Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – December 26, 2021
by Tony Wikrent
Strategic Political Economy
Capitalism Didn’t Make the iPhone, You iMbecile
The creation of the entire new era of computers and information technology can be precisely traced back to one event, when U.S. Army's Ballistics Research Laboratory and the U.S. Navy's Office of Naval Research convened a seminar to deliberately share the technologies developed by various government programs and projects during World War Two:
August 1946: The Moore School Lectures
The Moore School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania was at the center of developments in high-speed electronic computing in 1946. On February 14 of that year it had publicly unveiled the ENIAC, the first general-purpose electronic digital computer, developed in secret beginning in 1943 for the Army's Ballistics Research Laboratory. Prior even to the ENIAC's completion, work had begun on a second-generation electronic digital computer, the EDVAC, which incorporated the stored program model. Work at the Moore School attracted researchers including John von Neumann, who served as a consultant to the EDVAC project, and Stan Frankel and Nicholas Metropolis of the Manhattan Project, who arrived to run one of the first major programs written for the ENIAC, a mathematical simulation for the hydrogen bomb project…. The 8-week course was conducted under the auspices of the U.S. Army's Ordnance Department and the U.S. Navy's Office of Naval Research, who promised (by verbal authorizations) the $3,000 requested to cover lecturer salaries and fees and $4,000 for travel, printing, and overhead. ($1,569 over this figure was ultimately claimed.)
Another Crisis Surrounds Us: Life expectancy drops almost two years in the U.S., and it’s not just from COVID-19.
[The American Prospect, December 23, 2021]
According to the Centers for Disease Control’s National Center for Health Statistics, life expectancy in the U.S. dropped 1.8 years from 2019 to 2020, the largest single-year drop since national statistics were made available in 1933. The U.S. totaled 3,383,729 registered deaths, more than 500,000 higher than the year before. And that’s not even the worst statistic from the newly released mortality data.
Death rates for every age group 15 years and over increased from 2019 to 2020. The increase continues across men and women, regardless of race. However, rates sharply rose most among Black and Latino men.
Russia’s ultimatum to the West
[The Saker, via Naked Capitalism 12-20-2021]
Because most of the “international community” which “supports” (well, obeys) the USA is the EU, which itself is in a terminal crisis on too many levels to count here!
Compare the red and the grey zones on the map, and ask yourself these questions: which zone has the most powerful military? which zone has the most natural and human resources? which zone has the most promising trading routes? which zone has a real GDP, as opposed to a purely FIRE one? Which one is literally dying spiritually under the trans-national “Woke” ideology and which one has retained the willingness and ability to fight for its spiritual, cultural, and civilizational values? Finally, which zone has a viable vision of the future?
I could go on and on with many more such questions, but I think that you see my point: the USA is not only losing militarily, but it is also losing on all fronts!
Why the coronavirus’s delta variant dominated 2021: Delta’s unique constellation of mutations explains why it has wreaked so much havoc.
[Science News, via The Big Picture 12-20-2021]
[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 12-22-2021]
“Beneath a Covid Vaccine Debacle, 30 Years of Government Culpability”
[New York Times, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-23-2021]
“How the Koch Network Is Spreading COVID Misinformation”
[Jacobin, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-22-2021]
“Scott Atlas, Jay Bhattacharya, and Martin Kulldorff — are connected to right-wing dark money attacking public health measures. The trio also has ties to the Great Barrington Declaration, a widely rebuked yet influential missive that encouraged governments to adopt a ‘herd immunity’ policy letting COVID-19 spread largely unchecked, even as the virus has killed more than 800,000 Americans.”
How The Koch Network Hijacked The War On COVID
[Daily Poster, December 22, 2021]
When COVID began its spread across the United States in early March 2020, states responded by locking down to varying extents. All 24 Democratic governors and 19 of the 26 Republican governors issued weeks-long stay-at-home orders and restrictions on non-essential businesses.
Lockdown measures drove down cases in the U.S. and likely saved millions of lives globally. But the decline of in-person shopping and work, combined with factory shutdowns in places like China, disrupted the economy. A 2020 report from the corporate consulting firm McKinsey & Co. found the hardest-hit industries would take years to recover.
One sector in particular that took a big hit was the fossil fuel industry. Oil demand fell sharply in 2020, placing the global economy on uncertain footing.
Before long, business-aligned groups — particularly those connected to fossil fuels — began targeting the public health measures threatening their bottom lines. Chief among them were groups tied to billionaire Charles Koch, owner of Koch Industries, the largest privately held fossil fuel company in the world.
The war on public health measures began on March 20, 2020, when Americans For Prosperity (AFP), the right-wing nonprofit founded by Charles and David Koch, issued a press release calling on states to remain open.
“We can achieve public health without depriving the people most in need of the products and services provided by businesses across the country,” it read.
A month later, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a business lobbying group partially funded by Koch Industries, published a letter calling on President Donald Trump to enable states to reopen. That letter was signed by over 200 state legislators and “stakeholders,” including leaders from Koch-funded groups like the Texas Public Policy Foundation and the James Madison Institute.
The carnage of mainstream neoliberal economics
This block used to be for first-time homebuyers. Then global investors bought in
[Washington Post, via The Big Picture 12-19-2021]
Progress Residential acquires as many as 2,000 houses a month through the use of a computerized property-search algorithm and swift all-cash offers. Efficient management practices have been a boon to their tenants who cannot afford to buy one of the “entry level” homes. But Progress Residential has been ringing up substantial profits for wealthy investors around the world while outbidding middle-class home buyers and subjecting tenants to what they allege are unfair rent hikes, shoddy maintenance and excessive fees.
Wyoming Is the Onshore-Offshore Tax Haven of Oligarch Dreams
[Esquire, via Naked Capitalism 12-22-2021]
SEC gives JPMorgan Chase record fine for using WhatsApp to conduct business
[UPI, via Naked Capitalism 12-20-2021]
“To get around federal record-keeping laws.”
Deregulated aviation confronts deregulated telecom….
“Boeing, Airbus executives urge delay in U.S. 5G wireless deployment”
[Reuters, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-22-2021]
“‘5G interference could adversely affect the ability of aircraft to safely operate,’ the letter said, adding it could have ‘an enormous negative impact on the aviation industry.’ The industry and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have raised concerns about potential interference of 5G with sensitive aircraft electronics like radio altimeters. The FAA this month issued airworthiness directives warning 5G interference could result in flight diversions.”
The World’s Most Profitable Traffic Jam
Matt Stoller [BIG, via Naked Capitalism 12-20-2021]
Clogging up the ports is a $150 billion business, but a bipartisan bill to re-regulate the sector is moving through Congress. Why is Congress about to do the right thing?
Climate and environmental crises
The Race to Secure Water in the Western U.S.
[Bloomberg, via The Big Picture 12-25-2021]
How four cities are trying to survive future droughts, from expanding reservoirs and tapping neighboring watersheds to pushing conservation efforts.
OCC Report Shows JPMorgan Chase Owns 62 Percent of all Stock Derivatives Held at 4,914 Banks in the U.S.
Pam Martens and Russ Martens, December 23, 2021 [Wall Street on Parade]
The Fed Gets Its Ducks in a Row for the Next Wall Street Bailout; Quietly Adds Goldman Sachs Bank, Citibank to Its New $500 Billion Standing Repo Facility
Pam Martens and Russ Martens, December 21, 2021 [Wall Street on Parade]
JPMorgan’s Crime Wave Continues, Calling into Question the Justice Department’s Lax Settlement with the Bank Last Year
Pam Martens and Russ Martens, December 20, 2021 [Wall Street on Parade]
On Friday, the Securities and Exchange Commission fined the securities unit of JPMorgan Chase $125 million for evading the ability of the SEC to adequately conduct its investigations of the bank because there was “firmwide” use by traders, supervisors and other personnel of non-official communications devices to conduct its business, while the firm failed to record and retain these messages as required by law.
These new violations occurred despite similar conduct during the bank’s participation in the rigging of the foreign exchange market, which brought a criminal felony charge against the bank by the Justice Department in May of 2015.
There’s a Nasty Public Battle Raging Over Control of the Federal Agency that Insures Bank Deposits
Pam Martens and Russ Martens, December 16, 2021 [Wall Street on Parade]
Information age dystopia
AI debates its own ethics at Oxford University, concludes the only way to be safe is “no AI at all”
[ZMEScience, via Naked Capitalism 12-21-2021]
Charging Julian Assange with espionage is a greater threat to democracy than Jan. 6
[The Week, via Naked Capitalism 12-20-2021]
Collapse of independent news media
Altercation: The Sins of the Mainstream Media = The many reasons why the media is failing to reckon with the loss of our democracy
Eric Alterman, December 23, 2021 [The American Prospect]
The media critic Dan Froomkin wrote an excellent column recently which pointed to another aspect of the problem. Nina Bernstein, a reporter who covered homelessness for The New York Times, tells him that at the Paper of Record, “To write factually, up close, with what I like to call intelligent compassion about these people’s lives basically invited charges of partisanship … Many reporters across the traditional news media are struggling against institutional tics and timidities that make ‘balance’ a false idol.” The result: “The inadvertent normalization of existential threats to democracy and public health by one party and its right-wing media echo chamber.” Bernstein points the finger at Times mid-level editors. They are often the ones “who are more timid, more ready to water down or reject a story.” But, she notes, “They’re trying to do what they think the top editors want.”
Democrats’ political suicide
How months of talks between Biden and Manchin over Build Back Better broke down
[CNN, via Naked Capitalism 12-20-2021]
“The Democratic Agenda Dies of Delusions”
Eric Levitz [New York Magazine, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-21-2021]
“Manchin and his Democratic critics each fell prey to their respective delusions. Put simply, Manchin cannot recognize the intellectual bankruptcy of Clinton-era conceptions of fiscal responsibility, while the Democratic leadership has refused to accept that it has no real leverage over him.” • Good analysis from Levitz, worth reading in full (though I still think prosecuting Manchin’s daughter would be an option of Merrick Garland weren’t who and what he is).
Now Can We Try the Day One Agenda?
David Dayen, December 21, 2021 [The American Prospect]
With Joe Manchin pulling the string on Biden’s signature legislation, it’s past time for him to use his own authority to make progress….
It just so happens that well over two years ago, this magazine wrote a guideline to using presidential power called the Day One Agenda. We identified 77 discrete actions the next president could take on their own authority simply by executing laws already passed by Congress. In fact, we wrote it imagining precisely the kind of political gridlock we now face, where there just aren’t enough votes to advance policy.
There’s a lot of energy that will be put forward in the coming days to calling executive action a weak substitute for a wide-ranging legislative package like BBB. And certainly, it’s not the preferred path of congressional reporter tip sheets that measure progress by a legislative scoreboard they can easily track. But enormous progress could be made through executive action. Some already has.
The Biden administration has taken at least some action on about one-third of the 77 policies we outlined. He raised the minimum wage for nearly half a million federal contract workers to $15 an hour, got started on a postal banking pilot test to promote financial inclusion, and engaged a host of actions at the Federal Trade Commission to resolve inequities caused by corporate giants. Just this week, Biden imposed a new tailpipe emissions standard that mandates fleet-wide fuel economy of 55 miles per gallon by 2026.
But he has shied away from some of the more impactful ideas. Biden could cancel student debt for 42 million borrowers. He could give millions more workers access to overtime pay. He could deschedule marijuana from the list of controlled substances, effectively legalizing a burgeoning industry. His IRS could end the carried interest loophole that makes private equity so attractive and prohibit private equity management fees, weakening this cancerous financial scheme that is destroying hundreds of businesses. On the near-term crisis of the pandemic, Biden has several options, from ensuring cheap at-home tests by approving more for use, to using approved funds to improve ventilation in indoor public spaces like schools.
Most important, in areas that intersect with Build Back Better’s priorities, Biden has not only been fairly muted, but has failed to use his power in ways that could spur Manchin and Congress to act. The new tailpipe emissions are a start, but Biden has significant command-and-control authority to meet his Paris Agreement goals, which if used aggressively could spell the end of a certain mining technique Manchin is wedded to in West Virginia. In the absence of Build Back Better provisions lowering prescription drug costs, Biden could use federal law to seize drug patents developed with public money and assure they will be distributed affordably. (And yes, the Supreme Court could seek to block such actions, but that would be a pitiful excuse for not even trying.)
“A Good Day w/Special Guest Matt Stoller” (podcast)
[The West Wing Thing, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-21-2021]
Includes a ruthless takedown of Vice-President Kamala Harris
Why Democrats Need Unions More Than Ever: A new study makes clear how union members voted substantially more Democratic in 2020 than their non-union counterparts.
Harold Meyerson, December 21, 2021 [The American Prospect]
Here’s some of what they found:
- Union women were 21 percentage points more likely than non-union women to vote for Biden, while union men were 13 points more likely than their non-union counterparts.
- White union voters were 18 percentage points more likely to vote for Biden than white non-union voters, while Hispanic unionists were 13 points more likely to go for Biden. Black voters preferred Biden by such overwhelming margins that there was no significant difference due to union status.
- College-educated unionists went for Biden at a rate 22 percent higher than their non-union counterparts, while working-class union members favored Biden by 6 percent more than working-class nonmembers. Among Hispanic working-class voters, the union margin over non-union voters was 16 points; among whites, just six points (though that six-point margin certainly helped Biden carry Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania).
Just a glance at these numbers makes clear the toll that 70 years of declining union strength has taken on the Democrats’ electoral prospects. If the unionized workforce constituted 20 percent of the overall U.S. workforce, as it did 40 years ago—let alone the 35 percent it did in the middle of the last century—Democrats would be winning elections by far larger margins.
Liberalism v. civic republicanism
“Power and the Liberal Tradition”
Samantha Hancox-Li [Liberal Currents, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-22-2021]
“This conception of faction and its power has implications for our conception of a liberal society. Contra Rawls et al., the precondition of liberal democracy is not the mere moral equality of human beings. It is to be found in the power structure of society’s factions. To reframe Madison: the republican principle consists of the idea that the power of the faction of the people as a whole outmatches that of private factions, at any given level of analysis. ‘Ambition must be made to counteract ambition,’ Madison says in Federalist no. 51. One might instead say ‘power must be made to counteract power.'”
Lambert Strether comments: “As I wrote, considering Federalist no. 10: “[T]he protection of different and unequal faculties of acquiring property [is] central to the material basis for faction formation.” Hancox-Li seems to assume that property interests are evenly distributed among a homogenous people; they are not; hence the people cannot be a faction. Nevertheless, it’s interesting to see a reasonably self-aware liberal try to struggle out of the straitjacket they’ve locked themselves in.”
Law's Republic (pdf)
Frank Michelman [The Yale Law Journal, Volume 97, Number 8, July 1988]
1499 “It is the very purpose of our Constitution ... to declare certain values transcendent, beyond the reach of temporary political majorities." One possible way of making sense of this is by conceiving of politics as a process in which private-regarding "men" become public-regarding citizens and thus members of a people. It would be by virtue of that people-making quality that the process would confer upon its law-like issue the character of law binding upon all as self-given.
1502-3 [TW: republicanism is not optional] ... belief in juris-generative politics that it seems must play a role in any explanation of how the constitutionalist principles of self-rule and law-rule might coincide.
Yet republican thought is no less committed to the idea of the people acting politically as the sole source of law and guarantor of rights, than it is to the idea of law, including rights, as the precondition of good politics. Republican thought thus demands some way of understanding how laws and rights can be both the free creations of citizens and, at the same time, the normative givens that constitute and underwrite a polity….
1517 In sum, the dialectic of foundership and citizenship may be taken as republicanism's traditional, figurative expression of what I have presented as American constitutionalism's problematic and dynamic core-that is, its endless interplay between the principles of legality (entailing respect for historical commitment) and self-government (entailing respect for the human capacity for
1525 [TW: To highlight the contrast in the impulses derived from democracy and republicanism, Michelson contrasts the decision in Bowers v. Hardwick to that of Brown v. Board of Education]
If we imagine the Brown Court acting in accordance with the understanding… of constitutional adjudication as always proceeding from within an on-going normative dialogic practice, then that Court's willingness to be thus enlisted must signify its grasp of the enlisters and their work as lying within the bounds, if away from the center, of our then constitutional practice. Thus informed, the Brown Court spoke in the accents of invention, not of convention; it spoke for the future, criticizing the past; it spoke for law, creating authority; it engaged in political argument. In Hardwick's case the Court did the opposite.
[TW: A few pages later, Michelson provides another example jurisgenerative politics of a community thus far allowed only “partial citizenship” struggling to “accumulate” citizenship, this occurring in our own time]:
1530 How does such a new slant on the world penetrate the dominant consciousness? …does anyone doubt the primary and crucial role in this instance of the emergent social presence and self emancipatory activity of Black Americans? Does anyone doubt that their impact on the rest of us has reflected their own oppositional understandings of their situation and its relation to our (and increasingly their) Constitution—developed, in part, through conflict within their own community, in a process that both challenged and utilized such partial citizenship as the Constitution granted and allowed them (and left its clear imprint on constitutional law both within and beyond the topical area of race)? Does anyone doubt that the judicial agents of the challengers' accumulating citizenship drew on interpretive possibilities that the challengers' own activity was helping to create? (1530)
Thus, IF it properly understands republicanism and defends its precepts, “The Court helps protect the republican state… from lapsing into a politics of self-denial. It challenges "the people's" self-enclosing tendency to assume their own moral completion as they now are and thus to deny to themselves the plurality on which their capacity for transformative self-renewal depends”
Conservative / Libertarian Drive to Civil War
Report Spotlights Massive GOP Push to 'Hijack Elections in This Country'
[Common Dreams, December 24, 2021]
A detailed analysis published Thursday shines further light on the Republican Party's sprawling assault on voting rights and the democratic process nationwide, an effort that includes legislation that would "politicize, criminalize, and interfere" with elections.
Compiled by the States United Democracy Center, Protect Democracy, and Law Forward, the new report identifies at least 262 bills in 41 states that—if enacted—would "interfere with election administration." More than 30 such measures have become law in 17 Republican-led states.
"This is an all-hands-on-deck moment."
But the report makes clear that the intensifying Republican attack on democracy reaches far beyond the legislative process. "The nature of the threat," the authors warn, "has metastasized beyond proposing or passing bills."
Sons of Anarchy How an F.B.I. informant stopped the gun-crazed, conspiracy-theorizing group behind the plot to kidnap Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer.
[Air Mail, via The Big Picture 12-19-2021]
There might be no better state in which to play army than Michigan. Summers are verdant and the wetlands come alive with animals. The man-made world feels very distant. But it’s a poor state, and when the high green corn is cut and trees turn leafless under the months-long Midwestern winter, the poverty shows: idled auto-parts factories, tractor trailers waiting out the black ice, dinged S.U.V.’s spilling children at Dollar Generals.
[The Atlantic, via The Big Picture 12-19-2021]
A much more dangerous insurrection was under way in the inboxes of Trump’s inner circle in the weeks before January 6.
Meadows Was Deeply Involved in Fighting Election Outcome, Jan. 6 Panel Says
[New York Times, via The Big Picture 12-19-2021]
The House committee laid out its case for a contempt of Congress charge against Mark Meadows, the chief of staff to former President Donald J. Trump.
Donald Trump’s Megaphone: Fox News news hosts knew that Trump’s lies were lies—and they amplified them anyhow
[The Dispatch, via The Big Picture 12-19-2021]
I didn’t want to be complicit in so many lies. I know that a huge share of the people you saw on TV praising Trump were being dishonest. I know it, because they would say one thing to my face or in my presence and another thing when the cameras and microphones were flipped on. Punditry and politics is a very small world—especially on the right—and if you add-up all the congressmen, senators, columnists, producers, editors, etc. you’ll probably end up with fewer people than the student population of a decent-sized liberal arts college.
[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-20-2021]
The (Anti)Federalist Society Infestation of the Courts
Judge rules The New York Times must destroy documents and not publish reporting on conservative group
[Business Insider, via Naked Capitalism 12-25-2021]
The New York Times must return memos it obtained that were written by an attorney for the conservative activist group Project Veritas, a judge in New York ruled Friday.
The ruling by New York state court judge Charles Wood affirms his temporary order last month in favor of the conservative activist group. The developments prevent The New York Times from reporting on memos written years ago by Project Veritas' attorney Benjamin Barr, which the paper had published last month, along with a story about how the conservative group, notorious for sting operations often conducted under false names or with hidden cameras, obtains information.
The New York Times story in question, "Project Veritas and the Line Between Journalism and Political Spying," had reported on Barr's advice to Project Veritas members about, among other things, the group's efforts to spy on government employees to gauge their sentiments toward then-President Donald Trump.
I very much doubt the judge would issue a similar ruling if the plaintiff were the ACLU or a labor union.
Georgia’s Original Sin and the 2022 Secret Vote-Crushing Scheme
Greg Palast [via Naked Capitalism 12-23-2021]