congress, having fought off a capital gains increase, now turned around and started pushing for a tax cut. Wall Street brokerage houses led by Merrill Lynch and E.F. Hutton bombarded investors with mail telling them of the riches they stood to gain if rates were reduced. As the insurrection mounted over the spring, Ullman stopped work on the tax bill. But the momentum against Carter didn’t slow. On June 6th, California voters overwhelmingly passed the landmark ballot initiative Proposition 13, which slashed property taxes, made the cover of Time, and sparked a nationwide tax revolt. Dozens of anti-tax measures popped up in states across the country, helping shift the national mood in a more conservative direction and prefiguring the rise of Ronald Reagan.

In Washington, Carter’s reformers were overrun like Custer’s cavalry. Yet his humiliation wasn’t finished. In a remarkable feat of legislative jujitsu, Walker’s congressional allies prevailed upon Ullman to swap out the president’s tax reform bill for one of their own that, on every major front, was a repudiation of Carter’s principles. Instead of raising the capital gains rate to match income tax rates, the new bill slashed it, while adding a blizzard of new shelters and exemptions for the wealthy.…

Troubled by growing inequality, Carter had set out to rebalance in favor of the middle class the rewards government allots through the tax code. What he ended up with was a law that further empowered the very forces whose influence he sought to curb. Not only did the Revenue Act of 1978 cut corporate and capital gains taxes — redirecting investment from factories and equipment to financial instruments — but it also established the 401(k) retirement account, which channeled trillions of dollars more directly into the markets and undermined a pillar of middle-class security by eliminating employers’ obligation to provide pensions that ensured workers a stable retirement. If you go back to the Great Depression and trace the share of U.S. wealth held by the richest one percent of Americans, it falls steadily until 1978, whereupon it reverses and begins a steep ascent that continues to this day:

The law’s lasting impact on Democratic politics was that it ended a set of arrangements and a way of thinking about the economy that had held for four decades and replaced them with a new arrangement. Without quite realizing it or intending for it to happen, Carter’s signing the Revenue Act marked the beginning of the ascendance of finance capitalism as the major influence on Democratic policymaking. As organized labor declined, Wall Street assumed the role of senior partner in the party coalition. Democratic politicians, in turn, began emphasizing different priorities than during the Great Compression: fiscal austerity, soft labor markets, free trade with low-wage countries, and the further weakening of private-sector unions….

Surveillance pricing 

Cory Doctorow [Pluralistic, via Naked Capitalism 06-07-2024]

…We kept companies small for the same reason that we limited the height of skyscrapers: not because we opposed height, or failed to appreciate the value of a really good penthouse view – rather, to keep the building from falling over and wrecking all the adjacent buildings and the lives of the people inside them.

Starting in the neoliberal era – Carter, then Reagan – we changed our tune. We liked big business. A business that got big was doing something right. It was perverse to shut down our best companies. Instead, we’d simply ban big companies from rigging prices. This was called the “consumer welfare” theory of antitrust. It was a total failure.

40 years later, nearly every industry is dominated by a handful of companies, and these companies price-gouge us with abandon. Worse, they use their gigantic ripoff winnings to fill war-chests that fund the corruption of democracy, capturing regulators so that they can rip us off even more, while ignoring labor, privacy and environmental law and ducking taxes….

The more concentrated an industry is, the easier it is to decide to rig prices. But if the industry has the benefit of digitalization, it can swap the flexibility and speed of computers for the low collective action costs from concentration. For example, grocers that switch to e-ink shelf tags can make instantaneous price-changes, meaning that every price change is less consequential – if sales fall off after a price-hike, the company can lower them again at the press of a button. That means they can collude less explicitly but still raise prices:

https://pluralistic.net/2024/03/26/glitchbread/#electronic-shelf-tags

My name for this digital flexibility is “twiddling.” Businesses with digital back-ends can alter their “business logic” from second to second, and present different prices, payouts, rankings and other key parts of the deal to every supplier or customer they interact with:

Freakonomics and Frankenbanks: JPMorgan Chase Sucked Up 18 Percent of All Profits of 4,568 FDIC-Insured Banks in the First Quarter

Pam Martens and Russ Martens, June 3, 2024 [Wall Street on Parade]

 

Global power shift

Goodbye inhalers? Chinese trial offers potential one-shot asthma cure 

[Interesting Engineering, via Naked Capitalism 06-04-2024]

[Naked Capitalism reader Chuck L: “First insulin and now asthma. China’s derailing Big Pharma’s gravy trains.”]

 

Ukraine War rips veil off of US weapons superiority 

[Responsible Statecraft, via Naked Capitalism 06-04-2024]

 

Russia’s war in Ukraine has turned South Korea into a manufacturing hotspot as it makes weapons faster and cheaper than the U.S. 

[Fortune, via Naked Capitalism 06-07-2024]

 

Russia has taken out over half of Ukraine power generation 

[Financial Times, via Naked Capitalism 06-05-2024]

 

Gaza / Palestine / Israel

What I Saw—and Learned—at a New York City Student Walk-Out for Palestine 

Corey Robin [via Naked Capitalism 06-04-2024]

…I was impressed by a few of the increasingly familiar elements that distinguish this generation of protesters from previous ones—the extraordinary diversity of the students, the variety of boroughs they were coming from, the initiative of the students (from every corner of the protest, a different student would start a chant whenever the crowd fell silent), and the leadership role of female students.

But what most struck me about the protest was how frequently I heard the phrase “the truth.” In my more than thirty years on the left, I’ve never heard so much talk of “the truth.” The speakers and the chanters invoked the phrase repeatedly.

The media claims we live in a country whose citizens and residents believe in something called truthiness rather than the truth, that reality no longer matters to people, that the young are truth-addled and fact-adjacent. But judging by these students, that seems like the opposite of, well, the truth. They were absolutely passionate on the topic, seeming to me almost old-fashioned in their belief in the truth, in their conviction that the truth would set them free.

One of the other watchwords of the protest was “scholasticide“—the destruction of education and knowledge. This is obviously a huge problem right now in Gaza, where schools and universities are being obliterated by the Israeli state, and students and teachers are being killed day after day. Some of the most eloquent speakers at the protest connected, with minimal hyperbole or rhetoric, that destruction to what’s happening in New York City public schools and universities, where budget cuts, austerity, and the persecution of pro-Palestine teachers are degrading the state of education in this city. They invoked the words of Frederick Douglass, one of the most far-seeing American theorists on the relationship between the denial of knowledge and the subjugation of a people, to make sense of why they, these students, were protesting Israel’s destruction of Gaza in front of the New York City Department of Education.

We hear a lot of talk and speculation about why young people in America are so passionate on the topic of Palestine. From the students I was listening to today, the connection is clear. They see in Gaza the destruction of heritage, the obliteration of knowledge, the assault on institutions of learning. Far from seeming like a world away, it seems like the world in front of them. There’s been an assault upon the obligation of each generation to pass on to the next generation the intellectual legacy that was passed on to it, and whether the site of that assault is Gaza or the New York City school system, the problem is systemic. For people who are coming of age now, it’s also personal….

 

Oligarchy

Why is a group of billionaires working to re-elect Trump?

Robert Reich [Guardian, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 06-04-2024]

“Billionaire money is now gushing into the 2024 election. Just 50 families have already injected more than $600m into the 2024 election cycle, according to a new report from Americans for Tax Fairness. Most of this is going to the Trump Republican party…. If we want to guard what’s left of our freedom, we must meet the anti-democracy movement with a bold pro-democracy movement that protects the institutions of self-government from oligarchs like Musk and Thiel and neo-fascists like Trump.”

 

The carnage of mainstream neoliberal economics

Big Food, Big Profits, Big Lies

Veronica Riccobene, June 3, 2024 [The Lever]

While blaming inflation for rising prices, the country’s biggest food and restaurant companies are raking in billions and showering shareholders with payouts….

…According to an analysis by Food and Water Watch, a corporate watchdog group, food costs for an average family of four living on a “thrifty” budget increased 50 percent from January 2020 to January 2024, from $654 to $976 a month….

…The main purpose of buybacks is to enrich senior corporate executives and hedge-fund managers, said University of Massachusetts economics professor Bill Lazonick…. In 2023, PepsiCo raked in $91 billion in net revenue, a 35 percent increase over pre-pandemic income. Of its profits, the company poured $7.7 billion into repurchasing stock and issuing dividends, with buybacks increasing 843 percent from 2021. In-house analysts expect total cash returns to shareholders will grow to $8.2 billion this year.…

Tyson Foods more than doubled profit margins between 2021 and 2022 after hiking prices for beef, pork, and chicken by upwards of 30 percent. The company — which is currently being investigated by the federal government for child labor violations and paid $10.5 million to settle allegations of price fixing in Washington state — claims it raised prices because it needed to offset increased costs in labor, transportation, and grain for animal feed.

But data from earnings reports, reported first by More Perfect Union, paints a different picture: While increased operation costs set the company back $1.5 billion dollars in 2022, price increases expanded profits by $2 billion, meaning consumers covered Tyson’s inflation costs plus shelled out $500 million more. That year, Tyson repurchased $702 million of its own shares and raised dividends by 4 percent….

On a 2021 call, Kroger chief finance officer Gary Millerchip reportedly told analysts, “We’ve been very comfortable with our ability to pass on the increases that we’ve seen at this point, and we would expect that to continue to be the case.” That year, the company pulled in revenues of $137 billion, a 12 percent increase over pre-pandemic sales. They returned profits to investors in the form of $589 million in dividends and $1.6 billion in stock buybacks.…

 

Two more Boeing whistleblowers go public over plane safety: ‘Like a ticking timebomb’

[New York Post, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 06-05-2024]

“Brian Knowles, a Charleston, SC, attorney who represents whistleblowers including Irvin and Paredes and also represented Barnett and Dean, told The Post his law firm has fielded dozens of new calls from potential whistleblowers in recent weeks…. ‘Missing safety devices on hardware or untightened hardware means that you’re not going to be able to control the airplane if those fail,’ [Roy] Irvin told The Post…. [Santiago] Paredes was a production inspector for Spirit AeroSystems for 12 years before leaving in 2022. He told The Post he was shocked when he arrived at the company and, he alleges, saw hundreds of defects on the production line. He was even more horrified, he said, when he was pressured not to say anything. ‘I was at the end of the production line and so I was supposed to be looking at the finished product before they shipped it to Boeing.’ Paredes said. ‘Instead I saw missing parts, incomplete parts, frames that had temporary clamps and missing fasteners, dents in the parts, damaged parts, cut rivets, issues that might occur but should be fixed before they got to me. Everything I was seeing was like a ticking time bomb.’ … His bosses, he alleged, would pressure him to keep his reports to a minimum — and nicknamed him ‘Showstopper’ because his write-ups on the defects would often delay deliveries.” • I don’t see how this company culture gets fixed; you have to fire all the managers down to the shop floor level.

 

They’re not capitalists — they’re predatory criminals

FBI raid on real estate company linked to Harlan Crow’s RealPage rental price fixing 

nbboks [Tony Wikrent], Daily Kos

A tip of the hat to David Cay Johnston, who opened his interview on the Mark Thompson Show yesterday by noting a story that, so far as I can tell at this time, has been completely blacked out of the news mainstream media.

Two weeks ago, on Wednesday, May 22, the Federal Bureau of Investigation raided the Atlanta headquarters of Cortland Management. According an MLex article on May 29, the FBI raid was “… part of a criminal antitrust investigation by the US Department of Justice into a conspiracy to artificially inflate rents for apartment units….

“The inspection comes as the DOJ’s antitrust division deepens its investigation into the rental housing market and the use of a price-setting software provided by RealPage, whose clients include some of the largest US residential real estate owners and management companies….”

In April 2023, author James M. Nelson posted an article, The Harlan Crow—Clarence Thomas connection no one saw coming—RealPage, based on research for his forthcoming book, The New Landlord, Powered by Big Data, and Artificial Intelligence. Nelson revealed that RealPage was created in 1998 by real estate heir, and owner of at least one US Supreme Court Justice (Clarence Thomas) , Harlan Crow.…

This can be a mighty weapon, if Democrats will only seize it and use it! It is possible that Harlan Crown himself could be caught in the RealPage dragnet cast by the DOJ. And Harlan Crow is one of the billionaires most responsible for corrupting our Supreme Court. Take down Harlan Crow, and a path opens for impeaching, at some point in the future, Crow’s pet corrupted Justice, Clarence Thomas….

 

Three Algorithms in a Room

Luke Goldstein, June  5, 2024 [The American Prospect]

A growing number of industries are using software to fix prices. Law enforcers are beginning to fight back….

…Each algorithmic scheme has its own distinct features, but they all share the same underlying philosophy: Competing on price in an open market is a race to the bottom, so why not instead coordinate together to grow industry’s profits? In other words, it’s another version of the notorious Peter Thiel adage that “competition is for losers.”

These business arrangements are coming under fire from a new crop of antitrust regulators who are far more aggressive than their predecessors. Both the DOJ and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) are intervening to help in numerous lawsuits making their way through courts that target algorithmic price-fixing. The DOJ has even returned to the arena with its own collusion case against an agricultural information hub called Agri Stats….

Roper… returned in the early 2000s as a “principal scientist” for a new startup venture called RealPage.

ROPER’S NEW COMPANY HAD THE OBJECTIVE to revolutionize pricing in real estate by fixing the same problem that he helped the airlines address post-deregulation: to head off price wars by conspiring together. “A rising tide will lift all boats,” as one real estate executive whom RealPage worked with put it.

Roper took a very unsentimental approach to the business of property management, where he saw irrational human behavior driving inefficiencies. According to Roper, landlords had “too much empathy,” which prevented them from raising rent as high as they could. As Roper once put it, “If you have idiots undervaluing, it costs the whole system.”

He went about rectifying that by deposing the human agents who controlled pricing, and instead introducing algorithms that could make less emotional decisions….

 

Restoring balance to the economy

Voting Rights, Shareholdings, and Leverage at Nineteenth-Century U.S. Banks (pdf)

Howard Bodenhorn [The Journal of Law and Economics, Volume 57, Number 2, May 2014]

​​​​​​​Abstract

Modern corporate governance is concerned with the tension between the separation of ownership and control and the potential for large controlling shareholders to expropriate from minority shareholders. This article considers this tension in a historical context. Limits were sometimes placed on the number of votes that controlling shareholders could cast in corporate elections. These limits protected minority shareholders by giving them relatively more voting than cash-flow rights. The evidence shows that voting limits led to less shareholder concentration and less leverage. Banks with less concentrated ownership adopted policies that notably reduced insolvency risk.

[TW: In The Second Report to Congress on the Public Credit (December 14, 1790; also referred to as The Report on a National Bank), first Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton wrote
that a bank’s Directors, or Stockholders would fear “an extension of capital” to new enterprises because it might cause “a diminution of profits.” In other words, bankers would prefer to engage in rent-seeking behavior, rather than investing in new and riskier technologies, industries, and companies. A review of how most of the leading corporations of today originally struggled to find financing, and the development of the role of “venture capital” as compared to Wall Street, bears this out. Hamilton wrote that “from this circumstance, the interest and accommodation of the public… are made more subordinate to the interest, real or imagined, of the Stockholders, than they ought to be.” This must be guarded against and corrected by government supervision, because “Public utility is more truly the object of public Banks, than private profit. And it is the business of Government, to constitute them on such principles, that while the latter will result, in a sufficient degree, to afford competent motives to engage in them, the former be not made subservient to it.”

[This is followed by a proposal for shareholder voting rights emblematic of what Bodenhorn writes about:  no single shareholder should ever have more than 30 votes, no matter how many shares they owned. Imagine what this restriction would have done to cripple and eliminate the vexes and ill effects of mergers and acquisitions, leveraged buyouts, and private equity:

XI. The number of votes, to which each Stockholder shall be entitled, shall be according to the number of shares he shall hold in the proportions following, that is to say, for one share and not more than two shares one vote; for every two shares, above two and not exceeding ten, one vote; for every four shares above ten and not exceeding thirty, one vote; for every six shares above thirty and not exceeding sixty, one vote; for every eight shares above sixty and not exceeding one hundred, one vote; and for every ten shares above one hundred, one vote; but no person, copartnership, or body politic, shall be entitled to a greater number than thirty votes.]

 

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Is Making Enemies in All the Right Places

Pam Martens and Russ Martens, June 6, 2024 [Wall Street on Parade]

Fresh off a big win at the U.S. Supreme Court on May 16, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is wasting no time in its heady pursuit of financial bad actors preying on the little guy.

On Monday, the federal agency announced it was creating a public registry to help law enforcement, investors and the public check the history of repeat offenders in finance. The CFPB already offers consumers who have been victimized by a financial firm the ability to file a public complaint with the CFPB. The agency then quickly demands a written response from the alleged wrongdoer. Repeat offenders dislike the fact that these complaints go into a permanent database at the CFPB, which can be mined by the public, reporters, attorneys and prosecutors looking for patterns of fraud. (For how Wall Street On Parade put that complaint database to good use, read our report: The Apple Credit Card Provided through Goldman Sachs Has Created a Living Hell According to Consumer Complaints.)

On Tuesday, the CFPB released a circular letting financial firms know that if they sneak deceptive and/or illegal terms into the fine print of their consumer contracts they risk getting an enforcement action from the CFPB….

Liza Featherstone, June 7, 2024 [The New Republic]
Making polluters pay for the damage they cause isn’t radical. The federal Superfund law has been notching up successes for decades.

Colorado’s growing approach to solving chronic homelessness: Permanent housing with few rules 

[Colorado Sun, via Naked Capitalism 06-06-2024]

 

Health care crisis

Wall Street Is Making House Calls: Big Pharma and private equity are taking over the booming in-home care industry while pushing back against needed reforms.

Merrill Goozner, June 4m 2024 [The Lever]

…the nation’s largest health insurance companies and private equity firms are looking to cash in by buying up a growing share of what has historically been a highly fragmented and competitive field. The result of this consolidation is rapid price inflation, even as worker pay stagnates. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in early May that despite a slowing inflation rate nationwide, prices for in-home care rose nearly 14 percent over the past year, trailing only auto insurance prices among all major categories.

Alarmed by the Wall Street takeover of what only a few decades ago was largely a cottage industry, the Biden administration in early May issued a new rule requiring companies to pay out at least 80 percent of Medicaid money they receive in home-care payments to workers. The rule also called for greater transparency of company ownership and expenditures….

People qualifying for in-home health care are especially juicy targets for Medicare Advantage insurers. These beneficiaries usually have three or more chronic conditions and are prone to brief but expensive hospitalizations. Since the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which oversees Medicare Advantage, pays the highest annual rates for these beneficiaries, owning the firms that deliver in-home care allows Medicare Advantage plans to control both the cash flow and profits that once flowed to hospitals or independent in-home providers.

The scheme also provides the biggest insurance industry holding companies, which in recent years have been buying up physician practices and pharmacy benefit managers, a way to hide their profits from regulators….

 

Achievements in Public Health, 1900-1999 Impact of Vaccines Universally Recommended for Children — United States, 1990-1998

 

Information age dystopia / surveillance state

TWITTER FILES Extra: The Defaming of Brandon Straka and #Walkaway 

Matt Taibbi, June 6, 2024 [The Twitter Files]

 

The Rot-Com Bubble 

Edward Zitron [via Naked Capitalism 06-08-2024]

The noxious growth-at-all-costs mindset of the Rot Economy sits at the core of every issue that I’ve ever written about. It’s the force that drives businesses to grow bigger rather than better, making more products to conquer more markets rather than making products or services that people need or improving products they already like….

…I’d say things really began to deteriorate sometime in 2019. Tech had lost something – while there were new gadgets, apps, and services, tech started to feel iterative rather than innovative, and by 2021, even the pretense of gradual improvement was dropped. It felt like they were trying to sell us things that didn’t actually exist.

We were told that NFTs would replace physical, tangible collectibles. That cryptocurrency would replace regular money, while also emancipating consumers from unstoppable market forces like inflation, as well as the rent-seeking middlemen that take a cut of every purchase made with a credit or debit card. And yet, the actual services championing these arguments didn’t really seem to do anything or improve our lives in any meaningful way.  We were told that our futures were in the metaverse, and that we’d live in this interconnected “new internet,” yet what we actually got was an extremely wonky virtual reality space that Mark Zuckerberg somehow burned $36 billion to make.

Today, we’re being told that our glorious AI-powered future is imminent, yet what we’ve actually got is unprofitable, unsustainable generative AI that has an unassailable problem of spitting out incorrect information, which Google CEO Sundar Pichai says is “an inherent feature” of a technology he’s now plugged into Google Search, generating hilariously incorrect “answers” to queries based on the links of a decaying search engine. And at the forefront of the AI boom is Sam Altman’s $80 billion juggernaut OpenAI, a company that allegedly will build “artificial general intelligence” that experiences human-like cognition, an idea that is simply not possible based on how generative AI works.

Windows laptops will soon integrate an AI-powered “Recall” feature that allows you to search everything you’ve done on your computer in the last three months, recording everything from the meetings you’ve been in, to the things you’ve written — a feature that nobody asked for, and that inherently encroaches on the user’s privacy and security, as it involves taking screenshots of the user’s machine every few seconds and storing them (along with the AI-generated inferences) on a locally-hosted database….

More worryingly, data I’ve received from Similarweb shows that the majority of the internet’s top 100 web properties have seen significant declines in traffic since 2021. In the years since the world slowly emerged from lockdown, Google.com has seen a decline of 5.3% in web visits, as has YouTube (-3.8%), Facebook (a remarkable -27.7%), Twitter (-3.5%), Amazon.com (-11.6%), Twitch.tv (-17.5%), Wikipedia (-24.8%)  and even porn sites like xVideos (-27.4%) and Pornhub (-17.1%)….

…there’s no good way to spin the fact that traffic to platforms like Amazon and Google has effectively plateaued — something is shifting downwards, and it’s been doing so since 2019. Perhaps this explains why platforms like Google and Facebook have kept making changes to make each user journey more profitable to sustain growth, because fewer people than ever are actually visiting their platforms….

.

How to Keep Your Car From Spying on You 

[Wall Street Journal, via Naked Capitalism 06-06-2024]

 

[X-Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 06-06-2024]

Wetterschneider
@Stretchedwiener
Here it is. If you are a professional, if you are under NDA with your clients, if you are a creative, a lawyer, a doctor or anyone who works with proprietary files – it is time to cancel Adobe, delete all the apps and programs. Adobe can not be trusted.

 

How to spot a deepfake: the maker of a detection tool shares the key giveaways 

[Guardian, via Naked Capitalism 06-08-2024]

 

Climate and environmental crises

World’s Largest Solar Farm Goes Online In China 

[Electrek, via Naked Capitalism 06-08-2024]

The 3.5-gigawatt (GW), 33,000-acre solar farm is outside Urumqi, Xinjiang’s capital. The state asset regulator’s website cited the Power Construction Corp of China and said it came online on Monday.

The solar farm will generate about 6.09 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity annually. Assuming an EV consumes about 3,000 kWh per year, 6.09 billion kWh could power 2.03 million EVs annually.

The world’s largest solar farm in Xinjiang is part of China’s megabase project, a plan to install 455 GW of wind and solar. The megabase projects are sited in sparsely populated, resource-rich areas and send their generated energy to major urban centers, such as on China’s eastern seaboard.

China now boasts the three largest solar farms in the world by capacity. The Ningxia Tenggeli and Golmud Wutumeiren solar farms, each with a capacity of 3 MW, are already online.

 

Chart: US sets new record with $71B in clean energy investment

Maria Virginia Olano, 7 June 2024 [canarymedia.com, via Clean Power Roundup]

In the first quarter of 2024, private investment in clean energy and electric vehicles reached $71 billion, a new quarterly record for the country. According to a recent report by the Clean Investment Monitor, a joint project of the Rhodium Group and MIT’s Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research, the figures for Q1 represent almost a 40 percent increase from the first quarter of 2023.

 

Two-Thirds of Global Energy Investments Going to Clean Energy Tech: IEA 

Rocky Teodoro, June 07, 2024 [Rigzone, via Clean Power Roundup]

Two-thirds of global energy investments will go to clean technologies this year, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

The IEA said in the latest edition of its annual World Energy Investment report that total energy investment worldwide will surpass $3 trillion for the first time, and around $2 trillion will be allotted to clean technologies such as renewables, electric vehicles, nuclear power, grids, storage, low-emission fuels, efficiency improvements and heat pumps….

Around $1 trillion of global energy investments will go to fossil fuels. The report stated that global upstream oil and gas investment is expected to increase by seven percent in 2024 to reach $570 billion, following a similar rise in 2023. The growth in spending in 2023 and 2024 is predominantly driven by national oil companies in the Middle East and Asia.

 

 

(anti)Republican Drive to Civil War

The legal fight over the 2024 election has begun

[Axios, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 06-05-2024]

“The Trump-controlled Republican National Committee is assembling a network of lawyers and volunteers to gather string for lawsuits challenging the results of the Nov. 5 vote. The RNC plans to hire more people for the operation than for any other department it has, a committee official told Axios. The RNC has installed 13 “election integrity” state directors who’ve been hosting training sessions with state and county GOP parties in swing states such as Pennsylvania, Arizona and Wisconsin. It’s also contracted with 13 in-state counsels to help identify local litigation opportunities. Beyond that, Trump’s campaign and RNC plan to recruit and deploy 100,000 volunteers, law students and lawyers to serve as poll watchers and observers…. Democrats are responding to the onslaught of GOP lawsuits with legal challenges of their own. Some are spearheaded by the Democratic National Committee and election lawyer Marc Elias‘ firm, which is operating independently from the Biden campaign [oh, yeah, right]. The DNC and the Biden campaign are building out their own election litigation team to respond to GOP lawsuits .”

 

Trump supporters try to dox jurors and post violent threats after his conviction 

[NBC, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 06-06-2024]

“Advance Democracy, a nonprofit that conducts public interest research, said there has been a high volume of social media posts containing violent rhetoric targeting New York Judge Juan Merchan and Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, including a post with Bragg’s purported home address. The group also found posts of the purported addresses of jurors on a fringe internet message board known for pro-Trump content and harassing and violent posts, although it is unclear if any actual jurors had been correctly identified. The posts, which have been reviewed by NBC News, appear on many of the same websites used by Trump supporters to organize for violence ahead of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. These forums were hotbeds of threats inspired by Trump’s lies about the 2020 election, which he lost, and that the voting system was ‘rigged’ against him. They now feature new threats echoing Trump’s rhetoric and false claims about the hush money trial, including that the judicial system is now ‘rigged’ against him. ‘Dox the Jurors. Dox them now,’ one user wrote after Trump’s conviction on a website formerly known as ‘The Donald,’ which was popular among participants in the Capitol attack. (That post appears to have been quickly removed by moderators.)”

 

Hitler Had Röhm & The SA, Trump Has McInnis & The Proud Boys— Is The DoJ Doing Enough To Protect Us?

Howie Klein, June 8, 2024  [downwithtyranny.com]

Last month, the British Journal of Criminology published a paper by 4 academics White Nationalism, Politically Motivated Reasoning and Americans’ Attitudes About Criminally Charging Donald Trump. Prescient considering Trump’s new status as a convicted felon and his fan boys’ hysteria. Melissa Sloan, Murat Haner, Justin Pickett and Francis Cullen wrote that though “Trump was indicted four times and charged with 91 felonies… some Americans have remained steadfast in supporting him. Observers theorize that indifference to Trump’s wrongdoing reflects white nationalism and politically motivated reasoning.” They tested that theory using experimental data from a national survey fielded before any public hearings or charges. Their analyses revealed that “Americans who endorse white nationalism and those who hold right-wing political views are more likely to oppose criminal charges… Our experiment suggests that for a non-trivial number of Americans, the desire to keep the United States a ‘white nation’ appears to be stronger than their desire to ensure that the country is led by a law-abiding president.”

Yesterday, Russell Contreras noted that white nationalists as stepping up their violent rhetoric— with vague threats of violence and racist posts about people of color— since the verdict. Trump’s own unhinged rhetoric is encouraging them.

The (anti)Federalist Society Infestation of the Courts

Database Reveals ‘Staggering’ $6.6 Million in Gifts to Supreme Court Justices

Brett Wilkins, June 7, 2024 [CommonDreams]

…The advocacy group Fix the Court published a database listing 546 total gifts valued at over $4.7 million given to 18 current and former justices mostly between 2004 and 2023, as identified by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The database also lists “likely” gifts received by the justices and their estimated values, bringing the grand total to 672 gifts valued at nearly $6.6 million….

Thomas led the pack with 193 FTC-identified gifts collectively valued at over $4 million. Of these, he listed only 27 in financial disclosure reports.

According to Fix the Court, Thomas’ gifts consisted mainly of free trips to Bohemian Grove—a secretive, men-only retreat in Northern California—and Topridge, the private lakeside resort in upstate New York owned by billionaire Republican megadonor Harlan Crow.

By dollar amount, the late Justice Antonin Scalia came in a distant second with 67 gifts worth over $210,000 combined, while Justice Samuel Alito took 16 gifts valued collectively at just over $170,000….

 

The Reality Of Impeaching Corrupt Right Wing Fanatic Sam Alito Starts With Flipping Congress Blue

Howie Klein, June 2, 2024  [downwithtyranny.com]

 

Civic republicanism

Liberal Blindspots (interview)

Chris Shaw [Phenomenal World, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 06-06-2024]

What is it about liberalism that makes it particularly unsuited to dealing with the climate challenge? ‘There is no society,’ as Margaret Thatcher put it. Hence the focus on individual change and market solutions in liberalism that guards against any systemic change. Fossil energy provides individuals with a great deal of independence from other people. Fossil fuels give individuals the ability to make choices and buy items without relying on others. One doesn’t have to work as part of a group to hunt for food each day. Instead I can go on my own in my car down to the supermarket and buy what I want. That is a lot easier than having to work with my neighbors to build a different world. And one’s consumption can be used as proof of one’s status. So fossil fuel-enabled individualism in the West is seen as sacrosanct, as it enables freedom from constraints of social obligations. ”

 

The Tower and the Sewer

Mark Lilla [The New York Review, June 20, 2024 issue]

Reviewed:

Why Liberalism Failed, by Patrick J. Deneen, with a foreword by James Davison Hunter and John M. Owen IV (Yale University Press, 225 pp., $19.00 )

From Fire, by Water: My Journey to the Catholic Faith, by Sohrab Ahmari (Ignatius, 214 pp., $22.95)

Tyranny, Inc.: How Private Power Crushed American Liberty—and What to Do About It, by Sohrab Ahmari (Forum, 252 pp., $28.00)

Common Good Constitutionalism: Recovering the Classical Legal Tradition, by Adrian Vermeule (Polity, 241 pp., $59.95; $19.95)

Regime Change: Toward a Postliberal Future, by Patrick J. Deneen (Sentinel, 269 pp., $30.00)

….To my mind, the most psychologically interesting stream of American right-wing thought today is Catholic postliberalism, sometimes called “common-good conservatism.” The “post” in “postliberalism” means a rejection of the intellectual foundations of modern liberal individualism. The focus is not on a narrow set of political principles, such as rights. It is on an all-encompassing modern outlook that postliberals say prizes autonomy above all else and that is seemingly indifferent to the psychological and social effects of radical individualism. Such an outlook is not only hostile to the notion of natural or socially imposed moral limits to individual action, which are also necessary for human happiness. It has also gradually undermined the preliberal intellectual foundations of Western societies that once made it easier to protect the common good against the claims of selfish individuals. The Catholic postliberals would like to establish (or reestablish) a more communitarian vision of the good society, one in which democratic institutions would in some sense be subordinate to a superior, authoritative moral vision of the human good—which for many of them means the authority of the Catholic Church….
…one can understand their romantic infatuation with the notion of Catholic tradition and its intellectual heritage, which promise structure and spiritual depth. (Something similar is happening to Jewish students drawn to the Modern Orthodox movement.) It’s also easy to see how they could be attracted to postliberals on the right, who claim to reveal that the source of their despair is not human existence itself—as Merton and Tillich thought—but rather the “liberal project of modernity.” This makes them highly susceptible to dreams of returning to premodern Christian social teachings that would undergird a more decent and just society, and more meaningful personal lives for themselves…. The postliberals see themselves as developing a more comprehensive view of the common good that integrates culture, morality, politics, and economics, which would make conservatism more consistent with itself by freeing it from Reaganite idolatry of individual property rights and the market.…
Vermeule is both more penetrating and intellectually radical than his friends Deneen and Ahmari, which gives his writings a Janus-faced quality. His academic books are learned and well argued, and have a place in contemporary constitutional debates, including Law and Leviathan: Redeeming the Administrative State (2020), which he wrote with his liberal colleague (and NYR contributor) Cass Sunstein.
[TW: It is interesting — in the clinical sense of investigating the causes of a disease — that this entire discussion of “common-good conservatives” and their critics occurs without any  reference to the philosophy of civic republicanism. I do not have access at the moment to Vermeule’s book (and Amazon.com no longer includes for aall books page views of a book’s index), but as William Baude and and Stephen E. Sachs write in their lengthy book review in the Harvard Law Review (Vol. 136, Issue 3, January 2023), “The “Common-Good” Manifesto,”
[Common Good Constitutionalism is notable for its lopsided reliance on sources that the Founders were unlikely to invoke. For a work ostensibly on the American legal tradition, there are surprisingly many more references in the main text to Aquinas… St. John Henry Newman… and the ragion di stato tradition of Giovanni Botero… than to Edward Coke (none), Matthew Hale (none), John Locke (none), John Adams (none), Thomas Jefferson (none), Alexander Hamilton (none), James Madison (none), or Joseph Story (none).
[I do have a theory: that even “common-good conservatives” — like all conservatives — find the actual words and actions of republic’s Founders (not the myths put forward by conservatives) are simply incompatible with conservatives’ preferred social ordering according to hierarchies. As Lilla quotes Ahmari: “We should seek to use [our] values to enforce our order and our orthodoxy, not pretend that they could ever be neutral. To recognize that enmity is real is its own kind of moral duty.” ]

 

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3 Comments

  1. different clue

    . . . ” [TW: It is interesting — in the clinical sense of investigating the causes of a disease — that this entire discussion of “common-good conservatives” and their critics occurs without any reference to the philosophy of civic republicanism. ” . . .

    Part of this could be because the people being reviewed in these reviews do not even have the word ” civic republicanism” in their vocabulary. It is hard to get the speech center of the brain to verbal-think about something if the word for that something does not even exist in the speech centers of the brains doing the verbal-thinking about that something.

    So . . . does anyone have the power to take the word “civic republicanism” and carry it over to the “common-good conservative” community and inject the word “civic republicanism” into the speech centers of the brains of the people doing verbalised thinking about “common good conservativism”? If anyone has that power, how would they perform that word transplant? Transplanting the word “civic republicanism” into the brains of the “common-good conservative” community members? Such that they would become capable of thinking about the subject because they would have a word for the subject which would make them aware that the subject exists to be thought about?

    Do the “common-good conservatives” have a family of blogs or other websites? Do any of those blogs or sites have comments sections? If so, could enough repeat commenters using the word ” civic republicanism” over and over enough times get that word to seep into the brain speech-centers of the “common-good conservative” blog and site community?

  2. different clue

    In the Rot-Com Bubble article, I see the following paragraph . . . ” More worryingly, data I’ve received from Similarweb shows that the majority of the internet’s top 100 web properties have seen significant declines in traffic since 2021. In the years since the world slowly emerged from lockdown, Google.com has seen a decline of 5.3% in web visits, as has YouTube (-3.8%), Facebook (a remarkable -27.7%), Twitter (-3.5%), Amazon.com (-11.6%), Twitch.tv (-17.5%), Wikipedia (-24.8%) and even porn sites like xVideos (-27.4%) and Pornhub (-17.1%)….”

    I wonder why the author considers this a bad thing? If the top 100 junk-properties on the Web are losing traffic, that is a good thing, not a bad thing. It means that the 100 top junk properties have spent long enough “shitting in the water filter” that the would-be drinkers of water are beginning to notice.

    If Amazon or Facebook went extinct without replacements or successors, for example, that would be a good thing, not a bad thing.

  3. Ahh I love all these lovely names for capitalism it’s fans use to obfuscate reality

    NC does not disappoint in that regard!

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