Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – September 3, 2023
by Tony Wikrent
Escaping Attrition: Ukraine Rolls the Dice
Big Serge Thought, via Naked Capitalism 8-30-2023]
“Ukraine may not be interested in a war of attrition, but attrition is certainly interested in Ukraine.” Grab a cup of coffee, this is an excellent read.
The US Proxy Warriors Remove Their Masks
Brad Pearce [via Naked Capitalism 9-2-2023]
The Western policy class appear to have believed, initially at least, that money and fancy equipment would be enough to win the war, as we went from one weapons mania to another. The reality turned out to be that equipment such as Leopards did, in fact, burn like all the rest, just as Putin said it would… It is typical of the US policy class to believe spending and technology will solve all of their problems, despite that they apply this strategy to everything and it never works.…
Reportedly, the Western policy class knew Ukraine didn’t have the weapons or training necessary for success but hoped they would somehow triumph anyway. Now, with failure all but inevitable, after a year and a half of lionizing the Ukrainians, the brazen depravity of the Western scribbling class is on display for all to see: they have blamed the failure on Ukraine being too “casualty averse.” This implies, I suppose, that Ukraine should be casualty casual, and care about the lives of their troops even less than they have up to this point. Old men hiding behind walls and desks are mad that Ukrainians will not make themselves human de-miners. It was already well established that the Western proxy warrior class were monsters, but they have rarely exposed themselves as clearly as while talking about the young men they’ve just led forward to pointless deaths in Ukraine’s failed summer 2023 offensive….
We are also watching an incredible phenomenon unfold whereby Russia is fighting a real war, but NATO thinks what Ukraine needs to win is support on the internet. Granted, global public opinion does matter a fair amount more to Ukraine. They are a ward of the “international community” which is largely made up of nominally democratic states, so the public does need to be on side. Alternately, Russia primarily relies on itself and people and states who are used to opposing what you could call the liberal internationalist mainstream, so they are much less at the mercy of public whims….
The Economics of Global Rearmament: How Allies are Supplying the Ongoing Defense of Ukraine and Managing its Growing Costs
[Apricitas Economics, via The Big Picture 8-31-2023]
Global power shift
A ‘Desperate’ Nuland in Africa
[Consortium News, via Naked Capitalism 9-1-2023]
When U.S. Acting Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland traveled to South Africa on July 29, her reputation as a blunt instrument of Washington’s hegemonic interests preceded her.
According to a veteran South African official who attended meetings with the senior U.S. diplomat in Pretoria, however, Nuland and her team were demonstrably unprepared to grapple with recent developments on the African continent — particularly the military coup that removed Niger’s pro-Western government hours before she launched her multi-stop tour of the region.
“In over 20 years working with the Americans, I have never seen them so desperate,” the official told The Grayzone, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Making sense of the coup in Gabon
[An Africanist Perspective, via Naked Capitalism 9-1-2023]
View from Turkey: In a New Order, China and Russia are the dominant poles
[International Affairs, via Naked Capitalism 9-2-2023]
Prior to the summit, 22 states filed official applications to join the BRICS. In addition, the meeting was scheduled to discuss a new common currency that will respond to the growing expectations of de-dollarization in the non-Western world.
President Putin was unable to attend the summit in person, but he delivered a speech in the spirit of anticipation, declaring "a new multipolar world order that would take into account the sovereign interests of states and open up opportunities for various development models, helping to preserve the diversity of cultures."
One of the main items on the agenda of the BRICS summit was the expansion of the group through new members. Prior to the summit, China, Russia and South Africa were believed to support new members, while Brazil and India were skeptical of expansion. As a result of talks between the leaders they decided to accept Argentina, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Ethiopia, Iran, Egypt and Saudi Arabia as full members from January 1, 2024. Thus, the number of BRICS member countries has grown to 11.
Problems of Capitalism: Power Accumulation
Ian Welsh, August 30, 2023
Capitalism has a lot of problems, a lot of ways it can go wrong. But power accumulation is baked in. Capitalism is the centralization of capital in a few private hands. This is justified in the ideological literature (mostly economics), because it allows for scale, and thus economies of scale, and allows for development. If capital doesn’t accumulate in a few hands it is hard to build factories, huge mines, and so on. (This is the theory, there are obviously other ways to do large scale tasks.)
Now, power accumulation is a problem in all systems. You need some to get things done, but doing too much always leads to dysfunction….
The problem is that capitalism is a money accumulation system. Unless the tendency is carefully checked, money flows to the top, and so does power. Whatever secondary system is in control, be it representational democracy or the CCP, they stop making decisions based on democratic or party principles and start making them based on money.
But capitalism, to the extent it works, works because of good price signaling and semi-competitive markets. For markets to deliver, no one must have market power except a government which is acting out of motives other than profit motives….
So capitalists on winning want to change the rules so that markets aren’t competitive.
They also want to expand capitalism into areas it should not control: roughly anything that is a natural monopoly (all of which should be run by government) or a fundamental welfare service (health, education, etc…) or which runs better when vastly dispersed.
So capitalism becomes a cancer: not only does it grow further than it should, it destroys the proper functioning of markets and of anything else it takes over which should never be part of capitalism….
So the general rule for capitalism is that the rich have to be kept poor, which is a specific instance of the general rule across all society types that the powerful must be kept weak if the people are to prosper.
The Supreme Stupidity of the “End of History” And Its Consequences
Ian Welsh, August 31, 2023
...This is what elites wanted to hear after the fall of the USSR and Francis was the one to tell them. He was considered a great intellectual, made lots of money and elites proceeded to act as if he were right.
There were a lot of knock on consequences but there two were most important. The first was that without a competing model, western elites felt free to really rev up the immiseration train started by Reagan and Thacher. Post-war elites had been genuinely scared of Communism, in the “we could wind up dead” way and that had driven a lot of their acquiescence to cutting ordinary people a good deal. (A lot, not all. Much of it was just that the Great Depression cut their legs out from under them, and FDR then broke their kneecaps.)
The shipping of industry to allies and to the third world did not start at the end of the Cold War, but it did go into overdrive… Now, however, the offshoring and outsourcing train traveled to China. Deng had opened up markets and privatized a large chunk of the economy, and Fukuyama had said that capitalism lead to democracy, so by shipping all that industry to China, well, the West would make them into a democracy.
The Chinese Communist party, in this storyline, were a bunch of suckers, who were inviting in the very forces which would overthrow them.
The line in poker is that if you don’t know who the sucker at the table is, it’s you, but the real danger is when you think someone else is the sucker, and they aren’t.
The CCP had understood Americans and the West very well. Ironically they were aided in this by Marxism and their belief that capitalists were blinded by greed. They offered Western elites cheap labor and high profits and dangled the dream of access to a market of a billion people….
How the kleptocrats and oligarchs hunt civil society groups to the ends of the Earth
Cory Doctorow, via Naked Capitalism 8-28-2023]
...a new, timely scholarly paper by Alexander Cooley, John Heathershaw and Ricard Soares de Oliveira: "Transnational Uncivil Society Networks: kleptocracy’s global fightback against liberal activism," published in last month's European Journal of International Relations:
The authors document how a collection of institutions – some coercive, others organized around good works – allow kleptocrats to take power, keep power, and use power. This includes "wealth managers, company providers, accounting firms, and international bankers" who create the complex financial structures that obscure the klept's wealth. It also includes "second citizenship managers and lawyers" that facilitate the klept's transnational nature, both to provide access to un-looted, prosperous places to visit, and boltholes to escape to in the face of coup or reform. It includes the real-estate brokers and other asset facilitators, who turn whole precincts of the world's greatest cities into empty safe-deposit boxes in the sky, while ensuring that footloose criminal elites always have a penthouse to perch in when they take a break from the desiccated husks they've drained dry back home.
Of course, it also includes the PR managers and philanthropic ventures that allow the klept to launder their reputation, to make themselves synonymous with good deeds rather than mass murder. Think here of how the Sacklers used charity to turn their family name into a synonym for culture and fine art, rather than death by opioid overdose:
Transnational Uncivil Society Networks: Kleptocracy’s Global Fightback Against Liberal Activism
Alexander Cooley, John Heathershaw and Ricard Soares de Oliveira [European Journal of International Relations, via Naked Capitalism 8-28-2023]
What is the global social context for the insertion of kleptocratic elites into the putatively liberal international order? Drawing on cases from our work on Eurasia and Africa, we sketch a concept of ‘transnational uncivil society’ which we contrast to ‘transnational activist networks’ (Keck and Sikkink, 1998). While the latter denotes the liberalising practices of global civil society, the former suggests a specific series of clientelistic relations across borders which open space for uncivil elites. This distinction animates a growing line of conflict in global politics. These kleptocrats eject liberal activists from their own territories and create new spaces to whitewash their own reputations and build their own transnational networks. To do so they hire political consultants and reputation managers, engage in public philanthropy, and forge new relationships with major global institutions. We show how these strategies of reputation-laundering are neither illicit nor marginal, but very much a product of the actors, institutions and markets generated by the liberal international order. We compare and contrast the scope and purpose of civil and uncivil society networks, we explore the increasing globalization of Eurasian and African elites as a concerted strategy to distance themselves from associations with their political oppression and kleptocracy in their home countries, and recast themselves as productive and respected cosmopolitans.
The New Gatekeepers: How Disney, Amazon, and Netflix Will Take Over Media
Writers Guild of America West, August 2023 [via Cory Doctorow]
Over the past decade, deregulation and the growing dominance of streaming video have laid the groundwork for a media landscape where just three companies—Disney, Amazon, and Netflix—are poised to be the new gatekeepers. This report from the WGAW details how these three companies have amassed power through anticompetitive practices and abusing their dominance to further disadvantage competitors, raise prices for consumers, and push down wages for the creative workforce. Pay and working conditions for writers have become so dire, and media conglomerates so unresponsive, that 11,500 writers went on strike in May 2023. Without intervention from antitrust agencies and lawmakers, consolidation will continue to snowball, leaving the future of media in peril. The report concludes with policy recommendations to protect creativity and diversity of choice in content.
Read the report
Read the executive summary
Bagmen for the Transnational Oligarchy
Nina Illingworth [Dot Com, via Naked Capitalism 8-28-2023]
“Every Door You Open Ultimately Leads To Blackstone”
August 28, 2023 [The Lever]
The Lever’s founder David Sirota is featured in a new docuseries scrutinizing one of the world’s most powerful billionaires…
we’re excited to unveil David Sirota’s work in The Ruling Class, a new docuseries by Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney that profiles members of the social and business elite who use their outsized influence to manipulate the world around them.
David joins the series for its episode “American Buyout,” which explains the rise of Stephen Schwarzman, CEO of Blackstone, the world’s largest private equity firm.
We’ve been detailing Schwarzman and Blackstone’s dirty dealings for years — from their role in the student housing crisis, skyrocketing evictions, child labor exploitation, and the destruction of the planet, to how the firm bankrolled insurrectionists, fascists, and wannabe fascists. This episode connects the dots to illustrate how Schwarzman has become one of the most powerful and diabolical forces in the country.
Barbara Lee Introduced A Solid American Wealth Tax That Makes Sense
Howie Klein [www.downwithtyranny.com August 1-2023]
Late this July, Rep. Barbara Lee, a candidate for the Senate, proposed a much better version, the Oligarch Act, that she introduced on July 26 with Summer Lee (D-PA), Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) and Rashida Tlaib (R-MI). Other co-sponsors include Chuy Garcia (D-IL), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Jerry Nadler (D-NY), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Jared Huffman (D-CA), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Cori Bush (D-MD), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Valerie Foushee (D-NC), Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA) and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC).
This bill would mandate a 2% tax on all wealth between 1,000 and 10,000 times median household wealth, 4% on all wealth between 10,000 and 100,000 times median household wealth, 6% on all wealth between 100,000 and 1,000,000 times median household wealth and 8% all wealth over 1,000,000 times median household wealth. Additionally, because the richest households are the most likely to evade taxes, the bill includes a requirement for at least a 30% audit rate on oligarch households and establishes penalties for substantial valuation understatements.
Dear Public Officials: Stop falling for the myth of an irrational incompetent panicked public
Chloe Humbert [via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-31-2023]
“Officials often fail to warn the public properly, and actually impede citizens from actually responding in an emergency when the officials become more concerned with controlling people’s potential reactions than actually helping people and providing clear communication. Some people in charge have ridiculously patronizing and wrong ideas about how other people will react in an emergency. They believe in pseudoscience and outdated paranoid notions of ‘mobs’ panicking on a hair-trigger, seemingly based on ridiculous tropes in monster movies they watched as kids, but that are fiction and unrepresentative of reality. It’s time for people in charge to educate themselves about the true problem: Elite Panic! This is the phenomenon described by James B. Meigs in an article from May 2020: ‘When authorities believe their own citizens will become dangerous, they begin to focus on controlling the public, rather than on addressing the disaster itself.’ Or as described in the 2002 documentary Toxic Sludge is Good for You, the corporate culture is such that PR firms promote crisis management where the ‘first move is not to deal with the actual problem, but to manage the negative perception caused by that problem.’ Lee Clarke points out in the article ‘panic: myth or reality?’ that blaming panic is a way of blaming the victim when things go wrong because of structural or management failures, and that people recognize this and learn to mistrust those who deflect this way. The article ends with the statement: ‘Our leaders would do well to see us as partners in recovery rather than as a “”constituency”” to be handled.'” • Lots of linky goodness here, and at the accompanying podcast page.
Health care crisis
We Need a Revolution in Clean Indoor Air
[The Tyee, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-31-2023]
“Thousands of engineers and physicists who understand air chemistry now support better indoor air filtration and ventilation as our way out of relentless viral waves and chronic hospitalizations. One environmental engineer, Richard Corsi, who has spent his life trying to improve indoor air quality, even designed a $60 box fan that draws circulating air through filters as a pandemic fighter. Thousands of citizens have built them. And yes they work.” They do. More: “Unfortunately, the prescription to cleaner air has been overshadowed by too much faith in drugs and the rapid development of vaccines (a historical first) as the true way out of the pandemic. There is no doubt that vaccines, particularly boosters, have dramatically lowered the death toll, but they have not stopped viral transmission, viral evolution, waning immunity or vaccine hesitancy. But when it comes to pandemics, history shows that they largely perform as a backup squad. Dramatically lowering transmissions remains a key goal because of the certainty that some who contract and survive the virus will have debilitating long COVID, and allowing the virus to circulate freely speeds its mutation. Beyond cholera, more historical examples aren’t hard to find.” And: “Physical changes in how we eat, dress, house and interact with the world can dramatically alter disease patterns and even end pandemics. Examples given are yellow fever, typhus, and the Black Plague. Speculative, but interesting: “The Black Death started reshaping Europe in the 1300s and showed up every decade or so after over the next 300 years. So why did deadly outbreaks caused by a bacterium carried by fleas, lice and black rats roll on for three centuries? Historians are still debating the plague’s demise but engineering may have made a key contribution. Quarantines and isolation probably played an important role as well as changes in climate, clothing and human nutrition. But society also changed the nature of home construction. A 14th century dwelling was typically covered by a thatched roof which provided ideal living conditions for black rats and fleas. Eventually, after a wave of monstrous fires visited many European cities in the 17th century, homes of that sort were replaced by brick structures and slate roofs. At the same time an invasion of brown rats, which prefer sewer living, displaced Europe’s black rats. So actual changes in the conditions of living probably brought an end to the Black Death by eradicating its most fertile conditions.” • Vax-only has been such a debacle (unless you believe, as I would speculate a large proportion of capital does, that society is a teardown and there’s no point investing in it. Rents from vax > health from engineering). Anyhow, the article is well worth a read. The Tyee cites to this article–
Public Health is a Job for Engineers (abstract)
[Mechanical Engineering, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-31-2023]
“Physicians Can Cure Diseases, but Mechanical Engineers Build Defenses To Ward Off Pathogens Before They Infect.” The Abstract: “Instead of waiting to fight diseases inside the human body, engineering can establish lines of defense further out by either intercepting and neutralizing the pathogens before they reach humans or diluting them so much that they can’t build up an infective load. Good engineering can create robust public health.”
Crypto Scores Landmark US Legal Win With Grayscale ETF Ruling
[Bloomberg, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 9-1-2023]
“Grayscale Investments LLC won a key legal fight in its push to launch a Bitcoin exchange-traded fund, bringing the crypto industry to the precipice of tapping billions of dollars from everyday investors. The firm’s court victory over the US Securities and Exchange Commission in a three-judge appeals panel in Washington represents a watershed moment for the largest cryptocurrency. Advocates say an ETF based on spot Bitcoin prices would result in a gush of retail cash. The SEC, which has thus far only allowed crypto ETFs based on futures because it says they are safer, is reviewing the decision. The agency could still fight the ruling, either by asking a full slate of judges on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, or the US Supreme Court to review the decision. Meanwhile, the decision injects significant momentum into Grayscale’s yearslong push. It’s also a stinging rebuke of Chair Gary Gensler’s bid to clamp down on the industry. Investors welcomed the news. The Grayscale Bitcoin Trust rallied as much as 21% and Bitcoin surged by as much as 8.3%. Grayscale has said converting to an ETF would help it unlock billions of dollars in value for investors in its $16.2 billion trust by making it easier to create and redeem shares. The trust’s closed-end structure doesn’t allow for investors to redeem shares when prices fall, causing it to trade at steep discounts to its underlying Bitcoin. As an ETF, it could create and redeem shares to keep up with changing demand. Tuesday’s ruling is the second recent high-profile court defeat for the SEC over its stance on crypto. The agency is fighting a federal judge’s ruling that offerings of Ripple Labs’ XRP token were not securities when sold to the general public. Grayscale’s win may have the most sweeping impact yet. Some of the biggest and most established names in finance have recently filed applications with the SEC to launch Bitcoin ETFs.”
Free Speech Challenges to the Inflation Reduction Act
[JAMA, via Naked Capitalism 8-31-2023]
Private funds sue to stop ‘unlawful’ SEC disclosure rules
[Financial Times , via Naked Capitalism 9-2-2023]
They’re not capitalists — they’re predatory criminals
JPMorgan reported $1 BILLION of Jeffrey Epstein’s transactions as ‘suspicious’ to feds – but only AFTER the sex predator’s death, US Virgin Island claims in court
[Daily Mail, via Naked Capitalism 9-2-2023]
Ships Going Out… the relatively unknown history of Americans who traded in slaves in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
James Oakes [The New York Review, September 21, 2023 issue]
American Slavers: Merchants, Mariners, and the Transatlantic Commerce in Captives, 1644–1865
by Sean M. Kelley
Yale University Press, 479 pp., $35.00
Between the late sixteenth and early nineteenth centuries, hundreds of thousands of enslaved Africans were forcibly brought to North America. The history of Africa is also essential to understanding that process, and no scholar has made this point as effectively as Sean M. Kelley, a historian at the University of Essex and the author of an excellent study that traced the voyage of a single slave ship as it sailed around the Atlantic from its home port in Rhode Island.
Kelley has now, in American Slavers, surveyed the history of the Americans who traded in slaves in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Straddling several continents over hundreds of years, it is a work of impressive breadth, deep research, and evenhanded analysis.
Over the course of nearly 350 years, more than 12 million Africans were enslaved and sent across the Atlantic as laborers for the mines, ports, and plantations of European colonies in the Americas. Because a relatively small percentage of these people—some 388,000—disembarked in North America, general histories have tended to slight the African slave trade to the colonies that became the United States. American Slavers—at once social, political, economic, and military history—goes a long way toward filling that gap….
The carnage of mainstream neoliberal economics
Nearly two-thirds of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, study finds
[Fortune, via Naked Capitalism 9-1-2023]
US consumer bust shrinks world trade
[Asia Times, via Naked Capitalism 8-28-2023]
How the War on Poverty Stalled
Kim Phillips-Fein, August 28, 2023 [The New Republic]
The study of poverty has flourished in recent decades. Why haven’t the lives of the poor improved?
Mortgage Rates at 7% Are Making Everything Worse for US Homebuyers
[Bloomberg, via The Big Picture 8-31-2023]
Small Multifamily Homes Were Disappearing. Now States Are Scrambling to Revive Them
[CityLab, via The Big Picture 8-28-2023]
Construction of low-density housing like duplexes hovers near record lows, as states pass zoning reform to tackle the affordable housing crisis.
If the U.S. economy is doing well, why do so many Americans say it’s terrible?
[Popular Information, via The Big Picture 8-29-2023]
The leading economic indicators show the U.S. economy is performing well, but most Americans still believe economic conditions are extremely poor — as if the country was mired in a deep recession. What explains this discrepancy?
Alienation Under Capitalism and the Conspiracy Pipeline
[Agonas, via Naked Capitalism 8-30-2023]
Misled by the Phillips Curve: How Inflation Predictions Went Wrong
[Employ America, via The Big Picture 9-2-2023]
In a recent Barron’s article, I examined why last year’s predictions that fighting inflation would require an increase in the unemployment rate went so wrong. The flaws in these predictions can be traced back to three ideas: first, that vacancies are a good measure of labor market tightness; second.
American Steel’s Succession
Luke Goldstein, Jarod Facundo, September 1, 2022 [The American Prospect]
In early August, the 122-year-old U.S. Steel was presented with an unsolicited $7.3 billion bid from another of the industry’s giants, Cleveland-Cliffs. For most of the company’s history, Cliffs was North America’s largest iron-ore pellet supplier. But a string of vertical acquisitions in the last three years has added to the company’s reach; it’s now also North America’s top producer of flat-rolled steel.
If it acquires U.S. Steel, Cleveland-Cliffs would become the largest steel conglomerate in the United States and a top-ten steel producer in the world, competing against Chinese steel producers that have dominated global markets for decades.
Cliffs’ apparent hostile takeover was issued with the emphatic stamp of approval from the United Steelworkers, which has a heavy footprint across the vast majority of both Cleveland-Cliffs and U.S. Steel’s plants….
In a letter to shareholders, U.S. Steel has said it has received several offers besides Esmark. But the Steelworkers are adamant that the union can block any buyer other than Cleveland-Cliffs, citing a “successorship” clause from its most recent labor agreement with the company. According to the USW, the clause empowers the union with a de facto veto over merger and acquisition activity. If U.S. Steel breaches the agreement, the union is within its rights to draw the deal out in arbitration, where it has found success before. To further ramp up pressure on U.S. Steel to approve the deal, the USW transferred its bidding rights, granted by the contract, over to Cleveland-Cliffs….
On the labor market side, in the remaining regions of the country where steel operations continue, Cleveland-Cliffs would effectively become the industry’s sole employer. The USW has swallowed this trade-off, in part because of the likelihood that an alternative buyer of U.S. Steel would be a non-union employer. That would put pressure on Cleveland-Cliffs, which would in that scenario be a unionized steel company in a field of mostly non-union competitors paying lower salaries. That is a palpable fear for USW and its membership.
Political scientists confront real world politics dealing with hotel workers strike
Danielle Kaye, August 31, 2023 [NPR]
The American Political Science Association, or APSA, is holding its annual meeting in Los Angeles this weekend, despite calls from striking hotel workers for conferences to stay away from the city. About 6,000 people were expected to attend.
But the JW Marriott, where the conference was initially set to be held, is one of the dozens of hotels where workers have been staging rolling strikes for weeks. APSA has room blocks at other strike-ready hotels. Thousands of workers at downtown Los Angeles hotels walked off the job on Wednesday, just before the start of the APSA event.
Restoring balance to the economy
Labor unions are pushing hard for double-digit raises and better hours. Many are winning
[CNBC, via Naked Capitalism 8-30-2023]
Biden Administration Seeks to Expand Overtime Pay to Millions of U.S. Workers
Marcus Barum, August 31, 2023 [The American Prospect]
If you earn less than $55,000 a year and work more than 40 hours a week, you could be eligible for time and a half.
“”Now We Can Begin””: Annotated
Crystal Eastman [JSTOR, via Naked Capitalism 8-30-2023]
To mark the 1920 ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, activist Crystal Eastman described the path to full freedom for American women.
Creating new economic potential - science and technology
Chandrayaan-3: What has India’s Moon rover Pragyaan been up to since landing?
[BBC, via The Big Picture 8-31-2023]
Exactly a week ago, India set down a robotic probe on the Moon, becoming the first country to land near the lunar south pole.
Japan startup aims to tackle Asia’s traffic jams with EV sky trams
[Nikkei, via Naked Capitalism 8-29-2023]
Climate and environmental crises
Young people feel like they have no future due to climate change; we need to change the narrative
[Sustainability In Numbers, via The Big Picture 8-30-2023]
More than half of young people think “humanity is doomed” due to climate change. We need to reframe the narrative from doom and sacrifice, to one of opportunity.
What Your Insurer Is Trying to Tell You About Climate Change
[The Atlantic, via The Big Picture 8-29-2023]
Insurers are trying to send a message. The government is trying to suppress it.
Rising Insurance Costs Start to Hit Home Sales
[Wall Street Journal, via The Big Picture 8-29-2023]
Vulnerable areas on coasts are first to feel impact of higher premiums
America Is Using Up Its Groundwater Like There’s No Tomorrow
[New York Times, via The Big Picture 9-2-2023]
Overuse is draining and damaging aquifers nationwide, a New York Times investigation found.
‘Worthless’ forest carbon offsets risk exacerbating climate change
[Phys.org, via Naked Capitalism 8-27-2023]
Carbon emissions found to cost the world’s economies 4 times as much as they did 10 years ago
[PhysOrg, via Naked Capitalism 8-29-2023]
The Myth of Global Grain Shortages
[Business & Finance, via Naked Capitalism 8-27-2023]
[Twitter-X, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-29-2023]
Hospitals are killing patients because they don’t feel like doing infection control
[The Gauntlet, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-29-2023]
“I can’t believe I have to say this, but infection control is not something that can happen part time, in some cases, or only during surges. As with gloves for bloodborne or hand washing for fomite transmission, protocols for airborne infection control are a set of practices implemented permanently and consistently to protect patients and healthcare workers alike. We don’t stop hand washing because norovirus cases are down. We don’t stop wearing gloves because HIV cases are down. As a doctor, if you’re arguing that you should be able to expose patients to COVID because infection control annoys you, you should not be a doctor. Find a new career. I bet you’d love denying insurance claims. I bet you’d be a natural. Making this picture even more hair-tearingly frustrating for disabled people avoiding healthcare settings is that the counter-argument for proper airborne infection control really is nothing beyond “”don’t wanna.”” There is no logical argument for allowing the spread of COVID-19 in healthcare settings. There is no scientific debate about the ways in which COVID is spreading. There is no risk analysis which shows that cancer patients or people who’ve just had heart attacks should consider a COVID infection to be no big deal. There is literally no excuse for this bizarre, unscientific mistreatment of patients other than gross incompetence, institutional negligence, and systemic ableism.”
[Youtube, via Twitter-X, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-29-2023]
Tracking Orwellian Change: New Meanings of “Deep State” and “Working Class”
Matt Taibbi [Racket State, via Naked Capitalism 8-30-2023]
Ralph Nader’s Newspaper Is a Salvo Against D.C. Media
The Nation, via Naked Capitalism 8-28-2023]
The Capitol Hill Citizen. PDF only
Information age dystopia / surveillance state
GoFundMe, Go To Hell
Matt Taibbi [Racket News, via Mike Norman Economics, August 31, 2023]
The online crowdfunding site GoFundMe just shut down a fundraising initiative for The Grayzone, a left-leaning, antiwar site led by Max Blumenthal and Aaron Maté. Citing what they euphemistically termed “external concerns,” the site froze $90,000 Grayzone raised from 1100 contributors to pay for the reporting of Kit Klarenberg, Wyatt Reed, and Alex Rubenstein.
The fundraiser has since moved to a new destination, SpotFund, and already surpassed the amount frozen by GoFundMe. The damage however has been done. GoFundMe is now officially the poster child for politicization of economic services. They prevented a parents group from renting a billboard to publicize Abigail Shrier’s book Irreversible Damage, froze nearly $8 million in donations to the “Freedom Convoy” Canadian Trucker movement, even wiped out two fundraisers for MintPress. This Grayzone incident is perhaps most loathsome, lacking even a patina of necessity or justification, while serving as a depressingly obvious preview of things to come.
Elon Musk’s X now wants your biometric data, as well as your job and education history, for ‘safety, security, and identification purposes’
[Fortune, via Naked Capitalism 9-1-2023]
X, formerly known as Twitter, will collect user biometric data, job and education history
[The Hill, via Naked Capitalism 9-2-2023]
MIT Economist Daron Acemoğlu Takes on Big Tech: “Our Future Will Be Very Dystopian”
[Der Speigal, via Naked Capitalism 9-2-2023]
The end of the Googleverse
[The Verge, via The Big Picture 8-31-2023]
For two decades, Google Search was the invisible force that determined the ebb and flow of online content. Now, for the first time, its cultural relevance is in question.
Democrats' political malpractice
The Evolution of A.O.C.
[New York Times, via The Big Picture 9-1-2023]
The congresswoman from New York says she’s different from when she first took office. But she’s not ready to call herself an insider.
Feinstein is a silent character in her sad and messy final chapter
[Politico, via Naked Capitalism 8-31-2023]
Hackers Shut Down 2 of the World’s Most Advanced Telescopes
[Space, via Naked Capitalism 8-31-2023]
Former Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin accuses Joe Biden, Hunter and Burisma of corruption and claims he was POISONED twice by enemies trying to silence him
[Daily Mail, via Naked Capitalism 8-27-2023]
‘Desperate’ Democrats are urging Michelle Obama to run for president: Report
[WION, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-31-2023]
“RadarOnline[dot]com has reported that secret back-channel talks have started within the Democratic Party to convince former first lady Michelle Obama to run for president. The news report has said that numbers suggest Michelle Obama would have greater approval ratings (48 per cent) than Biden (36 per cent) if she declared right now that she would be running for president. ‘If Michelle announced, the election would go immediately from a hotly contested footrace to a landslide,’ a Democrat source reportedly said… Obama reportedly held a low-key meeting with bigwigs in the Democratic Party at his Washington DC office recently. ‘Barack recognizes the gravity of the situation with Joe’s disappointing poll numbers,’ said a source as quoted by RadarOnline. ‘He had hoped that the president would have rallied and come into his own at this point, but that clearly hasn’t happened.’ ‘With 2024 growing closer and closer, he had to act since he apparently fears Joe is getting too old and frail to win.’ ‘While Barack has already endorsed Biden, he’s reneged in private and will publicly throw Joe overboard in a heartbeat if he thinks that the election is on the line,”” said another source as quoted by RadarOnline.”
Like It or Not, the Left Can’t Get Away From the Democrats
[Jacobin, via Naked Capitalism 9-2-2023]
(anti)Republican Drive to Civil War
Inside the GOP’s plot to wreck the U.S. government
[email from [The New Republic, Sep 2, 2023]
The right-wing Republican brain trust is now laying out detailed plans to implement one of Donald Trump’s most destructive goals—to gut agencies across the executive branch and replace civil servants with Trump loyalists and right-wing activists.
The GOP’s favorite think tank, the Heritage Foundation, and 50 other conservative organizations have authored an 887-page policy playbook, “Project 2025,” detailing what to do if Trump wins reelection. One of its centerpieces is a plan to reinstate “Schedule F”—Trump’s late-term executive order reclassifying many federal workers as at-will employees to make them easier to fire. As policy analyst James Goodwin recently wrote in The New Republic, the danger of Trump “abusively deploying federal law enforcement resources to harass or punish political opponents is simply too real to ignore.”
Who will replace all these federal workers after their mass firing? The Associated Press reports that the Heritage Foundation is assembling “a government-in-waiting for the former president’s return.” At the Iowa State Fair in August, Heritage staffers were on the ground building a potential employee database, signing up hundreds of volunteers and encouraging them to train in government operations.
If Trump wins in 2024, the GOP already has the playbook and ground operations to make the federal government bend to its will and its Dear Leader—instead of serving the American people. “The president Day One will be a wrecking ball for the administrative state,” Russell Vought, a former Trump administration official, told AP News.
The Shocking GOP Plan to Dismantle the American Government Revealed
Thomhartmann, August 31, 2023 [DailyKos]
...Now the partly-billionaire-funded Heritage Foundation has laid out a second-stage plan for the next Republican administration, whether it’s Trump or somebody else, whether it’s next year or in future presidential election cycles.
They call it Project 2025. With it, they intend to finally and fully seize control of and transform America. With it, they will rule….
Donald Trump wanted to functionally end the Civil Service and replace the top levels of the nation’s 2.7 million federal workers with people loyal exclusively to himself. He did this through an October 21, 2020 executive order, Schedule F, (which Biden reversed on his first day in office) that reclassified those workers out of their Civil Service jobs and into political appointee positions doing the exact same work.
The next Republican administration will almost certainly put Schedule F back into force, reestablishing the 1829 spoils system for the federal government. As Paul Dans, director of Project 2025’s “Presidential Transition Project” and a former Trump administration official, told the Associated Press:
“We need to flood the zone with conservatives.”
Next up, Project 2025 proposes to kill off federal efforts that may inhibit the profits of the fossil fuel industry and the billionaires it’s created who are helping fund both the GOP and Heritage.
A right-wing sheriffs group that challenges federal law is gaining acceptance around the country
[Associated Press, via The Big Picture 8-27-2023]
“Leaf is on the advisory board of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, founded in 2011 by former Arizona sheriff Richard Mack. The group, known as CSPOA, teaches that elected sheriffs must “protect their citizens from the overreach of an out-of-control federal government” by refusing to enforce any law they deem unconstitutional or “unjust.”
Violence Is Coming? Sorry, It’s Already Here—and Getting Worse.
Brynn Tannehill, August 31, 2023 [The New Republic]
...right-wing ideologies are behind the vast majority of politically motivated shootings. The Anti-Defamation League has tracked more than 450 politically motivated murders over the past decade. Right-wing extremists were responsible for 75 percent, and left-wing extremists were only responsible for 4 percent (which works out to three out of four, and one out of 25, respectively). These things are not the same, and attempts to equate them are among the worst of bothsidesism. (The remaining 21 percent is Islamic terrorism—18 percent—and uncategorized—3 percent.)
However, Republican leaders have convinced much of their base that it is in fact leftists who are responsible for the majority of politically motivated murders. Forty-seven percent of Republicans believe that the left is responsible for most political violence, when in reality it runs almost 19-to-1 in the opposite direction. To do this, they bend reality to their own ends, refusing to say things were racially motivated when they were, claiming that the shooters’ views weren’t aligned with the GOP as a whole, or engaging in fake whataboutism….
The right-wing campaign to make our kids dumber
[Los Angeles Times, via The Big Picture 8-27-2023]
For reasons that may not be too hard to understand, Republicans and conservatives seem to be intent on turning their K-12 schools, colleges and universities into plantations for raising a crop of ignorant and unthinking students. Donald Trump set forth the principle during his 2016 primary campaign, when he declared, “I love the poorly educated.”
The Hostile Takeover of Blue Cities by Red States
[Businessweek, via The Big Picture 8-31-2023]
GOP legislatures are increasingly imposing their economic and cultural priorities on left-leaning municipalities like Nashville.
A shiny scheme is draining- retirement accounts. Right-wing media enables it
[MSNBC, via The Big Picture 8-27-2023]
We’ve been following these companies for years. And the picture that emerged from our research was alarming.
How right-wing news powers the ‘gold IRA’ industry
[Washington Post, via The Big Picture 8-27-2023]
Ads for gold coins have become a mainstay on Fox News, Newsmax and other conservative outlets, even as regulators have accused some companies of defrauding elderly clients.
Why Is Nobody Doing Anything About Mitch McConnell?
[Politico, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-31-2023]
“For the second time in about a month, the heavy gears and winches that drive Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s brain seized up in front of news cameras. While taking questions from reporters on Wednesday in Covington, Ky., and asked about running for reelection in 2026, the top Republican powered down for 30 seconds as if an unseen hand had removed the lithium ion battery from his chassis. Attempts by an aide to reboot him seemed to succeed as he muttered, “”OK,”” and gave brief answers before retiring from the scene… If McConnell were a bus driver or broadcaster or teacher engaged in any other occupation that, like serving as a legislative leader, demands real-time responses, he would have been benched pending a medical examination. Instead, Mitch’s verbal stoppage has been met with paralysis by the political order, which seems incapacitated by his condition. … Things aren’t fine in the U.S. Senate. Nobody should be considered irreplaceable, even if it causes a political mess. And the preferred means of departing the Senate shouldn’t be feet first. To insist otherwise is yet another symptom of lightheadedness.” • Or post-Covid neurological damage?
Trump Is Top Choice for Nearly 60% of GOP Voters
[Wall Street Journal, via Naked Capitalism 9-2-2023]
The Fourteenth Amendment Fantasy
David Frum [The Atlantic, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 9-1-2023]
“[Eminent jurists] argue that language in the Fourteenth Amendment, adopted after the Civil War, should debar the coup-plotting ex-president from appearing on a ballot for any office ever again. Their learning is undisputed. Their conclusions are another story. The project to disqualify Trump from running for president is misguided and dangerous. It won’t work. If it somehow could work, it would create problems worse even than Americans already face. In an ideal world, Trump’s fellow Republicans would handle this matter by repudiating his crimes and rejecting his candidacy for their presidential nomination. Failing that—and it certainly seems as if that hope is failing—opponents of Trump must dig deep and beat him at the polls one more time. There is no cheat code to win this game.” • I hate to find myself in agreement with Frum, but needs must. Regardless of what the text of the Constitution states, giving election officials of one party to power to remove candidates from the other party from the ballot line based on a judgement call is a change to the Constitutional order (albeit an unwritten portion of that order). The “eminent jurists” have pointed to the Rubicon and said, “Yep! Let’s cross it. What could go wrong?”
The Constitutional Case for Barring Trump from the Presidency
J. Michael Luttig [The New Yorker, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 9-1-2023]
Luttig explains the “self-executing” aspect of the Fourteenth Amendment, giving the example of the age requirement. The Constitution requires that a President be 35 years old. Therefore, election officals must stirke their name from the ballot. But: “here is vastly more judgment entailed in determining whether, for instance, the former President engaged in an insurrection or rebellion than in determining whether a candidate was thirty-five years old. That doesn’t relieve the obligated election official from making that determination. The process for placing individuals on the ballot varies from state to state. But, under our reading of the Fourteenth Amendment, an individual election official could make that decision himself or herself. As a practical matter, is that likely to occur? It would depend, I think, on the office of the election official. If it were the secretary of state who was charged with placing individuals on the ballot, then I believe that decision by the duly appointed state official would suffice. But, in all events, whoever makes the qualification or the disqualification decision and whether they make it, that decision will be immediately challenged, probably by the former President himself. And that challenge would go directly into court—either state or federal—and it would eventually make its way to the Supreme Court of the United States.” • However, the point of entry is a disqualification by an election official at the state level. Suits by individuals are frivolous.
A Trump Victory Would Create a Constitutional Crisis
David Atkins [Washington Monthly, via Naked Capitalism 8-27-2023]
Is Trump disqualified for the N.H. primary? The secretary of state is seeking legal advice.
[Boston Globe, via Naked Capitalism 8-27-2023]
This idea was further popularized in The Atlantic a week ago, and it’s been discussed widely since, including during this week’s Republican presidential debate. Here in New Hampshire, the GOP’s 2020 nominee for the first congressional district, attorney Bryant “Corky” Messner, said in a radio interview Monday that he read about the legal theory and is now thinking about suing to ensure that Scanlan enforces the Constitution against Trump.
“Someone needs to take some action legally so this thing can get in front of the Supreme Court sooner rather than later to interpret this section,” he said.
Scanlan said the former president — who faces four criminal indictments, including two that pertain to his attempts to subvert democracy after the 2020 election — is entitled to due process. And he said judges are better equipped than he currently is to determine whether the campaign that culminated in violence at the US Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, triggers the 14th Amendment.
The Constitution Prohibits Trump From Ever Being President Again
J. Michael Luttig and Laurence H. Tribe [The Atlantic]
Liberal groups seek to use the Constitution’s insurrection clause to block Trump from 2024 ballots
[Associated Press, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-31-2023]
“Two liberal nonprofits pledge court challenges should states’ election officers place Trump on the ballot despite those objections. The effort is likely to trigger a chain of lawsuits and appeals across several states that ultimately would lead to the U.S. Supreme Court, possibly in the midst of the 2024 primary season. The matter adds even more potential legal chaos to a nomination process already roiled by the front-runner facing four criminal trials…. ‘There’s a very real prospect these cases will be active during the primaries,’ said Gerard Magliocca, a law professor at Indiana University, warning that there could be different outcomes in different states before the Supreme Court makes a final decision. ‘Imagine you have an opinion that says he’s not eligible and then there’s another primary where he’s on the ballot.’ Though most litigation is unlikely to begin until October, when states begin to set their ballots for the upcoming primary.” And: “In 2021, the nonprofit Free Speech For People sent letters to the top election official in all 50 states requesting Trump’s removal if he were to run again for the presidency. The group’s legal director, Ron Fein, noted that after years of silence, officials are beginning to discuss the matter.” So Democrats have been working this for awhile; in fact, since the events of January 6, ariot immediately framed by them as “insurrection.” More: “It’s critical that the high court settle the issue before the general election, said Edward Foley, a law professor at The Ohio State University. His fear is that if Trump’s qualifications are not resolved and he wins, Democrats could try to block his ascension to the White House on Jan. 6, 2025, triggering another democratic crisis.” • Many examples of election officials considering this issue.
“Donald Trump ineligible for presidency because of role in insurrection, new lawsuit claims”
[Chicago Tribune, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-31-2023]
“The lawsuit, citing Trump’s involvement in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection, wants the federal courts to enforce the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, added after the Civil War to prevent people who engaged in rebellion against the United States from holding office again…. ‘Realistically, it’s not a Hail Mary, but it’s just tossing the ball up and hoping it lands in the right place,’ said Charles Zelden, a professor of history and legal studies who specializes in politics and voting at Nova Southeastern University. ‘It’s hopefulness that we can make the problem that is Trump simply go away. And I’m sorry, Trump is too big a problem to simply go away. He’s too much of a challenge to the system.’ ‘It’s kind of one of those ideas that only a law professor could love,’ Zelden said.”
Here is the case (pdf)
The (anti)Federalist Society Infestation of the Courts
Clarence Thomas Acknowledges Undisclosed Real Estate Deal With Harlan Crow and Discloses Private Jet Flights
[ProPublica, via Naked Capitalism 9-1-2023]
An Overabundance of Virtue
Erin Maglaque [The New York Review, September 21, 2023 issue]
Political Meritocracy in Renaissance Italy: The Virtuous Republic of Francesco Patrizi of Siena
by James Hankins
Harvard University Press, 430 pp., $55.00
The Sienese political theorist Francesco Patrizi wrote in 1471 that a republic’s strength was in its numbers: a popular government can “see with many eyes, work with many hands, and stride with almost numberless feet.” But whose eyes, whose hands, whose feet were to be involved in the work of governing? A Portuguese visitor to Siena was fined in 1451 for insulting the republic, saying that it was ruled by “grocers, tanners, shoemakers and rustics”—plebs, in a word, who together formed un reggimento di merda (a government of shit). Everyone in fifteenth-century Italy, from shoemakers to princes, had their own ideas about what separated a good government from a shitty one. But Renaissance Italy also had a professional class of political thinkers: humanists like Patrizi who undertook an expansive program of scholarship that advanced their vision of a better political society.
The humanist movement of moral and political reform is what James Hankins, a Harvard historian and the foremost scholar of Renaissance Italian humanism and political thought, has termed “virtue politics.” In the vast lost continent of Renaissance Latin literature—not only little-read political treatises but poetry, satire, comedy, commentaries on ancient texts, orations given at graduations and funerals, historical writing, marriage tracts, and the voluminous correspondence among scholars spanning Italy—Hankins has discovered generations of men dedicated to the renewal of virtue in their own corrupted and factional society. He argues in his landmark book Virtue Politics: Soulcraft and Statecraft in Renaissance Italy (2019) that humanist scholars sought to inculcate justice, goodness, prudence, and modesty in the ruling class through a moral and political program of liberal education.
With Virtue Politics, Hankins departed significantly from the decades-long consensus on what humanism was and what united its many participants. Historians of the Renaissance have long considered it to be a movement of literary style; the common denominator was said to be an interest in a particular set of philological and textual methods aimed at recovering and restoring the literary heritage of antiquity. By contrast, for historians of political thought such as Eugenio Garin, J.G.A. Pocock, and Quentin Skinner, humanism meant republican humanism: the elaboration of a genealogy of liberty, an ideal that historians could trace from Tacitus to the Renaissance republican city-states and its culmination in early American republican thought.
Hankins rejects both arguments—that humanism was either a kind of literary antiquarianism or a one-note republican political philosophy. The movement was grander and nobler in its common purpose to revive virtue through education. Although humanists were united in their moral and political vision, they undertook a hugely varied program of writing, not just in lots of genres but across a dizzying number of subjects: one of Hankins’s objections to the Pocock and Skinner school of thought is that humanists didn’t write only about liberty but also about topics like citizenship, immigration, wealth and inequality, laws and the legal profession, moral character, corruption, marriage and gender relations, and, critically, what it means to pursue a liberal education.
Two conflicting ideas of political economy
Heather Cox Richardson, Letters from an American, September 2, 2023
On March 4, 1858, South Carolina senator James Henry Hammond rose to his feet to explain to the Senate how society worked. “In all social systems,” he said, “there must be a class to do the menial duties, to perform the drudgery of life.” That class, he said, needed little intellect and little skill, but it should be strong, docile, and loyal.
“Such a class you must have, or you would not have that other class which leads progress, civilization and refinement,” Hammond said. His workers were the “mud-sill” on which society rested, the same way that a stately house rested on wooden sills driven into the mud.
He told his northern colleagues that the South had perfected this system by enslavement based on race, while northerners pretended that they had abolished slavery. “Aye, the name, but not the thing,” he said. “[Y]our whole hireling class of manual laborers and ‘operatives,’ as you call them, are essentially slaves.”….
He warned that it was only a matter of time before workers took over northern cities and began slaughtering men of property.
Hammond’s vision was of a world divided between the haves and the have-nots, where men of means commandeered the production of workers and justified that theft with the argument that such a concentration of wealth would allow superior men to move society forward….
On September 30, 1859, at the Wisconsin State Agricultural Fair, rising politician Abraham Lincoln answered Hammond’s vision of a society dominated by a few wealthy men. While the South Carolina enslaver argued that labor depended on capital to spur men to work, either by hiring them or enslaving them, Lincoln said there was an entirely different way to see the world.
Representing an economy in which most people worked directly on the land or water to pull wheat into wagons and fish into barrels, Lincoln believed that “[l]abor is prior to, and independent of, capital; that, in fact, capital is the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed—that labor can exist without capital, but that capital could never have existed without labor. Hence they hold that labor is the superior—greatly the superior of capital.”
A man who had, himself, worked his way up from poverty to prominence (while Hammond had married into money), Lincoln went on: “[T]he opponents of the ‘mud-sill’ theory insist that there is not…any such things as the free hired laborer being fixed to that condition for life.” ….
In such a worldview, everyone shared a harmony of interest. What was good for the individual worker was, ultimately, good for everyone. There was no conflict between labor and capital; capital was simply “pre-exerted labor.” Except for a few unproductive financiers and those who wasted their wealth on luxuries, everyone was part of the same harmonious system.
The protection of property was crucial to this system, but so was opposition to great accumulations of wealth. Levelers who wanted to confiscate property would upset this harmony, as Hammond warned, but so would rich men who sought to monopolize land, money, or the means of production. If a few people took over most of a country’s money or resources, rising laborers would be forced to work for them forever or, at best, would have to pay exorbitant prices for the land or equipment they needed to become independent.
A lot of water has gone under the bridge since Lincoln’s day, but on this Labor Day weekend, it strikes me that the worldviews of men like Hammond and Lincoln are still fundamental to our society: Should our government protect people of property as they exploit the majority so they can accumulate wealth and move society forward as they wish? Or should we protect the right of ordinary Americans to build their own lives, making sure that no one can monopolize the country’s money and resources, with the expectation that their efforts will build society from the ground up?