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

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – October 27, 2019

by Tony Wikrent
North Carolina Democratic Party Progressive Caucus

Strategic Political Economy

U.S. Military Could Collapse Within 20 Years Due to Climate Change, Report Commissioned By Pentagon Says[Vice, via The Big Picture 10-25-19]

“For the first time, workers are paying a higher tax rate than investors and owners” 

[Washington Post, via Naked Capitalism 10-24-19]

“Most Americans have to work to earn a living. But the rich are different: They get most of their income not from labor but from what they own — companies, stocks, real estate and the like. These income-generating assets are what economists call capital. And because capital is heavily concentrated among the rich, the U.S. government taxed earnings derived from capital at a higher rate than earnings made through labor for the entirety of the 20th century. But that’s no longer the case, according to economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman of the University of California at Berkeley. In their new book, “The Triumph of Injustice,” they present data showing that in 2018, labor income was taxed at a higher rate than capital income for the first time in modern U.S. history.”

This could be the formal marker for when USA ceased being a republic and became a plutocracy, but I would argue for the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court instead. 

The CBO Just Handed Us Two Trillion Dollars

[J.W. Mason, via Naked Capitalism 10-25-19]

In their most recent 10-year budget and economic forecast, the CBO made a big change, reducing their long-run forecast of the interest rate on government bonds by almost a full percentage point, from 3.7 to 2.9. (See Table 2.6 here.)

Most directly, the new, lower interest rate reduces expected debt payments over the next decade by $2.2 trillion.

I have no doubt that Trump and the Republicans will use this to push the line that the Trump tax cuts worked to grow the economy and pay for themselves. 

The Carnage of Establishment Neoliberal Economics

“Think young people are hostile to capitalism now? Just wait for the next recession.”
[The Week, via Naked Capitalism 10-21-19]

The rise of populism wasn’t just a response to the financial crisis and its painful consequences, though. It was a response to the fact that nothing fundamentally changed in its aftermath. The big banks remained too big to fail, executives who had overseen rampant fraud remained free (with their generous bonuses intact), income and wealth inequality continued to grow out of control, and wages continued to stagnate as billionaires saw their wealth multiply. In other words, the economy “recovered” for those on top, while the recession lingered for everyone else.

In his modern classic, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, the French economist Thomas Piketty suggested that growing inequality in America contributed directly to the country’s financial instability. One consequence of increasing inequality, he wrote, “was virtual stagnation of the purchasing power of the lower and middle classes in the United States, which inevitably made it more likely that modest households would take on debt, especially since unscrupulous banks and financial institutions, freed from regulation and eager to earn good yields on the enormous savings injected into the system by the well-to-do, offered credit on increasingly generous terms.”

….A recent study that surveyed 4,000 American consumers found that, since 1996, the average net worth of consumers under 35 has dropped by 35 percent. This, along with declining real wages, increasing cost of living (home ownership has substantially declined for millennials), and swelling levels of debt, makes the growing millennial hostility towards capitalism perfectly sensible. People “behave more like their income than their age,” said one of the study’s authors, and just as the American working class became the middle class in the mid-20th century and thus embraced capitalism, young people in the 21st century are being proletarianized (or precariatized) and thus embracing socialism….

“Coming of age in the midst of the financial crisis and entering the workforce during the rise of the gig economy has given millennials an intuitive understanding of the deep instability and unfairness of our economic (and political) system. A recent survey from Quinnipiac revealed just how divided older and younger Democrats are on capitalism. Forty-four percent of those aged 18-34 supported the “democratic socialist” Bernie Sanders, compared to 22 percent for Elizabeth Warren (who is progressive but “capitalist to her bones”) and 9 percent for Joe Biden. On the other hand, 41 percent of those over 65 supported Biden, compared to 26 percent for Warren and an incredible 2 percent for Sanders. The socialist platform of Sanders repels older voters who grew up in the so-called “golden age” of capitalism, while it naturally appeals to younger voters who grew up in the age of neoliberalism and economic crisis.”

Santiago metro suffers serious damage in fares hike protest
[International Railway Journal 10-22-19]

The dispute began during the week starting October 14 with rising civil disobedience by passengers disgruntled by the fares hike refusing to purchase tickets and crawling under or climbing over turnstiles. The disobedience turned into a rebellion on October 20, resulting in many station ticket gates being destroyed, nine stations being completely burnt down, 13 partially destroyed by fire, 41 stations suffering serious damage and 17 suffering less-serious damage. In all, 80 of the metro’s 136 stations will require repair….

Santiago metro carries 2.3 million passengers per day on weekdays, and more at weekends. As the rest of Santiago’s transport system is unable to cope with this volume of traffic displaced by the closure of the metro, the city took action. Schools were closed in 48 of the metropolitan region’s 52 municipalities. Since students account for 30% of public transport trips in Santiago, this alleviated much of the burden on the system. Some municipalities chartered buses and, for the first time in 30 years, shared taxi lines were authorised to enter the city centre and regular taxis were allowed to operate in shared mode….

Santiago’s public transport fares are set by a panel of experts under a law introduced in 2010. The fares are determined according to operating costs rather than on political whim. This meant Chile’s president, Mr Sebastian Piñera, had to draft a new law in order to cancel the fares increase, which was approved by Congress on October 21. However, annulling the fares increase is unlikely to quell the social unrest, the root cause of which is low wages and income inequality.

[Foreign Policy in Focus, via Naked Capitalism 10-26-19]
[Brookings Institution, via Naked Capitalism 10-22-19]

“Desperation – and the associated trends in premature mortality – are concentrated among the less than college educated and are much higher among poor whites than poor minorities, who remain optimistic about their futures. The trends are also geographically dispersed, with racially and economically diverse urban and coastal places much more optimistic and with much lower incidences of premature mortality (on average). Both death and desperation are higher in the heartland and in particular in areas that were previously hubs for the manufacturing and mining jobs which have long since disappeared. Our earlier work shows that the geographic patterns in lack of hope, worry, reported pain, reliance on disability insurance, and deaths of despair are remarkably consistent across these places. Monnat and Brown (2017) find that counties with higher levels of poverty, obesity, deaths due to drugs, alcohol, and suicide, more non-Hispanic whites, individuals on disability or other safety nets, and smokers were the same places where Trump “over-performed” in terms of predicted votes.”

“Beyond Nonprofits, Toward Change” 

[Sacramento DSA, via Naked Capitalism 10-24-19]

“Beyond the clear conflicts of interest that limit nonprofits’ ability to affect change, there’s an underlying philosophy within the nonprofit world that idealizes addressing social problems using the logic of commodity markets and technocratic social controls. Nonprofits aim to direct advocacy, resources, and behavior modifications (sometimes framed as education, skills training, or wellness workshops) on an individual basis as if they’re consumer goods and services, all the while avoiding direct political conflict. In this landscape, coordinator class professionals function as gatekeeping resource brokers or expert concierges for those seeking services. And nonprofit workers can internalize these ideas, seeing themselves in a savior role, paying it forward to their less-privileged clients. They also fit conveniently within a neoliberal schema of privatization because they are designed to be stopgaps against the myriad social crises that emerge after universal public assistance programs are decimated by austerity.

Nonprofits exist to replace democratically determined, universal redistribution programs with elite-controlled, quasi-feudal patronage. In short, nonprofits capitalize on crisis by resolving social problems on behalf of those they serve in place of the state. Radicals are often allured to the nonprofit world in hopes they can contribute to a good cause and even alter their organizations for the better, but nonprofit workers with radical politics usually can’t resist the roles and structures they find themselves in.”

[MIT Technology Review, via Naked Capitalism 10-23-19]

Predatory Finance

Fed Ups Its Wall Street Bailout to $690 Billion a Week as Media Snoozes
Pam Martens and Russ Martens, October 24, 2019  [Wall Street on Parade]

The New York Fed will now be lavishing up to $120 billion a day in cheap overnight loans to Wall Street securities trading firms, a daily increase of $45 billion from its previously announced $75 billion a day. In addition, it is increasing its 14-day term loans to Wall Street, a program which also came out of the blue in September, to $45 billion. Those term loans since September have been occurring twice a week, meaning another $90 billion a week will be offered, bringing the total weekly offering to an astounding $690 billion. It should be noted that if the same Wall Street firms are getting these loans continuously rolled over, they are effectively permanent loans. (That’s exactly what happened during the 2007-2010 Wall Street collapse: some teetering Wall Street casinos received, individually, $2 trillion in cumulative loans that were rolled over for two and one-half years – without the authorization or even awareness of Congress or the American people.

How a major U.S. farm lender left a trail of defaults, lawsuits

[Reuters, via Naked Capitalism 10-23-19]

Health Care Crisis

[ProPublica, via The Big Picture 10-20-19]

Welcome to Coffeyville, Kansas, where the judge has no law degree, debt collectors get a cut of the bail, and Americans are watching their lives — and liberty — disappear in the pursuit of medical debt collection.

A 14-year-old boy shot his way in to a school before turning the gun on himself. Now his mother is facing 6 felony charges.
[Insider, via Naked Capitalism 10-22-19]

“A probable cause affidavit obtained by the Indianapolis station WXIN said York withdrew her son from a mental-health treatment program after 10 days, because it wasn’t covered by insurance and she couldn’t afford it.”


[Becker Hospital Review, via Naked Capitalism 10-26-19]
NC reader Eileen Appelbaum commented: “Great, easy-to-understand example of how bias gets into algorithms.”
“Rob Delaney on Writing While Grieving and the Real Work of Comedy”
[The New Yorker, via Naked Capitalism 10-24-19]

[I]t’s better to get sick in the U.K. than here. I’m a pretty vocal advocate for Medicare for All in the U.S. and for support of the N.H.S. in the U.K. I had private health insurance that I paid for back in 2002 when I had my accident—this was pre-A.C.A., or Obamacare—so, when I started to generate fairly sizable hospital bills, my insurance company just dropped me, which they could do back then. So I was paying for surgeries with credit cards. People in this room have done that—maybe they’re doing it right now.

So I knew something needed to change here. I knew my dad and my stepdad get care from the V.A., and I knew if you were very poor or over sixty-five there was something for you. I just thought, it’s really weird that some people get health care from the government and some people don’t. And then I went to the N.H.S. in the U.K., and I remember walking into our local general practitioner to sign up my family and being, like, [breathing heavily] “So what do you need? Do you need a retinal scan? What fluids from me do you need?” And they were, like, “What’s your address?” And I was, like, “O.K., now what else?” That’s it. Now we can go to the doctor. It’s not free—your tax dollars pay for it—but, if you get sick in the U.K., you don’t immediately begin to stress out. What’s the story with my deductible? Was my private prescription plan sold three weeks ago without my knowledge to another company, so I got dropped because I didn’t answer an e-mail? The stress that you have when you get sick in the U.K. is so much less than over here because the financial element isn’t a part of it. You’re still sad or angry because your knee fell apart or something’s wrong with your butthole, but you don’t have the ancillary stress of what’s going to happen to my wallet.

We had the worst possible outcome in the U.K. Our son died. He would have died here; there’s nothing you can do for this type of tumor in a kid that young. What we didn’t have to do was spend hours, days, weeks, months on the phone with billing offices or insurance companies making sure this M.R.I. would be covered. And that was time that we got to spend with our son, the little boy that I just described, rather than with some actuary on the phone in Indiana.

So, yeah, I want to abolish private health insurance in the United States. I want to smash it and destroy it.

We have to do it, because the amount of money we spend on health care for people in Medicaid and Medicare and Tricare—we’re doing that, and then we’re paying private health-care companies, C.E.O.s who are making hundreds of millions of dollars, and spending money on advertising. “Your choice! Get the plan that’s right for you”—what the fuck is that? The plan is go to the hospital and it’s covered. There’s your choice. Yeah, I’m a zealot on that one, and I won’t stop until you can go to the hospital without fear of going bankrupt.

“Majority of Healthcare Professionals Support Single-Payer System, Poll Says”
[MedScape, via Naked Capitalism 10-24-19]

 From December 2018, still germane: “Sixty-six percent of physicians who responded [to our reader poll] said they favored a single-payer system, compared to 68% of administrators and 69% of nurses. About a quarter of respondents among those three professions opposed single-payer healthcare.”

Make no mistake: Medicare for All would cut taxes for most Americans

Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman [Guardian, via Naked Capitalism 10-26-19]“Column: A brilliant economist diagnoses the U.S. healthcare system — from beyond the grave” [Los Angeles Times, via Naked Capitalism 10-24-19]

“As Reinhardt documents, the American system as it exists essentially rations healthcare by income class. This isn’t always easily discernible because the system is ‘exceedingly complex and almost beyond human comprehension.’” • Well worth reading in full, simply for what every mainstream economist should know and be able to say.

Everything’s going according to plan, below via Naked Capitalism 10-24-19]

A minimum wage job meant he couldn’t afford health insurance.Then he stopped taking insulin—it cost $500/month.

Last night I admitted him to the ICU, another 29-year-old with diabetic ketoacidosis.

Insulin has become a commodity for the rich. And those who can’t pay, die.


Climate and environmental crises

[Guardian, via Naked Capitalism 10-25-19]

The North Carolina-based activist, thrust on to the national stage after the success of the Moral Mondays protests in his home state, joined a group of local demonstrators in St James parish, between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, on Wednesday as they rallied against a proposed plastics manufacturing facility nearby.

The sprawling, $9.4bn site in the parish’s fifth ward, pushed by the Taiwanese petrochemicals giant Formosa, would consist of 14 separate plants across 2,300 acres of land and, if approved, would be allowed to roughly double the amount of toxic emissions in the parish from 1.6m lb to 3.2m.

“A Giant Factory Rises to Make a Product Filling Up the World: Plastic”

[New York Times, via Naked Capitalism 10-24-19]

“When completed, the facility will be fed by pipelines stretching hundreds of miles across Appalachia. It will have its own rail system with 3,300 freight cars. And it will produce more than a million tons each year of something that many people argue the world needs less of: plastic. As concern grows about plastic debris in the oceans and recycling continues to falter in the United States, the production of new plastic is booming. The plant that Royal Dutch Shell is building about 25 miles northwest of Pittsburgh will create tiny pellets that can be turned into items like phone cases, auto parts and food packaging, all of which will be around long after they have served their purpose. The plant is one of more than a dozen that are being built or have been proposed around the world by petrochemical companies like Exxon Mobil and Dow, including several in nearby Ohio and West Virginia and on the Gulf Coast. And after decades of seeing American industrial jobs head overseas, the rise of the petrochemical sector is creating excitement.”

Thirst turns to anger as Australia’s mighty river runs dry

[Reuters, via Naked Capitalism 10-25-19]

The past two years have been the driest in the catchment area of the Darling, which flows 2,844 km (1,767 miles) over the outback to the sea, and adjoining Murray river since records began in 1900.

Drought is weighing on economic growth, and the dire conditions have prompted Australia, a major wheat exporter, to import the grain for the first time in 12 years.

[Jiyoon Kim, Ajin Lee, Maya Rossin-Slate [National Bureau of Economic Research, via Naked Capitalism 10-22-19]

From the abstract: “prenatal exposure to extreme heat increases the risk of maternal hospitalization during pregnancy, and that this effect is larger for black than for white mothers. At childbirth, heat-exposed mothers are more likely to have hypertension and have longer hospital stays. For infants, fetal exposure to extreme heat leads to a higher likelihood of dehydration at birth and hospital readmission in the first year of life. Our results provide new estimates of the health costs of climate change and identify environmental drivers of the black-white maternal health gap.”

[The Ghion Journal, via Naked Capitalism 10-23-19]

“I noticed how [Morningstar] highlighted elite use of nuanced language—language that smacks of lawyerly thinking—as one of the key methods members of the Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) industrial complex use to mask the basic assumptions behind the solutions they want the world to adopt….. About a quarter of the way through the piece, Morningstar notes the use of a very specific phrase in the proposals of NGO-connected elites to define their specific goal for reducing carbon emissions: ‘Net Zero Emissions.’ As she explains, this is a very precise modification of carbon goals articulated by NGOs in previous years, and certainly a departure from what grassroots climate activists seek. Because ‘net zero emissions’ doesn’t mean a massive reduction in the amount of carbon we’re pumping into the atmosphere: ‘Rather, it is the amount of emissions being put into the atmosphere being equal to the amount being ‘captured.’ To achieve that carbon capture, the NGO industrial complex is seeking huge investments for carbon capture storage technology, investments they don’t want to make with their own money but want to take from pension funds and our tax dollars. And, as Morningstar laid out in Act III of her series (which you can listen to here), they want to securitize these investments in green technology so they can become a series of financial products that invigorate growth in a now perpetually sluggish capitalist economy.”

A Taste of the Climate Apocalypse to Come

[ProPublica, via Naked Capitalism 10-24-19]

On PG and E blackouts.

Creating new economic potential – science and technology

These U.N. Climate Scientists Think They Can Halt Global Warming for $300 Billion. Here’s How 

[Time, via Naked Capitalism 10-24-19]
[CNET, via Naked Capitalism 10-26-19]

The system’s inner-workings are detailed further by the researchers — MIT postdoc Sahag Voskian and professor T. Alan Hatton — in a paper called Faradaic Electro-swing Reactive Adsorption for CO2 Capture, which was published this month n the journal Energy and Environmental Science. [Click here to view Vimeo video.]

“The United States leads the global green economy. For now.” 

[Anthropocene, via Naked Capitalism 10-23-19]

“The green economy in the United States employs the equivalent of almost 9.5 million workers, the researchers found. Both employment and sales in the green economy grew by more than 20% between 2012-13 and 2015-16. Currently the green economy accounts for about 7% of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP). China has a similar number of green economy workers as the United States, but this represents a much smaller percentage of its workforce. Green economy sales per capita are higher in the United States than they are in China, the G20 nations (consisting of 19 large-economy countries plus the European Union), or the OECD (a group of 36 mostly high-income countries).”

IEA: World poised to double installed renewables capacity by 2024

[Recharge, via American Wind Energy Association 10-21-19]

The world is on track to add 12,000 gigawatts of new wind, solar and renewable energy capacity between 2019 and 2024, which would double the levels seen today, says the International Energy Agency. By 2024, renewables could account for 30% of the world’s generating capacity.

Thailand signs three-airport high-speed rail link deal
[Railway Age 10-25-19]

State Railway of Thailand (SRT) and a consortium led by the Charoen Pokphand Group signed a Baht 224.5 billion (US$7.4 billion) public-private partnership (PPP) deal to build a high-speed line linking Thailand’s three main airports.

Testing underway as China prepares to open 14 high-speed lines
[Railway Age 10-24-19]

Test running is underway on 14 new sections of high-speed railway in China as the country prepares to open the next batch of high-speed lines before the end of the year.

“Google and IBM Clash Over Milestone Quantum Computing Experiment” 

[Quanta, via Naked Capitalism 10-25-19]

“In their new paper, Google demonstrated that their 53-qubit quantum computer performs a certain specialized computation (called “random circuit sampling” — see our recent explainer for more details) in fast polynomial time. Meanwhile, there’s no evidence that any classical computer can perform the same task in anything better than slow exponential time. That’s far more important than the time frame involved… What matters is that Google’s machine is solving a computational problem in a fundamentally different way than a classical computer can. This difference means that every time its quantum computer grows by even a single qubit [quantum bits], a classical computer will have to double in size to keep pace. By the time a quantum computer gets to 70 qubits — likely within the next couple of years — a classical supercomputer would need to occupy the area of a city to keep up.”

Researchers Transmit Energy Using a Laser
[Machine Design Today 10-22-19]

Attendees at a three-day tech demonstration at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Bethesda, Md. got to witness the first long-range, free-space power beaming system. It consists of the two 13-ft-high towers—one a 2-kW laser transmitter, the other a receiver of specially designed photovoltaics. The important part was the laser beaming 400 watts of power across 1,066 ft, but it was invisible to the naked eye.

On one receiving end, the laser beam was being converted to DC power, which an inverter was turning into AC power to run lights, several laptops, and a coffeemaker that Navy organizers were using to make coffee for the attendees.

Captured by a special camera, a laser beam invisible to the naked eye shoots across the dark expanse of the David Taylor Model Basin at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Bethesda, Md.

Information Age Dystopia

[Washington Post, via Naked Capitalism 10-23-19]

Designed by the recruiting-technology firm HireVue, the system uses candidates’ computer or cellphone cameras to analyze their facial movements, word choice and speaking voice before ranking them against other applicants based on an automatically generated “employability” score.

HireVue’s “AI-driven assessments” have become so pervasive in some industries, including hospitality and finance, that universities make special efforts to train students on how to look and speak for best results. More than 100 employers now use the system, including Hilton, Unilever and Goldman Sachs, and more than a million job seekers have been analyzed.

But some AI researchers argue the system is digital snake oil — an unfounded blend of superficial measurements and arbitrary number-crunching that is not rooted in scientific fact. Analyzing a human being like this, they argue, could end up penalizing nonnative speakers, visibly nervous interviewees or anyone else who doesn’t fit the model for look and speech.

I wonder how financial firms jigger the software when trying to find sociopaths to hire as traders…. (Harvard Business Review, Psychopaths on Wall Street)

Matt Stoller [, via Naked Capitalism 10-26-19] “Amazon’s First Fully Automated Factory Is Anything But”

[New York Times, via Naked Capitalism 10-22-19]

“While it’s true that Amazon has automated much of the process of sorting, distributing and delivering goods and eliminated much of the repetitive and backbreaking work it once took to do all of those things, the work of human employees is a necessary part of the facility’s operations. By insinuating otherwise, Amazon is disempowering and even endangering those employees. I know, because I’m one of them. I have worked at this ‘human free’ facility since it opened, performing maintenance on its fleet of robots when they need repairs. I am part of what Amazon refers to as its ‘contingency network’: the third-party contracting companies that hire human workers to keep the automated facility running. Each of these companies categorizes workers like myself as independent contractors, so they don’t have to pay for health care coverage, time off or workers’ compensation insurance. We are the technicians who repair the machines when they break down. The janitors who clean up the messes the robots make when other robots can’t do the cleaning or when management decides it would be cheaper or faster for a human to do the task instead. The programmers who fix glitches in the logistics software. And, yes, the pickers who help their robotic counterparts find the right items by hand when the robotic arms get jammed. Working in a supposedly automated warehouse is hard, lonely and often unsettling. Because of the employment structure — or, rather, the lack of one — there are no managers or authority figures employed by Amazon on-site. Instead, we are under continuous video surveillance.” • What a dystopian hellscape.

“Amazon is shipping expired food, from baby formula to old beef jerky, scaring consumers and putting big brands at risk” 

[CNBC, via Naked Capitalism 10-21-19]

 “[A]n increasing number of consumers are finding that, just as the broader Amazon Marketplace has a major issue with counterfeits and unsafe products, the grocery section is littered with similarly problematic items in the form of expired foods. From baby formula and coffee creamer to beef jerky and granola bars, items are arriving spoiled and well past their sell-by date, Amazon customers say. Interviews with brands, consumers, third-party sellers and consultants all point to loopholes in Amazon’s technology and logistics system that allow for expired items to proliferate with little to no accountability. Consumer safety advocates worry that as the marketplace grows, the problem will only get worse.” • Lots of detail. Any fines are, of course, just a cost of doing business.

At an Outback Steakhouse Franchise, Surveillance Blooms

[Wired, via Naked Capitalism 10-22-19]

“According to Presto CEO Rajat Suri, Presto Vision takes advantage of preexisting surveillance cameras that many restaurants already have installed. The system uses machine learning to analyze footage of restaurant staff at work and interacting with guests. It aims to track metrics like how often a server tends to their tables or how long it takes for food to come out. At the end of a shift, managers receive an email of the compiled statistics, which they can then use to identify problems and infer whether servers, hostesses, and kitchen staff are adequately doing their jobs.”

I Put My Life in a Box, Then I Couldn’t Get It Out 

[Businessweek, The Big Picture 10-22-19]

A promising summer of algorithms to automate household needs becomes the writer’s season in consumer hell, beset by robots preying on her self-esteem.

“Smart home tech can help evict renters, surveillance company tells landlords”

[CNET, via Naked Capitalism 10-25-19]

“A smart intercom company called Teman GateGuard has been pitching its surveillance technology to landlords in New York as a way to sidestep rent-control regulations in the city, according to emails reviewed by CNET. The email’s subject line says, ‘GateGuard: 3 Steps to de-stabilize NYC units — even after the new law!” and opens with the sentence, ‘You CAN raise rents in NYC!’… ‘Use the GateGuard AI Doorman Intercom to catch illegal sublets, non-primaries, Airbnbs, so you can vacate a unit,’ GateGuard’s sales team wrote in the email. ‘Combine a $950/mo studio and a $1400/mo one-bedroom into a $4200 DEREGULATED two-bedroom.’

“The Case for an Outright Ban on Facial Recognition Technology” 

[leapsmag, via Naked Capitalism 10-22-19]

“In a surprise appearance at the tail end of Amazon’s much-hyped annual product event last month, CEO Jeff Bezos casually told reporters that his company is writing its own facial recognition legislation….. Industry-friendly regulations won’t fix the dangers inherent in widespread use of face scanning software, whether it’s deployed by governments or for commercial purposes. The use of this technology in public places and for surveillance purposes should be banned outright, and its use by private companies and individuals should be severely restricted…. We need spaces that are free from government and societal intrusion in order to advance as a civilization…. If the U.S. government had ubiquitous facial recognition surveillance 50 years ago when homosexuality was still criminalized, would the LGBTQ rights movement ever have formed? In a world where private spaces don’t exist, would people have felt safe enough to leave the closet and gather, build community, and form a movement? Freedom from surveillance is necessary for deviation from social norms as well as to dissent from authority, without which societal progress halts.”

Facebook isn’t free speech, it’s algorithmic amplification optimized for outrage

[Techcrunch, via The Big Picture 10-22-19]
[Washington Post, via Naked Capitalism 10-21-19]

“Hate, the author argues, has been promoted by news outlets that cater to ‘distinct audiences of party zealots’ fed a diet of information intended to demonize political opponents — and increase viewership. It’s a model with benign consequences when applied to coverage of rival sports teams, but otherwise corrosive. ‘In 2016 especially, news reporters began to consciously divide and radicalize audiences,’ he writes. ‘. . . As Trump rode to the White House, we rode to massive profits. The only losers were the American people, who were now more steeped in hate than ever.’”


[The Verge, via Naked Capitalism 10-21-19]

“Nest is moving to a more tightly controlled system, restricting access to audited partners and tightly limited “routines.” It’s part of a broader push to rein in the risks of home automation and prevent the kind of third-party-driven data breach that has hit so many competitors. But along the way, it means tightening Google’s control over the world of home automation in a way that competitors may not like…. There are reasons to be nervous about this tightening of permissions. The companies making these devices aren’t scrappy startups anymore. They’re some of the largest companies in the world, and the competition over who controls what data will be a major struggle in the years to come. Ideally, Google wouldn’t be setting the terms for how you can link your own devices. Even [Nest GM Rishi Chandra] concedes that some kind of independent standard akin to ISO certifications would be preferable. But we don’t have that standard yet, and without it, cleaning up the mess of home automation means making it harder to play the game.”

Disrupting mainstream politics (Or – mainstream politics need to be disrupted)

“Why Political Candidates’ Family and Friends Are Fair Game” 

[Jacobin, via Naked Capitalism 10-24-19]

 “A candidate’s class location matters because class shapes our social world, and we are continually reshaped by the people around us. While actual conflicts of interests are important — see: every minute of the Trump administration — the media’s fixation on grifters and parasites tends to miss the way close relationships influence a person’s ideas. So it’s worth asking, who does the candidate associate with? Whose conversation is informing their view of the world? Elizabeth Warren’s daughter, Amelia Tyagi, with whom she has coauthored two best-selling books, has come a long way from her mom’s humble Oklahoma origins. Tyagi is now a founder and CEO of a consultancy called the Business Talent Group. Like Mayor Pete (BOOTEdgeEdge), she’s also worked as a consultant for McKinsey, a secretive consulting firm that has been rightly blamed for some of the worst miseries of working life at many major corporations.”

How Democrats Became the Party of Monopoly and Corruption
Matt Stoller [Vice, via Naked Capitalism 10-23-19]

What Liberals Miss About Trump Country
[Jacobin, via Naked Capitalism 10-20-19]

Who Democrats In Early-Primary States Don’t Want To See Nominated

[FiveThirtyEight, via Naked Capitalism 10-23-19]

[David Waldron, via Naked Capitalism 10-21-19]

“Last month, ActBlue, an online fundraising platform for the Democratic party gave the FEC an unprecedented amount of data on small donors during the 2019-2020 election cycle. This includes millions of donations to candidates in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary. Bernie Sanders, who relies heavily on small donors and who recently reported surpassing 1 million individual donors, dominates the donor count in the data with 27% of the overall total.”

Eric Levitz [New York Magazine, via Naked Capitalism 10-23-19]

“So, how did center-left Democrats end up in a position so desperate, the concept of “John Kerry 2020” strikes them as cause for consideration instead of laughter? There are probably an infinite number of (partially) correct answers to that question. But if I had to limit myself to three: 1. Kamala Harris doesn’t have “it.”… 2. Joe Biden is losing it (and much too slowly). … 3. The outsize role of money in politics now puts corporate Democrats at a disadvantage (in Democratic presidential primaries, anyway). This point may be controversial (and a little premature). But small-dollar online fundraising seems to have radically changed the political economy of presidential campaigns…. progressive Democrats don’t just tweet more than moderate ones — they also spend more of their disposal income on politics. Thus, candidates who command the enthusiasm of progressive news junkies now have a much easier time making payroll than those who don’t. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren aren’t just out-raising their rivals, they’re doing so without having to expend precious time and energy on ritzy fundraisers.”

Lambert Strether notes “The candidate’s time is a campaign’s single most precious resource. It’s an interesting angle that small donor campaigns deploy their candidate more effectively. (I might add that all of the classist eruptions — Obama’s “bitter”/”cling to”, Romney’s “47%,” and Clinton’s “deplorables” — came at high-dollar fundraisers, which apparently are more risky than they might seem.)”Democrats Have No Answer for Trump’s Anti-War Posture

Maj. Danny Sjursen [Truthdig, via Naked Capitalism 10-21-19]Joe Biden’s Super PAC Is Being Organized by Corporate Lobbyists for Health Care Industry, Weapons Makers, Finance
Lee Fang [The Intercept 10-26-19]

Economics in the real world

“How to spot a recession”

[The Economist] (original*), via Naked Capitalism 10-21-19]

“Claudia Sahm, an economist at the Federal Reserve has developed a new method for predicting economic downturns. In the report, Ms Sahm argues that when the three-month average unemployment rate is at least 0.5 percentage points above its minimum from the previous 12 months, the economy is in a recession. This simple measure, it turns out, has correctly called every recession in America since 1970. In January 2008, for example, Ms Sahm’s index warned of the coming Great Recession. The index had also flashed red in early 2001, amid the bursting of the dotcom bubble. Today, conditions are considerably less dire. With unemployment 0.07 percentage points below its minimum of the past year, the “Sahm recession indicator” suggests that the chance of a downturn occurring in the next year is just 10%.”


Open Thread


Dangers and Possibilities in the Chile Protests


  1. That VICE report at the top of the post is a must read, will be a blog post or two of their own at my house over the next couple of days – there’s a week’s worth of posts in there. Not anything that any of those around here who’ve been paying attention haven’t already seen, conclusions drawn, but all packaged up nice and tight, ship-shape.

    That the report was commissioned by General Mark Milley, Trump’s new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, making him the highest-ranking military officer in the country is rich. I particularly enjoyed the parenthetic (the report also puts him at odds with Trump, who does not take climate change seriously).

  2. Hugh

    I believe that the CBO is required by law to do ten year projections on the budget, legislation, the debt, etc. The idea was that Congress wanted to know what things really cost. The problem is the world is far too complicated for such projections. So what we get are a bunch of GIGO reports. The CBO is lucky to be close even one year out, really, really lucky to be ballpark three years out, and anything beyond that knucklebones and a ouija board are about as good.

    The Democratic party, like the GOP, has always been pretty corrupt. Its turn to business started under Jimmy Carter who was sold not just as a Southerner but as a businessman. Paul Volcker became Chairman of the Fed under Carter, not Reagan. And Carter pushed through deregulation of trucking and the airlines. Clinton’s contribution was the financialization of the economy and the Democratic party. Clintonian triangulation made the pushing of the Overton always to the right a standard feature of Democratic politics, but he could not have done it if there had not already been a pro-business, neoliberal re-alignment going on since Carter.

  3. nihil obstet

    The small dollar candidate fundraising described in Eric Levitz’s is hopeful in another way, in addition to the ones described. People tend to assimilate towards their group. During fundraising in a campaign and continuing into the non-stop fundraising that now constitutes elected officials’ real job, the people’s representatives think like the donors they’re talking to. A lot of it may be sell-out, but simple entering into the corrupt culture carries the representative away from the people. If the hours are no longer spent trying to ingratiate oneself with greedy plutocrats, there’s a chance of representation improving.

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