Monthly Archives: August 2021

Inflating New Home Prices Rising Faster than Median Household Income

After a year's hiatus with the coronavirus pandemic, median household income began noticeably rising in May 2021. But median new home sale prices are continued rising faster. The following chart shows the newly developing trend in the relationship between median new home sale prices and median household income.

U.S. Median New Home Sale Price vs Median Household Income, Annual: 1999 - 2019 | Monthly: December 2000 - July 2021

Let's recap the recent history. After a short spike to reach a record 5.45 times (5.45X) median household income in February 2018, the relative level of affordability of new homes in the U.S. improved after that point, bottoming at 4.88X in May 2020. A surge of demand after May 2020 has fueled inflating new home prices, which have risen to 5.38X median household income as of July 2021.

Which is to say that new homes are becoming less affordable for the typical American household. The following chart shows the current declining trend for affordability:

Relative Affordability of New Homes in U.S., Annual: 1967 to 2019, Monthly: December 2000 to July 2021

We'll report our estimate for median household income for July 2021 on 1 September 2021.

Australian Politics 2021-08-31 09:50:00


Competitive political fundraising comes to Australia

This has been big and accepted in America for a long time

In announcing his move to the United Australia Party last week, Craig Kelly – presumably unintentionally – made a persuasive case for campaign expenditure reform. In a surprisingly frank explanation of his reasons for joining Clive Palmer’s UAP, the former Coalition MP boasted: “We have a huge war chest, we can run television commercials, ads, we can finance a proper campaign that no other minor party or independent can.”

Did Kelly, in extolling the capacity of the UAP to lavish enormous largesse on campaigning – a capacity unrivalled by other minor parties and independents – spare a passing thought for our democracy, and what the consequences are of inequality of opportunity to compete for election? For the reality that the less level the playing field, the more unrepresentative our constitutionally enshrined system of representative government becomes?

It is unarguable that our current system of uncapped electoral expenditure has produced a field that is not only not level, but substantially tipped in favour of those with resources. As the situation stands, what are minor parties and independents wishing to compete with the UAP’s ability to dump enormous sums into its campaigns to do? Desperately raise funds to plough into their own campaigns?

For as long as electoral expenditure remains uncapped, there will exist a temptation for parties and candidates to chase donations to fund their campaigns – donations that, in some cases, might come with no strings attached; in others, might openly be to buying access (though the High Court has reminded us that the line between ingratiation and access, and corruption, “may not be so bright”); and in yet others, may be for something that poses an even greater threat to our democracy.

Research by the Centre for Public Integrity has concluded that electoral expenditure caps should apply to political parties, associated entities and third parties, and be coupled with specific restrictions on political advertising.

The current arms race, where parties and candidates vie for donations to fund their campaigns, could be replaced by public funding and distribution of advertising space (based on existing models in Britain and New Zealand). This would avoid scenarios such as that in 2019, when the UAP’s digital spend was claimed to have driven up the price of purchasing and boosting digital ads, with the consequence that the ability of less well-resourced parties to access space was impeded.

By making the political advertising landscape more equitable, reforms such as these effectively democratise elections.

Kelly’s announcement also puts the issue of truth in political advertising squarely on the agenda, in light of the UAP’s claims during last year’s Queensland election that Labor planned to introduce a death tax – a claim Labor vehemently denied and sought to have removed from Facebook and Twitter.

Since the High Court decided in 1983 that a provision of the Commonwealth’s electoral law prohibiting false statements likely to mislead a voter “in or in relation to the casting of his vote” did not extend to statements influencing the voter’s formation of a judgment about the candidate they wished to vote for, there has been a clear case to adopt an appropriate truth in political advertising provision at federal level (and indeed, in the states and territories – currently, only South Australia and the ACT require truth in political advertising).

In offering his view that it would be unconstitutional to block his advertisements (presumably in reliance on the implied freedom of political communication), Kelly complained: “Now we are in a society where if you have an alternate [sic] opinion then shut up.” Opinion is one thing; material presented as fact, of course, is entirely another.

As former High Court Justice Mary Gaudron saw it, insofar as the freedom of political communication concerns information and ideas, false or misleading material does not enjoy the same protection. It is not constitutionally impermissible for a law to infringe upon the implied freedom of political communication, as long as – among other things – the law serves a legitimate end. In a representative democracy, can a law prohibiting citizens from being misled in exercising their democratic right to vote be anything other than a legitimate end? And how many of us would disagree with the proposition, put by Professor Dean Jaensch AO, that electors should have an equivalent “consumer protection” as that bestowed upon parties to commercial transactions?

While many additional reforms are needed to protect the right of citizens to engage with their information environment in a meaningful way, electoral expenditure caps and truth in political advertising are undoubtedly the most pressing.


University students will be trained to spot foreign interference

Paranoia about China

University students will be trained to spot foreign interference threats on campus and report them to authorities under proposed new rules aimed at significantly beefing up universities’ responsibilities for countering Chinese government influence on campuses.

Academics and students involved in research collaborations with overseas institutions will also get specific training on how to “recognise, mitigate and handle concerns of foreign interference”, following security agencies’ concerns about critical research being stolen.

The measures are contained in new draft foreign interference guidelines for universities, which are being furiously debated among university leaders and government officials. The federal government has already been forced to review a key element of the guidelines, which would have required all academics to disclose their membership of foreign political parties over the past decade, following a fierce backlash from university chiefs.

Following growing concerns from Australia’s security agencies about the risk of research theft by China and other foreign actors, the guidelines state that students and staff are to “receive training on, and have access to information about how foreign interference can manifest on campus and how to raise concerns in the university or with appropriate authorities”.

The measures are also aimed at addressing reports of students and academics being harassed by pro-Beijing groups on campuses. They propose that orientation programs should be used to “promote to all staff and students ways to report within their university concerns of foreign interference, intimidation and harassment that can lead to self-censorship”. Universities will also be required to have policies that set out how reported “concerns are tracked, resolved and recorded and shared” internally and when they should be reported to outside authorities.

To oversee these measures, the guidelines state that universities must have an “accountable authority” – either a senior executive or executive body – that will have responsibility for research collaborations with overseas institutions, and reviewing security risks and communicating them with the government.

The guidelines have been drafted by the Universities Foreign Interference Taskforce (UFIT), a collaborative body that includes university vice-chancellors and government officials. The final version will replace existing guidelines, which are far less prescriptive. The proposal has prompted considerable concern among academic leaders about the mandatory language underpinning the new requirements, and what consequences, if any, universities will face from government if they fail to implement them.

Federal Education Minister Alan Tudge has declined to comment on “what is and isn’t in the draft guidelines”, but said earlier this year he was deeply concerned by a Human Rights Watch report that revealed accounts of Chinese international students being surveilled and harassed by their pro-Beijing classmates.

The report found that students were self-censoring in class out of fear comments critical of the Chinese Communist Party would be reported to authorities, with several students saying their parents in China had been hauled into police stations over their campus activities. Academics interviewed by Human Rights Watch also reported self-censorship practices, saying sensitive topics such as Taiwan had become too difficult to teach without a backlash from pro-Beijing students.

The report’s author, Sophie McNeill, said the draft guidelines indicated the government had taken the report’s findings into account.

“This focus had been missing from the previous guidelines, so it is very welcome these issues are now being recognised and addressed. It is critical the final guidelines include practical measures to safeguard academic freedom and address issues of harassment, surveillance and self-censorship faced by international students and staff,” Ms McNeill said.

Some universities have already taken steps to respond to the issues highlighted by Human Rights Watch. The University of Technology Sydney, for example, updated its orientation program for international students this semester to include guidance on acceptable behaviour and how students could report intimidation or surveillance by other students.

“We have certainly made it clear to students that what is discussed in classrooms is not something that should be reported on to the embassy,” Mr Watt, UTS deputy vice-chancellor, said.

“We’re not encouraging students to spy on each other. But rather, it’s saying: if you get doxxed or bullied or feel unable to express your views in a lecture here is the support available to you and here’s what you should do.”

The university’s misconduct rules allow for a range of penalties in response to unacceptable behaviour, including potential expulsion in serious cases.


Dandenong councillor proposes separate seating for men and women

A Dandenong councillor's call for separate seating for men and women at a park so Muslim men and women can sit apart is "a disgrace," according to the IPA's Bella D'Abrera.

Councillor Jim Memeti has raised the idea of separate seating at Norine Cox Reserve in Dandenong South in order to accommodate Muslim men and women.

Dr D'Abrera told Sky News host Rita Panahi, the idea is "completely at odds" with the values of a liberal democracy.

"We've been struggling for decades to have equality between men and women.

"And in one fell swoop, this is a massively retrograde step, putting women on one side and men on the other is basically gender apartheid."


‘Barrage of abuse’: Molan denies Asian accent jokes were racist

Broadcaster Erin Molan has defended using Asian accents in a series of jokes with her radio co-hosts, denying the gags aired in 2019 – including one in which Molan imitates a Chinese sex worker – were racist or inappropriate.

Instead, the team’s “mimicking” of accents was funny because it was “self-deprecating”, she told the Federal Court on Tuesday.

Molan, 39, is suing the Daily Mail for defamation over an article and two tweets published in June 2020 which she says falsely implied she is racist, callous and arrogant.

The article and tweets in question refer to a May 30, 2020 broadcast of The Continuous Call Team show on Sydney radio station 2GB in which Molan used the phrase “hooka looka mooka hooka fooka” in reference to the names of Pacific Islander NRL players. But in its defence, the Daily Mail dug up more than 20 other examples of the show’s hosts, including Molan, using accents in a way it claims was racist.

Molan, who is employed by Nine – the owner of this masthead – is seeking aggravated damages from the Daily Mail. Fighting back tears on Tuesday, she told the court that after the stories were published she was in a “very bad place” and had received multiple death threats targeting herself and her young daughter.

She said she was “inconsolable” and “struggling to cope” after the articles were published and she received a “barrage of abuse” including from “a lot of people I respect and admire and a lot of prominent people”.

Under cross-examination from barrister Bruce McClintock, Molan was then played a series of clips of the show from 2019 in which she engaged in jokes, imitating Asian accents, with co-hosts including Ray Hadley and Darryl Brohman.

In the first of these clips, from April 1, 2019, Molan imitates an Asian accent saying “I wuv you wery long time, wery handsome man”.

After playing the clip, Mr McClintock challenged Ms Molan to repeat her words “in the way you said it on the program”. She said the words, but did so without the accent.

“That’s not what you said, is it? You changed the ‘r’ to a ‘w’,” Mr McClintock said. Molan agreed.

“I wuv you wery long time, wery handsome man”, he proffered. “You’re putting on, again, what I would say is a Chinese accent?”

Again, Molan agreed. But to his suggestion she was “imitating a Chinese prostitute”, she said no. Rather, she said she was quoting a movie – but “I coudn’t tell you” which one.

Asked why it was funny, she said: “I guess because my accent was so bad”. She told the court she wasn’t sure what was funny about some of the jokes, and “it’s just part of banter on our show”.

She denied multiple times that the accents constituted mocking.

Molan said her role on the show was sometimes to question whether they were “going too far”, which is why on a number of occasions during the clips played to the court she said: “sorry, was that racist?” or “how is that, in this day and age, allowed?”

However, she said she never concluded that the jokes were inappropriate.

Molan said she trusted the audience to let the show know if anyone found their jokes were offensive. “Not one person ever expressed offence, and as you know in this day and age there are plenty of platforms to express offence,” she said.




The S&P 500 After the Fed Sets Taper Expectations for 2021-Q4

This edition of the S&P 500 chaos series won't be a surprise at all. On Friday, 27 August 2021 the Fed's minions went all out to set the expectations that the Fed will start slowing down and tapering its stimulus bond buys in the fourth quarter of 2021. Not uncoincidentally, the dividend futures-based model says investors are mostly fixing their forward looking focus on 2021-Q4, so mission accomplished for the minions.

Alternative Futures - S&P 500 - 2021Q3 - Standard Model (m=-2.5 from 16 June 2021) - Snapshot on 27 Aug 2021

Looking forward, we see the dividend futures-based model is about to enter another period where the volatility of past stock prices affects its projections of the future. We've updated the redzone forecast we've been showing in the 2021-Q3 chart since we first introduced it at the beginning of the quarter, which assumes investors will remain focused on 2021-Q4 from now until most of the way through the fourth quarter of 2021.

That's pretty much the week's news in a nutshell with respect to moving the markets. Here's the rest, where if you're not familiar with how little most political events affect stock prices, you might be surprised to see how little President Biden's fiasco in Afghanistan is affecting the market, which is paying much closer attention to what the Fed is planning to do.

Monday, 23 August 2021
Tuesday, 24 August 2021
Wednesday, 25 August 2021
Thursday, 26 August 2021
Friday, 27 August 2021

Over the last couple of months, we've been featuring our favorite sources of market data and news at the end of the weekly editions of the S&P 500 chaos series. Obviously, there are a lot more than what we've featured, so if you're reading this article on a site that RSS news feed and allows comments, please point to your favorites - we're always on the hunt for high quality news and data sites!

Australian Politics 2021-08-30 06:05:00


The key piece of evidence jurors NEVER heard before finding 'child-killer' Kathleen Folbigg guilty for the deaths of her four children

A clear and dreadful miscarriage of justice

Kathleen Folbigg may not have spent the last 18 years behinds bars had the jury been told at least eight families around the world had suffered multiple sudden infant deaths, as world-leading scientists continue their quest to prove her innocence.

The woman considered to be Australia's worst female serial killer and 'most hated woman' was jailed in 2003 for the murders of her children Patrick, Sarah and Laura - aged from eight months to 19 months - between 1991 and 1999.

She was also found guilty of the manslaughter of her first-born child, Caleb, who was just 19 days old when he died in Newcastle in 1989.

Folbigg, 53, has always maintained her innocence and has the support of dozens of scientists and medical experts who have called for her to be pardoned from her 30-year jail term.

Following her most recent unsuccessful appeal for freedom, she has written a four page letter to NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman urging him to 'soften his heart' as she pleaded again to walk free.

At Folbigg's trial in 2003, expert witnesses for the prosecution told the court that they didn't know of a single family in the world where three or more babies died suddenly of natural causes.

What the jury didn't hear is the same tragedy had happened to at least eight other families overseas.

Australian National University Professor of Immunology Carola Vinuesa was among the scientists tasked with analysing Folbigg's DNA and that of her four deceased children.

'At the time of Kathleen's trial, even though it has just been discredited, it still permeated the idea that four deaths in a family is just too rare,' she told 60 Minutes.

'Well, we know it isn't. These things happen.'

A genetic mutation called CALM2 G114R was found in Sarah and Laura's DNA, inherited from their mother, which can cause sudden cardiac arrest in infants.

Scientists in multiple countries ran biochemical and electrophysiological tests to prove the deadliness of the mutation.

The peer-reviewed findings were published in a world leading paper by Oxford University stating the mutation had 90 to 95 per cent chance of causing potentially fatal disease.

Professor Vinuesa believes 'it's very likely' that the Folbigg daughters died of a cardiac arrhythmia which led to sudden death.

'If that is not reasonable doubt, I don't know what is,' she said.

'The paper itself was co-authored by 27 scientists from seven different countries with experiments performed in at least four countries'

'The science was very strong. To date, there hasn't been a single criticism of the science.'

She is backed by Professor Peter Schwartz who's regarded as a world leader in cardiovascular genetics.

'The third and fourth deaths in that family were caused by calmodulin mutation,' he said.

'To find that is a smoking gun. It's hard to imagine it would be something else.

Scientists said the boys also had mutated genes which caused fatal epilepsy.

Former NSW District Court chief judge Reginald Blanch QC in 2019 found significant investigations had failed to find a reasonable natural explanation for any of the deaths of Caleb, Patrick, Sarah and Laura. He ruled that it was beyond reasonable doubt that Folbigg was guilty.

Folbigg's own explanations and behaviour in respect of her diaries, which weren't available in any of the mother's criminal appeals, made 'her guilt of these offences even more certain', Mr Blanch concluded.

Folbigg's legal team has since sent her diaries to US research psychologist Dr James Pennebaker, who believes they show no premeditation for murder.

'There was no evidence for some kind of somebody who is devious, who is certainly planning to kill anyone,' he said.

He was shocked to learn that a judge couldn't find any reasonable doubt regarding her guilt by taking her diaries into account.

'I find that remarkable and I would urge them to look at the diaries in a different light,' he added.

Professor Vinuesa was among 90 scientists who signed a petition lodged with NSW Governor Margaret Beazley AC QC earlier this year which called for Folbigg's pardon and immediate release.

'I think it's distressing, it's shocking really. I think it should bring an embarrassment to Australians like myself,' she said.

'But I still have the hope that, you know, like Australia of high integrity, this evidence, since the inquiry, and say that it's time to have the science prevail, and listen to the science.'

Following her latest unsuccessful bid for freedom, Folbigg has written to Mr Speakman about the overwhelming support she's had from the public and how her day-to-day existence has changed her following the petition for a pardon.

She paid tribute to the scientists in the four page handwritten letter obtained by The Australian.

'To them, this isn't only about helping Kathleen Folbigg but rather about a need for scientific proof to be listened to, respected and heeded,' she wrote.

'They have removed the stigma of being perceived as an evil monster, removed the anxiety and fear that I have suffered every day for over 30-odd years.'

Folbigg maintains her innocence and spent the last three decades mourning the loss of her four babies.

She also expresses her regret at not give evidence in person at her trial, a decision she continues to pay a heavy price for.

'(My supporters) have known me my whole life, not just a decade of it, and have witnessed the love and care for my children. Also my devastating grief,' Folbigg wrote.

'Please soften your heart.'

Until now, US mum Meredith Schoenherr has never spoken publicly about the tragic death of two-and-a-half-year-old son Jack from a rare genetic mutation in 2013. It was the same type of abnormality found in the Folbigg girls.

'I was so excited that he was sleeping late for once in his life, but I went into the bedroom and when I went to roll him over, it was very obvious that he was gone,' she told 60 Minutes.

She recalled how close the authorities were to taking Jack's baby sister away from her and her husband Todd, who were interviewed separately at the hospital shortly after their son's death. 'She separated us and had us each tell our story of what happened,' Ms Schoenherr recalled.

'I was so in shock, it didn't really occur to me at that point that they were investigating us.' 'In the early days, nobody had any answers, which was very frustrating.'

She felt sick to her stomach after hearing Folbigg's story and shudders to think she too could have been jailed over Jack's death.

To be jailed for so many years for it, on top of losing her children, it's really hard for me to even try to comprehend how much that must hurt,' Ms Schoenherr said.

Lifelong friend Tracy Chapman said being jailed for the deaths of her children have had a devastating impact on Folbigg.

'She's cried a river over it because, she didn't kill her children, even though she knows she didn't have a hand in killing her children, she carried a genetic mutation that has done just that, anyway, she said.

She remains hopeful her friend will see eventually see justice. Otherwise everything I ever believed in the Australian legal system goes out the window,' Ms Chapman said.


Catholic schools look at value of jewellery, cars before waiving fees for those in lockdown hot spots

Catholic schools are demanding details of parents’ furniture and jewellery before waiving fees for families struggling financially in lockdown hot spots.

Parents applying for fee relief must reveal how much they spend on food, groceries, internet, mobile phones and pay-TV each month.

Some schools expect families to fill in forms resembling bank loan applications, listing all assets including cars, jewellery, furniture, boats, motorbikes, trailers, and “personal effects’’.

Parents have to provide their latest tax return and financial statements, pay slips, credit card and bank statements and rental statements.

In some cases, families are forced to give schools permission to probe their social security details by contacting Centrelink.

A spokeswoman for National Catholic Education (NCE) said it would be “highly unusual to expect families to sell jewellery (or) furniture to pay for school fees if they are expecting financial hardship.’’

The Catholic Archdiocese of Parramatta - one of the dioceses demanding the personal details - said it was reviewing the form it currently sends to parents, after being contacted by News Corp Australia.

He said more than 3000 parents had been given fee relief in 2020.

“The form we are currently using for applications for assistance is under review with a focus on making sure the process is simpler,’’ a spokesman said.

“We acknowledge that some of the details ... are not needed, nor used to determine fee support and so these details are being removed from the form.

“Our dedicated team responds to requests for fee support with care and sensitivity, taking into account the personal circumstances of each family.’’


Education Queensland: Why our school information has become a state secret

Crucial school performance material has become a fiercely guarded state secret, with parents the big losers in the State Government’s move to quash the release of essential information.

Two major reports previously published by the Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority outlining every school’s NAPLAN and Year 12 results have been dumped entirely this year.

Until now, the QCAA released a detailed report outlining the OPs every student and school received, giving parents a comprehensive picture of each school’s performance.

It allowed parents to see both which schools had achieved the top academic results as well as how schools performed comparatively.

But under the new Queensland Certificate of Education system, where students are awarded an ATAR, only set of state-level data is publicly released.

Despite a vague promise from Education Minister Grace Grace that the release of each school’s median Year 12 ATAR score would be considered, parents are still in the dark months later.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk refused to comment on the information suppression, and yesterday handballed questions to Ms Grace.

Opposition Leader David Crisafulli slammed the move, and called for the information to be made public without delay.

“This information belongs to our parents, teachers and students and should be released in real-time,” he said. “Honesty, accountability and transparency matters to Queenslanders, particularly for parents when it comes to their children’s education.”

But Ms Grace claimed the new reporting system “has worked well”, and said no changes would be made. She said it was “inappropriate to use the information not in the matter it was produced”.

“The ATAR is the primary mechanism used nationally for tertiary admissions and as agreed by all education ministers should not be used to rank schools,” she said.

“Parents who wish to compare different schools have a wealth of information available to them, including the My School website and school annual reports.”

Teachers’ Professional Association of Queensland secretary Jack McGuire said parents deserved to know why such key reports were now being kept secret, calling it a “kick in the pants”.

He also hit back at QCCA boss Chris Rider’s assertion that schools would still get their own individual information.

“This isn’t new, its standard practice and it’s been happening for decades but a statement like that proves the transition to the new QCE system of ATAR rather than an OP in 2020 has led to the decision to dump the report,” he said.

“Common sense goes out the window in favour of political grandstanding and for all the wrong reasons.”

NAPLAN results were also now under lock and key, with the QCAA previously releasing every school’s result at the same time as the national data was available, which occurred this week.

School information will be uploaded in March next year to My School – almost nearly a year after the tests were held.


NSW Health switches to recording deaths 'with' instead of 'from' Covid

Long overdue

NSW Health has switched to recording patients as dying 'with' instead of 'from' Covid as it acknowledges not all of the country's 933 deaths were directly linked to the deadly virus.

Dr Jeremy McAnulty made the admission during Sunday's Covid briefing as the state recorded 1,218 new cases of coronavirus.

Six people died with Covid-19 in the 24 hours to 8pm on Saturday bringing the total death toll of this outbreak to 89 death since June 16.

Dr McAnulty said the change in language was because it was 'very difficult to know' whether someone with Covid died from the virus, or another health complication.

'We know when elderly people die, they can have a range of comorbidities, and also, being old increases your risk of death,' he said.

'Covid may often play a role in the death, but it may not. Sometimes, some of our cases who have sadly died appear to have recovered from Covid, and then they have died of something [else].

'We report people who have died "with" Covid, unless there is a very clear alternative.'

He added that it was difficult for doctors who were looking after patients to know exactly how much the virus contributed to their death.

The symbolic change in language comes as NSW Health begins to acknowledge the country's 933 Covid deaths were not all direct results of the deadly virus.




Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – August 29, 2021


 Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – August 29, 2021

by Tony Wikrent

Strategic Political Economy
Chamathe Palihapitiya - Everyone is WRONG About China 

[Youtube, via Mike Norman Economics, August 23, 2021]

This is extremely informative on two levels. First, former Facebook executive provides his assessment of the short term and long term in China. Short term, the CCP has unambiguously demonstrated that it is firmly in control and that “we will decide how money is made, and who makes it.” Long term, China’s current population of 1.4 billion people is expected to fall by half to 700 million people by 2200. Palihapitiya says that the CC’P’s response to this demographic “time bomb” is to reinforce socialism — which is similar to the argument I make that increasing automation, robotics, and AI in USA and other countries will require more and more “social spending” to support people who simply do not, and cannot, have the means to earn a decent income. Secondly, is to contrast the composure and temperament of Palihapitiya, who clearly sees that the CCP is exerting control over “markets” in a way not thinkable in USA and the West, with that of Palihapitiya’s interlocutor, who is so enmeshed in “free market” theology that he is flipping out over what the CCP is doing. 



Who Has the Cure for America’s Declining Birthrate? Canada.

[New York Times, via The Big Picture 8-24-2021]

Over the last century, two moments that transformed America and positioned it as the global economic leader were the post-World War II economic boom and the I.T. revolution of the 1990s. In both cases, America tore down many forms of discrimination and other barriers to harness the talents of marginalized groups in the country and to welcome new ones, injecting demographic vitality into the economy. To continue America’s upward trajectory in the 21st century, the country must reverse its current demographic decline.

That last sentence especially shows that the writer is locked into the mainstream economic idea that declining population necessarily means a loss of national wealth. This thinking is based on the ideas of feudal mercantilism, which Alexander Hamilton overthrew by his design of the USA economy: “To cherish and stimulate the activity of the human mind, by multiplying the objects of enterprise, is not among the least considerable of the expedients by which the wealth of a nation may be promoted;” and, “the intrinsic wealth of a nation is to be measured, not by the abundance of the precious metals, contained in it, but by the quantity of the productions of its labor and industry….” Mercantalism is zero-sum. What one nation gained in trade, another lost. But Hamilton’s emphasis on machinery and the inventive genius of the human mind meant that the real wealth of a society is based on its technology, and the application of that technology to the processes of production, transportation, and communication.

The U.S. could be on the verge of a productivity boom, a game-changer for the economy 

[Washington Post, via The Big Picture 8-23-2021]

Rapid adoption of robots and artificial intelligence during the pandemic combined with a rebound in government investment is making some economists optimistic about a return of a 1990s economy with widespread benefits.

Neither WaPo writer or Ritholtz asks what should be an obvious question: If we can produce so much more with so many less workers, why do people need to work? In a republic, the ability of society to provide for human needs must be distributed in such a way that all citizens are guaranteed to decent life, with the material conditions needed for each to make their own, unique contributions. 

50th Anniversary of Powell Memorandum: Neoliberalism Has Wrecked Its Hosts 

Yves Smith, August 23, 2021 [Naked Capitalism]

The Whole Country is the Reichstag 

Adolph Reed [via Naked Capitalism 8-24-2021]

It’s time to be blunt.1 The right-wing political alliance anchored by the Republican party and Trumpism coheres around a single concrete objective—taking absolute power in the U.S. as soon and as definitively as possible. And they’re more than ready, even seemingly want, to destroy the social fabric of the country to do so.


Afghanistan Was Always About American Politics 

James K. Galbraith [Project Syndicate, via Naked Capitalism 8-22-2021]


[Diplomatic Courier, via Naked Capitalism 8-22-2021]

The Taleban’s rise to power: As the US prepared for peace, the Taleban prepared for war 

[Afghanistan Analysts Network, via Naked Capitalism 8-23-2021] 

The War in Afghanistan Is What Happens When McKinsey Types Run Everything 

Matt Stoller [via Naked Capitalism 8-28-2021] 

The Epidemic

Would It Be Fair to Treat Vaccinated Covid Patients First? 

[Wired, via Naked Capitalism 8-23-2021]

How the U.S. vaccination drive came to rely on an army of consultants 

[Washington Post, via Naked Capitalism 8-23-2021]

“Why Hospitals and Health Insurers Didn’t Want You to See Their Prices”

[New York Times, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-26-21]

”This year, the federal government ordered hospitals to begin publishing a prized secret: a complete list of the prices they negotiate with private insurers. The insurers’ trade association had called the rule unconstitutional and said it would ‘undermine competitive negotiations.’ Four hospital associations jointly sued the government to block it, and appealed when they lost. They lost again, and seven months later, many hospitals are simply ignoring the requirement and posting nothing.” Oh. More: “But data from the hospitals that have complied hints at why the powerful industries wanted this information to remain hidden.”

[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-26-21]


[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-27-21]



The carnage of mainstream neoliberal economics

The Perverse Reason It’s Easier to Build New Highways Than New Subways 

[Slate, via The Big Picture 8-22-2021]

In July, the Eno Center for Transportation published a study on the problems with American mass transit construction. The analysis of 180 projects here and abroad found that U.S. projects cost 50 percent more and take 18 months longer to conclude than similar projects abroad. (If you so much as include projects in the New York region, the nation’s largest transit ridership hub, the premium for underground building rises to 250 percent of our peers’.)

Democracy for Sale: Examining the Effects of Concentration on Lobbying in the United States (PDF)

[American Economic Liberties Project, via Naked Capitalism 8-26-2021]

“Guy on Rocks: Copper supply crunch ‘to end all supply crunches’ is coming” [Stockhead, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-26-21]

“here are some interesting statistics on copper showing declining grades (figure 4) and reserves (table 1). Looks like a supply crunch to end all supply crunches is on its way.” 

“Senior DOJ antitrust lawyer heads to Paul Hastings”

[Reuters, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-24-20]

“Michael Murray, a senior U.S. Department of Justice antitrust lawyer has joined Paul Hastings as a partner, the firm announced Monday, adding another lawyer to its growing antitrust practice…. Murray cited the ‘new’ and ‘exciting’ antitrust environment in the U.S when discussing his reason for moving to private practice. He said Paul Hastings’ antitrust practice is ‘humming’ and ‘still growing,’ and he trusts the vision of the firm.”

Lambert Strether adds: “Lina Kahn seems to be cleaning house. Though in general I deprecate depicting one’s political opponents as vermin, rats leaving the sinking ship isn’t the right metaphor. Perhaps cockroaches scuttling toward the darkness?”

It’s essential that the trained incapacity of such ideologies as “free trade is always good” be cleaned out. The problem is the people pried away from the levers of power still have capacity to obstruct and harm.

Climate and environmental crises

Farm Belt withering under a drought and blistering heat

[Wall Street Journal, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-26-21]

“The Farm Belt is withering under a drought and blistering heat that is cutting yields for key U.S. cash crops. Extreme temperatures are baking much of the Midwest and…. North Dakota and Minnesota are being particularly hard hit, with near-record lows in soil moisture. That has wilted many crops planted this spring….”

“Federal forecasters are scaling back expectations for U.S. crop production, driving up prices and pushing stocks of corn, wheat and soybeans down to their lowest levels since 2013. The weather concern is spreading around the world, with forecasts for crop production in countries including Brazil and Russia also being slashed. Farm shipments in U.S. supply chains have been turning downward this summer, with agriculture loads on railroads down 8.5% in July and grain shipments tumbling at a double-digit pace so far this month, according to the Association of American Railroads.”

Creating new economic potential - science and technology

Open-Source Insulin: Biohackers Aiming For Distributed Production 

[Hackaday, via Naked Capitalism 8-24-21]

Simple New Way to Desalinate Water Using Solar Energy

[SciTechDaily, via Mike Norman Economics 8-23-2021]

Ural Federal University (UrFU) power engineers have developed a new desalination technology. It will significantly reduce the cost of desalination and quadruple the volume of production. The results of the research are published in the journal Case Studies in Thermal Engineering.…

“We created a desalination technology by using a rotating hollow cylinder inside the solar distiller to accelerate water evaporation in the vessel by forming a thin film of water on the outer and inner surface of the cylinder, which is constantly renewed with each turn. To increase the temperature of water under the cylinder we use a solar collector,” said the head of the department Nuclear power plants and renewable energy sources UrFU Sergei Shcheklein.

As part of the experiment, the rotation speed of the cylinder inside the solar distiller was 0.5 rpm. This intensity and time are enough to evaporate a thin film of water from the surface of the cylinder. Experimental tests were held in Ekaterinburg, Russia for several months (June-October, 2019) and showed high efficiency and reliability of the developed device. In addition, the researchers noted that the relatively high intensity of solar radiation and low ambient air temperature also contributed to the performance of water distillation.

“The performance improvement factor of the created solar distiller, compared to traditional devices, was at least 280% in the relatively hot months (June, July, and August) and at least 300% and 400% in the cooler months (September and October). At the same time, the cumulative water distillation capacity reached 12.5 l/m2 per day in summer and 3.5 l/m2 per day in winter,” said Alharbawi Naseer Tawfik Alwan, a research engineer at UrFU and an employee of Northern Technical University (Iraq).

Information Age Dystopia

The All-Seeing “i”: Apple Just Declared War on Your Privacy 

Edward Snowden  [via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-26-21]

Institutionalists = Obstructionists

“Republican support for Mayor Byron Brown’s ‘Buffalo Party'”

[WGRZ, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-23-21]

“Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, a lifetime Democrat, has signaled his willingness to accept Republican support for his write-in campaign against Democratic nominee India Walton in the Nov. 2 general election. And he’s got it. The independent nominating petition he turned in to the Erie County Board of Elections on Tuesday tells the tale: Among those gathering signatures last week in an effort to get Brown’s name on a ballot were suburban Republican Party officials, Conservatives, and at least one member of the region’s robust community of right-wing extremists. In fact, nearly one-third of the signature pages Brown turned in Tuesday were carried by members of right-leaning parties — most of them Republicans, most of them residing outside the city.” • Wow, I’d expect the state and national Democrats to come down on Brown like a ton of bricks. Party loyalty and all that.

“Dem Obstructionists Are Bankrolled By Pharma And Oil”

[Daily Poster, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-24-21]

“The small group of conservative Democratic lawmakers that has been threatening to help Republicans halt Democrats’ budget package have raked in more than $3 million from donors in the pharmaceutical and fossil fuel industries that could see reduced profits if the plan passes. As the House reconvenes today to tackle the budget reconciliation process, nine Democrats legislators have been promising to kill their party’s $3.5 trillion budget bill until Congress first passes a separate, smaller infrastructure spending measure, which has garnered some Republican support… In the narrowly divided House, obstructionism from these conservative Democrats could decouple the infrastructure and budget measures from one another. Many believe that would kill the latter by letting conservative Democrats in the Senate such as Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) get the infrastructure bill they want without having to provide the votes necessary to enact the much larger and more progressive budget measure.” • This is the House Pelosi built….

“The Democrats Are Freaking Out About the 2022 Midterms. Good!”

[The New Republic, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-25-21]

“At that grave meeting, New York Representative Sean Patrick Maloney (pictured above), with ‘new polling that showed Democrats falling behind Republicans by a half-dozen points on a generic ballot in battleground districts’ in hand, called on Democrats to ‘course-correct’ before 2022 by better promoting of the Biden agenda (which, we’re told, ‘polls strongly’). Democrats plan to respond to these headwinds with a ‘messaging blitz’ that will highlight the White House’s ‘ambitious plans to juice the economy’ and ‘better explain what Democrats have been doing to help the Covid-ravaged’ country.”

The Dark Side

The January 6 corporate accountability index 

[Popular Information, via The Big Picture 8-22-2021]

After a violent mob stormed the Capitol building in January, hundreds of corporations pledged to make changes to their political giving. Some corporations pledged to withhold PAC funding to the 147 Republicans who voted to overturn the election, setting the stage for the riot. Other corporations said they were suspending all PAC activity and others promised to reevaluate their giving criteria in light of the violence. Popular Information’s January 6 corporate accountability index is the first resource that comprehensively monitors these pledges. It tracks which companies have kept their promises, which ones violated their promises directly, and which ones fall somewhere in between. 

The full picture of Trump’s attempted coup is only starting to emerge 

[CNN, via The Big Picture 8-22-2021]

President Donald Trump — back in the final days of his presidency — didn’t exactly make a secret of his effort to overturn the election he’d just lost and so it’s very easy to get tired of thinking about it, now that he’s out of office and his official powers have been clipped. But in addition to the lies he was spreading all along, we continue to learn new and disturbing details about his obstinate and pernicious efforts to poison the system from within, which included an “Apprentice”-style showdown between two top Justice Department officials at the White House and threats of resignation.

Trump raised millions but spent none of it on audits and GOP candidates 

[Politico, via The Big Picture 8-22-2021]

A review of election filings from Make America Great Again PAC, Save America PAC, and the Save America Joint Fundraising Committee show that not a single penny was transferred or contributed from those Trump-affiliated entities to GOP candidates or committees involved in the midterm elections. Nor did Trump’s various groups write a check to support the audit in Arizona that he has repeatedly praised in statements and suggested would lead to the overthrowing of the 2020 election results. 

“‘Profound abuse’: Judge disciplines pro-Trump lawyers over election lawsuit”

[The Hill, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-26-21]

“In a highly anticipated written ruling, U.S. District Judge Linda Parker in Detroit said the pro-Trump lawyers, including Powell and prominent litigator Lin Wood, should have investigated the Republican former president’s voter fraud claims more carefully before filing what Parker called a ‘frivolous’ lawsuit. Parker, who dismissed the Michigan suit last December, formally requested that disciplinary bodies investigate whether the pro-Trump lawyers should have their law licenses revoked. The judge also ordered the lawyers to attend classes on the ethical and legal requirements for filing legal claims.”

“The precinct captain’s guide to protecting the ballot”

Alice Marshall [Medium, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-23-21]

“I think we can look forward to more Brooks Brother’s riots in the 2022 mid-terms, perhaps even in this year’s elections in Virginia, NJ, and California. Ideally the Democratic National Committee and all the state parties would be putting plans into place to prevent this. But, judging from the fact that Senate Democrats have failed to abolish the filibuster and pass voting rights legislation, they will take zero steps to protect the count. So now what? First do not worry about those things you cannot control, focus on what you can do. Above all, do NOT believe national leadership or even candidates when they tell you not to worry, they have that covered. Just make sure that YOUR precinct is organized to cope with a violent mob attempting to block the vote count. In my book I talk about procedures for election night, either you, the precinct captain, or someone reliable, goes to witness the vote count. Under normal circumstances merely sending a witness is enough to deter misconduct on the part any election officer unworthy of their office, and assure your party that the count was done properly. But we do not live in normal times. The best way to protect the ballot in our current time is the way the Filipinos did in the snap election, through people power. You need to recruit a large well disciplined crowd to calmly stand before the polling site while you send in a designated witness to watch the vote count. It will be necessary to train your volunteers, at the very minimum watch the deescalation videos on YouTube.”

“Lawsuits over voting maps have become a strategy for challenging political power, study finds — plus, 3 tips for covering redistricting”

[The Journalist’s Resource, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-26-21] 

“Lawsuits challenging changes to voting district maps often claim officials have moved district boundaries in a way that diminishes the political power of minority groups or unfairly gives one political party an edge. But new research that examines redistricting lawsuits across six decades surmises the real reason behind them might have less to do with correcting an unjust imbalance and more to do with pushing out the party in power.” No! More: “Earlier this month, the U.S. Census Bureau provided states with data from the 2020 census. As officials review district maps and debate changes, researcher James G. Gimpel points out that redistricting disputes are most prevalent in so-called ‘purple’ states, where voters support Republicans and Democrats at similar rates.Litigants tend to file legal challenges in places where a favorable court ruling could tip the political scale, says Gimpel, a political science professor at the University of Maryland who is the lead author of the new paper, ‘The Geography of Law: Understanding the Origin of State and Federal Redistricting Cases,’ published in Political Research Quarterly.”

“Arizona judge orders Cyber Ninjas to preserve all records in 2020 election audit” [The Hill, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-26-21] 

“An Arizona judge on Wednesday ruled that Cyber Ninjas, the company leading the GOP-backed election audit in Arizona, must preserve all records from their process so they can be released to the public, the Arizona Republic reported. The order was made in a case brought forward by the Republic. There are currently two lawsuits seeking the release of these records, with another brought forward by the group American Oversight, which is suing the Arizona state Senate. Cyber Ninjas had argued that records connected to their audit of the 2020 election in Maricopa County are not subject to Arizona’s Public Records Law which would require them to be disclosed. The Republic is arguing that since the audit is being conducted under the orders of the state Senate, the records must be made public.”

“‘Profound abuse’: Judge disciplines pro-Trump lawyers over election lawsuit”

[The Hill, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-26-21] 

“In a highly anticipated written ruling, U.S. District Judge Linda Parker in Detroit said the pro-Trump lawyers, including Powell and prominent litigator Lin Wood, should have investigated the Republican former president’s voter fraud claims more carefully before filing what Parker called a ‘frivolous’ lawsuit. Parker, who dismissed the Michigan suit last December, formally requested that disciplinary bodies investigate whether the pro-Trump lawyers should have their law licenses revoked. The judge also ordered the lawyers to attend classes on the ethical and legal requirements for filing legal claims.”