Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – August 6, 2023
by Tony Wikrent
Climate and environmental crises
Is A Mega Ocean Current About to Shut Down?
[Scientific American, via Naked Capitalism 7-30-2023]
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC). Commentary:
[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 7-30-2023]
South America is topping 100 degrees, even though it’s winter
[Washington Post, via Naked Capitalism 8-3-2023]
I searched hell on Earth for a story. What I found will haunt me forever
[Los Angeles Times, via Naked Capitalism 7-30-2023]
As a kid in Miami, I thought I knew heat.
In the mornings before school, the windows of my parents’ house would be fogged with humidity, as if the swamp of South Florida were trying to press its way in.
As an adult in Los Angeles, I thought I knew heat — that sizzling dryness that arrives each summer and fall, curing the grasses and prickling the skin.
But never have I felt anything like Death Valley last week, where the temperature climbed to 128 degrees, within striking distance of the all-time world record the valley set in 1913 — 134 degrees.
It was the kind of heat that burns your eyeballs, that shocks your brain and makes your body feel nauseous and weak….
We can’t afford to be climate doomers
Rebecca Solnit [Guardian, via Naked Capitalism 7-31-2023]
The Case Against Both Climate Hope and Climate Despair
Liza Featherstone, July 31, 2023 [The New Republic]
There’s ample fodder for both optimism and pessimism on climate—but all that matters is what we do.
Creating new economic potential - science and technology
Amazon dark earth boosts tree growth as much as sixfold (press release)
[Sao Paulo Research Foundation, via Naked Capitalism 8-2-2023]
The researchers found the microbiota (bacteria, archaea, fungi and other microorganisms) in ADE to be highly beneficial to plant growth. Addition of ADE to the soil boosted the growth of the three tree species they analyzed. Seedlings of Brazilian cedarwood (Cedrela fissilis) and Yellow poinciana (Peltophorum dubium) grew to between twice and five times normal height in soil with 20% ADE, and three to six times with 100% ADE, compared with growth in control soil. Ambay pumpwood (Cecropia pachystachya) did not grow at all in control soil (soil without ADE) but flourished in 100% ADE.
The dry mass of Brachiaria forage grass increased more than threefold in soil with 20% ADE compared with control soil, and by more than a factor of eight in 100% ADE.
“The bacteria in ADE convert certain molecules in the soil into substances that can be absorbed by plants. Using a very rudimentary analogy, you could say the bacteria act as miniature ‘chefs’ by transforming substances that can’t be ‘digested’ by plants into substances they can profitably metabolize,” said Anderson Santos de Freitas, first author of the article. He is a PhD candidate at CENA-USP and co-author of the podcast Biotec em Pauta.
[Twitter-X, via Naked Capitalism 8-3-2023]
World Record Efficiency Of 15.8 % Achieved For 1 Cm2 Organic Solar Cell
[Photonics Online, July 18, 2023]
Organic photovoltaics (OPV) opens up new areas of application for solar energy thanks to its climate friendly and inexpensive production and its flexible and potentially transparent solar cells. To help this technology achieve a market breakthrough, research institutes worldwide are working to improve the efficiency and scalability of organic solar cells. Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE and the Materials Research Center FMF at the University of Freiburg have now improved their own efficiency record, announced back in September 2020, for an organic solar cell with an area of one square centimeter. Now, with a new record efficiency of 15.8 percent, the research team at Fraunhofer ISE has again set the world record in this category.
Dr. Uli Würfel, department head at Fraunhofer ISE and group head at the Materials Research Center FMF, University of Freiburg, leads the research on organic solar cells: "We achieved the improvement in the record-breaking solar cell primarily by applying an anti-reflection coating, which allows more light to be absorbed in the photoactive layer of the cell, thus generating a higher current."
Trillionths Of A Second
[Photonics Online, June 19, 2023]
Physicists at the University of Konstanz generate one of the shortest signals ever produced by humans: Using paired laser pulses, they succeeded in compressing a series of electron pulses to a numerically analyzed duration of only 0.000000000000000005 seconds.
Processes in nature that occur in molecules or solids sometimes run on a time scale of quadrillionths (femtoseconds) or quintillionths (attoseconds) of a second. Nuclear reactions are even faster. Now, Maxim Tsarev, Johannes Thurner and Peter Baum, scientists from the University of Konstanz, are using a new experimental set-up to achieve signals of attosecond duration, i.e. the billionths of a nanosecond, which opens up new perspectives in the field of ultrafast phenomena.
Not even light waves can achieve such a time resolution, because a single oscillation takes much too long for that. Electrons provide a remedy here, as they enable significantly higher time resolution. In their experimental set-up, the Konstanz researchers use pairs of femtosecond light flashes from a laser to generate their extremely short electron pulses in a free-space beam. The results are reported in the journal Nature Physics….
The first US nuclear reactor built from scratch in decades enters commercial operation in Georgia
[Associated Press, via Naked Capitalism 8-1-2023]
Here’s How Poland Is Slyly Taking Control Of Western Ukraine
[Andrew Korybko’s Newsletter, via Naked Capitalism 7-30-2023] Big if true.
War and Theft: The Takeover of Ukraine’s Agricultural Land
[Oakland Institute, via Naked Capitalism 7-30-2023]
A Coup In Niger
[Madras Courier, via Naked Capitalism 7-31-2023]
[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 7-31-2023]
Africa, the Center of History
Adom Getachew, August 17, 2023 [The New Republic]
W.E.B. Du Bois, the African American sociologist and historian and a cofounder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, was fond of the Latin phrase Semper novi quid ex Africa (out of Africa, always something new). Although of Greek origin, the phrase is most often associated with the Roman philosopher Pliny the Elder, who included it in his Natural History (77 CE). For Pliny, Africa was a place of strange and unusual creatures. For Du Bois, however, the continent was most remarkable for its contributions to human development. “It is probable that out of Africa came the first civilization of the world,” he insisted. From his publication of The Negro in 1915 until his death in 1963, in Ghana—where he was at work on an ambitious Encyclopedia Africana—he wrote against the conception of Africa as what Hegel called the place without history.
Du Bois’s project was twofold. He first sought to show that Africa did indeed have a history. From its “dark and more remote forest vastnesses came…the first welding of iron, and we know that agriculture and trade flourished there when Europe was a wilderness,” he wrote. Second, he aimed to explain how African achievements had been erased by the processes that produced European global dominance. The depiction of Africa as the place without history was the product rather than the cause of the enslavement and forced migration of over 12 million Africans, followed by the colonial conquest of the continent. In the course of this historical drama, he argued, “‘color’ became in the world’s thought synonymous with inferiority, ‘Negro’ lost its capitalization, and Africa was another name for bestiality and barbarism.”
….Howard French’s Born in Blackness: Africa, Africans, and the Making of the Modern World, 1471 to the Second World War continues this intellectual tradition. French, whose essays appear often in these pages, is the former New York Times bureau chief for West and Central Africa as well as the Caribbean and Central America. In Born in Blackness, he draws on his travels throughout the African continent and the wider Atlantic world and on extensive research in the primary sources and secondary literature to reconstruct Africa’s place in history….
SITREP 8/1/23: The Hegemon Begins To Unravel
[Simplicius the Thinker, via Naked Capitalism 8-2-2023]
The coup in Niger is part of Russia’s response to the destruction of the Nord Stream pipelines:
...Russia has many ‘asymmetrical’ programs in motion.
The carnage of mainstream neoliberal economics
US Exceptionalism? International Trends in Midlife Mortality
[medRxiv, via Naked Capitalism 7-31-2023]
From the Abstract: “The US is increasingly falling behind not only high-income but also [Central and Eastern European (CEE)] countries heavily impacted by the post-Soviet mortality crisis of the 1990s. While levels of midlife mortality in the UK are substantially lower than in the US overall, there are signs that UK midlife mortality is worsening relative to the rest of Europe.”
Chris Hedges: The Forgotten Victims of America’s Class War
[Scheerpost, via Naked Capitalism 7-31-2023]
MECHANIC FALLS, Maine – I am sitting in Eric Heimel’s barbershop in the center of Mechanic Falls. Russ Day, who was the owner for 52 years before he sold it to Eric, cut my hair as a boy. The shop looks the same. The mounted trout on the walls. The worn linoleum floor. The 1956 Emil J. Paidar barber chair. The two American flags on the wall flanking the oval mirror….
The town is 97 percent white. The average age is 40. The median household income is $34,864. Trump won Androscoggin County, where Mechanic Falls is located, with 49.9 percent of the vote in the last election. Biden received 47 percent. Republicans like Trump never had much appeal in the past. Franklin D. Roosevelt carried the county in the 1932 election. In 1972 the county voted for George McGovern. Jimmy Carter won the county in his two presidential elections. But, as in tens of thousands of rural enclaves across the country, once the jobs left and Democrats abandoned working men and women, people became desperate. Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, after the mill closed with the loss of over 200 jobs, won the county, as they did the state. But things have not improved….
I meet Nancy Petersons, the town librarian, and her husband, Eriks, who runs the town historical society in the town library. The library is located in what was the old high school’s home economics room. My mother and aunt took home economics classes here. High school students now go to a magnet school in the neighboring town of Poland. The building that used to house the town library when I was a boy was sold….
We cannot dismiss and demonize rural white Americans. The class war waged by corporations and the ruling oligarchs has devastated their lives and communities. They have been betrayed. They have every right to be angry. That anger can sometimes be expressed in inappropriate ways, but they are not the enemy. They too are victims. In my case, they are family. I come from here. Our fight for economic justice must include them. We will wrest back control of our nation together or not at all.
Conservatives Are Having an Epic Argument About Capitalism. Too Bad the Campaigns Are Ignoring It.
Michael Schaffer July 28, 2023 [Politico, via Naked Capitalism 7-30-2023]
...The document came from an A-list group of conservative writers, scholars and activists who declared that “political freedom cannot long exist without economic freedom,” “the free enterprise system is the foundation of prosperity,” and “the skyrocketing federal debt … is an existential threat.”
….last week’s publication of Freedom Conservatism: A Statement of Principles, with signatories including Dick Armey, Karl Rove, Grover Norquist, George Will and a cross-section of Washington think-tank worthies, made a splash precisely because so many old Republican shibboleths have moved from being stump-speech cliches to being subjects of actual disagreement among conservatives.
And in that debate, a lot of the energy has come from the folks launching once-unthinkable broadsides from the right against “market fundamentalism,” “libertarian dogma,” “Zombie Reaganism” and other alleged vices of the pre-2016 GOP elite. Once derided as a half-baked effort to intellectualize Trumpy applause lines, the nationalistic, market-skeptical right has in short order incubated its own establishment of organizations, major public events and Beltway wonk-world celebs….
Last year, a very different group on the right put forth National Conservatism: A Statement of Principles, signed by people including Peter Thiel and Michael Anton and containing broadsides against globalization and liberal immigration, support for manufacturing and a variety of culture-war refrains about tradition….
...it’s actually a fascinating moment for the American right, a period of generational battles that are freighted with real-world implications. Should the Republican Party retain its half-century identity as the party of global, finance-dominated neoliberalism — or embrace impulses associated for the past century with the left, like inviting government into the economy to help an industrial base that’s been hammered by global competition, or pour money into left-behind regions of the country?
It’s Capitalism, Stupid: The sly myopia of David Brooks
Robert Kuttner, August 4, 2023 [The American Prospect]
Did you notice what Brooks left out? He left out rampant, predatory, rapacious capitalism! How like a centrist Republican.
Think about it. Who destroyed the factory towns where working-class white people used to be able to make a decent living? Who decimated the labor movement? Who used globalization to ship jobs overseas? Who undermined regulation that once protected working families?
It sure as hell wasn’t English professors or lesbian activists. It was capitalists.
Trucking Giant Yellow Shuts Down Operations
[Wall Street Journal, via Naked Capitalism 7-31-2023]
Apollo Stands to Win From Yellow’s Collapse: The trucking company’s demise reads like a history of modern capitalism.
Amjarod Facundo, August 3, 2023 [The American Prospect]
Amid Yellow’s brittle finances, in 2014 the company engaged in a series of financial arrangements that relieved the company of $300 million in debt and refinanced another $1.1 billion, some of which is now part of a revolving line of bank credit collateralized by the company’s accounts receivable. By 2019, a new contract between Yellow and the Teamsters clawed back the wage concessions of the last decade and recovered a week of vacation plus increased health and welfare benefits. In the same year, Yellow also accepted a $600 million term loan, where the lead lender was the private equity giant Apollo Global Management.
This financial agreement would prove critical. In the immediate term, it placed Apollo at the top of the totem pole, with the most senior debt stake, above the revolving line of credit. The loan had unfavorable terms for Yellow, including a high interest rate of LIBOR plus 750 basis points, which was actually down from the LIBOR + 850bp Apollo had previously negotiated.
It also had an impact on the unionized workforce. Yellow, strained from the debt load, again refused to pay into its pension fund, triggering outrage from trucker employees.
How Lockheed’s $7.9B stock buyback bonanza is paid for by you
[Responsible Statecraft, via Naked Capitalism 8-1-2023]
Illegal medical lab containing bioengineered mice and infectious agents including HIV and herpes discovered in California
[Insider, via Naked Capitalism 7-31-2023]
[TW: Yes, regulation creates hurdles and obstacles, but do you really want companies able to create biolabs that do not incorporate enough safety and containment standards? The theory of the Wuhan lab origin of COVID should be a warning against deregulation. “Don’t regulate us so we can compete against the Chinese.”]
Inflation Narratives and Their Consequences
[Institute for New Economic Thinking, via Naked Capitalism 8-1-2023]
Autoenshittification: How the computer killed capitalism Cory Doctorow.
Cory Doctorow [via Naked Capitalism 8-1-2023] Important.
Paralyzed man dies 90 minutes before Michigan court restores his home care
[Detroit News, via Naked Capitalism 8-1-2023]
Restoring balance to the economy
How the Shakurs Became One of America’s Most Influential Families
Keisha N. Blain, August 3, 2023 [The New Republic]
….In An Amerikan Family: The Shakurs and the Nation They Created, journalist Santi Elijah Holley highlights the often-overlooked contributions of a different “close-knit family, based predominantly in New York City”: the Shakurs. They include Salahdeen Shakur, a leader in the Revolutionary Action Movement, a student-led Black nationalist group; his two sons, Lumumba and Zayd, leaders of the Black Panther Party in Harlem; and revolutionary activists Assata Shakur and Afeni Shakur (the mother of the famous rapper Tupac Shakur).
Unlike other prominent American families, the Shakurs did not have millions of dollars to establish universities and foundations in their name. But what they did create was a powerful legacy of resistance. The Shakurs committed themselves to the cause of Black liberation and challenged white supremacy in the face of intense government repression, through various revolutionary groups, including the Revolutionary Action Movement, the Black Panther Party, and the Black Liberation Army. At every step, they worked to empower Black communities across the nation—often filling in the gaps left open because of the inattention and indifference of American leaders….
[Business Insider, via The Big Picture 7-30-2023]
This new insight — that venture capital is predatory pricing in a new wrapper — could prove transformative. By translating the Silicon Valley jargon of exits and scaling into the legalese of antitrust law, Wansley and Weinstein have opened a door for the prosecution of tech investors and their anticompetitive behavior. “Courts will have to adjust the way they’re thinking about recoupment,” Weinstein says. “What did the investors who bought from the VCs think was going to happen? Did they think they were going to recoup?” That, he says, would be a “pretty good pathway” for courts to follow in determining whether a company’s practices are anticompetitive.
How to Break Up Disney
Matt Stoller [Politico, via Naked Capitalism 7-30-2023]
“Ron DeSantis and the Hollywood strikers need to unite.”
Information age dystopia / surveillance state
AI’s scariest mystery
[Axios, via Naked Capitalism 7-31-2023]
As tech companies begin to weave AI into all their products and all of our lives, the architects of this revolutionary technology often can't predict or explain their systems' behavior.
Why it matters: This may be the scariest aspect of today's AI boom — and it's common knowledge among AI's builders, though not widely understood by everyone else.
- "It is not at all clear — not even to the scientists and programmers who build them — how or why the generative language and image models work," Palantir CEO Alex Karp wrote recently in The New York Times….
Driving the news: Four researchers published a paper Thursday showing that users can defeat "guardrails" meant to bar AI systems from, for instance, explaining "how to make a bomb."
- The major chatbots, like ChatGPT, Bing and Bard, won't answer that question when asked directly. But they'll go into great detail if you append some additional code to the prompt.
- "It is possible that the very nature of deep learning models makes such threats inevitable," the researchers wrote. If you can't predict exactly how the system will respond to a new prompt, you can't build guardrails that will hold.
The little search engine that couldn’t
[The Verge, via The Big Picture 7-31-2023]
A couple of ex-Googlers set out to create the search engine of the future. They built something faster, simpler, and ad-free. So how come you’ve never heard of Neeva?
Private infrastructure complicates US warfare plans
[Asia Times, via Naked Capitalism 8-3-2023]
New SEC Rules around Cybersecurity Incident Disclosures
Bruce Schneier [via Naked Capitalism 8-3-2023]
Amazon employees leak secret info that marketplace sellers can buy on Telegram
[CNBC, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-2-2023]
“For the millions of sellers who make up the booming Amazon marketplace, few things are as perpetually concerning as the threat of getting suspended for alleged wrongdoing and watching business evaporate overnight. Helping third-party sellers recover their accounts has turned into a large and lucrative enterprise, because the only way the merchants can get back up and running is to admit guilt and correct the issue or show sufficient evidence that they did nothing wrong. The process is often costly, lengthy and fraught with challenges. Enter the illicit broker. For a fee of $200 to $400, sellers can pay for services such as ‘Amazon Magic,’ as one broker on encrypted messaging service Telegram calls it. The offerings also include access to company insiders who can remove negative reviews on a product and provide information on competitors. Users are told to send a private message to learn the price of certain services.”
Collapse of independent news media
Why the Press Failed on Iraq
[Foreign Affairs, via Naked Capitalism 7-30-2023]
[TW: Civic republicanism would argue that the institution of a free and independently minded media as the fourth state is so important to our society and system of government, that the maintenance of such an institution far outweighs the normal considerations of property rights. Control of the media by bankers, financiers, and other outsider should be banned, or at least minimized. The corporate control of media is perhaps the first issue where the political economic principles of republicanism should be applied, by imposing economic democracy and legally mandating employee super-majority levels of ownership. With the proportion of employee ownership increasing with revenues or circulation or some other measure, Once this is achieved, further support can be built in by constitutionally mandating that news media is exempt from taxes at all levels — local, state, and federal. ]
Democrats' political malpractice
RFK Jr. super PAC got more than half its funds from GOP mega donor
“A super PAC supporting the presidential ambitions of longshot Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. reported receiving more than half its nearly $10 million in funds from a single GOP donor…. The group, American Values 2024, launched the same month Kennedy set out on his own longshot bid against President Joe Biden in the Democratic primary….. Of the $9.8 million reported, $5 million came from Timothy Mellon, a longtime GOP donor who gave $1.5 million to a Trump-aligned group last fall… Most of the rest of the super PAC’s fundraising through the end of June came from Gavin De Becker, an author and consultant who reported giving the group $4.5 million. De Becker has a political donation history that includes both Democrats and Republicans. He has served as a close adviser to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.”
[TW: the ignorance of history evinced by “journalists” these days causes me to despair. Not mentioned in the article is that Timothy Mellon is the grandson and heir of Andrew Mellon, the Secretary of Treasury for Coolidge and Hoover. This was the Mellon who advised "liquidate labor, liquidate stocks, liquidate the farmers, liquidate real estate. Purge the rottenness out of the system. High costs of living and high living will come down. ... enterprising people will pick up the wrecks from less competent people," according to Hoover’s memoirs. So we have the Mellons and the Kennedys: America’s resurgent oligarchy through and through.]
Senate Democrats Blocked Watchdog for Ukraine Aid — Ignoring Lessons From Afghanistan
[Intercept, via Naked Capitalism 8-3-2023]
Patrick Lawrence: Reading the Mess the Democrats Have Made
[ScheerPost, via Naked Capitalism 8-3-2023]
[Twitter-X, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-1-2023]
Has the Socialist Moment Already Come and Gone?
Ross Barkan, August 3, 2023 [The New Republic]
Bernie and AOC helped build a formidable movement. Since Biden took office, we’ve seen its reach—and its limits….
Crucially, working-class Democrats and independents remain, on cultural and public safety questions, more moderate than many leftists would like. Black Democrats in Philadelphia chose as their next mayor a woman who wants to reinstate a version of stop-and-frisk and hire more police. Some Latino voters with family history in countries like Cuba and Venezuela continue to be wary of any socialist. In New York, Eric Adams, a corporate-friendly Democrat popular in the African American and Afro Caribbean neighborhoods of the outer boroughs, has made resentment of socialism a cornerstone of his mayoralty. “You water the tree of freedom with your blood,” he said in a Memorial Day speech. “We sit under the shade of that tree of freedom protected from the hot rays of socialism and communism and destruction that’s playing out across the globe.”
Eugene Debs, a gifted orator and militant labor leader, won renown for standing up to the exploitative railroad companies of the Gilded Age. He viewed labor struggle as a war between classes—the factory owner and the employee—and advocated for public ownership of the means of production, whether they be factories, mines, or railroads. Debs was never a strict theorist, and his socialism, which would electrify the Socialist Party of America that he founded in 1901, owed as much to Walt Whitman and Protestantism as it did to Karl Marx. He called socialism “Christianity in action” for simply recognizing the “equality in men.” Unlike many labor leaders of his era, Debs argued for the admission of Black people and women into his railway union, and cared more about racial uplift than other white socialists.
The Socialist Party was for women’s suffrage, public ownership of trusts, minimum-wage laws, the abolition of child labor, and the eight-hour workday. In large cities and rural counties alike, the new party found immediate popularity, with Debs as its national standard-bearer. By 1911, the party had elected, by a conservative estimate, 1,141 Socialists to local office in 36 states. They controlled cities as large as Milwaukee and Berkeley, and elected two members of Congress. Debs ran for president as a Socialist five times, winning as much as 6 percent of the popular vote in 1912. (In 2000, Ralph Nader won less than 3 percent on the Green Party line.)….
(anti)Republican Drive to Civil War
The Trump Jan. 6 Indictment, Annotated
[New York Times, Aug 1, 2023]
The indictment (PDF)
Team Trump’s Plan: Weaponize the ‘Insurrection Act’ Against Democracy
[Rolling Stone, via Naked Capitalism 8-3-2023]
[Twitter-X, via Naked Capitalism 8-2-2023]
Trump Lawyer John Eastman Admits It Was A Coup Attempt
Dbug, August 06, 2023 [DailyKos]
Here are Eastman’s words:
“Our Founders lay this case out,” says Eastman. “There’s actually a provision in the Declaration of Independence that a people will suffer abuses while they remain sufferable, tolerable while they remain tolerable. At some point abuses become so intolerable that it becomes not only their right but their duty to alter or abolish the existing government.”
So now he’s citing the Declaration of Independence. Not the Constitution.
On January 6, Joe Biden had been elected President, but he had not yet been sworn in. He couldn’t possibly have done anything intolerable. The only intolerable thing to Trump and Eastman was that Biden won the election.
Mike Pence’s secret notes revealed in Jack Smith’s Trump indictment
[FOX, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-2-2023]
“Then-Vice President Mike Pence took ‘contemporaneous notes’ of his conversations with Donald Trump in the days before the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021, Special Counsel Jack Smith’s indictment of the former president revealed Tuesday. Pence’s previously unreported notes are presented as evidence against Trump…. The indictment next recounts a New Year’s Day meeting between Trump and his vice president, which Pence wrote about in his memoir. Pence said Trump discussed a lawsuit filed by Republicans that asked a judge to declare the vice president had ‘exclusive authority and sole discretion to decide which electoral votes should count.’ Pence said he reiterated to Trump ‘that I didn’t believe I possessed that power under the Constitution.’… ‘You’re too honest,’ Trump replied, according to both Pence’s book and the indictment. ‘Hundreds of thousands are gonna hate your guts… People are gonna think you’re stupid.’ This argument allegedly continued for several days.”
Team Trump Suspects Mark Meadows Is a ‘Rat’ in Federal Investigation
[Rolling Stone, via Naked Capitalism 8-3-2023]
Earlier this year, Donald Trump sent some of his lawyers and political advisers on a “small fact-finding mission,” as a person with knowledge of the matter describes it to Rolling Stone. The former president wanted to know, according to that source and another person close to Trump: “What is [White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows] doing?” …. it’s been an ongoing mystery to Trump and his team how much Meadows has given the feds, and whether or not he’s actually cooperating. Months ago, Meadows and his lawyer severed communications with most of Trumpland, in a move that continues to frustrate people working to keep the now twice–indicted former president out of deeper legal peril.
….Meadows’ lawyer George Terwilliger this month offered only vagueness: “Without commenting on whether or not Mr. Meadows has testified before the grand jury or in any other proceeding, Mr. Meadows has maintained a commitment to tell the truth where he has a legal obligation to do so.”
That cryptic statement did not sit well with much of Trumpworld. In recent weeks, several lawyers and confidants had already discussed their unconfirmed suspicions with Trump that Meadows was being very useful to the feds in order to reduce Meadows’ own possible legal exposure, two other people familiar with the matter say.
Donald Trump Is Fuelling Another Civil War In America
[Madras Courier, via Naked Capitalism 8-4-2023]
Trump Is Finally Being Held Accountable for His B.S.
Michael Tomasky, August 1, 2023 [The New Republic]
...The indictment, signed by special counsel Jack Smith on page 45, concludes that “the Defendant, DONALD J. TRUMP, did knowingly combine, conspire, confederate, and agree with co-conspirators, known and unknown to the Grand Jury, to injure, impress, threaten, and intimidate one or more persons in the free exercise and enjoyment of a right and privilege secured to them by the Constitution and laws of the United States—that is, the right to vote, and to have one’s vote counted.”
It’s kind of beautiful, really, that it comes down to that simple truth. Whatever good and bad this country has visited upon its citizens, and however much it limited that right to so many of them for so many decades, we did establish for the modern world that simple principle: the right to vote and to have one’s vote counted. It’s the engine of the whole enterprise. Took us a long time to perfect it, and no sooner did we perfect it than certain dark forces started to agitate against it. Those certain dark forces culminated in the person and actions of the defendant. And the system managed to rouse itself and rise up to call bullshit on it….
The antidote to this fake law is real law. Smith’s indictment may not tell us a great deal we did not already know about the actions of Trump and his cronies in the aftermath of the presidential election. But it translates the meaning of those actions from politics to law. Trump’s defense will be, in essence, that it was all politics and that in politics everything you do to your enemies is legitimate. The prosecution’s momentous task is to show that not everything in the functioning of a republic is politics in that sense. It must show that there are limits beyond which the pursuit of political power cannot go. If it were to fail, the consequences for the future of government of the people, by the people, for the people would be unlimited.
Invasion of the Democracy Snatchers
Fintan O’Toole, August 4, 2023 [The New York Review]
[TW: O’Toole is always excellent. I highly recommend reading this in its entirety.]
...Smith’s legal prose is calm, cool, and precise. His indictment is, in some respects, notably restrained: it does not charge Trump with sedition, insurrection, or direct incitement to violence in the January 6 assault on the Capitol. Yet it poses a genuinely existential question. Of the three criminal plots it alleges, the third is “a conspiracy against the right to vote and to have one’s vote counted.” What threat could be more fundamental? If such a scheme can go unpunished—especially when it is run by and for a president who has just been voted out of office—it will not be long before the American republic perishes from the earth. It will die because, were such impunity to be established, there would be every incentive not merely to repeat Trump’s botched coup of 2020, but to learn from its failure and refine its methods….
...Authoritarian movements seldom disavow democracy. They turn it into a charade. They preserve its forms while strangling its substance. The indictment cites an internal comment in December 2020 by Trump’s deputy campaign manager Justin Clark, about the evolving plan to create fake electors: “The way this has morphed it’s a crazy play.”
It was indeed a crazy play, a political version of a Black Mass in which the whole character of the democratic process was reenacted as a caricature of itself. Three times Smith uses the word “mimic” to describe the Trump team’s efforts to figure out “how fraudulent electors could mimic legitimate electors in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.” These body snatchers would replicate “as best as possible the actions of the legitimate Biden electors.” Essentially what he is describing is an attempt to replace the democratic process with a simulacrum. It would be the final triumph of the Trumpian alternate reality….
...Smith’s first count is “conspiracy to defraud the United States,” a magnificently succinct definition not just of Trump’s specific delinquency but of his whole political career. But fraudulence here is both the crime and the weapon used to commit it: Trump crying “Fraud!” fraudulently. This is not mere hypocrisy but something much stranger and deeper. At the heart of Smith’s indictment is the attempt to pin down the most slippery of crimes, an organized conspiracy to make a very big something (Trump being declared the winner of the election) out of a whole heap of nothing (the absence, in Smith’s phrase, of “outcome-determinative” abuse of the electoral process). The essential crime was to create an existential threat to American democracy from materials that did not exist.
These fictions would if necessary become bloody facts. The most chilling moment in the indictment is the reply from Co-Conspirator 4, assumed to be the then–assistant attorney general Jeffrey Clark (whom Trump wished to appoint as acting attorney general), to a suggestion that, if Trump refused to give up the presidency, there would be “riots in every major city in the United States”: “Well…that’s why there’s an Insurrection Act.” This is in keeping with a statement also quoted in the indictment from Co-Conspirator 2, presumably Trump’s legal adviser John Eastman, that “there had previously been points in the nation’s history where violence was necessary to protect the republic.” That was on January 4, 2021, two days before the assault on the Capitol. The full logic of protecting the republic by destroying it violently had taken hold at the center of the Trump administration….
The potency and clarity of Smith’s indictment up the ante for those jury deliberations ever further, since this will not just be a sensational law case. It will be a case about the meaning of the law itself. For Trump, as for all autocrats, the law is an extension of his personal power. Having appointed 226 judges, including fifty-four federal appellate judges and three members of the Supreme Court, he regarded the legal system as just another Trump property with his name over the door. He expected it to do his bidding and deliver him a second term as president.
The “crazy play” he and his co-conspirators concocted to prevent the congressional certification of Biden’s election, and the nihilistic rage he unleashed on January 6, were hasty and haphazard responses to the dashing of those expectations. But given the opportunity, Trump or another presidential successor from the post-democratic Republican Party will follow the playbook of authoritarian leaders from Poland to India to Israel and learn how to vitiate the independence of the justice system while preserving the outward show of adherence to the law.
It is striking that all five of the alleged co-conspirators identifiable from the indictment—Giuliani, Chesebro, Sidney Powell, Eastman, and Clark—are lawyers. (The sixth is called a “political consultant.” The New York Times has suggested that he may be the Trump operative Boris Epshteyn, who is also a lawyer.) They too were body snatchers, engaged in the creation of an empty simulacrum, a replication of the processes and forms of law from which its inner meanings of justice, fairness, truth, and equality have been removed. Indeed, Trump’s team engaged in what might be called hyper-legality—they filed an astonishing sixty-two lawsuits in state and federal courts seeking to overturn election results in states that Trump lost. All but one of these cases failed, for the simple reason that they were all form and no content, all rhetorical demands and no evidence....
Trump’s Third Indictment and the End of Automatic Impunity
David Dayen, August 2, 2023 [The American Prospect]
Jack Smith’s prosecution for conspiracy has led to a familiar blowback defense: prosecute the powerful and everyone will get hurt.
The Electric Kool-Aid Trump Indictment
Matt Taibbi, August 4, 2023
[TW: Taibbi has good arguments, but they boil down to an absolutist view of First Amendment rights. Faced with secessionists, Lincoln also had to wrestle with how to preserve the republic without doing irreparable damage to the principles of civic republicanism — justice, and the General Welfare — on which the republic was founded. I believe Lincoln would have agreed with Tomasky, O’Toole, Dayen, and Sirota (below), not Taibbi. And, it should be instructive that there is a meme among conservatives and libertarians that Lincoln, and the Reconstruction Amendments, destroyed the “original meaning” of the republic. ]
We told you so...
Why Trump’s Indictment Matters
David Sirota, August 2, 2023 [The Lever]
...it is worth taking a pause from our day-to-day coverage to recognize the significance of this week’s indictment of Donald Trump for his coup attempt, which we predicted in the days after the 2020 election.
When we first published that piece about the incumbent president trying to overturn the election, some scoffed and eyerolled, seeing it as the kind of unrealistic sensationalism that defines ratings-chasing cable TV news outlets. But just because the MSNBCs of the world have numbed and anesthetized their audiences with hyperbolic coverage of all things Trump didn’t mean he wasn’t a serious menace.
Our essay — and our other related coverage — unfortunately proved prescient, as the text of this week’s indictment shows in granular detail.
The prosecution of Trump is important — and surprising — because it is a rejection of something we at The Lever incessantly lament: the longstanding tradition of providing de facto legal immunity for high government officials. It is also a rejection of the “belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards,” as incoming President Barack Obama put it in 2009 when he was asked about holding past administration officials accountable for their crimes.
I’d like to think this pivot to accountability is the start of something permanent and not merely a fleeting spectacle — a shift to a lasting culture of accountability, rather than a one-off operation against a particularly dangerous threat to democracy.
But for that to be the case, accountability must extend beyond just a Trump indictment and (hopefully) conviction.
Accountability must extend to the people and businesses funding the GOP’s insurrectionists and election deniers.
Accountability must extend to the government officials preserving the campaign finance rules that enable such funding.
Accountability must extend to Republican authoritarians, as well as Democrats whose betrayals and soft corruption create the backlash conditions that fuel right-wing extremists, as Franklin Roosevelt famously warned.
And accountability must finally become the ethos of the electorate and our culture writ large, which is all too frequently electing and empowering the politicians in both parties who are committing environmental, war, economic, financial, and human rights crimes….
Indicting the System That Bred Trumpism
Robert Kuttner, August 2, 2023 [The American Prospect]
Why has American democracy lost legitimacy to the point where a carnival fraud like Trump passes in some quarters as a savior? The story has three basic parts.
First, the system stopped serving ordinary working families, with the complicity of both parties. Most of the national wealth has gone to the very top. Factory towns have been decimated, creating breeding grounds for Trumpism. Instruments of working-class democracy—trade unions—have been all but crushed.
Second, capitalism has become far more concentrated and more corrupt. Money in turn has corrupted politics. Again, both parties are complicit. Both have lost legitimacy, as has the system as a whole.
The third part reflects the costs of belatedly reckoning with America’s original sin. As the civil rights revolution has been reversed by right-wing administrations, police, and courts, African Americans have become more militant about defending and advancing rights. Others such as LGBTQ people have also demanded rights. The economic backlash against declining life prospects has interacted poisonously with cultural resentments. Instead of resenting the billionaires, people are cued to resent “wokeism.”
The (anti)Federalist Society Infestation of the Courts
New Definition of ‘Fraud’ Wipes Out High-Profile Prosecutions
[Wall Street Journal, via Naked Capitalism 8-4-2023]
“Scandals in auditing, college admissions and a hedge fund are all hit by Supreme Court ruling.”
Texas backlash to Obama fueled conservative drive to reinterpret U.S. Constitution
Texas Tribune, August 5, 2023 [DailyKos]
In November 2008, almost 70 million people turned out to vote for the nation’s first Black president and their hope for once-in-a-generation political change….
...Now, Greg Abbott, a man elected by 2.5 million people to be the top lawyer for one of fifty states, stepped up to do what his fellow conservatives in Washington could not: stop, or at least slow, Obama’s agenda.
During the Obama administration, Abbott's office, and especially its elite appellate unit, the Office of the Solicitor General, became a government in exile, a refuge for the Republican party’s brightest minds. Top-tier conservative attorneys came to Texas for the chance to gain courtroom experience, burnish their bonafides and strengthen their commitment to the cause.
They had plenty of opportunities. Under Abbott, Texas brought more than 30 lawsuits against the Obama administration in six years, including an average of one suit a month in 2010. Texas used the federal courts to try to stop the federal expansion of government subsidized health care; block protections for young people who entered the country illegally with their parents; guard businesses against environmental regulations intended to stave off climate change; and even extend the fishing season by two weeks.
Texas emerged as an almost co-equal party to the federal government, casting itself as the defender of state sovereignty, federalism and the U.S. Constitution, and quietly helping push the nation’s legal apparatus to the right.
Abbott defined his role quite simply: “I go into the office, I sue the federal government, and then I go home.”
….Texas also started asking judges to issue nationwide injunctions, until then a rarely used tool that allows federal judges to extend their rulings to the whole country.
When Obama tried to protect undocumented parents of lawful citizens from deportation, Texas gathered a coalition of states to challenge the executive action. A federal judge in Brownsville determined only Texas had standing to sue — but agreed to issue a temporary injunction covering the whole country, effectively allowing one state’s objections to dictate policy for the nation.
“It was a new strategy, where one judge, in one random part of the state, all of a sudden has the power to basically bring entire federal programs to a halt,” said Stephen Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin. “The state of Texas was one of the first litigants to repeatedly push for this kind of relief.”
God-kings and the deification of the rich
Carl Beijer [via Naked Capitalism 8-2-2023]
The World’s Largest Landowners
[Madison Trust, via The Big Picture 8-3-2023]
The largest landowner in the world currently is King Charles III of England. How much land does the Royal Family own? He and the British Royal Family own more than 6,600,000,000 acres of land around the world. They technically own many territories around the globe, amounting to 1/6 of the surface of the planet.
Affirmative action for rich kids: It’s more than just legacy admissions
[NPR, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-3-2023]
“Among a number of other discoveries, [Raj Chetty and David J. Deming] find that kids from the richest 1% of American families are more than twice as likely to attend the nation’s most elite private colleges as kids from middle-class families with similar SAT scores. The silver spoon these wealthy kids are born with can, apparently, be used to catapult them past other equally bright, but less privileged kids into some of America’s best colleges. Chetty and his colleagues provide compelling evidence that fancy schools are promoting a kind of neo-aristocracy, with admission programs that help to perpetuate a family’s class privilege from one generation to the next. The advantages they grant to rich kids are about more than just legacy admissions, a practice in which elite colleges give preferential treatment to kids of alumni and donors. The economists find that other types of evaluation and recruitment play important roles in giving rich kids a leg up, as well. Going further, the economists find evidence suggesting that reforms to the admissions policies at these prestigious schools could really make a big difference in the life trajectories of less affluent kids, and make America’s elite less of an exclusive club for people born into privilege.”
Lobbying Used to Be Illegal: A Review of Zephyr Teachout’s New Book on the Secret History of Corruption in America
Matt Stoller, November 16, 2014
This book review is cross-posted at Firedoglake, where Zephyr Teachout held an online discussion with readers. You can read the conversation in the comments by clicking on this link.
If there’s one way to summarize Zephyr Teachout’s extraordinary book Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin’s Snuff Box to Citizens United, it is that today we are living in Benjamin Franklin’s dystopia. Her basic contention, which is not unfamiliar to most of us in sentiment if not in detail, is that the modern Supreme Court has engaged in a revolutionary reinterpretation of corruption and therefore in American political life. This outlook, written by Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy in the famous Citizens United case, understands and celebrates America as a brutal and Hobbesian competitive struggle among self-interested actors attempting to use money to gain personal benefits in the public sphere.
What makes the book so remarkable is its scope and ability to link current debates to our rich and forgotten history. Perhaps this has been done before, but if it has, I have never seen it. Liberals tend to think that questions about electoral and political corruption started in the 1970s, in the Watergate era. What Teachout shows is that these questions were foundational in the American Revolution itself, and every epoch since. They are in fact questions fundamental to the design of democracy….
Reality Would Like A Word
Aurelien [via Naked Capitalism 8-3-2023]
[TW: If you want a good philosophy of government, you have to teach it, and inculcate it.]
In earlier essays, I’ve talked about the shortcomings of the international Professional and Managerial Caste (PMC). This is not another diatribe against them (I try to avoid diatribes if I can) but rather a reflection on some of the reasons why they have made such an unholy mess of the world, and what may happen to it, and to them, as a result. If your definition of “hope” includes the progressive demise of the PMC, or at least a massive reduction in its influence, then this essay has a certain leavening of qualified hope, since I believe that the PMC has effectively run out of road in a whole variety of areas.
In an earlier essay, I talked about the infantilisation of much western political culture today, even in the case of serious subjects such as Ukraine. I think this is largely the fault of the PMC, a caste for which nothing is ever completely real, much of life is a game or a mathematical model, or a series of numbers in a report, and where you can always abandon things when they go wrong, and start again. As a caste, they are fundamentally frivolous, no matter how seriously they take themselves, and, like children, they never want to take responsibility or blame for anything. Their caste is protected not just by money (it includes poorly-paid university lecturers for example) but also by a strong ideological discipline, by bonds of education, experience, professional cooperation and even family. It closes ranks instinctively against people like you and me….
Naturally enough, PMC graduates from such courses, with perhaps a postgraduate year at a Business School, or a Master’s Degree in Human Rights Law, slide effortlessly into jobs in management, NGOs, politics and administration, where knowledge of the subject matter is not required, but where social skills, networking and a sense of superiority that comes from an expensive education will ensure you succeed. Most people who have worked in large organisations can tell horror stories of such credentialed idiots who have ruined teams and organisations out of stupidity and ignorance. But that’s the PMC for you.
These people recognise each other by their declaratory vocabulary and performative acts, which are themselves largely a consequence of an education which privileges conformity and penalises original thought. To this extent, universities are largely a continuation of childhood. In the past, since, oh, the Middle Ages, university was the environment in which more intellectually-inclined young people grew up, both intellectually and personally, in the knowledge that not all their experiences would be happy ones. The modern idea that Life is not a challenge to be addressed, but a threat against which children must be protected, finds its natural conclusion in the prolongation of childhood up to and throughout university, where students expect to be protected from anything bad happening to them, and to have their intellectual weaknesses indulged….
The PMC has no real interest in the transmission of knowledge at any level: indeed, knowledge can be a threat, because it creates separate centres of power with their own legitimacy. So we have seen the PMC embracing and suffocating sectors such as medical care, essentially by downplaying what it can’t understand (complicated medical stuff) and emphasising what it can (Powerpoint presentations of financial results.) After all, it’s easy enough to get actual doctors and nurses from abroad, isn’t it, and outsource your medical research and production to China? Until it isn’t. Likewise, government can be reduced to targets, declaratory policies, performative actions, and tweets, because government is not fundamentally serious, is it?. Until it is. Above all, even if the PMC accepts that people who really know stuff and can do stuff are actually necessary, it tries to keep its distance from them. A Professor of Human Rights Law is acceptable: a financial crimes prosecutor isn’t….
This insouciance comes partly from collective ideological reinforcement (consuming the same media, mirroring each others’ opinions, keeping alternative views at a safe distance), partly from a sense of impunity (always another job somewhere if you screw up) and partly from the power that the international PMC has to enforce its ideology and cover up its mistakes. It is, in effect, the impunity of every ingrown ruling class in history….
“Normative” is the word here. Because PMC education doesn’t actually involve learning anything useful, its representatives show a vast carelessness about what actually happens on the ground: all they ask is that what happened can be presented as a success, or at least an interesting learning experience, demonstrating that “measures of success” need to be more “granular,”or that “better coordination between stakeholders is needed” or finally that “our message needs to be more focused.” But there isn’t, and there cannot be, any acceptance that their ideas may be wrong, because they are by definition normatively correct.
This is not to say that the PMC has an organised ideology: far from it. What it has is a series of vaguely Liberal-based normative slogans, each owned by a particular lobby, which can sometimes collide with each other….
Conflict, and even war, are not fundamentally serious in this way of thinking. Threatening war against Russia and China is just a rhetorical posture, like a tweet: it doesn’t imply anything serious will actually happen. If it does, well it’s over there and won’t affect us.…
Now before this starts to sound too depressing, let’s remember that the PMC isn’t actually as powerful as it looks, because in the end it doesn’t know anything, and can’t do anything….
When the truth is too painful to handle, you try to cancel it, and if that doesn’t work you find a safe space somewhere. The problem is that, whilst this approach can work in a system, such as a university, where you have total practical control, it can’t work when the real world comes knocking at your door, and you have to do something.
Which is increasingly the case. We’ve now got to the point where denying that problems exist, and enforcing silence on those you control, won’t contain the problem any more. It’s time for the PMC to grow up, but I don’t think they are capable of doing so. On an individual basis, most of these people are not very formidable: they are too insubstantial to be evil, too childish to be sinister. As a class, they stick together against outsiders, but beyond that, there is literally nothing that unites them except the vast complacency about everyone and everything else. But it’s doubtful if the affairs of the western world have ever been run by a caste of people who are more superficial, more insecure and more immature.
More on the Collapse of Operational Capabilities in the West: How Did We Get Here
Yves Smith, August 4, 2023 [Naked Capitalism]
[TW: It is worth reading the comments, also]
...it seems that there’s been enough additional decline from the already deteriorating baseline of operational (or alternatively, managerial) capabilities in most advanced economies to spur more and more commentators to write about it. Aurelien has been describing this problem in passing but roused himself to write his stylish Reality Would Like a Word. John Michael Greer had a go at the question of why elites today seemed incapable of doing anything useful in a crisis (aside from grifting, which is personally useful) in Storm Trooper Syndrome.
This same week, Andrei Martyanov, who has an extensive, extremely well-documented description and analysis of the decline of the US military across several highly regarded books, warned that the pathology was getting worse [in] his When I Talk About…
WHY IS THE WEST SO WEAK (AND RUSSIA SO STRONG)? THE ROLE OF HUMAN CAPITAL AND WESTERN EDUCATION
Gaius Baltus [via Naked Capitalism 8-5-2023]