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

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – August 22, 2021

By Tony Wikrent


Who Lost Afghanistan? — Nick Turse

[The Intercept, via Mike Norman Economics 8-17-2021]

Journalist Craig Whitlock’s new book, “The Afghanistan Papers: A Secret History of the War,” will help ensure that no one forgets the harm America’s civilian and military leaders did, the lies they told, and the war they lost.

Synthesizing more than 1,000 interviews and 10,000 pages of documents, Whitlock provides a stunning study of failure and mendacity, an irrefutable account of the U.S.’s ignoble defeat in the words of those who — from the battlefield to NATO headquarters in Kabul and from the Pentagon to the White House — got it so wrong for so long, papered their failures over with falsehoods, and sought to avoid even an ounce of accountability.

GOP Scrubs Webpage Touting Trump’s ‘Historic’ Taliban Deal

Gizmodo, via Naked Capitalism 8-17-2021]

We Failed Afghanistan, Not the Other Way Around 

Matt Taibbi, via Naked Capitalism 8-19-2021]

Per corruption on the US side, Taibbi is correct and then some. This has been endemic in US operations in the Middle East since at least the Gulf War. For instance, see this 2007 story in Vanity Fair about how Alan Grayson, before he ran for Congress, in his capacity as a lawyer and US contracting expert, filed a qui tam suit on the horrific grifting by US contractors in Iraq. What was most remarkable is the DoJ, in stark contrast with just about any other big ticket, well documented suit alleging theft in government contracting, refused to join the action. We also regularly mention the US inability to account for Pentagon spending, see this Cynthia McKinney clip to illustrate how long this has been going on. McKinney being ousted for showing too much ‘tude (such as towards the Capitol Police and AIPAC) always looked like trumped up charges, that it was her poking at the Pentagon was the real proximate cause. And generally, looks like the looting was a feature, not a bug.

Inside US Afghanistan pullout, CIA opium ratline, pipeline conflict, new cold war

[YouTube, via Jon Larson]

Moderate Rebels live: Max Blumenthal and Ben Norton discuss the US military pullout from Afghanistan with journalist Pepe Escobar, who has extensive experience reporting in the country and was even arrested by the Taliban.


[The Daily Poster, August 18, 2021]

An analysis by the watchdog group Public Citizen found that weapons contractor stocks saw massive returns in the two decades the U.S. was at war in Afghanistan. Lockheed Martin saw the biggest returns, with a 1,236-percent stock bump. Northrop Grumman, meanwhile, boasted 1,196-percent returns. According to Foreign Policy, most of the $145 billion spent by the U.S. on reconstruction and related activities in Afghanistan was siphoned away by the defense industry: “Because of heavy reliance on a complex ecosystem of defense contractors, Washington banditry, and aid contractors, between 80 and 90 percent of outlays actually returned to the U.S. economy.”

Strategic Political Economy

Majority of Democratic voters now prefer socialism to capitalism, poll finds

[Defend Democracy, via Mike Norman Economics 8-18-2021]

A new Fox News poll showed that more Democrats favor socialism over capitalism, in a sharp reversal from just a year and a half ago.

The poll, taken between Aug. 7-10, showed that 59% of registered Democratic voters who participated had a positive view of socialism, compared to just 49% who felt that way about capitalism.

In February 2020, when the question was last asked, 50% of Democrats who participated said they had a favorable view of capitalism, with just 40% saying the same about socialism.…

The Great Game on the Anniversary of the End of Bretton Woods

[Marc to Market, via The Big Picture 8-17-2021]

…a new era opened, characterized in many respects by turning Bretton Woods on its head.  Currencies floated against the dollar.  Capital was liberated, purposely freed from restrictions on its mobility in several dimensions….

The anniversary of the end of Bretton Woods offers a timely opportunity to reflect on where we are in the great narrative of our times. One key element is that America’s multilateralist elite was turned out of the presidency in 2016 and lost key parts of Congress.  Trump delivered a more unilateralist foreign policy (what in an earlier era might have been dubbed “splendid isolationism” as the British did in the late 19th century to signify no permanent allies).  He reduced taxes and appointed conservative judges, fulfilling key elements of the Republican agenda. When he withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, he noted that both leading Democrat candidates (Clinton and Sanders) also opposed the treaty.  Ironically, it seemed like the old Henry Cabot Lodge wing of the Republican Party, which defeated Wilson’s League of Nations proposal after WWI, was resurrected.

Biden’s election represents the “restoration” of the internationalist wing of the American elite.  It requires more than one election to solidify its hold.


Bartlett: How Nixon Changed U.S. Economic Policy Forever

Bruce Bartlett, August 15, 2021 [The Big Picture]

Free-market economists such as Milton Friedman decried the Bretton Woods system because capital controls conferred enormous power on national governments and imposed great inefficiencies on businesses, forcing them to engage in uneconomic transactions to evade the controls.

A forex trader, Andrew Krieger, wrote a book in 1992, The Money Bazaar: Inside the Trillion-Dollar World of Currency Trading, and in one chapter detailed how the
the British maneuvered Nixon and Fed Chairman Arthur Burns off the gold standard, including the new British ambassador, George Rowland Stanley Baring, 3rd Earl of Cromer, showing up in person at the US Treasury Department asking that the $3 billion in US dollars held by Britain be converted into gold.

American CEOs make 351 times more than workers. In 1965 it was 15 to one

[The Guardian, via The Big Picture 8-18-2021]

Rather than address stagnant wages for hourly workers and yawning inequality, corporations are blaming a ‘labor shortage’

The Pandemic

“The rebellion is spreading”: After local Texas officials defy his ban on mask mandates, Gov. Greg Abbott begins to clamp down

[Texas Tribune, via Naked Capitalism 8-15-2021]

Gov. Kay Ivey issues ‘limited’ COVID-19 emergency order; ‘No statewide mandates, closures’, via Naked Capitalism 8-15-2021]

Florida Board of Education Approves School Vouchers in Districts Requiring Masks

[MSN, via Naked Capitalism 8-16-2021]

Covid’s Forgotten Hero: The Untold Story Of The Scientist Whose Breakthrough Made The Vaccines Possible

[Forbes, via The Big Picture 8-21-2021]

The scientist most responsible for this critical delivery method is a little-known 57-year-old Canadian biochemist named Ian MacLachlan. As chief scientific officer of two small companies, Protiva Biotherapeutics and Tekmira Pharmaceuticals, MacLachlan led the team that developed this crucial technology. Today, though, few people—and none of the big pharmaceutical companies—openly acknowledge his groundbreaking work, and MacLachlan earns nothing from the technology he pioneered.

They’re not capitalists – they’re a criminal predatory class

Acres of Money Laundering: Why U.S. Real Estate is a Kleptocrat’s Dream

[Global Financial Integrity, via The Big Picture 8-15-2021]

To tell the story of why U.S. real estate continues to remain a favored destination for illicit activity, GFI built a database of more than 100 real estate money laundering cases from the U.S., UK, and Canada, reported between 2015 – 2020. The database and accompanying regulatory analysis in this report provide conclusive evidence that the current U.S. regulatory approach, using temporary and location- specific Geographic Targeting Orders (GTOs), has critical shortcomings that will require comprehensive reform before it can adequately address the threats to the U.S. financial system and national security. To provide context to the analysis and recommendations in this report, GFI compares the regulatory developments in the U.S. with ongoing practices, challenges, and developments in the rest of the G7….

  • Gatekeepers including attorneys, real estate agents, investment advisers, and employees of financial institutions have repeatedly facilitated REML by high net-worth individuals through willful blindness or direct complicity, yet the U.S. remains the only G7 country that does not require real estate professionals to comply with anti-money laundering (AML) laws and regulations….
  • The use of anonymous shell companies and complex corporate structures continues to be the number one money laundering typology. Eighty-two percent of U.S. cases involved the use of a legal entity to mask ownership, highlighting the importance of implementing a robust beneficial ownership registry under the Corporate Transparency Act.

“willful blindness or direct complicity” sounds exactly like the elites who lost Afghanistan, and their determination to avoid any accountability for their failures. Why aren’t people asking: Is there now a culture of elite corruption and failure? In my view, the strategic disaster in Afghanistan is the entirely expected result of a nation that has turned its back on civic republicanism and embraced liberalism, in which the best socio-economic outcomes supposedly emerge from a Darwinian struggle of one’s selfish interests against all others. By contrast, a key tenet of civic republicanism is that every citizen has a social responsibility to all other citizens, and the community at large, and every citizen is expected to understand that when their own selfish interest conflicts with the General Welfare, selfish interests must be abandoned. 

“Why Is Everything More Expensive Right Now? Let This Stuffed Giraffe Explain” [Time, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-16-21]

“If you want to understand what’s driving inflation in the U.S. economy right now, look no further than Jani the giraffe. Jani used to cost around $87. Now she’s around $116, as costs went up on every step of her journey.” • This is very interesting. Handy chart:

Time tries to hide the rentier costs imposed on the economy by not specifying profit was up 45 percent, and Amazon’s commission was up 33 percent. After the explosive increase in shipping (which more than tripled), these were the two largest percentage increases. 

Capitalism Didn’t Make the iPhone, You iMbecile [YouTube]

[Current Affairs, November 1, 2019, via Avedon’s Sideshow 8-21-21]

Economist Rob Larson explains why the free market isn’t the force of innovation it’s commonly believed to be.


Secret IRS Files Reveal How Much the Ultrawealthy Gained by Shaping Trump’s “Big, Beautiful Tax Cut” 

[ProPublica, via The Big Picture 8-15-2021]

Billionaire business owners deployed lobbyists to make sure Trump’s 2017 tax bill was tailored to their benefit. Confidential IRS records show the windfall that followed.

Disrupting mainstream economics

Randy Wray — What Is MMT’s State of Play in Washington? (pdf)

[Levy Institute e-pamphlet, August 2021, via Mike Norman Economics 8-17-2021]

PREFACE: Modern Money Theory (MMT) has been frequently mentioned in recent media—first as “crazy talk” that if followed would bankrupt the nation and then, after the COVID-19 pandemic hit, as a way to finance an emergency response. In recent months, however, Washington seems to have returned to the old view that government spending must be “paid for” with new taxes. This raises the question: Has MMT really made headway with policymakers? This e-pamphlet examines the extraordinary interview given recently by Representative John Yarmuth’s (D, KY-03), Chair of the House Budget Committee, in which he explicitly adopts an MMT approach to budgeting. Chairman Yarmuth also lays out a path for realizing the major elements of President Biden’s proposals. Finally, Wray summarizes a recent presentation he gave to the Congressional Budget Office’s Macroeconomic Analysis section that urged reconsideration of the way that fiscal policy impacts are assessed.

What Every American Needs to Know About the Congressional “Pay-For” Game (Part 1)

Stephanie Kelton [The Lens, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-19-21]

We’re already paying for it 

[Interfluidity, via Naked Capitalism 8-20-2021]

On the face of it, the United States collects taxes equal to just under a quarter of its GDP, while social democracies like Denmark or Norway collect taxes that amount to 40% to 50% of GDP. But how much do Americans pay once the plutocracy tax is taken into account? A recent study by Carter C. Price and Kathryn A. Edwards suggests that between 1975 and 2018, the share of taxable income paid to the top 1% grew by 13 percentage points, from 8% to 22%. Treating that additional income as our plutocracy tax, and naively summing it with the overt tax share of GDP, we get a total tax share of 38%, within spitting distance of Norway.”

Steve Keen – What is the role of public debt and private debt in the next great financial crisis?

[Brave New Europe, via Mike Norman Economics 8-18-2021]

Steve Keen shows how private debt, not public debt, causes many of our financial problems, in fact, government debt can help mitigate the worst of looming financial crisis that may be coming due to Covid, but sadly, he says, governments are more likely to do nothing about private debt, while cutting public expenditure, which will make the financial crisis even worse.

The carnage of mainstream neoliberal economics

“Rich Investors Are Buying Risky Credit That Banks Won’t Touch”

[Bloomberg, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-18-21]

“Blackstone Group Inc., Carlyle Group Inc., Apollo Global Management Inc. and other large firms have started offering products for individuals to invest in loans to midsized companies that banks won’t touch. The lure is a potential annual return at times surpassing 8%, when corporate bond return indexes are negative, plus a relatively low initial investment. Their push coincides with a broader democratization in financial markets, with apps such as Robinhood Markets Inc. helping people find their way into everything from SPACs to Dogecoin. The meme-stock phenomenon in the U.S. this year showed the potential return for retail investors in distressed companies such as AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc., up more than 1,500%.”

[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-16-21]


“The Sacklers threaten us all with a good time”

Cory Doctorow [Pluralistic, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-19-21]

“The Sacklers are a multigenerational family of drug dealers, descended from the pioneer of the benzo epidemic, whose family drug business, Purdue Pharma, jumpstarted the opioid epidemic with its drug Oxycontin. The epidemic’s US body count is past 800,000. The Sacklers are worth billions – the family’s net worth exceeds that of other criminal dynasties like the Rockefellers. They are facing a blizzard of litigation thanks to their active role in deceptive, aggressive opioid marketing. Depositions and internal documents about the Sacklers reveal their direct role in Purdue’s explicit plan to create addicts and then demonize them, blaming their addiction on their personal moral failings rather than the deceptive practices of the pharma industry. For many years, the Sacklers were among the world’s most effective reputation-launderers, dispensing crumbs from their family fortune to arts and cultural institutions so that their name was synonymous with generosity, not genocide.” • If you’re looking for an example of openly genocidal elites, here it is.

The Unchecked Market Power of the American Health Care System

[ProMarket — The blog of the Stigler Center at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, VIA via Mike Norman Economics8-18-2021]

In May 2003, the late Princeton health economist Ewe Reinhardt and colleagues published a frequently-cited paper titled “It’s the Prices, Stupid: Why the United States is So Different From Other Countries”. This paper evaluated the reasons that the United States had more than double the median per capita health care spending of other OECD countries, at $4,631 compared to $1,983 in 2000.
The authors found that the United States had higher use of some high-tech diagnostic/treatment services but had proportionately fewer physicians and slightly fewer physician visits per capita, fewer hospital beds for every 1,000 people, and 30 percent lower use of hospital inpatient services. Given the lower use of health care services across most measures, the authors concluded that the higher expenditures in the US can only be explained by high prices. These high prices have led to incredibly expensive health care insurance, with the average premium for family coverage in employer-sponsored plans at $20,576 in 2019. This compares to median household income of $68,703 for that same year.
So, do the higher prices translate to higher quality? A 2018 study by the Commonwealth Fund compared the US to the wealthiest 11 OECD countries. Their findings: among the 11 countries, the US has the lowest life expectancy, the highest chronic disease burden, the highest number of hospitalizations from preventable causes, the highest rate of avoidable deaths—and the highest per capita expenditures.
How did we get to this price point? Market power and the dysfunctional nature of the market for health care services are the main drivers….

Lumber Prices [Menzie Chinn, via Naked Capitalism 8-17-2021]

Restoring balance to the economy

Nabisco workers strike around the nation

[Northwest Labor Press, via Naked Capitalism 8-20-2021]

“They walked out of there with huge smiles on their faces because they’ve been wanting to fight back against this company for a long time,” said Local 364 business agent Cameron Taylor….

At the core of the dispute is a shameless demand for worker concessions by a highly profitable company that paid its CEO $18 million last year. Mondelez-Nabisco earned over $1 billion in the second quarter of 2021 on $6.6 billion in sales. But instead of inviting production workers to share the good times, the company is demanding sweeping cuts in pay and benefits. In contract negotiations in Nashville in May and again in Baltimore in July, the company proposed to eliminate premium pay for work on weekends, end bonuses for perfect attendance, and get rid of daily overtime pay after eight hours. It also wants to stop providing supplemental health care for retirees, require workers to start paying part of the health insurance premiums, and increase the use of nonunion temps.

Workers take over a Kellogg factory, now known as ‘Socialist Kellogg’

[Fight Back News, via Mike Norman Economics 8-18-2021]

“Thanks to us being trained and well-organized, all of us workers reopened the factory and put it into production. We took over the factory to protect the rights of the workers. We enforce the food policies inside our homeland of Simone Bolivar and Chavez. Now, Kellogg’s company here is a socialist enterprise. The basic principles of our socialist enterprise are to dignify the work of our working class, increase the levels of production, guarantee that the equipment is highly maintained, produce good quality products, in a fair price and to be a self-sustainable company to contribute to the economic development of the country,” says Orlando Contreras, beaming with pride.

The workers have increased the production from two cereal types to four. Two week ago, they also contacted the Ministry of Labor to visit the factory and support the workers by increasing sales. The workers asked the Ministry of Labor to prioritize selling their “Socialist Kellogg” cereal and increase the number of places their cereal is sold, since it is all produced in Venezuela, unlike the other imported cereal brands. With more sales, they can increase the production and worker salaries and benefits.

After the takeover, the workers now have an important voice in the company, which they never had before.…

A Big Win for Mexican Workers—and a Model for the U.S.

Robert Kuttner, August 20, 2021 [The American Prospect]

Earlier this week, I reported on how the Rapid Response mechanism under the successor to NAFTA was putting the U.S. government on the side of labor rather than capital in trade agreements. The first of the complaints under the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) trade agreement was actually initiated by the U.S. government.

The complaint concerned a rigged election at a GM plant in Silao, Mexico, where workers were trying to kick out a fake union in favor of a real one. After it was discovered that the pro-employer Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM) had destroyed ballots in the original vote, the remedy under Rapid Response was a new election supervised by international monitors.

Now the other shoe has dropped. Yesterday, the Mexican Labor Ministry certified that workers voted this week to nullify their collective-bargaining contract with the factory’s fake union. The company union lost by a vote of 3,214 to 2,613. This now clears the way for workers to affiliate with a real union.

This win is doubly significant because the Silao truck factory is not run by some subcontractor. The plant is owned and operated by GM. Under the Rapid Response mechanism in USMCA, if GM or the fake union tries to play cute, the exports of this factory to the U.S. can be hit with tariffs or blocked at the border by U.S. Customs.

Climate and environmental crises

The First-Ever Colorado River Water Shortage Has Been Declared. What Does That Mean For Colorado?

[CPR, via Naked Capitalism 8-17-2021]

For a Clean Ocean, Just Add Oysters

[Reasons to Be Cheerful, via The Big Picture 8-16-2021]

From picturesque Mediterranean isles to New York’s bustling harbor, strategically placed oyster colonies are depolluting the sea with ease.

Information Age Dystopia

Windows 11 Is Making It Absurdly Difficult to Change Browsers

[Gizmodo, via Naked Capitalism 8-19-2021]

“How AI-powered tech landed man in jail with scant evidence”

[Associated Press, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-19-21]

“Williams was jailed last August, accused of murdering a young man from the neighborhood who asked him for a ride during a night of unrest over police brutality in May. But the key evidence against Williams didn’t come from an eyewitness or an informant; it came from a clip of noiseless security video showing a car driving through an intersection, and a loud bang picked up by a network of surveillance microphones. Prosecutors said technology powered by a secret algorithm that analyzed noises detected by the sensors indicated Williams shot and killed the man. ‘I kept trying to figure out, how can they get away with using the technology like that against me?’ said Williams, speaking publicly for the first time about his ordeal. ‘That’s not fair.’ Williams sat behind bars for nearly a year before a judge dismissed the case against him last month at the request of prosecutors, who said they had insufficient evidence.” And more: “Williams’ experience highlights the real-world impacts of society’s growing reliance on algorithms to help make consequential decisions about many aspects of public life. Nowhere is this more apparent than in law enforcement, which has turned to technology companies like gunshot detection firm ShotSpotter to battle crime. ShotSpotter evidence has increasingly been admitted in court cases around the country, now totaling some 200. ShotSpotter’s website says it’s ‘a leader in precision policing technology solutions’ that helps stop gun violence by using ‘sensors, algorithms and artificial intelligence’ to classify 14 million sounds in its proprietary database as gunshots or something else. But an Associated Press investigation, based on a review of thousands of internal documents, emails, presentations and confidential contracts, along with interviews with dozens of public defenders in communities where ShotSpotter has been deployed, has identified a number of serious flaws in using ShotSpotter as evidentiary support for prosecutors. AP’s investigation found the system can miss live gunfire right under its microphones, or misclassify the sounds of fireworks or cars backfiring as gunshots.”

“The infosec apocalypse is nigh”

Cory Doctorow, Pluralistic, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-20-21]

“Autocorrect errors in Excel still creating genomics headache”

[Nature, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-18-21]

“Five years after a study showed that autocorrect problems were widespread, the academic literature is still littered with error-riddled spreadsheets, according to an analysis of published gene lists. And the problem may be even worse than previously realized. The long-standing issue often occurs when the abbreviated form of a gene’s name — known as a gene symbol — is incorrectly recognized as a date and autocorrected as such by Excel or Google Sheets. For example, SEPT4 (septin 4) and MARCH1 (membrane associated ring-CH-type finger 1) will be automatically changed to 4-Sep and 1-Mar…. In 2016, Mark Ziemann and his colleagues at the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne, Australia, quantified the problem. They found that one-fifth of papers in top genomics journals contained gene-name conversion errors in Excel spreadsheets published as supplementary data. These data sets are frequently accessed and used by other geneticists, so errors can perpetuate and distort further analyses. However, despite the issue being brought to the attention of researchers — and steps being taken to fix it — the problem is still rife, according to an updated and larger analysis led by Ziemann, now at Deakin University in Geelong, Australia3. His team found that almost one-third of more than 11,000 articles with supplementary Excel gene lists published between 2014 and 2020 contained gene-name errors (see ‘A growing problem’).” And: “Microsoft has never indicated that it will alter its software to accommodate the genetics community.”

“Drone delivery is bullshit”

Cory Doctorow, [Medium, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-16-21]

“Prime Air was the centerpiece of a massive PR push, with school tours of a ‘secret’ facility and showy promotional videos (high-sfx sf movies, really). Execs said drones would arrive ‘within months.’ But after the PR wins, the organization became a do-nothing boondoggle where employees openly drank beer at their desks at 10AM. All of this raises the question: why? Why spend millions on something that was obviously not going to work out? My theory is tech companies promise to deliver impossible things in order to cultivate an air of mystical capability that’s invoked to mask real-world awfulness. Amazon’s automation claims — about drones, warehouse robots, and self-driving delivery vehicles — masks their ghastly labor abuses. This is especially useful when automation is used to make workers’ lives worse….

The more automated an Amazon warehouse is, the more workers it injures. Amazon warehouses injure more workers than any other kind of warehouse. Seen in this light, many of tech’s worst promises become less silly: Uber promises self-driving cars to distract us from its exploitative labor practices. Imaginary self-driving cars are a way to make worker misclassification seem temporary.”


On the Pegasus Project: “But as Snowden points out, none of this would be possible were it not for the vast, looming, grotesque tech-security debt that the IT industry has created for us. Everything we use is insecure, and it’s built atop more insecure foundations. We live in an information society with catastrophic information security. If our society was a house, the walls would all be made of flaking asbestos and the attic would be stuffed with oily rags. It’s hard to overstate just how much risk we face right now, and while the Insecurity Industry didn’t create that risk, they’re actively trying to increase it – finding every weak spot and widening it as far as possible, rather than shoring it up. It’s a cliche: ‘Security is a team sport.’ But I like how Snowden puts it: security is a public health matter. ‘To protect anyone, we must protect everyone.’ Step one is ‘to ban the commercial trade in intrusion software’ for the same reason we ‘do not permit a market in biological infections-as-a-service.’ We should punish the cyber-arms dealers – but also use international courts to target the state actors who pay them. But this fight will be a tough one. The huge sums that governments funnel to cyber arms-dealers allows them to silence their critics – I’ve been forced to remove some of my own coverage thanks to baseless threats I couldn’t afford to fight.”


“Democrats’ House Grip Relies on Holding Districts Trump Carried”

[Bloomberg, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-19-21]

“Republicans’ path to winning the House majority runs through more than a half-dozen Democratic-held districts Donald Trump carried in 2020. Redistricting, which began in earnest last week, will help decide how competitive those seven ticket-splitting swing seats will be. So will retirements, with Rep. Ron Kind of Wisconsin last week becoming the second of those incumbents to announce he won’t seek re-election. Both parties are closely monitoring the line-drawing process in each of the districts, as well as whether the other five Democrats will run for another term. Those variables will weigh heavily on this subset of the GOP’s target list, which is enough to swing control of the closely divided chamber.” • Handy chart

The Dark Side

The Radicalization of Clarence Thomas

[New Republic, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-17-21]

His time working for Monsanto and other polluting industries helped make him the fierce conservative he is today.

Vast Stretches of America Are Shrinking. Almost All of Them Voted for Trump.

[Slate, via The Big Picture 8-20-2021]

90% of counties that lost population in the last decade backed the ex-president.



Open Thread


America Decides to Ensure Afghanistan Will Be a Chinese and Russian Ally


  1. Plague Species


    Joe Biden’s callous ignorant statement means those 66,000 Afghan soldiers and another 9,000 police sacrificed their lives in vain considering America propped up the corrupt Afghan regimes that ruled for the past 20 years under the aegis of “democracy” and no, I refuse to capitalize “democracy” at this point because I have yet to see one. Democracy simply doesn’t exist except in the abstract.

    There’s another reason Afghan soldiers were correct in not fighting the Taliban any longer and actually they would have been correct to never fight the Taliban. America, by virtue of its close friendly chummy relationship with Saudi Arabia, indirectly at least and who knows maybe directly too, supports the Taliban since Saudi Arabia directly supports the Taliban. Many of the Afghan soldiers are unfortunately illiterate and probably don’t know this or didn’t know it, because if they did, you would think they would figure out soon enough they were and are merely dupes in the perfidious game called Boondoggle.

  2. NR

    Secret IRS Files Reveal How Much the Ultrawealthy Gained by Shaping Trump’s “Big, Beautiful Tax Cut”

    Vast Stretches of America Are Shrinking. Almost All of Them Voted for Trump.

    These two articles taken together tell quite a story about the modern American right. That big tax cut (of which almost all the benefit went to the ultra-rich) was Trump’s one and only accomplishment as president. And yet people in these poor, shrinking counties still voted for him. This is because the modern American right is not driven by policy (even policies that could potentially help them). They are driven by two, and only two, things: propaganda and identity politics.

    That’s it. That’s all that’s behind the modern American right. Not only are they morally bankrupt, as we’ve seen countless examples of, but they are also bankrupt of ideas beyond stupid sloganeering like “build a wall and make Mexico pay for it.” And then they don’t even deliver on the stupid slogans when they get elected and their base still doesn’t care.

    Propaganda and identity politics. That’s all there is to the modern American right.

  3. different clue

    A lot of the Modern Right’s voter base used to vote for DemParty officeseekers to the House of Representatives. For example, all those Reagan Democrat Reagan voters in McComb County who voted for Reagan voted for Representative Dave Bonior from their very own district at the very same time, even though Bonior was almost as “left” as
    Kucinich. And they kept voting for Bonior as long as the HouseDem Reps kept voting against Free Trade Agreements.

    When Clinton engineered just enough House Dems into joining the House Repugs for supporting Free Trade Agreements that Clinton could get his Free Trade Agreements passed, the Demvoting Voter Base had no reason left to vote for Dem Congreps any more.

    I remember reading a Chris Hedges article which I have never found anywhere ever again. It basically said that when Clinton got his Free Trade Agreements passed, he perma-destroyed the lives of millions of mass-jobicided workers and their millions of family member dependents. Their lives would never be good again. Reality would never again have anything to offer them, so they took and would take and will take what comfort they could and can take from magical thinking. They joined various Talibangelical movements and the Republican Party and etc.

    The rightwing voter base which NR identifies as voting on identity solely and only were predicted by Chris Hedges. And as Chris Hedges himself said in that article, they were, are and will be Bill Clinton’s gift to the nation. They are the Clinton gift which keeps on giving.

    If we were ever, as a nation, to round up the prominent Free Trade Traitors for shooting in the back of the head and burying in mass graves, Clinton would be at the top of the list, along with Pelosi and various other Free Trade Traitor scum.

  4. Hugh

    Always fun to watch the MMT idiots go after the Establishment economics idiots.

    On risky investments, I am reminded of the the John D. Rockefeller story that he decided to get out of the stock market in 1928 after a shoeshine boy started giving him stock tips while shining his shoes. It’s the idea that when the stupid money comes in, the smart money heads for the exits.

    Except nowadays with the Fed bailing out markets generally there is no down side to stupid investments. The Fed will either bail out the losers or support markets at what would otherwise be unsustainable prices.

    I liked the Rob Larson video on who (us) really funded Big Tech. And it is good to see some taking on the “Quick! Look over there! Bright shiny object!” narratives on Afghanistan. It’s not just how badly all the promises of the powers that be turned out about Afghanistan. It is why we stayed in a country of zero importance and strategic interest to us, for twenty years. Leaving Afghanistan is the one sensible thing Biden has done. No wonder he’s catching so much grief from the Washington Establishment over it.

    Tony, maybe you could start a “First against the wall” category, something like Naked Capitalism’s Guillotine Watch for items like the Nabisco story. On the other hand, maybe not, since so many of these articles would fall under that heading.

  5. Listened to “What should our vaccination strategy be? (Geert Vanden Bossche & Bret Weinstein)”, but don’t want to go into details. Suffice it to say that current vaccination program carries the risk of catastrophic backfire, and (if I understood, correctly) Bossche believes the widespread and very rapid proliferation of variants is primarily due to the vaccine. Weinstein, an evolutionary biologist, who actually did some formal study of immunology, doesn’t feel confident enough to second Bossche, a domain expert, but finds Bossche’ arguments very plausible.

    Bossche also believes that society-wide prophylaxing with ivermectin is creating evolutionary pressure to evolve deadlier strains of covid.

    This suggests (to me) that maybe only immune compromised individuals should be encouraged to do such prophylaxing, similar to Malone’s view about legitimate uses of mRNA vaccines.

    I’m pretty sure Bossche said that the best solution is a sterilizing vaccine, but I’d have to re-listen.

  6. VietnamVet

    Yes, simply put Globalists are criminal predators. The fall of Kabul and the exponential rise in the US Delta Variant death toll with no way to control it documents the utter incompetence and greed of the global meritocracy. Repeated injections of the mRNA code of the extinct Wuhan coronavirus spike won’t do it. The collapse of western governments is a given.

    Globalists have lost the mandate of heaven. The question is how wide will be the chaos and if democracy and the rule of law can be restored.

  7. Jason

    Bossche said that the best solution is a sterilizing vaccine

    He’s pushing NK-cell vaccines. He has called for “large vaccination campaigns” using Nk-cell-based vaccines” that “will primarily enable our natural immunity to be better prepared…and to induce herd immunity” and his focus now is on vaccines that “educate the immune system in ways that are to some extent more efficient than we do right now with our conventional vaccines.”

    Vanden Bossche addressed this in his last missive (April 2021), in which he said he would like to work with whomever comes forward to help develop these vaccines, with no expectation of financial compensation. He said this in response to investigators who said he had ties to entities poised to profit from an NK vaccine rollout.

    Rosemary Frei, who has an MSc in molecular biology, had this to say:

    “…from my experience as a former long-time medical writer and journalist (1988-2016) — particularly a four-month stint with media-relations giant FleishmanHillard in 1994 (yes, I’ve worked for the dark side) — this has all the hallmarks of a drug-company astroturf campaign. It’s another step in the decades-long erasure of the fact that our sophisticated and highly effective immune systems work well and don’t need any assistance from the biomedical/pharmaceutical industry.”

    Of course, Rosemary Frie is an interesting character herself.

  8. sorry, it’s not clear exactly what

    “this has all the hallmarks of a drug-company astroturf campaign.”

    means. I think it means Bossche’s embrace of NK-cell vaccines. Is that it? Or does it mean the mRNA vaccines?

  9. Mark Pontin

    Metamars: “I’m pretty sure Bossche said that the best solution is a sterilizing vaccine.”

    A sterilizing vaccine isn’t possible against half the coronaviruses — including COV19 — because they mutate too fast and our antibodies fade too quickly. We don’t have a sterilizing vaccine or herd immunity against the common cold, for instance, do we?

    So unless there may be some advanced biotechnological fix — something more high-tech and novel than mRNA vaccines — I don’t know enough to imagine, Jason is probably right about Bossche pushing NK cell vaccines.

    That actually would be a powerful technology — and by the same token one we shouldn’t use without decades of work. The mRNA vaccines at least had ten years of development, and at more than one company.

    I once hung out with some bioweaponeers, including this guy —

    — who had the dubious honor of creating the world’s first novel, genetically engineered bioweapon. (As far as I know.)

    What Popov created was a bug that triggered a severe auto-immune response where the victim’s immune system registered their own myelin — the substance lining the sheaths around their nerve fibers — as invasive and attacked it.

    And that’s the territory that NK cell technologies would be playing in– potential fatal autoimmune responses if things go wrong. It’s a really bad way to die. The bad possibilities of mRNA vaccines are really limited, by comparison.

    What _would_ do the job that we want done is a mucosal, nasally-administered prophylactic spray. That’s a far simpler technology that’s well within our reach, and at least a dozen efforts to develop one are coming along that I know of.

  10. Mark Pontin

    Metamars: “this has all the hallmarks of a drug-company astroturf campaign …means Bossche’s embrace of NK-cell vaccines. Is that it? Or does it mean the mRNA vaccines?”

    Jason means NK-cell vaccines.

    Though AFAIK the technology isn’t remotely ready for a drug-company astroturf campaign. It’s bleeding-edge —

    ‘Targeting Natural Killer Cells for Improved Immunity and Control of the Adaptive Immune Response’

  11. different clue

    I don’t know if Tony Wikrent has heard of Acres USA or Charles Walters Junior. I do know that the second place I heard about Henry Carey was from Tony Wikrent. But the first place I heard about Henry Carey was Acres USA, specifically from author Charles Walters Junior.

    Acres USA has a “bookstore”, now online without the annual paper catalog any more. Most of its titles are about various forms and aspects of agriculture. But some focus on economics, political economy, etc. And a few of those books address the history of how large parts of farm country America began losing population for the last few decades. I am not going to reprise that here. Its ” in the books”.

    Every August, Acres USA runs a month-long sale of many books at reduced prices. Some people might find some of those books worth having and reading at those reduced prices.

    Here is one such book.
    I have it. I recommend it.

    Here is another such book.
    I have it. I recommend it.

    Here is a book laying out theories of biophysical reality-based economic worked out by Walters, NORM, and others and written up into this book.
    Again, I have it and recommend it.

    The DC FedRegime Government began a very slow-rolling program to bankrupt and liquidate farms and farmers starting in 1952. It was designed to proceed slowly enough so as to look like “market forces”. The farmers and their families targeted by this liquidation-of-the-farmers policy were supposed to move into towns and/or cities, and they mostly did. The books I mentioned explain this history, among many other things. They will help the readers to understand ” the mystery of the disappearing rural population”.

    I mention these books in case anyone might be interested. They will probably be on sale again next August. Such a sale has happened for several Augusts now.

  12. Ché Pasa

    The Afghan debacle seems to have caused a collective meltdown among the warmongering class — government, think-tank, military and their media collaborators — that is the most spectacular and universal I’ve seen since the Fall of Saigon. There is a desperate need among these people to come up with justifications to keep the slaughter and destruction going, and because it’s not happening under the current evacuation and Taliban power consolidation, they seem ready to chew their limbs off in despair. They all pretend that everything was fine in Afghanistan prior to the Taliban takeover. This is one of the fundamental lies of the warmongers. The basic premise is that slaughter and destruction at a “minor” scale is normal and natural and perfectly all right.

    The headline was that “7 people killed at Kabul airport” — the unsubtle implication being that somehow the conflict between the Taliban and the American Heroes had caused the seven deaths. Then slowly parsing the story it became clear that wasn’t the case. There was no conflict, for example. The people who died were either crushed amid the crowds attempting to enter the airport grounds, or they had heart attacks or from some other reason. The American Heroes and the Taliban Fighters at the airport are cooperating — or trying to given the communications and language difficulties — in managing the crowds of would-be evacuees, and neither side is particularly gentle about it. But neither side seems intent on deliberately harming the crowds, either.

    How many are to be evacuated? I’ve read up to 300,000 Afghan collaborators as well as some tens of thousands of American and Nato personnel, mostly — apparently — dark-side wet workers, NGO operatives, and conflict rent and profit seekers. Very few troops. Too few, in fact, to keep Bagram air base going and secure. Thus complicating the evacuations.

    The British faced catastrophic losses during their various failed attempts to conquer and control Afghanistan, the Soviets fared only slightly better, and now the US/Nato alliance is staring at their own defeat by the tribal savages and it takes their breath away. If only, if only they could stay just a little while longer! It would all work out! Just a little while longer!

    As for the hundreds of thousands trying to get out… most, I would bet you, would be better off if they didn’t. They don’t think so right now, they are sure that if they don’t get out they will face revenge and worse, and some might. But the journey into exile is not necessarily better. Others have taken it and found their paths strewn with obstacles and despair even unto the second and third generations. I’ve known some of those people, and some of them say that if they knew then what they know now, they wouldn’t have left their home countries.

    The debacle will play out however it will. It would be nice to think this marks the end of the Neo-Imperial phase of the US and Western Powers, but… huh. Somehow it just keeps going.

  13. Jason

    The farmers and their families targeted by this liquidation-of-the-farmers policy were supposed to move into towns and/or cities, and they mostly did. The books I mentioned explain this history, among many other things. They will help the readers to understand ” the mystery of the disappearing rural population

    Pass along a copy to the masses in China.

  14. Jason

    dc, thank you for the recommendations. I just ordered Charles Walters’ “Unforgiven” which evidently includes much of Carl Wilken’s work trying to get Congress to understand basic economic principles.

    “Raw materials economics” is substantive, as opposed to the Potemkin village we’ve got now.

  15. @Mark Pontin

    Thanks for the clarification. I guess Brett Weinstein isn’t knowledgeable on that subject.

  16. Jason

    metamars, I didn’t respond because Mark Pontin clarified. Yes, the astroturf quote from Frei is in regards to Vanden Bossche’s unfettered enthusiasm for NK vaccines specifically, as well as for any mass vaccination campaign in general.

  17. Hugh

    Frei sounds like a nutcase anti-vaxxer who nevertheless makes a valid point about Bossche’s grift. Bossche doesn’t like mRNA vaccines and makes unsubstantiated criticisms about them while promoting unproven natural killer cell vaccines that he has business interests in and which currently don’t exist.

  18. different clue


    Charles Walters himself wrote that a book which inspired and sharpened up his thinking in this regard was : Wealth, Virtual Wealth and Debt, the Solution of the Economic Paradox . . by Frederick Soddy. I bought that book when it was available and struggle to understand it. It may be out of print, but could be available here and there with some difficulty.

    Here is Frederick Soddy.
    He won two Nobel Prizes in Physics for his work in radiochemistry and nuclear chemistry. He started wondering . . . . what would “economics” look like if a natural scientist who actually knew things about stuff were to try and do it? So he tried working up a theory of economics tracking actual physical energy flows and how society might arrange its “money” affairs around actual physical facts.

    What if parts of Soddy and Wilken and the National Organization for Raw Materials and other reality-based or at least reality-biased thinkers are collectively “correct” in some “objective” sense? Can there be such a thing as ” biophysiconomics” which can be understood and applied and/or lived-within at the individual or family or community or etc. level? Could people actually make some kind of fortified survival living in their own little Free UnMarket CounterEconomies in the teeth of social domineerance by the enforcers of the establishment’s Slave Market MoneyConomy?

    And if people who had to function in the Slave Market MoneyConomy in order to get money to pay for the things that only money can pay for . . . could also find a way to move some of their survival functions out of the Market MoneyConomy into the UnMarket UnMoney CounterEconomy, could they put a foot in the CounterEconomy while leaving only their one other foot still in the MoneyConomy?

    Could they do it if they were to see that it even existed as a possibility? As the saying goes . . . ” I would never have seen it if I hadn’t believed it with my own mind”.
    If some people who can understand and apply biophysiconomics and visibly increase their survival viability in open view of their friends, family and neighbors were to be passively ready and waiting to explain their applied understanding of biophysiconomics to anyone with visible survival difficulties who might ask them how they themselves are surviving better than others, perhaps a working understanding of biophysiconomics can be spread around.

    Perhaps such people can spread and recruit and multiply to the point of creating a large massive-passive diffuse scatter-mob movement of economic combat warfighters.

  19. different clue

    Here’s a little twittery tweet by someone who has learned the meaning of life in the forced market moneyconomy. And she learned it fast.

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