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

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – April 14, 2024

by Tony Wikrent


Strategic Political Economy

Heather Cox Richardson Politics Chat: April 9, 2024

[Youtube, April 9, 2024]

[TW: 3:00 Two major things are occurring in USA, and they are closely tied to each other. One is what Trump is doing. The other is what the Republican Party is doing, which since 1981 has operated under the ideology that the way to make the country better is to concentrate wealth at the top of the economy, so the wisest and most business savvy cam invest it most efficiently to create growth and jobs.

5:30 Why the question “Is Trump a fascist?” is not really interesting or useful.

8:00 Even though the Founders were including only white wealthy males like themselves, the Declaration of Independence was radically revolutionary because it rejected the ideology that some people are better than others and should be the rulers. Trump and the people who support him have rejected this bedrock belief of American democracy; they believe some people are better than others, and they have the right to rule. They do not believe in human equality.

Trump is not running to win the popular vote. They realize they are a minority but believe they are correct and morally superior. They believe they are opposing the causes of USA decline.

Corporate leaders are seeking to protect their positions of privilege and the preferential tax treatment they have enjoyed under the Reagan, Bush and Trump tax cuts. They are determined to prevent Biden from upsetting their applecart.

25:30 The Republicans have only a minority of voters supporting them, and they recognize this. In 1986, they began their campaign of suppressing Democratic votes with their “ballot integrity” campaign. Then they began aggressive gerrymandering after the 2010 election which was the first election after the Citizens United decision allowed unlimited amounts of money into politics.

28:00 ? In 2007, Mitch McConnell became Senate leader, and he recognized that they did not have majority support. The clear majority of Americans liked Social Security, clean air and clear water, and business regulation. But, if Republicans could screw up Congress and prevent progressive legislation from being passed, they could pack the courts with people who believed like they did, and they could rewrite the laws by reinterpreting them, without passing any laws.

40:00 ? HCR lists Biden’s accomplishments, and concludes Biden is the most consequential President since LBJ and perhaps FDR. ]


If Trump Wins, the GOP Is Ready to Wage War on the Working Class


Rebecca Gordon, , Apr 09, 2024 [CommonDreams]

Project 2025 offers a plan to thoroughly dismantle more than a century of workers’ achievements in the struggle for both dignity and simple on-the-job survival….

…each of the last nine months—May 2023 through February 2024—set a world record for heat. As I’m writing this, March still has a couple of days to go, but likely as not, it, too, will set a record.

Such heat poses increasing health hazards for many groups: the old, the very young, those of us who don’t have access to air conditioning. One group, however, is at particular risk: people whose jobs require lengthy exposure to heat….

Facing the threat of overweening government interference from OSHA or state regulators, two brave Republican-run state governments have stepped in to protect employers from just such dangerous oversight. Florida and Texas have both passed laws prohibiting localities from mandating protections like rest breaks for, or even having to provide drinking water to, workers in extreme heat situations….

It’s not exactly news that conservatives, who present themselves as the friends of working people, often support policies that threaten not only workers’ livelihoods, but their very lives. This fall, as we face the most consequential elections of my lifetime (all 71 years of it), rights that working people once upon a time fought and died for—the eight-hour day, a legal minimum wage, protections against child labor—are, in effect, back on the ballot. The people preparing for a second Trump presidency aren’t hiding their intentions either. Anyone can discover them, for instance, in the Heritage Foundation’s well-publicized Project 2025 Mandate for Leadership, a “presidential transition” plan that any future Trump administration is expected to put into operation.

As I’ve written beforeTheNew York Times’s Carlos Lozada did us a favor by working his way through all 887 pages of that tome of future planning. Lacking his stamina, I opted for a deep dive into a single chapter of it focused on the “Department of Labor and Related Agencies.” Its modest 35 pages offer a plan to thoroughly dismantle more than a century of workers’ achievements in the struggle for both dignity and simple on-the-job survival.

Trump Finally Reveals It: Billionaires Get Tax Cuts, We Get Autocracy

The Daily Blast podcast with Greg Sargent, April 10, 2024 [The New Republic]


GOP Confirms 2025 Tax Plan If Trump Wins: More Giveaways to the Rich

Brett Wilkins, April 12, 2024

“There are 20 years of data showing trickle-down economics doesn’t work, yet today will still be a whole lot of revisionist history and wishful thinking on the singular largest failure of fiscal policy in recent memory,” said Rep. Richard Neal.


Survival of the nicest: have we got evolution the wrong way round? 

[Nature, via Naked Capitalism 04-13-2024]

How humans, animals and even single-celled organisms cooperate to survive suggests there’s more to life than just competition, argues a cheering study of evolutionary biology.

Selfish Genes to Social Beings: A Cooperative History of Life Jonathan Silvertown Oxford Univ. Press (2024)

The fact that all life evolved thanks to natural selection can have depressing connotations. If ‘survival of the fittest’ is the key to evolution, are humans hardwired for conflict with one another? Not at all, says evolutionary biologist Jonathan Silvertown in his latest book, Selfish Genes to Social Beings. On the contrary, he argues, many phenomena in the natural world, from certain types of predation to parasitism, rely on cooperation. Thus “we need no longer fret that human nature is sinful or fear that the milk of human kindness will run dry”….

The author argues against the idea that cooperation is fundamentally at odds with competition — a view that emerged as a consequence of the sociobiology movement of the 1970s, in which some biologists argued that all human behaviour is reducible to a Darwinian need to be the ‘fittest’. The reality, as Silvertown shows, is not black and white….

Selfish Genes to Social Beings is at its best in the long, fascinating discussions of the complexity of cooperative behaviours across the natural world. For instance, although I’ve read a lot about biology, before reading this book I could never understand how RNA chains might have joined together and started the process of self-replication through which all life evolved. Silvertown can talk as easily about the compounds making up your genes as most people can about yesterday’s football match.


The Neoliberal Bullies Have Controlled the World Long Enough: We should seek to build societies in which aggression and dominance are not rewarded.

George Monbiot, April 14, 2024 [CommonDreams]

The researchers claim to be surprised by their findings, but is it really so remarkable? A large and impressive study of children’s progress into adulthood found that those who display bullying and aggressive behaviour at school are more likely to prosper at work. They land better jobs and earn more. The association of senior positions with bullying and dominance behaviour will doubtless come as a shock to many.

This is not to suggest that all people with good jobs or who run organisations are bullies. Far from it. It’s not hard to think of good people in powerful positions. What this tells us is that we don’t need aggressive people to organise our lives for us. Neither good leadership, nor organisational success, nor innovation, insight or foresight, require a dominance mindset. In fact, all can be inhibited by someone throwing their weight around.

Whether in game theory or the study of other species, you quickly discover how the dominance behaviour of a few can harm society as a whole….  A win for bullies is a loss for everyone else: their success is a zero-sum game….

Only through competition, in this quasi-Calvinist religion, can we discern who the worthy and unworthy might be. The competition, of course, is always rigged. The point of neoliberalism is to provide justifications for an unequal and coercive society, a society where bullies rule.

It’s a perfect circle: Neoliberalism generates inequality; and inequality, as another paper shows, is strongly associated with bullying at school. With greater disparities in income and status, stress rises, competition sharpens, and the urge to dominate intensifies. The pathology feeds itself….


European court rules human rights violated by climate inaction 

[BBC, via Naked Capitalism 04-10-2024]


Young People Finally Starting to Recognize the Super Rich and Not Oldsters Are the Problem

Yves Smith, April 12, 2024 [Naked Capitalism]

Global power shift

[X-Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 04-08-2024]


Gaza / Palestine / Israel

Tracking The Urbicide in Gaza 

[ArcGis, via Naked Capitalism 04-07-2024] Interactive map.


As Surgeons, We Have Never Seen Cruelty Like Israel’s Genocide in Gaza

Ferose Sidhwa and Mark Perlmutter, April 11, 2024 [Common Dreams]

On March 25 the two of us, an orthopedic surgeon and a trauma surgeon, traveled to the Gaza Strip to work at Gaza European Hospital in Khan Younis. We were immediately overwhelmed by the overflown sewage and the distinct smell of gunpowder in the air. We made the short journey from the Rafah crossing to Khan Younis, where Gaza European Hospital stands as one of the last remaining semi-functional hospitals for the 2.5 million human beings—half of them children—in the Gaza Strip. As humanitarian surgeons we thought we had seen all manner of cruelty in the world, but neither one of us has ever experienced anything like what we found when we arrived in Gaza.

Israel and US deliberately gutting international law in Gaza

[Electronic Intifada, via Naked Capitalism 04-12-2024]

Blatantly violating basic principles of the laws of war, Israel has deployed the language of international humanitarian law as a form of “humanitarian camouflage,” in the words of independent UN expert Francesca Albanese, in the furtherance of its genocidal campaign.

In her new report titled “Anatomy of a Genocide,” Albanese says that one of her “key findings is that Israel’s executive and military leadership and soldiers have intentionally distorted jus in bello principles, subverting their protective functions, in an attempt to legitimize genocidal violence against the Palestinian people.”

Jus in bello refers to the conditions under which states may legitimately resort to war. It regulates the conduct of parties engaged in an armed conflict.


Pelosi joins US Democrats call for Biden to halt arms transfer to Israel 

[Al Jazeera, via Naked Capitalism 04-07-2024]


Class destroyed: The rise and ruin of Gaza’s revered universities (photo essay)

[NBC, via Naked Capitalism 04-07-2024]


Gaza: Gas Rich but in Ruins (video)

[Al Jazeera, via Naked Capitalism 04-10-2024]



Elon Musk and the Dictatorship of Feudal Freedom 

Jorge Majfud, April 14, 2024 [Common Dreams]

Since the Modern Era, power has depended on virtual money. The more money, the more power.


From Layoffs to Lawsuits, Billionaires Are Striking Back to Crush Worker Power (video)

[The Real News, via Naked Capitalism 04-10-2024]


Exxon Declares War On Its Dissenters 

Freddy Brewster, April 10, 2024 [The Lever]

ExxonMobil has launched an extraordinary lawsuit against two investment firms for the alleged offense of filing climate-focused shareholder proposals. The fossil fuel giant’s underlying goal: killing a federal regulatory effort that would make it easier for all U.S. shareholders to voice environmental and social concerns about the companies they own.

Critics say the company is also trying to intimidate shareholders from ever proposing such resolutions again in the future — under threat of being tied up in expensive litigation and incurring punitive financial penalties.

If successful, the Exxon lawsuit could set a legal precedent wrestling control away from regulators and cracking down on activist investors working to enact more climate-friendly policies.

Exxon’s unprecedented lawsuit was filed in January in a Republican-dominated judicial circuit that has become the go-to court system for corporate victories.


The carnage of mainstream neoliberal economics

Do We Really Want a Food Cartel? 

[The Atlantic, via Naked Capitalism 04-11-2024]


Thames Water is bust: our politicians need to deal with it 

Richard Murphy [Funding the Future, via Naked Capitalism 04-08-2024]

This morning, the business media is obsessed with the fact that Thames Water has failed to make a payment due on debt owed by its parent company, with intense speculation about what this might mean for the company‘s future….

As I demonstrated in the report that I wrote on the water industry last year, quite literally every penny that this sector has borrowed this century has been used to make payment of dividends to shareholders. Even more money was used to pay interest to those from whom funds had been borrowed to finance these dividends. The sector’s own net investment in new capital to provide water to the people of this country over the period that I reviewed was precisely nothing.

My point is a quite straightforward one. If I could work this out, then so could anyone. In that case, any institution lending money to these companies or providing them with their capital clearly knew the risk that they were taking, which was that the industry that they were providing with funds was not using those for gainful purposes but was instead exercised in undertaking financial engineering for the benefit of financiers, but not for the country as a whole.

Given that this risk was always apparent, known about, and widely talked about, the fact that loans have now failed can come as a surprise to nobody. This whole industry is environmentally insolvent, as I have described it, but is also now tottering on the brink of financial insolvency as well.


Thames Water spends millions of pounds a week on consultants and bankers as the firm struggles financially 

[Daily Mail, via Naked Capitalism 04-09-2024]


Beyond Lenocracy 

John Michael Greer [via Naked Capitalism 04-09-2024]

…I’ve recently had another such verbal seed crystal drop into my mind. This one wasn’t anything like as worldshaking as the concept of decline has turned out to be, and it also had a curious feature; I grasped the concept in an instant but I had to invent a word for it. The word I came up with is “lenocracy.” The first part of that word comes from leno, the Latin term for a pimp. Yes, what the word means is a government of pimps.

Let’s unpack that phrase a little bit. If, as the saying goes, prostitution is the world’s oldest profession, then pimping must be up there in the oldest half dozen or so. What makes a pimp economically interesting is that he adds no value to the exchanges from which he profits.  He doesn’t produce any goods or services himself.  His role is wholly parasitic.  He inserts himself into the transaction between the sex worker who provides the service and the customer who wants it, and takes a cut of the price in exchange for allowing the transaction to happen.

This kind of parasitic interaction is far from unusual in economics, but it’s not always as common as it is now. There are societies and eras in which most economic activity is mediated by pimps of various kinds, and other societies and other eras in which such arrangements are relatively rare (and often harshly penalized). Right now, in the modern industrial world, we live in an economy where nearly all exchanges are subject not just to the exactions of a single pimp but to whole regiments of pimps, each of whom has to be paid in order for the exchange to take place.  Furthermore, this orgy of pimping is sponsored, controlled, and mandated by government at all levels and by the holders of political and economic power more generally.  Thus, lenocracy….

Consider the hoops you have to jump through in order to open a business. You can’t just talk to the landlord, arrange for a reasonable rent, come up with whatever facilities and products you need, and hang out your shingle. To begin with, of course, the rent won’t be reasonable. If the law of supply and demand were functioning according to theory, all those empty storefronts would drive the cost of a commercial rental down to the point that business startups could afford it—but the rents haven’t come down.  A galaxy of financial gimmicks mediated by federal, state, and local bureaucracies makes it possible for big corporate landlords to profit even when their buildings are mostly empty, so they are immune from market pressures.

Even if you can scrape together the money to afford a storefront, though, that’s merely the beginning of your troubles. As soon as you start putting a business together, the regiment of pimps mentioned earlier comes running with their hands out. Each of them demands a cut. There are the bankers, the insurance agents, the real estate agents, the salespeople, the middlemen, and many more, and of course alongside them are the government officials, local, state, and federal, with a schedule of fees that inevitably gets longer and more onerous with every year that passes. Few if any members of the regiment just described provide anything of value in exchange for their cut, but you can’t simply ignore them.  That’s what makes our current situation a lenocracy:  the power of the state gives their claims the force of law.

…On paper, the United States has had economic growth in nearly every quarter for decades—but that’s only true if you include the earnings of the FIRE (finance, insurance, and real estate) sector, the heart of today’s American lenocracy.  Leave that out and the economic picture is far less rosy.  If you also leave out the economic consequences of the expansion of government bureaucracy at all levels, and of the explosive financialization of health care that followed in the wake of Obamacare, it becomes painfully clear that in terms of productive economic activity, the United States has been sinking into a serious depression for decades.


Credit-card delinquency rates were worst on record in Fed study

[Yahoo Finance, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 04-11-2024]

“Almost 3.5% of card balances were at least 30 days past due as of the end of December, the Philadelphia Fed said. That’s the highest figure in the data series going back to 2012, and up by about 30 basis points from the previous quarter. The ‘Stress among cardholders was further underscored in payment behavior, as the share of accounts making minimum payments rose 34 basis points to a series high,’ according to the report.”


Report: Boeing ‘Put Wall Street First, Safety Second’, Creating ‘Yearslong Decline of Safety Standards’ 

[Seattle Times, via Naked Capitalism 04-09-2024]


[X-Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 04-09-2024]


US Navy secretary says he was ‘floored’ by a Pacific ally’s shipbuilding abilities amid American warship production woes 

[Business Insider, via Naked Capitalism 04-12-2024]


Predatory finance

Why Is Anyone Still Listening to Jamie Dimon?

Kate Aronoff, April 11, 2024 [The New Republic]

Dimon fancies himself an important man with important ideas. He is also a man with a lot of bad ideas: Dimon was the champion and “personal banker” of defamed WeWork CEO Adam Neumann, extending nearly $100 million in mortgages and other loans to Neumann personally. “We make terrible mistakes sometimes, and we apologize for it,” Dimon said last summer after JP Morgan paid $290 million to settle a lawsuit alleging that the bank’s funding of Jeffrey Epstein enabled him to traffick young women. Back in 2013, not long after financial-sector gambling nearly cratered the global economy, JP Morgan Chase was fined $920 million for “unsafe and unsound practices” after its trading operations generated about $6 billion in losses. In 2016, the bank paid $264 million to the Securities and Exchange Commission and Federal Reserve to resolve allegations that it had hired the relatives of Chinese officials in order to win banking deals.

Given Dimon’s track record of bad decision-making, it’s a wonder that the business press is still so eager to treat his tidbits of folk wisdom like some sort of prophecy. When it comes to the climate crisis, especially, Dimon’s philosophies shouldn’t be understood as anything other than an extension of his business interests. Between 2015 and 2022, the bank Dimon runs has extended more financing to fossil fuel development than any of its competitors: $434 billion. Citigroup, the next biggest fossil fuel financier, extended $333 billion to coal, oil, and gas over the same time period. In other words, Dimon has a vested interest in ensuring that there are as few restrictions placed on fossil fuel investment as possible.

For the First Time in History, the Fed Is Reporting Billions in Losses Weekly; It’s Still Paying High Interest Income to the Mega Banks on Wall Street

Pam Martens and Russ Martens: April 8, 2024 [Wall Street on Parade]

The Black Swan Rears Its Head: The Fed Has Negative Capital Using GAAP Accounting

Pam Martens and Russ Martens: April 11, 2024 [Wall Street on Parade]

New York Fed Will Not Confirm or Deny that 5-Count Felon JPMorgan Chase Is Custodian of $2.4 Trillion of Its Securities

Pam Martens and Russ Martens: April 10, 2024 [Wall Street on Parade]


They’re not capitalists — they’re predatory criminals

The Exploitative Origins of Amazon 

Karina Montoya, April 5, 2024 [Washington Monthly]

Since the very beginning, the internet giant has grown by stealing ideas, squelching competition, and cheating on its taxes.


Restoring balance to the economy    

In Georgia, a basic income program’s success with Black women adds to growing national interest

[Capital and Main, April 7, 2024, DailyKos]

Monopoly Round-Up: A Judge Can Break Up Google Right Now. Will He? 

Lee Hepner [BIG, via Naked Capitalism 04-08-2024]

Vietnam Sentences Billionaire to Death for White Collar Fraud

[CommonDreams, April 11, 2024]

As global billionaires see their wealth soar to record heights, one Vietnamese real estate tycoon was sentenced to death on Thursday in the Southeast Asian nation’s largest-ever financial fraud case, part of a government crackdown on corruption.

Tru’o’ng Mỹ Lan, founder of the real estate developer Vạn Thịnh Phát Group, was arrested in October 2022 for illegally controlling and embezzling money from Saigon Commercial Bank (SCB) for a decade after a 2011 merger she arranged.

“Lan embezzled $12.5 billion, but prosecutors said Thursday the total damages caused by the scam now amounted to $27 billion—a figure equivalent to 6% of the country’s 2023 [gross domestic product],” according to Agence France-Presse. “The court ordered Lan, 67, to pay almost the entire damages sum in compensation.”


Physical economy

What Makes Housing So Expensive? 

[Construction Physics, via The Big Picture 04-13-2024]

Looking at housing costs chiefly through the lens of single-family homes, we see the costs of building them largely map to US housing costs generally. There’s also a large amount of data available on single-family home construction that doesn’t exist (or is much less accessible) for other types of housing. And most multi-family apartment buildings in the US will be built using the same basic technology, light-framed wood, used to build single-family homes, so much of what we learn about single-family costs, particularly on the construction side, will apply to multi-family apartments as well.

GRAPH — Cost breakdown for a new single-family house


Disrupting mainstream economics  

Bidenomics and Its Discontents 

James Galbraith [Nation, via Naked Capitalism 04-09-2024]

Unemployment is low. Inflation has fallen. Real earnings are rising. GDP growth has held up—so far. The economists are happy, but for some reason the voters are not! It must be their own ignorance and obtuseness—so says Paul Krugman, house economist of The New York Times.

The other possibility—however horrible to contemplate—is that perhaps the voters are sensible and the economists are obtuse. And perhaps the indicators on which economists rely no longer mean what economists suppose them to mean….

The growth of GDP, another once-reliable icon of prosperity, has also lost much of its meaning. The concentration of gains in the small, ultra-rich sectors of finance and technology is one reason. Another has to do with the nature of government-supported investments in chips, in renewable energy and in military hardware, all of which have been contributing to growth and to massive corporate profits. Such investments do create jobs. But they add nothing visible to living standards….

Finally, what are Biden’s priorities these days? They are to get money for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan—that is, for (respectively) distant, dishonorable, and prospective wars. The belligerence with which he opened his State of the Union address was astonishing. Yet looming failure in Ukraine and mass murders committed with American bombs in Gaza add to the war-weariness that many Americans feel, after 23 years of brutal and fruitless fighting. The notion that the United States could fight and win a war against China over Taiwan—150 miles from the mainland but more than 5,000 from Hawaii—is too ludicrous for words. When foreign policy is delusional, it’s not unreasonable to lose confidence in economic policy as well.

In short, Biden’s economists and their acolytes in the press appear locked into a statistical and cognitive paradigm that is old and irrelevant—a metaphor, if you like, for our political class. The voters appear to know this. Dire consequences may follow, come November.

The Macrofoundations of Macroeconomics 

Steve Keen [via Naked Capitalism 04-10-2024]

Since this chapter (and the models in it) is necessarily complex, I’ll start with its key takeaways. Working directly from incontestably true macroeconomic definitions, it is obvious that:

  • Capitalism is an inherently cyclical (and evolutionary, rather than equilibrium) system;
  • It is liable to collapse into a debt-deflation; but
  • It can be stabilized by counter-cyclical government spending.

These conclusions are the opposite of the a priori biases of Neoclassical microeconomics. And, these results are derived from definitions that all economists must accept, which are turned into dynamic models using empirically realistic simplifying assumptions. The contrary Neoclassical beliefs that capitalism tends towards equilibrium, that debt-deflations are impossible given the (as usual, false) assumptions of the Loanable Funds model of banking, and that government intervention almost always makes the social welfare outcome worse, are based on foundations that are rotten, both intellectually and empirically.

Yellen Junks 200 Years of Economics to Block China Clean Tech 

[Bloomberg, via Naked Capitalism 04-11-2024]

The theory of comparative advantage, tossed aside

[TW: First Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton tossed aside the theory of comparative advantage way back in 1791. The times it was brought back into USA policy were followed by a second war with England, the Civil War, the Gilded Age, and today’s Second Gilded Age. ]

No Exit: Western Imperialism, Capitalism, and Industrialization

Robert Urie, April 8, 2024 [via Naked Capitalism]


Health care crisis

[X-Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 04-08-2024]


The Great Medicaid Purge was even worse than expected 

Catherline Rampell [Washington Post, via The Big Picture 04-07-2024]

It’s a tale of two countries: In some states, public officials are trying to make government work for their constituents. In others, they aren’t.

Privatization Warning: A VA advisory panel issues a red alert on outsourcing.

SUZANNE GORDON, STEVE EARLY, April 11, 2024 [The American Prospect]

When the Department of Defense (DOD) or U.S. intelligence agencies face a crisis, they often assemble a task force to conduct a review and recommend solutions. In response to cost overruns on care for nine million patients of the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recently convened such a high-level “Red Team.”

The panel of six health care leaders includes former VHA undersecretaries for health, ex-DOD officials with military health experience, and prominent health care system executives. The group conferred with VA leaders in Washington, collected relevant budget data, and pored over reams of peer-reviewed studies. It then issued a 24-page executive roundtable report entitled “The Urgent Need to Address VHA Community Care Spending and Access Strategies” (emphasis added). Although the report was released to top VA leaders in late March, it has not yet been publicly released. The Prospect’s repeated requests for the report itself or information about it were ignored.

Rarely has a group of inside-the-Beltway experts gotten to the point so quickly or sounded the alarm so clearly. In the report, obtained by the Prospect before its public release, the group unanimously concluded: “The increasing number of Veterans referred to community providers … threaten to materially erode the VA’s direct care system.” Without a course correction, they said, mass closures of VA clinics or certain services could ensue, “eliminating choice for the millions of Veterans who prefer to use the VHA direct care system for all or part of their healthcare needs.”

Where Nursing Homes Hide Their Profits 

Merrill Goozner, April 8, 2024 {[The Lever]

While industry leaders plead poverty to fight a proposed staffing standard, private equity owners are funneling cash into their affiliated real estate and management firms.

States facing the greatest risk from private equity 

[Becker’s Hospital Review, via Naked Capitalism 04-12-2024]

The Private Equity Stakeholder Project, a nonprofit watchdog of the private equity industry and Wall Street, has launched the Private Equity State Risk Index to assess the effects of private equity on different states.

The private equity industry exceeds $13 trillion on assets with investments from these firms posing risks across various sectors, according to the report. In healthcare, arguments against private equity-owned facilities revolve around deteriorating patient care, increased medical costs and the closure of critical care facilities.

The index aims to provide stakeholders with insights into the relative risks states face from private equity buyouts across four key areas: healthcare, workers and jobs, housing and pensions. It also includes information on state policies that protect people and communities from the private equity industry and its negative effects.

Here are the 10 states facing the greatest risk from private equity, according to 16 unique indicators in the index:

1. New Mexico

2. North Carolina

3. Arizona

4. Florida

5. Nevada

6. Georgia

7. Washington

8. Texas

9. Colorado

10. Tennessee


Information age dystopia / surveillance state

Reformers Narrowly Lose on FISA Reform, Now Get Patriot Act 2.0 

Luke Goldstein, April  12, 2024 [The American Prospect]

A bad day for civil liberties in the House of Representatives

T-Mobile’s New AI “Profiling” Privacy Toggle Is On By Default 

[TMO Report, via Naked Capitalism 04-09-2024]

Lawmakers unveil sprawling plan to expand online privacy protections 

WaPo, via Naked Capitalism 04-08-2024]

The AI Act is done. Here’s what will (and won’t) change 

[MIT Technology Review, via Naked Capitalism 04-09-2024]

It’s official. After three years, the AI Act, the EU’s new sweeping AI law, jumped through its final bureaucratic hoop last week when the European Parliament voted to approve it. (You can catch up on the five main things you need to know about the AI Act with this story I wrote last year.)

‘Reverse’ searches: The sneaky ways that police tap tech companies for your private data

[TechCrunch, via The Big Picture 04-07-2024]

How AI risks creating a ‘black box’ at the heart of US legal system 

[The Hill, via Naked Capitalism 04-09-2024]

Google’s Chrome Antitrust Paradox (PDF)

[Vanderbilt Journal of Entertainment & Technology Law, via Naked Capitalism 04-10-2024]

The first few pages show how Google grew by acquisition. And about Chrome:

In this Article, we show that Chrome is the key to Google’s dominance as an advertiser and publisher. First, Google leverages its dominance as a publisher to reinforce Chrome’s dominance using (a) subtle coercion, such as by employing dark patterns and (b) undermining web standards. Second, Google leverages Chrome’s dominance to reinforce Google’s dominance as a publisher and advertiser using the same techniques and additionally (c) self-preferencing and (d) “privacy controls.” These strategies employed by Google demonstrate that Chrome is not merely a neutral gateway to the web and is instead an instrument for Google to gain and maintain an unfair advantage over its competitors. Finally, Google employs (e) “pay-to-play”—using income generated from its dominating advertising business for strategic acquisitions of more publishing and advertising services and paying competitors to give prominence to Google Search. This results in a vicious cycle of crossmarket abuse in one market, be it browser, advertising, or publishing, to cement position in the other market.


Collapse of independent news media

Google Slammed for ‘Playing Games With California’s Democracy’ by Blocking News

Jessica Corbett, April 13, 2024 [CommonDreams]

California reporters and union leaders are calling out Google for blocking news content for some users amid consideration of a landmark proposal that would make tech giants pay media outlets for links they share—which some experts warn won’t solve the journalism industry’s financial problems.

To prepare for potential passage of the California Journalism Preservation Act (CJPA), Google is “beginning a short-term test for a small percentage of California users,” Jaffer Zaidi, the tech giant’s VP for global news partnerships, explained in a Friday blog post….


Climate and environmental crises

My talk to Stewardship Summit 2024 and a plea for research funding 

Steve Keen [via Naked Capitalism 04-13-2024]

I gave the attached presentation to the Stewardship Summit 2024 in London today (April 10 2024). A number of attendees asked to me to make this more widely available, and also to post a research proposal that Tim Lenton and I have developed, to produce science-based damage functions to replace the fantasy-based functions that economists have made up on the economic effects of global warming.

That research proposal is detailed below. It would:

  • Develop a science-based damage function for use by economists; and
  • Do now what economic journals should have done when economists first started developing their damage functions: have scientists referee the strictly climate assumptions in those papers.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to regard this research proposal as absolutely critical to the survival of human civilisation. If we continue believing the trivial damage estimates that economists have made, we will be utterly unprepared for the scale of damages that the climate will do to our productive and financial systems. And yet getting standard research funding for it is almost impossible, (a) because it is cross-disciplinary and (b) because the economists who would be called upon to referee the proposal are likely to reject it….

…climate scientist Professor Tim Lenton of Exeter University … proposed a way that Keen’s innovation of fitting a logistic damage function to NOAA’s Billion Dollar Damages database could be extended to create a science-based damage function to replace the ones made up by economists. What follows is their joint research proposal….


Creating new economic potential – science and technology

Farming robot kills 200,000 weeds per hour with lasers

[FreeThink, via Naked Capitalism 04-13-2024]


Democrats’ political malpractice

Your Job Is To Win

 Atrios, April 12, 2024 [Eschaton]

Back in 2000, I rolled my eyes at all the Nader voters. I wasn’t not a Nader sympathizer, at all! But no matter what we think of those people, the question facing the Gore campaign was: is there anything we can do to win them over without hurting ourselves more elsewhere?

This is just standard campaign stuff. I don’t even have an answer to the question. But the question facing the campaign was not, “Are the potential Nader voters a bunch of stupid shitheads?” The question was, “What do we have to do win?”

Maybe the belief was “there’s nothing we can do to get those stupid shitheads to vote for us.” I have no idea! But the answer was not “fuck those stupid shitheads because they are supposed to vote for us” any more than that’s the right attitude when courting Suburban Swing Voters, or an imagined bloc of “Haley voters,” or any other set of voters.

Maybe the imagined Lefties-mad-about-Gaza-or-whatever are unreachable! If so, then from the campaign’s perspective, fuck those stupid shitheads, they won’t vote for us anyway!

Otherwise, it seems prudent to apply basic politics applied to every other voting group which is, at a minimum, convincing people that their concerns matter.

Most politics is, actually, directed at stupid shitheads, which I think Professional Democrats should understand.
The bad orange man is indeed bad, but the daily sociopathy from the various spokespeople in the White House and State is not helpful!

Why No Labels Didn’t Stick 

[Slate, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 04-12-2024]

“No Labels was merely the latest iteration of a Beltway parlor trick that’s as old as time. In 2012 it was called Americans Elect, and in 2008 it was Unity08. The core is a kind of institutional McCainism: the idea that Democrats and Republicans are too extreme and that what the country needs is a third party that represents centrism, bipartisanship, and compromise. And on a certain level you can understand the thinking; Americans continue to express abstract support for bipartisanship even as the country has descended into elite-driven gridlock and resentment. … A long-running Gallup survey [shows] that the majority of Americans would prefer that politicians compromise rather than ‘sticking to their beliefs.’…. The trouble with these kinds of survey results is that they are extremely soft and often do not survive contact with real-world situations. Telling a pollster that you support compromise in the abstract is easy, but most voters don’t want it to be their own side doing the giving. The actual demand side of the equation for institutional bipartisanship is therefore pretty small. The other problem with the No Labels operation is that there already is a moderate, bipartisanship-minded political faction in the United States. It is called the Democratic Party. For better or for worse, that party continues to be the home of nearly all of the remaining ‘institutionalists’ in U.S. politics, and party leadership has repeatedly, over the past decade, passed up opportunities to engage in retaliatory procedural maneuvering in response to GOP constitutional hardball, preferring instead to stand up for a long-vanished consensus politics that has virtually no support on the other side of the aisle. President Joe Biden not only leads that institutionalist party, but he is also its most vocal and successful backer of bipartisanship as a governing and political philosophy.”


(anti)Republican Drive to Civil War

A MAGA Troll’s Memes Were Blatant Disinformation. But Were They a Crime?

Shawn Musgrave, April 4 2024 [The Intercept]

ON NOVEMBER 1, 2016, a week before the U.S. presidential election, self-professed MAGA troll and shitposter Douglass Mackey tweeted a meme that urged Hillary Clinton supporters to vote via text message instead of casting an actual ballot.

“Avoid the line. Vote from home,” read the meme’s text, which was superimposed over a photo of a Black woman holding a pro-Clinton sign. “Text ‘Hillary’ to 59925.” Mackey tweeted a similar meme a few hours later with Spanish text and a photo of a Hispanic woman, then he retweeted a third vote-by-text meme with a photo of Clinton herself.

There is no vote-by-text mechanism in the United States. These memes were brazen disinformation, hatched on 4chan boards and workshopped in private Twitter groups in which Mackey was a participant….

Last year, after what the Justice Department called a “groundbreaking prosecution” for which another notorious MAGA troll was a key government witness, Mackey was convicted for violating a broad, Reconstruction-era federal statute and sentenced to seven months in prison. Later this week, on April 5, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit will consider whether Mackey’s conviction and sentence should stand….

Mackey is not the only MAGA troll dragged into court over disinformation. In summer 2020, Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman, two far-right operatives, commissioned robocalls aimed at intimidating voters in predominantly Black neighborhoods. The robocalls, which went out to thousands of people across five states, falsely claimed that voting by mail reveals personal information to the cops, credit card companies, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Last year, Wohl and Burkman pleaded guilty to telecommunications fraud in Ohio and were fined $5 million by the Federal Communications Commission. A federal court also ruled their robocalls violated the Voting Rights Act, among other federal and New York state provisions. Michigan prosecutors, meanwhile, have accused Wohl and Burkman of violating a Michigan law that prohibits efforts to “menace” voters, though the duo have appealed those charges….

‘On trial for memes’: Man asks Second Circuit to overturn conviction over Election Day shenanigans

[, April 5, 2024]

A man once “on trial for memes” and convicted for conspiring to falsely convince Hillary Clinton supporters they could vote from home on Election Day in 2016 claimed to a Second Circuit panel Friday it isn’t against against the law to deceive voters on how to vote in a bid to to overturn his conviction.

Douglass Mackey was sentenced to seven months in prison at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York in 2023 . He was convicted on a single count of conspiring with others to interfere in the 2016 presidential election after he posted fake advertisements on his far-right Twitter account that encouraged Clinton supporters to vote by text message.

“Avoid the line. Vote from home,” one fake advertisement reads. “Text ‘Hillary’ to 59925.”

Mackey was found guilty under the “Conspiracy Against Rights” act — a federal statute that became known as the “Ku Klux Klan Act” as it was used to protect emancipated Black Americans from Klansmen trying to prevent them from voting. But the statute is not limited to Klansmen and Mackey was convicted under the law for seeking to stop Clinton voters from exercising their constitutional right to vote….

Republicans Are Objectively Pro–Junk Fee 

David Dayen, April  12, 2024 [The American Prospect]

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s $8 cap on credit card late fees has had a wild ride on the road to implementation. After being finalized last month, the rule drew a lawsuit from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which sought an injunction in Fort Worth. No credit card companies are located in Fort Worth; the venue choice was made purely to ensure that the case would be heard by a right-wing federal judge.

The first district court judge assigned to the case owned a bunch of credit card company stocks and recused himself; the second judge, a Trump appointee, showed remarkable candor in saying the case had no business being in Fort Worth and should be heard in Washington. Then the far-right Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed with the Trump judge and tried to pull the case back to Texas. Then one of the authors of that opinion, it turned out, also owned a bunch of credit card company stocks. He has asked for briefings on whether he should recuse himself, basically seeking outside opinions on his own personal corruption.

That’s not the only attack on the late fee rule. Now congressional Republicans are coming after it, in the process finally setting up a partisan fight over the popular issue of junk fees, which the Biden administration has been pushing for the past few years. Republicans, it turns out, are objectively in favor of junk fees. And by next week, they’ll be on the record for them.

Republicans in the House and Senate have filed resolutions of disapproval of the late fee rule. Under the timetable set by the Congressional Review Act, such resolutions are fast-tracked through the Senate, giving the minority party the ability to get them to the floor, regardless of the majority leader’s prerogatives. In the House, where Republicans are in charge (sort of), we could see the resolution get an up-or-down vote as soon as next week. That means Republicans themselves will have forced a vote on whether credit card late fees should be higher or lower. (Spoiler alert: They want them higher.)

Not only that, but Tim Scott, the South Carolina senator who is on the short list to be Donald Trump’s vice-presidential running mate, has taken on the role of the leading champion of junk fees. Scott, the ranking Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, proudly announced this week that he’s introduced the resolution to kill the late fee rule. He even listed all the corporate lobbyists who support him in the effort: “the Consumer Bankers Association, America’s Credit Unions, Independent Community Bankers of America, Bank Policy Institute, American Bankers Association, Americans for Tax Reform, Competitive Enterprise Institute, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.”

Behind the Curtain: America’s reality distortion machine

[Axios, via The Big Picture 04-13-2024]

What if we’ve been deceived into thinking we’re more divided, more dysfunctional and more defeated than we actually are?

Trump’s Weird Moment With Mike Johnson Reveals a Deeper GOP Sickness

Greg Sargent, April 13, 2024 [The New Republic]

Looking back, it’s clear that one of the more fateful moments in the evolution of today’s Republican Party came when Kevin McCarthy made his abject pilgrimage to Mar-a-Lago three weeks after January 6, 2021. This was, in essence, Donald Trump’s public absolution, with then-GOP leader McCarthy affirming that the Republican Party would make the construction of a monumental historical lie about the insurrection central to its identity for the foreseeable future.*

The infernal plan was to recast what was the largest outbreak of stateside political violence in memory as a just cause—while transforming the insurrectionists into victims and martyrs. By doing so, McCarthy would keep Trump and his movement safely in the Republican Party fold, ensuring the GOP electoral victories that could not be conceived of without their participation….

Trump’s Big Lie About Biden Implodes After MAGA Ally Admits Truth

Greg Sargent, April 11, 2024 [The New Republic]

It’s one message for MAGA-land and the opposite one for Jill Stein voters. And they just might get away with it.

Steve Bannon no doubt thought he was being deviously clever. Speaking with The New York Times this week, he elaborated on a sophisticated plan that Donald Trump’s allies have developed for boosting third-party candidates, so they siphon votes from President Biden.

A key part of this scheme, Bannon noted, entails boosting expected Green Party candidate Jill Stein by highlighting oil production under Biden to pull environmentally concerned voters away from him. As Bannon put it:

“No Republican knows that oil production under Biden is higher than ever. But Jill Stein’s people do. … Stein is furious about the oil drilling. The college kids are furious about it. The more exposure these [third-party candidates] get, the better it is for us.”

Whoa, that’s some serious 11-dimensional chess, Steve! Except for one thing. If you think for a second about Bannon’s quote—that “oil production under Biden is higher than ever”—it entirely undermines one of Trump’s biggest lies: the claim that Biden’s effort to transition the United States to a decarbonized economy has destroyed the nation’s “energy independence,” leaving us weak and hollow to our very core.

This saga captures something essential about how MAGA-world fights the information wars. You’ll note that Bannon is not even slightly troubled by the idea that telling the truth about Biden’s record to one set of voters—left-leaning, green-minded ones—might contradict one of Trump’s most frequent lies to countless others….

‘Whole Thing Is an Epic Fraud’: RFK Jr. Official Admits Goal Is to Elect Trump

Julia Conley, Apr 08, 2024 [CommonDreams]


The (anti)Federalist Society Infestation of the Courts

Retired military leaders tell SCOTUS Trump immunity will destroy civilian control of the military

Nbbooks [Tony Wikrent] April 9, 2024 [DailyKos]

19 retired four-star admirals and generals, and former secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force, who have served under each President from John F. Kennedy to Donald J. Trump, have filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court (pdf), warning of disastrous results should the Court agree with Trump’s theory of presidential immunity. Excerpts below; I have bolded some text for emphasis.

“Petitioner’s theory that the President is absolutely immune from criminal prosecution, if accepted, has the potential to severely undermine the Commander-in-Chief’s legal and moral authority to lead the military forces, as it would signal that they but not he must obey the rule of law. Under this theory, the President could, with impunity, direct his national security appointees to, in turn, direct members of the military to execute plainly unlawful orders, placing those in the chain of command in an untenable position and irreparably harming the trust fundamental to civil-military relations….

“…the rule of law is critical to the military’s mission and to the people’s trust in the armed forces. The military service members’ duty to disobey unlawful orders plainly illustrates this point. This duty requires service members, who are bound to obey all lawful orders, to disregard patently unlawful orders from their superiors and prohibits service members from using such orders as a defense to criminal prosecution. Immunizing the Commander-in-Chief from criminal prosecution, as Petitioner argues for here, would fly in the face of that duty, creating the likelihood that service members will be placed in the impossible position of having to choose between following their Commander-in-Chief and obeying the laws enacted by Congress… Not only does Petitioner’s approach threaten to inject chaos into military operations, it also threatens to damage—potentially irreparably—the public’s trust in the military and the willingness of recruits to join the armed forces….

”I. Petitioner’s claimed immunity would undermine our nation’s foundational commitment to civilian control of the military….

“Civilian control of the U.S. military ensures that the armed forces are subordinate to the direction and control of a President who is accountable to the people…. Ensuring that this system works, however, requires more than just laws. It also requires deep trust between the civilian and military leaders that they fundamentally share common goals: to defend the nation and uphold the Constitution and the laws of the United States. Indeed, at its core, civilian control of the military requires mutual trust and respect for the different roles that civilian and military leaders are called to fill in our Constitutional order. In particular, our system requires trust in the Commander-in-Chief as a source of legal and moral authority to lead the men and women of the armed forces, as at his orders they place their lives in peril to serve their country.

“Allowing the Commander-in-Chief to weaponize the powers of the U.S. military to criminal ends with impunity would also confront the President’s civilian appointees and military officers with an impossible choice: whether to obey the orders of the Commander-in-Chief or the laws of the United States. Some political appointees might prioritize their loyalty to the President above their oaths and transmit the orders to violate the law, thus passing on to senior military leaders the dilemma of whether to obey the President or the law….”

15 Historians File Amicus Brief in Trump v. US Debunking Immunity Claim

[Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law, April 8, 2024]

Today 15 historians filed an amicus brief  with the Supreme Court in Trump v. United States. The historians—Holly Brewer, Rosemarie Zagarri, Jack Rakove, and 12 others— reject the former president’s claim of immunity from criminal prosecution. They find that accountability under the law has been a defining principle of the American presidency since its origins.

“When designing the presidency, the founders wanted no part of the immunity from criminal prosecution claimed by English kings,” said Brewer, Burke Chair of American Cultural and Intellectual History and Associate Professor of History at the University of Maryland. “That immunity was at the heart of what they saw as a flawed system. On both the state and national level, they wrote constitutions that held all leaders, including presidents, accountable to the laws of the country. St. George Tucker, one of the most prominent judges in the new nation, laid out the principle clearly: everyone is equally bound by the law, from ‘beggars in the streets’ to presidents.”

Will the Supreme Court Botch Trump’s Immunity Case Too?

Matt Ford, April 11, 2024 [The New Republic]

Special counsel Jack Smith has made it as easy as possible for the justices to rule against Trump. But we’ve seen this movie before.

Much of the case centers around the Supreme Court’s 1982 ruling in Nixon v. Fitzgerald. The plaintiff, A. Ernest Fitzgerald, was a senior Pentagon official who testified about cost overruns before Congress in 1968, embarrassing Richard Nixon’s administration. Nixon fired him in 1970. Almost a decade after Nixon resigned in disgrace over the Watergate scandal, Fitzgerald sued him and other government officials over the incident, which he claimed was retaliatory.


David Sirota, April 11, 2024 [The Lever]

Because politics is now mostly focused on the culture war, you might not know that the Supreme Court doesn’t primarily arbitrate social issues — it mostly deals with business cases like this one recently spotlighted by The Lever. A recent Constitutional Accountability Center study suggests that’s by design: “In deciding which cases to hear last term, the Court overwhelmingly chose opportunities to help big business by reconsidering lower-court wins for individuals or the government. As usual, the Court rarely agreed to hear cases that would put corporate victories in jeopardy. And when resolving the cases it accepted for review, the Court ultimately ruled for corporate interests nearly three-fourths of the time.”

At Supreme Court, Corporations Misuse History in Cases on Agency Power

Thomas WolfGautham Rao , January 16, 2024 [Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law]

The Supreme Court’s conservative supermajority might be set to knock another item off the right’s wish list. The court will hear two cases in January that could hobble federal agencies’ power to do their jobs by stopping them from using their discretion to interpret the law. Since agencies manage so much of American life — from the economy to food quality to nuclear power — the damage the court could do is dire. The rationale for doing it anyway, according to the corporations that brought these cases? A fictional version of American history.

The corporations mistakenly claim that, from the early years of the republic through the late 19th century, the federal courts were a strong check on federal agencies. They point to the framers’ concept of separated powers — according to which only courts can interpret the law — and the norms of 19th-century federal courts — according to which judges decided all legal questions raised by agencies’ actions for themselves. In reality, though, American agencies and courts didn’t work like that. The notion of the 19th-century federal judiciary micromanaging federal agencies is a historical fantasy meant to satisfy the conservative supermajority’s allegiance to originalism — that peculiar belief that judges should interpret the Constitution the way it was (supposedly) interpreted at the time it was drafted and ratified nearly two-and-a-half centuries ago.

Of course, if it were up to us, the Court wouldn’t be using history to make decisions about agencies’ powers or answer any other constitutional questions. But the gauntlet has been thrown, imaginary history is before the Court, and it can’t go unchallenged.

The founders created federal “departments” or agencies at the very dawn of the republic, and the courts had precious little to say to them until well after the Civil War. Left largely to themselves, these federal agencies were crucial to getting and keeping the young nation up and running. Discretion was key to their work.

For example, Alexander Hamilton’s Treasury Department collected the import taxes that helped the federal government finance its activities and pay its debts. The department’s customs officers had to decide when and how to enforce the law — or not — to keep traffic in the ports moving and ensure that merchants respected their authority. And customs officials — along with local physicians — also had wide latitude on questions critical to running a health care system for sailors. Early tax assessors and their supervisory boards had substantial say over how to value real estate and determine how much landowners owed the government. The military exercised its authority at will, wielding violence against Indians to expand the country from coast to coast. By the Civil War, federal agencies were making decisions on a massive scale about such activities as administering pensions, conducting safety inspections on steamboats, and resolving disputed land claims in the West.

Arizona’s Right-Wing Supreme Court Just Chose Chaos Over Reason

Matt Ford, April 10, 2024 [The New Republic]

The court, which Republicans expanded in 2016 to add two conservative justices, has revived a draconian law from 1864—nearly a half-century before Arizona even became a state.

Anti-Trans Missouri A.G. Can Now Access Trans People’s Medical Records 

Ellie Quinlan Houghtaling, April 12, 2024 [The New Republic]

A St. Louis judge has ruled that Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey is entitled to Planned Parenthood’s transgender care records, ordering the nonprofit to turn over some of its most sensitive files to the man who has built his unelected political career on restricting health care access for trans people.

In his Thursday decision, Circuit Judge Michael Stelzer wrote that Bailey can collect documents under Missouri’s consumer protection statute that aren’t protected under federal mandate, namely the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, better known as HIPAA.

Petition Demanding Clarence Thomas Recuse From Trump Immunity Case Nears 200K Goal

Jake Johnson, April 12, 2024 [CommonDreams]

More than 165,000 people have signed a petition demanding that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas recuse himself from a pending case on whether former President Donald Trump should be immune from criminal charges stemming from his attempt to overturn his 2020 loss.

The petition, organized by the progressive advocacy group MoveOn, urges Thomas to recuse from all cases related to the January 6, 2021 insurrection, including the high-stakes and closely watched Trump immunity case. Oral arguments in that case are scheduled for April 25.

‘No One Deserves Power for Life’: Coalition Demands Supreme Court Term Limits

Jessica Corbett, April 09, 2024 [CommonDreams]

As the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to weigh in on presidential immunity and other major issues in the months ahead, more than 50 advocacy groups on Tuesday endorsed legislation that would create 18-year terms for current and future justices and provide two appointments for each presidential term….

Along with Stand Up, organizations calling on Congress to pass the Supreme Court Tenure Establishment and Retirement Modernization (TERM) Act include Accountable.US, Alliance for Justice, Brennan Center for Justice, Color of Change, Center for Popular Democracy, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Demand Justice, Greenpeace USA, Indivisible, March for Our Lives, MoveOn, NextGen America, People for the American Way, Public Citizen, and Working Families Party.

The TERM Act (H.R. 5566) is led by Congressman Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), who reintroduced the bill in September and said during an event outside the Supreme Court that “our system is broken, and Congress must act if we are to save freedom, liberty, and democracy for all.”


Civic republican

Republicanism and the political economy of democracy 

David Casassas and Jurgen De Wispelaere [European Journal of Social Theory
2016, Vol. 19(2) 283–300]

This article identifies three key ideas that together constitute a distinctively republican approach to political economy: (1) establish an economic floor; (2) impose an economic ceiling to counter excess economic inequality; and (3) democratize the governance and regulation of the main economic institutions. [p. 283]

In the wake of Liberalism’s complicity in bringing about the disastrous state of affairs we find ourselves in, and Socialism’s apparent failure to offer a persuasive alternative, political theorists have started to find inspiration in the earlier tradition of political thought associated with classical thinkers as diverse as Aristotle, Cicero, Machiavelli, Harrington, Rousseau, Paine, Robespierre, Jefferson, Madison, Wollstonecraft, and so on. This ‘republican turn’ (White, 2011) is explored today in the writings of, among others, Philip Pettit, Michael Sandel, Quentin Skinner, Richard Dagger, Frank Lovett, Stuart White, Antoni Dome`nech, Alex Gourevitch, Eric MacGilvray and John McCormick. The attraction of republicanism lies precisely in its insistence that the core value of being a free person – understood in Pettit’s terms as being free from alien control or domination – entails the constitution of collective self-determination. Republicanism is simultaneously a theory of freedom and politics (Pettit, 1997), or, put differently, an account of freedom through politics.3 This makes it an appealing starting point for examining the economic conditions of democratic governance.

.… The body of the article examines three key ideas that together constitute the republican political economy of democracy. First, republican political economy must secure a universal and unconditional economic floor. Second, republican political economy must ensure that unequal economic opportunities or power do not impede a person’s freedom from domination, by imposing an economic ceiling. Third, while economic floors and ceilings are important, republicanism nevertheless insists that [p. 284] economic sovereignty also be guaranteed in a more direct manner, by establishing robust democratic control over the economy….

What is republican political economy? The starting point – as always – is the distinctive idea of freedom that informs republican political thought.4 Republicanism adopts a notion of freedom that is distinct from the (more familiar) liberal ideal of freedom from interference (Pettit, 1997, 2001, 2012). Republican freedom requires not merely the absence of interference, but also protection against the mere possibility of interference. Liberal freedom says a person is only unfree when actually interfered with, but republicans entertain a more demanding view: a person who is placed in a position whereby a third party (individual or group) can impose their will on them is not considered free, even if that person refrains from actually interfering. Republican freedom requires that a person at all times is able to prevent or counter any attempt at undue interference, not merely its contingent absence. Republicanism and Liberalism also part ways in relation to what counts as interference. Liberals insist every form of interference is an infringement of freedom, whereas republicans believe that many forms of interference are in fact positively sanctioned by the person interfered with….

Republicanism does not merely give us an idea of what freedom is really about, but also an account of how to ensure that a free society – a society in which its citizens are all as equally free as possible – comes about. The republican conception of freedom as nondomination requires robust institutions that secure that all citizens are free from domination, both horizontal domination by others (dominium) and vertical state domination (imperium). Republican institutions come in three main forms. First, there is the legal regulation of rights (including property rights) as encompassed by the rule of law. Second, there is the constellation of economic resources (assets) that provides each citizen with a form of bargaining power to negotiate economic life on free and equal terms. Third, there is the set of political institutions that provide the opportunity for citizens to individually and collectively shape the institutional forms of social and economic life. [P. 285]

Almost all the great theorists of citizenship … have believed that in order to be a citizen of a polis, in order to be able to participate fully in public life, one needed to be in a certain socio-economic position … People, it was said, could not act as citizens at all, or could not be expected to act well in the political sphere and to make adequate decisions, unless some attention was paid to matters of their wealth, their well-being and their social and economic status. (King and Waldron, 1988: 425–6)

Historically and sociologically, the crucial institutional condition for the emergence of anything like republican freedom was property (Dome`nech and Ravento´s, 2007; Casassas, 2013). Property can be understood as durable control over a set of material resources or assets that leverages one’s freedom in economic exchanges by effectively securing a form of bargaining power vis-a`-vis other agents….

Of course, the republican social ontology denies the existence of ‘free’ markets of the sort stipulated by neoliberal ideology (Anderson, 2014). Instead, republicans adopt the classical political economy approach, as advocated most famously by Karl Polanyi (1944), by which economic exchanges are necessarily embedded in an institutional context (Wagner, 2005). Republican freedom is not about being independent from social and economic relations – republicans have little truck with libertarian atomistic individualism (Casassas and De Wispelaere, 2012) – but about being equally free within such relations….

Establishing an economic floor The notion that republican freedom centrally depends on ensuring a measure of economic independence for all agents leads fairly straightforwardly to the requirement that we ought to establish an economic floor below which no one ought to fall. Such a floor serves a key purpose in equalizing power relations within economic exchanges, including guaranteeing the exit option that allows individuals to refuse any exchange they believe to be incompatible with their status as a free and equal citizen (Widerquist, 2013). But the idea of an economic floor is more complex than our intuition suggests, as shown in this section. The first consideration we need to address concerns the form such a floor should take: [P. 287]

Third, there are many reasons to think that an economic floor really only promotes republican freedom in conjunction with a wider set of public policies (a ‘package of measures’), including in-kind benefits such as access to health care and education, housing policies, care policies, regulations pertaining to pension provision, employment directives like a decent minimum wage, and so on. To use a phrase inspired by the debate on the Rawlsian basic liberties, we can distinguish between the ‘economic floor’ and the ‘worth of the economic floor’. … Obviously, an economic floor within a comprehensive protective policy context enhances republican freedom more than an institutional framework where an economic floor – even a high basic income – constitutes the sole mechanism conferring a safety net to the weak. For this reason republicans must denounce Charles Murray’s (2006) proposal to replace all welfare state programs with a single basic income scheme. Having to buy all kind of social services in the market – where, for instance, prices of health insurances grow with risk because of ‘adverse selection’ and risks themselves are no longer properly pooled – might rapidly turn the economic floor into an irrelevant measure for promoting republican freedom. [P. 289]

Imposing an economic ceiling

…a concern with promoting citizens’ republican freedom involves the need to impose an economic ceiling, which we understand roughly as a limit imposed on the differential economic power that derives from accumulations of wealth…. . Vast accumulations of economic power tend to go hand in hand with the capacity of some to turn economic life into an oligarchic game by creating barriers to market entry, by fixing prices in a predatory way, by controlling the use of strategic resources (including investment; White, 2011), by hampering autonomy and self-realization in the workplace, and so on. Economic empowerment through a basic income or similar floor of resources constitutes a significant achievement from a republican point of view, but it nevertheless falls short of realizing republican freedom when powerful actors retain the power to determine the rules of the game, which in turn entails the capacity to exercise significant economic control over others (McCormick, 2011).

The idea of an economic ceiling comes in a Rousseauian and a Rooseveltian variation… Republicans share the Rousseauian view that there are moral grounds for insisting that earnings differentials should remain within a reasonable limit, proportional to the work that has been performed. Excessive inequality leads to a fractured society in which trust and social solidarity are hard to sustain. Pettit is adamant that ‘the ideal of equal status freedom … puts significant constraints on how large material inequalities can be’ (2012: 298). Raising minimum wages and limiting top salaries are two familiar policies that contribute to keeping economic inequality in check (Pizzigati, 2004, 2012), but an effective economic ceiling likely requires a wider range of interventionist policies. Peter Taylor Gooby recommends ‘measures to curb incomes at the top end through reforms to remuneration systems and possibly maximum wage legislation’ as key requirements to combat inequality (2013: 40). Or consider James Meade’s model of a ‘partnership economy’, a comprehensive Rousseaunian program consisting of four elements: (1) pay within the firm is determined by profit-sharing and revenue-sharing mechanisms; (2) wealth is taxed as it passes onto the next generation (wealth tax); (3) the community owns a large share of the nation’s productive assets; and (4) the return on the community fund pays for a uniform grant to all citizens (Meade, 1989; White, 2012). Thomas Piketty’s (2014) well known proposal for a global tax on wealth to prevent soaring inequality also addresses Rousseauian concerns, while Ingrid Robeyns (2015) has recently offered a philosophical defense of this approach, which she dubs ‘Limitarianism’ [p. 290]

…if the goal of a republican political economy of democracy is the empowerment of citizens to exercise effective self-determination in the economic spheres of production, distribution, consumption, and even investment (White,2011; Ott, 2014), market freedom needs to be complemented with increased democratic participation at all levels of economic organization. The republican democratization project proceeds in two stages. In the first instance, republicans follow the lead of Marx in demanding ‘collective control over the means of production’, for without the capacity to co-determine the terms under which we engage with each other as social and economic agents, republican freedom cannot but remain a mirage. Republicanism, then, represents ‘the hope that it is possible, at least under some circumstances, for a people to shape its own political destiny, that we need not embrace the tenets of economic determinism’ (MacGilvray, 2011: 19). [p. 293]

[TW:Not mentioned here is perhaps the most important reason for civic republican hostility to concentrated wealth: the simple criminality that lies behind many fortunes. Jane Mayer has recounted how the Koch brothers avoided criminal prosecution for environmental crimes in the 1980-90s. British intelligence has long been a major support for international drug trafficking, beginning with the Opium Wars against China and continuing today with HSBC money laundering. This history of the criminality of certain top elites is simply never discussed by most “leftists” and academic political theorists.]


And Iran Retaliates For the Embassy Attack


The Standard Conditions Peaceful Or Violent Revolution, Collapse and Coups


  1. VietnamVet

    US politics has become Steve Bannon’s Horseshoe with the left and right merging. The center no longer gives a damn for the people. Yes, Republicans cut taxes so the rich get wealthier and assures an incompetent government. But democrats love war and profiteering. There is no real choice in the recent Uni-USA-elections between the ruling mobs.

    Democracy vanished. Soon peaceful elections and changes in leadership will be gone. Lost too is feedback from the voters to politicians. A non-violent restoration of a multi-polar world is appearing less likely every day with WWIII (the NATO/Russia and the Israel/Iran conflicts) continuing to escalate.

  2. bruce wilder

    I got hung up on the interview with Heather Cox Richardson. Richardson has had great success with her Substack newsletter, which features a mix of historical references — some fairly sound and some painfully painfully shallow — with an unhealthy dump truck load of Trump Derangement Syndrome.

    It is not that any one thing she’s says is wrong, or entirely wrong. She brings a lot of historical perspective, which adds interest and weight to her analysis, but her frame of analysis is fundamentally and hopelessly broken, so everything she passes thru it — no matter how good and relevant and worthy of attention when she introduces some information — comes out broken and distorted and misleading.

    The United States has a two-Party system. There are two major political Parties that organize the Congress and the electoral competition to choose a President and Vice-President. Two! Count ’em: 1, . . . 2! She rarely acknowledges that even in passing, but every outcome of American politics is a product of the contention between the two Parties. What various factions in one Party say they want doesn’t get processed into political outcomes unless and until it passes thru the meat grinder of inter- as well as intra- Party competition. To analyze what is going on with one Party without reference to the Other Party is historical and political malpractice when your aim is to comment on the evolution of American politics and its risks and prospects. It is dishonest. It is incompetent. And, that is practically her whole method. She might as well substitute host for Rachel Maddow on MSNBC.

    I am not saying she needs to introduce defenses or excuses for Donald Trump or the Republican Party’s (previous and future?) establishment. But, for honest perspective, I am saying she needs to ask honestly what the Democratic Party is doing or what the Democratic Party represents. “in this moment” as she likes to put it.

    She claims she is not a Democrat, that she has no affiliation with any political Party. But, like I say, she’s not honest in her analysis, and you certainly couldn’t confirm a non-partisan perspective from her content.

    I don’t know if she’s really detached from the Democratic Party and it is only the analytical frame she’s adopted that makes everything she says so absurdedly distorted or if she’s lying about her political party identification.

    In important ways, it does not matter, because either way, her analyses are determindedly deceptive and misleading. Given how successful her Substack is, her voice must sound “right” to a lot of people. I presume it sounds, “OK” or worth listening to, to Tony Wikrent. Probably he doesn’t hear exactly what I hear; his filters may improve her — I can only hope.

    With my filters, what I hear appalls me. I suppose one could complain that my filters consist of a never-ending series of “yeah, but whatabout . . . ?” and that would be basically true. I see Richardson using a polarizing lens to get the “meaning” she wants from “this moment”. What alarms me is not that I think she’s wrong about the risk of, say, authoritarianism triumphing in American politics. I think the U.S. is at very high risk of authoritarian government — I think democracy per se is already in a well-dug grave — but she’s absolutely wrong to put forth a warning that implies that that risk comes entirely from the Republican Party. That risk, in my view, comes from the distressing dynamic that has developed between the Parties that advances the country’s politics in a right-ward dance toward ever darker authoritarian precedents.

    And, a very real and potent basis for that distressing dynamic is dishonest, horrible people like Richardson, who pretend to do good with lies of omission. You’re not doing anything to oppose the rise of “fascism” if you do not recognize that its rise is a product of the dynamic between the Parties. And, it is not redeemed in any part by adopting a few tropes from the nihilistic “successor ideology” so popular among academics. (I wanted to scream when she shot from a seemingly reasonable appreciation of Mussolini’s fascism toward Hitler’s Nazi ideology, without any acknowledgement that they might be different, most notably in the exterminationist racism of the latter.)

    ” . . . the Republican Party . . . since 1981 has operated under the ideology that the way to make the country better is to concentrate wealth at the top of the economy, so the wisest and most business savvy can invest it most efficiently to create growth and jobs.”

    True enough, I guess. A little black-and-white, but accurate as a short summary of sloganeering at least.

    Is that the whole truth? What have been the ideologies of the controlling factions of the Democratic Party? Opposed to neoliberalism in any way? And, what about Trump’s “populist” hijacking of the Republican Party out from under its Country Club Republican establishment? Any interest in that? Trump’s rising popularity among Hispanics and Blacks? Any curiosity about that?

    Her whole talk is painful. Her TDS comes out in some gratuitous speculation about Trump’s mental health or mental stability and then, she turns around and touts Biden’s performances, as if there aren’t endless YouTubes of Biden unable to find his way across the lawn or a stage or unable to finish a sentence. (for the record, I think a “diagnosis” of hypomania can be fairly applied to Trump and he’s definitely older than he was and that takes a toll as I can attest from personal experience!)

    The imminent failure of American Democracy is manifest in the inability of the political system to produce a reasonable choice. As far as I am concerned, you are not really in touch with reality if you cannot appreciate how inappropriate are either Trump’s candidacy or Biden’s. If those in power in the Democratic Party really cared about any of the things decent people care about in government or really feared a Trump Presidency, they would have found a much better candidate. Instead they used wholly undemocratic means to ensure that none could possibly emerge. Stare at that reality for a few minutes.

    “Biden is the most consequential President since LBJ and perhaps FDR.” Genocide Joe’s working on Taiwan, to complete a trifecta for World War III which should let him surpass FDR in consequences real soon now. Gaslight someone else.

  3. Back in the first Cold war there was a fight to limit and contain a militant, mass murdering state. That state heavily used propaganda to make the population follow and obey. Dissenters were “canceled” in ways that make todays cancel culture look like Benevolence. People were subjected to experimentation, and stripped of their personal autonomy.

    “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum”

    “The United States is also a one-party state but, with typical American extravagance, they have two of them.”

  4. Donald

    What I have noticed the few times I have read HCR is that she is obviously a partisan centrist liberal Democrat.

    And on foreign policy , she accepts everything the Biden Administrations says at face value. I haven’t read her in weeks, so I don’t know what she has said about Biden’s continuation of a policy to send 2000 lb bombs to Israel, but so far as I have read, she simply ignores anything that makes Biden look bad.

    Her appeal is precisely to centrist liberals who want all of their biases affirmed by someone who writes and speaks in a calm tone with seeming academic precision.

  5. Albe Vado

    “HCR lists Biden’s accomplishments, and concludes Biden is the most consequential President since LBJ and perhaps FDR.”

    I’m so damn tired of the obvious lies. Being lied to constantly is bad enough, but there’s something so uniquely irritating about the blatantly obvious ‘polishing a turd’ aspect that has gotten really old. Do they even know that they’re lying at this point? Or do they actually believe the tripe they’re constantly spouting?

  6. Mark Level

    Thank you to bruce wilder for the detailed take on Heather Cox Richardson. I am glad that Winkret shared some highlights in chronology so I didn’t have to waste a minute or any brain cells on her drivel. These people are utterly brain dead. I know some of them personally.

    As America becomes more fascist & militaristic. The latest Biden budget is 2/3rds for war & “security” (surveillance, DHS etc.) and at best 1/3 for domestic needs. The US is a permanent war state with no viable future . . .

    I’m going to disagree with Vietnam Vet a bit– as to the “horseshoe” theory, there seem to be fewer (nearly none) at the institutional level on the right; of course, among the Dems there are nearly none that don’t support the Ukraine quagmire, but some are forced by their constituencies (or personal histories) to oppose (weakly) the ongoing mass genocide across Gaza, the West Bank, etc.

    House Speaker Mike Johnson was either bribed or blackmailed to put a Ukraine “loan” (rather than full aid) up for a vote in the near future as part of the Genocide funding of Israel that they will soon pass, 6 months and counting of mass murder unchecked. Imagine the absurdity of expecting the corrupt & collapsing Nazi regime in Kiev to ever repay any loan!! Though they do talk openly of stealing $300 billion in frozen Russian assets to fund more dead Ukrainians. Useful Idiots Monday Mournings had Marco Rubio crowing about doing this on their program earlier today.

    I’ll agree with bruce that yes, starting WW III & making the US (& Germany & UK, perhaps a few others) international pariahs alongside Israel is the only thing that COULD ever make Joe “Fundamentally, nothing will change” very “consequential.”

    Oh, & in closing for a possible sliver of hope (?), Naked Capitalism has a good piece today on the Extremist Zionists’ (Christian included) plan to sacrifice 3 red heifers atop a platform looking down on the Al-Aqsa mosque (Islam’s 3rd holiest site after the Qaaba in Mecca & Medinah), after which Al-Aqsa will be leveled to institute the “Third Temple” & the coming of the nationalist MShICh. They have a link to CBS News’ reporting, commenters are saying the ritual will be done later in April . . . I’d imagine IF this happens the cowardly Arab states like the Saudis & Qatar, Kuwait standing on the sidelines would not be able to do nothing as they so far have. (I could be wrong, but we’ll see.)

    Here’s the link to NC for anyone interested–

  7. Soredemos


    There is no ‘center’ in American politics, and there never was. Nor could there ever be. Left and Right are fundamentally opposing political philosophies. By their very nature compromise is impossible, and it wouldn’t be a desirable thing even if that weren’t the case.

    What passed for the ‘center’ was a crushing of left wing politics and making some social democratic concessions to ameliorate the worst problems of capitalism before capitalism completely imploded in on itself. The center was always just a bit less right wing.

  8. Willy

    HCR writes for the simpliciter asinus. She ignores that for most voters, politics involves seeing a Joe Biden “I did this!” sticker at the gas pump and assuming him a total failure.

    Trump is the only candidate in recent memory who can be truthfully oversimplified as a total failure (outside of griftiness).

    The truth is that “Biden has accomplished more since FDR” isn’t necessarily a heroic tale in the face of corporate dominance, but sad commentary about all the other POTUS since that time, in comparison to national leaders from more successful ‘citizen-oriented’ parties.

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