Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – July 25, 2021
by Tony Wikrent
US sees COVID-19 cases surge by 224% in last three weeks as CDC director says the Indian ‘Delta’ variant now makes up 83% of all new infections
[Daily Mail, via Naked Capitalism 7-21-2021]
‘I’m sorry, but it’s too late’: Alabama doctor on treating unvaccinated, dying COVID patients
[AL.com, via Naked Capitalism 7-22-2021]
In the United States, COVID is now a pandemic of the unvaccinated, according to the head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Alabama, state officials report 94% of COVID hospital patients and 96% of Alabamians who have died of COVID since April were not fully vaccinated….
“I try to be very non-judgmental when I’m getting a new COVID patient that’s unvaccinated, but I really just started asking them, ‘Why haven’t you gotten the vaccine?’ And I’ll just ask it point blank, in the least judgmental way possible,” she said. “And most of them, they’re very honest, they give me answers. ‘I talked to this person, I saw this thing on Facebook, I got this email, I saw this on the news,’ you know, these are all the reasons that I didn’t get vaccinated.
“And the one question that I always ask them is, did you make an appointment with your primary care doctor and ask them for their opinion on whether or not you should receive the vaccine? And so far, nobody has answered yes to that question.”
Republicans freak out because the delta variant they fostered is killing ... Republicans
Dartagnan, July 21, 2021 [DailyKos]
Let’s be clear on something: Variants to the COVID-19 virus are caused by allowing the virus to continue spreading among the unvaccinated, giving it more time and opportunity to mutate. The more unvaccinated people there are, the better the chance of a variant developing and spreading. That’s what led to this delta variant that’s now ravaging the vaccine-refusing Republican population in this country. In simpler terms, Republican intransigence and political pandering created and abetted the conditions that led to the spread of the delta variant and encouraged an environment that allowed it to flourish. And now that it’s disproportionately killing “their” people, in red-leaning states, Republican elected officials are desperately seeking—once again—to avoid the blame.
[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 7-23-21]
You have to click through to see the math and the assumptions behind 80,000 Republican voters dying of COVID in Florida over the coming year.
“In-person voting really did accelerate covid-19’s spread in America”
[Economist, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 7-20-21]
How the Delta variant achieves its ultrafast spread
[Nature, via Naked Capitalism 7-23-2021]
“[T]he researchers report that virus was first detectable in people with the Delta variant four days after exposure,compared with an average of six days among people with the original strain, suggesting that Delta replicates much faster. Individuals infected with Delta also had viral loads up to 1,260 times higher than those in people infected with the original strain.” The short incubation period makes contact tracing harder, in countries that do that, and the high viral load increases the likelihood of superspreading events.
“The Delta Variant Will Drive A Steep Rise In U.S. COVID Deaths, A New Model Shows”
[National Public Radio, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 7-23-21]
“The current COVID-19 surge in the U.S. — fueled by the highly contagious delta variant — will steadily accelerate through the summer and fall, peaking in mid-October, with daily deaths more than triple what they are now. That’s according to new projections released Wednesday from the COVID-19 Scenario Modeling Hub, a consortium of researchers working in consultation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help the agency track the course of the pandemic…. ‘What’s going on in the country with the virus is matching our most pessimistic scenarios,’ says Justin Lessler, an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina who helps run the modeling hub. “We might be seeing synergistic effects of people becoming less cautious in addition to the impacts of the delta variant. ‘I think it’s a big call for caution,’ he adds. The group’s latest projections combine ten different mathematical models from various academic teams to create an ‘ensemble’ projection. It offers four scenarios for its projections — varying based on what percent of the population gets vaccinated and how quickly the delta variant spreads. In the most likely scenario, Lessler says, the U.S. reaches only 70% vaccination among eligible Americans, and the delta variant is 60% more transmissible. and around 850 deaths each day, Lessler says.”
America Is Getting Unvaccinated People All Wrong
Ed Yong [The Atlantic, via Naked Capitalism 7-23-2021]
….we tend to hear similar questions among people who are unvaccinated. They may also have heard common threads of disinformation, but they’re still asking basic questions. The top one is around side effects, which are one of the main things we talk about when we give informed consent for any procedure. If people aren’t sure about that, it’s no wonder they’re still saying no.
A lot of vaccine information isn’t common knowledge. Not everyone has access to Google. This illustrates preexisting fault lines in our health-care system, where resources—including credible information—don’t get to everyone. The information gap is driving the vaccination gap. And language that blames “the unvaccinated” misses that critical point. Black folks are one of the least vaccinated groups, in part because they have the least access to preventive health-care services.
[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 7-23-2021]
Strategic Political Economy
The Decision to Let Covid Go Chronic
Ian Welsh, July 20, 2021
Our elites have chosen not to control Covid. It’s tiresome to keep going through Pandemic 101, but they haven’t tracked and traced, haven’t quarantined, haven’t enforced vaccines, haven’t opened up vaccine patents and helped every country manufacture them, haven’t kept lockdowns going long enough, have opened schools, refused to acknowledge Covid was airborne for too long, and on, and on, and on.
There is a playbook for defeating pandemics, it is well understood, and only a few countries ran it.
Covid has made the rich much richer. It kills old and poor people primarily. Selling Covid boosters every year or even twice a year for $150/pop to everyone who can afford them is a lovely new sinecure for pharma.
Because Covid has proved to be a great boon to almost everyone important, i.e., everyone who actually makes decisions or influences them, there’s no reason to end it.
And so it appears it’s going to go chronic.
Even if there are some countries who keep it under control, there will be vast numbers who don’t, and they will serve as pools for Covid to continue to evolve. This is good, of course, if you are a pharma exec with stock options, because that means new booster shots! Vaccinated populations which do not reach crowd immunity are a thing of beauty, allowing Covid to evolve against the vaccines!
James Galbraith [Project Syndicate, via Naked Capitalism 7-24-2021]
Although neoclassical economics relies on assumptions that should have been discarded long ago, it remains the mainstream orthodoxy. Three recent books, and one older one, help to show why its staying power should be regarded as a scandal.
Mississippi asks US Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade
[CNN, via Naked Capitalism 7-23-2021]
Mississippi's attorney general told the Supreme Court on Thursday that Roe v. Wade was "egregiously wrong" and should be overturned as she urged the justices to allow a controversial law that bars most abortions after 15 weeks to go into effect."The conclusion that abortion is a constitutional right has no basis in text, structure, history, or tradition" state Attorney General Lynn Fitch told the justices in a new brief, launching the opening salvo in the most important abortion-related dispute the court has heard in decades.
Net-Zero 2050 May Need Up To $173 Trillion Investments — Tsvetana Paraskova
[Oilprice, via Mike Norman Economics 7-22-2021]
Actually, the estimate is between 92 and 173 trillion in USD terms over the next 30 years. It is doable but will take concerted effort in a divided world, especially when the US is divided internally on the issues involved. The problem is more political than economic.
Lars P. Syll — It’s not the debt we need to fix, stupid! It’s our thinking.
[Lars P. Syll’s Blog, via Mike Norman Economics 7-22-2021]
The ad nauseam repeated claim that our public debt is excessive and that we have to balance the public budget is nothing but absolute nonsense.
“We’ve Got To Fight Disinformation,” Says Empire Made Entirely Of Disinformation
[Caitlin Johnstone, via Naked Capitalism 7-20-2021]
Predatory Capitalism in the Time of COVID19
Medical debt overtakes nonmedical as largest source in collections. COVID-19 may be making it worse.
[Health Care Dive, via Naked Capitalism 7-22-2021]
Ohio Pizzeria Workers Get $78 An Hour In Surprise Profit Sharing
[Patch, via Naked Capitalism 7-18-2021]
Workers at the Heavenly Pizza in Findlay, Ohio, made nearly double what the owner had hoped for on the July 5 employee appreciation day.… As the day started, a typical Monday would include about 90 orders, Elchert said on Facebook — but that 200 "would be fantastic" to help the employees. By closing time, Heavenly Pizza totaled 220 orders, bringing in $6,300 in sales and $1,200 in tips.
Almost nobody is repaying their student loans
[Yahoo News, via Naked Capitalism 7-19-2021]
As Tom Lee of the American Action Forum recently explained, the portion of borrowers repaying their student loans dropped from 46% at the beginning of 2020 to 1% today. The portion of borrowers in forbearance rose from 10% to 57%. The rest include borrowers who are still in school, who have gotten deferments or who have defaulted….
But the massive student-loan deferment may have set the stage for a chaotic resumption of payments this fall, or politically explosive intervention by the Biden administration that could impact upcoming elections.
“The Trillion-Dollar Lie” [or, “some student loans CAN be discharged in bankruptcy”]
Matt Taibbi, July 22, 2021
“What did [the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005] say, exactly? For years, it was believed that it absolutely closed the door on bankruptcy for whole classes of borrowers, and one in particular: students. Nearly fifteen years after the bill’s passage, journalists were still using language like, ‘The bill made it completely impossible to discharge student loan debt.’ Even I did this, writing multiple features about student loans stressing their absolute non-dischargeability. In 2017, I interviewed a 68 year-old named Veronica Martish who filed for personal bankruptcy — as I put it, ‘not to get free of student loans, of course, since bankruptcy protection isn’t available for students’ — and described her being chased by collectors to her deathbed. ‘By the time I die, I will probably pay over $200,000 toward an $8000 loan,’ she said. ‘They chase you until you’re old, like me. They never stop. Ever.’ I got it wrong. Beginning in the 2010s, judges all over the U.S. began handing down decisions in cases… that revealed lenders had essentially tricked the public into not asking basic questions, like: What is a ‘student loan’? Is it anything a lender calls a student loan? Is a school anything a lender calls a school? Is a student anyone who takes a class? Can lenders loan as much as they want, or can they only lend as much as school actually costs? And so on.”
Production didn’t stop when line worker died and more. Frito-Lay employee gives glimpse behind the scenes.
[Topeka Capitol-Journal, via Naked Capitalism 7-19-2021]
The Big Law Cartel: How Antitrust Lawyers Help Their Clients Break the Law
Matt Stoller [BIG, via Naked Capitalism 7-19-2021]
Purdue bankruptcy watchdog says protections benefiting Sacklers are ‘illegal’
[Reuters, via Naked Capitalism 7-20-2021]
How Did the Sacklers Pull This Off? This Is What Billionaire Justice Looks Like
[New York Times, via The Big Picture 7-18-2021]
Though they are widely reviled for profiting from a public health crisis that has resulted in the death of half a million Americans, they have used their money and influence to play our system like a harp. It is hardly news that our society treats people like Mr. Washington with sledgehammer vengeance and people like the Sacklers with velvet gloves.
I Was Taught From a Young Age to Protect My Dynastic Wealth
[The Atlantic), via The Daily Poster 7-19-2021]
“The more interesting question is not how the men in ProPublica’s report were able to avoid paying much or anything in federal income taxes, but why. What motivates people with so much money to try to withhold every last bit of it from the public’s reach?”
John Kay [via Naked Capitalism 7-22-2021]
The Biden Transition and the Fight for Real Hope and Change This Time
Law Firm that Was Sued Last Year by NYS Attorney General for Refusing to Turn Over Trump Documents Lands a Partner to Head the Criminal Division in Biden’s Justice Department
Pam Martens and Russ Martens, July 22, 2021 [Wall Street on Parade]
“Biden to Tap Former Hill Aide for Top Treasury Post Overseeing Financial Rules” [Wall Street Journal, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 7-22-21]
“President Biden plans to nominate Graham Steele as assistant Treasury secretary for financial institutions, a move that would put a long-time congressional staffer with ties to progressives at the center of efforts to refocus financial rules on issues such as climate change and racial equity. Mr. Steele, a former Democratic chief counsel on the Senate Banking Committee and aide to Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio), would oversee the Biden administration’s plans to tighten regulations on Wall Street firms. That could include heightened scrutiny of cryptocurrencies; open-end mutual funds and hedge funds and their roles in market turbulence last year; and the financial sector’s exposure to climate-change risks. Mr. Steele is the director of the Corporations and Society Initiative at Stanford Graduate School of Business, which seeks to “promote more accountable capitalism and governance,” according to its website. He previously served as a staffer at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, and also worked at Public Citizen, a progressive watchdog group, before joining Mr. Brown’s staff in 2010.”
Transcript: Brian Deese, NEC Director
Barry Ritholtz, July 25, 2021 [The Big Picture]
Very telling that Deese, Director of the National Economic Council, frames Biden’s executive order two weeks ago as attacking economic concentration because it has so far failed to deliver “follow-through benefit” to consumers. This is an ideological acceptance of the framing created by Robert Bork, and movement conservatives. Proof again that neoliberals are philosophically incapable of challenging conservatism. The proper way to challenge conservatism and its defense of hierarchy, privilege, and wealth is to insist on classic civic republicanism’s understanding that all concentrations of power, whether political or economic, are inherently dangerous.
DEESE: Well, I appreciate you counting words and actions because we are — we’re certainly focused on that as well. We’re really excited about this executive order, and it’s based on a kind of very simple but important intuition, which is that having fair and open competition is a fundable — fundamental ingredient of a healthy capitalist economy. It’s what actually drives better outcomes — lower prices, higher wages, more innovation, more economic growth.
And so the, quote, goal of this executive order is “to reset across the entire executive branch a focus on where and in what ways can we encourage healthy competition in service of achieving those outcomes,” lower prices, higher wages, more innovation.
And what we’ve seen across time is that our economy has gotten less competitive. We have a larger number of our industries that are now more concentrated than they were 20 or 30 years ago. We’ve seen the rate of new business formation, particularly small business formation fall by almost 50 percent since the 1970’s.
And if you look across industries, whether it’s, you know, in — in meat packing or in broadband Internet, consumers’ choices have been constrained. And we haven’t seen the kind of the — the follow-through benefit that at least has been argued by folks who say, you know, more consolidation will actually generate lower prices for consumers. We haven’t seen that either.
In fact, if you aggregate up the impact of consolidation to an American household in terms of prices and wages and other attendant costs, you know, the best estimate so that it’s costing about $5,000 a year for the typical household. So the goal of this executive order is to say how can we start to get at that. And fundamentally, this is — this is its — its — this is not about being sort of pro-business or anti-business, this is about being pro-competition.
A lot of the ideas in this executive order are actually deregulatory in nature, trying to remove some barriers to entry that actually keep workers from more effectively moving and competing for jobs or new businesses to enter into new markets, and grow and gain market share as a result. So that’s the — that’s — that’s the — at a high level, that’s our goal.
A Republican Form of Government
Robert Kuttner, July 21, 2021 [The American Prospect]
One of the sleeper clauses in the U.S. Constitution is Article IV, Section 4, known as the Guarantee Clause. It provides that “The United States shall guarantee to every state in this union a republican form of government.”
Note that this is republican with a lowercase r, as in government by and for the people, and not Republican as in the Republican Party…. Question: If a combination of extreme voter suppression and gimmicks that allow the incumbent ruling party to overturn elections leads to the permanent entrenchment of one party, at what point does this violate the Guarantee Clause? Can a one-party state based on rigged elections, by any stretch, be considered a “republican form of government”?
Kuttner links to a paper by leading constitutional scholar Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of UC Berkeley law school, laying out a more expansive interpretation of the Guarantee Clause. Other useful readings:
Arthur E. Bonfield, “The Guarantee Clause of Article IV, Section 4: A Study in Constitutional Desuetude” 46 Minnesota Law Review 513 (May, 1961)
Cass R. Sunstein, “Beyond the Republican Revival” 97 Yale Law Journal (1988).
Information Age Dystopia
- Collectively, Amazon, Facebook, and Google make over $112 billion in advertising revenues
- Two-thirds of ads in the U.S. are now digital
The Most Influential Spreader of Coronavirus Misinformation Online
[New York Times 7-24-2021]
Joseph Mercola, an osteopathic physician, creates and profits from misleading claims about Covid-19, researchers and regulators say. An internet-savvy entrepreneur, he has published over 600 articles on Facebook that cast doubt on vaccines.
“Apple AirPod batteries are almost impossible to replace, showing the need for right-to-repair reform”
[CNBC, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 7-20-21]
“Some owners have noticed that, after a few years, used AirPods eventually will last only an hour or so before needing to be recharged — a big decay from the four-to-five-hour battery life they have when new. Because each AirPod is so small and so tightly packed into its housing, it’s almost impossible to swap out the old battery for a new one. Most people give up and just buy a new pair.” • Planned obsolescence
Disrupting mainstream politics
An Empire State Uprising: Progressives win primaries in western New York, intensifying their challenge to the Democratic machine.
[Daily Poster 7-19-2021]
On June 22, Rochester, New York’s third-largest and poorest city, along with the surrounding Monroe County, experienced a political earthquake. At the top of the ticket, incumbent Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren suffered a landslide loss to challenger Malik Evans. While progressives were somewhat lukewarm on Evans, some saw Warren’s ouster as a vote of no confidence in her response to police misconduct that has plagued Rochester over the past year, including an alleged cover-up surrounding the death of Daniel Prude at the hands of the Rochester police department last March….
For progressives and even mainstream Democrats, last month’s county legislature elections were a watershed, due to the defeat of the majority of a bloc of conservative Democrats who called themselves the “Black and Asian Democratic Caucus.” Despite being registered Democrats, the four members of the caucus and one closely allied legislator have for the past year “aligned strategically with the Republican majority in the Legislature,” the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reported in June. The group aided Republicans on recent key votes blocking ethics reform and censure of a legislator who sent unsolicited sexually explicit photos to a young woman.
Candidates backed by the Working Families Party, including a professional boxing promoter, defeated three legislators affiliated with the Black and Asian Democratic Caucus. With a fourth retiring, the bloc’s influence is effectively dead.
The COVID Delta Variant Is Creating Pandemonium in Washington
[Vanity Fair, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 7-23-21]
History As End: 1619, 1776, and the politics of the past
Matthew Karp [Harpers, via Naked Capitalism 7-22-2021]
….Today it is not conservatives but liberals who are most sincerely committed to American history. Yet they too have evolved, perhaps even more dramatically, from their ideological forbearers. Great liberal historians from Thomas Babington Macaulay to James M. McPherson are famous for a kind of baseline optimism, expressed in complex accounts of contested and contingent events that ultimately lead to progress. In lesser hands, the liberal narrative can slide toward complacency—or worse, the construction of an American story in which each act of brutality (colonization, slavery, Jim Crow) somehow only sets the stage for the triumphant advance to come (nationhood, emancipation, civil rights). This has been the rhetorical terrain of Democratic presidents since John F. Kennedy, a happy realm where confessed historical crimes painlessly resolve into patriotic triumphs….
Today’s historicist critics operate within a different kind of cosmology. In her essay introducing the 1619 Project, the journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones notes that black Americans have fought for and achieved “astounding progress,” not only for themselves, but for all Americans. Yet the project does not really explore this compelling story: in fact, it largely skips over the antislavery movement, the Civil War, and the civil-rights era. Strikingly, Frederick Douglass appears more often in [Trump’s] 1776 Report than in the 1619 Project, where he originally received just two brief mentions, both in an essay by Wesley Morris on black music. Martin Luther King Jr., for his part, makes only one appearance in the 1619 Project, the same number as Martin Shkreli. In more than one hundred pages of print, we read about very few major advocates of abolition or labor and civil rights: Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Henry Highland Garnet, A. Philip Randolph, Ella Baker, Rosa Parks, and Bayard Rustin are just a few of those who go unmentioned….
The question, as The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer has written, is not only about the facts, but the politics of the metaphor: “a fundamental disagreement over the trajectory of American society.” In a country that is now wealthier than any society in human history but which still groans under the most grotesque inequalities in the developed world—in health care, housing, criminal justice, and every other dimension of social life—the optimistic liberal narrative put forward by Kennedy and Clinton has ceased to inspire….
Whatever birthday it chooses to commemorate, origins-obsessed history faces a debilitating intellectual problem: it cannot explain historical change. A triumphant celebration of 1776 as the basis of American freedom stumbles right out of the gate—it cannot describe how this splendid new republic quickly became the largest slave society in the Western Hemisphere. A history that draws a straight line forward from 1619, meanwhile, cannot explain how that same American slave society was shattered at the peak of its wealth and power—a process of emancipation whose rapidity, violence, and radicalism have been rivaled only by the Haitian Revolution. This approach to the past, as the scholar Steven Hahn has written, risks becoming a “history without history,” deaf to shifts in power both loud and quiet. Thus it offers no way to understand either the fall of Richmond in 1865 or its symbolic echo in 2020, when an antiracist coalition emerged whose cultural and institutional strength reflects undeniable changes in American society. The 1619 Project may help explain the “forces that led to the election of Donald Trump,” as the Times executive editor Dean Baquet described its mission, but it cannot fathom the forces that led to Trump’s defeat—let alone its own Pulitzer Prize.
The Dark Side
“‘Buying Votes’ Is Good, Actually”
[Eric Levitz, New York Magazine, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 7-20-21]
“To be fair, [Fox Business host Stuart] Varney does seem to recognize that voters like social democratic policies. That is, more or less, his secondary objection to the CTC; that the Democrats’ embrace of the policy represents a craven act of pandering to the popular will. Varney’s argument seems to be that elected officials have a responsibility to avoid competing on the basis of how much aid they can deliver to the public, lest they end up in a race to the bottom. To violate this tacit gentleman’s agreement is to corrupt the political system through mass bribery. Democrats are, in his words, ‘buying votes.’ This sentiment has a long pedigree on the right. It is essentially an updated version of 19th-century conservatives’ arguments against mass democracy: That granting all men political equality would render government hostage to the imprudent, extortionate appetites of popular majorities. As the chancellor of New York, James Kent, argued at the Empire State’s Constitutional Convention in 1820, “the tendency of universal suffrage is to jeopardize the rights of property and the principles of liberty.”
“Does the Biden Administration Really Think It Can ‘Out-Organize’ Voter Suppression?”
[Vanity Fair, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 7-23-21]
“There is a certain amount of political realism to this tack: The John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the For the People Act can’t pass with the filibuster in place, and even if Biden were to come around on abolishing it, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema say there’s no circumstance in which they would. Returning to a talking filibuster or lowering the bar from 60 votes to 55 could be possible, but such changes may not be enough to stop Republicans, whose political prospects depend on the very voter suppression efforts the bills are meant to prevent. “I would talk till I fell over,” Lindsey Graham said in March, suggesting that even making the filibuster more difficult to deploy wouldn’t keep Republicans from doing so. To the White House, it might make more sense to direct their efforts where they have a better chance of succeeding. Democrats turned out a record number of voters for Biden in 2020, even with the obstacles to access that already existed and a raging pandemic. Surely they could do it again — right?”
Lambert Strether notes that “Butchering the pandemic over the summer won’t help.”