The U.S. economy, of course, has been rigged for years. The pandemic, in the meantime, has now made that clearer than ever. Not that the corporate media is bothering to explain it to Americans. So, w try to do so on today's BradCast. [Audio link to full show is posted below this summary.]
But, first up, results from several, eagerly awaited new lab studies on the effectiveness of the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna on the Omicron variant have been released over the past 24 hours. Two independent studies, one from South Africa and another from Sweden, along with a press release on findings of a study by Pfizer, all suggest that getting a booster shot as soon as possible is the best way to avoid severe illness both from Omicron and all of the other previously-known variants. We walk you through the details and explain the findings today.
The upshot: Two vaccine doses and natural immunity from COVID is way better against Omicron than just two vaccine doses. Two vaccine doses and a booster shot is as good or better than two doses and COVID. So, unless you want to try your luck by getting COVID to protect yourself against it, a booster shot, right now, is your very best best. That, as infections, hospitalizations and deaths are all beginning to sky-rocket again, as the nation is on the verge of 800,000 COVID deaths.
Next, we've been reporting for the past several weeks on the lousy job the corporate media have been doing in covering what is, overall, a surprisingly robust economic recovery in the first year of the Biden Administration, as the nation (and world) struggles to emerge from our nearly two-year pandemic.
One of the media's worst and most misleading points of coverage has been on the matter of inflation. And, while our regular, global supply chains have certainly become knotted up, leading to legitimate upward price pressures, much of the added costs for goods and services is now thanks to good old profiteering and price fixing by companies which have been enjoying record profits, even during the worst of the pandemic and subsequent supply chain snarls.
As our guest today, author and financial journalist DAVID DAYEN, Executive Editor of The American Prospect recently reported, "In a time of high inflation, you hear a lot about companies 'passing costs' on to customers. In order for companies to maintain their God-given right to earn a profit, they must raise prices to offset the cost of producing goods and getting them into peoples’ hands. And thanks mostly to the hidden risk, exposed by the pandemic, of neoliberal gospels like just-in-time logistics, deregulation, and offshoring, prices really are going up."
"But," he continues, "there’s something else mixed in with this latest bout of inflation. Companies aren’t just passing costs onto us. With corporations using inflation as a cover for raising their prices, you and I are passing profits onto companies."
Dayen, author of the new book Monopolized: Life in the Age of Corporate Power, details how companies are not only profiteering, price-fixing and colluding to do so, they're actually bragging about it, out loud, on corporate earnings calls. That is sending up both stock prices and profits up for hundreds of the most profitable public corporations, many of whom have monopolistically been allowed to corner their markets, giving consumers few, if any, cheaper alternatives for the products and services they sell. Companies that don't play ball --- like Target, which announced they would not be raising prices --- have been punished, in turn, by Wall Street for daring to do so.
"The problem is that we have a business climate today where people have locked in their customer base. Your customers can't escape, because we have a series of consolidated companies that have a stranglehold on market share, and we don't even know that it's happening. You stroll down a grocery aisle and you see hundreds of items, but you don't know that the same handful of companies have created all of them," Dayen explains today. "And that's why you have large companies like Proctor & Gamble and Unilever saying 'We know we can raise prices on people...and we don't have to worry about any kind of material reaction.'" The same is true, of course, with many other companies, such as the Big Oil cartel, which is raking in record profits as raw materials fall, but failing to reflect those falling costs at the pump.
So, what, if anything, can be done about it? Are Presidents and their Administrations actually able to take actions that might roll back the corporate profiteering? Yes, Dayen explains, at least some, both with the use of the bully pulpit --- which, in the model of JFK, Biden has begun to try and do --- and also with the use of existing anti-trust and anti-price-fixing laws that are still on the books today, if rarely enforced.
"It is price-fixing," Dayen tells me. "But we don't spend a whole lot of time on that anymore in America. It's still unlawful. It's still occasionally prosecuted. And now we do have a different regime at places like the Federal Trade Commission, and the anti-trust division at the Justice Department." He believes that several key, progressive Biden appointments at both may be able to "turn the tide" back against corporate mergers and unapologetic (and potentially unlawful) corporate greed. "There is certainly a faction within the White House that feels like this is a serious problem and that we have to do everything possible to stamp it out," he says, but "they're swimming upstream, as it were."
There is a lot on these points to discuss with Dayen today. As well, we also get his reaction to the announcement today that Biden is withdrawing his nomination of Saule Omarova as Comptroller of the Currency, a key banking regulator, after red-baiting by Republican Senators (she was born in the Soviet Union) and concerns from conservative Democrats that she might be too tough on big banks. He also offers his two cents on our complaints, of late, about the terrible job that corporate media are doing in covering both Joe Biden and the economy.
Finally, after months of pretend complaints by Republicans and Democratic Senator Joe Manchin that spending $1.75 trillion in paid-for taxpayer dollars to expand health care, education, child care, elder care, and fight climate change over the next ten years in the Build Back Better bill is just too much money to spend for a poor country like ours, the House on Tuesday night, in record time, passed its latest annual defense spending bill with a lopsided bi-partisan vote in favor (opposed largely only by progressive Democrats). It'll cost nearly one trillion dollar ($768 billion, $24 billion more than the Biden Administration even asked for) for one single year of military spending --- much of which will go to stuff we never use and/or literally blow up.
(Snail mail support to "Brad Friedman, 7095 Hollywood Blvd., #594 Los Angeles, CA 90028" always welcome too!)