The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Month: July 2020 Page 1 of 3

Understanding American Elites Means Understanding Predators

American elites are not incompetent at what matters to them.

People constantly make ridiculous statements like, “The American government has been incompetent in its handling of Covid-19.”

Anyone who makes such a statement reveals that they do not understand how the US operates.

Fact: According the Princeton oligarchy study, almost the only thing that matters in what policies government pursues in the US is what elite factions want.

Fact: Covid-19 has made the rich in the US much, much richer.

US billionaires saw their wealth increase by 20 percent, or $584 billion, roughly since the beginning of the pandemic.

Covid-19 is enabling the consolidation of US industry. Small businesses have to shut down, large businesses keep running. The oncoming tsunami of renters being evicted (depending on state, 25 percent to over 50 percent of renters are in danger of eviction) will wipe out landlords, allowing the richest Americans to buy up rental properties on the cheap, consolidating them. They will then charge, not market clearing rental rates, but profit maximization rents, leaving many people permanently homeless.

If you’ve ever researched how to make money, you know the standard advice virtually always includes one thing: You must have other people work for you or passive income, or both. You must be making money when you, personally, aren’t doing a thing. Your money must make money for you, and so must other people. Any person worth employing makes more money for you than you pay them. You take the difference.

In kinder capitalist epochs, this is kept under control by wealth taxes, inheritance taxes, high progressive taxation, and aggressive anti-trust policy, along with a monetary policy intended to raise wages and prices, not crush them.

But our era is built on three ideological assertions.

  1. There is no such thing as society.
  2. Greed is good.
  3. There is no alternative (TINA).

Whatever makes a profit, according to this assertion, is good. There is no society, and no social goals. There are only competing people and whatever they get is fair. And this is the only way to run society, there is no alternative. Thatcher noted that her victory was not sealed by Conservative party elections, rather it was Tony Blair’s Labour party adopting neoliberalism that meant that TINA went from assertion to fact; no matter who was elected, the same basic policies would be followed, Labour would just try to thinly mitigate the effects of so many rich people and so many poor people.

In the US, the victory of Reagan was when Bill Clinton helped create the “Third Way,” which was an adoption of neoliberal principle. Again, it would not matter if Republicans or Democrats were in power, the rich would get richer and the social state would be defunded.

Our elites are predators. They are taught that they have no obligation to other people. Greed is good, and whatever makes money is good. If someone else has less money, that’s because they deserve less money, and because they create less good.

In their daily lives, the rich become rich through passive income and exploiting other people; paying the lowest wage or price possible (Walmart and Amazon both famously fuck suppliers over, though in different ways), getting as much government money as possible, and making sure that they don’t have to work to make money, and that the stock market always goes up in the long run, along with other asset prices–no matter what’s actually happening in the economy.

Neoliberal elites are predators. This is true in every neoliberal country. It is simply most advanced in the United States. They view ordinary people as prey or useful tools. After the 2007/8 financial crisis, banks set up assembly lines to sign false paperwork so they could seize people’s homes. The Federal government knew, aided them, and later immunized them by making them pay fines far less than the value of what they stole.

You are food or a money-producing asset to elites.

You are not human, you do not have a right to anything. Not due process of the law. Not food. Not housing. Not affordable medicine or health care. Those things are for people with enough money, and if that’s not you, you don’t deserve them.

This is THE most important thing you can understand about society today. You can’t count on US elites to care about you at all. If it is in their best financial interest to impoverish you, kill you or any other thing, they will do so.

This may seem hyperbolic, but it meets the most important test of truth: It predicts their actions with far more accuracy than any other hypothesis.

If it was just incompetence, like for example, the favorite excuse of liberals, “Never assume malice when incompetence will explain something,” then they wouldn’t keep getting more and more money.

Somehow their “incompetence” just makes them richer. Even the financial crisis made the elites richer overall–the drop was a blip which allowed them to control more of the economy than before.

Neoliberal elites are predators. Their food is ordinary citizens and anything else (animals, plants, the ecosystem which allows human life to exist).

And yes, it’s true, all neoliberal nations are not as far gone. But this is where neoliberalism leads, this is what its internal logic demands.

It’s not an accident that the best Covid-19 performance on the planet was probably in Vietnam, right next to China, with huge trade ties.

Zero deaths.

Anyone who tells you it was hard to avoid Covid-19 deaths is lying. All it required was seeing that a pandemic was underway and doing what the epidemiology textbooks tell you to. The introductory textbooks.

Nor is this all on one person. No one rules alone. Without a huge supporting apparatus, including Congress, Trump could not have done what he did (and didn’t). If his incompetence had been costing elites, you can be sure it would have been brought to an end.

It wasn’t. It was making them richer and furthering their plans. At the end of this, US elites will control a larger percentage of the US economy than before. They will be richer and more powerful. And if that means tens of millions of Americans are homeless and hungry, then that is a price US elites are willing for you to pay.

If you deserved better, you’d be rich. You aren’t, so you don’t.

Your lords and masters kill you for money. That’s their function.

Act on this knowledge, or don’t.

Everything I write here is free, but rent isn’t, so if you value my writing, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.

The Riots to Come… and The Revolution?

This map, from CNBC, sort of says it all:

Assume the numbers are half that, you’re looking at 15 percent to nearly 30 percent of renters facing eviction in many states. Assume 75 percent of these numbers, and, well…

This is an apocalypse. If this won’t cause riots and revolution, nothing will.

Remember, the people who did this have names and addresses, as do those who bailed out the rich and left you to die on the street.

Don’t forget Wall Street, the Federal Reserve, and every CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Every private equity guy, etc.

Do remember to display your displeasure to Congress when it’s in session and at the White House.

This, children, is what happens when you elect a woman like Thatcher who says, “There is no such thing as society,” or Reagan, who agreed. Trump is just a stage in the disease, and the choice to not do moratoriums, etc… was up to Congress. Likewise, the Fed has exceeded its legal authority multiple times for trillions of dollars to bail out the rich, and could have chosen to bail out ordinary people.

This is a choice. Not even Britain is making the choice this badly (though rest assured, Britain is a weak state, heading towards being a failing state, and having rejected Corbyn and chosen Johnson (who wants, among other things, to suspend jury trial), they will get there too.

I wonder if other neoliberal nations, like my own Canada, and Australia, Germany, France, and so on will take the lesson.

I’d like to think so.

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American Social Collapse Is Far Closer than Most Will Admit

A rather lovely article on US social collapse by Susan Zakin includes this summary of the stages of failing states.

In State Failure and State Weakness in a Time of Terror, Harvard’s Robert Rotberg writes that while every country is different, the signposts tend to be the same. It is worth attending to the characteristics he describes. They should sound familiar:

  • In a weak state, basic services such as education and health are privatized; public facilities decline. Infrastructure, including schools and hospitals, shows signs of neglect, particularly outside of major cities. Journalists and civil society activists are harassed. Tensions among ethnic, religious, or linguistic groups increase, but widespread violence has not erupted–yet.
  • In a failing state, a single leader gains control of the legislature, law enforcement, and the judiciary. The leader and his cronies are enriched while ordinary citizens are left without basic services.
  • In a failed state, living standards deteriorate rapidly. Citizens feel they exist only to satisfy the ruler’s greed and lust for power. The potential for violence increases as the state’s legitimacy crumbles.
  • Finally, in a collapsed state, warlords run the country. The market rules to the exclusion of any other concerns, while the social compact has been completely eroded. “The Id is unleashed.”

There’s no question that, by this measure, the US is a weak state. Trump is not the man on horseback quite yet, but if he gets a second term he may well be–not because he seems to really want it, but because people under him are working to bring the remaining pieces of the state (the military and judiciary) under his complete control.

Trump probably isn’t going to win re-election, and Trump’s brownshirts, made up primarily of the various services clumped under the Department of Homeland Security, especially ICE, aren’t up to taking on the military. Yet. The cops, of course, would back Trump in a heartbeat, and the national guard will break down essentially by how red or blue their state is. The military is the last bastion, oddly, standing against a centralization of power.

So let’s say Biden wins, which is probable, mostly because of Covid-19 and Trump’s fumbled response–including the economic response. He’ll inherit an America with a 20+ percent unemployment rate and tens of millions of homeless people. Hunger will be widespread.

He’s already said he won’t change anything. His solution to the problem with the police is to give them more money for “training,” a solution which has never worked in the past and won’t work this time. He has told corporate America that he won’t be changing how business works. He’s against Medicare For All.


Biden is the pre-Trump status quo, except like all Democratic presidents since Nixon, he won’t actually undo most of what his Republican predecessor has done. He isn’t going to push for getting rid of the Patriot Act, breaking up DHS, a wealth tax or high corporate and marginal income taxes, saving the post-office, breaking up monopolies and oligopolies, stopping pharma price-gouging or, well, changing pretty much anything which makes the US a weak state according to Rotberg’s scheme.

What this means is that Biden won’t stop a damn thing. At best, he is a pause. More realistically, the state will continue its slow descent under him, as it did under Obama.

And then the next Republican will become President in four to eight years. He will have learned from Trump that the US is ripe to fall into a strongman’s arms; that many Americans want that. He will run as a right-wing populist. And when he becomes President, he will systematically, in a way Trump is personally too senile and incompetent to do, take control of all the levers of power, including the military.

When predicting the future, the greatest mistake is often to not take into account reversals of trend.

But I’m having a hard time finding a cause for reversal of trend, at least in time. It is true that the Boomers are about done. Pelosi, with her corruption and weakness, is 80 years old. There will be a generational changeover, more to Millennials than to GenX, but it’s unlikely to be large enough to put a progressive majority in place. Neoliberals will continue to be the alternative to authoritarians, and neoliberals don’t actually care enough about authoritarians to fight them because they genuinely believe that the state shouldn’t be doing much, that there is no such thing as society, and that markets should rule. They can’t really oppose state collapse, because they are the ones who weakened the state, deliberately, due to their profound belief that the state is bad.

So, avoiding the next stage of the disease requires a rather fine needle-threading. It requires something like Biden stepping down after four years (because he’s already senile) and being replaced by a progressive, who then wins an election and is able to do enough to start reversing the decline. But this President will be working with a judiciary and a civil service systematically purged of people who believe in a strong communal state, not just by Republicans but by Democrats.

This isn’t a likely scenario.

The only other real chance of change, then, is a popular revolt that forces the current governing class out of power. That’s more possible than many people think, because they haven’t taken into account the mass homelessness, hunger, and unemployment coming down the line.

But is it likely? Are the odds good?

History is odd and one never knows, but I suggest that readers look at the situation hard in the face. The US is an un-developing nation, well on its way to being a failed state. Because you live among the infrastructure created by the great engineers of the Lost, GI, and Silent generations, it’s hard to see that, but that infrastructure is rotten–and so are the institutions and the souls of the people who run your society.

When the US goes bad, it’s going to go bad in truly awful ways. Americans have over 300 million guns, and an ethos that says violence is not just okay, but good. The right has been pushing eliminationist rhetoric for generations now; they think “liberals” are evil and need to be hung from lamp posts.

The odds on this turning around are terrible. Not impossible, any gamer or gambler knows you can roll one percent.

But while you can roll one percent, you shouldn’t bet your life on it, or risk rape and torture (no, don’t even pretend, many right-wingers believe rape and beat downs are suitable punishments).

Make your plans.

If you think I’m wrong about this, well, work it through. Carefully. Make the argument. What is going to go right to stop this trajectory? What is going to change? What are the odds?

Don’t just go with a feeling. Do the work. See if you still believe it’ll all turn around.

Protect yourself. Because if you’re American, odds are that within ten years, no one else protect you. And it could be a lot less than ten years. Stop putting off whatever it is you need to do to protect yourself.

Everything I write here is free, but rent isn’t, so if you value my writing, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – July 26, 2020

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – July 26, 2020
by Tony Wikrent

Strategic Political Economy

“Biden Just Made A Big Promise To His Wall Street Donors” 
[David Sirota, Too Much Information].

“….Biden told his Wall Street donors that actually, he is not proposing any new legislation to rein in corporate power or change corporate behavior — and this was reported exactly nowhere, even as his campaign blasted it out to the national press corps.”

Perhaps the kindest way to explain Biden is that he is an institutionalist, and just can’t walk away from his belief that nothing needs to “fundamentally change.” The problem is, that all institutions are failing, spectacularly. And this is a potentially large vulnerability for the Democrats, if the pandemic slows down enough to allow Trump to invoke right-wing populist attacks: 

Whose century?
Adam Tooze [LRB, via Naked Capitalism 7-24-20]

“In 1949, ‘Who lost China?’ was the question that tortured the American political establishment. Seventy years later, the question that hangs in the air is how and why America’s elite lost interest in their own country. Coming from Bernie Sanders that question wouldn’t be surprising. But it was more remarkable to hear William Barr, Trump’s attorney general, describe American business as ‘part of the problem’ because its corporate leaders are too focused on their stock options and have lost sight of the ‘national view’ and the need to ensure that ‘that the next century remains a Western one’. He warns corporate executives lobbying for China that they may be treated as foreign agents.”

This model forecast the US’s current unrest a decade ago. It now says ‘civil war’
[, June 17, 2020]

In the early 1990s, when Bill Clinton was in the White House and the United States looked unshakeable, the administration appointed Jack Goldstone to study how states fail. They meant other states; not the US. Few expected that his model would later predict their country’s collapse.

In an unpublished paper submitted for peer review, Professor Goldstone, who is a sociologist, and Peter Turchin, an expert on the mathematical modelling of historical societies, have concluded that the US is “headed for another civil war”. The conditions for civil violence, they say, are the worst since the 19th century — in particular the years leading up to the start of the American Civil War in 1861.

The reason for this are trends that began in the 1980s, “with regard to inequality, selfish elites, and polarisation that have crippled the ability of the US government to mount an effective response to the pandemic disease,” they write. This has also “hampered our ability to deliver an inclusive economic relief policy, and exacerbated the tensions over racial injustice.”

What You Need To Know About The Battle of Portland
Robert Evans, July 20, 2020 [bellingcat]
A superb detailed account of events, by someone who lives in Portland, and has written about the city’s protest culture for years. 

Why Portland Became the Test Case for Trump’s Secret Police
[TheNation, via Naked Capitalism 7-24-20]

Open Thread

As usual, feel free to use comments to discuss topics unrelated to recent posts.

The Cadfael Mystery Novels

Recently, I’ve been reading a fair bit of fiction, generally a book a day, and for the last week and a bit it’s been the Brother Cadfael novels by Ellis Peters.

Cadfael’s a monk in southwestern England in the late 12th century. He was a crusader before he made his vows, and as the monastery’s herbalist and healer, he gets out and about a lot more than most monks. Somehow, in the tradition of non-police detective novels, he becomes involved in a murder during every novel. There is also always at least one romance, and often two.

These are definitely what is known in the trade as cozies. Some bad things may happen, but everything will be put to right by the end of the novels; indeed, not just right, but better. Sometimes the murderer, if their murder is one we can sympathize with, is even let go.

Despite being set mostly during a civil war complete with burnings of entire towns, there’s a sunlit feel to these books; Cadfael is a lovely man, his friends are good people we can admire and even feel affection for, and the books have no excessive nastiness. Although they take place in the Middle Ages, they have virtually no misogyny, misandry, or misanthropy.

The actual murder plots vary. Sometimes what’s going on is obvious, a few times I haven’t figured it out before the reveal. The writing isn’t stellar, but it’s better than the norm for these sorts of novels.

Something else I particularly like about these books is that Cadfael is a believer. He’s not a closet atheist or agnostic, he’s not a hypocrite who’s a monk who doesn’t believe. I find that in too many books about religious believers in the past, the author clearly is not a believer and projects that into the character in a rather modern and anachronistic way.

Most people did believe, and a monk who took orders as an adult who didn’t believe would be a sad fellow indeed. (This is irrespective of the fact that I don’t believe.)

At any rate, I’ve enjoyed them a great deal. They are,  indeed, cozy, and a fine way to spend a few hours with fictional friends in a world where you know that even if the big events are bad, the events close to Cadfael will work out.

If that’s your cup of tea, or the medicine you’d like right now, highly recommended.

Everything I write here is free, but rent isn’t, so if you value my writing, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.

The Weirdness of “Coronavirus” Hacking

We now have two cases of the US claiming that hackers have gone after US Coronavirus vaccine data — first the Russians, then the Chinese.

The Chinese hacking claim is packaged up with a slew of other allegations, mostly about hacking “intellectual property,” which is to say ideas. The US has spent much of the last 50 years making IP laws last longer and more strenuous. Ideas, which is what IP laws cover, are not diminished if more than one person uses them. They aren’t like lawnmowers. I can’t use my lawnmower while you are using it, but I can use my idea of the printing press while you are using my idea of the printing press.

When the United States was the rising power, it routinely violated IP law, primarily British and German IP law. Now that it is the falling power, it seeks to extract as much as it can from its IP.

Perhaps the problem is that IP law isn’t old enough? If the Chinese could charge everyone using gunpowder and printing presses, a lot of nonsense might get sorted out quickly.

But fundamentally, this is a matter of power: An old power wanting to extract fees and rent from a new power. There is no great moral argument here, because, no, it isn’t about artists and authors or inventors, this is about big companies and big countries and the way IP law is set up clearly strangles innovation rather than encouraging it.

The idea of Covid-19 vaccine hacking is particularly ludicrous and insane. Any vaccine for an epidemic must belong to all of humanity. There is no public interest case of any significance in silo-ing vaccine data. Perhaps some US companies want to “win” the vaccine race and then charge as much as possible for a vaccine.

That’s monstrous and stupid on public welfare terms. Vaccines need to be had by virtually everyone, and thus need to be cheap and easily available.

Every country’s hackers should hack all vaccine info if the idea is that some country or company can own vaccine info and profit from it.

The larger truth is simple: The US has draconian IP laws which it has used its muscle to force other countries to take on, generally against their interests. Some of those countries do hack IP. This is to be expected. Making a huge deal out of it is a move in great power politics, where important forces in the US (with the UK now joining) want to divide the world into two power blocs and have a new cold war.

But even if in a 1950s style cold war of “Freedom” vs. “Equality,” there is no argument from principle for not sharing a vaccine or vaccine data.

Imagine the horror of everyone being vaccinated.

What a tragedy.

It’s all very silly, as we know that the people who will pay the most for any vaccine, if any country chooses to gouge, will be Americans.

Americans don’t need to worry about China or Russia. They need to worry about their own politicians and corporate leaders.

Those are the people primarily responsible for killing and impoverishing Americans.

Anyone who thinks otherwise is either part of the killing for money, or a fool.

Everything I write here is free, but rent isn’t, so if you value my writing, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – July 19, 2020

by Tony Wikrent

Neoliberalism requires a police state

“Federal Law Enforcement Use Unmarked Vehicles To Grab Protesters Off Portland Streets” 

[Oregon Public Broadcasting, via Naked Capitalism 7-18-20]

“Federal law enforcement officers have been using unmarked vehicles to drive around downtown Portland and detain protesters since at least July 14. Personal accounts and multiple videos posted online show the officers driving up to people, detaining individuals with no explanation of why they are being arrested, and driving off. The tactic appears to be another escalation in federal force deployed on Portland city streets, as federal officials and President Donald Trump have said they plan to “quell” nightly protests outside the federal courthouse and Multnomah County Justice Center that have lasted for more than six weeks. Federal Officers Shoot Portland Protester In Head With ‘Less Lethal’ Munitions Federal officers have charged at least 13 people with crimes related to the protests so far, while others have been arrested and released, including Pettibone. They also left one demonstrator hospitalized with skull fractures after shooting him in the face with so-called “less lethal” munitions July 11. Officers from the U.S. Marshals Special Operations Group and Customs and Border Protection’s BORTAC, have been sent to Portland to protect federal property during the recent protests against racism and police brutality. But interviews conducted by OPB show officers are also detaining people on Portland streets who aren’t near federal property, nor is it clear that all of the people being arrested have engaged in criminal activity. Demonstrators like O’Shea and Pettibone said they think they were targeted by federal officers for simply wearing black clothing in the area of the demonstration.”

The Border Patrol Was Responsible for an Arrest in Portland
[TheNation, via Naked Capitalism 7-17-20]

 A memo consisting of internal talking points for the federal agency responsible for the arrest, Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and obtained exclusively by The Nation provides some answers—and raises even more questions.


Dated July 1, the memo is titled “Public Affairs Guidance: CBP Support to Protect Federal Facilities and Property” and marked “For Official Use Only.” It describes a special task force created by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in response to President Trump’s Executive Order on Protecting American Monuments, Memorials, and Statues and Combating Recent Criminal Violence. That task force, the Protecting American Communities Task Force (PACT), has been tasked not only to assess civil unrest but also to “surge” resources to protect against it.

The Portland arrest of Mark Pettibone, first reported by Oregon Public Broadcasting, followed several similar arrests involving officers from a Border Patrol Tactical Unit (BORTAC)—CBP’s equivalent of a SWAT team—as well as the US Marshals Special Operations Group. A CBP spokesman confirmed to The Nation that CBP agents were responsible for the arrest, pointing to authorities under the Protecting American Communities Task Force.

Federal agents arrest Portland protesters in unmarked cars, sparking intense backlash

[Washington Post, via Naked Capitalism 7-18-20]Mayor of Portland to Trump: Get your troops out of the city

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