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

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – November 22, 2020

by Tony Wikrent

China Emerges Victorious in Trump’s Trade War

China scores victory as 15 Asian nations sign world’s biggest free-trade deal

[South China Morning Post, via Naked Capitalism 11-16-20]

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership accounts for about one-third of the world’s population and economy, but does not include the United States

East Asia Decouples from the United States: Trade War, COVID-19, and East Asia’s New Trade Blocs (PDF)

Petersen Institute for International Economics, via Naked Capitalism 11-20-20]

Lambert Strether: As Michael Pettis points out, the RCEP members are all net exporters. So who buys the goods?

KT Chong commented in the Weekend Wrap on Ian Welsh last week:

America has not yet realized: [with] the signing of the RCEP, China has effectively prevailed in — i.e., “won” — the open trade and economic war with the US.

With RCEP and the entire Asia Pacific as its economic and free trade sphere, China has maneuvered into an economic and strategic position in which it will have very little to fear from being decoupled or even sanctioned by the US. Now America and its Western allies will no longer be able to defeat China through trade, decoupling, sanctions or any economics means. With RCEP, China’s economic future is secured…. This will be the longest-lasting legacy of the Trump administration: starting and then losing the trade and economic war with China, in just three years, and now China’s rise to economic supremacy is all but certain.

RCEP set to supercharge the New Silk Roads

Pepe Escobar [Asia Times, via Naked Capitalism 11-16-20]

China looms as Biden’s biggest foreign policy challenge. Here’s where he stands

[CNN, via Naked Capitalism 11-16-20]

The Elements of the China Challenge (PDF) Policy Planning Staff, Office of the Secretary of State

[via Axios, via Naked Capitalism 11-20-20]

The Pandemic

“Lawsuit: Tyson managers bet money on how many workers would contract COVID-19”

[Iowa Capital Dispatch, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 11-19-20]

The lawsuit was recently amended and includes a number of new allegations against the company and plant officials. Among them:

  • In mid-April, around the time Black Hawk County Sherriff Tony Thompson visited the plant and reported the working conditions there “shook [him] to the core,” plant manager Tom Hart organized a cash-buy-in, winner-take-all, betting pool for supervisors and managers to wager how many plant employees would test positive for COVID-19.
  • John Casey, an upper-level manager at the plant, is alleged to have explicitly directed supervisors to ignore symptoms of COVID-19, telling them to show up to work even if they were exhibiting symptoms of the virus. Casey reportedly referred to COVID-19 as the “glorified flu” and told workers not to worry about it because “it’s not a big deal” and “everyone is going to get it.” On one occasion, Casey intercepted a sick supervisor who was on his way to be tested and ordered him to get back to work, saying, “We all have symptoms — you have a job to do.” After one employee vomited on the production line, managers reportedly allowed the man to continue working and then return to work the next day.
  • In late March or early April, as the pandemic spread across Iowa, managers at the Waterloo plant reportedly began avoiding the plant floor for fear of contracting the virus. As a result, they increasingly delegated managerial authority and responsibilities to low-level supervisors who had no management training or experience. The supervisors did not require truck drivers and subcontractors to have their temperatures checked before entering the plant.
  • In March and April, plant supervisors falsely denied the existence of any confirmed cases or positive tests for COVID-19 within the plant, and allegedly told workers they had a responsibility to keep working to ensure Americans didn’t go hungry as the result of a shutdown.
  • Tyson paid out $500 “thank you bonuses” to employees who turned up for every scheduled shift for three months — a policy decision that allegedly incentivized sick workers to continue reporting for work..
  • Tyson executives allegedly lobbied Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds for COVID-19 liability protections that would shield the company from lawsuits, and successfully lobbied the governor to declare that only the state government, not local governments, had the authority to close businesses in response to the pandemic….
  • The Waterloo facility is Tyson’s largest pork plant in the United States. The facility employs approximately 2,800 workers who process approximately 19,500 hogs per day.

Lambert Strether: “The Sherriff’s reaction. Hoo boy. Oh, and “working to ensure Americans didn’t go hungry”? “[T]he company increased its exports to China by 600% during the first quarter of 2020.” “

As coronavirus spikes in Black Hawk County, local officials blast Tyson Foods for not closing its Waterloo plant

[Des Moines Register, April 17, 2020]

Black Hawk County Sheriff Tony Thompson said he’s concerned that COVID-19 will overrun his community if the Tyson Foods plant doesn’t take proper precautions, including temporarily shutting it down.

“My personal opinion is that it should be closed,” Thompson said. “I think we need a hard boot, reset on that plant. I think we need to be able to sort out and cull the herd between the haves and the have-nots there. I think we need to deep-clean that facility and I think we need to restart that plant on a clean slate.”

….Thompson, who visited the Waterloo plant last week and has spoken to members in the community, said he thought Tyson put production ahead of employee safety.

“We walked into that plant and some people are wearing homemade masks, some people are wearing bandannas, and some people aren’t wearing anything,” Thompson said. “They’re working elbow-to-elbow. Some are reaching over the top of others on the food production lines. They deep clean once a night. They felt like they were doing a good job, and we walked out of there thinking, ‘Oh my goodness, if this is the bare minimum, this isn’t enough.’ ”

“I think Tyson is focused on production, period,” Thompson said. “I don’t think Tyson gives two (expletive) about who is filling one particular spot on the production floor that day. I think they are purely concerned about productivity at that plant.”

How Many Americans Are About to Die?

[Atlantic, via Naked Capitalism 11-21-20]

Case numbers have nearly quadrupled since late September, when roughly 700 people a day were dying. If 1.8 percent of confirmed cases are translating into recorded deaths 22 days later, the U.S. is about to enter some extremely harrowing days. Every 100,000 cases would mean roughly 1,800 dead Americans a few weeks later.

“I expect the U.S. to be reporting over 2,000 deaths per day in three weeks’ time,” Bedford concluded. “Importantly, this doesn’t assume any further increases in circulation and is essentially ‘baked into’ currently reported cases and represents conditions that take time to resolve and to be reported.”

The Great Revenge – How Tony Fauci F*cked Donald Trump

[Moon of Alabama, via Naked Capitalism 11-17-20]

In October two leading vaccine companies were ready to announce the success of their vaccine trials. But with at least the knowledge of Fauci and the Federal Drug Administration both companies deviated from their clinical protocols to intentionally move their success announcement to a date after the election.

During the summer Trump had been hopeful that a vaccine against the Covid-19 disease could be announced before the election. It would have been proof that his strategy to (not) fight the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic had at least one success. The announcement of a vaccine was part of President Trump’s planned ‘October surprises’ to win the election.

Pfizer vaccine’s success is great news – but don’t expect life to ‘return to normal by spring’

[Scroll, via Naked Capitalism 11-17-20]

Vaccines do not “take” in some people. Others cannot be given them due to existing medical conditions. Some people will refuse to be vaccinated.

Achieving 70% coverage will also require mass production to make billions of doses. AstraZeneca has said it has the capacity to produce 2 billion doses of its vaccine, while Moderna says it can have 1 billion doses ready by the end of 2021. Pfizer could have 1.3 billion doses by then – though recipients will need two doses. This leaves us well short of vaccinating enough people.

And it will be logistically complex to transport these vaccines across the world and deliver them to all eligible people. The Pfizer vaccine, for example, needs to be kept at -80C. This could prove a challenge even in developed countries, let alone low-resource settings.


“Biden Will Likely Be Worse Than Obama. The Left Must Lead The Backlash, Or The Right Will.”

[Caitlin Johnstone, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 11-18-20]

“[R]eturning to the pre-Trump “normal” is returning to the exact positions which created Trump. It’s like using a time machine to prevent a train wreck, but only going back to one millisecond before the train wreck occurred…. If I prove right about this, the Biden administration will generate backlash just like that which arose in response to the Obama administration, and that backlash will be more severe than its previous iteration…. There is absolutely nothing American leftists can do to prevent this backlash from coming. They will have absolutely no say in this administration’s policies or behavior; BidenCorp has no reason to listen to them, has made no pretense of having any interest in listening to them, and is even freezing Sanders and Warren out of cabinet roles already. All US leftists will have any control over is whether this backlash will break to the left, or if it will break to the far right…. [T]he ball needs to start rolling on this now. Not after the Georgia runoffs, not after Biden takes office, not after the midterms: now. The longer US leftists wait to start pushing this thing forward, the less of a head start you’ll have on the rightists while they’re fixated on Trump’s recounts and legal challenges. You’ll only be able to lead the backlash if you get in early and hit the ground running as fast as you can.”

“If Biden Wants to Be Like F.D.R., He Needs the Left”

Jamelle Bouie [New York Times, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 11-20-20]

“On Feb. 10, 1931, four years before Senator Robert Wagner of New York and Representative David Lewis of Maryland introduced President Roosevelt’s social security legislation to Congress, tens of thousands of Americans nationwide took to the streets at the height of the Great Depression to march for unemployment assistance and food aid. Organized by a then-burgeoning Communist Party, demonstrations ranged from peaceful protests to tense confrontations with law enforcement. In Boston, noted The New York Times in a contemporaneous report, “Two hundred Communists and sympathizers and about as many police staged a series of fights and scuffles along the Boston Common.” In St. Paul, Minn., “Communist-led demonstrators jammed their way into the House chamber of the Minnesota Legislature and held possession for more than two hours while they demanded relief for the unemployed.” In New York City, similarly, “nearly 4,000 men, women and children heard half a dozen speakers call upon the government to grant unemployment insurance, stop evictions and to furnish free food, heat and light to the unemployed.These demonstrations weren’t just for the idea of unemployment insurance. The Communists had a particular bill in mind: the Workers’ Unemployment Insurance Bill, which the party had drafted the previous year. The Workers’ Bill, as it was called, promised generous assistance for the unemployed, for the sick and the old, and for new mothers, all financed by taxes on corporate income and inheritances. With ongoing activism and agitation came greater support; rank-and-file pressure from within the American Federation of Labor, for example, led to the creation of the A.F.L. Trade Union Committee for Unemployment Insurance and Relief, headed by Louis Weinstock of the New York Painters’ Union, himself a communist. The committee endorsed the bill, which was later introduced to Congress by the Minnesota Farmer-Labor congressman Ernest Lundeen on the urging of Herbert Benjamin of C.P.U.S.A., who led the party’s effort to organize the unemployed.”

“Joe Biden’s Four-Year Plan”

Jeff Spross, November 19, 2020,  [The American Prospect, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 11-20-20]

Drawing on history, political science has a pretty good idea what specific characteristics policies should have to create that feedback of voter goodwill leading to large, durable majorities. Social Security and Medicare are the gold standard: benefits that are generous, that go to large swaths of the population, and that are designed and delivered in a straightforward way, so that voters can clearly see they’ve received the benefit, and from whom.

Unfortunately, even when they’ve held total power, Democrats have spent the last several decades deliberately avoiding policy designs that do this.” They’ve approached big, ambitious public investment with trepidation; they’ve gravitated toward programs, such as Obamacare and endless tax credits, that are targeted, modest, delayed by years, and delivered through byzantine systems.

That American governance has been swinging crazily between Democratic and Republican control in recent decades, based largely on questions of identity and culture war, is not a natural inevitability. It’s because neither party has really done anything of substance for voters and Americans have been on a continuous glide path to ever greater inequality, stagnation, and insecurity since at least 1980. Voters keep desperately asking for change, and Democrats must finally, at long last, give it to them.

How Biden’s FCC could fix America’s internet. The FCC can bring back net neutrality and help Americans stay connected during the pandemic — if everything goes its way now.

[Recode, via The Big Picture 11-17-20]

How Biden Could Give Everyone Medicare on His Own

David Dayen, November 11, 2020 [The American Prospect]

The primary pilot program in Section 1881A is the Libby, Montana program. But the executive branch is also given the authority to establish “optional pilot programs” to any area subject to a public health emergency declaration. The entire United States has been under a public health emergency since January 31, 2020, due to the coronavirus. (It’s possible that the Environmental Protection Agency would have to declare a separate public health emergency under the Superfund law to comply with the statute, but Biden’s EPA administrator could easily do so.) Individuals eligible for Medicare would have to have spent six months in the geographic area subject to the emergency; since the area is “the entire United States,” this should not be a problem, either.

…or “Bidden”? 

“Will Biden Name a Deficit Hawk to Head OMB?”

Robert Kuttner [The American Prospect]. NC WC 11-19-20

“Yesterday, I reported that Bruce Reed, one of Biden’s top campaign advisers and his most conservative, has not yet been named to a White House job. As I wrote, he is an extreme deficit hawk. I’ve since learned that Reed is being promoted to head the powerful Office of Management and Budget (OMB). That would be a match made in hell, given the need for extensive deficit spending…. There is a second very senior inner-circle Biden adviser not yet named to a job—Jeff Zients. And like Reed, Zients represents the conservative wing of the Biden crowd. Zients is also a contender for OMB. He’s not quite as much of a deficit hawk as Reed, but even closer to Wall Street. Pick your poison.”

Joe Biden Just Appointed His Climate Movement Liaison. It’s a Fossil-Fuel Industry Ally

[Jacobin, via Naked Capitalism 11-18-20]

Biden’s Transition Team Is Stuffed With Amazon, Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb Personnel: Biden’s agency review teams highlight the revolving door between big tech and Washington even as the president-elect opposes Uber’s Proposition 22. [Vice, via The Big Picture 11-15-20]

Biden hopes to avoid divisive Trump investigations, preferring unity

[NBC, via Naked Capitalism 11-18-20]

[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 11-18-20]


“Tax filings reveal Biden cancer charity spent millions on salaries, zero on research”

[New York Post, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 11-16-20]

“The Biden Cancer Initiative was founded in 2017 by the former vice president and his wife, Jill Biden, to ‘develop and drive implementation of solutions to accelerate progress in cancer prevention, detection, diagnosis, research and care and to reduce disparities in cancer outcomes,’ according to its IRS mission statement. But it gave out no grants in its first two years, and spent millions on the salaries of former Washington, DC, aides it hired. The charity took in $4,809,619 in contributions in fiscal years 2017 and 2018, and spent $3,070,301 on payroll in those two years. The group’s president, Gregory Simon, raked in $429,850 in fiscal 2018 (July 1, 2018, to June 30, 2019), according to the charity’s most recent federal tax filings. Simon, a former Pfizer executive and longtime health care lobbyist who headed up the White House’s cancer task force in President Barack Obama’s administration, saw his salary nearly double from the $224,539 he made in fiscal 2017, tax filings show.”

Progressive Policies into the Breach

San Francisco voters approve first-in-the-nation CEO tax that targets income gap:
Wealthy companies whose chief executive is paid 100 times more than their median worker will pay a higher gross receipts tax

[San Jose Mercury News 11-4-2020, via Avedon’s Sideshow 11-12-2020]

Measure L required a simple majority to pass and was approved by 65.18% of voters Tuesday night, making San Francisco the first U.S. city to move to tax both private and public businesses based on how “overpaid” their top executives are.

The measure, introduced by Supervisor Matt Haney and backed by the board, is expected to generate between $60 million and $140 million a year in general funds starting in 2022, according to an estimate by the city…..

The tax will levy an extra 0.1% to 0.6% on gross receipts made in San Francisco for companies whose highest paid executive makes 100 times or more its median worker’s salary. The amount levied will increase in 0.1% brackets proportionally to the pay ratio. A company whose highest paid employee earns 200 times more than its median San Francisco worker will get a extra 0.2% charge on its gross receipts. For companies whose CEO makes 300 more, the charge jumps to 0.3% and son on. The tax caps at 0.6%, and only companies with gross receipts over $1.17 million will be targeted. Under the measure, gross receipts and CEO compensation will include money made from stock options, bonuses, tax refunds, and property, a caveat seen by many as a way to target the tech sector where CEOs are often compensated in non-salaried bonuses.

“Portland, Maine Voters Delivered a Series of Huge Working-Class Victories on Election Day”

[Jacobin, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 11-18-20]

“On November 3, voters in Portland, Maine delivered a stinging rebuke to Mayor Kate Snyder and all but one city councilor by voting overwhelmingly to back four out of five referenda placed on the ballot by People First Portland (PFP). Portlanders supported raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour (62.4 percent), mandating Green New Deal building codes (59.5 percent), banning police use of facial recognition software (65.6 percent), and establishing rent control and tenant protections (58.3 percent). A measure restricting short-term rentals (which take much-needed housing stock off the market for local residents) lost so narrowly that a recount is underway (50.3 to 49.7 percent). The minimum wage referendum includes a time-and-a-half hazard pay provision that will immediately raise essential workers’ pay to $18 an hour, making it the highest minimum wage in the United States. All this despite the Chamber of Commerce, well-heeled developers, and the corporate headquarters of Airbnb spending $1,000,000 (nearly all of it in the final month) to defeat the measures…. Incredibly, Mayor Snyder and the majority of the city council are now attempting to sabotage the election results.” • Snyder is, of course, a Democrat.

An ‘Electrifying’ Economist’s Guide to the Recovery

[New York Times, via Naked Capitalism 11-21-20]

Mariana Mazzucato, an economist and professor at the University College London….

The core tenets of her life’s work, which she lays out in several books, are (1) the ways we currently define economic growth are far too narrow and (2) that many of the world’s greatest achievements — the moon landing or the invention of the internet, for example — stem from government investment, not the private sector, as is widely assumed.

“Indeed, every technology that makes the iPhone smart and not stupid owes its funding to both basic and applied research funded by the State,” she writes in “The Entrepreneurial State.”

But history tells us that innovation is an outcome of a massive collective effort — not just from a narrow group of young white men in California. If we want to solve the world’s biggest problems, we need to understand and challenge this.

Health Care Crisis

Beyond COVID-19: the Power Struggle Over Alternatives for Health Care Reform

[Counterpunch, via Naked Capitalism 11-19-20]

Corporatization, privatization, a shift from not-for-profit to for-profit health care, and the growth of investor-owned corporate health care have been dominant themes in the transformation of U. S. health care since the 1980s. We have seen a 3,000 percent growth in the numbers of administrators and managers compared to a minimal growth in the numbers of physicians.

The profit-driven medical-industrial complex continues to lead the way on the S & P 500 as the “system” raises prices to what the traffic will bear, limits choice and access to care, erodes our safety net, and leads to rampant profiteering, corruption and fraud….

We currently have three reform alternatives before us being contested in this election cycle….

Build on the Affordable Care Act (ACA)… Ten years after its passage, however, the ACA is still just another Band Aid on a broken system far short of universal coverage. It has failed to control health care prices and costs, and leaves a profiteering private insurance industry in place. Private health insurance continues to be pricey and unaffordable for many, while disparities and inequities persist with many Americans still delaying or foregoing essential care….

Medicare for Some; Variants of a Public Option… While seen by some as less disruptive and politically more achievable, Medicare for Some would fail to bring sufficient system reform for these [five] reasons: 1) Would leave a failing private health insurance industry in place, with its administrative overhead four to five times higher than that of traditional Medicare….

Medicare for All… This is the most logical and only alternative that can bring universal coverage to accessible, affordable health care for our population…..

Gerald Friedman, Ph.D., professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, has done ongoing studies of the costs of single-payer Medicare for All over the last 10 years. He finds that, had it been in place in 2019, we would have saved more than $ 1 trillion that year. Figure 1 shows how these savings would have occurred, in billions, for three areas of health care spending—provider administration (the billing process); payments to hospitals, drug companies and medical equipment manufacturers (through bulk purchasing and negotiated prices); and insurance administration (interaction with multi-payer insurers). Those savings are how we can afford Medicare for All, since the money is already there.

Predatory Finance

Judge smacks down Ernst & Young’s aggressive tax strategies for audit client Coca-Cola

Francine McKenna, via Naked Capitalism 11-20-20]

Quant Shock That ‘Never Could Happen’ Hits Wall Street Models The crash in the momentum factor was so rare that writing out the chances of occurrence on any given day required a 16-digit number — followed by 63 zeroes.

[Bloomberg, via The Big Picture 11-15-20]

The Secretive Town at the Center of the World’s Oil Market: Cushing, Oklahoma, set the stage for the Great Oil Price Crash of 2020. But was it really to blame? [Institutional Investor, via The Big Picture 11-21-20]

The reason Cushing’s numbers looked so horrible last spring is that, just as oil prices fell below zero, the town’s oil storage tanks appeared to be nearly full, triggering a price collapse that did not stop, even when the barrel lost all value. At the time, investors were racing to liquidate their positions in Nymex crude oil futures before the contract expired and entered its delivery phase in Cushing. Many were forced to sell at negative prices after learning there might not be enough room left in Cushing’s oil tanks to take delivery.

Such incidents, though rare, are not necessarily shocking, given Cushing’s idiosyncrasies. “The fact is, commodities are great big bulky things when you have physical delivery,” Horsnell says. “The mechanics of the market can have bizarre effects on prices. Physically delivered commodities aren’t like financially settled contracts. When you get into commodities, you get into all kinds of trouble with physical delivery. Infrastructure matters. The old economy, of which physical commodities are a part, is clunky.”

Climate and environmental crises

1% of people cause half of global aviation emissions – study 

[Guardian, via Naked Capitalism 11-17-20]

Frequent-flying “‘super emitters” who represent just 1% of the world’s population caused half of aviation’s carbon emissions in 2018, according to a study.

Airlines produced a billion tonnes of CO2 and benefited from a $100bn (£75bn) subsidy by not paying for the climate damage they caused, the researchers estimated. The analysis draws together data to give the clearest global picture of the impact of frequent fliers….

Only 11% of the world’s population took a flight in 2018 and 4% flew abroad. US air passengers have by far the biggest carbon footprint among rich countries. Its aviation emissions are bigger than the next 10 countries combined, including the UK, Japan, Germany and Australia, the study reports.

They said the 50% drop in passenger numbers in 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic should be an opportunity to make the aviation industry fairer and more sustainable. This could be done by putting green conditions on the huge bailouts governments were giving the industry, as had happened in France.

Creating new economic potential – science and technology

“In Phytoremediation, Plants Extract Toxins from Soils”

[JSTOR Daily, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 11-20-20]

“A good example of this was the case of Cabin Creek, in West Virginia. Two sites of the former Pure Oil Refinery held several storage tanks that contaminated both soil and groundwater. The refinery discontinued its operations in 1954, but more than 40 years later, in 1996, researchers still found high levels of petroleum compounds in samples of soil and water from the sites…. More than 15,000 poplar trees were planted that year at the sites, covering 54,000 square meters (14 acres)…. Once the poplars were viable, researchers collected samples of soil and groundwater periodically to measure levels of petroleum derivative compounds, such as gasoline, toluene, and benzene. By 2006, seven years after starting the experiment, levels of gasoline had dropped by 82% in the soil and 59% in groundwater. Levels of toluene dropped 90% and 84% in soil and water, respectively, showing that the poplar trees were successful in cleaning both land and water. The experiment was also very cheap, costing roughly $80,000 for installation and another $20,000 for yearly maintenance. For comparison, other means of remediation, such as incineration and soil venting, would have required the installation of heavy machinery, the excavation of the soil, and would have a high energy demand, estimated to cost at least $65 million in total.”

This 2-Acre Vertical Farm Out-Produces 750 Acre ‘Flat Farms’

[Forbes, via Naked Capitalism 11-21-20]

The potential benefits are massive.

400X greater yield per acre of ground is not just an incremental improvement, and using almost two orders of magnitude less water is also critical in time of increasing ecological stress and climate uncertainty. All of these are truly game-changers, but they’re not the only goals, Storey says.

…But a financialized economy is crippling

— Mark Ames (@MarkAmesExiled) November 16, 2020


Inspiring! Private sector only needed 50 years to catch up to what US & Soviet state industries accomplished in the 1970s. The only thing the private sector needed to accomplish this feat were massive state subsidies. What will Big Tech think of next?

“Legendary Arecibo telescope will close forever — scientists are reeling”

[Nature, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 11-19-20]

“One of astronomy’s most renowned telescopes — the 305-metre-wide radio telescope at Arecibo, Puerto Rico — is permanently closing. Engineers cannot find a safe way to repair it after two cables supporting the structure suddenly and catastrophically broke, one in August and one in early November. It is the end of one of the most iconic and scientifically productive telescopes in the history of astronomy — and scientists are mourning its loss. The Arecibo telescope, which was built in 1963, was the world’s largest radio telescope for decades and has historical and modern importance in astronomy. It was the site from which astronomers sent an interstellar radio message in 1974, in case any extraterrestrials might hear it, and where the first known extrasolar planet was discovered, in 1992. It has also done pioneering work in detecting near-Earth asteroids, observing the puzzling celestial blasts known as fast radio bursts, and studying many other phenomena. All of those lines of investigation are now shut down for good, although limited science continues at some smaller facilities at the Arecibo site.”

The Democratic Party USA

[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 11-16-20]

Matt Stoller
Replying to
If there had been a single blue area where Democrats governed well around Covid, they might have pointed to that and said ‘we’ll do that nationally.’ There wasn’t. Voters know that Dems and Rs can’t run the government, because that’s what they experienced. Governing matters!


[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 11-16-20]

Matt Stoller
Replying to
It’s arrogant to imagine voters don’t know what NAFTA is. Tens of millions of people remember the factory moving away and the town going to shit as Walmarts destroyed local commerce. Many of these people voted for Dems, and are now Trump voters. They know Dems look down on them.
10:38 AM · Nov 14, 2020


[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 11-17-20]


AOC’s Next Four Years: The history-making congresswoman addresses her biggest critics, the challenges that loom no matter who wins, and what she’s taking on next.

[Vanity Fair, via The Big Picture 11-21-20]

In 2016, Ocasio-Cortez was a volunteer organizer for Sanders in the Bronx. Three years later, she became the most crucial backer of his 2020 presidential campaign, at a time when her support was also highly coveted by Elizabeth Warren.

“She endorsed me right after I had a heart attack, and there were some people who were writing our campaign off. I’ve always been very grateful to her for doing that,” says Sanders. “There are some politicians who are very good on policy, and there are some politicians who are good communicators, and there are some politicians that have a way about them that relates very well to ordinary people,” says Sanders. “Alexandria has all three of those characteristics.”

Which party will represent the working class?

[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 11-17-20]


Matt Stoller
Nov 15
There’s a very strong argument the Republicans will get there first. It’s not that the GOP is the party of the working class, it’s that at least they know it. Progressives and Democrats actually do not understand they outsourced most stuff and gave the keys to the rest to Google.

Col. Wilkerson explains the above point:

A Judicial Coup Unlikely, but Far Right Far From Gone – Larry Wilkerson

[Democrats] don’t know squat about how to politick.” …They simply don’t. And they don’t understand that their party at the top is braindead, utterly braindead. From Schumer to Pelosi, from Pelosi to Schumer, from Hoyer to Menendez — they’re braindead. They will not allow their young people to come up. They will not allow them to grow and mature and take committee positions and so forth. It’s crazy. I had a Democratic woman say to me the other day, who is in charge of one of the most powerful Democratic groups in Virginia, “I just don’t believe how utterly soundproofed these people are.” And I said, “What do you mean by soundproofed?” She said, “Nothing gets to them. They believe their mantra. They stick to their mantra. And when it falls apart all around them, they look up and say, ‘Well, tomorrow’s another day.’”

Later on, Wilkerson lays the blame squarely on the Koch brothers.

“David Shor’s Postmortem of the 2020 Election”

Eric Levitz [New York Magazine, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 11-18-20]

Shor: “There was a uniform swing of roughly 1.5 percentage points toward us, relative to 2016. Education polarization, which is the gap between how college-educated white people vote and how non-college-educated white people do, continued to grow. And Hispanic voters swung against us by a lot. Exactly how much is unclear. But potentially by as much as 12 points. And the sum total of all the things was that we were able to narrowly win the Electoral College. So that was the big picture at the presidential level…. The public polling suggested that a bunch of non-college-educated whites were going to come home to the Democratic Party, and while that may have been true in a few discrete places, nationally that did not happen. In fact, the gap got worse. And, broadly speaking, the worse that you do with non-college-educated whites, the more structurally disadvantaged you are in the American electoral system… [I]f we can’t reduce the structural biases that have appeared in the last ten years by changing the rules of the game, we will have to make the hard choice of changing our party so that we can appeal to these non-college-educated voters who are turning against us.”

Lambert Strether: “It’s always amazing to me that liberal Democrats would rather abolish the Electoral College, or add states to the Union, or pack the Supreme Court — all obvious fantasies — rather than appeal to actual voters. But, as Thomas Frank shows, they hate the working class (for which lack of education is a proxy).”


[Interfluidity, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 11-18-20]

“The Democratic Party is trending towards becoming a party of the educated professional class alone. I view that as a horrible development we should move heaven and earth to reverse. So long as we are (miserably) a two-party system, the complement of a professional-class party is a fascist party. The Republicans we detest are the obverse of what we are allowing ourselves to become. Letting the working class remain in hock — underwater on unforgiven credit card debt, kiting paycheck loans to feed the kid and make the rent — while we unilaterally forgive higher education debt strikes me as an almost cartoonishly perfect wedge issue to polarize the college and noncollege elements of the Democratic electorate. Republicans would ruthlessly demagogue and exploit student loan cancellation to build their new ‘multiethnic, multiracial, working-class coalition.’”

[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 11-18-20]


Matt Stoller
How monopoly punditry works today.
1. Ignore the consolidation of a functional system of independent businesses into a set of gross ossified chain stores.
2. Cheer Amazon destroying those chain stores as ‘creating competition.’
3. Wonder where the economy went.
8:23 PM · Nov 17, 2020·

Did You Know That Every Single Blue Dog Candidate Was Defeated On Tuesday– Even Though The DCCC Spent Millions On Their Races?

[DownWithTyranny, via Avedon’s Sideshow 11-12-2020]

Beyond backing the crap conservative incumbents who lost their seats, the DCCC’s biggest independent expenditures this cycle were done, overwhelmingly, on behalf of conservative candidates backed by the Blue Dogs and New Dems. DCCC and House Majority PAC expenditures are still being reported and it will be another week before we can do an accurate systematic audit but look at these races the DCCC (and Pelosi– let me just refer to the expenditures of both the DCCC and her House Majority PAC , for the sake of this post, as “the DCCC”) chose to spend big in– at the expense of progressive candidates like Mike Siegel, Julie Oliver, Mondaire Jones, Liam O’Mara, Adam Christensen, Audrey Denney, etc, who they chose to not spend any money at all on.”

The Dark Side

Heather Cox Richardson, November 16, 2020 [Letters from an American]

By law, virtually no state and local governments can operate with a deficit, while the federal government can. States have seen their revenues evaporate during the pandemic at the same time their citizens need robust unemployment and social-welfare programs, and so they need support through this temporary emergency. Last spring, McConnell rejected the idea of federal aid to states, and suggested that state and local governments should declare bankruptcy, something Republican leaders have advocated for a decade.

In a piece in The Atlantic last April, former speechwriter for President George W. Bush David Frum explained that state bankruptcies would not end state debt; they would permit a federal judge to restructure that debt. The federal judiciary has shifted rightward in the last ten years, so bankruptcy would allow a federal judge to impose Republican priorities on Democratic states like New York, states Republicans have little hope of controlling through elections. In such proceedings, the first things to go would be pensions and social welfare programs, while judges would protect bondholders, many of them wealthy people who pour money into the political action committees of Republican politicians.

So, refusing to pass a coronavirus bill offers an opportunity for Republicans to impose their will on Democratic-led states. Even in a best-case scenario, without federal help, states like New York must cut services or raise taxes to balance their budget, angering constituents in either case. But the process of driving states to that point means that Americans will lose their homes or their apartments, and be unable to afford food.


“Campus Reform” Is Funneling Koch Money to Groom Right-Wing “Journalists”

[TruthOut, via Naked Capitalism 11-16-20]


‘Decapitations’ At DOD: ‘A Purge,’ ‘A Coup’ Or Something Else?

[American Conservative, via Naked Capitalism 11-17-20]

Lawrence Tribe calls Ken Starr a liar to his face: ‘It’s nothing like Bush v. Gore’ Alternet, via Naked Capitalism 11-16-20]

Republicans Boldly Decide to Stop Letting People Die
David Dayen, November 17, 2020 [The American Prospect]

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, who appears to think she’s going to run for president, has vowed to resist any enforcement of mask mandates or other restrictions from a Biden administration.

Missouri lawmakers wanted to meet to give businesses a liability release for COVID claims, but they all have COVID so they can’t.

[St. Louis Post-Dispatch, via David Dayen, November 17, 2020, The American Prospect]

Holiday jeer: Intolerance growing more evident among donors to charity

[Journal-Gazette, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 11-18-20]

“As COVID-19 has pushed our organization to a peak in numbers of first-time applicants as well as those who were in need of human services (more than 20,000 this year alone in Allen County), it also gave me the highest number of demands from donors insisting that before they assist a family or help a child, they be given the political affiliation of their parents. You read that correctly. Donors insist that before they help, they know who the people they’re helping are voting for. The first few requests I shrugged off as singular instances, until gradually they became a new norm for me to ready an answer for. All seem to be like-minded, that if they’re assisting children whose parents are voting a certain way, they are not worthy of basic necessities.


“Bernie Sanders: Build a Compassionate Nation”

[Labor Notes, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 11-18-20]

“The moment we are in as a nation is unlike any other in history. We are dealing with a horrific pandemic and economic collapse. We are seeing massive protests against police brutality and a racist criminal justice system. We are watching the devastating effects of climate change unfold before our eyes. To address these urgent issues and many more, we must rebuild the trade union movement and end corporate America’s stranglehold on our economy and our government. We must create the nation of, by, and for the working class that we know we can become.” • None of this “working families” bushwa. Love the bio: “Senator Bernie Sanders is a Labor Notes subscriber.” I wonder how many other Senators could say that?…


Strategic Political Economy

The Silenced Majority: Can America still afford democracy?
Rana Dasgupta [Harpers, via The Big Picture]

First, the second economy serves elites almost exclusively. Again it is chiefly financialized, and holding financial instruments remains the preserve of the rich: 84 percent of corporate stock is owned by the wealthiest 10 percent. But even this decile is largely denied access to the heart of the second economy. Some 80 percent of Facebook stock—worth over half a trillion dollars—is owned by twenty-five individuals and institutions; though Mark Zuckerberg retains only 28 percent of the company, this includes a vital 60 percent of the Class B voting shares. Since Facebook is an entity comparable in scale to a nation-state, and serves some of the same functions, this determination not to share political power is instructive. Valuations of such companies are inflated by their monopolistic nature—and by the financial institutions that control them—to the point of total departure from the first economy….

…Current efforts to disentangle wealth from the American population are even more radical. Triumphant robotic capitalism employs new technologies to automate and commodify work so that the political defeat of the bottom 50 percent can be extended to the bottom 90 percent.

Many mid-level jobs have already been rendered obsolete in sectors such as architecture, law, accountancy, teaching, and medicine (and many more salaries, therefore, have been absorbed as corporate wealth). This is a stunning volte-face for the middle classes, who are still inclined to believe that the system exists to serve them, and so entertain the hope that it will create the same number of high-paying jobs as were destroyed….

Silicon Valley will not simply destroy the jobs on which the industrious society was built. It will corrode and negate the principle of labor. It will do this in part by establishing unpaid, uncontracted labor as a social norm.

The iconic example is Facebook, a sudden concentration of $700 billion almost entirely insulated from the population at large: not only is ownership closely held, employment is confined to compact teams of highly paid specialists. Like its Silicon Valley peers, Facebook disguises profit and moves it offshore so that its wealth does not seep into society through taxes. The company has paid an average of 10.2 percent in taxes over the past decade. The negative consequences of this do not affect Facebook: it sells almost exclusively to other businesses, and so does not depend directly on affluent consumers. And yet its sales and valuation would be zero without users, all of whom donate the company’s raw material—their personal data—for free. Facebook users spend billions of hours uploading data, but this work is disguised as consumption, and there is no hint of compensation. This overturns essential principles from the old industrious society. For Silicon Valley, work is a form of tribute paid by individuals to quasi-aristocratic property owners, and there are no privileges granted in return. Quite the opposite: tributaries surrender their claim to their own information and privacy, and open themselves up to ever-greater corporate surveillance and manipulation. This social norm is spreading: the U.S. Department of Labor recently relaxed restrictions on unpaid work, while the frequent talk of a universal basic income concedes that work can no longer provide the basis for social participation.



Open Thread


Know Your Enemies


  1. Plague Species

    There’s a reason Xi hasn’t congratulated Biden and acknowledged him as the next POTUS. McDonald Trump has been great for China and he pays his Chinese taxes in more than ways than one. McDonald Trump has MCGA — Made China Great Again — and Xi is doing everything he can to make sure McDonald can overturn these election results. Trump supporters are calling Biden Chinese Joe, but if that were true, that Joe is in Beijing’s hip pocket, Xi would have congratulated Biden by now and acknowledged him as the next POTUS. Xi has shown his hand. He’s a huge McDonald fan and he wants four or eight or twelve or sixteen more years of McDonald so China can permanently secure its position as world leader.

  2. Zachary Smith

    Opinion time on the Arecibo telescope. The US has been cutting funding and apparently neglecting maintenance for many years. I’ve seen a lot of moaning and groaning about this, but hardly anybody is speaking of rebuilding it from scratch. I have to assume it’s no longer considered very useful if the cost of a new one is in the ballpark of a couple of F-35 fighters.

    Vertical Farming – the link seems to be to another of Forbes’ BS articles. The topic has a Wiki, and it is quite a useful read about the limitations and drawbacks involved. Not to mention the staggering costs.

    “There is a lot of BS coming from entrepreneurs,” said David Farquhar, chief executive of Scotland-based technology provider Intelligent Growth Solutions. “There are far too many unsubstantiated claims about energy use, the environmental benefits and quality of crops.”

    High-cost, small-scale

    The sector remains largely unprofitable and tiny. Vertical farming occupies the equivalent of 30 hectares of land worldwide, according to Rabobank analyst Cindy Rijswick, compared with outdoor cultivation of about 50m ha and 500,000 ha for greenhouses.

    High initial capital investment and running costs mean it is hard to make a profit. Businesses must pay for specialised labour and face huge electricity bills for lighting and ventilation, while having to offer competitive prices to attract consumers.

  3. Hugh

    Globalism and free trade hollowed out American manufacturing, and to what end? Millions of US workers lost their jobs or saw their wages stagnate. Others got to buy cheap, crappy goods from China. But what didn’t get figured into that cost was the trillions in lost wages or lost to “externalities” like Covid-19. And lamberth is right. A free trade zone among net exporters often of similar goods will have close to zero impact on much of anything. It’s like the Saudis and the Emirates agreeing not to put tariffs on the oil they sell to each other, –except they don’t sell much oil to each other. Also many of these countries, including China, are past masters of inhibiting trade they don’t want without calling their restrictions tarrifs. It probably why the RCEP agreement sailed through the way it did.

    None of this gets to the crucial problems of China’s Belt and Road. That initiative is meant to profit China and no one else. Even when China builds something elsewhere, they send their own workers, not locals, to build it. And look at China’s ham-fisted imperialism of the last 20 years. Tibetans, Uighurs, the South China Sea, Australian resources, if you’re not Han, you’re a mark to be menaced and fleeced at will. Nor does anyone seem to question the absurd nuttiness of the Belt and Road, a project that is supposed to stretch across thousands of miles of failing states and/or the most politically unstable real estate on the planet. Add climate change to this, and we’re talking fire works displays in a gunpowder factory.

    “The old economy, of which physical commodities are a part, is clunky.”

    That has got to be one of the most unintentionally revealing statements concerning the new fictive, financialized economy I’ve seen. Yeah, there’s your problem right there. Your old economy dealt with reality while the new one doesn’t.

    I agree with Wilkerson that the Democrats are braindead, although bought and paid for might be closer to the mark. The Republicans, on the other hand, are fairly straightforward fascist. I disagree that the Republicans are becoming the party if working class Americans. There is a world of difference between representing a group and simply exploiting it.

  4. KT Chong

    Ted Snider published an excellent article on Common Dreams, “When Coups Come Home”, on November 21, 2020, on how Donald Trump is using the exact same tactics that the US government has used in Bolivia and other countries to create coups:

  5. Lex

    Agree with Zach on the “future of farming”. It’s been the future for 40 years and is no more realistic now than it was then. The “chief science officer” in the article sounds like he’s never grown a plant before this. It is not sustainable. LEDs use less electricity and generate less heat than other lamps but they still use electricity and generate heat. Hydroponics like this requires nutrient salt fertilizers. Indoor agriculture only works for one crop: weed. But when it costs $1,500/lb for tomatoes the “future of farming” will be today. And big weed isn’t sustainable either. The largest grow in Michigan uses more electricity than the nearby GM assembly plant, and unlike the GM plant it flips its load almost completely twice a day. This vertical farming idea will stress local grids to the breaking point. Self sufficient in solar with storage won’t make it more economically feasible.

  6. different clue

    I don’t have my own computer so I labor under the disability of sharply limited screen-time.
    So I will have to circle back when I can and read that article which talked about the analog real-space thing-making thing-doing economy as ‘clunky’.

    For now, I will just say that those who appreciate the prior and foundational role of the real matter and energy clunky thing-based economy could call that approach to economics by the name “clunkonomics”. And they could call themselves “clunkonomists”. They could mine the Raw Materials Economists ( Charles Walters and etc.) and the Real Energy and Matter Economists ( starting with Frederick Soddy) for knowledge and inspiration. They could show their hatred for mainstream economysticism and get right up in the economystics’ face with the New Clunkonomics.

    The stone the builders hath rejectedeth hath becometh the cornerstone.

    Let the mainstreamers put THEM apples in their pipe and smoke it.

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