Monthly Archives: May 2021

COVID Cases, Hospitalizations, and Deaths Traced to Date of Exposure

Six. Twelve. Nineteen.

For those who have had COVID-19, those are the median number of days you would need to subtract from the date they...

  • experienced symptoms and went to be tested, or
  • became sick enough to be admitted to hospital, or
  • passed away if they became especially sick,

... in order to determine approximately when they first became infected by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.

We're going to drive home the significance of those numbers using Arizona's detailed data for COVID cases, hospital admissions, and deaths, where we should see the peaks in the data for each these outcomes synchronize. Here's the graphical result of the math:

Arizona's Coronavirus Pandemic Experience, Daily Rolling 7-Day Averages for Cases, Hospital Admissions, and Deaths Indexed to Approximate Date of Exposure to SARS-CoV-2 Coronavirus (Linear Scale)

In this visualization, the relative scale of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths make it tough to see the pattern in the data. In the following chart, we're showing the exact same data, but using a logarithmic scale to better illustrate the synchronized pattern.

Arizona's Coronavirus Pandemic Experience, Daily Rolling 7-Day Averages for Cases, Hospital Admissions, and Deaths Indexed to Approximate Date of Exposure to SARS-CoV-2 Coronavirus (Logarithmic Scale)

Using the logarithmic scale lets us compare data that differs by orders of magnitude. For COVID-19, the daily number of those testing positive in Arizona often ranged in the thousands, while the number of those admitted to hospital peaked in the hundreds, and the number of deaths could be counted by tens.

Taking noise in the data into account, the synchronization pattern is fairly strong between all three sets of data when indexed to date of initial viral exposure.

There is an interesting pattern when comparing the timing of troughs for deaths when compared to the other two howver, where the the trend for deaths continue downward for a short period after the trends for cases and hospitalizations have reversed and begun tracking upward. We think this characteristic might be attributable to the age demographics of those being exposed to COVID-19, with older individuals more at risk of dying from COVID lagging in initial exposure behind younger individuals.

We also think the data for deaths is subject to considerably greater noise at low levels than the other datasets, especially when its daily numbers drop down toward single digits. This characteristic can been seen in the short-term trough coinciding with 15 September 2020 and a short-term spike in deaths occurring in late March 2021.

We're featuring this data visualization exercise today because we haven't seen anyone else present COVID data this way anywhere else, and because it will be helpful in answering a different question we have, which we'll feature in upcoming weeks!

Australian Politics 2021-05-26 04:47:00


The labyrinth of bureaucracy behind our country hospitals’ horror stories

Dr Aniello Iannuzzi below rightly blames bureaucracy as being behind the hospital problems. But his scattershot approach loses point becuse he fails to concentrate on the key problem: Staff shortages

Wenever I am admitted to a Brisbane private hospital, I am always amazed by the number of staff in my ward. There are always nurses standing around waiting for something to do

So, clearly,staff are available if you pay them what is needed

Specifically, what is needed is to fire enough bureaucrats to pay sufficient nurses

After 25 years as a doctor in rural NSW hospitals, I can attest to the scandals and horror stories emerging from a state parliamentary inquiry into regional, country and remote health services: a teenager with an infected toenail dies of septic shock after being turned away three times from an an emergency department; “tea ladies” check in on newborn babies because there are not enough nurses; doctors threaten to quit en masse because their working conditions are so dangerous.

Naturally, it is the alarming stories from the front line – from the patients, families, doctors and nurses – that capture the headlines. Now we must address the causes.

Chief among them, I have come to learn, is the labyrinthine bureaucracy running NSW Health and the local health districts. The inquiry has come about because communities and health workers are sick and tired of managers in NSW Health and the LHDs stubbornly denying there is a problem.

That is why, when the inquiry came to Wellington, I testified that the principal problem is one of governance. Until that is cleaned up, nothing will improve.

NSW Health’s management structures are bulky and opaque. To progress up the hierarchy, one needs to pledge undying support to the organisation, often needing to bend personal, clinical and ethical standards along the way. When a patient or clinician at the coal face raises a concern, makes a suggestion or files a complaint, management usually activates to ignore, frustrate, bury, lose or deny. It’s like dealing with a big bank, telco or insurance company.

This explains why a CEO of a local health district or senior manager in NSW Health can be technically honest when denying knowledge of adverse patient outcomes, missing medications or the shutting of essential services. The labyrinth has done its work and protected the organisation. Plausible deniability. Spin.

It is at least heartening that the inquiry involves most NSW political parties – because the problems are chronic and systemic and have festered under the watch of Labor and Coalition governments.

No. 1 is understaffing, which puts pressure on rosters and over-reliance on locums and agency staff. There are not enough beds, which causes “bed block”, and there is an inability to divert ambulances when that happens. Administrators are detached from clinical care and managers are overly concerned about ticking boxes for performance indicators rather than ensuring adequately resourced and safe facilities. Investigations meant to analyse system failure are too often weaponised to shift blame onto clinicians, leaving administrators untouched.

To some extent these problems are encountered in cities, but Australia’s geography is cruel. When one runs out of basic antibiotics, there is not a pharmacy supplier in the next suburb or a courier the next day. When a patient drives 100 kilometres to an emergency department to discover there is only a video service, it can be another 100 kilometres or more to a town with a doctor. When a surgery or pharmacy shuts, the ripple effect on a small district’s economy and social capital is devastating.

At the inquiry we heard powerful evidence from Bathurst Council: even in such a large regional city, a lack of health workers has negative economic and social impact. Imagine what it means for a town like Dunedoo, population 750.

We’ve had inquiries before, and recommendations, yet rural health continues to atrophy and the decision-makers are never to blame.

All too often NSW Health assumes good clinical practice can be made more efficient by curtailing or omitting critical steps: making the time to take a patient’s accurate history, perform an adequate examination, consider and investigate the possible diagnoses, and properly inform the patient about the management plan. Hence we see understaffing, poor stocks of medicine and medical equipment and the promotion of telemedicine at the expense of in-person clinicians.

For those of us left in the small hospitals, we turn up to work to find new forms to complete and more data to report. Management’s priority, it often appears, is that staff attend to these tasks ahead of real patient care.

Of course, we need more money, more beds, better medicine and equipment, more staff. The states often blame federal governments for these problems. There is certainly a place for more federal money but we should not exonerate NSW Health on this account. Without better governance the money will remain poorly spent, the equipment misdirected and the clinicians unwilling to work and give their best.

While we always need to recruit more health workers to the bush, there are plenty in the bush who make a conscious decision not to work for NSW Health.

Earlier this year, senior managers of our LHD and the Rural Health Commissioner were in Dunedoo for a community forum organised by the Warrumbungle Shire Council. They suggested the Dunedoo community should be more welcoming to health workers. Oh? So it’s the community’s fault? It was nothing short of insulting and outrageous. All NSW residents should be outraged.


A corrupt corruption watchdog

image from

The untouchable MacSporran

Serious questions are being raised about the role of the Crime and Corruption Commission in Queensland, and rightly so, writes Des Houghton.

It is hard to see how Crime and Corruption Commission chief Alan MacSporran can survive the legal tempest now swirling around him.

A third adverse report against the crime watchdog lobbed this week at the Parliamentary Crime and Corruption Commission.

And a historic scandal involving a former ALP cabinet minister is coming back to haunt him after revelations the CCC failed to interview key witnesses.

The latest report to challenge the CCC’s “untouchable” status is a 73-page legal tome compiled by three prominent silks who say the CCC exceeded its authority, and worse, in the handling of the Logan council debacle. It discusses how evidence was gathered in compiling fraud charges against seven councillors who were later cleared. The report names names. It is explosive.

The report is a submission from the Local Government Association that I suspect will force the parliament to consider requesting MacSporran stand aside pending a judicial inquiry.

Now is not the time for Annastacia Palaszczuk to attempt to bury it. Indeed, she may welcome a media distraction from her own political inadequacies in hospitals and policing.

The Logan report must be made public, and quickly. The seven councillors who were cleared of fraud were unfairly denied a chance to contest the local government elections. They deserve justice and are owed compensation. And their community deserves answers.

In the past MacSporran has been chastised by the editorial writers for suggesting the CCC had the right to say what newspapers should and should not publish. That was bonkers.

Ill will against the corruption watchdog continues to grow.

Recent CCC critics are a diverse mob and include the esteemed Clerk of the Parliament Neil Laurie, former premier Campbell Newman, popular Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate, former police commissioner Ian Stewart, and influential Local Government Association Queensland chief Greg Hallam. Can they all be wrong?

Hallam is a man of towering intellectual ability whose advocacy has been measured. He won’t talk.

Newman did. He went in hard, accusing the CCC of pursuing small and “esoteric” investigations and prosecutions while criminal gangs flourished. Mr Newman claims the CCC is “out of control and unaccountable … An organisation with extraordinary powers chasing mouse poop whilst criminal gangs and organised crime have flourished”.

Newman was commenting after the CCC last week released its Investigation Arista report that found the Queensland Police Service “engaged in discriminatory recruitment practices” in a drive for women to make up half of all new police recruits.

“These groups are back in business now quite clearly,” Newman told The Australian. “Why haven’t the CCC done something about either the gangs or the lack of police action?

“Instead, they have spent their time pursuing esoteric prosecutions of local government officials and worrying about gender targets in the QPS.”

Member for Burleigh Heads, Michael Hart, said allegations of corrupt conduct he raised in Parliament in 2018 were not properly investigated by the CCC even though he had provided investigators the names and phone numbers of witnesses and a tape recording.

The saga began when Hart told Parliament: “Of real concern is the allegation that Rob Schwarten had major renovations done to his Rockhampton houses by JM Kelly in 2009 and 2011. In particular, I am told that a JM Kelly contractor painted his Kinka Beach house, known around Rockhampton as the beach hospital, and the cost of that contracting work – about $26,000 – was not paid by Schwarten but was added as a variation to a government contract.

I have heard this from a number of credible people in Central Queensland and both the government and Mr Schwarten have some very serious questions to answer about this. These questions are deserving of a thorough and rigorous examination.”

Schwarten said the allegations were untrue and denies any wrongdoing. The Kelly companies previously denied doing free work for Mr Schwarten.

In a recent submission tabled in Parliament, Hart said the witnesses he provided had not been contacted, even though the CCC assured him they had been.

He told the House he was first contacted by the CCC in February 2019. In October he was told the case was closed.

“The investigation took 11 months and during that time I was unable to speak further in parliament on this issue.

“Eventually it was reported in the media that Mr Schwarten declared he had been cleared by the CCC.”

Hart said there was not a proper investigation.

“I supplied the CCC with a list of names and contact numbers of persons who provided the information which my speeches to the parliament were based on.’’

In a letter dated October 17, 2019, the CCC advised the investigation was closed and that their “inquiries included interviews of witnesses”, he said.

“I have since been contacted by a number of the people on the supplied list who tell me the CCC has not spoken to them at all.’’

So the CCC not only failed to properly investigate serious allegations, it misled the courageous MP who saw it as his duty to raise the alarm. Why did the CCC run dead? MacSporran should be hauled before the parliamentary committee to tell us.


The ‘difficult choice’ new NSW schools’ boss made for her daughter

The new head of NSW’s 2200 public schools says she sends one of her two daughters to a private school because she believes in parents’ rights to make the best decision for their children.

Georgina Harrisson, who was named as the new secretary of the NSW Department of Education on Monday, is a career bureaucrat who has spent 20 years working in government agencies in Australia and the United Kingdom, including the NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet.

This is her first position as the head of a government department. She takes over from former ABC managing director Mark Scott, who will begin as vice-chancellor of the University of Sydney in July. Ms Harrisson said she could “not be happier or more proud” to take on the role.

Ms Harrisson has a daughter in kindergarten at a Sydney public school, but her older daughter attends a high-fee independent school in Sydney’s north. “I’ve made a choice that’s really worked for my own child,” she said.

“I can understand that people would want to know that I am supportive of the system. My youngest daughter is in kindergarten in a public school. I will make the right decision for my own children as every other parent would.

“It’s a difficult choice but one that every parent makes in the interest of their own child.”

Mr Scott’s daughters also attended private schools, but they had graduated by the time he took on the Department of Education position. Both of NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell’s daughters attend their local public school.

Ms Harrisson will face significant challenges, such as a shortage of teachers, particularly in key areas such as maths; a student body with complex needs; and a workforce frustrated by low pay, long hours and a lack of career progression.

There are 120,000 staff on her payroll and 850,000 students under her watch.

She faces her first wages negotiation later this year, against a Teachers Federation that is putting significant resources into a campaign to lift salaries and improve conditions, which began with a year-long inquiry by former West Australian premier Geoff Gallop.

“I’m not a teacher and I don’t pretend to be,” Ms Harrisson said. “We are listening to our workforce. They have an affiliation with their employers as much as they do with their representatives and I want to make sure we are out there listening to what teachers say they need.

“The government has a wages’ policy, our role in that is quite clear. There’s a whole load of things in that Gallop report around the where and how teachers are spending their time. We want to ensure we are engaging in constructive dialogue with the federation.

“Ultimately we are accountable to every student in every classroom. I think meeting students’ expectations is our biggest challenge.”

Federation president Angelo Gavrielatos wished Ms Harrisson well and said she faced significant challenges, such as teacher shortages, “crippling workloads” and the under-funding of public schools compared with private schoo




The Pandemic Price Escalation of Campbell’s Tomato Soup

Campbell's Condensed Tomato Soup is an iconic American consumer good that's been around over 123 years. That means we have over 123 years worth of monthly price data on how much consumers have paid for a standard 10.75 ounce can whenever grocers have put it on sale on their store shelves.

But we're not going to revisit that whole history today. Instead, we're going to look at the price trends for Campbell's Tomato Soup since January 2000, where we really want to focus on the months of the Coronavirus Recession. The following chart shows the individual price per can and the trailing twelve month average Americans have paid for a can of Campbell's iconic soup from January 2000 through May 2021.

Unit Price per Can of Campbell's Condensed Tomato Soup at Discounted Sale Pricing, January 2000 - May 2021

Through May 2021, the trailing twelve month average of Campbell's condensed tomato soup has risen to $0.96 per can, up 13% from an average price of $0.86 per can in February 2020 (Month 0 for the coronavirus recession).

Much of that increase has been driven by higher demand, where retailers have been much less likely to discount their sale prices over the last 15 months. The only exception to that came in January and February 2021, when the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic in many parts of the U.S. prompted a temporary shift in consumer demand in favor of Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup, which many believe helps relieve cold, flu, and COVID symptoms. That shift in consumer demand led to a relative oversupply of tomato soup on retailers' store shelves, which in turn, prompted them to discount their prices to sell relatively more tomato soup during these months.

With the decline in COVID cases since January 2021, that relative imbalance in consumer demand has ebbed. Discounted sales have ended, but sale prices for tomato soup remain elevated.

The potential for the escalated prices of tomato soup to continue is high, with higher inflation having taken hold in the U.S. in recent months. The test for that will come this summer as seasonal demand for tomato soup declines, where the absence of discounted sale pricing would effectively lock in the pandemic price increase.

Just for fun, we'll close by pointing to exactly where the price data in the chart during the coronavirus pandemic comes from! Follow the links below to see the advertisements from the indicated retailers seeking to sell Campbell's Condensed Tomato Soup during the months of the Coronavirus Pandemic Recession:

The S&P 500 Back in the Upside Down?

The S&P 500 (Index: SPX) appears to have returned to the upside-down.

That's the situation that exists when the behavior of stock prices acts contrary to the usual rules that apply to them. In terms of the dividend futures-based model we use to project the future for the S&P 500, we see that change in the value of m, the amplification factor in the model, when it changes from a positive to a negative value.

When that happens, it's safe to say the market has undergone a regime change, which is a possibility we first raised last week. This week, we've accumulated enough data to take a stab at an initial estimate of the new value for m. The latest update to the alternative futures chart shows that change in regime as if it began on 11 May 2021.

Alternative Futures - S&P 500 - 2021Q1 - Standard Model (m=-5.0 from 11 May 2021) - Snapshot on 21 May 2021

In setting the start date for the new market regime, we're using our previous redzone forecast range as a statistical hypothesis test, which in truth, is really what it is. Extending it slightly forward, we find the level of stock prices has dropped definitively outside its range as of 11 May 2021, which means at least one of the assumptions behind the redzone forecast no longer applies.

Using the newly added data accumulated in the past week allows us to initially estimate a new value of -5 for the amplification factor. At the same time, the data suggests investors have shifted their forward looking focus to 2021-Q4 in setting current day stock prices. Combined with the regime change we just described, these Lévy flight shift would help explain the market's recent volatility.

It's very early days for determining these values. We'll continue testing them behind the scenes.

In the 11+ years since we first developed the dividend futures-based model, we've only seen the S&P 500 go into the upside-down once before, when a combination of changes in the Federal Reserve's monetary policies and some extreme speculation on the part of the "Nasdaq Whale" sent it there during the summer of 2020, ending only when the Nasdaq whale exited their speculative trades in September 2020.

At this time, we're not aware of any similar speculative activity in the markets. Then again, it wasn't until weeks after the Nasdaq whale started trading that their impact on the markets was traced to their trades. That's why we keep paying attention to market-moving news as it comes across the wires. Speaking of which, here are the headlines we flagged during the trading week ending on Friday, 21 May 2021.

Monday, 17 May 2021
Tuesday, 18 May 2021
Wednesday, 19 May 2021
Thursday, 20 May 2021
Friday, 21 May 2021

What was positive and negative about the past week's markets and economics news? Be sure to check out Barry Ritholtz' succinct summary!

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – May 23, 2021


Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – May 23, 2021

by Tony Wikrent

Predatory Capitalism in the Time of COVID19

‘Government Money That’s Gone Into Vaccine Development Is Being Privatized by a Handful of Companies’ 

[FAIR, via Naked Capitalism 5-16-2021]

It Was The Government That Produced COVID-19 Vaccine Success 

[Health Affairs Blog, via Naked Capitalism 5-16-2021]

“Who owns the covid vaccines?”

Cory Doctorow [via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 5-17-2021]

““Behind every great fortune lies a great crime.” The true mRNA vaccines theft isn’t entrepreneur-inventors who face robbery by the public sector — rather, those “entrepreneurs” have enjoyed billions in public subsidies, and now insist they owe nothing in return….. Pharma’s claim that it doesn’t owe us anything in return makes no sense, even by the companies’ own logic. They say that markets produce wonders because they reward canny risk-taking with vast fortunes. By that logic, the public — who assumed the majority of the risk in developing vaccines — are the angel investors in this high-tech unicorn, and the pharma companies are the VCs who came in with some late capital to help scale up a sure thing.”

America Is Failing Its Moral Test on Vaccines
New York Times Editorial Board, May 14, 2021, via Naked Capitalism 5-16-2021]

The H.I.V. advocacy group PrEP4All estimates that for $4 billion — less than the country is spending per day on coronavirus response efforts — the federal government could build enough manufacturing capacity to vaccinate the entire planet against the coronavirus. It will cost much more to actually make the needed doses, of course. The nonprofit advocacy group Public Citizen estimates that a $25 billion government-wide initiative would produce around eight billion doses of mRNA vaccine, or enough to vaccinate half the planet. That’s far less than the trillions that could be lost if the economy contracts further as the pandemic persists.

Cashing in on Our Homes: Billionaire Landlords Profit as Millions Face Eviction 

[Institute for Policy Studies, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 5-21-2021]

There are 61 individual billionaire landlords in America with collective wealth totaling $240.9 billion. These billionaire landlords have seen their wealth increase $24.4 billion since mid-March 2020. Corporate landlords have a worsening track record of poor maintenance, rising rents and fees, and harassment of tenants and evictions. 20 corporate landlord companies are responsible for at least 3,152 evictions across the U.S. during the pandemic. Many large landlords received financial support from the coronavirus relief package — sometimes while continuing to file eviction notices against their tenants. One in five renters weren’t caught up on their rent as of early February 2021. This represents 13.5 million Americans. If being behind on rent were a state, it would be the fifth-largest state in America…. The 20 corporate landlords in this report…. own or manage almost 2 million units of housing — about 4 percent of all rental housing units in the United States, or more than one in 25 rental units nationwide. Have amassed at least $245 billion in ‘cash on hand’— loans, cash and other funds from investors, banks and financial firms — to purchase homes and companies active in the market.”

Koch Funded Eviction Push While Buying Real Estate Stakes

Andrew Perez and David Sirota, May 20, 2021 [Weekly Poster 3-20-2021]

Since 2017, the Charles Koch Foundation has disclosed donating roughly $4.6 million to the Texas Public Policy Foundation, $2 million to the New Civil Rights Alliance, and $1.1 million to the Pacific Legal Foundation. These groups have been suing to overturn the CDC eviction moratorium since last fall, arguing the CDC has no authority to prevent landlords from evicting delinquent tenants, despite the pandemic.

The Koch network’s umbrella group, called Stand Together Trust (previously known as the Seminar Network), separately donated $500,000 to the Texas Public Policy Foundation in 2019.

In February, the Texas Public Policy Foundation convinced a federal judge in Texas to declare the CDC’s eviction moratorium unconstitutional. In March, a federal judge in Ohio sided with the Pacific Legal Foundation, ruling that the CDC “exceeded the scope of its authority” with its eviction ban.

The underlying problem, being totally ignored, is that judges who have been trained in the conservative “Law and Economics” doctrine are deeply hostile to a basic concept of civic republicanism embodied in the concept of the General Welfare -- that the community also has rights, such as preserving public health. See “​​​​​​​Property, Liberty, and the Rights of the Community: Lessons from Munn v. Illinois,” by Paul Kens [Buffalo Public Interest Law Journal, Volume 30 (2011).

The carnage of mainstream neoliberal economics

Wealth shown to scale

[via Mike Norman Economics, May 18, 2021]

Notes on global income inequality: A non-technical summary
Branko Milanovic [Global Inequality, via Mike Norman Economics, May 17, 2021]

Middle-Class Pay Lost Pace. Is Washington to Blame?

[New York Times, May 13, 2021]

A new paper by liberal economists presents evidence that policymakers helped hold down wages for four decades.

One of the most urgent questions in economics is why pay for middle-income workers has increased only slightly since the 1970s, even as pay for those near the top has escalated.

For years, the rough consensus among economists was that inexorable forces like technology and globalization explained much of the trend. But in a new paper, Lawrence Mishel and Josh Bivens, economists at the liberal Economic Policy Institute, conclude that government is to blame. “Intentional policy decisions (either of commission or omission) have generated wage suppression,” they write.

Included among these decisions are policymakers’ willingness to tolerate high unemployment and to let employers fight unions aggressively; trade deals that force workers to compete with low-paid labor abroad; and the tacit or explicit blessing of new legal arrangements, like employment contracts that make it harder for workers to seek new jobs.

America’s Dead Souls 

[The Paris Review, via Naked Capitalism 5-19-2021]

At the end of her life my mother made less than $10,000 a year. Suffering from debilitating depression while caring for her aging parents, she found herself chronically unemployed, undermedicated, and overstressed. In our final phone call, as we navigated her looming eviction, she asked me, rhetorically: “Why are these people harassing me? What good does it do them?” I didn’t have an answer for her. Or I did, but it felt obvious and stupid to say out loud. They wanted money. Everybody wants money. The people in power don’t care if we live or die, as long as they get paid. My last correspondence with my mom was a $2,500 money order (two and a half months of my pay), which I hoped would buy me time to cobble together a more sustainable plan.

Her chronic delinquency with bills was publicly searchable in government databases and thus acted as a beacon to financial predators. She owed everyone. Or at least that’s what the letters said. They bombarded her daily with phone calls, notices, emails. The IRS garnished her wages for back taxes calculated from a years-old misfiling they refused to correct. And then, through a series of absurd events that would make even Gogol shudder, she died, and I inherited it all.

Well, not all of it. I didn’t inherit the assets. She didn’t leave a will, which meant the state of Tennessee inherited her house. What I inherited was her debt.

I suddenly found myself looking down a double-barreled future of doom and despair. The hospital where my mother died claimed I owed them more than a quarter of a million dollars. Wells Fargo held me responsible for a house I no longer had legal claim to. Creditors and housing developers knew about my mom’s death before my extended family did. I was a few months away from turning twenty-six. Two days after she died they began calling me….

If only the con artists and thieves of America’s upper classes would wonder about the dead they’ve profited from. There are endless articles on why America has failed to curb the pandemic. The truth is simple. People profit from our death. Foreclosure companies, debt collectors, real estate agents, news corporations, health care tycoons, senators, and presidents, to name a few. After my mom’s death I found myself locked into a dentist chair, comforting the assistant of my dental hygienist. She wore a hazmat suit. In her plastic safety helmet, she sobbed through a panic attack. I weakly patted her gloved hand. Her father had died unexpectedly several months ago. She couldn’t prove he didn’t owe the debts they claimed he owed. She tried to tell the collectors her story (her father left no paperwork or will, he had died horribly and abruptly, she couldn’t afford to pay). Only one collector took pity on her. He explained it just wasn’t good business to believe her. If his firm believed every story they were told they would be poor men indeed.

What did I tell her to do? I told her to do what I did. Pretend you’re rich. Hire a lawyer. Open a credit card, if you have to. A meager amount of wealth will insulate you from a lifetime of woe, exactly as it was designed to. All my lawyer had to do was send a memo on official letterhead and my mother’s debts in death dropped 90 percent. More than a quarter of a million dollars was erased in an instant—an accounting that five weeks of my pleading, bargaining, reasoning, denying, uploading, scanning, begging, faxing, and crying had not been able to extract.

The Colonial Pipeline Was Fine, But Its Owner Shut It Down To Make Sure They’d Get Paid Correctly 

[Jalopnik, via Naked Capitalism 5-19-2021]

South Korea’s “Economic Miracle” Was Built on Murderous Repression 

[Jacobin, via Naked Capitalism 5-17-2021]

Chile votes for radicals and independents to write new constitution 

[FT, via Naked Capitalism 5-19-2021]

Lambert Strether comments: “2021 – 1973, the year of the Pinochet coup = 48 years. That’s the time it’s taken to even begin to undo the damage caused by the neoliberals at the University of Chicago and their torturers.”

Britain destroyed records of colonial crimes 

[Guardian, via Naked Capitalism 5-19-2021]

Health Care Crisis

“Health Care Lobbyists Are Trying to Block the Public Option at the State Level” [Newsweek, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 5-19-21]

“When President Joe Biden outlined his legislative priorities during his first address to Congress last month, notably absent was a major campaign promise: a public health insurance option. Instead, his current health reform proposal will funnel $200 billion more to private insurance companies to subsidize premiums, without any requirement that they cap out-of-pocket costs or eliminate them altogether. As a result of Biden’s approach, states have been left to introduce public option legislation themselves, in the process taking on some of the nation’s largest and most politically organized businesses. From coast to coast, health insurance companies, hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies are using every tactic at their disposal to block states from passing public option legislation. Such efforts show how determined the industry is to block any sort of reform that threatens its massive profits.”

Big Money v. The Public Option

Julia Rock, May 18, 2021 [Weekly Poster

Restoring balance to the economy

In Washington State, the Left Won a Major Victory for Taxing the Rich 

[Jacobin, via Naked Capitalism 5-17-2021]

Lawmakers bicker over how to go after tax cheats 

[The Hill, via Naked Capitalism 5-17-2021]

The Republicans line up in opposition:

“Unleashing tens of thousands of new IRS agents on families, farms and businesses is not the answer, nor is turning the local bank into an IRS chapter that reports on the transactions and withdrawals of Americans’ private bank accounts,” Rep. Kevin Brady (Texas), the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, told reporters Thursday. “That is an intrusiveness that the American people simply won’t stand for.”

“The PRO Act: What’s in It and Why Is It a Labor Movement Priority?”

Kim Kelly [Teen Vogue, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 5-20-21]

“... Protecting the Right to Organize Act of 2021. Better known as the PRO Act, this bill would be the first major worker-friendly labor law reform since the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) of 1935, would significantly expand workers’ ability to join and organize unions, and level heavy penalties on employers who stand in their way. There are a number of exciting reforms in the bill, including a federal override of so-called right-to-work laws that weaken unions by allowing members to opt out of paying dues; an end to the hated 1947 Taft-Hartley Act’s ban on secondary strikes (also known as solidarity strikes, these are collective actions that employees in different workplaces can undertake to support another group of workers on strike); an update to the union election process to allow workers to vote online or by phone; enhanced protections for whistleblowers; and a response to the issue of worker misclassification that would give independent contractors — a group left out of the original NLRA that is still denied basic labor rights (especially those who are part of the so-called gig economy) — the right to organize collectively. (As an independent contractor myself, I am especially thrilled about that one.) The PRO Act would also outlaw captive-audience meetings, a particularly egregious but currently legal union-busting tactic favored by anti-union companies.”

Climate and environmental crises

Twenty firms produce 55% of world’s plastic waste, report reveals 

[Guardian, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 5-18-2021]

Just 20 companies are the source of more than half of single-use plastic items thrown away globally, according to a study that highlights the devastating impact on the environment. The Plastic Waste Makers Index, published Tuesday, names the companies that are at the forefront of the plastic supply chain and manufacture polymers, known as the building block of plastics. It also highlighted that the firms identified are supported by a small number of financial backers. Single-use plastics, such as bottles, bags and food packages, are the most commonly discarded type of plastic. Made almost exclusively from fossil fuels, these “throwaway” plastics often end their short lifecycle polluting the oceans, being burned or dumped into landfills. The study says 20 petrochemical companies are responsible for 55% of the world’s single-use plastic waste. The findings were published by the Minderoo Foundation, one of Asia’s largest philanthropies. The research was conducted by academics from the London School of Economics, the Stockholm Environment Institute, Wood Mackenzie, among others. U.S. energy giant ExxonMobil tops the list, contributing 5.9 million metric tons to global plastic waste, closely followed by U.S. chemicals company Dow and China’s Sinopec. The study says 100 companies are the source of 90% of global single-use plastic production.”

“Hurricane ‘Price Tags’ Could Reveal the Cost of Global Warming”

[Wired, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 5-19-21]

“Now a team of researchers has put a specific ‘climate price tag’ on Sandy’s destruction in the area around New York City, estimating that climate change alone added an extra $8 billion in damages, and that an additional 71,000 people were affected by severe flooding. Altogether, the calculations state that human-driven global warming boosted Sandy’s total cost to the area by 13 percent. The new study focused on only one aspect of climate change: rising sea levels, caused by the melting of polar ice caps and the expansion of seawater as its temperature increases, a process known as thermal expansion. The study, published today in the journal Nature Communications, is the first time that researchers have put a dollar figure on the direct role of climate change for a specific event, and they say they hope to do it for future storms as well. ‘The fact that just a few inches of attributable sea level rise caused so much damage points to the idea that climate change is hurting us much more than we realize,’ says Benjamin Strauss, chief scientist at Climate Central, a Princeton, New Jersey–based research organization and lead author on the new paper.”

The U.S. Is Not Ready For An All-Electric Future 

[Oilprice, via The Big Picture 5-21-2021]

The U.S. is woefully unprepared to handle “the electrification of everything.” Increased electrification in all sectors will need huge investments in the electric grid, in battery storage to back up renewable power generation, in charging points for EVs, and in technologies such as green hydrogen to help those technologies to reach maturity and cost efficiency enough to start replacing fossil fuels. (Oilprice)

Conservative / Libertarian Drive to Civil War

“Fourth House GOP lawmaker issued $5,000 metal detector fine”

[The Hill, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 5-19-21]

“According to the Capitol Police report documenting the incident last Thursday, Foxx set off a metal detector stationed in front of a door leading to the House chamber. Two Capitol Police officers tried to stop Foxx, but she threw her bag underneath a table near the metal detector and still went into the chamber. Foxx then returned to the metal detector and allegedly told the officers, ‘Good thing no one stopped me.'”

The making of a myth: How an obscure Texas security company helped convince Americans the 2020 election was stolen from Trump 

[Washington Post, via The Big Picture 5-16-2021]

Russell J. Ramsland Jr. sold everything from Tex-Mex food to light-therapy technology. Then he sold the story that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump. (Washington Post)

“Josh Hawley Has a Populist Revolt to Sell You”

Jacob Bacharach [In These Times, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 5-19-21]

“Hawley is not as intelligent as his elite mentors seem to think he is, but he is undoubtedly a skilled opportunist. Before the Capitol riot dimmed his star somewhat, he had even begun to make inroads as a Trumpist that Democrats on the corporate-skeptical Left might be able to work with. Although his votes often belied his real loyalties — Hawley supported Trump’s tax cuts, for example — he was a reliable rhetorical ally for a growing coalition of writers, iconoclastic economists and politicians clustered under the broad umbrella of anti-monopoly advocacy.” 

The Tyranny of Big Tech is less a book than it is a pamphlet. (Like so many hastily published conservative titles, its 200 pages are padded out with notes — mostly links — and a slim index.) While Hawley wrote the book prior to the events of January 6, his act of incitement prompted Simon & Schuster to cancel its release, and the senator threatened to sue the publisher, calling its decision ​“Orwellian.” The conservative Regnery Publishing then stepped into the breach and published the book instead. (In a delicious twist that speaks to our age of corporate consolidation, Regnery’s books are distributed by none other than Simon & Schuster.)

The book is divided into three sections: a hilariously potted history of American political economy and monopoly; a middle section detailing the many abuses, real and imagined, of the Big Tech firms; and a brief conclusion that includes a chapter titled ​“What Each of Us Can Do.” (Not much, apparently.)….

Like many conservatives, however, Hawley also wants to repeal ​“Section 230” of the Communications Decency Act, which he mistakenly believes has incentivized ​“woke” tech companies to censor conservative voices. In fact, Section 230’s broad liability exclusions for platforms protects controversial expression, and the moment these companies become responsible for what users post on their sites and networks, they will almost certainly begin to censor, ban and police content much more aggressively than they do already….

 Hawley gestures at the imbalance between ​“labor and capital,” but actual workers hardly appear in the book, and the book’s discussion of labor unions is confined to a single footnote. Hawley claims that capital pays too small a share of taxes but neglects to mention that he has supported legislation that reduced that tax burden or that he has publicly called for a complete elimination of the inheritance tax — another means of addressing accumulated capital.

“Corporate liberalism” may be the bogeyman of The Tyranny of Big Tech, but Hawley seems much more concerned about ​“liberalism” than actual corporations. Indeed, his anti-corporate posture is unconvincing in part because he is only willing to target tech, and not any of the other equally disastrous concentrations of corporate power in Big Pharma, Big Ag and numerous other sectors.

“Inside the disinformation machine: How far-right media brainwash millions daily” [Flux, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 5-21-21]

Over the past two decades, the American media landscape has been transformed. At the turn of the last century, a hundred-year-old news canon still reigned supreme: professional journalism from wire services such as the Associated Press and leading newspapers set a national news agenda. Magazines, broadcasters, and local newspapers added their own reporting, but paid close attention to the national template. The formula worked: the late 20th century was the Golden Age of the journalism business. Professional news organizations played a powerful role in society, and ad-rich newspapers and broadcasters made record profits.

That all changed in the early 2000’s, when the new digital platforms — including Google, Facebook, and Craigslist — challenged that structure and blew up its business model. Journalism’s mainstays, lucrative display and classified advertising, migrated online with the advantage of reaching targeted consumers. Audiences who had been told “content wants to be free” balked at the paywalls that compensated journalists to report and editors to vet their work.

As a result, between 2000 and 2020, network news divisions closed scores of foreign and national bureaus, and one in five US newspapers failed. Over a thousand counties, most of them rural, were left with no newspaper at all.

But nature abhors a vacuum, and as professional journalism disappeared from thousands of communities, new media models stood ready to take its place. The Radical Right’s media ecosystem was built on previous decades of media development through religious broadcasting and political direct mail. They benefited not just from the news deserts, they also combined with the opportunities presented by new media technologies. These would mushroom into an entire ecosystem of religious fundamentalist radio programs and podcasts, many of them disguised as “news programs,” as well as countless digital platforms and social media initiatives that have been feeding a toxic diet of political propaganda and COVID misinformation to their audiences in recent years.

To understand this ecosystem, it’s useful to explore its roots. Many of these can be traced to a shadowy organization called the Council for National Policy, founded in 1981 in the wake of Reagan’s election. Its founding fathers were strategist Paul Weyrich, networker Morton Blackwell, and mass marketer Richard Viguerie.

Just 12 People Are Behind Most Vaccine Hoaxes On Social Media, Research Shows

[NPR, via The Big Picture 5-16-2021]

The Disinformation Dozen are twelve anti-vaxxers who play leading roles in spreading digital misinformation about Covid vaccines. They were selected because they have large numbers of followers, produce high volumes of anti-vaccine content or have seen rapid growth of their social media accounts in the last two months.

Major Corporations Are Backing Politicians’ Anti-Voting, Anti-Protest Efforts Around the Country 

[De Smog Blog, via Naked Capitalism 5-17-2021]

The Normalization Of Voter Suppression

David Sirota, May 17, 20221 Weekly Poster]

The data point comes in a new CBS/YouGov survey, buried under the topline finding that almost two-thirds of Republican voters do not consider Joe Biden the legitimate winner of the 2020 election, despite Biden’s electoral college and popular vote victories.

Further down in the survey, pollsters asked GOP voters whether in advance of the 2022 election, they would advise Republican leaders to “tell the public about popular policies and ideas” or instead “push for changes to voting rules,” on the basis that Republicans “will win once those changes are in place.”

Nearly half of Republican supported the latter move, with the strongest demographics in support being female Republicans, non-white Republicans and white Republicans with no college degree:

The Confrontations Are Coming
Paul Starr, May 17, 2021 [The American Prospect]

Inside the military’s secret army, the largest undercover force ever 

[Newsweek, via The Big Picture 5-22-2021]

The largest undercover force the world has ever known is the one created by the Pentagon over the past decade. Some 60,000 people now belong to this secret army, many working under masked identities and in low profile. The force, more than ten times the size of the clandestine elements of the CIA, carries out domestic and foreign assignments, both in military uniforms and under civilian cover, in real life and online, sometimes hiding in private businesses and consultancies, some of them household name companies. 

“Has Biden Changed? He Tells Us” [David Brooks, New York Times]. WC 5-21 “Another piece of his basic worldview comes from 20th-century Catholic social teaching. He said that his father loved the French Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain, and later in the conversation mentioned that he, too, was guided by Maritain. Like most of the major figures of Catholic social teaching, Maritain placed great emphasis on social solidarity, the organic interdependence of people and communities. If you’re drenched in Maritain, you believe we have serious responsibilities for one another…. The Biden administration has broken with the thinking that dominated the Clinton and Obama administrations in other ways as well, though it’s not clear how much of this is driven by Biden and how much by the team around him. As Ronald Brownstein noted in The Atlantic, for years the dominant Democratic view was that wages would rise if you gave people more skills and education. The dominant Biden era view is that you also have to give people more union bargaining power to balance corporate power. For years Democrats predominantly believed you could help Black Americans if you designed colorblind policies aimed at the working class. Now Biden officials are more likely to believe you have to create race-conscious policies that explicitly benefit Blacks.” • It’s been a long, long time since Democrats designed “policies aimed at the working class.”