Only One Thing is Happening

There’s really only one political issue that matters right now. Our most pressing national security issue is our President’s hidden financial relationships. How much money is our President earning from our enemies? How many other Republicans are implicated in his financial compromises? Until we have the answers to these questions, there are no other current events of much consequence.

We won’t have answers to these questions until the President’s disingenuous court challenges have been exhausted. Even then, there may be additional efforts at deceit and subterfuge. In the meantime, there’s little else to discuss.

It’s tempting to keep churning out slightly modified versions of the same, venomous blog post. I’ve never been so angry in my life. Treating this space as a rage valve might provide a bit of relief for me, but it doesn’t do much for this community or its objectives. Anger without direction is a like a fire loose in your own house.

While we wait for Trump’s financial records, and there’s little we can do in this case but wait, I want to shift my attention toward the future. That’s tough, because most of our continuity with the past has been destroyed. However, this disruptive environment provides an opening for vision. Many of the things we assumed were impossible about life, culture and politics are about to be possible, and not just in the good ways. Even when the future is murky and ill-defined, there’s a place for imagination. Sun Tzu wrote that in chaos lies opportunity. As the last vestiges of the 3rd Republic burn down around us, we have space now to imagine the 4th.

With that in mind, here’s a quick rundown of the news.

From the MIT Technology Review: We may have our first major gene therapy win.

From The Verge: China is testing a Maglev prototype running at 373 mph.

From Wired: Midwest floods are a sign of climate change.

From the Harvard Business Review: Addressing the biases in algorithms.

From Power Technology: A look at a carbon capture experiment in the UK.

47 Comments

  1. Slightly off topic, but still related to the Trump morass.

    Below is a link to an article by Joseph Stiglitz – no doubt publicizing his new book, ‘People, Power, and Profits: Progressive Capitalism for an Age of Discontent’. Have any of you economics gurus, (Creigh, WX Wall and others) read it yet and what do you think? I’ve found myself to largely concur with his thoughts, though I’ve not read the book yet. I will soon.

    https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/after-neoliberalism-progressive-capitalism-by-joseph-e-stiglitz-2019-05

    Most of this article was in DailyKos. The link is:

    https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2019/5/31/1861739/-Open-thread-for-night-owls-Joe-Stiglitz-on-replacing-neoliberalism-with-progressive-capitalism

    1. Sure, based on the link Stiglitz is really expanding and putting some prescriptions onto something Chris wrote, “Socialism and Capitalism Are Both Irrelevant.” https://www.politicalorphans.com/socialism-and-capitalism-are-both-irrelevant/

      Capitalism, as an ism, is as sure to fail as communism or any other ism. There’s a reason why successful economies are ad-hoc mixes based only on what works.

      I haven’t read the book, but it looks similar to things like Robert Kuttner’s “Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism” or for that matter Karl Polanyi’s “The Great Transformation” (circa 1945) but with more prescriptions. I’ll strongly consider putting it on the reading list.

  2. So, the stable genius is implementing tariffs on Mexican imports of 5% in 10 days, ratcheting up to 25% over time, if Mexico does not start arresting people trying to cross the border. Face it folks, that is the only way Mexico can stop them. Mass arrests. Or mass shootings. Not that the tyrant cares either way.

    A little math here: Mexican imports (372 billion) are over twice that of China’s. (180 billion) The integrated supply chains are well, hugely integrated, for many manufacturers, particularly the auto sector. The tariffs implemented by the madman never covered ALL Chinese imports, but will, at this point, for Mexican imports. (That will change real fast as the auto sector screams).

    Mazda stock is down 7% because of this madness. Toyota, Nissan, Honda, all over 3% down. Dow is going open 300 points down, and keep going. But yeah, the American and global economy can certainly withstand this until least Jan 2021, right?

    One thing that is fascinating and educational though: The vaunted U.S. political system of checks and counter-balances has been shown for what it is, a complete fallacy. If an administration has the backing of the Senate, the House can only watch as every other instrument of the government is co-opted or torn apart.

    But, hey, you folks just keep working on your thoughts and prayers about the assumed election 17 months away. Things will hold together until then, right?

    1. Dins, chillax and mellow out with a nice glass of chilled wine.

      If there’s anything resembling logic (don’t laugh) here, it’s that Dear Leader’s throwing down with immigration right up and until the end. Cratering the Mexican economy will, obvsly, exacerbate illegal immigration, which lets him make it an issue all the way into November ’20 – but we all saw how well that worked out in the midterms. The Trump base turned out, but Dems turned out way more and Republicans got clobbered.

      And if this trade insanity throws the country into a recession, His Majesty’s cooked.

  3. As for the floods in the Midwest, the science experts in the trump administration have an answer for this. On NPR today, I learned that this administration will not allow any climate science projections beyond 2040. The significance of this deadline is that the really significant changes start occurring after 2050. Bottom line: Don’t want bad news about climate change? Change the reporting rules. Easy.

    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/may/29/climate-crisis-science-trump-cabinet

    1. I have been saying for years now that anyone who denies Global Warming or participates in the fight against Global Warming is perpetrating crimes against humanity, and such people should be treated as such.

      But hey, on this forum, that kind of thing is a no-go. If someone told the world in advance that they planned on detonating once a month a 10 megaton nuclear device in Siberia, Arctic Canada, Greenland, the Southern Pacific, or Antarctica, starting now, and do so forever, the world would rise up and eliminate that person. But Global Warming….its a hoax, don’t worry about it.

    1. I’m not remotely interested in public opinion at this stage. Unveiling Trump’s finances would force a formal cleaving in the armed forces and our security services. Right now all the talk about Trump’s criminal enterprise and his foreign payments are well-informed conjecture. Publish the paperwork and they become a matter of public record. Instead of endless speculation about what Trump might have done, official Washington would be confronted with what he did, and is doing, and what it means for the rule of law. People who obey orders from this administration would have to make serious calculations about their own personal legal vulnerabilities. People who tend to choose safety over opportunity (almost everyone who works in government), would be under pressure to take action against this administration, rather sit on their hands.

      Public opinion is of little consequence in our system. Naked legal vulnerability counts for a lot, at least at the moment. Leave Trump openly exposed to prosecution for crimes documented on paper, and the tone of Washington (outside its elected officials) will quickly pivot.

      1. Chris, sorry, but don’t think it even matters anymore what the financials reveal. First off, the SDNY will reveal the state taxes soon enough to possibly matter in the 2020 election (working off the assumption there will be one). The federal ones will never see the light of day, or not until the election is done.

        But the tyrant’s followers simply don’t care what the truth is, and that includes all his enablers inside and outside the beltway. They are so far committed to him now that nothing will sway them. A check signed by Putin himself to the tyrant would simply be brushed aside as “fake news”. Further, what makes you think that anyone will be affected by anything this guy does? Yeah, a few close associates have been caught by Mueller, but that investigation is done. Barr will not do another investigation on the tyrant, nor will ever turn on the tyrant.

      2. I also believe that the financial issues are the key. Basically, I believe that there has been far too much emphasis on the Mueller Investigation and the Russian interference. While these are serious and deserve full exposure and scrutiny, insofar as leading to impeachment there was little likelihood of that. Trump and his gang are far too scrupulous to allow any evidence of direct conspiracy to be in the records. Such evidence is what would be required to successfully remove T from office. The other issue of obstruction of justice is somewhat weak without sufficient evidence of an actual crime being committed. While the House could impeach on that basis, there is zero probability that the Senate would confirm.

        On the other hand, there are the financial issues. There is a very high potential that there is sufficient evidence that the Trump organization laundered money for Russian oligarchs and participated in other numerous shady and likely criminal activities, to sustain indictment and perhaps impeachment with conviction by the Senate. Furthermore, I expect that the Trump organization has been and continues to be in violation of the Emoluments clause in the Constitution. Violation of that would IMO, meet the high bar of “high crimes and misdemeanors”. There are no doubt other issues that would be uncovered by a thorough investigation of Trump’s financial matters. That is no doubt the reason Trump refuses to release his tax returns. I do wish the House would focus more on these arcane but crucial issues. I am sure that Pelosi, Nadler and the other committee chairs are very much aware of that and will direct their investigations accordingly. But, alas such dreary matters do not get the attention of the press or of the excitable new members of the House.

        All this is the reason that I continue to support Pelosi in her plan for deliberate investigations that build the basis for impeachment if warranted. Actual articles can be drafted and approved by the House quickly. Perhaps an impeachment inquiry might strengthen the House’s case in judicial proceedings, perhaps not. I am not an attorney, so have no basis for an opinion.

        We need to remember that of the three times impeachment proceedings against Presidents have been initiated, two were ultimately judged as being largely political and did not succeed in the Senate. The other case against Nixon, never proceeded to actual impeachment articles being considered by the full House, because there was a solid case forcing key Senators to lose confidence in Nixon and force his resignation. In the case of Clinton, he gained strength through the trial because there was not an underlying charge of sufficient weight to meet the requirement of “high crimes and misdemeanors”, which due to the phraseology of the Constitution need to be comparable to Treason and Bribery. Violation of the emoluments clause and money laundering could meet those criteria.

        Regardless, Trump’s base support levels of 35-40% seems to be very solid. This base would likely continue to be supportive even if he shot someone in the middle of 5th Avenue in NYC has he has stated. That in itself makes the task of gaining a 2/3 majority for removal from office in the Senate nearly impossible.

      3. You speak to the “cleaving” of law enforcement. Do you believe this is a necessary step in case trump were to refuse to step down in face of impeachment or defeat in the election?

        Also want to share this article about the information gleaned from the thumb drives etc obtained by plaintiff attorneys in the N.C. gerrymandering case. What is astounding is not that this was perpetrated for the purpose of voter suppression but that republicans were/are so smug about their protection within government that they were incredibly careless.

        https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2019/05/thomas-hofeller-secret-gerrymandering-files-north-carolina.html

  4. Re: gene treatment.

    I wish I could write a longer response (Chris, would you consider guest posts? :-), but to me, the gene treatment, Zolgensma, and its seller, Novartis, is a prime example of the spectacular market failures that infest our drug discovery process. And, IMHO, really understanding the market dynamics would allow liberals to attack the structural inefficiencies in the drug discovery market to truly unleash capital incentives for R&D and eliminate the massive rent-seeking that leads to high prices, which is a much better solution than the usual liberal response of price controls.

    First, let’s take Novartis’ argument: it must price this drug at $2.125 mil in order to recoup its “costs” for “developing” this drug. It seems right. After all, the drug cost them $8 bil, and only 400 kids a year in the US are born with SMA. So they expect to make ~$1bil a year (considering kids in Europe as well, although they’ll probably get a significant price discount).

    In business school, you learn about the spectrum between value-based pricing and cost-based pricing. In value-based pricing, you set the price based on the benefit your customer gets from your product. In cost-based pricing, you set the price based on how much it costs you to make your product. For example, if the cost to produce a widget is $10, but gives $100 of benefit to the customer, a value-based market would price the good at $90 (allowing the supplier to capture most of the value), while a cost-based market would price the good at $11 (allowing the buyer to capture most of the value).

    In general, where sellers have market power, value-pricing holds, whereas when buyers have market power, cost-based pricing holds. This is such an iron rule that you can actually go in reverse: determine whether a market is value-based or cost-based to determine who has the real power.

    Novartis is setting the price at >$2mil because it has ultimate seller power. Since a life is worth several million dollars at least, it’s setting a price that captures most of the economic value of saving this life (If Novartis “saves” you and you can go on to earn $50k/yr for 40 yrs, you will earn: $2mil. That’s not a coincidence), leaving little benefit to the person actually receiving the drug (the entire economic output of your life has been captured by Novartis and you will essentially be in debt peonage for life)

    This in itself is an inefficient market. The most efficient markets, commodity markets, are where there are multiple sellers competing to provide a product, which inevitably drives the price down to cost+minimal profit. For example, if you’re a programmer, your PC allows you to generate a $100k of income every year. But it’s only sold for $2000, and Dell collects maybe $100 in profit on it. That’s a commodity market.

    You might argue that somehow, health care is “special” and never runs based on commodity principles. Except that *every* other part of the health care market (except medical devices, which are more like pharmaceuticals) runs on commodity pricing. Thanks to Medicare dominating payment rates, the rest of the health care market is structured as a monopsony (single buyer, as opposed to the more familiar monopoly, which is a single seller). Which means they set prices for everything else based on cost+a small profit. Medicare literally sends out surveys to hospitals and physicians to determine their costs, and then sets rates based on the results. Which means, if a neurosurgeon saves your life and gives you the same lifetime economic value as this drug, he will still be paid his cost (in time, office expenses, etc) plus a small profit. Same for hospitals. Furthermore, this doesn’t prevent massive innovation and improvements from occuring in the physician and hospital realm, any less than in the pharma realm.

    So there’s nothing intrinsic to health care that requires it to run on value-based pricing. It’s only the bad market structure of the pharmaceutical market in particular that allows it to get away with that.

    Even if you accept Novartis’s argument that they’re not value pricing, they’re merely recouping the cost of developing the drug, it’s B.S. Firstly, even at the inflated cost of $8bil, if they make $1bil/yr, they are earning ~12.5% return on their investment every year. The average long-term return on capital invested in the US is <10%. Indeed, pharma has the highest ROIC of any industry sector. So already, Novartis is pricing its drug at least 20% higher than typically expected return on investments.

    But that's just a marginal effect. The true market inefficiency is this: Novartis did not develop this drug. Researchers working at a non-profit hospital, Nationwide Children’s Hospital, likely funded primarily by government grants, created the drug, and did the preliminary clinical tests that proved its efficacy. At that point, its researchers formed a company, AveXis, to commercialize the drug. *That* company was bought by Novartis for $8billion.

    Now, you might argue that that $8 billion is the price required to incentivize top researchers to leave their positions and take on the risk of starting a biotech to commercialize this drug. If that was the case, I would accept it. Except that's not true. Novartis paid an *88%* premium to acquire the company. Typical corporate buyouts pay 10-15% premiums. IOW, the market cap of the company the day before Novartis bought it, reflecting the market value of all of the cumulative work and expected future income stream of the company, was less than $1bil. IOW, the amount of money required to incentivize the researchers to do everything they did until the day before Novartis bought it, was <$1bil.

    Furthermore, Novartis added almost nothing after buying them. Novartis acquired the company in mid-2018. By then, the efficacy was already proven, the patents were already filed, and the FDA had already given preliminary approval. IOW, all of the heavy lifting, from initial basic science research, to drug discovery, to clinical trials, to FDA approval, was nearly complete. Novartis did nothing. The only thing they could have done in the past 9 months since the acquisition, is set up a sales and marketing effort.

    So here you have a situation in which all the risky, speculative basic science research was funded by the federal government, with the subsequent development part undertaken by researchers whose work was valued at $1bil, in which Novartis stepped in at the last minute to purchase this risk-free product and then resell it to spectacular profits, above and beyond the average return-on-investment *even* considering the massive, unnecessary purchase price they paid. And they can do it due to a poorly structured market that allows value-based pricing to prevail, which incentivizes profit extraction over competition and product innovation.

    So here's what actually happened. This drug already proved its lifesaving value. Novartis then calculated that the economic value of an average life is ~$2 million. Knowing the market structure which allows it to price based on value, it is betting that it can capture the entire economic value of an entire lifetime with a single dose of medicine. Assuming that it can, it determines that it can earn $1bil in revenue annually. And using their standard ROI (which is above what other industries can return), they worked backwards to an acquisition price of $8bil. Which they then paid. If that isn't the very definition of market failure and parasitic rent-seeking I don't know what is.

    Unfortunately, we're not done. If this market inefficiency is allowed to continue, pharma will continue extracting more of the value they provide. While $2mil may be the economic value of an average life, that doesn't include the non-economic value of life. Believe it or not, various industries have quantified this as well. The department of Transportation defines a Value of Statistical Life (VSL) of $9.4 million. They use this number to determine whether a safety device is worth the extra cost (i.e., if the cost of installing the device is very high and the number of lives saved is very low, the cost-per-life-saved will be below the VSL, and the DoT won't require the safety device). If you assume this number is accurate, and if Novartis is successful, and the market is not restructured, then I expect treatments costing $8-9mil in the next few years…

    1. And at $2M a pop, we should also prepare for shorter lifespans, because who among us can afford these treatments?

      The final insult arises when we learn that our brothers across the pond are paying a pittance for the same drug we can only dream of affording.

      Big phRMA has it good and they are not alone in the healthcare industry. I know you are aware of this but many other people are not. Medical expenses are the leading cause of personal bankruptcy in The United States. America spends 16.5% of our GDP on healthcare. Other major industrialized nations who are providing universal healthcare to their citizens spend half this amount on average. All of these countries regulate prices for drugs and procedures and in every case, private providers exist alongside government in providing transparent, affordable healthcare. Price gauging whether for blockbuster drugs or specialist services, is a choice. We are approaching a reckoning in America. The sooner the better.

    2. I would love to see that written up as a guest post. Great stuff.

      Also, maybe we could collaborate on something addressing the crisis in health care for millions of Americans with auto-immune disorders. I hesitate to write about this stuff because there’s a technical dimension to it, both in terms of medicine and medical policy, that I don’t feel confident I can grasp.

  5. When “fringe” beliefs encroach to the point that they become a movement, it is a real threat. Nationalism, anti-vaccination, homophobia, xenophobia, and science denial- are alarming enough. Add “Dominionism” to this growing list. The ability of Democracy to withstand all of these forces simultaneously in addition to the present political degradation of our democratic institutions and norms is testing our country’s stability to the maximum.

    https://www.texasobserver.org/dominion-theology/

    1. Any movement based on religion is impossible to deal with in any sane manner. Its followers are intractable. If this particular cult gains in more power, which is a certainty, there will have to be widespread bloodshed to tamp down the insanity. That insanity will never completely disappear, as the Romans found with Christianity. But it can be contained, for a while.

  6. Here’s a small piece of good political news: a bad actor pays a political price for attempting voter suppression:

    https://www.texastribune.org/2019/05/27/texas-secretary-state-david-whitley-forced-leave-office/

    I am mystified as to why the GOP just didn’t cut bait on this months ago when it was obvious that no Dems would flip. Even if you were down with the voter suppression, the sheer bungling of this attempt should have bothered you, I would think.

    If the Texas Dems aren’t bringing this up frequently next year, they will be committing gross political malpractice.

  7. At times, I get these fits of cynicism about what the future holds for America and its place on the world stage. The other day I couldn’t stop thinking about where America will be in the future in regards to trade, business, technology, and what exactly we’ll be bringing to the global economy, and whether or not the stuff we bring will be a point of pride and accomplishment for our country. All of these thoughts of course assume that in the near future the Trump fiasco gets solved and that we come to our senses collectively. Collectively, or at least enough people to make a difference and get common-sense policies and legislation passed and turned into law.

    What brought it on was me remembering an article from a few months ago about jobs in the solar industry in the U.S. The majority of jobs in solar are in installation. The installation sector depends on the usage of cheap solar panels imported from overseas. Our own domestic-made solar panels are either inefficient compared to imported ones, or too expensive to be used in commercial/residential installation operations. My thoughts wandered to other installation companies operating around the world, and how they’d need cheap solar panels too. Even if U.S. solar panel manufacturers and engineers manage to crack the code on how to make highly efficient solar panels that are better than foreign competitors, that innovation would likely drive the price of those U.S. panels farther up, serving to price them out of a burgeoning global market.

    People keep talking about the fabled Green Energy Revolution and how the U.S. could become a leader in green tech, creating countless jobs. But if our ingenuity and innovation leads to us making tech and products that can’t gain serious traction globally because they’re so expensive, then what’s the bloody point? America isn’t going to become the country known for making the stuff that brings green energy the world; we’re going to become the country that makes nothing but business software and smartphone apps with ever-more-ridiculous-sounding names while everyone else is going to have blue-collar jobs installing foreign-made solar panels or servicing fleets of self-driving cars. Meanwhile, countries like China will get credit for electrifying Africa with their cheap solar panels while also turning several of its countries into de-facto colonies on the sly with the power of debt.

    American Big Tech companies are facing continued backlash for placing profit and power above all else. Antitrust action will probably break corporations like Facebook and Alphabet/Google up, which I would welcome, but also lament because if their detached sociopath execs and CEOs hadn’t steered them down this path, they could’ve been forces for real good in the world. Twitter and its psychotic founder Jack Dorsey will probably fade away as Trump can no longer serve as a profit vehicle for him and his company, and I will say good riddance. The next big things will come from China, India, and Africa. The video app TikTok has already gained massive traction and is owned by a Chinese company.

    Our only real bright spots with regards to innovation are companies like Tesla and SpaceX, and the poster-boy for both of them is Elon Musk, a rampant egotist who casually brushes off the SEC when he violates their rules and is in a defamation lawsuit for calling somebody a pedophile. Not a good look for us.

    So, who’s going to want to come to America in the future if their prospects are just a bunch of blue-collar mechanic work, hopping from tech startup to tech startup developing apps that get millions in funding from aloof venture capitalists but endlessly fall through the cracks in an oversaturated market, or getting contracted by a megacorps to develop some middleware that you’ll never get credit for making? What will we be doing that we can actually be proud of? Re-joining the rest of the civilized world after a period of lunacy sure as heck isn’t going to be a point of pride.

    I guess there’s some consolation in that, after a hard day at work, we’ll all be able to go grab a craft beer or cocktail and an overpriced burger at the ubiquitous Edison-Bulb-lit gastropubs and eateries that are a symptom of a forming monoculture creeping across America.

      1. I would argue that the large amount of pension and health benefit costs also are a major contributor (at least for older companies). Those other countries have governments that are more generous with their benefits to cover those costs.

      2. These other countries tax their citizens at higher rates as well. When these other countries prepare their budgets, healthcare is at the top. Everything else comes after. Many of these other countries have also made the decision not to have standing armies.

  8. “I’ve never been so angry in my life.”

    I sympathize so much with that sentiment, and we absolutely have to keep it from consuming us. I’m just coming off a personal news blackout since last Thursday, and I do feel better for having taken that break, nor did I miss anything novel. I think that going forward, weekend news blackouts are going to be the way to go for me to keep the anger level from getting too high. When I am paying attention during the week, I will be doing my best to avoid clicking on anything that 1) screams about how Mango Mussolini has hit a new low/gone further off the rails! (seriously, I knew he was garbage decades ago- don’t need another drop added to the ocean of data), 2) Donnie2Scoops is playing 30D chess/ is the undeserving victim of unfair deeps state plots (if I want speculative fiction, there are far better authors out there who don’t require that much suspension of disbelief), 3) Stories about people who are getting screwed by R policies, but aren’t going to stop voting R (zero sympathy from me) 4) Anything that remotely looks like it could be a troll.

    Chris, what is your take on the upcoming KY Gubernatorial elections this Nov? To me it looks like an very interesting test case of enlightened self interest vs appeal to tribalism. Bevin is not popular, and he has very blatantly screwed over a lot of people. He’s going all in on his trump-toadyism, which to be fair, is the only realistic strategy he can run on, as opposed to actually improving things like education and access to healthcare. I can’t say I have much faith in GOP voters, but Beven getting tossed would be a wonderful sign.

    1. I’m interested in what’s happening with European elections where centrist governments appear to be losing. Steve Bannon has been fomenting his nationalism message in many European nations. Oh he tapping into a global return to authoritarian sentiment or leading it?

      1. Right wing extremists and the hard right populists both gained more than anyone, but not enough to control anything. Power is still in the hands of the center right, but far more precarious. The true disaster was in the U,K. The Brexit party made huge gains. It is terrifying, but still fascinating, to watch one of the bastions of democracy self-immolate as the U.K. is.

        The U.S. should watch and learn from that, but it won’t.

        Democracy will be left in the hands of Germany, Japan, and Canada soon enough, with France on the fence. Australia is run by a guy who is a anti-immigrant global warming denier, (sound familiar?), and India is in the hands of another right-wing extremist populist.

        Funny how the world works. 75 years later two of the members of the Axis of Evil are now the last bulwarks of democracy.

        https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-48417191

        https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-48403131

  9. EJ

    I had an interesting thought recently. I was reading a book about the 1848 revolution, and it mentioned that uprisings tend not to be launched by the most downtrodden people, because those people are often hopeless and have no vision of a better world. Revolutionaries, by necessity, tend to be utopians: they believe that after some bloodshed and some guillotining, or the on-paper equivalent, they can create a perfect future that justifies the brutality.

    When I read this, a line of Chris’s popped into my head: “Maybe this is as good as it gets.” That line stuck with me because it’s a perfect expression of hopelessness: Chris, a lifelong believer in the constructive power of capitalism, grappling with the possibility that capitalism may never be able to deliver a world that’s worth fighting for.

    If Chris can be taken as the voice of his cohort of Americans – pro-business Gen-Xers alienated from the Republican party but loathing both the old and the new Democrats – then this suggests that there can be no revolution from them, whether peaceful or bloody; and if there is no threat of revolution, then the contempt that the White House shows them becomes much more understandable.

    I find this interesting because my own politics continue to drift towards radicalism, and as they do so I become more receptive to thoughts of a better world. As anarchists tell us, the first stage to making a better world is to imagine it, and the first stage to ending a thing is to imagine a life without it.

    Chris – in your opinion, what would an America without the twin millstones of inherited capital and racist institutions look like?

    1. While I agree that leadership for a revolution tends to be the educated utopians, the mass support for revolution will come from the poor and downtrodden. People will tolerate a lot – including the political and economic system that we have now that is titled beyond belief in favor of the ultra wealthy and corporations. What they won’t tolerate is the inability to eat. Read up on history – the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, the Arab Spring, etc. These uprisings were caused by many factors. One such factor was the ultra elites in France exempting themselves from taxation (something I do believe will be attempted here) and adding their burden to everyone else’s. But the kindling was famine. Climate change will lead to that famine and the revolution that will follow will be inevitable.

      1. EJ

        Food shortages have definitely been a large part of a lot of revolutions, from 1789 to 2007, I agree with you on that; perhaps most prominently in 1905. However, I believe the difference between 1905 Russia and 2019 Europe and America is that in 1905, the starving masses were in the same cities as the rulers, whereas nowadays economies and supply chains are sufficiently globalised that the starving masses are nostly located behind international borders. This allows them to ignore the famine because it isn’t their people who are starving, it’s (mostly brown-skinned) people somewhere else.

        I feel that America and Europe have already demonstrated what their response to climate-caused mass famine in the global South will be, and unfortunately that response seems to consist of a border filled with barbed wire and machine guns, and widespread popular support for flouting international treaties on the rights of refugees.

        Needless to say, I would prefer a different response.

    2. Q: “Chris – in your opinion, what would an America without the twin millstones of inherited capital and racist institutions look like?”

      A: A larger, more powerful and more vibrant version of Canada or perhaps Holland. Quite nice, actually, once the streets had been cleared of the casualties. And not unattainable, though the obstacles are impressive.

      In theory, the machinery of a democracy is supposed to give us the power to change our government peacefully, in whatever direction comports with public will. We’re starting to realize that things don’t quite work that way. Any political system has a tendency to calcify. Power that we carved out to specialized institutions in one generation to accomplish that generation’s needs (judiciary, Federal Reserve, the bureaucracy, et al) develops into a fiefdom, protected for its own purposes, for its own interests. An agent of progress at one moment in time becomes a barrier to progress in another. Trying to dismantle enough of these impediments quickly enough to meet popular demands can become impossible.

      Revolutions suck. They are mindlessly bloody, because they can’t accomplish their objectives without tearing apart all of these calcified public institutions. But anytime you tear down the institutions that restrain our behavior, even for a brief moment, people loose their demons. Only a fool imagines that they can steer a revolution. Starting one is like launching a tornado in your living room in order to build a new house. You can’t be sure what will remain when it’s done, and you don’t know how many of your neighbors it will take in the process.

      The Iranian Revolution was launched by Communists. Guess what happened to them.
      https://www.nytimes.com/1983/05/05/world/iranians-dissolve-communist-party.html

      The Russian Revolution was launched by capitalists, merchants and liberal democrats. The first battles were between army units loyal either to the Tsar or the Duma. No Communists in sight. Their “February Revolution” was largely forgotten after they lost control.

      The French Revolution ended with a new tyrant Emperor rampaging across Europe.

      The English Revolution was started by the west’s first nascent advocates of representative government. It ended with a theocratic tyrant in power, a tyrant so odious that the country brought back the monarchy as soon as he was dead.

      Revolutions start by destroying order. Once order is destroyed, the illusions of all the parties about the things they might hope to accomplish are the first casualty. Launching a revolution is a spin of the wheel of fortune. What most often emerges, if you’re lucky enough to evade foreign conquest or control, is a conjuring of your national Id, usually dressed in a military uniform.

      We have been relatively lucky. Our Civil War was effectively a revolution, but a light one in the sense that our center held. Laws and governing institutions were merely modified and added to, rather than completely annihilated. In the 30s we accomplished a remarkable feat, rare in human history and unprecedented in the history of democracies, the of remaking the character of our national compact without a war, at least not an internal war. Germany and Japan got their representative democracies through conquest and annihilation. Same for Western Europe. They weren’t so lucky.

      It’s looking very much like our luck has run out, but we have two elections in which to cut off a revolution. There are signs that we might rise to the occasion. Old laws and norms will have to be broken around the margins, as Lincoln and Roosevelt did, in order to accomplish reforms otherwise in keeping with existing law. And some blood will almost inevitably be shed. But if Democrats win these next two elections, and pursue their mandate with enthusiasm, they could repeat Roosevelt’s feat. As miserable as the current moment may be, that still appears the most likely outcome.

      If they fail, then the legitimacy of the central government will be lost and we’ll loose the chaos. Where it goes, no one can say.

      1. Good Comment and much to the point.

        The saving grace of our Constitution is that it does give the opportunity to make change, though slowly and difficultly. That is what we were able to do in the 1930’s. In the other instance, beginning around the mid 1850’s the people clearly wanted change and made their desires known in the election, though it was a broken election. However, because the South’s position was threatened, the slave lords threw a hissy fit and decided to secede. Thus, the process of peaceful change was not allowed to occur. I’m afraid that because many of those in power have similar attitudes, something similar might take place once again. On the other hand, I also think that T and his cronies are absolute cowards and they might slink off the stage with their tails between their legs. I hope so.

  10. I thought the gene therapy story was terrific. Using both active and attenuated virus’s to insert correct gene code sequences into people is a sound investment and creates opportunities for other disease modalities.

    I am not a fan of laissez faire capitalism (or running capitalist dogs), but I give it its’s due on two counts. Its ability to incentivize venture capital to seek out these opportunities and its ruthless efficiency in setting price. Only 400 cases (thankfully) of this disease are diagnosed in the US each year. Even if Novartis captured all those cases and collected their stated price it would take 10 years to recoup their initial investment. Five years ago all children diagnosed with this disease would have been lost. One year ago maybe half would have qualified for the Biogen treatment…increasing survival by 25%. I don’t want to miss the forest for the trees. This is a win …lets take it Dins. Maybe ALS or muscular dystrophy is next.

    1. Koctya, the feel good portion of the story is indeed there, and the awesome potential of gene therapy is also fantastic. But don’t say capitalism is the only way this gets done.

      Compare that with the story about the Maglev. I am also no fan of totalitarian states (unless of course I am the emperor). However, this case, the leaders of China made a conscious decision that this Maglev was for the Greater Good, and I am positive trampled on who knows how many people’s civil and property rights (doubt there are truly many in China) to get it done. BTW, even without the time savings, if the electricity needed to run this comes from clean sources, INCLUDING Nuclear, this is a massive win for the environment).

      There is zero chance that capitalism would get this kind of project done, because it is not profitable yet, at least in the U.S. (Europe and Japan are all over this kind of thing). If and when the entire country embraces that pollution should be taxed, then capitalists in the U.S. will build something like this. But we all know that taxing pollution must emanate from an altruistic government first, one concerned for a Greater Good, which is the opposite of which exists today.

      Was creating that Maglev route, or going to the moon, any different that creating this new drug? The first two were done through a national effort pushed forward by the government. Imagine a scenario where the government mandated that all research into cancer, or ALS, or Alzheimer’s, was to made publicly available to ALL OTHER researchers in that field, at zero cost. There would be no proprietary information protected for a profit motive.

      Naturally, the drug companies would shut down research in those areas. Which would be just fine with me, because of the government actually taxed properly, and had money to fund this research, then the rewards are also kept for the people.

      But such a concept would have the word “socialism” attached to such an endeavour, and the average American loses their mind when that word is used. You ask 100 Americans about Norway’s sovereign fund of 1 Trillion dollars (yeah, with a T), fueled by the concept that natural resources belong to the citizens of the country, not giga-corps, and 99 will not believe it is true.

  11. 1. Re: Midwest Floods – this was all predicted years ago, but ignored. Climate change is affecting each one of us, even those that live in delightful air conditioned homes, work in air conditioned offices and commute in air conditioned comfort. It is all part of the proclivity of Americans to ignore something until it reaches up and smacks them upside the head with a 2×4.
    2. Re: China tests Maglev prototype – again the US quit investing in America’s future and people in 1981, instead we started transferring huge sums of wealth to the uber-rich. Why, maybe it’s because as a nation we quit thinking about the long term future but only thinking about our immediate needs. China is now thinking about the long-term future.

    This is all part of the same pattern, that America has fallen into. Ignoring things, thinking only about immediate gratification, and having no concept of the society at large and the “commons” But that has been the historical pattern in America..

  12. Of course when one reads that story about gene therapy, there is one little catch: “Novartis won approval for the drug and set the price at $2.125 million, making it the world’s most expensive one-time drug ever.”

    So if you are rich, your kid lives a happy, normal life. If you not rich, your kid dies horribly. Isn’t capitalism grand?

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