Archive for December, 2020

Free Market Economics

December 31, 2020

            “In our culture the concept of the market is akin to religion. In fact, for many people the fantasy that their life is shaped by a market is a substitute for thinking that it was shaped by a deity, or else the market itself is understood as a deity.” “A market is a way for people to distribute resources and goods. That’s all it is. The human race for most of its history has not used markets to do that. When I say distribute resources, I mean land. Who’s going to get what piece of land to cultivate?” (Richard Wolff from Occupy the economy: challenging capitalism by Richard Wolff; interviews with David Barsamian) 12-30-20 Henry Fountain writing for the New York Times headlines: Sale of Arctic Drilling Leases Draws an Unusual Taker. It May Be the Only One. “After a three-year push by the Trump administration to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil drilling — an effort that culminated in a rush to sell leases before the White House changes hands — in the end the only taker may be the state of Alaska itself. With a Thursday deadline [12-31-20] for submitting bids for 10-year leases on tracts covering more than 1 million acres of the refuge, there is little indication that oil companies are interested in buying the rights to drill under difficult conditions, to extract more costly fossil fuels for a world that increasingly is seeking to wean itself off them. Amid the uncertainty, a state-owned economic development corporation voted last week to authorize bidding up to $20 million for some of the leases.” In Ohio, JobsOhio is “a state-owned economic development corporation”. In Licking County it would be Grow Licking County. And in Licking County’s seat of government, Newark, it would be Newark Development Partners. You can throw the Port Authority in there too as it likewise is an “economic development corporation” and covers a multitude of “governments.” The gist of Fountain’s article, you ask? “But if the development authority proceeds, it sets up the possibility that when the sealed bids are opened on Jan. 6, the state may find itself the sole owner of leases.” “He [Frank Murkowski, Lisa’s dad] also pointed out that because leasing revenue is split equally between the federal and state governments, if its bids were successful the state would be getting a unique deal. “You’re going to get half your money back,” he told the authority’s board. Only the state, he added, “can buy at a 50% discount.”” “In the [2017] tax bill, the sales were presented as a way to raise $900 million over 10 years for the federal treasury to help offset more than $1 trillion in tax cuts. But that figure has long been questioned by outside experts. An analysis last year by The New York Times suggested the actual amount would be about $45 million.” “The group [Taxpayers for Common Sense] said its most recent estimate showed that the federal treasury could receive as little as $15 million from the lease sales.” Where’s the market in all this? Indeed, where’s the market in the various tax abatements, credits and infrastructure enhancements offered by JobsOhio, Grow Licking County and the Port Authority in their offerings to secure corporate “investment” in Etna, Pataskala and the Rt 79 corridor? It certainly is about “Who’s going to get what piece of land to cultivate”. And what about Newark Development Partners purchase  and projected multi-million dollar “development” of the Newark Arcade being totally contingent on receiving government funded “historic tax credits” while the low barrier shelter “projected” by these same folks goes nowhere? “A market is a way for people to distribute resources and goods. That’s all it is.” Free and equitable, it’s not.

A New Normal Christmas Carol

December 20, 2020

[originally posted December 19, 2014, and apparently still even more relevant today]

The previous post (The New Normal) left Analysis in a most dystopian Yule time reverie. The religious admonition is to beat swords into plowshares. Christmas present indicated otherwise. The spirit of Christmas present toasted the excellent success of marketing firearms and ordinance to all. Plowshares are being beaten into swords. Small wonder law enforcement is becoming paramilitary. Christmas present disclosed there is a 50/50 chance that someone is carrying. Christmas past stepped in to remind Analysis of the NRA’s admonition that a world where all did carry would be a respectful one, filled with courtesy and deference. Christmas future pointed to a world where everyone assumes the other actually is carrying. Analysis found that everyone Christmas future showed had only one arm. The other hand tightly grasped the gun they carried. Analysis recounted that disease is always prevalent, that many ill procrastinate or simply do not wish to admit infirmity, and that mental and emotional disorders are very real maladies afflicting a given percentage of the US population at any given time. Christmas future showed it was only “common sense” to “be prepared”, vigilant for the ever present possibility of others using the firearms they carried inauspiciously, unannounced. No matter where the spirit of Christmas future pointed – the work place, the home, the halls of education or government – no one would collaborate, help or work with each other. It was impossible to “lend a hand” for these citizens of the future only had one. Without that hand, they would be completely disarmed. The spirit showed a citizenry where each was completely responsible for their own life. No one would assist the other. Releasing the gun hand’s grip meant losing the ability to defend one’s self, something now totally necessary given the future this spirit exposed. Analysis begged to be taken back.

“Last night I had a dream about reality.

It was such a relief to wake up.”

(Stanislaw J. Lec)

What Kind Of Planet Are They Living On?

December 17, 2020

            The news of the past week seems to be supported by an undertow of statistics. A blur of staggering numbers appear to back everything up, whether it be Covid 19 rates, unemployment, potential relief funding, hunger, future evictions as well as current homelessness, etc. Not only that but Wall Street keeps climbing on the enormous debt and the potential for even more debt coming down the pike. Traditionally this would anticipate hefty Holiday Bonuses for traders and brokers. Will it be that way this year? Bucking a trend of traditional and inevitable thinking/reasoning seems to be an unpleasant necessity for regular folks, but is unimaginable for Newark area community leaders. Even a morbid change like the pandemic makes no impression. It used to be called “business as usual”, but what is the usual today? In Newark, Ohio, Kent Mallett’s report, headlined Licking County Courthouse windows to be replaced in 2021; cost at least $1.25 million (12-16-20, Newark Advocate), covers the exceptionally unimaginative. “Licking County Commissioner Tim Bubb said the project won’t be cheap, nor quick, but the time is right.” According to Mallett, Bubb says “”We want historically-looking windows with 21st Century technology. That’s going to be the challenge. It’s a process like a custom remodel. We’re putting it in there for the next half century.”” For this the commissioners are putting the residents of Licking County in deeper debt? Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the former Family Dollar store building, promised as a low barrier shelter and just blocks from the already twice remodeled Court House, sits cold, empty and vacant. Lines at food pantries are longer, including some “first timers” who not long ago volunteered at them. And… well, Analysis points to the above for the dizzying array of shared lack backed up by a passel of numbers all representing real situations or people. A rather bleak winter is upon us. But Tim Bubb and his fellow successful Republican leaders must dwell in the eternal sunshine of a bright tomorrow. ““We’re putting it in there for the next half century.”” The debt based capital investment that they are putting “in there”, the Halls of Justice, assumes there will be a “human resource” around to benefit. With no investment in this resource, what kind of “next half century” are they envisioning? One with pristine “historically-looking” buildings and people living in tents? What kind of planet are they living on?

In The Heat Of The Night

December 9, 2020

            Not! Some of the news of the past week reinforces why the more things change, the more they stay the same. In The Heat Of The Night romantically tried to suggest change, or the mechanics of inevitable change. But this week’s news, taken together, gives a totally different and more sobering portrait. President elect Biden has proffered retired General Lloyd Austin as incoming Secretary of Defense. Upon retiring Austin gladly joined the board of Raytheon, a major defense department contractor and proud member of the military industrial complex. Now Austin will leave the “selling” side and be on the “buying” side of the equation. The revolving door continues to spin with the transition of power. Closer to home preliminary autopsy results indicate Casey Goodson Jr. suffered a homicide at the hands of Franklin County SWAT deputy Jason Meade. Meade shot Goodson multiple times in the torso at the doorstep of Goodson’s residence. Goodson was not under any investigation or warrant for arrest, etc. What the motive for shooting multiple rounds into an innocent man remains to be manipulated though “the deputy feared for his life” whispers in the bushes. Indeed, in the midst of the BLM protests re-elected Columbus mayor Andrew Ginther painted an equally romantic portrait of change for Columbus city administration as well as policing. Double indeed, this rhetoric of change within the department of policing was mouthed by Ginther when the new chief was hired to replace outgoing chief Kim Jacobs in 2019. The new chief, Tom Quinlan, was specifically chosen over his out of state contender because Quinlan had risen through the ranks of the Cols. PD and was therefore more “familiar” with the workings of the department, as well as the city. The Dispatch reports that Ginther had directed Quinlan to have the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation run the Goodson homicide investigation (rather than the Cols. PD). OBCI (under the direction of Ohio’s Attorney General Dave Yost) deferred, claiming they were asked to take over too late (3 days in). So much for being “familiar” with how the city and department of policing works. Even closer to home, Newark, this week’s news is a BOGO. We have the revolving door AND the “familiar” raison d’etre combined! Headlined “Mayor appoints former police sergeant to Newark safety director” Victor Black reports on the transition of power (Advocate,12-8-20). “Newark Mayor Jeff Hall announced Monday the appointment of [Tim] Hickman to replace Steve Baum, who became police chief in July. Hickman spent 32 years in the police department before his retirement and the last two years with the Department of Development, primarily supporting property maintenance.” “The new safety director, who was sworn in on Monday, said he does not plan on making any major changes to the position.” “”Tim brings years of experience with our wonderful city and displays great leadership skills and enthusiasm,” [Newark mayor Jeff] Hall said. “I congratulate Tim on his new position and look forward to working with him as we continue to move the city of Newark forward.”” Folks, you can’t make this stuff up. Put away your fictional reality of change presented by a book, movie or TV series. The mechanics of inevitable change, not!, is present, front and center, everyday. Just follow the news!

We Pretend To Work; They Pretend To Pay Us

December 3, 2020

            Wall Street’s DOW set a record high by going above 30,000 Tuesday (11-24-20). Many alibis were given. None explained how money could be making money when financial and personal misery is the coin of the kingdom. Analysis found a modicum of explanation for the financial sector outperforming amidst the otherwise abysmal condition of what ostensibly supports the market – employment, production and service. The late David Graeber is primarily remembered for his voluminous Debt: The First 5,000 Years. His last book came out in 2018. It is entitled Bullshit Jobs. What is a bullshit job? 

“consider the following quote, from an interview with then US president Barack Obama about some of the reasons why he bucked the preferences of the electorate and insisted on maintaining a private, for-profit health insurance system in America: “I don’t think in ideological terms. I never have,” Obama said, continuing on the health care theme. “Everybody who supports single-payer health care says, ‘Look at all this money we would be saving from insurance and paperwork.’ That represents one million, two million, three million jobs [filled by] people who are working at Blue Cross Blue Shield or Kaiser or other places. What are we doing with them? Where are we employing them?” I would encourage the reader to reflect on this passage because it might be considered a smoking gun. What is the president saying here? He acknowledges that millions of jobs in medical insurance companies like Kaiser or Blue Cross are unnecessary. He even acknowledges that a socialized health system would be more efficient than the current market-based system, since it would reduce unnecessary paperwork and reduplication of effort by dozens of competing private firms. But he’s also saying it would be undesirable for that very reason. One motive, he insists, for maintaining the existing market-based system is precisely its inefficiency, since it is better to maintain those millions of basically useless office jobs than to cast about trying to find something else for the paper pushers to do.” (pg. 157) A more contemporary and local example would be Ohio’s HB6 debacle which props up 2 scheduled-to-be-decommissioned nuclear power plants as well as two completely redundant coal fired power plants while dissing more efficient and sustainable forms of energy production. So much for bullshit jobs though it is important to understand the function they play in the “market” and why their existence is deemed desirable (Hint: they justify the funneling of money from the bottom to the top, as in 1%). Graeber does let drop some insights that contribute to our question regarding the current record DOW in really abysmal  times: “It’s almost impossible to get accurate figures about what proportion of a typical family’s income in, say, America, or Denmark, or Japan, is extracted each month by the FIRE sector [Finance, Insurance, Real Estate], but there is every reason to believe it is not only a very substantial chunk but also is now a distinctly greater chunk of total profits than those the corporate sector derives directly from making or selling goods and services in those same countries. Even those firms we see as the very heart of the old industrial order – General Motors and General Electric in America, for example – now derive all, or almost all, of their profits from their own financial divisions. GM, for example, makes its money not from selling cars but rather from interest collected on auto loans.” (pg. 177) So much for the stock market being about employment, production, and service. But wait, he has more: “It just seemed to make sense that, just as Wall Street profits were derived less and less from firms involved in commerce or manufacturing, and more and more from debt, speculation, and the creation of complex financial instruments, so did an ever-increasing proportion of workers come to make their living from manipulating similar abstractions.” (pg. 150) Almost prescient of what the current pandemic has revealed he writes: “if you complain about getting some bureaucratic run-around from your bank, bank officials are likely to tell you it’s all the fault of government regulations; but if you research where those regulations actually come from, you’ll likely discover that most of them were written by the bank.” (pg. 17) “JPMorgan Chase & Co., for example, the largest bank in America, reported in 2006 that roughly two-thirds of its profits were derived from “fees and penalties,” and “finance” in general really refers to trading in other people’s debts – debts which, of course, are enforceable in courts of law.” (pg. 177) “There’s a lot of questions one could ask here, starting with, What does it say about our society that it seems to generate an extremely limited demand for talented poet-musicians but an apparently infinite demand for specialists in corporate law? (Answer: If 1 percent of the population controls most of the disposable wealth, what we call “the market” reflects what they think is useful or important, not anybody else.)” (pg. xx) For Graeber the contemporary stock market is all about trading in debt. This contributes substantively as to answering why Wall Street’s DOW is continuously in record breaking territory during these abysmal times; abysmal because debt is implicated in everything, even in “gov’t bailouts.”

Solipsism

December 1, 2020

            The news seems to be that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Indeed. No, not the Covid 19 news, which is the real news, though there is a vaccine on the horizon (along with a hidden army of anti-vaxxers just over the ridge). Rather, the presidential election of 2020 appears to be reaching some sort of definitive finality. Unhidden is Dear Loser, er, Leader who can’t bear the thought of the spotlight not being on him, and him alone (he feels so naked without it). The pesky winners justifiably shine the light on the enormous turnout. 75% of registered Columbus Ohio voters did so. Unheralded is that, save for the top of the ticket, voting trends maintained the status quo, if not grew it nationwide. The party that hopes to be in the White House in 2021 actually lost traction with their other candidates on the exact same ballot. Like with the corona virus, the nation, and pundits, seem to be so fatigued that the only worthwhile news is something that projects a different future. But the well has been poisoned, and because of the fatigue, no one dares speak of holding anyone accountable for the devastating vandalism. GOP representatives and leaders who previously enabled and capitalized on Dear Leader’s lies (they are actually called lies in the vast majority of press coverage today. Finally) today are trying to distance themselves from the embarrassment. The Washington Post interviewed and found only 2 of the 53 GOP senators would admit Biden was the president elect the week immediately after the polls closed. Ohio Governor Dewine, who leads from behind a facemask, is now struggling with the state’s hospitals filling to capacity, not allowing space or staff for other medical conditions to be addressed (the normal function of a hospital). All because the well has been poisoned and the state’s constituents believe mask wearing and pandemic precautions are a matter of personal choice (conveniently referred to as a “political statement”). Who will be held accountable? But wait, the poisoning extends well beyond the alternate “personal choice” attitude as to what is science, and whose (as well as what is speculation, real or fancied). It hits at more nitty-gritty things such as relying on our institutions when the needs arise (established institutions which exist precisely to fill that need). The 2020 Census, upon which so many official decisions and policies rely, has been put in jeopardy (not the Alex Trebek kind). The EPA is no longer a source of clean water and air. The Dept of Ag can no longer be relied on for food security, whether the growing or distribution to those without (SNAP). Ditto Homeland Security, Dept of Justice, FBI, etc. ad nauseam. Even the courts role as arbiter of final resort is subject to personal interpretation. The poison seems to be that if all is in doubt then anything can be believed. And who is to be held accountable? Has culpability also succumbed to the solipsism of personal choice/interpretation?