Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – August 27, 2023
by Tony Wikrent
Economic Warfare Is Cruel and Useless
Daniel Larison [via Naked Capitalism 8-22-2023]
Economic warfare can cause destruction and dislocation, but it doesn’t deliver the political and policy goods that sanctions advocates promise. Even if one accepts the twisted ends-justifying-the-means logic of using the economic weapon on an entire country, sanctions policies almost never reach their stated goals. When supporters of economic warfare claim that sanctions “work,” all that they mean is that it causes harm to the targeted economy.
Yes, it obviously does that, but that is not what anyone, including sanctions advocates, used to think of as sanctions success. If economic warfare can’t compel any desired changes in the targeted regime’s behavior, it doesn’t work except as the crudest bludgeon. It is a measure of how useless sanctions are that this is what their defenders are reduced to arguing.
Global power shift
[Twitter-X, via Naked Capitalism 8-25-2023]
[TW: Just a matter of time until Nigeria and Venezuela are invited to join BRICS (expanded).
Lavrov Explained How Russia Envisages BRICS’ Global Role
[Andrew Korybko's Newsletter, via Mike Norman Economics, August 21, 2023]
This is Russia’s most direct debunking of the Alt-Media Community’s false perceptions about BRICS thus far. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov published an article in South Africa’s Ubuntu Magazine on the eve of the 15th BRICS Summit that’ll be hosted in that country. Titled “BRICS: Towards a Just World Order”, he explained how Russia envisages its global role and built upon the efforts earlier this month by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov to clarify false perceptions of BRICS. This includes the Alt-Media Community’s (AMC) most popular one imagining that it’s driven by de-dollarization and is resolutely anti-Western.
Lavrov began by describing the global systemic transition to multipolarity, particularly its economic-financial dimensions, so as to set the context within which this week’s BRICS Summit is taking place. Of pertinence, he mentioned that “not only Russia, but also a number of other countries are consistently reducing their dependence on the US dollar, switching to alternative payment systems and national currency settlements.”
The abovementioned trend isn’t de-dollarization like the AMC understands it to be in the sense of advancing a political decision aimed at phasing out the use of that currency in totality. Rather, it can more accurately be described as diversification from the dollar in order to hedge against forex and other risks posed by dependence on it. While they might appear identical to the average member of the AMC since both goals decrease the dollar’s share in the economy, their motivations are entirely different....
Does India’s disruption of the global rice market pose new threat to food security?
[East Asia Forum, via Naked Capitalism 8-21-2023]
“Rubbing Shoulders: Class Segregation in Daily Activities” (PDF)
[Maxim Massenkoff, Nathan Wilmers, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-23-2023]
The Abstract: “We use location data to study activity and encounters across class lines. Low-income and especially high-income individuals are socially isolated: more likely than other income groups to encounter people from their own social class. Using simple counterfactual exercises, we study the causes. While some industries cater mainly to low or high-income groups (for example, golf courses and wineries), industry alone explains only a small share of isolation. People are most isolated when they are close to home, and the tendency to go to nearby locations explains about one-third of isolation. Brands, combined with distance, explain about half the isolation of the rich. Casual restaurant chains, like Olive Garden and Applebee’s, have the largest positive impact on cross-class encounters through both scale and their diversity of visitors. Dollar stores and local pharmacies like CVS deepen isolation. Among publicly-funded spaces, libraries and parks are more redistributive than museums and historical sites. And, despite prominent restrictions on chain stores in some large US cities, chains are more diverse than independent stores. The mix of establishments in a neighborhood is strongly associated with cross-class Facebook friendships (Chetty et al., 2022). The results uncover how policies that support certain public and private spaces might impact the connections that form across class divides.”
How Do the Rich Become and Stay Wealthy?
[Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-23-2023]
“Ozkan noted that, on average, the wealthiest individuals began their careers significantly richer than other households in the same cohort. For example, the richest 0.1% of households at ages 50 to 54 owned about 120 times the economywide average wealth, which was $437,000 in 2015. When these same households were in their late 20s, they already possessed, on average, 20 times the economywide average wealth, Ozkan pointed out. Ozkan also noted that the wealthiest households at ages 50 to 54 were heavily invested in equity, particularly private businesses, starting at a young age. For instance, he pointed out, the wealthiest individuals held 85% to 90% of their wealth in equity, whereas below-median households held 90% of their total assets in housing. Consequently, the wealthiest earned markedly higher returns. ‘It follows, then, that equity income, including capital gains, provided the main source—83%—of total lifetime income for the wealthiest 0.1%. In contrast, households in the bottom 90% of the wealth distribution earned 80% to 90% of their lifetime income from labor services,’ Ozkan wrote. ‘Interestingly, inheritances (accrued between 1994 and 2014) constituted a negligible fraction of resources for all wealth groups, including the top wealth owners.’ The richest households were also significant savers. Ozkan noted that the wealthiest 0.1% of households had saved 70% of their gross income over the study period.” • Hmm. If the rich began their careers “significantly richer,” and yet “inheritances constituted a negligible fraction of resources for the top wealth owners,” then how was the “primitive accumulation” done? A “great crime“?
How Musk, Thiel, Zuckerberg, and Andreessen—Four Billionaire Techno-Oligarchs—Are Creating an Alternate, Autocratic Reality
[Vanity Fair, via The Big Picture 8-26-2023]
In an excerpt from his new book, The End of Reality, the author warns about the curses of AI and transhumanism, presenting the moral case against superintelligence.
1.2% of adults have 47.8% of the world’s wealth while 53.2% have just 1.1%
[Michael Roberts Blog, via Mike Norman Economics, August 22, 2023]
Strategies of kleptocrats and their enablers are becoming increasingly sophisticated, experts warn
[PhysOrg, via Naked Capitalism 8-22-2023]
Philanthropy rather than politics is increasingly being used to change the image of countries and individuals.
Global corruption rankings don't recognize the structured use of wealth managers, accounting firms, and international bankers, as well as citizenship managers, brokers, lobbyists, PRs and lawyers.
The study describes this era of reputation laundering as 'transnational uncivil societies'. The aims of transnational uncivil societies extend beyond personal benefits to political aims and to further authoritarian and kleptocratic power. TUSNs act against transnational activists through private investigators, the issuance of INTERPOL warrants, regional policing mechanisms and the courts.
The study, by Alexander Cooley from Barnard College, John Heathershaw from the University of Exeter and Ricardo Soares de Oliveira from the University of Oxford, is published in the European Journal of International Relations.
They’re not capitalists — they’re predatory criminals
New Court Documents Suggest the Justice Department Under Four Presidents Covered Up Jeffrey Epstein’s Money Laundering at JPMorgan Chase
Pam Martens and Russ Martens, August 21, 2023 [Wall Street on Parade]
Gary Gensler’s SEC Is Drawing a Dark Curtain Around Child Sex Trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, His Money Man Leslie Wexner and Their Ties to JPMorgan
Pam Martens and Russ Martens, August 25, 2023 [Wall Street on Parade]
The CEOs Who Are Robbing You Blind
Jason Linkins, August 26, 2023 [The New Republic]
...Fortunately, we have the Institute for Policy Studies keeping watch over executive excess. And their 2023 report on what they term the “Low-Wage 100”—the 100 firms listed on the S&P 500 Index that had the lowest median worker pay levels in 2022—casts a riveting light on some real highway robbery.
Among the companies in the Low-Wage 100, the gap between average workers and the executives who govern their lives continues to be grotesquely wide. When one of the few good things you can say about the CEO-worker pay gap at these firms is that it dropped from a staggering 670-to-1 to a slightly less stratospheric 603-to-1, you are still facing a thoroughly baked-in state of affairs….
Lowe’s, which has become something of a bête noire on the IPS’s annual report, topped all-comers with respect to stock buybacks. According to the IPS, in 2022, the company spent “more than $14.1 billion on buybacks—enough to give every one of its 301,000 U.S. employees a $46,923 bonus.” Collectively, stock buybacks have allowed the CEOs of the Low-Wage 100 to cart off quite a pile of boodle—the IPS estimated that these executives’ “personal stock holdings increased more than three times as fast as their firms’ median worker pay.”
But perhaps one of the most galling things about these corporations is how many of them are using our taxpayer dollars to add to these CEOs’ kitties. According to the IPS, 51 of the Low-Wage 100 “received federal contracts worth a combined $24.1 billion during fiscal years 2020–2023.” Additionally, “The average CEO pay in this low-wage contractor group stood at $12.7 million, 56 times as much as the salary of a Biden administration cabinet secretary” and “438 times their $34,550 median worker pay.” The firm that stands out among those fattening themselves off the taxpayer teat is Amazon, which has taken in nearly $10.4 billion in federal contracts, according to the IPS. As The New Republic contributor Sandeep Vaheesan recently reported, Amazon’s broad universe of contract work is one factor that makes it hard for antitrust regulators to bring the firm to heel.
Tracking Orwellian Change: The Aristocratic Takeover of “Transparency”
Matt Taibbi [via Naked Capitalism 8-21-2023]
Helicopter Footage From Mass Arrest Reveals State Trooper Surveillance Capabilities, Tactics, and Communications
[Unicorn Riot, via Naked Capitalism 8-26-2023]
NSA Orders Employees to Spy on the World “With Dignity and Respect”
[Intercept, via Naked Capitalism 8-26-2023]
Dangerous threats to local press freedom
[Columbia Journalism Review, via Naked Capitalism 8-23-2023]
Climate and environmental crises
How Kids Pulled Off a Climate Sneak Attack in Montana
Molly Taft, August 25, 2023 [The New Republic]
...Last week, the judge in Held v. Montana handed down a victory for the 16 young plaintiffs, who argued that the state’s continued production of fossil fuels violated their constitutional rights. Advocates say the landmark ruling could have broad ramifications for future climate litigation. But it’s also clear that Montana was woefully unprepared to face climate science on trial.
Part of the reason this case was so unique—and one of the reasons that its outcome is so extraordinary—is that it’s the first climate case brought by young people to go to trial, and one of the rare times that a case concerning climate has actually had its day in court. That’s partially by design, says Karen Sokol, a professor at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law. Polluters, and the states that sympathize with them, have developed a heretofore reliable strategy to stop climate litigation: Get cases thrown out before they even go to trial….
It’s not unreasonable, Sokol told me, to assume that fossil fuel sympathizers are taking notes about what happened here. In addition to the various kids’ cases, which tend to be filed against governing bodies, there are around two dozen lawsuits brought by cities, states, and counties against multiple private oil companies, which are working their way through various courts. The industry has long shared tactics to fight lawsuits; given the close relationship between some states’ attorneys general and oil and gas interests, it wouldn’t be surprising if those strategies are also making their way into state legal briefs….
Still, even if oil companies and their allies are taking careful notes from Montana’s flop, it might not make much difference.
“What the defendants are realizing, and are going to have to come to terms with, is that climate in the courts is no longer exceptional,” she said. “It’s going to become increasingly ordinary because that’s our reality. Courts deal with facts and reality. It’s going to become harder and harder to stop that from happening.”
How Quebec won the world’s first ban on oil and gas extraction
[The Breach, via Naked Capitalism 8-24-2023]
Quarter of global population faces extremely high water stress each year
[Down to Earth, via Naked Capitalism 8-21-2023]
Water, not lithium, is the resource Latin America should worry about
[Rest of World, via Naked Capitalism 8-20-2023]
Does The Ocean Floor Hold The Key To The Green Energy Transition?
[NOEMA, via The Big Picture 8-25-2023]
Abundant minerals at the bottom of the ocean could be vital for renewable energy infrastructure. But what harm will be caused by mining them?
Learning how to garden a forest
[Grist, via Naked Capitalism 8-24-2023]
For over a century, the American environmental movement has been animated by an intuitive and simple idea: Protecting trees means leaving forests alone. This stance — championed by men like John Muir and based on their belief that any alteration, including thinning or intentional burning, of wilderness harms it — was once key to stopping timber companies from wiping out old-growth forests entirely. And it was an approach that I embraced; for most of my life, I was categorically opposed to felling trees.
But that ethos created an unintended outcome: An expanding body of research shows that the West’s overgrown forests are fueling unnaturally severe wildfires that can cause irreparable ecological damage and massive economic loss. Living in rural areas during this period of catastrophic fires driven in no small part by climate change has forced many people — myself included — to look at tree cutting, and forests, differently.
My perspective began to shift in August 2020 when I attended a class led by Clint McKay, the Indigenous education coordinator at Pepperwood Preserve, a research station in eastern Sonoma County on the traditional homeland of the Wappo people. That summer, the region reached a record 115 degrees Fahrenheit, and two devastating wildfires, which together killed six people and destroyed 1,491 homes, came within a few miles of my home. I joined McKay’s popular Indigenous forest stewardship class expecting to master the use of prescribed burns to defend the forest. Instead, he spent much of our time explaining why people must become more comfortable with cutting down some trees — a necessary intervention in many dense forests before beneficial fires can be reintroduced safely.
4 takeaways from the grid’s record-breaking summer
Jason Plautz, 08/25/2023 [www.eenews.net]
Grid monitors issued dire warnings ahead of the summer that Americans could face blackouts during an extreme heat wave — but so far, that hasn’t happened. Why?
….A heat dome continues to scorch the Midwest and Southeast. The grid operators Southwest Power Pool (SPP), which covers parts of 15 states, and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) issued alerts this week signaling tight conditions. On Thursday, the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) covering the central U.S. announced an emergency event requiring generators to take additional steps to meet demand but didn’t institute rolling blackouts.
Mark Olson, manager of reliability assessments at the North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC), a national grid watchdog, said the lack of widespread power outages or brownouts so far amid conditions he called “uncharted territory” doesn’t mean that the U.S. grid is fully ready for the onslaught of climate change.
“We’re seeing the grid operating at the outer limits of its capability,” said Olson. “Fortunately the operators are able to get through, but we’re seeing the creaks and groans. We should all take these signals to heart.”
With hotter summers predicted for the future, additional factors could come into play, such as climate conditions that hinder wind and solar output and spiking power demand from more use of electric vehicles and appliances.
Here are four questions answered about the U.S. grid’s performance this summer: ….
Creating new economic potential - science and technology
Hard sail test hits the high seas, aiming to reduce cargo ship emissions by 30 percent
[Endgadget, via Naked Capitalism 8-22-2023]
Agrivoltaics Is Making Friends Across Partisan Lines, Thanks To Farmers
[CleanTechnica, via Naked Capitalism 8-25-2023]
We are not empty: The concept of the atomic void is one of the most repeated mistakes in popular science. Molecules are packed with stuff
[Aeon, via The Big Picture 8-26-2023]
Misconceptions feeding the idea of the empty atom can be dismantled by carefully interpreting quantum theory, which describes the physics of molecules, atoms and subatomic particles. According to quantum theory, the building blocks of matter – like electrons, nuclei and the molecules they form – can be portrayed either as waves or particles.
‘Historic’: Ecuador voters reject oil drilling in Amazon protected area
[Al Jazeera, via Naked Capitalism 8-21-2023]
Tracking the EV battery factory construction boom across North America
[TechCrunch, via The Big Picture 8-21-2023]
Here’s where the US stands on EV battery production, 1 year after the Inflation Reduction Act was signed.
Inside the Slow, Yet ‘Incredible’ Installation of a $78,000 Tesla Solar Roof
[Wall Street Journal, via The Big Picture 8-21-2023]
Long Island homeowner Winka Dubbeldam describes a tedious process that in the end helped lower her electric bill while maintaining the appearance of her Cape Cod-style home.
Renewables Are Both Necessary for Carbon Reduction and Cheap
Ramenda Cyrus, August 25, 2023 [The American Prospect]
New research shows that renewable power like solar and wind is now affordable enough to shut down the debate over cost.
We Did Not Evolve to Be Selfish—and Humans Are Increasingly Aware We Can Choose How Our Cultures Can Evolve
April M. Short [Prezensa, via Mike Norman Economics, August 22, 2023]
The good news is that humans evolved often as cooperative and “prosocial” beings, so looking to the past and better understanding our cultural evolution as a species might help illuminate the best ways forward across the board. This is the basis of a paper published in April 2023 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) titled, “Multilevel Cultural Evolution: From New Theory to Practical Applications.” Rather than focusing on the genetic code and physical evolution of humans, the paper explores the advanced and groundbreaking—but seldom discussed—field of cultural evolution.
What Stone-Carving Robots Tell Us About the Architecture of the Future
[Slate, via The Big Picture 8-25-2023]
...Monumental Labs, based in Mount Vernon, New York. Founder Micah Springut similarly wants to bring cut rock to the people, but his goals are loftier. “Monumental Labs is developing the infrastructure to build highly ornamented classical structures on a mass scale,” the mission statement reads, “and to create extraordinary new architectural forms.”
Springut’s thesis is that we have lost the ability to build the kind of buildings people like best—ornate ones. Think the Lincoln Memorial or the Tribune Tower. The creation of these kinds of structures largely halted a century ago, when industrial materials like steel and concrete entered the scene. Buildings became flatter, sleeker. Less was more. By reducing the cost of chiseling, Springut reasons, architects can once again embrace the decorative flourishes of carved stone. His firm’s first project, the restoration of an 1880s hotel facade, is underway in New York City now.
At the core of Springut’s operation is a modern technique known as CNC milling—the 3D, computer-programmed drilling that produces countless components for automobiles, hospitals, and industry. The difference here is that a seven-axis industrial arm is working on materials that haven’t been considered very useful since the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. The robot arm is impressively good at work once reserved for skilled craft artisans, though it’s not quite ready to replace them; a human still carves the finishing touches….
Steve Webb, the director of the London-based firm Webb Yates Engineers, convinced me that stone is at once elegant, beloved, and environmentally sound, and—with a little technological razzmatazz—can fulfill many of the structural functions today assigned to steel or reinforced concrete. “The building industry is grinding through millions of tons of coal to make cement, when we’re surrounded by mountains of rock,” Webb laments. He says that post-tensioned stone—blocks strung through with steel cable, like beads on a necklace—can be structurally and economically competitive with steel or concrete. Stone is also considerably better for the environment, since it is sitting in enormous quantities right beneath our feet.
Health care crisis
Health care CEOs hauled in $4 billion last year as inflation pinched workers, analysis shows
[STAT, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-21-2023]
“The health care industry didn’t just provide a safe haven for jittery stock investors in 2022, a year defined by inflation and higher interest rates. It also provided a stable stream of wealth for top executives, who collectively pocketed billions of dollars in what was otherwise a rough patch for the economy. By almost every measure, 2022 was a bad year for the stock market. But health care stocks fell significantly less than other companies as the amount of care received and prescriptions filled returned closer to pre-pandemic norms. As a result, the CEOs of more than 300 publicly traded health care companies combined to make $4 billion in 2022, according to a STAT analysis of financial filings. That amount of money could buy Costco memberships for more than 66 million people, and it’s equivalent to the entire economic output of Sierra Leone. That CEO haul was down 11% from the $4.5 billion recorded in 2021. But the sizable paydays highlight how every niche of health care — from Covid-19 vaccines and obscure technology to orthopedic implants and providing coverage to the nation’s poor — continued to supply its leaders with substantial sums of money even as more people struggled to afford food, housing, and, yes, health care. ‘No matter how you slice it, the people at the top — the CEOs of these companies — are making enormous gains every year compared to ordinary Americans,’ said John McDonough, a health policy professor at Harvard who has studied health care for nearly four decades. ‘This is the bitter fruit that we [who?] reap from telling the health care industry to act more like a business.'”
Doctors Must Pay for Privilege of Getting Paid
[Newser, via Naked Capitalism 8-22-2023]
End Predatory Private Medicare “Advantage” Plans Now
[juancole.com 8-23-2023, via Rick W,]
Gainesville, Florida (Special to Informed Comment) — Wendell Potter, a New York Times bestselling author, highly respected health care and campaign finance reform advocate, authority tackling corporate and special interest propaganda, alerts us to the dangers of Medicare Advantage plans now offered by the private health insurance industry.
“In just a few weeks”, says Potter, “we’re once again going to be bombarded with ads featuring healthy and happy-looking seniors playing tennis and telling us how wonderful their Medicare Advantage plan is and how much of a no-brainer it is to shun traditional Medicare and opt instead for a plan operated by a big corporation like Humana and Cigna. We’ll hear insurers’ shills tell us about the extra benefits we’ll get, like discounts on gym memberships, $900. for groceries and some coverage for dental, vision and hearing. They’re short on details of course, and we never hear that coverage for those extra things can be pretty meager”….
U.S. political and oligarch support for privatization of health insurance is grounded in the philosophy espoused by University of Chicago economist, the late Milton Friedman. Friedman said “the corporations should not take into account the public interest” and added that “the government itself should not take into account the public interest. The job of the government is to simply let everybody make as much money as they can, however they can”.
Whipping Egg-Whips: Retirees Are Winning Battles Against Medicare Advantage
Kay Tillow, August 25, 2023 [Common Dreams, via Rick S.]
In a country inundated with ads falsely praising the benefits of MA plans, it is amazing that grassroots organizations have cut through the gibberish, exposed the lies, and are fighting to keep their traditional Medicare with promised supplementary coverage.
Millions Sick and Untreated, Thanks to Medicaid “Unwinding”
Eve Ottenberg, August 25, 2023 [CounterPunch, via Rick S.]
During the pandemic, poor people did not have to renew their Medicaid annually. Now that covid is supposedly over, that has changed. Unwinding, in normal parlance called ending, Medicaid continuous coverage began on April 1. That was after the Consolidated Appropriations Act 2023 terminated the Medicaid continuous enrollment provision on March 31. As a result, by the end of July, roughly four million indigent people lost their health care coverage. They’ve started rationing medicines or skipping them. And as the months pass, more people will lose access to a doctor and to prescriptions. Way to go, Washington! And way to go, Joe “I Would Veto Medicare for All” Biden. The transformation of the U.S. into a “shithole” nation just picked up the pace.
So why are all these people losing their medical coverage? And why does this happen when we already have 27.6 million people without health insurance? Well, it happens mostly, and most infuriatingly, for bureaucratic reasons, not because patients become ineligible. These cutoffs, according to the Washington Post July 28, are due to “renewal notices not arriving at the right addresses, beneficiaries not understanding the notices, or an assortment of state agencies’ mistakes and logjams.” And states quite obstinately keep people off Medicaid, even if they were dropped for one of these flimsy “procedural” reasons. Arkansas, the new Mecca for child labor, is one of the worst, while Texas, of course, followed by Florida, natch, has severed the most people, hundreds of thousands.
Arkansas GOP governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders, one of the nation’s leading far-right fanatics when it comes to pitching her constituents back into deliquescent, early 19th century social conditions, said in a May Wall Street Journal op-ed, “I’m proud Arkansas is leading the nation in getting back to normal.” Normal being booted off life-saving medical care. “It’s time to get [Arkansas residents] off the path of dependency.” The brave new world of astronomical premiums and high-priced medicines on Obamacare, or simply no care at all, awaits!
The carnage of mainstream neoliberal economics
Credit card debt collection
[Bits About Money, via The Big Picture 8-20-2023]
One core waste stream of the finance industry is charged-off consumer debt. Debt collection is a fascinating (and frequently depressing) underbelly of finance. It shines a bit of light on credit card issuance itself, and richly earns the wading-through-a-river-of-effluvia metaphor.
Dollar Tree said theft is such a problem it will start locking up items or stop selling them altogether
[CNN, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-24-2023]
“Dollar Tree had a miserable quarter, and company management is chalking it up to a mix of factors: changing consumer demands on top of higher prices for fuel and electricity … and theft…. Dollar Tree CEO Richard Dreiling and CFO Jeffrey Davis blamed a surprisingly large drop in gross profit margin — tumbling to 29.8% last quarter from 32.7% a year earlier — on ‘shrink,’ the industry term for inventory losses due to theft, damages and other causes. Davis said the company has taken steps to fix the problem, but the shrink issue is getting worse — and ‘definitely advanced a little further than what we had anticipated.’ In response, Dreiling said Dollar Tree and Family Dollar stores, which the company also owns, will take more drastic measures in the coming months. ‘We are now taking a very defensive approach to shrink,’ Dreiling told analysts Thursday. ‘We have several new shrink formats that we’ll introduce in the back half of the year, and it goes everything from moving certain SKUs to behind the check stand. It has to do with some cases being locked up. And even to the point where we have some stores that can’t keep a certain SKU on the shelf just discontinuing the item. So we have a lot of things in the works.'”
Reactions to Fed Chair Powell's Speech
Stephanie Kelton [The Lens, via Mike Norman Economics, August 25, 2023]
The Campaign To Keep Electric Bills High
Andrew Perez, August 24, 2023 [The Lever]
As voters in Maine decide whether to buy the state’s electric utilities, Democratic consultants rake in corporate cash while residents face shut-offs….
In November, Mainers will decide whether they want to put those power companies out of business and take control of the state’s electric grid, when they vote on a ballot initiative to create a nonprofit power company that would buy and operate the utilities’ transmission lines and facilities.
Supporters say it’s the most important climate election in the United States this year, and a win could inspire activists elsewhere to try to take control of their own utilities in order to limit their states’ dependence on fossil fuels.
Information age dystopia
hahaha we live in hell
[gravis again, via Naked Capitalism 8-22-2023]
No app, no entry: How the digital world is failing the non tech-savvy
[Guardian, via Naked Capitalism 8-22-2023]
Tech’s broken promises: Streaming is now just as expensive and confusing as cable. Ubers cost as much as taxis. And the cloud is no longer cheap.
[Business Insider, via Naked Capitalism 8-22-2023]
Open challenges in LLM research
[Chip Huyen, via The Big Picture 8-26-2023]
[Large Language Models] Never before in my life had I seen so many smart people working on the same goal: making LLMs better. After talking to many people working in both industry and academia, I noticed the 10 major research directions that emerged. The first two directions, hallucinations and context learning, are probably the most talked about today. I’m the most excited about numbers 3 (multimodality), 5 (new architecture), and 6 (GPU alternatives).
Apple’s treatment of small games developer makes a textbook antitrust case
[9to5Mac, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-23-2023]
“Apple has voraciously denied accusations that the App Store has monopolistic control over iPhone apps, yet the company’s ability to unilaterally close developer accounts without explanation forms a textbook antitrust case. One small games developer had its Apple Developer Program (ADP) account terminated without explanation, was unable to appeal as it hadn’t been told what accusations it needed to address, took Apple to court – and then had its account reinstated after five months of lost sales, still without explanation or apology…. Some five months after Digital Will had its apps pulled from the App Store, and two months after it sent a lawyer’s letter to Apple, the Cupertino company reinstated the account. No explanation was offered. The company estimates that its total losses and costs exceed $765k, and is seeking damages from Apple.” • One for Stoller. Pocket change for Apple; life-changing for a small developer.
Government Stupidity Is By Design
Matt Stoller [via Naked Capitalism 8-25-2023]
John Pilger: Silencing The Lambs (How Propaganda Works)
John Pilger [Eurasia Review, via Naked Capitalism 8-24-2023]
Restoring balance to the economy
Companies That Try to Union-Bust Will Be Forced to Recognize Union, NLRB Says
Tori Otten, August 25, 2023 [The New Republic]
The National Labor Relations Board issued new rules Friday that will make it easier for workers to form unions—and much more difficult for companies to stop them.
The new unionization process framework is part of a decision in a case between Cemex Construction Materials Pacific and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. If a majority of workers ask a company to recognize their union, under the new rules, the company must now immediately either recognize the union or petition the NLRB to hold a union election.
“However, if an employer who seeks an election commits any unfair labor practice that would require setting aside the election, the petition will be dismissed, and—rather than re-running the election—the Board will order the employer to recognize and bargain with the union,” the NLRB said in a statement announcing the ruling.
If You Stiff Your Workers, New Jersey Will Shut You Down
Harold Meyerson, August 22, 2023 [The American Prospect]
The state’s labor department ordered 27 Boston Market outlets to stop work after they violated minimum-wage laws.
Long-Awaited Rules on Private Equity Mostly Involve Disclosure
David Dayen, August 25, 2023 [The American Prospect]
The industry watered down some of the tougher prohibitions. But it’s a start.
The (anti)Federalist Society Infestation of the Courts
The Supreme Court is taking a wrecking ball to the wall between church and state
[Vox, via The Big Picture 8-20-2023]
Mass shootings spur divergent laws as states split between gun rights and control
[Associated Press, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-22-2023]
“[F]ellow Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a law making Illinois the eighth state to roll back legal protections for firearms manufacturers and distributors. The new law bans firearms advertising that officials determine produces a public safety threat or appeals to children, militants or others who might later use the weapons illegally. Pritzker signed the bill alongside attendees of an annual conference hosted by the gun-control group Everytown for Gun Safety. The group said 2023 has been ‘a historic year for gun safety in the states.’ In addition to Illinois, Democratic-led legislatures in Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Michigan, Maryland, Minnesota, Vermont and Washington all passed multiple gun control provisions this year.”
House Freedom Caucus rolls out demands to avoid shutdown
[Politico, via Naked Capitalism 8-24-2023]
Republicans’ Border Policy Proposals Are Sadistic and Would Lead to Chaos
Brynn Tannehill, August 24, 2023 [The New Republic]
Are we really going to shoot on sight people merely suspected of smuggling drugs? Their “proposals” are solely about appealing to the base’s worst instincts.
The Video That's Worth 10,000 Words: Republicans Would Rather "Own The Libs" Than Save The Planet
Patrick Toomey [downwithtyranny.com 8-25-2023]
Here’s what happened when a Faux News moderator asked 8 GOP presidential candidates whether they believed that human behavior was causing climate change…. That’s right, not ONE of them raised his/her hand in response….
This moment also confirms the fact that Donald J. Trump is merely a symptom of the GOP’s much more toxic disease. The rot goes far deeper than 1 man. There are SO many issues on which the GOP is so wrong in so many ways, but none of them threaten the very concept of the continued existence of what passes for human civilization the way that climate change does. Upper-bracket tax cuts pay for themselves, the 2d Amendment confers an individual right to assemble an armory in your garage, market-oriented “solutions” always work best, Ronald Reagan single-handedly brought down the Berlin Wall with his bare hands—those myths are all bad enough, but they don’t pose the existential threat that climate change poses.
The Dems’ approach on climate change is a mixed bag at best, but at least they acknowledge that a problem exists. Like an alcoholic in deep denial, the GOP won’t acknowledge this worsening crisis. Pretending that they’re a legitimate opposition party with which you can find common ground only enables their denial. Trying to meet utterly crazy halfway makes one, at best, half sane.
We Fact-Checked Republicans’ “Biden Corruption” Timeline. And It’s Bad.
Tori Otten, August 24, 2023 [The New Republic]
...The House Oversight Committee has spearheaded the probe into the Bidens. Last month, the committee published a timeline going back as far as 2013 that supposedly shows the extent of the Bidens’ influence peddling overseas. But if you look closely, the timeline is riddled with errors. An analysis by The New Republic found at least 19 mistakes or misleading details—from mixed-up dates to messages and meetings that never happened. And nowhere does the timeline show actual wrongdoing by the president….
The timeline is sloppy work done by a party on a political vendetta. Republicans have already admitted multiple times that they have no proof of wrongdoing by the president. They have said they don’t know whether the information on which their accusations are based is even legitimate. They have also admitted they don’t really care.
Two Months in Georgia: How Trump Tried to Overturn the Vote
[New York Times, via The Big Picture 8-20-2023]
The Georgia case offers a vivid reminder of the extraordinary lengths Mr. Trump and his allies went to in the Southern state to reverse the election.
How Donald Trump tried to undo his loss in Georgia in 2020
[Washington Post, via The Big Picture 8-20-2023]
Nowhere was the effort more acute than in Georgia, where all of their strategies came together in a complex and multilayered effort that unfolded against the hyperpartisan backdrop of two ongoing U.S. Senate races.
The Flaw in Trump’s Georgia Indictment
[The Messenger, via Naked Capitalism 8-22-2023]
Georgia indictment and post-Civil War history make it clear: Trump’s actions have already disqualified him from the presidency
[The Conversation, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-22-2023]
“We believe the Georgia indictment provides even more detail than the earlier federal one about how Trump’s actions have already disqualified him from office, and shows a way to keep him off the ballot in 2024.”
Law Professors, Legal Punditry, Donald Trump, and What’s an Academic to Do?
[Dorf on Law, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-24-2023]
“In lay terms, both the removal statute and the doctrine of supremacy clause immunity require the defendant to have engaged in official conduct and, for removal, have a colorable federal defense defined quite loosely. Both issues will likely come down to whether Trump was engaged in official conduct ensuring the fairness of federal elections or whether he was a candidate trying to steal an election (or perhaps both). Were I writing a law review article on the subject, I would say these are issues of first impression, they impact our country tremendously, and my read of the law and facts is that Trump should lose but, of course, lower court judges and eventually SCOTUS may well come to a different conclusion. I expressed those thoughts publicly, which got me in trouble with some on the left who wanted no part of any uncertainty. The party line is Trump must and will lose these motions and why provide the other side with even the slightest ammunition to make their case stronger. This pushback gave me significant pause….. I could have said last week something like, ‘well Trump should easily lose on both issues because the law and facts are against him and here’s why.’ I agree with that sentence but it is not even close to the entire truth. For one thing, predicting what appellate judges and SCOTUS will do in legally easy cases with a liberal/progressive political valence is fraught with danger, given the 6-3 conservative court (not to mention that half of the active judges on the 11th Circuit were nominated by Donald Trump). Second, it is crucial that Trump be treated the same way we would want future Presidents to be treated, and the line between candidate and federal officer may well be blurrier than many people think. And, third, the reality is that these are all issues of first impression with enormous implications for our country and maybe we should just slow down and take some time before pronouncing that Trump should definitely lose on both removal and immunity. But the media wait for no one. …. But here’s the rub. My ability to get others to recognize both my academic work and my punditry (there’s nothing else to call a five-minute segment on CNN or a 1500-word essay in SLATE) absolutely depends today on full participation in non-legal media of all kinds. That reality may not be true for folks teaching at elite schools, who by virtue of their Ivy League credentials may be able to garner exposure in other ways (such as hobnobbing with other elites). But for those of us without those credentials teaching at less elite schools, the path to career success these days is through social media much more than through 30,000-word law review articles and even books (but of course one also must produce such traditional scholarship).” • Hegemony in action. Dorf doesn’t want to “end up like Bill Black.”
The Constitution Prohibits Trump From Ever Being President Again
[The Atlantic, via The Big Picture 8-24-2023]
The only question is whether American citizens today can uphold that commitment. (The Atlantic)
Trump’s Last Two Indictments Complement Each Other Perfectly
[Slate, via The Big Picture 8-23-2023]
Jack Smith’s federal document filed in Washington was spare almost to the point of being an inky line drawing, whereas Fani Willis’ Georgia filing is rich and detailed and pointillist. Smith targeted one defendant only, whereas Willis went after 19 defendants on 41 counts. Smith mentions a handful of co-conspirators; Willis notes 30 unindicted co-conspirators. As Norm Eisen and Amy Lee Copeland point out, Smith’s case will likely be blacked out for television and audio audiences, whereas Willis’ suit will most likely become must-see TV for weeks on end.
Attorney Sues Trump, Claims He is Constitutionally Ineligible for Presidency
[The Messenger, via Naked Capitalism 8-26-2023]
The Conservative Call to Disqualify Trump is a Trap
GSPotter, August 25, 2023 [DailyKos]
Conservative / Libertarian Drive to Civil War
As Trump Surrenders in Georgia, Groups Warn of Continued Threat to Democratic Institutions
Julia Conley, August 25, 2023 [CommonDreams]
Government watchdogs Common Cause and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) on Thursday released a report titled Donald Trump: Threatening Courts and Justice, warning of the threat that is posed to the nation's court system by the outgrowth of the so-called "Stop the Steal" movement, which emerged after the 2020 election and led the violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.
The groups noted that a document titled "1776 Returns" was uncovered by prosecutors as they investigated the perpetrators of the January 6 attack. The document detailed a plan to "seize and occupy the Supreme Court and other government buildings to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power and force federal officials to overturn election results."
"It's unclear exactly why these attacks did not fully materialize, but the lack of a specific call to action could have played a part," reads the report. "This is in contrast to Trump's specific call for his followers to come to Washington, D.C. on January 6th for a 'wild' event at the Capitol. Given the continued incendiary, anti-democratic rhetoric toward government institutions and officials coming from extremist groups and leaders, it is not inconceivable that Trump or a future anti-democratic leader could incite another mob to attack a different government institution."
US Careening Towards the Abyss of Fascistic Violence and Civil War as Election 2024 Approaches
[The Wire, via Naked Capitalism 8-23-2023]
Heather Cox Richardson, August 24, 2023 [Letters from an American]
At last night’s Republican primary debate, all the candidates except former New Jersey governor Chris Christie (polling at 3.3%) and former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson (polling at 0.7%) pledged they would support Trump as the 2024 Republican nominee even if he’s convicted.
In the 1960s, Republicans made a devil’s bargain, courting the racists and social traditionalists who began to turn from the Democratic Party when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt began to make inroads on racial discrimination. Those same reactionaries jumped from the Democrats to create their own party when Democratic president Harry S. Truman strengthened his party’s turn toward civil rights by creating a presidential commission on civil rights in 1946 and then ordering the military to desegregate in 1948. Reactionaries rushed to abandon the Democrats permanently after Congress passed the 1964 Civil Rights Act, joining the Republicans at least temporarily to vote for Arizona senator Barry Goldwater, who promised to roll back civil rights laws and court decisions.
The 1965 Voting Rights Act was the final straw for many of those reactionaries, and they began to move to the Republicans as a group when Richard Nixon promised not to use the federal government to enforce civil rights in the states. This so-called southern strategy pulled the Republican Party rightward.
In 1980, Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan appeared at the Neshoba County Fair near Philadelphia, Mississippi, a few miles from where three civil rights workers had been murdered in 1964 for their work registering Black Mississippians to vote, and said, “I believe in states’ rights.” Reagan tied government defense of civil rights to socialism, insisting that the government was using tax dollars from hardworking Americans to give handouts to lazy people, often using code words to mean “Black.”
Since then, as their economic policies have become more and more unpopular, the Republicans have kept voters behind them by insisting that anyone calling for federal action is advocating socialism and by drawing deep divisions between those who vote Republican, whom they define as true Americans, and anyone who does not vote Republican and thus, in their ideology, is anti-American.
From there it has been a short step to arguing that those who do not support Republican candidates should not vote or are voting illegally (although voter fraud is vanishingly rare). And from there, it appears to have been a short step to trying to overturn the results of an election where 7 million more Americans voted for Joe Biden, a Democrat, than voted for Trump and where the Electoral College vote for Biden was 306 to 232, the same margin Trump called a landslide in 2016 when it was in his favor.
The Republicans on stage last night have abandoned democracy, and in that they accurately represent their party. It is no accident that in addition to the Georgia party chair indicted for trying to overturn the results of the 2020 election, Wisconsin Republican Party chair Brian Schimming was also mentioned in the Georgia indictment as part of the conspiracy for his role in the scheme to use false electors to steal the election for Trump, though he was not charged; former Arizona Republican chair Kelli Ward is in the crosshairs for her own participation in the scheme in Arizona; and in a different case, former Michigan Republican Party co-chair Meshawn Maddoch has pleaded not guilty to eight felony charges for her part in the attempt to steal the White House.
Heather Cox Richardson, August 25, 2023 [Letters from an American]
After the Selma attack, President Lyndon Baines Johnson called for Congress to pass a national voting rights bill. By a bipartisan vote, it did so, and on August 6, 1965, Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act authorizing federal supervision of voter registration in districts where African Americans were historically underrepresented.
The federal protection of minority voting was a game changer, and and opponents fought it. Since Reconstruction, reactionary racists had maintained that Black voters would elect lawmakers who would give them benefits that could only be paid for through tax levies on those with property, which generally meant white men. Black voting, they insisted, would lead to a redistribution of wealth and thus was essentially socialism.
As the Democratic Party under Johnson moved away from its historic racism, those who insisted that Black voting was socialism and segregation should be the law of the land began to swing behind the Republicans, whose opposition to government regulation of business and provision of a basic social safety net made them take a stand against a powerful federal government.
Once entrenched in the Republican Party, the idea that minority voting meant a redistribution of wealth led party leaders both to whittle away at federal power and to insist that Black and Brown voters were illegitimate. By 1986, Republicans talked of cutting down Black voting with a “ballot integrity” initiative, and they bitterly opposed the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, more popularly known as the Motor-Voter Act, which Democrats passed to make it easier to register to vote at certain state offices. The following year, losing Republican candidates argued they had lost because of “voter fraud,” and in 1996, House and Senate Republicans launched yearlong investigations into elections that they insisted, without evidence, Democrats had stolen thanks to illegal voters.
By 2013 the quest to purge minority voters led to the Supreme Court’s Shelby County v. Holder decision gutting the provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that required the Department of Justice to sign off on changes to voting in states with histories of racial discrimination.
Ultimately, in late 2020, Republicans led by then-incumbent president Donald Trump organized to deprive Americans, overwhelmingly minority Americans in places like Fulton County, Georgia, and Detroit, of their vote. As the federal indictment for his attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election reads, he and his co-conspirators tried “to injure, oppress, threaten, and intimidate one or more persons in the free exercise and enjoyment of a right and privilege secured to them by the Constitution and laws of the United States—that is, the right to vote, and to have one’s vote counted.”