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

Month: October 2020 Page 1 of 4

“Will The System Work” & Open Thread

In this excerpt I answer a question about what happens if Trump disputes a marginal Biden victory. This may seem ludicrous, but remember that something like this happened in 2000, just not with an incumbent.

Again, I redirect to what you personally can do.

Feel free to use comments as an open thread as well.

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The Hunter Biden Documents Lead To Greenwald’s Resignation From the Intercept

Glenn Greenwald

Glen Greenwald wanted to post an article on how media coverage of the Hunter-Biden case has concentrated on “Russia” and “disinformation” when there’s good reason to believe the documents are true. The Intercept would not accept it, so he resigned.

Matt Taibbi has written a long piece and if you want the details, go there. It includes the actual texts of emails and as someone who has both edited and been edited, I agree with Taibbi, these are emails from an editor who want the author to write a different article and won’t let it thru till he does.

The bottom line here is that whoever provided the emails and texts), there is, so-far, no reason to believe they are false. Quoting from Taibbi:

When the likes of Brennan, Clapper, and Hayden wrote a joint letter decrying the recent Post story as a seeming Russian mischief, they were very careful in what they said. They used the term “information operation” instead of “misinformation,” and prominently included the line, “We do not have evidence of Russian involvement.”

Now I don’t care if there was Russian involvement, but the Biden campaign has refused to deny any of these texts or emails being real. My experience is that if a subject won’t deny, there’s fire, not just smoke.

This story is essentially identical to the DNC emails story of the last election, where it was shown that the DNC had cheated on Hillary’s behalf. That was never denied, all that was done is say “this is Russian and Russians are bad.”

But wherever the information came from, it was true and the DNC had colluded with Hillary to hurt Sanders’ chances in the primary, which was news that Americans had a right to know, no matter what the source. (There is no norm in journalism for not publishing “stolen” information. If there was, the Pentagon papers could never have happened.)

As far as I can tell, odds are that the Biden information is true. Of course it was released in a way meant to harm Biden the most; at a key point in the election. The people releasing it have an agenda. That’s no different from anyone else releasing information to journalists: they have agendas. (I still get PR emails every day. They always have an angle and something they want.)

The questions you ask are “is this true?” and “is this something the public should know?”

If Joe Biden’s son was using his father, and involving his father in corruption, that’s something the public deserves to know.

That the coverage has concentrated on “this is disinformation” and “it’s from Russia” without proving either, is pathetic.

This doesn’t change the fact that Trump is obviously FAR more corrupt than Biden, but Biden’s corruption is a story and deserves to be published.

There’s a lot of hate for Greenwald, a TON of it, because he never bought into the Russian interference story and spoke out against it repeatedly. (Remember the “Russian bounties for US soldiers lives that turned out false?).

People hate Trump. They see him as uniquely bad (Iraqis would laugh at these posers), and they have been corrupted by him. Because he is uniquely bad they feel it is OK to throw aside their own ethics and principles to fight him. This has especially infected a lot of journalists and bloggers.

Greenwald kept pointing out that they had violated their own principles. People hate that. They really, really can’t stand being shown up that way.

And so they hate Greenwald. (Who, as an aside, put himself at personal physical risk by reporting stolen information which hurt Bolsonaro, who rules Brazil where Greenwald lives.)

I don’t agree with Greenwald on everything (I don’t agree with anyone on everything, even myself.) But he’s been consistent, largely intellectually honest and put himself on the line repeatedly for his principles.

As far as I can tell Russia did interfere in the US election, but the interference didn’t amount to much. Less than Hillary refusing to campaign in battleground states. Certainly Russia interfered less than the US routinely interferes in other countries elections, including Russia’s. It’s a story, but it didn’t cause Hillary’s loss, except inasmuch as everything caused Hillary’s loss.

The group think based on Trump hatred has had vastly corrosive effects on journalistic integrity. It reminds me of when the New York Times refused to publish a story on widespread wiretapping just before the 2004 election, because they didn’t want to “interfere” with the election. In that case, obviously, they wanted Bush to win. In this case, most journalists want Biden to win.

You can have a preference and opinion, and the editorial pages exist so you can express that. What is not OK is allowing that to infect your news coverage.

This norm, needless to say, is routinely violated. Every single day. In the early 2000s it was for Republicans, Bush and the Iraq war. Now it’s for Biden and against Trump.

Perhaps they’re right this time, but they were wrong last time, and more to the point, journalism is how citizens are informed. You can have your own opinion, but if people believe you are slanting the facts, they stop trusting the press and stop listening.

And then, even when you tell the truth, they don’t listen. Decades of increasing lies, from the repeal of the fairness doctrine, have led to a place where most people don’t trust the media. The media didn’t call Trump on his lies in 2016 when it mattered or Bush on his lies when it could have saved a million lives. Now they call Trump on his lies, but refuse to treat accusations against Biden fairly.

The media is the boy who cried wolf. Nowadays even when they sometimes tell the truth, many people don’t believe them, and that’s reasonable. That’s sensible. Because how can you know if this time is the time the truth serves whatever cause they now believe in or have to support because of their publishers?

And that’s the actual problem.

Update: (You can read Greenwald’s own comments on his decision to leave here. Particularly damning is that he was not involved in the Reality Winner situation (where the Intercept’s editors basically gave her up to be imprisoned.))

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Interview Part 2: Politics Thru Climate Change

This second excerpt from my interview is more interesting and longer.

This is the second clip from my interview with Ian Welsh (Ian blogs at For this segment, we went on a wild ride discussing the big picture mess that is US politics and society more broadly. I asked Ian what might happen if Trump lost and refused to leave and the resulting discussion meandered through a variety of interesting topics, including the 2000 Bush-Gore election debacle and the problems it enabled, the hope embodied in the squad, whether and what sort of help people want, and the specter of twelve more years of neoliberal politics. (Perish the thought.) All of this was couched in the shadow of the increasingly problematic nature of climate change.


You can listen here or here.

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The 6-3, 5-4 Supreme Court

So, Amy Coney Barret has been confirmed to the Supreme Court. We knew this would happen, since the idea of the Democrats fighting the right is ludicrous.

There is now a 6-3 moderate conservative majority on the Court, and a 5-4 reactionary majority on the Court.

I do not expect Roe vs. Wade to survive, and I do expect the Court to be used to change laws in an attempt to give Republicans a permanent advantage, to enshrine further rights for the rich, and so on. One can expect civil liberties to be further gutted.

Citizen’s United was the red line “this is now an oligarchy” moment. This is the “rights? You have no rights” moment.

This is what the US conservative movement has been working towards for over 50 years. They have relentlessly had their eye on the prize. The court cases will now go forward, and precedents will fall like dominoes: do not be deceived, they have prepared for this moment and will use it.

If the election is close, the Court will also be used, as in 2000, to award the Presidency to the Republicans. Those who squeal about a possible coup forget that the US already had one in 2000, and that one mattered more: it set the precedent for many things, including that Democrats would just roll over.

Trump’s allies have spent the past year purging the civil service. They haven’t gotten very far, but if they have another four years, they will. By the time a Trump second term is done, the Republicans will have a permanent advantage. (Obama, when he took power, did not replace most of the Republican operatives that Bush had put in place.)

If Biden wins, on the other hand, unless he and the Senate attack the base of Republican power, he will only be an interregnum. If he rules as Obama term three, then all that happens is that the next Republican President is a more disciplined version of Trump. Back in February of 2010, I noted that Obama’s handling of the economy, his choice for plutocracy meant that the next Republican President would be a right wing populist. While one can argue Trump isn’t, and be right, it is what he ran as. A Biden plutocratic administration will ensure the same thing.

What is important about all this is not what happens, but as I noted in a recent interview, what you, the reader, will do. If Biden is elected, does that change what you do? If Trump is elected does that change what you do? If your answer is no to both, then the election doesn’t really matter, it’s weather.

If, on the other hand, you are looking at what amounts to political and economic climate change and you are making plans to avoid the bad things and take advantage of what you can, then you are preparing for the future.

There’s an old saying: “the race is not always to the swift, nor the fight to the strong, but that’s how you bet.”

It may be that America will turn around from its path of plutocracy, and, in fact, the next 10 to 12 years will determine if it does. But you are betting a great deal for yourself and your family if you do not plan and draw red lines: at what point will you leave, if you can? At what point will you start preparing, however you can, to live in a plutocratic theocratic America, knowing it may not happen but that the cost of not preparing is higher than the cost of preparations?

Everyone has to draw a line. You fight to save the ship from going down, but know when the emphasis of the fight turns from saving everyone, to saving those few you can.

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Election Scenarios

I recently sat down for an interview and one of the questions was about election scenarios. (The question didn’t excite me so I talked instead about planning for election outcomes.)

You can listen here. (It’s only about 5 minutes.)


Update: link changed to one that shouldn’t be region locked (though embed still will be.) If you couldn’t listen before, try the new link.

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Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – October 25 2020

by Tony Wikrent


See something? Report voter suppression and obstacles to voting.

[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 10-8-20

Strategic Political Economy

The Enemies Briefcase
Andrew Cockburn [Harpers, November 2020, via Wall Street on Parade 10-18-20]

At some point in the first term, however, experts surmise that an even more secret briefing occurs, one that has never been publicly acknowledged. In it, the new president learns how to blow up the Constitution.

The session introduces “presidential emergency action documents,” or PEADs, orders that authorize a broad range of mortal assaults on our civil liberties. In the words of a rare declassified official description, the documents outline how to “implement extraordinary presidential authority in response to extraordinary situations”—by imposing martial law, suspending habeas corpus, seizing control of the internet, imposing censorship, and incarcerating so-called subversives, among other repressive measures. “We know about the nuclear briefcase that carries the launch codes,” Joel McCleary, a White House official in the Carter Administration, told me. “But over at the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department there’s a list of all the so-called enemies of the state who would be rounded up in an emergency. I’ve heard it called the ‘enemies briefcase.’ ”

These chilling directives have been silently proliferating since the dawn of the Cold War as an integral part of the hugely elaborate and expensive Continuity of Government (COG) program, a mechanism to preserve state authority (complete with well-provisioned underground bunkers for leaders) in the event of a nuclear holocaust. Compiled without any authorization from Congress, the emergency provisions long escaped public discussion—that is, until Donald Trump started to brag about them. “I have the right to do a lot of things that people don’t even know about,” he boasted in March, ominously echoing his interpretation of Article II of the Constitution, which, he has claimed, gives him “the right to do whatever I want as president.” He has also declared his “absolute right” to build a border wall, whatever Congress thinks, and even floated the possibility of delaying the election “until people can properly, securely, and safely vote.”

Rochester AFL-CIO Calls for General Strike if Trump Steals Election

[Payday Report, via Naked Capitalism 10-19-20]

Evo Morales’s Party’s Massive Victory Is a Rebuke to US Elites Who Hailed the Coup

[Jacobin, via Naked Capitalism 10-20-20]

How an Aversion to Masks Stems From ‘Toxic Masculinity’ 

New York Times, via Naked Capitalism 10-24-20]

When President Trump returned to the White House on Oct. 5, after spending three days hospitalized with Covid-19 at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, he stepped out onto the balcony and ripped off his face mask to greet his supporters. He was sending a clear signal: He had gone to war with a ruthless enemy and come out unscathed, still standing strong.

“I’m better and maybe I’m immune, I don’t know. But don’t let it dominate your lives,” he said in a video later that day, minimizing the danger of the virus that has now killed more than 220,000 Americans.

That same day, when the Democratic presidential nominee, Joseph R. Biden Jr., posted a video of himself on Twitter wearing a face mask, the Fox News host Tomi Lahren suggested that he “carry a purse with that.” The implication: No strong, powerful man would resort to mask wearing.

I know some people who get angry at everyday people for not wearing masks. I think their anger is misplaced and misdirected. I get angry at the conservative / libertarian leaders such as Trump and the management of Fox News, who have created a political environment that celebrates and encourages selfishness.

Economic Armageddon: The COVID Collapsed Economy

Time’s up: After a reprieve, a wave of evictions expected across U.S.

[Reuters, October 19, 2020, via The American Prospect]

September’s reprieve by the CDC, which protected many, but not all, renters will expire in January.

At that point, an estimated $32 billion in back rent will come due, with up to 8 million tenants facing eviction filings, according to a tracking tool developed by the global advisory firm Stout Risius and Ross, which works with the nonprofit National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel. The nonprofit group advocates for tenants in eviction court to secure lawyers.

In a typical year, 3.6 million people face eviction cases, according to the Princeton University Eviction Lab, a national housing research center.

How The Fed Rescued Corporations And Let Everyone Else Suffer 

[The Daily Poster, via Naked Capitalism 10-20-20]

Open Thread

Use comments to discuss topics unrelated to recent posts.

Seven Rules for Running a Real Left-wing Government

(With the Bolivian coup overthrown, back to the top.  I’ve noticed this is the article of mine front-line activists refer to most.  Originally published May 16, 2016.)

So, we have had a right-wing coup in Brazil. In Venezuela, the left still controls the Presidency, but has lost control of parliament. In Argentina, the right has won the election.

I have been asked how to stop right-wing reversals.

First, it’s worth noting that these three cases are somewhat different. Brazil is a coup in all but name. Venezuela saw massive, deliberate economic sabotage by internal right-wing forces. The situation in Argentina was the closest to fair; a reversal of electoral fortunes.

Still, there are lessons to be learned from their experiences:

It’s Not You, It’s China (or, the World System)

All three left-wing movements in Brazil, Venezuela, and Argentina were associated with rising commodity prices. When those commodity prices collapsed, it was only natural for their fortunes to reverse. They are in power when the economy goes bad, now people want them out. The populace is willing to be complicit in actions that get them out, which are dubious.

Don’t Run Your Economy on Resources

Yes, okay, this is easier said than done. It is hard to bootstrap into something else if you’re a non-core economy. Heck, even many core economies are losing their manufacturing bases and while finance can “work,” it’s a shit way to run your economy. So are “services.” We’ll discuss this in more depth below. But the bottom line is this: You have to develop (or have plans to develop) your economy into a mixed economy, so that it can survive during the inevitable downturns, and, thus, so that your movement can survive them.

People expect you to be able to maintain prosperity. Given the world order as it stands, that may be like asking you to swim with a hundred pound weight strapped to your back, but you still have to do it.

Your First Act Must Be a Media Law

Break them up. Take them over. Whichever. Ignore the screams about media freedom from the usual suspects in the West, this is a case of “freedom of the press belongs to those who own one.” In all three countries, the media conglomerates remained in the control of oligarchs (update: to be clear, Venezuela did eventually expropriate them, but only after many years), and in all three cases, the majority of the media remained relentlessly hostile to the left.

This is just as true in countries like Britain, Canada, or the US as it is in Argentina, Venezuela, or Brazil, by the way. There is a reason why the post-war liberal regimes put strict media controls in place–including size limits–and there is a reason why those limits were removed by the neoliberal regimes that replaced them.

You can win “against the media” for a time, but if you leave it in the hands of your enemies, they will eventually use it to bury you.

Take Control of the Banking Sector

The banking sector creates money. Money determines what people can and cannot do. This is the control mechanism for the economy in any state which runs on markets. You must control it. If you control it, you can use it to strangle your domestic enemies. If you do not, your enemies will use it to strangle you.

This is a great problem. The world economy has been designed so that countries need to trade, and they need foreign money. So, you can take control of your banking sector, but you can’t control England’s, or America’s, or the payment system (this is what killed Argentina), and thus you cannot tell creditors to go fuck themselves. You need foreign money for necessities.

It is also problematic because the people who know how to run the market economy are not your people. You have get rid of the people who ran it before, so who is going to run it now?

Who Is Your Administrative Class?

You must have a class of people available to run the state and those chunks of the economy over which you are taking control (whether formally or informally). You must know who those people are. FDR reached into academia for many of his people; he also pulled from the social gospel folks (who were used to administering large organizations), and he found a lot of fellow class traitors (for example, JFK’s father, whom he used to run the SEC–Kennedy knew all the tricks and was able to tamp down Wall Street’s BS).

Post-FDR, one of the reasons why factory line supervisors were made ineligible for union membership was so that union members couldn’t be used as easily to take over organizations–even the lowest level supervisors were no longer union members.

There are always people who know the business and believe the way it is being run is bullshit. But you have to know who they are, both as a class and individually. There are certainly people who can run TV stations and newspapers who are left-wing, but you’ve got to know who they are. There are heterodox economists and people who have worked in the finance industry who are class traitors and just itching for a chance to put the boots to the assholes they worked for. Again, you must know who they are.

Take Control of Distribution and Utilities

Yeah, sorry, but no one said this would be easy. In Venezuela, you had the economic elite deliberately exacerbating shortages. Huge stocks of consumer goods buried and hidden.

These people have power. They are your enemies. They will use their power against you. They will not “play fair.”

In Egypt, under the Brotherhood, the deep state did things like cause electricity outages and blame it on the Brotherhood. Of course, the same bureaucrats as always were running the electrical system.

Again, this comes back to control: You have to take control and you have to have competent people you can trust who can help you. Do you know who they are?

Reduce Your Vulnerability to the World Trade System

The world system as it stands now is designed so that no nation can stand alone: No one can make and grow everything they need. This was not always the case. In the past, many nations went out of their way to be self-sufficient. It was Keynes’ position, by the way, that nations should produce all their day-to-day necessities themselves, wherever possible, and import only what they could not produce and luxuries–but to strive not to need anything they couldn’t make.

This has been economic and political orthodoxy at various points.

But it isn’t now. You’re in hock to various foreigners for a lot of money, denominated in their currency. You probably can’t feed your own nation. You can’t make what you need (toilet paper, famously, in Venezuela’s case) and you can’t buy it without foreign currency. But the foreign financial system is not friendly to you if you’re genuinely left-wing, and the world trade system is set up to make it illegal to do what is required to produce goods domestically.

You’ll need subsidies or tariffs to make new domestic industries viable, and that’s illegal thanks to a web of trade deals meant to make you unable to control your own economy.

Venezuela tried to increase farming, but failed, precisely because the price of oil went through the roof, and foreign food was cheaper than domestic. The classic response would be tariffs, but the kinds of tariffs sufficient to work would not be tolerated by the world trade system.

It’s hard to overstate how huge a problem this is. It goes back to the commodity issue. Maybe you have enough foreign cash for now, but you won’t always, and you must have it. This vulnerability must be reduced, generally.

No one has managed this in the neoliberal era, not completely, and huge amounts of geopolitics are run based on this. Russia has its oil prices drop, so it moves to selling military goods to make up the difference, for example, and its Syrian intervention is, in large part, a venue to show off how well its weapons work.

Workarounds have been tried: Cooperation with other left-wing nations is the standard one. Venezuela with Cuba, and so on. But this is the “south” trading with the “south.” The stuff they really need, generally, none of them actually produce. If they do, they either don’t produce enough, or they don’t really, i.e. it’s produced by some multinational with no loyalty.

So then you try to appropriate the multinational, but that runs you into all sorts of problems from getting replacement parts for the machines, to the experts to run what you’ve expropriated, to effective embargoes (even if not declared as such).

Nonetheless, this is a problem which must be solved. A full description of how to bootstrap an economy is beyond the scope of this article, and I’m not sure I have a full kit, but I will say this: There are a huge number of highly-skilled first world workers, from the Ph.D.-level down to machinists who are unemployed or underemployed. They want to work. They hate their own system. You can bring these people in, give them new lives, and at least have the necessary expertise.

I know many extremely qualified pharma professionals who would love a chance to set generic factories and create new drugs without the pressure for palliatives they receive from their drug company employers (or ex-employers), as just one example.

This bootstrapping is a challenge which appeals to a lot of the very best and brightest.

Be Satisfied with What You Can Grow and Make

If your elites or population insist on fresh summer vegetables in winter, you’re done. What you can produce, you must have a taste for. This is especially true for elites. If they must have the latest Mercedes, a vacation in Paris, and a home in London, you’re screwed because to have those things, they must have foreign currency.

When Korea was industrializing they had huge campaigns to not smoke foreign cigarettes: It was considered unpatriotic.

You need what foreign currency you have to stay earmarked for capital goods, and you need your elites to be local elites, not global elites. If your elites consider themselves global, you will never be able to create the necessary self-sufficiency to buck the world system.

Obey the Laws of Purges

Let’s not dance around. Your first step will be to break the power of the current economic and political elites who are not willing to convincingly join you–or, at least, let you rule without trying to sabotage you.

You must do this all at once. When it happens, it has to happen to everyone to whom it is going to happen. This is Machiavelli’s dictum, and he was right. After it has happened, those who weren’t broken know they’re safe as long as they don’t get in your way.

If the breaking keeps going on and on, everyone who still has something to lose (and still, thus, has power) lives in fear. They must destroy you before you destroy them.

Let’s give a concrete example. Assume Obama was really a left-winger. He gets into power in 2009, and he really wants to change things. He needs to take out the financial elite: Wall Street and the big banks.

They’ve handed him the opportunity. Here’s part of how he does it: He declares all the banks involved in the sub-prime fraud racket (all of the big ones and most of the small ones) conspiracies under RICO.

He then says that all the individual executives’ money are proceeds derived from crime and confiscates it. (This is 100 percent legal under laws as they exist). He charges them, and they are forced to use public defenders.

They are now powerless. This is the second law of purges: Anyone you damage, you must destroy utterly. If you take away half their power, and leave them half, they will hate you forever and use their remaining power to destroy you.

Leave them whole, or destroy them. The financial executives would have been destroyed, and win or lose in the courts, the next five to ten years of their lives would be consumed by personal legal nightmares.

Again, this is a Machiavellian dictum.

All of this will make many readers uneasy. It seems “mean.”

Get out of the game. You aren’t fit for it. This is all mean. Millions of people die every year and millions more are ruined by the current system. If you’re in this game to win it, rather than feel good about yourself, you will have to play real power politics by the actual rules of the game.

Too many left-wingers try to play by what they think the rules are. “We have a fair election every X years and the losers accept the result and don’t sabotage the winner (or start a coup).”

Those aren’t the real rules. If the right is really losing, they will cheat and cheat massively. They will think nothing of running death squads, making a deal with the US to support guerrillas, and so on.

You directly threaten their wealth and power, if you are a real left-winger. Even if all you want is a 50s style social democracy with racial and gender equality, that would destroy almost all of what they have. They remember what FDR did to them, even if you don’t. They remember all the lost power and fortunes.

It is not possible to have a fair, egalitarian, prosperous society, and have very rich and powerful elites. It cannot be done. Brandeis was exactly right when he said you can have democracy or great wealth in the hands of a few, but you can’t have both.

Either you’re willing to do what it takes, including the ugly bits, or you aren’t. There are sometimes local exceptions, places where a lot of the ugly isn’t needed, but there aren’t a lot of those places left in the world. This isn’t the post-war era and even then, in the South (as opposed to Scandinavia), actual egalitarian, developed economies mostly weren’t allowed. You can ask Central and South America about that.

Most left-wing movements get into power without having properly thought out what they’ll do once in power and without a realistic understanding of how deeply their right-wing opponents lack any belief in democratic norms.

Break your enemy’s power. If you’re any sort of left-winger worth your salt, you ethically do not believe in huge concentrations of power and money in the hands of a few people anyway. Act on your beliefs.

And if they’ve committed a pile of crimes (and they almost always have), use those crimes against them.

Then remember the world system is set up expressly to stop what you are doing.

You’re trying to tackle the dragon, and most people who do that get eaten. We tell the stories of the dragonslayers because they are so few.

So, know the odds are against you and be willing to do what is required to improve them. If you aren’t, stay home.

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