Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – December 3, 2023
by Tony Wikrent
Gaza / Palestine / Israel
[X-Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 12-01-2023]
‘A mass assassination factory’: Inside Israel’s calculated bombing of Gaza
[+972, via X-Teitter. above]
Permissive airstrikes on non-military targets and the use of an artificial intelligence system have enabled the Israeli army to carry out its deadliest war on Gaza….
The investigation by +972 and Local Call is based on conversations with seven current and former members of Israel’s intelligence community — including military intelligence and air force personnel who were involved in Israeli operations in the besieged Strip — in addition to Palestinian testimonies, data, and documentation from the Gaza Strip, and official statements by the IDF Spokesperson and other Israeli state institutions….
Several of the sources, who spoke to +972 and Local Call on the condition of anonymity, confirmed that the Israeli army has files on the vast majority of potential targets in Gaza — including homes — which stipulate the number of civilians who are likely to be killed in an attack on a particular target. This number is calculated and known in advance to the army’s intelligence units, who also know shortly before carrying out an attack roughly how many civilians are certain to be killed.
In one case discussed by the sources, the Israeli military command knowingly approved the killing of hundreds of Palestinian civilians in an attempt to assassinate a single top Hamas military commander. “The numbers increased from dozens of civilian deaths [permitted] as collateral damage as part of an attack on a senior official in previous operations, to hundreds of civilian deaths as collateral damage,” said one source.
“Nothing happens by accident,” said another source. “When a 3-year-old girl is killed in a home in Gaza, it’s because someone in the army decided it wasn’t a big deal for her to be killed — that it was a price worth paying in order to hit [another] target. We are not Hamas. These are not random rockets. Everything is intentional. We know exactly how much collateral damage there is in every home.”
According to the investigation, another reason for the large number of targets, and the extensive harm to civilian life in Gaza, is the widespread use of a system called “Habsora” (“The Gospel”), which is largely built on artificial intelligence and can “generate” targets almost automatically at a rate that far exceeds what was previously possible. This AI system, as described by a former intelligence officer, essentially facilitates a “mass assassination factory.”
“Wiping Gaza Off the Map”: Implementing Israel’s “Secret Intelligence Memorandum.” More Than 20,000 Civilians Killed
Michel Chossudovsky [via Naked Capitalism 12-01-2023]
Out of Gaza’s 2.3 million people,
1.73 million are now displaced…
20,030 civilians killed…
8,176 children have been killed…
4,112 women have been killed…
7,000 people remain unaccounted for, including more than 4,700 children…
36,350 civilians have been injured….
...It’s genocide. The underlying modalities are confirmed in an official “secret” memorandum of Israel’s Ministry of Intelligence. Washington is fully supportive of this military-intelligence operation.
Both US and British Operation Forces are collaborating with the I.D.F. (See this)
The 10 page document recommends “the forcible and permanent transfer of the Gaza Strip’s 2.2 million Palestinian residents to Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula”, namely to a refugee camp in Egyptian territory. There are indications of Israel-Egypt negotiations as well as routine consultations with U.S. intelligence….
Israel Knew Hamas’s Attack Plan More Than a Year Ago
[New York Times, 2023 Nov 30]
The Hamas Attack and Israel’s War in Gaza
[Council for Global Cooperation, via Naked Capitalism 11-28-2023]. Important.
Global power shift
ADRIFT ON A SEA OF DELUSIONS
Sonar 21, via Naked Capitalism 11-29-2023]
A very good guest post. Chuck L: “With elites like R. Gates who needs enemies?”
The End of US Nuclear Superiority
Scott Ritter [Consortium News, via Naked Capitalism 11-29-2023]
...The failures of the aging U.S. and British strategic nuclear deterrence force contrasts sharply with a series of successful tests carried out by the Russian counterparts, including the recent launches of a modern Bulava missile from a new Borei-class submarine, a Yars ICBM equipped with an advanced Avangard hypersonic warhead, and the successful test launch of a new nuclear-powered Burevestnik cruise missile (the Russians are not immune to test failures, either, as demonstrated by the failure of a Sarmat heavy ICBM earlier this year.)
The fielding of a new generation of Russian strategic nuclear missiles places additional pressure on both the U.S. and U.K. to push forward with expensive modernization programs at a time when competition for funding has created domestic political challenges in both nations.
Complicating things further is the lack of any viable arms control framework to keep the rush to deploy new strategic systems by all three nations from exploding into an arms race that could destabilize the strategic balance of power that has existed for decades. Citing the incompatibility of strategic arms control with the U.S. at a time when Washington’s official policy is to strategically defeat Russia, Moscow has suspended its participation in the New START treaty.
America’s undying empire: why the decline of US power has been greatly exaggerated
[(The Guardian, via The Big Picture 12-02-2023]
...If proponents of the end of the US global order do not assert a decrease in the potency of the instruments of American power, that is because there has been no such decrease. The share of global transactions conducted in dollars has been increasing, not declining. No other state can affect political outcomes in other countries the way the US still does. The reach of the contemporary US is so great that it tends to blend into the background of daily events. In January 2019, the US demanded that Germany ban the Iranian airline Mahan Air from landing on its territory. In September 2020, it sanctioned the chief prosecutor of the international criminal court for refusing to drop investigations into American citizens. In February 2022, at US request, Japan agreed to redirect liquefied fossil gas, which is critical to Japanese industry, to Europe in the event of a conflict with Russia over Ukraine. At the height of that conflict, the secretary of state, Antony Blinken, found the time to visit Algiers to negotiate the reopening of a gas pipeline to Spain via Morocco. These were all quotidian events, unremarkable daily instances of humdrum imperial activity. The practical operation of the empire remains poorly understood, not despite its ubiquity, but because of it….
Europe Is Written Off.
Andrei Martyanov [via Naked Capitalism 11-28-2023]
Putin Seizes Major Airport’s Management From Foreign Shareholders
[Bloombergvia Naked Capitalism 12-01-2023]
The Myth that Putin Was Bent on Conquering Ukraine and Creating a Greater Russia
John Mearsheimer [via Naked Capitalism 11-27-2023]
Beyond Iron Dome: Is Defending Against [Directed Energy Weapons] Possible
John Oncea, November 20, 2023 [Photonics Online]
Israeli defense technology company Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, responsible for developing Iron Dome, is also credited with the development of Iron Beam, the fifth element of Israel's integrated missile defense system which is composed of the aforementioned Iron Dome, as well as Arrow 2, Arrow 3, and David’s Sling.
“Iron Beam is considered a directed-energy weapon,” writes C4ISR. “Such wartime tools typically come in two forms. One, like Rafael’s, is a high-energy laser; the other is a high-power microwave. Whereas the former focuses a beam or beams of energy to blind, cut, or inflict heat damage on a target, the latter pumps out waves of energy that fry electronic components and render technologies useless.”
But these types of defenses are DEWs applied to beefing up a military’s offensive and defensive arsenal. They’re not a system designed to stop a DEW attack.
A DEW is a weapon that damages its target with highly focused energy without a solid projectile, including lasers, microwaves, particle beams, and sound beams. Potential applications of this technology include weapons that target personnel, missiles, vehicles, and optical devices.
In addition to Israel, China, Russia, France, Germany, India, Pakistan, the United Kingdom, and the United States are developing military-grade DEWs while Iran and Turkey also claim to have them in service. The first use of DEWs in combat between military forces was claimed to have occurred in Libya in August 2019 by Turkey, which claimed to use the ALKA directed-energy weapon.
After decades of research and development, most DEWs are still at the experimental stage and it remains to be seen if or when they will be deployed as practical, high-performance military weapons.
Will it be possible to defend against the use of DEWs? Yes, but it’s difficult because their capabilities are not yet fully known. One program looking into methods of defense is the Counter-Directed Energy Weapons (CDEW) Program, created in response to the development of DEWs by potential foreign adversaries.
The carnage of mainstream neoliberal economics
Putting Energy Back into Economics
Steve Keen [via Naked Capitalism 12-01-2023]
American Borrowers Are Getting Closer to Maxing Out
[Wall Street Journal, via Naked Capitalism 11-26-2023]
The average rate of 30-day-plus delinquency across the five big lenders jumped 0.16 percentage point from September to October, above the typical seasonal jump of 0.06 point, according to Goldman’s tracking. Net charge-offs jumped 0.77 point on average, compared with a 0.18-point typical rise….
A recent note published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston found that as of July, consumers with annual household incomes of less than $50,000 whose accounts were delinquent were on average utilizing 80 to 90 percent of their available credit. This leaves “those consumers with a very small amount of credit left on their accounts to cushion against a deterioration of their financial situation,” according to the paper. Across all cardholder income groups as of July, average utilization rates—the ratio of outstanding card account balance to the account’s credit limit—were above February 2020 levels.
U.S. Poverty is More Entrenched Than Ever
[Counterpunch, via Naked Capitalism 11-26-2023]
...More Americans are poorer and persistently poorer than they have been in a long time. Since last year the number of people living in poverty in the U.S. increased by 15.3 million, as pandemic aid ended, according to CBS September 12. The census and CBS differ over how many American households endure penury, with the latter claiming 12.4 percent and the former 11.5 percent….
To blame for the recent increase in indigence was termination of such benefits as stimulus checks and the Child Tax Credit. “If the expanded Child Tax Credit had been renewed,” CBS said, “about 3 million additional children would have been kept out of poverty last year, while child poverty would have been about 8.4 percent, rather than 12.4 percent.” Imagine a world where the U.S. kept the CTC but ditched Donald “Save the Billionaires” Trump’s God-awful tax cut for the rich. There might even be enough money to provide low-income housing for the homeless….
A more specific problem for the poor is that they earned less last year, according to the census. “The median household income in 2022 was $74,580, a decline of 2.3 percent and the third year in a row that incomes have dipped.”
Americans need an extra $11,400 today just to afford the basics
[CBS, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 11-29-2023]
“The typical American household must spend an additional $11,434 annually just to maintain the same standard of living they enjoyed in January of 2021, right before inflation soared to 40-year highs, according to a recent analysis of government data…. Although inflation is cooling, many consumers may not be feeling much relief because most prices aren’t declining (One major exception: gas prices, which are notoriously volatile and which have declined about 5% in the past year.) Consumers are still paying more, albeit at a slower pace, on top of the higher prices that were locked in when price hikes surged in 2022 and earlier this year.” • Prices don’t “surge” (note lack of agency). Prices rise because firms raise them.
Our Democratic and Republican voting states death rate as percent of Canada's by age
pecanjim, November 26, 2023 [DailyKos]
Precarious finances: 38% of Europeans no longer eat three meals a day
[Euronews, via Naked Capitalism 11-27-2023]
Economists May Have Been Flying Blind All Along
[Bloomberg, via The Big Picture 11-27-2023]
Declining response rates to official surveys raise the possibility that government and central bank officials have been making decisions based on flawed data….
The Distributional Financial Accounts the Fed created in 2019 are a good example of how to make that connection. It uses aggregate data on wealth from financial institutions and a household survey of wealth to merge the macro and micro. As such, we now know the top 0.1% of households by wealth have five times more wealth than the bottom 50%. How much wealth the country has and who has it are both facts that should inform policy. The first step is to know that such data exist, and economists must use the figures.
Capitalism, war and plunder in the Horn of Africa
[Review of African Political Economy, via Naked Capitalism 11-27-2023]
Mark Duffield and Nicholas Stockton write about the spectacular growth in livestock exports from the Horn of Africa to the urbanising Gulf states, and argue that neoliberalism has transformed the former reciprocity between ‘farmers’ and ‘herders’ into a relation of permanent war. Based on their article in ROAPE – freely available to read below – they argue that the crisis in the Horn is rooted in how the wealth of its peoples is being internationally plundered.
[X-Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 11-28-2023]
Mergers, Prices, and Innovation: Lessons from the Pharmaceutical Industry (pdf)
The significant surge in pharmaceutical mergers and acquisitions (M&A), averaging a 50% year-to-year increase over the last decade, has drawn concerns regarding its potential impact on consumers. Claims made by pharmaceutical companies suggest M&A, by increasing synergies, will cause innovation to increase and the firm to become more efficient, passing on lower prices to consumers. However, regulators worry firms, in gaining market power through M&A, will raise drug prices and have less incentive to innovate. The prior literature has not yet come to a consensus on how mergers and acquisitions will impact these outcomes. This paper empirically assesses M&A's effects, employing an event study design and difference-in-differences analysis along with new, more comprehensive data on innovation and net prices. I show that, upon an M&A event, firms increase research and development (R&D) spending, decrease filed patents, and do not experience significant changes in the the number of drugs passing through clinical trials compared to pre-M&A levels. Further, I show decreases in patents come from primary patents on new technologies, rather than secondary patents, suggesting that firms use M&A to substitute their internal R&D by acquiring new technologies in development from smaller firms. They then increase R&D spending to support the progression of these assets through clinical trials. However, despite financial backing, I find firms are largely unsuccessful in advancing newly acquired drugs through development. I also find, after M&A activity, net drug prices increase by 19%. These increases occur both in mergers and acquisitions where targets and acquirers have overlapping and non-overlapping therapeutic area portfolios, suggesting multiple mechanisms for price increases. Ultimately, these findings emphasize that M&A leaves consumers at a net loss, with higher drug prices and a pharmaceutical industry that is less efficient at producing the innovation that defines its business model. Therefore, it is critical that regulators consider the impact consolidation has on innovation, in addition to traditional measures like prices, when evaluating whether mergers and acquisitions are ultimately beneficial for consumers.
Mergers, Product Prices, and Innovation: Evidence from the Pharmaceutical Industry (pdf)
Alice Bonaim´e and Ye (Emma) Wang* April 2022 [DOI: 10.2139/ssrn.3445753]
Using novel data from the pharmaceutical industry, we study product prices and innovation around mergers. Exploiting within-deal variation in product market consolidation, we show prices increase more within drugs in consolidating markets than within matched control drugs. Estimates indicate a 2% average price effect that persists for about one year. Price increases are more pronounced for drugs in concentrated markets and without generic competition. Examination of trade-offs reveals these deals generate significant shareholder value and spur labeling and other manufacturing-related innovation, but not new drug approvals.
Health care crisis
‘Immunity Debt’? Established 2021
[Counter-Disinformation, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 11-28-2023]
“This is how one unconvincing paper and the Wall Street Journal seeded the idea of immunity debt which was then repeated and amplified by other media sources. From being mentioned in a single paper released in May, by mid July immunity debt was being treated as a well established and well known part of scientific literature. It’s astounding that the same people who dismiss so many studies as lacking rigour or not being valid because there isn’t a RCT were so quick to adopt immunity debt when you consider the time it took for covid to be accepted as being airborne, how long some have continued to debate masks, and how air filtration is still not accepted as a means to reducing transmission. The high standards required to justify measures in schools dissipated like a puff of smoke when a concept to argue against measures in schools was encountered.”
No one’s promising you can keep your doctor anymore
[Politico, via Naked Capitalism 11-27-2023]
Facing Financial Ruin as Costs Soar for Elder Care
[New York Times, via The Big Picture 11-26-2023]
The United States has no coherent system for providing long-term care, leading many who are aging to struggle to stay independent or to rely on a patchwork of solutions.
Restoring balance to the economy
No, Really. Building More Housing Can Combat Rising Rents
[CityLab, via The Big Picture 11-27-2023]
...a review of recent research into the link between new housing production and apartment affordability offers new evidence that the rules of supply and demand do apply to housing: Building more can slow rent growth in cities and free up more affordable vacant units in surrounding neighborhoods, without causing significant displacement….
The analysis, conducted by three faculty directors at New York University’s Furman Center, speaks directly to these so-called supply skeptics. It cites dozens of studies and explains how their findings consistently debunk or complicate concerns that building more housing could do more harm than good to housing affordability.
Supply Skepticism Revisited
Vicki Been, Ingrid Gould Ellen, Katherine M. O'Regan, 13 Nov 2023 [NYU Law and Economics Research Paper Forthcoming 65 Pages, via CityLab, above]
Although “supply skeptics” claim that new housing supply does not slow growth in rents, we show that rigorous recent studies demonstrate that: 1) Increases in housing supply slow the growth in rents in the region; 2) In some circumstances, new construction also reduces rents or rent growth in the surrounding area; 3) The chains of moves sparked by new construction free up apartments that are then rented (or retained) by households across the income spectrum; 4) While new supply is associated with gentrification, it has not been shown to cause significant displacement of lower income households; and 5) Easing land use restrictions, at least on a broad scale and in ways that change binding constraints on development, generally leads to more new housing over time, but only a fraction of the new capacity created because many other factors constrain the pace of new development.
The Tesla battle is about so much more than Sweden.
[Aftonbladet via machine translation, via Naked Capitalism 11-29-2023]
GM execs boast about low costs of UAW contract, hand over billions to shareholders
[WSWS, via Naked Capitalism 12-01-2023]
GM Plans $10 Billion Stock Buyback in Bid to Assuage Investors
[Wall Street Journal, via Naked Capitalism 11-30-2023]
Information age dystopia / surveillance state
Meta Designed Products to Capitalize on Teen Vulnerabilities, States Allege
[Wall Street Journal, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 11-30-2023]
“An internal 2020 Meta presentation shows that the company sought to engineer its products to capitalize on the parts of youth psychology that render teens ‘predisposed to impulse, peer pressure, and potentially harmful risky behavior,’ the filings show…. ‘Teens are insatiable when it comes to ‘feel good’ dopamine effects,’ the Meta presentation shows, according to the unredacted filing, describing the company’s existing product as already well-suited to providing the sort of stimuli that trigger the potent neurotransmitter. ‘And every time one of our teen users finds something unexpected their brains deliver them a dopamine hit.’ Well-being concerns were especially pronounced for younger teens, some Meta executives involved with youth well-being issues internally acknowledged. ‘It’s not ‘regulators’ or ‘critics’ who think Instagram is unhealthy for young teens—it’s everyone from researchers and academic experts to parents,’ Karina Newton, Instagram’s head of policy, wrote in a May 2021 email cited by the attorneys general. ‘The blueprint of the app is inherently not designed for an age group that don’t have the same cognitive and emotional skills that older teens do.’ Meta says it didn’t design its products to be addictive for teens. ‘The complaint mischaracterizes our work using selective quotes and cherry-picked documents,’ said Stephanie Otway, a spokeswoman for the company.”
[X-Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 11-30-2023]
From the filing:
3. In this Complaint, Meta does not seek to litigate the merits of the Commission’s accusations and findings against Meta in the FTC Proceeding. Instead, Meta challenges the constitutionality of five structural characteristics of the Commission that render the FTC Proceeding unconstitutional.
4. First, the FTC is structured so that in administrative adjudications, including the FTC Proceeding against Meta, the Commission has a dual role as prosecutor and judge in violation of the Due Process Clause….
5. Second, the Commissioners exercise executive authority while being unconstitutionally insulated from removal by the President, who can remove a Commissioner only “for inefficiency, neglect of duty, or malfeasance in office.” ….
6. Third, Congress unconstitutionally has delegated to the FTC the power to assign disputes to administrative adjudication rather than litigating them before an Article III court….
7. Fourth, the FTC adjudicates private rights in violation of Article III….
8. Fifth, adjudication of these issues by the Commission in a proceeding that affords Meta no right to a trial by jury—and pursuant to a statutory scheme that provides for the potential future imposition of civil penalties, see 15 U.S.C. § 45(l)—violates Meta’s right to a jury trial under the Seventh Amendment.
CTIL Files #1: US And UK Military Contractors Created Sweeping Plan For Global Censorship In 2018, New Documents Show
Michael Shellenberger, Alex Gutentag, and Matt Taibbi [Public, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-01-2023]
“Now, a large trove of new documents, including strategy documents, training videos, presentations, and internal messages, reveal that, in 2019, US and UK military and intelligence contractors led by a former UK defense researcher, Sara-Jayne ‘SJ’ Terp, developed the sweeping censorship framework. These contractors co-led CTIL, which partnered with CISA in the spring of 2020. In truth, the building of the Censorship Industrial Complex began even earlier — in 2018. Internal [Cyber Threat Intelligence League (CTIL) Slack messages show Terp, her colleagues, and officials from DHS and Facebook all working closely together in the censorship process. The CTIL framework and the public-private model are the seeds of what both the US and UK would put into place in 2020 and 2021, including masking censorship within cybersecurity institutions and counter-disinformation agendas; a heavy focus on stopping disfavored narratives, not just wrong facts; and pressuring social media platforms to take down information or take other actions to prevent content from going viral.” Gramsci urges, somewhere, that state and civil society can be separated only as objects of study. That is, we cannot think of the State as a single entity, a la the “Deep State.” Both are aspects of the same governing class of people, all playing their roles (sometimes multiple roles) in parallel and intersecting fields. As for example: “According to the whistleblower, roughly 12-20 active people involved in CTIL worked at the FBI or CISA. “For a while, they had their agency seals — FBI, CISA, whatever — next to your name,” on the Slack messaging service, said the whistleblower.” • Janine Wedel’s model of networked “Flexians” (The Shadow Elites) is far better framework to approach understanding these developments; I should really review it one day. Anyhow, here is Taibbi’s accompanying video:
“Anti-Disinformation” Is a Partisan Con
Matt Taibbi [via Naked Capitalism 11-29-2023]
Climate and environmental crises
Dubai’s Costly Water World
[New York Times, via The Big Picture 11-27-2023]
The Dubai Electricity and Water Authority supplies water to more than 3.6 million residents
along with the city’s active daytime population of more than 4.7 million visitors, according to a 2022 sustainability report
. By 2040, the utility expects these numbers to grow, increasing the demand for clean water.
The city desalinated approximately 163.6 billion gallons of water last year, according to the sustainability report
. For each gallon of desalinated water produced in the Gulf, an average of a gallon and a half of brine
is released into the ocean.
Oil and gas giants to cash in on climate crisis they helped cause: Melting ice exposes new petroleum reservoirs in the Arctic worth $7TRILLION – in what is being dubbed a ‘modern day gold rush’
[Daily Mail, via Naked Capitalism 11-26-2023]
The asbestos times
[Works in Progress, via The Big Picture 11-27-2023]
Asbestos was a miracle material, virtually impervious to fire. But as we fixed city fires in other ways, we came to learn about its horrific downsides.
Where could millions of EV batteries retire? Solar farms
[Grist, via The Big Picture 12-01-2023]
A Southern California company is showing how repurposing EV batteries for stationary storage can extend their usefulness for several years.
Plutocracy results in oligarchy
The Ideologies of Silicon Valley (PDF)
A Crooked Timber Seminar, November 2023
Silicon Valley’s worldview is not just an ideology; it’s a personality disorder: Silicon Valley’s ideology is this: Libertarianism for me. Feudalism for thee. (Crooked Timber, via The Big Picture 11-26-2023]
‘We will coup whoever we want!’: the unbearable hubris of Musk and the billionaire tech bros
[Guardian, via Naked Capitalism 11-28-2023]
Unlike their forebears, contemporary billionaires do not hope to build the biggest house in town, but the biggest colony on the moon, underground lair in New Zealand, or virtual reality server in the cloud. In contrast, however avaricious, the titans of past gilded eras still saw themselves as human members of civil society. Contemporary billionaires appear to understand civics and civilians as impediments to their progress, necessary victims of the externalities of their companies’ growth, sad artefacts of the civilisation they will leave behind in their inexorable colonisation of the next dimension.
While plans for Peter Thiel’s 193-hectare (477-acre) “doomsday” escape, complete with spa, theatre, meditation lounge and library, were ultimately rejected on environmental grounds, he still wants to build a startup community that floats on the ocean, where so-called seasteaders can live beyond government regulation as well as whatever disasters may befall us back on the continents.
Why rich people tend to think they deserve their money
[Marketplace, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 11-28-2023]
[Lambert Strether: “From 2021, still germane.”]
“One experiment by psychologists at the University of California, Irvine, invited pairs of strangers to play a rigged Monopoly game where a coin flip designated one player rich and one poor. The rich players received twice as much money as their opponent to begin with; as they played the game, they got to roll two dice instead of one and move around the board twice as fast as their opponent; when they passed ‘Go,’ they collected $200 to their opponent’s $100…. In various ways — through body language and boasting about their wealth, by smacking their pieces loudly against the playing board and making light of their opponents’ misfortune — the rich players began to act as though they deserved the good fortune that was largely a result of their lucky roll of the dice. At the end of the game, when researchers asked the rich players why they had won the game, not one person attributed it to luck. ‘They don’t talk about the flip of the coin. They talk about the things that they did. They talk about their acumen, they talk about their competencies, they talk about this decision or that decision,’ that contributed to their win, [psychologist Paul Piff] said in an interview with host David Brancaccio. Piff said the experiment reveals a fundamental bias that most humans share. ‘When something good happens to you, we think about the things that we did that contributed to that success,’ Piff said.”
New Billionaires Are Inheriting More Wealth Than Creating It — And Shaking Up Portfolios
[Institutional Investor, via The Big Picture 12-01-2023]
Over the coming decades, about a thousand billionaires will pass on an estimated $5.2 trillion and the inheritors have their own plans for those assets.
Billionaires amass more through inheritance than wealth creation, says UBS
[Financial Times, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-01-2023]
“‘The heirs to billionaires are gaining prominence,’ said Benjamin Cavalli, UBS’s head of global wealth management strategic clients. ‘New billionaires minted during this year’s study period accumulated more wealth through inheritance than entrepreneurship. That’s a theme we expect to see more of over the next 20 to 30 years, as more than 1,000 billionaires pass an estimated $5.2tn to their children.'”
The oligarchy’s corrosive effects on Democrats and democrats
A Big-Money Operation Purged Critics of Israel From the Democratic Party
[Intercept, via Naked Capitalism 11-28-2023]
[X-Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 11-28-2023]
Whither The Squad? If you’re someone who hungered for a political revolution, an actual one, Ryan Grim's new book is for you.
Thomas Neuburger, November 29, 2023 [God's Spies]
...This conundrum and others surrounding the Squad — a group of progressive House members with Justice Democrat roots — are wonderfully covered in Ryan Grim’s new book, apply named The Squad: AOC and the Hope of a Political Revolution.
The question the book addresses, and the one I hoped it would address when I learned he was writing it, is the same one that Kyle Kulinski, a founder of Justice Democrats, has regularly asked:
The Justice Democrats group was formed to create in the House a “Tea Party on the left” with all that that implies. So, what the hell happened to them?
A great way to preview the book is to listen to the interview linked at the top. Kyle Kulinski and Krystal Ball speak with the author, Ryan Grim, and cover a lot of the book’s material — the Squad members themselves, their history as a group, their future, notable controversies, and why in hell the Israeli government, through its goon squad (sorry, domestic lobbying arm) is spending a ton of cash to see them defeated.
How Haley’s Hawks Brought Carnage to Ukraine
[The American Conservative, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 11-28-2023]
“[T]he ‘responsible people’ are determined to maintain their perches of responsibility—which is to say, their power. On the right, this means a concerted push to manufacture enthusiasm for Nikki Haley’s challenge to Donald Trump in the GOP primary. A $1,000-per-ticket fundraiser for Haley on Nov. 13, previously unreported elsewhere, opened a revealing window onto this effort…. The host committee was a who’s who of the sorts of “responsible people” who plunged the United States into two fruitless wars in the two decades after 9/11 and/or served as hired guns for various foreign regimes and companies.”
2024— Not Another Lesser Of Two Evils Election… Way Beyond That
Howie Klein, December 1, 2023 [downwithtyranny.com]
I didn’t vote to reelect Obama in 2012 and I didn’t vote for Hillary or Biden. I’m long done with supporting the Democraps' lesser evil election strategy. But 2024 is way, way beyond a lesser of two evils confrontation. I’m seeing this as an existential choice and I feel like I really have no responsible option other than to vote for Biden, as much as I don’t want to. Trump is just too dangerous.
Conservative / Libertarian Drive to Civil War
Harold Meyerson, November 27, 2023 [The American Prospect]
“Earlier this year, Project 2025 published a 920-page manifesto called Mandate for Leadership: The Conservative Promise, laying out its agenda for Trump or any other Republican who should win the White House. The book consists chiefly of the world’s longest enemies list, with detailed instructions on how to target them, oust them, and reverse their policies, both real and imagined.” Another way of saying this is that Republicans have always been a more serious party than Democrats, at least in my lifetime. Contrast Obama, who, for example, rationalized and legitimized Bush’s felonious program of warrantless surveillance, and looked forward and not backward on torture. To be fair, Obama probably didn’t consider spooks “enemies.” More: “This is not the first time Heritage has sketched out a blueprint for a conservative presidency. In 1980, the think tank aided another neophyte politician with revolutionary aspirations—Ronald Reagan—with a report, also called Mandate for Leadership, that stretched to 1,100 pages and covered virtually every nook and cranny of government…. A subsequent edition of Mandate for Leadership has been produced for every presidential election since 1980. This iteration, very much in the spirit of Trump, is lighter on policy and heavier on retribution…. Heritage’s knowledge of the federal vacancy process becomes useful. Under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, for most federal agencies, a vacancy at the top means that the next available deputy becomes the acting head. Project 2025 sees a path to manipulating this law to ensure loyalists take control. ‘Where a career employee holds a leadership position,’ explains Ken Cuccinelli, the former acting deputy homeland security secretary under Trump, ‘that position should be deemed vacant for line-of-succession purposes, and the next eligible political appointee in the sequence should assume acting authority.’ Other authors call for political appointees to be put into the line of succession directly, ‘selected by the President-elect’s transition team’ and ‘in place the first day of the Administration.’ This gambit would hand over the administrative state to those dedicated to crushing it. That would combine with the restoration of Trump’s October 2020 ‘Schedule F’ order, which would reassign up to 50,000 civil service workers with a designation that robs them of employment protections, making them easier to terminate. So the leadership of executive branch agencies would be ideologues, and many bureaucrats under their care could be fired at will.”
Trump's Blueprint For American Fascism Is Real-- And His Fans Have No Problem With That At All
Howie Klein, November 28, 2023 [downwithtyranny.com]
...Donald P. Moynihan … [is] an Irish-American political scientist, who wrote the highly acclaimed book The Dynamics of Performance Management: Constructing Information and Reform. He teaches at Georgetown and yesterday the NY Times published his guest essay, Trump Has a Master Plan for Destroying the ‘Deep State’. His field is bureaucracies and urges everyone who would normally ignore the topic— pretty much everyone other than his students— to start paying attention since Señor Trumpanzee has some plans: “‘Either the deep state destroys America or we destroy the deep state.’ This is not an empty threat. He has a real and plausible plan to utterly transform American government. It will undermine the quality of that government and it will threaten our democracy… This plan would elevate personal fealty to Mr. Trump as the central value in government employment, processes and institutions. It has three major parts.”
Charles Koch’s anti-Trump group endorses Nikki Haley in Republican primary
[ABC, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 11-28-2023]
“[Americans for Prosperity Action, the] Koch-backed group stayed out of the 2016 and 2020 presidential cycles but has significant resources to try and boost Haley’s campaign, though AFP Action is so far staying mum on how much it plans to spend. The group reported raising more than $70 million in its last public filing, in June, with $25 million coming from Koch himself and another $25 million from one of his nonprofit groups… AFP Action thinks it can make a difference: ABC News reviewed several internal memos, based on the organization’s polling and door-knocking operations in early states, suggesting that about four in 10 GOP voters in Iowa and New Hampshire say the primary campaign ‘hasn’t begun’ or has ‘just started.’ AFP Action also believes that three in four Republicans are open to a Trump alternative if they think that person has a better chance of winning.”
‘Tons of Crazy’: The Inside Story of How Fox Fell for the ‘Big Lie’
[Politico, via The Big Picture 11-26-2023]
A play-by-play from inside Fox reveals how the network poisoned politics — and lost $787.5 million.
They Tried to Expose Louisiana Judges Who Had Systematically Ignored Prisoners’ Petitions. No One Listened: The Scandal That Never Happened
[ProPublica, via The Big Picture 11-26-2023]
Years ago, the all-white judges of a Louisiana appellate court decided, in secret, to systematically ignore petitions filed by prisoners, most of them Black, who claimed they had been unjustly convicted.This is the story of a horrendous injustice and the three people who tried to expose it. It begins with a suicide note.
Republican Officials Are Petrified Of Young Voters— Especially The Educated Ones
Howie Klein, November 30, 2023 [downwithtyranny.com]
Trump Is A Weak General Election Candidate… If Trump Runs On Medicare-For-All, He Could Win
Howie Klein, November 28, 2023 [downwithtyranny.com]
Yesterday, historian Harvey J Kaye tweeted a couple of paragraphs about America’s last great president. It’s worth reading if you missed it: “Yes, we have a lot to learn from FDR about how to confront the fascist threat in America: Running for President in the midst of the Great Depression in 1932, Roosevelt had come to see that the only way to save American democratic life was to radically enhance it— and he believed that most Americans had come to see that too. Unlike so many of his station, FDR did not fear Americans’ democratic impulses. He feared what might happen if they were too long thwarted, with Fascist Italy and Communist Russia as prime examples. In fact, two years earlier, on May 12, 1930, he had written to his friend John Kingsbury, a leading authority on social welfare, saying: ‘There is no question in my mind that it is time for the country to become fairly radical for at least one generation. History shows that where this occurs occasionally, nations are saved from revolution.’ And when Roosevelt did win the White House, he acted to encourage, empower, and mobilize Americans, especially working people, to join him in democratically harnessing the powers of government and making America ‘fairly radical for at least a generation.’
“Together, President and people redeemed the nation’s promise by initiating revolutionary changes in American government and public life. They subjected business and banking to public account and regulation; empowered government to address the needs of working people and the poor; organized labor unions, consumer campaigns, and civil-rights groups to fight for their rights and broaden and level the ‘We’ in ‘We the People;’ established a social security system; built schools, libraries, post offices, and parks all across country; vastly expanded the nation’s public infrastructure with new roads, bridges, tunnels, and dams; dramatically improved the American landscape and environment; and energetically cultivated the arts and refashioned popular culture (just think Swing Music). Moreover, while much remained to be done, they had imbued themselves with fresh democratic convictions, hopes, and aspirations— which enabled them confront and defeat Fascism overseas.”
[TW: In her new book, Democracy Awakening, Heather Cox Richardson begins by asking why the USA avoided fascism in the 1930s. She credits Franklin Roosevelt for providing a persistent and understandable explanation of why democracy — and defending it — was important. By contrast, of course, Germany’s leaders sought to blame the Jews for their society’s economic misery. But I think Richardson fails to elevate one important element in FDR’s successful defense of democracy: he explicitly blamed the rich, the “economic royalists,” for the Great Depression, and “welcomed their hatred.” Of course, it was also important to provide hope for a better economic future, which is exactly what FDR’s New Deal did. During the winter of 1933-34, the Civil Works Administration under Harry Hopkins, put four million people to work, giving them the income to literally avoid starvation. Compare that to Barack Obama tolerating millions of Americans to lose their homes to foreclosure fraud. And Democratic Party elites still wonder how Trump won in 2016 to succeed Obama,]
Biden, the Economy, and the Election
Robert Kuttner, December 1, 2023 [The American Prospect]
...the public’s negative view of the economy should not be a major puzzle at all. Ordinary people have been taking it on the chin for about four decades, during which time virtually all GDP gains were captured by the very rich. People suffered more during the COVID inflation despite Biden’s heroic efforts to mitigate that suffering, and those relief programs are now expiring.
The economy’s deep structural changes include more gig jobs and fewer real payroll jobs, a far less reliable retirement system, impossible costs of both rental housing and homeownership, and a crushing debt-for-diploma system. (Borrowers just started paying on those student loans again after a three-year hiatus.) A few months of modest statistical improvement in real wage growth outstripping inflation doesn’t change those fundamentals, and thus doesn’t change attitudes….
Bloomberg just ran a devastating piece, item by item, on just how much highly visible costs to consumers (rent, insurance, electricity, groceries, meals out) have risen since the pandemic began in 2020. Some of these price hikes reflect pure gouging by ever more concentrated sellers; and it helps when Biden goes after them, as he did in this recent speech….
You owe it to yourself to read several recent chilling pieces on Trump’s increasingly open embrace of fascism and the very genuine risk that he could defeat a struggling Biden—especially this one by Robert Kagan, this earlier piece by Tom Edsall, and this one from our own Harold Meyerson.
[TW: There have now been a number of articles exploring why Americans remain so pessimistic and discontented about the economy. None have yet considered that the radical redistribution to the already rich of over $50 trillion in the past half century has created a plutocracy, which has fundamentally corrupted the political system of the country. It’s going to take much more than just some annual wage gains alter what people correctly perceive is a “rigged system.”]
Democracy’s Deserters: How did we get to the breaking point in American politics?
Aziz Z. Huq, December 1, 2023 [The American Prospect]
Tyranny of the Minority: Why American Democracy Reached the Breaking Point
By Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, Crown
All this seems true enough, but I’m skeptical it’s the whole story. For one thing, the story has an American accent—but democratic backsliding is a global phenomenon. For another thing, it’s hard to believe that racial resentment can carry the whole explanatory load that Levitsky and Ziblatt want to heft onto it. An obvious blank spot in their account is economic class. In the teeth of lively debate among scholars as to whether racial and cultural change or economic shifts better explain voters’ increasing indifference to democratic norms, Levitsky and Ziblatt appear to side almost completely with the first strain of explanation. Nearly absent from their narrative is the neoliberal turn in American public policy and the subsequent growth of financial and corporate power at the expense of labor, which began under Jimmy Carter and persisted under administrations of both parties.
By omitting that strand of recent history, Levitsky and Ziblatt need say nothing about the fealty of Democratic elites to regressive free-market nostrums. Perhaps there is more than one way, though, of shucking off democratic norms. A shift from listening to the median-earning voter to hearing only the well-off might also result in their erosion. The net effect of these gaps in Tyranny of the Minority is to absolve political elites of responsibility for their abandonment of working-class voters and the opening they provided for figures like Trump. It also closes off reflection on economic policy as an instrument in the pro-democracy tool kit…..
The (anti)Federalist Society assault on the Constitution
The Case That Could Destroy the Government
Noah Rosenblum [Atlantic, via Naked Capitalism 11-28-2023]
This Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear a case that poses the most direct challenge yet to the legitimacy of the modern federal government. The right-wing legal movement’s target is the “administrative state”—the agencies and institutions that set standards for safety in the workplace, limit environmental hazards and damage, and impose rules on financial markets to ensure their stability and basic fairness, among many other important things. The case, Securities and Exchange Commission v. Jarkesy, threatens all of that. Terrifyingly, this gambit might succeed.
The case involves garden-variety securities fraud. George R. Jarkesy Jr., a right-wing activist and conservative-radio talk-show host, ran a pair of investment funds with $24 million in assets. But he misrepresented how the funds were run, paid himself and his partner exorbitant fees, and inflated the assets’ value. As punishment, the SEC fined him several hundred thousand dollars and prohibited him from working in some parts of the securities industry—very standard stuff….
Jarkesy’s most far-reaching constitutional argument is built on the “nondelegation doctrine,” which holds that there may be some limits on the kinds of powers that Congress can give to agencies. Jarkesy argues that, when Congress gave the SEC the power to decide whether to bring enforcement actions in court or in front of an independent agency adjudicator, it gave away a core legislative function. It thus violated the doctrine and engaged in an unconstitutional delegation….
This is wild stuff. Not long ago, a lawyer would have been laughed out of court for making such nondelegation claims. Today, they’d have a good chance of destroying the federal government’s administrative capacity—taking down its ability to protect Americans’ health and safety while unleashing fraud in the financial markets.
Whether Congress’s grant of authority to the SEC was constitutional should not be a close question. Congress has delegated expansive authority to government agencies since the dawn of the republic.
Supreme Court to consider multi-pronged constitutional attack on SEC
[SCOTUSblog, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 11-28-2023]
“The argument on Wednesday in Securities and Exchange Commission v. Jarkesy will present a remarkable spectacle of three entirely distinct constitutional challenges to wholly disparate attributes of the SEC. Ordinarily, the ability of the justices to control their docket would allow them to wait on each question for the development of a circuit conflict and select a suitable case in which to resolve each issue. But in this case a bold (I did not say “rogue”) panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit accepted all three arguments and invalidated three aspects of the SEC’s operations. To leave the decision unreviewed would force Congress to revise substantially the affected portions of the securities laws solely based on the opinion of one divided lower court panel – hence, the Supreme Court’s buffet of constitutional law topics on Wednesday morning…. The first question before the justices is whether Congress constitutionally authorized the agency to adjudicate administrative proceedings that impose monetary penalties. That raises a question under the court’s deeply fraught doctrine of “public rights,” which offers an exception to the Seventh Amendment jury trial requirement. …. The second question is whether Congress can delegate to the SEC the power to decide whether a case should be pursued as an administrative proceeding or as a civil enforcement action – that is, within the agency or in a federal district court. … The third question in the case is whether the Constitution allows Congress to give the SEC’s administrative law judges protection from removal.”
Supreme Court to consider ‘quadrillion-dollar question’ in major tax case
[The Hill, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 11-28-2023]
“At issue in Moore v. United States is the question of whether the federal government can tax certain types of “unrealized” gains, which are property like stocks or bonds that people own but from which they haven’t directly recouped the value, so they don’t have direct access to the money that the property is worth…. Even if the court limits the scope of its decision to the specific tax referenced in the case, known as the mandatory repatriation tax, a ruling in favor of the plaintiffs could cost $340 billion over the next decade, according to the Justice Department…. Critics of a blanket constitutional requirement for realization say the idea is trumped up, and it’s really just about the timing of when an asset is allowed to be taxed for accounting purposes. They point to a 1940 decision in Helvering v. Horst finding that ‘the rule that income is not taxable until realized has never been taken to mean that the taxpayer … can escape taxation because he has not himself received payment of it from his obligor.’ This is because the taxpayer ‘has fully enjoyed the benefit of the economic gain represented by his right to receive income,’ the court found. As such, the requirement was considered to be ‘founded on administrative convenience’ and ‘not one of exemption from taxation.'”
The new SCOTUS Code of Conduct
[SCOTUSblog, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 11-30-2023]
“There are things to like about the Code of Conduct that the Supreme Court promulgated earlier this month. It is a bona fide code of conduct—one that, in the main, tracks the Code of Conduct for U.S. Judges. It follows the same structure, features the same five canons, and includes most of the same provisions that are worded in the same way…. And it is not fair to condemn the new code as toothless because it includes no enforcement mechanism. That said, there are some problematic differences between the new SCOTUS Code and the Code of Conduct for U.S. Judges…. The new code does not impose a duty to ‘be faithful to…the law,’ as required by Canon 3(A)(1) of the Code of Conduct for U.S. Judges. It is possible that this duty was thought redundant of the Canon 2(A) obligation to ‘respect and comply with the law’ (which the court retained). The obligation to respect and comply with the law, however, concerns the duty to abide by the law in a judge’s daily life, while the duty to be faithful to the law concerns a duty to uphold and apply the law when deciding cases. For justices under increased fire for ideological, partisan-seeming decision-making, the optics of the court exempting itself from a duty to uphold and apply the law is unfortunate….. The new SCOTUS Code qualifies the statutory duty to disqualify when a justice’s ‘impartiality might reasonably be questioned’ by adding language interpreting it to mean that ‘an unbiased and reasonable person who is aware of all relevant circumstances would doubt that the Justice could fairly discharge his or her duties.’ While consistent with interpretive precedent, this clause is cherry-picked to omit guidance that the ‘reasonable person’ is not a judge but an outside observer, who is less inclined than a judge to credit the judge’s impartiality. ”