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

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – August 28, 2022

by Tony Wikrent

The pandemic

”Individual freedoms versus collective responsibility: immunization decision-making in the face of occasionally competing values”

[Emerging Themes in Epidemiology, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-24-2022]

From 2006, still germane: “There are situations where there can be a real or perceived divergence between individual and community benefits of vaccination. This divergence may occasionally be based upon current scientific evidence and may exemplify the need for overriding individual autonomy. Use of the oral polio vaccine (OPV) in the US in the early 1990s is such an example. The sustained use of OPV led to the elimination of polio in the US, with the last cases of wild polio reported in 1979. While OPV is extremely safe and effective, the vaccine very rarely caused vaccine associated paralytic polio (VAPP) resulting in 5–7 cases of VAPP annually with near universal use of OPV in the US. Once polio had been effectively controlled in the US, preventing the indigenous transmission of polio, the risks of the vaccine (VAPP) may have been greater than the risk of disease. Assuming the individual does not travel to a region where polio is still endemic, a roughly one in a million risk of VAPP is highly unlikely, but still greater than the risk of wild polio. Yet, if a substantial number of individuals were not vaccinated because of this individual risk/benefit analysis, polio would likely have been reintroduced into the US, as the disease is only a plane ride away, leading to a tragedy of the commons [7]. While this divergence in individual versus community benefits was short-lived (the US switched to the inactivated polio vaccine that can not cause VAPP), such a situation can cause a dilemma for parents, health care providers and policy makers.”


“Barriers to Air Purifiers in Schools Rebuttal Matrix”

[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-22-2022]



”How a $100 box is changing the way people protect themselves against coronavirus”

[Dallas Morning News, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-24-2022]

“Enter the Corsi-Rosenthal Box, a do-it-yourself air filtration system with North Texas ties that has taken the internet by storm. Each box typically costs under $100 to make and is more effective than other, pricier options like High Efficiency Particulate Air filters. The simple contraption consists of a box fan, four MERV13 furnace filters that can be purchased online or in store, some cardboard and strips of tape. It’s the brainchild of air quality researcher Richard Corsi, dean of engineering at the University of California, Davis, and Jim Rosenthal, CEO of Texas-based company Tex-Air Filters. …. The White House recognized the need for better ventilation and launched the Clean Air in Buildings Challenge in March to call on building operators, like schools and companies, to up their inside air quality. But interest in such investments has been weak, even with billions of dollars in federal COVID-19 funding for schools that can be used to upgrade ventilation systems. Portable air filters can make up for outdated ventilation systems, although they tend to come with hefty price tags. Standalone devices that use HEPA filters can cost upwards of $300 to $400, and that doesn’t include the price of filter replacements. So when the DIY air filter prototype – designed by Corsi and first constructed by Rosenthal in the summer of 2020 – worked, the two were elated. With MERV13 filters making up each side of the cube, the box fan on top pulls air through the filters and blows clean air out of the top. In a 700-square-foot classroom with nine-foot ceilings, a Corsi-Rosenthal Box on the highest fan setting can add the equivalent of about seven-and-a-half to eight air changes per hour, Corsi said. ‘If we started at two air changes per hour and we added eight air changes per hour, we’re roughly getting about an 80% reduction in inhalation dose with that single Corsi-Rosenthal Box,’ he said. ‘That’s a huge reduction. That’s like everybody wearing pretty decent masks in the classroom.’”


Restoring balance to the economy

“Biden’s Student-Loan Forgiveness Is Good. It Could Have Been Revolutionary”

[New York Magazine, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-26-2022]

“Although Biden’s plan will be life-changing for many, it’s necessary to think about what could have been had he or his administration possessed the necessary imagination or will. Student-loan debt is not a natural disaster: It became a crisis because of political decisions made decades ago. In the debates over plans and proposals, the human toll of student-loan debt can become lost. Student-loan debt ruins lives. It delays or even prevents people from starting families or buying homes. It inhibits even the simplest acts of enjoying life. This is cruel and unnecessary. The repayment pause is proof that society can survive without millions locked into a predatory debt scheme. Given these circumstances, it feels more than a little insulting that Biden waited two years to put forward a student-loan plan that didn’t even fulfill all of his campaign promises. People deserve better solutions from the president, and they deserved them years ago. Further action will be necessary to dismantle the inhumane policy decisions that turned student-loan debt into such a crisis. Biden can’t address that all on his own. Congress will have to act, and one such solution would be to make public college free.”


The Origin of Student Debt: Reagan Adviser Warned Free College Would Create a Dangerous “Educated Proletariat”

Jon Schwarz, August 25, 2022 [The Intercept]

In 1970, Roger Freeman, who also worked for Nixon, revealed the right’s motivation for coming decades of attacks on higher education….

Freeman’s remarks were reported the next day in the San Francisco Chronicle under the headline “Professor Sees Peril in Education.” According to the Chronicle article, Freeman said, “We are in danger of producing an educated proletariat. … That’s dynamite! We have to be selective on who we allow [to go to college].”

“If not,” Freeman continued, “we will have a large number of highly trained and unemployed people.” Freeman also said — taking a highly idiosyncratic perspective on the cause of fascism —“that’s what happened in Germany. I saw it happen.” ….

[As governor] Reagan pushed to cut state funding for California’s public colleges but did not reveal his ideological motivation. Rather, he said, the state simply needed to save money. To cover the funding shortfall, Reagan suggested that California public colleges could charge residents tuition for the first time. This, he complained, “resulted in the almost hysterical charge that this would deny educational opportunities to those of the most moderate means. This is obviously untrue. … We made it plain that tuition must be accompanied by adequate loans to be paid back after graduation.”

The success of Reagan’s attacks on California public colleges inspired conservative politicians across the U.S. Nixon decried “campus revolt.” Spiro Agnew, his vice president, proclaimed that thanks to open admissions policies, “unqualified students are being swept into college on the wave of the new socialism.”

Prominent conservative intellectuals also took up the charge. Privately one worried that free education “may be producing a positively dangerous class situation” by raising the expectations of working-class students. Another referred to college students as “a parasite feeding on the rest of society” who exhibited a “failure to understand and to appreciate the crucial role played [by] the reward-punishment structure of the market.” The answer was “to close off the parasitic option.”

In practice, this meant to the National Review, a “system of full tuition charges supplemented by loans which students must pay out of their future income.”

[TW: According to Forrest A. Nabors, author of From Oligarchy to Republicanism: The Great Task of Reconstruction, one committee of the Virginia secession convention presented a report that explicitly attacked democratic republicanism and majority rule as “the despotism of numbers” that inevitably led to “misappropriation of others’ property under democratic forms of government,” which in the North “may be seen in the system of free schools, by which children of the poor are educated at the expense of the rich.

Nabors quotes from a number of Civil War era leaders of the Republican Party, who had to grapple with the tasks of defining who the Confederate enemy was, and then replacing that enemy’s system of government after that enemy had been defeated by force of arms:

“Knowledge,” Thaddeus Stevens said in 1835, “is the only foundation on which republics can stand.” This theory and its opposite, that ignorance is the only foundation on which oligarchy can stand, runs through the Republicans’ criticism of the slave states’ abstention from establishing a healthy common school system. They argued that the slave-state rulers deliberately prevented the development of common schools because popular ignorance was their policy goal. The arrangement of educational institutions in the slave states secured this goal and supported oligarchic rule…. in 1858, Senator Zachariah Chandler of Michigan quoted from the annual message of South Carolina governor Whitemarsh Seabrook: “Education has been provided by the Legislature but for one class of the citizens of the State, which is the wealthy class. For the middle and poorer classes of society it has done nothing, since no organized system has been adopted for that purpose….

In 1861… Waltman Willey [who was elected from the western mountains around Morganton to go to the secession convention, where he stubbornly voted against secession over and over again, then served in the U.S. Senate representing the Restored Government of Virginia, then served as one of the first two Senators from the new state of West Virginia] directly explained why the oligarchy opposed free schools: “Sir, great astonishment has been expressed at the hostility of southern statesmen to popular education. But, sir, we ought not to be surprised at it. Knowledge is power; and to keep the masses in ignorance is a necessary precaution to keep them in subjection. To maintain the oligarchy of the few owning the capital, it is necessary to bind down with the slavish chains of ignorance the many who perform the labor. . . . Sir, the true reason of this hostility to popular education is hostility to democratic institutions.

In 1862 Willey’s colleague from western Virginia Representative Kellian Whaley similarly denounced the policy of the slaveholding aristocrats in eastern Virginia and imputed to them the same motive. The eastern Virginian aristocracy jealously guarded their power over the state… “One of the greatest injuries sustained by our western people has been an organized opposition to a system of free schools and popular education, by which the bright but untutored minds of our mountain ranges and humbler classes have not been developed, while colleges and seminaries for the rich have been fostered by eastern legislation. To keep the people in ignorance is a part of the policy of their masters, the forty thousand slave-owners of East Virginia.”

(–Forrest A. Nabors, From Oligarchy to Republicanism: The Great Task of Reconstruction, Columbia, Mo., University of Missouri Press, 2017, pp. 46 ff. )

A revival of civic republicanism — and a focus on the actual history of how USA was developed — would restore clear moral principles of political economy. For example, the principle that a republic requires its citizens to be as highly educated as possible, would set the foundation of free public education, through to the highest college level, and become an ideological barrier to conservative, libertarian, and neoliberal schemes for privatization, such as charter schools. ]


1860s Republicans passed the Land Grant College Act so that men without wealthy fathers might have access to higher education

Heather Cox Richardson, August 21, 2022 [Letters from an American]

When they were in control of the federal government in the 1860s, Republicans passed the Land Grant College Act, funding public universities so that men without wealthy fathers might have access to higher education. In the aftermath of the Civil War, Republicans also tried to use the federal government to fund public schools for poor Black and white Americans, dividing money up according to illiteracy rates.

But President Andrew Johnson vetoed that bill on the grounds that the federal government had no business protecting Black education; that process, he said, belonged to the states—which for the next century denied Black and Brown people equal access to schools, excluding them from full participation in American society and condemning them to menial labor.

Then, in 1954, after decades of pressure from Black and Brown Americans for equal access to public schools, the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Earl Warren, a former Republican governor of California, unanimously agreed that separate schools were inherently unequal, and thus unconstitutional. The federal government stepped in to make sure the states could not deny education to the children who lived within their boundaries.

The Real Heroes Behind Biden’s Student Debt Announcement

Astra Taylor, August 26, 2022 [The New Republic]

[TW: A long excerpt here because this is a story of how years of thankless work can lead to hope for millions. It also illustrates Milton Friedman’s principle of the shock doctrine: it is crucial to develop the policy alternatives that can be adopted years later when policymakers are confronted with a crisis. ]

Though not nearly enough, the president’s move is a good one—and is the result of a decade-plus of activism by thousands of brave Americans…. Through years of tireless and often thankless organizing, borrowers and their allies pushed a reluctant administration to deliver broad-based student debt cancellation—to bail out regular people, not big banks or businesses. Approximately 20 million people will have their balances completely wiped out, and many have been sharing emotional messages of shock and jubilation online…

Yet the triumph is bittersweet. For millions of others, including most members of the Debt Collective—the union for debtors I helped found—$10,000 or even $20,000 doesn’t begin to chip away at the interest that has capitalized on their balance sheets, and it won’t reduce their monthly payments. Experts warn that many won’t get the relief they are entitled to due to the application process that attends the income cap.…

In the weeks and months ahead, we need to ensure that debtors are able to access the relief they are entitled to. And we need to defend this policy decision from bad-faith critics….

I believe that this is possible because I’ve seen what it took to get to this point. Over 10 long years, a growing coalition of debtors, lawyers, policy wonks, racial justice advocates, labor unions, and progressive public officials have pushed the demand for loan cancellation from the political margins to the mainstream. The Debt Collective, in particular, expanded the Overton window through bold tactics, including multiple successful debt strikes. Despite the overwhelming stigma and judgment associated with indebtedness in this country, debtors from all walks of life went public with their financial struggles, said “enough is enough,” and got organized….

It’s easy to forget just how quixotic the demand for student debt cancellation seemed when it first rang out during Occupy Wall Street a decade ago, back when Obama was president. On April 8, 2012, members of the short-lived Occupy Student Debt Campaign organized a protest dubbed 1T Day, marking the day student debt surpassed $1 trillion. Protesters dressed in caps and gowns made of black trash bags and demanded a student loan jubilee. Media coverage was scant and dismissive. “They want all student debt in the country forgiven. All $1 trillion of it. And if the government would be so kind, they’d appreciate it if it would pay for higher education from here on out, as well,” Reuters’s Chadwick Matlin jeered. “What has happened to this proposal? Hardly anybody has cared.” According to NPR’s All Things Considered“Most experts believe there’s little chance the government would ever forgive student loans.”…

Two years later, the Debt Collective was officially launched when we announced the country’s first student debt strike. Fifteen students—Nathan Hornes, Latonya Suggs, Ann Bowers, Jessica Madison, and others—who had been defrauded by the collapsing for-profit chain Corinthian Colleges, went public, refusing to pay back their loans and demanding full cancellation from the Education Department…. Their work on predatory student lending included powerful but underappreciated arguments about the Department of Education’s various authorities to cancel federal student loans, including a little-known provision called Borrower Defense to Repayment, which says loans must be canceled when institutions mislead students or violate state law—standard-issue fare for for-profit schools like Corinthian. With their help, we created a mobile-friendly website that allowed us to flood the department with Defense to Repayment claims and forced the Obama administration to begin issuing a trickle of relief….

The Corinthian campaign showed that debt cancellation was possible (even if it would take seven years for our full demands to be met: In June this year, the Biden administration finally granted the automatic mass discharge the Corinthian strikers called for, amounting to nearly $6 billion for over half a million people). In early 2020, Senator Elizabeth Warren, inspired by the Corinthian example, made broad student debt relief a central plank of her presidential primary run, followed by Bernie Sanders. Boxed in, Mr. Biden reluctantly embraced student loan cancellation as well.


“…the northern system of freedom lifted workers up with schools and churches”

Heather Cox Richardson, August 27, 2022 [Letters from an American]

Biden’s calling out of today’s radical Republicans mirrors the moment on June 21, 1856, when Representative Anson Burlingame of Massachusetts, a member of the newly formed Republican Party, stood up in Congress to announce that northerners were willing to take to the battlefield to defend their way of life against the southerners who were trying to destroy it. Less than a month before, Burlingame’s Massachusetts colleague Senator Charles Sumner had been brutally beaten by a southern representative for disparaging slavery, and Burlingame was sick and tired of buying sectional peace by letting southerners abuse the North. Enough, he said, was enough. The North was superior to the South in its morality, loyalty to the government, fidelity to the Constitution, and economy, and northerners were willing to defend their system, if necessary, with guns.

Burlingame’s “Defense of Massachusetts” speech marked the first time a prominent northerner had offered to fight to defend the northern way of life. Previously, southerners had been the ones threatening war and demanding concessions from the North to preserve the peace. He was willing to accept a battle, Burlingame explained, because what was at stake was the future of the nation. His speech invited a challenge to a duel.

Southerners championed their region as the one that had correctly developed the society envisioned by the Founders. In the South, a few very wealthy men controlled government and society, enslaving their neighbors. This system, its apologists asserted, was the highest form of human civilization. They opposed any attempt to restrict its spread. The South was superior to the North, enslavers insisted; it alone was patriotic, honored the Constitution, and understood economic growth. In the interests of union, northerners repeatedly ceded ground to enslavers and left their claim to superiority unchallenged.

At long last, the attack on Sumner inspired Burlingame to speak up for the North. The southern system was not superior, he thundered; it had dragged the nation backward. Slavery kept workers ignorant and godless while the northern system of freedom lifted workers up with schools and churches. Slavery feared innovation; freedom encouraged workers to try new ideas. Slavery kept the South mired in the past; freedom welcomed the modern world and pushed Americans into a new, thriving economy. And finally, when Sumner had spoken up against the tyranny of slavery, a southerner had clubbed him almost to death on the floor of the Senate.


[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-27-2022]


Seattle Residents Make Record Use of ‘Democracy Voucher’ Program

David Moore, August 25, 2022 [The American Prospect]

The new report, by Associate Professors Dr. Jen Heerwig of Stony Brook University and Brian J. McCabe of Georgetown University, found that democracy voucher users are increasingly representative of the city, similar to Seattle’s general election voters in their age distribution, income levels, and race.

Adopted by Seattle voters through a 2015 ballot initiative, the democracy voucher program aims to increase participation in the campaign finance system and foster political engagement while encouraging candidates who don’t already have networks of wealthy donors to run for office.

Last year, 48,071 Seattle residents gave a voucher to a candidate running in the city, making up 7.6% of the voting-age population—or, as a percentage of residents who received vouchers in the mail, a participation rate of 9.4%. The 2021 elections, the third cycle with democracy vouchers offered to Seattle voters, included contests for two at-large city council seats and city attorney, in addition to the crowded field of candidates running for the open mayoral seat.

Under the first-of-its-kind program, the independent Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission (SEEC) mails four democracy vouchers worth $25 apiece to every registered voter, who can donate them to qualifying candidates for city office, either through the mail, digitally, or by signing in-person to hand to a candidate. The candidates who choose to accept vouchers, which are redeemable for funding from the city, agree to abide by lower campaign contribution limits—including both vouchers and cash donations from individuals—and participate in at least three public debates, with their funding totals from vouchers displayed online. Candidates who participate also agree to observe a maximum amount they can raise and spend for the offices they seek—for example, $800,000 for the mayoral primary and general election combined, counting voucher donations and monetary contributions….

[Another] report found that the share of contributors from outside Seattle in the 2015 contest for at-large city council seats—before the voucher program was underway—was a hefty 31.6%. In the 2017 and 2021 cycles, however, that share shrank to just 6.7% and 6.6% of contributors, meaning that far fewer donors outside Seattle have been giving cash to candidates since vouchers came into play.

The results are even more stark looking at last year’s mayoral race. In the 2013 and 2017 contests, before vouchers were in effect in the election for mayor, about 23% of contributors to mayoral hopefuls came from outside Seattle, whereas in 2021 that share fell to just 7.1% of contributors. Instead of donors outside Seattle making up one of the largest blocs of campaign contributors, last year the out-of-city donors made up a smaller share than any of Seattle’s seven districts.


Union Strikes California Hospital Giant Over Violations of Mental Health Laws

David Dayen, August 24, 2022 [The American Prospect]

More than 2,000 mental health therapists and clinicians affiliated with the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) are engaged in an unusual open-ended strike of HMO giant Kaiser Permanente facilities in Northern California. Rather than fighting for pay and benefits—the union agreed to the terms offered by Kaiser on that score—the fight is over access to mental health services for patients.


One Way Pharma Lobbyists Actually Lost

David Sirota, Julia Rock & Matthew Cunningham-Cook, August 26, 2022 [The Lever]

At issue is the section of the Inflation Reduction Act that allows Medicare to begin a very small program of negotiating lower drug prices. Pharmaceutical companies spent $142 million on lobbying on the matter, and that spending convinced lawmakers to water down the much-promised initiative in myriad ways. Democrats, for example, limited the provision to only cover a handful of older drugs, and put off implementation until 2026….

Whereas the original House version of the legislation could have given a future pharma-friendly Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary discretion to avoid negotiating lower drug prices for Medicare recipients, the Senate version of the bill overseen by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) explicitly shut down this so-called “Rogue Secretary” loophole.

“The proposal would close a loophole in the House-passed bill that would have allowed a bad actor Republican secretary to refuse to negotiate or negotiate fewer than the maximum number of drugs,” Senate Democrats noted in a messaging document last month. “The bill now requires the Secretary to negotiate the maximum number of drugs each year, to the extent that number of drugs qualify for negotiation.”

….Removing discretion here is important, given the history: Clinton’s HHS Secretary Donna Shalala killed importation right before Clinton began his new career giving paid speeches to corporate groupsincluding drugmakers.​​ Shalala, for her part, quickly joined the board of directors at the health insurance giant UnitedHealth Group.

That particular rogue secretary incident wasn’t some isolated occurrence: Unbound by stricter legislative mandates, President Barack Obama’s HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell and President Joe Biden’s HHS Secretary Xavier Beccerra have refused to use existing laws to reduce the skyrocketing price of lifesaving medicines developed at government expense….

The attention to detail embodied by this provision is particularly critical right now, when the Supreme Court’s conservative bloc is trying to hamstring administrative agencies by preventing them from deriving regulatory and enforcement power from vague bill text.

Combating that conservative crusade will require lawmakers to avoid giving industries or courts ways to evade or eviscerate those laws during implementation. Legislators will have to actually legislate — that is, they will need to write their bills to explicitly empower and compel the executive branch to take action.


“The Case for a Participation Income” (PDF)

A. B. Atkinson [via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-26-2022]

“First, the means-tested approach necessarily penalises personal effort. Even if the poverty trap no longer involves marginal tax rates in excess of 100per cent, the marginal rates are still higher than those levied on the rest of the population. Perhaps more importantly, it is not just the individual’s efforts that are penalised, but those of that person’s family. Unlike individualised social insurance, social assistance discourages the partners of those out of work from earning income. I find it strange that a government so concerned with incentives should not see that reliance on means-testing has such a counterproductive effect. In the case of pensioners there is the ’savings trap’, which applies to pension income and capital income. For a range of such income, there is little or no net gain from saving on account of the withdrawal of means-tested benefits. People with capital in excess of a specified amount are not eligible for income support, and, if they realise this in advance, they may decide that there is little point in saving. The second major objection to means- tested benefits is that a significant minority of those with incomes below the assistance level do not claim the benefits to which they are entitled. There is a recurrent problem of incomplete take-up. The reasons are doubtless manifold, but the failure of successive take-up advertising campaigns indicates that it is not simply a matter of inadequate information. There are deep-seated objections to claiming means-tested benefits. Unlike non-income-tested benefits, where take-up is thought to be close to 100 per cent, in the case of family credit only some two-thirds of the potential benefit is claimed. Thirdly, the means test can only make sense when applied to the family or the household as a unit. As such, it runs counter to the desire to have a social security system which ensures independence. This is particularly important for women, but it also applies to young people, as has become clear with the problems of young adults and income support. In short, means-testing is economically inefficient, provides an incomplete safety net, and takes social policy backwards rather than forwards.”


Can We Still Afford Social Security and Medicare? Breaking it down with MMT economist Scott Fullwiler. 

Stephanie Kelton [The Lens, via Mike Norman Economics 8-21-2022]

Eighty-Seven Years and Counting

Stephanie Kelton [The Lens, via Mike Norman Economics 8-20-2022]

I’ve long argued that Social Security’s Achilles heel is its so-called funding mechanism. I won’t repeat those arguments here. To understand my views, you can read Chapter 6 of my book or refer back to the series of posts I did earlier this summer (hereherehere).


The carnage of mainstream neoliberal economics

Smoke and Mirrors: What is the history of neoliberalism?

Steven Hahn [The Nation, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-24-2022]

“During the early 1970s—the “silent phase” of neoliberalism’s ascent, as Gerstle terms it—the Heritage Foundation, the Koch Foundation, the Manhattan Institute, the Cato Institute, and the Business Roundtable were all established, demonstrating that wealthy donors with neoliberal convictions were ready to go on the offensive. These well-funded think tanks sought not only to promote the concept of deregulation but also to change the very way we spoke about politics and economics. Their intellectuals embarked on a massive propaganda campaign to demonize organized labor, government power, and liberal jurisprudence and to persuade the public that the creeping stagflation of the time was the logical outcome of a government-regulated economy.

This ascendant neoliberalism was not just a project of the Republican Party: It was bipartisan and already evident in Jimmy Carter’s administration in the late 1970s, before Ronald Reagan’s near-landslide election in 1980 secured its reign. Famously proclaiming that government was the problem rather than the solution, Reagan advanced the deregulatory initiatives that Carter had already started to deploy. He also moved against organized labor and crushed its strikes (most notably the Professional Air Traffic Controllers strike of 1981); celebrated supply-side economics; pushed for the repeal of the FCC’s “fairness doctrine” (unleashing shock jocks like Rush Limbaugh); and appointed judges who were constitutional “originalists” and took a dim view of expansive interpretations of the Constitution’s commerce clause….

For Gerstle, however, it was in the 1990s, not the 1980s, that neoliberalism went from being a political movement to a political order. Gerstle tells the story of how neoliberalism became as much a creed of the Democratic Party as of the GOP, focusing on how the Clinton administration embedded neoliberal perspectives into the logic of policy-making and helped advance legislation that extended the Reagan-era rollback of the federal regulatory apparatus. Clinton oversaw the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement, the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act (which had kept commercial and investment banking separate), the deregulation of the telecommunications industry, and the enactment of punitive welfare reform. Even the administration’s failed attempt to create a national health insurance system relied on the private sector to underwrite the program. “Across his two terms,” Gerstle writes, “Clinton may have done more to free markets from regulation than even Reagan himself had done.”….

Gerstle is certainly not the first to recognize the Clinton administration’s links to, rather than breaks from, the Reagan administration… But his discussion of how…. the end of the Soviet Union and the apparent defeat of communism—“clear[ing] the world of capitalism’s most ardent opponent”—relieved the pressure on noncommunist countries to pursue more egalitarian and social democratic programs and put the final nail in the coffin of the class compromise between capitalist elites and workers that had been coming apart since the 1970s….

The possible demise of the neoliberal order found expression in the emergence of political movements on the right and the left—the Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street, and Black Lives Matter in particular—all of which pushed back against the elites that neoliberalism appeared to have sustained. The Tea Party attacked their internationalism and their embrace of a multicultural America; Occupy Wall Streeters and Black Lives Matter protesters attacked them for the massive economic and racial inequalities they enabled and continued to thrive upon… Sanders and Trump shared an opposition to the neoliberal order’s hallmarks of free trade and globalization. Trump stormed his way to the Republican nomination in 2016, while Sanders could not surmount the wall that neoliberal Democrats had built to secure the nomination of Hillary Clinton. And, as Gerstle suggests, the hostility that kept Clinton from the presidency was rooted in more than just misogyny and personal distaste; it was also rooted in a deep anger at the political and economic system with which she was readily linked….

Unfortunately, what the past year has shown is that the promise evaporated quickly and the dangers have grown overwhelming. If anything, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has generated an American-led effort to revitalize the transatlantic neoliberal order and to dust off the rhetoric and logic of the Cold War so as to isolate and take down Russian President Vladimir Putin…. What’s more, the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, which seemed to be moving into the driver’s seat between 2018 and 2020, has mostly been stymied by the party’s centrists as well as by the Republicans and, along with Biden, will be blamed for the inflation and related economic problems that their massive Covid rescue plan is seen to have stoked.


Investors Bought a Quarter of Homes Sold Last Year, Driving Up Rents 

[Pew Charitable Trusts, via Naked Capitalism 8-24-2022]


20 Million American Households Are Behind On Energy Bills 

Michael Kern [Oilprice, via Mike Norman Economics 8-24-2022]


Record Number of US Households Behind on Energy Bills

Yves Smith, August 25, 2022 [Naked Capitalism]

The Nice household is one of some 20 million across the country—about 1 in 6 American homes—that have fallen behind on their utility bills. It is, according to the National Energy Assistance Directors Association (Neada), the worst crisis the group has ever documented. Underpinning those numbers is a blistering surge in electricity prices, propelled by the soaring cost of natural gas.


‘A Place To Die’: Inside A Nightmare For-Profit Hospital In Rural America 

Moe Tkacik August 18, 2022 [More Perfect Union, via Naked Capitalism 8-26-2022]


When Private Equity Takes Over a Nursing Home 

[The New Yorker, August 25, 2022, via Naked Capitalism 8-26-2022]


Closing Down the Billionaire Factory 

Matt Stoller, August 17, 2022 [Big, via Naked Capitalism]

The private equity industry has been running America for four decades. This is how the ‘billionaire factory’ emerged, and why the public has had enough….

One result of anger from voters is that there’s increasing interest by politicians in addressing how out of control private equity has become, from eliminating tax concessions like the ‘carried interest loophole’ that let financiers get taxed at a lower rate, to legislation like the Stop Wall Street Looting Act that would force them to assume liability for the debt they put on companies and protect worker pensions in bankruptcy. But ground zero in the attack on corrupt forms of private equity, is now an agency that has been sleepy and corrupt for decades, until a serious regulator named Gary Gensler took it over last year: the Securities and Exchange Commission….

Gensler is aiming at fees on the theory that transparency can result in more competition for money from pension funds, lower fees for private equity barons, and better capital allocation, as investors realize their money would work better elsewhere. (You can actually have an impact here, by offering your thoughts to the SEC. If you’d like to offer comments, email and indicate file S7-03-22 or go to and click through the link on S7-03-22. Or follow instructions here.)


How Deadly Bacteria Spread in a Similac Factory—and Caused the US Formula Shortage 

[Bloomberg, via Naked Capitalism 8-26-2022]


‘I’ve Seen a Lease Calling for Daily Lap Dances’ 

[New York Magazine, via Naked Capitalism 8-26-2022]


AL Coal Miners Must Pay $13 Million in Damages for Strike, Biden’s NLRB Rules 

[Truthout, via Naked Capitalism Water Power 8-22-2022]

“On August 3, the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) and the Associated Press reported that the subunit of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for Region 10 (much of the South) has ordered the union to pay $13.3 million to Warrior Met Coal. About 1,000 workers from two mines and two aboveground facilities southwest of Birmingham, Alabama, have been on strike against Warrior Met since April 2021, resisting brutal working conditions. Now the Biden NLRB is demanding the UMWA pay what amounts to $13,000 per striker into the company’s pocket. The government says this is reimbursement for security guards, security cameras, repairs, and production lost because of the strike, plus buses for carrying scabs across picket lines.”


Criminal depredations of the management and upper classes

How the US Toppled the World’s Most Powerful Gold Trader

​​​​​​​[Bloomberg, via The Big Picture 8-22-2022]

JPMorgan’s former gold boss was convicted last week.


Real economics

“Why are there so few economies of scale in construction? Part I”

[Construction Physics, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-22-2022]

[T]he very concept of ‘cost per square foot’ suggests a cost function that is largely independent of overall building size. Similarly, we see few apparent economies of scale in production methods. Large volume builders use substantially the same methods of construction that small volume builders do, and do not in general produce buildings more cheaply.

[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-23-2022]


Creating new economic potential – science and technology

Chinese scientists create first mammal with fully reprogrammed genes 

[South China Morning Post, via Naked Capitalism 8-27-2022]


Jupiter’s auroras look radiant in new James Webb Space Telescope images

Stefanie Waldek [, 8-22-2022]

When Webb “takes an image,” it’s not actually snapping a photo and beaming it down to Earth — scientists only receive raw data that indicates brightness as measured by Webb’s receptors. As such, scientists must process that data to create the images.

Typically that’s done by the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), which is headquartered in Baltimore. But in the case of this pair of Jovian images, the data was processed by citizen scientist Judy Schmidt of Modesto, California. (For the wide-field image, she collaborated with Ricardo Hueso, a co-investigator on the observations from the University of the Basque Country in Spain.)

Schmidt and other citizen scientists often tap into publicly available data from space telescopes to process images — Schmidt processed her first image, taken by Hubble, more than 10 years ago. “I try to get it to look natural, even if it’s not anything close to what your eye can see,” Schmidt said in a statement.


Researchers invent self-charging, ultra-thin device that generates electricity from air moisture 

[ScienceDaily, via Naked Capitalism 8-24-2022]


Climate and environmental crises

Heatwave in China is the most severe ever recorded in the world 

[New Scientist, via Naked Capitalism 8-25-2022]


Its largest lake is so dry, China digs deep to water crops 

[Associated Press, via Naked Capitalism 8-27-2022]


1 million square feet of L.A. roads are being covered with solar-reflective paint

[Fast Company, via The Big Picture 8-25-2022]

The initiative covers roads, playgrounds, and parking lots, and it has already cooled the surface by 10 to 12 degrees.


California Approves Ban on Gas-Powered Car Sales by 2035 

[Bloomberg, via Naked Capitalism 8-26-2022]


Expansion of Clean Energy Loans Is ‘Sleeping Giant’ of Climate Bill

[New York Times, via The Big Picture 8-25-2022]

The bill President Biden signed into law recently will greatly expand government loans and loan guarantees for clean energy and automotive projects and businesses.


Democrats Designed the Climate Law to Be a Game Changer. Here’s How.

[New York Times, via DailyKos 8-24-2022]


Is There Enough Metal to Replace Oil? 

[CounterPunch, via Naked Capitalism 8-24-2022]


Information age dystopia

“Shocker! Test Shows Physical Buttons Are Less Time-Consuming in Cars Than Touchscreens”

[Car and Driver, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-22-2022]

“Vi Bilägare tested a dozen vehicles—primarily new but also one 2005 Volvo—to see how long it took to perform a series of four tasks. It took 10 seconds in the old car and up to 45 in one of the new models. By timing the tasks as the vehicles were in motion, we can see how a simple thing like turning on the radio to a specific station can mean a driver’s eyes and focus are on the screen much more than they used to be. Future drivers may look back at the current trend of replacing swaths of simple, physical buttons with touchscreens and wonder why we let this happen.”


How One Spook-Run London College Department Is Training the World’s Social Media Managers 

[Mint Press, via Naked Capitalism 8-26-2022]


How a Hacked Tractor Added Fuel to the Right-to-Repair Movement

[Wired, via The Big Picture 8-24-2022]

This week, we discuss the latest John Deere tractor hack and its broader implications for repair rights advocates.


Study: What Americans really think 

[Axios, via Naked Capitalism 8-21-2022]


Collapse of independent news media

Altercation: Can CNN Actually Get Worse? Apparently, It Can.

Eric Alterman, August 26, 2022 [The American Prospect]

Now, thanks to Malone and his team’s takeover of CNN (due in part to his massive shareholdings in the newly merged Warner Bros. Discovery), we can see that management plans to push the network in Fox’s direction….

A great deal of what drives mainstream coverage is a belief in the apparently holy grail of “centrism” as a cure to our political ills, as well as to the mainstream media’s unpopularity. Thing is, the “center” keeps shifting further and further away from reality as the Republicans get crazier, more dishonest, and conspiratorially minded. For its part, the public has not shifted, but a position that does not align with the crazies’ becomes labeled “liberal” instead of merely “not insane,” and positions considered far-right suddenly become “centrist.” This phenomenon is the product of many factors, but the most significant of them are: (a) right-wing cable TV is a lot more profitable than its counterparts, and (b) the right is approximately a trillion times more effective at “working the refs” than the left is.


Only Lone Nuts Need Apply: The Media’s Antipathy to Deeper Digs 

Russ Baker [via Naked Capitalism 8-27-2022]

I learned that the intelligence establishment had made a careful calculation: It didn’t need to worry about Republicans or conservatives, but should instead focus on controlling so-called liberal publications and middle-of-the-road media outlets….

Ambitious reporters had learned not to challenge major myths of the American Pantheon or to question key claims, like the common assertion that no American leader — political, religious, civil rights, etc. — was ever assassinated by anyone other than a lone unstable individual. No matter that the US itself has been definitively revealed to have had a hand in assassinations and other removals of leaders of foreign countries (Guatemala, Chile, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Iran, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Vietnam, Indonesia: generally violent removals), who in most cases were replaced by more brutal regimes….

Still more recently, the media has compliantly shifted its gaze away from the highly suspicious alleged suicide — in a controlled anti-suicide environment — of Jeffrey Epstein, who appeared to possess damaging material about the world’s most powerful people. Anyone who dares raise the exact same questions that are on the minds of many nonetheless faces ostracism or worse.


Notes From the Memory Hole: When the Establishment Buries You 

Russ Baker [via Naked Capitalism 8-27-2022]

…I had started the Family of Secrets project — meant to answer no more innocuous a question than “How did such an unaccomplished, unpromising, and already problematic person as George W. Bush become president of the United States?” — with some ambivalence.

Over the years, particularly in my days as an investigative reporter for The Village Voice, I had grown familiar with the concept that some topics were simply not suitable for airing in the establishment media. Nowhere was that more true than with anything suggesting that the deaths of transformative leaders — JFK, RFK, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, et al — could ever involve organized plots or anything more than just a single loose nut with a gun….

If what you publish defies, contradicts, or embarrasses the “inside sources,” or their friends, or the establishment writ large, then you risk ridicule and ostracization.

In addition, a great many people subscribe to the fairy tale of “American exceptionalism.” They adore the idea that America basically works well, except for the occasional bad apple or lone nut, and that the people have the ultimate say.

I recall one book event at a home in the hills above Los Angeles, where a well-meaning Hollywood crowd had gathered to hear me. One man grew increasingly angry as I spoke. He almost looked like he would have a heart attack. He began yelling at me that what I was saying was deeply disturbing to him and simply unacceptable. And these were liberals.


A crude replacement for local news 

[Heated, via Naked Capitalism 8-26-2022]

“As local newsrooms rapidly shut down across the country, Chevron steps in to fill the gap with propaganda.”


Democrats’ political suicide

House Leadership Delays Social Security Expansion While Crafting Tax Breaks for Rich Retirees

Lee Harris, August 24, 2022 [The American Prospect]

Nancy Pelosi’s office is blocking Social Security expansion, while Congress prepares to pass a windfall for rich retirees, insurance companies, and large asset managers like Vanguard and Fidelity.


Conservative / Libertarian Drive to Civil War

How the IRS Was Gutted

[ProPublica, via The Big Picture 8-21-2022]

An eight-year campaign to slash the agency’s budget has left it understaffed, hamstrung and operating with archaic equipment. The result: billions less to fund the government. That’s good news for corporations and the wealthy.


A Rare Peek Inside the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy 

Anne Nelson, August 26, 2022 [New Republic]

The Council for National Policy, a secretive network of powerful conservatives, goes to great lengths to conceal its activities and even its members. But recently uncovered documents reveal the extent of the group’s influence on American politics. For more than four decades, the Council for National Policy, or CNP, has functioned as the secret hub of the radical right, coordinating the activities of right-wing strategists, donors, media platforms, and activists….

The Center for Media and Democracy has published the agenda for a recent CNP meeting, held February 22 to 24 at the Ritz-Carlton in Laguna Niguel, California. In addition, Documented, an investigative watchdog and journalism project based in Washington, D.C., has obtained the membership roster and most recent 990 tax filings required of nonprofit organizations. Together, the materials shed new light on the CNP’s role in disrupting the democratic process. CNP archives illustrate the extensive planning its members undertook to discredit the 2020 election results, undermine local election officials, and incite the protest on January 6, 2021. The House select committee on January 6 has subpoenaed CNP election expert Cleta Mitchell, and the panel is also examining 29 texts exchanged between then–White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Supreme Court spouse Ginni Thomas (a board member of the CNP’s lobbying arm) in support of Donald Trump’s attempts to overturn the election. The Conservative Partnership Institute, which has attracted ample attention for its role in election subversion, is closely tied to the CNP, though few reporters have made the connection. The CPI’s chairman, president and CEO, senior legal partner, and senior director of policy are all prominent members of the CNP (see below), and the CPI has served as a public face for CNP tactics developed behind closed doors.


How a Former Transcendental Meditation Devotee Ended Up Funding America’s Wildest Right-Wing Spy Op

[Mother Jones, via The Big Picture 8-21-2022]

The saga of Gore-Tex heir Susan Gore is a parable of the dark turn the Republican Party has taken.

…Maier and LaRocca … were undercover conservative operatives, the paper discovered, who had been trained at a ranch belonging to Blackwater founder Erik Prince by a former MI6 officer with ties to the right-wing provocateur James O’Keefe. Maier’s mother worked for Prince. His uncle was Glenn Beck. Alongside other moles, Maier and LaRocca had been attempting to collect dirt on Wyoming’s Democrats—and certain Republicans—for a couple years.

While the news jolted Martin and other activists who’d once welcomed Maier and LaRocca into their homes, the identity of the woman who had allegedly financed much of the operation was less surprising.

Susan Walton Gore, an 83-year-old scion of the Gore-Tex waterproof-fabric fortune, was both a ubiquitous and reclusive presence in her adopted home state—a prolific donor whose network of political organizations picked big fights, but who shirked the spotlight herself. For more than a decade, Gore had embodied a familiar genus of American power: the big fish in a small pond who had learned just how far a dollar can go the farther you get from Washington. An effort to block Common Core science standards from being implemented in state schools? Gore, a onetime backer of the Libertarian Party, led the fight. Stopping tax increases, blocking Medicaid expansion, and reforming the state’s asset-forfeiture laws? Gore’s think tank, the Wyoming Liberty Group, led the way. The legislature’s rightward creep? Gore helped bankroll dozens of candidates….

The product that made the Gores one of America’s wealthiest families was invented almost by accident. Wilbert L. “Bill” Gore, a chemical engineer and avid outdoorsman, left DuPont in 1958 to experiment on polymers in the Delaware home where he and his wife, Vieve, raised their five children. It was a “slipshod operation,” Susan later told students at Liberty University, with kitchen appliances standing in for lab equipment. Then one night in 1969, her older brother, Bob, was tinkering when he yanked a piece of Teflon. Instead of tearing, the substance transformed into a new, breathable, and waterproof material—Gore-Tex. By 1986, W.L. Gore & Associates was doing $300 million in annual sales, with factories on three continents.

But in the eyes of the family, the company’s biggest breakthrough was ideological. W.L. Gore eschewed the traditional organizational pyramid for a “lattice” system. Employees, known as “associates” no matter their salary, owned company stock and operated with near-total autonomy. Instead of bosses, they had “sponsors”—senior colleagues who acted as mentors. “We don’t manage people here,” Bill Gore said in 1982. “People manage themselves.”

The family patriarch wasn’t simply disrupting corporate bureaucracy. What Inc.magazine called “un-management” was an entire way of living—a philosophy of deconcentrated power and individual responsibility. In one early manifesto, Bill traced the lattice system to tribal societies. He gave talks about rejecting “authoritarian hierarchy” and doubling the capacity of the brain. It was possible to see in the company’s style a vaguely lefty notion of worker power, but while the Gores could be crunchy in their ways, the vibe was more libertarian. Bill described himself as a “radical progressive conservative.” He was a free-enterprise evangelist and fierce critic of welfare who counted Ayn Rand as a friend. He believed smaller was better and that the best decision-making existed far from centralized power. That extended to the ownership of the company itself; in a book-length history of W.L. Gore, Bob emphasized his parents’ belief in the importance of using trusts to circumvent “death taxes”—allowing the family to stay in control, free from outside interference.


“Inside The Right’s Historic Billion-Dollar Dark Money Transfer”

Andrew Perez, Andy Kroll & Justin Elliott, August 22, 2022 [Lever News].

“An elderly, ultra-secretive Chicago businessman has given the largest known donation to a political advocacy group in U.S. history — worth $1.6 billion — and the recipient is one of the prime architects of conservatives’ efforts to reshape the American judicial system, including the Supreme Court. Through a series of opaque transactions over the past two years, Barre Seid, a 90-year-old manufacturing magnate, gave the massive sum to a nonprofit run by Leonard Leo, who co-chairs the conservative legal group the Federalist Society. The donation was first reported by The New York Times on Monday….

‘In practical terms, there are few limitations on how Leo’s new group, the Marble Freedom Trust, can spend the enormous donation. The structure of the donation allowed Seid to avoid as much as $400 million in taxes. Thus, he maximized the amount of money at Leo’s disposal. Now, Leo, 56, is positioned to finance his already sprawling network with one of the largest pools of political capital in American history.


How a Secretive Billionaire Handed His Fortune to the Architect of the Right-Wing Takeover of the Courts

by Andrew Perez, The Lever, and Andy Kroll and Justin Elliott, ProPublica, Aug. 22,2022

In the largest known political advocacy donation in U.S. history, industrialist Barre Seid funded a new group run by Federalist Society co-chair Leonard Leo, who guided Trump’s Supreme Court picks and helped end federal abortion rights.


One Man Has Set Up a $1.6 Billion Slush Fund to Fuel the Radical Right’s Takeover of Congress; Get Ready for a Dirty Tricks Campaign 

Pam Martens and Russ Martens: August 26, 2022 [Wall Street on Parade]

So who is this Barre Seid that the public has never heard of who has the ability to drop a cool $1.65 billion into the lap of the radical right? It just so happens that our knowledge of Barre Seid dates back to November 16, 2010 when Salon published an article by Justin Elliott naming Seid as the likely source of money for a widely-distributed race-baiting film released just weeks before the presidential election of 2008, where the radical right was hoping to defeat presidential candidate Barack Obama by pushing conspiracy theories that he wasn’t born in the U.S. and was a Muslim. (Obama’s faith is Christian and he has released his birth certificate showing he was born in Hawaii.)

The Salon article captivated our attention because it built on an earlier article we had published at CounterPunch on October 26, 2010 about a dark money slush fund called Donors Capital Fund that was sluicing money to the radical right.


Pair pleads guilty to stealing Ashley Biden’s diary, selling it to Project Veritas

[ABCNews 2-25-2022]

Two Florida residents have pleaded guilty to stealing the diary of Ashley Biden, President Joe Biden’s youngest daughter, and then selling it to right-wing activist group Project Veritas, the Justice Department announced Thursday….

“Harris and Kurlander stole personal property from an immediate family member of a candidate for national political office,” U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in a statement. “They sold the property to an organization in New York for $40,000 and even returned to take more of the victim’s property when asked to do so.”

[TW: Has Seid ever helped fund Project Veritas and its pimp, James O’Keefe? ]


“We reject the free speech-trampling rules set by J.D. Vance and Ron DeSantis for covering their rally: Letter from the Editor”

[Cleveland Plain-Dealer, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-25-2022]

“Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a likely presidential candidate in 2024, scheduled a trip to Ohio Friday to stump for Senate candidate J.D. Vance, and our reporters were not there because of ridiculous restrictions that DeSantis and Vance placed on anyone covering the event. The worst of the rules was one prohibiting reporters from interviewing attendees not first approved by the organizers of the event for DeSantis and Vance. When we cover events, we talk to anyone we wish. It’s America, after all, the land of free speech. At least that’s America as it exists today. Maybe not the America that would exist under DeSantis and Vance. Think about what they were doing here. They were staging an event to rally people to vote for Vance while instituting the kinds of policies you’d see in a fascist regime. A wannabe U.S. Senator, and maybe a wannabe president. Another over-the-top rule was one reserving the right to receive copies of any video shot of the event for promotional use. That’s never okay. News agencies are independent of the political process. We do not provide our work product to anyone for promotional use. To do so would put us in league with people we cover, destroying our credibility.”


Louisiana board stalls New Orleans flood aid over city officials’ position on abortion 

[Insider, via Naked Capitalism 8-22-2022]


‘Pro-Life’: America’s Most Patently Absurd Misnomer

Harold Meyerson, August 25, 2022 [The American Prospect]

A pro-lifer in action: Last week, Jeff Landry, Louisiana’s Republican attorney general, persuaded the state’s bond commission to withhold $39 million from the city of New Orleans. The funds were to go for a new power plant that would keep pumping drinking water to the city’s nearly 400,000 residents the next time a hurricane descends on the town and knocks out its currently insufficient power sources.

The state should deny those funds, Landry insisted, until the mayor, city council, and district attorney rescinded their pledges not to enforce the state’s new abortion law, which bans the procedure after 15 weeks and makes no exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest.

It’s not as if abortions were actually being performed in New Orleans. Indeed, there are no facilities anywhere in the state that are still performing abortions. Landry, however, plans to run for governor in the next Republican primary, and so zealous is he to protect innocent life that he’s willing to expose the post-birth children of New Orleans to the ravages of hurricane season—slated to begin later this month—the better to protect the zygotes and fetuses being aborted there, even though there are none.

Landry, I’d suggest, is a pretty fair poster boy for the self-proclaimed pro-life movement, whose chief defining feature, not to put too fine a point on it, is a raging contempt for life….

It’s impossible to explain these ostensible pro-lifers’ indifference to life after birth—to providing the programs that pro-choice states offer that make the lives of newborns and their parents easier.


GRAPH States With Abortion Bans Are Among Least Supportive for Mothers and Children

[New York Times, via The Big Picture 8-21-2022]


The (Anti)Federalist Society Infestation of the Courts

The Sins of the High Court’s Supreme Catholics The New Yorker, via Naked Capitalism 8-22-2022]


How Sonia Sotomayor Became the Conscience of the Supreme Court

Elie Mystal, August 22, 2002 [The Nation, via DailyKos 8-23-2022]

The former prosecutor was never a liberal firebrand. But now it is she, more than any other justice, who puts progressive outrage into words….

There is another important number that shapes the court’s docket, and that is six. With six votes, justices can deny appeals of lower court rulings that are clearly wrong, without drawing the kind of attention that comes when they hold hearings and issue rulings that proactively change the law for the worse. When Ruth Bader Ginsburg died and was replaced by Amy Coney Barrett in 2020, conservatives gained their crucial sixth vote to stop meritorious appeals from ever getting a hearing in front of the court.

What the Supreme Court hears, and what it denies, is a hidden lever of power for today’s conservative majority. It goes largely unremarked on by establishment forces, who have accepted the prospect of generational conservative control of the court. But Justice Sotomayor was having none of it, spending her final hours of the term writing a series of pointed dissents against the court’s refusal to hear appeals of unjust rulings from the lower courts.

It’s not unusual for a justice to dissent from a certiorari denial here and there, but Sotomayor dissented in five cases, all on the last day. In general, the cases were all focused on criminal justice and the use—and abuse—of state power against suspected criminals. The court refused to hear a case in which police officers used Tasers on a man after he had doused himself with gasoline, knowing full well that if they shocked him, he would catch on fire. Sotomayor dissented. The court refused to hear a case in which a prisoner killed himself while correction officers watched, never once trying to intervene. Sotomayor dissented. The court refused to hear three cases involving capital punishment. Sotomayor dissented and dissented and dissented. In each dissent, she retold the defendant’s story for the public record, maybe for the last time….

Ginsburg once said that dissents are written for a “future age”—meaning that dissents are supposed to help inspire the next generation to oppose the wrongs committed by the present court. But I believe Sotomayor’s flurry of end-of-term dissents suggests she doesn’t want to wait that long. The fire set by conservatives is raging right now, and Sotomayor’s opinions read like the ringing of an alarm bell. Her dissents serve to put the other branches of government on notice that the court is out of control….

Sotomayor has yet to receive the mainstream media attention and “icon” status of the justice she’s most often compared to: Ruth Bader Ginsburg. That’s despite the fact that Sotomayor writes in an approachable style, has appeared at many public-facing events, and, in many ways, is more progressive in her opinions than Ginsburg was.



Open Thread


Destruction of the Humanities & Social Sciences and Societal Mis-allocation of Resources


  1. bruce wilder

    Eric Alterman: Thing is, the “center” keeps shifting further and further away from reality as the Republicans get crazier, more dishonest, and conspiratorially minded.

    I am strongly suspicious of this narrative trope that regards the Republican Party’s ideological and coalitional upheavals as sui generis and implies that the Democrats have no responsibility for the sociopathic tendencies surfacing in the on-going political realignment, a realignment that many have grown to fear (rightly imho) are leading to far more authoritarian government.

    I think the success of the Democratic establishment in capturing “the center” while veal-penning what remains of the economic left has a lot to do with the struggles of the Republican Party. The Republican Party moved a generation ago to a coalition of bad money and theocracy (to crib Kevin Phillips memorable theses), but the Democratic establishment under the Clintons chose to dance very close by, and succeeded in taking over many of the Bad Money sponsors and created a conspicuous alliance with the intelligence agencies. Abstracting away from these two definite developments to talk abstractly of “radical” Republicans while leaving the Democrats in the default position as presumptively sane is deceptive to the point of fraudulent.

    It wasn’t Republicans who licensed the Kagans to take the West closer to nuclear war and economic collapse and repurpose Build Back Better funds to the MIC while expanding fossil fuel production under the guise of responding to climate change.

    Progressives should have told the truth about Biden when Obama stepped in to cram him down the throat of voters alarmed by Trump’s incompetence. But, like Eric Alterman, they lied to themselves and others. And a labor union is being charged for the costs to an employer of a strike. The shift to the Right has a lot to do with the way that shift became cost less to the Democratic establishment — indeed a fund-raising opportunity.

    Russ Baker’s remarks immediately after Alterman should be read with the knowledge that CIA Democrats dominate the younger ranks of the House caucus.

  2. Ian Welsh

    “a labor union is being charged for the costs to an employer of a strike”.

    Hadn’t heard this, can’t seem to find. Source?

  3. Trinity

    “Roger Freeman, who also worked for Nixon, revealed the right’s motivation for coming decades of attacks on higher education….”

    There are so many of these Repsplainings (or Demsplainings) being bandied about these days. It’s as if we must have the exact “correct” motivation so we might finally “understand” why they are doing what they do, and then maybe we can finally feel better and get on with our lives while pitying the poor misguided fools. I can imagine back in the dark ages there were plenty of royal-splainers, bent on explaining why the latest inbred crazy royal had raised taxes yet again (for yet another war over resources, etc.), so that the peasants dying of starvation could finally understand exactly why they were dying. I’m pretty sure it was little comfort to them to finally “know why”.

    Meanwhile, “the explained” continue to kneel on our collective necks, surrounded by their toadies and cheerleaders, while we continue either Repsplaining or arguing over Repsplaining, or coming up with yet more evidence of the correct explanation as to why they are kneeling on our necks, cutting off our airways, and watching us die so slowly the toadies and cheerleaders don’t even notice that it’s happening. Pick a century, any century, and you’ll find a century of differing explanations for their “motivations” for “why they do bad things”.

    Finding out what motivates liars who have no conscience at all is a complete waste of time. Here’s exactly what motivates a liar: lying, so they can have their way, so they can take from you whatever they can, so they can immiserate you, and in doing so try to fill the emptiness inside them that can never, ever, ever be filled. Making others miserable makes them feel better. We keep acting as if they are human, but they are not human, they are not like us.

  4. different clue

    Here is an article purporting to be about that.

    ” AL Coal Miners Must Pay $13 Million in Damages for Strike, Biden’s NLRB Rules ”

    the link . . .

    I notice the article keeps saying ” Biden’s NLRB”. But the article never says why the NLRB is “Biden’s” NLRB. Is a majority of the people on it named there by Biden? Or even a minority? Or even any at all?

    NLRB is an Independent Agency. Is there any evidence that the President . . . any President . . . . is able to give it an order?

    Here is the person who wrote this article .

    ” Daniel Werst
    Daniel Werst is a contributor to Socialist Worker.


    I suspect Daniel Werst is lying as much as any Republican/Conservative lies about things when he calls the NLRB to be “Biden’s” NLRB. Is there any evidence to the contrary?

    And socialists wonder why I don’t trust them any more than I trust Republicans . . .

  5. NR

    @different clue:

    According to Wikipedia, the NLRB is made up of five members. Two of the current board members were appointed by Biden and three were appointed by Trump (though one of the Trump appointees was originally appointed by Obama; Trump re-appointed her when her term was up). So make of that what you will.

  6. NR

    However it should also be noted that you were correct when you said the NLRB is an independent agency. The board members are appointed by the president but he can’t just give them orders like he can military generals.

  7. different clue


    So the NLRB is 20% Biden’s. So Werst is 20% correct.

    I feel confident that the two purely Trump members voted against the strikers. If 3 out of 5 votes for something is enough to pass that something, then the 3rd vote had to be either the Obamazoid or one of the Bidenites. If the vote was 4 to 1, then it had to include the Obamazoid and one of the Bidenites. If it was 5 to 0 against the strikers, then the Clintobama Bidenite Democrats are just as anti-labor as the Republicans are.

    So it would be good to know which NLRB board member voted exactly how to know what to make of it in any more detail.

    It sounds like a Working Class-Lower Class Party is needed in the long run, to be able to conquer things like the NLRB and staff it with pro-labor members.

  8. VietnamVet

    Most of the current angst is that the West’s propaganda has obviously lost touch with reality but the operatives still believe it.

    I am so old that going to university didn’t require indebting oneself for the rest of my life. The State Universities were actually supported by taxes. But, with the rise of neoliberalism, this became unacceptable. Anything that supports the public was cut if it could be. University Presidents and some academics are Insiders. They came up with the scheme where private lenders would loan money to students to be paid off by the higher wages earned as a college graduates, guaranteed by the government. Except wages flatlined and there were all the sneaky tricks that financiers do to extort more money. The total amount above the cost of education to be paid off skyrocketed. University towns became an oasis of wealth in now poor rural areas based on the student’s future earnings. In crisis, the Obama Administration took over the student loan business.

    Like all Ponzi schemes it is coming to an end. Most everyone who goes to college paid by student loans cannot afford to get married, buy a house, or have kids. Another example that the ideology that “only money has value” is idiotic.

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