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

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – April 25, 2021

by Tony Wikrent

Strategic Political Economy

Plato, Aristophanes and Aristotle on Money-Lust, 399-380 BC
Michael Hudson, April 23, 2021 [Naked Capitalism]

Delphi’s warning that lust for monetary silver (philarguria) was the only thing that could destroy Sparta was echoed by Plato, Socrates and other philosophers accusing wealth addiction of leading to greedy and hubristic behavior that impoverished society at large. Creditors were singled out for reducing debtors to bondage and taking their land.

Near the outset of Plato’s Republic (1 at 331c-d, written c. 380 BC), Socrates (who was put to death nearly twenty years earlier, in 399) discusses the morality of repaying debts in circumstances where this would lead to anti-social consequences. Cephalus, a businessman living in the commercial Piraeus district, states the typical ethic that it is fair to pay back what one has borrowed. Socrates asks if it would be just to return weapons to a man who has become a lunatic. If a madman is intent on murder, Socrates asks, will not returning his weapon to him enable him to commit unjust acts? In view of the likely adverse social consequences, paying back such a creditor would be the wrong thing to do. It all depends on what creditors will do with their returns, and how their actions affect society. Book 8 of the Republic elaborates upon this discussion, describing how wealth leads its owners to act in ways detrimental to society.

Howard University’s removal of classics is a spiritual catastrophe

Cornel West and Jeremy Tate, April 19, 2021 [Washington Post]

Academia’s continual campaign to disregard or neglect the classics is a sign of spiritual decay, moral decline and a deep intellectual narrowness running amok in American culture. Those who commit this terrible act treat Western civilization as either irrelevant and not worthy of prioritization or as harmful and worthy only of condemnation.

Sadly, in our culture’s conception, the crimes of the West have become so central that it’s hard to keep track of the best of the West. We must be vigilant and draw the distinction between Western civilization and philosophy on the one hand, and Western crimes on the other. The crimes spring from certain philosophies and certain aspects of the civilization, not all of them.

Divisive’: How Corporate Media Dismiss Ideas Unpopular With Elites

[FAIR, via Naked Capitalism 4-19-2021]

The carnage of mainstream neoliberal economics

Capitalism as a Suicide Cult

[CounterPunch, via Naked Capitalism 4-24-20]

…the problems causing such widespread social misery are systemic, means that the solutions need to be so as well. To understand why, the difference between socialism and social welfare liberalism is that socialism requires a redistribution of power— from corporate executives and capitalist owners, to workers. A transfer of power, if not ownership, is what the New Deal accomplished. Conversely, welfare state liberalism subsidizes capitalism. One third of the recipients of food stamps (SNAP) who work, work at Walmart. Seventy percent work. SNAP is a subsidy of low wage employers, not its recipients.

The transfer of power of the New Deal was accomplished 1) through reforms that constrained business in its ability to rob people and crash the economy, and 2) through building public institutions that redistributed power from oligarchs and executives to workers. The Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 separated investment from commercial banking, thereby leaving investment banks to speculate with their own money. This effectively ended the financial mania that cascaded into the forced sales of bank ‘assets’ in the early years of the Great Depression. As readers know, Glass-Steagall was repealed in 1999. The result: a world-historical residential real estate bubble and the Great Recession.

“Local Economic and Political Effects of Trade Deals: Evidence from NAFTA” (PDF)Jiwon Choi, Ilyana Kuziemko, Ebonya Washington, Gavin Wright [National Bureau of Economic Research, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 4-22-21]

From the Abstract: “We show that counties whose 1990 employment depended on industries vulnerable to Mexican import competition via the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) suffer large employment losses (relative to the bottom quartile of counties, counties in the top quartile of NAFTA exposure see 5-8 log-point declines in employment by 2000). Despite large employment losses, we can reject even modest population declines. Trade-adjustment-aid relief rises, but covers a tiny share of the job losses we document, and Disability Insurance in fact displays a much larger response. Exposed counties (many in the upper South) begin the period more Democratic in terms of votes in House elections, but as NAFTA is debated in 1992-1994 they shift in the Republican direction and by 2000 vote majority-Republican in House elections. We show with a variety of microdata, including 1992-1994 respondent-level panel data, that opposition to free trade predicts shifts towards Republican party identification.” • Bill Clinton, good job.


Childhood Hunger and Adult Crime: The Impact of the Food Stamp Program

[Causal Inference, via Naked Capitalism 4-21-2021]

Andrew Barr and Alexander Smith have produced an exemplar study that plausibly shows that the Food Stamp program, by dramatically improving the development of cohorts through increased nutrition, caused a sizable decline in birth cohort crime at the onset of early adulthood. This paper adds to a growing body of research that shows early childhood interventions can have developmental ramifications so large, they may change a person’s entire life trajectory and in so doing, society itself….

Overall, the preponderance of evidence produced in this document makes a convincing case that exposure to Food Stamp Programs in utero to age 5 caused an economically and statistically significant decline in crime by age 24. Using measures of the cost of violent crime, they conclude that simply by reducing crime later in life, the benefits of the program far exceed the cost of administering the program itself.

This study fits alongside other studies that show early childhood interventions have benefits that extend into adulthood and sometimes even beyond the scope of the original program itself.

[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 4-24-20]

America’s Architecture and Construction Industry Is Broken

[Treehugger, via Naked Capitalism 4-22-2021]

The Pandemic

Evictions in Violation of CDC Moratorium May Violate Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

Adam Levitin [Credit Slips, via Naked Capitalism 4-20-2021]

“America’s incredibly successful pilot of universal health care”

Ryan Cooper [The Week, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 4-21-2021]

“Last weekend, I finally got my first coronavirus vaccine shot (the Pfizer/BioNTech version), at one of the FEMA sites here in Philly. It was without question the best experience I have ever had with American medicine. The National Guard troops and volunteers had the process down to a science — along with hundreds of others, I just answered a few quick questions, sat down, got my shot, and then scheduled my second appointment while waiting to make sure I had no allergic reaction. The whole thing took about 20 minutes from start to finish. I didn’t have to get out my insurance card, or fork over any co-pays or co-insurance, or fill out a stack of paperwork, or sit in a waiting room for hours. I didn’t get a bill at a 10,000 percent markup, or have to argue with my insurance company about whether FEMA is in-network, or spend weeks fighting some enormous surprise bill afterwards. I just got the care I needed and went on my way. It’s not a coincidence that this is very similar to how Medicare-for-all would work: treatment that is free at the point of service, funded by the government. When we have a truly dire need for medical care, the status quo health care system is simply too complicated and broken to get the job done.”

The Biden Transition and the Fight for Real Hope and Change This Time

The Heroic Congressional Fight to Save the Rich

Matt Taibbi, April 23, 2021

A handful of Democrats want to hold up a $2 trillion infrastructure bill to save a choice tax deduction for the wealthy, not that you’ll hear it described that way

Delaware Just Humiliated Its Democratic Senators

[The Daily Poster 4-24-2021]

The Delaware bill to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025 cleared a key hurdle in the Delaware state assembly on Thursday, meaning it could get a floor vote as soon as next week and head to the governor’s desk.

The legislation — backed by every single Democrat in Delaware’s state Senate — creates an embarrassing situation for Delaware’s Democratic senators, Chris Coons and Tom Carper, who just voted down a similar measure to raise the nationwide minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025. Despite hailing from President Joe Biden’s deep-blue home state, the two senators recently joined every Republican and six conservative Democrats last month to block the Senate from voting on Sen. Bernie Sanders’ measure to add the minimum wage provision back into the American Rescue Plan.

YOU LOVE TO SEE IT: Senate Holdout Now Backs The PRO Act 

David Sirota, April 17, 2021 [The Daily Poster]

Maine Independent Sen. Angus King had previously refused to support landmark legislation to make it easier for workers to join unions. But as a coalition of unions and DSA have intensified their grassroots campaign for the bill, King has now signed on as a co-sponsor.

“Dems Somehow Pretend This Mostly Helps The Middle Class”

David Sirota and Andrew Perez, April 20, 2021 [The Daily Poster]

“For years, Democratic lawmakers fought the GOP lie that cast estate tax cuts for billionaires as efforts to rescue family farms. But in this new era of ubiquitous misinformation, the same Democrats are waving a white flag in the battle against anti-tax bullshit. They are ripping a page out of the GOP’s “death tax” playbook and conjuring a new lie, this one depicting tax breaks for affluent donors as a defense of working-class homeowners. In the process, Democratic leaders show they fight far harder for the donor class than they do for the working class. At issue is the $10,000 cap on state and local tax (SALT) deductions that was included in President Donald Trump’s 2017 tax bill. The cap was designed to limit the amount of state and local tax payments that households not using the newly expanded standard deduction can write off from their federal taxable income…. Notably, members of Congress are not pushing a far more progressive reform of the SALT cap. They are also not pushing to merely raise the cap so that it provides a few more deductions to the lower end of top earners. Instead, they are demanding a full repeal of the cap, which would make sure the maximum amount of deductions flow to the richest sliver of the population.”

Biden Aims at Top 0.3% With Bid to Tax Capital Gains Like Wages

[Bloomberg, via Naked Capitalism 4-23-2021]

This is the fastest and easiest way to start going after wealth. A transactions tax would be nice too, not for fundraising mainly but to discourage speculative trading and cut into middleman incomes.

How Puerto Ricans Are Fighting Back Against Using the Island as a Tax Haven

[Time, via Naked Capitalism 4-20-2021]

What if We Actually Taxed the Rich?

Robert Reich [via Naked Capitalism 4-24-2021]

Washington state kicks off major tax fight with new capital gains levy 

[The Hill, via Naked Capitalism 4-20-2021]

The Corporate Tax Burden: Facts and Fiction 

[Damodaran Musings on Market, via The Big Picture 4-23-2021]

To understand how taxes affect markets, begin by laying out the pathways through which corporate taxes affect company value, and then look at how the 2017 tax reform act, which lowered the federal tax rate from 35% to 21%, has affected corporate behavior.

Predatory Finance

The Stock Market Is Just One Hedge Fund Blowup Away from a Crash. Here’s the Ugly Math
Pam Martens and Russ Martens, April 23, 2021 [Wall Street on Parade]

According to the most recent 13F filings made with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the biggest banks on Wall Street are each sitting on hundreds of billions of dollars of stock positions – which we are now learning include highly leveraged stock positions for hedge funds called family offices….

As of their most recent 13F filings for the quarter ended December 31, 2020, this is how much in stocks the following banks are holding for either themselves or secretly for unnamed hedge funds: (Everyone of these Wall Street trading houses own federally-insured, deposit taking banks.)

Bank of America: $776.2 Billion

JPMorgan Chase:  $680.6 Billion

Morgan Stanley:   $647.47 Billion

Goldman Sachs:    $388.6 Billion

Citigroup:              $169.39 Billion

That’s just five banks out of the more than 5,000 that exist in the U.S. and they are holding $2.66 trillion in stocks and the public has no idea if the stocks are actually owned by these banks or by overleveraged, reckless hedge funds which have a history of blowing themselves up….

According to CaproAsia’s list of the top 10 family offices, billionaire Jeff Bezos’ Bezos Expeditions family office has $107 billion in assets. But the SEC has no 13F filing at all for the entity in its public records.

Then there is billionaire James Simon, founder of Renaissance Technologies, one of the world’s largest hedge funds. (See Did Archegos, Like Renaissance Hedge Fund, Avoid Billions in U.S. Tax Payments through a Scheme with the Banks?) Simon’s family office is called Euclidean Capital. Its 13F filing for the quarter ending December 31, 2020 shows $472 million in assets. But CaproAsia indicates that it manages $21 billion in assets. Are the rest of those assets hiding out on some bank’s balance sheet? Under the SEC’s current, billionaire-friendly, dodgy system of reporting, it’s all just one big guessing game as to whom owns what.

A Trader’s Federal Lawsuit Against JPMorgan Chase Offers a Window into the Crime Culture at the Five Felony-Count Bank

Pam Martens and Russ Martens, April 20, 2021 [Wall Street on Parade]

Donald Turnbull, a former Global Head of Precious Metals Trading at JPMorgan Chase, has filed a doozy of a federal lawsuit against the bank. Turnbull worked on the same JPMorgan Chase precious metals desk that was deemed to be a racketeering enterprise by the U.S. Department of Justice when it handed down indictments in 2019. This was the first time that veterans on Wall Street could recall employees of a major Wall Street bank being charged under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act or RICO statute, which is typically reserved for organized crime.

JPMorgan Chase, the largest bank in the United States, has the further unprecedented distinction for a U.S. bank of being charged with five felony counts by the Department of Justice in a six-year span of time, running from 2014 to 2020. The bank admitted to all of the charges while its Board kept Chairman and CEO, Jamie Dimon, at the helm throughout the unprecedented crime wave, giving the impression that crime is an accepted business model at the bank.

Turnbull’s lawsuit, filed earlier this month in the federal district court for the Southern District of New York, alleges that the bank trumped up false charges against Turnbull as a pretext to terminate him when it was actually terminating him for cooperating with the Department of Justice’s investigation.

Health Care Crisis

“CVS Health Quietly Made Massive Donation to Dark-Money Group Fighting Access to Care”

[The Intercept, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 4-22-21]

“The health care giant, which owns Aetna health insurance and operates thousands of pharmacies and walk-in clinics around the country, provided $5 million to the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future, or PAHCF. The seven-figure donation from CVS is the largest known contribution to PAHCF, which was formed in 2018 to lobby and advocate against proposals such as Medicare for All, the public option, and similar reforms that have gained growing support in recent years. PAHCF is a 501(c)(4) and is not required to disclose donor information.

Least Vaccinated U.S. Counties Have Something in Common: Trump Voters 

[New York Times, via The Big Picture 4-20-2021]

The disparity in vaccination rates has so far mainly broken down along political lines. A willingness to receive a vaccine and actual vaccination rates to date were lower, on average, in counties where a majority of residents voted to re-elect former President Donald J. Trump in 2020. The phenomenon has left some places with a shortage of supply and others with a glut.

Restoring balance to the economy

“Inside the Alabama Amazon Union Drive: An Interview with the Lead Organizer”

[Joshua Brewer, Labor Notes] WC 4-20

“So we did know that it was well over 1,500 workers at that point—we had over that amount of cards. When they filed and they returned back with the 5,800, we still had over 50 percent. We were looking at a mail-ballot election, and the committee was telling us it was hot: ‘Workers want to vote, they want to push, they don’t want to wait.’ We give them guidance and certainly there’s times where we even tell them, “Listen, we think you’re wrong here,” but at the end of the day it’s a worker-led campaign.”

Conservative / Libertarian Drive to Civil War

The rise of domestic extremism in America 

[Washington Post, via The Big Picture 4-19-2021]

Domestic terrorism incidents have soared to new highs in the United States, driven chiefly by white-supremacist, anti-Muslim and anti-government extremists on the far right, according to a Washington Post analysis of data compiled by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Data shows a surge in homegrown attacks not seen in a quarter-century

The rise of gun culture and conservatism
Heather Cox Richardson, April 20, 2021 [Letters from an American]

Today’s promotion of a certain kind of gun ownership has roots in the politics of the country since the Supreme Court handed down the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, decision, which declared racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional. Since Democratic President Franklin Delano Roosevelt instituted a government that actively shaped the economy, businessmen who hated government regulation tried to rally opposition to get rid of that government. But Americans of the post-World War II years actually liked regulation of the runaway capitalism they blamed for the Great Depression.

The Brown v. Board decision changed the equation. It enabled those who opposed business regulation to reach back to a racist trope from the nation’s Reconstruction years after the Civil War. They argued that the active government after World War II was not simply regulating business. More important, they said, it was using tax dollars levied on hardworking white men to promote civil rights for undeserving Black people. The troops President Dwight Eisenhower sent to Little Rock Central High School in 1957, for example, didn’t come cheap. Civil Rights, then, promoted by the newly active federal government, were virtually socialism….

That same mythological cowboy appeared in the 1950s to stand against what those opposed to business regulation and civil rights saw as the creeping socialism of their era. By 1959, there were 26 Westerns on TV, and in March 1959, eight of one week’s top shows were Westerns. They showed hardworking cowboys protecting their land from evildoers. The cowboys didn’t need help from their government; they made their own law with a gun.

In 1958, Republican Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona rocketed to prominence after he accused the president from his own party, Dwight Eisenhower, of embracing “the siren song of socialism.” Goldwater had come from a wealthy background after his family cashed in on the boom of federal money flowing to Arizona dam construction, but he presented himself to the media as a cowboy, telling stories of how his family had come to Arizona when “[t]here was no federal welfare system, no federally mandated employment insurance, no federal agency to monitor the purity of the air, the food we ate, or the water we drank,” and that “[e]verything that was done, we did it ourselves.” Goldwater opposed the Brown v. Board decision and Eisenhower’s decision to use troops to desegregate Little Rock Central High School.

Increasingly, those determined to destroy the postwar government emphasized the hardworking individual under siege by a large, grasping government that redistributed wealth to the undeserving, usually people of color. A big fan of Goldwater, Ronald Reagan famously developed a cowboy image even as he repeatedly warned of the “welfare queen” who lived large on government benefits she stole.

Washington’s Inflation Hysteria Is Fueled by Corporate Greed
Bruce Bartlett, April 18, 2021 [The Big Picture]

The economist Michael Kalecki has explained that the perceived importance of business confidence gives the business community a strong weapon against government programs that would create jobs and raise wages. As he explained in a 1943 essay:

Every widening of state activity is looked upon by “business” with suspicion, but the creation of employment by government spending has a special aspect which makes the opposition particularly intense…. This gives to the capitalists a powerful indirect control over government policy: everything which may shake the state of confidence must be carefully avoided because it would cause an economic crisis…. The social function of the doctrine of “sound finance” is to make the level of employment dependent on the “state of confidence.”

Information Age Dystopia

A Whistleblower Says Facebook Ignored Global Political Manipulation

[BuzzFeed, via The Big Picture 4-20-2021]

“I’ve found multiple blatant attempts by foreign national governments to abuse our platform on vast scales to mislead their own citizenry, and caused international news on multiple occasions. I have personally made decisions that affected national presidents without oversight, and taken action to enforce against so many prominent politicians globally that I’ve lost count.

FTC Nominee Lina Khan Fires a Warning Shot at Big Tech – “Potential Criminal Activity” – and Senators from Both Parties Love It

Matt Stoller [BIG, via Naked Capitalism 4-22-2021]

The erosion of personal ownership

[Vox, via The Big Picture 4-22-2021]

….Because John Deere owns the central software, only John Deere and its approved agents can repair any part connected to it, which is to say every part. Your choice is either to take your tractor to an approved shop, often at great inconvenience and personal expense, or to essentially hack it — a violation of John Deere’s mandatory licensing agreement, punishable by the company revoking your license for use. In one of society’s oldest property arrangements, that between a farmer and their equipment, the supposed owner would have the same limited user rights as the purchaser of an ebook or digital movie.

These problems share a legal history. Traditionally, in US law, the so-called “first-sale doctrine” (also known as exhaustion) limits sellers’ ability to control what a customer does with their copy of a copyrighted work after purchase (e.g., reselling a book). But with the advent of intangible goods like software, which could be copied identically from a purchased version, rights holders grew concerned over a single sale’s potential widespread duplication. Courts struggled to apply the laws concerning traditional property to goods that did not exist in physical space. As Washington and Lee University law professor Joshua A.T. Fairfield writes in his book Owned: Property, Privacy, and the New Digital Serfdom, intellectual property law filled the void.

A crucial decision came in 1993 when the Ninth Circuit of the US Court of Appeals ruled in MAI Systems Corp. v. Peak Computer Inc. that the local, impermanent copy of an operating system that is loaded into a computer’s RAM upon its booting up — a necessary component of a computer’s operation — is, by virtue of making a copy of intellectual property (the operating system), subject to copyright law. This “deeply stupid ruling,” Fairfield tells Vox, laid a trap, making the use of any software (broadly meaning nearly anything used on a computer system) a copyright violation unless the user followed rules set unilaterally by the manufacturer and/or seller. “That was the case that handed the keys to the kingdom to these companies,” Fairfield says….

In Fairfield’s writing, four rights of traditional ownership are lost in this shift to a license-based system. One is a “right to ban,” or to exclude others from your property, as Kindle owners could not keep Amazon from removing their copies of 1984, nor could We-Vibe sex toy owners block the company from tracking data about their toys’ usage. Another loss is the “right to run,” or to use our purchased products however we would like, as illustrated by Apple regulating which applications iPhone users can install or Nintendo blocking the use of Wii U consoles unless users agreed to a new end-user license agreement. (This also applies to manufacturers requiring software updates to continue running, essentially enabling them to force consumers’ personal possessions to change under their noses.)

There is also the “right to hack,” which includes the right to repair, as demonstrated in the John Deere tractor imbroglio. Then there is the “right to sell,” which the owner of digital media and software typically lacks, both negating their ability to recoup costs and eliminating the secondary market that can make goods affordable to more consumers.

As new as these dynamics may seem, Fairfield argues that they actually hark back to an old, long-reigning system of ownership: feudalism. “Fine, now it’s not grand aristocratic families, it’s Silicon Valley Big Tech companies,” he says. “But it’s an identical system in terms of one person giving a right to another giving it to another giving it to another, who eventually hands on a little bit of it to you. And if anybody above you doesn’t like it, or you don’t use it the way they tell you, the whole thing goes away.”

What is new is the ability of these supposed possessions to actually operate with a greater loyalty to their manufacturer’s interests than their user’s, as with Nintendo’s forced Wii U agreement or Keurig 2.0 machines’ initial refusal to brew non-Keurig coffee. (Sometimes the manufacturer even abuses this primary loyalty to force a U2 album upon the public.) Worse yet, our possessions may actually actively conspire against us, as when our browser histories help online retailers price discriminately. As more of our devices interact and collect data while prioritizing the motives of their makers, Fairfield writes, consumers may be increasingly “beaten at the economic game of poker by those who use our devices to see our cards.” In The End of Ownership: Personal Property in the Digital Economy, Aaron Perzanowski and Jason Schultz argue the goal of such leverage is for companies “to divide our lives into individual transactions and charge as much as we are willing to pay for each one.”

Neoliberalism requires a police state

“Six Questions for Alec Karakatsanis of the Civil Rights Corps on George Floyd, Debtors’ Prisons and the Criminalization of Poverty”

[Washington Babylon, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 4-22-21]

Lambert Strether: “Excellent detail on law enforcement for profit, as in Ferguson. And then this:”

5/ Do you think the protests over George Floyd’s death and police violence in general will lead to any significant criminal justice reform? What are the three most urgent priorities?

It is too early to tell, but I am optimistic because the energy, relationships, and knowledge of the people engaged in this movement feel more advanced than they did just a few years ago. Of course, the largely Democratic politicians who control most police forces and local criminal systems have proven very powerful foes who have won every battle to build and grow this monstrous punishment system>. So, we have our work cut out for us. The three most urgent priorities, in my mind, are: 1) Dramatically reducing the size and funding of police forces; 2) Taking those resources and reinvesting them in the communities long targeted by police; 3) Connecting this struggle to a broader political fight and organizing for equality in health care, housing, environmental justice, education, workplace democracy, etc.

Innocent man billed $4,000 for jail stay

[Boing Boing, via Naked Capitalism 4-24-2021]

“The goal is to keep you trapped here forever until they can bleed you dry”, via [Welcome to Hell World, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 4-23-20]

Three interviews with people who’ve been arrested: “I was always vaguely aware that the justice system was a device to control society, but I was never fully aware of just what a money-making scheme it is and how once you enter it its sole design is to ensnare you and keep you trapped there for as long as possible. Throughout this entire process my one thought has been, Jesus fucking Christ imagine if I didn’t have the support of my friends and family, a flexible steady job, money in the bank, the ability to live in the city. I mean, this process is hard enough for a person with all that. Without those things it would be so easy to get overwhelmed and swept away to spend the rest of your life in a cage. All of which made me realize for the very fist time that almost every aspect of the state is designed to control its citizens. It is never about justice or reform. It is always about money and control, but because those in power are mostly exempt from its tyranny, it is depicted as a benevolent creature. Politicians and police and judges and parole officers and social workers are all out there keeping society safe is the bullshit they tell us. Once you experience it for yourself it’s too late because now you’re on the wrong side of it all and any complaint you might muster is viewed as suspect because shouldn’t you have known better than to do whatever you did to put you on the wrong side of things? Isn’t it really on you that you’re getting ground to dust? Don’t get me wrong, I know I fucked up and broke the law, and I owe a debt to society. but this is not about paying a debt to society and it never was.”

Disrupting mainstream politics…

“F.D.R. Didn’t Just Fix the Economy”

[Jamelle Bouie, New York Times, via Naked Capitalism 4-21-2021]

“Roosevelt had to prove to all Americans that self-government worked; that it could restore confidence and tackle the economic crisis without compromising the principles of the revolution and the founding. That’s why Roosevelt embraced public employment and its direct line to ordinary Americans, so government could ‘restore the close relationship with its people which is necessary to preserve our democratic form of government.’ That’s why he would direct his administration to build dams in the Tennessee Valley, bridges in California’s Bay Area and a second tunnel connecting New Jersey and New York — to show Americans that the government could do big things and do them well. The New Deal libraries and parks and postal offices and other buildings also stand as monuments to collective effort and the public good, to the idea that democracy works best when it works for most of us, and that through this effort, we come closer to the ‘more perfect union’ of our Constitution’s preamble. The New Deal was not perfect. It liberated some Americans from want at the same time that it deprived others of their freedom. It opened new opportunities for Black Americans — providing jobs, education and even housing to citizens who lived in need of each — at the same time that it, as Rauchway writes, ‘left existing segregation untouched and even expanded it into new areas, perpetuating it for new generations.’ And yet the breakthrough of the New Deal — the way it reshaped the nation’s politics and transformed the relationship between state and citizen — set the stage for the social revolutions of subsequent decades. The New Deal brought, in Roosevelt’s phrasing, ‘the broadening conception of social justice‘ to American life.”

…or not

“Manchin (D) endorses Murkowski (R)

[Politico, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 4-23-21]

“Democratic Sen. JOE MANCHIN made waves when he endorsed Republican colleague and friend Sen. SUSAN COLLINS (Maine) for reelection in 2020. Now he’s making more in PLAYBOOK DEEP DIVE, a new weekly podcast launching this morning. The West Virginia senator sat down with another GOP friend, Alaska Sen. LISA MURKOWSKI, for a rare joint interview with our co-congressional bureau chief BURGESS EVERETT. The conversation got personal, with the longtime friends finishing each other’s sentences — and covering everything from reconciliation to Murkowski’s fishing skills and parties on Manchin’s houseboat. In between, they made some news: Manchin said he’s endorsing Murkowski’s reelection…. It’s a fascinating listen: two old-school lawmakers pining for the days of bipartisanship, which they insist are about to make a comeback (highly unlikely, explains Burgess). The pair talks about how legislators in Washington should get to know each other’s families, how CHUCK SCHUMER and MITCH MCCONNELL should grab coffee or dinner together more often, and how Congress should return to ‘regular order,’ giving members the room to cut deals and make laws as opposed to leadership dictating most everything.”

Just 12 megadonors accounted for 7.5% of political giving over past decade, says report

[ABC, via Naked Capitalism 4-21-2021]



Open Thread


All the Futures that Will Not Happen


  1. Plague Species

    A horse is a horse, of course, of course.

  2. Hugh

    The erosion of ownership is about turning the traditional idea of ownership into an eternal system of rents, where really you own nothing. The example I use is Microsoft Office 365 sold as a subscription. The thing is that Word and Excel today are not that much different from what they were 20 years ago. On top of that, you can get a free version of something like WPS which does the same things and in some cases more. So Microsoft wants you to pay them for more limited and temporary access to a product that you can get free elsewhere. If Big Tech has a trajectory, Microsoft is at that point where everything it does is one kind of scam or another.

    You also have an article on Facebook. Facebook is a criminal enterprise. It got to that point even faster than Microsoft.

  3. Joan

    I can’t believe any university would get rid of their classics department. If I could go back to school (and not go broke) I’d do a deep dive into Latin and Ancient Greek.

  4. edmondo

    Ummmm. Why are people dying in the streets of India when there are at least two and probably three effective vaccines? Because the Biden Administration won’t break the copyright law and hand the recipe over to a country that makes half the medicines we consume in the US.

    Ain’t capitalism great?

  5. Soredemos

    Americans are so propagandized by the party duopoly that when stabbed in the back by Democrats enacting Republican policies, they…switch to voting Republican. Or they check out on voting altogether (half the country that could vote doesn’t).

  6. Jerry Brown

    I really love the week-end wrap. Always enjoy it though it is a lot of reading.

    Do have an issue with “America’s Architecture and Construction Industry Is Broken”. A lot of that article is very good but I don’t see how he advocates multi-story and multi-family buildings with only one way out. I am glad that most US building codes require access to a second exit way.

  7. different clue


    The half of potentially vote-castable Americans who have checked out on voting altogether are at any rate not propagandized enough to accept Democrat or Republican as the only choice of choices.

    If they check back in onto a battlefield of their own time and choosing, the establishment will be concerned and disturbed.

  8. different clue


    Perhaps some Universities have to close their Humanities Departments to come up with the money to hire some Racial Sensitivity Trainers.

  9. Joan

    @different clue,

    Oh no! *runs for the hills*. My husband calls this line of reasoning “But Black People”. At some point on this journey we all lost our way…

  10. Plague Species

    Does anyone know, are Chinese universities also getting rid of their classics departments?

  11. Apple Pie

    There are universities in China?

  12. Trinity

    Not sure I totally agree about the “end of classics.” For one thing, the OpEd states that the tenured faculty are still retained and teaching their classes. It’s the department itself that is closing. For all we know (too lazy to look) it’s a tiny department and this eliminates the overhead for its budget line item. Cost cutting due in part to poor handling of COVID etc, perhaps. It’s already well documented that the humanities and the arts are disappearing from most educational institutions, something I strongly lament as a former band geek. But all is not lost at Howard, at least not yet.

    On the other hand, creating room for perspectives NOT from traditional western culture is probably a good thing. From Rome to the present, western culture has managed to create more misery than it has alleviated, with tiny pockets of time with more civilized governing overwhelmed by the very long stretches of misery, colonization, slavery, and private over public ownership (which includes private ownership by corporations as also being bad, which Hugh illustrated so well.)

    It’s way past time to consider other perspectives and other voices, in addition to the Western ancients. As I’ve stated earlier, given the plethora of information available there is no excuse for bad governance, or sources for ideas for change, which supports my allegation that this is not about incompetence.

  13. Joan

    @Trinity, thanks for your comment. I agree that the literature of other regions should be available for study in American universities.

    However, I think studying Rome now is more crucial than ever. The US is a western empire in decline, and Americans would be wise to look at history for possible models of what the future might look like. The end of European empires doesn’t really match because it involved these countries getting the bejeezus bombed out of them in WW1 & WW2.

  14. Willy

    As I’ve stated earlier, given the plethora of information available there is no excuse for bad governance, or sources for ideas for change, which supports my allegation that this is not about incompetence.

    Except for maybe the far-gones, like those Lin Wood supporters recently cheering for Qanon. I used to think Roman citizens saw those deification basilicas built for their dead emperors as memorials, rather than as actual places of worship for a actual gods. They just went with the mythology as part of the fun. Go along to get along. And when the ancient Egyptians saw the sun reflecting off the great pyramids, I believed they actually felt more of a sense of pride in their communal workmanship, than any need to actually worship their former pharaoh as an actual god.

    But I’m coming to realize that I may be wrong. An awful lot of humans living today seem to want to believe in lies, magic, and fairy tales. And that today our plutocrats are more than happy to oblige in order to try and keep their incompetent asses covered. As for too many of the rest of us, lies, rationalizations, and defense mechanisms work well against obviously oncoming painful realities.

  15. Trinity

    Hi Joan,

    I understand. Your point is well taken about the decline, and there are already many analyses and comparisons to Rome in decline. I said “in addition to the Western ancients” because I didn’t want to exclude any line of enquiry.

    Reliance on the Western classics alone is a problem (along with the problem of decreasing Humanities departments in general) in my opinion. And the problem is that we’ve recreated Rome from that reliance, which again was not incompetence, but was deliberate and leads directly (imho) to today.

    Depends entirely on who you read, really, and I’m saying we need to expand that selection, else the same will occur in the future. Without expansion, we risk repeating yet again. So I’m not really interested in how Rome dealt with decline, if that makes sense. I’m more interested in what we can do differently, and taking the road not so well traveled.

  16. Joan

    @Trinity, that’s a good point. There are empires in history that managed to last for thousands of years, whereas the American empire will only be a couple of centuries old by the time the rubble stops bouncing, depending on where you draw the line of when America became an empire.

    (I’m going to stray from the point of the article.) I’m a bit too cynical to think that humanity will out-grow the empire stage. Given the resources, I think any civilization would go full-on empire. I can’t imagine a civilization having the capability and turning it down. I also feel that way about fossil fuels. I do not think it is possible for a society to discover an energy source that they deem useful, and then not use that energy. Maybe a civilization could manage to burn through it more slowly, to save some for future generations, sure. It would require a different collective system of values that I’m not sure is actually possible.

    If I understand your statements correctly, one of the reasons America finds itself where it is today is because they did not have enough narratives in the collective mind of what is possible, those alternative missing narratives being about running a society that isn’t on a super fast growth-empire-contraction trajectory. Is that right?

  17. Hugh

    I remember talking to an undergrad once who was royally pissed she had to take any humanities courses. She knew what she wanted to do and begrudged the time and especially the money she had to pay on anything not directly related to it.

  18. Joan

    @Hugh, I can understand that standpoint in the US system because of how expensive everything is, and the likelihood that she’ll have debt. But in general, I think the concept of general education is a great one, whether that happens in more challenging high schools or in the first year of college (that should be very cheap, like the working college model).

    I have personal experience with this because I could read at a young age and my family decided I should be a high school English teacher. They kept that up my whole life. But every day at school, I had to sit quietly while bored students made noise in class and the teacher was forced to babysit them rather than teach or get into discussions with students. And the parents frequently bullied the teachers into giving their kid As. So I knew I didn’t want that career path. I’d just fail 90% of the students and send them to the principal. Then I’d lose my job!

    In more traditional areas, there is definitely still the bias of pushing women into the humanities. I was able to take AP Calc, Chemistry and Physics at my high school, and (iirc) I got straight Bs. That’s not bad, considering I didn’t have anyone helping outside of class. Even when I told my parents about this, they still thought I should teach Language Arts for a career.

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