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Predation 101

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 03/12/2019 - 12:00pm in

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“Vulture capital” asserts its priorities in Puerto Rico:

The hedge funds scoured the island’s budget. The Department of Sports and Recreation’s allotment of $39.2 million: Nonessential, the lawsuit said. Ditto the $12.6 million for the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture; $7.3 million for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting; $1.8 million for the Boys & Girls Club; and the $88,000 commitment to a nonprofit ballet company. One assertion in particular stood out. Puerto Rico’s budget had set aside $205 million in discretionary money for things like disaster relief. “While a ‘rainy-day fund’ is nice to have,” the hedge funds conceded in Paragraph 159, “it is impossible to see how this is an ‘essential service’ or how it can be justified,” in part because natural disasters were not “likely to occur” in the coming fiscal year. Three months later, Hurricane Maria made landfall.

Read more here.

Yes, the world is paying attention to Australia’s climate inaction

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 03/12/2019 - 11:48am in

That’s the title of my latest piece in Inside Story Opening paras

Like their counterparts in many other countries, members of Australia’s political class are frequently accused of living inside a self-regarding bubble. That’s certainly true when it comes to climate policy. But bubbles can be punctured by shocks from the outside, and one arrived earlier this month in the shape of a demand from the European Union, led by France, that Australia must make stronger climate commitments if it wants a trade agreement with Europe.

Before looking at the EU position, it’s worth considering how far removed from reality our political class has become. As bushfires raged through October and November, a bipartisan consensus emerged: any discussion of the relationship between the fire catastrophe and climate change, let alone any suggestion of a policy response, would be divisive and unnecessary. Many media outlets were happy to go along with it.

The same willingness to ignore the deeper issues extends to climate-related policy more broadly. As energy minister, Angus Taylor has repeatedly and egregiously misled the public about key aspects of his portfolio. He has denounced renewable energy, made spurious claims about the benefits of coal-fired power, and promoted the government’s claim to be observing our emissions-reduction commitments while vetoing any policy action that might promote that goal.

For all of this, he has had a free pass from Labor and most of the media. Their attention has been focused on a series of trivial scandals, culminating in the publication of a forged document used to accuse the Sydney City Council of hypocrisy. These transgressions may or may not cost Taylor his job, but their pursuit will do nothing to tackle the climate emergency.

More over the fold

This mindset helps explain why the sudden discovery that the world, including the European Union, is paying attention to our lack of action on climate — and may actually do something about — has come as such a nasty surprise. France has taken the lead in these demands, but there is no sign that they won’t be supported by any major EU member.

To recap: in line with its refusal to sign trade agreements with countries that have failed to ratify and implement the Paris agreements, the European Union is demanding a stronger commitment to reducing emissions as a precondition for any new trade agreements. In Australia’s case, it has also made more specific demands, including an end to our use of high-sulphur petrol, which is more polluting than would be allowed in India or China and is part of the reason why the government has rejected tighter fuel efficiency standards.

Australia’s trade minister, Simon Birmingham, has described France’s push to force Australia to adopt climate-change targets as “unprecedented.” It’s a claim that suggests he hasn’t been paying enough attention to his job. Far from being a novel demand, this is a standard part of the EU negotiating position, and Australia is unlikely to secure an exemption — particularly now we’ve been specifically identified as being unfit to speak at this week’s UN Climate Summit.

The European Union, again led by France, has made exactly the same demand of Britain in relation to any post-Brexit trade deal, and of the United States as a precondition for any trade agreement. Canada, which signed a trade deal with Europe in 2017, has recently agreed to add a joint commitment to the Paris agreement. The EU deal with Japan, also signed in 2017, includes similar terms.

With the American political system largely paralysed, the European Union has emerged as a source of global standards. We’ve seen one effect of this in our email inboxes, with organisations of all kinds rushing to comply with the EU General Data Protection Regulation by seeking explicit consent for their use of our data.

There is every reason to suppose that the same pattern will emerge in relation to climate clauses in trade agreements. One of the knottier features of these agreements is “rules of origin,” designed to prevent one of the signatories from exploiting an agreement by importing goods from a third country, repackaging them and then exporting them to their partner country. As one of the most notorious laggards on climate, Australia is likely to fall foul of these rules in relation to any country that signs or updates an agreement with the EU.

Of course, as long as the Trump administration remains in office, the effects will remain limited, particularly if China persists in its shift back towards coal. But if Trump is defeated, an incoming Democratic administration is unlikely to look kindly on his global allies, including the Morrison government. Moreover, with scepticism about free trade dominant in the Democratic Party, the United States will probably match Europe in refusing deals with countries that are cheating on their Paris commitments.

For Australia’s current leaders, the worst case would arise if Washington offered to rejoin the Trans-Pacific Partnership but demanded commitments on climate be built in to a revised deal. It’s unlikely, but by no means impossible.

The EU demand is a warning to our leaders that a climate policy based on appeasing culture warriors and narrow interest groups amounts to an attempt to cheat the rest of the world by free riding on their efforts. It won’t go unpunished for long.

What is (wrong with) mainstream economics?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 03/12/2019 - 11:26am in

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from Lars Syll If you want to know what is neoclassical economics — or mainstream economics as we call it nowadays — and turn to Wikipedia you are told that neoclassical economics is a term variously used for approaches to economics focusing on the determination of prices, outputs, and income distributions in markets through supply and demand, […]

The Fishing Industry: Lies, Codfathers and Brexit: Questions voters should ask

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 03/12/2019 - 4:35am in

In a typically flamboyant gimmick in a campaign speech, Boris
Johnson waved a smoked kipper and an icepack, claiming that the EU imposed
bureaucratic regulations that required such packaging, and that Brexit would
enable Britain to do away with such nonsense.    

It was a lie. Packaging rules are solely a matter for
national governments, and the Conservatives, which he had supported
consistently, had done nothing over nine years in government to change them. It
is far from the only lie that has been told about fishery policy by those
supporting Brexit.    

It is well known that fishing communities voted
overwhelmingly for Brexit, and that the Conservatives won seats in fishing
areas of Scotland in 2017 because they were seen as the party of Brexit. The
Conservatives are pitching the same line again. In response to a planted
question in the House of Commons just before the General Election was called, asking
for a ‘categorical assurance’ that the UK ‘will not use our fish
stocks as a bargaining chip in future negotiations’,
Boris Johnson
asserted, ‘I can confirm that we will take back 100% control of the
spectacular marine wealth of this country.’

In the Conservative Party
manifesto for the General Election it is repeated:

Upon
leaving the EU, we will leave the Common Fisheries Policy becoming an
independent coastal state and taking back control of our waters;

You cannot take back
control of something you have always controlled.  

Leaders of the fishery industry, who mainly represent the big
trawlers not the small-scale fisheries, have long condemned the EU’s Common
Fisheries Policy (CFP) for the industry’s woes, which include the collapse of
cod and haddock stocks and depletion of many other species. Fishing and fish
are emotive subjects in Britain, and even though those involved in fisheries
comprise a tiny share of the labour force, they figure high in people’s
imagination. So, the facts should matter.

The first fact is that the crisis has little to do with the
CFP. Catches in UK waters have declined by over 94% in the past 130 years, and
the decline long predated Britain joining the CFP. The CFP has at least slowed
down the depletion of stocks, through its ‘total allowable catch’ rule. The
UK’s fishing industry as a whole has been making big profits (a gross profit of
over 30% in some years). The trouble is that only a few large-scale fishers
have been making most of that, for reasons that will become clear later in this
piece.  

Second, Britain has done well out of the CFP’s system. Of the six million tonnes of fish landed by EU countries, Britain is the second largest, with 700,000 tonnes from UK waters, with a further 52,000 tonnes from other EU waters. Brexiteers complain that the UK has received too little of the TAC. But the industry suffers from overfishing. If Brexit occurs, no sensible government would increase the TAC. If they did, they would be indicating they are in the thrall of the large-scale fisheries that gain from overfishing, through higher prices and consolidation of control, as marginal fisheries are driven into bankruptcy or decommissioning of boats.

So, the question voters should ask candidates is:

Would they impose more restrictions on EU fishing in UK
waters, bearing in mind that this would lead to retaliation and the likelihood
of rising tariffs that would hit the UK shellfish sector particularly hard?
    

Third, Britain imports from the EU almost as much fish as it
exports to it, and relies on the EU market. Many observers present an image of
British fisheries as based on cod and haddock. This is not the case; most of
these iconic fish consumed in the UK are imported, and are classified as having
unsustainable stocks in the North Sea. Meanwhile, the mainstay of UK’s
fisheries is shellfish, which comprise the main source of exports, most going to
the EU.

Fourth, Britain receives considerable subsidies from the CFP,
and provides its fisheries with more than most other EU countries; it could
have handed out even more, although that would be unwise. The point is that it
is Westminster that determines the amount and type of subsidies. Blaming the
CFP is invalid.

The EU’s CFP has allocated the UK £243 million in fishing
subsidies between 2014 and 2020. One would like to know from the parties
whether that money will be replaced after Brexit. This economist, for one,
predicts the fishing communities will not receive anything like that.

So, the questions voters should ask the politicians are as
follows:   

Would they implement a ‘total allowable catch’ policy?

If so, would it be larger or smaller than the existing TAC
under EU rules, and would they insist on having a social manager (government
appointee) to enforce the rules, someone independent of fishery owners?[i]

So far, only the Green Party has a clear stance on fishing
subsidies. As in the 2017 General Election, they are resolutely opposed to them.
Evidence from around the world indicates that is roughly correct, if the
collapse of fish stocks is to be avoided. The main exceptions are ‘research’
and ‘General Service and Management’ subsidies, which have beneficial effects
if proper management rules are applied with adequate resources.

The Labour Party manifesto includes a mildly promising
commitment:

We will set maximum sustainable yields for all shared fish
stocks, redistribute fish quotas along social and environmental criteria and,
if people vote to leave the EU, require the majority of fish caught under a UK
quota to be landed in UK ports.

The Conservative Party manifesto includes a similar statement
on maximum sustainable yields:

There will be a legal commitment to fish sustainably and a legal requirement for a plan to achieve maximum sustainable yield for each stock.

It also states:

We
will maintain funding for fisheries across the UK’s nations throughout the
Parliament and support the regeneration of our coastal communities;

The Conservatives say nothing about the level of funding, and fail to mention the need to cover for the lost income from the CFP subsidies. If they were intending to continue the £243 million gained through the CFP, that should have been in their Manifesto’s Costing document. But there is no mention of anything. There is no need for a statement in the Labour, Green or Liberal Democrat manifestos, since none of them plan on a certain Brexit. But any party promising Brexit should be required to say whether they would replace CFP subsidies fully or partially.

Then we come to the policy on which the most lies have been
perpetrated. The CFP operates what is called a fixed quota system. Guided
by scientific advice, ministers in charge of fishery policy of member states
meet each year to decide on the ‘total allowable catch’ of major fish species,
and then agree on quotas for each member state on a formula based on past
practices and catches of those species.

One lie told by Brexiteers is that the CFP allocates the quotas. But the distribution is left entirely to national governments. Here is where the scandal begins. Under the Conservatives, over two-thirds of quotas have been given to just 25 companies, dubbed the ‘codfathers’ by Greenpeace, while under 2% has gone to small-scale fishers, even though they make up 79% of the fishing fleet. Worse, over a quarter (29%) have been quietly handed to just five families on the Sunday Times Rich List.

Even worse, 13 of the 25 companies that were given most of
the quotas had directors or vessel partners convicted in an over-fishing scam
in 2011-12 in Scotland. This is known as the ‘black fish’ scam. The companies
clandestinely landed 170,000 tonnes of undeclared herring and mackerel, worth
£63 million. Leaders in the fishing industry who claim that it can
self-regulate should be reminded of that scam. Sadly, it did not stop the
perpetrators continuing to receive the Government’s very large quotas.

The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats after 2010 and the
Conservatives since 2015, have compounded the disastrous policy by continuing
to allow quotas to be tradeable, as commodities, in spite of predictable and
long-established consequences. The big companies have been buying quotas from
smaller firms, and foreign firms have bought ‘British’ quotas by registering
their boats in the UK, a trend dubbed ‘quota hoppng’. If you believe in the
supremacy of private property rights and turn quotas into private property, do
not be surprised at this outcome. There has been increasing monopolisation,
associated with more intensive rentier capitalism in the industry, and
self-induced colonisation.

The latter has been dramatic. One Dutch multinational, with a
British subsidiary North Atlantic Fishing Company, owning a 114-metre long
flagship fishing trawler, now possesses about a quarter of all the UK quota. With
other ‘quota hoppers’ coming from Spain, Iceland and The Netherlands, foreign-owned
boats now hold about half the UK’s quotas. 

The quota system has produced several ironies. In an
orchestrated event that may have tipped the balance in favour of Brexit, in
2016 a flotilla of fishing boats went up the Thames. Nigel Farage was on the
flagship, i.e., a foreign owned boat flying the UK flag. It belonged to one of
the ten largest quota holders. The motto of the campaign was ‘Bring back control.’
One could be confident in thinking that the flagship would be a primary
beneficiary.

Second, the Government’s White Paper on fishery policies post-Brexit,
published in 2019, stated that there would be no change in the quota
distribution after Brexit. That surely reflects the power structure in the
fishing industry and the ideology of private property rights. Put bluntly, if
the Conservatives are elected they have committed to channelling more rights
and money to the codfathers and quota-hoppers, and practically nothing to
small-scale fisheries, the latter should not complain if they vote Conservative
and that is what happens. In the circumstances, every voter concerned with
fisheries should ask all candidates the following:

Do you agree with the Conservatives’ White Paper statement,
‘We do not intend to change the method for allocating existing quota.’

In a related policy, the government has claimed it wishes to
support ‘discard-free fisheries’. This is significant because of the quota
system. It has been common for fishers worried about exceeding their quotas to
discard fish caught that are less valuable, notably juveniles and species not
valued much in the UK. This has been a cause of declining fish stocks.

If there is a market for species not valued by UK consumers
but valued in the EU, the tendency to discard good edible fish is held in
check. But if the UK is cut off from the EU market, discarding will grow. The
government and industry representatives may huff and puff and say that will be
controlled. The reality is that, whereas with the CFP there is an EU-level
inspection system, the UK has only 12 vessels for monitoring fishing practices
for all UK waters up to 200 nautical miles from its coasts. Research has shown
that without strong regulation through diligent monitoring, a quota system, as
operating in the UK, will lead to rapid fish stock depletion.

So, voters in fishing communities should ask candidates what
policy would they favour to minimise discard practice and whether that would be
as good as exists in the EU today.

Confusion in the Conservative leadership has been intensified
by the statement of Minister in charge of fishery policy, Michael Gove, that
the UK would also leave the London Fisheries Convention of 1964, which predates
the EU, and which allows vessels from the UK, France, Belgium, Germany, Ireland
and the Netherlands to fish within six and twelve miles of each other’s
coastline. He then admitted that British fisheries did not have the capacity to
take over and so EU nations would continue to have access to UK waters. To talk
grandiosely about ‘regaining sovereignty’ in such circumstances is ludicrous.

Voters in fishing communities should demand that Conservative
candidates explain how claims of 100% sovereignty can be credible in view of
those statements by their responsible minister.

There is one devastating point. International research has shown that the full privatisation of fisheries, as wanted by the Conservatives and the Brexit Party, can drive fish stocks down to extinction. Welcome to full sovereignty.

Finally, if Brexit occurs, the part of the UK that would benefit most in terms of fisheries is Scotland, but only if it had jurisdiction over its fisheries. Thus, post-Brexit fishery policy may push Scotland to want to leave the UK, something many Brexiteers may not have factored into account.

Photo credit: Flickr/Chris Bentley.

[i] International research has shown that private
self-regulation leads to fishing to a level below recovery, even if there are
barriers to entry by ‘foreigners’.

The post The Fishing Industry: Lies, Codfathers and Brexit: Questions voters should ask appeared first on The Progressive Economy Forum.

Dying too young

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 03/12/2019 - 3:18am in

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from David Ruccio If there ever was an argument in support of Medicare for All it’s this: despite spending more on health care than any other country, the United States has seen increasing mortality and falling life expectancy for people ages 25 to 64, who should be in the prime of their lives. A new […]

Take note: FRED has updated some series names

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 03/12/2019 - 1:00am in

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The FRED Team has just automated the process of how it names many of its data series. Because FRED aggregates data from 89 different sources, choosing the right name for any of the 627,000 data series is no small matter. Yes, the Bard wrote “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” But in the world of data, a confounding name can be a thorny problem.

Let’s choose a common example. The data series for the unemployment rate in the U.S. is collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). But the media can choose to report the data with a variety of names: national unemployment rate, civilian unemployment rate, official unemployment rate, harmonized unemployment rate, or U3.

The FRED graph below shows two series: the unemployment rate (from the BLS) and the harmonized unemployment rate (from the OECD). Why do we see only one line? Because the series are one and the same. So, what is the correct name for the unemployment rate data series? The answer depends on the source of the data. So, FRED will now display the series name as reported by the source of the data from the most comprehensive machine-readable location.

In the case of the BLS, that location is series LNS14000000. The series is accessible through the LABSTAT public database, which contains current and historical surveys and press releases. For the BLS series LNS14000000, the name of the data series is “unemployment rate,” so FRED will call it simply that: unemployment rate.

Although the FRED data series identifiers have not changed, there are 2,782 data series names that have changed. For a complete list, see this CSV file. You’ll notice that many data series in FRED related to the consumer price index now have updated names.

Suggested by Diego Mendez-Carbajo and Maria Arias.

Vale Ian Cullen

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 02/12/2019 - 11:29pm in

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The DWCA was very saddened to receive the news on 16 November that actor Ian Cullen had passed away at the age of 90. He was known and loved for appearing alongside William Hartnell in First Doctor story The Aztecs, as well as on audio with Eighth Doctor Paul McGann in Dark Eyes. He was also a special guest of the DWCA back in 2013 – a regular visitor to Australia when visiting his family here. By complete coincidence his last appearance in a Doctor Who related program was on the first episode of Australia’s own Whovians. As part of … Continue reading

Vale aproveitou pânico em MG para conseguir autorização para obra inviável que beneficia uma de suas minas

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 02/12/2019 - 4:02pm in

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Às 14h de um sábado, no dia 18 de maio, advogados da mineradora Vale entraram com uma liminar em caráter de urgência no Tribunal de Justiça de Minas Gerais. Eles pediam livre acesso às terras da Gandarela Minérios Ltda. e de “todos os terrenos na região do Complexo Minerário Mina Gongo Soco”, a mais de 60 km de Belo Horizonte – ou seja, licença para desmatar e abrir um buraco para desviar lama tóxica para o local. O motivo: fazer obras de emergência para, supostamente, evitar uma tragédia no caso do rompimento de uma barragem da empresa na região, o que foi descrito pelos advogados da mineradora como um “risco iminente de calamidade pública”. Às 23h40, com um plano genérico sobre o que pretendiam fazer para evitar o pior, receberam autorização do juiz de plantão Carlos Pereira Gomes Júnior para iniciar a obra.

Os trabalhos começaram a todo vapor, e os moradores da pequena André do Mato Dentro descobriram, com as dezenas de ônibus repletos de operários que começaram a chegar ao povoado, que a Vale pretendia abrir um vão no monte que separa a barragem de Gongo Soco do vilarejo. Mais de metade da lama tóxica contida na estrutura em risco seria escoada por esse vão até uma gigantesca caixa de concreto que seria construída na comunidade, um distrito rural da cidade de Santa Bárbara. O resto seguiria rumo aos povoados de Piteiras e Socorro, no município de Barão de Cocais, evacuados em fevereiro por risco de rompimento.

No dia 26 de julho, com quilômetros de vegetação devastada e mais de uma dezena de moradores longe de suas casas, as obras foram encerradas repentinamente. O motivo: a Vale ignorou um monte, visível a qualquer um que passe pelo local, bem no meio do caminho entre a barragem e André do Mato Dentro. A obra de emergência fracassou.

A própria mineradora admitiu que abriu o buraco e desmatou sem ter garantias técnicas de que sua proposta funcionaria. Ao comunicarem à justiça o fim das obras, representantes da Vale disseram que o desmatamento foi “indispensável”. Mas a empresa só de deu conta da magnitude do problema depois de remover a vegetação: “verificou-se que as condições geológico/geotécnicas eram na realidade bem mais desfavoráveis do que as previstas”, diz o ofício da empresa. No documento, a mineradora reconhece que seu plano foi “inviabilizado”.

Uma cidade marcada para morrer

A justiça mineira mobilizou o apoio dos Bombeiros, Defesa Civil e Polícia Militar para ajudar na evacuação da área, com pouco menos de 50 habitantes.

Foto: Isis Medeiros/The Intercept Brasil

Sair, por bem ou por mal

Na decisão-relâmpago de 18 de maio, o juiz Carlos Pereira Gomes Júnior estipulou multa diária entre R$ 100 mil e R$ 1 milhão a qualquer morador que criasse “empecilho, ou qualquer forma de obstáculo” às ações da empresa. Na mesma decisão, a justiça mineira mobilizou o apoio dos órgãos de segurança do estado, como bombeiros, Defesa Civil e polícia militar para ajudar na evacuação da área, com pouco menos de 50 habitantes. Pelo menos oito propriedades foram transformadas, do dia pra noite, em um imenso canteiro de obras, com intenso fluxo de trabalhadores, maquinário pesado e moradores sendo obrigados a deixarem suas casas.

Parte dos moradores da zona afetada resistiu às investidas, apesar do despacho de Gomes Júnior. “Quando começaram [as obras], a Defesa Civil veio e disse que tinha de sair, que não tinha jeito, que ia sair dali ‘por bem ou por mal’. Teve gente que se recusou… estamos por aqui até hoje, então a gente estranha, né?”, me disse José Mendes, de 63 anos.

Mendes foi um dos proprietários incluídos no programa de recuperação ambiental sugerido pela Vale à justiça em junho. Ele mora com sua família ali há uma década e diz que pouco se importa com qualquer tipo de indenização que a mineradora possa oferecer. “Se me obrigarem a sair, se tiver de ir pra cidade, pode ter certeza que eu não aguento muito. Se me jogam na cidade, acho que morro rapidinho”.

Além do maquinário trabalhando 24h por dia, a mineradora também manteve a postos um time de advogados para refutar todas as ações contrárias à obra em André do Mato Dentro. Durante a construção, em 7 de junho, a Vale protocolou ofícios no cartório de imóveis de Barão de Cocais para identificar três propriedades atingidas pelas obras. No topo de cada documento, há a frase “quem não registra não é dono”, seguida do artigo 1.245 do Código Civil.

Visitei a região e testemunhei um rastro de devastação em André do Mato Dentro.

Proprietário de um sítio de pouco menos de 100 hectares no vilarejo, Célio de Freitas Gonçalves é um dos moradores que, segundo a Vale, “não é dono” de terras na área do canteiro de obras e, portanto, não teria o direito de questioná-la. O estranho é que Célio é um dos três proprietários citados pela mineradora no pedido à justiça, que autorizou os trabalhos em 18 de maio: é em sua propriedade que seriam depositados os mais de 3 milhões de metros cúbicos de lama desviados para André do Mato Dentro. É como se fossem despejadas 1.200 piscinas olímpicas repletas de lama tóxica em sua fazenda.

Oficialmente, seu sítio fica na cidade de Santa Bárbara – André do Mato Dentro, uma comunidade rural, é um distrito do município. Mas a mineradora usou uma declaração do cartório de imóveis na cidade vizinha de Barão de Cocais em que o tabelião afirma que Célio não tem terras na cidade para sugerir que ele não possui propriedades na área atingida. A manobra fica clara em um ofício apresentado pela Vale à justiça estadual no dia 7 de junho.

Visitei a região e testemunhei um rastro de devastação em André do Mato Dentro, no encontro com povoados como Cruz dos Peixotos e Córrego do Arroz. A estrutura planejada pela mineradora ficaria ainda às margens do córrego Capim Gordura, ameaçando o abastecimento de água da região e, num cenário mais amplo, dos mais de 4 milhões de habitantes de Belo Horizonte e sua região metropolitana. O córrego faz parte da bacia do Rio Doce – contaminado desde o desastre de Mariana e que também abastece a capital mineira. A Vale, no entanto, insiste que as obras se restringiram a Barão de Cocais.

Uma cidade marcada para morrer

Com matas derrubadas e moradores persuadidos a deixarem suas casas, as obras em André do Mato Dentro duraram exatos 70 dias.

Foto: Isis Medeiros/The Intercept Brasil

Planos inviáveis, sacrifícios mal explicados

Para fazer a tal caixa de concreto, a mineradora tinha um imenso desafio de engenharia: superar um desnível de mais de 60 metros entre a barragem e o terreno onde a caixa seria escavada. Uma operação tão violenta como essa causa abalos de terra em um terreno delicado, afinal a barragem de Gongo Soco está em ‘risco máximo’ de rompimento desde 22 de março. Um abalo mais forte poderia levar a estrutura ao colapso, a exemplo do que ocorreu em Mariana e Brumadinho.

“Não faz sentido a Vale justificar suas ações e dizer que toda cautela é necessária enquanto fazia obras que, como foram propostas, precisam de explosões e do uso de dinamite para abrir o tal canyon [o vão] no meio da serra até o córrego”, me disse Maria Teresa Corujo, parte do Movimento pela Preservação da Serra da Gandarela.

Não é a primeira vez que Corujo denuncia a Vale. Ela foi a única conselheira da Câmara de Atividades Minerárias de Minas Gerais a votar contra a ampliação da mineração da empresa em Brumadinho, como mostramos no dia do rompimento da barragem da mina do Feijão. “Parece que a magnitude dos seus erros, a revelação das mentiras e toda a infiltração por dentro das estruturas do poder público, nada disso serviu de lição pra Vale”.

Com matas derrubadas e moradores persuadidos a deixarem suas casas, as obras em André do Mato Dentro duraram exatos 70 dias. No pedido inicial à justiça, a mineradora já dava indícios de que seu plano não passava de uma aposta. “A ruptura [de um paredão interno da mina Gongo Soco], em si, não representa risco imediato”, admitem os advogados da Vale no documento. Apesar disso, eles disseram que, por causa da urgência, não havia sido possível “individualizar” as obras – ou seja, definir o que exatamente seria feito. No pedido que deu sinal verde aos trabalhos, aprovado pelo juiz, constavam apenas coordenadas geográficas de onde aconteceriam as intervenções e uma lista com estruturas a serem instaladas.

vale-1573242194

Ao longo das obras, não foram divulgados à população mapas de movimentação de terra ou relatórios técnicos de monitoramento da barragem para comprovar o seu risco de colapso. Por isso, há dúvidas sobre o real risco de segurança da barragem informado pela Vale.

O governo de Minas Gerais, liderado por Romeu Zema, do Novo, e a justiça estadual acompanharam os trabalhos de longe. Durante os mais de dois meses, a secretaria de Meio Ambiente mineira foi a campo fiscalizar as obras em André do Mato Dentro uma única vez, em 10 de junho. As vistorias eram feitas, em geral, por meio de sobrevoos de helicóptero ou via imagens produzidas por drones, satélites e aeronaves.

Obras como essa exigem análises rigorosas, como a apresentação de estudos de impacto, projeto detalhado das intervenções e divulgação dos danos à população, à fauna, à flora e ao solo em si. O tempo de análise pelos órgãos ambientais pode levar meses, dependendo da complexidade dos trabalhos propostos. No caso de André do Mato Dentro, a própria empresa reconheceu que a operação impunha “dificuldades geológicas”. Usando a urgência como desculpa, a Vale não apresentou nada disso, e o governo estadual aceitou que as compensações pela devastação fossem definidas depois.

O controle total das informações sobre seus projetos é uma tática comum da Vale para garantir seus objetivos.

Em julho, dias antes de desistir oficialmente da obra, a empresa firmou um acordo com o Ministério Público estadual para que uma auditoria independente avalie a verdadeira condição de todo o complexo Gongo Soco e de suas obras emergenciais. Com aval do MPMG, foi a própria mineradora quem escolheu a empresa norte-americana de engenharia Rizzo International Inc. para fazer a avaliação.

O controle total das informações sobre seus projetos é uma tática comum da Vale para garantir seus objetivos. “Somente a Vale possui todas as informações relevantes sobre suas operações – e ela mesma contrata empresas de engenharia que vão certificar tais operações”, me disse Raquel Giffoni, professora no Instituto Federal do Rio de Janeiro e pesquisadora na área de mineração e sociedade.

O “automonitoramento” das estruturas, misturado a um discurso que transmite a ideia que desastres são inevitáveis – e, por isso, medidas excepcionais são necessárias – tornam-se ferramentas valiosas para empresas como a Vale. É assim que elas sufocam qualquer resistência local às iniciativas. “Moradores e agentes públicos bem informados sobre a mineração causariam muitos transtornos à empresa e limitariam suas decisões”, diz a pesquisadora.

Uma cidade marcada para morrer

Foi a própria Vale – com aval do MP – quem escolheu a empresa que iria fazer a auditoria do complexo de minas Gongo Soco.

Foto: Isis Medeiros/The Intercept Brasil

Vizinhança evacuada

Não foi a primeira vez que a Vale expulsou a população da área para uma obra emergencial. No dia 7 de fevereiro, poucas semanas após o rompimento da barragem em Brumadinho, a Vale acionou o protocolo de emergência no complexo Gongo Soco por conta de uma ameaça de rompimento da barragem. O pedido da mineradora para retirar os moradores da área se escorou no pânico criado por ela mesma e levou autoridades, como o ministro de Minas e Energia, Bento Albuquerque, a dizerem que outra catástrofe era inevitável. Um detalhe: segundo o Ministério Público de Minas Gerais, desde setembro de 2018 a empresa já tinha informações de que barragem não estava totalmente segura.

Quatro comunidades foram evacuadas às pressas, na madrugada do dia 8 de fevereiro: Piteiras, Socorro, Tabuleiro e Vila do Gongo. Pelo menos 458 pessoas foram removidas de seus lares e seguem proibidas de voltar desde então. Nos últimos meses, pipocaram centenas de tragédias pessoais por conta dessa crise humanitária: houve aumento do consumo de ansiolíticos e remédios tarja-preta, êxodo da população e até tentativas de suicídio, como me relataram os moradores quando visitei a região no começo de agosto.

Àquela altura, a população estava à mercê das decisões do poder público e da Vale. Para se ter ideia, a Defensoria Pública de Minas Gerais só entrou no caso no fim de junho, quando os desmandos sobre os moradores da zona rural próxima ao complexo de Gongo Soco já corriam soltos há meses.

Em abril, depois da evacuação, a Vale já tinha começado outra obra de emergência, entre os povoados de Socorro e Tabuleiro, a 6 km da barragem. A empresa não deu um prazo para o retorno dos moradores e diz que a intervenção, tida como uma estrutura temporária, será concluída em dezembro de 2019.

A construção levantará um muro de 35 metros de altura – o equivalente a um prédio de 13 andares – e 307 metros de extensão, ocupando uma área maior que 400 campos de futebol, entre Piteiras e Socorro. Sua a função é impedir que a lama de Gongo Soco atinja o centro de Barão e se espalhe por um raio que pode chegar a até 65 km de distância da mina.

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Mas a estrutura está sendo erguida em um ponto que não protege imóveis, roças e nem mesmo o patrimônio histórico da cidade – há duas igrejas em estilo rococó construídas no século 18. Nem mesmo a festa da padroeira Nossa Senhora Mãe Augusta do Socorro, tradicionalmente celebrada na capela, pôde acontecer ali: em 2019, foi transferida para uma estrada de terra que liga Socorro a Barão de Cocais.

A vila evacuada virou um povoado fantasma sob constante vigilância da Vale, obrigada pela justiça a proteger as propriedades. Na prática, porém, casas foram saqueadas, animais abandonados e até moradores foram presos sob a acusação de invadir a vila – seja para retirar seus bens ou cuidar de suas roças –, segundo me contaram pessoas que viviam no local. Ao Intercept, a mineradora negou as acusações.

O mapa da mina

Desde o rompimento da barragem de Brumadinho, que matou mais de 250 pessoas em janeiro, a Vale corre contra o relógio. Sua produção despencou após desastre, com a paralisação de diversos complexos de mineração da empresa em Minas Gerais. Ao mesmo tempo, o preço do minério de ferro disparou. É do interesse da mineradora expandir suas atividades no estado.

A região atingida pelas obras de emergência coincide com duas áreas de mineração sobre as quais a Vale tem interesse: a mina Apolo, perto do canteiro em André do Mato Dentro, e a mina Baú, perto do muro de contenção. Por causa da interseção e da proximidade entre os projetos, moradores e ambientalistas acreditam que as duas obras favorecem a mineradora.

A suspeita de favorecimento a outros projetos da Vale era investigada pelo Ministério Público Federal em Minas Gerais desde junho. Em 21 de outubro, a denúncia foi repassada ao MP estadual, pois deve ser incluída na ação civil pública do MPMG, que acusa a mineradora de negligência com patrimônios históricos ameaçados pela lama.

A suspeita é que, com a região esvaziada, futuras intervenções podem ser realizadas sem tantas exigências burocráticas: sem animais e vegetação nativas, os impactos sobre o meio ambiente mudam completamente e as compensações necessárias para começar uma outra obra tornam-se mais simples.

Uma cidade marcada para morrer

A região atingida pelas obras coincide com duas áreas nas quais a Vale tem interesse: a mina Apolo, perto do canteiro em André do Mato Dentro, e a mina Baú, perto do muro de contenção.

Foto: Isis Medeiros/The Intercept Brasil

O caso da mina Baú, em especial, revela o intrincado jogo de interesses envolvendo a mineradora e as supostas obras emergenciais. Hoje, a Vale arrenda o complexo da mina Baú para a MR Mineração Ltda. No pedido de licenciamento para a expansão dessa mina, feito pela “locatária” MR, consta a abertura de uma estrada para conectá-la ao complexo Gongo Soco, para o beneficiamento da produção. Por ali, é previsto um fluxo pesado: 440 toneladas de minério de ferro por hora, todos os dias, carregadas por uma frota de 25 caminhões em dois turnos de 8h de trabalho. O ponto planejado para a construção dessa estrada é o mesmo do canteiro das obras do muro em Socorro, que fez o favor de limpar todo o caminho.

Caso a ampliação seja aprovada pelo governo mineiro, todas as obras e benfeitorias feitas pela MR podem ser herdadas pela Vale, pois o contrato de arrendamento se encerra em 2027. Levando-se em conta o tempo útil de uma mina, que pode durar décadas, é um período relativamente curto. A Vale disse apenas que “a MR executa operação da Mina do Baú de acordo com Plano de Aproveitamento Econômico aprovado pela Agência Nacional de Mineração [ANM]”. Procuradas, tanto a ANM quanto a MR Mineração não responderam ao Intercept.

Além da coincidência entre o muro e a expansão da mina Baú, as atitudes da Vale sugerem que a empresa quer esconder que é a verdadeira dona da mina. Justo na época do início da construção do muro, entre os dias 5 e 9 de abril, a mineradora levantou sigilo sobre quatro lavras que integram o complexo do Baú. Procurada, a mineradora disse apenas que “exerceu seu direito [de levantar o sigilo], garantido pela atual legislação”.

A relação entre Vale e MR Mineração é obscura. O pedido de licenciamento para a expansão da mina Baú, por exemplo, foi feito por uma funcionária com uma conta de e-mail da Socoimex – antiga dona de Gongo Soco, comprada pela Vale em 2000. O contato oficial da MR Mineração registrado na Receita Federal também leva à Socoimex, empresa denunciada em 2015 ao MP estadual por ter feito acordos ilícitos com a secretaria de Meio Ambiente de Minas Gerais. Ao Intercept, a Vale nega qualquer relação com a Socoimex, apesar de ser sua dona. Os rastros aumentam a suspeita da mineradora servir de “laranja” para a Vale no projeto. Contatamos a empresa por meio desses e-mails para entender a relação entre MR e Socoimex. Elas não responderam.

The post Vale aproveitou pânico em MG para conseguir autorização para obra inviável que beneficia uma de suas minas appeared first on The Intercept.

Macroeconomic uncertainty

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from Lars Syll The financial crisis of 2007-08 hit most laymen and economists with surprise. What was it that went wrong with our macroeconomic models, since they obviously did not foresee the collapse or even make it conceivable? There are many who have ventured to answer this question. And they have come up with a […]

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – December 1, 2019

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Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – December 1, 2019
by Tony Wikrent
Economics Action Group, North Carolina Democratic Party Progressive Caucus

Strategic Political Economy

The Failure of Liberal Politics: Canadian interview of political philosopher Michael Sandel

“The rise of right wing populism represents the failure of liberal and progressive politics,” says Harvard political philosopher Michael Sandel. He joins The Agenda to diagnose the failure of liberal politics, the decline of civic life, and what liberals need to know in the age of anger and populism.

From the transcript:

SANDEL: Two decades ago when I wrote the book that you just generously quoted from, I got a lot of resistance from my liberal and progressive friends who thought I was worrying unnecessarily, that liberalism was more or less intact, and that the embrace by liberalism of the global economy and even market mechanisms would be a way to avoid controversy in politics, a way of avoiding the contentiousness that arises when we engage in morally robust questions in public life. i thought that was a mistake. I thought that was hollowing out public discourse, creating a kind of vacuum that was dangerous. And so we see.

INTERVIEWER: Somebody filled the vacuum.

SANDEL: Yes. And not only in the U.S., but with the rise of right wing kind of ultra nationalist populism in many European countries, I think we see this vacuum being filled. People sensed that after three to four decades of a kind of base that markets would decide tough public questions for us, democratic citizens are impatient with too empty a public discourse. They want politics to be about big things and also about values, about moral questions, about justice and inequality and what it means to be a citizen. And when liberal and progressive voices fail to offer that kind of politics, when they became largely technocratic in their approach, that vacuum was filled by narrow, intolerant voices and the kind of strident nationalism we see today.

How America’s Elites Lost Their Grip

Anand Giridharadas  [Time, via Naked Capitalism 11-24-19]

The mercy of all this elite failure and backlash is this: the ongoing collapse of any pretense of selflessness among the winners of our new Gilded Age.

If a single cultural idea has upheld the disproportionate power of this class, it has been the idea of the “win-win.” They could get rich and then “give back” to you: win-win. They could run a fund that made them sizable returns and offered you social returns too: win-win. They could sell sugary drinks to children in schools and work on public-private partnerships to improve children’s health: win-win. They could build cutthroat technology monopolies and get credit for serving to connect humanity and foster community: win-win.

As this seductive idea fizzles out, it raises the possibility that this age of capital, in which money was the ultimate organizing principle of American life, could actually end. Something could actually replace it. After all, a century ago, America was firmly planted in the first Gilded Age—and then it found its way into the Progressive Era and the New Deal, an era of great public ambition. Business didn’t go away; it wasn’t abolished; capitalists didn’t go into gulags. It was just that the emphasis of the society shifted. Money was no longer the lodestar of all pursuits.

The choice facing Americans is whether we want to be a society organized around money’s thirsts, a playground for the whims of billionaires, or whether we wish to be a democracy.

670 Years of Interest Rate History
[Visual Capitalist, via The Big Picture 11-24-19]

Job Loss Predictions Over Rising Minimum Wages Haven’t Come True

[Axios, via Naked Capitalism 11-26-19]

 “The minimum wage increase is not showing the detrimental effects people once would’ve predicted,” Diane Swonk, chief economist at international accounting firm Grant Thornton, tells Axios. “A lot of what we’re seeing in politics is old economic ideology, not what economics is telling us today.”

The great American labor paradox: Plentiful jobs, most of them bad 

[Quartz, via The Big Picture 11-24-19]

[Researchers] recently unveiled the US Private Sector Job Quality Index (or JQI for short), a new monthly indicator that aims to track the quality of jobs instead of just the quantity. The JQI measures the ratio of what the researchers call “high-quality” versus “low-quality” jobs, based on whether the work offer more or less than the average income.

A reading of 100 means that there are equal numbers of the two groups, while anything less implies relatively lower-quality jobs….

“The problem is that quality of the stock of jobs on offer has been deteriorating for the last 30 years,” says Dan Alpert, an investment banker and Cornell Law School professor who helped create the index. (Along with Alpert, the index is built and maintained by researchers at Cornell University Law School, the Coalition for a Prosperous America, the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and the Global Institute for Sustainable Prosperity.) The “whole story” told by the index, he adds, is “the devaluation of American labor.”

Yep – this is what you get when you toss out the economic policies that actually built the USA, such as the Doctrine of High Wages

The Carnage of Establishment Neoliberal Economics

“Death is the biggest issue in the 2020 election” 

[Quartz, via Naked Capitalism 11-27-19]

“Apocalyptic political rhetoric in the US might not be that far off base: US life expectancy is falling for the first time since the 1950s, particularly where president Donald Trump and the eventual Democratic presidential nominee will contest the 2020 election…. And more to the nub of the national discourse, the largest increases in mortality have taken place in the states that could be determinative in next year’s presidential elections, including Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Florida…. The Democrats challenging Trump will certainly draw a contrast with their plans for the government to tackle the increase in mortality, from treating drug addiction like a public health problem to gun safety legislation.”

“Dying too young: Deaths among middle-aged adults reversing life expectancy trends” 

[NBC News, via Naked Capitalism 11-27-19]

“An increasing number of Americans are dying in the prime of their lives, a trend not observed in other wealthy nations, according to research published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association. These ‘excess deaths’ — that is, people who die years and even decades before they’re expected to — tend to be clustered in the nation’s Rust Belt, where economies once boomed with a thriving steel industry, but have been in decline since the 1970s.”

Lambert Strether points out what should be obvious: “… if the political class cared about statistics like this, it would be a political issue; Case Deaton published in 2017, after all. They either don’t care, or they’re actively seeking this result (cf. “ok boomer,” while, ya know, people of that age cohort are dying, before they even had a chance to get to the ice floes. It’s disgusting and enraging). Handy chart:”

Jim Roberts


✔@nycjim

 

Americans are living shorter lives. https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/theres-something-terribly-wrong-americans-are-dying-young-at-alarming-rates/2019/11/25/d88b28ec-0d6a-11ea-8397-a955cd542d00_story.html …

View image on Twitter


29

6:24 PM – Nov 26, 2019

 

Nearly half of New Orleans’ all-charter district schools got D or F grades; What happens next?
[Times-Picayune, via Naked Capitalism 11-25-19]

2 million Americans don’t have access to running water and basic plumbing
[MarketWatch, via Naked Capitalism 11-26-19]

Economic disequilibrium

Think celebrities and CEOs make way too much money? Check out this chart

[Marketwatch, via Naked Capitalism 11-27-19]
Squillionaire philanthropy thread
[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 11-25-19]

Gabriel Zucman

@gabriel_zucman

 

 

US billionaires philanthropic giving:– Gates, Buffett: annual giving ~3%–4% of their wealth

– Other top 20 billionaires: ~0.3% of their wealth. Like a tiny, tiny wealth tax

I made a table for you

 

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Image

9:07 PM · Nov 23, 2019

Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century is Now a Movie
[Worth, via The Big Picture 11-29-19]

“The one percent slogan actually comes from French Revolution. That’s where the Occupy Movement got it from. I didn’t know that until I started making this film, but that was one of the things Thomas told me. In Paris just before World War I, 1 percent of the people owned 70 percent of the land. One of the things he found most alarming is that the level of inequality in America and in Britain today is at the same levels it was in France and Britain before World War I.”

Walmart Dodged US Tax on $2 Billion by Routing Cash Through Multiple Countries, Whistleblower Says

[Quartz, via Naked Capitalism 11-30-19]

Information Age Dystopia

“Ruthless Quotas at Amazon Are Maiming Employees” 

[The Atlantic, via Naked Capitalism 11-26-19]

“[Candice Dixon] started the job in April 2018, and within two months, or nearly 100,000 items, the lifting had destroyed her back. An Amazon-approved doctor said she had bulging discs and diagnosed her with a back sprain, joint inflammation, and chronic pain, determining that her injuries were 100 percent due to her job. She could no longer work at Amazon. Today, she can barely climb stairs. Walking her dog, doing the dishes, getting out of her chair—everything is painful. According to her medical records, her condition is unlikely to improve. So this holiday-shopping season, as Amazon’s ferocious speed is on full display, Dixon is at a standstill. She told Reveal in mid-October that her workers’-compensation settlement was about to run out. She was struggling to land a new job and worried she’d lose her home.”

Two new investigations find that some Amazon warehouses have injury rates as high as triple the industry average

[Business Insider, via Naked Capitalism 11-26-19]“Indiana manipulated report on Amazon worker’s death to lure HQ2, investigation says” 

[Indianapolis Star, via Naked Capitalism 11-27-19]

“When an Amazon worker was killed by a forklift in a Plainfield warehouse in 2017, the state of Indiana’s investigator found the company was at fault. The state cited Amazon for four major safety violations and fined it $28,000. But an investigation by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting has found that, as Gov. Eric Holcomb sought to lure Amazon’s HQ2 to Indiana, state labor officials quietly absolved Amazon of responsibility. After Amazon appealed, they deleted every fine that had been levied and accepted the company’s argument — that the Amazon worker was to blame. The investigator on the case, John Stallone, had arrived at the warehouse a day after 59-year-old Phillip Lee Terry was crushed to death. He was so troubled by the pushback he was getting from higher-ups that he secretly recorded his boss, Indiana OSHA Director Julie Alexander, as she counseled the company on how to lessen the fine. ‘It’s like being at a card table and having a dealer teach you how to count cards,’ Stallone said.”

You’re Tracked Everywhere You Go Online. Use This Guide to Fight Back.

[New York Times, via Naked Capitalism 11-26-19]Web inventor has an ambitious plan to take back the net 

[CTV News, via Naked Capitalism 11-25-19]ICANN RACES TOWARDS REGULATORY CAPTURE: THE GREAT .ORG HEIST

[Sam Klein, via Naked Capitalism 11-30-19]

Fleeing the Hellscape of Google Search with Qwant
Lambert Strether  [Naked Capitalism 11-25-19]

We at NC have no particular love for Google: They’ve downranked us, because we’re small (i.e., not “authoritative”), but also presumably because our links aggregation features compete with their pathetic and poorly sourced News feature[1]. And Yasha Levine asks a good question: “If the Internet is truly such a revolutionary break from the past, why are companies like Google in bed with cops and spies?” Nevertheless, blogging — just to lift the curtain a little, here — is all about production, and so if Google is the best for production, well, not everybody’s hands are always clean. But as Google search became increasingly crapified — losing its memory, and refusing to find material I am 100% sure exists, because I wrote it, without coaxing — and Google’s UI/UX became increasingly ugly and instrusive, a tipping point was bound to come, where Google was no longer the best, at least for me. I think that tipping point has now arrived.

So I am shifting to a European search engine called Qwant, on grounds of user experience, freedom from Google’s algorithm, and most importantly, privacy (I know we have a lot of DuckDuckGo (DDG) users here, and I’ll discuss that platform briefly in context as we go along.)

I have also seen Google become more and more crappified when I search for material I know exists because I wrote it. These days Google almost never returns a search query that includes in its first page or two a link to the Real Economics website. 

Health Care Crisis

The Lucrative Liberal Business of Killing Health Care Reform

[The New Republic, via Naked Capitalism 11-25-19]

“If Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren wants to pass Medicare for All; if Biden or Pete Buttigieg wants to implement his public option, they will have to go around not just health-industry lobbyists and their money but a whole city of careerist worms whose children’s college funds and extravagant lifestyles depend on money scraped from the [Partnership for America’s Health Care Future’s] vaults.”

“The Army Built to Fight ‘Medicare for All’”
[Politico, via Naked Capitalism 11-25-19]

“With the images of that Sanders [#MedicareForAll] event replaying in his head, [Chip Kahn, the CEO of the Federation of American Hospitals] made a phone call — and then, over the next few weeks, another and another. Those calls would lead to a series of secretive meetings in downtown D.C. where officials from every part of the health care industry — from insurance companies to hospital giants, drugmakers and even, for a time, doctors — would forge an alliance united to ensure that Sanders’ promises never became reality. Out of their pact grew an influence operation known today as the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future, a multimillion-dollar cooperative designed to overwhelm not just the swelling Medicare for All movement, but every single Democratic proposal that would significantly expand the government’s role in health care….”

“He also has experience taking down ambitious plans for health care reform. As executive vice president of the Health Insurance Association of America — then the insurance industry’s main trade group — he was a driving force behind the “Harry and Louise” TV ads that played a key role in tanking Bill Clinton’s health care package in 1993 and setting the standard for a generation of hard-hitting special interest campaigns that have shaped policy debates ever since.”

Lambert Strether: “Kahn’s killed an awful lot of people for money, hasn’t he?”

“‘There’s a Fear Factor, a Fear of Change.’” – The man who has built a national health care system

[Politico, via Naked Capitalism 11-25-19]

“Plenty of Americans have opinions about single-payer health systems like “Medicare for All,” and some have even studied them closely. But vanishingly few individuals in the world have actually built one from scratch. One who has is William Hsiao. A health care economist now retired from Harvard University, Hsiao designed a national health care system for Taiwan in the 1990s, and helped manage that country’s transition from American-style employer-based insurance to a national single-payer system. He has also designed single-payer reform programs for Cyprus, Colombia and China. In recent years, Hsiao, now 83, has consulted with Sen. Bernie Sanders on his Medicare for All plan, and also supports Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s version. But his reality-check prediction is that it will take two more election cycles, at least, before the political groundwork for Medicare for All will be laid. With powerful lobbies like insurers, hospitals and drug companies dug in against such plans, he points to two other forces that will need to play key roles: big employers, which he sees as nearing an inflection point where they will insist on a better system; and doctors, who are increasingly being paid as salaried employees, which is changing their views of private insurance.”

Climate and environmental crises

Chicago Takes a Beating as Lake Levels Surge

[Scientific American, via Naked Capitalism 11-30-19]

High water has chewed away millions of cubic yards of sand and soil on the city’s north and south shores. Last week, the Chicago Department of Transportation and the Chicago Park District initiated an emergency shoreline protection project at Juneway Beach about 10 miles north of downtown, with additional projects to follow at other nearby beaches.
A city spokeswoman said the lake is about 3 feet higher than average for the month of November, and a quarter-inch below the record high-water mark for November….

Near-record precipitation fell over the basin in 2018 and 2019, tipping the lake’s balance between water inputs and evaporation, and driving lake levels to their highest measure since 1986. Lake storms are more frequent and pack greater power, posing additional risks to boaters, fishermen, and lakeshore residents, businesses and tourists.

Puerto Rico’s Next Big Crisis Is Water

[HuffPo, via Naked Capitalism 11-25-19]

Creating new economic potential – science and technology

Scientific Breakthrough: MIT Solves Two Huge Energy Problems

[OilPrice, via Naked Capitalism 11-26-19]

Scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have published a paper that details the mechanism of a battery device that can suck out the carbon dioxide from the air, store it, and then release it for sequestration or storage and subsequent sale: the oil and gas industry uses CO2 to improve well output.

The principle of the device is ingeniously simple: as the battery charges, it sucks in carbon dioxide. During discharge, the CO2 is released into the ground. The battery itself is made up of arrays of electrodes with gaps between the arrays so the gas can enter the device. Each electrode is coated with a carbon nanotube layer that enables an electrochemical reaction when carbon dioxide comes into contact with the surface of the electrodes. The guarantee for this contact is the fact the electrodes have a natural affinity for CO2, which means they attract the gas molecules when they enter the device.

China’s High-Speed Railway To Reach 35,000 Km By Year-End

[Xinhua, via Naked Capitalism 11-25-19]

China’s high-speed railway network will continue to top the world with an estimated length of 35,000 km by the end of this year, said China Railway. The total length of China’s railways will exceed 139,000 km by the end of 2019, according to the company. In 2019, China’s railways are estimated to record 3.6 billion passenger trips, up 92 percent from 2012.

Photo taken on Oct. 29, 2019 shows a bullet train running through the fields of Gula Township of Binyang County, south China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. (Xinhua/Lu Boan)

“High Plains Farmers Race to Save the Ogallala Aquifer” 

[Civil Eats, via Naked Capitalism 11-25-19]

“It’s well-documented that the Ogallala Aquifer… is rapidly depleting…. The massive, 174,000-square-mile underground reservoir spans eight landlocked states in the Great Plains, from South Dakota to Texas. Along with being a critical source of drinking water, the aquifer supports one-fifth of all wheat, corn, cotton, and cattle in the United States. Irrigation technology, such as center pivot irrigation, patented in 1952, once helped transform the Great Plains into an agricultural oasis; flat land stretched over a seemingly endless reserve of groundwater at farmers’ disposal… Without the Ogallala, agriculture in the breadbasket of the U.S., at least as it is currently practiced, cannot continue. Yet there’s also reason to hope. … [Chris Grotegut] adopted a permaculture practice known as pasture cropping, or intermixing crops with grassland pasture. This method helps him keep more roots in the ground, building the health of the soil. And as the soil grows richer in organic matter, it can also hold more water…. After an initial loss of profits while transitioning from conventional row crops, Grotegut has seen his profits rise, due to saving on the cost of pumping groundwater and land maintenance.”

Lambert Strether added: “For you gardeners, horticulturalists, and permaculturists, this is a very exciting must read.”

Banana agri-waste converted into biodegradable, recyclable plastic

[New Atlas, via Naked Capitalism 11-30-19]

Built by robots: This Swiss company could change the construction industry forever
[World Economic Forum, via The Big Picture 11-29-19]

Erecting a new building ranks among the most inefficient, polluting activities humans undertake. The construction sector is responsible for nearly 40% of the world’s total energy consumption and CO2 emissions, according to a UN global survey (pdf).

A consortium of Swiss researchers has one answer to the problem: working with robots. The proof of concept comes in the form of the DFAB House, celebrated as the first habitable building designed and planned using a choreography of digital fabrication methods.

The three-level building near Zurich features 3D-printed ceilings, energy-efficient walls, timber beams assembled by robots on site, and an intelligent home system. Developed by a team of experts at ETH Zurich university and 30 industry partners over the course of four years, the DFAB House, measuring 2,370 square feet (220 square meters), needed 60% less cement and has passed the stringent Swiss building safety codes.

Economics in the real world

Aviation: Widebody MRO Averaged $1,452 Per Flight Hour In 2018
[Aviation Week and Space Technology 11-26-19]
MRO is maintenance. repair, and operations

The latest global data indicates that the world’s airlines spent an average of $1,452 per flight hour on maintaining widebodies in 2018. This worked out to $5.7 million per aircraft for the year. These figures were provided by IATA’s Maintenance Cost Technical Group, which surveyed 37 airlines operating 1,666 widebodies averaging 8.8 years in age.

Equivalent estimates for narrowbodies were $824 per flight hour and $2.5 million for the year, based on reports from 50 carriers operating 2,649 jets averaging 8.9 years of age. For regional jets, MRO costs averaged slightly less, $817 per flight hour and $2.1 million per aircraft year. RJs averaged 7.5 years old and were reported by 13 airlines. Thirteen airlines reported an average of $993 MRO spend per flight hour on turboprops averaging 7.8 years of age.

“U.S. Presses Case to Defang the Global Economy’s Trade Referee”
[Bloomberg, via Naked Capitalism 11-27-19]

“The arc of Lighthizer’s rocky relationship with the WTO is hurtling toward a potentially dramatic inflection point. The pressure he and the Trump administration are applying on the WTO may, in just a few weeks, render the Geneva-based arbiter of trade inoperative…. The Trump administration, which previously threatened to block the WTO’s 2020 budget, offered members a proposal this week that would allow it to continue operating, but would hamstring the WTO’s appellate body. The U.S. said it would back the WTO’s 197.2 million-Swiss franc ($197.6 million) budget for 2020 with the condition that no more than 100,000 francs be paid to appellate body members, an 87% reduction from the full budget allotment, and spending by the body’s operating fund also be limited to 100,000 francs, a 95% reduction. The Trump administration argues that the organization’s compensation structure creates an incentive for appellate members, who can make more than 300,000 francs a year, to string out cases to boost pay.”

Using the justice system to promote economic injustice

“Brett Kavanaugh’s latest opinion should terrify Democrats” 

[Vox, via Naked Capitalism 11-29-19]

“Beginning in the latter half of the Obama administration, Federalist Society gatherings grew increasingly fixated on diminishing the power of federal agencies to regulate businesses and the public — an agenda that would severely weaken seminal laws such as the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. On Monday, Justice Brett Kavanaugh signaled that he is on board with this agenda.”

When they were considering a name for their new organization, the creators of the Federalist Society first considered the Anti-Federalist Society, because that’s who they really are. Lambert Strether adds that “Democrats should have fought all Federalist Society nominees tooth and nail on ideological grounds over the last few decades…. Unless they share the same ideology, of course.” But I think in many cases, it was not a case of sharing the same ideology, but being entirely ignorant of the USA history of federalists versus anti-federalists. The Confederates were all hardcore anti-Federalists. And, the cases are already being teed up:
 

“Oracle finally responds to wage discrimination claims… by suing US Department of Labor” 

[The Register, via Naked Capitalism 11-29-19]

“With one hand holding the constitution and the other bashing its chest, the database giant warned perilously that ‘the rise of the modern administrative state has altered our government structure’ but that it had ‘not undone our constitutional structure.’”

ALEC to host December meeting with state legislators and think tanks to discuss anti-union strategy
[Documented, via North Carolina AFL-CIO 11-25-19]

The event is scheduled for December 3rd, a day before ALEC will hold its States and Nation Policy Summit in Scottsdale, Arizona. Details of the event, which do not appear on the ALEC conference agenda or elsewhere online, are revealed in records obtained by Documented via state public record requests. A copy of the invitation is below.

According to the invitation, the attendees will discuss “Janus decision implementation, union release time reform, union recertification and provide an opportunity to connect with staff from local think tanks.”

The event invitation was sent by Michael Slabinski, Director for the Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development Task Force at ALEC. The Private Sector Chair of this ALEC task force is Alibaba Group Director of State and Local Government Affairs, Bill Ashworth. Alibaba is the giant Chinese e-commerce company renowned for its so-called “996” work schedule, where workers are required to work 9am to 9pm for 6 days a week. Documented in partnership with the Intercept first revealed the Alibaba involvement in ALEC….

. On the call, SPN CEO Tracie Sharp made clear that this was really about weakening the power of the groups that oppose their political agenda.

“I want you to know that later this month, or any day now, the chances are good that we may actually have this unprecedented opportunity with the Janus Supreme Court case decision,” Sharp told her donors. “If it comes down on our side, of course, it makes every state a ‘right-to-work’ state. And so we have the opportunity to change the way the left funds everything that you and I disagree with.” At a different point on the call, she said, “Once this ruling comes down — and we do expect it to come down in our favor — everything will change. The door to pass a dream list of free-market reforms is going to swing open for us.”

Predatory Finance

It’s Official: JPMorgan Chase Is the Riskiest Big Bank in the U.S.
By Pam Martens and Russ Martens, November 25, 2019 [Wall Street on Parade]

The National Information Center is a little-known repository of bank data collected by the Federal Reserve. It is part of the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC), which was created by federal legislation to create uniformity in the examination of U.S. financial institutions by the numerous federal regulators of banks.
Quietly, the National Information Center has done something that has likely made Jamie Dimon hopping mad. Dimon is the Chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase who has bragged perpetually in his annual letter to shareholders about how the bank he leads has a “fortress balance sheet.” But now the National Information Center has created a graphic profile of JPMorgan Chase versus its peer banks. The graphics crunch a series of important financial metrics at JPMorgan Chase, showing it to be the riskiest bank in the United States.

The data used to create these graphics come from what is known as the “Systemic Risk Report” or form FR Y-15 that banks have to file with the Federal Reserve. To measure the systemic risk that a particular bank poses to the stability of the U.S. financial system, the data is broken down into five categories of system risk: size, interconnectedness, substitutability, complexity, and cross-jurisdictional activity. Those measurements consist of 12 pieces of financial information that banks have to provide on their Y-15 forms. That data shows that in 7 out of 12 financial metrics, JPMorgan Chase has the riskiest footprint among its peer banks.

Democratic Party leadership insists on suicide

“Suppressing Protest: Human Rights Violations in the U.S. Response to Occupy Wall Street” (PDF)
[The Global Justice Clinic (NYU School of Law) and the Walter Leitner International Human Rights Clinic at the Leitner Center for International Law and Justice (Fordham Law School), via Naked Capitalism 11-27-19]

Obama Privately Considered Leading ‘Stop-Bernie Campaign’ to Combat Sanders 2020 Surge: Report
[Common Dreams, via Naked Capitalism 11-27-19]

“Obama’s post-presidency is grating and full of contradictions,” tweeted David Klion, news editor at Jewish Currents. “He considers himself the leader of the party but refuses to lead. He considers himself a success but the mere fact of Trump’s presidency belies this. He won on hope and counsels hopelessness.”
….
David Dayen, executive editor for The American Prospect, wrote last week that Obama’s attacks on the progressive wing of the Democratic Party “are music to the ears of the wealthy and powerful.”

“This defense of the reigning economic order, originating with the donor class and media allies, with its effective abandonment of the vulnerable and disenfranchised, with nothing for those struggling to make it in a rigged economy, is a recipe for social and political unrest,” Dayen wrote. “From lofty heights, Obama has now become a dampener of hope, a barrier to change, and a threat to progress.”

“Waiting for Obama”
[Politico, via Naked Capitalism 11-26-19]

“Publicly, he has been clear that he won’t intervene in the primary for or against a candidate, unless he believed there was some egregious attack. ‘I can’t even imagine with this field how bad it would have to be for him to say something,’ said a close adviser. Instead, he sees his role as providing guardrails to keep the process from getting too ugly and to unite the party when the nominee is clear. There is one potential exception: Back when Sanders seemed like more of a threat than he does now, Obama said privately that if Bernie were running away with the nomination, Obama would speak up to stop him. (Asked about that, a spokesperson for Obama pointed out that Obama recently said he would support and campaign for whoever the Democratic nominee is.)”

Enemy Actions

Asheville’s woes are the story of America
[CNN, via North Carolina AFL-CIO 11-25-19]

Trump Has Spent $115 Million On Golf Trips ― Or 287 Years Of Presidential Salary

[HuffPost, via Naked Capitalism 11-28-19]

With his Thanksgiving vacation, President Donald Trump’s golf hobby has now cost Americans an estimated $115 million in travel and security expenses ― the equivalent of 287 years of the presidential salary he frequently boasts about not taking.

Of that amount, many hundreds of thousands ― perhaps millions ― of dollars have gone into his own cash registers, as Secret Service agents, White House staff and other administration officials stay and eat at his hotels and golf courses….

But lawsuits filed by news organizations and watchdog groups against other executive branch agencies ― the White House is exempt from Freedom of Information Act queries ― have revealed payments totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars, arguably in violation of the Constitution’s domestic emoluments clause, which prohibits Trump from accepting benefits beyond his salary from the federal or any state government.

ProPublica, for example, found that Mar-a-Lago charged taxpayers $546 a night for rooms ― three times the per-diem rate and the maximum allowed by federal rules ― for 24 Trump administration officials who stayed there during a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2017. Taxpayers also picked up a $1,006.60 bar tab for 54 top shelf drinks ordered by White House staff.

The group Property of the People recently revealed payments totaling $254,021 from the Secret Service to various Trump properties in just the first five months of his presidential tenure. Over that period, Trump had golfed 25 times. As of Wednesday, he has spent 223 days at a golf course he owns. If the first five months are an accurate indicator, that means the Secret Service has likely spent nearly $2.3 million in taxpayer money at Trump’s businesses, of which he is the sole owner.

Military Affairs

In Future Wars, the U.S. Military Will Have Nowhere to Hide
[Foreign Policy, via Naked Capitalism 11-25-19]

Advances in the fields of aerospace, robotics, machine learning, 3D printing, and nanomaterials are creating new classes of missiles and lethal drones that can be launched discreetly, travel great distances, and hamstring massed forces—all for a fraction of the cost of traditional manned weapons.

New hypersonic missiles, for example, combine the speed and range of ballistic missiles with the maneuverability and accuracy of cruise missiles. Unmanned aerial vehicles and underwater gliders have achieved transoceanic range. Algorithms can coordinate swarms of more than 1,000 drones….

China and Russia can send hordes of conventional missiles and expendable drones to wreak havoc on America’s networks, destroying U.S. weapons platforms while they are on base, cutting U.S. communications links, and wiping out vital fuel and ammunition dumps.

The U.S. military would have trouble quickly responding to such attacks because it is so unprepared for them. Most bases have few, if any, missile defense systems or hardened shelters. Combat aircraft and warships often are parked in the open, side by side. Communications between command centers and soldiers in the field rely heavily on satellites that follow predictable orbits and on undersea cables that are mapped in open sources.

 

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