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

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – April 2, 2023

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – April 2, 2023

by Tony Wikrent


Global population could fall to six billion with ‘unprecedented investment’ in tackling poverty, researchers say

[Sky News, via Naked Capitalism 3-30-2023]

The Club of Rome’s Earth4All model.

The forecasts in the report are in contrast to UN predictions which show the population reaching 9.7 billion in 2050 and peaking at 10.4 billion in the 2080s.


Elite impunity

I’ve Been Waiting For This For 55 Years

wruckusgroink, March 31, 2023 [DailyKos]

Donald Trump has been indicted… I’ve been waiting for this moment for 55 years, since 1968. That was the year that Richard Nixon won the presidency by committing treason….

Johnson knew! He knew Nixon had committed treason! Why didn’t he go public? The whole gruesome story is here…

LBJ wanted to go public with Nixon’s treason. But Clark Clifford, an architect of the CIA and a pillar of the Washington establishment, talked Johnson out of it. LBJ’s close confidant warned that the revelation would shake the foundations of the nation.

In particular, Clifford told Johnson (in a taped conversation) that “some elements of the story are so shocking in their nature that I’m wondering whether it would be good for the country to disclose the story and then possibly have [Nixon] elected. It could cast his whole administration under such doubt that I think it would be inimical to our country’s best interests.”

In other words, Clifford told LBJ that the country couldn’t handle the reality that its president was a certifiable traitor, eligible for legal execution….

….And of course the Reaganauts then happily go on to commit one of the most blatant crimes in American history that goes by the moniker “Iran-Contra.” This scheme was so flagrant, so shameless and so horrifying it still has the power to amaze. A law was passed banning the Reaganauts from providing aid to the contras of Nicaragua. So the Reaganuts set up Oliver North IN THE BASEMENT OF THE WHITE HOUSE (?!?!?) so he could wheel and deal an arrangement where the United States would SELL WEAPONS TO OUR SWORN ENEMIES THE IRANIANS, a terrorist-sponsoring state, and then funnel that money the very Contras they were forbidden, by law, to support.  What happened when this was discovered? As always, Charles Pierce, a god who graces us mere mortals with his divine presence, nails the story:

Washington decided, quite on its own, that “the country” didn’t need another “failed presidency,” so what is now known as The Village circled the wagons to rescue Reagan from his crimes. There was the customary gathering of Wise Men — The Tower Commission — which buried the true scandal in Beltway off-English and the passive voice.

….Cut to 2009. I’m sure you were as sickened and horrified by the evil thugs of the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Rove administration approving—actually ENCOURAGING—the torture of prisoners in Iraq (and then documenting it all, so the world could see). Here’s Richard Clarke, who was there and tried to stop them, on what they did….

….And so we elected Barack Obama! Time for these criminals to pay for their crimes, so no public official will ever be tempted to do something so outrageous again, right? Right?


Nixon, Haldeman, Liddy, Reagan, Edwin Meese, Oliver North, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Karl Rove…they sent Donald Trump a very clear message: “Break the law. The more outlandish the crime, the better. The punditocracy will dry-wash their hands and mumble platitudes and then protect you, because the ‘little people’ out there—so fragile!— are desperate that their illusions be preserved. Just deny, obfuscate, blame the press for spreading lies, blame the Democrats of persecution, and run out the clock.”


Bush’s Iraq War Lies Created a Blueprint for Donald Trump

[The Intercept, via The Big Picture 3-26-2023]


What Trump and the Republicans Don’t Understand About the Law

Michael Tomasky, March 31, 2023 [The New Republic]

But this much is clearly true: Michael Cohen went to prison in part because of the payment to Stormy Daniels (he was convicted more on tax evasion, but campaign finance violations—the payment to Daniels—were one count in his indictment). If it was illegal for Cohen to make the payment, then surely it’s illegal to have ordered the payment, which is what Trump is alleged to have done. That’s all pretty simple.

So no, this is not “Communist-level shit,” as Don Jr. tweeted. And Joe Biden had nothing to do with this. Ditto George Soros. The Republican and right-wing reaction is just insane. Trump’s been in legal jeopardy his entire life. Read the Wikipedia entry “Legal Affairs of Donald Trump”: around 3,500 lawsuits, 1,450 as defendant; 169 suits in federal court; 100 tax disputes, with 36 liens against his properties for nonpayment of taxes; settlements in 100 cases; and of course the conviction of the Trump Organization last December on 17 criminal charges. He’s been a one-man crime wave his entire adult life. The wonder is that it’s taken this long for him to be indicted….

This is going to get seriously ugly. I watched about 15 minutes of Tucker Carlson on Thursday night. Literally every sentence he spoke was an exaggeration or a lie or a willful misrepresentation of the truth (and remember, we know from the Dominion lawsuit that Carlson said he hated Trump “passionately”). He hit the “banana republic” theme and argued that this was a purely political move designed to stop Trump from getting back into the White House.

Well, no. It’s about the law. Again, we’ll be able to make a better assessment when we see the charges. But this isn’t about what Trump might do. It’s about what he (allegedly) did. And as for the precedent this sets, it’s entirely positive. Presidents should be prosecutable. They should be prosecutable even when they’re president. If someone is breaking the law, he’s breaking the law. The idea that a president has to worry about the law strikes me as a good thing, in this case and in all future cases where the people might have elected a corrupt person as president.

So this will prove to be good for the republic—if the republic survives this episode. Trump and the pro-Trump media have succeeded in creating a parallel-universe reality that at least a third of the country buys. That Joe Biden is behind this. That it’s a stop-Trump conspiracy. That George Soros is behind this. That Democrats have weaponized the justice system. And on and on. They’re enraged. And they’re armed. If you’re not really worried about that last bit, you’re not paying attention….


Donald Trump Deserves to Be Indicted

Ryan Cooper, March 27, 2023 [The American Prospect]

But Trump’s attempted putsch was also a crime against the very idea of the law itself. Liberal and centrist lawyers often quibble with arguments that Trump should have been prosecuted years ago, because they helplessly believe that all is for the best in the best of all possible legal systems here in America. Trump has not been indicted yet, which means that for some reason he shouldn’t have been.

The real reason Trump hasn’t been indicted for his major crimes is that the people in charge of that decision—Attorney General Merrick Garland, above all—are all part of the culture of elite impunity that produced Trump in the first place. He hasn’t been prosecuted for the same reason George W. Bush didn’t get busted for his torture program and Barack Obama didn’t get prosecuted for assassinating American citizens without trial: Presidents are, for practical purposes, above the law. And this is true of titans of industry, or virtually any powerful person. The cancer of elite impunity was sooner or later going to produce someone like Trump, who is just taking that culture to its logical end point of dictatorship.


Consequences Of Indicting Trump

Ian Welsh, March 30, 2023

  1. This is a political act. Many President have committed crimes and have not been charged.
  2. It will lead to red state DAs indicting Democratic politicians with crimes to stop them from running or to damage them.
  3. This is a worldwide trend. Lula in Brazil and Rahul Gandhi in India are other examples.

Viewed from a wider context, there has been a catch-22. America and most nations let their elites slide on crimes that don’t  harm other elites. This has allowed a whole lot of evil acts to occur unpunished and for elites to act knowing they will never be held responsible for their actions. This goes beyond political acts, notice how somehow almost none of the people who took advantage of Jeffrey Epstein’s smorgasboard of underaged teenaged girls has been charged with a crime.

My judgment is that almost every powerful politician and every CEO of an important company has done things which are criminal acts: violations of red-letter law.

But when you change a norm like this, it becomes open season and causes political instability. Politicians may be guilty, but they will be charged not based on whether they are guilty but based on political expedience.

This is a further step towards America becoming ungovernable, and potentially a step towards a break-up of the Union, since red-state elites will be persecuted by blue state elites and vice-versa. With no norm of what laws elites are immune to, no member of the elite will feel safe. Either one side or the other must win and set a new norm, or the country must divide.

Globally, as I noted below, this is an extension of a new norm of not running against one’s opponents but simply getting rid of them politically.


How Should CEOs And Politicians Be Punished For the Evil They Do?

Ian Welsh, March 28, 2023

There were sound reasons for limited liability for owners who really don’t control corporations, with unlimited liability people wouldn’t want to invest in companies and when primary issue of stock was a major, or the major source for creating new companies, new corporation creation would have collapsed without limited liability.

But the disadvantage of limited liability is, indeed, that corporations tend to do evil acts knowing that their owners won’t pay the full price for them, and the way corporate executives and decision-makers tend not to go to jail for actions that an individual would go to jail for (or be liable for personally in civil court) is causing huge problems.

I think we’re going to have to remove these shields, in the case of anything where a reasonable person would know that harm was likely to occur. If you make the decisions or get the benefits, you are on the hook, and you need to be on the hook for more than you made….

I would suggest instead a simple rule. Take back all the money them made while in charge, then take enough to bankrupt them. Next, since they have shown they can’t be trusted, forbid them from any position of authority in any organization: no management or executive or board positions, no legal ability to control anything. All their possessions in the future must be controlled by an executor appointed by the government.

For truly significant harm, we might say that they are no longer allowed to work, but must subsist on whatever welfare or other provisions are provided for the indigent. Given background checks, this is often what happens to criminals: no one will hire them.


A Mammoth Meatball of Plutocratic Failure

Jason Linkins, April 1, 2023 [The New Republic]

[TW: A well written screed. Published on April Fool’s Day, ‘cuz it ain’t gonna happen. At least, not anytime soon. ]

It’s hard to find a more incisive bit of entrepreneurial whimsy to highlight in a week where we’re all a little less certain about where all our money went and to what purpose it’s being put. The trains are still derailing, our health care system is still a nightmare, and mass shootings are still as regular as rain, so we can all safely assume that our nation’s considerable wealth isn’t being funneled toward ameliorating these problems. I hate to be cynical, but I’m starting to wonder if maybe our free market isn’t quite matching capital to need with the ruthless efficiency we’ve been promised.

As everyone knows by now, the avatar of this profligate era, Elon Musk, has used $44 billion to break Twitter, essentially taking the median lifetime earnings of more than 25,000 ordinary Americans and setting it on fire, for thrills. (Musk now says Twitter is worth less than half what he paid.) Another heaping pile of cash was recently given to Silicon Valley Bank to repair the damage caused by several of Musk’s fellow travelers, who somehow managed to summon a bank run into existence over a group chat, after which they used Twitter’s desiccated remains to bully the Federal Reserve into providing a bailout.

For the rest of us, navigating the world well beneath these plutocratic aeries, everything seems to be descending into newer and ever more elaborate levels of what Cory Doctorow refers to as “enshittification”….

Here’s a campaign platform, if anyone wants it: Things should work. Trains should not derail. Rich nations should not struggle to provide pandemic relief. Concert ticket receipts should not look like epic poems. The internet should not be a wilderness of junk. And hey, just spitballing here, but maybe the next big pile of money should actually go to, say, the millions of college students who played by the rules and are now shackled with a lodestone of debt rather than going to the same old band of rich narcissists who put us in this hole. These are the kinds of political choices that we can and should make: Let’s bench this cabal of ungrateful plutocrats and put some fresh starters on the field. …


Google founder, former Disney exec to get subpoenas in JPMorgan Epstein lawsuit 

[CNBC, via Naked Capitalism 4-1-2023]


The Double Standard for Keeping Capital and Labor Honest

Robert Kuttner,  March 29, 2023 [The American Prospect]

The overwhelming majority of union leaders are honest and democratically accountable to the membership. But when corruption sets in, the government doesn’t mess around. According to Labor Department records, in the past decade there were 2,505 criminal investigations of union officials and 821 convictions. Hundreds did prison time, mostly for embezzlement of union funds.

During the same period, not a single top Wall Street executive went to jail, despite the fact that Wall Street frauds cost the economy trillions while the typical union misappropriation was in the thousands or low millions.


In Chicago Mayoral Race, Plutocrats Spend Big Against New Taxes

Matthew Cunningham-Cook, March 30, 2023 [The Lever]

The revenue plan proposed by Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson includes what he calls a “Big Banks Securities and Speculation Tax,” which would levy a $1 or $2 charge on most trades. Johnson’s campaign estimates this financial transaction tax could raise as much as $100 million annually for the city….

Johnson’s tax proposal would hit financial firms that profit from speculative trades, often conducted at the millisecond level. Executives at six such firms have contributed $1.6 million to Vallas’ bid, according to a Lever review of campaign finance records. That’s nearly 10 percent of Vallas’ total mayoral fundraising haul.

Among the firms that profit from speculative trading is the hedge fund giant Citadel, whose financial dealings were swept up in the 2021 Gamestop controversy. Citadel’s billionaire founder and CEO Ken Griffin, Jr. has been a major funder of right-wing politicians like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner.


50 Tech Leaders Circulated A Private Memo In Washington Calling For Action On SVB

[Forbes, via The Big Picture 3-29-2023]

As SVB careened towards catastrophe, some 50 founders, VCs, economists and comms experts gathered in a WhatsApp group to draft a memo calling for urgent preservation of its deposits for the sake of the broader economy. Then they sent it to Washington.


Global power shift

On America’s structural inability to effectively compete with China in Africa 

[An Africanist Perspective, via Naked Capitalism 3-28-2023]


No Billion-Dollar Bailouts For Africa 

[Consortium News, via Naked Capitalism 3-28-2023]


China spent US$240 billion bailing out ‘Belt & Road’ countries: Study 

[Channel News Asia, via Naked Capitalism 3-29-2023]


India’s Boom Is a Dangerous Myth

[Project Syndicate, via Naked Capitalism 3-30-2023]


Exclusive: US plans ultimatum in Mexico energy dispute, raising threat of tariffs 

[Reuters, via Naked Capitalism 3-29-2023]


Think tank: more than 7% of remittances could be linked to organized crime 

[Mexico News Daily, via Naked Capitalism 3-29-2023]



How Zelensky was Prevented From Making Peace in the Donbas 

[Covert Action Magazine, via Naked Capitalism 3-27-2023]


Disrupting mainstream economics

What Comes After Neoliberalism? 

Robert Kuttner,  March 28, 2023 [The American Prospect]

I had the good fortune to attend a three-day conference last week on what comes after neoliberalism and how to get there politically. The event, convened by the Hewlett Foundation, was titled “New Common Sense.”….

The good news is that we’ve just about won the battle of ideas. Reality has been a helpful ally. The core neoliberal claim that the economy would thrive if government just got out of the way has been demolished by the events of the past three decades. Neoliberalism has been a splendid success for the top 1 percent, and an abject failure for everyone else….

And note that “mispriced” is itself a misleading, anodyne term. This was not just a technical error. Viewing neoliberal fundamentalism in terms of markets as impersonal forces leaves out the political feedback loops.

It wasn’t just impersonal markets that priced carbon wrong. It was politically powerful executives who further enriched themselves by blocking a green transition decades ago when climate risks and self-reinforcing negative externalities were already well known. And it was financial executives who further enriched themselves by creating toxic securities and using political allies in both parties to block salutary regulation.

Despite its handy alliance with free-market economists, neoliberalism is not about impersonal market forces. It’s about power.

And the flip side of elite power is the destruction of jobs, communities, and families. When both parties pretend that nothing is amiss, this creates an opening for ethno-nationalism and neofascism.

All during the era that spanned Carter, Clinton, and Obama, a Democratic Party worthy of the name would have been putting forth a robust form of social democracy as the better alternative to both neoliberalism and neofascism. That it failed to do so is why we have Trumpism. One can tell parallel stories throughout the West.


Who Created America’s Free Market Mythology? (podcast) 

March 29, 2023 [The Lever]

David Sirota speaks with Harvard Professor Naomi Oreskes about the mythology of “market fundamentalism” that exists deep within the American psyche…

Where did the idea of an unfettered free market really come from? Oreskes explains how the total belief in the wisdom of the free markets (in opposition to the ‘evil’ big government), went from being on the fringes of public debate to a dogmatic ideology that is unique to the United States.

It’s a fascinating history involving key figures of the 20th century, including Herbert Hoover, industry groups, and a massively popular show called “General Electric Theater” that starred a Hollywood actor named Ronald Reagan.

Oreskes is co-author of the new book, “The Big Myth: How American Business Taught Us to Loathe Government and Love the Free Market.”


The White House’s Case for Industrial Policy (interview)

Katherine Tsai [Foreign Policy, via Naked Capitalism 3-26-2023]


What Elizabeth Warren, Larry Summers, and Paul Krugman All Got Wrong About SVB 

James K. Galbraith [The Nation, via Naked Capitalism 3-26-2023]

“As a bank catering primarily to small and medium-sized startups and some wealthy indiviiduals, SVB’s deposit base was unstable. Why did it fail when it did? The destabilizing factor was the Federal Reserve.” As Yves has been saying.


How There’s More to Economics Than the Science of Scarcity

Nicholas Gruen, May 8, 2022 [evonomics]

Particularly since the late 1800s, economics has famously striven to become a science. It was rebuilt around the mathematics of classical physics. It was also given a singular focus — as the science of scarcity. But this method became the master rather than the servant of economic inquiry. Economic life as experienced was increasingly pushed out of view to make the chosen methods work.

Alfred Marshall was an early architect of the transformation. But he sought a methodological fusion, between formal economic theory and deep familiarity with economic life. The echoes of these disciplinary values survived through to the late 1930s. Thus, as they contributed to the edifice of neoclassical economic theory, theorists like John Hicks closely considered the compromises they made between the simplifying assumptions necessary to get the mathematics to come out and the extent to which this falsified economic reality.

By contrast, the leader of the post-war generation of economists, Paul Samuelson, regarded Marshall’s attempts to bridge the divide between economic theory and economic life as hopelessly confused. He was right that they were “fudges,” but matching thought to life is like that. And the new approach solved Marshall’s problem by essentially ignoring it. Those discussions carefully explaining why the theorists’ choice of tools was the best solution to the specific intellectual dilemmas at hand became increasingly perfunctory. In the upshot, as Paul Krugman has noted, it became both normal and acceptable for major economic phenomena that couldn’t be easily captured in formal models to become invisible to professional economists….

Samuelson understood the economic world to be so constituted that it would yield its secrets to his method. He had expected the new approach to “accumulate a convergent body of econometric findings convergent on a testable truth.” Forty years on he confessed that his expectation “has not worked out.” ….

Trade-offs As a Paradigm

Compared with other objectives, how much should we value economic efficiency — the effort in inputs like labor and capital required to produce a given output of goods and services. How much should we value equality? How important is people’s health compared with these other objectives? These are difficult questions of values with which economists rarely grapple directly….

But economics is impatient with such complications, teaching its students that efficiency and equality are paradigmatically competing values — as in this 2016 explanation ….

….a paradigm of something more general that the philosopher William James expresses as follows:

“A social organism of any sort whatever, whether large or small, is what it is because each member proceeds to his own duty with a trust that the other members will simultaneously do theirs. Wherever a desired result is achieved by the co-operation of many independent persons, its existence as a fact is a pure consequence of the … faith in one another of those immediately concerned. A government, an army, a commercial system, a ship, a college, an athletic team, all exist on this condition, without which not only is nothing achieved, but nothing is even attempted.”


Predatory Finance

The Death of Credit Suisse 

[Apricitas Economics, via Naked Capitalism 3-26-2023]

This marks the first end of a Global Systemically Important Bank (G-SIB) since the category’s creation in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, and the latest in a lengthening list of bank failures across the globe…


Credit Suisse whistleblowers say Swiss bank has been helping wealthy Americans dodge U.S. taxes for years 

[CNBC, via Naked Capitalism 3-30-2023]


Congress Sweats the Small Stuff as Four Wall Street Mega Banks Have a Combined $3.3 Trillion in Uninsured Deposits

Pam Martens and Russ Marten, March 30, 2023 [Wall Street on Parade]

Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank represented the second and third largest bank failures, respectively, in U.S. history. (The largest was Washington Mutual, which failed during the 2008 financial crisis.) But in terms of the size of their deposits, we are talking about minnows compared to the deposit exposure at the whale banks on Wall Street.

As of December 31, 2022, Silicon Valley Bank had $175 billion in deposits. On the same date, Signature Bank held $88.6 billion in deposits. Now compare that to the whales on Wall Street: As of December 31, 2022, this is where deposits stood at the four largest banks in the U.S. – all of which also have large risk exposure from their extensive trading operations on Wall Street: (The data comes from federal regulatory filings known as “call reports.”)

JPMorgan Chase Bank N.A. held $2.015 trillion in deposits in domestic offices, of which $1.058 trillion were uninsured.

Bank of America held $1.9 trillion in deposits in domestic offices, of which $909.26 billion were uninsured.

Wells Fargo held $1.4 trillion in deposits in domestic offices, of which $721.1 billion were uninsured.

Citibank N.A. (parent, Citigroup) held $777 billion in deposits in domestic offices, of which $598.2 billion was uninsured. But…wait for it…Citibank also held a staggering $622.607 billion in deposits in foreign offices – of which, potentially, nothing was insured according to current law and rulemaking. That would bring total deposits at Citibank in both domestic and foreign offices to $1.4 trillion with potentially only $178.8 billion FDIC insured – or 13 percent.


Health care crisis

How Cigna Saves Millions by Having Its Doctors Reject Claims Without Reading Them 

[ProPublica, via Naked Capitalism 3-26-2023] NC on Cigna in 2014 (!).


“Some people wave away concerns about the long-term effects of COVID-19 by saying, ‘if it was really bad, the government would take steps to protect people.’”

[John Snow Project, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 3-31-2023]

“The John Snow Project has set out some of the growing body of evidence that suggests COVID-19 is having serious adverse long-term impacts on human health. This evidence is, however, being subjected to the same ‘doubt as product’ approach that was successfully deployed by the tobacco lobby to slow the introduction of public health measures to protect people from the harms of smoking, and the underlying economic incentive is similar to the rationale of the cigarette companies. While attendees at the World Economic Forum in Davos had to be vaccinated, wear masks, undergo regular COVID-19 tests, and used advanced air ventilation, filtration and treatment to reduce their risk of infection, the costs of such protocols to protect the general public are widely viewed as prohibitively expensive. Instead, those who would like to see clean air and protective measures implemented everywhere, from hospitals to schools, are presented as fearmongers, who are recklessly advocating investment in public health without precisely quantifying the benefit, and doubt is cast over the validity of any evidence that suggests COVID-19 may cause long-term or serious harm. We’ve seen this approach before, with merchants of doubt peddling uncertainty in order to undermine solid scientific evidence and dissipate the political impetus for action.”


‘Live free and die’? The sad state of U.S. life expectancy 

[NPR, via Naked Capitalism 3-26-2023]

Just before Christmas, federal health officials confirmed life expectancy in America had dropped for a nearly unprecedented second year in a row – down to 76 years. While countries all over the world saw life expectancy rebound during the second year of the pandemic after the arrival of vaccines, the U.S. did not.

Then, last week, more bad news: Maternal mortality in the U.S. reached a high in 2021. Also, a paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association found rising mortality rates among U.S. children and adolescents.

“This is the first time in my career that I’ve ever seen [an increase in pediatric mortality] – it’s always been declining in the United States for as long as I can remember,” says the JAMA paper’s lead author Steven Woolf, director emeritus of the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University. “Now, it’s increasing at a magnitude that has not occurred at least for half a century.”


Intro to Ventilation

Joey Fox [It’s Airborne, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 3-30-2023]

TABLE: Additional benefits of higher ventilation and improved air quality in schools beyond airbonr infectious disease transmission

Biden declines to veto GOP-led measure to end COVID-19 emergency 

[The Hill, via Naked Capitalism 3-30-2023]


“The End of Public Health? It’s Not Dead Yet”

[Bill of Health, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 3-28-2023]

“Once again, health law has become a vehicle for constitutional change, with courts hollowing federal and state public health authority while also generating new challenges. In part, this pattern is occurring because the New Roberts Court — the post-Ruth Bader Ginsburg composition of U.S. Supreme Court justices — is led by jurists who rely on “clear statement rules.” This statutory interpretation canon demands Congress draft textually unambiguous laws and contains a presumption against broadly-worded statutes that are meant to be adaptable over time. In effect, Congress should leave nothing to the imagination of those responsible for implementing federal laws, i.e., executive agencies and state officials, so everything a statute covers must be specified, with no room for legislative history or other non-textual sources. Clear statement rules are more than interpretive guidelines, they have constitutional dimensions that constrain congressional power both horizontally and vertically. In administrative law disputes, a critical aspect of public health law, clear statement rules enforce separation of powers…. This separated spheres of authority vision does not account for the ubiquitous use of federal/state partnerships in achieving national and state policy goals, especially health policy goals. Since the New Deal, federal/state partnership has occurred as a matter of political expedience and policy choice, but often it is not necessary as a matter of constitutional law. This pervasive structure for public health and health care laws caused problems before the New Roberts Court, but COVID-19 politics highlighted the degree to which state officials are turning away from partnering and toward what I call the ‘state veto.’ For example, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, many aspects of the Public Health Service Act, and the National Emergencies Act all rely on both federal administration and partnership with states to implement federal goals. Yet, these laws have no federal alternative if states fail or if implementation is otherwise thwarted, say, by court order. Without a federal fallback, federal money cannot reach the residents of that state and the federal policy accompanying it will not occur. … [F]ederal fallbacks are necessary to achieve any federal public health policy that continues federal/state partnership. Law is a determinant of health, and older federal health laws are on a downward spiral to address modern health problems, but the spiraling can reversed — if Congress acts.”


The Monopolies Behind the Adderall Shortage 

Matt Stoller [BIG, via Naked Capitalism 3-26-2023]


Restoring balance to the economy

Workers of Color Accounted for 100% of Union Growth in 2022 

[Payday Report, via Naked Capitalism 3-29-2023]


The Safe Harbor (longshoreman labor leader Harry Bridges)

E. Tammy Kim, April 20, 2023 issue [The New York Review]


Harry Bridges: Labor Radical, Labor Legend

by Robert W. Cherny
University of Illinois Press, 478 pp., $55.00

In North America, some 100,000 longshore workers belong to a union: the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) on the East Coast and Gulf Coast, and in eastern Canada and Puerto Rico, and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) along the West Coast and in Alaska, Hawaii, and British Columbia. Though their numbers are small compared with the two million members of the Service Employees International Union or the million-plus members of the International Brotherhood of the Teamsters, longshoremen are trained in esoteric work that is essential to global commerce. This gives them the unique ability to freeze the economy—when their labor conditions, or those of other workers, so demand.

The ILWU in particular is known for wielding its power, and in politically radical ways. It was formed in 1937 as a rebuke to the ILA’s style of unionism, which was top-down and deferential to the shipping companies. Its cofounder and longtime president was Harry Bridges, an immigrant dockworker who became something of a celebrity. In the history of the US labor movement, he is arguably as significant as Walter Reuther, who led the United Auto Workers in taming Detroit’s Big Three, or John L. Lewis, the miner who helped bring millions of disparate people into unions. In the history of the American left, Bridges merits comparison with Eugene V. Debs, Emma Goldman, and Malcolm X. Today he is less well-known than he should be….

Bridges and his fellow unionists found themselves battling “labor spies, strikebreakers, and private armed guards.” Each port was different, but in cities such as Seattle, Oakland, and Los Angeles, longshoremen risked their lives to block replacement workers from the docks. “The city of San Francisco stood on the brink of class warfare,” Cherny writes. “Sentries with bayoneted rifles marched in front of the piers. Machine-gun nests guarded key locations. Tanks prowled the Embarcadero.” Two months into the strike, on a July day that would come to be known as Bloody Thursday (and is still commemorated by the ILWU), two unionists were shot and killed, most likely by the police. Thousands of workers and supporters joined a funeral march through downtown.

Within days the maritime strike blossomed into a citywide general strike. Bridges explained to a crowd of Teamsters “that defeat of the maritime strikers would challenge the entire labor movement,” Cherny writes. In San Francisco, “no taxis or trucks moved on the streets. Movie theaters, barbershops, dry cleaners, bars, auto-repair shops, and most gas stations were closed.”


IT’S OFFICIAL: Reformer Shawn Fain Wins the UAW Presidency, Talks Plans with Steven Greenhouse in Exclusive Interview

[In These Times, via Naked Capitalism 3-26-2023]


UAW official appointed to $174,000/year leadership position after donating $25,000 to Shawn Fain’s campaign 

[WSWS, via Naked Capitalism 3-26-2023]


To Crush Unions, Starbucks Targets Employee Communications 

Max Parrott, March 28, 2023 [The Lever]

Labor experts say Starbucks is hijacking a federal court process to dig up information to further chill union drives….

Federal labor regulators are suing Starbucks on behalf of the union and workers over its conduct, but last October, a Trump-appointed judge in Buffalo, New York, ruled that as a defendant in the case, Starbucks is allowed to use subpoena power to obtain employee communications — even though the company can then use those communications to identify union sympathizers within its workforce.

In other words, instead of simply defending itself against allegations of illegal union-busting on a mass scale, the coffee giant is using the ensuing legal proceedings to double down. Labor officials and union scholars say the information the company is seeking to obtain can empower its executives and managers to target union organizers for pressure, intimidation, and retaliation.


The carnage of mainstream neoliberal economics

“New Report: The Dollar Store Invasion”

[Institute for Local Self-Reliance, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 3-29-2023]

“Last year, nearly half of new stores that opened in the U.S. were chain dollar stores, a degree of momentum with no parallel in the history of the retail industry… One might assume that the dollar chains are simply filling a need, providing basic retail options in cash-strapped communities. But the evidence shows something else. These stores aren’t merely a byproduct of economic distress; they are a cause of it. As this report shows, in small towns and urban neighborhoods alike, dollar stores drive grocery stores and other retailers out of business, leave more people without access to fresh food, extract wealth from local economies, sow crime and violence, and further erode the prospects of the communities they target. Dollar General and Dollar Tree (and its subsidiary Family Dollar) single out communities that have been marginalized economically and politically. In urban areas, they blanket Black and Latino neighborhoods, opening multiple outlets near one another.11 This carpet-bombing strategy undermines existing food stores, especially the independent grocery stores that often serve these communities, and makes it hard for new businesses to take root and grow, effectively locking in neighborhood deprivation. The chains also target rural towns, many already struggling from the effects of corporate consolidation and globalization.12 They typically locate next door to or across the street from the town’s only grocery store, and often succeed in wiping it out. Dollar stores are dismal substitutes; they stock little fresh produce and sell only a narrow range of processed foods, such as canned soup and soda.”


Mass Destruction: Real democratic participation in foreign policy is almost unimaginable today—but this wasn’t always the case.

Daniel Bessner, March 27, 2023 [Boston Review]

Every Citizen a Statesman: The Dream of a Democratic Foreign Policy in the American Century
David Allen
Harvard University Press, $45 (cloth)

Americans live in a very limited democracy. I don’t tell the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates; I don’t decide where the government puts my money; and I sure as hell didn’t vote to go to war in Iraq. Many of the most consequential decisions lie outside the purview of ordinary Americans, who have few means by which to make their voices heard in the corridors of power. This is by design. As numerous historians have shown, in the twentieth century’s second half U.S. elites constructed a state that intentionally restricts the ability of ordinary people to shape policy. Though they might disagree about a lot, the powerful in both political parties agree that, on most things, the public cannot be trusted.

This attitude is especially entrenched when it comes to foreign policy. Since World War II, elites have insisted that U.S. foreign affairs are simply too complex, and the public too volatile and too ignorant, for average Americans to have a say in its formation. As political scientist Gabriel Almond declared in 1950, “the gravest general problem confronting policy-makers is that of the instability of mass moods,” which made it very difficult to promote a stable foreign policy…. Almond’s generation institutionalized a system that ensured ordinary people were kept far away from foreign policy. It’s not for nothing that the National Security Act of 1947, which created the modern U.S. security state, established government bodies like the National Security Council and Central Intelligence Agency, both of which have no connection to public opinion.


Conservative / Libertarian Drive to Civil War

What It Means For Trump’s Campaign to Start in Waco 

Mike Giglio, March 25, 2023 [The Intercept]

EVERY REVOLUTIONARY MOVEMENT needs martyrs. The modern U.S. militant right­ has long had its own, and the most important among them have been dead for three decades: the 70-plus men, women, and children killed in the spring of 1993 at the conclusion of a 51-day government siege at a compound outside the Central Texas city of Waco….

On the far right, the Waco dead became martyrs for gun rights and a scare story about the willingness of a Democratic-controlled federal government to violently crush resistance. Militia groups mobilized. Churchill, the historian who interviewed key militia leaders from this period for his definitive book on the movement, put Waco at the center of their motivations, tied closely to Clinton’s gun control push, the steady militarization of law enforcement agencies, and an earlier federal raid that had killed the wife and child of a white supremacist in Ruby Ridge in Idaho. The movement was rooted, Churchill wrote, “in its members’ perception that their government had turned increasingly violent.” One militia leader told him, “Waco was the second shot heard round the world.”….

I was talking recently about militancy with Eric Robinson, a lawyer who was an official with the Joint Special Operations Command until 2018 and before that worked at the National Counterterrorism Center. His professional focus was overseas, and his study of American militancy is personal in nature. It comes from growing up with an interest in America’s Civil War and then seeing one for himself as a captain with the 101st Airborne Division in Baghdad, where he learned, he says, “what civil war thinks and talks like.” Robinson noted how poorly the typical label of “anti-government” fits the militant groups on the right today. “They’re not anti-government. They’re anti-Democrat,” he said. They see themselves, he added, “as the legitimate authority” in America, awaiting the time when they will come to power.


“You Know What? I’m Not Doing This Anymore.” There’s a quiet new crisis brewing in Texas following the abortion ban. It could get much worse. (Slate)

[Slate, via The Big Picture 3-26-2023]

…More than a year and a half after Texas implemented its six-week abortion ban, and months after Dobbs, medical providers say they are facing impossible situations that pit their ethical obligation to patients who are dealing with traumatic and dangerous pregnancy complications against the fear of lawsuits, loss of their medical licenses, and incarceration. The problem is encapsulated by a lawsuit filed this month in Texas, in which five women and two OB-GYNs sued the state over the abortion bans that they say have created so much confusion and fear among providers that it has affected women’s health and even threatened their lives. Unsure of how to comply with the new rules, hospitals have interpreted them differently, with some requiring approval from attorneys or ethics boards for physicians to provide abortion care in medical emergencies, and others leaving it up to individual doctors, with little guidance or support. This has meant that some physicians wait until patients are near death to intervene in medical emergencies, according to recent research, court filings, news reports, and interviews. “I’ll get consults from another doctor asking me what to do in a particular case—a mother bleeding, or a pregnancy where there’s an infection in the womb before the baby can survive outside the womb. I have doctors calling me, hesitating, not quite knowing what to do because the baby has a heartbeat, when clearly the mother’s life is at risk,” John Visintine, a maternal fetal medicine specialist in McAllen, Texas, told me. “These are things that I haven’t seen in, you know, 20 years of practicing OB, 14 years of practicing high-risk OB—I’ve never run into these situations where people are wondering what to do.”

The inability to provide what they say is the standard of care to pregnant patients is taking a toll, personally and professionally, according to interviews with more than a dozen doctors and nurses across Texas. And it’s causing many, like Wilson, to reconsider the future of their career in the state. Almost every provider I spoke with for this story has thought about leaving their practice or leaving Texas in the wake of S.B. 8 and Dobbs. Several have already moved or stopped seeing patients here, at least in large part because of the abortion bans. “If I was ever touch a patient again, it won’t be in the state of Texas,” said Charles Brown, chair of ​​the Texas district of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), who stopped seeing patients last year after decades working as a maternal fetal medicine specialist. Many asked that their hospital affiliation not be included in this story, in some cases because they feared consequences from their employer or the public for speaking out about these laws, even though they’re not breaking them. Some worry about what will happen to their own kids if they are targeted. Several cried through the interviews. Many of those I spoke with who haven’t left yet are still thinking about it regularly—people who have family and homes and lives in Texas and would not otherwise have considered moving….

This is especially true for patients at her hospital, many of whom are uninsured and don’t have access to preventive health care or early prenatal care. “For some of them, an issue with the pregnancy, like a fetal anomaly that wouldn’t be compatible with life, would not be discovered until much later,” she said. “So it’s so many more degrees more difficult for them.” At that point, if they wanted to terminate a nonviable pregnancy, their options for traveling out of state would be even more limited, and would require financial resources that many don’t have. The current abortion bans do not include any exception for severe fetal anomalies. Since the six-week ban went into effect, Guan said she’s had patients carry and deliver babies that they knew wouldn’t survive, because they didn’t have another option: “This definitely hits this population in a different, much more malicious way.”

….In the Rio Grande Valley, on the Texas-Mexico border, John Visintine, the McAllen OB-GYN, said he is one of just a few maternal fetal medicine specialists who provide care for people with high-risk pregnancies, complications, and fetal anomalies in a region of about 1.5 million people. The population is predominantly poor, with one of the highest uninsured rates in the country, and many people can’t travel out of the region because of their immigration status. Visintine said he’s been told by attorneys not to even discuss the option of going out of state for an abortion with patients, including when the fetus has such severe birth defects that it will not survive. He’s not the only one receiving this message. But withholding that information feels so unethical that he, too, has contemplated leaving his practice“To be left with the option of either potentially breaking the law and putting myself, my family, at risk, or not offering the options to a patient and not meeting her needs and providing care—I think it’s a tragic, horrible situation to be in,” he said. “And then if you leave, you know, there’s so many women that need care in this area. Do we just abandon the women of South Texas?”


[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 3-28-2023]


Trump’s congressional hit men: House Republicans recycle anti-Clinton playbook

Heather Digby Parton [Salon, via The Big Picture 3-26-2023]

Rep. James Comer is running the same game Rep. Dan Burton played when Bill Clinton was in the White House….

The Times published a long profile of the new chairman on Tuesday, in which he’s extolled as a major political talent with a huge future ahead of him — and also revealed him to be exactly the kind of hypocritical, hyper-partisan operator he appears to be. For instance, Comer admitted that as a candidate for governor, he was involved in a devious plot to discredit a girlfriend who alleged he had abused her and helped her get an abortion — by siccing a prosecutor on to a blogger who had been publishing the information. (He seems to know a lot about how abuse of power works.)


Pundit of venom and division: Newt Gingrich has not changed

Albert Hunt [The Hill, via The Big Picture 3-30-2023]

Some reporters are too young to remember that Gingrich, a very effective guerrilla warrior, was a failed Speaker a quarter century ago. Facile, glib, demagogic, he always has an observation, usually more inflammatory than insightful.

A review of Gingrichisms over the years is instructive. These do not include typical political sniping, such as Republicans calling the Democrats socialists or Democrats accusing their opponents of trying to push Grandma off the cliff. No, these are Gingrich originals. Here’s a sampling.

Gingrich charged that the Jan. 6 select committee that investigated the insurrection at the Capitol trying to overturn the presidential election was a “lynch mob.” Not, mind you, the people who erected an actual gallows outside the Capitol on Jan. 6 — no, Gingrich says, it’s the members of Congress who investigated them. He said people like Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Liz Cheney (R-Colo.) were “going to face the real risk of jail.”


What the Republican Push for ‘Parents’ Rights’ Is Really About 

Jamelle Bouie, NYT, via Naked Capitalism 3-30-2023]


The (Anti)Federalist Society Infestation of the Courts

It’s 2023, and Conservatives Are Still Trying to Sue Obamacare Out of Existence

Matt Ford, March 30, 2023 [The New Republic]

It is with a heavy heart that I must report that Judge Reed O’Connor is at it again. The Texas-based federal judge struck down a major part of the Affordable Care Act on Thursday, this time targeting a provision that required health insurers to cover certain preventive care measures at no cost….

Ruling against the ACA is a habit of sorts for the George W. Bush appointee, who took the bench in 2007. Conservative litigants have used and abused Texas’s forum-selection rules to put lawsuits before unusually sympathetic conservative judges to achieve right-wing policy goals. O’Connor was the favored destination of such suits for years: He has found the ACA to be unconstitutional, either in whole or in part, at least four times now, leaving the appellate courts to clean up his many messes.

Most famously, he ruled in 2018 that the entire Affordable Care Act was unconstitutional after the Republican-led House zeroed out the penalty for individuals who didn’t purchase health insurance. His interpretation of the law was considered so preposterous that it was widely condemned by legal experts, including those who had been on both sides of the initial wave of legal challenges to the ACA. The Supreme Court ultimately overturned O’Connor’s decision in a 7–2 decision where even Justice Clarence Thomas voted to save the law.


How Biden Can Fight Back Against Lawless Judges 

Jonathan Zasloff, March 31, 2023 [The American Prospect]

By seeking declaratory judgments on its rules, the administration can preempt right-wing efforts at forum-shopping.


The US Supreme Court Just Legalized Private Corporate Prosecutions. Activists Beware. 

[Donzinger on Justice, via Naked Capitalism 3-30-2023]

In a major blow to the rule of law, the US Supreme Court this week let stand Chevron’s private prosecution and 993-day detention of me after I helped Amazon communities in Ecuador win the historic $9.5 billion pollution case against Chevron. There was a great dissent by Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh who declared: “Our Constitution does not tolerate what happened here.” While I am dealing with a major disappointment on a personal level, I want people to know that the underlying environmental case against Chevron is still alive after being affirmed unanimously by Ecuador’s highest court and Canada’s Supreme Court for enforcement purposes.


Information age dystopia

‘It’s a dangerous race that no one can predict or control’: Elon Musk, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and 1,000 other tech leaders sign letter calling for pause on AI development because it poses a ‘profound risk to society and humanity’

[Daily Mail, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 3-29-2023]

The Mail includes the text of the letter: “Contemporary AI systems are now becoming human-competitive at general tasks, and we must ask ourselves: Should we let machines flood our information channels with propaganda and untruth? Should we automate away all the jobs, including the fulfilling ones? Should we develop nonhuman minds that might eventually outnumber, outsmart, obsolete and replace us? Should we risk loss of control of our civilization? Such decisions must not be delegated to unelected tech leaders. Powerful AI systems should be developed only once we are confident that their effects will be positive and their risks will be manageable. This confidence must be well justified and increase with the magnitude of a system’s potential effects. OpenAI’s recent statement regarding artificial general intelligence, states that ‘At some point, it may be important to get independent review before starting to train future systems, and for the most advanced efforts to agree to limit the rate of growth of compute used for creating new models.’ We agree. That point is now. Therefore, we call on all AI labs to immediately pause for at least 6 months the training of AI systems more powerful than GPT-4. This pause should be public and verifiable, and include all key actors. If such a pause cannot be enacted quickly, governments should step in and institute a moratorium. AI labs and independent experts should use this pause to jointly develop and implement a set of shared safety protocols for advanced AI design and development that are rigorously audited and overseen by independent outside experts. These protocols should ensure that systems adhering to them are safe beyond a reasonable doubt.” • This is a call for self-regulation. No wonder so many “tech leaders” signed it.


“Regular Old Intelligence is Sufficient–Even Lovely”

Bill McKibben [The Crucial Years, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 3-30-2023]

“Ezra Klein, has done some of the most dedicated reporting on the topic since he moved to the Bay Area a few years ago, talking with many of the people creating this new technology. He has two key findings, I think: one is that the people building these systems have only a limited sense of what’s actually happening inside the black box—the bot is doing endless calculations instantaneously, but not in a way even their inventors can actually follow. And second, the people inventing them think they are potentially incredibly dangerous: ten percent of them, in fact, think they might extinguish the human species. They don’t know exactly how, but think Sorcerer’s Apprentice (or google ‘paper clip maximizer.’) Taken together, those two things give rise to an obvious question, one Klein has asked: ‘If you think calamity so possible, why do this at all?’ Different people have different things to say, but after a few pushes, I find they often answer from something that sounds like the A.I.’s perspective. Many — not all, but enough that I feel comfortable in this characterization — feel that they have a responsibility to usher this new form of intelligence into the world.’ That is, it seems to me, a dumb answer from smart people—the answer not of people who have thought hard about ethics or even outcomes, but the answer that would be supplied by a kind of cultist. (Probably the kind with stock options). Still, it does go, fairly neatly, with the default modern assumption that if we can do something we should do it, which is what I want to talk about. The question that I think very few have bothered to answer is, why?”

[TW: I’ll beat the old drum for civic republicanism yet again. As John Kasson wrote in Civilizing the Machine, Technology and Republican Values in America, 1776-1900 (New York, Grossman, 1976; Penguin 1977):

The questions of the introduction of domestic manufactures and the role that labor-saving machines might play in American life were considered not as isolated economic issues but as matters affecting the entire character of society. No doubt profit motives existed, but would-be manufacturers had to make cogent arguments which addressed broader ideological concerns. In addition to asking, “How much will it pay?” they had to consider as well, “How will it advance the cause of republicanism?”

[So, what is republicanism? Well, for one thing, it is a philosophy of self-government in which the general welfare has as much weight as individual liberty, and arguably more weight than private interest. The political economy of republicanism is centered on the idea that all human beings have the capacity to seek truth, make useful discoveries and inventions, create beauty, and contribute to civilization. The idea of “unwashed masses” is repugnant.

[Therefore, looking at AI from the perspective of civic republicanism, we should be asking if AI will advance or threaten the human ability to seek truth. The early indications, as I read them, is that AI threatens to overwhelm the human capacity to seek truth, and therefore, as Lambert advocates, should be nuked from orbit.

[The problem, of course, is that the “entrepreneurs” and “disruptors” of Silicon Valley wouldn’t know civic republicanism if it paid them a visit and tore a chunk out of their ass. Thus is our society quite unprepared to deal with the future, let alone create a livable one.]


Open Thread


Justice, Law and Norms


  1. VietnamVet

    The current situation is simply summed up by Karl Rove’s truth that “We are an Empire now”. This is obfuscated in the propaganda; but, the West is ruled, this century, by a series of trade institutions with subservient rotating Emperors who rule for corporations and the global aristocrat upper caste. Profits matter more than human lives.

    Donald Trump won’t get another go at being Emperor. The Elite don’t want him. But even more so, there is unlikely to be a Western (US/UK) Empire by 2025. Saudi Arabia has just cut its oil production. Already three western banks failed. A repeat of the 1970s energy crises will bring down more. If BRICS isolate USA/UK and EU into a multi-polar world, a western economic crash is a given with the resulting devaluation of the US dollar. But even worse, basically, the USA is on the brink of revolt. Since Jimmy Carter, wages have stagnated but the rising profits have all gone to the rich. Americans have gone into debt to pay for shelter, health and education. To keep the lid on, the aristocracy has used divide and conquer in the West the same as they did in Bengal India earlier. At some point an armed populace won’t take it anymore. A charismatic leader will jump in front of the mob. Most likely, the violence will be directed at the “Others” but gated communities and private jets will become fair game if the third American civil war engulfs the coasts. This is if there isn’t a global nuclear holocaust first.

    Literally, the only way out is to restore Western democratic republics and sign a UN Armistice that establishes a manned DMZ between Ukraine and Russia and legalizes the multi-polar world. To survive in a world turned upside down, North America and Europe must live within their means and share their wealth, remaining resources, and labor equally.

  2. Adam Eran

    Here’s the best article about elite immunity:

    Documents a history of presidential crime, starting with McKinley, who apparently raped a woman and fathered a child…then got off scot free

  3. Adam Eran

    Sorry, not McKinley, Cleveland…

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