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

Month: September 2023 Page 1 of 3

Open Thread

Use to discuss topics unrelated to recent posts.

A New Era Of Mass Armies Approaches

The army, or a part of it at the war college, has perked up and noticed some of the lessons of the Ukraine war, and that it’s a war that the US military could not fight. They’ve missed a lot of things, or felt they couldn’t/shouldn’t write about them, but they’ve figured some stuff out and written about them in a new report, “A Call to Action: Lessons from Ukraine for the Future Force” by Lieutenant Colonel Katie Crombe, and Professor John A. Nagle.

The entire thing is worth reading, but I’m going to pull out three of the main points. The first is that a volunteer US military can’t fight a real war.

The Russia-Ukraine War is exposing significant vulnerabilities in the Army’s strategic personnel depth and ability to withstand and replace casualties.11 Army theater medical planners may anticipate a sustained rate of roughly 3,600 casualties per day, ranging from those killed in action to those wounded in action or suffering disease or other non-battle injuries. With a 25 percent predicted replacement rate, the personnel system will require 800 new personnel each day. For context, the United States sustained about 50,000 casualties in two decades of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. In large-scale combat operations, the United States could experience that same number of casualties in two weeks. (emphasis mine)

Huh. Yeah, that seems bad. And it comes just as the US military is having trouble with volunteer recruitment, though even if wasn’t volunteer recruitment couldn’t keep up with the meat grinder of a real war.

The US Army is facing a dire combination of a recruiting shortfall and a shrinking Individual Ready Reserve. This recruiting shortfall, nearly 50 percent in the combat arms career management fields, is a longitudinal problem. Every infantry and armor soldier we do not recruit today is a strategic mobilization asset we will not have in 2031. The Individual Ready Reserve, which stood at 700,000 in 1973 and 450,000 in 1994, now stands at 76,000. These numbers cannot fill the existing gaps in the active force, let alone any casualty replacement or expansion during a large-scale combat operation. The implication is that the 1970s concept of an all-volunteer force has outlived its shelf life and does not align with the current operating environment. The technological revolution described below suggests this force has reached obsolescence. Large-scale combat operations troop requirements may well require a reconceptualization of the 1970s and 1980s volunteer force and a move toward partial conscription. (emphasis mine).

If the US expects to fight Russia, China, or even Iran, they’re going to face a real war.

The US has spent 20 years fighting with air, artillery and surveillance supremacy, with clear communications. American veterans who went to Ukraine were unprepared for a war where the other side has, if not supremacy, air and artillery superiority, and the Ukraine war has been a meatgrinder. Plus, the current command methods the army use don’t work in an environment like the Ukraine:

Twenty years of counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operationsin the Middle East, largely enabled by air, signals, and electromagnetic dominance, generated chains of command reliant on perfect, uncontested communication lines and an extraordinary and accurate common operating picture of the battlefield broadcast in real time to co-located staff in large Joint Operations Centers. The Russia-Ukraine War makes it clear that the electromagnetic signature emitted from the command posts of the past 20 years cannot survive against the pace and precision of an adversary who possesses sensor-based technologies, electronic warfare, and unmanned aerial systems or has access to satellite imagery; this includes nearly every state or nonstate actor the United States might find itself fighting in the near future

Back in 2012 I wrote an article titled “Drones are not weapons of the powerful.” I posited that they’re cheap, easy to make and everyone would eventually get them. We’re pretty much there, in terms of large group actors (the step after that is individuals, leading to an era where even a single person or small group can launch significant attacks.).

The authors of the article agree:

These systems, coupled with emerging artificial intelligence platforms, dramatically accelerate the pace of modern war. Tools and tactics that were viewed as niche capabilities in previous conflicts are becoming primary weapons systems that require education and training to understand, exploit, and counter. Nonstate actors and less capable nation-states can now acquire and capitalize on technologies that bring David’s powers closer to Goliath’s.

There are issues the authors don’t deal with, the main one is “designed in California, built in China.” The US’s weapon building capacity is massively degraded. As one example, the Chinese can build 3 ships per one the US builds, and the ships are probably better.

Since WWII, in every war the US has fought, they’ve had air superiority or supremacy and more advanced weapons than the enemy. They’ve also had more “stuff”. But the WWII “arsenal of democracy” is dead, it doesn’t exist any more.

Another issue is that the US military has outsourced too much of its capabilities. The corporate mantra of “outsource everything except your core competency” doesn’t work in a real war. All support functions should be run by the military and soldiers. (I may write an article on that in the future.) Contractors are too expensive and unwilling to really risk their necks, and outsourcing maintainance to non-army technicians is a disaster.

The US retains one huge advantage, however, its continental position makes it hard to attack the mainland. But this is also a disadvantage if the US loses air and naval supremacy. America’s enemies can only be reached by air and sea, after all.

Anyway, one takeaway is that conscription is likely to come back. I assume they’ll first make a huge push to recruit immigrants, undocumented or not, but that isn’t going to be enough. Get ready and remember, Empires rarely fade, they go down in huge conflagarations. The British Empire’s end involved two world wars.

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Trump Has Been A Fraudster All His Career, So What’s Changed?

Trump was found guilty in a very interesting suit.

Judge Arthur Engoron, ruling in a civil lawsuit brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James, found that Trump and his company deceived banks, insurers and others by massively overvaluing his assets and exaggerating his net worth on paperwork used in making deals and securing loans.

Engoron ordered that some of Trump’s business licenses be rescinded as punishment, making it difficult or impossible for them to do business in New York, and said he would continue to have an independent monitor oversee Trump Organization operations.

There are a few interesting things about this case.

  1. It’s was brought by the New York Attorney General, not any of the people Trump defrauded.
  2. It was a civil and not criminal case. The Attorney General first considered criminal charges, but then decided on a civil case. Guilt is found in civil cases on the “preponderance of evidence”, where criminal cases are decides on “reasonable doubt.” Guilt is a lot easier to find in civil cases.
  3. Everyone has known, for decades, that Trump was a fraudster and pulling various shenanigans. He wasn’t charged. Why? Because the sort of fraud he committed is endemic in the real estate industry: it is normal. So while it’s against the law, it isn’t usually enforced.
  4. This means Trump is being charged for something most real-estate developers are being allowed to slide on.
  5. The end effect here is to remove Trump’s control of a big chunk of his own empire, thus reducing his power and ability to fund his own campaign. (That isn’t likely to matter, he will be able to fund it with donations, unlike the first time.)

Obviously what has changed is that Democrats, and the cases are being brought by Democrats, don’t want him to be president again. This isn’t necessarily unreasonable: he did try and launch a coup, after all.

But as I’ve written before, it’s a change in elite consensus. This sort of thing used to be done rarely, and not at the Presidential level. It’s going to lead to a situation where both parties go after the other party’s leaders in jurisdictions they control.

In a sense, this is bipartisan. Republicans are using this mostly to challenge laws they hate, like those allowing abortion or trans-therapy. They do it in a jurisdiction they control, then count on the Supreme Court (under Republican control) backing them up in the end. Most, but not all of the time, the Supreme Court does.

Which leads to the question, what happens when all of these cases against Trump make it to the Supremes? All the Republicans aren’t Trumpists, some aren’t fans.

But a judicial hit policy is dangerous when you don’t control the supreme court.

Something to think about.

And, overall, this indicates a new era in American politics: the gloves are coming off, even more, on both sides and previous elite norms are changing.

This makes some sense when you consider that the US, in certain terms, is in decline. In the old days, there was plenty for everyone. But with the US is relative decline (and arguably absolute decline), and with elites having taken so much from the poor and middle class that there’s little more to loot, any further gains must come from each other.

Welcome to decline.

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German Dependence On China

So, the German central banks noted that 29% of German companies import essential parts and materials from China.

Multiple industries. Germany, much like the US, but even more so, let China pick up, among other things, much of the tool making industry, especially those related to auto manufacture.



When you consider this is an absolute terms and not relative, it’s even worse.

This comes on top of anti-Russia sanctions and the sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines cutting off Germany’s access to cheap energy.

Germany is a relatively small country without a lot of natural resources. To be wealthy it needs to produce high value goods, and to do that it needs inexpensive inputs for its industries, or it needs to have much higher industrial productivity than everyone else.

Outsourcing so much of the supply chain for its manufacturers was an understandable mistake: it made those inputs cheaper.

But if you’re a small country without a lot of resources, you have to keep your supply chains and trading relationships stable. German leaders at the start of the Ukraine war expressed the most doubts about massive sanctions and they were right.

Germany is, as predicted at the time, in real trouble. Their model had flaws, and was a mean one, impoverishing and de-industrializing other EU nations, so there’s a certain irony to EU consensus Russia policy now screwing them over, but at this point if Germany goes down it’ll take the entire EU’s economy with it.

Germany cannot afford to follow the US into a cold trade war with China.

Moreover, this is a demonstration of something simple: what is good for Western EU countries and what most Eastern EU countries want (anti-Russia policies and NATO expansion) are two different things. Germany needs good relations with cheap resource suppliers and the only practical one was Russia.

It’s all very well to say, as many have, that this is the price of standing up for “freedom”, but if Germany goes down, so does the EU.

Likewise, what is “good” for the US, is not good for most European countries, and especially not good for Germany. (Ironically, Macron is the only major EU leader to be honest about this.)

The EU, if it continues on this course, will be reduced to an even weaker American satrapy than it was is the cold war period, and one with a lot worse living conditions.

China’s moving up the value chain. Sanctions against China, rather than slowing this down are speeding it up. Correct industrial policy would have been to negotiate with China about what industries or segments of industry each country is going to specialize in.

Incorrect policy is to have a cold war against both your cheapest energy supplier and the country that is now the world’s manufacturing floor.

Damn near suicidal policy, in fact.

Europeans need to get thru their heads that the European/American near monopoly on tech and high productivity is broken and that Europe, in particular, is coasting on legacy industry, without a great number of natural advantages. It was a backwater for most of history, and is reverting. The job of European leaders is to keep that reversion from happening for as long as possible and to slow down whatever reversion occurs.

Now, it could be that full commitment to a “US and Europe+Anglo countries” trade block, with full re-shoring would be a viable policy, if aggressively pursued, but that’s not what’s happening, the US is, instead, taking advantage of EU and German weakness to grab up high energy cost industries.

As for Europe’s elites, they should remember that owning overseas resources is dangerous. Britain’s “hidden empire” — its overseas investments, was a huge part of its strength, and essentially liquidated in WWI. Germany’s chemical patents and electrical patents were broken by the Allies in WWI and they didn’t reinstate them after the war was over.

Anything you own in another country doesn’t really belong to you unless you have the troops and willingness to occupy that country and the ability to then administer the country.

Germany in specific, and Europe in general, if they don’t change their policies and their commitment to being American satrapies, are on the path to ruin.

(Oh, and as I said at the time, most of the Eastern European countries should never have been let into either NATO or the EU. They offer little but vulnerability; are economic soaks, and have interests contrary to those of Western European countries. The only way they could have been absorbed effectively was if the EU decided to become a real federal nation with former countries reduced to provinces at most, and in most cases divided into multiple provinces.)

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Open Thread

Use to discuss topics unrelated to recent posts.

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – September 24, 2023

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – September 24, 2023

by Tony Wikrent


USA Government Shutdown

The Looming Government Shutdown Is Not the Fault of Dysfunction

Jason Linkins, September 22, 2023 [The New Republic]

… It’s become rivetingly clear that Kevin McCarthy’s charges are hurtling toward a spectacular self-own—and a government shutdown. A slew of inconveniences and vaporized economic activity are about to land, hard, on ordinary Americans….

If there’s anything that Democrats should emphasize about the looming government shutdown, it’s the essential Republican-ness of it all. This shutdown is the pure product of the modern GOP, packed with antisocial weirdos and redolent of their inability to govern themselves or anyone else. Here, Democrats may have to joust with a media that vastly prefers to pin this kind of dysfunction on mushy concepts like polarization, or point the finger of blame—more nebulously—at “Congress,” as The New York Times did in a limp headline last week. More recent reporting has, happily, hit the ball more squarely, properly identifying “Republican infighting” as the proximate cause of the impending calamity.

The Economic Costs of a Republican Shutdown

Joint Economic Committee Democrats, September 5, 2023 [via The New Republic]

The Absurdity of Washington Brain

David Dayen, September 19, 2023 [The American Prospect]

… The Freedom Caucus and the Main Street Republicans, who are nominally more moderate and forgiving, reached a deal “to avert a shutdown,” as The New York Times puts it. Except there’s no way that this deal would avert anything. Rather than a continuing resolution, it would cut programs overall by 1 percent. However, because the Pentagon, veterans’ programs, and disaster relief are exempted, the actual cut to programs affected is about 8 percent, and only for the month of October….

In short, the Republican right demands major concessions in return for getting to demand more major concessions in one month. No Democrat will vote for this CR, and Democrats control the Senate and the White House….

The Freedom Caucus didn’t let the ink dry on this “agreement” before calling it “a gift to Joe Biden.” Cutting discretionary programs by “only” 8 percent is seen as a deep betrayal by virtually the entire far right. Since Democrats won’t support this CR, that means it has no shot of passing.

House GOP Unveils Budget With Trillions in Cuts to Medicaid, Food Benefits, and More

Jake Johnson [Common Dreams, via Naked Capitalism 9-23-2023]

House Republicans unveiled a budget blueprint on Tuesday that proposes trillions of dollars in federal spending reductions over the next decade, specifically targeting Medicaid and federal nutrition assistance for steep cuts.

House Budget Committee Republicans’ new resolution also calls for the establishment of a “bipartisan debt commission” to examine and propose changes to “the drivers of U.S. debt… such as Social Security and Medicare.” (Social Security does not, in fact, contribute to long-term federal deficits.)

“MAGA Republicans are driving our nation towards a costly government shutdown because they want to make cruel cuts to everything from healthcare to education, and this MAGA Budget doubles down on their extreme cuts,” Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.), the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, said in response to the new proposal.

“Make no mistake: America is barreling towards a government shutdown because Republicans reneged on the bipartisan budget agreement in their thirst for cruel budget cuts—cuts which will raise the cost of living when it’s already too high,” Boyle added.

The Republican proposal, which has no chance of becoming law given Democratic control of the Senate, would cut federal discretionary spending by nearly $5 trillion over the next decade, Roll Callreported Tuesday. The plan would cut mandatory spending—a category that includes Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—by nearly $9 trillion over a 10-year period.

The proposal would gash federal Medicaid spending by close to $2 trillion and SNAP by $800 billion. The resolution also calls for punitive new work requirements for the two programs.

[TW: We can either totally dismantle the social safety net and let USA descend into a social Darwinist fight for scraps, or restore high tax rates on the rich. Restoring high tax rates would not only better ensure social cohesion, it would begin to address the problem of the oligarchy that has grown to threaten republican self-government. Leaders of the Democratic Party needs to start making this argument. As Justice Louis Brandeis wrote: “We can have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of the few, but we can’t have both.” ]

Who’s Bankrolling the Shutdown Showdown?

[Exposed by CMD, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 9-22-2023]

“The ‘No Security, No Funding‘ framework used by the Freedom Caucus for its demands is echoed in materials being circulated by right-wing groups including the Conservative Partnership Institute (or CPI, which effectively provides staffing for the Freedom Caucus), the secretive Council for National Policy’s Conservative Action Project, the America First Policy Institute, the Heritage FoundationClub for Growth, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Family Research Council, and the Eagle Forum, all of which are pushing for a government shutdown unless their ideological demands are met. Although these groups’ arguments focus on reigning in government spending, their demands have hardly anything to do with the federal budget since they’re all based on culture war priorities. For example, a recent letter circulated by the Conservative Action Project and signed by more than 100 individuals — including representatives from the groups mentioned above — contends that any spending bill must include policy reforms that would ‘stop the woke cancer that has infected the Pentagon.’”


Strategic Political Economy

The Mass Disappointment of a Decade of Mass Protest

Osita Nwanevu, September 20, 2023 [The New Republic]

The demonstrations of the last decade were vast and explosive—and surprisingly ineffective….

…While the revolution is still commemorated each year in Tunisia, the optimism that took hold of the country in the wake of Ben Ali’s fall has withered. And in his new book, If We Burn: The Mass Protest Decade and the Missing Revolution, the journalist Vincent Bevins writes that Mohamed Bouazizi’s name is not only remembered but cursed in the very town that had once given him a hero’s burial. “Most people hate him,” a teen flatly informs Bevins near Bouazizi’s grave. Another local assessed Bouazizi more kindly, but with regret for all he had wrought. “I knew him,” he said. “He was a nice guy. But this revolution did not benefit the Tunisian people. Tunisia did not take one step forwards. It moved backwards.”

Of the 10 places that Bevins examines in his account of the most disruptive mass protest movements of the last decade or so—Bahrain, Brazil, Chile, Egypt, Hong Kong, South Korea, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, and Yemen—the same might be said of six more of them, Bevins contends. Repression has arguably deepened in Bahrain, Egypt, and Hong Kong. Brazil and Turkey both saw right-wing authoritarians come to power. And the events following the ouster of Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2012 led to an ongoing civil war that has killed nearly 400,000 people thus far and produced what remains one of the world’s most acute humanitarian crises—at last count by the United Nations Population Fund, some 21.6 million Yemenis are thought to need basic aid and assistance of some kind today….

The World’s Population May Peak in Your Lifetime. What Happens Next? 

[New York Times, via Naked Capitalism 9-20-2023]

…Most people now live in countries where two or fewer children are born for every two adults. If all people in the United States today lived through their reproductive years and had babies at an average pace, then it would add up to about 1.66 births per woman. In Europe, that number is 1.5; in East Asia, 1.2; in Latin America, 1.9. Any worldwide average of fewer than two children per two adults means our population shrinks and in the long run each new generation is smaller than the one before. If the world’s fertility rate were the same as in the United States today, then the global population would fall from a peak of around 10 billion to less than two billion about 300 years later, over perhaps 10 generations. And if family sizes remained small, we would continue declining.
What would happen as a consequence? ….
…In fact, in none of the countries where lifelong fertility rates have fallen well below two have they ever returned above it….
…If we wait, the less inclusive, less compassionate, less calm elements within our society and many societies worldwide may someday call depopulation a crisis and exploit it to suit their agendas — of inequality, nationalism, exclusion or control…. In a world of sustained low birthrates and declining populations, there may be threats of backsliding on reproductive freedom — by limiting abortion rights, for example. Some will inexcusably claim that restricting reproductive choice is a way to curb long-run population decline. Some already do….

Money Is Not Wealth

​​​​​​​Ian Welsh, September 20, 2023

…In the modern world, when new money is created without an increase in actual productive ability (goods, resources, improvements in land, improved real productivity) wealth hasn’t been created. Wealth is only created by increases in money if there is unused productive capacity and that capacity is being held back by lack of money (i.e. it’s available, but not being used by the people who would use it productively) and that money gets to the people who would use it productively AND those people then get control of those resources and use them productively. (That’s a lot of “ands”.

We’ve been pumping a ton of money into the economy ever since 2008. It mostly, in the West, has not been used to increase production, it has been used either in attempts to gain control of already existing productive resources or to loot said productive resources, burning them to the ground, as with much of private equity. A good example is Toys’R’Us, which was entirely profitable till it was bought and larded up with debt by the buyers.

Money isn’t wealth. Sometimes, in some times and societies, it seems like it, but at best it is a proxy for wealth.

The Missing Inflation Data

Matt Stoller, September 20, 2023 [The Lever]

… Earlier this month, Biden gave a speech in Philadelphia celebrating Labor Day, and ahead of it, he said, “I’m not worried about a strike,” and “I don’t think it’s going to happen” — comments that are clearly a result of his senior staff giving him bad information.

These delusional comments prompted a Detroit Congresswoman to call up senior White House advisor Steve Ricchetti and scream, “Are you out of your f—ing minds?”

And this gets to a common question I hear in D.C., which goes as follows: Why is the public so unhappy? The economy looks, by most conventional measurements, as if it’s doing well….

There are two reasons why the White House simply cannot seem to govern effectively. The first is that the tools the political class uses to understand inflation are misleading them. The second is that Biden doesn’t have one unified policy agenda, but has a bunch of policy agendas that work against each other.

The result of these two factors is that Biden’s story — “look at all this prosperity I have delivered” — doesn’t work in the face of strikes and anger….

The government simply “underestimates changes in housing costs,” according to an economist at Redfin, especially when interest rates are spiking. “And that’s because housing costs for the person who is actually active in the market experiences much greater fluctuation.”

The reason to change this measurement was so that inflation would look lower than it actually was. Over time, subsequent administrations sustained this shift. Lying about the symbols used to govern has a short-term political benefit in that it perhaps gets you some good media coverage — but over time, it means that the CPI for housing costs isn’t necessarily reliable….

Strikes and Bidenomics 

Matt Stoller [BIG, via Naked Capitalism 9-17-2023]

Today’s issue is about the incoherence of the Biden economic agenda, so-called ‘Bidenomics.’ With strikes in the auto industry and Hollywood, as well as sour polling numbers, something about the White House framework for policy isn’t working.

Sen. Fetterman, the Senate dress code, and Conspicuous Consumption

Tony Wikrent [Real Economics]

… Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929)… is famous for coining the phrase “”conspicuous consumption.”” It was the title of the fourth chapter of his 1899 book, The Theory of the Leisure Class. The title of Chapter Seven in that book is, “”Dress as an Expression of the Pecuniary Culture,”” and it is here that Veblen explains how the Leisure Class — basically, the rich and their hangers on, and the various elites of the different parts of society — creates and enforces standards of taste and culture (the pecuniary culture) that reinforces and perpetuates their dominant role in society. Quite simply, elites dress in such a way as to make clear they do not have to do any work in order to exist….

Excerpts from Thorstein Veblen, Chapter Seven, “Dress as an Expression of the Pecuniary Culture”

“…Other methods of putting one’s pecuniary standing in evidence serve their end effectually, and other methods are in vogue always and everywhere; but expenditure on dress has this advantage over most other methods, that our apparel is always in evidence and affords an indication of our pecuniary standing to all observers at the first glance. It is also true that admitted expenditure for display is more obviously present, and is, perhaps, more universally practiced in the matter of dress than in any other line of consumption….

“But the function of dress as an evidence of ability to pay does not end with simply showing that the wearer consumes valuable goods in excess of what is required for physical comfort. Simple conspicuous waste of goods is effective and gratifying as far as it goes; it is good prima facie evidence of pecuniary success, and consequently prima facie evidence of social worth. But dress has subtler and more far-reaching possibilities than this crude, first-hand evidence of wasteful consumption only. If, in addition to showing that the wearer can afford to consume freely and uneconomically, it can also be shown in the same stroke that he or she is not under the necessity of earning a livelihood, the evidence of social worth is enhanced in a very considerable degree. Our dress, therefore, in order to serve its purpose effectually, should not only he expensive, but it should also make plain to all observers that the wearer is not engaged in any kind of productive labor… The pleasing effect of neat and spotless garments is chiefly, if not altogether, due to their carrying the suggestion of leisure exemption from personal contact with industrial processes of any kind… It not only shows that the wearer is able to consume a relatively large value, but it argues at the same time that he consumes without producing….

“…Conspicuous waste and conspicuous leisure are reputable because they are evidence of pecuniary strength; pecuniary strength is reputable or honorific because, in the last analysis, it argues success and superior force….”

How the ‘Unilateral Neoliberalism’ of the US Helped China to Weaponise its Economy for Geopolitics 

[The Wire, via Naked Capitalism 9-18-2023]


Restoring balance to the economy  

Biden’s NLRB Brings Workers’ Rights Back From the Dead 

Harold Meyerson [The American Prospect, via Avedon’s Sideshow]

It astonishes me to say so, but there are some things the Biden administration is doing that I would like to see continue and I’ll really really hate seeing Republicans replace the people who are doing them. “Biden’s NLRB Brings Workers’ Rights Back From the Dead: Last Friday, the National Labor Relations Board released its most important ruling in many decades. In a party-line decision in Cemex Construction Materials Pacific, LLC, the Board ruled that when a majority of a company’s employees file union affiliation cards, the employer can either voluntarily recognize their union or, if not, ask the Board to run a union recognition election. If, in the run-up to or during that election, the employer commits an unfair labor practice, such as illegally firing pro-union workers (which has become routine in nearly every such election over the past 40 years, as the penalties have been negligible), the Board will order the employer to recognize the union and enter forthwith into bargaining. The Cemex decision was preceded by another, one day earlier, in which the Board, also along party lines, set out rules for representation elections which required them to be held promptly after the Board had been asked to conduct them, curtailing employers’ ability to delay them, often indefinitely. Taken together, this one-two punch effectively makes union organizing possible again, after decades in which unpunished employer illegality was the most decisive factor in reducing the nation’s rate of private-sector unionization from roughly 35 percent to the bare 6 percent at which it stands today.”

Unionized Autoworkers Are Taking on a Three-Headed Behemoth of Big Capital

Derek Seidman, September 10, 2023 [TRUTHOUT, via Naked Capitalism 9-17-2023]

…In taking on the Big Three automakers, auto workers are quite literally confronting a three-headed behemoth whose leadership and governance are closely embedded and directly interlocked within a wider corporate power network that stretches well beyond the auto industry.

Truthout analysis of top executives and board directors — in other words, an analysis of the few dozen people who sit at the heights of power within the Big Three — reveals a web of representatives from powerful corporations and industry associations who for decades have been at the forefront of fighting unions, lowering workers’ living standards and awarding huge executive pay.

It shouldn’t be surprising that the Big Three executives and directors are playing hardball with autoworkers. Many of the people who run the show at GM, Ford and Stellantis are the same people who have overseen private equity firms like KKR as they profit from slashing jobs. They are the same people who help run ruthlessly anti-union empires like Amazon and Walmart. Their ranks include leaders of industry groups like the Business Roundtable, which lobbies tooth-and-nail to defend corporate interests and entertainment giants like Disney who are pitted against striking actors and writers. They are acculturated to, and products of, a regime of business rule that lavishes CEOs with huge pay and uses billions in profits for dividend payouts and stock buybacks rather than higher wages and more benefits for workers….

Take Mary Barra, for instance, the chair and CEO of General Motors. She’s been the top executive at helm of the auto giant for nearly a decade now. In 2022, she raked in nearly $29 million in total compensation in 2022 and over $81 million from 2020 to 2022. According to company filings, the CEO to median worker pay ratio at GM is an astounding 362 to 1.

But Barra also holds another powerful role: She’s been a board director of the Walt Disney Company since 2017….

Mark Stewart, who is Stellantis’s chief operating officer in North America with a central role in company negotiations with the UAW, previously was the vice president of operations at Amazon in 2017 and 2018.

Stewart’s role at Amazon was significant, and his managerial prerogatives were pitted against workers’ interests. According to his Stellantis biography, Stewart was Amazon’s “lead executive for customer fulfillment across 200 operations facilities in North America,” and responsible for “overseeing operations, procurement, construction and engineering with teams dedicated to pursuing automation, artificial intelligence and advanced robotics and conveyance.”

Worker stories of hyper monitoring, workplace accidents and mistreatment were reported during Stewart’s tenure. Amazon is a notoriously anti-union corporation with a reputation for union busting….

Three directors of Big Three auto companies have backgrounds with another poster child for union busting and for holding down the wage floor: Walmart. GM Director Joanne Crevoiserat held a senior role at Walmart from 2005 to 2007, while Stellantis Director Wan Ling Martello was a senior executive at Walmart from 2005 to 2011, including executive vice president of global ecommerce. GM Director Thomas Schoewe served as executive vice president and chief financial officer of Walmart from 2000 to 2011.

Schoewe has a history with another company with a poor record on workers’ rights: The private equity behemoth KKR, where he previously served as a director. GM’s Lead Independent Director Patricia Russo also currently serves on the KKR board. Among other things, KKR was one of the firms that drove Toys “R” Us into bankruptcy and left tens of thousands of workers unemployed. It also owns Refresco, the world’s largest independent bottling company, which until recently had long stalled on a contract for unionized workers in its New Jersey plant….

Eight and Skate: Today’s iteration of the United Auto Workers—now on a decisive strike—is both a renewal of an old tradition and a new creation

Gabriel Winant, September 23, 2023 [The New York Review]

…Because of the wide social implications of the union and its actions, the UAW had a leadership function beyond its narrow remit, and its legendary president Walter Reuther often stood at the left edge of American liberalism, pointing toward the future. The Port Huron Statement, the founding manifesto of the 1960s student left, was drafted at the union’s lakeside retreat, which the young radicals from the University of Michigan borrowed for their meeting. The union provided crucial support to the civil rights movement, helping organize the 1963 March on Washington….

The last two decades of the twentieth century and the first of our own threw a wrecking ball through the UAW’s heroic image. Intensifying global competition brought the Big Three to their knees (from which the federal government repeatedly pulled them back up, most famously in the 2009 bailouts), automation ate away at the number of available jobs, and UAW membership declined from its peak of 1.5 million in the 1970s to more than 400,000 today, which includes a significant proportion outside its core jurisdiction. (About 100,000 members, for example, are graduate student workers.) The union’s leadership devolved into an increasingly complacent and corrupt clique. No one would have tried to kill Dennis Williams or Gary Jones, the UAW’s presidents from 2014 to 2019, who recently spent nine months each in federal prison for embezzlement.

Beginning in the 1980s, the union negotiated a series of concessionary contracts, giving back victories it had won during its heroic age and dividing workers into tiers. Under these plans, employees hired after a certain point can never attain the same terms as more senior workers—fragmenting the workers and corroding the principle of industrial unionism on which the UAW was founded. Autoworkers’ real wages are down 19 percent from 2008….

…The UAW is not alone. In the past several years labor militancy has been on the rise across sectors, challenging not only particular employers but also, increasingly, the direction of the country. For a decade, beginning in Chicago in 2012 and escalating to the strike wave of 2018–2019 and the struggles over pandemic reopenings, teachers have resisted privatization and fought for smaller classes and safer, better staffed schools. Similarly radicalized by the pandemic, thousands of Starbucks and Amazon workers have stood up to these giants of the new economy, long thought to be unorganizable. In these and other campaigns, workers have faced relentless, often flagrantly illegal antiunion repression, prompting the Biden administration’s National Labor Relations Board to come to their aid with some of the most favorable interpretations of labor law in decades.

In Hollywood, by striking against the algorithmic production and distribution of television and film, actors and writers are defending the very idea of human culture as something more than pellets of pasteurized and predigested content….

In higher education, resistance to a collapsed academic job market and the depredations of increasingly mercenary administrations has quickly accelerated. Unions have launched major strikes across the industry, most notably in 2022 at the University of California, and won an extraordinary string of near-unanimous union victories across the private sector in the past several years—pro-union vote share is regularly above 90 percent in electorates that often exceed three thousand workers. Eight of the ten largest new union bargaining units since January 2022 have been at universities. (The other two were at hospitals.) Academic workers have revivified the democratic left wing of labor, not just contributing to the reformation of the UAW but also rapidly rebuilding the membership of the United Electrical Workers, once the third-largest CIO union but reduced to a tiny rump by the purging of the labor movement’s radical wing in the early Cold War….

Auto Giants Refusing Union Demands Paid Just 1% in Federal Taxes on $42 Billion in Profits: Analysis 

[Common Dreams[X-Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 9-20-2023]

A Recent Court Ruling Will Help the U.S. Government Go After Cryptocurrency Criminals

[Slate, via The Big Picture 9-18-2023]

Elizabeth Warren created a federal agency once. Can she do it again? 

[Vox, via The Big Picture 9-18-2023]

The Massachusetts senator explains why we need an FCC for Big Tech.

Meet the Man Making Big Banks Tremble

[New York Times, via The Big Picture 9-17-2023]

Michael Barr, whom President Biden appointed as the Federal Reserve’s top bank cop, has drawn blowback for his bank regulation push.

FTC sues private equity firm Welsh Carson for medical price-fixing 

[Axios, via Naked Capitalism 9-22-2023]

A Valuable Lesson from Mexico: AMLO Government Cancels Extortionate Public-Private Partnerships for 9 Public Hospitals

Nick Corbishley, September 22, 2023 [via Naked Capitalism]


Restoring balance to the economy  — antitrust trial of Google

Google’s Dominance Over the Internet, Visualized

[Businessweek, via The Big Picture 9-17-2023]

A graphic analysis of the companies customers rely on during their daily visits online.

[X-Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 9-20-2023]


Department of Justice removes key Google evidence from its website 

[Search Engine Land, via Naked Capitalism 9-21-2023]

Here are the documents the Google antitrust trial judge didn’t want you to see 

[The Verge, via Naked Capitalism 9-21-2023]

Meet the Law Geeks Exposing Google’s Secretive Antitrust Trial

[Wired, via Naked Capitalism 9-21-2023]

Amazon’s $185 Billion Pay-to-Play System

David Dayen, September 21, 2023 [The American Prospect]

Amazon now takes 45 cents in fees out of every dollar of third-party sales at its marketplace, according to updated statistics in a new report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

The e-commerce giant’s extraction from third-party sales revenue was just 19 percent in 2014. It grew to 27 percent in 2017, 35 percent in 2020, and reached 45 percent this year, according to ILSR’s figures. This has imposed significant pressure on sellers’ ability to make a profit, and is contributing to inflation woes as fees get passed on to customers in the form of higher prices.

Overall, Amazon is projected to make $185 billion in fees from third-party sellers in 2023: $125 billion from U.S. third-party sellers and another $60 billion from foreign-market businesses and vendor ads. In 2014, that number was $13 billion. Put another way, in nine years, Amazon has increased its fee revenue 14-fold.


Climate and environmental crises

NASA confirms summer 2023 was Earth’s hottest on record 

[, via Naked Capitalism 9-17-2023]

Less than half of respondents in Southeast Asia believe climate change poses ‘serious threat’ to region: Survey 

[Channel News Asia, via Naked Capitalism 9-22-2023]

Minnesota Judge Rules That Criminalizing Enbridge Line 3 Water Protectors Would Be a Crime 

[Exposed by CMD, via Naked Capitalism 9-21-2023]

Brazil’s Indigenous peoples celebrate massive land rights victory 

[France24, via Naked Capitalism 9-22-2023]

Green New Deal – An opportunity too big to miss

Single-bladed floating wind turbine promises half the cost, more power 

[New Atlas, via Naked Capitalism 9-19-2023]

Electric Cars Pass a Crucial Tipping Point in 23 Countries

[Bloomberg, via The Big Picture 9-21-2023]

Once 5% of new car sales go fully electric, everything changes — according to a Bloomberg Green analysis of the latest EV adoption curves.

Why the UAW Strike Isn’t the Biggest Problem for Ford and GM

[Barron’s, via The Big Picture 9-18-2023]

The labor action highlights the biggest issue: Can the auto makers afford to spend what it takes to thrive in the new world of EVs?

This Spanish city has been restricting cars for 24 years. Here’s what we can learn from it

[Fast Company, via The Big Picture 9-22-2023]

With its “Fewer cars, more city” campaign still going strong after more than two decades, Pontevedra offers some of the best evidence available about what happens when a city is reconfigured to accommodate people, rather than automobiles.

Here are five lessons that Spain’s car-free pioneer can offer local officials elsewhere who might want to follow its lead….

The number of cars in Pontevedra has plummeted during the last two decades following the elimination of on-street parking, the conversion of traffic lanes into sidewalks, and the reconfiguration of streets to prevent through traffic. “If you want to drive across Pontevedra, you can—but you will waste a lot of time and realize it is impractical,” Fernandez Lopez told me. According to the city, car trips have fallen 97% since 1999 in the 4.5-square kilometer historic center and 53% across the entire city (at 46 square miles, it’s two-thirds the size of the District of Columbia)….

Before Pontevedra underwent its mobility transformation, the city’s population growth was flat. Mayor Fernandez Lores said that when he took office in 1999, the historic center was largely devoid of young families and old people—many of whom felt unsafe due to the traffic roaring by.

Now the story is very different: Pontevedra has become the fastest-growing city in the province of Galicia. “People are relocating from suburbs into the city, as well as from other parts of Spain,” Fernandez Lores told me.

Many of Pontevedra’s newcomers are young families enticed by safe streets as well as the clean air (local carbon dioxide levels have fallen by two-thirds since motor vehicle traffic was restricted). The city’s population is also the youngest in Galicia….

 In a recent economic census, Pontevedra showed higher net business growth than any other Galician city from 2016 to 2020.

“We bet on the local shops,” said Mayor Fernandez Lopes. “We wanted the entire city center to be a place where you can buy a pair of shoes or trousers at a variety of different shops.” Since taking office, he has refused to approve any new mall construction on the urban periphery, concerned that suburban retail could drain energy from the pedestrian-oriented urban core. “If you spread retail services throughout the city, people have to drive to reach them,” the mayor told me.


Creating new economic potential – science and technology

Can This Piston-Less Engine Save Internal Combustion And Pose A Threat To EVs? 

[Top Speed, via Naked Capitalism 9-18-2023]

A New Map of the Universe, Painted With Cosmic Neutrinos

[Wired, via The Big Picture 9-18-2023]

Physicists finally know where at least some of these high-energy particles come from, which helps make the neutrinos useful for exploring fundamental physics.

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return to Earth: Live updates 

[Space, via Naked Capitalism 9-21-2023]


Predatory finance

Lobbyists Grab Control at House Financial Services Hearings, Backing Jamie Dimon’s Push to Gut Higher Capital Proposals 

Pam Martens and Russ Martens: September 20, 2023 [Wall Street on Parade]

…if you’re not watching Senate Banking or House Financial Services Committee hearings when the topic is about increasing bank capital or any new regulations to make the U.S. banking system less prone to blowing up, you are likely seriously underestimating how corruption has become the new normal in the United States of America.

The big banks’ trade associations and law firms that pay millions of dollars each year to registered lobbyists to bend Congress to their will are now dominating the witness list at these hearings. The right-wing Republican Senators that are funded by the banks and Wall Street then read from a script written by the lobbyists to ask their toady questions, pretending there is actually a give-and-take in these hearings….

What has Jamie Dimon’s hair on fire and him racing about telling the media how the higher capital requirements will make banks unattractive as investments, lessen lending and harm competitiveness is that JPMorgan Chase is sitting on a larger pile of dangerous derivatives than any other bank. According to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, as of June 30, JPMorgan Chase had $3.38 trillion in assets and $57.97 trillion in derivatives – of which 96.6 percent were the black hole variety of over-the-counter contracts. (See Table 15 on page 19 at this link.)

Dimon is beside himself because the new regulatory proposal calls for the following:

“Changes to the credit valuation adjustment (CVA) risk capital requirement: CVA risk is the exposure to changes in the valuation of over-the-counter (OTC) derivative contracts driven by changes in counterparty credit risk. The proposal would replace the current approaches for measuring capital requirements for CVA risk for OTC derivative contracts with non-model-based approaches, including a less burdensome option intended for less complex banking organizations.”

JPMorgan Chase is, clearly, not going to get the “less burdensome option” and is going to have to start holding more capital to run its casino if the derivative changes are allowed to take effect. It might have to do that by retaining more earnings to beef up capital, which would mean less money to splurge on all those stock buybacks which have propped up the stock price and made Dimon a billionaire….

Professors Point to JPMorgan Chase as Poster Boy of a Financial System Dependent on Corruption to Sustain Itself

Pam Martens and Russ Martens: September 18, 2023 [Wall Street on Parade]

The full day conference sponsored by nonprofit watchdog Better Markets last Wednesday was a unique opportunity to gain brilliant insights from academic experts who have battled on the frontlines of the most unprecedented and ongoing era of corruption in U.S. financial history. (You can watch it on YouTube at this link.) In fact, at the close of the conference, Anat Admati, Professor of Finance and Economics at Stanford Graduate School of Business, summed up the U.S. financial system in five words: “Corruption has become the system.”

Admati’s celebrated 2013 book, The Bankers’ New Clothes: What’s Wrong with Banking and What to Do about It, co-authored with German economist Martin Hellwig, will have an expanded new edition coming out in early January….

Jehoshaphat Research Comes Out of the Shadows

[Institutional Investor, via The Big Picture 9-21-2023]

[TW: interesting details on companies suing shortsellers]

Peek Inside America’s Largest Privately Owned Company

[Bloomberg, via The Big Picture 9-21-2023]

…Looking in aggregate at the 2020-to-2023 period makes for more interesting reading. Cargill, controlled by two billionaire families linked by marriage, has been a lucrative cash machine. Over this four-year interval, the company has reported profits of about $18.5 billion, nearly as much as it made in the entire decades of the 1990s and 2000s combined….

With some 155,000 employees across 70 countries, Cargill is the “C” in the vaunted “ABCD” of the agricultural commodity trading industry. The other members of that storied club are Archer-Daniels-Midland Co., Bunge Ltd. and Louis Dreyfus Co. This quartet has jointly dominated grain trading for more than a century.

Can Private Equity Be … Nice? 

[Slate, via The Big Picture 9-22-2023]

The incoming owners of Simon & Schuster are giving employees a stake in the publisher. Is it corporate whitewashing, good capitalism, or both?

GRAPH — Most Valuable Companies

Barry Ritholtz [The Big Picture 9-21-2023]

[TW: Note how small is the representation of manufacturing companies. The results of deindustrialization and financialization.]

Airlines Are Just Banks Now

[The Atlantic, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 9-21-2023]

Consumers now charge nearly 1 percent of U.S. GDP to Delta’s American Express credit cards alone. A 2020 analysis by the Financial Times found that Wall Street lenders valued the major airlines’ mileage programs more highly than the airlines themselves. United’s MileagePlus program, for example, was valued at $22 billion, while the company’s market cap at the time was only $10.6 billion.

An Issue of Trust

[Medium, via The Big Picture 9-17-2023]

Jay Alix, a retired corporate turnaround man and certified fraud examiner, has spent the last seven years ricocheting from courtroom to courtroom, arguing that McKinsey, the elite global consulting firm, has been breaking the law, improperly enriching itself, and rigging cases in the bankruptcy courts, where it’s required to act as a fiduciary. Not just once, but again and again. “If somebody’s doing this across multiple cases, across billions of dollars of transactions, they’ve corrupted the system.”


Information age dystopia / surveillance state  

When Authorities Believe Their Citizens Will Become Dangerous… As the climate crisis evolves, government has just two choices

Thomas Neuburger, September 20, 2023] [God’s Spies]

I’ll be focusing on this subject in the coming months, as more and more evidence appears that surveillance of the American public is increasing. It’s not just the fact of surveillance that’s concerning. The reason they’re doing it is frightening as well.

Consider: Who do you think the NatSec elites are protecting themselves against? Who are they worried about? It’s not, as you may have imagined, those mad Republican others. Many in the NatSec state ARE those “others.”

No, they worry about you.

Davos Man Says ‘Total Transparency’ For You, And total privacy for him and his friends

Thomas Neuburger, September 13, 2023] [God’s Spies]

As many have pointed out, this definition of “transparency” turns the term on its head. In Davos Man’s mouth, it means, “I get to see everything you’re doing; you get to see nothing I’m doing.” About the latter, witness the “prosecution unto death” being visited on Julian Assange for the crime of revealing American war crimes, among other secrets….

Apple fucked us on right to repair (again)

Cory Doctorow [Pluralistic, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 9-22-2023]

“Right to repair has no cannier, more dedicated adversary than Apple, a company whose most innovative work is dreaming up new ways to sneakily sabotage electronics repair while claiming to be a caring environmental steward, a lie that covers up the mountains of e-waste that Apple dooms our descendants to wade through….. Tim Cook laid it out for his investors: when people can repair their devices, they don’t buy new ones. When people don’t buy new devices, Apple doesn’t sell them new devices. It’s that’s simple…. VIN-locking is used by automakers to block independent mechanics from repairing your car; even if they use the manufacturer’s own parts, the parts and the engine will refuse to work together until the manufacturer’s rep keys in the unlock code.” • Well worth a read, since everybody’s VIN-locking.

Harry Potter’ audiobook narrator Stephen Fry said AI was used to steal his voice, and warned that convincing deepfake videos of celebrities will be next

[Business Insider, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 9-21-2023]

“He added: ‘It could therefore have me read anything from a call to storm Parliament to hard porn, all without my knowledge and without my permission. And this, what you just heard, was done without my knowledge. So I heard about this, I sent it to my agents on both sides of the Atlantic, and they went ballistic —  they had no idea such a thing was possible.’ Fry said he warned his agent that this was just the beginning. ‘It won’t be long until full deepfake videos are just as convincing,’ he said.”

Franzen, Grisham and Other Prominent Authors Sue OpenAI 

[New York Times, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 9-20-2023]

“More than a dozen authors filed a lawsuit against OpenAI on Tuesday, accusing the company, which has been backed with billions of dollars in investment from Microsoft, of infringing on their copyrights by using their books to train its popular ChatGPT chatbot. The complaint, which was filed along with the Authors Guild, said that OpenAI’s chatbots can now produce ‘derivative works’ that can mimic and summarize the authors’ books, potentially harming the market for authors’ work, and that the writers were neither compensated nor notified by the company. ‘The success and profitability of OpenAI are predicated on mass copyright infringement without a word of permission from or a nickel of compensation to copyright owners,’ the complaint said.”

AI destroys principles of authorship. A scary case from educational technology publishing.

[Marco Kalz, via Naked Capitalism 9-19-2023]

Eighth Circuit Says Cops Can Come With Probable Cause For An Arrest AFTER They’ve Already Arrested Someone 

[Tech Dirt, via Naked Capitalism 9-17-2023]

The Spy Who Shushed Me: How the Government Is Removing Our Right to Read in Private

[Literary Hub, via Naked Capitalism 9-22-2023]



Ukraine lost around 85% of its initial mobilized force: Field general 

[Al Mayadeen, via Naked Capitalism 9-17-2023]

We Can No Longer Hide the Truth About the Russia-Ukraine War

[Newsweek, via Naked Capitalism 9-20-2023]

US Can’t Deal with Defeat 

Michael Brenner [Consortium News, via Naked Capitalism 9-23-2023]

…We now are about to enter the final act. Kiev’s vaunted counter-offense has gone nowhere — at an enormous cost to the Ukrainian military. It has been bled white by massive losses of manpower, by the destruction of the greater part of its armor, by the ruin of vital infrastructure.

The Western-trained elite brigades have been mauled and there are no longer any reserves to throw into the battle. Moreover, the flow of weapons and ammunition from the West has slowed as U.S. and European stocks are running low (e.g. 155mm artillery shells).

The shortage is being aggravated by newfound inhibitions about sending Ukraine advanced weapons which have proven highly vulnerable to Russian fire. That holds especially for armor: German Leopards, British Challengers, French AMX-10-RC tanks as well as Combat Fighting Vehicles (CFV) like the American Bradleys and Strykers.

Graphic images of burnt-out hulks littering the Ukrainian steppe are not advertisements for either Western military technology or foreign sales….

…Ukraine, in turn, is not cooling the ardor for confrontation with China. An audacious, and by no means a compelling, enterprise that is ensconced as the centerpiece of Washington’s official national security strategy.

Senior Washington officials openly predict the inevitability of all-out war before the end of the decade — nuclear weapons notwithstanding.

Moreover, Taiwan is cast in the same role as that played by Ukraine in the American scheme of things. So, having provoked a multi-dimensional conflict with Russia which has failed on all counts, the U.S. hastily commits itself to the nearly exact same strategy in taking on an even more formidable foe….

What The U.S. Will Learn, And Not Learn, From Its War In Ukraine 

[Moon of Alabama, via Naked Capitalism 9-17-2023]


Health care crisis

What to Know about the Medicare Open Enrollment Period and Medicare Coverage Options 

[KFF, via Naked Capitalism 9-22-2023]

“Option” = complex eligibility requirements for “access.” A veritable Jenga tower of PMC gatekeeping and rental extraction.

‘Glitch’ deprived some 4,800 Mass. residents of Medicaid coverage 

[Boston Globe, via Naked Capitalism 9-22-2023]

500,000 nationwide.

After missing mid-year financial expectations, here are the ways big health insurers are going to get back into Wall Street’s good graces 

[HEALTH CARE un-covered, via Naked Capitalism 9-17-2023]

“Hint: it will be at the expense of patients and taxpayers.”

Medical Debt Is Killing Our Patients 

[MedPage Today, via Naked Capitalism 9-18-2023]

Kaiser Permanente workers vote to authorize a strike, setting the stage for what could be the largest healthcare strike in US history 

[Insider, via Naked Capitalism 9-17-2023]


The carnage of mainstream neoliberal economics

Americans who aren’t making this minimum salary could face ‘severe’ mental health issues 

[Fast Company, via Naked Capitalism 9-17-2023]

$52,000 for “low-income” individuals, $75,000 for “average” American. A quick search shows that a little more than 52 percent of Americans had an annual household income that was less than $75,000 in 2021.

What Happens When Wall Street Buys Most of the Homes on Your Block? 

[New York Times, via Naked Capitalism 9-18-2023]

…Wall Street has come for the starter home.

First-time buyers, who overwhelmingly rely on mortgages, were often outmatched by cash buyers at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, when interest rates plummeted below 3 percent and home prices soared. Across the United States, more than a third of all sales in 2022 were in cash. Many of those houses went to families and individuals, but investors’ paying cash accounted for nearly 10 percent of home purchases that year, according to data from ATTOM, a property data analytics company. Investor activity was even higher in fast-growing Sun Belt cities like Charlotte, Atlanta and Phoenix.
Investors were largely uninterested in wealthier enclaves. Instead, they targeted middle-income neighborhoods, many with larger Black and Latino populations….
“It’s a thing of scale — they’re reaching near monopoly in some places,” said Madeline Bankson, a housing research coordinator at the nonprofit Private Equity Stakeholder Project. “They’re shutting people out of the home-buying process.”
For most Americans, their home is their largest investment and their primary source of generational wealth. Yet only 46 percent of Black households and 49 percent of Latino households own a home, both well below the national average of 66 percent….
When Ms. Barber renewed her lease last year, Progress increased her rent by 11 percent, to $1,876 a month, an amount Ms. Sloup described as “below market rates.”
What would have happened if a person, instead of a corporation, had bought the three-bedroom house for $300,000 in 2021? With a modest 3.5 percent down payment on a 30-year loan, the homeowner would now be paying roughly $1,200 a month in interest and principal, given the mortgage rates at that time. While homeowners are responsible for utilities, property taxes, repairs and association fees, they also build equity over time.

Americans Can Barely Afford Homes — and That’s a Problem for Biden

[Bloomberg, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 9-18-2023]

“Record-low US housing affordability is squeezing homebuyers and renters while threatening to spill into presidential politics… Milwaukee, the largest city in key swing state Wisconsin, saw affordability deteriorate in its rental market more than almost any US metro area in the year ended July, according to a measure by the National Association of Realtors. The region also recorded one of the greatest increases in mortgage burden among the biggest 50 metros in the past year, data from Zillow show…. Philadelphia, another major population center in a closely fought battleground state, is also among the US metros with the largest increases in mortgage burdens last year, according to Zillow data.”

When the Homeowners Association Comes for Your Home

[Citylab, via The Big Picture 9-17-2023]

A spate of foreclosures filed by HOAs in Denver illustrates the potential risks of an increasingly common homeownership model.

Inside Apple’s Spectacular Failure to Build a Key Part for Its New iPhones . Commentary.

[Wall Street Journal, via Naked Capitalism 9-22-2023]

Faith in U.S. institutions and each other takes dangerous drop 

[Modern Diplomacy, via Naked Capitalism 9-17-2023]

Democrats’ political malpractice

NJ Dems: We NEED you to rip off the corruption band-aid

GReen4994, September 22, 2023 [DailyKos]

So, what say you Sen. Booker? Gov. Murphy? Mayors Fulop & Baraka? Reps. Pascrell, Pallone, Sherrill, Watson Coleman, Kim, Gottheimer, Payne Jr, Norcross? Are you going to try to gaslight us that these charges are lies & a witch hunt?

Enough is enough, it is YOUR responsibility to clean your own house so we don’t jeopardize a crucial, should-be-safe Senate seat next year with one of the most notoriously corrupt senators in recent memory. The fate of the nation hangs in the balance.

Today’s New Developments In The Bob Menendez Saga

Howie Klein, September 22, 2023 []

…New Jersey elected officials– from the governor, Assembly speaker, Senate president down to local candidates– and some party bosses are all breaking against him and demanding he resign. Why resign instead of retire? If he resigns, the governor gets to appoint a placeholder who will serve out the rest of his term without a special election. If he waits to retire, it jeopardizes the whole Democratic ticket— both in New Jersey and nationally.

Today, John Fetterman (PA— lots of shared media markets) became the first Democratic senator to publicly call for him to resign now. Andy Kim, a Democratic swing district congressman, already called on him resign and today announced he’s primarying Menendez and has started raising money, although that money is fungible for his House reelection campaign. The party bosses have pretty much decided that corrupt conservative Bergen County Democrat Josh Gottheimer will be the consensus Senate candidate for 2024, no matter what Menendez says or does….
Writing for the Star-Ledger today, Tom Moran asserted that “Menendez (Sr) is a stain on our public life and has been for a decade. It’s unlikely he’ll resign anytime soon, because he is a man without shame. So, he’ll have to be pushed out by his fellow Democrats, one way or another. This is a defining moment for the Democratic Party in New Jersey. If the machines stick with Menendez again, they are inviting decent people who are tired of this stench to abandon the party. That could affect state races, but more importantly, it could put the slim Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate at grave risk if Menendez is the candidate in 2024…

Some Democrats Are Trying to Preemptively Outlaw a Billionaire Tax

[Jacobin, via Naked Capitalism 9-18-2023]

‘Trump scooped us’: Dems sound alarm on Biden’s handling of the auto worker strike 

[Politico , via Naked Capitalism 9-20-2023]

Whose Fault Is It? Unifying around the class war is an enormous opportunity for the Democratic Party

[How Things Work, via Naked Capitalism 9-18-2023]

…the choices that Democratic politicians are making right now about how to react to things like strikes and how to position themselves regarding the recent surge in popular interest in unions is a real matter of concern. You can read extremely interesting labor history books for your entire life but if you would rather have all of US labor history summed up in a single sentence, a decent one would be “Organized labor has made gains when it had the support of the government and it has been beaten down when the government was trying to crush it.”

….Last winter, there was a national railroad strike looming. Biden blocked it, robbing those workers of their fundamental right to strike. When an enormous Teamsters strike at UPS was looming, the overwhelming posture of the White House was “we are nervous about what this will do to the US economy.” The same feels true with this UAW strike. I’m not talking about superficial signals of support, but rather of what the Democrats seem to feel is the most important consequence of these labor actions. There is a big difference between “We want to get this strike settled for the good of the US economy” and “We support the workers.” If Democrats—or just Biden himself—can be compelled to adopt the second position, there are incredible gains to be had. Not just for working people, or for unions, or for the American income distribution, but for Democrats themselves.

Democrats need to accept that the class war is real. After fifty years of rising wealth inequality, the task of working people fighting to secure a bigger piece of the pie for themselves is justified virtually always. Which is to say, just about every strike has a right and a wrong side to support. Democrats could unlock a whole world of opportunity for themselves by simply acknowledging this reality and acting on it. By becoming the party that represents the right side of the class war. By saying: “In the UAW strike, we support the workers.” “At UPS, we support the Teamsters.” “At the railroads, we support the unions.” The Bernie wing of the party is there, but this is not the default position of the Democrats, nor of the White House. It is a problem of both substance and of messaging. Every attempt at concerned neutrality, every failure by Biden to smack his hand on the desk in the Oval Office and say “We’re with the workers!” creates an opening for the monumentally tiresome Republican pseudo-populist rhetoric that is allowing that part of fascists to lure working people into their arms. Those working people know that the class war is real. They are living it. Make the Democratic Party the party that is theirs! Stop equivocating! Draw a line in the sand and stand on the right side of it and make that your message! The political instinct to pull back from the hottest battles in the class war, to try to smooth down the harsh rhetoric coming out of the mouths of Shawn Fain or Sean O’Brien, to always try to leaven the demands of workers with the demands of Wall Street is not just wrong on the morals. It is a missed opportunity. The membership of our two parties are already well into the process of sorting themselves around the issue of inequality, because inequality is the issue that defines our time, and that fuels all the other issues that people perceive as a decline in the quality of their own lives. Democrats must accept that politics is about heroes and villains. The less they are prepared to lionize the heroes and villainize the villains, the less distinct the party is in the public mind, and the wider the door for Republicans to try to seduce people with culture war bullshit.

Winning the Ideas, Losing the Politics

Robert Kuttner,  September 20, 2023 [The American Prospect]

Progressives have won the battle of ideas. And reality has been a useful ally.

No serious person any longer thinks that deregulation, privatization, globalization, and tax-cutting serve economic growth or a defensible distribution of income and wealth. “Free trade” has been revealed as a corporate scheme to outsource production and undermine domestic regulation of capitalism.

The neoliberal era that spanned three Democratic presidents deepened economic concentration and created political feedback loops that produced pressure for more neoliberalism. President Biden, surprisingly and mercifully, broke with this self-annihilating consensus….

Yet he is languishing in the polls. As I’ve written in previous pieces, there are two big reasons. He looks too old for the job; and more importantly, even Biden’s accomplishments have not been nearly radical enough to change entrenched patterns in the American economy when it comes to jobs, paying for college, health care, and housing. There is little prospect of altering that, absent Roosevelt-scale majorities in Congress….

There’s a terrific piece in The Atlantic by our friend Caroline Fredrickson, who was the longtime head of the American Constitution Society. It’s titled “What I Most Regret About My Decades of Legal Activism.”

She writes, “By focusing on civil liberties but ignoring economic issues, liberals like me got defeated on both.” And while Biden is trying to reduce corporate power, she concludes, “that hasn’t generated much excitement from a liberal base that is still more focused on social issues. Progressives, especially, must recognize that preserving constitutional freedoms depends on winning the fight for economic liberties. Treating them as separate goals will ultimately mean losing out on both.”


California Democrats Double Down on Efforts to Involuntarily Commit the Homeless

Conor Gallagher [Naked Capitalism 9-18-2023]

“How Sam Bankman-Fried’s Elite Parents Enabled His Crypto Empire” [Bloomberg].

[Bloomberg, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 9-20-2023]

This should be read in conjunction with the material on Arabella under Democrats en Déshabillé. The whole piece is well worth a read for detail on the Bankman-Fried milieu, but this on Stanford itself: “And then there’s Stanford itself. Bankman-Fried’s arrest came just a month after Elizabeth Holmes was sentenced to 11 years in prison in connection with fraud at her medical device company, Theranos Inc. She’d founded the company on campus as a student and had recruited well-known faculty members to serve as employees and directors. The Holmes case—coupled with the resignation of Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne over allegations of manipulated data in several academic papers—has caused some professors and students to ask why the university hasn’t been quicker to identify cases of misbehavior.”

The Left Can’t Stop Wondering Where Bill Clinton Went Wrong. The Answer Explains a Lot. 

Paul M. Renfro and Matthew E. Stanley, September 15, 2023 [Slate, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 9-18-2023]

Review of Nelson Lichtenstein and Judith Stein’s A Fabulous Failure: The Clinton Presidency and the Transformation of American Capitalism (Princeton University Press, 2023)

…historians Nelson Lichtenstein and Judith Stein (1940–2017) contend that the path to Clintonian neoliberalism was not a fait accompli, a top-down conspiracy, or even a set of strategic policy choices. Rather, it was contingent and crooked. Exploring the “how and why” of Clinton’s supposed transmutation from progressive to centrist, the authors argue that Bill Clinton and his team were not so-called New Democrats when they arrived at the White House. Rather, they gradually and fitfully moved toward the center between 1993 and 2001, thereby solidifying a host of short- and long-term structural changes and political shifts: the end of the Cold War, growing Wall Street influence, hyperglobalization, the explosion of the carceral state, the emergence of a more punitive and less generous welfare state, the decline of unions, and eventually the rise of Trumpism.

These disastrous outcomes were never Clinton’s intention, Lichtenstein and Stein insist. But as thorough, insightful, and nuanced as their book is, this argument is not entirely convincing. A Fabulous Failure overlooks the fact that Clinton’s deep-seated hostility toward organized labor closed the door on the possibility of a more populist, interracial working-class electoral coalition—in the mold of Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition—and precluded the development of genuinely bold, progressive policies. We are all paying the price today….

As a young politician, Clinton could have done far more. Arkansas in the 1970s was actually the most unionized state in the former Confederacy, and the AFL-CIO was its most influential political organization. Meanwhile, voters across the border in Missouri—a state comparable to Arkansas in many ways—supported “a far more robust liberal-labor presence.” Under Clinton’s leadership, organized labor disintegrated in Arkansas. As governor, he broke pro-labor campaign promises and opted not to challenge the state’s right-to-work law. Ever the triangulator, Clinton even launched attack ads against progressive challengers, warning that unions were “disastrous for the economy of Arkansas”—all part of an effort to encourage corporations to relocate to the state and grow low-wage jobs there.

Such double dealings stemmed from Clinton’s distorted understanding of other economic systems and a failure of imagination. For example, Clinton dreamed of remaking Arkansas’ economy in the image of the small-scale, high-skill, and flexible production models—“microenterprises”—he encountered when he toured northern Italy in the 1980s. Curiously, though, Clinton did not see that region’s massive trade union movement, syndicalist traditions, or municipal communism as critical to its economic success. The deterioration of organized labor under Clinton’s watch was, the authors write, a “self-fulfilling prophecy,” as he deliberately undermined unions in the state and then cited their shrinking numbers as cause for writing them off entirely.

In the Oval Office, Clinton repeated these “calculated betrayals” on the national stage….

Three reasons Biden is struggling with Black and Latino voters

Christian Paz, Sep 15, 2023 [Vox]

Bad feelings about the economy are still the single largest issue affecting Biden’s standing with all voters, including voters of color. Though the state of the economy is objectively improving (there’s no recession in sight, inflation is improving, and unemployment remains low), those material conditions take longer to improve when you’re on the lower end of the economic spectrum….

Attendance at religious services by race/ethnicity Pew Research Center

Who’s Funding the DNC?

Liam Sturgess [The Kennedy Beacon, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 9-21-2023]

“It’s time to ask directly: who is funding the DNC and thus deciding the party’s nominee?”….

[T’here are additional donors contributing directly to the DNC. The largest individual donor is Michael Sacks, Chairman and CEO of Grosvenor Capital Management (GCM), an ‘alternative investments‘ firm in Chicago. Sacks is a part-owner of the Chicago-Sun Times newspaper, which ran a story in July titled Don’t let RFK Jr. kill you. The piece is filled with vitriol towards Kennedy and re-interpretations of his criticisms of the pharmaceutical industry, the FDA, and the CIA’s established complicity in the murder of his uncle and father. Sacks is also on the board of directors for the Obama Foundation [of course], whose namesake declared in June that he didn’t anticipate ‘any kind of serious primary challenge to Joe Biden,’ and that the Democratic Party was unified in support of the incumbent. With his trifecta of influence in finance, politics and the media, Sacks’ donations are not difficult to view as conflicts of interest.”

Major Progressive Donors, Including Swiss Foreign National Hansjörg Wyss, Funded Press Herald Purchase and Are Funding Yet Another News Outlet in Maine  

[The Maine Wire, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 9-20-2023]

“The majority of daily news outlets in Maine are now bankrolled by some of the country’s largest donors to the Democratic Party and left-wing interest groups. Mega donors George Soros and Swiss foreign national Hansjörg Wyss are among the uber wealthy progressives that are bankrolling a new ‘non-partisan’ news outlet in Maine, the Maine Morning Star, through the left-wing nonprofit States Newsroom…. Wyss, who grew a billion dollar fortune in the medical device industry, and Soros, who became a billionaire through currency speculation and other investments, are now financially involved with the Portland Press Herald, the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel (now combined as, the Lewiston Sun Journal, and the Brunswick Times Record…. States Newsroom, like dozens of liberal political groups in Maine, has been funded by progressive donors, including major contributions from the Wyss Foundation as well as the North Fund and the Hopewell Fund, two funds managed by Arabella Advisors.”


(anti)Republican Party

The Patriot: How General Mark Milley protected the Constitution from Donald Trump

[The Atlantic, via The Big Picture 9-23-2023]

A plain reading of the record shows that in the chaotic period before and after the 2020 election, Milley did as much as, or more than, any other American to defend the constitutional order, to prevent the military from being deployed against the American people, and to forestall the eruption of wars with America’s nuclear-armed adversaries. Along the way, Milley deflected Trump’s exhortations to have the U.S. military ignore, and even on occasion commit, war crimes. Milley and other military officers deserve praise for protecting democracy, but their actions should also cause deep unease. In the American system, it is the voters, the courts, and Congress that are meant to serve as checks on a president’s behavior, not the generals. Civilians provide direction, funding, and oversight; the military then follows lawful orders….

For the actions he took in the last months of the Trump presidency, Milley, whose four-year term as chairman, and 43-year career as an Army officer, will conclude at the end of September, has been condemned by elements of the far right. Kash Patel, whom Trump installed in a senior Pentagon role in the final days of his administration, refers to Milley as “the Kraken of the swamp.” Trump himself has accused Milley of treason. Sebastian Gorka, a former Trump White House official, has said that Milley deserves to be placed in “shackles and leg irons.” If a second Trump administration were

to attempt this, however, the Trumpist faction would be opposed by the large group of ex-Trump-administration officials who believe that the former president continues to pose a unique threat to American democracy, and who believe that Milley is a hero for what he did to protect the country and the Constitution.

“Mark Milley had to contain the impulses of people who wanted to use the United States military in very dangerous ways,” Kelly told me. “Mark had a very, very difficult reality to deal with in his first two years as chairman, and he served honorably and well. The president couldn’t fathom people who served their nation honorably.” Kelly, along with other former administration officials, has argued that Trump has a contemptuous view of the military, and that this contempt made it extraordinarily difficult to explain to Trump such concepts as honor, sacrifice, and duty….

Milley was careful to refrain from commenting publicly on Trump’s cognitive unfitness and moral derangement. In interviews, he would say that it is not the place of the nation’s flag officers to discuss the performance of the nation’s civilian leaders. But his views emerged in a number of books published after Trump left office, written by authors who had spoken with Milley, and many other civilian and military officials, on background….

Milley answered, “Mr. President, we have military ethics and laws about what happens in battle. We can’t do that kind of thing. It’s a war crime.” Trump answered that he didn’t understand “the big deal.” He went on, “You guys”—meaning combat soldiers—“are all just killers. What’s the difference?”….

[After the near debacle of walking with Trump across Lafayette Square] Milley set several goals for himself: keep the U.S. out of reckless, unnecessary wars overseas; maintain the military’s integrity, and his own; and prevent the administration from using the military against the American people. He told uniformed and civilian officials that the military would play no part in any attempt by Trump to illegally remain in office.

The desire on the part of Trump and his loyalists to utilize the Insurrection Act was unabating. Stephen Miller, the Trump adviser whom Milley is said to have called “Rasputin,” was vociferous on this point. Less than a week after George Floyd was murdered, Miller told Trump in an Oval Office meeting, “Mr. President, they are burning America down. Antifa, Black Lives Matter—they’re burning it down. You have an insurrection on your hands. Barbarians are at the gate.”….

In the weeks before the election, Milley was a dervish of activity. He spent much of his time talking with American allies and adversaries, all worried about the stability of the United States. In what would become his most discussed move, first reported by Woodward and Costa, he called Chinese General Li Zuocheng, his People’s Liberation Army counterpart, on October 30, after receiving intelligence that China believed Trump was going to order an attack. “General Li, I want to assure you that the American government is stable and everything is going to be okay,” Milley said, according to Peril. “We are not going to attack or conduct any kinetic operations against you. General Li, you and I have known each other for now five years. If we’re going to attack, I’m going to call you ahead of time. It’s not going to be a surprise … If there was a war or some kind of kinetic action between the United States and China, there’s going to be a buildup, just like there has been always in history.”

Milley later told the Senate Armed Services Committee that this call, and a second one two days after the January 6 insurrection, represented an attempt to “deconflict military actions, manage crisis, and prevent war between great powers that are armed with the world’s most deadliest weapons.”

The October call was endorsed by Secretary of Defense Esper, who was just days away from being fired by Trump. Esper’s successor, Christopher Miller, had been informed of the January call. Listening in on the calls were at least 10 U.S. officials, including representatives of the State Department and the CIA. This did not prevent Trump partisans, and Trump himself, from calling Milley “treasonous” for making the calls….

If Trump is reelected president, there will be no Espers or Milleys in his administration. Nor will there be any officials of the stature and independence of John Kelly, H. R. McMaster, or James Mattis. Trump and his allies have already threatened officials they see as disloyal with imprisonment, and there is little reason to imagine that he would not attempt to carry out his threats.

The Department of Justice Is So “Corrupt” It Just Indicted a Democratic Senator

Edith Olmsted, September 22, 2023 [The New Republic]

Too Hot For the Heritage Foundation!

Michael Schaffer, September 15, 2023 [Politico, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 9-18-2023]

Avik Roy, a longtime fixture in Republican policy-wonk circles, made a splash this summer when he organized a manifesto pushing back on the nationalist, market-skeptical tendencies on the new, Trump-era right. The document, signed by Jeb Bush, Grover Norquist, George Will, and a couple hundred other conservative worthies, generated a decent amount of inside-the-Beltway buzz when it launched in July.

It wasn’t just that Freedom Conservatism: A Statement of Principles highlighted a family feud within the movement. It was the very fact that its pieties about the majesty of capitalism were even controversial — an indication of just how far conservative economic theology had drifted.

An even bigger indication came early this month. That’s when Joel Griffith and Peter St. Onge, two scholars from the Heritage Foundation, reached out to Roy to ask that their names be removed from the document.

[TW: There is a very serious split developing on “the right” over economic issues. Reality is just too powerful to ignore, and the results of neoliberal free market ideology can only be described as catastrophic, especially the strategic error of thinking free markets would democratize China. But the “nationalist cons” have yet to grasp the problem of oligarchy and its associated political and social pathologies. Quite simply, no society can tolerate a bunch of rich pricks running everything, and expect to remain stable. The nat cons ignore the oligarchs in USA, who merely pillage the nation. and focus instead on the globalist oligarchs, who have no allegiance to any nation, which the nat cons find abhorrent.]

Inside the Next Republican Revolution

[Politico, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 9-21-2023]

“In truth, the program laid out by [Paul] Dans and his fellow Trumpers, called Project 2025, is far more ambitious than anything Ronald Reagan dreamed up. Dans, from his seat inside The Heritage Foundation, and scores of conservative groups aligned with his program are seeking to roll back nothing less than 100 years of what they see as liberal encroachment on Washington. They want to overturn what began as Woodrow Wilson’s creation of a federal administrative elite and later grew into a vast, unaccountable and mostly liberal bureaucracy (as conservatives view it) under Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society… The Project 2025 team is scouring records and social media accounts to rule out heretics — effectively administering loyalty tests — and launching a so-called Presidential Administration Academy that tutors future MAGA bureaucrats with video classes in ‘Conservative Governance 101.’ Dans says 17 lectures have been prepared (with titles such as ‘Oversight and Investigations’ and ‘The Federal Budget Process’), with another 13 in production, and nearly a thousand potential new bureaucrats recruited from around the country are already in training. These efforts are intended to ensure that the chaos and high-level defections of Trump’s first term never happen again, along with prosecutions like the ones the ex-president now faces.”

The new conservative dilemma 

by James Piereson

[TW: Definitely worth reading to expose yourself to the conservative mindset. They really do see the world much, much differently — largely because, I believe, a result of all their “feeding red meat to the base” propagandizing has caused them to believe their own hokum.]

Conservatives were also caught flat-footed by the societal convulsions of recent years that abruptly converted corporations, cultural institutions, and professionals to the belief that the United States is a racist nation, that white people must make amends for the crimes of slavery and imperialism, and that Americans with contrary ideas should be prevented from expressing themselves. The Constitution, the Founding Fathers, the heritage of liberty and limited government—all were cast to the winds by the hysteria of the Trump years, forcing conservatives into an agonizing reappraisal of their situation.

How do conservatives challenge the cultural revolution and the new world of politicized law enforcement without rending the constitutional order, causing a new civil war, or wrecking the capacity of government to function?

What to Do When Your Political Party Loses Its Mind

[The Atlantic, via The Big Picture 9-20-2023]

I was a Conservative until Boris Johnson expelled me. It was a painful experience, but here’s what I’ve learned….

It has taken me a long time to acknowledge how and why my center-right tradition failed. But I am beginning to grasp how the Tory Party I signed up to spent too much time making technocratic arguments about policy, which offered no emotional connection for voters. The political class to which I belonged upheld a system that distanced us from a proper sense of shame at how bad things in our country had become.

Politicians like me were slow to acknowledge our past mistakes: how market orthodoxies and globalization had led to stagnant incomes, inequality, and lost industries; how the fantasies of nation-building in Iraq and Afghanistan were brutally exposed; and how the rise of China undermined our complacent assumptions about prosperity, democracy, and global security. These were the failures that populism exploited, and we could not defeat populism by defending the system that created it.

We need to reject the old ideas and develop new ones: trade and industrial policies that evaluate investments for more than simply financial returns, and that consider their consequences for the environment and social justice; climate-change policies that do not hit the poorest hardest; economic policies that deliver results for the middle class without reducing foreign policy to domestic self-interest.


The (anti)Federalist Society Infestation of the Courts

Clarence Thomas Secretly Participated in Koch Network Donor Events

[Pro Publica, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 9-22-2023]

“During [the annual winter donor summit of the Koch network], the [Justice Thomas] went to a private dinner for the network’s donors. Thomas has attended Koch donor events at least twice over the years, according to interviews with three former network employees and one major donor. The justice was brought in to speak, staffers said, in the hopes that such access would encourage donors to continue giving. That puts Thomas in the extraordinary position of having served as a fundraising draw for a network that has brought cases before the Supreme Court, including one of the most closely watched of the upcoming term. …. Thomas’ involvement in the events is part of a yearslong, personal relationship with the Koch brothers that has remained almost entirely out of public view. It developed over years of trips to the Bohemian Grove, a secretive all-men’s retreat in Northern California. Thomas has been a regular at the Grove for two decades, where he stayed in a small camp with real estate billionaire Harlan Crow and the Kochs, according to records and people who’ve spent time with him there…. ‘I can’t imagine — it takes my breath away, frankly — that he would go to a Koch network event for donors,’ said John E. Jones III, a retired federal judge appointed by President George W. Bush. Jones said that if he had gone to a Koch summit as a district court judge, ‘I’d have gotten a letter that would’ve commenced a disciplinary proceeding.’ ‘What you’re seeing is a slow creep toward unethical behavior. Do it if you can get away with it,’ Jones said.’”

Who’s More Corrupt, Bob Menendez Or Clarence Thomas? And Yet… Menendez Is Resigning But Thomas Isn’t; Both Belong In Prison

Howie Klein, September 22, 2023 []

…Almost immediately after ProPublica dropped their explosive investigation, it got wiped right off the top of the news feeds because of the indictment of another corrupt scumbag, New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez. There’s a glaring difference of course. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, New Jersey Senate President Nick Scutari and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin— all Democrats— all called on Menendez to resign. And so did county party chairs and Democratic elected officials up and down the ladder… very different from the Clarence Thomas bribery situation, where not a single Republican has called on him to resign or do anything else….

The Menendez Scandal Reflects The World That SCOTUS Built

David Sirota, September 22, 2023 [The Lever]

But if the alleged facts in the indictment prove true, the big question is: Why would any politician think he could get away with something so brazen?

Perhaps because Menendez knows that to secure a conviction, prosecutors will have to prove that it was illegal for him to accept the gifts in exchange for a “performance of an official act,” as the indictment says. And like every American politician, Menendez almost certainly knows that while that may seem straightforward, the corruption-plagued Supreme Court has deliberately made it anything but.


Why Canada Is Having A Diplomatic Crisis With India

A Sikh activist was killed in Canada. The Canadian government claims he was killed by India. Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau has made this accusation himself, and the dispute saw an exchange of diplomatic expulsions.

This is the sort of thing that governments tend to wink on, unless they don’t like the other side, so why is Canada making such a big fuss?

Simple enough, Canada has a huge number of Sikh immigrants. They started coming in the 70s, and they’re politically powerful. They’ve done well in Canada (and are well thought of, over all.)

Canada has no significant trade ties to India. Imports and exports as of 2020, were about 20 billion Canadian. That’s peanuts.

So we have no interests that matter with India, and we have a large minority which feels oppressed in India (because they are, especially under Modi.) Sikhs have a long-simmering desire for their own state, as well, and a tradition of violence, so it’s not surprising the Indian government worries about them. Back in 1985 an Air India jet was blown up in the air by Sikh terrorists.

So, fundamentally, what Canada thinks of India doesn’t matter much to India and what India thinks of Canada doesn’t matter much to Canada, but both nations have powerful domestic political reasons to be willing to row.

One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom-fighter.

This is the same reason that Canada has been so pro-Ukraine. Canada has a huge Ukrainian community, and Russia competes with us: we sell the same things, and we have competing claims in the Arctic.

Again, it’s a domestic issue and what Russia thinks of Canada really doesn’t matter much, nor vice-versa.

(Our dispute with China is far more stupid.)

The Americans are very keen to use India as a counter-weight against China, as is the West in general, which is why Canada hasn’t received much support, but that doesn’t really matter: India isn’t going to make its decision on cooperation with the US based on how much it likes Canada and unlike Turkey pressuring Sweden and Finland on Turkish “terrorists” or they won’t let them into NATO, there’s nothing Canada really needs from India.

All of which is to say, for both India’s Modi and Canada’s Trudeau a fight over Sikhs is a winner domestically, with no serious international consequences, so why not?

Edit: India has stopped visas for Canadians. Canada has two million citizens of Indian descent and sends over 750K tourists to India a year. This is an attempt to put domestic pressure on the Canadian government.

It’s also worth noting that India has a record of killing overseas Sikh activists, though usually in south-east Asian countries. So the allegation isn’t that far fetched.

Folks, it’s your donations and subscriptions which make it possible for me to keep writing (since I need to eat and pay rent and the cost of both have skyrocketed) so please (if you aren’t struggling) DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.

Money Is Not Wealth

Money is something you can (sometimes) exchange for wealth, but it’s not wealth itself.

When I say sometimes I mean that there are things you can’t buy: what those things are change from place to place and time to time. The classic formulation of the preconditions for capitalism includes the ability to buy land, labor and capital. In most places and times you couldn’t actually hire most people to work–they were bound to the land, their clans, or whatever or they could support themselves and sure didn’t want to work for someone else.

Likewise most land was inherited or in the commons and definitely not for sale. You couldn’t buy it.

Wealth is what you control (not own, control) that can be used to make something, grow something or support violent people.

Violent people are what enable you to retain control, and this is as true now as it was in feudal times or ancient Sumeria. Property law and contracts and taxation and so on are all ultimately backed by the fact that if you don’t obey, unpleasant men with guns will show up and do horrible things to you.

In the dark and middle ages, those with a lot of money had sharp limits on how much power they had. The King of France famously destroyed the Knights Templar to get out of his debts to them and to steal their wealth. Henry the Eighth of England dissolved the monasteries and stole all their lands and wealth. Rich merchants regularly had their noble or royal patrons default on their debts and often wound up dead as a result.

Nor could they buy much in the way of land, or hire too many people. Right up to the middle of the 19th century, the standard pattern for a rich merchant was to either marry their heirs into the nobility or buy a patent of nobility, then get some land, and become a noble and give up most of their mercantile enterprises. These were sharp customers, they did this because they felt it was the only way to be secure and truly take care of their descendants.

In the modern world, when new money is created without an increase in actual productive ability (goods, resources, improvements in land, improved real productivity) wealth hasn’t been created. Wealth is only created by increases in money if there is unused productive capacity and that capacity is being held back by lack of money (i.e. it’s available, but not being used by the people who would use it productively) and that money gets to the people who would use it productively AND those people then get control of those resources and use them productively. (That’s a lot of “ands”.

We’ve been pumping a ton of money into the economy ever since 2008. It mostly, in the West, has not been used to increase production, it has been used either in attempts to gain control of already existing productive resources or to loot said productive resources, burning them to the ground, as with much of private equity. A good example is Toys’R’Us, which was entirely profitable till it was bought and larded up with debt by the buyers.

Money isn’t wealth. Sometimes, in some times and societies, it seems like it, but at best it is a proxy for wealth.

Folks, it’s your donations and subscriptions which make it possible for me to keep writing (since I need to eat and pay rent and the cost of both have skyrocketed) so please (if you aren’t struggling) DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.

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