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

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – August 2, 2020

by Tony Wikrent

How to hide from a drone – the subtle art of ‘ghosting’ in the age of surveillance

[Tech Explore, via Naked Capitalism 7-29-20]

Strategic Political Economy

Chinese Banks Urged To Switch From SWIFT And Drop USD In Anticipation Of US Sanctions
[Reuters, via Mike Norman Economics 7-29-20]

China should prepare for potential U.S. sanctions by increasing use of its own financial messaging network for cross-border transactions in the mainland, Hong Kong and Macau, according to a report from the investment banking unit of Bank of China…

Foreign Affairs — It Is Time to Abandon Dollar Hegemony–Issuing the World’s Reserve Currency Comes at Too High a Price

[Foreign Affairs, via Mike Norman Economics 7-29-20]

Time to resurrect Keynes (and E. F. Schumacher’s) bancor proposal made at Bretton Woods but rejected in favor of using the US dollar as the global reserve currency? President Nixon famously ended the Bretton Woods agreement when he closed the gold window, ending dollar convertibility into gold at a fixed rate. This set the world on a floating rate monetary system with the USD remaining the reserve currency.

The War Nerd: Amateurs Talk Cancel, Pros Talk Silence
[Exiled, The War Nerd, via Naked Capitalism 7-27-20]

Victorian Britain carried out several of the biggest genocides in human history. It was also a high point of virtuous literature.

Because they were smart about language. They didn’t rant about the evil of their victims or gloat about massacring them, at least not in their public writings. They wrote virtuous novels, virtuous poems. And left a body count which may well end up the biggest in world history.

Open genocidal ranting is small-time stuff compared to the rhetorical nuke perfected by Victoria’s genocidaires: silence. The Victorian Empire was the high point of this technology, which is why it still gets a pass most of the time. Even when someone takes it on and scores a direct hit, as Mike Davis did in his book Late Victorian Holocausts, the cone of Anglosphere silence contains and muffles the explosion. Which is why Late Victorian Holocausts is Davis’s only book that didn’t become a best-seller.

Davis was among the first historians with the guts and originality to look hard at some of the Victorian creeps who killed tens of millions — yes, tens of millions — of people from the conquered tropics:

The total human toll of these three waves of drought, famine, and disease could not have been less than 30 million victims. Fifty million dead might not be unrealistic.”

An English radical of the Victorian Era, William Digby, saw the scope of the horror: “When the part played by the British Empire in the nineteenth century is regarded by the historian fifty years hence, the unnecessary deaths of millions of Indians would be its principal and most notorious monument.”

….Let’s take a far more serious case: Eric Hobsbawm, still revered as canonical Marxist historian of the UK. As Davis notes, Hobsbawm does “mention” the Irish Famine, but — and if any phrase ever deserves to be written in all-caps, this phrase from Late Victorian Holocausts does: “Hobsbawm…makes no allusion in his famous trilogy on nineteenth-century history to the worst famines in perhaps 500 years in India and China.”

There are no excuses for this. There are reasons, but as the song says, “It doesn’t make it all right.” Still, once the rage passes and you stop clenching your jaw ’til it aches, there are reasons. Most of all, there’s a deep Imperial skill in the trope of silence. The stupid Nazis ranted and raved and lasted 13 years, then got completely destroyed. The Empire kept its rants for private letters, passed on to a guild of coopted historians, pundits, and publishers—and has never been called to account.

The Cult of Selfishness Is Killing America

Paul Krugman, July 27, 2020 [New York Times, via DailyKos 8-1-20]

But there’s a deeper explanation of the profoundly self-destructive behavior of Trump and his allies: They were all members of America’s cult of selfishness.

You see, the modern U.S. right is committed to the proposition that greed is good, that we’re all better off when individuals engage in the untrammeled pursuit of self-interest. In their vision, unrestricted profit maximization by businesses and unregulated consumer choice is the recipe for a good society.

Support for this proposition is, if anything, more emotional than intellectual. I’ve long been struck by the intensity of right-wing anger against relatively trivial regulations, like bans on phosphates in detergent and efficiency standards for light bulbs. It’s the principle of the thing: Many on the right are enraged at any suggestion that their actions should take other people’s welfare into account.


Burn the Republican Party Down?

Peggy Noonan [via Naked Capitalism 8-1-20]
The closest Peggy Noonan comes to telling the truth is “the great and increasing social and cultural distance between the movers and talkers of the national GOP, its strategists, operatives, thinkers, pundits and party professionals, and the party’s base… algorithms that deliberately excite, divide and addict…” She avoids mentioning “feeding red meat to the base”: the role of the reactionary rich, who carefully and deliberately created and funded movement conservatism and libertarianism to restore the dominance of capital over labor after the New Deal shifted the balance in favor of labor. 
For example, “gun rights” did not become an issue until after control of the NRA was seized by a faction of radical reactionaries, funded by the Coors and others, at the May 1977 annual meeting — the “Revolt at Cincinnati.” Another example: abortion became a national issue SIX YEARS AFTER the Roe decision when Paul Weyrich noticed that Roe could be used to mobilize the biased conservative base. Writing in Politico May 27, 2014, Randall Balmer of Dartmouth College notes:

“….it wasn’t until 1979—a full six years after Roe—that evangelical leaders, at the behest of conservative activist Paul Weyrich, seized on abortion not for moral reasons, but as a rallying-cry to deny President Jimmy Carter a second term. Why? Because the anti-abortion crusade was more palatable than the religious right’s real motive: protecting segregated schools….”

Weyrich’s career clearly shows the outsized influence the one percent have in USA. As press secretary to Republican U.S. Senator Gordon L. Allott of Colorado in 1966, Weyrich met Jack Wilson, an aide of Joseph Coors. In 1973, Weyrich and Edwin Feulner persuaded Joseph Coors to fund the creation of The Heritage Foundation. Through the 1970s and 1980s, Coors would be the second largest source of funding for the conservative movement, after Richard Mellon Scaife, of the Mellon banking family.
Why is the left so ineffective? I suggest because by rejecting the legitimacy of the USA’s founding, it has also rejected the founding principles of republicanism, one of which was that the rich are as much a threat to a republic as a standing military (see Machiavelli, The Discourses on Livy, First Book, Chapter III).  MMT shows that government does not need to tax beforehand to spend. What MMT proponents have yet to articulate is that a major reason to tax is to prevent the accumulation of large concentrations of economic wealth which can be used to corrupt the political system. 
Republicanism’s fear of the corrupting influence of the rich should also be the primary reason to break up Amazon, Google, Facebook, and the media monopolies: in a republic, you just cannot have a small number of rich people owning so damn much, especially of the media needed to keep citizens informed.

Slavery and the History of US Economic Growth — 

Timothy Taylor [Conversable Economist, via Mike Norman Economics 7-30-20]

Slavery was both a set of economic arrangements and also a raw authoritarian human rights violation. It’s unsurprising that there has been long-standing controversy over the relationship: for example, did slavery in the United States boost to economic growth or hold it back? Gavin Wright revisits these issues in “Slavery and Anglo‐American capitalism revisited” (Economic History Review, May 2020, 73:2, pp. 353-383, subscription required). The paper was also the subject of the Tawney lecture at the Economic History Society meetings in 2019, and the one-hour lecture can be freely viewed here….

Similarly, if it was true that slave plantations were the most efficient way of growing cotton, then the end of slavery should have caused the price of cotton to rise on world markets. But it didn’t.

In short, the slave plantations of the American South were a success for the slaveowners, but not for the US economy. From a broader social perspective, slavery was a policy that scared off new immigrants, ignored infrastructure, and blocked the education and incentives of much of the workforce. These policies are not conducive to growth. As Wright puts it: “”Slavery was a source of regional impoverishment in nineteenth-century America, not a major contributor to national growth.”

Thomas Frank: Liberal Elites Will Create Conditions for Another Trump
Paul Jay [, via Naked Capitalism 7-31-20]

And I’m reading these books, and one of the things they’re most upset about is that say populists are anti expert and populism represents the overthrow of legitimate expertise by people who don’t know what they’re doing.

And I keep waiting, every time I read one of these, I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. It’s like, yeah, but the experts screwed up, you know. What about Vietnam? You know, what about the Iraq war? What about, you know, go down the list? What about the financial crisis? What about the bailouts?

….Or what about my favorite example, the Hillary Clinton campaign, run by the greatest experts in the business? These people are — There’s just a elite failure after elite failure, after elite failure. So I’m reading these books who are deploring the rise of people who criticize elites, and I’m saying, when are you going to deal with the fact that elites keep failing? Where’s your theory of that? I want to hear your theory of that. They never have one, they never talk about it. It’s as though this is impossible. It’s like it’s ruled out by definition, elites do not fail.

It’s the healthcare system, stupid
Thomas Frank [La Monde Diplomatique, via Naked Capitalism 8-1-20]

Unfortunately, it’s all a mistake. Donald Trump’s prodigious stupidity is not the sole cause of our crushing national failure to beat the coronavirus. Plenty of blame must also go to our screwed-up healthcare system, which scorns the very idea of public health and treats access to medical care as a private luxury that is rightfully available only to some. It is the healthcare system, not Trump, that routinely denies people treatment if they lack insurance; that bankrupts people for ordinary therapies; that strips people of their coverage when they lose their jobs — and millions of people are losing their jobs in this pandemic. It is the healthcare system that, when a Covid treatment finally arrives, will almost certainly charge Americans a hefty price to receive it (3).

Understanding American Elites Means Understanding Predators
Ian Welch, August 1, 2020

Fact: Covid-19 has made the rich in the US much, much richer.

Covid-19 is enabling the consolidation of US industry. Small businesses have to shut down, large businesses keep running. The oncoming tsunami of renters being evicted (depending on state, 25 percent to over 50 percent of renters are in danger of eviction) will wipe out landlords, allowing the richest Americans to buy up rental properties on the cheap, consolidating them. They will then charge, not market clearing rental rates, but profit maximization rents, leaving many people permanently homeless….

In kinder capitalist epochs, this is kept under control by wealth taxes, inheritance taxes, high progressive taxation, and aggressive anti-trust policy, along with a monetary policy intended to raise wages and prices, not crush them. But our era is built on three ideological assertions.

  • There is no such thing as society.
  • Greed is good.
  • There is no alternative (TINA).

Whatever makes a profit, according to this assertion, is good. There is no society, and no social goals. There are only competing people and whatever they get is fair. And this is the only way to run society, there is no alternative. Thatcher noted that her victory was not sealed by Conservative party elections, rather it was Tony Blair’s Labour party adopting neoliberalism that meant that TINA went from assertion to fact; no matter who was elected, the same basic policies would be followed, Labour would just try to thinly mitigate the effects of so many rich people and so many poor people….

Our elites are predators. They are taught that they have no obligation to other people. Greed is good, and whatever makes money is good. If someone else has less money, that’s because they deserve less money, and because they create less good.

“Shutdowns For Small Business, Windfall Profits For Megacorporations”
[The American Conservative, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 7-27-20]

“What has been billed as “the economic shutdown” would more accurately be described as the small business shutdown Robert Fairlie, an economist at the University of California, Santa Cruz studied the early effects of COVID-19 on small business owners for the National Bureau of Economic Research. He found the number of working business owners fell from 15 million to 11.7 million between February and April 2020—a drop of 22 percent. The impact on minority owned businesses was even worse. The number of African-American business owners plummeted from 1.1 million to 640,000—a 41 percent decline. Harvard researchers surveying over 5,800 U.S. small business owners report massive dislocation from the pandemic among small businesses, and the prospects for their survival diminish the longer the crisis continues. “When firms are told to expect a six-month crisis, the average expectation of remaining open [until December 2020] falls to 38 percent,” the study found. It could take up to a year to know the toll on small business.”.

Census Door Knocking Cut A Month Short Amid Pressure To Finish Count

[NPR, via Naked Capitalism 7-31-20]

Lambert Strether: “Another Constitutional public function trashed.”

The Epidemic

Reopening US Schools in the Era of COVID-19: Practical Guidance From Other Nations

[Journal of American Medical Association, via Naked Capitalism 7-31-20]The Key to Defeating COVID-19 Already Exists. We Need to Start Using It | Opinion

[Newsweek, via Naked Capitalism 7-26-20]Harvey A Risch. Important.Early Outpatient Treatment of Symptomatic, High-Risk Covid-19 Patients that Should be Ramped-Up Immediately as Key to the Pandemic Crisis

[American Journal of Epidemiology, via Naked Capitalism 7-26-20]Paper by Harvey A. Risch (cirsium)These Elite Contact Tracers Show the World How to Beat Covid-19
[Bloomberg, via Naked Capitalism 7-26-20]How Jared Kushner’s Secret Testing Plan “Went Poof Into Thin Air”
[Vanity Fair, July 30, 2020]

Countries that have successfully contained their outbreaks have empowered scientists to lead the response. But when Jared Kushner set out in March to solve the diagnostic-testing crisis, his efforts began not with public health experts but with bankers and billionaires. They saw themselves as the “A-team of people who get shit done,” as one participant proclaimed in a March Politico article….

According to one participant, the group did not coordinate its work with a diagnostic-testing team at Health and Human Services, working under Admiral Brett Giroir, who was appointed as the nation’s “testing czar” on March 12. Kushner’s group was “in their own bubble,” said the participant. “Other agencies were in their own bubbles. The circles never overlapped.”

….By early April, some who worked on the plan were given the strong impression that it would soon be shared with President Trump and announced by the White House. The plan, though imperfect, was a starting point. Simply working together as a nation on it “would have put us in a fundamentally different place,” said the participant.

But the effort ran headlong into shifting sentiment at the White House. Trusting his vaunted political instincts, President Trump had been downplaying concerns about the virus and spreading misinformation about it—efforts that were soon amplified by Republican elected officials and right-wing media figures. Worried about the stock market and his reelection prospects, Trump also feared that more testing would only lead to higher case counts and more bad publicity. Meanwhile, Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, was reportedly sharing models with senior staff that optimistically—and erroneously, it would turn out—predicted the virus would soon fade away….

Most troubling of all, perhaps, was a sentiment the expert said a member of Kushner’s team expressed: that because the virus had hit blue states hardest, a national plan was unnecessary and would not make sense politically. “The political folks believed that because it was going to be relegated to Democratic states, that they could blame those governors, and that would be an effective political strategy,” said the expert.

Health Care Crisis

“Congress’s Steadfast and Stupefying Refusal to End Surprise Billing”

[The New Republic, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 7-28-20]

“For years, media outlets have covered the most unfortunate of these casualties of the American health care system, skimming off the most shocking examples of surprise hospital bills from among thousands of unlucky patients who won’t get articles written about them, and nothing has been done…. Responsibility for this failure can be largely laid at the feet of Representative Richard Neal, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. In December, Neal reportedly killed the compromise bill, in favor of one that was more friendly to doctors and hospitals (and lighter on details). Neal took $54,000 from lobbyists who represented groups and companies that opposed the surprise billing legislation and $29,000 from Blackstone, the private equity firm that partially bankrolled a $53 million ad campaign to defeat the legislation. Blackstone owns TeamHealth, one of the bigger purveyors of the surprise bill scam. Chuck Schumer is also “famously close with the Greater New York Hospital Association,” which donates millions to Senate Majority PAC.”

“SCOOP: Senate GOP Copied & Pasted Cuomo’s Corporate Immunity Law Word-For-Word”

[David Sirota, Too Much Information, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 7-28-20]

The background: “TMI previously reported that in April, Cuomo worked with a major health care industry lobby group to slip language into his state’s budget designed to block lawsuits against hospitals and nursing homes during the pandemic, as the casualty count exploded in New York. The provisions did not just cover frontline health care workers — it included language extending that protection to any ‘health care facility administrator, executive, supervisor, board member, trustee,’ or other corporate manager. Cuomo pushed the provision after his political machine received more than $1 million from the Greater New York Hospital Association….”

“Senate Republicans copied key parts of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s controversial corporate immunity law and pasted it word-for-word into their new coronavirus relief proposal released on Monday. The provision could shield health care industry CEOs, executives and corporate board members from COVID-related lawsuits in the event that their business decisions.”


The Carnage of Establishment Neoliberal Economics

Money in pursuit of hopelessness: the gold price has hit an all time high
Richard Murphy [via Naked Capitalism 7-28-20]

….this is the clearest possible indication that there is a savings glut in the world.

Second, it strongly implies that this savings glut is most extreme amongst the best off, who are those who typically save using gold….

Fourth, this indicates the conservative nature of most wealth ownership. There is, of course, no productive value to gold, but the owners of this wealth do not care about that. What is of concern to them is the preservation of their status, indicated by wealth, and that is what motivates this decision.

Fifth, this does very clearly indicate a capacity to tax wealth more: if the wealthy cannot put their wealth to productive use then they might as well pay tax with it.

Sixth, also be worried about the spillovers… Peak gold prices are never a sign that things are going well.

Information Age Dystopia

[AnandTech, via Naked Capitalism 7-28-20]
Matt Stoller [TheGuardian, 7-30-20]

Almost any moment of the four-hour hearing offered a stunning illustration of the extent of the bad behavior by these corporations. Take Amazon, whose CEO, Jeff Bezos, often seemed off-balance and unaware of his corporation’s own practices. Congresswoman Lucy McBath played audio of a seller on Amazon tearfully describing how her business and livelihood was arbitrarily destroyed by Amazon restricting sales of their product, for no reason the seller could discern. Bezos acted surprised, as he often did. Representative Jamie Raskin presented an email from Bezos saying about one acquisition that: “We’re buying market position not technology.” Bezos then admitted Amazon buys companies purely because of their “market position”, demonstrating that many of hundreds of acquisitions these tech companies have made were probably illegal.

Mark Zuckerberg had to confront his own emails in which he noted that Facebook’s purchase of Instagram was done to buy out a competitor. His response was that he didn’t remember, but that he imagined he was probably joking when he wrote that.

Matt Stoller, BIG, via Naked Capitalism 7-29-20]

Three housekeeping items. First, a colleague and I wrote up for Politico a piece on the American tradition of taking on monopoly power, going all the way back to the 1600s. Second, I co-authored a report explaining how Amazon acquired its market power and the list of laws that need reform to make the corporation safe for democracy. Third, there is another antitrust suit against the cheer monopolist Varsity Brands. If you’re in that world, there’s more info at:

Contrast ad buying on Facebook with that of television ad purchases. Facebook’s ad sales are automated; anyone can just open a Facebook ad account and start buying advertising, with no third party audits on who is seeing the ad or where that ad is directing people. When you buy a television ad, by contrast, the process involves people at the TV networks interacting with ad agencies, as well as third party auditing through tracking companies. The automating of the ad buying process enables Facebook to have a higher profit margin, because they don’t have to hire anyone to vet advertising sales, especially when ad buyers are using small amounts of money. It also enables straightforward fraud.

“Amazon’s Monopoly Tollbooth” 

[Institute for Local Self-Reliance, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 7-29-20]

 “Amazon keeps an average of 30 percent of each sale made by independent sellers on its site, up from 19 percent just five years ago. Seller fees netted Amazon almost $60 billion in 2019, nearly double the $35 billion in revenue from AWS, Amazon’s massive cloud computing division. Since 2014, Amazon’s revenue from seller fees has grown almost twice as fast as its overall sales. Seller fees now account for 21 percent of Amazon’s total revenue. Amazon is extracting more from sellers by tying their ability to generate sales on its site to their willingness to buy additional Amazon services, including its fulfillment and advertising services. Amazon’s high fees make it nearly impossible for sellers to sustain a profitable business. Most fail. Yet Amazon has no risk of running out of sellers; its monopoly ensures there’s an endless stream of people, both here and abroad, willing to try.”

“A Culture Canceled”

[Chris Arnade, American Compass, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 7-29-20]

“The current debates over cancel culture are odd because few involved in them have been canceled, or risk being canceled, while entire institutions are indeed being canceled. Institutions that serve and amplify the interests of the working class, such as local newspapers, unions, and churches. The death of local journalism is at least acknowledged by those involved in the debate as a problem. They are rightly concerned that smaller local newspapers being replaced by far away conglomerates hurts “left-behind” communities since it closes a forum where their issues could be heard, elevated, and addressed. Getting less attention is the death of churches and unions. Lower income neighborhoods are littered with boarded up versions of both, a result of America’s embrace of a noxious mix of centralized economic power and de-centralized personal freedom…. With these institutions dying the working class has fewer places to turn when frustrated or dealing with a problem…. Not being listened to, not having a place to turn, not knowing anybody who can help you, is frustrating as hell, and partly why populism is surging, both in elections and in the streets. It is also why so many people are now embracing conspiracy theories, the intellectual Hail Mary pass thrown by the desperate.”


Collapse of Independent News Media

When Corporate Power Is Your Real Government, Corporate Media Is State Media

Caitlin Johnstone [via Naked Capitalism 8-1-20]

Climate and environmental crises

How to change US housing to hit Paris Agreement goals
[Ars Technica, via Naked Capitalism 7-26-20]

‘Green Economic Growth’ Is a Myth
[Motherboard, via Naked Capitalism 7-26-20]

Creating new economic potential – science and technology

“Why Are Plants Green? To Reduce the Noise in Photosynthesis”

[Quanta, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 7-31-20]

“From large trees in the Amazon jungle to houseplants to seaweed in the ocean, green is the color that reigns over the plant kingdom. Why green, and not blue or magenta or gray? The simple answer is that although plants absorb almost all the photons in the red and blue regions of the light spectrum, they absorb only about 90% of the green photons. If they absorbed more, they would look black to our eyes. Plants are green because the small amount of light they reflect is that color. But that seems unsatisfyingly wasteful because most of the energy that the sun radiates is in the green part of the spectrum. When pressed to explain further, biologists have sometimes suggested that the green light might be too powerful for plants to use without harm, but the reason why hasn’t been clear. Even after decades of molecular research on the light-harvesting machinery in plants, scientists could not establish a detailed rationale for plants’ color. Recently, however, in the pages of Science, scientists finally provided a more complete answer. They built a model to explain why the photosynthetic machinery of plants wastes green light. What they did not expect was that their model would also explain the colors of other photosynthetic forms of life too. Their findings point to an evolutionary principle governing light-harvesting organisms that might apply throughout the universe. They also offer a lesson that — at least sometimes — evolution cares less about making biological systems efficient than about keeping them stable… It might be highly efficient to specialize in collecting just the peak energy in green light, but that would be detrimental for plants because, when the sunlight flickered, the noise from the input signal would fluctuate too wildly for the complex to regulate the energy flow.”

Disrupting mainstream politics

[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 7-31-20]

Daniel Riley @DRstweets
for some WEIRD reason its almost impossible to find this clip of Bill Clinton today *explicitly* making it clear that Clyburn & Obama + DNC Establishment coalesced to destroy Bernie Sanders.
They’ve been saying it’s a ranting raving conspiracy theory.
He straight up says it.

Click to watch this short video clip – and note Clinton’s sardonic chuckle after he thanks Clyburn. 

[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 7-30-20]

Aaron Maté @aaronjmate
Speaking at John Lewis’ funeral, Bill Clinton disses civil rights leader Stokely Carmichael (later Kwame Ture): “There were two or three years there where the movement went a little bit too far towards Stokely. But in the end, John Lewis prevailed.”

[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 7-26-20]
Mark Ames @MarkAmesExiled

Democratic Party isn’t just moving rightward—they’re making a big show of stomping hard on whatever was dear to the Bernie insurgency. They’re dragging his political corpse behind their DNC Tesla and gloating all the way. Rotten country, ruled by suicidal maniacs  11:11 PM · Jul 27, 2020

[Foreign Policy, via Naked Capitalism 8-1-20]

Lambert Strether: “Read all the way to the end.”

The Dark Side

[New York Review of Books, via Naked Capitalism 7-26-20]

It is striking that the US currently has a president who, so far as we know, has never even read the constitutional amendments (the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth) that emerged from the Civil War. His sometime aide Sam Nunberg told Michael Wolff of being given the job, early in the 2016 presidential campaign, of teaching Trump about the Constitution: “I got as far as the Fourth Amendment before his finger is pulling down on his lip and his eyes are rolling back in his head.” Trump’s knowledge of the Civil War itself can be gauged from his claim in May 2017 that Andrew Jackson (who died sixteen years before it began) “was really angry that he saw what was happening in regard to the Civil War.” This week his preemptive and heavily stage-managed announcement that army bases named in honor of Confederate generals would keep those designations showed how much he fears that even the idea of engaging with the meaning of the war might create anxiety among his base…..

In 1974 James Mann, a conservative southern Democrat and a member of the committee of the House of Representatives that was considering the impeachment of Nixon for his role in Watergate, explained his support for that process: “If there be no accountability, another president will feel free to do as he chooses. But the next time there may be no watchman in the night.” There is now “another president” who feels “free to do as he chooses.” As Trump told a right-wing student rally in July 2019, “I have an Article 2 [of the Constitution], where I have the right to do whatever I want as president.” The great difference is that the watchman is now a willing accomplice.

“A bipartisan group secretly gathered to game out a contested Trump-Biden election. It wasn’t pretty” [Boston Globe, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 7-31-20]

“On the second Friday in June, a group of political operatives, former government and military officials, and academics quietly convened online for what became a disturbing exercise in the fragility of American democracy. The group, which included Democrats and Republicans, gathered to game out possible results of the November election, grappling with questions that seem less far-fetched by the day: What if President Trump refuses to concede a loss, as he publicly hinted recently he might do? How far could he go to preserve his power? And what if Democrats refuse to give in? ‘All of our scenarios ended in both street-level violence and political impasse,” said Rosa Brooks, a Georgetown law professor and former Defense Department official who co-organized the group known as the Transition Integrity Project. She described what they found in bleak terms: “The law is essentially … it’s almost helpless against a president who’s willing to ignore it.’ … Using a role-playing game that is a fixture of military and national security planning, the group envisioned a dark 11 weeks between Election Day and Inauguration Day, one in which Trump and his Republican allies used every apparatus of government — the Postal Service, state lawmakers, the Justice Department, federal agents, and the military — to hold onto power, and Democrats took to the courts and the streets to try to stop it.”

Lambert Strether on On Rosa Brooks

“[Rosa Brooks of New America and Tom Wright of the Brookings Institution, both.. rejected the very idea of ending America’s existing wars. They argued that the U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria are really ‘counter-terrorism operations’ rather than ‘wars.’ Brooks even uttered the word identifying her as a member of the national security elite in good standing by calling for a ‘robust’ policy.) The other way of reading this article, which doesn’t include quite so much good faith from the Rosa Brook’s of this world, is that the national security establishment will be heavily involved in picking 2016’s winner (unless there’s a landslide, of course). 

The Prophecies of Q The Atlantic. Symbol manipulation for the uncredentialled and disempowered?

How DHS Went to War With the American People

[Slate, via Naked Capitalism 7-31-20]

The three agencies inside DHS that take up 40 percent of its budget are ICE, CBP, and this esoteric-sounding organization that basically supplies biometric information to the two other agencies as part of its enforcement remit. You’re looking at $26 billion a year, and that is a larger sum than every other federal law enforcement body in the United States combined. That’s bigger than the FBI budget, the U.S. Marshals budget, the DEA budget, the ATF budget. All of those rolled up together, the cost is still smaller than that of three agencies that make up a fraction of DHS.

I think one reason why, on the whole, smart people who were following the news didn’t see this coming or developing over the years is because for the most part, these agencies under DHS are policing and cracking down on immigrants and generally people at the border. So it’s not something that is in plain view for most Americans. One of the reasons why I say what we’re seeing now on the streets of Portland is written into the DNA of the department is that a lot of the tactics that are so shocking to us to see so clearly on the streets of American cities—this is how DHS has operated on the margins when policing immigrants and the border for decades. And because there has been so little oversight and accountability, there’s really never been a broad reckoning with what DHS does.


Open Thread


American and Sending Your Children Back To School In September? Bad Idea


  1. Curious George

    I found your link to Mr. Kruger interesting. During a recent dinner conversation, I referred to the problem with mask wearing bother here and in the USA, as hyper-individualism, that posits that nothing matters, but my own happiness.

    So sure this selfishness, but to a larger extent this demonstrate the social breakdown of a nation (both Canada and the USA) where the only one that matters is the individual and not the society in which the individual exists.

    As if the individual would exist with the same comfort without the society at large.


  2. Benjamin

    “What MMT proponents have yet to articulate is that a major reason to tax is to prevent the accumulation of large concentrations of economic wealth which can be used to corrupt the political system.”

    Do MMT critics ever get tired of lying about MMT?

    “Now that still leaves inequality due to extremely high income at the top. This program by itself doesn’t address that kind of inequality. I do think you need to address that, not because a lot of progressives think we need to tax the rich in order to spend on the poor. That’s just wrong, we don’t need to tax the rich more to spend more on the poor, because our sovereign government can’t run out of money, it can always spend more on the poor without taxing the rich. You want to tax the rich because they are rich, you don’t tax them in order to give more to the poor. You tax the rich because they’re filthy rich and so you shouldn’t link the two in policy.”

    And that’s from Wray, an MMTer who is on the bad end of advocating for progressive taxation. MMT as a whole is all for taxing the rich.

  3. nihil obstet

    On the game out of a close election that Trump has indicated he would not accept (third link from the end) —

    For the past thirty years now, I’ve heard fear about the president of the other party just becoming a dictator. It was rare and hushed with Clinton and Bush, but became loud and virtually hysterical with Obama and now Trump. Meanwhile, we have completely out of control secret police dipping their fingers in politics (Comey, Barr) to the cheering or horror of respective political party members.

    And yet the Congress continues to bestow dictatorial powers on the president, trusting that none of this will go beyond what is now normal corrupt dealings. Things aren’t looking good for us.

  4. Ché Pasa

    On the psychopathic genociders who ruled the British Empire, at least some of them were interested enough in their conquered lands and peoples to research, document, study, and eventually, in some cases admire the savage societies and cultures they’d so generously come to civilize. So there’s that.

    Not so much with the current US/allied imperialist adventures and failed conquests since 2001. I remember talking to a national guard troop who’d been assigned to Iraq in 2004 and came back traumatized and horrified by what she witnessed and sadly participated in. Some of it of course can be attributed to war being what war is, but she was struck by the fact that nobody in her chain of command had any language or cultural understanding whatever. She found out that their base was planted on the ruins of Babylon. She didn’t know it beforehand. I asked if there had been any pre-conquest historical/cultural instruction about where they were going. “Cradle of Civilization, Home to Abraham of the Bible,” yada yada? No. Nothing. Did anybody speak Arabic? No. Anybody wanting to learn? No. Did they know anything about the country? Yeah. Saddam bad. Kill ragheads. And they did. There was one event I won’t share here that turned her absolutely against the invasion, the military, and the US government. And then they left, more ignorant than when they arrived.

    At least the Brits appreciated what they destroyed…

  5. nobody

    Ché Pasa,

    British colonialism was intended to make the British rich by exploiting the people and resources of the lands they conquered. The British saw fit to try to understand something about what they were standing on, so they could better figure out what to sell, to whom, and for how much.

    Modern American colonialism is intended to prove the machismo of America’s national security elites, sooth the daddy issues of its presidents, and give the voting meat-puppets of the electoral college states a way to live out their power fantasies by proxy. Understanding is not required, because the cruelty–not the economics–is the point.

  6. Mark Pontin

    nihil obstet: ‘we have completely out of control secret police dipping their fingers in politics (Comey, Barr) to the cheering or horror of respective political party members.’

    It’s not just the out of control secret police like Comey and Barr, it’s how the Dems and the liberal establishment now have enthroned the likes of Clapper, Haydon, et al as founts of truth, not to be questioned and — even worse — that twenty-odd candidates running as Democrats are forme employees at one or other of the acronym agencies, if you look into their backgrounds.

  7. Stirling S Newberry

    “Do MMT critics ever get tired of lying about MMT?”

    Why? The truth is enough to get it banned.

  8. Lex

    So the Dolan article is a perfect lead in to a statement later in the larger piece here (unsure who’s words they are) about how the founding republicanism recognized rich people as a danger every bit as great as a standing army. And this shows that history in the US has the same problem as Victorian literature. The country was founded for the express benefit of the rich ruling class. The crown wouldn’t let shady real estate speculators like George Washington take native territory. Washington managed to start the 7 years war while off on a “surveying” trip when his group killed a French diplomat. And then he swindled the enlisted men of that war who were to be paid in land. The constitution was written because the states were starting to not pay the bonds issued to fund the war (bonds issued by Philadelphia “merchants”, that is bankers and those bonds also formed the officer class pay). Upon becoming president, Washington had a war with the indigenous cooked up to go get more land for the ruling class that rented it out to tenants (or managed it with slaves). Hamilton destroyed the one source of hard currency tenant farmers had when he taxed whiskey in such a way that communal stills used once a year by villages paid the same tax rate as the biggest whiskey distillers that ran their stills year round. And then he made it so the US army only bought whiskey from the big distillers.

    This country didn’t “lose its way” from high minded enlightenment philosophy. That philosophy and its words were only a smoke screen for building an oligarchy. This country is running exactly as it was intended to run: of, for and by rich assholes. That the left continues to be ignorant of our own history and attempt to call out the better natures supposedly found in our original composition is one of the reasons the left fails. Quit looking to a mythological past presenter by historians who’ve done the same thing as Victorian novelists. Thomas Paine and maybe John Adams were the only founders worthy of even a shred of respect, and the rest of the founders mostly hated Paine because he was an actual revolutionary. Washington would
    Have let him rot in a Paris jail.

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